This is a trap, Lucretia whispered, as Randidly smashed another one of the guards to the side with roots. He said nothing in response, his attention focused on the delicate task of incapacitating the man without killing him. Although it probably wasn’t super important to be gentle with these enemies, Randidly still didn’t have an easy time killing them.
He had, a few, those that surprised him with their physical capabilities, leaping out in ambushes, and the hard, harsh part of Randidly took over in those frantic seconds. He eviscerated them with roots, the damage, turning their bodies to swiss cheese. But then he could almost feel their spirits float up to him, sinking into his soul, becoming a part of the bitter weight of his responsibility.
The ire of the dead was a hard thing to handle, but Randidly bore it stoically.
It made sense, that their strength would be that of his fellow Raid Party members. In terms of straight physical capabilities, they might even be superior. It was only in the variety and rarity of Classes that Randidly felt confident in his compatriots. And also, in the tenacious ability to stay alive.
Although these individuals were freshly Classed, there was something… profoundly dead about them. Their eyes were dull, and as their live drained out, they said nothing, as if everything that needed to be conveyed was already there.
In one instance, a man shot an arrow at Randidly, which was deftly dodge in an offhand sidestep. Frowning, Randidly directed his attention, causing Spearing Roots to rip upwards through the foundation of a house, heading up towards a female archer on the 6th floor.
The arrival of his skill was extremely loud, and the female archer looked calmly down at the floor before continuing to knock an arrow and aim, even though it was clear to her that death was rushing upwards towards her from below. Her aim was true, in the sense that the arrow sped rapidly towards Randidly, only to have him dodge again. This time, there was a bright glow about the arrow, and when it crashed into the building behind it, there was a loud clap of thunder, and the whole thing was ignited in a second.
But, a second later, as she was aiming her third arrow, the roots arrived, lashing her apart.
Her gaze was cold, and not unfriendly, but somewhat resentful in a way that set Randidly’s teeth on edge. Her expression, one of eyes brows knit together over a tight-lipped mouth, remained with him as he continued deeper into the strange city, towards the seashell construct.
Randidly wasn’t bothering for stealth at this point, bursting through ambushes, crushing resistance, boring holes right through buildings to arrive at his destination in the quickest possible manner. Because although the Creature had hundreds of years to prepare, it only had 9 days since the Village was founded to leverage its advantage.
In Randidly’s opinion, the important steps had already been taken, must necessarily have been taken, by this point. But there would be a refining process, one that would be expedited by hundreds of years of preparation, but not skipped over entirely.
In a nice surprise, Randidly lopped the head off a particularly rapid assassin with his spear and received a notification.
Congratulations! You have reached Level 15! +5 Stats distributed between Vitality, Perception, Resist, Intelligence, and Control, +3 Free Stats! +1 Stat to a Mental Stat. +1 to a Physical Defense Stat. +1 to a Mental Support Stat. +1 Control. +20 Health, +24 Mana, +23 Stamina, +.5 to all Regenerations! +1 to Health and Stamina Regeneration! +20 Progenitor’s Influence. You have gained the Skill Aether Understanding (A) Lvl 1. The “Path of the Patron 0/500” is now open to you.
Aether Understanding (A): Aids in the understanding of Aether. Will be able to identify and understand Aether constructs created by others. Effects increase and become more varied as Skill Level increases.
In a very straightforward manner, the other reward for this Level was a Path, one that Randidly had some intriguing possibilities surrounding it but one that was likely something he would put off for a while. Although with the way he kept obtaining interesting paths… who knew when he would finally have the time and Skill leveling available to work through them all.
But the more eye-catching reward was the Aether Understanding Skill, both because of its use, and because it confirmed a deep, dark fear that Randidly had held in his heart for a long time; that the Creature had been involved in the creation of his Class. Randidly could think of no other natural way for him to have access to Aether related Skills. He had done his best to ignore that possibility, focusing on the tasks at hand, but the process of moving through this city was oddly mindless, giving his mind the chance to dig as these insecurities.
Because what did it mean if the Creature was the one who gave him these Skills? If it was responsible for even this, then-
Abruptly, Randidly thought of something, and asked Lucretia, “Did you give Tziech the package I asked you to?”
Yes, came her response, and Randidly nodded sagely. It was a gamble because now he was banking on his Soul Skills success against the invaders, but it was probably worth the risk if it paid off. It might finally get him the answers that had been so desperately eluding him…
If the Creature had pushed his Class towards having the ability to interact with Aether, it wanted him to get more powerful, and to develop ways to fight against the System. That, generally, made sense, as the Creature was clearly very anti-System, and his Zone 33 appeared to just be a casualty of its quest to avoid the System’s eyes.
After all, the Creature had empowered him. Sure, to its own ends, but those ends did involve the concentration of Aether on Earth. Simply, the methods that the Creature had employed would have too many casualties for Randidly to be satisfied with it. Which was why the thought of leaving the Creature here, with another 500 years or so, was unthinkable; what if she decided to just burst out of the dungeon, enacting another plan that Randidly wasn’t ready for, that would sacrifice Earth?
At the same time, the Creature needed a source of Aether, which was likely why it had taken the Regalia, bringing Randidly into its base. Only then, would it either obtain the coin he had from the early days or cause him to create a new one, giving it the Aether it truly needed.
Randidly’s thoughts were interrupted as he arrived in front of the giant Aether manipulation sculpture. At the base, there was a wide ramp that led up into the strange building's insides. The entire thing was lined with golden busts of Gemma. In spite of himself, and the situation, Randidly snorted, then he began to climb the ramp.
The closer he got, the more he realized that the scale of the thing was far beyond his imagining. The inner sculpture was so large that a smaller city could fit within its space. The other notable feature of it was that the closer he drew, the more the air began to howl. Although it was primarily designed to manipulate the Aether in the air in some way, it also drew the air along with it, causing strange wind currents in the air above him.
Randidly took several terse minutes to study the Aether, part of him impatient to continue on, but Randidly recognized that was his stress, and not that a few extra minutes would have much meaning. He gained several Levels in Aether Understanding, but he was still unable to figure out what the thing was supposed to do. It seemed to be skimming just the top bit of Aether from everything around, but then it rejected that skimmed portion and only allowed the bottom portion into space.
However, when it came to understanding the purpose… Randidly was still a fair bit off from that.
The inner hall was done in obsidian, and Randidly crossed a walkway that appeared to be made from cast iron, only to look down. Below him was a deep, deep hole, leading down into darkness. Across from him, on the opposite side of the circle, was a ramp, one that spiraled downwards slowly, rotating around the outside of the middle circle, also disappearing into the darkness.
Randidly felt a pang in his heart; this would have likely been much easier if he had brought the Grey Death Cultist into this thing, to help with this nonsense. But, it’s not like Randidly didn’t have his own tools.
Focusing his will, Randidly pulled on the nearby plant life, bringing out something in the shape of a Root Spiderling, only much larger. Then he enlarged it further, double strengthening the legs so that they were thick with vines and roots, springy and tough, so thick that they dwarfed most trees.
Then, while he sat on his back, Randidly focused again, and a small cage of roots surrounded him, with just enough room to see through. Then, just for good measure, he strengthened the legs once more, pumping more and more Mana into them.
With emerald eyes, Randidly grinned and had his small contraption leap off of the walkway and begin its descent.
Although he probably could have just dead stopped at the bottom, Randidly didn’t really see the purpose of finding out whether or not his body was strong enough to survive a drop that had him reaching terminal velocity, and instead had the spider thing leap towards the wall, its legs latching briefly onto the solid patches of wall and propelling itself towards the other time, so that it fell, but its speed was continually checked.
There was the awkward moment that Randidly leaped towards a spot where the outside was spiraling downward, and he had to elongate the legs, pressing and launching again in quick succession, carefully controlling the exertions of strength so that the spider thing wouldn’t be set to spinning.
Not that dizziness was a real issue, but it would be incredibly annoying to stop, once it had started.
For the first time in a long time, while maintaining an accounting for so many different variables during the fall, Randidly felt the limit of his current Control. Recently, it had been so high that he hadn’t even need to question whether he could manage certain tasks. But now, doing this…
To his surprise, it took almost 3 minutes of falling to reach the bottom. Randidly said a very thankful prayer that he hadn’t decided to try and walk down here. Just imagining how long that would take made him realize how long it must have taken to dig this hole this deep.
At the bottom, there was a wide bronze door, and beyond that, there was a room shaped like the bottom of the Roman arena: there was a dirt floor, and the walls were lined with dropped portcullises, behind which monsters undoubtedly waited. The walls around those opening were intricately carved, depicting strange monsters and the sharp, angular form that was somewhat similar to angels. Pictured front and center was some sort of slender dog with bat wings.
Two figures stood in the center of the arena, waiting. One of the figures smiled at his arrival. “Ah, so we can finally begin.”