Chapter One Hundred and Forty Four – 144
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Felix raced through the tall grass of the field. It was at least twice their height, but the fortress was still occasionally visible through the stalks. He kept his Perception swept outward, as did Harn, each of them watching for any hint of monstrous foes. But there had been nothing, not a single living thing in their long run. He couldn't even hear the sound of insects or birds.
Just silence and the huffing of their breath.
Though he didn't move as fast as he could, Felix outpaced all of them. Pit, Harn and Evie were forty yards behind. Vess lingered somewhere beyond that. Unfettered Volition let him run through the grassland like a ghost, his feet moving so fast and precisely they barely tore up the earth at all. His Willpower as translated to bodily movement was astoundingly effective. Considering he had--
Felix skidded to a halt, his body twisting through the sheaves of monstrous grasses so that only a few were trampled. He checked his Status again, not sure what he was seeing.
STR:  160 PER: 160
VIT: 212 END: 191
INT: 248 WIL: 335 (396)
AGL: 146 DEX: 143
His Harmonics showed the same parenthetical bonus.
RES:  105 INE: 158
AFI: 74 REI: 78
ALA: 154 (178)    
His Willpower and Alacrity had jumped, and as his memory caught up with him, Felix realized why.
Title: Voidwalker (+10% Void Skills, +10% WIL, ALA in Void)
Combined with my other bonuses, they're skyrocketing. He licked his lips and furrowed his brow at the little blue screens before him. But that part of the Title only works in the Void...Does a Domain count as Void space?
Harn had said the Domain was surrounded by the Void, that it was in a "pocket." So it was piece of, what, Corporeal Realm surrounded by a pocket of Cognitive Realm? The Void must be heavily present for this Title to activate, right? And does that mean I'm using my Willpower to move, not Agility and Strength?
It was concerning news, based on what he had experienced in the Void, but he couldn't be mad at the boost.
While he was thinking, the others had caught up. Harn stopped and panned his senses around them, Evie and Pit arriving shortly after. He tilted his head when he found nothing of note.
"What's happened?" Evie asked, her breath sharp but even. "You see somethin'?"
"No, just another bit of weirdness," Felix said, and explained his Title and the boost. "The Void is not a place I'd like to revisit, it has some pretty nasty things in it."
"Normally I'd say don't worry about it," Harn said as he pushed some grasses out of his way. "Domains're usually pretty secure. But now..."
Felix and Evie nodded. Vess landed next to them, having resorted to long, horizontal leaps to keep up with the rest of them.
"What is wrong? Why have we stopped?" she panted.
Evie explained while Felix moved ahead, pushing his Perception outwards and moving quickly again through the grass. They were far closer now, almost to the keep itself, and Felix could hear the fight growing more frantic. A short distance ahead, perhaps another two hundred yards, Felix sensed the grass ended against a rocky bluff.
They had made it.
"Move quiet, we don't know what we're comin' into," Harn murmured.
"Atar's in there, though," Felix said and Harn shook his head.
"I don't care what yer Eye told ya, we can't just rush in," Harn pointed out the rocky bluff rising above them. "We can climb up, but I dunno what we'll find up there. I suggest we circle 'round, head toward the break in the keep I saw back on the cliffs."
There was another explosion, followed by the sound of cracking stone. A few voices shouted out, all speaking the common language.
"On your right!"
"Walls! Cast your walls!"
Panic filled the voices, faint as they were. People were dying up there, and they were running out of time.
Felix shook his head and scratched Pit along his neck, communing with his Companion. There was a flash of light, and they converged. "You can do that, but we've only got so much time. Come with me or not, but I'm climbing up here. Now."
Felix didn't wait, instead rushed to the rocks ahead and began to climb faster than he ever had before. He wasn't sure if the others followed him, though he hoped so. He put all his focus on speed, blurring up the side of the cliff and quickly transitioning to the weather-roughened blocks of stone that made up the fortress.
The noise only increased as he rose, shouts and monstrous screaming intermingling, while the crack and boom of various Mana Skills kept drowning it all out. By the time Felix had reached the top of the sagging outer wall, a desperate clash was unfolding. Spawn raged across the battlements, flooding toward a conjured wall of stone and metal without care for their well-being.
They were tearing it apart.
With a startling crack the wall broke completely, releasing gouts of invisible silver and dusty brown Mana vapor into the air. Beyond, as the wall crumbled, Felix could see the familiar face of Dabney, one of Atar's "friends." The young man screamed in terror as three Spawn leaped toward him, their toothy mouths opened wide.
Reign of Vellus!
Lightning surged across the walkway, a rolling kinetic wave that swept through the assembled Spawn and hurled them out into the air. Ten of them were caught up in the blast, and a second hit sent a dozen more stumbling back into their fellows along the wall. Kill notifications sounded for nine of the ten thrown from the battlements, but Felix ignored it, focused on the battle. He jumped onto the wall and readied his fists and Mana.
"Felix!?" Atar shouted from behind. "Blood and dust, how're you here?"
Felix didn't answer, partly because he was focused on the fight, and partly because something tackled him out of nowhere.
He went rolling, tumbling over and over as whatever had hit him disengaged. Felix flared Unfettered Volition, coming to a stop at the edge of the battlement, just above the thick, roiling smoke below. It stank to high heaven and was shot through with various streamers of Mana, while an army of Revenants strode forward with corpses on their backs. His eyes took it all in, absorbing the sight in a second. The Revenants were headed toward the center of the courtyard below, where the smoke was the thickest. A broken tower.
His core clenched as his Bastion trembled, harder than ever before.
Blind Fighting is level 24!
Felix felt a surge of panic, pushing at him to dodge out of the way. He rolled to his right, spinning straight up off the ground and onto his feet just as a series of bone spikes slammed into the stone. Another volley followed, this one aimed at his new position, but Felix was ready.
Reign of Vellus!
The wave of kinetic force caught the spikes and hurled them backward. Not with precision, but with plenty of force. The thing screamed in pain, and Felix flowed forward, seeing it for the first time.
Voracious Eye!
Name: Razortail
Type: Primordial-Spawn
Level: 40
HP: 242/681
SP: 193/484
MP: 0/0
Lore: Once a type of large cat, this creature has been defiled by the Maw's influence. Named for the razor sharp spikes that grow on its tail, it can fling them at great speed to disable or kill their prey. It's bite is poisonous.
Strength: Speed, Enhanced Regeneration
Weakness: Ambush Predator, Low Endurance
The information settled into his mind as he built up another Corrosive Strike. It looked like a big cat, but it's face was missing all features save for its triangular ears and a wide open mouth of overlapping fangs. Two of the bone spikes had sunk into its haunches, and the creature still reeled from the blow. Quick as he could, Felix slammed his fists into it's ribs.
Shadow Whip!
Spreading the end of his whip, he snagged the Razortail as his punch sent it flying. Grunting, he hauled back, yanking the creature toward him like a yo-yo. Yowling with a terrible fury, the corrupted cat tried to right itself and claw at him, but Felix was done. He slammed a left hook right it's it's messed up face, shattering its teeth and melting it's face from the inside out.
Corrosive Strike!
You Have Killed a Razortail!
XP Earned!
Felix let his arm drop and stood up straight. With a tight, controlled breath, he turned to look at Atar. The man was gaping at Felix, as were the others next to him.
"You good?" Felix asked.
"Behind you!" Atar shouted.
Felix turned in time to see another Razortail leap out of the drifting smoke, but a silver spear punched through it's throat. It landed at his feet, barely, gurgling wetly. A second spear took it through the heart, and it dropped.
"Damn, Vess," Felix whistled. "What level is that attack?"
"Forty," she grinned, clearing the distance form the ledge to Felix in a single, effortless bound. "We good here?"
Felix saw her eyes flick toward the Guilders who were collecting themselves. He shook his head slightly and shrugged one shoulder. Vess nodded and they both turned toward the Guilders.
Let's keep you a secret for now, Pit.
The tenku cooed in reluctant agreement within him, frustrated but willing to wait. Pit wanted to fight. Felix had a feeling the chimera would have all the chance he wanted soon enough.
There were another series of roars behind them, but a chain swept out, impacting several with meaty thuds. More were tossed off the battlements, and Felix could sense the Spawn hesitating.
"Nasty infestation up here, huh?" Evie said, hopping off the wall. Harn followed shortly after.
"That was dumb, kid," Harn grunted as he took in the scene and the Guilders. His voice dropped low. "This won't turn out how ya want, I reckon."
"Hey! Who are you?!" A big man with a braided beard and a short metal rod at his side stepped out of the ruined barricade and approached them. He was flanked by a slender but tall woman, nearly six and half feet, with long intricate braids in her dark hair. Her face had been painted in blues and blacks, some sort of ritualistic war paint, Felix figured. Or maybe that was just her skin, he couldn't be sure.
"We're the one's that saved your ass," Evie quipped and held out her hands. "No thanks necessary."
"Why are you in the Domain? It's closed for civilians," the man, Okar Litell to Felix's Eye, looked at his companion. Yvette Stred. Both Journeyman Tiered, both pushing level 45.
"They're with me," Harn said, stepping forward.
They balked, and Yvette's eyes widened at the sight of him. "Onslaught," Felix heard her mutter.
"You seem to be in trouble," Felix said, looking past them at Atar and the other Apprentice Tiers with him. The mage's friends from the bookstore were all there. "We came to help. No need for hostility."
For a moment, all they could hear was the roaring cries of more Spawn and the shuffling grunting of the Revenants below. Felix could sense Evie's hand on her chain, Vess' fingers ready to conjure a spear, and Harn's hands utterly relaxed at his side.
"Good," Okar said, giving them a relieved smile. "We're in need of some good news. Iron Ranks, get over here!"
Felix let his breath loose, slowly. That almost went bad. He noticed Harn's stance hadn't changed, though.
Atar and the others approached, and Felix saw that all of them bore signs of heavy fighting and minor wounds. Meanwhile Harn started talking, trying to get the lay of the land. The Guilders told them about the rest of the team, that they split up but had already lost two Bronze Ranks to the beasts. Their Captain was nearly Silver and had taken the other team along the opposite side of the fortress. They had no clue whether he was alive, but Felix couldn't hear the sound of fighting over the monsters. The smoke obscured their vision of the other battlements however, so he couldn't be sure.
"We were sent to stop whatever this is," Okar said, pointing into the smoke. "Can you help?"
Harn tilted his head. "I can't sense anythin' other than these Revenant things."
Hearing was almost out of the questions; the air was filled with the sounds of growls, roars, and screams. Some sounded like men, but it was impossible to tell. Felix watched as more Revenants moved corpses and other things, random items it seemed, into the smoke's dense epicenter: the base of the ruined central tower. Thankfully, the smoke had already begun to recede, and now it cleared further. Felix could see the Revenants picking up the Spawn corpses they'd dropped down, lifting their bodies even as they began to rot away into more of the black smog. As they grabbed them, they stopped rotting altogether. The Revenants carried them toward the center.
Flashes of ice Mana flared through the thinning smoke below, on the far side of the wide courtyard.
"There!" Lilian cried out, pointing.
"Must be the captain," Okar said, his voice gaining an edge. "But I don't see sign of the others--"
A massive, ear-piercingly loud roar exploded across the ruins. The Guilders and Felix's allies were all knocked back, the shockwave of it hitting them like an invisible mattress of air. Felix stumbled back too, his ears ringing and skin crawling. The roar in the ruins rattled with a note of familiar discord, shearing through the air like a knife. From his core, from his Bastion, a similar cry responded faintly. Like an echo.
What is that thing? Felix wondered, eyes wide. Then the smoke cleared, and more of the courtyard was revealed.
"Captain!" Okar hissed, and Yvette had to hold him back from leaping down three stories. Below, the Revenants had more than the corpses of monsters and uprooted vegetation; they carried two limp bodies, and the struggling form of a third Human. Felix's Eye caught their names and advancement, all of them Journeyman, two of them completely dead. Captain Elwick fought against his captors, releasing knife-edged waves of purple-white ice Mana to assault them, taking down one or two with each strike. But the Revenants didn't flinch back and didn't stop. The man was swarmed as they watched.
"We have to get down there!" Okar said to them, panic clear in his voice. He started down the walkway, headed back toward the keep entrance and stairs. "C'mon!"
"There's nearly a hundred Revenants down there," Harn pointed out and swept his hand to the side. "Not ta mention the Spawns that are still waitin' at the base of the battlements. We drove them off, but they aren't gone. We rush down there, no plan, we won't get halfway through the courtyard before we're dead."
The Apprentice Tiers didn't move at all, their faces drawn. Yvette, who had started following Okar slowed to a stop and gave Harn a considering, fearful look. She glanced back at Okar, who looked at all of them with a darkening expression. Atar looked at Vess and Evie, before shifting his attention back to the captain below. The man's screaming could be heard clearly at this point.
It sounded like he was being torn apart.
"He's dying!" Okar shouted, and Felix winced. They were gonna draw attention to themselves.
Felix Eyed the captain. "He has over half his Health left, but barely any Mana or Stamina."
Alister, his fine armor smudged and dented, looked at him with surprise. "How would you know that? We're too far for an Apprentice Tier Analyze."
Felix didn't answer him, but looked at Okar instead. "Unless we can kill over a hundred enemies quickly, he's not gonna make it. I'm sorry."
Okar snarled at him and took a step toward Felix. "Shut your fool mouth, Apprentice Tier. You don't know what you're talking about! Yvette! Iron Ranks! Let's go."
That same terrible roar blasted out again and everyone stumbled. The dark smoke washed across them as if driven by a hurricane force gale, small debris following in its wake and scratching against their armor and exposed skin. Felix blinked at the wind, peering out into the nearly cleared courtyard and saw that the Revenants had prostrated themselves before a pile of corpses and vegetation.
Within the broken tower, a dark smog still swirled, but now thick, scaled appendages slithered outward. Tentacles the size of tree trunks grasped at the pile, yanking it all back toward the thickening smog.
"Blind gods," Vess whispered.
Voracious Eye!
Name: Larval Ravager
Type: Primordial-Spawn
Level: 62
HP: ????/????
SP: ????/????
MP: ????/????
Lore: Born of the Maw's blood and one of the Subcores of the Domain, this abomination is clearly feeding on the corpses of the Domain's monsters. Its purpose is unknown, but it gains power from its consumption.
Strength: Extremely resilient to physical and magical damage.
Weakness: Unknown
"Holy shit," Felix said, before another roar buffeted against them all. His insides squirmed, buzzing painfully before it ended. An eye, blue-green and oily, formed within the smoke. It blinked open and Felix could feel it fix on them.
On him.
The next roar shook the battlements, shifting the very stone beneath their feet as the Larval Ravager screamed out what Felix could only interpret as a challenge. Rising within him, the Maw's consciousness belted out its own rattling cry, and Felix's flesh trembled with a burst of shearing discord. The roar of the Larval Ravager was cut short, and for a moment, Felix thought it had been cowed.
Then it leveraged it's body out of the smog.
A fleshy, yellow tube of meat covered in spiky barbs and scales creeped slowly outward from the tower. Its body sent tremors through the earth with every flex of its disgusting muscles. An endlessly fanged mouth was surrounded by a dozen tentacles, each one covered in bony hooks. The Larval Ravager appeared far closer aligned to the Dread than the Maw, and was all the worse for it. Blue-green orbs formed along its length, shifting and pivoting as they stared directly at Felix.
He felt an instinctual terror grip him, and looking at the others, Felix knew they felt the same. A notification blinked in his vision, an icon of a screaming face.
Status Condition: Frightened
"Avet's teeth," Lilian gasped. "What is that?"
"It's death," said Yvette, her voice shaken and her body trembling. Felix could see the whites all around her eyes. "Oh gods it's death come for us."