With a pulse of light that faded as quickly as it came, Cekt, his seven disciples, and four additional guests appeared before the Yellow Cube, the familiar teleportation device that had brought them from the distant planet of Thelma. As the lingering energy dissipated, they found themselves facing an imposing, seemingly endless structure stretching as far as their eyes could see, shimmering in the ambient light emitted by the Cube.
The structure's elegant geometry seemed almost incongruous against the surrounding vacuum, a testament to intelligent design amidst the wild cosmic emptiness. It was colossal, dwarfing them into insignificance, the sheer scale of it sparking awe within their hearts.
Jake, his tall frame outlined against the ominous structure, stared into the void. His stormy eyes reflected the swirling darkness around them, a stark contrast against the myriad of stars they had left behind on Thelma. Here, the void was punctuated by an almost hypnotic abyss, a black hole that filled the expanse with a terrifying yet fascinating grandeur.
The sheer gravity of it held them captive, the pull of the black hole undeniable, almost sentient. It was like gazing into the eyes of a cosmic beast, an enigma that swallowed not just light, but hope itself.
Around them, the cosmic silence was nearly tangible, hanging heavily in the air and stirring a mix of dread and reverence within their hearts. Even the usually impetuous Ulfar seemed quiet, his usual bravado replaced with a sense of disquiet as he stood beside Hade, their gazes locked onto the abyss.
master, Cekt, remained as as ever. Though even he, an esteemed Rank 3 Aetherist, couldn't completely hide the flicker of awe that passed through his gaze. His voice, when it finally cut through the silence, seemed unusually soft in the vast expanse,
"Welcome, my disciples."
As the sound echoed miraculously through the vacuum, they all shared a moment of dwarfed by the humbling spectacle of cosmic power. The silent darkness around them, interrupted only by the haunting allure of the black hole, signaled the beginning of a journey none of them would ever forget.
"F-fuck! What is this place?" Syrbarun stammered, only for his words to strangle in his throat as he and Drakon began to choke.
The airless expanse around them rendered not just sound, but breath an impossibility. In response to their predicament, Drakon swiftly adjusted his posture, inhaling deeply, his ruby scales rippling with an uncanny grace. Abundant, yet intangible energy was instantly extracted from the vacuum, replacing the oxygen upon his cells had previously relied.
Jake, using his senses and various affinities, swiftly identified a blend of Aether, electromagnetic radiation, and cosmic particles. Through a mysterious and complex process, Drakon was converting the residual vacuum absorb. into a form of Fire Particle that he could
With a casual wave of his hand, Cekt materialized a high-tech helmet, placing it with a flick of his finger onto the head of the regretful mechanical Minotaur, who had exhausted the air in his lungs needlessly. To an ordinary human, this misstep would have been fatal, but the Vrusug could easily survive without breath for a few hours, courtesy of his exceptional Constitution and Vitality.
Once the helmet was secured, Syrbarun took a loud gulp of air and cast a grateful glance at the small alien. "Thanks, master," he said, bowing, sweat pooling on his brow as he realized Cekt had brought them somewhere far from a holiday camp.
Embarrassment washed over him as he discovered he was the only one unable to breathe without aid, especially as a mechanic specializing in mech suit design. But how was he to know their master intended to take them to an uninhabitable, atmosphere-devoid location? If he'd known, he would have prepared in advance, learning an Aether Spell to generate a stable source of oxygen...
Guessing his disciple's thoughts, Cekt chuckled dismissively, and then lectured with a sense of smug superiority. "Lesson one for today: Always the worst when you go somewhere new," he said, turning to Syr with a sharply judging look. "If this had been your fifth Ordeal and we were not here, you'd have perished pathetically. For your information, where we are is usually uninhabited."
Syrbarun considered making an excuse to justify his mistake, but remembering he was indeed the only one who had failed his master's first test, he chose to remain silent.
'Unfair... he mourned internally.
A Draconian, a Gorgonite, two Etheric Beings, an Android, and four humans-wait! Why could these four humans survive here without issue? Jake, being an anomaly, was understandable, but why did the other three also seem perfectly at ease in this godforsaken place?
Fortunately, Cekt was wondering the same and saved him further embarrassment. Assessing Jake and his three companions with evident perplexity, the Wendok curiously commented, "I'd initially prepared extra helmets and even airtight suits just in case, but it seems I was worrying for nothing, hehe."
He'd had suspicions at first, but after reading Jake's status and noticing several similarities in their appearances, he quickly connected it to his disciple's Cosmic D Starfeyrves Bloodline.
Upon their emergence, Lucia, and Ulfar had momentarily choked as did Drakon and Syrbarun, yet nearly instantly, their breaths steadied. Pores on their skin dilated indiscriminately, drinking in the vacuum's energy.
Their was far superior, even more potent than Drakon's, indiscriminately absorbing cosmic particles, radiation, magnetic fields, gravitational waves-whatever was present.
"The Permanent Passive Faction Skill, eh?" Cekt approved with a curt nod. "Good choice." Suddenly, he queried with keen interest, "What of the Energy Body?"
"Temporarily unavailable." Jake shook his head, a hint of frustration edging his words. "The AP required to outfit even a single faction member staggering."
"Do tell," Cekt prompted, his interest piqued.
"One septillion AP per person."
"...Well, good luck with that."
Detecting his disciple's sour mood, the old gremlin hastily reevaluated his response. "Still, it's a fair deal. When you're capable, don't be afraid to give the Oracle its due. Energy Bodies of such grade are far more rare and complex than you might think."
Jake understood the reference: the ability to generate vast amounts of Aether without depleting ambient Aether density. Obtaining a Grade 10 Aether Core was difficult but not impossible. Given enough time and energy, it was straightforward-patience was the only requisite.
However, a Grade 10 Energy Body was an entirely different beast. Apart from a few privileged species like Lure or Epsilom, who had a unique affinity with Aether, it was practically unattainable without near-peak comprehension and mastery of Aether.
Even Cekt made no pretense of having reached such a level. Despite his gruff demeanor and apparent arrogance, he was merely a humble Rank 3 Aetherist.
Just as Jake thought they had put the subject to rest, the alien murmured softly, "I may join your Faction in the future."
Jake was taken aback. Cekt had indirectly admitted his interest in the Grade 10 Energy Body. The other disciples were equally stunned.
Despite their limited knowledge of their master, it was widely known that the Wendok had been a factionless Evolver for ages. Numerous factions and organizations had attempted to recruit him to no avail. Because of a simple Passive Faction Skill, Jake may have succeeded where countless organizations, far mightier than his own, had failed.
Of course, to understand why, the other disciples first needed to understand what the Energy Body entailed. Except for Epsilom, who seemed thoughtful, and Lyra, who harbored her suspicions, the others were utterly baffled.
"So. Where are we?" Rigel inquired telepathically, surveying his surroundings.
He wasn't particularly fond of them. Steel stretched out in every direction, forming strange artificial contours. As a Gorgonite, manipulating the minerals and metals composing this alloy should have been simple, yet it was oddly difficult. Not impossible, but it required such a significant effort it practically was. With no intention of leaving them in suspense,
Cekt spread his arms wide in a grandiose
gesture, a sense of ceremony entering his voice.
"We stand upon the Magnetic Resonator BX9684, within the confines of planet B842. The vast black hole you see in the distance is a conglomerate of many such phenomena drawn from various universes, absorbed by the planet- ship. This singularity fuels the majority of the Oracle Cubes, along with other functionalities of the Oracle System on B842. This black hole is but one among many, yet it's the sole one under our control currently. Despite all of Oros's efforts, it's the only one we've managed to secure."
His tone grew grave, reflecting the weight of recent events. "Regrettably, in light of recent events, the energy we draw from this black hole has become insufficient. My fellow Aetherists and I have been tasked to increase B842's energy and Aether output by any means necessary, and we have several distinct methods at our disposal."
He paused, allowing the significance of his words settle before delivering his final point, a spark of challenge gleaming in his eyes. "Their common denominator, however, is that they are ideal for testing and refining your skills as Aetherists, and as Evolvers in general."