'Oh man, this was definitely not part of the plan.' Shin's thoughts were thrown asunder as he smashed into the back of the aquarium, his eyes blurring from the water around him. His Ivory Skin Leather Armor absorbed most of the impact, protecting him from injury.
The moment he arrived with Number 6, a huge blow had slammed into his arm, sending him flying. His Melding Plate Arm had then grown numb as it sustained a huge amount of damage, a long, clean cut nearly slicing all the way through it. If it had cut just a couple of inches longer, it would've dug into his shoulder.
'Damn it!' Shin winced as he tried to shift his arm, glaring at the metal appendage. The damage it had taken had proven to be too much, causing it to shut down. He would have to repair it later if he wanted it to work again.
At the same time, a feeling of shock rocked Shin's Soul. This Artifact was inherently tied to his body and Soul, and when it took a sizable amount of damage, he would get hit with feelings of intense shock and pain.
Micheal seemed like he was able to take anything with ease, but for Shin, this was a shocking experience that almost directly made him fall unconscious. The world fluttered around him as he struggled to hold on, trying to fight his way through the pain.
'I. Will. Not. Be. A. Burden.' Throughout all of this, Shin bitterly repeated a mantra over and over in his head, his eyes blazing as he refused to back down. The pain slammed against him time and time again, all in a matter of seconds, but Shin held on steadily, eventually managing to hold on.
The struggle was fierce, and it was far from over for his mind. But Shin had recovered enough to regain awareness of the things around him.
Luckily, Shin had kept holding his breath, doing his best to avoid breathing in any water during the spate of a few seconds where this all took place. He was able to last longer than a typical human when it came to holding his breath, thanks to his Ki, but he could still run out of breath as he had already experienced.
"Are you trying to drown me? Interesting, if ineffective." Number 6's words carried through the water, imbued with Ki to give them sound as he looked over at Shin, his head tilted to the side. As the warrior spoke, a clear, glass door opened up right next to him.
'Crap!' Shin's eyes widened when he saw this. His few seconds of being frozen had cost him the time he needed for his attack.
The entire plan he was working with only had a single requirement. He needed to get Number 6 into this aquarium for enough time to shoot.
"Wait!" Shin blurted out loud, his eyes glowing with Ki as he looked at Number 6 and the area near him searchingly.
Number 6 paused and glanced back at Shin. The glass-door-portal the elite Numbers warrior had spawned was cracked open, causing water to spill out from it, but not enough to make a difference yet.
As Number 6 froze for a split moment, Shin did the only thing he could think up on the spot.
"Hiyaaaa! Wuuuaaah!" Shim mimed what he imagined martial artists sounded like as he raised his arm and one of his legs in a dramatic pose.
Number 6 blinked, his gaze piercing through the water to observe Shin instead of leaving the aquarium immediately.
Shin knew very little about this warrior. Most of what he got was from Micheal, or something he had observed himself.
And one thing he had learned was that Number 6 seemed to be obsessed with martial arts. When Sophia and him clashed back on a rooftop several days ago, the man had purposefully held back in order to test her and observe her skills.
For a sparse couple of seconds, Number 6 waited to see what Shin was going to do.
And in that time…
In an almost comically fast motion, Shin dropped his martial art stance and pulled his Soul Pistol from his Spatial Ring. His hands were remarkably steady as he raised his Soul Pistol, aiming it with eyes of steel.
He immediately fired it. In the same instance, he activated his Expand Ability, causing the bullet he shot to swell to the size of a bowling ball in a split second.
"Hmph." While Shin couldn't see beyond Number 6's masked face, he could feel the derision present in the man's snort. Literally, the man seemed to be able to project some of his emotions in the wave of Ki he spread to communicate underwater. Shin had no idea how he did it.
Number 6's spear fluttered through the air, well, the water, as he brought it up in a parrying stance. However, the man paused as he watched the bullet blast through the water. Because Shin had made it larger, it had slowed down, but in the end, it was still a bullet. It moved extremely quickly, crossing a dozen meters in split seconds.
The bullet shot towards Number and then…
Shot past him, missing completely.
"Fool." Number 6 left out another snort as he shook his head. His free hand reached out, opening up the glass door portal as he prepared to leave to avoid drowning.
His gaze has never lost sight of Shin as Shin attacked… well, that had been the Spear Tiger's plan, anyway. But right as Shin fired his gun, he had disappeared from Number 6's vision.
When Number 6 noticed this, an unsettled feeling appeared in his heart, as if something was wrong. He instantly reached the conclusion that he needed to get away, right now.
Unfortunately for Number 6…
Just as his hand touched the glass door, an explosion of Elemental Lightning cascaded about the aquarium. With water as its medium, this Elemental Lightning spread itself about, bouncing off the nigh-invincible walls as it looked for a place to displace its charge. It vaporized much of the normal water, dissipating it in a heartbeat.
And that Elemental Lightning eventually settled on a location, finding its discharge point.
Number 6's body.
Outside the water tank, Shin's breath wheezed in and out of him as he shook off the water that soaked him, staring at the aquarium. He was currently hiding in the corner of the room, watching the white steam cover his sight.
On this same floor, he could hear the sounds of battle exploding forth in another room as Executive Riana and the Godfather Organization battled against the remaining Numbers on this floor.
Shin used his bracelet Artifact, his eyes narrowing as he cast his senses towards the water tank. Faintly, he could detect a source of energy in the tank, indicating that Number 6 wasn't dead.
'Wow, Micheal even managed to guess this too.' Shin watched as the superheated steam gradually faded.
When Shin had fired his gun, he hadn't aimed it at Number 6.
Instead, he'd aimed it at the three boxes he had tied down in the aquarium when he first arrived here.
According to Micheal, these were called 'Static Light Boxes'. Micheal said he'd made good use of them before, and that they should prove useful if placed in an area underwater.
Unless they were right next to their target, they wouldn't cause fatal injuries, Micheal had claimed. They would, however, be able to shock and temporarily stun anyone that came into contact with them. The water would act as an electrical conductor, and, for Elemental Lightning, would boost its potency.
Even if Number 6 had been boosted in power by a Permanent Nest Core, Micheal had described the Elemental Lightning as a power that required training and awareness to resist. Here on the First Layer, even the strongest would still be temporarily stunned if enveloped in water. Only, most warriors wouldn't allow that to happen in the first place.
With only a single second's pause to let the heated steam fade, Shin teleported back into the tank, his Soul Pistol at the ready. He warped in just a couple of meters away from the source of energy he'd detected, holding his gun tight.
The fog had faded enough to reveal the bedraggled figure of Number 6 lying on the floor. His armor was steaming, while the mask he wore was now a burnt mess. It looked like it had protected most of his body, but not enough to block the attack. Micheal's assessment of the level of gear down here had been right again.
"Well, that's that." Shin muttered as he cocked his Soul Pistol and aimed it carefully. He had no intentions of pontificating or gloating. After all, what if Number 6 recovered and attacked?
Before he fired, however, Number 6's voice rang out, dragging on in ragged gasps,
"You have… no… honor…" The powerful warrior's body shook as he sought to stand, his hands trembling in a mix of rage and as a result of the aftereffects of the Elemental Lightning explosion.
Shin shrugged nonchalantly as the finished aiming, his eyes hardening,
"Honor is for fools."
He fired, Expanding his bullet in the same motion.
Without fanfare, the bullet directly smashed into Number 6's mask. Whatever Defensive Artifacts the man had, whatever Abilities he had, they weren't enough to stop a literal cannonball to the face from point-blank range.
Just like that, Number 6 died.
Points Gained: 30,276
'It's less Points than I thought I'd get.' Shin's first thought was a complaint as he fell down to the ground in a heap, clutching at his aching head and arm in turn. His eyes swam as he took several breaths, gathering himself. He winced several times, still trying to shake off the pain.
He focused on the pain for a few seconds, trying to take his mind off the fact that he had just mercilessly killed another human being.
In the meantime, another screen popped up, informing him of a second thing he'd gained.
Complete Soul Enrichment
'Huh? Is this the Nest Core thing Micheal talked about? Status!' Shin eyed it, frowning unintentionally.
— - Status — -
Name: Shin Hopefell
Physique: 1 Star
Soul Quality: 2 Stars
- Stats -
Strength - 29
Endurance - 25
Recovery - 24
Soul - 16 -> 25
Abilities - (3/7)
Warping Phaser Type
Ki Cultivator (Mortal Tier - Middle)
Nestled just below the 1 Star Physique he'd gained, after Micheal showed him how to, was a gleaming, '2 Stars' rating for Shin's newest stat, 'Soul Quality.'
Alongside that, Shin could feel several keen changes in the world around him, and himself, as his Soul stat exploded upward, gaining a full 9 points in an instant.
A rush of feelings came upon him as his senses suddenly become much stronger and his perception of time increased. A giddy feeling of exultation and glee, a rush of happy feelings that were hard to ignore flooded his body and mind with warmth. It was an incredible feeling, as if his entire being had grown incredibly cozy.
If Shin had to describe how it felt to grow his Soul stat and Soul Quality by such a huge margin all at once, it could only be called pure bliss.
The damage and shock to his Soul gradually disappeared into nothingness, fading away as Shin's rapid growth to his Soul stat, and rapid growth to his Soul Quality, overwhelmed whatever damage he had taken.
Shin didn't let the pleasure overwhelm him, however, as he noticed that he didn't seem to have obtained the main, powerful boost that Number 6 had from the Permanent Nest Core. He'd only gotten the less powerful, but permanent effects from destroying multiple Nest Cores.
He was just about to start adjusting his injured Artifact arm and calm his rather confused feelings down when…
Shin shivered as his heart dropped. His eyes flicked to the right as the world around him… flickered…
Flickered with warm, golden light, accompanied by a voice tinged loss and sadness as, before Shin's eyes, a nearby window was slashed into pieces.
The speaker had short, blonde hair and a manly looking face. He wore a full set of shining, metal armor and wielded a glowing longsword in his hand, looking every bit the brave hero as he cut his way into the skyscraper.
What caught Shin's attention, however, wasn't the man's imposing figure or powerful armor.
Instead, it was the unbelievably powerful Aura the man unleashed, full of golden light that seemed to push back and overcome anything in its path. It was so powerful Shin felt that, if he had still been injured, he would've fallen unconscious without a choice, overwhelmed.
Garen looked at Number 6's body, and then slowly looked up at Shin.
In that tiny moment, Shin's heart plummeted as a type of sixth sense warned him.
If he did not move, he was going to die.
Without even thinking about it, Shin teleported away, warping down to the lower floors as he went to check on Sophia.
If he had still been present, watching in the room, he would've seen Garen move so quickly it almost seemed to be teleportation, arriving right where Shin was just a split second after Shin warped away.
Instead of wildly attacking in rage, Number 1 only sighed, catching Number 6's body and carefully laying it down on the ground. All around, on the floor, the sounds of battle faded away as all of the participants became aware of the rather horrifying presence that Number 1 was giving off.
"Rest easy, now, my friend." Number 1 covered Number 6's eyes and slowly stood up, a deep-seated, black anger filling his voice,
"I will finish what we started."
When Shin arrived down below, the first thing he did was fall down on one knee. He had teleported back into the rafters of the gymnasium, away from anyone down below to be safe.
His vision was swimming and his heart pounding. His Soul had made a full recovery and grown much stronger, but the damage he'd sustained physically was still present. His Melding Plate Arm was torn asunder, and because of its link to his Soul, it made him feel incredibly uncomfortable.
That, combined with the horrifying fear that had sprung up in his Soul from knowing he had been split seconds away from certain death, was enough to temporarily stun him.
It took him a few seconds to overcome that as he moderated his breathing, trying to calm himself down as he looked at what was taking place on the ground floor below. He activated the Wavelength Crystal Bracelet Micheal had given him in the same motion, frowning slightly.
Down below, instead of the regular-looking gymnasium that had been here just moments ago, Shin gazed upon a huge collection of large vines, spread out to cover roughly 80% of the gym.
Deep within this clump of twisting foliage, Shin could sense a number of different energy presences. Most of them were frozen still and slowly weakening, as if being drained. At a place near the center of this cluster of vines, he could make out two separate energy presences in particular.
One that flourished in a middling fashion and one flourished several times stronger, overwhelming the smaller one.
"Sophia?!" Shin's eyes took on a blazing light as, without hesitation, he gripped his Soul Pistol tight and closed his eyes, preparing to teleport in.
.. .. .. .. .. ..
In the time Shin took to take on Number 6, Sophia and her allies struck to take down Number 10.
They stuck to their original plan. Vladimir led the way, Asim closely followed, and Sophia came in last, ready to unleash her Fairy Eyes at a moment's notice.
Thanks to the distraction caused by the barrage of attacks from their allies, they managed to cross more than half the distance to Number 10 before they got noticed.
"Watch out!" Vladimir's voice echoed out as he raised his spear upward in a cutting motion.
Not a moment later, a large, glowing vine smashed down towards him, spreading out in a way that made it impossible to dodge unless you retreated.
Vlad pushed on regardless, the air around him twinkling with light as he activated several different Abilities. A weird, aura of rainbow light wrapped around him, showing how he got the nickname 'Wonder King' as he slammed into the vine.
Instead of letting the metal, super weedkiller-coated part of his spear hit the vine, Vladimir lashed out and hit it with the spear's shaft.
The vine froze in midair as it made contact. Then, several large chunks of ice formed out of nowhere, solidifying and freezing the vine in place.
Sophia instantly understood what Vlad was trying to do when she saw this.
The longer they could keep Number 10 from knowing they could ruin her defensive vines, the better their chances were at getting close enough to take her down.
Asim rushed past the frozen vine, flipping over it in one smooth motion. Sophia came in just a couple steps behind, her breathing calm and steady as she hoisted her throwing knives at the ready.
Yet another explosion shook the air as the other members of the Godfather Organization continued to launch explosive and lightning-based attacks at Number 10's vine cocoon. Their bombardment had yet to let up, unleashing a hail of constant, if ineffective, destruction.
More often than not, the myriad of wavering vines caught each attack before it could land on Number 10's cocoon, absorbing the blow or deflecting it away.
By this point, Vladimir was around 8 meters away from the vine cocoon that hid Number 10. He was rushing in from the north side of the cocoon, while the rest of the Godfather Organization was attacking from the east, giving him a little leeway.
Three times, Vladimir attacked individual vines, forcibly freezing them and halting their movements. He hadn't unveiled their secret weapon yet, managing to still avoid using the super weedkiller.
Sophia, however, had noticed that Vlad's chest was heaving and that his moments had become slightly sluggish.
'Freezing the vines must really drain him.' She frowned when she noticed this. One and all, they were still relatively new to the Seven Layers here. Vlad and Asim had rapidly gained Points by killing criminals and used several powerful Abilities to enhance their power.
Sophia, on the other hand, only had a couple of strong Abilities, and had kept her other slots free as she waited to fill them with something she felt right choosing. Her Ki Cultivation and Sword Mastery were both Abilities with huge potential, but they weren't at a high enough level to be world-shaking yet.
However, her Ki Cultivation Ability was higher than it should be thanks to Micheal's instruction, and her stats were currently boosted by the Bracken Enhancement Fluid Micheal had shared.
As a result, she was actually stronger by a large degree compared to the two other geniuses.
"Let's pierce through!" Sophia yelled, just loud out enough to be heard by Vlad as they charged. Asim kept his presence as quiet as possible throughout all of this, doing his best to avoid being noticed.
Right before Sophia yelled, however, Number 10 seemed to notice their presence.
A sizable clump of vines broke off from defending Number 10's cocoon to lash out towards Vlad, forming up together in a large, glowing green fist. They rushed through the air at Vlad, pushing the air out of the way.
Vlad merely grunted and raised his spear up, this time pointing the edge part directly at the incoming attack.
However, in that time, the vine rapidly accelerated, moving so quickly it was clearly impossible for Vlad to react to. When the Wonder King saw that, his eyes glowed as he activated another one of his Abilities.
The vine fist froze in mid-air, its movement completely sealed for a split second. Its powerful attack was completely cancelled out, preventing it from smashing into Vlad.
Vlad's face turned a sickly pale after he did this, his entire body trembling from the strain. He didn't slow down in his own return strike, though, as he threw his spear towards the frozen vines.
His spear then flew through the air stabbed into it, sinking in a good half meter.
With the impact of the spear, the collection of vines plopped to the ground, no longer frozen in mid-air. It slowly began to rise again, twisting to try and resume its stabbing strike towards Vlad.
Before it moved more than a meter or two, however…
The previously vibrant vines shivered. Slowly, a grey hue of color spread out from the impact point of the spear. This grey swarm seemed to drain all other color out of the vine as it spread roughly a dozen meters up the twisting vines before finally halting, just a couple of meters away from Number 10's cocoon.
After turning grey, the vines shivered one last time and then fell over to the ground in a clump. They lay completely still, no signs of life, or movement of any kind, appearing. A large, network of cracks spread out across the now lifeless husk, showing that the once-mighty plant was now dead and collapsing.
"Sorry… It's much… much harder to effect these things… than anything I faced…" Vlad's breath wheezed out of him as he fell down on one knee, sweat soaking his body as he huddled down.
For him to sit like this, Sophia could only conclude that his body had literally been exhausted. No matter how determined he was, the Permanent Nest Core boosts that Number 10 had gained seemed to have boosted her resistance to powers like Vlad's to a ludicrous degree.
"Defend yourself!" Sophia couldn't afford to wait and instead rushed on ahead, giving him a sharp nod. She hadn't accounted for Vlad's exhaustion, but they could still go through with the plan, so it didn't matter.
Thanks to Vlad's efforts, she and Asim were only a couple of meters away from Number 10's cocoon. Several more vines had peeled off to strike at them as Number 10 realized how her attack had failed, but they were far enough away to give them a couple of seconds.
Sophia's face scrunched up in concentration as she raised her right arm and then flicked her wrist.
The first of her two throwing knives soared through the air and smacked right into Number 10's vine cocoon. The super weedkiller on its edge instantly reacted with the vine, allowing the dagger to easily sink hilt deep into the vine, cutting into it like butter.
And, just like before, the vine cocoon rapidly began to turn grey.
"Now Asi-huh?!" Sophia was in the middle of yelling to Asim and jumping to the side, ready to let him get close enough to Number 10 to activate her Ability when she noticed something.
Just as she stabbed the vine cocoon, a figure had leapt up into the air out of the cocoon, riding on a self-forming tower of vines.
'What?!' Sophia blinked as she watched Number 10 fly up eight or nine meters into the air. Several more vines reached out into the rafters, latching on to the roof above to give her a stable platform.
Sophia's carefully constructed plan seemed to fall in on itself as she saw this. There was no way Asim could get close enough now.
However, she didn't panic. Instead, she instantly began to adjust, trying to act like how she thought Micheal would.
'If we can't get close to her, we can just bring her down to us!' Sophia raised her last remaining throwing dagger as she eyed Number 10. She then carefully began to aim.
At the same time, she activated her Fairy Eyes Ability.
Her eyes glowed a bright pink as she glared at Number 10, willing every illusion she could muster forth to slam into her enemy's psyche. She zeroed in on Number 10, feeling the power flow through her.
The temperature around her plummeted as she felt her invisible attack slam into Number 10…
And then bounce off.
'What?! How?!' Sophia's jaw dropped as shock swept over her.
"HOW DARE YOU! I WILL KILL YOU ALL!" Number 10's voice devolved into a base scream, giving off almost insane vibes as she stabilized and looked down at her attackers, screeching at them. Her voice also hid a barely detectable hint of strain, as if she was going beyond any safe limits she had in doing this.
A foreboding feeling settled in the pit of Sophia's stomach. Before Sophia could do anything else, Number 10 stamped down with her foot.
The next thing Sophia saw could only be described as a literal explosion of foliage.
Hundreds of vines blasted out from Number 10, covering a full two-thirds of the gymnasium in a heartbeat. These vines weren't as controlled as Number 10's previous attacks, but each one was clearly full of vitality and extremely tough. They all shot down, filling the air and knocking into everyone.
Sophia lost sight of Vlad and Asim, and everyone else, as she was swept up just like the others.
In just a scant couple of seconds, the gymnasium turned into a maze of cramped vines, trapping everyone in a green hell.
Sophia winced as she clutched at her right arm, a small dribble of blood trailing from her right eye as she forced herself to stay focused. A small backlash had hit her from her mental attack, and subsequent failure.
Unlike the green vines that had knocked into everyone else, the world around Sophia was a maze of grey.
The vines all around her were dead, leaving up a several meters wide opening of collapsed dead, greyed-over greenery. Every within a roughly five meter or so radius was like this, withered to death.
In the very last second, before the attack hit her, Sophia had pulled out the final canister of Micheal's plant-killing powder and flung it in front of her and stabbed it, all in the same motion. She then held her breath and closed her eyes as the plant-withering poison covered her, doing her best to not breathe it in.
The weedkiller was as effective as ever, poisoning and killing all the vines that touched her. She had been knocked around a bit and gained quite a few bruises, but her most serious injury was the backlash she'd been hit with.
The scene around her came about as a result.
'Where is Asim?! Our plan…' Sophia's eyes grew slightly bloodshot as she looked to her left and right, seeing only various dead vines collapsing into dust. There wasn't a trace of anyone near her.
It didn't matter how much of a combat genius you were, not when the attack hit everything and everyone within range. It was as close to undodgeable as possible.
Abruptly, Sophia tapped on the bracelet Micheal had given her, using it to sense for anyone near her. She ignored the pounding headache that was starting to form, clenching her jaw as she focused.
Gradually, she could feel more than a dozen other people, spread out around the gymnasium. In particular, she could sense a much stronger energy, one that could only be Number 10, heading right for her.
'If we are all stuck here… then only one thing is certain.' Sophia's mind reacted ahead of her as she bit her lip, desperately trying to think up a countermeasure,
'She's going to come for me first!' Number 10 hated Sophia with a burning passion, that was one thing Sophia was certain about.
Sophia gave up on searching for her allies as she twisted to the left and right. There was nowhere to run.
With just seconds to prepare, Sophia clenched her fists. She couldn't bring out any explosives, not in an area this small. That would just kill her. If she could get a shot off in time, maybe a gun would be effective, but Sophia felt like that would be something Number 10 would've prepared for.
Before she could think of anything else…
Several meters from her, the last of the grey vines faded to ashes, revealing a good dozen green vines that twisted and spread out, opening up to allow a prim, odd-looking figure to walk through.
'Think, Sophia, Think!' Sophia stared at the woman furiously,
'What would Micheal do?!'
"Crane, Crane, Crane. Did you think I wouldn't have learned from last time?" Number 10's voice echoed out, full of venom as she smiled, her mask no longer covering her face. Instead of her customary black robes, she was covered in a layer of small, green vines that wrapped around her entire body protectively.
"Learned?" Sophia spoke aloud, her heart pounding as she studied her enemy.
"Your wretched little Demon Eyes." Number 10 titled her head slightly, still smiling as she tapped on her head.
"Tricks like that can't work on me anymore, not with this power. And for you-" Before the woman could finish speaking, Sophia abruptly interrupted her by throwing her last remaining dagger right at the plant-controlling warrior.
The dagger whistled through the air as it stabbed towards the right side of Number 10's throat. In response, however, Number 10 slightly shifted her body to the side, moving superhumanly quickly.
Sophia's throwing knife flew past Number 10, missing her completely.
"Too slow, too slow." Number 10's voice became sharper as she glared at Sophia and took several quick steps forward. Her body blurred as she walked, moving much faster than Sophia could, even in her boosted state.
Sophia leaned backwards as she wheezed in air, trembling as she looked at Number 10.
"I'm not an idiot, sweetie." Number 10 stopped in front of Sophia, raising a hand as if to cup Sophia's face,
"You and I are goin- ulp!" Before Number 10 could finish speaking, she abruptly cut herself off as she looked down at her chest in shock.
A sleek, blood-covered dagger point could be seen, poking through her vine-armor.
In the moment that Sophia threw her dagger, she purposefully aimed in a way that would make it easy to dodge. Sophia correctly guessed Number 10 would be able to dodge or block anything she threw no matter what, and so tried to make it an easy choice.
Right after she threw her dagger, she activated her Wind Sweeper Ability.
What would Micheal do in this kind of situation? In Sophia's mind, he would obviously strike first, in a way that no one would expect, and do it perfectly.
Instead of letting the blade slam into the vines on the other side of the small enclosure, she forced it to flip around and accelerated it towards Number 10, all while maintaining a weak composure and pretending to be vulnerable.
It took a few seconds and forced her to split her concentration in an extremely difficult way. The plan was a haphazard one, drawn up on the spot in the space of just a couple of seconds.
But it worked.
And that was all that mattered.
The dagger had stabbed into the Number 10's vine armor and pierced through it, the super weedkiller destroying any chance of resistance as it blew past the vine's defenses. It then easily cut into Number 10's unprotected flesh, piercing clean through her right lung.
Without giving Number 10 a chance to recover, Sophia brought both of her hands up and grabbed Number 10's head. She then brutally smashed her knee up while tugging Number 10's face down, directly kneeing the warrior in the face.
The resulting blow, powered by Sophia's highly boosted stats, sent the woman flipping over backwards to land in a heap on the ground. Number 10 twitched a few times, involuntarily going into shock.
"To think I was worried about fighting a fool like you. Micheal would've killed you in half this time." Sophia muttered as she stalked forward, wincing in pain due to the almost overwhelming headache that had seized upon her,
"But you're right, you aren't an idiot." She knelt down and grabbed the hilt of her dagger, pulling it out from Number 10's back. The woman groaned slightly as she lay on the ground, blood spurting from her injuries,
"You're a dead idiot." She took a deep breath and then stabbed forward one last time.
Number 10 shuddered, her face twisting up to let her glare at Sophia one last time as she tried to speak,
"You… you... bit-" The rest of Number 10's words cut off into a gargle as she shuddered one last time and then fell still.
Sophia collapsed onto the ground afterwards, taking deep breaths as she made herself hold everything together.
'I did it… I did it!' As the thought appeared in her mind, two notification screens popped up in Sophia's sight.
Points Gained: 28,576
Complete Soul Enrichment
"Sophia! Are you alright?!" Seconds later, Shin's familiar voice echoed out as he teleported into the secluded area. Sophia glanced up at him, her vision blurring slightly from overextending her mind.
Around her, the vines that Number 10 had brought into existence were rapidly falling apart into ash, freeing up everyone that had been trapped. They dissipated as if they had never been, transforming into piles of dust that gradually vanished.
Sophia took several deep breaths, her eyes glowing as warm energy serenaded her body and Soul, healing her Soul from any damage the backlash she had suffered from had left. The pain in her head gradually began to slip away, though the exhaustion she felt from the battle remained ever-present.
"I'm fine, Shin." Sophia began, choosing to sit on the ground for a few more seconds to recover. Before she could continue speaking, however, she noticed something odd…
The dead, collapsing vines all around her were beginning to shimmer as a warm, golden Aura overtook them…
Micheal exhaled slowly as he looked at Cameron.
The look he gave the man was no longer that of a friendly ally, or a legendary warrior that he respected immensely. Instead, all of that had vanished.
In its place was a cool, steely gaze that gave away nothing. Cold eyes that constantly analyzed Cameron's every movement, hunting out any and every weakness. The eyes of a predator.
"Micheal, my young friend." The Godfather began, using Micheal's real name,
"This is quite the surprise." Head Cameron was about to continue walking forward as he talked, but he abruptly froze as Micheal raised his Ashari Blade.
"One more step and I'll finish destroying the Monster Class Nest Core." Micheal's words kept Cameron still and unmoving, forcing an awkward expression to appear on the Godfather's face.
"Young lad… I'm here to help you destroy the Nest Core, I heard of your predicament from the Seer." Cameron stared at Micheal confusedly. He held his hands out in an unthreatening manner.
Micheal's expression never wavered. Internally, however, he couldn't help but sneer slightly when he heard that.
Before they went off to battle, Micheal had known all along that he would have to take on the Monster Class Nest himself. He had made several preparations for that, and other things, with that in mind.
And one of those was to have the Seer pass on a message to the Godfather, one he would receive while in the middle of his mission. Cameron, naturally, would assume her foretelling was a message of the future, not a predetermined one from Micheal.
And that message was a simple one.
'Heron is going to destroy the Monster Class Nest.'
Given the hypothesis by the researchers in the Godfather Organization, destroying the Monster Class Nest would turn all Morenkai back to normal, and should even weaken their aggressiveness.
They would transform from vicious, constantly hunting predators to steadily moving, reactionary cattle that would only attack when first attacked. The best-case scenario for the First Layer.
Naturally, Head Cameron should be the one most pleased to hear this. If he wasn't infected by the Vile King, his normal course of actions would be to finish destroying the Permanent Nests and stop the Nightrunners in their tracks.
But if he was infected by the Vile King…
This scenario would be the last thing the Vile King would want. The man relished humanity's struggle, believing the harder things were, the more powerful humanity would become, with no thought for the billions of lives that could be lost.
And in the end, when push came to shove, the Vile King was nowhere to be found, and humanity's last army was wiped out.
And so there could only be one reason Cameron was here.
To stop Micheal from destroying the Monster Class Nest.
Micheal pulled out a bracelet from his Spatial Ring as he continued to gaze at Cameron, one that looked very similar to his Wavelength Crystal Bracelet. That Artifact had been destroyed in the huge explosion that had injured Director Prime, its durability nothing compared to his Ashari Blade or Micheal's Spatial Ring.
This was the original Signal Seer Bracelet, one that only heightened one's senses when it came to certain electrical signals. Micheal activated this Artifact the moment he brought it out.
However, instead of using it like it normally should be, he poured in a torrent of energy, overloading the Artifact. The Artifact trembled as Micheal pushed it beyond any reasonable limits.
A split second later, Micheal threw the bracelet on the ground in front of him.
As soon as it hit the ground, it exploded in a small cloud of white dust. A brief, visible shockwave silently flashed through the area, dissipating into nothing and seemingly having no effect.
"Lad… think of what you are doing. This is a dangerous Nest Core that must be properly studied and examined before we make any rash decisions. I am all with you on wanting to destroy it. But we need to proceed carefully." Cameron had dawned a confused expression when he saw Micheal's actions. He didn't move forward, however, as he saw Micheal unwaveringly inch his Ashari Blade closer to the badly damaged Nest Core.
After Micheal saw the bracelet explode, he let out a breath, relaxing slightly. His gaze suddenly became warmer, tinged with sorrow.
"Cameron… Can you not even control your own thoughts?" Micheal began, staring the Godfather right in the eye.
"Lad, this Nest Core is-" Micheal cut him off before he could finish speaking,
"Cameron. Why are you here?" Micheal's voice was cool.
"Why, you ask? It's to ensure we safely destroy the Nest Core. Lad, we are on the same side. Do you think I'm going to attack you?" The Godfather looked at him questioningly.
Micheal shook his head as he replied,
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"Didn't you hear the same report I did? If we destroy the Monster Class Nest Core, 'erratic' Morenkai will no longer appear, and the First Layer should become much safer." Micheal's words gained a hint of passion as he went on,
"This is what you've been working for your entire time here! This is the dream you always wanted to achieve!"
"Yes… yes, of course, my young friend. I don't understand your point." The Godfather rubbed at his beard, but remained still.
"Then why do you want to stop me?" Micheal's logic was concise.
"Because… because…" Cameron frowned,
"Because there's a chance that this might not work. And we cannot afford to risk everything falling apart, not without more research." The Godfather finished, nodding his head resolutely. As he spoke, the air rippled around him, gravity beginning to swirl.
"By now, all the Permanent Nest Cores should have been destroyed." Micheal returned, his gaze remaining ever-steady,
"That means 'erratic' Morenkai are slowly going to begin to swarm over the First Layer. It will be a slaughter, hundreds of millions of humans will die. But…" Micheal's voice grew darker,
"That is only the case if we fail to destroy the Monster Class Nest today." Micheal was merely repeating what he had learned from the Hidden Truths Department, information that Head Cameron was well aware of.
The Godfather, however, took what Micheal said in a very unusual manner.
He stumbled backwards, falling down on one knee. His elderly frame shook slightly as he caught himself before falling all the way, remaining kneeling on the ground.
"Yes… yes, that is right. If we don't destroy the Monster Class Nest, the First Layer will become a true Hell." Cameron muttered, his voice soundly oddly disconnected.
Micheal's heart surged when he saw this.
'Maybe… maybe there's a chance?!' All of the dark and grim thoughts that had flooded his heart seemed to fade out for a brief moment, a ray of hope filling him.
"I… I… hmm?" Cameron clutched at his head, his eyes blazing with light. He slowly got back to his feet, a fierce frown appearing.
"I… I cannot risk the lives of so many…" Cameron began to talk to himself, his fists clenching.
The air around him began to tremble, distorting as his gravity manipulation powers began to run amok. Sweat appeared on the elderly leader's forehead as he stood back up but looked down, talking to himself. The man shook slightly, as if trying to regain control of himself.
Micheal watched everything, his heart pounding away with tension. Unlike with Director Prime, Micheal didn't need to regulate his every movement and emotion, making this situation easier to handle.
But it was also much, much harder for him to deal with, in a different way.
Loud rumbling noises shook the air as Cameron's shifting gravity caused the top half of the skyscraper to shake, sliding about haphazardly. Micheal could hear faint roars and growls of surviving Morenkai reacting to the movement.
Abruptly, Cameron grew silent. The skyscraper fell still. He no longer trembled.
Instead, he slowly looked back over at Micheal.
"You would be wise to cease resistance, child." Cameron's voice had grown cold, the familiar, friendly manner suddenly vanished. For a tiny, split-second, Micheal could make out something dark glimmering in Cameron's eyes, something that vanished so quickly one could easily think it was a trick of the light.
Micheal smiled sardonically, his focus completely centered on Cameron.
"And why is that, Cameron?" Micheal's voice echoed out softly. As he spoke, he examined Cameron's facial expressions, trying to glean every bit of information that he could. He knew, in theory, how Constantine's Seeds worked, but his interactions were limited to the serial killer he had killed a while back.
It was almost as if Cameron's personality had undergone a shift, a direct shift, as a result of Micheal's actions.
"You may be able to come back to life. But can your trusted friends and allies say the same?" Cameron folded his hands behind his back as he spoke, his eyes trailed on Micheal's Ashari Blade.
"By now, Number 1 should've reached the other skyscraper, and I assure you, he is not something even Cardell and Riana combined can manage for long, not if he's boosted by the Permanent Nest Cores." Cameron continued,
"If you leave now, I won't stop you going to them. Allow me to destroy the Core. It will cause Number 1's boost to gradually weaken, and I can personally go finish him off." His voice gave off a feeling of complete confidence, as if he fully believed everything he said.
And, indeed, that was part of what the researchers had hypothesized, when it came to the Permanent Nest Core boosts. Destroying the Monster Class Nest Core should cause them to gradually vanish.
Micheal sighed, his grip on his blade never wavering as he replied,
"That's awfully callous of you to say, Cameron. Are you willing to sacrifice your own men? Aren't you someone that loves and cares for their fellow man?" The Godfather's attempt at subterfuge was weak, at best, and the plan he offered even weaker.
Cameron's face twitched, muscles in it spasming. After a moment, however, the man's appearance returned to normal as he shook his head,
"Shin, Sophia, I know very well how much you care for them." Cameron took a step forward, his voice turning warm and friendly once more.
"Come on, Cameron. Please. Don't make me do this." Micheal looked at the man, his mouth twisting,
"Wake up. You're better than this. Your mind is being attacked! Wake up!" Micheal's voice turned into a yell as he glared at the Godfather. He pressed his Ashari Blade closer to the Nest Core, causing a flurry of sparks to fly out from it.
Cameron froze once more, but only for a moment. He promptly continued to step towards Micheal, his voice carrying in the air,
"You won't let them die, I believe that Micheal. Just step away from the Core."
Micheal shook his head slowly,
"Die? Of course they won't." He sighed,
"That was never an option."
.. .. .. .. .. ..
Sophia and Shin stood frozen as the warm golden Aura washed over them. Both of them were exhausted, the fierce, if brief, battles they'd fought draining them in more ways than one. All around them, Number 10's vines were collapsing into ash alongside her death, no longer able to support themselves without her.
The duo shivered as they stood there, unable to speak or move as they looked towards the source of the golden glow. An enthralling, powerful Aura that could be manipulated, coming from a man that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere.
The man wore a simple white shirt and a pair of black slacks, with a claymore strapped to his waist. The air around him glowed literally gold as he walked towards them, contrasting with his black hair. His expression, if Sophia had to describe it, was… incredibly fierce.
"It seems I am a harbinger of death, even among those I care for." Number 1's voice was emotionless as he looked down at Number 10's corpse.
'Number 1. We can't take him head-on.' Sophia could feel the enormous distance between her and the warrior. She didn't waste time panicking on how he had arrived here out of nowhere, but instead immediately began to adapt.
She could vaguely tell that her power had been upgraded after killing Number 10, but hadn't had the time to check how yet. Her eyes flicked to the left as she saw Shin, dumbstruck and frozen in horror as he looked at the man.
Sophia didn't know too much about Number 1's powers, only what Micheal had explained. He could apparently condense energy into a physical Aura that could be used for a variety of purposes. Number 1 was a genius in using this Aura to trap his enemies, overwhelm them psychologically, make his attacks more powerful, or regenerate from almost any injury.
Sophia felt it keenly, a sense of agonizing fear and horror that couldn't be ignored. Despite that, for some odd reason, though, it wasn't hitting her as hard as it was Shin. She still trembled under its assault, but remained in control of her mind. It could not control her, despite her much lower stats.
'Think, Sophia! You can get out of this!' Sophia's heart pounded, nevertheless, as she raced to try and think of a way around this. Perhaps her Fairy Eyes had been boosted to be strong enough to-
"Oh, I can't have that." Garen noticed her minute preparations. In one smooth movement, he raised his right arm as he looked away from Number 10's dead body and pointed it at Sophia.
"Die now." A bolt of golden energy appeared from Garen's fingertips as he wasted no time at all, giving Sophia no chance to escape. This energy was incredibly potent, crackling and singeing the air as it blasted into Sophia's chest at point-blank range.
Or, at least, that was what it was supposed to do.
"Ah, ah, I'm afraid I can't be lettin' ya do that." A jovial sounding voice cut through the air as 12 streaks of blue light shot forward in front of Sophia, blocking the attack.
A small explosion of mixed gold and blue light shook the air, knocking both Sophia and Shin back several meters. Energy crackled and fizzled, shrieking as the two powers destroyed each other.
Sophia blinked furiously as she recovered from the attack, looking at their savior.
It was a lanky, blond-haired man dressed in a set of simple, brown pants and a grey shirt. He had a large backpack on and held a walking staff in his hand. Like Cameron, a green Aura wrapped around him, a physical field of energy that he controlled.
Sophia recognized him instantly.
Tandrum, the Explorer.
A man obsessed with discovering the secrets of the First Layer.
An S Ranker.
And the hidden ally of the Godfather Organization, assisting the Hidden Truths Department in their mission to uncover certain truths about the First Layer. The same Tandrum that Micheal had learned was the man in charge of infiltrating the Monster Class Nest for testing, back when he was serving as a distraction.
A dozen blue strings rose out from Tandrum's fingertips, swirling about in the air in meandering patterns. These strings gave off a brighter blue light, pushing back the golden Aura that Garen was giving off even further as he strode forward.
Sophia's jaw dropped when she saw this, not understanding. Micheal hadn't told her anything about this.
"Tandrum. Unexpected, but don't think you can take me down. I am not the man I was before." The golden light that Garen gave off surged around him,
"I am the future of this Layer, Tandrum!" Garen's eyes blazed,
"Do not step in my path and force my hand!"
"Oh, yada yada, I never cared for all this blather." Tandrum waved off Garen's words with a casual shrug,
"We are here just to slow you down. I owe a favor."
Garen stared at Tandrum, blinking slowly,
A moment later…
An invisible lightning bolt of energy smashed down on Garen's head, clashing with the golden Aura that swarmed around the powerful Number protectively. A second clash of energy shook the gymnasium as Garen was blasted backwards, clutching at his head in pain.
30 floors higher…
The Brigadier General of the Old Airwing Military Alliance sat in a private bedroom, his legs crossed beneath him as he concentrated. White light fluttered around his hands, giving off an ephemeral feeling.
Invisible, undetectable aerial blasts that could be launched from far away, able to pass through even the nearly-invincible skyscrapers. A perfect tactic to use against Prime, but more than that, a perfect style of battle to use to whittle away at an unsuspecting enemy.
"A life saved for a life saved." Pedro's eyes glowed as he looked down, somehow able to make out what was happening down below,
"Hold safely down there. Let us do the heavy work for now."
.. .. .. .. .. ..
"This time, I did everything perfectly. I made no mistakes." Micheal muttered to himself, his words full of emotion as he watched Cameron continued to walk towards him.
Micheal clenched his knuckles so hard they turned white when he saw this. His nails dug into his flesh, oozing blood as he stood there, unable to change that which he saw before him.
"I made no mistakes. None…" Micheal paid close attention to how close Cameron was, tracking exactly how far the man had moved. The drops of blood from his palm splattered as they hit the ground, a few of them sizzling as sparks from the Monster Class Nest fell on them.
"And I can't let myself make one now." As he saw Cameron make one certain step, a thought full of equal parts conviction, recrimination, and determination filled him.
In that split moment… Micheal flicked his wrist.
A wave of light exploded from right next to him.
A warm feeling of energy and peacefulness swept through his Soul and enveloped his mind. A flurry of notifications appeared as his Soul stat was boosted, drastically increasing under a huge boost provided by the Monster Class Nest.
His exhausted body collapsed, a half-second later, as an incredibly heavy impact slammed into his defenseless chest, killing him instantly.
'Three down… zero left…'
Cameron's visage was a picture of absolute, livid fury. A tiny moment after Micheal struck at the Monster Class Nest Core, the Godfather had leapt forward to attack. Micheal had timed the moment precisely, ensuring that the Godfather wouldn't be able to do anything else but continue his attack.
Micheal died, as a result, but not before he finished destroying the Nest Core.
And now, Micheal looked out at the world in his ethereal state, reading over the series of notifications that had popped up.
Superior Soul Enrichment
Superior Layer Empowerment
Micheal glanced over these in a hurry. The Superior Soul Enrichment looked like a stronger version of the Minute Soul Enrichment he had received before. The Superior Layer Empowerment went hand-in-hand with that. He could instantly tell that it was the 'boost' that the Godfather Organization's researchers had talked about.
'Status!' He pulled up his status in an instant, knowing he had just seconds to work with before he respawned.
— - Status — -
Name: Micheal Care
Physique: 1 Star
Soul Quality: 1 Star -> 3 Star
- Stats -
Strength - 80
Endurance - 56
Recovery - 55
Soul - 29 -> 36
Abilities - (5/7)
Life Orb Master
Ki Cultivator (Earth Tier - Early)
Grandmaster Sword Mastery (1/5)
Surprisingly, he didn't receive any Points. Instead, he received the 'Champion's Gift,' something he didn't have time to examine.
For, what took up most of his attention were two specific changes.
His Soul Quality had risen from 1 Star to 3 Stars, a very large jump. While Micheal's understanding of the new 'Soul Quality' stat wasn't perfect, he could tell it was similar to his 'Physique' stat. It was about 'talent' and growth potential.
His general Soul stat had also permanently risen by 7, a fantastic result, and then temporarily been boosted by around 24, leading to a grand total of at least 60, an unbelievably high Soul stat for the First Layer. His fine control of his Soul, combined with his memories of the past, allowed him to estimate the number with confidence.
His other stats had been boosted as well, but none by amounts significant enough to catch Micheal's notice. He couldn't see the specifics, anyway, since they were only temporary boosts.
Before he came to fight Prime and destroy the Monster Class Nest, Micheal had gone out of his way to destroy several Temporary Nest Cores, bringing his Soul stat up to prepare himself to be able to use Master Tier Sword Energy. He had brought it up to the bare minimum he felt survivable, knowing there was a chance he might need it.
A boost of 7 points was huge. While it wasn't enough to let him freely wield Master Tier Sword Energy, it would greatly ease the strain Micheal put on his Soul.
An additional boost of 24 points, however…
That was more than enough to let his Soul wield Master Tier Sword Energy.
Micheal came back to life, spawning in as far as possible away from the point where he died.
The moment he came back to life, Micheal instantly adapted to the changes in his body.
The power of his body had changed relatively little compared to what he was used to. The 'boost' from destroying the Monster Class Nest Core was much weaker in terms of physical effects. It might be noticeable by warriors at very high levels of power, but it didn't help Micheal out very much right now. It made him stronger and faster, but not by as much as his Bracken Enhancement Fluid had.
His Soul, however… Just as he'd predicted, his Soul had become several tiers stronger than Cameron's.
What was the strongest Soul stat present on the First Layer?
If Micheal had to guess, he would expect it to be lower than 40. The difficulty in raising it could not be understated.
Micheal's boosted Soul stat of 60, thus, was something practically unseen on the First. It was far more powerful than a Soul stat of 30. The increase was not an additive one, but an exponentially stronger advance.
The moment he spawned back in, a huge amount of pressure flooded the room. This pressure wasn't something physical, but rather, oppression on a spiritual level. It was intangible, but all the more powerful due to how difficult it was to block.
It slammed into Head Cameron like a meteor, sending the elite S Ranker stumbling backwards on the stage. A look of shock flitted onto his face, his eyes widening as he felt something he hadn't felt in a very long time.
A feeling that he was in the presence of someone more powerful than him.
The moment he spawned in, Micheal activated his Spatial Ring, withdrawing several Shuriken, or throwing stars, from it. The ancient, Japanese concealed weapon was a relatively difficult one to master, not used by many.
To Micheal, however, they were a set of tools he had a large amount of experience using, long ago in his past future.
Micheal grunted as he held three throwing stars in each hand, clutching onto them tightly. His gaze was cool as he focused in on Cameron, knowing his window to attack was bound to be very small.
The instant he saw Cameron's look of shock, Micheal attacked.
The six throwing stars flashed out in a heartbeat, warm, yellow Master Tier Sword Energy enveloping them as they flew from his grasp. This Sword Energy rapidly began to expand as they cut forward, expanding to become one-meter-long, rotating stars of death.
Cameron managed to recover after a split second. That tiny moment of time cost him dearly.
By the time he got over his shock, the six throwing stars Micheal attacked with were just a small instant away from ripping him to shreds.
Cameron could see and feel the power behind Micheal's Master Tier Sword Energy. He had no illusions as to whether or not he could block such a devastating attack. As a result, he hastily raised his hands and sharply manipulated gravity.
The area for several meters around him abruptly became a shifting vortex, where up was sometimes down, sometimes to the left, and sometimes to the right. Gravity visibly distorted around the Godfather like twisting waves at sea, becoming impossible to track.
Micheal's six throwing stars were each thrown with a huge amount of force, designed to reach their impact spot no matter what resistance they encountered. The manipulation of gravity itself, however, wasn't something that could be accounted for, even if Micheal knew it was coming.
He wasn't a God. He couldn't just 'cut through gravity,' not at his level.
Still, the power behind his attacks was considerable. Even as the currents of gravity changed, the modifications to their attack angles only changed slightly.
As a result, Cameron was forced to jump in the air at an awkward angle, the six attacking throwing stars leaving him no room to do anything else. Red, crackling energy covered Cameron's body as he activated an Ability that let him freeze in place, keeping him from jumping too high.
A split second later, the six throwing stars sheared through the stage, the wall behind it, and anything in the nearby area, cutting apart the nigh-indestructible skyscraper as if it was paper.
Cameron managed to deflect and dodge the attack, using only his incredible sense of battle to both detect and figure out a way to safely avoid the strike. Micheal was incredibly impressed. He had done everything he could to make that attack undodgeable, closing off any ways Cameron could jump to the side and preventing blocking or simply deflecting.
For anyone to be able to redirect his Flowing Shuriken Strike, as he called it, was a feat worthy of respect, especially given that they were on the First Layer and only three years and a few months into the apocalypse.
That respect never wavered in his mind as he unleashed his technique again.
Right after he threw the first set of throwing stars, he withdrew six more and then threw six more, pulling back his arms from his last throw in an 'outside' throwing motion to leave as little time as possible between his attacks.
Once again, six throwing stars flew out, coated in yellow Sword Energy.
He then threw six more.
And six more.
And six more.
A total of 30 more throwing stars flew out from Micheal's grasp in 6 new waves, each one transformed into a cutting machine of death.
It didn't matter how experienced Cameron was, it didn't matter how skilled he was at changing the gravity around him, it didn't matter how close to the Sky Tier of Ki Cultivation he was.
In the face of such an overwhelming attack, some things simply didn't matter.
Cameron managed to deflect the first new wave of throwing stars, just like he had the previous one. The strike, however, forced him into a more exposed position, keeping him stuck floating in mid-air. He managed to dodge the attack by shifting gravity and flying backwards, but only by the skin of his teeth.
The second wave caused Cameron to become injured. Once again, he managed to dodge the brunt of Micheal's Shurikens. However, because of how he was forced to dodge backwards, one of the throwing stars sliced into his left leg, causing blood to spatter out.
Cameron had no time to recover from the injury as the third wave arrived, once more forcing Cameron to fly backwards to dodge them. The downtime between each wave was less than a second, meaning there was nothing Cameron could do but react. All of his Abilities were focused on allowing him to manipulate gravity better or become more powerful.
He could see what Micheal was doing very clearly. Cameron's Gravity Domain Type was doubtlessly active, letting him get a mental image of Micheal's actions, and everything within 200 meters. With Micheal being so close, that image would show Micheal's attacks as they came out in waves. This awareness was somewhat similar to Director Prime's ability to know about things the instant they happened, though to a much lesser degree.
Unfortunately for Cameron, even if he knew what Micheal was doing, he was helpless to stop him.
Cameron managed to escape the third attack without receiving another injury.
But the fourth wave of throwing stars cost Cameron dearly.
For, it was in this wave that Cameron's back slammed into the back of the stage, preventing him from dodging backwards.
Cameron adapted in a split second, flying upward and adjusting the way he manipulated gravity. His reaction speed was so fast it was practically inhuman.
But it wasn't enough.
Five of the throwing stars Micheal sent out missed. But the sixth one moved forward with almost unerring accuracy, shearing off Cameron's right arm.
The shock of such a huge injury wasn't something easily described in words. Cameron's body took on the full brunt of that shock, causing him to stumble in mid-air, his control of gravity weakening.
The subsequent fifth and sixth waves arrived, just moments later. And while Cameron had weakened, neither of Micheal's last waves had lessened in power.
Cameron did his best to dodge, but the final two waves slammed into him with the ferocious power of a Master Tier Swordmaster.
The result was to be expected.
Cameron collapsed to the floor of the stage, blood dripping from his body as he slammed down to the floor in a heap. The injuries he had taken were fatal, and aimed in a way that effectively neutered his attack power.
Both of his arms were gone, sheared off at the shoulder. Cameron might be a genius, but he had yet to develop the power to manipulate gravity purely without the use of his hands, greatly weakening his technique. The rest of his body was riddled with serious injuries, to such a degree that they were impossible to come back from.
In just a few split seconds, the fate of the battle was decided.
A single, unavoidable misstep from Cameron became a fatal one when Micheal was able to use his Master Tier Sword Energy.
It wasn't fair, but life never was. If he gave Cameron even a moment to gather his strength, Micheal wouldn't have stood a chance. His body wasn't able to keep up with most styles of combat, forcing him to use one of his best long-range techniques.
'Arrgh!' Micheal's body trembled as his Soul fluctuated. While he was able to use significant amounts of Master Tier Sword Energy with a Soul as powerful as his boosted one was, he had still to let it adapt to the powerful, sharp energy. He became injured, once again, as a result.
Micheal didn't let that injury show as he stepped forward, his eyes full of bitterness as he looked at the dying Godfather. Once more, he clenched his fists behind his back, the knuckles white as he spoke aloud,
"Cameron… I'm sorry." He walked up next to the dying S Ranker, his mouth twisting.
The Godfather wasn't dead yet, but he was rapidly losing blood. The powerful warrior looked up at Micheal, staring into him with eyes that shocked Micheal to his core.
Instead of shock, confusion, anger, or any of the emotions he expected to see, Micheal found himself staring into something completely unexpected.
Eyes full of clarity and compassion.
"Lad… My mind… is my own… right now." Cameron's voice shuddered as he spoke, somehow able to speak despite his body being in ruins.
Micheal's heart dropped as he saw this. His mind, however, forced him to shove aside his emotions, zeroing in on what Cameron said.
His mind was his own.
Micheal's eyes widened,
"You can think?! You are free from his control?!" His voice turned into a hiss when he said 'his,' the hatred he felt to the man known as the 'Vile King' difficult to put in words.
"Yes… for a while now… my mind… not my own…" Cameron's body shook once more as the dying warrior tried to shake his head,
"I almost… did the… unspeakable…"
As Micheal saw this, he knew that his experiment had been a success.
Before he fought against Cameron, he had forcefully overloaded a Signal Seer Bracelet, causing it to explode. This detonation didn't cause any physically visible effects, but instead impacted the world on a spiritual level.
For a short amount of time, everything within 40-50 meters of this spot had become a 'dead zone' for transmission of certain types of signals.
This was an idea of his own, one he came up with after months of planning when it came to the Vile King and his 'Seeds.' It was the true reason he had so many of the bracelets, enough to gift to Sophia and Shin, after a few modifications.
In order for a 'Seed' to return to the Vile King, and to give him the memories of its host, it must have to send out a sort of signal. Micheal had seen the remnants of the Vile King's seed back when he killed the serial killer Xavier Shallot.
And if that was the case, that 'return signal' probably relied on the Soul stat of its user to send it back, or an amount of energy it had stored up, something of that nature.
And here, on the First Layer, everyone had a relatively low Soul stat.
The 'dead zone' of an overloaded Signal Seer would only last for a couple of minutes. But given how low Cameron's Soul stat was, in the grand scheme of things, it should be enough to seriously limit his ability to send out signals. While this would impact literally none of Cameron's Abilities, it should have a sizable impact on the Vile King's Seed.
Micheal had only planned on this to prevent the Vile King from knowing exactly what happened here. However, an unanticipated side-effect seemed to have taken place.
Cameron managed to briefly shake off the effects of the Vile King's Seed in the moments of his death.
"Cameron..." Micheal's hands trembled behind his back when he heard this. The warm taste of blood filled his mouth as he bit on his tongue, forcing himself to stay in control.
"Thank… you…" Cameron's eyes grew unfocused, but a took on a relaxed edge, as if he had been freed from a heavy burden.
"I am so sorry, Cameron." Micheal's voice was small as he replied,
"I did everything I could. I tried-"
Cameron cut him off, grinning even in the face of death as he replied,
"That's life… lad… sometimes… you fail…" Cameron's body suddenly began to stiffen,
"You just… gotta… move on…" His words slowly faded out as his body grew still. The light in his eyes faded, the clarity and emotions fleeing as they were replaced by emptiness. The world around him seemed to shiver one last time, as if gravity itself was sending him off.
In the early months of the fourth year of the Apocalypse, the annals of history recorded the death of Cameron Giordano.
An S Ranker.
A man beloved by many, revered by his enemies and allies alike. The changes he wrought upon the First Layer impacted the lives of billions, focused only on making the world a better place.
He was truly a good man.
In the moment of his death, unrecorded in the history of man, a single human stood vigil alone, watching as this great man passed on from life. Watching as a small Seed of darkness rose and then fizzled about in confusion, eventually dissipating into nothingness. Tears of blood spilled from this man's hands as he held watch, his fists clenched so tight they seemed as if they might break apart.
That vigil quickly came to an end. The lone man that stood guard took one last studied glance at Cameron's corpse and left, ignoring the Points notification he got. Shortly after that, Executive Andrew of the Godfather Organization arrived, the next human to see what had happened.
Far away from here, Number 1 gradually weakened as his boosted powers fled from his grasp. Tandrum's attacks were relentless, in conjunction with General Pedro's aerial strikes. Where Number 1 struck, Tandrum blocked. Where Tandrum struck, Number 1 was forced to dodge.
By the time Number 1's boosted power had fully fled, the rest of the Godfather Executives, apart from Andrew, had arrived.
Number 1 was left with no path of escape, a plan of doom that he walked into of his own free will. Devious and intrepid, the plan was one with no holes, inescapable.
In the early months of the fourth year of the Apocalypse, Garen Olsteis, Number 1 of the Nightrunner Numbers, died, alongside the rest of the Numbers. The Nightrunners collapsed, their organization falling apart.
Likewise, the Angels Arcadia fell into disarray, their lack of leadership forcing them to break into pieces.
Admiral Cardell went on to seize upon this chance to take over both areas, causing the Godfather Organization to rapidly expand in power and become the dominant power on the First Layer. The powerful warrior quickly became the newest S Ranker, cementing the Godfather Organization's reign of power for the future.
The Golden Morenkai hunting method and the Dragon Building Liquid method were both freely released to the general public, skyrocketing the fame and prestige of the Godfather Organization to the level of near-worship among the populace of humanity. Its foundations became unshakable, supported by nearly everyone.
The 'erratic' Morenkai vanished and even 'regular' Morenkai quickly transformed into creatures that would only attack when first attacked themselves. They no longer hunted indiscriminately, but became far more docile. The First Layer was still a dangerous world where death walked, but it was no longer a slaughterhouse.
Moments after Number 1's defeat, Shin and Sophia collapsed, their reactions to the Bracken Enhancement Fluid oddly making it seem like they had been poisoned, as if someone they trusted had tried to kill them. When the truth of Cameron's death was revealed, this occurrence took on much more significance, helping free them from suspicion.
Director Prime was never heard from on the First Layer again.
On that fateful day, no one saw as a lone man slipped into one of the many subway entrances that dotted the land of The Towers, slinking underground and sitting down on one of the many empty benches underground.
No one saw as this man vanished, his body and soul teleported away.
As one story must end, another yet begins.
In the early months of the fourth year of the Apocalypse, Micheal left the First Layer.
The end of Volume 2.
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