Randidly’s eyes remained fixed on Thea. The first thing he noticed was the coldness in her gaze, that was far from the Thea he had known. How long had it even been…? Seven months? And now, her eyes… They seemed still and dead to Randidly.
The second thing Randidly noticed was that she had the whiff about her of the Creature’s Aether. He gritted his teeth as his eyes flicked sideways to Chrysanthemum, who was even bigger than Randidly remembered. She was approaching monstrous proportions. Could the Creature have used Chrysanthemum’s life as a bargaining chip to compel Thea…?
That sounded exactly like its rotten M.O.
“Thea, I don’t know what the Creature said,” Randidly began, “but I could also-”
“Then why didn’t you?”
Thea’s cool reply stopped Randidly dead. He just stared at her, unsure of what to say. He felt a powerful sense of helplessness because there was nothing he could say. When it had happened… he hadn’t even tried to aid the dying bear with his Aether.
Snorting, Thea raised her hammers. “I pay my debts. Now, hand Father Foster over. She is necessary.”
All of Randidly’s guilt and frustration was wiped out in a second. He glanced over at Father Foster, who stood awestruck as she looked up at the wall he had erected with roots. The hole Thea and her companion had come through was mostly filled in now, but a lot of water pumped through in that short period it took Randidly to handle the hole. And by now, the Mana reserves in his rings were almost completely gone.
“She was harvesting people and extracting their organs. She killed countless innocent people.” Randidly said quietly. Enough water had come through that the football field-sized space he had opened up had a few inches of water along the bottom. “I can’t even guess how many people she’s killed. But by her own admission… a lot of the monsters in this Zone are really people who have been transplanted into monsters. This… this is kidnapping and genocide. She uses a religion to-”
“That doesn’t change the fact that she is considered necessary.” Thea closed her eyes, as if tired. With her darker hair, she seemed so much older than Randidly remembered her. Which put her squarely at 20 or so. “Please, let’s dispense with this. It wastes both of our time.”
“You genuinely don’t care about those peoples lives?” Randidly said while feeling a sinking sensation in his stomach. But at the same time, there was heat in his chest. If that was true, then… Randidly glanced at Chrysanthemum. Her eyes burned brightly with unholy fire. Outwardly, she had no reaction to their conversation. And if their Soulbond was still intact, that meant the bear agreed.
“Fine…” Randidly said, breathing out. Feeling strangely lightheaded, he flexed his hands. These people… for all that he knew Thea, they would let the Earth devolve into a cannibalistic mess if it was part of some just cause. It was infuriating. Everyone always had these grand plans, but they missed something more important; responsibility.
And Randidly had a responsibility to kill those who would sacrifice innocent people for a possibility in the future. Gleeful, Acri and Sulfur climbed up around him to form into his weapons and armor. “If I let you go, you will hurt the people of this world. The world where I live. This world… that is mine. Therefore… I will stop you here.”
It was heavy and suffocating on his chest. So much so that it felt like he couldn’t breathe. He didn’t know the details of Thea’s circumstances, but that wasn’t enough to stay his hand. Father Foster, or this Raid Spawn of the true Father Foster, would sacrifice lives to fuel her research. That was an unacceptable outcome.
Randidly’s eyes slid sideways to Father Foster, who seemed to realize just now the depth of the shit she was in. The water was up around Randidly’s ankles now. He finished pulling people with roots up from the base to the waiting arms of Tykes and Dinesh. Perhaps it wouldn’t be very difficult to kill Father Foster here, but that wasn’t the point. There was a bigger decision to make.
Thea… Thea would find other ways, other people, who could do things that were just as dangerous. Like Ezekiel-
Randidly pressed his eyes closed briefly. Thinking about… what his father was could wait until later. Until he had some peace.
If it was true… if she had actually accepted the will of the Creature and she intended to support the human monsters that would sacrifice the lives of others in the name of progress or a greater plan...
‘Can I truly make this decision?’ Randidly wondered. The moment stretched, his eyes locked with Thea. Chrysanthemum and the Obsidian man stood passively by and watched.
‘If not me… then who can? And also possesses the power to stop her? And how many lives before-’
A spear always advances.
Then she should die.
Yystrix had prepared extensively for the eventuality of her own demise. In a way, Thea had intuited that Yystrix had expected the incarnation of herself near Randidly Ghosthound would eventually be destroyed. Thea had been surprised to find that several incarnations had gathered together and merged in this Zone on Earth. Although they left behind their own experiments, none were as effective as the one here.
They were here for one reason: to watch the effect of Randidly Ghosthound.
She still wanted to lose against the Calamity, of course. But after spending a lot of time following her orders, Thea began to realize that they didn’t truly know why. Perhaps the main body did, but the incarnations were a profoundly lopsided thing. They possessed incredible problem solving and skill in manipulating Aether, but they clearly had no sense of narrative. The minor threats they threw against humanity would just make them stronger.
Which made Thea believe for the longest time they truly were here to help humanity, and specifically Randidly Ghosthound. But then the orders came down as to how Thea was supposed to engage Randidly Ghosthound.
When he is encountered, avoid him. His greatest weakness is the fact he is one man. Strike where he is not.
Which was, in a way, very true. It led to the attacks on Donnyton’s mines and the different Zone 1 political figures. In the short term, it provided diplomatic turmoil and made both sides less willing to ally with each other. But it completely flummoxed Thea. Did this mean she was wrong? Was Yystrix truly not attempting to help Randidly?
Because there was one thing Thea knew, or at least Chrysanthemum did, and Thea trusted that information implicitly, for all Chrysanthemum had been changed by that spectral fire.
Yystrix was slowly getting weaker.
It wouldn’t happen so quickly that it would likely affect the outcome of the Calamity. But it was… disturbing for Thea. Chrysanthemum’s life was now tied to Yystrix. But what could she do now? She had no other choice.
Which was why Thea was very agitated when Randidly attacked. One moment he was simply standing there, and then the next he produced his strange plant companions that acted as weapon and armor. His body was shrouded in a strange ashy looking carbon that absorbed impact better than anything Thea had ever seen. His weapon looked like a trimmed sapling; there were even leaves poking off of the shaft of the spear. And it could cut through almost anything.
The Obsidian Prince instantly moved to block Randidly’s attack, but he was way too slow. Randidly’s body blurred mid-air and he was abruptly charging towards Father Foster with his spear raised.
Swearing quietly, Thea flashed a hand signal at Father Foster. But the idiot ignored the symbol and rushed to meet him. True, Father Foster was fast and strong. All of the insights and epiphanies they had about the transplantation of Skills was assembled in Father Foster’s body. Although she didn’t have an exosuit like the weaker versions, she possessed just as much power, without the downside of the downtime those suits required.
Her body blurred as she punched towards Randidly. Almost a dozen passive Skills were no doubt activating at full bore, filling her with power. Her fist swam around Randidly’s spear and arrived before his chin. Then he seemed to accelerate, and suddenly Father Foster’s arm was on the ground and his spear was rushing towards her heart.
Chrysanthemum arrived with a wave of water and steam, knocking Randidly away from his very near successful attempt to kill Father Foster. Chrysanthemum’s paw smashed outward, but Randidly was already gone. He was way too fast to be caught by counterattacks from Chrysanthemum; her body was just too large.
But the Obsidian Duke had caught up with Randidly and used his obsidian battleax to attempt to bisect Randidly. Everyone but Thea was caught by surprise when Randidly didn’t dodge at all and simply allowed the blow to crack against his armor. The Obsidian Duke staggered from the reverberations, and the armor cracked and splintered, but didn’t break.
And as everyone watched, the cracks began to heal.
Now, Randidly wasn’t the only one who could weather damage, but the Obsidian Duke’s powers of regeneration were more than outclassed by the other man. And it was only Thea’s arrival that kept the Duke from being completely whittled down in one burst of stabs and slashes. Her hammer smashed into Randidly’s back and sent him a step forward from the impact. He had clearly known the blow was arriving, but how hard she could hit took him by surprise.
He turned and looked at her, and Thea wanted to shiver. The very air around him was twisting and sparking from his strange Skills. His very presence was a weight that pressed them into the ground.
This was why Father Foster couldn’t match him, even though she had all the best Skills they could find in the Zone. This was why Yystrix was fascinated by him. This was why their main plan of engagement was to avoid him.
Because Randidly Ghosthound was more powerful than almost all of the rest of the world combined right now.
As Thea was smashed backward by a brutal thrust with the butt of his spear, she prayed their reinforcements would arrive in time.