121 Power Vacuum

    "We sure about the numbers?" Nix leaned against the rail of his houseboat. He had invited Semmi over to discuss her findings.

    Semmi nodded. "Nine guilds in the last three days, bringing the total to sixteen." She had been tasked with finding out as much information as she could on the mass exodus to Oasis.

    Nix whistled softly, "how many more are preparing?"

    "Most of them." Semmi glanced up at the three Arch-Winds that were enjoying the sun on the top deck.  "Oddly enough Resolute will be staying for at least a year."

    "Sulane said that?" The new world held too many unknowns at this time, Nix was curious but not willing to let it distract them.  With the unprecedented growth of Inferno, they could start pushing harder in Mermaid City.

    Semmi nodded, "I spoke with her in person.  Perhaps we should consider using one of the tokens and sending an advance team."

    "Maybe... " Nix ducked into his bedroom and changed into his fatigues.  It was tradition training garb for the Mariner course.

    "Still at it?"  Semmi hid her approval, Nix was training alongside the new recruits in the Mariner course.

    "Yes, six hours every day. Then into the Embassy for blade work with Chiba."  He grabbed the rest of his things and waved at Semmi.  "Keep gathering intel, and have the guild work on moving up the Embassy tower."


    "Cadet Jackass, what would you do in this situation?" A small dark-skinned woman with an extremely loud voice yelled at Nix.  She gave all the trainee's nicknames, some of the nicer ones were Idiot, Dum-Dum, Shit-for-Brains, Dickless,  Sombitch, and Shithead.

    Nix studied the 3-D image of the battlefield.  "I'd fall back. In this cas..."

    "I didn't ask you why Jackass, I asked you what!" She zeroed in on one of her favorites, a white-haired man she had labeled Brain-Dead. "Care to add something Brain-Dead?"

    "I'd use the tanks to hold the line, then move the rest of the troops west in a flanking maneuver."

    The Mariner Instructor frowned at the student.  "At least I know you have the right name."  She turned back toward Nix. "Explain your answer now Jackass."

    "Fall back and take the high ground. With that secured, the enemy will break themselves trying to take it back."

    She turned back toward Brain-Dead. "You'd lose your tanks trying to hold a line?  Who is going to heal them while the clerics are heading west in your flanking move?"

    Brain-Dead didn't bother to reply, instead, he stared at his feet and hoped the woman let him off.

    She glanced up at the sky.  "Looks like we have the noon sun.  Who feels like running?"  It was a rhetorical question that she asked every day.   Brain-Dead had mistakenly tried to answer it the first time she asked. "Put the backpacks on Pussies.  Time for some roadwork."

    She slung on her own backpack and adjusted the weight.  "Display your stats for me." She walked by each of the cadets, adding weight based on their strength stat.  She stopped at Nix, unlike the other cadets, his stats would rise the more he used them.  His strength had been 92 when he started the Mariner course, now it was at 96.  She added a bit more weight and moved on to the next person.

    Three hours later a weary Nix exited the Training instance.  He lingered for a while, talking with the Knights and sharing mutual complaints about the evil Instructor. Nix compared notes on battle positions with the genius of the class, a strikingly attractive woman with a black mohawk.  Her real name was Lolazi, but the instructor had aptly labeled her Dickless.

    Nix headed straight for the heated pools in Shae's elemental world.  Soaking in them after a hard day of training seemed to restore his strength.  He entered and was making a bee-line for the hottest pool when he heard Shae's voice.

    "Try a cooler pool today Nix. I want to talk to you while I tend to my garden."

    He found the Salamander a minute later. She had branched out a bit in recent days and had decided it was okay to wear colors other than red.  Today's color was a very light shade of green.  Her version of tending the garden was to eat all the ones that were ripe.

    Nix laughed when he saw her put a handful of them in her mouth.  "You are developing a pepper problem Shae."

    The slim redhead smiled sweetly at him.  "It's only a problem if I run out!"

    Nix undressed and waded into the nearby pool.  This was one of the cooler ones that Rhy would sometimes use when she visited. "I thought you were going to tend the garden?"

    Shae shrugged while walking toward him.  "Change of plans."  She let her green dress slide down and puddle on the ground.

    [Aura Ignition]

    Immediately the water in the pool started to heat up.  Nix watched her walk into the pool. Slender legs and a narrow waist with just the smallest hint of a sixpack. Her pale skin slowly disappearing as she waded deeper.  Finally, she stopped, the round globes of her breasts floated on the water, the pink tips of her nipples barely visible.

    "You're beautiful Nix.  Beyond anything I've ever seen." She leaned closer until their chests touched and wrapped her arms around his neck.

    Nix knew of course that she was talking about his Salamander form.  She mentioned it regularly and asked to see it nearly every day. "Not today.  I have to train with Chiba."  For some reason changing forms left him completely wiped out.

    "I'm going with you Nix."  She kissed his face a few times, her hands intertwining in his hair.

    Nix gripped her hips and pulled her closer smiling when her ankles wrapped around his waist. "Going to learn sword fighting with Chiba?"

    Shae shook her head.  "I mean after you destroy the artifact and decide to travel to the Oasis."

    "You sure?  You've plenty of time to reconsider, we have a long way to go before we are strong enough to take on the 12th floor."

    She reached between them gripped him gently before guiding him in. Her aura lit up instantly, the combination immediately turning a deep, rich brown. "I'm sure."


    The sword circle was perhaps a hundred feet in diameter.  It was just a perfect line drawn onto the sands of the arena.  At the center of the circle, two identical swords were sticking out of the ground. Around the perimeter, a dozen swordsmen knelt on their knees with their eyes clothes.  They were all shirtless and covered in sweat, even the three women among them.

    Nix waited patiently with his eyes closed.  He was number nine, which meant his sword skills were only rated ninth in this group of twelve.  He wasn't allowed to use any skills or fire, just the sword, and his natural abilities. The master would call two numbers, they would race to the swords and then fight.  In his eight prior battles, Nix had lost six times.  Death in the circle resulted in you being rezzed without penalty.

    Chiba paced back and forth within the circle.  She had removed her shirt also, but her flat chest bore no signs of sweat.  "Ready, four and nine.  Fight!"

    Both fighters exploded upward in a cloud of dust, their feet flew over the sand. Nix arrived first, drawing the closest weapon, he slashed at the other sword sending it out of the others grasp just as he reached for it. Nix turned the blade horizontally and slashed at his opponent's midsection while throwing a foot towards his groin.

    Number four responded by stepping backward away from the kick and the slash.  Too late he realized the kick was only the vessel for a scoop of sand that struck him in the face. An instant later a fist struck his jaw knocking him unconscious.

    Chiba frowned at his apprentice.  "Damn it Nine!  This is a sword fight!"

    "Right..."  Nix nodded and stabbed the unconscious man through the chest.

    Chiba's cackling laugh carried across the arena.  "Much better Nine." She waited until the dead swordsman recovered and stood next to Nix.

    Both Four and Nine bowed toward Chiba.

    Chiba stopped and motioned for everyone to stand.  "We'll break off now for some light sparring. This is one-up sparring only, if your too slow in finding a one-up then deal with it as best you can."

    One-up sparring meant your partner had to be either one higher or one lower. Nix quickly found Eight and paired up.

    By the time they were finished, Nix was both hungry and exhausted. He ported directly to the docks as soon as Chiba released him.

    The Kindled Spirit was unusually quiet, even though it was crowded. Nix found a table in the corner and leaned back against the wall.

    "Going to eat or sleep, hun?"

    Hyai's voice caused his eyes to pop open, "I must have dozed off for a minute."

    The Innkeeper nodded.  "A bit longer than that, I've walked past you three times in the last half hour."

    /Inferno: Semmi: Nix, could you come to Guildhall right away?

    /Inferno: Nix: Sure.

    Hyai's hand on his shoulder stopped him from standing up.  "I'll box your dinner. They can wait a few minutes."

    Nix nodded.  "Okay.  Thanks, Hyai."
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