Randidly wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but when the air warped and shifted in front of him, his face immediately turned grim. On the other side of the wall, they had only seen a small grassland, and a house looking building at the center. Which was curious, but the Creature's antics had already done enough to convince Randidly that it was on another level, so he didn’t think much of it.
But as soon as the air started to ripple, blood rushed from his face, and he thought of 100 ways that this might have been a trap, and it would have been better to prepare longer or to plan more elegantly than just breaking down the front door. Then again, Randidly’s success rate with such plans wasn’t very high.
After a second of worry, Randidly’s frown deepened, because the air in front of him resolved itself to the same sloping grassland, except now there was one of those giant cathedrals they started in at the center. His eyes scanned the surrounding ground, but nothing seemed to stick out. Even when he extended his Aether senses, he couldn’t feel anything strange, aside from the normal currents of Aether. When they had broken the wall, there was a large formation that had stuttered to a stop and collapsed, but Randidly wasn’t sure of what effects it might have.
If anything, Randidly hoped it would make their advance somewhat easier.
Lucretia, as if she had overheard his thought, snorted. He mentally poked her to express his annoyance, which transformed her amusement into a full laugh.
Easy there, she thought back at him. It’s hard to maintain myself both helping your little soul spirits, and looking through what her formation did. Give me a few minutes.
Feeling that caution was perhaps the better part of valor, Randidly contented himself with sitting while the rest of the army behind him filed through the visual glamour that hid the cathedral. The Raid Party seemed rather bored, but when the Grey Death Cultist came through, it hissed in distaste.
“Anathema. A monument to the Eternal Coward.” It said, shaking its head. The rest of its people seemed to agree, looking at the giant cathedral with obvious hate.
Lucretia finished her examinations even before the entire group had crossed the barrier. Hmm… complicated, but I think that’s just because this Raid Dungeon is complicated. It served as an Aether divide, isolating this area from what was going on in the larger Dungeon; for example, if you had used the Death Key, it would have been stopped by that barrier. But-
‘But relatively fragile, I think I get it’ Randidly said, grinning. It was based upon the principle that these two sides weren’t meant to meet, repelling Aether. Aether flowed rather naturally around people, and basically, no one but Lyra seemed able to manipulate it at will, while not being special.
So the group continued, heading across the grassland to the cathedral. This too, mostly to make himself feel better, had its door busted down in a powerful kick empowered with the active of Yyrwood Flesh of Yggdrasil. The boost was enough that the 10-meter tall doors were blasted off their hinges, crashing into the huge empty space beyond. Although it was built on a grand scale, the cathedral itself was only made out of mundane materials, which took some of the satisfaction out of the strike, but only some.
But what Randidly saw beyond the doors destroyed the rest of it.
Rubble. Piles and piles of rubble. The Cathedral was laid out differently than the other that the Raid Party had been to before, this one being much more circular, with the large pillars at the outside, and a wide open space in the middle. There was enough space there to fit a football stadium, but it was filled with broken wood and metal, in strange, misshapen piles.
His annoyance mounting, Randidly walked over to a nearby pile, while Ace and Annie flitted out, content to explore. Eyes narrowing, Randidly picked up a steel girder and bent it into the shape of a small bird. This fucking rubble was fresh. Someone had destroyed something here.
Burning through his Mana without a care, Randidly reached out and dug up thousands of roots with his Plant Dominance. The plants wound their way up and through the debris and began dragging it off to the side. His eyes burning emerald, he pumped all of the stress and nerves into the spell, fueling it all. The rest of the Raid Party watched, wide-eyed, as the entire screen of rubble that had been in front of them was visibly moving, seeming to shift to the sides before their very eyes.
Randidly didn’t mind the eyes on him, he understood how it must look. But at this point, it wasn’t important to him for the others not to know the depths of his abilities. He had subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, refrained from going all out in front of the others, mostly because… this group was the closest thing Randidly had in terms of peers with a similar amount of power. But after watching them… it very rapidly became clear to Randidly that there was a marked difference between the top ends of their strength.
Perhaps given time, and Randidly fucking taking a huge nap, they would catch up. But for now…
The process was over in minutes, and Randidly stalked forward, prepared to find out what other curveballs the Creature had prepared, to mislead and disguise her goals. Still, even if this was exactly what the Creature wanted, Randidly couldn’t afford to allow it to have a place of safety, where it could grow stronger, and develop its own minions.
His hands tightened into fists. The type of minions that the Creature was using to invade his Soul Skill. If it could create those in the actual world, and not just through the Soul connection...
“Fuck,” Ace swore, leaning back and stepping to the side, allowing Randidly to move past him. When Randidly realized what it was, and what it probably meant, he shook his head wordless. How much fuckery did the Creature have time to make in this Raid Dungeon…? More than ever, he was committed to hunting it down now, while they were at the same time speed.
In front of Randidly was a hole. There were about 25 meters of stone, rocks, and dirt, but then below that, there was a light. As Randidly focused his eyes, he could see that there were clouds down there, even if thin ones, and below that a forest, probably a kilometer, straight down.
Almost as if the Creature had made a hole to a land before time.
“I bet there are fucking dinosaurs down there,” Clarissa said, echoing Randidly’s thoughts, and sounding a dozen times more cheery about the prospect than Randidly felt.
Tziech folded his arms in front of his chest, considering the 6 persons in front of him. “Speak, what are your worries?”
The predawn filtered down through the banners towards their group, standing alone in their main camp. Today was the day of the battle against the spirit invaders, which is what they began calling the other army, so no matter how much Tziech wanted to send his minions away and continue practicing with the gifts given to him by the Progenitor, he needed to assuage their worries. Without them, managing the army would be… difficult.
Not just in terms of numbers, but because they each had a legion of children behind them, which formed some of the core units of the Monster Army.
Maltaius, a fleshy, blob-like creature stood passively to the side, nearer to Tziech than the rest. His allegiance, at least, was clear, likely due to the fact the only reason he had risen to power was he was friends with Tziech before he had changed and remade himself. A dozen years ago, Maltaius would have called him Zeke, with a smile.
No longer, but that didn’t mean old loyalties had faded.
Rifman, the Lizardkin Elder, and Tillian the Darkspawn were also rather neutral, their arms folded. Their continued support Tziech really couldn’t do without. The Lizard corp was perhaps not the most powerful, but it was definitely the largest, and they were the most steady in the face of injuries. With their remarkable healing abilities, they could be cut in half in the morning and both sides would be ready to fight the enemy by the evening.
The other three were standing in a line, and at their center was Varga, the Wargmaster. Her eyes were soft golden crescents right now, as one of her supporters went to speak on her behalf. Immediately, Tziech’s eyes narrowed. He raised a hand.
“Let’s not play. Varga, state your piece.”
Although her two lackeys, Tziech’s so-called generals, frowned, Varga smiled.
“Thissss…. is why I always liked you. And supported your bid for Monster King,” She said sweetly.
Tziech was tired of the games, tired of the intrigue, of the subtle hints and the power plays at inopportune times. That was part of the reason that he had withdrawn. Which had given the Skinshifters the opening they needed.
His hands clenched into fists. They didn’t have time for this.
“We wonder… if the Progenitor that you viewed was legitimate.” Varga ultimately said, her eyes locked on him. “It just seems… so opportune. First, they blame the abominations’ crimes on us, making us pay, now they want to use our armies to drive the enemies away? What responsibility do we have to protect their realms? The monster kingdom’s-
Tziech couldn’t help it. He laughed.
Everyone gave him a surprised look, even Maltaius, a flash of warning in his eyes. Tziech knew what his old friend was thinking, that the Wargs were their heavies and the most powerful of the Monster armies in a direct confrontation. Without them, it would be very hard to assault the strange Soul Conduit that Lucretia indicated.
But… Tziech couldn’t be bothered to play with kid gloves anymore. He had been king too long, he suddenly realized. He needed to remember how it was to be young… and self-righteous. All at once, energy rushed through his body to his left arm, concentrating on that strange, dark power the Progenitor had given him.
A cold, purple-blue light began to shine from Tziech’s hand. It grew, and grew until Varga gasped and took a step back, and Tziech could feel the frost forming up his arm to his shoulder, the insidious numbness growing slowly.
Then, all at once, he dispersed it, letting the power fall away. Grinning at Varga, Tziech said, “We ride in an hour, Varga. You’ll take the vanguard. Or, after this is over, I will hunt you down and remind you of the real reason that I was chosen to be the King of Monsters.”
Then he turned and walked away.