It was like a rose bloom of Aether slowly unfolding in the sky. After it spread to its full height, the petals would wilt and fall away, spreading to the distant reaches of Zone 1. Randidly did some quick calculations and was aghast to sense how wide the Creature’s Aether would spread. Logically, he understood that after he had severed the source of Aether in what remained of the Creature’s body, the connection between them was finished. What was floating around now was simply ambient Aether. But to feel the distinct touch of the Creature in the Aether…
It wasn’t a good feeling.
Likely, this would end up being a boon for Zone 1 in the short term. The extra Aether in the air would fuel growth for all manner of Classes and Skills. It had a distinct flavor that was more cumbersome to manipulate than Randidly’s own, but it was still much, much better than the System’s Aether.
In a very perfunctory way, Randidly removed a bit of debris from his hair and stared glumly at the Aether explosion.
Because that knife they had worked so hard for, for six months? It had destroyed nothing but a gateway. Randidly had these terrible images of the Creature in his head when he had struck, but that version of the Creature had been reduced to nothing but a mouth. Randidly recognized the state the Creature was in; he himself had almost been caught up in something similar when he pumped out Aether so his Zone could last a little longer before the Raid Dungeon.
There was a… catharsis to pushing Aether out of one's body into the air in that way. It was easy to lose oneself to that feeling, and miss the current of Aether that began to form, out of you and into the air. So much so that Randidly had felt keenly if he had let himself go a little bit farther, he would have been unable to stop. The momentum would control you.
Just like the Creature had somehow been made to push out Aether, and then was unable to stop.
Lucretia suggested that it was a ploy to draw out that weapon they had worked on, and it was a successful one. The Creature had left a lesser version of itself to find. After all, that insectoid machine seemed to be possessed by the Creature. But Neveah’s opinion hung silently in the mental space. Neveah understood Aether and its mysterious. That body that they destroyed was the real thing.
If the Creature remained, it had cut itself off to any supply of Aether. It was just… a being, a regular monster.
Tykes and Dinesh stood near Randidly, waiting. Tykes expression was surly, and he was constantly flexing his hand. Apparently, the fighting had grown so intense that Tykes had been injured, and forced to use some of his more revealing Skill to hold out against the strange swarm of exosuits that had descended upon them.
They noticed three types. The basic cannon fodder type, a larger version that possessed cannons mounted on the shoulders, and the leader, which had used its blue energy mode to blow past Dinesh and Tykes to confront Randidly. It was the middle types which had given Tykes and Dinesh so many problems.
All the while, Randidly couldn’t help but wonder where all the pilots of the exosuits came from. It was clear that they were affiliated with the Unity Church, but how could they train so many individuals and produce so many exosuits without someone noticing? And how the hell were they all so uniform in the way they fought?
Randidly’s curiosity drove him to pull the helmet off of one rather intact body, and all he saw was how young the girl that was piloting it was before he turned away. Disgust. How could the Unity Church weaponize teenagers?
But what recourse did he have now, after he killed their leader? Should he attack their base directly?
That was probably the best bet long term, but he was slightly leery of fighting more children. No, perhaps he should lie low for a few days, see how the Unity Church responds, and then make use of his identity as Baloo Erickson to physically investigate one of the refugee camps?
What a fucking hassle.
The three men stood and stared at the remnants of the large base, which had been largely destroyed in the explosion. It just seemed so… tedious to Randidly. In the past, his enemy was always a boss or the Creature. Slaying that meant that he had won. And yet after killing Father Foster, Randidly didn’t feel like anything would change. There were no doubt lieutenants who knew the terrible organ harvesting that they were doing, and enjoyed the benefit of it. They would continue to do it.
The technology had been created. Pandora’s Box couldn’t just be simply closed.
Sighing, Randidly turned away. It was time to go home.
While they were running back under the cover of Dinesh’s illusions, Randidly considered what he had gained over the past several weeks.
He had gained 5 Skill Levels in Aether Detection, 4 in Plant Dominance, 7 in Grasp of Lava, 8 in Incendiary Eruption and Lava Golem, 1 in Summon Pestilence and Idiosyncratic Cut, 3 in Spearing Roots and Sharpness, 2 in Spear Master and Golden Roots of Yggdrasil, 4 in Yyrwood Flesh of Yggdrasil and Talon Strike, 3 in Roundhouse Kick and Wild Phantom’s Embrace, 12 in Spriggit’s Tinkering, 6 in Mana Engraving, and a shocking 19 in Engineering Savvy.
This bunch of PP, combined with the small bonused he had been accruing slowly, was enough to put him over 100. It wasn’t enough to finish off the Crown of Yggdrasil Path, but it did get the bonuses for the Path three tes, 10 stats every 50 PP, which earned him 30 stats in total.
That, combined with the stats he gained from his Soul Skill, gave him a solid boost of 125 stats.
It would have been more, but one of the most peculiar and disappoint of his Soul Skills rotation came up. The one that gave him nothing.
His Soul Skill was extremely powerful, Randidly mused as the background blurred around them. Scrubland gave way to forest which gave way to swamp and then rolling hills. But there was currently this one drawback to it, that every 7th rotation he would get nothing. The seven rotations were, in order:
In the first land of the Spectral Tree an entire people weep. Their effervescent melancholy seems to condense into a palpable form, a small bead within your heart. Wisdom +35, Perception +10.
In the second land of the Spectral Tree a blossom opens. A rotten fragrance spreads to fill your body. Health Regeneration +50, Mana and Stamina Regeneration +25.
In the third land of the Spectral Tree a predator roars. A spirit of violence seems to possess your body. Strength +35, Agility +10.
In the fourth land of the Spectral Tree a solitary champion stands tall against all comers. His spirit is yours, and your spirit is his. Willpower +35, Resistance +10
In the fifth land of the Spectral Tree a history is written, of strife and betrayal, but also of progress and growth. In it, you find solace. Intelligence +35, Vitality +10
In the sixth land of the Spectral Tree there is curiosity and peace. A people grows complacent and fat. But in a way, it also paves the way for future growth. Only with when there is excess can great change occur.
In the seventh land of the Spectral Tree there is silence. Something waits here. Control +60, Reaction +35
The seventh rotation was likely boosted due to the silence of the sixth, but Randidly believed that there was more to it. He expected whatever great change was hinted at in that sixth land to occur. To that end, Randidly had Lucretia monitoring the different lands within his Soul Skill, but the confusing part was that they didn’t seem to match up at all to the bonuses that he received from the Soul Skill.
This was something that Lucretia had struggled over for months, so much so that Randidly was relatively amused by her frustration. But he felt it too. At some point, something was going to shift in his Soul Skill for things to make sense… or perhaps he would realize he was missing the point of his Soul Skill to begin with.
Thinking about his Soul Skill, Randidly sighed. It was a part of him sure, one that he swore in the past to take more time to investigate. And Randidly had not done that at all. It was a combination of things, but mostly it was the fact that it was very easy to forget how necessary it was during that inner battle against the Creature. Other than that, and the bonuses from using PP, there was little concrete benefit from spending time investigating the Soul Skill.
Sure, he could grow closer to his people, but Randidly didn’t like how… reverent people were of him. Lucretia seemed to enjoy the attention, but to Randidly, it was too much. He much preferred to be a peer than a deity.
Thinking of his newly acquired Yggdrasil Skill, the corner of Randidly’s mouth quirked up.
Then his frown returned. The other thing that thinking of Lucretia and his Soul Skill made him realize was that he was slowly approaching the deadline to return to Shal’s world. He would need to hurry up and resolve this issue with the Unity Church in the meantime. Also… Randidly would need to finally take the time to confront Lucretia, and figure out what her thoughts were of returning to her world.
She was trapped inside of him, but Randidly suspected they could figure out a way for her to return to a physical body on Shal’s world. Would she… prefer to remain there?
It was a question that Randidly didn’t like to admit made him upset, but it did. He had grown to rely on her, there inside of him, for all that she had done to hurt him while she possessed her liberty.