After Vualla’s lonely pronouncement, Randidly had nothing to say. In his adventures, he had learned exactly how important it was that your images and your actions aligned almost perfectly. To allow for dissonance was to invite a fatal weakness into yourself. And when Vualla had asked her question to the empty night, Randidly had felt the gentle reverberation of denial from her image.
No, the woman who will destroy the System wouldn’t run away from a fight.
Yet even as Randidly recognized that, and recognized that his instincts would come up with the same answer, he couldn’t help but think of the main body. The main body had fallen for the arrogance of such an outlook many times and been thoroughly chastened by reality each time. In order to survive, the main body might recommend Vualla take a step back.
That is, of course, if the main body stopped wishing for her to die…
Perhaps because of the fact her veritable waterfall of hair was now done up in a braid, Vualla’s back looked extremely slender as she turned away and moved across the badlands back toward her camp. Even her huge metal gauntlets couldn’t cover up the desperate uniformity of her steps. This was the choice she was making, but it was not an easy one. And Vualla was aware of the consequences.
Although her image was prodding her toward this Path, Vualla was well aware of how this would likely end.
Even heroes need time to grow into their strength.
Silence was the only answer Randidly had for the Vualla who resigned herself to fight against every foe that was thrown into her path. He watched her without moving until she vanished back into her camp.
Yet despite the fact that he allowed Vualla to walk away without asking to accompany her, that did not mean that Randidly didn’t intend to help her. He was just aware that he would receive exactly the opposite answer that he had received when he had asked to accompany her on a walk a few days prior.
No, if Randidly had shown any desire to accompany her, she would have taken measures to stop him from doing so. Therefore, Randidly watched her go in silence. His eyes glittered as he slowly made plans for tomorrow. Then, still maintaining the silence, he returned to his tent and began to meditate.
Every chance to improve himself counted, especially now when he planned on heading to somewhere very dangerous. And suddenly, Randidly had a pretty fair hope of improving himself. Because one thing that Vualla had mentioned had given him a bit of inspiration.
The people in the camps treated the Nether stars as solely a source of the bubble; with that outlook, they were completely unable to control the bubbles to the point that too many of them could stack on top of one another to a troublesome degree. Even powerful individuals who had made it to the frontlines were unable to move underneath the stacked bubbles’ influence. Opposite but just as incorrect as these individuals, Randidly had been trying to move the cores without thinking about them in terms of what they were.
Both methods were insufficient because the core and the bubble were intimately connected. Treating them as anything other than a whole was squandering their abilities. They were intimately bound.
So this time, when Randidly turned his focus inward, he didn’t attempt to just move the core around. Instead, he focused on the connection between the core and the bubble. He felt their relationship. His energy and effort began to flow into that space between the two. Because he had two stars, there were two cores that slowly drifted apart and resonated with the surrounding bubble as his attention began to cause a reaction.
Feeling that change, Randidly didn’t try to control what was happening at all. He simply let the resonance build within himself. Soon, the cores began to align themselves naturally within his body. One settled in his clawed left hand, the other within the tip of his bone spear.
As they did so, Randidly felt the bubble around him change. Rather than staying uniform, much of the strength of the bubbles followed the cores to concentrate the thickest portion of the bubble around his arms and torso. Because of that, the covering around his head and legs became extremely thin. The covering was still present in those areas, but the concentrated force that now emanated from Randidly’s arms put the thinner areas to shame.
It was additional defensive energy, that was all at the moment. Still, Randidly grinned at the discovery.
His focus narrowed to a point as he carefully gathered his Willpower. Rather than let the resonance continue naturally, Randidly continued to pour himself into stimulating the connection between core and bubble while consciously moving the core out of his clawed hand. With great care, he pulled that core across his body and over toward his bone spear to join its sibling at the tip of the spear.
Of course, the difficulty of continually stimulating the resonance sharply increased as Randidly tried to move the cores around. It became even worse by the time Randidly had moved the other core to his right arm. Maintaining them in such close proximity was a lot like putting two magnets near each other; at close distances they repelled.
There was so much resistance that Randidly was sweating and gritting his teeth as one core was in the tip of the bone spear and the other had made it down to his elbow. But to proceed forward…
As was typical for his time at the frontlines, a headache was building behind Randidly’s eyes. Still, he continued to push and strain at the cores. They inched toward each other while digging in their heels like fanatical mules. Randidly let out a hissing breath between his tightly clenched teeth.
Then there was a glimmer of response from his core and abruptly the effort he was required to expend vastly decreased. Curious, Randidly turned his attention inward and discovered that a thin flow of Nether had diverted from the Nether Well and was spiraling down toward his right arm.
With increased density of Nether in the surrounding air, the two cores were able to drift closer to one another. Very soon, both were present in the tip of his bone spear and rotating rapidly around each other. A thin seed of Nether formed a ‘core’ between them and the two rotating cores became the ‘bubble’ of this new arrangement.
At that moment, Randidly saw it. How just like all of reality governed possessed ‘space’ in which to exist, everything that was Nether was composed of cores and bubbles. Sometimes many things formed a core or many things formed a bubble, but they were all repeated into infinity, animating the vast chasm of Nether that existed.
Even the inexplicable Nether moved in certain patterns.
The Randidly’s attention returned to his actual situation. Because although the two cores were a bubble around the core of pure Nether, they were actually the core to something else.
And of course, the actual bubble…
Randidly opened his eyes and smirked down at his bone spear. The variant visual effects that the Great Rift caused had tripled around his limb. Rather than a single deviant layer that was vibrating around, there were now five or six layers that spastically stretched and twitched every second. His bone spear was a blur of motion that was almost impossible to track with the naked eye.
In addition, a small glimmer of black flame danced around his limb. Although the thin and filmy flames were much less eye-catching than the visual effects, Randidly could sense that this condensed form of the bubble was much more dangerous than the average version.
Not only was it a shield, but it would also function as a weapon.
Pleased with himself, Randidly leaned back and closed his eyes once more. He allowed his consciousness to drift away toward rest, buoyed by the rhythmic breathing of his two wounded subordinates. If he planned to answer the Beacon of Duty of the neighboring camp, he would need his strength.
Just from Vualla’s bitter expression as she considered the option available to her, Randidly understood that this mission would be very different from his assignments thus far. Whereas his status as an image had seen him sent to relatively unimportant areas to waste Nether energy by affecting the space, this was an assault on one of the bases of Nether. A Nether Gatekeeper sat at its helm.
But despite that, it would also give Randidly a sense of the power possessed by those who fought here on the front lines. Something that he had thus far been unable to really intuit.
Randidly’s face split into a grin.
The look on Vualla’s face when she sees me will be priceless…
Commander Terith spent almost an hour making sure all of the chairs were in perfect alignment. Three tables were set up in his tent, surrounded by nine chairs each. Four on each side and one at the head of the table. Each table designated a separate team that would be sent to attack the base of the Nether Gatekeeper.
One table to perform reconnaissance and distraction. One table to strike once the location of the Nether Wells had been located. One table to lie in wait, a blade to strike at the Nether Gatekeeper if that beast would overextend pursuing the prior two teams.
Terith straightened to consider his work. Noticing that one of the chairs was slightly off alignment and pointed to the side, Terith frowned. With a short shake of his head, he returned to his work, this time taking the time to check every possible angle for any flaws. Then, for good measure, be produced a rag from his pocket and wiped down the wooden surface of every piece of furniture until it gleamed.
He could have asked a subordinate to do these mundane tasks, but Terith was entirely too familiar with the haphazard nature of his subordinates’ work. No, if he wanted something done, he would need to do it himself.
Which was exactly why Terith had stepped out of his comfort zone and volunteered to handle this punitive expedition. Something extremely strange was happening on the frontlines, and Terith was too close to obtaining the requisite amount of fame to retire for him to allow it all to go to shit now.
In the last year’s meeting, quite a bit of the military’s budget for Aether had been haphazardly allocated in a way that made it obvious Lord Miln was embezzling the Aether for some personal purpose. One that appeared to benefit someone with connections because no questions were asked. Even more ominously, immediately after that Aether disappeared, the disposition of the Nether forces immediately changed. Their foes suddenly seemed to double in size and were much more aggressive in their attacks.
Since then, the forces of Aether had been constantly dogged by the flood of Nether Beasts. Yet Lord Miln remained completely calm. Which meant that there was something happening behind the scenes and Terith was determined to avoid the fallout of that.
Huffing in annoyance, Terith straightened and considered his work.
A good chance to clean house, as well. Some of my subordinates have grown altogether too complacent. Without a firm hand, they will spoil and turn insubordinate. Just like that Vualla welp.
Shaking his head, Terith banished his emotions. He carefully constructed a firm face of conviction. Then he walked sharply outside and turned to his aide waiting beyond the edge of the tent.
Commander Terith cleared his throat. “Light the Beacon of Duty.”