Randidly was sure that there was some plot afoot here that he wasn’t seeing, arranged by the Creature. But he still couldn’t figure out what it was. Which only made him more worried.
Because the only reason that it hadn’t intervened was that things were going exactly how it wanted them to. There were some… hasty steps that Randidly could take, to forcibly shift the game, and perhaps force the Creature to show itself… but Randidly had no end game after that. He still had no way of counteracting her, although Lucretia was feeding him some very interesting information about the Aether construct in his Soul Skill.
Nothing useful, as of yet, but their agreement was currently still young.
Not that he trusted her either…
Randidly had a headache.
Better to focus his attention elsewhere. Right now, Jemma was in trouble, and in trouble because of him. For that, he would save her, regardless of whether or not it would be exactly what the Creature wanted. Debts need to be paid, and responsibility needed to be taken.
Yes, gentle. Soft crush.
Randidly chuckled. “Yes that’s fine, soft crush.”
Either way, they would be arriving before the host of the Skeleton Knight. It appeared this mad dash of Randidly’s was for the best. Now they could seize both Regalias for themselves, which would hopefully mean that the Creature would approach on a venue he could handle.
Randidly grimaced. Yet, that was still so dangerous it drove him crazy… but what else could he do…? It had Lyra. That was another debt, and more than that. Randidly shook his head, letting the thoughts fall away. All of that for later. For now, soft crush.
Turning around, Randidly began to speak. “Thea, cover Ten and Simon. Simon, keep me informed of the Skeleton Knight’s movements. Decklan, Dozer, you’re with me. Let’s see if you can keep up.”
Both Decklan and Dozer seemed slightly insulted, but had the good sense not to say anything about it. Even if both of them had used the time dilution effects of dungeons, their lack of an Aether Spring would mean that they needed to pull back at some point, or suffer from Aether Sickness. At most optimistic, they might have stretched out their 6 months to a year of training since he had seen them, which would be a little more than 1 third of the time Randidly had spent training in Shal’s world.
And the people in Shal’s world were very, very good at what they did. Better by far than monsters you could find in even a Lvl 35 dungeon.
“Yes, let’s.” Randidly said simply.
Instead of charging into them, like she had done previously, Neveah sharply decelerated, letting Randidly, Decklan, and Dozer hop off and then raised herself up to her full height. As Thea and Simon got themselves in position, Neveah methodically began using her mouth and tail to rip the skeletons to shreds, treating them like they were paper dolls.
Randidly moved, unwilling to let her steal the show. Immediately upon setting foot on the ground, he used Phantom Half-Step to cross the distance, and began to use the Phantom’s Embrace, powered up through Empower, Haste, and Mana Strengthening to move among them like a ghost, stealing their lives and leaving only piles of bones.
He was really burning through his stores of Mana and Stamina, but he had a few rings filled with enough to restore him to full, if there was a pinch. Plus, the better this situation was in hand by the time the Skeleton Knight arrived, the faster this would end.
These were perhaps the elites of the skeleton forces, but they were nothing special in Randidly’s eyes. Behind him, he could feel how Dozer and Decklan began to follow his lead and break through, both in their individual ways. He spared a glance for each of them, sizing them up. The Creature had them under its thumb for a while. It was hard to know what he should be suspicious of or not.
Made him want to tear his hair out, facing this opponent he couldn’t predict, and balked at facing directly. It was making him question too many things. So much so that a skeleton almost managed to land its weapon on him.
Huffing with annoyance, Randidly stepped past them, meeting a giant minotaur looking skeleton, which bellowed its defiance, protecting a small group of people.
A grunt came in response, and the man exploded into motion forward, swinging a club that was about the same size that he was. The creature yelled again, and they crashed together. Randidly used Phantom Half-Step, covering the distance to the group of people, which turned out to be 4 glowing skeletons, a lich looking creature, and a bound and gagged girl in the Wild Rider Regalia.
As the lich opened his mouth to start casting a spell, root after root rushed upwards, sliding between the bones and then curling around them and pulling them apart, piece by piece, making sure to snap and crack every bit that he could get his hands on.
Decklan whistled softly as the 5 skeletons were swiftly reduced to dust, but Randidly just moved again, arriving at Jemma’s side. He ripped off the bonds, and then removed the Regalia. He tried to place it into his interspatial ring, but couldn’t, which was strange. But it seemed some part of its magic kept it from being stored. Interesting in a way, but annoying in another.
Jemma gasped, looking up at Randidly with tear filled eyes. “Mr… David….? Where-”
“It’s okay, you are safe now.” Randidly said, his hands curling into fists, a beast composed of fury forming in his chest as he thought of how the Wild Rider had allowed this to happen. Encouraged, even. But… why…? Was it really just to escape her fate, as Lucretia suspected? Or-
So many secrets and motives, Randidly couldn’t keep track of them all. But for now, protecting her was something that he could do. “We need to-”
But she interrupted him. “Where- where is Rhaidon? He’s wounded, I can feel him near… He’s in so much pain, surrounded by darkness…. He….”
But then she trailed off, pressing her eyes shut. Randidly berated himself for not thinking about this, and glanced around. Mostly he could just see intimidated skeletons eyeing them up, and other skeletons being slaughtered by Neveah. As for where that metallic dog could be…
‘Decklan? Scout the area. Look for a large metallic dog. It should have been captured by this group, perhaps they stashed it somewhere on the way.”
“Got it.” And the man slipped away, moving with such stealth that even Randidly couldn’t help but be impressed. The speed and suddenness of that departure were almost Batman levels.
But then Randidly felt something ripple, and his hackles rose. Of course it would be like this. His attention flowed inward, and he communicated briefly with Lucretia, before straightening and looking at the person in front of him.
“It’s been a while,” Lyra said, her smile wide and kind. It almost broke his heart, how hard it hit him, the memory of his strange emotions in regards to her, whether real or caused by the System. These 6 months had done a lot for her, and her face had matured, growing into her sharp cheekbones, her sharp nose fitting her face. Where she had previously been lovely, now she was stunning, and her smile made every other source of light flutter and dim.
All of this, without any skills. Just pure, blessed genetics. But of course, that was not her wearing that face.
After the amount of time Randidly had been gone… Lyra would not have kindness in her eyes.
Further proving that this was not the human this purported to be was the fact it was holding the huge, metallic dog by the scruff of the neck, the creature struggling feebly, but largely slumped to the side.
“Creature.” Randidly said simply, glaring at it. It smiled widely, giving up Lyra’s bright grin for something more like the Cheshire Cat turned serial killer.
“Ah… there’s that fire… But honestly, why do you hate me so? I’ve always wanted what was best for you humans, and you keep just… refusing to listen to me. Down this path only lies Calamity, and it will break you, like it has broken all other planets before yours.”
“I will not sell our freedom to you for a false peace. Now return Lyra, before I-”
“Before you…. What?” The Creature asked, clearly amused. Lyra’s eyes crinkled as it waited for his answer. But something else distracted him.
‘Randidly...you know…’ Lucretia’s voice was soft, almost in awe, but she hesitated for a moment, before saying. ‘That thing… is completely made up of Aether. She has no physical substance.’
Randidly kept his face blank. ‘And that means….’
‘Well…’ Lucretia seemed stumped by that question. It honestly felt good, to have the sadistic woman who had caused him so much trouble to be completely lost for words. ‘Well… what can you use to destroy Aether? Basically nothing, I suppose…. But-’
The Creature laughed aloud. “Is this it, then? Silence and stubbornness? What a weapon you have found. How do you expect to beat the Calamity, if I am too much for you to handle? Hand over the Regalia. I give you my word that my actions will provide humanity with the salvation that you are incapable of.”
Randidly ground his teeth in frustration, and remained silent. But more than that….
Wasn’t the Creature… acting extremely strangely today…? She had always been on about protecting humanity, and using his Soul Skill for it previously, but she had been meticulous and brutal, trapping him and isolating his power, leaving him practically helpless. If not for the Aether Crossroads in his chest, he really would have fallen that day.
And yet here she was, monologuing like a bad supervillain. It almost reminded him of Ace’s antics. What was going on that he was missing…? She was-
‘Stalling.’ Lucretia whispered. ‘But it helps us too. Because I figured it out; although we can’t destroy Aether… the one thing you can do with it is dirty it. If you use the spear-’
The Creature flashed out of existence, and in her wake stepped a tall skeleton, swinging a sword that would have bisected Lyra in half. The metallic dog dropped to the ground, whimpering.
The Skeleton Knight looked around, lines of his frown clear on his face. Randidly locked eyes with the thing, for the second time this day. Was the Creature’s goal really so simple as to allow the Skeleton Knight to win? But, no, then why-
“Well, it appears that all that remains…” The Skeleton Knight said slowly, looking around again, finding nothing, and regarding Randidly directly. “...is to settle this like men. Let us duel, Mr. Ghosthound.”