In such a short amount of time, there was only so much that Randidly could do to repair the damage to his image. Not that he had experienced any truly dangerous wounds in the short and violent fight, but he had gotten so caught up in the heat of battle that he had directly exposed himself to the dense cores of Nether much more often than was necessary. Emotions had gotten the better of him after his last boring sortie into the Great Rift.
It was only light, superficial damage as he punctured and popped the bodies of the Nether Beasts, but it added up. And, as always in the Great Rift, this was ultimately an endurance contest. It wasn’t enough to just defeat these foes, but there was also the reinforcements and the environment itself that he would need to cope with.
Randidly shook his head roughly, trying to dislodge the distracting thoughts. Even if the healing he could accomplish was small, he needed to give the process his entire attention. That was how he would survive.
And to the Grim Chimera, survival was everything.
Finally a foe worth fighting too…
Randidly shivered in excitement before allowing everything else to fall away but the form of the Grim Chimera that hovered before his eyes. As before, the faint echo of the original image that was used by the main body could be faintly perceived. There were an increasing number of things that were different about his current form to the main body’s image, but that didn’t bother Randidly too much. In fact, Randidly believed that a lot of the changes he had main since splitting off from the main body were improvements.
What he was looking for was potency. The specific details didn’t matter so much as the fact that there were details associated with the image. Heaviness, reality, and weight were the touchstones of his refinement. And Randidly was proud of his work.
After so many sorties into the Nether, the skin of the Grim Chimera had taken on an extremely sickly quality. It had always been rather grey with large, flaking chunks, but now there were thick black veins pulsing visibly across his torso and arms. As his skin visibly paled and thinned, the tenacity of the image actually strengthened his resistance to the Nether. But it did mean that the shuddering movements of his internal organs were partially visible.
Still, Vualla didn’t seem to mind.
Shaking his head in irritation at the sudden distraction, Randidly once more banished the thoughts and focused his attention inward. Then, as an afterthought, he checked the approach of the Nether Well with Nether Sensation.
Probably two more minutes. Time enough for a few small things, stay focused Randidly.
Salazar’s image was almost completely devoured by the Great Rift, but Randidly couldn’t deny that some of the low thrum of pain from Nether was starting to grow on him. Just like the Eidolon Reign, it was a constant grind that would force him to grow stronger. Even if it was uncomfortable, that sensation of growth was enough to keep him addicted.
And he would need it. Just feeling the weight of the Nether Well against his senses caused Randidly to shiver in a mixture of anticipation and dread. These were fundamentally different beings than the Nether Beasts, that was clear. Rather than a monster that fought and killed in the Nether, these Nether wells seemed to be the pillars that held the Great Rift up. And it didn’t escape Randidly’s notice that this was the foe that so destroyed the camp of Vualla’s father-
You can be afraid most of the time, but if you claim to be alive you cannot be afraid all of the time.
Randidly gritted his teeth. “I’m not fucking afraid.”
Both Salazar turned to look at him. Nether hissed idly at the skin of each as they both watched him with wide eyes.
Randidly scratched his chin with his neck tail and tried to think of something to break the silence. “…the Nether Well is gonna arrive soon. Get ready for battle. I’ll engage first, Zauna follow up and see if you can figure out its weak point. If you see a chance, hit hard. Salazar… I suppose… you can continue your story where you previously left off…”
Salazar brightened immediately, but then it tilted its head to the side and looked at Randidly curiously. “Don’t they say that the first person to engage a Nether Well usually dies?”
Chewing on the inside of his cheek, Randidly considered Salazar. “Do they say that? I haven’t heard much about Nether Wells.”
“…they do…!” Zauna whispered with remarkable volume.
Randidly looked at her and chuckled when he saw her stoic expression.
This woman… maybe she and Abiodun have more in common than just their race. Bloodthirsty fuckers.
“So I suppose what you are saying is that you think I shouldn’t engage first? Are you volunteering?”
“Yes,” Zauna said.
“Denied.” Randidly shook his head. “This one is mine. You can fight the next Nether Well we fight, alright?”
From her stance, it was clear that Zauna didn’t agree with his decision. But she kept her mouth shut, simply expressing her significant volume of displeasure from a dead stare from her flickering eyes. She, at least, was much easier to handle than the snakeman and his unpredictable behavior.
Chuckling again, Randidly turned away and looked out into the darkness. “Thirty seconds. Salazar? Get started with that story, will ya?”
“A-ah! Oh, ahem. W-where was I?” Salazar looked at Randidly and Zauna as though he actually wanted an answer.
Randidly cleared his throat meaningfully as Salazar continued to remain silent. “Twenty seconds.”
“O-oh, I suppose just picking up anywhere would be fine… so a-as I w-was saying, I was born and the v-volcano underneath my mother erupted in an explosion of molten-metal glory, heralding my arrival…”
Randidly gritted his teeth to ignore the constant drivel from Salazar, but that struggle only lasted a moment. For the next moment, he saw the approach of the Nether Well.
Unlike the horrid and strange creatures he had encountered thus far, this was bright. At first, Randidly believed that it was something akin to the personification of the blue veins of the Great Rift, but then he realized that it was just that the Nether Well had the veins chasing after it like a school of fish hiding in the shadow of a whale.
It was also bright. There was a piercing light to it that seemed to appear so suddenly and abruptly in the vast emptiness that Randidly couldn’t help but blink in shock. It wasn’t light, not quite. But Randidly supposed that it was the closest Nether had to light.
It flowed out like a silvery moonlight liquid in thin, membranous waves. It ebbed and flowed after the rushing form of the Nether Well like a diaphanous cloak. Randidly’s breath caught in his throat as he looked at it. It was the milky way personified. It glittered and gleamed, a lake reflecting the infinite stars at night.
Because the last realization that struck Randidly was exactly how beautiful the Nether Well was. And then it had arrived, and only instincts from years of receiving threats from all sides propelled Randidly out of the image bubble to clash against the approaching doom before it hit them all at once.
It was like a spear of quicksilver, sliding through the Great Rift with thousands of blue veins spiraling behind it. Randidly peered closely at it and realized that those veins were dancing. As the seconds ticked past, the spear seemed to grow larger and larger and the sea of blue veins became so fast that the Great Rift was transformed into an actual ocean. Randidly’s eyes widened as he realized that much of what he was seeing wasn’t the actual Nether Well; it was just the wave of extremely dense Nether that the Nether Well was dragging along with it.
Swearing quietly, Randidly gestured sharply at Zauna. “Change of plans. Stand directly behind me. Even if we survive the Nether Well, we will just end up being washed away by the thick Nether it’s bringing with it if we don’t act intelligently.”
Zauna glowered at Randidly for a second, so that he worried that she wouldn’t agree to his plan. But then she nodded and shifted back behind him. She even took the time to drift backward and move the babbling Salazar into line with the three of them.
Twisting around, Randidly faced the Nether Well with only a few seconds to spare. He breathed in, he breathed out. His skin began to flake away like it was being exposed to nuclear radiation on an extremely high scale. That certainly made his eyes narrow. Even the vanguard of the Nether wave was thick enough to significantly damage his skin. Which made him believe that his worries about the depths of this wave’s power were well-founded.
Randidly’s limbs began to tingle. The sizzling of Randidly’s skin began to rise toward a crescendo. The vibrating quicksilver spear seemed to take up the entirety of Randidly’s vision. It was buzzing, all light and wave and liquid energy. It was so vast and bright that it blotted out the wave of blue veins that was surging behind it.
To his own surprise, Randidly looked inside himself and really found no fear. Which was something of a relief to him. As he had thought earlier, this was not what he was afraid of. It was something much more terrible that had worked its way insidiously inside him. That traitorous fear, at least, wasn’t this weak.
Closing his eyes, Randidly braced himself. His awareness slid outward over his body.
What is within, without. And what is without, within. I am the Grim Chimera, and this place will not be my grave.
There was a moment of waiting, then there was the moment of impact. The Nether arrived first, thick and acidic.
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Acclimation ® has grown to Level 121!
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Acclimation ® has grown to Level 122!
Randidly had believed it would be a momentous meeting that would jar even his consciousness with its concussive force, but it wasn’t, not really. There was the immediate upward escalation of the rate at which his image was being eroded, to an alarming degree, but that didn’t send waves through Randidly. He could stand firm against the flood of Nether that crashed against him.
No, when the Nether Well arrived, it was gentle. As Randidly’s consciousness became increasingly fuzzy at the edges under the constant assault of Nether, the Nether Well itself flitted forward like a small fish.
Honestly, Randidly was reminded of a compact galaxy as he saw it approach. It was a spinning disc of specks of cosmic light. Like the entirety of its entourage, it was breathtakingly beautiful. The sort of natural beauty that you could describe, but couldn’t convey. But it was also shooting unerringly toward Randidly’s chest. He braced for the impact, but once more it didn’t matter.
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Acclimation ® has grown to Level 123!
When it hit him it slipped right through his defenses. Rather than impacting the image, it seemed to phase into another plane of existence and appear inside of his chest. Suddenly it was there, curled tightly next to all the inner workings of the image of the Grim Chimera, blasting out Nether every second. The images at the core of the Grim Chimera were made of sterner stuff than the edges, but even the core couldn’t last long underneath that constant barrage of Nether.
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Acclimation ® has grown to Level 124!
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Sensation (L) has grown to Level 13!
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Acclimation ® has grown to Level 125!
It was like standing next to a hot water jet in a hot tub, but this jet was spewing out molten plasma. His body was softening very rapidly under the constant assault. The pain was spiking upward, even as Randidly began to gather himself.
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Acclimation ® has grown to Level 126!
He prepared all of his mental faculties to force an ejection of it, but then the Nether Well started to do a strange thing; it sent out thin silver tendrils that began to touch and surround all of his Grim Chimera images. Silver light flowed rapidly out, protecting Randidly from the constant surge of Nether.
Which was good, but at the same time, Randidly felt increasingly light-headed. The Nether Well was just blasting out Nether into the surrounding area in an intoxicating feeling of release. Randidly’s conscious began to be dragged away, lost in the flood of genesis that was now assimilating into his image body.
But Randidly’s Willpower was heavy from the constant sharpening of the Eidolon Crucible. He resisted the enticing pull of the Aether. For the first time since that first battle in the vastness of the Great Rift, Randidly felt an overwhelming flash of rage that emerged from something outside of himself; it seemed that the main body was watching what was occurring. Immediately, several thick currents of Aether filled Randidly’s core, ready to be unleashed to destroy and reject the strange actions of the Nether Well.
As Randidly seized that Aether that appeared within himself, the pull of the sensation of releasing Nether seized him once more. For a brief moment, he was dizzy. But the red hot rage of the main body surged again, and Randidly was able to snap back to himself. Yet, that brief interlude of mindlessness had brought a single thought to Randidly’s attention, one that had been previously buried beneath the sensation of the experience.
And his emerald eyes began to glow as Randidly turned that thought over in his mind.
You know… this sensation feels a lot like what the main body felt when he started seriously pumping Aether out of his Aether Crossroad… When he released so much that he almost got lost in it…