In his imagination, those lights floated slowly through these four paths towards Randidly. There was a path of cool white lights, of hot red lights, of vivifying golden lights, and reserved indigo lights. They came in large waves, floating in batches towards Randidly’s location. In his imagination, Randidly could see that the points of light floated into the hole in his Aether well, sinking slowly into him.
The hole pulsed, and more Aether was produced, and a portion of that flowed in drops in the opposite direction, heading towards the producer of those lights.
Time slowly passed. The pain continued to intensify. Randidly willed change, but it felt like he was powerless. He could only watch as the lights came in, and the drops of Aether flowed in the other direction. But one thing he did notice was that the more lights came, the more Aether was produced, and the more headed back down the connection.
It was perhaps also just his imagination, but Randidly believed that increasingly more lights were flowing back towards him. It was a self-reinforcing cycle that only grew stronger, he believed.
So instead of trying to activate skills, Randidly’s focus narrowed until it was just on 4 drops of Aether. And in a huge act of will, he pushed.
For a time, nothing happened. Then those four drops began to tremble, and then flow outward, heading towards the direction of these connections.
“Go…. please…” Randidly whispered.
And strangely, the Aether trembled again, and began to speed up. It felt as though Randidly was in a large cavern, because he felt those words reverberate back to him, hanging heavily in the air as the Aether around him began to swirl.
Randidly didn’t really need to breath with this body, but it did a lot to help him resist the vicious grinding of the pain of Agony. It had leveled off, but it had leveled off far above his ability to withstand. If he had to endure this with a physical body….
But it was a mental one, or at least he thought so, so he was able to continually erect mental barriers to protect himself. Endlessly he invented distractions and walls to buy himself time. And he pushed at the Aether, willing the process to accelerate. In order to distract himself, he named the connections, based on his suspicions.
“Annie.” The cool white motes of light seemed to tremble, and a dull vibration began at the edges of his perception.
“Sam.” The bright and warm golden lights dutifully trotted forward towards his position, flowing in the hole that Randidly imagined in his chest. Aether poured out and swirled, the speed growing faster and faster. The vibration became a tremble, and Randidly thought he heard a soft echo of Sam in the darkness.
“Mrs. Hamilton.” These were the reserved indigo lights, coming slowly down towards his position. They were in no hurry, and had no one to impress. They were confident in themselves, and slightly mysterious. The longer that Randidly looked at these lights, the harder it became for him to determine what color they were. His initial impression was indigo, but then he saw flashes of forest green, and sometimes they gave off a decidedly grey and brown coloration. It was the color of camouflage, and of darkness.
The vibration was a voice, and it sounded like someone yawning, waking after a long rest.
Randidly nodded, then turned to the last flowing river of lights. “Alana.”
These were hot and red, steadfastly rushing towards the hole in Randidly’s chest. They believed, he knew instinctively, far more than any of the others, that this connection was something special and powerful. That it was a unique and powerful skill and a blessing that he had given them.
This time, the echo was so clear that Randidly opened his eyes in surprise. It sounded like someone was whispering in his ear. He began to fear that it was the creature that was speaking to him, but Randidly couldn’t figure out why it would do something like this. The one problem, however, was that opening his eyes made him lose the carefully constructed image about the lights and Aether, and once more darkness crashed down around him.
Pain smashed against him, threatening to knock him unconscious. But Randidly refused to let that happen. Instead, he closed his eyes and focused once more, searching for that inner peace.
It was hard to let go of the irony of opening his eyes and being flooded with darkness, but sometimes that was life. Especially when it was his life. Randidly dubiously wondered whether anyone but him had such ridiculous things happen to him.
What ended up being the most useful for recovering that meditative state was his rage. It was vicious and hungry, and wanted to claw and break everything the creature had planned. He would do so even if he had to completely destroy his inner world to do so. Hopefully, however, that would be unnecessary.
As he was settling down, he felt a slight tingling through his body. Almost as if… some of his feeling was returning. But he tried to ignore that sensation, because all it really did was enable him to feel the power of Agony more directly.
After more time passed, he suddenly felt something click, and he was back, deep within his Aether Well, where all the Aether he had produced was pooling. But now the flows in it had become more noticeable, and a very noticeable increase in colored lights were flowing towards Randidly in the darkness.
It was perhaps only 1 more mote of light for 5. But it was an improvement. The Aether around him continued to hum, and the tingling in his body grew stronger. His will expanded and pressed, motivating more and more drops of Aether to move, flowing outward towards those connections to his four blessed individuals.
But the Aether seemed reluctant. He could almost hear the thrumming question,
, in their resistance.
“You must…. give to others…” Randidly whispered, surprised how difficult moving his mouth still was. Sentences were miserable, even more so now than it had been when he had been struggling directly against his social anxiety.
“Because if you give… to others…” God fucking damnit, his mouth was a shapeless, wet paper bag controlled with chopsticks. “Others… give….. back…”
Randidly’s eyebrows twitched. There was definitely a voice. Was this really the creature fucking with him…? He had started to assume that when the wisps told him he wasn’t alone, they had meant themselves, or more recently he had thought the wisps referred to his connections to the people he had blessed, where something was currently happening with Aether.
But… was it possible that something else was at play here…? Holy shit, his inner world was a fucking tourist destination.
“Yea…. both of us.”
But this time the strange vibration seemed satisfied, and the Aether began to flow easily. It was still extremely heavy, as Randidly pressed his will as best as he could on the imaginary world. But somehow… he felt infinitely more connected to the Aether than he had in the past. He felt the hole shifting, slowly rising and setting itself directly inside of his chest, no longer simply matching the beating of his heart. It WAS the beat of his heart. They became one and the same.
A pain much worse than Agony, spiked through Randidly, and he felt like his body, eyes, mind, and soul were dipped in fiery, jagged knives, and they were pulled rapidly through a passageway of broken glass. Everything was miserable and the pain was so great and sudden that his breath wouldn’t come. There was only the strange, icy fire, consuming-
Then it was gone, and Randidly breathed heavily, shivering.
The voice truly sounded bright now, but Randidly could only shake his head. Still, feeling was now flooding back through his limbs. With that feeling, he simply pressed harder, motivating more drops of Aether. But it seemed like there was a limit to how much he could give at once.
There was a strange elasticity on the pathway that led to his connected people, and more and more drops of Aether went to press up against it. Randidly added more, pressing harder, but still nothing happened. He was beginning to sweat what would happen if he could not add more, when there was a pop from one of the connections.
Alana’s had… expanded, was the only word, and more Aether began to flow, not only on the magnitude of drops, but now a small stream, a few fingers wide. The Aether greedily rushed towards it, flowing down towards her. After a short amount of time, a greatly increased amount of red lights floated back, heading towards Randidly’s chest.
The connection to Mrs. Hamilton popped then, and a thin stream of Aether flowed outwards towards her. Then Annie’s popped, and hers accepted more and more Aether, more than either of the other two, almost twice as much. And the amount of white lights the floated back was commensurately thick.
Finally, Sam’s connection popped, and suddenly the amount of lights that Randidly was absorbing grew by a magnitude of 10, counting all of the changes. His body was buzzing, slowly coming alive, and he felt himself resonating with the strange vibrations of the Aether flows. There was something here, something growing. Whereas the Aether had previously been stagnant, now it began to flow.
And slowly, things were changing. Randidly opened his eyes, his mental eyes, only to find that although it was dim, he was once more floating in his inward world, surrounded by his skills, the energies for his Soul Skill, and of course, the creature.
She folded her arms.