Randidly’s jaw dropped. That… that man is actually empowering his image directly with Aether!
It was enough of a shock to see someone with such a firm and detailed image on Earth that was not him. Not that Randidly believed he was particularly special, but his experience on Tellus gave him a huge advantage in developing an image. It was due to that experience that he had seen how problematic Donnyton’s image was and took actions to rectify it.
Honestly, before Randidly came to the frontlines and spent so much time refining his Willpower, he wasn’t sure who would have won in a direct confrontation against this image. But that was nothing compared to the shock of seeing that this man possessed the capability to manipulate Aether, even if it was the blunt sort of manipulation similar to what the System did so that his Judgement overwhelmed Randidly.
Randidly’s gaze sharpened as he looked at this Straud more closely with Aether Detection activated. Definitely Aether. Does that mean… he also possesses an Aether Crossroads. Then he might be one of the other experiments supported by the Creature…
The more Randidly looked at the man’s cruelty, the more it seemed like this connection to the Creature was the only logical explanation for his shocking strength. With his mouth pressed into a thin line, Randidly’s gaze shifted to Ezekiel and Ace. A really strange combination of people… and although dad didn’t end up the one who was committing the murders… it is also obvious that he’s been killing something to maintain his Stats and gain all these Skills.
Then Randidly focused on Ace. And you… Ace, why-
“Do your worst,” Ace roared. The image behind him roiled and rejoined from its bisected form. As it spun, a figure of seawater and metal came back with an even more imposing presence. Randidly couldn’t help but be impressed to see how much Ace was improving with each strike. It really was like every attack he received gave Ace a bit of insight into the power of images that he could make his own.
As always, Ace’s talent was monstrous. Much more than Randidly had ever been, his former best friend was something of a genius.
“Then let’s settle this now,” Straud said as he poured more Aether into his rider. Even through the Nether Ritual, Randidly could feel the heavy pressure that radiated off of the image. However, Randidly also noticed how pale Straud was becoming as he channeled energy into the attack. It seemed this process was not costless for him “Then we-”
“Ha, are you an idiot?”
Ace hopped lightly backward, all of the power in his image dissipating. He landed next to Ezekiel, who had rapidly activated a Skill with several sharp gestures. Ace shook his head sadly at Straud. “Remember, you are just a stand-in for the real deal. If you won’t serve me? Why waste time dealing with you?”
“You-!” Straud was so furious that he spat saliva out with the word. But Ezekiel already raised his arms and a strange formation filled the air.
“Long Distance Teleportation!”
With a pop, Randidly’s focus was dragged after the three as they crossed space and time. A half-second later, they were standing on the rocky beach of an island as waves crashed below and sprayed salt into the air. Of the three, the woman took the arrival the worst. When they suddenly appeared, she took a steadying step and stuck her foot into a tide pool.
As she was windmilling her arms to keep her balance, Ezekiel stretched out and put a steadying hand on her shoulder to help maintain her balance.
“Get your hand off me,” The woman said stiffly, but it was clear that a lot of her earlier fire was extinguished. Looking around, she asked, “And where did you take me?”
“A place that’s safe,” Ezekiel said. “We wanted to ask you a favor. To help heal someone. So-”
Before Ezekiel could continue, Ace swayed and then collapsed. Ezekiel had to hop forward and seize the other man so he didn’t fall off of their perch into the water frothing around the rocks below.
The woman raised an eyebrow. “…is he the one who needs to be healed?”
“Well, not more than you can currently see.” Then Ezekiel shook his head and gave the woman a firm glance. “Look, I’m not gonna try and hide the fact we want to use you, but it doesn’t have to be a one-way street. I understand that you hold quite a bit of resentment to the sibling duo that currently rules Zone 19 after the actions they took in the Raid Dungeon.”
For the first time, the woman seemed genuinely surprised. “How did you-”
“Lucky guess,” Ezekiel said with a sharp smile. He heaved Ace over his shoulder and walked next to the woman. “For now, follow me back to our cabin. We can rest for a few hours… then we can talk business. And if you don’t agree… I promise on the life of my son that I will take you back to your cabin. You can return to face down that Straud all by your own, if you want.”
Randidly’s most twisted at Ezekiel swearing on his life, but the woman slowly nodded. The two proceeded in silence across the rocky shore toward the interior of the small island, which was covered in trees. But Randidly had seen enough. Both to reassure himself that Ezekiel wasn’t going on a murder spree… and that his father had once more given into the temptation of killing in order to survive.
As Randidly allowed the Nether Ritual to fade and his heart rate to return to its normal speed, he couldn’t help but ask himself if he was truly any different. He closed his eyes as the rather fresh memory of Ki-Kunot came to him. Can I really judge him for killing to remain strong and grow…?
Perhaps the main body would have more difficulty admitting such a truth, but the Grim Chimera was too practical and honestly didn’t care very much about morality, to quibble about whether the father-son duo was the same sort of immoral. Instead, Randidly simply sighed and stretched.
If he had time to dwell, he had time to train.
But when Randidly stood, he was surprised to find the ivory lock had completely been corroded and fallen to the ground. The lines of Aether through the chest had faded to nothing, slowly worn away by constant exposure to Nether. As Randidly examined the raw, physical object of wood, he was struck by how fragile it suddenly seemed. The wood was clearly worn down by time despite the fact that it had been reinforced by Aether, speaking to how exactly how much time it must have seen.
For some strange reason, the main body’s vehement warning against the strange, ancient Aether around Vualla came back to Randidly as he looked down at the chest. Likely for some of the same reasons, the main body would probably strongly dislike this trunk. For Randidly had chosen it mostly because it felt familiar to him.
And Randidly did not have many friends within the Nexus. Hell, he barely had anyone who was ambivalent about him. Everyone he encountered wanted to kill him or use him.
Taking a deep breath, Randidly reached out with his claw and opened the trunk. Instantly, the Aether in the surrounding area fluctuated as waves of intense imagery spread out and appeared around Randidly. Such was the strength of those images that even the Fate blade in Randidly’s chest reacted with heat.
It was power in a way that Randidly hadn’t felt except when he had come to the attention of that being that was suspended in a continent of solidified Aether. His blood seemed to freeze as the weight of that power spread outward.
But like light a sigh escaping an old and empty wallet, suddenly there was nothing but the extremely frail seeming trunk. Very quickly, Randidly’s limbs thawed and he leaned forward to examine the object further. The interior was lined with velvet or had been, but most of it had disintegrated to curling wisps of fabric due to the passage of time. And laying in the center of the trunk was a mahogany brown glove.
It was small and leather and didn’t cover the fingers. There was also a large hole in the palm that went had a matching hole in the back of the hand. As Randidly studied it, he could sense absolutely nothing from it. And in fact, when he gently picked up the leather glove, no explanation appeared. No power at all seemed to reside in the glove.
If he hadn’t felt that sensation earlier… Randidly might have been completely fooled.
Randidly’s mouth twisted as he used his talons to deftly turn the glove over. At least it’s for the right hand, so I can wear it and Chulroon’s Chisel at the same time… when I recover the main body. And perhaps that’s why I don’t see an explanation? If I can examine it physically with a body…
Even if it was rather useless as long as he wore the Grim Chimera’s body, it’s not like Randidly wanted to force the issue and try to absorb the power from another Fate. Not when he was constantly struggling to manage the hiltless blade in his chest. Sure, it generated a lot of Fire Resistance and Pain Resistance Skill Levels, but the struggle was starting to wear on Randidly’s nerves.
Although perhaps slightly disappointed in its mundane shape, Randidly felt that same sensation of familiarity as he stared down at the dark, lustrous color of the glove. This trunk had saved him from quite a bit of trouble as it randomly rolled out in the Fate armory to give him something to hold onto. Was that just a coincidence…? Somehow, this familiarity made Randidly feel like that wasn’t the case.
And it was just so damn reassuring. Randidly pressed his eyes closed. This feeling… why couldn’t he place it…?
Shaking his head, Randidly set the glove down reverently back into the trunk and closed the lid. He likely would need to absorb it eventually, but Randidly didn’t want to forcefully activate it before he needed to. Instead, Randidly walked outside, waved toward Salazar and Zauna, then began to practice his Grim Chimera Skills.
When he had exhausted himself there, he returned to the hut and activated a Nether Ritual, checking in on Yggdrasil. When Randidly aligned his Perception with his fellow image, Yggdasil was meditating in their tent, clearly exhausted. Sighing, Randidly was about to shut down the Nether Ritual when he noticed something else.
In the corner of the room, Randidly could clearly see the weird orb shelter that Yggdrasil had made for Ignition Essence out of the byproduct of Aether and Nether. Focusing on it through the Nether RItual, Randidly was surprised to find that it completely blocked off his Perception on what was happening within.
Even stranger, the orb was riddled with cracks. It seemed like the exterior of that strange orb was barely held together.
Hang on, Ignition Essence, Randidly’s heart fluttered. He dearly wished he knew how he could help… but he couldn’t come up with anything. Everyone had their own battles. The best way to help Ignition Essence would be to make sure Randidly himself didn’t fall behind by wasting time worrying. So Randidly closed that Nether Ritual and prepared to open up another one.
For a few seconds, he wondered if he should look more at what Ace and Ezekiel were up to, but they were just one of a dozen storylines that Randidly had tasted on Earth and was trying to keep track of. For today… Randidly chose to look deeply at Sam.