Chapter 37 – Into the Unknown
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“And then, when I gave up and surrendered, I was a hundred percent planning to just go along peacefully—“ Alexis said, gesturing animatedly with both her hands.

“And then the haze took hold, right?” Shiro asked with a furrowed brow.

“Huh, you called it that too? Interesting,” Alexis said, leaning back in her chair, bringing her hand to her mouth in a thoughtful gesture.

“Same here,” David said.

“Yep,” Cameron added with a nod.

“But yeah,” Alexis said, straightening her back, “then the haze took hold, and all I knew was I had to kill the man before me.” She nodded in my direction. “It was doubly weird because up to that point, I’d been able to fight it of a bit.”

“Really?” I said with a tilt of my head. “Judging from the way the spell took hold in your souls, I expected it to be nigh unbeatable.”

“It’s because of my Skill, Bag of Tricks — it gives me a buff that lets me resist mind-controlling effects. Pretty nifty,” she said, and there was an undercurrent of suspicion in the glint of her eye. The six of us were arrayed around a table inside my tower’s dining hall, under the pretense of exchanging information. Like Sarah had predicted, Alexis had easily accepted my offer to return her to life — all three Heroes did, despite the way deaths had played out. But she didn’t trust me yet, and likely wouldn’t for a long time.

But of the three new members of my group, Alexis wasn’t the one who interested me the most, in spite of her knack for breaking out of mind control. I turned my head to the dark-skinned boy, my curiosity getting the better of me.

“You can use magic, I understand?” I asked, tilting my head. “Were you ever aware you were being influenced?”

Cameron grimaced. “To some extent, but not more than David. It wasn’t exactly subtle,” he said. “But if you mean if I felt the magic, then no. I specialize in Force.”

I raised my eyebrows, intrigued by his answer. “It’s quite impressive that you even have a specialty so soon. Has it not been only… two or three months? It takes that much for most apprentices just to open their conduits,” I said, unconsciously scanning the boy with Soul Vision, though nothing odd registered.

“I don’t… think I had to open anything?” he said, seemingly unsure of himself. “I was able to do magic as soon as I arrived.”

“Did the System teach you, then?”

He frowned, deep in thought for a few moments. “Not exactly, I think. I just knew what I had to do from the start. As if the information was already there, if that makes sense?”

So, the System could implant information directly into your mind. I found this particularity more than a bit chilling — if you could put thoughts into someone’s head, it was just as easy to do the opposite. I would have to be very cautious once I acquired System access myself.

Still, if the System had allowed him to progress so far so quickly, I was almost giddy to see how it would help my own advancement.

“That’s not important right now,” Alexis said, fixing me with her eyes. The conversation quieted down as everyone’s attention was focused on the girl. She had a slight air of authority around her, effortlessly changing the pace of the conversation — she was definitely a born leader, unlike myself. “The question is what are we going to do now. You brought us back, but that doesn’t make us your underlings. We’re not going to follow you just because you said so.”

“Forcing you to serve me was not my intention,” I said with a nod, acknowledging her worry. “If I wanted that, I could have simply assumed control while you were dead, and you would have been powerless to stop it.”

The three newcomers shared a look of alarm, and Alexis threw Cameron a questioning gaze. “I don’t know,” he stammered, bringing his arms up defensively. “I can’t do that kind of magic, I have no idea if he did anything to us.”

“If I lied, then your ability should tell you so, unless I’m mistaken?” I asked.

Alexis seemed to calm down a notch. “Probably. Still, if you could have enslaved us, but didn’t — why? What do you want?”

“Right now, to figure out what the gods are doing and why. Eventually, to punish them for what they did to them,” I said, motioning to Shiro and Sarah, “and you three as well, I suppose. You’re every bit the victims that they are. Probably even more.”

“Do you really believe that, or are you just saying it to convince us?” David asked, earning himself a glare from Sarah. Ever my loyal protector, the young knight.

“Whether or not you believe me is not my problem — though, if you want to get revenge for what was done to you, then it should be obvious we share an enemy,“ I said.

“Sure. I’m just doubtful you aren’t our enemy as well. We were compelled to kill you, sure. The gods are most likely bastards, no doubt. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a legitimate reason to want you dead,” he said as he tapped an odd rhythm on the wooden table.

I opened my mouth to voice a retort, then closed it again. I had taken it for granted that the gods were a pack of lying assholes, and that I’d been accused unfairly, but what if I was wrong? What if they really could predict the future, and were trying to stop me from becoming a monster?

I waved away the thought. If their intentions had been benevolent, they could have just talked to me “I haven’t done anything to warrant an execution,” I said with a shrug, though David didn’t look convinced. “You can take a trip into town and ask anyone you want.”

“What of the gods, then? How do you intend to fight them?” Cameron piped up, some of his shyness leaving him. “From what I gathered, they don’t even live in this world.”

“There’s not much known about them,” I said with a sigh. “They don’t communicate much, except with their highest ranking followers. What I do know is that most of them used to be mortals, ascending sometime in the Ancient Times. Not many vestiges of that time remain here — their followers made sure to erase what they could. But there should be traces left in the Archipelago, so that’s where I intend to search.”

“Dragons!” Shiro said, shooting up from his seat. “Isn’t that where the dragons are?”

Sarah shot him an annoyed glance and pulled him back down to his chair. “If what Leon said was true, yeah, it should have dragons.”

“Yes, the Archipelago is inhabited by dragons,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Though, they’re hardly the most dangerous thing there. The area is full of dungeons that put the Steelsilk Grotto to shame, and many of them have spilled out of their bounds. The islands are absolutely teeming with monsters.”

“And you’re hoping to find, what exactly?” Alexis asked, though I could see her interest was piqued. What was it with these transmigrators and dragons?

“I don’t know, frankly. Perhaps hints on how the gods ascended, or maybe even study the dungeons and see how they interact with the System? The Archipelagos are sparsely inhabited, so at the very least I can focus on researching all these without having to worry about another crusade on my head.”

A silent conversation passed between the three new Heroes, and eventually, they all nodded, although David’s was still tinged with doubt.

“We’ll join you, then,” Alexis said, her gaze severe, “but if it turns out you’re no better than the gods, don’t expect us to remain.”

“Of course,” I said, my lips curling into a slight smile, “I never expected Sarah and Shiro to follow me, either, and yet here they are.”

“So far, I haven’t had a reason to think he’s a bad guy,” Sarah said, though a shadow of doubt passed through her eyes. I had probably lost some of her trust with the war, but I hoped I could recover it in time.

Shiro nodded in agreement.

“Well, then,” Alexis said, clapping her hands, then nodded in my direction, “I believe now would be a good time to plan the expedition?”

I saw no reason to refuse.


Hours later, I sat alone in the observatory, my eyes closed as I juggled with threads of all six Aspects. Back when I had been trapped, I had spent what felt like years trying to unlock the puzzle of the spell that plagued me. During that time, I had progressed in my weaker aspects by leaps and bounds — I had even managed to improve a little in Soul and Mind, even though I had been sure I had peaked in them a long time ago.

It only served to prove that there was so much about the world that I didn’t know.

But now, I knew I was on the precipice of something. The System that had evaded me in the past, I was sure I would be able to unlock it now if only I tried. But as excited as I was about this development, I was in equal measure worried. What would I find, once I crossed this threshold? What would await me on the other side?

The anticipation was killing me, the mana swirled around me in wild circles as I tried to center myself. I would do it. I just needed to be calm, I had done this before, I knew it almost as well as the back of my hand.

Swallowing my worries, I dived into my soul and began the working. Like before, channeled all six Aspects, drawing the threads tightly around me, then brought them all before my eyes and willed them to merge. Origin mana sprung forward from their union, and it was obvious from a glance its quality was incomparable to my earlier attempts. It was still far from perfect — that would take years, I had no doubt, but for now, it would suffice.

With my new thread of Origin, I slowly crafted the mana well — or the System Anchor, rather. It bloomed before me, much like before, but this time it looked the slightest bit more solid.

With the Anchor completed, I Hasted myself, turning the world around me slow, and watched the Anchor unfold itself before my eyes. Threads of mana burst from Unreality, trying to find purchase on the Anchor’s walls, and this time, they struck true. The Anchor wobbled under the assault, and I worried it would crumble like before, but it held fast. Thread after thread connected, until finally all stood still.

The System Anchor remained standing.

Unwilling to wait any longer, I willed my mind to leave my soul, letting the darkness of my tower greet my eyes.

Like before, an array of floating rectangles waited before me. This time, though, their content was different.

 

System Anchor detected! Attempting to attach Main Process… 0%

 

System Anchor integrity (24%) above the acceptable threshold (20%). Main Process attachment in progress… 5%

10%

15%

20%

95%

100%

 

Main Process has attached to the System Anchor successfully! System access has been enabled!

 

Alert! A special feat has been achieved: Self-reliant. Reason: System access was enabled through a user action. Generating rewards…

 

A perk has been awarded! Bonus experience has been awarded!

 

Paragon of Humanity

Perk — Special

For most, the power of the System is a privilege they are granted. You took fate into your own hands and obtained it for yourself. Increases experience gain by 100%.

 

Name

Julian Crane

Level

24

Class

Archmage

Species

Lich (Human)

Status

Health

100/100

Stamina

Willpower

100/100

Attributes

Strength

1

Dexterity

1

Intelligence

1

Constitution

1

Endurance

1

Will

1

Unassigned

24

Skills

Soul Magic

20

Mind Magic

20

Force Magic

20

Matter Magic

20

Fate Magic

20

Dimension Magic

20

Multi-disciplinarity

1

Perks

Arcane Savant

Paragon of Humanity

Aaaaaaand, that's Book 1 done! At 103k words, it's the longest thing I've ever written, by about... 102.5k words :P Gosh, that's a big jump. I probably should have started with something shorter.

Anyway, Book 2 is now in progress, and it has 100% more outlining and planning done than Book 1, so that should hopefully mean the quality will get better.

I want to thank you all for your support, and see ya on Friday for the first chapter of Book 2! <3

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