Contrary to what Randidly had thought earlier when he went to the staircase, he walked up to them in silence, letting the quiet sound of his footsteps on the wood echo. The bodies remained where they were laying, hacked to pieces by Randidly’s monstrous spear. As he was ascending the fire below just around, gathering up a howling momentum that would soon consume the bodies to feed its bottomless need.
So filled with violence that he was completely still, Randidly walked up to the next floor, his face twisted. He had… been tricked. But he couldn’t understand the nature of the trick at all. The Creature had clearly created that bit of Aether on the System translator function, keeping them from being able to communicate with the Death Cultists. But why? What secret were they keeping?
And if the same sort of traces were on Aratta-
The Aratta who had told him to kill all of the Death Cultists as soon as possible-
Randidly’s expression became grave. He sent a message to the group, telling them to disengage and fall back, making sure to capture Aratta. After all, it was possible that someone else, specifically the Creature, was using Aratta as a mouthpiece. The Aether wisps were just the Creature using the translation function of the System to translate the language into whatever it wanted to say.
Which meant that it clearly wanted Randidly to come here and kill the Death Cultists. Which, it turned out, was exactly what they wanted as well. That Grey Death Cultist had even called him Messiah… Randidly’s lips tightened into a firm line.
What the fuck was going on…?
When he reached the top of the staircase, Randidly looked around. He was in a small wooden chapel, and at the far end, the light grey Death Cultist was standing in front of an altar. IT was muttering, and moving its hands, and Mana was thick in the air. Slowly, that Mana was condensing, and it seemed that Randidly had already missed quite a bit of the ritual because the condensation was almost complete.
Resigning himself to wait, Randidly simply watched the rhythmic, deep movements of the Death Cultist as he controlled the energy. If nothing else, Randidly could learn much about the manipulation of Mana from him; based on the proficiency that Randidly was seeing, this Death Cultist would be able to Engrave the Shadow III rune without much difficulty at all.
The difference was in the treatment; whereas Randidly has always considered Mana a liquid, the Death Cultist’s ritual was making it clear that it shared quite a few similarities with gas, too, except instead of expanding to fill a space, it expanded… to fill a meaning.
Which made sense, because everything in this world responded to life and meaning, why would Mana be any different? But it wasn’t a perspective that Randidly had encountered before. He filed away that information, content to wait until he had a proper opportunity to experiment with the consequences of this realization.
Within 10 minutes, the Mana had concentrated in a point, and with a pop, formed into a solid black item. Reverently, the Death Cultist took it. Then, equally reverently, it turned, falling to his knees and holding it up, towards Randidly.
“I believe this is what you seek, Messiah.”
Randidly frowned. His steps were once again the only noise as he walked across the ground of the wooden chapel, his bare feet slapping, to stand before the Death Cultist. Gingerly, still somewhat suspicious, he took the item from the creature’s hand, which was shaped like a plus sign with a circle around it.
Key of Death Lvl 50: A special key, condensed from the secret methods of the Death Cultists, rather than forming naturally after an individual slays enough monsters. Inserting this Key of Death into the lock will result in a successful completion of the Raid Dungeon. Afterward, the energies of the Key of Death will sweep outwards, ending all life in the Raid Dungeon, transforming it into a regular Lvl 50 Dungeon.
“What the fuck.” Randidly hissed. This… Was the creature pointing him towards the end of the Raid Dungeon? But why-
And afterward, the energies would run wild and kill everything in the Raid Dungeon? Randidly wasn’t sure what the Creature was up to, but he sure as hell didn’t think it would waste its time in here, warping the Aether ecosystem in such specific ways if it was just going to let everything die at the end of it. Was it trying to create something specific then? That it would take with it when it escaped?
Randidly didn’t doubt that the Creature itself would have ways around the death energies, but-
Could it perhaps be even now laying a trap back at the giant cathedral they had spawned in? That didn’t seem right, however, because the Creature was not a being that ever gave up the initiative. It always moved only at the end, when its plan had completely come to fruition. That was why Randidly had struggled against it so much in the past. He hadn’t known that anything strange was going on at all, until the very end.
Perhaps then, the Creature’s plan was to have him kill the Death Cultists before they could condense a key, thereby trapping Randidly and the group here? But that was just stalling, and flukey at best. Besides, according to the tooltip, it would condense naturally after a certain number of enemies had been killed.
Which was a bullshit way for a dungeon to function, but was largely a moot point, in this case.
Randidly shook his head, frowning, even as the Grey Death Cultist remained kneeling in front of him. This was.. Not right. It didn’t feel like the Creature at all. Better to shift backward, and reset his outlook, he was missing something.
The Creature’s goal was to hide from the System, and secondarily to strike blows against it. Earth and Randidly were both just tools to it, which it had found convenient, but were becoming increasingly less convenient the more Randidly succeeded in growing in strength and foiling the Creature’s plans. So it made sense if this plan wasn’t about them.
But it was somehow using Randidly, because he was a convenient tool, the Initiating Action, as Lyra had said. Randidly narrowed his eyes. And it seemed the Creature wanted to push him towards using this Key, which meant it didn’t care about the Death Energies. So did that mean the Creature wasn’t alive, or-
Randidly’s eyes widened. Or… or did it have Aether constructs that would prevent the energy from affecting certain areas? Like there were around the different villages. Annie had mentioned there were larger formations there. So if the Creature could protect a Village-
Then it needed them for a way to use the fact that a certain area would be unaffected to its advantage, in a way that subverts the System. The tools at its disposal-
Laughing aloud, Randidly slapped his leg. In that instant, it occurred to Randidly what the item could be, that it would both given the Creature an unexpected benefit, and also… also, convince the people in the villages to assist it. That still left out several large whys, but…
The fire was eating up through the ground into the chapel, but even as he was burned, the Death Cultist remained differentially at Randidly’s feet. Death Cultist, huh, did that mean that all this time, this race of monster knew what was in store for it?
“Get up, we are leaving,” Randidly grunted, his eyes sparkling. “Let’s gather the rest of your people… and then let’s go see what the Creature is up to.”
Ace was surrounded by 6 Death Cultists, and they screamed at him in their harsh tongue. Outwardly, he grimaced, sporting a small wound on his side that would hamper his mobility, but inwardly, he was rubbing his hands together. Scheming was difficult against monsters without intelligence, so Ace was delighted to find that although these weren’t particularly bright, they did generally respond to feints and baits.
It seems whatever fighting they did was a direct thing, that relied more directly on brawn that any level of cunning. Which was a pity, because the villain was a player who knew that every battle was one determined by wits.
When they came at him, it was all at once, their arms slashing towards him. After leaning left and right to avoid the most accurate attacks, Ace leaped up, doing a backflip to avoid the charge from the Death Cultist behind him. At the apex of his jump, he brought his legs down around the neck of the hapless charger, and then twisted, torquing the Death Cultist’s neck with enough force to bend steel.
Unfortunately, it didn’t snap, the beast simply gagged, and was flung sideways by his leg through, arcing beautifully into the air. Ace sighed, pleased with the display. The other Death CUltists looked at him warily.
Alana arrived on the scene, rapidly dispatching two as she cut her way into the dance, uninvited. She gave him a look. “Stop playing with your food.”
Earlier, Ace had elected to leave Dauntless out of this so Alana saw when he winked at her. She had no response to that and adopted a workmanlike efficiency as she began killing the others. Shaking his head, Ace joined her. It was for this reason that, for all her power, Alana would always be a henchmen. She just had no vision.
A notification flitted across Ace’s vision.
Randidly Ghosthound: Disengage and regroup. Also, keep a close eye on Aratta.
Ace felt a tug at the edges of his soul.