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 Jass leaned onto her cane, "Are they the Harbingers that came?"

I raised an eyebrow, "I don't know exactly, but why are you calling them Harbingers?"

Her eyes and nose scrunched, the wrinkles shifting on her old face, "What do you mean why? They are bringers of change. You have that aura about you as well."

I glanced back at the tablets. My eyes narrowed. The etchings and patterns on the tablets mimicked the markings of the runes. There was no difference in how they were made, yet they held none of the world warping effects of the other runes. Picking one up, I turned to Jass,

"Do you mind if I take one of these?"

She glimpsed towards the ruins, then back towards me, "There's no point."

I waved the tablet at her, "I need this to figure out more about those runes."

Jass walked over towards a chair, "I told you there's no point because I'm going to tell you what you want to know." She sat down,

"Those runes and ruins, Hod's parents are the ones who created them."

I sat down on a chair made of molded armor, a gravity well above me, and some telekinesis, "I figured."

After glancing beneath me a few times, Jass just accepted my invisible chair and continued, "Ahem, as I said, they created them. Their tampering brought the...what did you call them?"

I opened my spacial ring, the portal looking like space as I shoved the stone tablets into them, "The sentinel and Overseer?"

She pointed at me, a quick flick of a gesture, "Yes, that's it." She leaned back into her chair,

"We killed the parents of Hod so that the machines would spare us. When they first came, the Eltari flourished. We had cities that touched the skies. We mastered flight, and we loved the sun as our eternal sister in the sky. Now we are trapped here, beneath the soil. I am the only one who still survives and remembers those times."

She glanced towards a wall, staring into the distance, "I was a girl then. Our people had already discovered the language you saw within those runes. The machines didn't take kindly to this knowledge. After they came, giant squares turned the sky red, and with this change came the toxic air. Our people breathed it in, and no matter how advanced our masks were, the poison found its way in."

Pain leaked into her voice, "I watched our people fall apart. It took less than a dozen years before we turned to nothing but shells of our former selves. Only our small, tiny enclave survived...All due to this core."

The pain left her voice, "Now another Harbinger has come and wishes to create another change in our world. A younger me would have fought. This older self will just ride the winds of change. Where we land is fate's decision."

I shook my head, "Don't go pushing off responsibility that's your own." I stood up, raising a tablet in front of my face, "It won't do you any good. Regardless, from what you just told me, Schema fucked your planet up, all because of these little scribbles. The question is why..."

Jass sighed, "I only wish I could have known. Perhaps we'd still be at our former glory."

I shrugged, "Eh, hard to say. Schema probably did what he did for a reason. Who's to say harmless, weird rooms were the only things the Eltari were doing after all?"

Jass nodded, "Is that why you study the markings then?"

I waved my hand back and forth, "Naw, I want to know what my armor is. I'm searching for answers."

She grimaced, "You might not like the answers you find."

I rolled my shoulders, a grin leaking onto my lips, "I get it. Some doors are better left unopened. Worse still, some doors can never be closed. The thing is, I have a plan for just such an occasion."

With a biting sarcasm, she frowned, "Mind sharing it with an old seeker? I'm always looking for bits of wisdom."

I smashed my hands together, echoing a loud clank, "I'll beat the shit out of what's on the other side."

A look of profound confusion covered Jass's face for a moment. The pause passed, and the sardonic frown snapped. Jass relished a long, hearty laugh. After wiping away a tear, she pointed her cane at me, "Now I see why you're a Harbinger. Just remember youngling. I'm old. Whatever happens, I don't have to live with it." She poked my chest with her cane,

"You do."

I stood from my invisible chair, "I'm ready for it. Knowledge is never evil anyways. It's who uses it that matters."

I turned outside, "Speaking of which, I'm thinking about killing a giant sandworm soon. Wish me luck."

She rolled her eyes, "Good luck then. I hope you get eaten. Would be good to see you humbled."

I laughed before heading out. Jass had a quiet way of handling things, just going with the flow now. Either that, or she was just giving me control of the problem. It didn't matter to me. I knew what I needed to do now - kill a motherfucking sandworm.

With that in mind, I picked up two more tablets and closed the trapdoor. After saying goodbye and heading out, I reached up the tunnels and back into the ruins. I used my skill Knowledge Maker to do so. It let me use my photographic memory with efficiency. It took quite a bit of effort to do so, but I got to the ruins much faster than running around at random.

Once up there, I planned on taking down some crows to power level. Taking the sandworm at my current level would prove arduous, so getting a bit of a power bonus would be excellent. Before leaving, I met up with Althea for a late lunch.

We met up on the eastern side of the ruins. Beside us, a waterfall churned the water into a pool of white water and bubbles. Beside the waterfall, the ground was flat, perfect for sitting. Beside it, Althea sliced the tops off two boulders, giving us a pleasant set of seats. The ruins weren't eerie anymore. We'd been here too long for that.

The harsh light came into the room through the beams as we enjoyed a meal of rations. Sitting on the sliced boulders, I told her about the revelations from the elder's hidden stash. Once I hit the part where I mentioned power leveling, Althea gave me a sinister smile,

"You're going to struggle with that."

I raised an eyebrow, "Why?

She pointed a thumb towards herself while puffing out her chest, "Because I killed tons of those bird monsters."

I shrugged, "I'm sure you missed a few."

Althea shook her head, "Nope. I flew for miles and miles and miles. I've been killing them the whole time we've been here."

I scrunched my eyebrows together, "Wait, you're telling me...No way."

I glanced up at her, identifying her status,

Althea Tolstoy (lvl 1143) - An unknown who sports enormous strength and damage output, Althea Tolstoy has gone missing from the clutches of Yawm. Her build's exact specs are unknown, but she sports tremendous power in her rifle and during her transformed state. Her ability also gives her tremendous potential for creative solutions to problems. She's a very difficult opponent for most.

Her Achilles heel is her squishiness. Her natural bulk simply isn't optimized, so she struggles against tanky bruisers. Your current build matches up well against hers, just always be aware when you're near her. Her assassination bonuses are excellent and can make a devastating blow into a fatal one, even against your defensive specs.

I stood up from my boulder, "No fucking way. You're over one hundred levels above me. What the fuck?"

She finished her last bite before throwing the empty tray to her side. She raised her hands, "Hahahaha! I told you that you'd have problems finding any of them left. And I mean any for like, fifty miles."

I flopped back onto the boulder, "Fuck man. You got me with this one."

As my ass landed on the boulder, I cleaved the rock in two before falling backwards. I raised my face and hand while the rest of me rested on the ground, "I'll catch up yah hear?"

Althea giggled before walking up, offering a hand. She pulled me up,

"You'll jump back in the lead after killing the Drikah anyways. I just didn't want to fall too far behind."

I scratched my nose, "Thanks, but that's only if I can kill it."

With a knowing grin, Althea placed her hands on her hips, "You can. I'm sure of it."

I crossed my arms, "It's weird having someone more confident in me than I am."

She shrugged, "You have a history of kicking ass and, uh, taking names, right? No reason to stop now."

With a dramatic tone to my voice, I uncrossed my arms, "I got to stay humble. I don't know if I'm going to make it after all."

I turned towards a beam of light, trying to finish off the melodrama. Falling for it, Althea took the bait. Althea reached up and placed a hand on my shoulder,

"Don't worry. You'll be fine. I believe in you."

No longer pretending I was worried, I cupped my chin, smirking at her, "I mean who wouldn't? I'm pretty damn awesome."

With a playful shove, Althea snapped, "Ugh, you ass. Here I thought you were worried. Nope. You're the same Daniel as always."

She grinned despite her words, laughing a little. I shrugged, "I'll be fine. No need in postponing it anymore either. Just a little nervous."

From beneath us, the ground rumbled. Cracks formed on the ground before Hod's face popped out of the rock between Althea and I. He glanced around,

"Hod not know where Hod at." He peered up, "Ah, Harbinger and Lady Friend. Hod happy to see you two in good spirit. Hod sorry for interruption. Hod practice burrowing. Hod try shouting at ground to stay away from Hod's eyes."

Hod shook his head in deep disappointment, "Ground not listen to Hod. Hod saddened by ground. Hod thought ground and Hod friends. Hod betrayed. Hod back to ground. Hod will train ground! Hod Promise! Goodbye Harbinger and Lady Friend."

Hod's head disappeared back into the ground. I dragged my hand across my face as Althea giggled for a while. I turned to her, "Mind being my safety net again?"

She wrapped her hands behind her, "I suppose I can. Hopefully I won't need too though. You're heavy."

We chatted, the both of us walking outside. Once out, the sun beamed down with harsh intensity. I walked towards the cliff before Hod's head exploded out of the ground again. He pulled himself out of the ground,

"Harbinger trying to kill Drikah?"

I nodded. Hod walked beside Althea, placing his hands on his hips, "Then Hod will watch." He turned towards Althea, "Hod make sure Lady friend not interfere unless saving. Must keep village trust."

I gave him a thumbs up before turning towards the sand. I rolled my shoulders before doing a stretch or two. Althea yelled,

"Stop stalling."

I kicked my feet back like I was stretching, but I scraped my feet against the ground. Bits of sand and rock flew towards Althea. She waved her arms, blocking some of the rubble. I grinned,

"Oh, sorry about that. Didn't mean to spray rocks over you. Shit happens."

She picked up a rock and tossed it towards me, "Just do it already."

The rock bounced off my shoulder before I twisted my neck back and forth. I growled for a second, pumping myself up. After banging my fist against my chest twice, I ran up and jumped off the cliffside. My armor reformed. Air rushed past my face. My stomach floated as the top of a sand dune grew in my sight.

I sliced into the sand, shifting through the thick powder with my Earth Glider skill. Within seconds, the rumbling of the Drikah started. My armor sealed my eyes. I felt my way through the grit as the rumbling turned to a thunderous drumming in my ears. The drumming came quick before the enormous sand worm shot out toward me.

Activating oppression, I shifted the aura onto the creature, condensing the giant cloud into a compact tendril. At the same time, I surged my ascendant mana, using Volatile Carnage on my feet. The explosive power shot me out of range from the worm's bite.

It reached the apex of its ascent, writhing in the air. Before the moving mountain fell, I turned in the sand before firing myself out of the sand. Like a giant metal slug, I collided with the worm and slammed my fist into its side. The force almost crumpled my armor, but it stayed firm as the worm's hide dented. With my arm stuck in its side, I stomped my feet against it while digging my armor into the wound.

Tentacles of armor ripped out from under its skin as I shot off the side of the worm. A mist of blood sprayed on me, but it didn't clog my ears. Hearing was all I needed now. With it, I crafted the vague images I needed. I no longer needed direct sight. I dived towards the ground before the worm roared like a thunderclap beside your ear.

The lumbering head leaned backwards as I traveled deeper into the sand. It arced towards me, crushing into the sand like a living meteor. As it did, I kicked my feet up into the sand above me with all my might. The rippling impact from my feet met the impact caused by the worm.

The worm's overwhelmed my little kinetic wave of course, but my tiny impact acted like a barrier against his. It was kind of like breaking water tension before jumping into a pool, except breaking the tension of a kinetic wave instead.

Whenever the worm's wave shot through me, my bones and blood shook to their core. They held along with my blood vessels though. This impact shield resulted in halving the damage I received compared with before.

Armed with the knowledge needed, I weaved towards the side of the worm, dodging its descent. Again, the Drikah came up like cataclysm. Again, I dodged the monster's wrath. The worm's tactics never changed, but mine evolved, turning more methodical and efficient with practice.

The worm always slammed towards the most recent injury I caused. Instead of jumping straight away from the worm, I leapt off towards the left or right side. This prevented the worm from slamming as close to me, reducing the damage of its impacts.

The process of landing my leaping blows turned into a smooth, fluid motion as I practiced it. Gorger of mana leveled, allowing me to fire the tendrils of armor into the monster faster. I created minute spikes on the bottom of my feet, giving me a solid grip into the monster's hide whenever leaping off it. I even dug both my arms into the monster's wounds, letting me further rend its insides.

Data Upload Complete...Skill gained! Aerial Strike (lvl 1) - Through practice, you've gained the skills needed to add weight to your strikes while in the air. +1% to striking power while soaring. +1% to striking speed while soaring.

The extra skill helped build the damage I dealt towards the worm over time. As I continued my onslaught, the worms body became riddled with holes. Blood poured from the wounds. Instead of letting the blood build around our enormous arena, I soaked it up with my armor. I didn't want this monster using its body to reform like BloodBull had.

What if some unseen larva fed on its blood and evolved? I wouldn't take that chance again. Instead I covered my bases, making sure it didn't come back from those kinds of wounds. Any blood I couldn't soak up, I disintegrated with oppression. How it got rid of the material exactly, I didn't know.

It worked well, however. Hours passed of this pattern. I sliced into the worm, executing on my plan and new skills. The worm never adapted. The red fountains that the wounds left behind covered the creature in its blood. No longer a sickly yellow, the red worm slowed its rising and falling from the sand.

As if fatigued, it turned from a devastating struggle into an eventual victory. I oppressed the creature, crushing it like a glacier. The once mighty beast's hide turned to a dry prune's skin, the wrinkling a result of its draining vitality. Time made the monster slow to a crawl. After what felt like an eternity, the monster collapsed into the sand. It no longer mustered up the energy to dive into the sand.

Large and exposed, I leapt onto the worm and tore into its soon to be corpse. I bathed in blood. I soaked in the thick sanguine, pooling into the flesh of the worm as I carved through it. The worm ceased twitching moments later. From there, I drained its vitality, piercing it with a dozen tendrils of armor that shot out thousands of needles.

Hours more passed. By now, a night already passed. I drained the creature of its life, slowly sapping it to nothing. Before it wilted into nothing, the skin dried and cracked. From the shell of skin, green scales gleamed beneath them. A snake ripped out of the dried shell, the thickest part of it the size of a bus. I tried stomping it, but the scales curved up.

From beneath the diamond shaped plates, horns shot out of the skin. It looked like a tentacle of spikes when it finished. One of the spines dented my foot and sent me tumbling. I flopped into the side of a dune, blowing sand in every direction. As the cloud of grit fell, I pushed myself back up and leaned downwards, ready for battle.

Feathers along the back of the snake shivered as it consumed the skin of its former self. Before the stretching maw of the snake even got an eighth the way done, I charged forward. When I reached the monster, I used both my mythical skills in conjunction. I slammed my feet into the sand, rippling force through it as I torqued my fist into the monster's emerald colored eye.

Like punching a crystal, the eye cracked and blew backwards. As it did, I grabbed the snake skin in its mouth, forcing it out. My armor devoured the shriveled skin, absorbing it to nothing as the snake swallowed the small part it had.

Crystalline blades expanded off the sides and belly of the beast once it swallowed. Its fangs turned violet in its pink mouth, the teeth radiant and shimmering with power. A unstable humming ebbed from the mouth as a violet liquid leaked from the fangs. Sparks of violet lightning shot into nearby dunes, glassing the nearby sand.

With the scorched glass fizzing in the background, the snake hissed as it shook its tail. From the tail a curved, crystalline blade expanded. With the same violet energy and aura emanating from the center of the blade, the tail whipped back and forth. The air whistled with the volatile energy of the blade.

The entire time the snake tried intimidating me, I was absorbing the snake skin and charging my runes. They swelled with energy as the monster hissed and did all its dumb bullshit. By the time it slithered over towards me, my runes pulsed with the radiant energy lying within them. No longer able to restrain the lightning within my own runes, the fervor of ascendant mana coursed through my blood and bones.

My own sparks of lightning arced from my forearms, chest, and legs. My armor shivered, having feasted on the skin of the snake. The dormant energy within filled my health, giving me a massive pool of mana. With the energy building in my hands and arms, my hands shook with an eager violence. The full frenzy of battle coursed in my veins, thicker than molten lead.

The gem viper brandished its fangs towards me, the air squealing around its fangs. An aura leaked from me, a pounding, oppressive aura. I glanced up at the monster. The violet energy was familiar. It was arcane energy. No matter how beefy I was, the serpent could kill me with it. I grinned at the sight, my armor forming jagged teeth, red mana vibrating the air near me.

I'd like to see it try.



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