Binding her Class together, Randidly quickly discovered, was easier said than done. Even if he held the shape of the Class together, that strange thick energy around the Class still was smashing against it, seeking a way in. Randidly had moved before it had ground everything to pieces, but he couldn’t block every flaw.
As he struggled, the strange energy pushed through, eviscerating portions of the Class, destroying 50 Levels worth of work. And it made Randidly furious. Partially because this had come out of nowhere, and because there didn’t seem to be any point to it… but mostly because Randidly felt like he couldn’t do anything.
Briefly, he considered using Inspiration, but then rejected that idea. Inspiration was good for broad, powerful strokes. Likely, if he used Inspiration on Aether Manipulation, he would just crush the already fragile Class as he tried to defend it. In addition, the strange thick energy around the Class wasn’t tiring; if anything, it was getting stronger as time passed.
At that moment, moving his will around, fending off the sandstorm from eating into the Class and disintegrating it, Randidly missed Neveah, more than anything. Strangely, he had faith that if she was here, she would be able to tell him what was going on, and how to handle it. Her intuition for Aether was uncanny.
Lucretia remained near his consciousness, shaking her head sadly, believing this a lost cause.
Strangely, a quote Randidly remembered Mrs. Hamilton saying to Donny came to mind: “If you cannot use power, don’t just try more power: win with intelligence and empathy.”
Intelligence and empathy was it…? So what was happening here, exactly? This strange energy, that was built up the entire time she moved towards Level 50, suddenly attacked the Class? But why?
So Randidly looked, even as he struggled to restrain that energy, holding the quickly fracturing Class together. Now it was in 5 pieces, which made the defense a little easier, but the increasingly faint whimpers from Alana revealed that there were dire consequences for allowing the damage to progress this far.
The strange energy… It wasn’t attacking, per se, but it was throwing itself at it, smashing into it…
...which helped not at all. The energy was basically battering it down, grinding away at the Class slowly. Once it shattered, the energy preferred to aim for the vulnerable insides, rather than striking the relatively structured outside. Then-
Then, Randidly froze. Because as he gazed closer, he realized that some of the energy was dispersing. And in the space where the cracks were, something was growing.
In Randidly’s view, Alana’s Class was a giant construct of amber, rigid and solid, emulating her style and strength. But throughout the amber, as Randidly looked closer, there were thin veins running through it. Thin, emerald veins, glowing brightly with life, wiggling through the cracks, stretching outwards.
And when the energy came in contact with those thin emerald vines-
The energy seemed ecstatic and was siphoned into them. But that suction caused more energy than the tiny emerald vine could absorb to come, and the strange thick energy just smashed the Class, shattering it further. But in that space, three more emerald vines could slither out.
It was a losing battle, however. More vines were still hundreds of times too little. And with so few vines, that was just more surface area that would suck the thick energy inwards, bringing a hammer blow against the Class, fracturing it further.
“Not... like… this….” Randidly hissed, closing his eyes, racking his brain, trying to figure out what to do. And when he turned his attention inward… if he didn’t find an answer to the question he was asking, he found an answer to dozens of other questions, and it gave him an idea.
Because when he turned his attention inward, he felt profoundly… not himself. He was.. Swimming in soft images, of Donnyton at night, of polishing a spear, of the burning heat of the sun hanging over a desert… images that were not his own, flowing steadily through the connection that he and Alana shared through the Blessing.
Instantly, Randidly pressed downward with his will, and a tidal wave of Aether shot forward, slamming through their connection into Alana’s body. Instantly, those small green offshoots ballooned outwards, growing more and more little tendrils, absorbing the violent energies faster and faster. Images flooded into Randidly.
Distantly, Randidly had known that the way his Aether worked was different than the System’s. After all, his Aether Crossroads would exchange both life and images, whereas the System provided life and images, but only took life in exchange.
Where then, would the images go?
They would build up around the soul space, with nowhere to go, until… Well, it seemed like it would build up until there was enough pressure on them to explode outward. Naturally, however, they would seek to return to joining the life energy, perhaps flowing in the opposite direction, but never separated. Because they were not created without the context of life, and craved it still, to the point that they would shatter a rigid Class that wouldn’t accept them.
Randidly bared his teeth. Perhaps he wasn’t clear on the details, but it seemed very true that the System had laid another trap for the people here, one that the best and brightest would fall to if they were not forewarned. From what Lucretia said, there was a way to avoid this, but…
Undoubtedly, it was another way that the System binds people to it. A life devoid of your own images, subsisting on half-hearted regurgitated ones.
Again, Randidly howled mentally, sending a tsunami of Aether flowing towards Alana, Aether that could help absorb the images before they destroyed the carefully created Class, but there was only so much that Randidly could do. He realized it several precious seconds too late. Already, Alana’s Class was in 13 pieces, and handfuls of small shards that were being slowly disintegrated.
Still, he would not stop now.
More and more offshoots of his Aether grew up through her Class, wrapping around the remaining 13 pieces, guarding them, shielding them from the violently exploding images. And slowly, the pandemonium began to clear.
Tighter and tighter the vines spun, twining together, pressing the remaining shards of Alana Class into a semblance of what once was. Annoyed at his slow progress, he sent a mental prod at Lucretia, even as about half of the violent energy was subdued.
“...If you think it will help… hum… Let’s weave it like this.” Lucretia said slowly, still disbelieving, but her eyes flashed with curiosity. She too realized that there was something peculiar here, and even if it wasn’t enough to save Alana-
No, Randidly thought, grinding his teeth. It had to be enough.
Now, with Lucretia’s assistance, his vines twined together in specific patterns, fueled by his flood of Aether. It was becoming difficult for Randidly to concentrate, as images flooded him in exchange, giving him a headache. Hopefully, this was a short-term thing, because otherwise…
But Lucretia was there, touching and prodding using his Skills, keeping things under control while he was distracted. They had built a Class before, or at least tried to, so Lucretia moved with a deft assurance that was absent the first time. One of the key lessons that they had learned was that Aether was not nearly as fragile as they had first believed, and also that it could not be kept separate from itself. Strands of it would inevitably mix.
So instead of aiming for accuracy, what was better was to focus on the general shape, and let the Aether itself, and the life and images that constituted it, fill in the difference.
Slowly, the Class came back together, forming once more into a five-tiered construct, representing the five 10s of Levels that Alana had gathered. It was a strange thing, made mostly of vines and large shards of amber, but as Randidly focused, he could feel something else happening, deep in his chest: Living Aether activated.
Slowly, the form of the vines faded away, leaving only the spiraling emerald crystal, in stark contrast to the amber. It shrunk back too so that it seemed that the emerald portions were just highlighting and outlining the amber, like a frame for a painting. And the amber seemed to even out a bit too, as some of that emerald energy was absorbed by it, the two varieties of Aether mixing together.
By the end of it, it had become a spear, made of amber and emerald, pointing towards the sky, a large, intact shard of amber at the apex, pointing upwards.
After coughing up what felt like a lung, Alana sat up, her head throbbing. People were gathered around her, and she pushed them away, desiring space. They seemed to sense this, and they got up and took several steps back.
One of them passed her a water.
She felt a flash of irritation. Did they think her incapable of getting a drink, just because of a little headache? Jesus fuck…
Well, she was thirsty…
After a long drink, Alana finally opened her eyes and blinked at the notification she saw.
Congratulations! You have passed your Reckoning! Your Class has changed. You have now become a Level 50 Valkyrie of the Red Dust. Your Level up gains have changed. +15 Health and Mana per Level. +18 Stamina per Level. +2 Strength per Level. +5 Stats divided amongst Endurance, Agility, Wisdom, and Focus. You have gained the Skill Crimson Ire ® Lvl 1. You have gained the Skill Avatar Form (A) Lvl 1.