Before Helen and Alana’s party left, Randidly pulled Alana, Dozer, and Annie to the side and had a brief talk with them. Luckily, it seemed that whatever Dozer had done to Annie after carrying her off had vastly improved her mood; she was practically beaming while Randidly explained some of the messages he wanted to pass on to Donnyton.
“I shouldn’t be more than a week, but it's hard to say,” Randidly admitted. Then he frowned in frustration; he wished Neveah would be more specific, but she had been rather avoidant since he returned to Earth. She just demanded he check in on a few places before proceeding to join her in the South. “So if I take longer, pass these things onto Donnyton: as much as possible, we should be focusing on creating high-end weapons and armor and moving for the Danger Zones.”
They all nodded.
Dozer folded his arms across his check. “It is known, but there has always seemed something… more pressing. But we will let them know to focus on it.”
“The experience boost to everyone would be a godsend,” Alana added. “Plus, Donnyton’s squads view it as a point of shame that they haven’t been either of the cleared Danger Zones-”
“Another Danger Zone was cleared?” Randidly asked with a frown.
After a hesitation, Alana nodded. “I assumed you knew. Yes, the World Crater to the South. We aren’t sure who exactly did it, but they selected all the benefits for themselves. That is, I believe, what Neveah is handling right now. From a report from Drake to East End, the Undying Hero was active in the area. So he is the prime suspect.”
Randidly grunted. Even with triple stats, Randidly had a hard time that anyone from Earth would be able to rival Neveah; she had higher raw stats than even he did. Why then was she so dodgy and unresponsive?
Randidly’s memory of the Undying Hero was rather fuzzy. He knew that Ace was fascinated with the man, for whatever reason, and had somehow revived him. They had also crossed blades once; Randidly had won without much effort. Yet somehow the lack of impression was more disturbing than if the man had been more overtly evil.
It gave him a bad feeling.
More than ever, he resolved himself to hurry and meet Neveah. If there were any real issues, she wouldn’t be so silent on the matter, but…
“Alright fine. In addition…” Randidly scratched his cheek. “This message is somewhat selfish; but tell Sam that I’ll be heading back to Donnyton soon, and I need new armor; just no foot coverings. If he has any requests for materials, just send them to me. I can gather them on the way.”
They spoke about some other small things, and then the group split off from Randidly. Very quickly, he accelerated to the North and West. The first task given to him by Neveah was checking in on a certain individual; she had informed him that she had named a peculiar boy to Randidly’s Order Ducis, and he had performed admirably since then. But the kid tended to get into trouble beyond his depth, so Randidly should check on him.
What made Randidly grind his teeth was that she was decidedly vague; just that he would be around the Northwest above the monster city. So Randidly just blurred across the landscape, scanning the countryside.
It was mostly rolling hills with thick pine forests. It did not make it easy to search. Still, the temperature was somewhat brisk. To the point that the cool air felt wonderful after loping across the countryside.
He didn’t find anyone who looked like this Naffur, but he did find dinosaurs.
While passing through the area West of where they settled the ogres, Randidly encountered a herd of Level 62 Wild Raptors. He didn’t really consider them much of a threat, so he ignored them and simply continued to search. But the group of scavengers responded with a few short chirps and within seconds they began to stalk him.
Randidly stopped abruptly. Fine then, it’s your funeral.
They came at him like a bolt of lightning on a clear day, without any sort of small noise giving them away. Honestly, their stealth was rather impressive even if the attack pattern they used was a bit predictable.
But they picked the wrong individual to ambush.
The ones that attacked Randidly from the front were seared by Eruption of the Blazing Leyline. No sooner had they leapt snarling out of the brush that the Skills exploded beneath them. The emerald flames ate away at their legs and melted their scales. Screaming, those raptors somehow managed to push through the pain and tried to slam into Randidly.
Randidly bared his teeth. If nothing else, their commitment was admirable. But foolish. Acri sliced two in half, and the third-
-slammed into Randidly’s chest. He blinked, then frowned like a thunderstorm was brewing behind his eyes. He had meant to reach up with his left hand and throw the other to the side, but of course, his left arm wasn’t there anymore. He had just… reacted without thinking.
I’ll need to work on that, Randidly noted.
Acri made short work of the one who had body checked him pointlessly, and then Randidly turned to the four raptors that had attacked him from behind. They gnashed their teeth in futility while the roots and vines constricted around them. Unwilling to extend the process any longer, he snapped their necks.
And he was rewarded with a Level Up.
Congratulations! You have reached Level 40! +8 Stats distributed between Vitality, Perception, Resist, Intelligence, and Control, +20 Free Stats! +1 Stat to a Mental Stat. +1 to a Physical Defense Stat. +1 to a Mental Support Stat. +2 Control. +36 Health, +40 Mana, +40 Stamina, +3.5 to all Regenerations! +1 to Health and Stamina Regeneration!
Due to Guidance of the Wraith Adder, +4 Agility and +2 Bonus Stats!
Congratulations! You have learned the Skill-
Synergy detected. Recalculating…
The Skills Summon Lava Golem, Plantomancy, and Call Grove Defenders have been absorbed! Bonuses to Skill effects have been included due to absorption. You have learned the Skill “Riders of the Baleful Court (A) Lvl 1”! You have learned the Skill “Lantern of Harsh Truths ® Lvl 1”!
Riders of the Baleful Court (A): As the Lord of the Baleful Woods, all within owe you fealty. You may summon some of the ancient order of riders that serve your court. These beings are lesser things, based upon your own attributes. They are comprised of ash and fire that ride beasts of stone and old plant life. Their stats grow with Skill Level. The number you can summon grows with Skill Level. Mana cost decreases with Skill Level.
Lantern of Harsh Truths ®: There is an aura about you that casts light upon those nearby. It is something you cannot control, and will constantly spread from you. However, it is a harsh light. It is easier for those nearby to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Those near you will receive slight buffs to Focus and Control. Groups of individuals within the sphere of the aura will work more easily together. Size of aura increases with Skill Level. Focus and Control buff increases with Skill Level. The harshness of the truths individuals realize about themselves will increase with Skill Level.
It was good to Level up and grow stronger, but that second Skill… It seemed dangerous. Not to other people, but to his ability to form relationships with people. Being the one who pointed out your flaws under a harsh light was not a way to make fast friends.
Seriously, making people aware of their own strengths and weaknesses? Teaching them about their strengths was one thing, but very few people would enjoy the experience of understanding their own weaknesses…
And the truths they realize will grow more harsh with Skill Level…?
Perhaps that most obnoxious part was that it was not something he could control; it was simply was a constant presence. When he looked at his Class, it was probably from the Lighthouse of the Boundless Worlds portion. Which made a certain amount of sense, but… Well, at least it gave a buff to teamwork, Focus, and Control…
And although he would love to rip that Skill out and destroy it, Randidly remembered Octavius’ warning about any more actions interfering with the System. Would this fall under that category of activities…?
Either way, it was obnoxious. Randidly wasn’t willing to risk being reported to some shadowy administrator in order to save people from their own truths. If he could deal with it, so could they.
Shaking his head, Randidly looked at the other Skill. Shrugging, he activated it and summoned a Rider of the Baleful Woods. Randidly hadn’t relied on any of his summon Skills very much in the past, and that was a mistake. Now that the scale of enemies he was fighting against was rising, he should focus more on such Skills. They would give him numbers to orchestrate with his impressive Control. This was the perfect opportunity to begin to Level one up.
After all, the Second Calamity would involve fighting a whole world, so…
The ground in front of Randidly cracked, and a bubble of shimmering red lava ballooned upward. In spite of himself, Randidly took several steps back. The bubble reached probably four meters in height, and then popped, spraying globs of molten rock into the surrounding area.
Looking at his “rider”, Randidly’s eyebrows rose. The individual on top was a being of twisting grey ash and flickering emerald fire. The figure was slender and tall, holding a wicked looking obsidian lance. It nodded at Randidly after spotting him, hefting the lance in something of a salute.
But Randidly’s eyes went to the mount. Because it was the weirdest cross of a camel, a rhino, and a spider that he had ever seen.
It’s four legs were long and spindly, but every joint was adorned with a curving horn. Its body was covered with grey chitin, and wrapped in fading green vines. Its main body was thick and heavy, making Randidly wonder how those thin legs supported it and sported two humps. The rider sat between the humps. Its head was on the end of a long neck, and possessed the largest of the horns, a viciously sharp thing as long as Randidly’s forearm and made for goring.
Randidly and the mount stared at each other for several seconds. Its glossy black eyes didn’t even appear to be animated; they glittered like precious stones, not like a living creature. Eventually, Randidly shook himself.
At Randidly’s order, the rider moved with remarkable swiftness around the forest. For all that its legs were thin, they possessed uncommon strength which enabled the rider to move dexterously through the trees. Randidly wished to see how strong the legs were in response to an outside force, but he didn’t just want to break the thing's leg.
So he shrugged and ordered his rider to follow him. Hopefully, he could encounter more monsters to test it against.