Even through the mass of roots and Wall of Thorns that the Ghosthound erected, it was still possible to hear the constant roar of the monster horde that was hounding them relentlessly. Alana grimaced; honestly, she would much rather be out there than stuck in here, waiting for the time to pass-
And just as she was going to allow herself to slip down a spiraling negative hole of missed experience, a notification popped up in front of her.
Congratulations! You have successfully protected Aratta for 10 days! Your intimacy with the villagers has increased to the maximum amount! You have received 40% experience towards your next Level!
Welcome, you have reached Level 50. Processing...
Alana's glee at finally reaching 50 was swiftly cut by the strange end to the announcement. She didn't receive her normal Level Up gains but instead was simply told... processing. Before she could think about it further, a tremor ran through her, causing her to gasp.
The group was in a small cave discovered by Annie and further hollowed out by the Ghosthound. Upon entering, the Ghosthound had erected a veritable fortress of living roots and vines, blocking off all entry. They couldn't kill as many monsters this way, but everyone would get a chance to rest. Well, everyone but the Ghosthound, who sat with his usual stoic expression, eyes closed, likely focusing on repelling the monsters.
So when Alana gasped and leaned forward, almost everyone turned to look at her in the dimly lit cave. Her face flushing, Alana made to straighten, but again, her body seized, keeping her bent over, and in fact, forcing her further downward, until she was curled up in a ball. What she experienced wasn't exactly pain, per se, but just...
It was an instinctual fear.
You have become a Level 50 Sunspear of the Broken Ridge. The Reckoning of your Class has begun. Good Luck.
Alana was very clear of her inner world. She wasn’t sure what other people saw, but in her inner zone, it was a warm, red desert, completely barren. And when she had earned a Class, a spear had emerged from the ground, thrusting upwards. Slowly, as she had gained Levels, the spear had pushed itself skyward, aiming to split the world.
At the same time, a sandstorm was slowly building around the spear. The higher the spear got, the stronger the winds around it became, swirling and spiraling, drawing more and more sand into its spin. By 49, the air around the spear was thick with the sand, completely destroying any chance of seeing the spear within. It was wreathed in the strange radiation.
And there was power in that sand. Alana wasn’t sure how to describe it, but she felt… stronger, more willful, the thicker the air around the spear became. It was like that strange thickness allowed her to work her will on the world. In her heart, she suspected that this was an addition due to her constant connection with the Ghosthound, but the two didn’t seem directly connected in any way that she could see.
Now, as she reached Level 50, the sandstorm had ballooned outward, growing higher and higher. Whereas before it had been a powerful, but complimentary force, now it was… dangerous, that was what her instincts told her. It lashed outward, back and forth, striking the spear that was the representative of her Class. Those reverberations were what she was feeling, causing her to double over in agony.
Distantly, she could sense the rest of the group, coming to her side. Especially, she felt the Ghosthound’s concerned gaze as she couldn’t even get her mouth to open and speak. Every time she did, the sandstorm upped in ferocity, striking her Class. The strength of the strikes was so much that-
A thin chip of her spear was knocked aside by the sandstorm, which instantly set the sandstorm into a frenzy. It swirled even faster, the winds spinning down to a point, which drilled towards her spear, aiming for the small weakness in it. With widening eyes, Alana could only watch, helpless, as this strange strength she previously had turned against her, aiming to destroy the Class.
Then a voice whispered in her ear. Deep and male.
Girl. Accept me and I will save you.
Alana’s fear was instantly doused by this foreign influence, and her suspicions rose.
If you do not choose to follow my shape, you will die. Do you accept?
Maybe it wasn’t smart, but…
“Fuck you.” Alana hissed.
As her Class split down the middle, Alana felt her consciousness rip, and then darkness swirled in, buoying her away.
Randidly grinned as he saw his Level 10 notification, but before he could even read it, Lucretia’s voice distracted him.
“...I’m sorry, but I couldn’t warn you. The System prevented me from speaking. At Level 50-”
Before she even finished, Randidly detected an increasingly violent Aether fluctuation and spun around. Alana was doubled over in the corner of the cave, wheezing. Setting aside his notifications, Randidly crossed the distance in a split second, putting his hand on her forehead. Immediately, he could sense this wasn’t a physical ailment, so he waved Ptolemy away, who was pressing forward with a worried expression on his face.
Randidly’s visage darkened as he looked inside of Alana with his Aether Detection Skill. No, this was…
“-A lot of our warriors died before they realized what happens. There is… something that builds up around a Class the stronger it gets. It makes creating images much easier, so it is useful, but at a certain point, it becomes… pressurized, and like a bomb and explodes. For this reason, a lot of people will remain at Level 49 until they have developed their personal Skillset, because, after 50, it becomes… much more difficult.”
“Fuck the details,” Randidly said, his heart rate rapidly increasing, “What do I do?”
“Nothing…” Lucretia said softly. “If she rejects God’s offer-”
Randidly’s eyes widened.
“Her Class will shatter.” Lucretia finished.
Randidly looked down at Alana, laying on the floor of the cave, convulsing now, the blood flowing out of her face. Without her typical scowl, Randidly couldn’t help but notice how young she was. A 20 something young woman, faced with the apocalypse, picking up a spear. She was one of the first people that he had Blessed, and now…
His core began to resonate, all of his Yggdrasil Skills beginning to glow in his chest. Strength flowed into him, making his physical body tense with the strain of containing so much force. Unwillingness rose up from his chest, thick and bitter.
He remembered traveling with her down to Franksburg. How she had fought through and gotten a golden coin for the town, destroying the Ant Boss. Then she had escorted him back, accepting his Blessing.
She had been one of the strongest in Donnyton. She had protected the town in his absence. She was the Captain of the First Squad of Donnyton, the most prestigious martial position in Donnyton’s hierarchy. When Randidly had returned, she had asked no questions, and simply accepted his invitation to spar.
Even though he was years ahead of her at adapting to the apocalypse, she had thrown herself at him time and time again. She was direct, and she was stubborn, and…
And she was a friend. In small moments, in shared dedication, in, if not shyness, introversion. They were both people of few words. Randidly abruptly realized he had never thanked her for everything she had done for the town, never told her how without her strength, they would never have made it.
Part of that was that Randidly had never paid attention. He had just… taken it for granted.
His body burning, his eyes glowing emerald like neon signs in the small cave, Randidly looked upwards towards the sky, towards the System, to the fucking Creature that forced them to come in here, and rejected it.
Reaching into her soul space, Randidly grasped her Class right as it shattered.
And he bound it back together.