Drake looked around at the surrounding 20 men and women, the cream of East End, as they smiled cockily at him.
“...You really want to fight us all at once?” Zither said, his smile long and lazy on his face.
Drake nodded solemnly, his eyes scanning the group around him. At first, he wasn’t sure what to make of the Ghosthound’s strange speech about power. When Sydney appeared to be sleeping when Drake returned, he decided to check to see how much of it was true.
Even now, as he looked at those around him, he noticed the way they were standing, with two of them close enough to Drake that, should he attack suddenly, they would likely be dead before the true fighting started. It was an easy thing, Drake supposed not to understand implicitly the range of a lunging man with a sword, or of a monster with claws, but it was something that he would see corrected, regardless of their performance against him in a group.
“Fine, fine… but do you want a half hour to get your Bone Armor ready?” Zither asked, casually moving to a peg on the wall to get training gear and a wooden sword to practice with.
Grimacing, Drake pressed down, using every ounce of Willpower to accelerate the process. Around him, out of his pores, liquid bone flowed, joining together and shaping itself almost instantly, forming gauntlets, greaves, pauldrons, and a helmet. Within 30 seconds, Drake’s entire body was covered in the Bone Armor and he let out a long breath. The 20 guards were frozen, regarding him with shock.
He supposed he shouldn’t feel too smug, most of this simply had to do with having higher Stats. But Drake couldn't deny that using the Skill, day after day, as a defense against death had sharpened his utilization to heights he would have previously considered impossible.
“No need,” Drake said simply, drawing his great sword of bone. “And don’t bother with putting the gear on, I will leave you in one piece. I will attack in 10 seconds. Ready yourselves.”
Neveah delighted in her new body, but it was relatively easy for Randidly to tear her away from experimentation and towards his inner world, where Lucretia waited. Neveah seemed determined that after this, however, they would head into Donnyton, now that she ‘looked like a people’. Randidly wasn’t sure how he could break it to her that she, in fact, didn’t look much like a person at all, so he said nothing.
If anything, her transformation made her look more fearsome, as the Bone Wyrm head was pasted onto a vaguely humanoid body. But it was true that her size enabled her to move through most human doors, which had hitherto been taboo, as she could only shatter them, not go through them.
They found Lucretia floating in the sky above Randidly’s Soul Skill. When the Monster King had sacrificed his life, he had severely damaged the Creature, and her minions had lost their guidance, often attacking each other. This allowed the allied armies to crush the remnants, driving them away.
Even now, below their floating forms, the people were beginning to rebuild, fixing all the damage that the Skin Shifters and then the army that had followed had caused. Even without the Monster King, the monsters stayed in line for the rebuilding efforts, the wolf woman monster leading them to assist. It would only last for a few more weeks, as previously agreed, but for now, there was peace in his Soul.
There was more than peace, however, there was a transformation that would occur, Randidly could sense, once he had time to think it through and shape it. But for now, he turned his attention to Lucretia.
“You’ve looked through the memories already?” He asked.
She nodded. “Some of them. But they are messy and fragmented, so it’s hard. The Thief gathered them as consistently as she could, but she didn’t… want to stay in that place long. Not while… the Monster King’s body watched her, she said. She did, however, bring the body back with her.”
Randidly didn’t know what to say to that. He felt profoundly responsible for his death, in a way he never had before. He had killed, sure, but he had never convinced someone else that it was worth it to die for him. Well, perhaps he had done that to all of his Soul Skill. But with the Monster King, the convincing was a very personal thing. Randidly had come down and spoken to him, given him the tools he needed to carry out the task of burning the Creature from the inside out.
For that sacrifice, Randidly swore to himself to care more constantly for his internal world. They deserved much better than the cursory investigation he had given them previously.
Held in Lucretia’s hands was a bowl, and inside of it, there were numerous small gems. They were thick and dark things, forest green, maroon, navy blue, and when Randidly reached out to touch them, he felt them flicker and twitch, and then slide into his fingers to become a part of him.
They weren’t easy to piece apart, as Lucretia said, and they hit him in a huge wave of images and thoughts and emotions. Although they weren’t his, and they weren’t overpowering in any way, they were certainly compelling. It was almost chilling, how he could see from its- well, truly her- perspective how right she was in what she was doing.
The why was very fuzzy, but Randidly could clearly sense how she wished to strike back at the System while keeping her own involvement a secret.
When he couldn’t figure out what the memories meant the first time, Randidly watched them again, and again. He had a fast-forward function, effectively, and when he reached the end, he could restart the flood, but that was it.
The first things he began noticing as he went through the memories over and over again, Neveah peering over his metaphysical shoulder, were the insights into Aether Manipulation. Multiple times Randidly could see the Creature as she shaped Aether to accomplish oddly specific tasks. Unlike his assumptions. She relied heavily on trial and error, but she seemed to possess an unerring intuition in regards to Aether, and after a few tries, she would create the desired result.
These he filed away for study later, because it would greatly benefit his own Skills. For now, however, that information was less valuable.
The next arc that he began to notice was his own. He could sense that the Creature he faced was but a single of thousands of incarnations spread throughout the Cohort to experiment. He could feel how the Creature moved through every part of his growth, providing him with Skills to overcome obstacles, and then acting as a constant obstacle that drove him beyond his limits.
It was somewhat sickening, feeling the Creature’s amusement as he struggled against her, and her sparks of delight when he succeeded. He felt her curiosity towards him and what he was doing, but his slow growth, within values that were normal for the System in her opinion, made her conclude he wouldn’t be a weapon she could use.
Strangely, the Creature was thankful for Randidly’s actions in a lot of ways, as it had formed the idea of putting a Village in a Dungeon in a failed Zone through his antics. That information she had even felt important enough to spread it to her other incarnations, should their own attempts fail. For that one successful outcome, she deemed Randidly to be… useful.
Randidly shivered everytime he passed through that memory.
The one bright note of satisfaction for Randidly during the stream of memories was the moment when the Creature realized what he had done, sneaking Tellumurite into the soul of her incarnation. It quickly grew blurry from there, but she felt true fear, a deep dread at that moment.
Such was the strength of emotion that the more Randidly felt that memory, the more his amusement waned. It made him remember that the Creature was a sadistic sociopath, but beyond her, there was something even more monstrous: the System itself. The Creature would not be this way if not molded by the System, although he wasn’t sure of the exact nature of how that had happened.
As these memories were just from the incarnation watching Randidly, there was no way to know. But there was more information here.
Specifically, the Creature was oddly fascinated by the human's Classes. Not in an impressed way, but in an almost dumbfounded way. Most races, she knew from her previous memories in her true body, had very little difference among the Classes that they had access to, much in the way Shal’s world was primarily variations on Spearmen.
There were certainly those that had Classes relating to different weapons, or elements, but there were generally only a dozen or so archetypes, and then variations on those.
Humans, on the other hand, seemed to delight in having different, unique, Classes, even when they were relatively less powerful than the archetypes. Of course, there were 1% of Classes that were so absurdly powerful that it likely made up for it, but the Creature found this variety to be exceedingly strange.
She speculated it had something to do with the innate creativity of humans, and how their culture before the System seemed obsessed with arbitrary definitions and making things up. But she also could see how it was the result of something much more deeply secreted away. It was likely caused by the same thing that allowed Randidly to subtly warp the System around him, changing the rules in new and interesting ways.
Either way, from her communications with other incarnations, the human Zones had yielded 5 positive results already. This was incomparable to most worlds, where she could waste her time and find nothing.
These communications with other incarnations were often the messiest memories and required repeated careful study, but the deeper Randidly went, the worse his mood became. Because it was clear that there were humans that had capitulated to the Creature, and submitted themselves to her experimentation.
It was a somewhat sobering realization. Although they wouldn’t know that Randidly had defeated this incarnation perhaps, the others knew of him, and they might have their own perfected tools, ready to fight against him to sacrifice the Earth for her greater cause.
Closing his eyes to the memories for a second, Randidly sighed. He had pulled up a bit of the weeds, but if he wanted to keep his Earth safe, he would need to go after the entire root system. And that would mean killing more humans, those foolish enough to sell their species out to a fickle god.