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A note from puddles4263

13/14

Before Randidly departed Lucretia’s lab, he had one more question to ask. “Do you know… how large each Cohort in the System is?”

Lucretia shook her head. “No. But I can follow your train of thought. Undoubtedly, it is much larger than each of us would ever suspect. After all, the System has the ability to create a mirror world for the Second Calamity for each of us. That speaks… to a large background. And a vast array of energy and images at its disposal.”

Humming, Randidly considered that for several seconds. “...sometimes I wish I could have spoken with the Creature. Truly spoken, as equals. It knew so much, and all it did was torment and manipulate us. If I had that knowledge-”

“I wonder… think about this, then,” Lucretia said. “That knowledge made the Creature take those terrible actions… the truth about the System… just how terrible a weight must that knowledge have…?”

Randidly glared at Lucretia, who simply shrugged.

He didn’t like that sort of perspective, but he couldn't’ deny it might be true. Each locked in their private thoughts, the two did a few experiments with Mana Engraving before parting and returning to their respective responsibilities.

*****

Helen rammed the harpoon deeply into the skull of the sea beast in front of her. The skull cracked and split as her viciously sharp weapon bit deeply into its flesh. She brought the palm of her other hand up and slammed it into the but of the weapon, driving it even deeper.

Just die, you fucker.

The roar that the monster released caused the water in the surrounding area to vibrate and bubble. With two strong kicks, Helen swam upward, allowing the long chain attached to the end of the harpoon to stretch and give some distance between them while keeping the weapon inserted in the body of the sea beast.

Somehow, even as the bubbles frothed upward and obscured her vision, Helen knew that this long test was drawing to an end.

As though it had been waiting for Helen to create some space, the seabeast’s long tentacles slashed outward toward her like whips cutting through the water. They moved so quickly that they left long trails of bubbles in their wake.

But Helen simply twisted her body to present as small a surface area as possible and seized the chain. With a huge pull, she rapidly dived back toward the beast’s skull, cutting those meters into nothing. In her left hand, she twirled a wickedly curved dagger that was almost as long as her forearm. A chain was attached to the base of this too, forming the counterweight to her harpoon.

The tentacle attacks slowed as she neared its body and she kicked brutally to swim down toward its face.

The wicked dagger blade stabbed forward with the speed of a bullet, biting deeply into the beast’s eye. Again in roared, and the thing spun the water extremely quickly as it tried to throw Helen off. But she planted her feet on its scales and held both ends of the chain near the weapons it was connected to.

She rode that bucking seabeast while gritting her teeth. Blood pumped up through the wounds she had inflicted, dying the water in the surrounding area a deep red. The blood and bubbled mixed into a strange froth that made this corner of the sea look like hell. Slowly, Helen smiled.

Hurry up and die, fucker. I’m hungry. This Reaper needs to eat.

Again and again, it struck at her with its tentacles and fins, but Helen always clung close to its relatively much larger body. Systematically she stabbed her weapons into its side, using their curved blades to make them extremely difficult to remove.

More and more blood pumped out of the seabeast into the surrounding sea, so that it was impossible to see what was going on within that huge sphere of blood. Helen could sense several other scavengers of the Blood Sea coming closer, interested in the powerful tang of blood. But when they recognized the seabeast that was in its death throes, they paused.

What being would hunt a seabeast in its own habitat?

Helen’s smile widened further as she saw her fellow scavengers simply watching.

Sit back and watch. This is my prey.

Finally, with a heaving sigh, the seabeast died. Instantly, Helen felt something inside of herself shift and click into place. All at once she woke from the strange dream she had found herself in for almost a week. After a blink, she was back in Donnyton, standing next to the portal into the Level 50 Dungeon.

Her eyes slid sideways, searching and suspicious. Yet from looking around, it was clear that only a few moments passed.

Helen grinned and looked at her hands. There was a flicker, and then a bone Harpoon and dagger appeared in them, connected by a fine chain. So, this is my Fate.

*****

Randidly returned to his cabin at nightfall. He needed to think and think quickly about how to spend his remaining time.

The challenge against Donnyton was in two days. Sam promised Randidly that he would be bringing over “a whole new type of equipment” for him tomorrow night. And this time there was a deep fire in Sam’s eyes as he said it, so Randidly had a certain amount of anticipation for what the older man had cooked up.

Besides those two things… the rest could wait. For all that the Nemesai should be addressed, it could wait a few days. Clarissa was still trying to trace the remnant energy from the teleportation to track down the destination anyway.

So what mattered now was what Randidly would do with these final two days of preparation. Some part of him wanted to continue working on Mana Engraving, but that was a long term endeavor. Two days wouldn’t affect that much either way. It could be used as a break from his main goal, but Randidly believed his time before the challenge would be better spent on refining his images.

After his fight against the Nemesai, Randidly realized he had been underestimating the influence that images could inflict on others. If anything he imagined was possible…

Refining his images was one thing, but there was another path that Randidly felt like he should consider: combining his images.

A flaw that Randidly had felt in that fight was that he had different images for different uses, and it was extremely difficult to maintain power enough in more than a single image to dominate enemies at the level of the Nemesai. That was why Randidly had frustratingly been unable to sufficiently destroy the energy array the Winged Serpent had set up while also fighting against the others.

Not that combining images would be easy, but… it seemed to Randidly that it was one of the easiest ways to create an extremely powerful effect capable of showing Donnyton the changes they needed to make to survive with the System-

A sudden thought occurred to Randidly. According to the System… someone like me who learned of images in another Cohort… aren’t I spoiling their unbiased method of forcing individuals to evolve due to threat of death…?

Well, that was exactly what Randidly intended. He would take the risks so the people of Earth could get out in front of the trials that would force them to either evolve or die. Hopefully, such a transition would be much healthier, with that extra forewarning.

And yet, suddenly, Randidly could see why the System chose to force everyone’s attention toward Stats rather than explaining images. Even though he would show Donnyton the difference in strength between them, Randidly couldn’t give them any real guidance other than that.

Images were difficult. They took a strong will and a powerful imagination. Without both, the images would end up being insipid and lackluster. Which would make them almost useless against a foe of any real power. To those sort of images, Stats were barrier enough.

He was breaking their current mindset, which could have two results. They could recover, or they could fall to pieces from the shock.

Randidly hoped they would choose to grow and evolve, but not everyone would take the unshakable power of Donnyton being broken well-

Then Randidly chuckled. Heh, if people knew how sure I was that I’m going to win… they would think I’m delusional.

Randidly smiled. That’s exactly the point. That’s exactly why I’ll be able to overpower them all. That’s the sort of world this has become. Madness transforms into a source of strength. That’s exactly why individuals like Roy are so hard to deal with…

But then Randidly shook his head. Roy was a curious one because Randidly honestly had no idea where he disappeared to. It was possible, but unlikely, that Roy had a Skill that would enable him to move far away very quickly. And Randidly had been watching the Winged Serpent and its new portal closely; Roy hadn’t proceeded through that.

No, the only reasonable possibility was that Roy had fled back through the portal to the dreary Frogpeople world. Was that on purpose?

Randidly’s eyes tightened. Would he continue to encourage people to invade Earth? Or was he heading there to capture Drake’s elemental, who had remained on that side of the portal?

Again, Randidly could only shake his head and let it go. He’d already informed Neveah of his suspicions, and he would let her handle it for now. After all, her anticipatory violence had worked well so far, despite Randidly’s misgivings. The answer would come by itself soon…

So, to combine images. The matter at hand.

In Randidly’s mind, he had his four images: World Tree Yggdrasil, his variation on the Spear Phantom, the emerald Ignition Essence that brought heat and inspiration, and finally Ash. Of the four, two seemed obvious choices for combination: the Spear Phantom and Ash.

Both were related to the spear, and it seemed as though Phantom and Ash would be relatively complimentary. Plus, maybe by combining these two, Randidly would finally be able to create a complete Skillset between the two spear styles.

Then Randidly grimaced. That was the rub. His Ashen Spear Style and the Spear Phantom Style were… quite different. Part of aligning that image would be bringing the spirit within those spear moves into harmony.

Which was why…

Sighing, Randidly spread out his Mana and conjured about a dozen root avatars in the area surrounding his hut. Time to go to the basics: practicing moving through spear moves with root avatars.

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