Sighing, Randidly stood up and stretched. “It seems… like I’m almost at my limit here. The only thing left is…”
His eyes drifted across the reconstructed training area to the ancient arrow that pointed meaningfully to the East. Randidly cracked his fingers and walked casually over toward it. After staring at the stone for several seconds, he straightened and began to walk out of his base. His direction was due East.
It was time to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Already the signs of Randidly’s touch were waning here. The immediate area surrounding Randidly’s base had been cleared out of basically everything but was now slowly filling with flowers and ferns. Although a towering jungle had once stood here, now it was just the faintest covering of flora. As he walked, Randidly idly wondered how long it would take for the Dungeon to rest to its previous state.
As he moved, Randidly couldn’t help but smile. Flowers bobbed their heads as the wind whispered amongst them. Even though so much of what this place had been was robbed and plundered, it was still a sight that could move Randidly’s heart.
What Randidly liked most of all about the field was the lack of noises. Whereas it had been a symphony of howls and squawks before, now the horizon was simply filled with the soft rustling of leaves. And even that was barely audible. The muted soundscape was proof of the destruction that Randidly had wrought.
Yet that small sound could barely begin to describe the rebirth that was occurring around him.
Randidly walked among the silence easily; it flowed around him like water. The prolonged exposure to the image of timelessness he had shamelessly stolen from the monument wrapped around him like a cloak. Because it was only when the demanding sounds of the surface level were stripped away could a deeper sound be heard.
Although the surroundings around Randidly were mostly silent, he knew that forces were furiously gathering to bring this environment back to its former glory. In near silence, the world’s slow justice was being unwound. The heartbeat of the world pulled the land up from nothing.
In a hundred years, the damage done by Randidly and his Riders would likely be impossible to spot. In a thousand years, new tribes and societies will have risen to fill the void left from the massacre that occurred in the Dungeon. The crimes Randidly committed were terrible, but they were also so small in the grand scheme of things.
Just as perspective could damn you or be used as a weapon… it was also one form of healing as well.
Randidly continued to quietly walk forward.
…to say it was just absorbing the image of timelessness would be missing the point. It’s everything that’s happened in the Dungeon. It’s the space, the silence, the Riders, meeting Ki-Kunot, the mollusks… I’m… changing. In a way I cannot really understand…
With a disturbing alien quality, a new noise cut through the quiet sound of rustling plants: the sound of hooves.
Riding in formation, the Legion of the Unbreakable Bulwark stomped out of the North to fall into formation behind Randidly. Almost at the same time, the Legion of the Unavoidable Pivots delicately scuttled from the South to join the column. Randidly also had no doubt that the Legion of the Marching Cadence would be scouting the way forward toward the plateau.
Suddenly, the noise around Randidly had transformed into a dull rumbling as the three hundred Riders moved toward their destination. This too, Randidly walked through calmly. His footfalls soon matched the rhythm of the noise. The Riders were his cape, and he was their lord. His Crown hummed in pleasure, greedily devouring the various feelings and sensations of rule that Randidly embraced.
Although Randidly was somewhat sad to leave behind the silence of growth, he did not slow. As he considered today’s mission, his gaze grew strangely heavy. Randidly’s instincts warned him that this would not be simple.
It had been a long time since those instincts had steered him wrong.
It was without any sort of fanfare that Randidly’s army marched up toward the plateau. Like a flood of panicked rats, the windswept highlands exploded with monsters when Randidly brought his Riders onto the raised land. Monkeys, toads, birds, and raptors… all of the refugees from the other monster civilizations that they had destroyed had gathered here and were now risking their lives to kill the Riders.
Honestly, from the pale eyes of the monsters, Randidly had a strong suspicion that these monsters welcomed the eventual attack. It seemed very likely that they had been waiting for this day for a long time. Some of them appeared to have been hiding in these caves for months. Every day, they wondered when the eventual blow would fall and this last bastion of peace would be destroyed by the Riders…
Randidly delaying for several months was an extended form of mental torture for the monsters. The constant unpredictable threat of doom left some of them unwound.
Without bothering to interfere, Randidly left his Riders behind. They could handle this rabble well enough. And if they couldn’t…
Randidly sighed inwardly as he accelerated across the plateau.
It’s not a soft world that I’m making… but that’s just my Path. My world is large enough for other credos to exist safely. That is my greatest weapon.
There were a few monsters remaining on the plateau, but they hid as Randidly streaked past them. Most of the forces appeared to have been concentrated on the Western edge of the plateau, waiting for the Riders. Which simultaneously made Randidly’s job much easier and also made Randidly quite suspicious.
As he proceeded, Randidly scanned the surroundings constantly. Although the arrows had been a clear sign, Randidly didn’t want to rush forward quickly enough that he would run into a trap. Randidly followed the flow of the sloping cracks and slopes. He read the surrounding Aether multiple times a second, looking for minute changes that could indicate an impending attack.
For almost an hour, Randidly found nothing. And then all at once, he took a step forward and froze.
There… is Aether here. It’s System Aether… but it’s been modified.
As soon as Randidly detected the modified Aether, he proceeded forward with a much larger degree of caution. The windswept plateau stretched out before him, almost stubbornly boring despite the presence of the foreign Aether. But Randidly’s eyes did catch the glimmer of a distortion spiraling upward to the Southeast.
Still cautious, Randidly adjusted his direction and headed toward it. When he arrived, it was immediately clear that this was what he was seeking. Someone had drawn him here deliberately and had not been subtle about it.
A huge hole stretched downward in front of Randidly. Honestly, he was shocked that it took so long for him to spot it. Based on the size of the hole and his understanding of the plateau’s size, the hole was probably one-fourth of the total size of the plateau. Even when Randidly strained, it was difficult for him to spot the far lip of the hole.
Although Randidly thought of it as a hole, it was perhaps closer to a giant crater. At the edge, the slope angled sharply down, but it was still a distinct slope. Not comfortable to walk down, but doable. Around the edges of the crater there were several ‘beacons’ that were the source of the strange Aether warping the nearby air. Holding his breath, Randidly approached the beacon expecting the worst.
“Are you fucking kidding me…?” Randidly muttered. Of course, what he found pissed him off.
The beacon was another arrow and an Engraving that shot off Aether in order to attract attention. Like the arrows underneath the dome, this arrow was built on a platform that had been repeatedly engraved to withstand the test of time.
Without much choice, Randidly followed the direction the arrow was pointing around the circumference of the hole. Every ten minutes or so, Randidly would find another beacon pointing in the same direction and producing Aether. After encountering a few of these, Randidly increased his speed.
Soon the blurred form of Randidly had gone about one-fourth of the way around the huge hole. For the longest time, there was just Randidly, the rushing air, scrub grass to his right, and the hole to his left. But eventually, Randidly discovered a change.
Breathing out through his nose, Randidly stopped next to a series of tall stone pillars. Just like the stone monolith next to Randidly’s original base in the Dungeon, these possessed a palpable aura of timelessness. In fact, the aura here was much stronger than the aura that Randidly had been using for his training.
Randidly felt a small impulse to stay here for a bit and train his World Tree image, but he suppressed it. Even if the image was helpful, Randidly wasn’t comfortable training here without understanding what was going on. Someone or something had taken great care to lead him here. Before he found out why Randidly wasn’t going to let down his guard.
With even steps, Randidly walked between the four stone pillars. Immediately, a huge stone staircase that led from the edge into the depths of the hole drew Randidly’s attention. But there was also a small stone table between the four pillars.
Likely it had been impressive at one point, but now… it was just a few fragile pieces of slate. But there was something… extremely strange about the small stone table. Randidly hadn’t been able to tell when he was farther away, but the aura of timelessness spiked upward as he approached the table. Or more specifically, Randidly could sense with Aether Detection that there was an object within the table that seemed to be the personification of that timelessness.
The staircase… or the table first…?
Randidly thought with a frown. From the look of it, the table had once been covered in writing. Perhaps it included some instruction what the maker had desired. But time simply was too powerful. Now the message was barely traces on the stone surface…
Even so, Randidly reached out and touched the top of the table with his eyes closed. Although he wasn’t able to see the writing, his fingers were extremely sensitive. Unfortunately, Randidly had overestimated the integrity of the stone table. The slight touch sent fractures racing across the top of the table.
Instantly, Randidly’s face twisted into a snarl. The ground beneath him cracked as he threw himself backward. The table was definitely weak, but it also triggered off of the ambient Aether Randidly was producing colliding with the timeless image that it was shooting off. That friction acted as a key that released something within.
The vicious aura of the Grim Chimera gathered around Randidly’s right hand. Even though it was painful, his fingers began to glow with Molten Fang of the Pariah. But as he glared at the stone table, nothing happened. Slowly, Randidly rose out of his combat stance. Then, feeling rather foolish, he walked back over to the stone table.
Sitting within an alcove was a glove that was gushing with the image of timelessness. With a root, Randidly retrieved it.
Randidly shook his head after examining it.
Of course, it’s a left-handed glove… I should have repaired my arm before I came here… but still…what the hell is an item like this doing here…?
Chisel of Chulroon (M) Lvl 99: The personal weapon of Chulroon. Made by a talented artisan from the Nexus. Slightly damaged from heavy use followed by an extended period of disrepair. Can build and destroy in equal measure. All Stats +100. Strength evolves into Primordial Strength while the weapon is equipped. Warning! Weapon possesses a small amount of intelligence and might reject the user. The rejection will have consequences.
Randidly scratched the back of his head. There was so much wrong with this glove that he didn’t even know where to start. Not the least of which was the fact that it referred to itself as a Chisel. A chisel that was forged by someone from the Nexus…
Randidly’s eyes slid to the staircase. Was this a lure…? Well, even if Randidly knew that was the goal of leaving this item here, he couldn’t resist his own curiosity now. Shaking his head, he brought the glove with a root and began to walk slowly down the wide stone stairs. Still, Randidly had no plans to directly touch the glove for now. The warning about rejection made him wary.
Although the staircase itself had been reinforced with heavy engraving to resist the passage of time, those Engravings had slowly dimmed to nothing. Now it was simply stone, and the corners of most steps were cracked and chipped. But luckily the maker of this grand hole had taken care to make the base extremely stable.
Plus, as Randidly processed downward, it became clear that the staircase was in better shape; it seemed that somehow this area had to endure the elements somewhat less. In addition, the Aether in the area thickened even further. It was getting to the point that it rivaled the thick torrent of Aether that Randidly was throwing off constantly.
“Ah,” Randidly mumbled as he descended. His eyes flashed emerald as he looked around. “At least this explains why there were no monsters around her.. Well no, it doesn’t, but still…”
Randidly trailed off, unsure of what he was thinking. After descending for a while, he began to see bones laying along the slope of the hole. Individual bodies at first, but as he proceeded deeper there were piles and piles of bone.
Was this place a tomb…?
Very soon, the sounds of the wind on the plateau faded away. Now Randidly was alone with his steps. Here too, his Crown spread and embraced this noise. This was another aspect of being a King; the silent descent into the abyss.
Soon, a soft purplish glow began to rise from below. Randidly quickened his pace.
But when he reached the bottom of the stairs, Randidly stopped dead. “Is that… liquefied Aether…?”