His legs were numb and useless; at the moment, it seemed that anything other than his eyesight and right arm didn’t exist. He was trapped, bobbing up and down in a sea of darkness. So he frowned upward and prepared himself.
Randidly would not flinch.
The wheel continued to descend, slowly spinning. But a small distance above Randidly, the wheel stopped descending, simply floating there. Now that it was closer, he could see that the wheel itself was the size of a building, a monstrous iron thing that could easily crush spirits and break bones if it continued down towards him.
But as it began to spin, something even more sinister and familiar began to happen. As it spun, speeding up at an even pace, the air itself began to twist and hum, with greater and greater intensity. It was… Agony. That same skill that the Sphinx had used on him, all that time ago. The skill of a monster.
Randidly hadn’t used it in quite some time, mostly because he didn’t want to use it on people, due to the mental anguish it could cause. And also, he didn’t want to become reliant on the opportunities it created for him in battle. Better to focus on the spear currently time.
It was somewhat nostalgic, to feel that vicious, burning, twisting again. It reminded Randidly of a time of confusion and rage in his past. Tessa’s face sprung to the surface of his mind, someone that Randidly hadn’t thought about in quite a while, and he grimaced. The fact that he had gotten so angry that he felt fine using Agony on her…!
Guilt clawed at his heart, tugging on his resolve to remain here. It hurt his pride, and the fact that he was considering listening to this heartless creature drove him crazy, but was it really so much trouble to consider her proposal, for people like Tessa…?
She hadn’t adapted to the system like him. She was forced to work at some sort of gentleman’s club in Franksburg in order to survive. Her skills hadn’t grown, she hadn’t found any unique paths, she was just an attractive, average girl. The peace that Randidly could create would be for people like her.
When he viewed the option in the general sense, it didn’t carry that weight, but when he remembered Tessa’s face, twisted in Agony, due to someone like him, who became callous to the vicious power that he could control…. Randidly’s frown deepened, as more and more jagged daggers of guilt tore at his resolve.
The wheel above him began to spin faster, and the pain increased.
A small sizzling noise distracted Randidly, forcing him to look down. The wisps were still there, but now they were twitching and wiggling. Randidly’s eyes widened; they…. felt this pain too…?
“Those that help you…. will perish.”
And with a soft pop and a sigh, one of the wisps, the weakest and dimmest, dispersed in a small expulsion of energy, and disappeared. Randidly’s gaze hardened.
The long, thin wisp wrapped itself around the smaller, dimmer wisps, protecting them by moving them together. Instinctively, Randidly reached for his Aether, but found himself grasping at nothing. Showing his teeth, Randidly’s body began to hum as fury circulated through his veins. He reached again, harder, smashing outward.
But whatever was around him, isolating him, was soft and easily dispersed the force. Growling, Randidly forced his will into his left arm, slowly bringing it forward, doing his best to ignore the numbness. Slowly, as the wisps began to keen in terror, Randidly brought his hands forward and wrapped them up with his fingers, insulating them slightly to the vicious vibrations that tore through the air.
Above him, the wheel only turned faster, producing an increased level of Agony.
By now, the skill was getting above the level of pain that Randidly could produce with his body. But it was not above the level that he could withstand. His Mental Fortitude had grown much in his adventures in the prison, as his Battle Intent developed. But the wisps….
Randidly’s voice, when he spoke, was simultaneously hollow and gravelly, as if his lungs were clogged and hadn’t been used in quite some time. “Flee….. You must…. flee. I’m… fine.”
In his hands, the wisps vibrated in response. He could feel their unwillingness. He could feel their resolute loyalty. Even after one of their own perished, they remained here, being slowly ground down by the Agony produced by the wheel.
With another pop and sigh, a wisp perished, even with the protection of the larger wisp, and Randidly’s hands. His fingers tightened, and Randidly tried to activate Rejection, Eyes of the Spear Phantom, Root Control…. Anything really, to lash out against this strange creature that isolated him. But the world remained dark.
“Flee… if you don’t-”
Randidly began, but to his surprise, the wisps left his hands, the 5 remaining ones, shooting outward, all of them bright and vivid. He blinked. Well, he had said that, but…. to have them accept and flee so suddenly….
Randidly shook his head sardonically. It was for the best. He would find a way out of this, and-
But then he froze, because after they fled away from him, the wisps began floating in the air at certain points in front of him. As he looked at them, Randidly realized they formed a cross. The largest and longest was in the center, slowly circling in a small space. The others were arrayed in four directions around the first, flying in and out towards the central wisp, as if tracing a line.
“What…?” Randidly muttered. Then his face paled, as one of the wisps popped out of existence. Then another. Then another, then another, until there was only the long and thin one, swirling in the center.
Its brightness had been ground down, so its long and thin body was dim and insubstantial, like a trail of smoke. Its movements grew sluggish. This was the first one, the one that originally split, the one that had so brightly danced around his fingers in the past.
“Why….?” Randidly said frantically, pouring his will into his body. He still couldn’t feel his body, but he began to float forward through the darkness, towards that last remaining emerald wisp. “Why aren’t you fleeing….? What are you trying to show me….?”
The emerald wisp continued to circle, beginning to shrink. The wheel overhead sped up, and the Agony crashed downward towards them. But there was one benefit to the Agony; the stronger it was, the stronger Randidly’s control over his numb body became. It cut through the isolation to hurt him, and gave him space to move.
Finally, after a long minute, Randidly reached the wisp. Stretching out his hand, he went to pick the wisp up. With a satisfied sigh, it popped, disappearing. But hanging in the air was a thought that was transmitted directly into Randidly’s brain with such clarity that it almost seemed like a thought that he had himself.
You are not alone.
The tone was one of joy and pride, even if it was filled with nostalgia.
Hanging in the spot where the last wisp had disappeared, Randidly’s hand slowly curled into a fist. He ground his teeth and a glowing light filled his eyes, suppressing tears.
“The nerve of you…. to say something like that….. as you die…. Where does your confidence come from… Why would you give for me to such an extent…?”
But there was no answer. The darkness continued to fill with Agony, crashing against his will. Randidly restrained a sob, then focused his eyes, furious. Although the wisps had given themselves up, he refused to believe that there was no meaning to their actions. There was meaning to the location that Randidly now floated, and also to the 4 lines that they had traced in the air. All he had to do was find it.
So Randidly closed his eyes and breathed slowly. The crashing pain dug frantically at the edges of his consciousness, demanding attention, but his core slowly became increasingly tranquil. Plus, if his outside feedback was cut off, there was no point in holding his eyes open. The information there would be warped. All he had left…. was hope and intuition.
And the promise that he wasn’t alone. But if the wisps died to say that, was it still even true…?
Still, hope wasn’t an answer, but it was the scent of a path. And strangely, Randidly had no fears that the wisps had lied to him. They were a pure creature, a joyful one. They were simple and bright while they were alive. Thinking about it, the anger in Randidly’s chest grew hotter and hotter, and he bared his teeth in the darkness.
This location, the location of the largest of the wisps….
His senses expanded, but found nothing. Shaking his head, Randidly instead just sat, withdrawing his focus. He brushed away the pain of Agony, even as it began to reach a level that would result in physical damage to his body. Those things weren’t important now, it wasn’t even clear that this was a body that could be damaged.
He was submerged, completely underwater, surrounded by a thick, deep pressure. Endless possibilities swirled around him. It was raw and pure and frigid and piping hot. It was the energy of Aether, and he was deep within the core of it, sitting at the location of that deep well within himself. Inside his chest, the hole that was the source of it all sat at the same location of his heart, and beat in time with his pulse.
He then turned his focus outward in the 4 directions the other wisps had traced. There was only darkness there, darkness and the insidious grinding of the Agony.
But Randidly had made it through the Challenge of Tarnak, and he had learned much about his own ability to endure. And he was patient. So he waited. And waited.
His senses were cut off to him, but still he waited, confident. Maybe he was just imagining it, but now that he thought about it, Randidly was very sure that he was right; he was sitting in the core of his Aether Spring. His Aether Crossroads, that was hamstrung in a way that would give it no outlets for Aether but himself, growing to become a dungeon.
Along those paths, he suddenly felt it. Motes of light, flowing slowly towards him. Four different colors of lights.