After the week of battle to make it to this point and meet Sergeant Platton, the next two weeks were relatively tame and nonviolent. With Sergeant Platton and his team recovered, the focus once more shifted to reconnaissance. Slowly, the group worked its way circuitously back towards the central island around which the Wight activity centered.
They couldn’t be too active, so Randidly couldn’t practice actual spear moves all that much. Even using Plant Dominance to make an avatar out of kelp underwater wasn’t very effective. Instead, he focused his efforts on the image battles with Azriel and Skarch as well as on his spells.
Due to that, Randidly earned almost 50 PP. Most of the gains came from the previously unused Sneak Skill and the continually triggered Child of Rain. Luckily, it appeared that the long storm was finally ending. A low mist sat over the islands instead, allowing the group to paddle silently in their canoe.
A cry went up among the Wights and there was a burst of noise nearby in the darkness. All 10 of their group were currently together in the canoe, but the feeling was still tense. Sergeant Platton turned and inclined his head to Randidly.
Grinning, Randidly spread his fingers. Several Phantom Lanterns popped into being and zoomed off into the mist around them. This was the reason that Sergeant Platton had finally ordered them to move forward. Randidly’s ability to distract with the Phantom Lanterns was unmatched. In the thick mist, they were just dim enough that a scout might doubt themselves when they chased after the light only to find nothing.
But they were currently using the lanterns very aggressively in order to clear a path. After two weeks of planning and stalling, now was the time to move. The goal was to get their eyes onto the Poison Maw the Wights were constructing. Only with proof of his obsession could Sergeant Platton bear to leave.
It was strange, but the more Randidly spent time with Sergeant Platton, the more he believed they shared some similar traits. Sergeant Platton was a man who had started as a common footsoldier on the front lines and basically survived long enough to finally be promoted. Randidly was somewhat unsurprised to learn that despite the nature of this world, people with connections were generally those who were promoted.
Still, some of the scars from the frontline remained. Even Sergeant Platton’s squad joked about how Sergeant Platton was considered an odd duck by his superiors. He wasn’t one to socialize much, and he gave respect only to those who gave it. For that reason, he remained a Sergeant, despite significant capabilities.
A friendship slowly blossomed. Well, perhaps that was too much. It was naught but a kinship through small grunts and pointing. But Randidly felt strangely impressed by the unassuming and no-nonsense demeanor that the Sergeant displayed. More than anything else, he willingly became silent when it became clear that the other party understood him. It was a few blessed moments of silence after spending so many weeks with Silo.
Their boat ran aground. Everyone grew tense and looked to Skarch. Strangely, the woman had a Skill that made a perfect map of the area in her mind. She could absolutely pinpoint where they were based upon this powerful image she held in her mind constantly. After struggling against her so long in the image games, Randidly could appreciate just how talented she was.
Skarch opened her eyes and nodded. Sergeant Platton signaled rapidly, and the group crept out of the canoe as silently as possible.
Then, as one, they began to move forward. But just as quickly, Randidly grabbed onto Sergeant Platton’s shoulder and stopped the other man from advancing. Frowning, Randidly shook his head. There was grass on this island, so Randidly could feel the Wights around them. And there were thousands. In front of them… there were far too many to sneak past.
Platton signaled back.
Is there a way around?
Randidly shook his head. Platton’s breath came out in a sharp huff. But at that moment, Silo stepped forward.
Randidly eyed the other man carefully. Strangely, Silo had become sulky when Randidly and Sergeant Platton recognized a kindred spirit in each other. It was clearly jealousy, but Randidly was slightly mystified as to why it happened. Now, he worried somewhat that Silo would do something dumb that would invalidate all the effort they spent getting here stealthily.
Silo’s hand moved rapidly. Randidly saw the movements, but he wasn’t familiar with the military hand language here and couldn’t follow. Gritting his teeth, Sergeant Platton responded even more quickly.
Randidly looked at Azriel. She shrugged and silently drew her spear. Whatever it was, it was not a good sign. Randidly could sense the coverage going forward, and very quickly they would be on something that seemed filled with people.
On unspoken agreement, Randidly and Azriel raised the spears and touched the bladed ends. Their eyes locked.
Azriel’s blazing crimson eyes seemed to say.
Win and survive,
Randidly’s emerald eyes responded.
After seeming to reach an agreement, the glum Sergeant Platton watched as Silo moved off into the mist. The group hunkered down to wait. Randidly hissed softly. People were moving nearby, wandering in a slow circle around a base. Likely a lazy patrol.
Two tense minutes passed as Randidly considered striking at them. It now seemed clear that Silo went ahead alone, but Randidly would rather be damned that give away their position before Silo did. As they moved closer, he began weighing the possibilities of hitting them with Spearing Roots, with the intent to kill them quietly. But at the last moment, the two Wights swerved and moved up.
Randidly released the sigh he was holding. At that same moment, a clamor was raised towards the center of camp. The activity of the Wights nearby exploded into buzzing activity.
“Fuck it, going in rough,” Sergeant Platton growled. Azriel and Randidly exchanged a glance and a smile.
When did it happen any other way…?
The group began to race forward as a huge growl swept through the island. The noise was so loud and deep that it sounded like a powerful bass speaker. There was a vibration in Randidly’s bones. But Sergeant Platton didn’t pause as he rushed forward, so neither did the rest.
To soften up resistance, Randidly felt the groups with his Plant Dominance and hit them with an Incendiary Eruption. In quick succession, he exploded almost 15 small groups, but suddenly there were shouts of panic from the Wights. The movements turned sluggish as the soldiers believed a mass attack was occurring, and couldn’t locate the direction.
But their dash was well timed; the Wights closed behind them in defensive formations. Reinforcements streamed towards the edges of the camp, and their group reacted quickly to weave their ways through the stragglers. It seemed that someone in their group also possessed powerful Perception because they accurately avoided the groups.
To keep the Wights guessing, Randidly lowered himself to 50% Mana and blew up several more groups at the edge.
The growl came again, but this time with a vastly increased volume. In addition, the mist in the nearby area was blown away. A body whizzed backward, twisted and broken. The group skidded to a stop. Belatedly, Randidly’s eyes reported to him that the body that was smashed sideways was Silo.
“Dear god,” Skarch whispered beside Randidly. Above them, a form spread upwards. It was humanoid in shape, but the limbs were contorted and thin, like a stick bug. But in terms of size, the thing was as large as a giraffe. Its arms especially were thick and strong looking, and they ended in pointed fingers.
The monster’s eyes were three white orbs, two in the eye sockets, and a third up between them. Quite like… Shal.
“This is my mistake.” Sergeant Platton said gravely. His voice was pitched normally, as there was no more point to stealth with this thing staring down at them. “They never were building defensive formations… this is a breeding facility.”
“Pro…” Azriel’s face was white, but her voice was almost… excited. “Propagator….”
Again, the Propagator above them bellowed its fury. A concussive force slammed into Randidly, and he backed up a few steps. Gritting his teeth, he raised his spear and pointed it at the monster.
“No,” Sergeant Platton interrupted. “None of us are its match. We need to retreat.”
Before he had even finished, the Propagator’s body blurred. By the time he had finished, two of the members of his squad were crushed beneath the Propagator’s hand. Those pale orbs loomed down, studying them seriously.