Randidly smiled like a wolf as his longship scraped upon the mist-shrouded shore. Others might fear Wights hiding amongst the rocky outcroppings, but Randidly could feel the thin threads of their energy as clear as day. He knew every last one of the fuckers within the surrounding one hundred kilometers.
But he didn’t mind them. In fact, Randidly needed them.
Hopping down off the long boat, Randidly strode forward through the mists. The stones were dark and wet, but his Stats improved body had more than enough grace to ascend the sloping beach to the bluffs above.
Platton scrambled to keep up. “Do you think-”
“We should be safe for the moment. The only force worth talking about is a few kilometers to the South…” Randidly said as he squinted. Then he looked at Platton with a sharp glance. “Did you go over the carving with the soldiers?”
Platton threw up his hands. “Yes! And like you said, your boys took to it so much more quickly. I don’t get it; it’s just a design, right? How can your group be so much better at memorization than trained soldiers? After all the years I’ve drilled them-”
“Because it’s about image,” Randidly said shortly. “They recognize the familiar. But enough talk. Get everyone ashore and begin to march. Just to be safe… I’ll head forward toward that mountain in the distance and start drawing up the basics.”
For a long moment, Platton was silent as he scanned through the mist covered ground ahead of them. Beyond the bluffs was a plain, and only in the distance was there a chain of mountains. “Those mountains are probably four hours march from here. Is this truly for the best?”
“Yes,” Randidly said shortly. He raised a hand and touched his chest. The pain was growing worse. Hot and stifling. It felt difficult to breathe. Now, of all times, he was on the bad end of the time difference…! “We don’t have much time.”
Then Randidly left, blurring across the land with enough force that he left a clear trail through the mist. In order to clear the way, Randidly used Reach of the Jade Slag to clear out some of the Wight patrols that would likely cross the path in a few hours, but largely he left the Wights alive. Killing them now would be a waste of energy.
Energy that Randidly would need.
In the past, Randidly had created a runic engraving on the bank of the Hallat that had ripped the energy right out of the Wight’s bodies. It occurred to Randidly that the quick removal of energy from hosts was part of the design of Wights; that way the Propagators never need fear that the Wights would rebel. They were truly at the mercy of their makers.
Normally individuals would develop Skills in order to take advantage of such foes, but Randidly reminded himself that the Wights were part of the Second Calamity. By that time, the focus on Spears had emerged on Tellus. Likely, the world was past the point where it was looking to develop new images. It was refining the ones it had when the Wights were at their height.
Were the spears enough to overpower an endless army of puppets animated by a vast sea of energy?
The answer turned out to be yes. Slightly surprising.
But that didn’t mean that the sea of energy wasn’t a powerful force worthy of shaping an entire world around. Which Randidly didn’t want to do, but he would very gladly simply take this very poorly defended energy for his own use.
It was hungry work, to create a world.
At the Hallat, Randidly had fed the energy into that heartbeat across Tellus that fueled new images. It had likely allowed many to grow, despite the strange, calcified Aether across Tellus. Now, he wanted to take it all for himself.
When Randidly arrived at the mountain, he was greeted with an unpleasant surprised: Four Witch Kings and a Propagator in the shape of an amber butterfly. They stood on the rocky summit of the mountain and coolly watched his approach.
FOOL, THIS DOMAIN BELONGS TO ME. I WILL ACCEPT YOUR BODY AS TRIBUTE, the booming mental dialogue came with enough force to make Randidly wince. Truly, the mental power of these Propagators was ridiculous. Even he, with his Willpower sitting at 665, had to be wary of their mental attacks.
Likely, it wasn’t a difference in Stats but in specialization. Randidly was good at a lot of things. Meanwhile, these small bug creatures were focused on controlling their puppets and gathering energy. At their game, Randidly couldn’t beat them. All of their Skills and Images were concentrated on this one thing.
But he could kill them, even so.
There was a rumbling as two of the giant, durable puppets surged out of the ground to tower over Randidly. Chuckling, Randidly slowly walked forward. “Do you think this is enough to stop me?”
The Witch Kings moved first, screeching as they rushed toward him. Randidly opened up several Eruption of the Blazing Leyline in their path. The explosion of emerald flame didn’t even slow them. They burst through while singing in their strange undulating voices, ready for violence. But of course, the first volley of Skills was just a cover.
Behind, the two larger puppets began to step forward.
Of the Witch Kings, the middle two were struck with a half dozen Ignition Bolts and Reach of the Jade Slag. The bolts slowed and stumbled them enough that the claw that ripped out of the ground could snap closed on their body, binding and damaging it. Ultimately they could fight their way out, but by then it was too late to protect their companions.
The Witch King on the far right burst through the emerald flames only to physically crushed into the ground by Influence of the Molten Core. The hyperdense ball smashed the thing’s torso with a vicious snap. It screeched and struggled, but the intense heat and powerful energies produced by this world engine slowly melted its body beyond a fighting state.
The leftmost Witch King was faced with Randidly himself.
“As the Sun Stills.” Randidly’s spear slid forward toward the Witch King.
Hissing, the thing conjured a spectral claw almost double the size of those Randidly had seen before. The coloration was different too; it was a spooky yellow color with vicious ridges extending from the claw. To Randidly’s surprise, when the two attacks clashed, neither emerged victoriously.
Gonna need to work on that image… Randidly reflected, even as he activated Stalemate Breaker and crushed the Witch King to the ground. Its exoskeleton fractured, but then Randidly unleashed a condensed blast of Indignation of Yggdrasil. Its wails turned small and weak. The Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom flickered to life above Randidly’s head.
He struck again, burning with the image of a sun’s slow failure. As the Sun Stills ripped forward once more. The heavy weight of the attack broke what remained of the Witch King open like an egg.
FOOL. YOU HAVE EARNED MY IRE.
Randidly was somewhat amused by the continued arrogance of the Propagator as the two remaining Witch Kings rushed toward him. But the larger puppets were a more annoying problem. Overpowering them was possible, but time-consuming. The sheer amount of the pseudo-metal that constituted their frame was a hassle.
Better to head to the source.
Randidly blurred past the Witch Kings. To his surprise, they twisted around and raked their claws against his sides even as he tried to dodge. Without Sulfur, he received several deep gashes along his sides. His expression was bitter. Soon, he would get his actual fucking equipment back...
The large puppets blurred as they moved far faster than their huge bodies should allow, but Randidly just grinned. Phantom Half-Step teleported him back and forth, weaving through their attacks as though they choreographed the whole thing.
As soon as there was an opening, Randidly activated Spear Advances, Ash Trails. His body zipped through the air toward the amber butterfly. It fluttered in the air, agitated. It barely had any time to think-
Randidly twisted rapidly, dispersing his momentum in a blast of concussive force as the wave of mental power ripped outward. He wouldn’t be knocked out by the same thing twice. But even from the ten-meter distance that remained between them, Randidly staggered and experienced a brief second of dazedness.
His emerald eyes flashed as he steadied himself. The metal puppets behind him were slashing toward his back. Beyond them, the Witch Kings produced Psychic Venom and prepared to blast Randidly with it.
With a glance, roots erupted out of the ground and surrounded the small amber butterfly. It fluttered, furious and bombarded Randidly with shouting commands to release it, but Randidly ignored it. He even gained a few Levels in Pain Resistance for his troubles. Instead, he turned and faced the oncoming attacks from behind.
The Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom glowed with its sickly grey light. Randidly activated All is Ash, and the world flattened. He was ash. The metal puppets and Witch Kings were ash. The attacks… the struggles of the Propagator… all of it was nothing but flat ash, extending toward infinity. Parts of a once great whole, separated and broken. The burnt remnants of God’s dead body.
Pieces of a long forgotten perfection scattered to the four corners of the universe. Weak and fragile.
“Break for me,” Randidly whispered.
And, like the poorly constructed bits of dust that they were, Randidly’s breath scattered the bodies of the Witch Kings, the puppets, and their Psychic Venom. They were the ash, and the wind drew them away.
Randidly let the Skill drop with a wince as a headache tore through him. He staggered and then spat as he steadied himself. That much at once… that concentrated of an image… it was still hard. But after a few seconds he allowed himself to gather his energy, his grin returned to his face.
After moving a bit away, Randidly regarded the struggles of the amber butterfly against the constantly growing roots with an indulgent smirk.
“Just sit tight. I have plans for you.”