Randidly frowned, looking at the Levels provided to him by the rest of the group. In particular, he had to decide whether to take action in regards to two specific individuals: Clarissa Lvl 47, Lucifer Lvl 46.
In regards to this, there were two things he could do. Based upon Lucretia’s expertise, which Randidly was dubious of, but had no choice but to trust, he could inform those two how to receive a “Fate” in the typical way, where their meaning would be forcefully expelled from their body, and somehow transformed into a crystal in the wider world. Based on what Lucretia said, they still received a good boost of strength from it, and also possibly some Stat gains…
But had Lucretia had a physical body, her jaw would have hit the floor when Alana explained her increased Level up gains. Even Randidly whistled softly, although it couldn’t be denied that his Level ups were higher still, although most of that came from his Path rewards.
The other option, of course, was to create an Aether connection between them or to try and use Aether Donation to simply give their bodies the Aether Randidly would need to help them reforge the Class. Which, Lucretia pointed out, might not be possible.
The reason you managed it so quickly was because strands of your Aether ran through the entirety of her Class,
Lucretia reminded him.
She had access to your Aether from the beginning. Because of that, there was a scaffolding for you to work from. There is the chance that if you attempt to do the same thing with someone who hasn’t had your Aether connection for a long time, there will be a negative reaction. You remember how badly the Aether we took from the Creature’s construct reacted at first when they were mixed…?
Randidly frowned, but he couldn’t deny that Lucretia was probably correct in this instance. And there wasn’t an immediately clear route for him to take to avoid this. He really didn’t want to have them condense their Fate in a typical way, as an outward crystal. It would be much better to keep the images inside, so they could continue to strengthen them. If nothing else, this was clear from the Alana example.
Perhaps in Clarissa’s case, Randidly would try and force the issue. She belonged to Donnyton and understood the risks associated. Randidly would be able to handle it if things went wrong, and her Class was completely shattered into pieces.
Although, maybe his second attempt would up the efficiency of dealing with the images while it was raging. There were also shapes of Classes, and strength of images that would likely affect the outcome…
There were too many moving parts to plan well for; Randidly could only make a decision that he thought was best, and live with it.
At the moment the group was walking farther North, heading to the Eyrie of the Death Cultists. There were a few monsters that they had encountered, but largely, it seemed that this area was devoid of all life. Aratta assured them that this was work of the Death Cultists, who seek death for all things, including themselves. Apparently, their name was not a misnomer, or a misguided attempt to classify them as Heretics; they truly worshipped death.
But they hadn’t yet seen any of the fearsome Death Cultists. Instead, all they had for company was the rather constant drizzle. At the very least, Randidly reflected sardonically. He had gained 2 Levels in Child of Rain from the walking.
They weren’t going fast, but that was largely out of caution. It might even be unnecessary. Both Randidly and Annie had high Perception, enabling them to spot other forces a fair distance away, and Rose could sense the use of Skills within 100 meters. Even when Randidly activated the twilight ability of his Bone Cloak, she had still sensed him and the Skill, regardless of the fact she couldn’t feel where he was in relation to her.
Which was interesting, because it meant Rose really needed no physical evidence in order to notice a Skill being used. Just the proximity was enough to reveal them. Randidly filed this information away for later. Although it might not become relevant if Donnyton was forced to attack the Refuge-
“So these Death Cultists,” Ace said lazily, sparing Aratta a look. “How strong are they?”
Randidly’s gaze immediately focused on Ace and he reflexively reached out with Aether Manipulation to snip the few thin strands of Aether that had formed between Aratta and Ace. Although it was annoying, as long as the problem of these connections was simply solved, Randidly was unwilling to force the issue.
Besides, the more he had an opportunity to see the strands form between Aratta and another, eventually forming the strange, illusion-filled fascination that afflicted Ptolemy, the more it seemed… familiar. It was almost like this Skill was one that he had seen before. Something… extremely familiar.
But Randidly thought himself in circles, and couldn’t figure out what it was. So he doubled down on his surveillance, hoping for another clue that would reveal it for what it is. Perhaps… something like what Raina had…? But no… that didn’t feel right…
“Strong,” Aratta replied, wiping some of the raindrops off her forehead before they fell down into her eyes. “Not so strong as the Dintan, not now. But that is mostly a matter of numbers… and because we allow strong youths to grow up, while those that age without pulling their weight… are fed to fuel their growth. As far as we know, everything in the Death Cultist clan is based on seniority.”
“Ah. So it’s the rheumy-eyed ones that you need to look out for,” Ace quipped, and Aratta turned and frowned at him.
Of all people, Randidly wasn’t sure why he bothered to sever the threads to Ace. From experience, Randidly knew that the more that Ace liked someone, the more he would tease someone. And it was very clear that his teasing caused Aratta to withdraw within herself. Although she had been more talkative and kind, since telling them the story of the Raid Dungeon, she had withdrawn inwards more, as if she were… profoundly tired.
It was as if…
“Trouble,” Rose announced. Annie calmly knocked an arrow.
A screech tore across the sky, and Randidly looked up sharply. Floating above them, zooming down towards the group were 3…. bats. There were giant, leathery bats, with larger, more powerful legs that ended in sharp claws.
As Annie raised her bow to point it at the sky, Lucretia gasped, and Randidly half turned to see what the issue was. Alana had reached up towards her face, her expression grim, and her hand had flexed, almost instinctively. And when she did so, a helmet grew out of her hand, a black/red, beaten and dented thing.
There were two long squares for eyes and a nose guard. But the most eye-catching detail was that two wings, wrought of the red iron, stretched backward from Alana’s head, giving her the typical valkyrie helm. In a clean movement, she settled it over her face and drew her spear.
Frowning, Randidly stared intently at the helmet. Had Alana had this before? Was it an equipment that he hadn’t noticed in the past? Because although his System assisted memory was sharp, he would miss things that he wasn’t looking for. Could she have just had a secret helmet locked away… that conveniently matched the Class that she had recently received…?
What convenient luck.
But what really gave it away was that, immediately after putting it on, Alana started, and then patted the helmet several times. It was like it was more reflex than anything else, and she had done it completely instinctively, without even understanding what was going on.
Well, not that Randidly really could understand what was going on either…
Is this… the true form of a Fate…? Then I…
Lucretia whispered, her attention swiftly moving inward.
Randidly ignored her, there were more pressing issues. He drew his spear, moving to stand next to Alana. His presence brought her attention back around, and she stopped feeling the helmet. But Randidly did notice that she didn’t remove it.
In a smooth motion, Annie whipped her bow upwards and loosed an arrow. It streaked across the sky, but one of the bat monsters spun out of the way, dropping lower. And as it did so, its speed seemed to increase, as it sped on its low flight path towards the party.
Unfortunately for this creature, Annie was not the type to file only a single arrow. And she had back up.
Three more arrows darted forward, two dodged again by the low flying bat, but the third struck it in the shoulder, eliciting a roar of fury. Meanwhile, Clarissa sent bolts of Chain Lightning upwards, making the two remaining high flyers swerve back and forth as they attempted to close in on the group.
Randidly waited calmly until one of the higher bats did a barrel roll to dodge a lightning bolt, and shot an Incinerating Bolt upwards towards its blindspot. In addition to traveling in a straight line at a much higher speed, and being highly concentrated, the Incinerating Bolt contained none of the crackling noise of the lightning bolt. It soundlessly sped forward, slamming into the monster’s gut, knocking the wind out of it.
Randidly frowned. …Yes, only the wind was knocked out of it, because its leathery skin was able to withstand the force from the Incinerating Bolt.
With a crash, it fell to the ground, around the same time that the low flying bat attempted to dodge one of Annie’s arrows and simply hit the ground, beginning to skid over towards the group. The third circled once, calling down to its compatriots, then turned and glided away.
Randidly considered firing more Incinerating Bolts, but even if he could take it by surprise, there didn’t seem to be any point in killing the escaping enemy. If it went and warned the nest, so much the better if these would gather up more of themselves, for the group to slaughter.
“Careful, these Death Cultists are thick skinned. Usually, we rely on binding them, or poisons, to subdue large groups.” Aratta announced. “In a 1 v 1 match… none of you are its match.”