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A note from puddles4263

13/14

The more Randidly looked at the snoring, near-corpse sprawled across his bed, the more he felt a deep concern for the man. Not that it likely wasn’t the idiots own arrogance that caused the serious injuries, but it appeared that Darrune had several head wounds and a broken wrist. Actual injuries. With the general state of affairs in Tellus, such wounds would take months to heal all the way.

Since the dude was right in front of him and Randidly didn’t want to drag an invalid around behind him… wait, what was he thinking? He didn’t want the guy to come along with him at all.

But Randidly admitted to himself that sending a man so full of hot air to Helen and Azriel was a fast way to get a bubble popped, violently. Which appeared to be exactly what happened. As it was his fault, Randidly needed to take responsibility for it.

Before he approached the bed, Randidly surreptitiously looked left and right. Of course, no one was there, but Randidly still felt somewhat guilty. It was like a nephew that broke and loaned his gambling addict uncle money. But it wasn’t like Randidly had donated Aether to him before, he had just allowed the idiot to absorb his ambient Aether. This definitely wouldn’t become a habit.

Of course, Randidly didn’t establish an Aether Connection. There was no way in hell that Randidly was allowing this man’s images to filter slowly into himself. Instead, he simply donated Aether to the man. He filled that broken body up to the brim with extremely pure Aether. Randidly made some effort to keep the Aether density pretty low so Darrune’s body wouldn't go crazy, but just wanted to get the process over with.

Afterward, he left the room. No need to stay here next to such a noisy and bloody sleeper. Not when Randidly badly needed some time to rest and meditate to restore his mental energy. The training today had been exceedingly draining.

Eventually, Randidly settled on the sparse stone roof of the Hall of Stances. The city of Hastam was dark, but Randidly could see the camp of the Northern Convoy distantly from his vantage. What was more, it was clear that the Northern camp was experiencing raids from the Wights, while no Wights had yet assaulted the city. Fires of war were lit and if Randidly listened intently, he could hear the cries and moans.

Randidly tapped his chin. Although he hadn’t been in Hastam to be sure, based on the feeling in the city it had been a while since Aylwind Sky had been seen and slaughtered his way through the Wight army. Had something changed? Was his intervention just for that brief span of time? And why were the Wights so focused on that other camp near Hastam?

Was it really just political bickering between Aylwind and Aegiant that motivated it? Randidly made a mental note to continue to observe. Something was going on there, and it was not good for the general populace.

Sighing, Randidly sat on the cool stone. Perhaps it was not such a bad thing to form an Aether Connection with an average guy. Of course, that individual will never be Darrune. But if he spent some time training a group like he was currently training Helen…

Every little bit would help so more graves didn’t need to be dug.

Before going to his PP, Randidly took stock of himself. It was somewhat surprising how draining the use of the avatars was. Of course, the real part that got him was the extended use of images. It just became so much of a chore after repeated use. His soul wasn’t used to the strain of switching so rapidly between images. Combining that with splitting his awareness in three… it was grueling.

But the other fact that Randidly couldn't deny was that he was perfectly capable of it. Rather than feeling his strength inadequate, it felt more uncomfortable to do. Like he was exercising a muscle that he had long left to lay fallow. Which, he basically had.

For a long time, Randidly had possessed a Control stat that was his highest by 200 or so. But largely he only used it for exact body positioning and creative weaving of his root attacks. He also used it as a backstop to assist in the brute forcing of some issues, but it wasn’t something that he employed to its full effect.

This then, was the first time that Randidly was touching on the wide domain of what a master of Control could manage. It was exciting in how many possibilities he had thought of while he had tasted it. It was exhausting beyond belief.

With exceeding regularity, Randidly breathed in and then breathed out. The feeling of the stone beneath him and the sounds of the battle cries faded away. Bit by bit, the headache faded to a distant memory. With space to decompress, Randidly could feel his inner world changing. Sharpening.

It was also in this state that Randidly noticed for the first time that most of the Aether that constituted him could no longer be called pure. Although it was hard for him to notice, it had definitely begun to take a definite shape. From the source of Aether deep in his chest, most of that Aether quickly was pulled in by either his Class, his Soulskill, or the plethora of Aether Connections. Very soon that slightly adjusted Aether flowed back to his core, but was absorbed into another part of himself by the constant swirl of Aether.

After being shaped by all three, there was an indelible mark on the Aether. It was his Aether. Those who relied entirely on the System would have an increasingly difficult time utilizing the Aether at all.

That was somewhat disturbing to Randidly, but he supposed there was nothing he could do. That was the way of things. There was a definite taste to the Aether that related to Earth and Tellus, likely due to his time there. People from those planets would have little difficulty utilizing it. And in addition, it was still possible to reach directly into the area around the Aether Crossroads and grab very pure Aether, as he had done with Darrune.

But he was changing. He was… growing up.

Randidly chuckled in spite of himself at that rather inane description of what was happening. But it was true, in a way. As a child, you held infinite possibilities in your hands. That was the wonder of it, a wonder that Randidly now viewed so nostalgically. But as you grew, you would discover paths available to you that you cared enough about that you would cash in your potential for capability.

Of course, avoiding the decision didn’t exactly delay it. If you didn’t transform the potential you possessed, it would slowly rot away inside of you. Which was what Randidly himself did for a long time, especially emotionally. Even now, Randidly wasn’t sure why he had such a hard time committing to something early on in his response to the System.

Perhaps being nothing was less scary than failing to become something.

Randidly’s eyes slowly opened. In the near darkness of the night, they were deep forest green. Feeling that he had spent quite enough time just sitting and pondering, Randidly opened his Path Menu.

It wasn’t like he had gained altogether that many Skill Levels in the past two days. Really, the largest improvement was Extinguishing Ash, Devouring Storm, and that was likely just because it was such a low-Level Skill currently. Improving it was high on his list of goals. The fact of the matter was Randidly possessed so many Skills that gaining 1 or 2 Levels in a bunch of them led to him gaining 40 PP in two days.

Plus, the training with Helen had really put a strain on his use of images. It likely helped speed along his Leveling by a lot.

Needless to say, the first thing Randidly did was finish off the Evolution of Self I Path.

Congratulations! You have completed the Evolution of Self I Path! There is no wrong Path in the world, just like there is no perfect Path. Only appropriate destinations. Your new Path spreads in front of you, long and full of possibilities. When individuals reach certain extreme criteria, it is possible for their existence to follow a narrow Path upward toward the Nexus. This is a great boon. It is dangerous beyond belief, but this is a Path that leads straight toward the pinnacle. Seize this chance, traveler. The Path leads ever onward. +10 to all stats.

Randidly’s glee at seeing a flat +10 to all Stats quickly soured as he reread the Path reward.

...certain extreme criteria… a narrow path upward toward the Nexus...

This… this almost seemed like a dangerous sort of Path in the way his interactions with the Patron of Ash were dangerous. That it would lock him into a weird series of tests. Randidly opened up and looked at the Path options.

Heretic XXIX 0/???, Nexus Traveler Cohort 5 0/50, Experimenter I 0/50, System Transgressor 0/1, Friend to Humanity 0/100, War Leader 0/200, Mantle of the Patron 0/500, Metallurgist 0/300, Advanced Mana Engraving 0/400, Aether Convergence II ???, Perfect Soul Bond 0/1000, the Bell of Doom Tolls 0/600, Growth of Yggdrasil III 0/2000, Fiery Sharpshooter 0/350, The Ashes of Ulaat, Patron of Ash 0/1000, Order Ducis: Font of Guidance ???, Humanity’s Torch 0/500, Bearing of a Teacher ???, Limitless Will 0/1000, Evolution of Self II 0/50, Puppet Master 0/100

Another relatively short Path for Evolution of Self II, huh…? And likely increasing gains. But Randidly was extremely wary after seeing that reference to the Nexus. Plus, that text relating to certain extreme individuals gave him the same whiff of meddling that some of the messages he received when he escaped the prison did. The overlay System was not pleased that he had escaped its notice and had such profound changes. Perhaps this was a roundabout way to control those who had the ability to escape its normal controls.

Well, Randidly wasn’t having any of it. Of the others, Randidly was amused to see that so short a time was enough to earn himself a Puppetmaster Path. Likely, that would help him in his Helen training. But if he was going to focus on improving that aspect of himself, it seemed better to just say screw it the consequences and begin on Limitless Will…

Biting his lip, Randidly considered for several seconds. Then he nodded decisively. Better to just go fo the Limitless Will Path. He had no doubt that there would be an excellent reward waiting at the end of that 1000 PP.

It pained him somewhat to start such a long investment, but Randidly firmed his resolve and made his selection. But then a notification popped up.

Warning! While you are on the Evolution of Self Path, other Paths cannot be selected without forfeiting further gains in the Evolution of Self Path and collecting the rewards you have earned. At this level, this course of action is not recommended. Warning! Do you want to continue? Y/N.

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