Chrysanthemum roared as Randidly turned to attack Thea once more. She still hadn’t recovered from being struck by his previous move. However now, he was out for blood. Strike after strike rained down on her. The whole while, Randidly didn’t breath. He couldn’t. It was an existential dread that was squeezing him. The fear that he would get in the habit of killing people who got in the way of his vision in the world. And yet…
To him, it seemed that a world where these people could be tortured like this is a much darker place than one where he could possibly abuse his power. He could not simply set aside his ability to accomplish so much because by accomplishing so much he became a monster. Instead… he needed to face those possibilities directly.
Even with the burden crushing him-
Like a freight train, Chrysanthemum was barreling down on him. The weight might be entirely psychological, but it was so heavy it felt like he could barely move. Yet his hand inexorably moved forward. Because the weight-
Randidly blinked. Then he smiled with his teeth as he pressed all the weight together, tightening and tightening it. This is what he needed. Not the weight, but instead that feeling of stepping beyond a line. Because as a sun slowly grew hotter, it was a gradual process. But that moment that the weight of the sun grew too powerful at once and it collapsed… it happened instantly.
The heat collapsed into something more. It stopped being simply heat and became weight, and then the weight became nothing. Randidly felt himself flowing along with his image in the process, seeing the sun abruptly start to collapse inward into a point. And that point settled into the tip of his spear.
A line was crossed, and the fragile trellises that were hitherto sufficient became kindling.
Congratulations! You have gained access to the Skill As the Sun Stills! Due to your successful repair and powerful image, the Skill has become an Ancient Rarity Skill!
The point of his spear that met Chrysanthemum’s wrathful charge. There was a moment where the world stilled along with them as Randidly activated his Skill to its fullest effect. He felt its usage draining him rapidly, but he pushed even harder, Stamina flew away from him as he condensed more and more weight into the strike.
His spear slowed to the point it wasn’t moving, and Chrysanthemum smashed into the spear tip. There was a rumbling. The bones of her shoulder and arm cracked and splintered. She was thrown backward by a superior mass. There was a crack, and a wave of force spread outwards. Water in the nearby area splashed outwards in a wide circle.
While she was thrown backward, Chrysanthemum whined. Randidly himself staggered, feeling abruptly lightheaded. Her strike wasn’t enough to shake him but in fact… the combination of the Stamina usage and feeling so heavy followed by an impossible lightness. Randidly stared at his spear in wonder. The weight was gone. He carried it with him now, but… he controlled it. It was a line he could cross whenever he needed to.
Using that move had taken over a thousand Stamina. That combined with Randidly’s strange wonder towards how light he felt, gave the strange obsidian man time to strike several times with his battle ax. Randidly didn’t even bother to dodge, it was nothing Sulfur couldn’t handle. And as the blows hit Randidly, he had regained enough Mana to unleash an Incendiary Bolt to his chest.
That staggered him, and Randidly could strike three more times, before surveying the area. The fight had lasted almost 30 seconds, and now Father Foster was handless and the obsidian man staggered away. Chrysanthemum had collapsed and was struggling to stand. Now was the time to end this.
Thea had Father Foster over her shoulder and was running through the knee-deep water. As Chrysanthemum saw Randidly move, she struggled to her feet, shifting unhappily as she glared back at him. Although he didn’t have as much Stamina as he would have liked, he started dashing after Thea. He didn’t have time to spare.
He gained ground rapidly on her, the heaviness of the moment coming back to him. At his call, it would rise to become an irresistible force. He didn’t have enough Stamina for the Skill, but with his and Neveah’s Stamina Regeneration filling both of their pools, he would have it soon.
It was only about 10 meters from his root wall that Thea stopped and whirled to face him. Father Foster was struggling in her arms, but to Randidly’s surprise, she was smiling.
“Too late,” Thea said simply. And that was when something ripped a huge hole in the wall that Randidly was maintaining. Without even looking, he could feel the surge of water above him, about to crush them and separate their bodies from each other. Thea would get away.
The weight settled around his shoulders once more. Deific Mien of Yggdrasil and Cruel Indignation of Yggdrasil sang inside him. With his aura smashing outwards, Randidly became acutely aware of his heart hammering in his chest. His hands tightened further on the shaft of his spear. Although he felt the dreadful irony in using this Skill to try and kill her, Randidly whispered “Gallant Intervention.”
For a very small Stamina Cost, his speed abruptly quintupled in those last few feet towards Thea. There was a small part of Randidly that registered with shock that it was actually Father Foster who triggered the Skill, but he couldn’t parse that apart right now. He drained his rings and Neveah dry of Stamina and used As the Sun Stills.
The weight was like cloth, sliding down to settle around his spear. It seemed to move glacially slow, but Thea’s eyes widened with horror. Above him, two figures were shooting down, likely to stop him.
They didn’t make it in time. His strike hit Thea and crushed her skull and shattered most of the bones in her chest and shoulders. It was like watching a car rip through a paper wall. Father Foster was over her shoulder and simply hit with the resulting shock wave, but was still had her torso crushed into a paste by that same strike. Strangely, as he looked at both of the bodies, Randidly felt… nothing. No satisfaction, no guilt, not anything special. It was an unmemorable day.
There was a strange wrongness to them that Randidly couldn’t put his finger on. But he had no time to think about it more.
Afterward, he looked up at the two people who had arrived. One was clearly a monster of some sort, with tentacles rather than arms. But the second…
Randidly frowned. It was a man who he didn’t recognize, but Randidly’s eyes could see that he possessed a wrongness as well. And as his eyes pressed, Randidly could suddenly see he was wearing an image to look like a human. And below that was only a skeleton.
The tentacle creature shot its limbs outwards to gather up the remnants of the bodies and Randidly spun his spear to block it. But then the skeleton man struck.
“Heroic Charge!” The skeleton man smashed downwards, with a raised bastard sword. To Randidly’s surprise, the man’s blow was heavy, so much so that Randidly was knocked backward. He was almost comically easily knocked back. It was a mental mistake really; after using As the Sun Stills he felt strangely frail and light. It would take some getting used to before he could compensate for it.
Their eyes met right before the water hit, and Randidly felt himself being carefully judged. Then there was only the press of water, and most of Randidly’s other senses were knocked away by the concussive force. He reached out with his Aether Perception and gripped at them, but as he felt them moving farther away, they just became slippery.
It was strange, but their energy signature… it somehow seemed difficult to grasp. It only took Randidly around 5 seconds to gather himself, but at that point, they were gone.
For several long seconds, he stood at the bottom of the lake, furious. But then he slowly relaxed and released a sigh. Even the bulky body of Chrysanthemum was gone, beyond the limits of his senses. But perhaps she had died when Thea had?
Either way, it wasn’t necessary to chase them. Randidly had accomplished his two goals. Father Foster, at least the experiment leading version, was dead. Thea was also…
It was a quiet swim to the surface. Even though he wanted to, he couldn’t take it easy yet. There was still much more to accomplish.
Hank looked around the room, wary. It looked like the domain of a feral child. One who enjoyed geometric mazes. Drawings of different varieties of mazes covered the walls. They were simple and complex, and the filled the room with a strange sense of vertigo. The room was small, in a hidden area behind a brick wall in the cellar of the school. The man was hooked to life support systems, which Hank deactivated.
One by one, he and Thaddeus pulled the different plugs. The man in the bed was asleep, but as they worked, his brow began to tense.
Truly, the man looked familiar. He looked like the pictures of Dr. Thomas Karman that Hank had seen, yet different somehow. Like this was a version made out of a different color of paper mache.
Even though this man was unconscious until only a minute ago, Hank still kept his pistol trained on him. Thaddeus followed his lead.
Right when he opened his eyes, the man seemed puzzled, but after he looked at Hank and Thaddeus and their distraught states, he seemed to realize something. The man smiled up at them, and Hank was taken aback by how much genuine warmth was in the expression.
“So.” The man said, his voice high pitched and weak. “You are my executioners. Well, get on with it then. This is what I deserve.”
“Tell me where my brother is first,” Hank said sharply.
The man seemed to sigh. Then he closed his eyes. For a brief moment Hank was worried the man decided to ignore him, but then the man’s eyes fluttered open. There was an expression of deep sadness on his face. “Your brother… There is a small hospital near Bradford, one of the Northern Villages. Your brother is there. And as of yet, unharmed. It appears… my Faust was killed before the operation could begin.”
Hank just looked at the man, unsure whether to believe him. His feet hadn’t yet told him to leave. So…
“Was all this worth it?” Hank asked as he aimed at the man’s forehead. He was so thin that Hank wondered what fluids the tubes had been putting into the man. But he was going to shoot with the revolver. Better safe than sorry.
The man chuckled, of all things. “Heh. If that’s your question… you’ll never understand what I managed to accomplish. I am more than human. I am… I am a tool of god. To me… to change the fate of humanity for the better makes me deserve-”
“To die,” Thaddeus added, looking in disgust at the old man.
That stopped the man. When he did his best to shrug from his lying position. “I am now simply a symbol, boy. The human who I originated as is long dead.”
After the bullet ripped through the man’s brain, Hank felt the tugging on his feet. It was time to move on.