Randidly cracked his neck and then looked behind him. The constant drizzle had kept up through the night, and the Raid Party looked especially bedraggled this morning. Well, specifically Chrysanthemum looked like a much less fluffy version of herself, with her fur soaked to her skin.
Which, in a way, made her more terrifying. Because without the fur there, it was easy to see just what a monstrous creature she had begun evolving into. Her size was on par with a small SUV at this point, although she wasn’t as tall as one on four legs. But when she stood straight up… she positively towered over most normal enemies. The monsters that were foolish enough to attack them were annihilated by her extra long reach and powerful muscles.
“We have our groups?” Randidly asked, looking at Rose.
She nodded. “Thea, Clarissa, and Annie. Then Ace, Lucifer, and Ptolemy. Finally, myself, Alana, and Drake. And I assume… you will go on your own?”
Randidly snorted lightly. Then he turned to gaze up at the Eyrie in front of them.
Truly, it was a wonder. It looked a little like an impaled, blackened lung, slowly growing and then shrinking, depending on what direction the wind blew. Apparently, there had once been a giant tree here, all across the area, a leftover from before. But after this land had been transported here, all that had been left was a husk.
Over time, the Death Cultists had climbed to the top, torn off all of the branches, and covered it in leather and canvas, creating a strange… almost living seeming building. It was also gargantuan: the tree must stretch at least 20 stories high, and some framework had been erected for the main part of the dwelling, creating more width to it. Quite a bit of width, in fact, so that it looked like an entire football field could fit comfortably on one of the levels, while the wind was blowing the Eyrie open.
A fragile hideout, perhaps, but it would be just as fragile as footing for any attackers. And it seemed relatively low value. Aratta had warned them that many times the Eyrie had been burned down, but the trunk of the ancient tree was extremely hard to damage, so the Death Cultists had simply waited until the attackers left, and then rebuilt the thing.
It made Randidly wonder how the village had so easily gone and captured Death Cultists earlier, especially in the numbers that Annie reported. Was their strength that much higher than he expected…? Although about 40 people went to fight against the Death Cultists, they had returned with just as many prisoners; that meant that they defeated at least that many, more likely double that to capture so many.
The only person Randidly had seen among them that even seemed like they were capable was Cyndra. Yet…
Randidly’s battle last night against the Red Death Cultist had been illuminating. Fighting against it was similar in Randidly’s mind to his battles against some of the finalists in the tournament in Shal’s world. Their strength was incredibly impressive, but they didn’t have the skill to make true use of it. And the difference in strength wasn’t so much that they could use it to oppress Randidly, giving him free reign to harry them and slowly drag out the fights.
Of course, at this point Randidly didn’t even need to take such roundabout methods; he had improved by leaps and bounds since the tournament. Especially in his support and spells. The damage that he could produce with his Plant Dominance was about five times as much as he could have done with his previous Root Manipulation.
Alana, especially with the edge given to her by her Fate, could pretty safely defeat it in a 1 v 1 situation. Hell, even if it had some support, she would take it down with a bit of effort, and the use of her new Skills.
Then Randidly winced. Thinking about Fates made him remember that he was swayed by Lucretia’s argument and just basically told Lucifer and Clarissa the process for condensing a Fate in the manner the System wanted. But he would be flooding both of them with Aether as best he could prior to their Level up…
“…Yes, I will be going alone. But it seems that we won’t have to barge right in,” Randidly said, his mouth curling upwards at the edges. Because above them, the Eyrie stilled. Then, all of a sudden, dozens and dozens of black shadows flew outwards, filling the surrounding air with the sharp flap of wings.
Randidly’s eyes narrowed as he looked up at the slowly increasing number of bats. There was one issue… a familiar one, but one that made him profoundly wary of the Death Cultists; like with Aratta, he caught faint whiffs of Aether around them. At first, when he felt it on them as well, he had assumed that it was the influence of the method the Creature had taught them to be Heretics, but the more he had studied the Red Death Cultist in the fight…
That wasn’t correct, it wasn’t there constantly. It seemed only to activate when the Cultist was using Skills, which was even more foreboding. Could she have somehow boosted the strength or Rarity of their Skills…? Something to look into, to be sure. If it was possible to replicate what had happened to Thea…
Finally, the bat horde seemed to reach critical mass, and they began to swirl around, flying in a spiral. Everyone drew their weapons. Randidly just tightened his hands into fists and grinned. It was time…. to let loose.
Instantly, he activated the active version of Yyrwood Flesh of Yggdrasil and launched himself upward, heading directly into the throng of bodies gliding around in the air, screeching at each other. By the time Randidly produced his large spear, he had arrived in front of the first Death Cultist, who was stupidly turning to face him.
It hissed at him in fury, and his spear slid cleanly into its skull, spraying blood in the air. He had taken it easy last night, testing out the boundaries of the Death Cultists’ strength, both for his own benefit, and to make sure nothing would happen to his companions if he would go ahead. After all, if the Red Death Cultists were too powerful for the others to defend…
“Circle of Flame.”
An explosion, partially of fire, but mostly of concussive force, shattered the air in a dozen or so meters around him, sending quite a few Death Cultists spiraling downward. The effectiveness was partially based on the surprise factor, but Randidly’s Intelligence had also increased to the point where an average enemy wasn’t even worth his time.
With a screech that was taken up by a thousand bats, they descended, most aiming for him, some going for their fallen companions, but a good chunk gnashing their teeth and rushing towards the rest of the group. They would be fine, Randidly reassured himself.
The force of his jump carried him forward, arcing towards the mid levels of the Eyrie, his Bone Cloak clinking madly from the rush of wind. A Death Cultist rushed towards him, aiming to smash him to the ground with its powerful legs, but Randidly swung his spear, activating Idiosyncratic Cut to lop off its head.
But, luckily or unluckily, one of the passives of the well-forged spear activated, and an explosion of solar energy blasted outward, burning away half of the victim’s body. Howling in pain, it fell downwards, eventually crashing to the ground. But the force of the solar explosion also altered his aim, and Randidly barely crashed into the bottom quarter of the Eyrie’s levels.
The canvas and leather that made up the outside were surprisingly hard to manage as he ripped through it and crashed into the wooden ground. He felt the material beneath him crack, but the floor held. Huffing, Randidly stood and ripped everything off of him. And when that didn’t suffice for getting rid of all of the materials, he bared his teeth.
“Circle of Flame.”
Again, fire smashed outward, immolating the canvas that bound him, but also setting the Eyrie floor ablaze. Randidly considered the flames for several seconds before he shrugged. Burning it down would accomplish his goals, and probably faster than him moving on his own. Easier to just burn out the final boss than stomp all the way up to the top of the Eyrie and drag him out.
Randidly was standing in a strange, low-roofed area that seemed to be a messy nest of some sort. As he peered around, he realized that there were no walls, only floors and ceilings, and everything else was just hanging fabric, most of it ripped and rotten. So there was a profoundly creepy vibe as the cloths fluttered around him, fire beginning to creep in all directions.
There was a crash, and Randidly leaped forward, dodging out of the way of the being that came downwards through the ceilings. It hit the ground with a growl, lashing out with a claw that was a full second too slow to catch Randidly.
It did not stand, but stalked forward, bent over like a beetle, its red fur especially bright with the color reflected from the fire. Randidly found it somewhat amusing that they had built the ceilings so low that the larger Death Cultists couldn’t stand up to their full height, but perhaps crawling like this was more comfortable. The Red Death Cultist certainly seemed confident in its victory as it growled and crawled towards him.
Although Randidly preferred this immensely because it couldn’t make use of its rather intimidating reach while it was on the ground-
Two more Red Death Cultists hopped down through the hole, adding their growls to the symphony that assaulted him. Randidly just grinned and pointed his spear at them.
“Sorry guys, I don’t have much time to play with you this time…” He whispered, beginning to move. His first slash was dodged, but it was mostly a feint so that the leftmost cultist would back off, and the rightmost would leap forward, aiming to strike while Randidly was off balance.
Of course, he wasn’t, and the spear ripped backward in a huge strike, destroying the skull of that foolish rightmost cultist. The middle one, recognizing both the danger and what was happening, threw itself forward, desperate for an advantage.
Randidly let go of the spear with his left hand and activated Touch from Beyond. Instantly, the temperature cooled somewhat, and the nearby fires flickered uncertainly. Then he used Talon Strike to crack the cultist’s skull, sending it reeling. Already, Randidly could feel the slow damage the Skill did to his body, so he stepped forward, striking again, piercing the monster’s torso and ripping out its heart.
Then he deactivated the Skill and shook his hand, frowning. Strong Skill, just uncomfortable. The center cultist slumped to the ground, joining the right cultist. The left cultist was bound to the ground by vines and roots, and its organs were ground into nothing from pressure.
Satisfied, Randidly clicked his tongue and leaped up through the hole they had created in the floor.