In the middle of examining his Status screen, Randidly looked sharply up. Above him, he could feel the Aether of the world moving with sudden purpose. Immediately, it formed into strange interlocking shapes, causing Randidly to frown. This was… oddly familiar-
But then he narrowed focus in the area of the concentrating Aether. It flowed from the sky and formed a strange series of interlocking loops. As he watched, those loops began to fold on themselves, becoming even more concentrated. First once, then twice, then five times, as the size of the loop shrunk and its energy shrunk, Randidlywatched.
Then he chuckled. Below that burning firebrand of Aether, another noticeable source stood.
“So this…” Randidly said softly in the Hall of Stances as he walked to the second altar, “Is a judgement…?”
Randidly was careful to not touch with Mana, but he listened through the senses of the plants in the surrounding area of the energy source. Instantly, he could feel the weight of Silo’s shoes against the ground as he stood alone in a clearing as the Judgement descending.
The energy folded again and Randidly’s eyes grew immediately serious. Even though his eyes were useless, he turned and peered upward through the hewn stone of the hallway’s walls. “This much energy… what Level of Heretic has he reached?”
Even from here, the Aether seemed to burn in his Detect Aether Skill. It was so bright and concentrated that it seemed to blind his senses, which was an extremely strange thing. Randidly didn’t have as high Perception for his first two Judgements, but he had seen it when his Judgement had descended for the third time.
Strangely, that Judgement was one of the weakest he had encountered, although that might due to the acceleration in his strength increases. But it somehow felt something was missing from it. But that was a dim candle compared to this wildfire. Whatever was coming would be huge.
Randidly paused as he walked down the ramp. Briefly, he entertained the idea of assisting Silo. The guy was an oblivious and self-centered dick, but he meant well, for all that the energy around him was powerfully negative and violent. Recently, Randidly hadn’t spent any time with the guy at all, but he felt vaguely pleased with Silo because Silo had brought back so much of the Wight’s energy. Because of that, Randidly had been able to experiment and assist Skarch with her spear.
Idly, Randidly wondered how the experiment with Skarch turned out. She hadn’t approached him, so Randidly was forced to assume his adjustment to her spear had gone well…
Then Randidly snapped back to the moment. The loop folded one more time and the Aether seemed to form a singularity. Quite away from Randidly’s goal of examining the mechanism of the Aether portal, Randidly’s attention was caught up in the strange concentration of energy that built up into a paradigm shift of power.
If I can make As the Sun Stills have some of that sudden and abrupt feeling…
But then the moment passed, and the Aether seemed to disperse. Frowning, Randidly channeled more of his focus into the nearby plants. Silo remained still, and after some concentration, Randidly realized that a creature with wings was floating in front of Silo. They seemed to be speaking.
Shrugging, Randidly let his focus drift away. For all that he knew Silo, the Judgement drew strength from others interfering. With Randidly’s amount of Stats, his assistance might be more harm than help. Randidly wanted to protect those near him, but this was Silo’s battle to fight. Just like Randidly would have his own Judgement coming soon…
On that thought, Randidly arrived in front of the second altar. But before he touched the brown crystal sitting there, Randidly opened his Path screen.
Heretic XXIX 0/???, Nexus Traveler Cohort 5 0/50, Experimenter I 0/50, System Transgressor 0/1, Steps of the Godling II Path 0/200, Friend to Humanity 0/100, War Leader 0/200, Path of the Patron 0/500, Metallurgist 0/300, Advanced Mana Engraving 0/400, Aether Convergence II ???, Perfect Soul Bond 0/1000, the Bell of Doom Tolls 0/600, Growth of Yggdrasil III 0/2000, Mana Ghoul 0/200, Fiery Sharpshooter 0/350, The Ashes of Ulaat, Patron of Ash 0/1000
None of the Paths available to him now were new. But what caught Randidly’s eye was something below that. He bared his teeth at the text in front of him.
Great Path: Burning Dualmage (Ash) 0/1000
Then Randidly forced himself to relax. He was aware of the far-reaching effect of taking the Ashen Image into himself. It was not going well now, but he would balance his image somehow. For all that his plants were consumed, it was a small comfort that the ashes of those plants ended up an effective fertilizer. But to see himself losing his dualmage status…
Wryly, Randidly shook his head. It wasn’t something he planned on using for a while, based on hints from the Patron of Ash. What was the use it letting it bother him?
But what it did do was firm Randidly’s resolve. Although all of the options were tempting, Randidly reached for the intimidatingly long Growth of Yggdrasil III. Who knows how long it would take him to finish, but Randidly wanted to commit to focusing on the plant side of his images. He would not let them-
Warning, insufficient time has passed since the last Growth of Yggdrasil Path was experienced. 298 days remaining until this Path is usable.
There was a cooldown?!?
“Fuck me,” Randidly muttered. Why was the Path available if he couldn’t use it…? Instead, Randidly morosely turned his attention back to his other Path options or at least the ones that he thought would be the most helpful.
Advanced Mana Engraving 0/400, Aether Convergence II ???, Perfect Soul Bond 0/1000, the Bell of Doom Tolls 0/600, Mana Ghoul 0/200, Fiery Sharpshooter 0/350, The Ashes of Ulaat, Patron of Ash 0/1000
None of Randidly’s options were particularly distinguishing. Fiery Sharpshooter was the first to be rejected, due to its fiery nature. Ashes of Ulaat Randidly also decided against, if only because his memory of the previous Ashes Path had been backloaded with value. For all that Randidly was confident that he would win against Helen, there was no reason to not take advantage of the small bonuses he could have.
Aether Convergence was another long-term usefulness Skill. The same with Perfect Soul Bond. Advanced Mana Engraving was tempting for Randidly, especially with access to Skarch’s spear, but Randidly didn’t forget about the looming threat of the Engraving Styles.
Which left the Bell of Doom Tolls and Mana Ghoul. The source of the first was somewhat of a mystery to Randidly, but he knew the second was from the constant Mana deprivation he had subjected himself to during his month fighting on the front lines. After a brief hesitation, Randidly picked Mana Ghoul, mostly because of the shorter PP requirement.
He dumped his remaining PP into it and received 10 Mana for every 5 PP. That was a nice surprise. With a small smile, Randidly touched the brown crystal on the second altar.
Instantly Randidly was on a hill, standing behind a tanned man with a broad back. His hands were spread out across his spear, near the ends. He breathed in and lifted the spear. Then he breathed out and lowered the spear.
And when the spear fell, the world seemed to fall with it.
At first, Randidly thought it was heaviness that made it so, like his own Skill and the summoning of the Judgement earlier. That there was such an image of weight that the world trembled at the hint of this easy movement.
But it was not weight that set the small pebbles in the area to rattling. The trembling ground of the hill did not feel the weight touching it, it was something else that seemed to fill the air with helplessness. The spear was slowly lowered and everything began to quake. The ground beneath the man’s feet cracked.
Blinking, Randidly realized this was somewhat familiar. Then he got it.
This wasn’t weight rattling the world to pieces. This was momentum.
This was an avalanche.
As Randidly leaned backward, he unleashed a breath. Flexing his fingers, he wondered how these people grew to the point where they had such powerful images about things. Just by thinking these things they made it so. Where did that strength come from? Was it stats in Willpower? Should Randidly focus there?
Or rather, was it related to understanding. Would studying the elements he wanted to imagine make them stronger? Would a scientific understanding be helpful? Or was this like some of the old novels Randidly had read, where he required an epiphany that would suddenly bring a strange intimacy with these elements?
Ruefully, Randidly scratched at his head. His short black hair was beginning to get longer again. He would need to cut it soon.
Images were just that, images. Some other things were helpful but… it wasn’t about the truth or understanding, it seemed to Randidly. It was about capturing something and projecting it. Or, put another way…
It was about telling a story to the world that was so convincing that it believed you.
Randidly reached and put his hand on the crystal once more.