“There it is,” The Captain announced proudly from the edge of the skyship. “Come take a look.”
Drake considered not doing that. But ultimately, he had a mission. He was supposed to be Sydney’s sword. Part of that meant dealing with the… unpleasantness of the venue of this mission. It was, after all, perfectly safe.
None of the other sailors had died yet, and they had been doing this for a while, hadn’t they?
With measured steps, Drake reached the edge of the skyship. He firmly secured his grip on the wooden railing. Only then did he look over.
The World Crater was not, as Drake had expected, really a crater. Instead, it appeared to be a plateau rising above the nearby sea with a large lake in the middle. In the middle of that lake, there was a huge stone. From this height, the stone seemed as big as a house, which meant that it was undoubtedly much, much larger than that.
Several rivers flowed out of the central lake and formed beautiful falls that cascaded off the edge of the plateau into the sea below. In the surrounding waters in the sea, numerous small islands were covered with a patchwork of small buildings with colorful roofs. There were so many, so tightly packed together that it was difficult to pick out the individual colors. But they flashed brightly in the sun’s rays.
Of course, each house looked to be naught but an ant from here. Drake looked at the large stone in the center of the World Crater.
What was also interesting were that there were dozens of Skyships floating above the World Crater. There seemed to be a skydock on each side of it. Drake’s eyes were especially caught by a few sleek ships with golden sails.
“Is there a meaning to the different ship colors?” Drake asked.
The Captain nodded, his face turning solemn. “You have sharp eyes, to spot the Golden Wave from here. They are the main army of the Zone, although they are primarily used to keep the air clear of monsters. We were lucky enough to follow a sweep here, so we didn’t need to fight at all on the way here. That’s a blessing. Most of those who die on board do so due to a monster attack.”
Drake nodded grimly. This was something about the world he understood.
With the view absorbed, Drake stepped sharply away from the edge and returned to his perch in the middle of the deck, earning a laugh from the Captain and the Aviator. Drake didn’t care. He closed his eyes and did the best he could to clear his mind. His elemental porcupine Ryx rubbed his nose against Drake’s cheek, doing his best to comfort him.
They landed without incident, and Drake disembarked with great relish. There was a small cluster of buildings at the edge of the plateau, but beyond that stretched the sluggish rivers and vast wetlands that led to the central lake and the stone that set atop it.
Drake had talked with the crew at length for what they knew about the World Crater, and it boiled down to these four things: it was a Danger Zone; the monster Level here was 60; no one had ever touched the stone and returned to tell the tale; it was rumored that the giant stone was a seal covering the fountain of youth.
How anyone would know the fourth thing if the third was true was a detail that Drake didn’t bother with. After all, he had done some asking around before he departed for this location and had learned the name of the ship that had carried Roy, the Undying Hero. After a cursory search, he found the Thunderclap docked demurely a few vessels down.
The crew gathered to see him off once all was tied to keep the boat here during their stay. The Slipstream had brought goods to trade and would wait a week for him. Based on the size of the World Crater, it should only take two days to cross and reach the stone. Drake had no assurance that he would find Roy easily, but starting at the goal seemed the best bet.
“Are you sure you wish to go through with this?” Moniky asked anxiously. Although she had always laughed at his discomfort, she seemed to be the one who worried most about him. The monsters here are strong. Stronger than you’d think. Even members of the Golden Wave dare not come here.”
“People go in and out of the World Crater all the time,” The Captain said airly, not meeting Drake’s eye as he spoke. “Sir Drake will likely-”
“Those are scavengers that stick to the outer crater!” Moniky blurted out. “They mostly scavenge monster parts from bodies killed by other monster’s! Drake means to-”
“I’ll be fine,” Drake said. And standing on the ground, he truly felt that way. He was itching to walk out and condense his bone armor. It had been too long since he had felt the powerful form wrapped around him. But he walked over and squeezed Moniky into a quick hug. “I’m a soldier, miss. This is my job. And I’m damn good at it.”
She seemed unconvinced, but Drake wasn’t willing to spare more time to attend to her feelings. He did stop by some nearby traders and question them a bit, but none remembered seeing Roy. That was fine, Drake hadn’t expected this to be easy.
But, the fountain of youth…? Strange. And of all people, why was the undead Roy seeking it…? Or was he here for another reason entirely?
As soon as Lucretia came back to the world of Tellus, she slipped quietly out of Randidly. And the reason was one she found somewhat embarrassing; she didn’t want to leave. Not that she didn’t want to have her own body and have the freedom to move around the world, but…
Not only had she learned a lot about Aether and karma from Randidly, she also grew quite fond of him. In her heart, Shal was her true son of course. He was of her flesh and blood, even if she didn’t truly want to imagine how she, as a Wight, had the ability to reproduce with a person from another world. But Randidly was the one who was there with her, making the foolish and sudden mistakes of young men.
After leaving Randidly, Lucretia appeared atop a nearby cliff. The wind was good to feel on her actual skin. With wonder, Lucretia felt her joints and muscles, reveling in the heavy truth of her once more being free. It was such a delight that she found herself laughing. If anyone would have been around, the mystique of Lucretia, the Undying Witch would shatter.
But that thought caused Lucretia to frown. What was her purpose now? A long time ago, she had killed a youth in a small village of this world. To keep the ruse effective, Lucretia remembered very little of her life before that. It was a blur, leaving her with the directive to embed herself in Tellus’ culture.
Returning to her body also had the effect of giving her a buffer between herself and her threads of karma. Losing that was shocking for a number of reasons. Now that she came back to her body, Lucretia could see that her powers of karma came from a thread of karma that had been wound through the entirety of her being.
Lucretia closed her eyes and sat on the cliff, turning her focus inward. That thread was thick and black, releasing a strange grey light. The brightness was luminous, so Lucretia knew that the thread had been planted, and grown full. All that remained was for it to be reaped.
It filled her with a cold terror. Her hands beginning to tremble.
Returning to her body also brought something else back to her; her deep fear of death.
All Lucretia’s life in Tellus, she knew she was different. And somehow, her subconscious urged that this difference would someday kill her. Now, Lucretia knew that was true. She felt the effects of that from this thread. This whole time, there was a doom hanging over her. Her trembling grew worse. If Lucretia encountered the individual who formed this thread of karma…
Their power left her dumbfounded. Perhaps she would have fled and done her best to hide if this was the Lucretia from a year ago. Or an eternity ago, as she witnessed thousands of lives flash to life and flicker out while observing Randidly’s Soul Skill. But now…
Well, now she was afraid. But she had also learned about power. Her eyes glowed lilac as she looked the thread that seemed to tie her together. Reaping worked both ways. It wasn’t just the person who had created Lucretia that could reap this thread. She could do the same to the thread in his chest, should she locate him and have an advantage.
So what should she do? She couldn’t just wait for this to occur. But Lucretia also wanted to find Shal. She had never… never really had the chance to talk with him.
To comfort him. To touch his shoulder. To teach him to hold a spear.
To be his mother.
Heavy melancholy shook Lucretia, but she did her best to ignore it. Instead, she reached out and felt the threads of karma that she had tied, stretching outward from her. Tying a thread of karma couldn’t be considered a difficult thing, but casual threads would not result in powerful effects. Everything is momentum. There is no actual substance to karma, only movement.
It was time to marshal her forces. Lucretia’s fingers delicately on several threads to check them. After a time, she found four that interested her. The brightest was the one that led to Randidly. If she needed to, she could find him at will. The business between them… it had become messy. Just like she had used karma on so many others, he used it on her in the past. But after that, he had continued to sew karma with her until they remained strangely intertwined.
When it came to the core of the person, no one knew Randidly Ghosthound better than Lucretia. Perhaps not in this world specifically, but Lucretia understood very well how important he was to the fate of his world. Perhaps even the fate of his entire cohort. The light gathering around that thread was bewitchingly bright. It made her believe that he was here, in this world, for a reason as well.
The dimmest and most plain was her connection to Shal. It was less a thread of karma, and more the unexciting truth of their intimate connection.
The final two threads, however… Lucretia grinned as she tugged at them. They were simply… tools.