After watching Tatiana handle most of the day to day necessities of Erickson Steel, Randidly returned to his small shed on the island of Aether and chuckled for several minutes to think of the way that Tatiana had handled this individual from her past. Randidly understood very well how difficult it was to have been transformed by the System and somehow expect the people from the old world to understand. So much had changed that couldn’t be communicated with words.
The strange wonder and horror of the System was something that needed to be experienced first hand.
However, Randidly’s amusement was very quick to ebb away and leave him slightly exhausted. Although he definitely trusted Tatiana to keep a handle on things, seeing her work gave Randidly a much more concrete idea about the status of Earth.
Seeing the rising numbers related to stress tests done on metals made Randidly feel that at least the quality of steel was increasing, but watching Tatiana also revealed reports on sickness and unconsciousness in the wake of the Eidolon Crucible. It was treated as a minor thing that would quickly pass, but Randidly felt not a little guilt due to the face that he had caused the sickness and benefited materially from that sickness.
Every time they went unconscious, Randidly probably grew stronger.
Just like had been perhaps more wounded than he had expected by giving away a portion of his image to the image stone of the Order Ducis, it was not without cost to claim a tribute of image from the people of Kharon when he was victorious. And perhaps Randidly would have reconsidered his position on the Skill had he not noticed a line in the reports that had done a lot to alleviate his worries.
‘Confirming prior hypothesis, only 12% of those currently affected by Image Anemia were afflicted during the prior Eidolon Crucible. Only 1% of all recorded cases have experienced Image Anemia more than twice. It appears that the image reforms more steadily after being fully depleted.’
I already accepted that I would lead you all through hell to become the demons to tear down the System. Randidly pressed his eyes closed. This is just another Path you need to tread in order to grow strong. Even if you hate me for it… it’s better than dying without being able to accomplish anything.
Shaking his head, Randidly checked in on his own condition after the extended Nether Ritual. Although some of the pain was back, it appeared that his true Nether core was doing much better at regulating the energy that he was throwing off into the air. In addition, Randidly was pleased to find that he was very nearly finished cutting through the ivory lock that sealed the trunk containing his second Fate.
Some part of him felt a thrill of excitement about that, but then Randidly winced and had to turn his attention inward to regulate the burning energy that the Fate blade he already ingested was flooding his body with. Although that energy would eventually be absorbed into his image body, in the meantime it would hurt like being slowly devoured by poisonous fire ants.
The sad truth was that the heat didn’t decrease much once it was absorbed into his image body, but it was still better than nothing. In addition, Randidly had been carefully monitoring any changes from absorbing the energy, but the Fate blade seemed perfectly willing to continue to give over its power freely with no more contamination to him than the heat.
But because of the reminder, Randidly’s enthusiasm for forcing open the chest was somewhat dampened. It would be slowly depleted by all the ambient Nether that he threw off now that it had degraded to this point. Instead, Randidly focused his attention inward and continued his ongoing attempts to remember the exact pattern needed to create pseudo Nether cores.
Every time that Randidly felt that he was coming close, there would be a weird moment of inertia and then he would lose the delicate balance required to form the fake cores. But at the moment, the fake cores were the only way that Randidly knew to form a true Nether core. And after seeing how much the true Nether core changed his raw Nether power and his ability to manipulate Nether, he dearly desired more.
Even if he didn’t need Nether to burn through the ivory lock, Randidly still wanted to burn away the Aether Key’s vast amount of Aether and return to help at the front lines.
So while Randidly allowed his body to slowly take some more time to acclimate to the presence of Nether running alongside the Aether in his veins, he carefully began work trying to get the fake core to condense so he could fill it in with the abundant Nether that filled him. Which, Randidly was annoyed to notice, was extremely difficult to due while the Fate blade continued to flood his body with more energy when he wasn’t actively conveying his will to the Fate to slow down its energy expulsion.
But I suppose it’s good I’m not trying to cope with all these things while also fighting against Nether Beasts or Lord Miln… Randidly thought with a sigh. But after the name Lord Miln crossed his mind, all Randidly could remember is Lord Miln’s sneer as he asked Lady Iellaya to sell out Yggdrasil so Randidly’s body would be completely devoid of images.
Well, as long as Ignition Essence is doing well… Randidly thought with a twinge of panic. Then he shook his head. He needed to keep his focus on what he could do right now. If he had the room to experiment with his Nether abilities, he needed to do it now rather than worrying so he wouldn’t regret it later.
Randidly was still too small a figure on these cosmic battlegrounds. He needed to rapidly strengthen his foundations so he wasn’t so constantly at the mercy of the very powerful Commanders that populated the battlefields.
Especially with the constant attacks being launched against the border camps, including Lady Iellaya’s. Even if Randidly somehow overcame Lord Miln and reclaimed his body, he would still be just as dead if he were obliterated by a rampaging horde of Nether Beasts. And the Nether Beasts wouldn’t care at all about his careful images or the value of his body that contained the Alpha Cosmos. It just wanted to destroy Aether.
There were plenty of ways Randidly could choose to die. And it was a very thin Path that Randidly walked to survive.
So he trained. Time began to pass more quickly as Randidly quickly found a pattern to his days. First, training his Skills that he had access to in his partial main body incarnation. Then some time spent trying to condense the false Nether cores. Finally, Randidly would use Nether abilities he was slowly growing to understand in order corrode the surrounding Aether directly and passively working on the lock.
Although the ivory lock was basically almost destroyed, Randidly’s attention was mostly directed toward depleting the Aether Key and managing the Fate blade he had already ingested. Based on the steady stream of energy that continued to flow from the dull grey blade, Randidly could sense that he wasn’t in danger of depleting it anytime soon. There was quite a bit more than he could absorb within its mysterious metal depths.
And this was just ambient energies of the blade. Randidly hadn’t even gotten near the cores images that had formed it yet. He had a long way to go.
Then after practicing with his energies, for a full 24 hours, Randidly would open up a Nether RItual and watch someone for 8 hours of their time and restart his two-day cycle. Mostly he focused on Vualla and Yggdrasil as they continued to endure the brutal attacks of a constant flood of Nether Beasts. He could see wariness building in the expressions as their postures continued to strain underneath the weight of their responsibilities.
Yggdrasil’s generosity was put to the test time and time against as more and more people in Lady Iellaya’s camp learned of his ability to help alleviate image damage. Yet to the Grim Chimera’s clenched-teeth shock, Yggdrasil never turned anyone away. If anything, he continued to push himself harder and harder in order to make a difference where he could.
The emerald leaves of Yggdrasil began to fade and look positively wilted as he constantly pressed his image to the limits of what it could endure. Yet Randidly could not find fault with Yggdrasil, not after he had done similarly dangerous things as the Grim Chimera. It left him feeling rather suffocated.
Vualla was even more aggravating to watch. Most of her time was either spent alone, fighting against Nether Beasts, or enduring the constant physical and verbal abuse of Cail Tweocs. She began silent and unreadable, often leaning forward to allow the veil of her azure hair to fall across her features while maintaining her silence. As Cail harassed her, she simply endured.
When Randidly didn’t look at either of those two people, he watched Earth and remember exactly why he was willing to sacrifice so much time and effort to protect this planet. He watched Donny and Dozer, continually serving as an example of exemplary leadership by example. He watched Mrs. Hamilton making frantic preparation for the next World Summit. He watched Simon sleep, but with the Nether RItual, he could follow the line of the human-turned-Champions dreams to witness the entire Zone reacting to the sudden threat of Zone 1’s weapon.
Randidly’s gaze moved to Hank Howard who was ruthlessly rushing after the trail of bodies sucked dry of blood in the newly arrived Zone 19. His understanding of Earth grew. His gaze grew solemn.
As days turned to weeks, and then months, Randidly began to finally have some consistent success with creating fake Nether cores. It was still a delicate trick to pull off but once Randidly had it happen once, it quickly happened twice. Within a week of his first success, he now had the four fake Nether cores he needed and he tried to push his energy to the next level.
At least that was the plan. It quickly became apparent that the true Nether core had too much of a stabilizing influence over the Nether, so he needed more fake cores to get the energy to reach the requisite density and instability to condense into one whole.
So Randidly created two additional cores before finally succeeding at condensing a second true Nether core with six fake ones and feeling his ability to work with Nether skyrocket once again.
Now, however, the density of Nether that was swirling through his body became a problem. With all of the ambient energy, the delicate balance he had gradually got the hang of for creating the false cores was thrown off. Randidly was forced to start the learning curve from the bottom, which was not a little frustrating.
In addition, the Fate blade was deeply suspicious of the increase in Nether density and behaved erratically for quite some time. Even as Randidly did his best to reassure it, the intermittent consciousness of the Fate blade wasn’t interested in his excuses. It was much more directly concerned with Nether.
And what really bothered Randidly was that the Fate blade between burning rage and a subdued relief at the possibility of its existence ending. Randidly could only shake his head and spend quite a few days working on his control of Nether so it wasn’t such a problem.
Then, after Randidly believe he had reached an equilibrium, Randidly confronted a fear that was building in his heart; that his father Ezekiel was the one who was committing the bloodless murders.
With a tired expression, Randidly wove together a Nether Ritual and studied the scene that appeared in front of him.