Randidly didn’t stop to think very much about the implications as he, lightning fast, opened up his Path Menu once more. He scanned through the options, but again, nothing would grant an immediate benefit. Skills took time to grow.
But one would be completed immediately and would be an investment in the future. If his Alpha Cosmos was going to add this huge kick to his powers, he was going to finish the Alpha Cosmos I: the Intermingling. It was only 200 PP and was finished immediately. Randidly obtained no stats from the addition of PP into the Path, but he hadn’t really expected to.
Congratulations! You have completed the Alpha Cosmos I: the Intermingling Path! Your body has become something that has never been seen before. But though the Path has not been created by others, that does not mean there are no ways forward. Congratulations! The PP tithe percentage you receive has increased by an extremely small amount. You have learned the Skill Connection to the Alpha Cosmos (U).
Connection to the Alpha Cosmos: At the expense of great mental wariness, individuals may cross into and out of your internal world. During the transfer, the individual’s power will be scaled up or down, depending on the relative power of the destination world. Images that such warriors use will benefit immensely from the scaling. Scaling will be increased based upon your own stats.
Useful, but would it be immediately beneficial…? Randidly’s mind worked furiously as he examined the Skill. His Health continued to tick downward toward 900, a little less than one fifth his total Health. Above, there was now a legitimate, slowly growing sun as the gas ignited and fueled the expansion of heat. Aegiant’s projection was laughing with glee.
This wasn’t enough. But Randidly had an idea.
Even as his Health dropped, he began to draw more and more Aether into himself. And he appropriated the Aether that was trying to heal his arm before the constructs were drawn back to himself. Although he didn’t know exactly how it was done, Randidly had witnessed the process of Lucretia crossing over and possessing a Witch King. Even if some time had passed, Randidly could still clearly picture the shape of the Aether that had allowed that to happen.
Sure, this new Skill he obtained would be strong. But Randidly wanted to cheat the System. After all, Lucretia’s transfer had been relatively costless to him because she already had a foothold in this world. She couldn’t completely come over, but her manifestation had come at a discount. The System had borne some of the cost.
So why couldn’t Randidly make it so the System bore the cost all the time…?
With the rest of his PP, Randidly gambled and threw it into Ashen Path I, hoping for a short Path. But the result left him grimacing; the revealed Path cost was 600. So he wouldn’t be able to finish three Paths in quick succession for a sudden turnaround. This part he would need to do the old fashioned way.
What he needed was the ability to bring people into and out of his Soulskill at scale.
As Randidly’s Health neared 500, only one-tenth of his total, he had to move. So he exploded upward out of the lava at the other side of the plaza. Immediately he was on the defensive, ready for Aegiant’s attack.
But Aegiant just chuckled and continued to build the ball of fire that had consumed almost one-third of the plaza already. The lava continued to evaporate and ignite, fueling it further toward consuming the entire area. A firestorm of greedy orange-red flames multiplied before Randidly’s eyes. Very soon, the portal to Icklid would be covered by that fire. Hopefully, that wouldn’t damage the connection.
The phrase Randidly was focusing on was that the images of those that came out would benefit immensely from that scaling. Hopefully, that would be enough.
Even as the fireball grew, Aether howled within Randidly. The icy energy burned its way toward the Unique Connection to the Alpha Cosmos Skill. Very soon, the Skill was trembling. More and more energy was siphoned down, forced into the small but compact Skill. Soon, Randidly was trembling. His Health regeneration was roaring, healing him as quickly as it could. But the heat in the air was swiftly becoming unbearable. The stump of his arm shivered and tingled.
To combat the heat, Randidly began to use Frigid Ash, Devouring Storm. But it was a losing battle. Bits of ash initially cooled the surrounding area, but very quickly the sheer volume of heat drove his Skill backward.
Still, the point wasn’t to win. It was to outlast.
“Does it hurt?” Aegiant whispered. “Are you scared? You know the worst part of my day? Every night, after I finish my work, I return to find my grandson painting, or playing music, or reading scrolls. And as soon as he sees me, sees my spear and my armor, he begins to shake in fear. Do you know how that makes me feel? How ashamed I am of what he has become?”
To make a Domain, Randidly thought evenly as he stood stone-faced before the growing sun, you warp the System. You take something small and give it scale. Then the area around you becomes yours.
The Skill in Randidly’s chest was shuddering under the strain of handling so much Aether. With every ounce of Willpower Randidly possessed, he focused on what he wanted. Visualization began to tremble with the strain. He needed scale. He needed low cost. He needed it now.
“Burn… burn for me…” The projection cackled. Then he struck at Randidly’s Breath of the Spear Phantom but found Randidly’s grip vice-like holding steady.
Randidly raised his gaze and looked up toward the sky, piercing through the heavy waves of heat to see simply blue. He gritted his teeth.
His new Skill shattered. Which, as always, was one of the worst pains he had ever experience. Even now, if he didn’t control the destruction, what had occurred with him against Aegiant the first time would happen again. If he didn’t have someone with healing Skills like Simon, he would be reduced to nothing.
But this time, Randidly was ready. And once the Skill shattered, the Aether he had gathered into a humming whirlpool surged into action.
...and did not find purchase.
Randidly didn’t really even know what was going on for several seconds. But the sharp and vicious pain of a broken Skill dragged him right back to himself. In spite of himself, Randidly opened his mouth and gagged. Luckily, Aegiant’s vision was screened by the flames.
Otherwise, he would have noticed that a hair would have broken Breath of the Spear Phantom.
I… failed…? Randidly thought hollowly, even as he gathered up the Aether that was rampaging through himself and set it to spinning above himself once more. The pain of the broken Skill was making it difficult to think, but Randidly gritted his teeth and forced his mind forward.
The heat was rising. Randidly was forced to back away to the edge of the plaza, hopping up onto the low alabaster wall, that was slumped into sludge at this point.
Not that it really mattered, the city was collapsing around him, slowly falling into the volcano below.
The reason Randidly had failed was that he didn’t have an in. Likely, Domains developed naturally along predetermined paths. There were pre-approved ways Domains could be used. And Randidly’s Alpha Cosmos and its connection were not on that list. So when he sought to grip the System, it had knocked his attempt away.
With Aegiant cackling almost completely covered by the braying roar of flames, Randidly felt a chill run through him. The reason he had failed was that his Aether had no purchase on the System. But that wasn’t exactly true. There was a method.
Randidly activated Aether Perception and took a long look at the shreds of Aether that the System used to determine his body and heal him. Not only was it Aether intimately related to him and his place in the System, but it also happened to be currently ripped apart into manageable chunks that could be isolated and overpowered.
Each of those Aether constructs was part of his body within the System.
Their growth is my growth; they are a part of my physical body.
Which meant that rather than forming his arm, those constructs could be the foothold that he needed. Randidly looked down at the stump of his left arm, blinking slowly. His Health ticked downward, below 300 Health.
All things have a cost.
This time, as he spiraled the Aether around himself and into the fragments of the Connection to the Alpha Cosmos Skill, Randidly created a web of connections between himself and the fragments of Aether in the surrounding area. The Aether flickered uncertainly, and then slowly settled into place.
Then, like flicking a light switch, power rushed through the array.
Congratulations! You have-
Congratulations! You have created the Skill (Domain) Crossroads of the Alpha Cosmos Lvl 1. Warning, Rarity cannot be determined. Warning, effects cannot be determined. Warning, Skill is beyond understanding.
Warning, the Heretic Path has grown-
Warning, the Heretic Path has grown-
Warning, the Heretic Path has grown-
Warning, notification has been sent to the Cohort Administrator-
Warning, the Heretic Path has grown to Heretic XLVI!
Although Randidly dearly wished to release a breath in relief, he ignored that urge. Instead, his new Domain exploded outward. It was only big enough to cover the plaza, but that was enough for now. And although the System couldn’t provide him with a tooltip, Randidly didn’t need it. Because he could sense what he had done.
His Aether and the System’s flowed together into a tapestry. Those fragments of Aether that had been the blueprint for his left arm spread and made the edges of the area. Suddenly, it was as though his body spread across the whole area, and that the System was included even more directly within himself.
What was within, was without. What was without, within. It was another tool the System could use to study the workings of the Alpha Cosmos, Randidly realized, but it was too late to regret that now.
But it had given both a foothold into each other. Now it was just a matter of who should step through the opening.
Aegiant could clearly sense the change in the air and frowned as he looked around. “...this… a Domain? How do you know one of the old Domains? I had thought they were lost-”
Then, there was a shimmering in the air as two figures emerged, accepting Randidly’s invitation to step through into the crossroads between his inner world and the outer world.
Rejt arrived beaming. “Ahaha! I have long waited for this. Oh? A battle? Randidly... don’t tell me that this isn’t my well-deserved vacation?”
The Monster Prince was a lot less amused, as his eyebrows were quickly smoldering from the heat. He had to backpedal rapidly away from the growing fireball. “Pah! Send me back, send me back! Oh Progenitor, I apologize for my sins. But I do not deserve this eternal damnation in the pits of hell-”
“Save it,” Randidly communicated shortly. It was cumbersome, but he had to use his influence with them to speak. Obviously, if he actually spoke Breath of the Spear Phantom would be released. He slapped the Monster Prince on the back to steady him, then pointed to the constantly igniting evaporated lava. “You fought the mechs to a standstill because you have a very unique image of Ferromancy, yes? So Ferromance. That igniting air is metal. Cool it, for us.”
It was another gamble, selecting the Monster Prince. But Randidly had been shocked to find that the Monster Prince had held his own against Lyra, who was piloting a mech. And it turned out that was because he had the ability to influence metal. A very specific deviation from Influence of the Molten Core.
Now, the Monster Prince obviously wouldn’t be able to face Aegiant’s images directly. But Aegiant was providing heat to ignite the evaporated metal. He didn’t have an actual image to burn the metal. Soon, if it became a sun, that image would take over, but Randidly believed that everything hadn’t been subsumed in that larger image yet.
In addition, hopefully, the scaling of images would be provided by this Skill too; that edge might give them a chance.
Gritting his teeth, the Monster Prince looked at Randidly, then turned and glared at the fireball. It wavered. Blood began to run out of the Monster Prince’s nose. There was also a spike of pain in Randidly’s Soulspace, and suddenly Randidly had a feeling this was a bad idea-
The fireball was snuffed out as the Monster Prince gripped the metal and smothered the atom vibrations that produced heat. Which, promptly caused the Monster Prince to pass out from overexerting himself. Randidly staggered too, barely holding onto Breath of the Spear Phantom. Luckily, Aegiant was too shocked by the sudden disappearance to strike at Randidly’s Skill or it would have broken.
The plaza bubbled and hissed, as everything looked in shock at the falling body of the Monster Prince.
Wincing, Randidly dismissed the Monster Prince. His body disintegrated as it collapsed, returning to whatever posh tent he was staying in back in the Alpha Cosmos. Then Randidly gestured at Rejt. “Your turn.”
Sighing meaningfully, Rejt turned to face Aegiant. “Let it be known that my instincts are telling me this is a very bad idea.”
“You and me both,” Randidly spiritually replied.