After finishing off Nirfik and fruitlessly searching the remnants of the facility for any sign of Feed, Randidly exploded out of the lagoon and rushed to the Northern bank. Not that he had really held out much hope, but there wasn’t even a hint of that strange Aether that he had sensed Nirfik exert control over.
Which found him quickly fleeing the chaos of the Toad Lord’s personal bubble being popped. Literally. Randidly had done his best to limit the damage, but he wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. Much to his amusement, he found Shual there on the shore, standing awkwardly next to the pile of ashes that had been his basket.
And when Randidly appeared next to him, Shual’s expression brightened. “I… didn’t know what I was supposed to do… and then the basket turned to ash, so I thought… maybe… Well… were you… hurt?”
Is this Stockholm’s Syndrome? Randidly thought to himself. Then he shook his head. It wasn’t like he was going to harm Shual, so the kid would probably be fine after they parted. The strange attachment Shual would develop for Randidly after a prolonged period of time with power over Shual would be useful. Especially if Shual content to not run away.
With a quick gesture, Randidly conjured roots out of the ground and formed a slightly more spacious and comfortable basket. “We are moving.”
“Where now? And what was the Toad Lord like?” Shual asked with remarkable cheer as he climbed into the basket. He now had handles on the inside to hold, which he took much delight in prodding and pulling.
Randidly pressed his lips into a line. “South. And quickly, so hold on as best you can.”
Once Shual was situated and Randidly picked up the basket, he flooded his body with the vivifying energy of Yyrwood Body of Yggdrasil’s active. They bounded away from the lagoon, even as Frogpeople began to swarm up from the water’s depths, clearly panicked and worried about further terrorist acts.
Randidly kept an eye out for any who were looking around, as though searching for the culprit, but it seemed like all were too focused on their own private panic to regard the dashing Randidly with anything but a shocked glance. And indeed, everyone that Randidly saw was a civilian. They simply were worried about their lives. They weren’t part of Randidly’s private mission.
With a silent pulse of the Crown of Upheaval and Gloom, Randidly was gone from the area.
`As they continued South, Randidly used every small trick he had learned over the past three days to accelerate his movements to an even faster speed. There were times that he didn't even touch the ground because he was simply creating footholds of vines to avoid the marshy terrain below him. Without the soggy give of the marsh, his stride was that much more effective. The timing was tricky, but he had Control in spades.
The overall impression that Randidly had of this world was confirmed as he hurtled South; even if it was just to escape the rain, the Frogpeople would eventually invade Earth. There were times that the rain was so light you could barely notice, but it was constantly raining. It was not an environment conducive to mature and considered thinking.
Aside from the periodic ravines and strange, fast flowing and deep rivers that split the landscape, there didn't seem to be... much of value here. It was just a dim, dank world, ruled by these Toad Lords as though this were medieval Europe.
Which, perhaps, was the reason that Nirfik had proposed that Neveah and Randidly simply withdraw and return to their own World. Like how in that sort of archaic government, the Toad Lords enjoyed the power that they had over the populace with their Feed. Therefore, they didn't have much incentive to risk losing that influence and luxury just for some theoretical benefit. The Status Quo was more than enough for them, especially for those old Toad Lords that had lived like this for quite a while.
Especially when Neveah and now Randidly had made the risks of moving against them quite clear.
However, Randidly couldn't relax. He couldn't forget that indelible mark left on the Aether that Nirfik had summoned out of its two subordinates. After their battle, Randidly was completely sure that Nirfik himself couldn't have managed that alone. Nirfik had relied on poison and folded like a used piece of toilet paper when Randidly brought force.
Collapsing the entire bubble on him might have taken him by surprise, but he had no resilience at all. He was a lazy old toad, and that was that. If he could manage such impeccable control over Aether, there was no way that would have happened.
Among the Toad Lords, there was someone with an immaculate control of Aether. Someone with better control of it than Randidly. Perhaps not in sheer volume... but in detail. Randidly could flood this world with Aether, but this shadow Toad Lord could make a fist-sized bite of Aether that could be used by another, and then ripped out of that person's chest with a will by someone with higher authority.
A Toad Lord that rules by threat... Randidly thought grimly. An almost godlike deity that reigned over the world. Exactly because Randidly could flood the world with Aether he had something he could use as a threat against this Toad Lord, but that didn't mean Randidly would have confidence in a direct fight with him.
Especially once the Toad Lord knew that Randidly could possible undermine his whole scheme. After all, wouldn’t that individual then just want to eliminate Randidly to get rid of the possibility of the threat coming to fruition?
Or perhaps this theoretical Toad Lord was just skilled at fiddling around with Aether. Perhaps he had very little fighting strength…
Randidly continued to dash through the marsh, his expression thoughtful.
...Yea, it doesn't seem like this world would be a Danger Zone if that was the case, Randidly thought with a grimace.
"Something wrong? You seem... wrinkly." Shual said suddenly. "More than usual."
Slightly shocked, Randidly glanced back toward the Frogperson he was carrying in his root basket. Almost immediately, the young frog ducked his head in embarrassment and hid his face behind the lip of the basket. "Uh... sorry. I just... Well, I'll just be here I guess… If you have any more questions..."
Randidly thought about responding, but it seemed foolish to involve himself overmuch with any individual person. Even someone so young as Shual. After all, those that he touched-
-luminous sapphire eyes looked at him out of a hunger panged faced. "What's the point? Without money, me and my brother...Our lives mean nothing…”
"What comes next will be important," Randidly said gruffly, cutting off his train of thought. "Especially if we want to avoid war with our two worlds. For all that we are powerful... a world is a wide place. The human who crossed to this place must be stopped before something further can be incited."
While Shual mulled that over, Randidly pressed himself even harder to the task of accelerating. In his mind, he imagined his Yggdrasil being planted with every one of his steps. Golden Roots spiraled downward, slowly crisscrossing and building a network to siphon energy up from this world and allow Randidly to shoot across the countryside in a flash.
As more and more Golden Roots filled the world, a grand specter of the trunk of the World Tree began to faintly appear in the sky. Its bark glittered and its leaves spread open to the bare sky. Likely no one noticed due to the heavy cloud cover, but from that specter, Randidly was able to draw more and more strength. His speed increased further and further until he was going almost 50% faster than he had been previously.
It was like that, five hours later, that Randidly's almost constant Aether scans finally caught the whiff of a trace of Earth’s Aether. It was a small morsel, but it was the first he found. Instantly, his direction shifted a little bit to the East.
Very quickly, it was clear that he was making a beeline for another Deep City. Shual explained the relevance and history of the place, glad to be given relevance once more. But it all flowed past Randidly’s ears.
Gritting his teeth, Randidly began to slow. People mean trouble. Mean innocent lives that might end...But when he arrived, he was delighted to discover that the trail was already leaving the city. And it was fresh.
So fresh that Randidly simply grinned and accelerated toward the lagoon. Such was the force of his momentum that he could see some people in the shallows look up in confusion at the noise of his passage. With the amount of speed that he had, he likely sounded like a roaring typhoon.
As the Frogpeople's faces split from confusion into abject horror, Randidly leaped, cresting a high jump directly over the lagoon and crashing to the ground with a wave of mud and water that soaked the unfortunate Frogpeople that were standing on the other side. Just as they were on his prior arrival to a lagoon, these people were helplessly washed away by the wave of debris he created.
This time, Randidly acknowledged that part of the issue was how sudden his arrival was. He simply moved too quickly. It wasn't that these Frogpeople weren't strong; his scans indicated that the average Level here was in the Forties. He simply took them unawares.
Truly, a war against this world would be difficult. He had seen almost a thousand people in his rapid cross country trek, and that was only the average citizens of this world. Considering the fact that all of the Toad Lords likely had elites underneath them that could rival a capable group from Earth, the frogs would not go quietly into this good night.
And with the looming threat of this Architect Toad Lord that Randidly wasn’t able to find on such short notice...
Donnyton Squads would be able to hold the line against foes of this caliber, and Randidly didn't doubt that other Villages had tried their best in order to catch up to that Level. But it was a numbers game; he had heard in their talks that the current Earth's population was likely nearing twenty million. But most of that was from projections Mrs. Hamilton had gathered from their Zone 32.
If the refugee survival rate was vastly lower in other Zones, it might be closer to five million. Or if the population from the newly arrived Zones was much higher than Zone 32, which seemed likely, it was possible that they had as many as fifty million. Yet that was still a fraction of the population Earth had before.
And most people would get a Class, but not everyone would grow that way. Most simply would get Skills related to their trade and focus on Skill Levels. Which would unlock them Paths and further Skills, but they wouldn't experience as much Stat and Attribute growth. After all, there weren't many people that could replicate the amount of Skills that Randidly had used in order to gain the stats he needed. It simply wasn't possible for the average person to earn that many Skills without having access to more Aether than was present in the air. It would start mild, but Randidly remembered Sam talking about passing out from Aether Deprivation.
That wasn’t a pretty sickness to go through. It left the body exhausted and ravaged. It was a diet that you couldn’t stop until your Aether cannibalized itself.
Randidly pressed his eyes shut even as he accelerated away from the lagoon and toward his goal. More and more strength flooded downward from the image of the World Tree to accelerate him forward.
Finish it now. Finish it quickly.