Chapter One Hundred and Ninety Three – 193
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The three of them left shortly after Felix finished ingesting the Ward's ambient Mana. It had taken a few passes, but less than the last time. He was getting better, if slowly.
 
Ravenous Tithe is level 55!
 
Vess went back to the Hand, who was her primary trainer now that the Eyrie and its bevy of training resources were no more. Evie had mentioned something about looting those resources when they approached city center, but Felix was doubtful anything worthwhile remained after a skyscraper's worth of stone fell atop it. Regardless, Evie had her own preparations to make, not the least of which was begging Cal to let her join in on the fight.
 
"She's gonna say no, I know it," Evie groused.
 
"Just...frame it properly. Tell her you'll be safe with us. I," Vess suddenly sighed. "I assume Darius will join us."
 
Evie rolled her eyes. "Oh yippee. I can barely restrain my joy."
 
"Good," Felix said, and the others turned to him in surprise. "We need the help. You're both excellent fighters, but I'm...more of a work in progress. I've got the stats, but the Skill levels..."
 
"You've killed monsters and assholes twice your advancement before, or more," Evie pointed out before poking him in the chest. Felix barely felt it. "What's with the humility?"
 
"Is it because of the Initiate?" Vess asked.
 
That rage flared up, coupled with genuine embarrassment and heated Felix's cheeks. "No. Yes. Other things too. I need to train, properly. I have...I've survived on my stats and luck, and I can't do that anymore. I'm working to fix that. And if having Darius on our side means we'll all live through this Quest? I'm for it. In a heartbeat."
 
He'd left them shortly after that to begin his own preparations. After running up to his room and retrieving a few items, he made a stop at the Coldfire Forge before collecting Pit and returning back to his favorite warded room in the main warehouse.
 
Pit, who had been sleeping in a rare sunny spot in the courtyard, was groggy and irritable but followed dutifully. The moment Felix entered the warded room, the tenku slumped down and went back to sleep.
 
"Big pig, now," Felix smiled.
 
So it was that, minutes later, Felix and Pit sat together in the warded room downstairs, his belongings strewn out before him. His bronze-capped boots were off and his feet enjoyed a rare breath of fresh air. Not that the enchanted footwear ever smelled; the magic woven into their making kept them too clean for that. No, instead it was the feeling of relaxation inherent in the act, a key to the techniques Zara had taught him.
 
Breathe deep. Breathe even. He coached himself. Let the quiet flow through you.
 
There was a connection between mindset and outcome, one of the simplest of all links. As above, so below, Felix thought with a faint smile. He wiggled his toes.
 
Breathe.
 
Felix fell into his core space.
 
The darkness around him was thick, potent if pushed out farther and farther by the preponderance of light. His core ring gleamed like the sun, his Skills a set of jewel-bright worlds, each brimming with power and potential. He was here, however, for one Skill in particular.
 
Bastion of Will.
 
Ever since he'd encountered trouble with his emotions, a little voice in the back of his head had wanted to check on his Bastion. Inspect it. Tour the grounds. Yet Felix was afraid of what he may find within. He'd shied away from it.
 
His Bastion should have prevented his emotions from running amok. It had not.
 
As his Skill moved toward Felix, taking up more and more of his vision, he felt his consciousness tip forward. Wresting control back mid fall, Felix plunged into his Bastion, a speck of a world of rolling green hills, a lush forest, and the sound of distant waves. Standing central in all of that was his Bastion proper, a squat, square fortress build of a dark stone. In the center of the castle was a huge expanse of grassy field, uninterrupted by much other than the huge, five sided tower in the very center.
 
Well, that and the gargantuan hole in the earth.
 
"Oh my god," Felix whispered as he alighted upon the grass. The hole was jagged and raw, as if something had been forcibly removed, littering the field around him with great clods of dirt and uprooted grass. The Maw had once been imprisoned there, beneath his Bastion. Felix walked to the edge of the hole and peered within.
 
It was dark, darker than it had any right to be, but in the steady, unchanging sunlight of his Bastion Felix could see that the hole was lined with more dark stone and glittering metal than he remembered. It was all shattered; from the inside, as if something had broken out. The Maw was gone, Felix knew, and all of this likely happened during his final confrontation with the Ravager King when he'd forcibly eaten the Maw's Mind. The process must have torn apart his Bastion as the Maw was finally--fully--consumed.
 
Something flashed crimson within the crater.
 
"What's—" Felix peered closer, and his eyes widened. The stone and dirt within the cavity were shot through with crimson veins, glittering like metal. They weren't malignant, he could tell, yet they felt strong. The memory of starvation, blunted somehow. An edge of ferocity that felt like a caged animal, tempered by the patience of an eternal being.
 
It marked me. Again and again, in ways I'm constantly discovering. Felix almost groaned. How did this affect his Skill, however? He glanced around, casting about for something, anything else. He supposed—
 
From his lower vantage point, Felix could see that each and every wall glittered with pulsing veins of carmine metal. Unlike those in the hole, these felt aggressive. Hateful. A malevolent presence that Felix was astounded he had not felt before; now that he was aware of them, it was impossible to ignore. With a thought, Felix was there, inches away from the nearest wall. He reached out a hand and ran it through the air, not quite touching its surface.
 
Sense impressions exploded across his Mind and Spirit, a jumbled mess of memories and emotions spiked into him. The point of view was alien, the thoughts strange and disjointed, like a home movie taken apart and edited back together randomly. More than anything, he felt the violence and wild brutality had been layered onto his Bastion, baked into the stones themselves.
 
"How the hell am I supposed to fix this?"
 

 
Pit was dreaming.
 
It was a pleasant sort of dream. The kind where snacks were plentiful and easily stolen, where scratches were whenever he wanted them, and--most importantly--he was small again.
 
Pit missed being small.
 
Being large had its advantages, chief among them the ability to fly and fight enemies better. It let him carry his friends now, and that was nice. It was good, and the warmth he felt from his friends' Spirits was a proper reward. Yet still, Pit missed being able to hide beneath tables and to fall asleep in the same bed as Felix. Now they couldn't even share the same bedroom.
 
It made Pit...sad.
 
In his dream, he was tiny, practically the way he'd been when he found Felix. It was perfect for winding through tree roots and hiding among the brush. The undergrowth was covered in fog, as it always had been until he'd bonded with his strange Companion, but the trees above stretched high enough to escape the gloom. There, far up, his mother flew.
 
She was like him, russet and dark, wings and feathers and a great bushy tail. She had been huge, the biggest thing he'd ever seen, though in his dream she was far larger than she ever had been in life. He knew that, but didn't care.
 
She was beautiful.
 
"Pit."
 
Pit spun toward the voice, lowering his body and spreading his tiny, baby wings. A hiss escaped his small beak, and he spotted his mother standing among the shadows and mists of a bulbous tree. His hiss ended in confusion as she moved forward, though the shadow never quite left.
 
"Pit, you must help us."
 
You are not mother, Pit shrieked. His voice was as tiny as his body. You are not welcome!
 
"Felix is not listening, Pit," the creature said, and its limbs writhed in the mist. Jerking motions animated each leg, yet it grew no closer. It was...wrong. "You must convince him. He must not...t(#0st--"
 
The figure flickered, as if a cloud had passed over the sun. It twisted. It was in clear, terrible agony. For all that it was not, it felt like his mother. He ran to it.
 
Stop! Stop hurt! Pit lunged for the shadowy creature, unsure what he could do, but unable to stop himself.
 
Blood-red light split apart the world.
 
A mountain rose up before him, one so huge it blotted out the sky itself. Strange, impossible stars lit the sky as etches of light strobed their way across the horizon. The smell of ozone, of charred rock and wood and flesh filled his nose, closely accompanied by the copper-rich scent of flowing blood. Oceans of it.
 
A waterfall spilled down the mountain, and not only one, hundreds. Each the width of the Ianus, they thundered from on high, falling from a summit that bore the collected aggression of an unbelievable storm. Lightning lashed the peak, a place so far above him that he was less than an ant before it, yet so close that he could taste the discharge on the air.
 
"ENOUGH!"
 
The mists returned, and the forest, and the sound of bugs and wind and smell of imminent rain. But it felt hollow now. A lie. At some point, Pit had even returned back to his original size. His NotMother stood in her darkness, a shadow of something once living, heaving a breath that made the forest around them tremble.
 
No, it did tremble. It shook, and the trees swayed.
 
"It has found me. You share his Titles, but it's not enough time!" The creature writhed more, now turned flat, like a leaf or page of a book. "Speak to him, Chimera. Beast of Harmony, Child of Guardians. You must protect him. It is coming. He must find the shrines, quickly. He is no longer the only one on the Path."
 
Pit tilted his head. You are hurt.
 
"I am far more than that, Wild One," the shadow said. It's eyes flashed with a brilliant, familiar blue. "Now run."
 

 
The Bastion was falling apart.
 
"No!" Felix strained his Willpower and Alacrity, trying with all his might to halt the collapse. He still didn't understand how it had happened. All he had done was try to rip out the hole the Maw had left when the entire fortress began to topple. "Back. Together!"
 
But the Bastion didn't respond, not as it had before. Only a few chunks of masonry were affected, sizable though they might have been. They shifted back, settling into place among the crumbling remains while the rest hit the grassy earth with the force of cannons. Each impact tore godawful wounds in the grounds, gaping holes filled with loam and traceries of crimson metal. Waves of fury and fear and grief pummeled him with each exposed vein. It was terrifying, but Felix couldn't tell if that was his emotion or not. Crimson energy swirled all around the Bastion, clouds of vermilion streaked with bright spots of white hot feeling. It crawled into him, through him. Felix couldn't help it.
 
He screamed.
 
Felix's limbs crackled with blue lightning and flickering, golden fire. Fangs erupted from his maw, face breaking and reforming to fix his new, powerful jaws. His eyes burned, piercing azure light that seared the red clouds all around him.
 
Bastion of Will is level 54!
 
"NNnnnnG!" Felix threw himself forward, hands first to the ground. He hit with a muffled thud that split the grass and dirt, releasing another stream of vaporous carmine light. "BACK! TOGETHER!"
 
Bastion of Will is level 53!
 
What?
 
It was coming apart, all around him. His Skill...Why?
 
SKEEAAAAAW!
CONVERGE!
 
Far above, a black speck shot through the once-blue sky. Storm clouds gathered upon it, fissured with lightning. Pit plummeted, a comet of black light that slammed into Felix's Spirit from orbit. The earth around them exploded. Earthen clods shot into the air, propelled by azure lightning and clouds of burning light. Felix's Harmonic Stats, bolstered by Pit's convergence, surged in response. "STOP!"
 
All around him, for dozens of feet, everything froze.
 
Pressure beset him on all sides, an all encompassing sensation that threatened to tear him apart completely. His focused his fractious Intent, bearing down upon it with all the Willpower he could muster. His Bastion was breaking apart, infected by the Revenant's emotional stain. Felix couldn't remove it, couldn't even touch it, so that left only a single path: he had to filter it out.
 
Reign of Vellus!
Reign of Vellus!
Reign of Vellus!
 
Lightning shout out from him and into the earth and walls around him, focused beams of wrist-thick electricity. Felix grabbed at everything he could, be it falling walls, shattered tower, or the very earth itself.
 
Reign of Vellus!
Reign of Vellus!
Reign of Vellus!
 
Felix cast it all, over and over. He felt Dual Casting rank up again and again as his Mana drained at a prodigious rate. Far faster than even his regeneration could handle. Through sheer force of Will, Felix held on.
 
Bastion of Will is level 52!
 
God damn it! What else could he do? He'd only ever sundered Skills apart. Holding them together, healing them, he'd never--
 
Unfettered Volition, he remembered. Craning his neck, Felix could just see the decaying, pentagonal facade of his central tower. Emblazoned on that tower was the pattern for his movement Skill. He'd once somehow connected it to his Bastion; not a combination of evolution, but an...integration.
 
What if--what if he did more? But how?
 
From within his Spirit, Pit's own fury rose to match Felix's, and the tenku let out a powerful and lingering cry. It swept through the area around him, setting his lightning aquiver as it passed, vibrating the very air. The cry didn't end, but grew stronger as it spread, evoking reverberations from all around them. The clods of earth, the stone, even the traceries of metal echoed the sound, catapulting its resonance ever further. The walls shook. The winds.
 
The sky itself.
 
Urged by a shared instinct he knew better than to question, Felix sent his Affinity coursing along those vibrations. Sweat poured from his brow, his core aching as Mana drained from him like a sieve, but his senses shot outward faster and faster. The sky, heavily clouded and rumbling with dark promise, rocked.
 
There!
 
REIGN OF VELLUS!
 
One last burst of magic exploded from him. Felix poured nearly all of his remaining energy into it, letting the lightning form into a beam of blue-white radiance, surging into the sky. The column pierced the dark-bellied clouds and split them apart. He tore a hole in the sky, revealing a familiar darkness studded with the glittering star patterns of his myriad Skills.
 
Affinity and Alacrity quested outward, no longer held at bay by the limits of his Bastion. Felix knew what he needed. He grabbed one, then two Skills from the ephemeral ether of his core, pulling them down, down through the sky and into his Bastion. Once the shimmering Skills crossed the barrier into his Bastion, they transformed. They became secondary suns in the sky, mountains of raging power that boiled the clouds from around them and set winds shrieking in tumultuous gales that uprooted trees beyond the broken walls. Though it was like gripping twin infernos, Felix did not quit, he hauled them down, down, into his Bastion until they were just feet from the tallest tip of his tower.
 
BASTION OF WILL!
 
The world around him let out a melodious hum, joining with the calamitous fury of emotion that sheared at the edges of his Mind. The Skill quivered beneath that combination of sound, a discordant tone that soothed Felix's mind but only set his teeth on edge. This was his Bastion, his Skill, and it was his to control!
 
Meditation!
Deep Mind!
 
Felix sounded their patterns and the suns came alive, their former heat only a precusor to their new intensity. Normally passive Skills by their nature, that had never stopped Felix from tracing out their patterns. Meditation was to counterbalance the rage, for regeneration of Body, Mind, and Spirit while his Deep Mind was to strengthen his Bastion's connection to his Mind. For that is what this place was; his Bastion was a safeguard, a fortress for his Mind and Spirit, a world sheltered from the terrors of the Continent.
 
And he'd be damned if he gave that up just for some jerk ass Revenant's.
 
"BACK!"
 
The lightning thundered around him, blooming outward into branches, each flicker of force connected to a piece of his Skill. Felix raised his trembling hands, now scaled and tipped with bleeding claws, and grabbed at the air beside him. Pit screeched in tandem, his own strength joined with Felix's.
 
"TOGETHER!"
 
With a mighty heave, he pulled his arms inward. An eruption of blue-white light and concussive sound shook everything. Felix's veins stood out like cables in his neck and arms, and he screamed through clenched fangs. His jaw popped, the force too much for it and teeth shattered, but still he pulled. The light of twin suns expanded until everything was awash in glorious golden radiance...
 
...and then, it vanished.
 
Relative darkness followed, and the sudden cessation of resistance found Felix's arms limp as noodles. Ragged and panting, mouth bleeding and eyes burning with brilliant, sapphire light, Felix sat up.
 
Grass, dirt, entire fields that had been torn asunder and filled with crimson vapor had largely slithered back where they belonged. The process had been reversed, for the most part. The walls around him had reconstituted, but huge, glaring cracks crazed the surface. They shone with a fitful, vermilion radiance.
 
It had worked, but Felix knew it was only a band-aid. He turned and beheld his pentagonal tower; still he could see the pattern for Unfettered Volition etched into one side, and on two more were Meditation and Deep Mind. The both of them linked now to his Bastion; connected but not combined or evolved. Like stars that rotated around each other.
 
Bastion of Will!
 
Felix could feel his heart settled and his mind calm, while all around him a wind kicked up and the many, many cracks in the earth and stone all flared with bloody light. The metal that represented his new, emotional flaw was not going anywhere, but at least this Bastion was working once again.
 
Bastion of Will is level 53!
Bastion of Will is level 54!
Bastion of Will is level 55!
 
Ah, excellent. Felix sagged with relief. He feared the Skill would break. Pit you're a lifesaver.
 
I am a Beast of Harmony. Child of Guardians, his Companion said.
 
...What?
 
But Pit didn't reply, only huffed a tired breath and faded into sleep.

 

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