Chapter One Hundred and Forty Two – 142
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You Have Entered Into The Domain Of Another.
Beware---!
It App---ERROR!
 
Entrant(s) Exceed Domain Strictures!
Full Manifestation May Damage Shell Integrity.
Ejecting...
 
A shrill, piercing note filled Felix's ears but was immediately countered by a mellow, more melodic cry. There was a flash of sudden warmth, a rush of heat that punched into his core, and Felix's world became darkness.
 
ERROR!
 
It was a familiar sensation, one he'd banished from his thoughts countless times since escaping his last Domain. Previously he'd battled against a raging ocean filled with horrible monstrous forms. The visions of that experience still haunted his dreams on occasion.
 
Yet this time, it was all different.
 
Felix found himself in a place of utter, complete darkness, yet when he raised his hands he could perceive his skin and clothes as if they were fully illuminated by some unseen source. He stood upon nothing, yet the ground felt firm, if a little yielding. He knew this place well.
 
The Void...I'm in the Void again? Felix peered around him, trying to keep himself calm. How?
 
The last thing Felix desired was to be stranded in that pirate-infested nothingness. He spun around, looking for some way out. What he found instead was a series of strange, circular lines, nine of them, each one hovering just behind his back and shoulders. Felix leaped away, instinctively using his Willpower to move once again, but the lines remained stationary. Peering closer, Felix realized they were a series of odd sigils, built up into circular symbols like halos of written magic.
 
Mana constructs. Just like the Maw had used on me in my Bastion. Except these were dim, whatever Mana had animated them had burnt out, leaving only a gossamer corpse of several failed constructs. As he watched, they began to break apart and fade into the Void. They tried to latch on and they...failed?
 
That hadn't happened before. Whatever these constructs had tried accomplish was thwarted by...what? Felix felt a certain heaviness in his core, and a quick internal glance showed him a modest amount of essence hovering above his burning center. He had eaten the construct's power, apparently without even knowing it.
 
Now that's pretty cool, he admitted to himself.
 
Looking beyond the immediate, Felix spotted his friends a short distance away.
 
ERROR!
Ejection Failed!
Countermeasures Deployed.
 
The words appeared before his mind's eye along with that same piercing note. It hurt like an ice pick cracking into his molars. But Felix understood their meaning as he got a better look at his friends.
 
Evie was a sight, her body moving as if in slow motion. As Felix watched, her eyes slowly started opening, and her body was still braced as it had when she'd stepped into the Domain entrance. Another three Mana constructs hovered at her back, these fully functional and filled with power, power that she was clearly fighting against.
 
To her left, Vess was in a different situation altogether. Seven different Mana constructs had attached to her, each one flaring with enough power to halt the spearwoman's stride mid-step. Her eyes were wide open, and Felix could read a terrified sort of wildness to them, even as he was sure she didn't see him at all.
 
Harn--
 
My god, Felix whispered.
 
Harn was covered in dense sigaldry, the coils of power looped heavily around his shoulders and arms. What looked like two, mabye three dozen constructs hauled him back, his body frozen entirely. Inch by inch, he slid backwards.
 
Felix listened closely for the piercing note again, this time leveraging his Affinity as it stabbed into him. The Harmonic Stat had helped him intuit the feelings of others well enough, and he had a hunch it'd be useful here.
 
Sure enough, as the note resolved itself, faint, general impressions flitted through his Mind and Spirit. Felix suddenly envisioned the shell as constructed by generations of Guilder inscriptionists, the layers of complexity and verbose fluidity between each interconnecting piece of the whole. It was a masterwork far beyond his measly Skill level, and it would have been nothing more than vanity to say he understood more than a fraction of a fraction of its workings. Yet impressions remained, synaptic leaps that his Mind and Spirit made without conscious thought or reason.
 
The shell held in the Domain, without it the energies and monsters within would spill out everywhere. The level of complexity and power was a delicate balance, and introducing too much power into the shell by, say, an Adept Tier adventurer passing through would cause damage to the mechanism. The constructs, then, were automated responses, meant to boot someone too powerful from the Domain. But it hadn't worked on him because of his own special circumstance, and the others...
 
It's definitely trying to throw Harn and Vess out, Felix gasped. Back into a sewer full of Inquisitors and a Master Tier enemy. Shit!
 
Felix didn't really have a choice, not as far as his conscience was concerned. He couldn't let it happen. Felix just hoped that it wouldn't destroy the shell in the process. Rushing toward Evie, he grabbed at the construct behind her...and his hands passed right through them.
 
Ravenous Tithe!
 
Yet the Mana construct did not dissolve into streamers of bright mist. Then an idea came to him; he instead imbued himself with the Void itself.
 
Abyssal Skein!
 
Felix's form turned dark, drawing the essence of the Void as he reached out and put his hands on the constructs once again. This time, his hands made contact. Hauling with his Willpower and Alacrity, Felix shredded the construct in no time. Evie stumbled forward, released from whatever stasis it had held her in.
 
What the--? she started, but Felix flew toward Vess.
 
No time!
 
This time he didn't bother with Ravenous Tithe, merely held onto his Abyssal Skein and tore headlong through the energy behind the spearwoman. Felix's body blasted through the majority of it, the collected Mana bursting in a fireworks display of rainbow energies. It was enough that the woman began to spin herself, a draconic maw forming around a slow moving fist as she started to shatter the remaining constructs.
 
Felix grinned at the sight and immediately launched himself at Harn. Vess was gonna be fine.
 
As he reached Harn, the man had been lifted almost entirely off his feet, his body nearly horizontal. The constructs were yanking the warrior into the air, clearly to expel his body out of the entrance as rapidly as possible. Felix gripped the nearest construct and felt the scalding heat of power that thrummed across it's matrices. His Skein seemed to prevent it from harming him, yet his Willpower couldn't budge the thing and neither could his Strength. They were thick as cables, taut with tension and filled with a sizzling Mana. Desperate, Felix gripped them tight and tried again.
 
Ravenous Tithe!
 
There was a moment of resistance, then the construct burst into a cascade of blinding Mana. It forced its way into him, slamming into Felix's gut like a rocket. Fireworks went off in his vision. The Void shuddered violently before everything was consumed in light.
 

 
Warning!
Entrant(s) Exceed Shell Parameters.
Manifestation Actualized.
 
Shell Integrity Damaged.
Extant Damage - 50%
Shell Integrity Reduced from 50% to 35%!
 
Shell Integrity...Stabilized.
 
The light became darkness, became light again, except this time it was far more red.
 
Felix blinked awake and sat up with a panicked lurch, sweeping his Perception all around himself. There was blessedly little, however. Moss and soil gave beneath his fingers, and a gentle wind played through his hair. They were in a dense forest filled with gargantuan trees and thick swaths of moss and fern-like undergrowth reaching higher than his head.
 
They had made it.
 
You Have //// Survived.
The Challenge [[][] Is Incomplete.
Be Wary, Young ???
 
Harn! Felix gasped, and jumped to his feet. Thankfully, his friends were only a few feet away, similarly knocked on their butts. Felix moved closer, still keeping a wary eye out on the wilderness.
 
"Is everyone okay?" he asked.
 
"Just chipper," Evie growled, holding her head. Vess just groaned in response. Harn grunted, and perhaps it was deeper and longer than usual, but he still wore his full helmet. Reading him was a challenge. He seemed fine, at least.
 
"Feels like I fell outtuva tree and fought every branch on the way down. What happened?" Evie stood on shaky legs, gripping a nearby tree to aid herself.
 
"I remember...darkness? Then a light..." Vess trailed off and shook her head before coming to her feet smoothly. "That is strange. Whenever I have entered a Domain in the past, it was always an effortless transition between outside and inside. Like walking through a door. This...this felt off."
 
Felix looked between them. "Do none of you remember crossing through?"
 
They all shook their heads, and Harn's voice echoed slightly as he spoke. "Like Vess said. We were out there, then in here, and we took a tumble between that."
 
Felix frowned. "We were in the Void. The Domain's shell was trying to reject all of us, expel us from itself."
 
"The Void?" Evie asked, confused. "How's that?"
 
"Domains're like pockets," Harn offered with a grumble as he stood. "Void keeps em separate from the world. No clue how it works, but you shouldn'ta been able ta see that, kid."
 
Felix shrugged. "Maybe because I've been there already? Or maybe my Voidwalker Title?"
 
"Maybe," Harn allowed. "Twin's teeth, though. I shouldn't've been rejected. I ain't so close to Adept as to get pushed out. And you lot, none of you should've...exceptin' Felix maybe."
 
"Yeah, Felix is weird," agreed Evie and Vess nodded.
 
"Hey," Felix protested, but it was half-hearted. They weren't wrong.
 
"We need to form up and get a move on. Who knows how long we have before..." Harn paused as a rustling shook the nearby undergrowth. "Damn."
 
Three monsters prowled out of the nearby ferns. Felix found himself face to face with a large four legged beast easily the size of a cow. Its body was covered in rust-red scales and tufts of black fur at the shoulders and knees. Its face, however, was a blunt oblong without eyes or nose, filled entirely with a large gaping mouth. Yellowed fangs dripped a thick saliva onto the mossy earth as the beasts began to circle, two to the left, one to the right.
 
Voracious Eye.
 
Name: Spawn of Hunger
Type: Primordial-Spawn
Level: 36
HP: 645/645
SP: 578/583
MP: 200/200
Lore: Tainted by the Maw's corrupting influence, these creatures possess some of that Primordial's traits, including a prodigious hunger.
Strength: That which they eat gives them strength.
Weakness: Blind, they hunt by sound and are always hungry.
 
"Kill em fast," Harn shouted. "We got more incoming!"
 
Like it was a cue, the spawn rushed forward, each of them blurring as the mossy earth exploded beneath them. All three of them headed directly for Felix.
 
Reign of Vellus!
 
Familliar blue lightning blasted upward from the ground, hitting all three spawn directly in the chests and threw them backward. Their scales were scorched black in places, but their Health had barely dropped at all.
 
"They're focused on me!" Felix shouted. "I'll draw them in, everyone focus fire on this one."
 
Influence of the Wisp!
 
Primordial-Spawn Has Been Enthralled For 2 Seconds!
 
Blue wispfire erupted along Felix's limbs as the targeted spawn froze in place and lit up like a bonfire. A heavy spiked chain whipped forward, lashing against the paralyzed creature and tearing it's rusty scales from it's shoulder and ribs like a scourge. Simultaneously, two silver spears shot out, stabbing down and through the beasts back. It's Health dropped like a lead balloon under the assault, but Felix couldn't enjoy it.
 
He had his own problems.
 
Unfettered Volition!
 
Spinning above the charge of one spawn, Felix landed atop the second as it snapped at him. They creatures were large with pot-bellies, but their scales left their bodies smooth, hard, and difficult to grip. Still, the Nym held fast to a protruding bone spur along its frill, steadying himself enough to cast.
 
Wrack and Ruin!
 
A dark orb manifested in his palm and he slammed it directly into the spawn's spine. He could feel the creature's scales sizzle and pop as the powerful acid corroded them, and had to grip harder onto its back as it tried to buck him off. The spawn's hide was tough, though, and he hadn't punched through it yet when Felix noticed the second one come back around. Its mouth was open wide, a mess of jagged, mismatched fangs that would nevertheless rip off an entire limb if he let it.
 
Now!
 
There was a flash of white light and a winged shape burst into the air. The spawn didn't slow and being blind it didn't even startle, but that was its first mistake. A rain of icy spears pummeled the earth, many of them smashing into the spawn's tough hide. Few did more than shatter, but they did cause the charging creature to rear back and reorient, only to be subjected to a barrage of wingblades as Pit landed.
 
"CREEEAAAAAWW!!" Pit cried out, and the spawn froze in place.
 
Pit's Cry Has Frightened A Primordial-Spawn For 3 Seconds!
 
Grinning to himself, Felix redoubled his Mana, pouring more of it into Wrack and Ruin as he pushed the orb deeper into his foe's back. With a sudden release of tension, his arm burst through its hide, and the orb of condensed acid shot off. Like a bouncy ball in a tiny room, the corrosive spell ricocheted through the Spawn, its own hide keeping the wrecking ball inside as it ate through the beast's innards. Seconds later, Felix rode the beast as it fell to the ground, dead.
 
You Have Killed A Primordial-Spawn!
XP Earned!
 
It took only seconds more for the rest of his team to finish off the other two, and all of them were breathing only slightly quicker. Felix checked his notifications and saw a swell of light and music as Pit jumped up in levels.
 
Abyssal Skein is level 23!
Ravenous Tithe is level 22!
Wrack and Ruin is level 28!
Influence of the Wisp is level 27!
 
Pit's Wingblade is level 26!
Pit's Cry is level 26!
 
Your Companion, Pit Has Gained Three Levels!
He Is Now Level 20!
+9 to WIL! +6 to INT! +12 to DEX! +3 to END! +6 to PER! +6 to VIT! +12 to AGL!
 
"That wasn't so bad," Evie said, reeling her chain back in with a yank. "Dunno why everyone's worried about the danger here."
 
"They were easier than expected," Vess agreed, reaching down to scratch Pit by his tufted ears. "Thank you for the help, Pit."
 
Pit let out a warbling coo, happy with the scratches.
 
"SKEAARRRRRTTCHH---!"
 
A loud shout and crash sounded and something easily twice the size of the spawn fell into the clearing, shaking the earth beneath them. Parts of it were severed and leaking vile ichor, while its huge, featureless face was dominated by a six-foot wide mouth filled with curled fangs. A single huff of hot, fetid breath and it expired.
 
A blood covered Harn stepped out of the trees, his two axes still shimmering with an aura of silver flame. He stopped to look at them all, and Felix wasn't alone in his gawking.
 
"Come. Ain't safe to dawdle here," Harn sheathed his axes at his waist. "We gotta move."
 
Trading a embarrassed look with the others, Felix followed after the warrior. His Eye identified the larger creature as a Knight of Hunger, another of the Primordial-Spawn type. Like the lesser Spawns, it was clearly influenced by the Maw's corruption, even putting aside the name and type of the beast. In fact, the longer they were here, the more Felix felt the air itself carried a deep and upsetting scent. As if something huge and predatory had made this entire place their lair; as if it had been marked.
 
It tastes like the Labyrinth, near the center. Felix smacked his lips with a grimace. Like licking a battery coated in scum. As if the Maw's usual discord had been turned into a scent.
 
Felix felt his Bastion stir, the ground beneath his fortress trembling by the smallest of measures. It was almost nothing in fact, but still made him worry.
 
The five of them moved forward as quietly as possible, and Felix tried to take in everything he was seeing. The moss was similar to the kind outside the entrance, a deep red and filled with an acrid scent. The ferns and other plant life were similarly affected by the Maw's pervasive corruption, though the gargantuan trees seemed largely immune. Aside from being a dark, dark red.
 
They followed a clear path through the undergrowth, where several somethings had fought a battle against more of the local beasts. No corpses, of course. Even the ones they had defeated were already turning to greasy black smoke behind them. But someone else, monster or otherwise, had been through there recently.
 
"Hey, hold up," Evie called out and kneeled down on their path. She pushed aside a few leaves and pulled something dull and metallic from the earth. "These look familiar..."
 
"Manacles," Vess said with a curse. She cast about and with sad eyes uncovered a long bone that still held a hunk of bloody meat on it. "The prisoners did not survive long after all."
 
"Damn it," Felix sighed. "Now that we've cleared this area, will more monsters show up to kill any other 'offerings?'"
 
"Shouldn't. Takes a day or two for a Domain to manifest more creatures, more if the Domain Core lacks power," Harn spat to the side through the opening in his helmet. "I figure we ain't gotta worry about that, though."
 
"Did you see the notification when we woke up?" Felix asked. "Shell Integrity is down to thirty-five percent after we arrived. Down from fifty percent before. Whatever is happening is going to be soon."
 
"Yeah, yer right, kid. My coming in here ain't done us any favors though," Harn cursed. "Avet curse the Elders for this shitshow. What are they even doin' in here? This looks nothin' like I remember."
 
"Whattya mean?" Evie asked, ducking under a low hanging frond. "Was the forest not this big?"
 
"There didn't used to be a forest at all," Harn growled, using his axe to cut down a red-veined plant. It shriveled up in response to his touch, and the severed stem leaked a sap that was thick and a dark orange. "This Domain was a desert terrain against some mountains. Hot, dry as can be, but definitely not a forest."
 
"Whoa," Felix said, peering at the bleeding stump before looking up at the large, redwood style trees around them. "If it's that different, then what else has changed?"
 
"A good question," Harn grunted.
 
They kept moving. The swath of destruction only increased the further they went, though visibility was limited with the huge trees and high undergrowth. It was almost like they'd been shrunk down and normal nature had been elevated far above them. A second wave of monsters hit them after about fifteen minutes, nearly identical to the first group except greater in numbers. A hulking Knight was fended off by Harn while the others took on five Spawn. The fight lasted longer, and they got a little bruised, but with Harn keeping the level 45 Knight at bay the battle was just a matter of time.
 
A third wave happened another twenty minutes after that, and it was the same story, though they were feeling winded by the end of that fight. Just as both times before, the enemies all headed directly for Felix, which was a mystery to the others. He thought he knew why, but he wasn't willing to offer an explanation. Not yet.
 
Unarmed Mastery is level 30!
Corrosive Strike is level 30!
Blind Fighting is level 23!
Unfettered Volition is level 20!
Cloudstep is level 10!
Influence of the Wisp is level 27!
Stone Shaping is level 28!
Mantle of the Long Night is level 27!
Wrack and Ruin is level 28!
 
Felix and Pit both were able to push many of their Skills higher, finally able to fight in both dire circumstances and against stronger foes. The energy he'd imbibed from the weird liminal Void around the Domain was put to good use. The power funneled easily into his core, supercharging his Skills' advancement even as the fight challenged his abilities. The others in their party reported gaining several levels during this time, and Felix was glad for that. He doubted things would get any easier.
 
After the third wave, they quickly found the forest opening up to a jagged promontory. Instead of water, of course, this speared out over a deep valley filled with waving crimson grasses. And, perhaps five miles away, there was a fortress of some kind. It was built into a rising mound and surrounded by jagged stones that sheltered it from the winds.
 
It was also on fire.
 
"What is going on there?" Vess asked, peering outward. "I fear it is too far to sense details. All I can see is...it looks like a lot of monsters."
 
"Same here," Evie concurred. "Harn? Felix? You guys spot anything?"
 
Felix was squinting, trying to will his vision forward, and his high Perception acquiesced. Like a telescope, Felix could suddenly make out details at the fortress as if he were less than a hundred yards away. He could see the fortress walls, and yeah, they were on fire...but they were also coated in shards of ice, and the telltale crackle of lightning surged within its walls. Monsters were swarming around the battlements, some of them coming from outside the walls, but he couldn't--
 
"Holy shit," Felix breathed. "Are those Guilders?"
 
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