The trio popped into existence in the Great Rift with a muted smack. Salazar immediately began shivering and rubbing his scaly shoulders as the Nether began to bite and snap at their relatively vulnerable image-flesh. Zauna simply floated in the vast space filled with intermittent blue veins, seemingly at ease despite the obvious corrosion of her body. Both looked to him for guidance.
Randidly’s eyes glowed emerald. Ash billowed outward in waves, driving back the Nether and giving the group a brief respite from the Nether.
to push back the Nether without Aether. Aether just functioned as a weapon for someone to use that could strike directly at the substance of the Nether and weaken it so your image would have an easier time making itself at home. It pretty directly corresponded to the difference between convincing a stranger to give you their wallet and using the threat of a gun to coerce them into doing so.
But of course, the Grim Chimera was very persuasive. In this case, it just wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Yet it was also an extremely draining exercise. Only a small area of Nether was currently suppressed by the weight of Randidly’s will, and already the familiar buzz of a headache was emerging. Without Aether to ground the shift, the area would immediately revert to primordial Nether when he stopped pressing against the substance of the world.
Randidly glanced sideways at Salazar. “I’ll hold it up while you get your bearings. Afterward, you will stay toward the back and keep this area filled with an image while Zauna and I handle any Nether beasts.”
Immediately, Salazar began to twitch and wring his hands. His thin and pink tongue flicked out between his lips. “I d-don’t think that’s f-f-f-for the b-best. I can’t-”
Some part of Randidly died as he opened his mouth to speak.
The worst sort of hells are the ones you bring upon yourself willingly and knowingly.
“Don’t think about it. Just… tell your favorite story. About… yourself. I’m sure it will work out.”
Zauna nodded in agreement and Salazar immediately brightened. “R-really? Well if you are sure… ahem… ohohoho… it’s so embarrassing to have you beg for stories like this… but I suppose I can’t say that I’m not used to it… ah… now which to tell, there are simply so many deed and adventures that would leave the world shocked…”
He hadn’t even started the story, but Randidly already felt some of the pressure on his will wane. As Salazar worked up a head of steam, his image billowed outward away from him. An incorporeal phantom that Randidly had to assume was Salazar’s vision of himself began to manifest directly above the trio. The phantom resembled Salazar, in so much that it was also of the same race, but that was where the similarities ended.
This phantom had powerfully muscled limbs that flexed constantly as it prowled. And weirdly, it was constantly walking back and forth and twisting to reveal a snake-fang smile over his shoulder as if it was a model prancing about on a catwalk. Its tail was as thick as a dolphin’s, flicking back and forth with serpentine grace.
“Ahem, I suppose the best place to start is the day I was born… My mother was a princess in exile, the secret descendant of Salashak, the ancient emperor who had once conquered the world…”
Randidly did his best to ignore Salazar and let his senses expand outward as the snakeman’s image surrounded them all and granted him a measure of respite. Immediately, he grimaced as he examined the Great Rift around them.
Not as bad as the mission from the Beacon of Duty, but that Nether Well is pretty damn close…
Randidly could also sense five nether beasts immediately swarming toward their position. None were as large as the one batbeast Randidly had faced, but each was close to that size. But what really caused his mood to dip was the heavy pulse of the Nether Well against the edge of his awareness. Distance was hard to judge here in the Great Rift, but Randidly felt how the strange Nether Well slowed as soon as they appeared.
It seemed like it was turning around to head for their position. A small resonance began to build in his chest, but Randidly was used enough to such feelings that he didn’t allow it to distract him. Which, of course, meant that the resonance grew and it became even
distracting. But still, Randidly’s focus was drawn elsewhere at the moment by the weight of necessity.
Randidly spared Salazar a glance and then spoke loudly to drown out his voice. “Zauna, I doubt he can maintain this if he gets spooked, so we will need to leave the bubble to intercept the Nether beasts. You take the two heading up from below, and I’ll manage the other three pieces of shit. If you can’t kill them, just stall; I’ll handle the fucking rest.”
Randidly’s heart was pounding. Hot imaginary blood surged through his limbs. If the Grim Chimera would sweat, he would be sweating. The thought of the wild conflict that was about to occur sent tingles through Randidly’s entire body. And waiting beyond these Nether beasts was the Nether Well. He hadn’t fought one before, but-
“…can’t see them coming…”
Randidly blinked and refocused on Zauna’s muttered words. “You can’t… feel them coming? They-”
The resonance in Randidly’s chest built until it popped up in the form of a notification.
Congratulations! You have learned the Skill Nether Sensation (L) Lvl 1. After your body’s slow adaption to Nether, the state of the surrounding substance becomes increasingly clear.
Nether Sensation (L): Increases effectiveness of your evolved Perception stat in areas dominated by Nether. In addition, gives you some understanding as to the perverse laws of the Nether. Effects increase with Skill Level.
Immediately, Randidly’s awareness reached outward and seized the Great Rift. In addition, he became acutely aware of a strange sort of pattern to the Nether Beasts’ movements. In a short amount of time, he couldn’t figure out exactly how they were moving, but it suddenly occurred to him that the way each moved had distinct similarities. If he could grasp the pattern-
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Sensation has grown to Level 2!
Shaking his head, Randidly pointed quickly twice down toward the approaching monsters. “There and there. They should arrive a few seconds apart, so you might want to engage the first as hard as you can to attract the second.”
For the first time since they had met, Randidly saw Zauna tilt her head to the side and open her mouth. Which weirdly meant that the upper half of her head moved upward a tiny bit, in a similar way to a puppet would be made to look while it was speaking. “…handle three…?”
Randidly chuckled. “Honestly, I wish it was more. Ten seconds until they get here. Don’t let them touch this bubble or else we will need to endure the Nether for the rest of our stay here.”
“And that was when the jealous mongoose leapt out of the bog!” Salazar continued to enthusiastically tell his story, his eyes so filled with stars that he didn’t even notice that his audience had drifted away. Which at least also meant he would not easily notice the approaching Nether Beasts. “From its belt, it drew a curved dagger, which it licked provocatively while gazing at my heavily pregnant mother…”
Randidly shuddered. Even letting his concentrate slip for a second let too much of Salazar’s story into his mind. It would be a while before he could scrape his consciousness clean. So instead of staying inside the bubble of Salazar’s image while he could, Randidly deliberately left the safety early and floated out into the caustic Nether.
His skin began to burn. Randidly’s breath came faster and rougher.
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Acclimation ® has grown to Level 119!
Yea, that’s the stuff.
Randidly grinned out into the vast void around them. Now that he was out within the Nether, his feel for the surrounding area grew even more acute. But there was still too much strangeness to parse apart and Randidly didn’t have the time or attention to give the environment his consideration.
Randidly inhaled. His heart was pounding. The fire was burning in his chest.
Grim Chimera exhaled, its murderous appendages tingling in anticipation.
With a roar, the first Nether Beast arrived. It was not a jellyfish or a bat, but this time something that looked like a cross between an angler fish and an eel. With its milky eyes, slick and bulging body, and strange wiggling singular antenna, it certainly fit the part of a strange monster from a different dimension better than the prior two types of beasts Randidly encountered.
But ultimately, its form didn’t matter.
Man is Proud, but the Chimera Takes.
Randidly ripped forward. Such was his momentum that he practically cut through the sizzling Nether as he shot forward toward the Nether Beast. While he was moving, Randidly’s entire focus narrowed to the tip of his bone spear. All the weight and momentum he could muster was thrust and compacted into that singular point. The tip of his spear rumbled ominously, even though the sound was dampened by the Nether around him. The Nether Beast twisted, but Randidly was too quick; the beast’s body was punctured like a balloon hit with knife.
Nether splashed outward in a wave as Randidly’s tightly compacted image smashed into the core of the Nether Beast. Unfortunately, Randidly felt the core crack but it didn’t completely shatter. And its two fellow Nether Beast’s roared down at Randidly’s back.
Congratulations, your Skill Chimeric Avoidance (L) has grown to Level 201!
Randidly spun away, earning two shallow gashes across his back where the antenna of the attackers scored hits. Scanning quickly, Randidly determined that Zauna had successfully stopped the other two beasts and focused back on his own opponents. The Nether Beast Randidly had struck originally was gathering itself together, but its fellows flipped around and shot after him. Grinning, Randidly spread his arms wide and welcomed them with talon and spear.
Cursed Appetite of a Wraith.
Randidly pulled deeply at the surrounding space. The Nether Beasts stalled for a split second as his image smashed against them, but Randidly missed that opportunity to strike because he paused briefly as well.
Because when he pulled, Randidly’s will caught on the wafting image that Salazar was madly producing as he grew increasingly fervent in his storytelling. And when that image was pulled toward Randidly, it funneled into his body and was transformed into strength. And strength in the body of the Grim Chimera became confidence in violence.
When the two Nether Beasts attacked him, Randidly didn’t dodge. He simply raised his spear and activated Man is Proud, But the Chimera Takes once more. The Skill propelled him forward so he smashed directly into the skull of the left Nether Beast, and this time both the outer bubble and the core was completely destroyed. Wreathed in a nova of Nether guts and gore, Randidly began to laugh.
Congratulations! Your Skill Man is Proud, But the Chimera Takes (L) has grown to Level 173!
While the first Nether Beast continued to try and restore the Nether hemorrhaging from its core, Randidly’s emerald eyes locked onto his last remaining prey in prime condition. “Come on then, don’t you dare disappoint me.”