End Online: Chapter 43

Editors: Dyngari, Templar, Jack Vanatis, Orang, genericIntent
Author’s notes: The final chapter of End Online: Volume 6. Some of you have been waiting a while for this. I have been a little delayed while catching up to schedule, writing 4 chapters of COTE (equivalent to 5 actually) in the past 10 days. Good news is that my current schedule works, so it is reliable! I may fall behind schedule, but I can easily catch back up, and I will also write ahead as I can.
The Chronicle of the Eternal: Volume 2 Paperback Giveaway is still going on as well, make sure you check out the previous post if you are interested.
Another chapter release, please show your support by taking a minute of your time to follow the link and vote for End Online at TopWebFiction.com! Votes are reset weekly so even if you have voted before, please do so again! ^.^
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Chapter 43 – Possession Chase

– Lost –

While chasing the AI swordsman, we unexpectedly don’t encounter any guards along the way. It must have something to do with either the swordsman knowing where they are and avoiding them, or Chronix’s men holding them back, I’m not sure which.

The swordsman is quick, slowly pulling away from Fen, Verde, and myself. He glances over his shoulder at us with an air of smug superiority. Even I can tell that this AI is profoundly arrogant. However, this could be used against him in combat to give us a chance to surprise him and gain the upper hand.We soon escape through the open rear door of the museum that Verde was unable to open in time. As our group exits the door we see the AI casually leaping over one of the walls behind the museum and out of sight, not even bothering to give us a second glance.

“Damn it. Fen, Verde, escape through the streets. I will follow the AI and let you know where he goes.”

Still in my draconian form, I fly up into the air and over the wall in pursuit of my quarry, while Fen and Verde run in a different direction. Chronix and his party have no method to get over the wall and are forced to follow after the two girls.

Soaring through the air gives me a great vantage point, so I am able to easily track the AI swordsman as he bounds through the city. Not only is he incredibly quick, but his ability to jump is astounding. If it wasn’t for the fact that I can fly, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with him despite all the obstacles he has to go over.

“Lost, where is the swordsman now?” Verde’s inquisitive tone resounds in my head as she sends a private voice message.

“He’s heading East, towards the nearest city gate.”

I also relay this to Sir Laurence and Gladox, who are currently avoiding the guards after escaping from prison, so they can meet us there.

As Fen is with Verde and doing her best to keep Chronix from catching them, I am the only one near the AI swordsman. He quickly reaches the city gate, easily dodging the few guards who bar his path and escapes the city. The guards are then rapidly left behind as he flees toward the neighboring swampy forested area just outside the gate.

Not far behind the rogue AI, I fly through the air at a speed so great it creates afterimages of myself in the sky. As the AI reaches the forested swamp, I shout out loud and strain my body, forcing myself to undergo a short burst of speed, overtaking the AI and send a ‘Dire Starburst’ raining down on him.

The swordsman reacts instantly, dodging the attack in a way that made me think he has some paranormal sixth sense for danger. He doesn’t dodge every small ‘Dire Star’ that falls down upon him, as the technique spreads out damage in a wide area if I so choose. Unfortunately only five or six attacks land on him, doing so little damage that there isn’t any visible reduction of his health.

The attack, however, did stop the swordsman from fleeing and cause him to glare up at the sky. His gaze didn’t wander at all as it pierces the distance between us, as if he knew where I was the entire time.

“It has been some time since one has been foolish enough to attack me. What is your name?” The swordsman’s loud voice rustles the trees around him and forms ripples through the swamp.

“Normally you would introduce yourself before asking for someone else’s name. I didn’t think you were very interested in me before.”

“That is correct, I am not. But as you are about to die, I will grant you this single request. I am Ladon.”

After speaking, Ladon draws his sword in an instant and fires a shining green flash of swordlight towards me in the sky. I barely react to the attack in time, but my speed compensates for my late reaction and allows me to dive under the attack.

Ladon gives me no time to regain my balance as another attack of swordlight follows up immediately after the first. Even after barely avoiding the second attack, a third, fourth, and even more come in a constant stream of attacks.

Strangely enough, there is enough of a gap between each attack to allow me to dodge, almost as if the enemy AI had planned for me to do so. It is only after dodging nearly ten of the swordlight assaults that I notice I am suddenly nearing the ground. By frantically avoiding all of Ladon’s attacks, I have unwittingly lost my flight advantage.

The trees’ canopies blot out most of the sky so the moonlight doesn’t reach the ground. Shallow water reflects what little light that reaches it, the silvery glow barely allowing a player to see. I use the small breaks between attacks to throw dire flames at the trees nearby, creating pools of deep crimson flare to illuminate the area. I end up wasting all my mana just lighting the area so I can fight effectively. Looks like I will have to count on my melee skills only in this fight.

I feel frustrated at not having an opportunity to get closer and attack, but I should at least be able to hold out until the others come. By my estimation, it should take them around ten minutes to arrive here on foot. My only concern is that Chronix may do something unexpected and ruin everything.

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– Fen –

Watching Lost fly into the air and chase after the other inheritor candidate, I can’t help but feel nervous. I stand rooted to the spot and don’t realize we are still being pursued until Verde, that vixen, grabs my arm and starts to drag me away while screaming at me to keep running. I instinctively started to condense a dagger of ice to make her release me, but force restraint upon myself. Lost will be unhappy if I attack Verde.

The group of men chasing us are getting closer, and there are also more of the city guards in the area closing in on us. I shake off Verde’s grip and start to flee down the closest city street. It is still night time, so the flickering street lights illuminate the roads.

I stop and let Verde catch up before pointing in the direction we need to run, then I start moving again at a speed she can keep up with. My hearing is much better than anyone else’s, allowing me to hear the guards as they approach.

The man that attacked us a few times in the past, Chronix, isn’t very far away from us either. Strange, I know he should be able to catch up to us, or at least be much closer. I wonder why he is holding back.

“Lost said that they are at a swampy forested area to the east of the city, not too far from the gate,” Verde whispers quietly, her eyes nervously trying to penetrate the darkness of the alleys as if there is someone there.

I don’t wish to speak with her, so I only nod my head in understanding. We need to reach Lost as soon as possible; he doesn’t stand a chance against this inheritor candidate by himself. Lost has done so much for me already, and I can’t allow him to be killed by someone like that.

“There they are!”

Several guards come around the corner in the distance and immediately shout into the night. I can hear guards responding without delay and changing their patrol routes to intercept us.

It is at this moment that several strange men and women step out of the shadows between buildings and intercept the guards. They are all extremely strong in their defense as they hold large shields with which they block any attack and push the guards back. I have no idea who these strange people are, but they must be idiots to voluntarily fight the guards.

I change my planned direction and lead the way with Verde following behind. I see her looking at the men with a complex expression. I hope she stays with them so she will leave Lost alone, but after only a moment of hesitation she chases after me.

We flee through a few dark, narrow alleys to get the guards off our trail while we keep getting closer to the eastern city gate.

At the east gate, there is a group of seven guards standing ready to barricade any attempts to exit. Lost and our foe have already made it through despite them so they all have their swords drawn and are ready to try and cut us down if we get too close.

“Psst. Verde, Fen,” a gruff voice quietly sounds out from an alley next to us while we watch the gate.

It turns out to be Gladox and Sir Laurence, the two men who are currently travelling with us and always have perverted gazes. They are hiding in the shadows while watching the gate and the guards defending it.

“What?” Verde answers beside me.

“We need to get out, I trust Lost told you where to find him and that swordsman?”

“Yeah, but those guards don’t look like they are going to leave the gate.”

“They won’t. We tried luring them out, but they wouldn’t budge. They are determined to defend the gate, and nothing but the gate.”

“What do we do then? Kill them?”

I want to say that I personally have no problem with killing them, but before I can get the chance to speak my thoughts, another voice sounds in the alley.

“There’s no need to worry. Our people will clear the guards away. We only need to break through.”

The voice belongs to Chronix, who happens to approach our group at the most opportune time. I can sense a considerable hostility from him, so I am more wary of his actions than the others seem to be.

Gladox thinks about the situation and is the first to reply, “Then please do. We need to get out of the city as quickly as possible.”

“They will be here in a minute and a half. You had best be prepared.”

Gladox seems to be at ease with Chronix’s help, but I am not that naïve. I create an ice spear in the air next to me and send it flying at his chest, aiming to pierce the heart. Chronix only smiles at my attack, casually sidestepping and avoiding the spear with very little margin for error.

The tall blonde man who gives me a sense of danger doesn’t retaliate, only stepping back into the shadows and disappearing. Even the sound of his footsteps quickly fades, as if he is a ghost.

Just as Chronix said, a small group of people arrive at the city gate a minute and a half later. The people, heavily armored and wielding massive swords and maces, charge the guards protecting the gate and swing their enormous weapons down upon them. The guards respond well, standing firm and fortifying their positions, but such an assault still takes up all of their attention.

Gladox is the first to charge toward the gate, with Verde, Sir Laurence, and myself right behind. I also see Chronix and five other people exit a dark alleyway and do the same, but they are ahead of us and will reach it first.

Chronix and his people manage to slip between gaps in the fight and get to the other side without taking any damage. We do the same, running through the melee whilst avoiding any stray attacks from the guards.

A sense of relief washes over me as we exit the city. Very few guards will chase us now, and for the few that will, they won’t search very far.

“Now, where are we heading?” Chronix casually asks Gladox while giving a sly glance towards the rest of us.

Sir Laurence is about to warn Gladox not to say anything, as he hasn’t come across Chronix before and doesn’t know our history, but he isn’t fast enough. Before he gets the chance, Gladox says, “Lost and the swordsman are to the east, in a swampy forested area. He is currently holding him back, but I don’t know how the fight is going. We have to hurry.”

“Indeed, we do.”

Chronix signals to his men and they set off to the east, leaving us behind. Gladox is surprised when Sir Laurence grabs his arm and lets Chronix’s group run ahead. Sir Laurence quickly explains that Chronix and his guild have been trying to kill Lost for quite a while. Gladox frowns, looking at the backs of Chronix’s group as they continue to run ahead.

“Then why did he help us? If he wants Lost dead, he could have gotten in our way. Even getting us locked up would have been easy for such a large force.”

Sir Laurence’s brow furrows as he ponders deeply on the question before clapping his hands together and saying, “He must want the tablet. He knows Lost wants the tablet enough to steal it, so it must be valuable. We need to be careful of not only the swordsman who has the tablet, but Chronix as well.”

Gladox and Verde nod their assent, but I don’t believe there is anything to worry about. I fear the inheritor candidate, but those other people can’t stop me.

“Fen, you go ahead,” Verde says with a smile. “That way, you can get there before Chronix. Do you know where to go?”

I nod my head curtly and immediately sprint off to the east to find Lost. As long as I can get close, I will know where they are.

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– Lost –

Ladon’s attacks are ruthless, unending, and have an uncanny accuracy. He constantly sends multiple swordlight attacks at me, and whenever I get close, flashes with an instantaneous movement that allows him to teleport 10’ in any direction and blows me away with a backhanded slash of the sword.

I manage to get a few attacks in, but his health has barely decreased by five percent. In the meantime, my health is nearly at half. I have to keep flying above the ground too, because the swampy surface of the forest is an ankle deep pool of water and slows my movements. It has the same effect on him fortunately, otherwise I don’t know if I would be capable of holding out as long as I have.

Ladon appears to be getting tired of the constant back and forth attacks; his swordlight attacks are coming more frequently with no sign of stopping. I can’t even get the chance to fly higher in the sky to give myself more freedom of movement, as each time Ladon counters with a torrent of attacks that force me to descend.

I prepare to dodge the next attack and charge forward again, but he suddenly does something unexpected – Ladon thrusts his sword into the moist ground. I didn’t expect the move and don’t manage to react until that very sword erupts from the ground beneath my feet and stabs into my leg.

I fly backward in panic, but not before receiving around 200 points of damage, a little more than five percent of my total health. Ladon sends out another swordlight attack and goes to repeat his dimensional stab again but a thick shield of ice surprises him as it forms beneath and in front of me, blocking the two attacks.

Ladon’s eyes dart to the side and his gaze locks with Fen’s.

“Fen, you’re here!” I call out while breathing a sigh of relief.

“I’m here,” Fen replies timidly while staring intently at Ladon, who has halted his attacks.

Ladon gazes back at Fen, but the look in his eyes contains no worry about defeat at all. If I had to describe his expression, it would be one of confidence and arrogance.

Ladon moves his mouth as if to say something, but Fen suddenly attacks with a hail of small ice needles, cutting him off and forcing him into a defensive position. A whirlwind forms around Ladon, blowing the ice needles away before they can reach him. At the same time, he attacks Fen with several swordlight blades.

Fen raises an ice wall in front of her which, while gradually being cut into pieces, still defends against the attacks. I see my opportunity to attack at this point and use the Sacred Art ‘Backstab’, vanishing from my position and appearing behind Ladon like a ghost.

Before the AI swordsman can react, I swing my twin god-tier short swords down and cut into his back, dealing the most damage I have done so far. Ladon reacts quickly, blindly thrusting his sword behind himself. I have already retreated to a safe distance, but still took some damage from the windstorm in the process. Ladon’s sword suddenly seems to pierce the distance between us and stabs me in the chest.

‘Damn it! Another one of those dimensional stabs!’ I curse to myself as my health falls to a near critical state.

Fen throws several heavy ice spears which pierce through the defensive gale. The spears hit the shallow water and burst into thorny flowers of sharp, icy petals. They also freeze the swamp water and lock Ladon’s feet in place so he can’t escape.

The AI swordsman snorts in contempt, twisting his body at an impossible angle and cutting apart the thorny flowers that attempt to pierce him. He isn’t completely successful however, as the icy spears are too numerous and some still manage to stab into him.

I take the opportunity to take out a bunch of homemade health potions from my inventory and, holding my breath to stifle the taste, pour one after another down my throat. The speed at which I recover health won’t increase from taking so many potions, but the duration of health recovery will continue until the effects of all the potions are consumed.

I hear the sound of cracking ice as Ladon frees himself by forcefully pulling his feet out of the frozen swamp. The ice shatters around him and swordlight flutters around the area, pressuring Fen. The wolf girl seems to be holding her own against him for now, but I can see her slowly being suppressed.

“Well, Lost, it appears you are having some trouble,” a nostalgic voice comes from behind me, accompanied by many footsteps splashing in the water.

I turn my head to see Chronix and the rest of his party. Chronix smirks at me while looking at the battle. I furrow my brow at him and prepare to attack, but he then does something that completely surprises me.

Chronix orders his party to attack Ladon, coordinating them to circle around through the trees and attack from behind the AI. As he leaves me to recover health, Chronix flashes me a grin that makes me both anxious and worried.

As Chronix and his party are getting into position, Fen’s defense finally falters. Several sweeping swordlight blades pass through her thick ice barricade and land on her body, sending her back several yards and doing considerable damage.

Fen and I could barely get Ladon to lose ten percent of his health, yet each one of his attacks can do the same amount of damage to Fen. I can see where his earlier confidence came from. He isn’t anywhere near the strongest AI we’ve encountered, but he is definitely stronger than us. Fortunately, while he has quality, we have quantity.

Chronix and his crew finally circle behind Ladon and, with one swift coordinated attack, his party unleashes a barrage of skills. Two high class magic spells are launched: one, a supportive type that will slow down the target’s speed, and the other, a fire type that will deal heavy damage and possibly burn a target for continuous damage over time.

There are also four Sacred Art attacks at the same time. Some elemental sword strikes and a single defensive art which forms a large shield in from of the party to protect against any counter attacks.

The defense of the party is an excellent tactic that proves to be lifesaving. Ladon suffers four of the unexpected attacks before performing an instantaneous movement and thrusting his sword at the party. The sword pierces into the shield, but it stops halfway through without being able to fully penetrate.

Ladon appears enraged by Chronix’s party as he focuses his attacks on them, tearing their defenses apart and forcing them to retreat while still taking damage. As to be expected of a rich party from a large guild, they rapidly pull out health potions of the highest quality and drink them like water.

The AI swordsman doesn’t get to attack Chronix’s party for long. Fen’s attacks force him to turn his attention back to her. The arrogant expression on Ladon’s face has diminished, now replaced by one of concentration.

“We’re here!” Verde’s voice travels from between the trees as she, Sir Laurence, and Gladox appear.

“Be careful,” I cautiously warn them, “This swordsman, Ladon, is incredibly powerful. He fights with wind, and his sword is capable of piercing space and attacking distant targets. He can also instantaneously move 10 feet in any direction when attacked!”

The three new arrivals nod and quickly join me as my health finishes refilling and I prepare to re-enter the battle.

“Sir Laurence, we will be relying on your defense.” I place my trust in the idiot who only thinks of girls and hope I won’t regret it.

Ladon is currently besieged on two sides. His windstorm defense protects him from small to moderate attacks, so everyone is forced to use their strongest techniques to be able to hit him. As a result, the two parties’ combined efforts have managed to take him down to seventy percent health.

Sir Laurence, Gladox, Verde, and I go help reinforce Fen, who is in a bad position and already down to fifty percent health. I pass her a few potions, ignoring her scrunched up nose, and tell her to quickly drink them. Unfortunately, she only drinks one before throwing the rest away.

“No. I hate them,” Fen says in disgust.

Sir Laurence tries to hand her some normal high quality health potions, but she refuses to accept them. I frown and am about to tell her to just take them, but Ladon’s next attack arrives.

Sir Laurence steps forward and raises his shield, a bright ethereal force emerging from the edges to cover just enough space to protect the whole party. It successfully blocks many of the swordlight blades, but Ladon’s sword soon pierces space and stabs into the physical shield, resulting in the ethereal force falling to pieces.

Thankfully, Fen steps in at this moment and raises an ice wall larger than before to keep us protected. We hold off our assault until Chronix’s party’s attacks cause Ladon to turn in rage and attack them back.

‘How strange, I wonder why my auto aggravation doesn’t seem to be effective on this AI. Grael said he felt like attacking me, but he was able to ignore it. Could it be the same with all the other AIs?’ I wonder to myself as Fen banishes the ice wall.

I throw five of my throwing knives at Ladon just in case, but as expected the windstorm surrounding him blows them away before they can reach him. Fen attacks with a torrent of ice spears while Gladox charges forward with his huge two-handed sword poised to attack.

Ladon instinctively glances behind and frowns at the attacks. Rather than trying to defend against them, he uses his instantaneous movement to dodge 10 feet to the side. The windstorm that was surrounding him slowly disperses, and another quickly forms around the location he transitioned to.

Gladox reacts with inhuman speed, changing direction the moment Ladon vanished. He manages to slip through the windstorm before it comes to full effect and swings his sword down in a deadly chop. Ladon counters with his sword in a full arc to deflect the attack, but Gladox cunningly shifts his weight and changes the trajectory of his swing, avoiding Ladon’s sword and cutting through the AI mercilessly.

“Hmm, you have some skill,” Ladon says begrudgingly to Gladox as his sword speeds up, tearing through the air and slashing Gladox before he can react.

Such a heavy swing, yet Gladox’s health bar only showed a reduction of barely five percent. I’m green with envy over the enormous amount of health points the top level player in the game has. The same attack would have taken nearly half of my health if it landed like that.

Chronix’s party renews their attack now that they aren’t forced to defend themselves. We have taken Ladon’s health down to 55 percent and have an incredible advantage at this point. Despite that, the swordsman hasn’t shown any indication of fleeing, as if he is still apparently confident in his victory.

I use a considerable portion of my stamina to use ‘Multi Mirage’, turning into over a dozen flying copies of myself. Each and every mirage, including my true self, charges at Ladon with a speed incomparable to anyone else.

Ladon’s windstorm still hasn’t come to full effect, so the mirages manage to pass through without being dispersed. My sudden burst of speed greatly surprises Ladon, who glances around him warily before randomly swinging his sword, dispersing one of the mirages.

I can only move this fast when I carefully plan the trajectory and distance to move, else it is impossible to control. I can always use ‘Perceptual Sight’ to greatly enhance my reactions and appear to slow down time around me, but it always brings a splitting pain in my head that I don’t want to suffer. I still occasionally have residual headaches from the last time I used it.

With the ability to change which mirage is my real body, I change my location to the nearest mirage and use ‘CrossX’ to slash across Ladon.

“Found you,” Ladon says as if it is inconsequential, turning around and thrusting his sword into my ‘real body’.

Unfortunately for the AI, I have already changed to a different mirage. Just as the mirage Ladon stabbed disperses, I attack again with another, this time using ‘Triple Thrust’. Gladox coordinates with me perfectly, attacking from the other direction and trapping Ladon between the two.

Gladox uses a special, unique, wind-based Sacred Art that makes his sword glow green for a moment. At first I thought using the wind element against the AI would be pointless as it is his element, but Gladox only used it to bounce his sword off the swirling air around us to do instantaneous shifts in momentum, bringing his incredibly heavy sword back to perform quick, unpredictable attacks.

This process repeats itself several times, trapping Ladon between us while leaving enough room for the rest of our party, and even Chronix’s party, to attack. Ladon falls to forty percent total health under the barrage before hissing in frustration and using instantaneous movement to escape.

The swordsman AI appears dishevelled, panting and glaring at us with anger. Being ganged up on by eleven people would definitely be frustrating. I have been in similar situations so I can empathize. Unfortunately, for Fen’s survival, I must be cold hearted.

“Each of you are weak, so you rely on numbers,” Ladon growls in anger. “Allow me to show you what true power is!”

Wind coalesces around Ladon at a speed incomparable to earlier, but instead of forming a defensive storm around him, it shifts into a strange, green cocoon. It bursts soon after, and a giant serpent emerges from within.

No, the serpent is Ladon, the same as Fen was originally a white winter wolf. This serpent, however, is much larger than Fen’s original form. Ladon is 66’ long and 3’ thick. His greenish-black scales are sharp enough that they seem to cut the light around them into pieces, creating a kaleidoscopic visage.

On the serpent’s back are two dark green wings that form from the remains of the condensed wind cocoon, granting him the ability of flight and extremely quick movements.

Unsure of his changes, I quickly use ‘Creature Analysis’ to examine the transformed Ladon. It didn’t work on the AIs when they are in human form, but fortunately it does when they are in their original appearance. My skill reveals the stats of the transformed Ladon:

Name: Ladon (King Class)
Level: 325
Health: 147,500
Magic: 120,405
Stamina: 87,400

A being that was once a small serpent, but managed to climb the heights 
of strength and reach divinity. This serpent god is known for biding 
its time in the shadows, waiting for the opportune moment to strike 
with vicious ferocity. Ladon moves through the sky with the speed of a 
tempestuous gale, attacking with strength that even other gods fear.

I stare in disbelief at the figures in front of me. This isn’t just fighting a difficult boss, this is fighting an impossible boss. Even though he only has forty percent health remaining, that is still around sixty thousand health points.

A sense of despair wells up inside of me, as our defeat and Fen’s death is the only possible result to this scenario my mind can come up with. I want to run and bring Fen somewhere safe, but I know that is not possible anymore. We have already forced Ladon into a position where he had to transform; there is no way we can escape.

I recall the time where I saw Grael’s stats, and now feel like something is off. Ladon’s health, magic, and stamina are all higher than Grael’s. Does that mean he is stronger? That can’t be possible, Grael is an Emperor Class AI while Ladon is only King Class. There should be a colossal difference between them in Grael’s favor.

‘Is it possible that the stats I saw for Grael are false? I can’t believe that. We already have such a small chance of getting the first tablet back off him, but that would make it even more ridiculously impossible. Or could it be something else that I am missing?’

While completely lost in my own thoughts and emotions, a wall of ice a full meter thick suddenly materializes in front of me. The change brings me back to reality but before I can move, Ladon’s serpent tail flickers through the air and collides with the ice wall, shattering and sending shards of ice in all directions.

Our entire party is sent flying back from the collision, but fortunately the ice wall did protect us from nearly all the damage. My ‘Partial Draconic Transformation’ also hits its time limit and disperses, causing me to fall to the ground and splash water everywhere.

“Lost!” Fen call out in a panic and rushes beside me.

“I’m fine. But he’s so strong, his health has become enormous after transforming. ‘Creature Analysis’ showed that even with forty percent health left, he still has sixty thousand health. Fen… I know I keep telling you to stay safe and am always trying to protect you, but this time, whether we win or lose, it will depend on you.”

“I’ll be fine. Let me protect you this time.”

Fen gives me a smile that despite her ice cold countenance, causes me to feel incomparable warmth in my chest. I know this feeling well, it is the feeling of love, the kind for which one would do anything for the other.

“Please, just one thing… Don’t die.”

Fen turns around to face Ladon but refuses to respond. I can tell she plans on sacrificing herself for some selfish reason rather than let me die, even though I will respawn if I do.

Chronix’s party attacks Ladon from behind with a torrent of heavy attacks, sparing no quarter. The serpent’s health only drops by a sliver, barely a single percent, but at least it’s progress. I pay attention to the fact that despite his health explosively increasing, his defense seems to have dropped to a bare minimum.

Ladon reacts violently, twisting through the air to avoid any more attacks and opening his enormous serpent mouth to shoot dozens of wind arrows at Chronix’s party. The players try to defend against the attack, but their defenses instantly crumble and force them to drop to the ground in order to avoid as many arrows as possible. Even with all their efforts, every one of them lost nearly half of their health from a single attack.

Beside me Fen keels over, her form growing quickly as she transforms into a giant wolf. She becomes 10’ tall and 16’ long, much bigger than I remember. Not only that, but she has a crown of ice and several sections of her body are covered in an armor of razor sharp ice thorns. The change is enormous, catching everyone, including myself, by surprise. Of course, the most surprised are Gladox and Chronix’s party, who have never seen her in wolf form before.

“Lost, she seems different,” Sir Laurence splashes through the water as he approaches.

“Mmm, I know.”

“Care to explain?”

“Not really, I’m not too sure myself.”

I do have some speculations, mainly that Fen is constantly growing and getting stronger, but it is still only a hypothesis.

Wolf-form Fen raises her head high and bellows a high pitched howl that causes my ears to ring. The temperature in the area drops significantly as if in response to her call, and even the moon in the sky takes on a dim blue glow.

Fen starts walking towards Ladon, the shallow water freezing beneath her paws with just a touch. From the frozen water around her ice grows as if it was alive, turning into nine transparent sculptures that perfectly resemble herself down to the last detail. Those sculptures then come to life, moving in unison with her.

Ladon stares intently at her, the wind around him coalescing into a thousand small wind serpents. The two sides stare at each other, completely ignoring everyone else in the area. They both have around forty percent health left, but Fen only has a little more than thirty thousand health, which is significantly less than Ladon’s nearly sixty thousand.

“You are fooolsss to attack. I am near transssendenccce, about to reach the levelsss of emperor! You ssshould kneel in my presssenccce!,” Ladon’s voice slithers from his mouth with a series of hisses, warning Fen of their difference.

Fen ignores him and is the first to attack, howling savagely and causing ice spears, no, ice stalactites the size of tree trunks, to form in every direction around Ladon like a cage. The icy stalactites in the air plunge towards their target, creating a whistling sound in the frigid air as they pierce at Ladon from every conceivable angle, not giving him a single chance to evade.

It appears that Ladon no longer has his instantaneous movement now that he is in his massive serpent form, else he would have used it to escape. Instead, he flicks his tail through the air like the grim reaper’s scythe, shattering any of the ice stalactites it passes. He manages to take out a third of the attacks, but the rest still land on his body.

The exploding ice blends together, creating a coffin of crystal that looks like it would last for eternity. It doesn’t even look like ice any more.

Unfortunately, faint cracking sounds can be heard as the crystal coffin shows stress fractures quickly crawling across its surface.. Ladon then breaks free, shattering the coffin into hundreds of glistening crystal shards as he charges up into the air and hisses loudly.

“Eternal iccce! How!?”

I notice that Ladon’s health has dropped by ten percent, which elates me, but Fen is panting and seems out of breath as if the last attack put a great strain on her. Just the one strong attack has evened the playing field, but I don’t know if she will be able to do it again.

Ladon twists in the air, coiling around himself while ascending. He floats up until he’s brushing the leafy canopy above before swinging his tail again, unleashing a torrent of wind blades similar to his swordlight blades but massively greater in size and power.

I nod to Sir Laurence and Gladox, and we charge forward together to try and defend against the attack. I am pushed back by strong gales of wind. Gladox is also blown backwards, but Sir Laurence manages to stand firm with the support of his heavy armor.

Sir Laurence defiantly pushes against the wind and thrusts his shield forward as it flashes brightly. The holy light from the shield coalesces into a translucent shield array in front of Fen to ward off the incoming attacks.

The defense is one of the strongest I have seen him use, but at the same time, I notice his mana completely depleting in the party screen.

‘I see, a shield that has strength dependent on the amount of mana sacrificed.

It is a last ditch effort on Sir Laurence’s part, but it does help. It manages to block half of the incoming attacks before finally breaking apart. To be able to defend against such a powerful onslaught, I can’t even begin to imagine the strength it had.

Fen tiredly evades to the side moments later, dodging half of the remaining wind blades, but still being hit by the rest. Her remaining health drops by 35 percent from the attack, but she appears to have summoned back her strength after her previous attack. It is only regrettable that her mana is still low and hasn’t recovered.

Ladon isn’t exhausted at all after his attack, even though it was equal in power to Fen’s. He continues attacking with windstorms, eventually summoning a tornado that cuts apart the surroundings mercilessly. Ladon’s attack is about to reach me as well, but a tombstone like block of ice suddenly erupts from the frozen ground and protects me.

“Fen, just focus on Ladon!” I shout at Fen over the sound of the tempest, worried that she will be hurt for trying to protect me.

No ice emerged around Sir Laurence, Gladox, or Verde, and they are quickly blown away. Sir Laurence is the closest and is nearly killed by a single attack, while Gladox’s health is high enough that he isn’t gravely harmed. Verde is the most unfortunate. With already low health and armor defense as low as mine, she is instantly killed, turning into motes of light and leaving her gold behind.

I stare wide eyed and slack jawed at the pile of gold Verde had. I want to recover it, but the tornado sweeps it up like so much rubbish and scatters the coins to the sky where they rain down across the entire forest.

Fen counters Ladon’s tornado with an equally powerful ice storm, but it isn’t as concentrated as the tornado. The tornado dominates the ice storm, and I fear the worst, but as I watch, I notice the ice shards and wind infiltrating the tornado, turning it icy blue and slowing down the momentum.

Not long after, the tornado completely stops, revealing Ladon inside covered in sharp ice shards.

Ladon emits a shrill hiss from the sky before darting down at Fen like a bolt of lightning. Fen bares her fangs and lets out a resounding howl, filling the night with the sounds of her call. She meets Ladon’s tail thrust with her claws, forcefully pulling the serpent out of the air and onto the frozen swamp.

Ladon flails about in her claws, trying to free himself while at the same time trying to bite down on her body with his enormous fangs that would probably impale her. It is then that I realize that both of them are out of mana, forcing them to fight tooth and claw.

Fen and Ladon entwine together as each tries to take the advantageous position. Both of their health points are dropping at a steady pace, but at this rate, it will be Fen who falls first.

‘Huh, where’s Chronix and his party?’ I ask myself as I notice the lack of Chronix’s party’s presence. ‘It doesn’t matter, if he’s gone, that will be less trouble later. Perhaps he died in the earlier attack.’

I carefully watch Fen and Ladon’s struggle, not allowing my eyes to turn away from their depleting health bars. With both nearly out of health points and my heart about to burst out of my chest in anxiety, Ladon manages to gain the upper hand on Fen with his versatile serpent body and pins her down.

“No!” I cry out desperately, charging forward across the frozen swamp water, slipping and sliding.

I can tell I won’t be able to make it in time at my current speed. Out of desperation, I once again use ‘Perceptual Sight’. My surroundings seem to become frozen in time, everything moving sixty percent slower than normal. At the same time, a splitting pain in my mind surges with a feeling like my head will soon burst open.

Squinting my eyes while fighting back against the pain, I regain my footing on the ice and almost double my previous speed. I arrive at Ladon with a thunderclap as he coils around Fen’s body. Putting power into my legs, I jump as hard as I can at the serpent’s head.

I feel like gravity doesn’t exist: from my perception, I am floating toward the rear of Ladon’s head. Pulling back my short swords, ‘Twin Nightingale’, I poise myself before stabbing both weapons down into the back of the serpent’s head to secure my position.

The short swords pierce Ladon’s tough scales like a hot knife through butter. I feel a strong feedback from forcefully stopping myself, but perhaps due to the pain in my head or effects of ‘Perceptual Sight’ it feels like it is someone else’s body that suffers from it.

I don’t have the thought capacity to use my Sacred Arts, so I can only blindly slash and hack with my short swords, doing very minimal damage against the serpent. I try to hold my eyes open while attacking, but the pain crashes against the inside of my skull like ocean waves, making me involuntarily shut my eyes and scrunch my brow.

Somehow or another, I do manage to get Ladon’s attention. He releases Fen from his bind in order to attack me. However, I still have clarity, and using my boosted perception and speed of processing information, I barely dodge the attacks that could instantly kill me.

I enter a hopeless situation as my consciousness wavers and as a result, I fail to position myself to avoid the approaching giant serpent fangs. Just as I shut my eyes to fight the pain and resign myself to my fate, I hear a wolf’s roar followed by a serpent’s hissing and a large collision next to me.

Opening my eyes, a sight that I will never forget burned itself into my mind. Ladon is on the ground barely inches away from me; Fen is on top of him with her fangs sunk deep into his neck. Not only that, but their health bars as well. Fen has a single sliver of health left, while Ladon’s is empty. Not only is it empty, but the bar itself is crumbling away like ashes.

The giant serpent body twitches a few times and reflexively flicks its tail, but soon even that stops. Ladon’s giant body begins to fall apart in ashes just like his health bar, indicating his death.

The fallen AI is soon completely gone, scattered in the wind that he would have controlled, leaving behind only a stone tablet and sword. I get a notification that someone died in front of me, but I don’t care as long as it’s not Fen.

The giant wolf in front of me slowly turns back into the Fen who is always beside me, the wolf girl then leaps over to support me in her arms.

‘Huh, support me?’ My mind surprisingly thinks through the pain.

I only now realize that I’ve collapsed, unable to move a single part of my body. Fen holds me tightly with tears in her eyes, bending down to kiss me on the lips. She then mumbles a few words to me, but I can’t hear her properly. Everything feels surreal, as if it is happening to someone else, not me.

Fen’s eyes open in surprise, and I see the tip of a sword sticking out from her chest. She tilts forward as the last of her health empties and reaches zero. It is at this moment I notice the party screen, where Sir Laurence is also gone due to being killed.

‘I see, he died. It’s only me and Fen left… Huh, Fen… FEN!!’

My mind is shaken awake by Fen collapsing on me and I force my eyes wide open. I still can’t move my body, but I see Chronix standing over me looking down with the stone tablet in hand. He only has thirty percent of his health left as he smiles at me and monologues.

“I don’t know what this tablet is, but clearly it is very important. My entire party died in the fight between those two monsters, and now I am out of potions. I would have just disappeared with this tablet, but I can’t have that Thing that is always with you chasing after me by scent. Good thing it was nearly dead already.”

“It’s such a shame, but I guess I win in the end. If only you were more cautious and saw this coming. Well, you don’t seem to be able to move, so I’ll just leave you there. Better luck next time.”

As Chronix finishes speaking, a different voice echoes from behind him. “Good thing I can still move then.”

A massive sword cleaves down on Chronix, taking away half of his remaining health, and before he can react, instantly changes its trajectory and slashes through him again. Chronix stares in disbelief as his health falls to zero before he collapses on the ground in a pitiful position. He was still holding the stone tablet in his hand and didn’t put it in his inventory, so it is left behind as his body turns into motes of light and vanishes.

Not only is the stone tablet left behind, but also a small mountain of gold. Chronix must have been carrying a stupendous amount of gold to drop so much on his death. By my estimations, the amount dropped should be in the tens of thousands.

“I guess… you’re really one of us now, huh,” I struggle to say as I look up at Gladox who stands behind where Chronix was.

“Indeed I am. I’ve killed your worst enemy, so we’re already on the same team. No harm in staying together for a while. But Lost… Fen.”

“It’s … alright, she … will be fine.”

Indeed, Fen didn’t turn into ashes and vanish like Ladon did when her health hits zero. That is because these AIs can only kill each other, and nothing else can grant them death. As for now, she is just asleep.

“You don’t look so well, Lost, are you okay?” Gladox asks with concern while he moves Fen off me and helps me sit up against a tree. The frozen ground numbs my rear end as a small amount of feeling comes back to my body.

“Kind of. I should be fine. It’s just that this particular Sacred Art always gives me the worst headache you can possibly imagine. I swear my head may explode one day if I keep using it.”

“Lost!” Gladox stares at me wide-eyed and shouts. “What do you mean? A technique in the game causes this?! You need to report this to the game company and stop playing for now. Remember, this is only a game.”

I look at Gladox with meaning before sighing and saying to him. “Enough. I know what you mean, but it isn’t that simple. I have given just that a lot of thought in the past. To others, this may be just a game, but to me it isn’t. I need this game to earn a living, pay the bills, university fees, and food. Also, Fen is here. To me, End Online isn’t a game at all.”

“Hmm,” Gladox disapprovingly stares at me, but doesn’t openly refute my thoughts.

“Anyway, for now, let’s just wait for Fen to wake up. I just hope I can move again before the ground thaws. My rear end is soaking in freezing cold water.”

Gladox roars with laughter at my last words, and I casually send him a party invite at the same time. Surprisingly, even though he never officially joined our party previously, he accepts it this time. I look at the party window that currently only has Gladox, Fen, and myself.

Lost
lvl: 231
Health: 76/3224
Stamina: 380/976
Mana: 120/2445

Gladox
lvl: 476
Health: 4350/11278
Stamina: 1420/2455

-Companions-

Fen
lvl: 241
Health: 0/4690
Stamina: 201/1589
Mana: 13/2010

“Gladox, your health is ridiculous,” I say dryly after witnessing Gladox’s enormous amount of health points. I also notice Fen has gained twenty levels and somehow gained a large boost to her stats. I wonder if this is due to killing one of the other AIs.

Gladox has a troubled expression at my words, replying indecisively, “It isn’t as great as it appears…”

“So you have your own troubles then. I should have known, after all, every friend I have made here seem to be unique in some way or another.”

“Hahah, then you should have known indeed.”

Gladox, the sleeping Fen, and I wait in the forest as the dire flames on the trees finally disappear, as if linked to my exhaustion. The sun also begins to rise somewhere on the horizon, painting the sky above the canopy of trees with vibrant hues of red and yellow. I sit there staring through the roof of the mostly burned trees at the vanishing stars while quietly saying to myself, “Ah, it’s cold… And wet.”

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15 Comments

  1. Meatbun delivery~
    Thank you for the chapter ( ●w●)

    i wonder if Fen will revive on the spot or will she revive on that cozy cave off hers.. wait.. AI child supposedly doesn’t have spawn point right? so where do they revive?

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      1. Sorry for the late reply! Not avoiding the guilt, I have spent the past three days in a haze in bed, binge reading and playing poker in Gran Blue Fantasy (I know, I’m terrible! Haha)

        The chapters for Vol 7 of EO have been planned and are ready for writing. I will be helping an old friend at work over the next two days, but will still be able to write. I expect to have the next chapter written within the next three or four days, so that will be done 4/9 – 5/9. After that, it is entirely up to the editors so I can’t give you an exact date for the release date.

        The schedule will be updated tomorrow so you can see this months planning. I am a little behind, but I have proudly stated before, catching up is not difficult. If it wasn’t for the past three days, I would have done so already. I will also release an announcement over some concerns I have been harboring for a while over the litRPG genre when I catch up to said schedule (nothing for you to worry about at this moment, and it won’t affect my writing to any significant amount, but as the genre I write in, I feel obligated to let others know my thoughts on the issue.)

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    1. Well, think about it. He obviously can’t actually slow down time or even time as it is expressed in the game or else other players would experience it too. So the only explanation left is that he is forcing his brain synapses to fire multiple times faster than normal, which in turn makes his own perception of time appear to slow down.

      Right now, it’s giving him an aftereffect similar to a hangover after a night of binge drinking. But if he keeps that up, he’ll fry his brain so bad, never being able to walk again will be the least of his concerns.

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  2. Thanks for the chapter!

    Volume two of COTE is Patreon exclusive until completion? Damn! Probably time for me to actually get a Patreon account. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against supporting awesome authors like you, but I’ve never been too much of a fan of monthly subscription-like things, which I believe Patreon is? Never really looked too close to it, but that was what I got from it. Might be wrong though. Eh, I’ll probably get a account soon, especially because of COTE. You goddamn blackmailer; holding it hostage like that! xD

    I freaking LOVED volume one of COTE, and idk if I can wait for final release xD

    Again, thanks for the chapter!

    -char11e

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    1. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it so much!! Getting feadback like this is one of the best feelings to receive from something you have personally created!

      Believe it or not, but it is actually the support from the readers that keeps many author’s going. I am a little special in that regard, I initially decided to write for myself, releasing my work for free simply to share it with others, get feedback, and hopefully improve (which I have). Even if I only had one reader, or even none, I would still continue to write.

      Yes, I am taking hostages! Hahaha! Well, it is mainly to help promote sales of my book as having the chapters for free is bound to cause many readers to opt to not purchase my work. If I had a full time job and could live off that, it wouldn’t matter and I could release as much as I wanted, but as I am a full-time writer, I need to be a little selfish sometimes.

      Patreon is a monthly subscription, but the fee is actually something you decide yourself. You only need to actually donate $1/month to read all the work I release there. Do remember that it is all unedited though, which is also the reason why I can release it there first before anywhere else.

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    1. I have been really unwell, and it seems to have gotten worse over the past month. I have been sleeping up to 16 hours a day as a result and constantly out of energy and tired. I haven’t talked about it with anyone, but I am going to the doctor tomorrow. Also, I will do my best to get started on finalizing the editing on the chapters in the queue and get them posted tomorrow as well.

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