The souls of both Richard and the broodmother’s avatar were wrapped up in a storm of spiritual energy, vortices of power crashing into them from all sides. The barrier he’d rebuilt was like a tiny bubble being blown about in the midst of this storm, about to pop at any time.
Regret was no longer an option. It was all he could do to watch these incoming vortices with full attention and avoid those that were far too violent, jumping between the gentle ones to minimise the impact. His blessing of truth allowed him to see the soul world as though it was real, giving him the opportunity to use his other blessing to find a safe path amidst the storm.
However, safety was relative. Even in the easiest pathway his soul-form and the tiny egg it was now holding was on the verge of breaking down under the assault. He tried to call out to his followers nearby, but even with Waterflower the connection seemed to have been cut off completely; he felt his spiritual energy gushing out in torrents, but there was no response. With no choice left, he resumed his focus on avoiding the storm as best he could.
The shield protecting his soul was on the verge of breakdown, but he knew that the forest could not sustain this for a long time. Although the will had residual energy from years of growth, something of this scale could not be held for more than a short burst. He mended the cracks that constantly appeared on his soul shield, every instance accompanied with head-splitting pain. The sheer agony of it all seemed to unlock something primal within him, his blood boiling with pure rage at the seemingly endless storm.
At one point, he was surrounded by powerful vortices on all sides. Even the weakest of them was quite dangerous, but he had no choice but to charge through. The spiritual energy left an enormous hole on the soul shield, immediately allowing a few specks of the will within. His Archeron bloodline immediately turned scalding hot as his entire soul form turned dark red, punching the energy that had snuck in.
The power of his truename erupted from within the punch, a layer of dark red appearing on his fist and exploding on impact with the will. All of the green light within a few dozen metres was immediately dyed red and burnt up, leaving a large vacuum all around. An earth-shattering howl rang out from within the spiritual storm, sounding like the wind or a gigantic beast. However, Richard could feel the pain in his very soul; this part of the will that had been destroyed was certainly just a tiny puddle in the see, but any harm to the soul was violently painful.
However, this attack was not without its consequences. Only a third of his punching fist remained, the rest having been destroyed in the engagement. He had taught the will of the forest a fierce lesson, but the overall damage to him was much greater than to it. This plane was far too large, losing a tiny bit of energy was nothing.
Richard understood that this was a hopeless battle— it was near impossible for him to hold out all the way until the storm ended. However, he refused to give in and die; he would cause as much damage as he could. Using the little energy he had left to mend his soul and the shield, he turned to face the vortices once more.
The forest’s offensive grew much more violent after the exchange, to the point that even with all of his minds working together Richard could no longer follow the storm properly. It wasn’t long before the shield was broken through again, and this time his attack extended even further as it burnt the green away. The will roared out in response, bringing forth an even larger storm.
Richard sneered. The forest had a lower tolerance for pain than he’d expected. The shield was torn apart for a third time, then a fourth and a fifth… He lost track of the pain, but Wisdom and Truth were working at full speed. He was running on pure determination at this point, but he tried his best to hold on.
Escaping from yet another whirlpool, he destroyed the trace of the will that had seeped in. However, the moment he tried to mend the shield his vision went completely black. Forcing himself to return to consciousness, he found a mark of obvious thinning on the shield; a sign that his soul was out of energy to use.
Was this it? He suddenly looked up, gathering the tiny bit of energy he still had left and yelling furiously, “You want to kill me? Come on!”
His roar was like that of a dying beast, resounding within the spiritual storm. Lava seemed to be surging out of his soul form, the well of stars spraying astral energy to replenish his reserves. However, neither could support the sheer rate at which he was consuming his strength. Although the shield did not break with the next impact, a web of cracks formed across it; if it was struck just once more, that would be the end.
Richard calmed down completely and gathered all of his energy, waiting for the moment the shield would shatter. Once that happened, he would use his own soul as fuel for Dizmason, the destructive power formed by that sacrifice likely to extinguish most of the will of the forest in this storm. With such great damage, the plane would take centuries to recover at minimum!
It was at this point that a refreshing energy surged into his mind, containing pure spiritual might that replenished his reserves. It wasn’t a lot, but it gave him enough to repair the cracks on the shield. Shocked and delighted, he found that the egg he had been carrying in his left hand had already hatched; a worm the size of his palm was currently biting into a bundle of green light.
In the blink of an eye, the entire bundle of energy was finished up by the young clone. Another vortex struck them in the meanwhile, but although he lost the rest of his right arm Richard still made it through. The infantile worm immediately pounced onto the will and tore away at what remained, sending pulses of spiritual energy to aid him.
The will of the forest hurt even him greatly; the worm was most certainly paying a price. It rolled around in pain with every mote of the will it devoured, but no matter how much it twitched and struggled it still regularly sent him spiritual energy to keep up the shield. Although this wasn’t an enormous amount of energy, it combined with his own methods of recovery to barely give him equilibrium.
He didn’t know how much time had passed, but the will of the forest bellowed with resignation before finally retreating. Sat on the ground, Richard finally opened his eyes, but only for lines of blood to drip down from the corner. Trying to move his body, he heard cracks everywhere as at least a dozen bones broke apart.
He frowned at the pain, looking at the giant egg that was now vibrating as it cracked apart. A black worm-like creature crawled out from within, looking almost exactly the same as the broodmother when she had first appeared. It was rather nostalgic, causing his mind to wander to when he had first entered Faelor.
Watching this infant that had just weathered a battle of life and death with him, Richard felt an instinctive fondness for it. The child ate its shell right away before receiving his mental message, crawling behind him to open up a sealing case. Within were a large number of magic crystals and a dull gold divine crystal the size of a finger.
A rather excited squeal sounded through the forest as the young broodmother dove into the box and started biting away. The crystal started emanating milky-white divine flames that burnt its head, but despite its cries of pain it gobbled the thing down. Immediately falling from the box, it rolled over onto its back and faced the sky.
Richard could almost see a smile on the charred mouth, feeling a sense of relief with the strength he sensed in its soul. He could definitely understand the infant’s feelings; before it could even break out of its shell, it had met a crisis that could destroy it completely. It was only natural to grab any opportunity it could to strengthen itself.
Watching the unmoving child, he smiled as well. For some reason, the disgusting worm looked somewhat adorable.