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A note from puddles4263

6/9

Very quickly, Randidly shook his head to dispel the negative thoughts; he could dwell later. Right now, it was time to figure out what was happening on Earth. The biggest lead that Randidly had was that Alana was extremely concerned when they connected a few days ago, so he spread his Aether Detection and followed the river of Aether flowing between them to locate her.

At the same time, Randidly reached inside of himself and contacted Helen. He closed his eyes and expended a bit of his will, and the System blueprint of his arm spread out to cover a small amount of the surrounding area. His Domain Crossroads of the Alpha Cosmos hummed into existence.

Helen appeared next to Randidly, then looked around at the surrounding mountaintop with a curious gaze. “Well, this is certainly pretty. This is your world?”

“Yea, it is,” Randidly said with a small smile. Then his expression turned serious as he examined Helen carefully. “How do you feel?”

Helen seemed to consider this as she walked back and forth across the mountain top, touching a few rocks and a pine tree. She picked up the stone the size of her fist and crushed it to powder. “Tch, everything is so fragile here… I feel… strange. Fine, but…”

Frowning, Helen seemed to cast around for the words to explain what she was feeling. “It’s almost like… being cold. I feel… colder, the longer I’m out here. Farther away from you…” She walked a few meters away. “...the worse the cold gets. It’s not bad right now, it’s not really ever that bad, and probably won’t be for a while. But it’s not a comfortable sensation.”

While she was speaking, Randidly watched the small interactions of his and the world’s Aether around her. It was very clear that there wasn’t any direct reaction to Helen being here from the world. The Aether around her behaving normally; System Aether and Randidly’s donated Aether mixed freely in and around her.

But when he examined her closely, there was a density to the System Aether inside of her chest that was… different from the Aether of Earth. This made Randidly do a double take because it was easily missed if you couldn’t compare the two side by side.

Hissing in annoyance for missing this previously, Randidly leaned closer and examined the particles. Density was the wrong word; it was that the earlier Aether was in a tighter arrangement. Like molecules, Aether floated freely as large particles in certain rigid formations. In those formations, meaning was stored.

The ‘molecules’ of Earth Aether were smaller. And as Randidly watched, they fit into tiny flaws of the System Aether of Tellus and simply… broke apart that Aether.

At this point, Helen was mostly relying on Randidly’s Aether anyway. But it seemed that Earth was accelerating that process. It likely would have some damaging side effects… It was hard to say whether it was worth it to allow the process to continue-

Right at that moment, Randidly found Alana. She was fighting. Because of course she was. The Ogre army was moving.

Randidly shook his head. Then he regarded Helen. “There are some… negative reactions of being exposed to the Aether here. You might… lose some of your strength if you stay here for an extended time. It should be a one-time thing, and afterward, you should regain it. But I want you to understand the risks.”

Helen spat on the ground. “I’m just a little fucking chilly. Don’t coddle me. This place… it looks peaceful. Is it always like this?”

Sighing, Randidly shook his head. If she wanted to, he would let her stay. But he would keep an eye on her. “If only. Come on- I’ll take you to something more familiar to you.”

*****

Obyrn Myys had been born after the Great Darkness descended over his world. When energy dried up, all across the planet the old edifices of civility and honor that the ogres had lived by for generations fell to the wayside.

Which was why Obyrn was raised in the Arena.

The Arena was one of the few ways of gathering energy left to people, aside from having the dumb luck to stumble across an unexplored energy pocket hidden within the cave systems of the world. Without energy, you grew weak. With energy, you could Level and improve yourself.

So the fact that the Arena involved killing another and taking their energy didn’t bother people for very long. It was just the reality of the world. There was no other way to survive.

Obyrn was good in the Arena. Very good. At 36, so many victories had piled up that he was named Ironfist of the West, the youngest to be appointed to that position in written history by almost twenty years.

It was a soft life he fought his way into, but one that allowed his wife and children to prosper without having to rely on murder. He had his very own energy spring, which was rather weak but at least constant, and a part of the countryside that belonged to him. It was rocky and barren, but it was his.

But honestly, all of his world was barren and rocky in the wake of the Great Darkness.

The other thing that Obyrn did was never cease accepting duel challenges. So very slowly, he advanced to the intimidating Level of 79. The hurdle to 80 seemed all but impassible, however. Obyrn was now nearing the age of 40 and the challenges dried up as he continued to be unbeatable.

Without the constant flow of challenges, his outlook turned bleak. He realized why so many ogres spend most of their life sleeping. Because the world was an empty, hollow place. For a while, he found meaning in the Arena, but now he had to move past that. He had to provide a life for his family.

Yet… it felt so empty. Every day was a hollow echo of the previous one. Reports and training and reports and sleep… On and on, in an endless cycle.

But then he heard reports of energy, rich and clean, flowing from the Western Mountains. When he heard the news, Obyrn blinked. Then he smiled. Somehow, even then, he knew this was it. This was the news that would change his life.

To be safe, he killed the ogres that brought these reports. Then he moved his troops out, under the pretext of training maneuvers, and brought them to the mountains to investigate. What he found was so much more than Obyrn had expected.

An entire world, flooded with rich energy. Already, the mountain surrounding the portal was a lush forest from prolonged exposure to the energy. The energy had probably been flowing for several months already. Soon, it would drift far enough in a direction that someone else would notice. But for now…

Quickly, he sent up a base camp and began preparations. He had brought a little less than a thousand trained soldiers, every powerful ogre above Level 50 he could find, and sent one of his captains through to pave a path for him while Obyrn made preparations on this side.

It was pivotal that Obyrn keep word of this strange portal for as long as possible. For all that he was Level 79, there still lived on this planet monsters that were born before the Great Darkness fell across the world. If they found out about this energy…

Even Obyrn shivered at that thought.

What he hadn’t expected was to have his Captain return, bruised and broken, after a single night. So Obyrn assembled a crack squad of scouts and hunters to sneak out and explore the surrounding area.

Within a week, he received word that those, too, failed. They were discovered by a clumsy child and a flaming tree. Obyrn stared long and hard at the letter that informed him of this, but Obyrn knew the author; they were not inclined to poorly timed humor. So Obyrn contemplated this strange world on the other side of the portal.

There, the people did possess physical features similar to respectable ogre men and women. However, they were all… tiny. More like children than true ogres. In addition, they had hair like beasts on their heads, often in garish colors. Their teeth were flat like bovines and their bodies were as skinny as saplings.

Perhaps worst of all, every report agreed that every human only had one head. At first, Obyrn believed them to, therefore, be magicless beings, but the reports assured him that they possessed the ability to use Mana, despite possessing the inferior arcane talent of a single-headed being.

But for all that, they were strong. Strong enough to parry his initial two thrusts to control the surrounding area.

So yesterday, Obyrn had gone to speak with these “humans”. He did his best to suppress the urgent need in his heart to bring his warriors as quickly as possible into this world to train and gather energy and played it cool. He was confident. He knew that the highest Level among them was the bright-eyed woman Alana, who was only Level 67. The difference between 67 and 79 was like that between sea and sky: an impassable gulf lay between them.

As he expected, the humans refused to surrender to him. He threatened violence. They looked on with grim resolve. It was disappointing and yet exciting. For all that these tiny people had none of the strength of an ogre, they had their pride. For that, Obyrn respected them.

He would still kill them like misbehaving chickens, but he respected them. As he had respected all of his opponents in the arena. The prospect of returning to his days of combat set his heart pounding. Already, he could feel the subtle influence of energy in his body; the longer he stayed in the area, the more he could feel his pores opening to absorb the rich air...

As he promised them, one day later Obyrn strode out with a force of four hundred, exactly all of his remaining troops. The rest were either dead, hiding in the hills of this strange world, or making sure word of the portal didn’t leak out on the other side.

This was everything he could muster. It had to be enough.

What he found waiting for him was an army of gleaming metal beasts. Obyrn turned to his trusted aide, Duual. Having three heads, Duual had very powerful magicks and would be able to get to the bottom of these strange beings.

“They have no souls,” Duual advised. The middle head seemed bored, while his left head was actually asleep. But the right head had all the brain power Duual needed, drawing it from the inert heads. “They are but puppets. Yet… I suspect they can fight, or they would not be here.”

“Will your spells reach from here?” Obyrn asked. He scanned the line of metal beasts; undoubtedly, that woman Alana would soon appear. She did not seem the type to allow others to fight her battles. “As it is, our numbers appear about equal. We cannot risk being slowed down here.”

“Perhaps… but I will need time to set up my ritual circles.” Duual answered. Then the ogre hesitated. “Ironfist… must we fight? If we explained our situation-”

“If they knew our weakness, they would crush us,” Obyrn said with a heavy heart. He waved his hand, and slowly the line of armored ogres advanced. This was the only way.

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