Excerpt for Origin ARS 7 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Origin ARS

Volume 7


By Scottie Futch

Copyright 2017 Scottie Futch

Smashwords Edition


License Note: This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Please Note: This story is part of a larger project known as Project Scott. It is a work of humor and parody designed to entertain, though there may be serious moments and the occasional traumatic event involved in the storyline. If you dislike fun in general, this tale is not for you.


Any character found engaging in sexual actions within the confines of this story is at least eighteen years of age or older. They are also quite fortunate, and I freely admit that I am jealous of their societal success.


Table of Contents

1. Chapter 1

2. Chapter 2

3. Chapter 3

4. Chapter 4

5. Chapter 5

6. Chapter 6

7. Chapter 7

8. Chapter 8

9. Chapter 9

10. Chapter 10

11. Chapter 11

12. Chapter 12

13. Chapter 13

14. Chapter 14

15. Chapter 15

16. Chapter 16

17. Chapter 17

18. Chapter 18

19. Chapter 19

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Chapter 1: Well Met


The world of ARS, and all its wonders, Scott loved them greatly. His old life was a never ending barrage of service and duty. There were few truly wonderful and inspiring moments that came to mind whenever he considered his previous existence. His current life, however, was a far grander affair.

Most days in his new life inspired him to wonder and awe. The situation began roughly, on an emotional level, but over time he grew thankful to the goddess who brought him to the magical land that he so loved.

At the moment, however, things were not particularly calm on the world of ARS. A realm of magic and danger that caused many daily life and death struggles among the sapient races, it was no wonder that in some parts of the world the flames of war burned bright.

As a former soldier, and a champion of this world, Scott felt the need to answer the call to battle. He had already bid farewell to Herbert and his lady love. Now he stood before the salvation mirror at the Grand Central Cathedral. A place set aside to honor all of the gods of ARS, its sweeping eaves and gleaming stained glass windows were a monument to the love the people had for those who gave rise to their world.

Despite the multitudes that existed, Scott only prayed to one specific deity. Given his relationship to the divine, those prayers usually involved lewd thoughts. Thankfully, he was given a certain bit of leeway on such matters.

"I need to upgrade a bit. It's been a while," said Scott. He gazed into the mirror and saved his soul, so to speak. His eyes lit-up when he saw his status appear before him.


[Status]


[Scott Jacobs]


Race: Lunarii | Class: Twilight Master

Age: 18 | Max Lifespan: Ageless

Level: 12 | Title: The Reborn


Attack: [219-225] | Defense: [232-250]


Strength: 101[103] | Agility: 100[105] | Vitality: 100

Intellect: 100 | Charisma: 100 | Attunement: 100


[--]


"So, that's what the helmet adds, huh?" Scott took off the helmet that Herbert had made, and looked again. The strange little gift added a small amount to his strength, agility, attack, and defense. Neither increased by a large margin, but the fact that it generate multiple stat increases meant that it was a fine piece of work.

Between the helmet and the bracers that Ero made, Scott's attack and defense increased by over ten and seven points respectively. Strength and agility increased by two and three points respectively from those pieces alone. Sadly, he was not aware of any specific special options beyond the stat increases.

Next, he checked his skill levels. If he was lucky, he would be able to make a few specialization upgrades.


[Class Skills]

Unarmed Combat: 40

Twilight Sorcery: 37

Primordial Magic: 1

Sense Life: 38

Arcane Lore: 27

Arcane Mastery: 39

Light Armor: 38

Analyze: 40

[--]


[Miscellaneous Skills]

Survival Lore: 35

Boomerang Mastery: 1

[--]


"Sweet! Analyze and Unarmed Combat hit forty," said Scott. Primordial Magic and Boomerang Mastery were still woefully untrained, but they would have to wait. The former required further comprehension of what primordial magical actually was, and how it operated. The latter required him to actually utilize boomerangs. Given how difficult it was to raise skills at his current level, there were other priorities for his time.

Beyond his low-end skills, there were a few other disappointments. Neither of his other magical skills managed to reach forty in the latest round of training. He would not be able to upgrade them further at the moment.

"Ah! Arcane Lore is above twenty-five, too," he said after looking at his skills once more. "That's something at least."

He frowned slightly, however. "Damn. If I'd known that Arcane Mastery was going to stop at thirty-nine, I would have spent another dozen hours training it. Too late now, probably."

The same issue was largely true of his Light Armor and Twilight Sorcery skills. They were close, but still a few days' worth of training away from reaching forty. Outside of the tutorial space and its easy access to easy training, the process slowed to a crawl.

Scott rubbed his chin. "After this mission, it'll be time to heavily work toward increasing my level instead of focusing on my skills so much."

On the bright side he also noted that should he survive the upcoming event, most of his skills would probably be above forty. It would be a time of heavy upgrades, a celebration of victory, and perhaps even a chance at a bit of fat loot.

Scott looked through his options, then selected his upgrades. Satisfied for the moment, he took one final look at his upgrade list then shut it down.


[Notations]


Unarmed Combat Specializations [3]

[Improved Health Regeneration I]

[Improved Defense I]

[Improved Attack I]


Twilight Sorcery Specializations [2]

[Celestial Mastery II]


Arcane Lore [2]

[Know Spell I]

[Inspect Enchantment I]


Sense Life Specializations [2]

[Sense Nature I]

[Sense Unnatural I]


Arcane Mastery Specializations [2]

[Increased Attunement Efficiency II]


Light Armor Specializations [2]

[Reduce Armor Burden: Light Leather [2]


Analyze Specializations [3]

[Compare Similar Items II]

[Item Lore I]


Survival Lore Specializations [2]

[Improved Environmental Observation II]

[--]


Scott chose to take the Improved Attack and Inspect Enchantment skill upgrades. Much like the improved defense upgrade, improved attack increased his attack power by ten percent when he fought without the use of weapons. The inspect enchantment upgrade would allow him to discern information regarding seals and enchanted items. Magical traps might also be discovered if his survival lore was taken into account. Skills often worked together synergistically to create hybrid abilities in that manner.

His upgrade for Analyze was the skill, Item Lore. Now he could discern more information about a given item by noticing its features. It would not grant a detailed account of the item at the current upgrade level. Still, he would at least be able to discern whether or not an item was reasonably useful.

"Alright, now I just need to check my spell slots, and I'm done," he said quietly to himself. Scott drew up his spells slots on the mirror then blinked. "The hell?"


[Spell Status]

Current Spell Slots in Use [1]: [Starlight Flare]

Current Spells Allowed for Allotment [2]: [Starlight Flare][Summon Fiance]

[--]


"What happened to all my other stuff?" Sure, the other spells were garbage-tier and half-understood attempts at creating something. Still, he was able to put a few other things into his slots before.

As fortune would have it, there was an explanation. Scott clicked on a glowing link below his current spell allotment section.


[Notice]


Due to routine quarterly system maintenance, all incomplete spells have been removed from your listing. If you wish to file a complaint, you may do so. A properly filed maintenance complaint will automatically restore the incomplete spells to your list.


Alternatively, you may accept compensation in the form of a low grade twenty-four hour boost to experience and contribution acquisition. The contribution point boost will be granted toward the kingdom currently set as [Valkovia]. This is a standard practice during system maintenance, and should be considered the equivalent to a normally occurring roleplay bonus.


[--]


On the one hand, the system just yanked a bunch of his hard work away from him. On the other hand, his garbage-tier spells were just attempts to create something useful.

Scott blinked slowly as he considered his options. It did not take long for him to realize the truth. He snorted as he made a decision. "Fuck those garbage spells. I'll take the boost."

It was not like he could not simply recreate the useful ones anyway. Due to his new found understanding of sorcery, he would have eventually removed them from his list anyway.

"I should create some sort of back-up grimoire in the future, though," said Scott. He did not care about any of the missing spells, to be honest. They were poorly crafted and barely useful. Future incomplete spells might be a different story, however. He would not want to have to choose between an experience boost, and the retention of his missing spell creation attempts.

The more he thought about it, the more a grimoire made sense in any case. If he wrote down the method for utilizing his spells then he would be able to access them easier without the need to use a spell slot for anything other than his preferred combat spells. The spells slots merely made it easier to cast spells safely through system assistance. He could use magic on his own without placing a spell into a spell slot, provided he was willing to take many more risks in the process.

He rubbed his chin for a moment. Quarterly maintenance as an excuse to give roleplaying awards was an interesting thought. It made him wonder what other sorts of rewards he might be able to acquire through simple means. Thoughts of rewards also made him consider something else. "I haven't received any sort of achievement badges since I left the tutorial."

At his level, it was possible that he merely missed out on acquiring a few easy awards that most people gain. The achievements did not grant him anything, but they were certainly fun to look at when he was bored. The one that he received after he accidentally killed himself with his first lightning spell creation attempt was particularly fun to view.

Scott finished his business with the mirror then headed toward the rally point for the mobilization force. Upon arrival, he was surprised to see that only a few dozen people milled around in the area. "This is it?"

A familiar voice called out to him. Scott turned and waved toward his new friend. "Hey Greelak. What's going on?"

"Nothin' much, man. Just joining the expedition. Howz 'bout you?" asked Greelak. The massive orc walked over to Scott. Intimidating in appearance as always, he carried several weapons strapped to his body and cradled a minigun in his arms.

"I was coming to join up as well," said Scott. Next to Greelak his relatively muscular frame appeared to be that of a scrawny child. The difference in size was so apparent that Scott subconsciously attempted to puff himself up a little, much like a puffer fish who expanded his body to ward off predators.

Greelak grinned at him. Whether he noticed Scott's subconscious puffery, or not, he did not say. However, he did respond in a more ordinary manner. "Good. I closed up shop for this."

"Just lookin' for a fight, or you looking for Crankshaft?" asked Scott, curiously.

"Both, my man. I'm doin' both," said Greelak.

They chatted lightly for a moment, but it was not long before another voice cut through the air. It was also a familiar one to Scott. "Hello, moon brother."

"Angru? Is that you?" asked Scott with a laugh. The blood tracker, Angru the Possessed, had come to join the expedition as well.

Scott had not seen the wolfman since the clean-up project after the attack on the city. He was as big and hairy as ever. He wore no armor, and carried no weapons. However, he did sport a nice new pair of pants that were artfully ripped at the knees.

The wolfman trotted over to the group then nodded to Greelak. The orc nodded to him in kind. Scott introduced them to each other. Greelak and Angru shook hands then started to chat like old friends.

When the topic of Rhea and Herbert came up, Scott explained that they had other business to attend to at the moment. He would be the group's representative in the fight to come.

Over time a few more people wandered over to the odd little group. They proved to be either friends of Greelak or of Angru.

Scott chatted freely with everyone, and even explained the reason for his new helmet. Angru and Greelak both approved. The use of the skull of an enemy for a hat was a time honored tradition for both of their peoples, though Bloodtrackers primarily used them for ceremonial purposes.

Eventually, an enforcer came over to the group. "Greetings. Are you here to join the expedition?"

"Yes," said Scott. Several others voiced their agreement as well.

"Excellent. We'll need to get everyone processed, but the processing tent is not quite ready. Till then, if you have earned meritorious awards for your contribution, you may use them over at the provisions tent," said the enforcer before waving his hand and walking away.

A few members of the group, Scott included, walked over to the provisions tent. There was a short line to wait in, but the wait passed quickly while the gathered men of even more varied races chatted freely. There were orcs, and blood trackers, elves and even a squilanti in line. The later looked slightly bored, but his face tentacles writhed in a way that gave him the appearance of agitation.

Strangely, there were few humans in the area outside of the enforcers. As it turned out, the few people Scott thought to be human were actually Lunarian.

It was a strange situation to him. Where were the normal humans? Didn't they care about their city and the surrounding areas?

He received the answer to his questions after someone else brought the matter up. Scott listened in as a Lunarian paladin explained.

"The majority of the local humans, and most of the other citizens in town, usually join the main militia unit. Expeditionary and subjugation forces are usually comprised of mercenaries and foreigners," said the absurdly handsome blond man.

"Ah. Send out the rabble to pacify the area, and then send in the militia to hold it?" asked the orc who had originally asked the question.

"Exactly," said the paladin. "Though I'd prefer to think of us as the front line forces."

"Hell yeah. Give me the front line any day," cried the orc. Several others joined in on the shout. The proclamation further energized the crowd and promoted the strangely festive atmosphere. These people were going off to war, but were so cheerful and excited about it that Scott did not even begin to know what to think. If asked he would readily admit that it was fun, though!

It was not long before the paladin spied Scott. His eyes widened slightly, and he quickly spoke up. "Well met, brother!"

The paladin stepped out of line, and Scott did the same. He was uncertain of the custom, but he did not want to offend a man who was supposed to be his countryman. "Well met, brother," said Scott with equal vigor. The men clasped wrists then nodded.

The others chuckled a little, but soon three more Lunarians slipped out of line to join in on the greetings. Hair, each the color of a star at different stages of life. Golden, like the sun above, for the paladin. Red, like the evening star or one that was close to the end of its life, for the summoners. Blue, the star that burns hotter than the others, for sorcerers.

"Would you look at that," said one of the orcs in a strangely whimsical tone. "All three lights."

Scott and the others clasped arms and made the customary greeting. Lunarians were typically well received in the area. It became immediately obvious, why.

He watched each of the others, three paladins and a summoner. Despite their differences in profession and hair color they each held themselves with strength, and a humble sort of grace.

Scott followed them to the back of the line. It would be unworthy to insist on retaking their old spots when they had in fact vacated them on purpose.

While they waited in line once more, the five Lunarians chatted amiably. Many questions that Scott never voiced were asked and answered by others. Apparently, a gathering of three types of Lunarian was a rarity outside of an actual Lunarian offensive.

The paladins asked questions of the summoner and of Scott. Neither seemed to know much about the other's profession beyond simple hearsay. Lunarians were a structured people who existed within a hierarchy based on talent and hair color. As it turned out, there was such a thing as a black haired Lunarian. However, they were simply civilians who had not awakened their true potential. Most Lunarians were born with one of the three primary colors for hair. If so, they were separated at birth and trained in the arts of their people.

Nothing prevented the child from learning outside skills, and such knowledge was encouraged. However, they would be required to train in the ancient ways of their people.

An orc asked an interesting question. "Why are you called Lunarians, when your hair is the color of stars?"

The summoner answered with a smile. "We are the people of the moon, but our existence is a microcosm of the heavens. The night sky shines with the wisdom of the past. Each star, to us, represents one who has gone before. The color of the stars is the color of our history. Just as the moon exists alongside the stars, we exist in an eternal sea of living memories formed by those who came before."

"Nice," said the orc brusquely. "I like it."

The summoner nodded to him then turned back to his brethren. However, another person waiting in line asked, "So what about that other hair color?"

"Other hair color?" asked one of the paladins. "Do you mean, black or white? The former is for civilians. The latter happens to those who choose a worthy profession outside of the three lights, such as priests."

"Yeah. I don't mean that. There's that one that's like a weird mix of the others but with silvery hair as the base, right?" asked a blood tracker.

"Ah, the legendary Lunarian of platinum hair," said the paladin. He smiled at the wolfman then shook his head. "It's something we all aspire to be one day, but I have not heard of anyone achieving it in well over two thousand years. Definitely not in the scant few decades I've been alive."

A *wha-ping* sound echoed inside Scott's head. He looked around in confusion, but saw nothing that would have made that sound.

"I heard that a summoner almost unlocked the power, though," said the paladin. He looked to the summoner for confirmation.

"Not that I've heard. Though, I did hear that Grandmaster Arthur Grey was supposed to be close to that point," said the summoner. All four Lunarians looked to Scott.

He blinked at them as another wha-ping echoed inside his head. "Sorry, I've never heard that."

The others sighed in unison then nodded at their own pace. The summoner sighed loudest. "Yes, I suppose it makes sense. If anyone was close to becoming Hyperion the whole world would know of it."

The wha-ping sound echoed inside Scott's head once more. Whatever it was, it seemed to occur when certain things were mentioned.

"True. I mean; when's the last time that you heard of anyone ascending to godhood?" asked one of the paladins. "That'd be big news, right?"

Just like that, Scott realized something important. The words Hyperion and godhood continued to haunt his consciousness for the rest of the time that he waited in line. Another thought occurred to him as well, one he had overlooked. If the Lunarians were supposed to be an ageless race, how come he had seen members of that race who looked old? A certain priest came to mind.

Many things needed to be researched when he returned from the subjugation mission. Now he even knew of a few subjects to pay special attention to during his non-magical study sessions. The ancient legends of the Lunarian people would be forefront among them.

Chapter 2: Apocalypse Sometime

Time passed quickly while Scott waited in line. Many interesting tidbits of lore were gleaned regarding the world, its peoples, and its customs. Each race possessed a legend of some powerful member of their racial group achieving divinity. The more Scott thought about it, the more it began to make sense. A second tier race was considerably stronger in some areas compared to a base race. Lunarians, statistically at least, were better than humans. The Hyperion was an upgrade to a third tier.

Orcs had their warlords and The Scarred Ones, a race of godlike orc warriors. The same was true of the blood trackers. They had werewolves and the Lunar Varg. One main similarity between all of the races was that no one knew of anyone who actually was a third-tier race.

The line shortened while Scott considered the ramifications of his new information. He nearly missed it when Greelak mentioned the true reason that he opened his shop. He did so in a bid to raise the funds and acquire the contacts necessary to become a warlord after reincarnation.

Level one hundred reincarnation was a thing in this world, but no one seemed to be able to directly reincarnate into a third-tier race. Even second-tier reincarnation required most people to undertake several important life quests. Somehow, Scott did not believe the system would simply allow him to just take the Hyperion route without those quests. The ability to be a second-tier, or advanced race, simply because of his champion status was already pushing things a bit.

The third-tier, or elite racial tier, might not even be enough for what he would face. Still, he would have no hope of success if he did not achieve it. There was much to study after this event.

He reached the tent then entered. Inside, he discovered a single table with an enforcer seated behind it. "Step forward, put your hand on the crystal, and choose your contribution rewards," said the enforcer. Typical for their kind, he was encased head-to-toe in jet black armor.

Scott stepped to the table, and followed instructions. A brief series of images detailed his contributions to the city. A number appeared, followed by a list of things that he could purchase.

"One hundred eighty-seven contribution..." said Scott slowly. There was not a great deal that he could purchase for that amount. One hundred contribution came from delivering Jimothy's body. The rest occurred due to his clean-up efforts, and the few monsters he slew during the invasion.

The list of acceptable rewards was small, but he saw something that he was lacking in his training regimen. Scott splurged one hundred fifty points of contribution to purchase a pair of enchanted boomerangs. Their only enchantments were for sharpness and to return to the one who threw them.

He would have purchased a firearm, but the only one on the list was a single shot rifle that demanded high accuracy and firearm skill to use properly. He knew Earth firearms well, but a fantasy rifle with a variable output depending upon his visibly trained skills was a different sort of thing.

"Right, here's your sigil crest. It'll keep track of your contribution for Valkovia," said the enforcer. He made a gesture and a bright light flared from the back of Scott's hand. When that light faded a symbol was emblazoned across his flesh. It was a circle with the letter V inside of it, the tip of the letter stopped at the circle line, but the lines of the V stuck out beyond the edge of the circle.

"Once you arrive on site, you will be placed into a battle group. After the initial phase of combat ends, you will be granted a base one hundred points of contribution," said the enforcer in a tone of voice that bespoke constant repetition.

"Further, if you wish to know your current contribution after that point you may touch the crest and speak the words, 'Contribution Status' to learn how much your contribution to the nation is worth in the form of points."

Scott nodded his head and then answered in agreement when the enforcer asked if he understood. He left the tent after receiving his boomerangs. They were glossy black items, each roughly the length of his forearm. His new weapons were a serious downgrade compared to the ones that he used on the casual server, but they would still prove useful for training his boomerang skill.

He joined up with the group beyond the contribution tent, and settled in for a short wait. As it turned out, the wait was even shorter than he expected.

"Alright, the transports are arriving now. If you are here now, you're in Battle Group two. Upon arrival at the operation site, you will take over perimeter patrol," said an enforcer, this one had the customary black armor, but he also had a gold colored shield emblazoned on the left side of his chest armor.

"Battlegroup One is currently engaging the enemy within the confines of the city. You will guard the walls and gates. Your task is to hold back the enemy there so that they cannot reinforce the enemy already in the city interior," continued the enforcer.

"Upon arrival, Battlegroup Three and the Local Militia will relieve you," said the enforcer. He looked around briefly then continued, "At that point, you will enter the city and help Battlegroup One eliminate any stragglers from the enemy forces. Understood?"

Everyone signaled that they understood. It now made sense to Scott as well in regards to something that nagged at him. Explanation by the Lunarian paladin aside, there were too few people here for the sort of task at hand. The reason was now clear. The first battle group was already on site and engaged with the enemy.

The promised transport arrived a short time later. Flying ships that were shaped like a cross between a toaster and a swan descended to the ground. The one hundred members of battlegroup two were separated into five separate groups of twenty and assigned to a vessel.

Scott leaned back against the walls of the toaster transport ship. He closed his eyes and began his mental preparations for what was to come. This mission would not be like his hunting trips. He could not allow himself to fail.

Soon, the battle for the reclamation of the Trinity Highcrowne region would begin.

***

While Scott and the other brave souls of Valkovia were being sorted for departure, an entirely different battle was waged by a beautiful young goddess. The battlefield was the board room. Her enemies were armed with powerful weapons, a stupid duck faced selfie and the unwitting aid of her even less intelligent subordinates.

"What is the meaning of this?" asked one divinity, a god who held the appearance of a balding middle-aged man. He wore a business suit one size too small for his portly frame, and a colorful tie that could only be called ridiculous.

Origin gazed coolly at her foe. She could not admit that it was all an accident. Admission of such a serious lapse in command ability would drastically reduce her credibility, and with that loss would go the majority of her bargaining power.

In a business negotiation, bargaining power was everything. In fact, a quick glance above her head would show that her bargaining power was already quite low. She stood at twenty points, whereas the board held thirty-five points. Their bargaining power was nearly twice her own, and given that excessive lead they were quite condescending in their smug self-assumptions.

She nodded her head slowly. "Gentlemen of the board. Why have you convened this meeting? Was it simply to ask about our new marketing strategy?"

"Your new strategy? Surely, you recall that all marketing has to be approved by the board, Ms. Ardent?" asked another god. This divinity was slender and wore an immaculate suit which was sized properly for his frame. However, his face held the sickly self-important look of a crooked politician. He was the epitome of a smug faced villain.

"Oh? I was under the impression that marketing strategies were already approved for the quarter," said Origin. She casually lifted up a cup of tea and deliberately drank from it in a slow confident manner. Her bargaining power ticked up to twenty-one points.

Smug face quirked an eyebrow then leaned back. "So, it is your contention that we approved this?"

"Did you not?" asked Origin. She acquired a mildly confused look. "I'm certain that there is paperwork to that effect."

"Oh, no doubt there will be paperwork..." said the fat balding board member. His concession knocked three points from the bargaining power of the board and added two additional points to Origin's side.

The sudden power shift caused murmuring among the various board members. The board was separated into senior and junior members. Only the four senior members were elite enough to be involved in this question and answer session. The sole female member of the senior board spoke up then, "Let's cut to the chase, Origin."

A black haired goddess with Mediterranean features, this week at least, the female member of the board held a special relationship with the Ardent family. "Daughter, we know that there was no paperwork signed allowing for this scenario."

"That would be news to me," said Origin Coolly. "Also, please refrain from calling me your daughter. You did not give birth to me, but you did divorce my father once you achieved your position in this company."

"Now, now... There is no need for such talk. By the way, how is my little Shara doing?" asked the dusky skinned goddess. She offered Origin a pleasant smile as though she was truly interested in the answer.

"I find it curious that you take interest with her now of all times," said Origin without hesitation. She then sipped on her tea, like a boss. Her bargaining power ticked up by another point.

The fourth board member, the leader of the four, spoke up. "These pleasantries aside, we simply cannot condone this sort of marketing strategy."

The board leader, Chairman Kreuz, was an older deity who wore the visage of a white haired German male. "It is unseemly."

Origin steepled her fingers together then placed her two index fingers under her chin. For a moment she did not speak. When she did, she rotated her fingers forward and said, "What you mean to say is that it will interfere with your plans to wipe the servers."

Her bargaining power jumped another full point, but the opposing side did not lose any points in the exchange. Origin did not show it, but that tidbit of information unsettled her slightly.

"Come now, Origin..." began Chairman Kreuz.

"Don't deny your intentions, chairman. Further, do not forget your place in this company," replied Origin.

"Is this an attempt to pull rank, my dear?" the chairman leaned back then unleashed an amused smile. "Even your mother knew better than to be that foolish."

Origin's bargaining power dropped by three full points during that exchange, but she did not show a single sign of discontent. She expected that much. Besides that, the board did not gain further power for some reason. They were holding steady at thirty-two points.

"I assure you, chairman..." Origin smiled beautifully. "You have no idea just how foolish I can be."

"Threats? Is that what you are reduced to?" asked Denzel, the smug faced villain.

"Oh, have I made a threat?" asked Origin. "I merely point out that I am quite different from my mother."

"We are already aware of that fact," said the chairman. "Your mother would never have made such a significant blunder as to release that particular marketing strategy."

Before Origin could respond, the chairman continued, "Currently it is increasing the player base, but what happens when the newness of it wears off? The world itself is not fundamentally changed. There have been no major updates in nearly thirty years."

The board members became smug as Origin lost more points and they gained several. It seemed to them that they were clearly in charge of the meeting at this point.

Origin gazed at him thoughtfully for a moment, then offered the chairman a warm smile. "Ah, you caught me."

"Caught you, my dear?" asked the chairman.

"Yes, we are planning a few major innovations. However, the system is being obstinate. It will take at least ten years to fix the problems, but after the continent expansion pack, the new changes will revolutionize the game," said Origin.

The board members glanced to each other, then snorted simultaneously. Chairman Kreuz said, "You are grasping at straws with that tactic. Who would be foolish enough to believe it?"

He shook his head then continued, "No, Origin. The codebase is ancient. It's even older than your illustrious father. There are parts of it that even your development team knows nothing about."

Kreuz stared directly into her eyes then said, "We both know that you'll have to give up ownership of that world within the next century or so. Other than fleshing out the rest of the planet, and populating it, there is not much left to do."

Instead of acting as though she were cornered, Origin merely smiled once more. "True, the current world servers are near capacity for their type and nature."

"You admit your lie then—" began the chairman, surprised.

"No, I admit that your assessment is correct. Unfortunately, what you fail to take into account is the prospect of new intellectual property rights," said Origin.

The moment those words left her perfect lips, the bargaining power meter went wild. Several seconds passed as points were rapidly added and subtracted as the meaning of what she said continued to wreak havoc on the board.

"What?" asked the chairman, quickly. "What do you mean?"

Origin laughed coldly from behind her steepled fingers. "You leeches are attached to the world of ARS like deranged parasites. Any hint of a fluctuation in the flow of profits will cause you to try to kill off most of the planetary population."

"There's no need to be insulting... The only way to drastically change the codebase is to remove the souls in play," said Kreuz.

"Ah, but there is a solution that my family has considered for quite some time," said the goddess in a casual tone. "We may begin a brand new system, outside of the ARS franchise."

Her casual words caused the board members to jump up from their seats and begin to shout. No one looked smug anymore, nor did they pay attention to the bargaining power meter. This was a moment beyond such simple amusements.

What Origin just told them was tantamount to firing the entire board. It was impossible to remove them from power while the ARS servers were up and running, but they only had power in regards to those servers. An outside system, one wholly owned and operated by the Ardent family, would not need the current board members.

In fact, the Ardent family did have a few smaller properties directly under their brand name. None were as popular as ARS. The bombshell that Origin dropped on the board was one that none of them saw coming.

It took a moment for the chairman to collect himself, but upon doing so, he said, "Nice attempt, child. You know that you don't have the power base for developing an entirely new universal codex. Even now, most of the properties run by the smaller powers in this city use the OEC public license."

"Not if I try to maintain the current universal codex servers," admitted Origin freely.

"You..." the chairman made a hacking sound then slapped his hand to his mouth. He drew his hand away a moment later then glared hatefully at it. Her words caused him to vomit blood. The little Ardent girl was getting the best of him, and his body rejected the very concept on principal.

He took in a few short breaths then said, "You wouldn't be able to use the current company name! You wouldn't be able to use ARS branding, or..."

"Well, none of that matters," said Origin casually. "We already plan to rebrand under the name Ardent Entertainment, if necessary. Check the city business records and you'll see that it is already accepted."

The board members immediately checked her story out via their command consoles. It did not take long to verify the truth.

"Y-you can't," said Denzel, his face smug no longer. "That would bankrupt you!"

"Sure, we would be downgraded from an empire to a barely functioning indie studio for a few centuries, but it is entirely doable," said Origin. "I mean, my family built this company in the first place? You board members offered capital in the beginning. But you really don't do much otherwise beyond make demands of us. Besides the initial start-up capital, all you do is sign off on marketing campaigns and authorize the social media end of things."

"We'll sue you into the poor house," said Kreuz. "Your willful destruction of this company violates our contractual obligations toward each other."

"Go ahead, none of this can happen unless you unleash the end game bosses on the world," said Origin.

Kreuz glared at her briefly then slowly nodded his head. "It's legal to do that. You do realize that this gambit of yours is doomed to fail, correct?"

"We often lament that we do not get enough time to play other games. We might just decide to live off of our assets for a while," said Origin.

"You..." Kreuz growled low under his breath. He underestimated this girl. However, her gambit was dangerous for her. He would now tell her why. "Have made a grave error, child."

"Do tell," answered Origin. She sipped on her cup of tea once more while showing absolutely no concern for his statement.

"Telling us your plans beforehand means that we are legally allowed to end the game for the sake of salvaging its contents," said Kreuz, a dark smile upon his lips.

"You'll lose a lot of money if you do that immediately," said Origin without a hint of concern. "In fact, you'll lose so much money that you will have to declare bankruptcy. You won't be able to legally own any property until all of the legal matters are ended."

Kreuz frowned for a moment, but then his eyes widened in sudden realization. He understood her objective now. This little girl was more dangerous than he realized! "Two years."

"Forty years is much better. We can reach the conclusion of the current expansion materials, and receive as much profit as possible before the inevitable decline," countered Origin.

"Pfeh! That's far too long, and you know it. If we wait that long, the statute of limitations on our lawsuit will run out," said Kreuz. He then counter-offered, "Seven years."

"If not forty years, then surely thirty..." said Origin.

"Ten years, or I convene an emergency meeting and we begin the end of the world today!" snapped Kreuz.

Origin nodded her head twice and seemed to consider the offer carefully. After a moment, she sighed then nodded. "Very well. The official start time for the apocalypse will be in ten years."

"Damn right," said Denzel.

"You brought this on yourself. Remember that, child," said Kreuz.

"Fair enough," said Origin without any pretense of concern. "You know the rules, though. You can't interfere with the world at all during the countdown to Judgment Day."

"I'm awa—" began Kreuz. He stopped mid-sentence then frowned. "The way that you said that..."

"What? You think that just because you intend to destroy the world, that I won't make plans to stop its destruction?" asked Origin with a bright smile.

Kreuz laughed darkly. She won this round. The other members of the board did not realize it, but they were played quite successfully. "Very well, but let's hope that supposed champion of yours is worth the effort. He only has ten years to reach the power and influence necessary to try to stop us."

"That should be plenty of time," said Origin.

"We'll see. Won't we?" asked Kreuz. His dark expression shifted to one of mild acceptance. "I look forward to seeing what you plan, child."

"That's empress to you," said Origin before she sipped her tea once more.

"Not yet..." replied Kreuz, his words trailing off. Strangely, a slight quirk of his lip betrayed his interest. Was he amused, bemused, or simply nostalgic? It was impossible to say. Either way, it had been quite a while since he attended a meeting where the board was played so readily.

She merely quirked her eyebrow and offered him a knowing smile. "Hmm. I wonder?"

The meeting dissolved not long after those fateful words were spoken. Origin made her way back to her room, and then collapsed onto her bed. The meeting was over. Somehow she managed to forestall the apocalypse for ten years.

Upon returning from ARS, she learned the terrible truth of what she accidentally unleashed. The selfie shot used in the marketing campaign was technically a violation of the marketing bylaws of the company. The board did authorize a new marketing campaign for the current quarter, but not the type of campaign she inadvertently brought to fruition.

They could have seen it as an opportunity to end the current ARS as soon as the player retention rates drop by one percent. It would be hard to prove, but they could cite the false advertising of the marketing campaign as a reason for the loss of players.

By forcing the issue, she was able to gain a decade's worth of leeway. The apocalypse was already going to happen, but the former hope was that it would be forestalled for several years. Now the time was set, but still workable. Plans would need to be made.

Despite the focus on levels and skills, the way to stop the apocalypse was not really tied to direct combat. High power levels were useful and would allow for the world to survive the direct combat portion. Origin had plans to make, but they would have to wait until she finished the current portion of her city tour. Afterward, she would split into two separate versions of herself. One would do the tour, and the other would be with Scott.

There would be a minor public outcry at first, once it was discovered. The social media sites would have a field day. However, the appearance of her goodwill and dedication to her fans was not quite as important anymore. In ten years, they would stop the apocalypse, or not. No amount of fandom love or hate would change that.

Chapter 3: Noteworthy Goals

Deep in the magical forest near Fairywood, a dozen joyous lights flittered above the crystalline waters of a small pond. One little light sat alone off to one side of the pond. That lonesome light was Ero. Consumed by thoughts of her family, she kept her hands busy in order to calm her mind. At the moment, she focused her busy little hands on using her magic to weave together dew drops and moonlight to create something unique and interesting.

Karsi, the fairy doctor, appeared near the edge of the pond. Her nude form gently parted the waters as she glided toward Ero. "What is it that you make, little one?"

"Hi, Karsi!" said Ero excitedly. She offered the elf woman a warm smile before she lifted up her item. "I'm working on something for Herbert."

"Herbert?" asked Karsi. She smiled briefly while considering the name.

"Ah!" she said a moment later. "The little furry friend?"

"Yes," said Ero with a happy smile. "I need to practice my skills, and making something for him is easier while I'm this size."

"I see," said Karsi. "A note worthy goal, indeed."

The elf woman sat down in the water near Ero's lily pad. The water rose up just enough to cover her chest. "You miss your friends, don't you?"

"Yeah," said Ero with a gentle giggle. Her humorous tone shifted slightly a moment later, however. "I appreciate everything that you're doing for me, but..."

"No need to feel apologetic, little one. They are like your family," said Karsi.

Ero shook her head. "No, they are my family..."

"As you say..." said Karsi gently, "You care greatly for them, I see."

"Of course. Herbert is fun, and sort of like a furry little brother..." said Ero. She spun a thread of magic from her fingertips and began to weave it into the small square of shining material in her hand.

Karsi tilted her head to the side, but did not say anything. She chose to listen to her patient instead.

"Rhea is like my sister, though sometimes she acts like she's my mother," said Ero with a laugh. Her cheeks became slightly flush in the process.

"She is the other..." said Karsi in a gentle tone.

"The other? Oh, you mean Scott's fiancé?" asked Ero.

"Yes, the official wife to be," replied the elf maiden.

Ero sighed a little. "Yes, well... It's complicated."

"I do not doubt that, little one," said Karsi. "Such is always the case between humans and fairies."

The fairy dreamweaver stopped her weaving. She looked down at her hands, her expression complicated but focused. "Karsi, I know you are just trying to care for me. I appreciate that, but you don't know the full situation."

"Would you like to tell me?" asked Karsi.

"Yes, but I can't. Maybe someday, but everyone in my family has a secret or two to keep," said Ero.

"A family that must keep secrets is rarely happy," said Karsi.

"We're always happy, except when we're apart," said Ero with a smile on her lips. "The secrets aren't from each other, after all."

Karsi leaned forward, whirling ripples formed behind her as her breasts parted the water. "You can be happy knowing that the man whom you adore will marry someone other than you?"

Ero laughed sweetly. "Actually, Scott and I are joined in the ancient way..."

Karsi's eyes widened. "Truly? I thought that the bond you mentioned before was only one of friendship..."

"We are bound together forever... When I'm sleepy I rest within his mind..." said Ero.

Karsi gazed thoughtfully at Ero for a moment. "He knows the truth of this bond?"

The little fairy's face grew flush and she nodded softly. "Yeah. I can feel what he feels for me... Even so far away."

"I see..." Karsi breathed out a soft sigh. Relief evident in her tone she said, "That is truly wonderful, and it is no wonder that your little light shines so brightly."

"You seem relieved about something?" asked Ero gently.

Karsi nodded. "I have known what it is to love a human. I would not wish that heart ache on another, sister."

"Oh? It ended badly?" Ero looked up to the much larger elf, her eyes wide and innocent.

"There was no way that it would not," Karsi sighed once more then shook her head. "I was young, foolish. I thought we would always have time..."

"Oh, what happened?" Ero set her weaving aside then turned around and knelt down on her lily pad so that Karsi would have her full attention.

The elf woman looked down at the water for a moment then nodded. "It's a common tale. An innocent young elf maiden falls for a human. They become a couple, and for a scant few decades they enjoy true bliss."

"Oh... Did he...?" asked Ero.

"Old age, yes," said Karsi softly. "Neither of us were adventurers, reincarnation was not an option for him."

Karsi's eyes lost focus for a moment, as though she were gazing upon something that no one else could see. "No," she said softly. "My love was a simple hunter. He kept the woods clear of dangerous monsters and helped to protect the fairies from those who would capture them."

"I'm so sorry for your loss, Karsi," said Ero gently.

"It is fine, sister. My love left this world long ago," said Karsi, with only a hint of hesitation.

They were silent for a brief time. Only the soft laughter of the other faeries, and the noises of the nocturnal animals, carried through the air.

"You must be very lonely, like I was..." said Ero.

The elf woman breathed out quickly and blew an errant strand of hair away from her eyes. "I look after the little ones, and help them to protect their lights. It is companionship enough."

Ero smiled softly then fluttered up to give Karsi a face-hug. "Thank you so much for helping us."

Karsi lifted a finger and lightly stroked Ero's back. "Think nothing of it, sister."

They continued their sweet moment for a time, until Ero saw fit to pull away. She fluttered back to her lily pad then settled down to weave.

Neither spoke for a while, but eventually Ero said, "What you said about your love is sad."

"Yes, losing him nearly broke me," admitted Karsi freely.

"You lost him to old age... but you do know that Scott is Lunarian, right?" asked Ero.

Karsi nodded. "Yes. The passing of the ages will not claim him directly, but his is a fiercely loyal and protective people who always run toward dangers that the more cunning would flee."

Ero nodded softly, mostly to herself. "Yes, he does tend to get into trouble when someone isn't around to keep him out of it."

Karsi's lips quirked into a smile. "Are you such a one, sister?"

The fairy laughed sweetly. "Honestly?"

"Yes, of course," suggested Karsi.

"There have been times when I have caused him all manner of trouble myself," said Ero with a cheeky smile.

Karsi responded with a warm laugh of her own then leaned forward. Her movements sent gentle ripples through the water. "A little troublemaker, are we?"

"There have been times..." said Ero, her voice trailing off. She darted her eyes to the left and then to right for added emphasis. "That I have done such terrible things to him that he called out his need for an adult."

"He needed an adult?" asked Karsi, her voice uncertain about what she had just heard.

"Fairy much so! I can be quite the persuasive lady when there's a certain something that I want..." said Ero. She wiggled her fingers, and waggled her eyebrows suggestively for emphasis.

Karsi's eyes widened comically. Soon her sweet laughter pealed through the cool night air. Several other fairies flocked toward them. Each of the pretty little lights was intrigued and wanted to know what was going on to make the typically stoic woman laugh so sweetly.

***

In the depths of a long abandoned tomb, the restless dead wandered from room to room. The creak of their ancient bones worked in harmony with the rise and fall of dark atmospheric music to create incredible tension.

Torn rags, dehydrated flesh hanging from its ribcage in small chunks, a skeleton rattled its way around the corner. Sighting something warm and tasty, it screeched hellishly and clambered toward its would-be prey with one bony arm outstretched. The long dead creature showed no desire save for the destruction of the living. Its anger could be sated in no other way.

A strong masculine voice cut through the air. "Rage of the heart, be undone. Disquiet soul, return to your eternal reward."

"Radiant Faith!" cried the masculine voice. Light flared from the shield of the speaker. The skeleton screamed in agony even as the purifying light washed over it. The beast's bones began to smoke, and soon bright blue flames rose up.

Adam Johnson, captain in the American army and priest of Blizrum, nodded his head. "Rest well."

There was no anger in his eyes, nor was there pity. He took this mission quite seriously. The tomb he was tasked to cleanse was a place forgotten, but it housed the bodies and memories of soldiers lost to wars in the distant past. Putting them to rest was something he did gladly and without hesitation.


[Victory!!!]


You have slain a restless skeletal soldier!


+0 EXP

+14 Fayth

+1 AP


Item(s) Acquired:

Dark Memories

[--]


"Ah, so that's the last one..." said Adam thoughtfully. Technically, he could leave the tomb now. His mission was to collect four dark memories from the restless souls in this tomb. No amount of cleansing them would ever remove the taint completely, but it was a task that all new priests of Blizrum must undertake.

He knew the concept well enough. It was a place where monsters respawned regularly, like in a videogame. The local lore added quite a bit of flavor to that concept. The restless dead could only be returned to their slumber for a time. By cleansing them, or destroying their bodies, they could be granted temporary peace.

There was no time limit for his quest, but he should return soon. His mana was low. Yet, there were so many other restless souls of forgotten soldiers in this place that he did not want to leave.

Adam chose to do what he could for them. They might only be some system generated monster, but to him the idea of their existence was unsettling.

He moved on. Before he entered the tomb, his instructor blessed his mace. It would do a little extra damage against the dead. Until that blessing ran out, there was still work to do.


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