With a sharpened focus, Randidly rapidly realized that the cylinder was lined with extremely dense runic engravings. So dense they were that even when Randidly walked up to the thing, he could barely distinguish the different strokes. It was so overwhelming that Randidly felt his head start to spin as he looked.
Someone who could weave Mana Engravings like this… so truly, this was the work of the Creature-
Congratulations, your Skill Mana Engraving has become Lvl 118!
Scowling, Randidly returned to scanning the runes on the cylinder. There were so many that unless he focused, he could barely make out a single one. And what did it mean that simply looking at it was enough to cause him to have a Level up in that Skill…? In all his time studying from the encyclopedias, that hadn’t happened before.
Which made Randidly dearly want to study it. But at the same time, the Creature’s Aether was here, and there could be no one else with enough Skill to make these runes. So then, the obvious choice was to destroy it. But where was that fucking insectoid…?
Randidly turned around and felt, both with his senses and with his Lava Golems strange rock senses. In addition, Randidly felt with every plant in the surrounding mile. The plants squirmed and touched, but they came up with exactly nothing. When Randidly opened his eyes, he had to admit that he had no fucking idea where the insectoid went. And that wasn’t good.
So he turned and regarded the cylinder. He breathed in and breathed out. Then he gestured, and the Lava Golem took a step forward. But as he did so, a voice cut through the buzzing of the room.
“I have a question for you, Mr. Ghosthound.”
Randidly looked slowly up at the metallic insect that scuttled its way down the cylinder. About halfway down, its wings spread and it glided down to settle on the ground a ways away from Randidly.
“What price would you pay to defeat the Calamity. In human lives. I am curious. As I do not sense a fellow incarnation around you… it seems you have great power. But if that was not enough? How many people would you agree is a fair price to defeat the Calamity?”
Randidly blinked. This was the Creature’s voice, yes. But… what it was asking… this was not like the Creature he knew.
As he remained silent, the strange thing continued to speak. “You are curious, no doubt, why I ask. I ask because I have no doubt the consideration of such issues will bring you much displeasure. As you have killed a fellow incarnation of myself, it brings me a certain pleasure to watch you squirm.”
Glaring at the insectoid, Randidly gestured again. The Lava Golem rushed forward towards the cylinder. As the molten figure was about to crash into it, the insectoid barely even moved. It simply watched. At the last moment, Randidly stopped it, his eyes narrowing.
“… you want me to destroy this?” Randidly said, almost incredulously. Was the manipulation here really that simple? The Creature said something inflammatory to get him to strike?
But Randidly could puzzle out no other motivation for the Creature to ask that question. For all that it spoke in a different manner and behaved strangely, it was still a fragment of the Creature’s Aether. Yet why-
Then Randidly paused. With eyes glowing emerald, he turned to regard the cylinder. “This… this isn’t just a power plant. It’s also a prison. Whoever is performing experiments is also able to-”
Randidly paused. Did that mean… were these runes really made by someone else? Did a System based entity do this? A Champion? Or even a Judgement?
The insectoid clicked in displeasure. “That is incorrect. This is no prison. It is a reminder.”
“Ha, how nostalgic. A reminder?” Another voice cut into the buzzing. Randidly turned and found that a middle-aged woman was ducking through the hole he had made into the powerplant, peering around. She adjusted her glasses. “This is nothing but a tomb. But it was a waste to let the corpse of a god lay fallow, no? So it was put to use. Ignore the pest as best you can. If I could wipe them out, I would. But as you have probably found,”
The woman raised her arm, and Randidly tensed. She was wearing an exosuit, and a long barrel stuck out of her arm. What Randidly could only describe as a bolt of lightning shot outward, striking for the insectoid. In a blur of motion, it dodged, and then skittered into the darkness and up the wall. The woman fired several more times, striking some of the monitors with enough energy to smash them to pieces, but the insectoid continued to climb, moving up into the darkness.
Sighing, the woman turned to regard Randidly once more. “Tenacity should be admired. But it is frustrating; this creature should be dead, and yet it lives in that strange body. Confounding. But it gives me hope that there is more to learn in the world.”
“Who are you?” Randidly whispered. “This is a tomb-”
“Yes. It seems from that thing’s response to you, that there are more incarnations of this thing. Annoying, but within expectations.” The woman walked forward towards Randidly. “That being was slain, or at least its body was seized. It is currently being used to power much of my facilities across the Zone. Ah, you may refer to me as… Father Foster.”
Father Foster regarded Randidly coolly, as though she was waiting for a response. Randidly had none, at least on the surface. But inwardly, he was thinking furiously. Because Randidly believed he had seen Father Foster on a poster at some time or another. He certainly had heard of her. But this face he was looking at now… it was strangely familiar. And not like he remembered the face of Father Foster he had seen before…
“These are your facilities then,” Randidly said lightly. He reached up and cracked his neck. Regardless of the issue of the Creature… perhaps being killed, Randidly locked onto the fact that this individual ran these facilities. It was… it was worldshaking to know that another had killed an incarnation of the Creature. But…
How many people would you agree is a fair price to defeat the Calamity?
This was why the insectoid had asked Randidly that question then. To salt the earth between Randidly and this Father Foster. Because that was what Father Foster was doing, wasn’t she? Randidly didn’t know the details, but the experiments weren’t done for the sake of experiments. Always, the Creature was playing games. And this Creature was dead? Could it be fake-
“I can almost read your mind, right now,” Father Foster said abruptly, as she continued to walk towards Randidly. “But we really don’t need to fight. I can offer you power. More power than you can understand. I can offer you eternity. Life without death. I can offer you-”
“Incendiary Eruption,” Randidly interrupted. The ground split and fire roared upwards. But just as quickly, Father Foster shifted. The machinery on her left arm transformed into something like a shield, and she held that downwards to deflect most of the blast of fire that smashed into her.
Although the force knocked her back several steps, she very quickly gained her balance again. Randidly advanced towards her, inwardly very miffed he had left Acri at home. It would make this fight much more tedious to fight without a spear.
“Tsk, fine. I will delight and capturing you and figuring out how to extract your large Mana pool from that body of yours,” Father Foster said simply before her exosuit seemed to engage. There was a click, and the machinery began to hum as some internal engine engaged. The air around her rippled, and then she blasted forward, moving so fast that even Randidly was surprised.
He deftly twisted out of the way, but she swerved to follow him. He leaped backward, and Father Foster raised her right arm and shot three lightning bolts at Randidly. Grunting, he rolled out of the way and fired Incendiary Bolts back at the other combatant.
While swerving to dodge the bolts, there was a moment where Father Foster touched her foot to the ground. Randidly’s eyes flashed, and another Incendiary Eruption smashed upwards, hitting her with full force before she could bring her shield around. But the humming of the engine in her exosuit just grew louder. The metal began to glow with energy.
The force of the attack smashed her backward, into a terminal. The thing crumpled like it was made of paper mache, leaving a very unsteady Father Foster stumbling among the wreckage.
“Amazing,” Father Foster said, even as it seemed she was kicking her exosuit up into the next gear. “Not only do you possess a Mana pool larger than I had ever seen, you react so quickly! Do you have physical Skills? I can’t wait to get my hands on you.”
Randidly snorted. Then he flexed his fingers.
Tatiana sat with some of the other girls in the compound, watching the news broadcast. There had been another attack; this time, President Howard had been wounded and was currently under the best care that could be afforded in a hospital in East Providence. Currently, Father Foster of the Unity Church was giving a rousing speech about the importance of coming together in these times of strife. She went on to emphasize the importance of political and religious participation.
Sighing, Tatiana shook her head and turned to the task at hand. She was braiding the hair of one of the women that Baloo had rescued.
If that was really who he was…
Again, Tatiana sighed. The words of Father Foster from the live broadcast because a numbing buzz that enabled her to completely set aside her worries. For now, she simply braided the beautiful blonde girl’s hair.
Thinking of that man Tykes’ reaction when he saw… Tatiana chuckled. That man had more than a little crush on this doll-like girl, but she was reserved and mute. Sometimes, Tatiana wondered if there was something wrong with her.
After she finished braiding the girl’s hair, Tatiana eyed it critically and then shook her head. The girl couldn’t wear her hair like this; with her hair pulled too tight the long scar at the base of her skull was visible. The girl probably wouldn’t complain, but Tatiana didn’t want a reminder of what she went through to be so visible.
Humming, Tatiana undid the braid while the girl in front of her sat very still, staring off into the distance.