To his credit, the Skeleton Knight moved instantly, hopping back to his feet, reaching behind and shedding his already shredded armor. This he used as a projectile, but Randidly easily moved around it and continued to approach.
Hissing, the Skeleton Knight gripped his desperate and wildly squirming sword and stood, blatantly challenging Randidly. Honestly, his size was somewhat intimidating, even without his armor a bit wider and several inches taller than Randidly. But it wasn’t enough to phase Randidly at this point.
“This…. was fun.” The Skeleton Knight offered, giving Randidly pause.
“Yes… It was…” Randidly said, almost said. They held each other’s glances for several long seconds. “But it has to end.”
The Skeleton Knight said nothing, but grimaced as the roots Randidly was controlling wound up around his legs, binding him. Cutting awkwardly, the Skeleton Knight was able to give himself some measure of freedom, but more and more flowed upwards, gathering his arms and keeping them from cutting.
Luckily for the Skeleton Knight, it appeared that the Mage Bane was able to suck Mana from the roots too, so the blade was vibrating and hot in the Skeleton Knight’s hand, practically twisting on its own to cut through roots. Annoying, but that just made this part easier.
As Randidly arrived before the Skeleton Knight, the sword screamed, swerving to slash at him. But Randidly simply pointed off to the side and used an incinerating bolt, aiming for the Skeleton Knight’s side.
Furious and gleeful, the Mage Bane twisted in the Skeleton Knight’s hand, blocking the blow and absorbing it. Activating all of his passives at once and using the Inevitable Phantom Arrives, Randidly destroyed the upper half of the Skeleton Knight’s torso, including its head. The sword trembled, screaming, then flared bright, then went dark and dropped to the ground.
The bones collapsed, and there was a brief moment of silence, but then the strange dueling field around them collapsed, and Randidly found himself at the edge of a battlefield, or what had been one. But after the Skeleton Knight fell, the skeletons turned listless, and then began attacking wildly, even each other, while others just collapsed.
Randidly scanned around, and was glad to see that Rhaidon was slumped over to the side, where the Creature had stood, and his chest rose and fell. One less thing to worry about. Randidly picked up the sword gingerly, worried that it would still try to absorb his Mana, but nothing happened, so he turned his attention to-
Randidly froze. Lyra, or the Creature parading as Lyra, stood over Jemma’s body, carefully removing the headdress from her. As she did so, she straightened and smiled at Randidly. At her side, two bodies were floating. One which looked like a slimy gecko, and another… Ten’Malla. The Wild Rider.
Randidly’s hand tightened on the hilt of the sword.
“I’ve been thinking, you know.” The Creature said, continuing to smile at him, while it stepped closer to him, the two bodies floating behind her, covered in chains made of pure Aether. “Your resistance is… annoying, but impressive. And I fear, seeing your strength now, things have come too far for us to leave the System. You are addicted to it, aren’t you?”
Randidly’s eyes focused on her, sharp and murderous. In his chest, he could feel Lucretia’s hushed explanation, and the Devourer spear humming, almost as if it knew what was coming. Just a bit closer…. But Randidly couldn’t help but also notice that Jemma’s limp body was lifted off the ground by chains of Aether and bound behind the Creature.
Grimacing, Randidly weighed his willingness to act, knowing Jemma would probably die. She was so young… But if it saved the world from this monster… Both options left him with a deep shadow on his heart. Hopefully, another opportunity would emerge.
He attempted to send a message to Dozer, but his menus were all gibberish. Interference…? Well, two could play at that game. Immediately, he began to focus on the fluctuations of Aether around him, slowly discovering the cage of Aether the Creature had made to isolate him, feeling it out. His skill levels ticked up. But it was far, far too slow.
“Do you refuse to admit it?” The Creature chided, almost amused. Randidly flushed, but continued to say nothing.
“Well, it matters not. But… you have made me imagine a new path, where I am able to hide in the System, in plain sight. Inside the System, but seamlessly blended…. It’s actually genius, I’m surprised I haven’t thought of it until now.”
Randidly casually moved the Sword Regalia, watching as the Creature’s eyes followed it. “So I suppose… you will need this? What will you give-”
“Ahaha! You have me all wrong, Randidly.” The Creature chuckled, taking another step closer. Just two more steps, and she would be within range. “Yes, I want my chosen to be the Champion of this Zone, and using their influence, rise further… but… who better than you Randidly? Be my Champion, and all can be forgiven between us.”
With a casual flick that left Randidly flummoxed, the Creature threw the headdress of the Wild Rider towards him. Ten’Malla’s head lolled, her body slumped and unconscious. Randidly caught the headdress. He resisted the urge to just say ‘Eh?’ and instead stayed still, unable to comprehend what was happening.
Was this a trap…? A trick…?
Very clearly, up until this point the Creature had been very anti-System, seeking to circumvent and avoid it. Of all of the terrible traits the Creature possessed, the one thing that Randidly and it had in common was their love of freedom, and their resistance to the yoke of the System. And yet now… it was asking him to assume a role within it…?
Randidly bit his lip. With Lyra’s face, the Creature looked at him expectantly. But at the moment… he was stuck. His mind was blank. He truly, had no idea what was going on anymore.
His mind whirled as he tried to grapple with his understanding of what the Champion was, of what it would mean for him. And how would his being the Champion help the Creature…?
“You will gain power. Something close to immortality. A long awaited Class… it would give shape to your Aether…” The Creature whispered, taking another step forward. Only one more step. “Your might will be unrivaled on this world. With your strength, this world will receive a high evaluation from the Calamity. With that, I can dwell here as you serve the System for all eternity. Not free, perhaps, but finally at peace, knowing that they will not find me here. It is fair, yes? With my assistance, your skills might even-”
“No.” Randidly said shortly. He didn’t have enough facts, but there was no other answer his gut would allow him. “No.”
“You fool! Can you not see how much I sacrifice for-” The Creature said furiously, stepping forward again. Randidly dropped the Regalia and flexed his hand, the Devourer Spear appearing there, flooded with Aether.
The idea was simple; flood the Creature, a being of Aether, with low quality meaning. It was like throwing dirt into your tank along with the gas. Hopefully, the dirty and impure Aether would clog up her magic, so much so that the whole engine would cease to run, at least for a short while, as she attempted to deal with the problem.
That was Lucretia’s theory, anyway, which was the best one that Randidly had heard in a long time. Of course it was still hard to trust Lucretia, but that was an issue for another time.
But as his spear ripped forward, containing all of his will and hatred and frustration, and wild fear for the chains and control she represented, one of the bodies flashed forward, blocking the way. Randidly narrowed his eyes. Sorry Ten’Malla.
Or at least that's what his instincts told him initially, but then Randidly realized it wasn’t Ten’Malla that moved forward, but the slimy gecko, bound and gagged. Well, that was certainly… the better option…?
The spear ripped through the gecko, passing easily through its body. Its natural defenses were high, but they weren’t something that were designed to handle the Spear of the Devourer, flooded with Randidly’s pure Aether. It was naught but paper.
But then several things began to happen at once.
Randidly was frozen solid, as strange Aether reverberations emerged from the gecko’s corpse, even his Aether filled body jerking to a stop.
Congratulations! The Final Tier III Raid Boss has been slain. Upon its corpse, the site of the Raid Dungeon is now forming. The Raid Dungeon-
Randidly’s eyes were torn away from the notification as a wave of force knocked him backwards, leaving the Creature smiling at him next to the flickering and glowing ball of energy that had once been a corpse. Further, at the feet of that corpse….
The Headdress and Sword lay, the two Regalia right next to one another.
The Raid Dungeon has caused a great trial to descend upon the Zone! If the Zone has open travel, the Zone is now sealed. While the Raid Dungeon remains unbeaten, a blight will descend upon the land, and the life energy that fuels this Zone will slowly depart. After 30 days, all ambient energy in the air will be gone-
Roaring, Randidly lashed out with Aether Manipulation, trying to interfere with the process, somehow. Was it all a game then? The Creature’s pitch? A plot to confuse him, and lure him into a false sense of security, and then- Somehow cause the Aether to slowly drain from the Zone? Was she trying to blackmail him?
Trying to get him to fuel the entire Zone himself with Aether….?
His Aether Manipulation found purchase, and Randidly began to rip and tear away at what he found, but still the force pressed him backwards. In front of him, from the ball of energy, a tall tower emerged, a curving thing of twisted silver.
After 30 days, all ambient energy in the air will be gone, leaving this Zone a dead place. Before that time, a group of 10 must enter the Raid Dungeon as a party and clear the boss. Should the dungeon be cleared, the Raid Dungeon will settle down, and a surge of ambient energy will fill the Zone, fueling growth. If not… this Zone will remain sealed.