Images of Drak and his… associate Liam disappeared, and Randidly found himself deep, deep within a strange viscous black. There was only darkness, all around, and the cage. The cage couldn’t be seen, but Randidly knew somehow, instinctively, that it was there, blinding him.
Time seemed to flow past, and Randidly was carried around, and the thin stream of energy he produced was syphoned off, elsewhere. This continued, and continued, until the day that the cage broke. This brought Randidly a great joy, but at the same time, the cage had kept him from sinking deeper into the darkness. Without it, he began to slip down and away.
But at the last moment, he saw a pinprick of light in the black and reached for it. They touched.
Suddenly Randidly was syphoned away, and found himself in a new blackness. This place was smaller, in terms of space at first, but it was constantly growing. Randidly fed his energy into this new blackness, filling it, even as it grew, demanding more and more. Luckily, now that the cage was gone, the limitations on Randidly releasing energy was gone, and he created more and more.
Too much. Very soon, the black space was full, and the energy began to pack downwards, condensing into a liquid energy form. And then it filled up around him, even the liquid, more compact form still being too much for this space. It was expanding far too slowly.
So Randidly was submerged in his own energy, and began to feel profoundly sleepy. His eyelids drifted downwards. The pressure…. It closed in on him, slowly sealing off his sense of this black space, and leaving only…
But then, something brushed up against Randidly. A current. An eddy in the liquid energy. His eyelids fluttered.
The flowing began again, more insistent, more volume of energy moving. And with that movement, Randidly struggled, and found the strength to open his eyes. He saw a wide darkness, and to his surprise, himself, sitting in the darkness, his eyes closed. Other Randidly had an extremely pained face, and opened his eyes slowly, too.
“You must…. give to others…”
Randidly blinked in surprise. He remembered saying this, in the darkness created by the Creature. And the thing that was speaking…
Yes, here. Give.
Randidly’s chest vibrated, confirming that the… other that was connected to him had witnessed everything too, and knew what needed to be done here. Then why-
Ah. Randidly smiled ruefully. So he could see… from the perspective of the creature that was in his chest. That it really was something with intelligence. That it knew it was stuck inside Randidly, and was overall… very thankful.
The dream Randidly nodded slowly. “To connect… us all….”
Randidly snapped awake, his skin absolutely burning, feeling like it was on fire. He tried to straighten, pushing himself up off the ground, but it seemed that the skin of his cheek had melted, fusing to the molten rock of the ring beneath him. His whole body was screaming in agony, and waves of pain crashed down on him. The heat too, was an oppressive weight, physically grinding away at him.
As he tried again to move, Randidly realized that he was much weaker than he realized; he wasn’t sure how long he had been out, but it had reduced his health to around 25% through sheer heat through that time.
Instantly, he activated Golden Roots of Yggdrasil, feeling that energy from the core of this world flowing up into him, healing him as rapidly as his body could manage. Bacterial Regeneration was working as hard as it could, but seemed to be largely neutralized by the high heat.
With no other choice, Randidly ripped his head upwards, long chunks of skin lying on the ground, burning and sizzling. He was on his hands and knees, and those weren’t much better. Only after 5 minutes and several ripping, agonizing struggles, did Randidly manage to ascend to his feet. The bottoms of his feet instantly began to scream in protest, but Randidly had no time to bother with them.
While manipulating Living Blood as best he could to heal the worst of the damage in any small way, Randidly looked around. He was… already on the 9th circle, his leap apparently carrying him one deeper into the trial than he needed to go. With more effort than Randidly would have believed, he raised his gaze and looked at the floating face of lava and stone.
“…I don’t suppose this is where you say I didn’t technically reach the correct ring?” Randidly asked wryly.
The giant face above him slowly twisted its mouth. After several seconds, it was clearly a smile.
“No… this is acceptable. But… the challenge is not over. You must withstand such a heat for an hour… only then is your body at an acceptable level to become my anointed. Hmm, hmm…. I suppose since you are closer… the time can be shortened to 45 minutes…”
Randidly’s skin continued to sizzle, bubbling and burning. The bottom of his feet were slowly being ground away by the vicious burning of the semi-solid rock beneath him. Waves of heat wafted upwards, warping the appearance of the ground around him. Shivering, Randidly had quite a bit of difficulty just with standing, even with the thick streams of energy he absorbed through the ground, energizing himself.
All the while, the temperature continued to rise, the air being lit on fire by that strange crimson and black sphere.
After using Absolute Control: Freeze to suppress the worst of the weakness, Randidly began to walk towards the center of the arena, his steps stuttering. None of his spells would really help here, his Healing Palm was at too low of a level to accomplish anything. As it was, he was currently regaining some of his strength very slowly, but it was hard to imagine that he would be able to keep that up as the temperature continued to rise.
No, the best way…
Randidly’s mouth stretched wide.
The way that Randidly somehow knew would grab the attention of the Patron of Ash, just because of how insane it sounded. Because that was the type of character he seemed to be.
“…and if I touch that sphere…?” Randidly whispered.
Above him, the Patron of Ash heard his words, and its eyes began to glow. But it said nothing as Randidly walked forward, trudging as quickly as he could manage. The heat was a physical weight at this point, far beyond the ability for a human before the System to withstand. Sweat evaporated before it even left the pores, and Randidly’s skin began to wither and flake awake.
It was hot and dry, to an unbelievable degree. Randidly looked down at the final ring in front of him, grimacing. This was the part that might be hard. And Randidly took the step, and hopped downwards into the next ring.
The room was dark, making it impossible to see. But the air was cool, and Randidly gasped, sucking down large lungfuls of cool air. It probably hurt him, because this was just an illusion, and out around him the heat was still present. But for now, it was a much needed break.
But then he straightened, because he recognized that voice, no matter where he was. He had just heard it, albeit in an illusion. The deep darkness parted, and slowly shapes became clearer around him. A dark bedroom, in a classical style. 4 poster bed, writing desk, large mirror on the far well, a tall bookshelf…
A figure got up out of a bed, stepping carefully, not bothering to dress herself. She was just wearing a shift. The only light in the room came from the nearby window, but the drapes were pulled, so only a bit of reflected luminance was able to shine around.
But it was Sydney, thin and pale even in the darkness, her normally short hair grown out to her shoulders. She gave him a long look, then sighed.
“Is this a joke…? To think I fell for it, even for a second…” Then her eyes firmed, and she raised her hands. “Well, whatever sick sort of joke Ace had planned, I still refuse to meet with him. Die.”
Randidly felt a strange chill, and it was more than just the strange sinking feeling in his chest he felt as Sydney waved her hands at him in a threatening manner. Thick daggers of black ice shot forward, aiming for his chest.
In that moment, Randidly was frozen, shocked both that Sydney would attack him, the mention of Ace, and the fact that she was clearly using skills that would have come only after the System arrived. Did that mean…?
They were alive…? All of this time…?