Simon’s spirit body flew much more quickly than David’s physical one, and he quickly sat up. “David killed the spawner!”
Thea gave him a look, seeming to size up whether to believe him. But then she slowly nodded. “That… explains a lot. They’ve become much more… disorganized in the past few minutes. But it’s just that…”
Thea gestured. Simon’s eyes went wide. Perhaps he should have guessed, based on the amount of skeletons that he flew over in his spirit body, but there were just far, far too many skeletons below. More and more skeletons climbed over the shattered bodies of their comrades, which formed ramps to get up to the defenders.
Although they didn’t march in formation like they had in the past, they still moved forward, a wave that extended for hundreds of meters, packed densely full of skeletons. Plus, there were different kinds of skeletons too. Mages, taller ones with 4 arms, skeletons with yellow bones, one monstrous skeleton with black bones…
“It’s gonna become a scrum,” Thea said grimly, removing a hammer from her bag. Simon looked at it, curious, and Thea glared at him as she climbed on top of Chrysanthemum.
“Look, I know it’s dumb, but… I don’t know, I thought it was… cool to have a name like Glasshammer, and wield a hammer,” She said defensively. “It’s just… ugh, nevermind. Just… probably retreat back to the village. You will be safer there. Your spells are useful, but they aren’t strong enough to be on the front. Goodluck.”
With a nudge, her bear roared and charged forward, down the hill, barrelling into their opponents before they could reach the crest of the hill and cause havoc in the lines.
After watching them smash apart dozens of skeletons in a few seconds, giving their best David impression, Simon turned away and took several steps back towards the town. But then he hesitated. What was he really running from…? Weren’t there still things here that he could-
The voice was hoarse, the word a growl. Simon spun around to find David standing there, his forehead scrunched up in pain. It took several seconds for Simon to process this, but then he snapped to attention. He cast a glance over his shoulder, but the skeletons were still a few dozen meters off, so Simon quickly concentrated, producing some fluid in a vial, which he swiftly passed to David.
“What happened? I was watching, was it that darkness blast-” Simon asked, his words running together, and David gave him a look, his lips twisting.
“...No, it was the curses.” David grunted, after drinking the fluid. He sighed, and a lot of the tension in his face left it, but not all of it. “There was a mental component that I didn’t notice at first. When I broke them all at the end-”
David grimaced. “Activated Mental Strength, when I shouldn’t have…”
Then his eyes seemed to snap back into focus, and he spared Simon a glance. It was a strange, calculating glance, one that made Simon feel a stab of fear. Then David shook his head, and produced several Mana potions. “Up for making some more? If you can get me back in action, I can defend you while you grind. How close are you to 10?”
“Only one away. Why?” Simon asked, glad to have something to focus on besides the loud sounds of the fighting. He drank the potion quickly, his hand trembling slightly.
That was probably what he had expected the least, about the fighting. How much the noises would affect him. How they would haunt him. Sure, he’d fought monsters before, but never in these quantities, never so many in such a close proximity, it was like-
It was like Simon could hear it around him, the sound of life ending. Even if it was weird, skeleton monster life, enough of them were dying around him that the small noises of it added together, and became something sickly, silent, and deafening. And that wasn’t even including the sounds of people being injured, screaming, sneezing, begging-
“Simon, focus,” David said, his hand clamping down on Simon’s shoulder. After getting one huge tremor out of his body, he continued to focus, refining more fluid, which David quickly consumed. His expression had eased a lot, which made some of the tightness in Simon’s chest disappear. Even if Simon couldn’t affect the battlefield at large, this man could.
And Simon could help this man. Therefore… Simon was helping them all. That feeling… Simon supposed it was how doctors felt all the time, treating athletes, politicians, mothers, leaders… but it was a very warm one, and it focused Simon’s mind. He might be out of his depth, but he wasn’t powerless here. Because of Simon, David could save someone like that kid on the street, even though Simon didn’t have that power.
Straightening, David stood and walked to the edge of the hill. Several skeletons were skittering upwards, their hips bent at weird angles so they could move in a strange, bug like fashion. He crushed them instantly, his eyes sweeping side to side.
With a point of the finger, David called down three more flaming hammers, which hit the densest clusters of skeletons that were approaching the top of the hill. But really, it was just a drop in the bucket.
“Simon,” David spoke again, shocking Simon. It really was weird, after being with the man when he was silent, to hear him speak. He had a good voice too, for speaking, low and strangely urgent. It demanded attention. “I’ll protect your body. Use the Astral Projection to scan around for the places where people are in trouble. If with your senses, and my speed...”
Already understanding, Simon nodded furiously, and activated his skill. His body collapsed awkwardly, making a loud thump as it fell. Simon winced. He hoped he wouldn’t feel that when he returned, but somehow he knew he would. But for now, that all fell away. Because for the moment…
Simon felt like a hero.
Randidly stood above the boy’s bed, his arms crossed. The pain of activating his skills earlier was gone, but he was still slightly skittish about it. Mental Strength was absolutely studded with shards of Aether, and it had cost him dearly to use, especially flaring it up so much at once.
In other, more positive news, his access to menus was starting to come back. It also gave Randidly some insight into what that black potion he was given in the past actually did.
The problem was that the status screen and menus was something provided by the ambient Aether of the System, as it seeped into the world. Which was fine at first, and most of the time it was later reinforced by the connection to the village, giving you access to the information at the System’s disposal.
But when his skill had been shattered, Randidly’s soul space had been filled with wild, damaged, ambient Aether, effectively numbing his sensitivity to the ambient Aether of the world. Only now, after most of the Aether was controlled, and the real problem was the shrapnel, did the calm Aether allow signals from the world back in.
It was still fuzzy, but at this rate, in a few days he would be back up to full usability. Which was a good thing too, because once he had access to his status screen and soulscape, he could address the elephant inside of his body: Lucretia.
Sighing, Randidly rubbed his brow. One problem at a time. And perhaps the hastily created seal he had made on her in his soulskill will end up having worked much more effectively than he had expected.
“Like hell,” Randidly muttered, a real headache coming on. But then he focused on the boy in front of him. With Simon’s help, Randidly was able to keep the casualties in the fighting down to single digits. He had, however, made it clear that he was on an absolute different level than everyone else.
Again, a problem for later, and one that Randidly couldn’t really see being a short term issue, just a long term one. Still, for the moment, what Randidly was most concerned with was Simon.
He had overexerted himself, but Randidly couldn’t really be bothered about that. Although he knew it objectively was happening, he couldn’t avoid adopting Shal’s callous rejection of any acknowledgement of weakness. He just kept pushing them.
No, what bothered Randidly now was the skill that Simon had obtained. Astral Manifestation. An ability to create an avatar to interact physically with the world while in an Astral Projection state. Randidly sighed. Which increased Simon’s ability to fight, especially with his fear, but…
It set him once more on a path that Randidly feared would break his innocence.
As someone on that path, it was something of a point of pride that he had guided Simon elsewhere. But this world, this System…
Sighing, Randidly leaned back and looked at the sky. The stars seemed so close, so vivid and bright. An early result of the lack of pollution for 8 months.
This System had changed Randidly for the better in a lot of ways. Although murdering someone was something that Randidly now contemplated rather casually, he still felt balanced, in control now. But something in his heart told Randidly that Simon could not make that same transition. And the System was forcing him forward towards it anyway.