As soon as Randidly sat down to work on his image and healing again, he realized how dangerous going to fight in this form would have been. Although some of the damage he had accumulated was just subtle markings on his subconscious currently, if Randidly had fought with this image it might have been even more deeply engrained in his understanding. It would have become a series of permanent debilitations built into the Grim Chimera.
Which made Randidly wonder what sort of weaknesses he had slowly bred into the image of the Grim Chimera without him knowing thus far. Which, Randidly supposed, was exactly why the process of refining an image was an endless journey.
Fucking images. More fucking effort than they are worth.
Randidly thought glumly.
How long will it be until we have the body again…
Although he purged the impurities, Randidly did accept the physical and aesthetic changes that he had made in the Great Rift. Honestly, he quite liked the luminous quality the Nether Well added to his torso. In addition, he felt the strength slowly flowing through him from the Nether Well in his core to his image. It would take a while to understand what exactly its presence would mean for him, but it would certainly push his strength upward.
Mostly, however, Randidly was just glad that Iellaya hadn’t been able to sense the fact that he possessed the Nether Well. Her discovering that he was carrying such an object within him would have been… bad.
For all that she believed that they might be useful, it was hard to argue that the constant threat such a presence posed wasn’t too much to risk. And at this point, Randidly wasn’t sure how well he would handle its removal. His image was still quite fragile after the fight.
Randidly opened his eyes and shook his body to give himself a small break from the mental exertions. At this point, headaches had become just another constant at the frontlines of the battle against Nether. Then he glanced at Yggdrasil and frowned. “What are you doing? Performing surgery on them?”
Yggdrasil shook his canopy. “I’m harvesting this… grey condensate.” He held up a cupped branch filled with goop that looked a lot like spackle. “This forms when Aether and Nether are forced to combine rather than destroying each other. It doesn’t look like much, but after removing some from you previously I noticed that it is excellent insulation. I’m thinking of building a chamber for Ignition Essence with it. To prevent his energies from leaking away.”
Nodding in agreement, Randidly looked to the end of the tent to the place where Ignition Essence continued to sleep. As previously, he remained flickeringly present, but it did seem like his size was slowly diminishing. The lines across Randidly’s face tightened with worry.
Main body, can’t you do something about that?
Randidly waited a beat; there was no answer. Irritation slowly grew in Randidly’s chest. Still, nothing changed. Then Randidly scowled down at the ground.
Of course, suddenly you are too good to interfere to protect your images.
Again, there was only silence. Randidly scratched his head with his claw and then settled down to focus on other things.
This time, when Randidly turned his focus inward, Randidly examined his newly condensed first star. And the second star that was nearly finished forming.
Just as he had noticed from destroying Nether Beasts in the Great Rift, Randidly could now feel a thin film that covered both his insides and outside. He had a tight core of energy that had lodged itself quite near to the Nether Rift and gleamed with a small amount of energy. This was likely the tightly wound source that the great arrays around the camp had caused to form.
Randidly prodded the core in his chest and immediately sensed that there was a trick hidden in it. It possessed some capability. Yet for all Randidly’s prodding, he could not cause any changes. With a frown, Randidly shook his head and pulled his focus away; if there was a trick to it, he would discover it eventually.
In addition, there was a small bubble of energy that surrounded his body. As Randidly moved, it easily shifted to follow him. There was a small bit of space between the edge of his image and the bubble, but it wasn’t so large that it was easy to notice. Randidly’s only regret was that it was difficult to tell what effects the would have. It was clear that a portion of the bubble-barrier was Nether, but it was only a small portion. There were also strange constructs of Aether that mimicked the Nether closely. Overall, it was an extremely intricate barrier and Randidly once more wished he had Aether Detection.
Randidly had heard the bubble would benefit him defensively, but he just wished he had a more concrete idea of what that meant. Although he would soon have a second star, which might make the benefits he received even more palpable…
Because the other thing that Randidly discovered was that the flows that he had hastily created now swirled in five distinct spirals around the Nether Well, and from there were dragged directly by the grand array into his next star. The Nether Well was still as tightly closed at it would go, but the small constant flow of Nether in his body would continually be channeled into the array, creating more and more stars for himself.
Which, if he was ever absent from battles for a long period of time, would become slightly troublesome to explain. In the short term, it would just be that Nether was being extracted from his wounds. But when the time since he had last been wounded grew…
Shaking his head helplessly, Randidly turned back to Yggdrasil. “How are they?”
“They will live, but there is some very significant damage. Nether has invaded too deeply into them. It is difficult for my Skills to force it out. Even if I can stimulate their image, they do not have the strength to throw out the Nether on their own.” Yggdrasil sighed and leaned back from Salazar. His leaves were drooping. “This… this is beyond the current me.”
“Actually…” Randidly chewed his lip as he looked at his two limp subordinates. “I’m not sure if it will work… but I have an idea that I want to try.”
The monthly status report meeting could not have come at a worse time for Iellaya. After putting out all of the fires she could at her own camp, she shook her head and prepared to set out.
But she would be damned if she didn’t show up and stick Lord Miln’s feet to the fire for the recent string of attacks they were suffering. It was exactly what Iellaya had been waiting for; proof that his wait and see approach to the battle was not working. In the face of these results, perhaps some of the other Commanders would support her ideas for a more proactive stance.
Iellaya made sure all her feathers were immaculately groomed and oiled before she walked out of her tent. Then, with the teleporter from the rapidly repaired staging area, she was spirited immediately across the battlefield to stand on the rocky outcropping that dominated the landscape.
When she arrived, the first thing Iellaya did was to glance across the battle. Her mouth twisted into a frown. Of course, although the Nether did unleash token attacks against the other camps, the bulk of the invading forces had made landfall near the camps at the edge of the line. That is, her own camp and the camp of the previously attacked Commander Thrall.
Although she was able to repel the invaders, she could see even from here that Thrall had struggled to do the same. After all, she had been forewarned by his own loss and didn’t have any of the lingering damage he was dealing with. Iellaya had prowled about the staging area until the Nether Well finally arrived. It had been almost child’s play to squish it out of existence and then turn her full attention toward the attacking forces. But it had been an infuriating exercise in patience.
A more aggressive stance would lead to more casualties, of course, but that was only in the short term. Once her strategy had time to get its legs under it, it would begin to pay dividends. Allowing the forces of Nether free reign was a mistake. The dominant opinion of the Nexus was that the beings of Nether were wild savages, but it was clear that there was
out there that had a plan for the distribution of the Nether forces.
They were slowly and surely ceding strategic space to the Nether forces. Despite the fact that most considered Nether Beasts to be little more than monsters, no one denied that the Nether was capable of creating great arrays that it used to concentrate its Nether into dangerous weapons. Even high command couldn’t deny that danger. Which was why the battle for control of space was originally offered as an option.
And yet, Lord Miln…!
Iellaya’s face was impassive as she walked into Lord Miln’s rather plain meeting tent. To her disgust, all ten of the other Commanders were already present. Even Commander Thrall had someone managed to beat her to the meeting.
Iellaya’s eyebrow twitched.
Although I suppose if I had abandoned my camp to the worst of the Nether threat, it would be possible to have made it over here so quickly. But I shudder to think the grievous losses we would have endured if that were the case… I suppose I need look no farther than Thrall’s own camp to see what would result.
“Ah, Lady Iellaya,” Lord Miln said with a smile. He gestured to her chair. “Please, join us. We were about to discuss the rising threat of the Nether.”
That sentence, at least, did a little to pique her curiosity. As Iellaya walked over to the long wooden table and took her seat at the end, she tempered her expectations. After all, she had been endlessly disappointed by Lord Miln’s avoidance of responsibility in the past. But it was true that the attacks were coming more and more frequently.
“As you all know, the unending forces of Nether have long crashed almost pointlessly against the iron bulwark of our defense,” Lord Miln began. Even though what they were currently seeing was just a projection of his actual body, the projection also mimicked the strange trait of being completely glued to a single spot. Lord Miln leaned forward over the table. “However, they have recently began assembling their forces for a concerted attack. This is… dangerous, even for us.”
Despite the fact that Iellaya had allowed a small glimmer of interest to build in her heart, even she was shocked at the sudden about-face of Lord Miln’s stance. Had she missed something crucial occurring during the attack?
Suddenly he was taking the threat seriously?
“Generally, we strike at the vast empty space of the Nether’s territory, forcefully destabilizing the flow of Nether,” Lord Miln continued. “That is no longer tenable. Instead, I believe their current aggression requires that we teach these monsters a firm lesson. To that end, we shall be launching an attack on a Nether Gatekeeper. A key one, which will completely scramble their network. One order of business for this meeting, then, is to seek out a volunteer among you Commanders to arrange such an expedition.”
WHAT!?! Assault a Nether Gatekeeper directly?! It’s suicide to attack a Nether Gatekeeper that is enshrined on a throne of Nether!
Iellaya’s hands tightened on the table. It was only when the table creaked ominously that she realized how strong her grip was.
The Nether Gatekeepers are the equivalent of our Commanders. Unless several of us mount an assault together, we are going to sustain heavy losses without any guarantee of success.
Does he honestly believe that a single Commander would volunteer for this…? Its the equivalent of-
Iellaya looked sharply up at the Commander next to her, Terith. She wasn’t familiar with the man, but he was known to be a notoriously a stickler for regulations. The fact that such a conservative man volunteered was quite the surprise.
Commander Terith cleared his throat. “I have some insubordinate elements within my camp… I think an assault on a Nether Gatekeeper is the perfect way to handle them.”
Lord Miln smiled. “Just what I was waiting to hear. Excellent. I suppose that is that. Now, on to other business…”
Iellaya’s face twitched in frustration.
So it was just a front. Lord Miln won’t address the problem, but this will buy him time. But the real purpose… was to get Terith involved? Why?
What’s going on behind the scenes?