Zuek Tuan studied the crater that the Demon Prince had left as he had destructively teleported away after stealing away a young Frogling. The blast radius was large enough that the nearby dwellings had been cracked by the force and collapsed in on themselves. If the Demon Prince had not forced the crowd to back before teleporting away…
Zuek shivered. He had seen his own Toad Lord fight, just once. The mass of gore that had been left in his master’s wake still haunted him.
This would have been just as bad.
Zuek turned to his companion, one of the three-star generals that had served one of the two Toad Lords that had been killed by the Demon King. After his master’s death, the general had been happy to come work for Zuek’s master. “Explain to me what happened again. Slowly. Don’t leave anything out.”
The frog nodded hurriedly. Although both he and Zuek were three-star generals, there was a large difference between their masters. As such… Zuek believed himself more than capable enough of wiping the floor with this frog ten Levels his senior.
That was why Zuek had been dispatched. It quickly became clear that the Demon King could sense Levels. So agents that would slip by its notice were necessary. Yet even if the Toad Lords didn’t believe this interloper was a true threat, they didn’t doubt that the Demon King could handle run of the mill foes.
So they started sending carefully groomed talents to infiltrate the situation.
“Well…” The former three-star general began, “He arrived suddenly, bearing that same crown that the Demon King wears. Yet it was clear that this crown was… different. To look at it…”
The frog shivered. Zuek held his tongue at the disgraceful reaction. Normally he would have been extremely suspicious of the veracity of what this fellow was saying, but Zuek had been in a distant part of that same crowd. Before the Demon Prince walked among the Frogpeople, he had seen the crown.
Zuek’s tongue coiled in his mouth. His instincts screamed that the Demon Prince was not someone to fight against. If this was what the Demon Prince inspired, then the Demon King… But then Zuek gestured curtly for the general to continue.
“Ah, after that, he walked in and… selected his guide. From what I understand, another individual, Shual, volunteered in her place. They are both still froglings, but they were spawn mates-”
“Do we have any information about him?” Zuek cut in.
The general shook his slimy head. “Nothing concrete. He attended a public academy and his performance was… unsatisfactory. Most of his instructors recommended expulsion, but he was marred by infractions, not lack of results.”
“Mmmm…” Zuek vibrated his vocal sack as he unpacked that. Reading between the lines, the kid was likely a capable troublemaker. And due to poor performance, unaffiliated with any Toad Lords interested in scouting him. Which meant that more information about him would be hearsay, and likely useless.
“Ah, but, after the Demon Prince seized Shual, he gestured with his hand and said, ‘Stand back’. When people weren’t quick enough obeying his orders for him, vines sprung out of the ground and forced everyone backward. Hard. Many were injured in the press of bodies-”
“And then?” Zuek said curtly. He couldn’t care less about how many of these cowards were injured. He needed to know if his lord needed to be worried about this new element.
“Then… he jumped.” The general gestured helplessly at the shattered ground.
“He jumped,” Zuek repeated. The ground was cracked and broken. The force of this… jump was enough to disperse all of the peat and reveal the tightly packed clay. And then that clay had shattered, revealing a crater several meters deep.
It was a force that was difficult to quantify. It was possible to disperse the peat beneath one’s feet with a sudden enough shift, but to disperse it in a circle with a thirty-meter diameter…? And to crack the clay underneath that…?
Strong, Zuek was forced to admit. Too strong to ignore.
After piercing back through the cloud cover quite a distance away, Randidly hit the ground and staggered, wincing underneath the pressure his legs were forced to bear as they landed. Unfortunately, he would not be able to do that again; Inspiration meant that the active use of Yyrwood Body of Yggdrasil would be impossible without Mana for the next twenty-four hours.
But the feeling of leaping off the ground with enough force to immediately break through the sound barrier was certainly a novel one. The speed of the motion was like a heady drug of which Randidly could still taste the aftermath.
And they had covered quite a bit of ground in that initial leap. More than Randidly had expected. So much so that Randidly realized with chagrin that they were slightly more East than he had intended.
Although he hadn’t used it in a while, Inspiration was still overwhelmingly powerful. Even more so as his Stats continued to rise. It was a multiplicative increase in power, so it would grow increasingly overwhelming in the future.
Randidly set the cocoon of roots he had made for his guide on the ground and cracked his neck. As he no longer had access to Mana, he couldn’t dismantle it nicely. He would have to rely on Acri for that. The plant creature slithered down from his neck and began to cut into the cocoon to free the guide.
Honestly, Randidly felt a bit bad for the guide that had been brave enough to volunteer in order to save its… spawn mate? Most likely a sibling of some sort. But he had certainly been given a rough treatment since then. Randidly hadn’t bothered to explain himself when he had bound the frog person in vines for its own protection.
He had simply done it and then leaped.
And perhaps that was exactly the sort of thing that the Demon Prince would do, Randidly thought sourly. His Crown of Upheaval and Gloom continued to pulse above his head. Hissing in impatience, Randidly gestured at Acri to speed it up.
If Randidly wanted to catch Roy, he would need to hurry. No matter how far they had traveled in that initial jump, they were losing time waiting here. Especially if the thrust had carried them off the course that Randidly had initially planned to take.
The plan was to try and search for traces of Earth’s Aether so Randidly could zero in on this dumb fool’s location. But although his SKill Level was very high, there was a limit to his effective range; he would need to be within a dozen or so kilometers in order to catch a whiff. Once he caught that scent, he would be on him in a second. But...
A dozen kilometers was a large enough span, but in the space of a whole world, it was cripplingly small. Which meant it was doubly important for them to move quickly and reach the last known location of Roy. Which would still be a day or two behind his actual movements, but it was the best they could do.
Finally, the frogperson was revealed through the vines. And the first thing it did was messily vomit up its lunch next to Randidly. Not wanting to squelch his toes in vomit, Randidly stepped to the side and surveyed his chosen guide.
Young. Even though the difference in species, Randidly was able to see that. Which meant that the kid would know less, but might be easier to work with in other ways. Not wanting to delay any longer, Randidly cleared his throat.
“What’s your name?” Randidly asked dryly, feeling strangely awkward. He was in a weird position that was a cross between a kidnapper and a managing supervisor for a new job and wasn’t sure what sort of tone to take. The young frogperson clutched his chest and dry heaved for several seconds, his overriding nausea keeping him from acknowledging Randidly.
Sighing, Randidly stretched and prepared to wait for the long haul. What was annoying was that his lack of Mana also meant that he couldn’t use any sort of healing Skill to expedite this process. And Randidly sure as hell wasn’t going to waste a healing potion on nausea.
“Kid. Your name,” Randidly said, his tone a little rougher after almost two minutes had passed and the frog had been content to simply breathe and drool regurgitated stomach acid onto the ground. What was most annoying about this was that Randidly could clearly see that this individual’s Level was Fifty-Three. There was no reason for this exaggerated reaction.
Well, even Randidly had to admit the departure was a bit… abrupt. But the feeling of flying through the air, breaking through the cloud barrier and seeing the breathtaking vista- ah, of course. He wouldn’t have been able to see. He was trapped inside of the vine cocoon. Hmm.
Perhaps the Frogperon’s journey had been rougher than Randidly had realized…
Finally, after almost five minutes, the frog person straightened and wiped its mouth. But then its eyes went as round as saucers as it pointed above Randidly. “Cloud Serpents! We are doomed!”
Randidly turned. Out of the hole that their descent had punched in the cloud layer, three strange flying reptiles were descending, hissing, and spitting. Altogether, they seemed extremely unpleasant. If Randidly had to describe them… they looked most like alligators, with large leathery wings instead of stubby little arms like most gators had.
The lizards seemed fixated on the two of them and began to glide down toward their position. They were, respectively, Level 69, Level 70, and Level 64.
Randidly released a low whistle. No Mana would make it difficult, but these would probably provide quite a bit of experience. Best start quickly, because they had already wasted enough time.
When Randidly turned around, the frogperson was still trembling. “Hey! Kid. Your name.”
“Ah…” The frogperson blinked. He took several steps back. “I’m… Shual. But we need to go! Those monsters-”
“Are my prey.” Randidly grinned. His Crown of Upheaval and Gloom began to shine even more brightly. “Wait here. I’ll show you what sort of man you have been chosen by.”
The Randidly looked upward toward the three descending lizards. Even if Randidly was strong enough to take them all head on, it would be difficult to ensure that Shual would be fine without relying on Mana. Therefore, it was best to take the fight to them.
Six Phantom Half-Steps burned through quite a bit of Randidly’s Stamina, but it also brought him rapidly closer to the weakest of the three Sky Serpents. They were all pretty similar in size, perhaps ten meters long and as thick as a tree trunk.
Unfortunately for the Sea Serpent Randidly had chosen, its momentum carried it forward to within arm’s reach of Randidly before it had even realized that he had materialized before it.
Raucous Phantom’s Finale.
His huge metal arm smashed into the monster's snout, shattering the cartilage of its nose. It roared in pain, which allowed Randidly to reach into its mouth with the same arm and grab its tongue. His hand quickly contracted, binding the appendage until it bulged as though it was about to burst. The monster quickly smashed its jaws shut like a steel trap, but even its Level 64 teeth struggled to find purchase on Randidly’s arm. Only a few shallow scratches were left.
You won’t find finer steel in all of Earth, Randidly thought wryly. He wondered if he could someone record a commercial demonstration of the product with something like this.
Grinning, Randidly flexed his other arm and Acri shot out to its straight form. The two other Sky Serpents were twisting around to assist their weaker companion, but Randidly was lightning fast as he slashed and severed the front two wings of his Sky Serpent.
Immediately it began to keen in pain and fall directly out of the sky. While it was stunned by the pain, Randidly twisted his body and brought his legs up around the main body. Then he used his leverage to shift his position to mounting the Sky Serpent, his arm screeching as the monster refused to let go of his arm.
Randidly grinned. You are going to regret that.
Randidly sat directly above its head, his arm twisted around and stuck without the mouth of the beast. Flooding the arm with Aether, Randidly began to pull. He could feel the Sky Serpent straining, but it managed to resist him. Barely.
Two things happened in quick succession. A flood of strength filled his arm that allowed him to snap the mouth of the Sky Serpent open. A part of its jaw gave way from the abruptness of the motion. Like most creatures, the bottom jaw was on a hinge, but the top was not.
At the same time, they crashed into the ground. The Sky Serpent’s head broke the worst of Randidly’s fall.
From the cracked ground of their landing spot, Randidly stood. He flicked out Acri and thrust the point of the blade into the head of the agonized Sky Serpent, putting it out of its misery. Then Randidly raised his arms to the sky and laughed.