There were several sharp shocks about this statement. The first, and most pressing of which, Randidly blurted out without even thinking. “You can speak about the Calamity?”
He had, for so long, dealt with forces unable to speak because of the watch of the System, where it would warp the language they were speaking, even between two individuals that spoke the same original language. Although Randidly was aware that the Creature had made changes to the speaking software, somehow, he figured that was only able to overwrite what a person said, delivering a different message, not somehow bypassing the System’s block on information regarding the Calamity-
But then Randidly’s eyes widened because he considered another possibility.
The Creature adopted one of her usual smirks. “You have undoubtedly noticed that there are… perhaps two Systems in place. Your antics, actually made me realize it was done in such a sloppy manner that it can be bypassed so easily. Yes, we can speak of the Calamity; it is the way by which the true System, determines what to do with those planets that it absorbs into its greedy maw.”
Even though Randidly was excited to hear news of the Calamity, he was careful about how much of the information she was giving he would hold as true. Even so, he put down all of it to memory, so that he could ascertain the veracity later. But what was interesting, and slightly disturbing, was that Randidly wasn’t able to bring up his menus currently.
The Raid Party chat had been silent for a while, and Randidly had been worried. It turned out, it had just been unable to penetrate through this… Exofact. Which reassured him in a way, but also made his heart sink. The Creature would have known that this radio silence would initiate, and if it planned to make a move, it would have gone immediately after he had gone out of range.
Too late to worry about that now, however. What Randidly did wonder was how you could go on Paths without the menus. Would you just gravitate towards one instinctually? That made a certain amount of sense, in one way, but on the other hand, how much PP would you put into a Path? A point every time you got one? Would it take a while sometimes to determine what was next, if you didn’t take any significant actions?
It was fine for now, as his Soul Skill turmoil had stopped him dead, in terms of upgrading his paths. Could PP get through right now?
Randidly didn’t plan on remaining here long enough to find out.
“What are you so afraid of?” Randidly asked, curious, but also more interested in keeping the Creature talking than letting it think of a way to blindside him. Randidly, too, was moving to have an advantage over the monster, but that was now in the hands of his little minions. Stalling was his current game.
“Heh, a long-coming fate that it would be difficult to understand. There can be compromises between us, you know. But you must fail the 3rd test. It would be even better if you would be willing to fail the second, but I can understand why that would be… a point of contention, for you.
“As I said, the Calamity is the System’s way of judging what stage a planet should be placed at. If you fail the first test, the planet is deemed trash, and the System pulls away, leaving a planet as it was before, as if the System had never arrived.”
“What about all the people who died?” Randidly asked, something rising in his heart. It was half hope, and… if he was being honest with himself, half worry.
The Creature seemed amused, coming back into her positive humor as she rubbed his face in his lack of knowledge. “They remain dead. And before you become too enamored in a prospect, know that this comes with a rather bloody cleanse of all those touched by the System’s taint. I suspect… you would end up being the only remaining human afterward if such a thing interests you.”
Randidly’s blood turned cold. The Creature continued speaking. “...that and newborns, I suppose. Those without a Class. If the first test is passed, then your planet becomes eligible to have its people populate dungeons. If the 2nd test is passed, you become a ‘Strife’ planet. That is what your teacher’s, Shal’s planet is. These planets form the main base of energy for the System to expand. The hatred, the twisted images… all those fuel the System in growing larger.”
“And the third test?” Randidly spared Cyndra another glance. The entire discussion, and then in the brief Aether confrontation, she had stood, completely still. The longer such a frozen state lasted… the more Randidly felt nervous about what it meant about her.
“If you pass the 3rd, you earn the dubious honor of having your planet judged for anything of use to the System proper. Specifically, armor, Classes, Skills, or Paths. It is constantly searching for something better than itself, to face the great, monstrous bogeyman that the System sees as standing beyond its borders...the problem is that the contents of the report Octavius Shrike will release, should you pass the 3rd test of the Calamity. You have created your own Class, with a well-documented process. That will intrigue the System.”
“You… speak as though the System is a person…” Randidly said slowly.
The Creature just smiled and ignored the question. Instead, she said. “There is a larger problem, as well, that anyone higher than Octavius will notice, should they see the report generated on you. You possess at least a dozen Skills that you should not. Some of them can be explained away by your… unique circumstances, but there are two glaring red flags on you that will earn you the highest scrutiny. The first…. Your initial time in a dungeon.”
Randidly had expected to hear this for a long time, but still, his mouth twitched, almost unwilling to admit it. “That… was because of you.”
“Ha, again, you seem to take it so personally.” The Creature said, wrinkling its nose. “I did this for about 10,000 people on 10,000 planets, sending them into dungeons beyond their level, usually those that possessed other dungeon divers. The goal was to bring in Skills beyond a normal person’s means to the early System, and have normal strife result in my empowered warriors attacking and taking over a Village. I have… long exhausted other avenues, and I was curious how the System would react. As you can expect, tens of millions died, without any results to speak of. You were… one of the more interesting iterations, I must admit.”
“And the second red flag?” Randidly asked, frustrated how tired his voice sounded. To think, so many people had been thrown in, beyond their depth, to only die, on a whim of this being… Without a significant amount of luck spawning next to a safe zone, Randidly would be the same, dead in a random dungeon on another world.
“Also my work. The Skill, Touch from Beyond.” The Creature said, sounding annoyed. “I thought I would be clever, and slip it in, but now… I could have covered for the first, but not the second. Touch from Beyond… that is the touch of Nether. It is the breath of the boogeymen the System fears. I am not sure if they will assume it is me, or whether… or whether the imaginary enemies have finally reared their ugly heads, but…”
The Creature looked up sharply. “Perhaps… you are right. I have kept you in the dark for far too long. Although we are not peers… you are beyond my understanding in certain ways. A man cannot fathom the dimensions available to an ant. Take this information on the Calamity as a show of good faith. If you leave now, I give you my word that I will help you pass the first two tests of the Calamity. But we must fail the third.”
We? Randidly thought, wonderingly, surprised how quickly the Creature changed its tune. In addition, this pleading… this strange compromise so suddenly…
If the Creature was telling the truth, Randidly could see how he would be tempted by the offer. They would find themselves at constant war, based on what Randidly knew of Shal’s world, but how was that much different than they had been before the System arrived? The tension, the constant war… at least in this instance, their enemies would be those from other worlds. Humanity, as a whole, would be working together for the greater good.
Randidly slowly and deliberately shook his head. All of this was based upon information the Creature provided. It painted a pretty picture, but he had no proof it was telling the truth. If it had lied or omitted something, and humanity became doomed because of this…
In addition, he would need to leave now, and let the Creature continue whatever activities it was conducting here. By now, he was thoroughly spooked by Cyndra’s stillness. He would not let this develop further, not when he had the hopes of crushing this before it became a persistent problem.
Randidly produced his spear from his spatial ring and adopted a stance, spreading his bare feet on the dirt floor. The three Aether probs surged forward, aiming for his Soul Space with malicious intent. In addition, Cyndra’s feet struck the floor, and her body hurtled forward towards him.