Tatiana stumbled when they finally stopped. Her heart was pounding. How the hell were they moving so fucking fast? At one point, Tatiana had felt the air solidify around them, as though… as though they were about to break the sound barrier. They had slowed immediately afterward, but Tatiana had a strange impression that it wasn’t because Viking couldn’t go that fast, but rather he didn’t think that she could handle it.
After he had leaped up and launched themselves off a skyscraper, Viking had calmly landed and began stepping with such speed that they were quickly whisked off into darkness. Trees blurred as they streaked past. And it didn’t even seem like Viking was breaking a sweat.
The other thing she noticed on their journey was that Viking was avoiding the typical drone patrol routes. Tatiana had investigated them thoroughly, so she could protect the girls at the compound, but it seemed that Viking knew them even more intimately.
When they stopped, Tatiana needed several seconds to recover herself. Then she looked up at Viking. And then blinked.
There was something… different about him. They were standing in the darkness, but she could see him in profile. Or believed it was him. The figure in front of her… seemed distinctly different from the Viking that she remembered. Taller yes, but also sharper somehow, and more dangerous. Inwardly, Tatiana had to remind herself that he was an engineer, more than anything else. He wasn’t…. Wasn’t…
But he was more than that, wasn’t he? He could grab plasma out of the air. He defeated Hollar’s goons in less than ten seconds. He-
The figure stepped forward, and Tatiana stilled. This was not Viking.
“Sorry about that, it was a little rough.” The figure said, scratching his ear. In the darkness, his features were still blurry. Except for his eyes, which burned emerald. “But once it started…”
The figure trailed off. Before Tatiana could understand what was going on, two figures appeared out of the darkness. One of them was Tykes, the other was Bruya. All Tatiana saw was a slight frown on Bruya’s face, and there was a rush of air. The figure took another step, and suddenly it was Viking next to her. He spared her a quick smile, and then he turned to Dinesh.
“None,” Dinesh replied. Viking nodded.
“Alright. Thank you for the wonderful night, despite the ending, Tatiana. But now I need to go.”
Tatiana smiled in spite of herself. “You were dozing off for half of it, don’t lie.”
Viking winced. The man wearing the mask of Viking winced. Was the entirety of Baloo Erickson a facade? “Yea well… I suppose cocktail parties aren’t my thing.”
Then the man who was a man who she thought she knew was off into the darkness. But he was a fake. Probably? Likely.
Before they attacked the base, Randidly paused and focused on his Skills. The Lava Golem Skill was extremely useful as both an attention sink and as a tactical existence. But the problem was that much of the commands it could understand were general. It would fight where he directed, and as he directed. It seemed that it had a template of combat experience that was based on his own.
But the problem with that was that the Lava Golem was not Randidly, in both good and bad ways. It did not have the deft utilization of the spear that he had. Meanwhile, he was essentially indestructible because his body was made of molten metal. Physically, he could rip through the opposition with just his heat and Strength, in a way Randidly would never attempt.
So Randidly focused on his Skills and considered the shape of Lava Golem inside of himself. He felt its energies and vibrations inside of himself. Then, after he used Plant Dominance to clear a small cave to hide the light, he summoned a Lava Golem.
The thing pulled itself up out of the ground, a humanoid composed of pure lava. Very rapidly, the heat in the cave rose. However, to a Randidly who had both Chosen of Fire and Fire Resistance, the heat meant little. He peered at the creation with a powerful intensity. They were bonded by Mana, and Randidly reached out and pressed with his Willpower to seize control of that bond. The binding trembled but did not shift
Randidly frowned and pushed harder. Then he poured more Mana into it, but the Mana simply splashed and trembled in the air. The construct he had created wasn’t able to handle the increased Mana, and it simply went to waste. Annoyed, Randidly kicked the dirt.
Mana behaved too much like water for this to work. It flowed into the path of least resistance. When it was shaped, it also provided power, but it had no substance for him to seize on. After a pause, Randidly’s gaze towards the Lava Golem intensified. If Mana wouldn’t work, then…?
Aether was much, much easier to manipulate than Mana, and it snaked towards the Lava Golem. At first, it swirled around the construct as if unsure of what to do. But then Randidly focused and it stabbed into the Lava Golem’s body. For a second, nothing happened.
Then the Lava Golem began to tremble.
Congratulations! You have created the Skill “Blessing of a -------: Avatar (L) Lvl 1”! Would you like to learn this Skill? Y/N
Randidly blinked. The Lava Golem was trembling harder now, its body positively buzzing with the Aether that had been thrust into it. On its surface, the molten rock began to bubble.
Initially, Randidly reached to press no. It sounded like an interesting Skill, but it would take up one of his remaining Skill slots and it had a very specific application. Setting aside the strange blanks, an Avatar generally was a physical manifestation of some greater entity. Likely, it also allowed Randidly to have the control over his minions that he desired. But at the same time… how often would he use such a Skill?
The bubbling grew more pronounced as Randidly paused.
The worst part was that he wouldn’t be able to see the details of the Skill unless he chose to learn it. There were perhaps other benefits, it was a Legendary Skill after all, but without knowing them, Randidly didn’t think it was wise to spend one of his slots on this Skill. After all, controlling minions was useful, but ultimately his own body was the ultimate weapon for him. Having Avatars seemed unnecessary.
But as Randidly reached to press no, he felt something inside of him tremble. The Skill Weaver of the Threads of Fate activated. It wavered, subtly pressing against him. Taking this Skill was a good idea, it seemed to suggest. Frowning, Randidly considered the feeling.
There was a danger suggested that felt present. Did this mean this attack on the base… would be much easier with this Skill? But the suggestion from the Threads of Fate was such a nebulous thing, perhaps-
Randidly moved his finger farther towards the No. The feeling of imminent danger grew stronger. Randidly gained a Level in the Skill. He sighed theatrically. How far would this push it, he wondered?
He moved his finger closer, and abruptly he was sweating. The air seemed to be screaming at him. It was like a radio had just come into focus, and suddenly Randidly could see a fraction of the distant future. This Skill was vital. Without it…
Still, it irked him. The whole concept of the Skill irked Randidly. That it could shape his growth was frustrating. A part of Randidly just seemed to sigh at the weight of it all. For the first time in a long time, due to this strange Skill, Randidly felt afraid. It was an existential fear, like without this Skill, his chosen Path will amount to nothing. So Randidly’s hand shifted towards the Yes.
But there was another part of Randidly, one that he had learned from Shal. It was the part of him that enabled him to persist despite the fact that he was alone in a Dungeon when the System arrived. It let him fight, and fight, and fight, and struggle when Shal threw him into an otherworldly prison where time blurred. It let Randidly form a Skill able to match one of the most powerful people in Shal’s world, if only for a moment.
Randidly paused and moved his finger back to the No. He would not learn this Skill. His instincts screamed against him. His finger moved forward. It moved forward until the trembling in his body held him still. He would die. If he pressed this, the Weaver of Fate screamed, he would die. There would be terrible consequences. He couldn’t- Honestly, he physically couldn’t. His very being fought against him, going along with the will of the Skill.
“Fuck you,” Randidly said. Instinctively, he activated Indomitable Will of Yggdrasil. Then, he formed a claw of Aether and ripped the offending Skill to shreds.