Of course, Randidly couldn’t benefit from the rather significant Endurance reward, which was quite unfortunate considering his current troubles relating to enduring the obnoxiously thick Nether. But the additional bonus for Nether related Skills would help, even if it was rather small change overall.
Of course, Nether Rituals as a Skill seemed rather dubious. Randidly wasn’t a fan of the fact that the term ‘religious’ popped up, even if it was prefaced by pseudo. But experiments with his new toy could wait until later; Randidly still needed to survive. His tail tightened around Vualla’s torso like a skittish boa constrictor while she continued to rest peacefully.
Almost unwillingly, Randidly glanced once quickly down at Vualla in amusement.
Are you seriously able to sleep through this?
But then his focus came sharply back upward.
As Randidly predicted, Kel’ev gnashed his teeth but threw himself in front of the tentacle that was racing to meet the duo of Randidly and Vualla with a swift death. Once again, Randidly was left supremely impressed and not a little furious at Kel’ev’s sudden speed. Even though Randidly was moving forward as quickly as he could manage, Kel’ev still managed to catch up and interpose himself between the two charging forces.
In preparation for the collision, Kel’ev’s transformation intensified. His body increased in size even further, until he was about four meters tall and two meters wide. His quills became almost completely burnt orange, with a glimmer of gold at the tips. The aura he radiated triggered Grim Intuition’s warning against dangerous foes.
Despite all the preparations, Kel’ev was only barely able to deflect the tentacle. And even though he managed it in the end, the obsidian tip drew a deep and bloody line across his left side. Randidly continued to rush forward, using Chimeric Avoidance to shimmy just a little to the side and make it past the collision point without being buffeted too badly by the violent aftershocks.
Unfortunately, the dense Nether wafting off of the tentacle just ripped Randidly’s bubbles open and began eating into him. He pulled Vualla more closely to the other side of his body to protect her from the worst of it and hurried forward with a grimace.
“Don’t think I don’t know what you are doing,” Kel’ev hissed right into Randidly’s ear. Randidly didn’t bother to acknowledge him. “But it is a fool’s errand. If I die, this whole thing collapses. Your precious Vualla- @**(&#*(@ @(*#@, @*#(*@__)(!”
Like a curtain dropping across the stage, suddenly none of Kel’ev’s words were being translated by the System. More warning bells went off in Randidly’s fuzzy mind that this was much bigger than Kel’ev just being a dick, but Randidly was dipping down toward sleepwalking by now. The Nether Gatekeeper’s very presence brought too much Nether for Randidly to resist for much longer.
But he didn’t need much longer. His body continued to skip forward through the Nether. Twenty meters, fifteen meters. All he needed-
The Nether Gatekeeper roared again. The tentacles that had been waiting for Randidly to dodge no longer were poised in wait; now they struck from every direction like the patient vipers that they truly were.
Kel’ev materialized in front of Randidly again. This time, he ignored the tentacles and reached out toward Vualla. With his huge body, there was barely a ghost of a chance that Randidly could get around him to his goal.
Randidly’s gaze was glassy as he considered Kel’ev’s monstrously muscled form. His thoughts clicked noisily together like copper pennies. It was increasingly hard to focus.
There are no perfect Paths, just appropriate ends.
A spear can only advance.
But even Randidly tried to push his body one more time to get around Kel’ev’s huge orange hand, he felt his image tremble with the exertion. There was just no more mental strength that he could use. Even that extra weight he had gathered from repeated triumphs against the Eidolon Crucible was reaching its limits.
Randidly didn’t need to look down at Vualla to feel the rise and fall of her chest.
But there was a pinch more. With Randidly shooting rapidly forward across the last dozen meters, Kel’ev trying to block his way and seize Vualla, and the Nether Gatekeeper unleashing an attack on the two of them with six of its tentacles, it was the time to put everything he had on the table.
All Things Succumb, Yet TIme Whirls the Earth.
Randidly felt his perception stretching. He was two Randidly’s, then three, then twenty, then a hundred and one, searching for that perfect combination of growth that would have made this situation possible to overcome.
It was hard. Too much was smothered by Nether. Almost as quickly as Randidly stretched himself to find a Path forward, some of the alternate Randidly’s disappeared as they drowned in Nether in those far-flung timelines and ceased to be. Numbers grew and shrunk. Each dragged away a little more of Randidly’s mental strength, each intensified the throbbing pain in his skull. The number of lives Randidly managed to sift through doubled and then dropped to one-tenth of their original amount as Randidly’s died like flies drowning in molasses.
Yet eventually, Randidly found that perfect Randidly. He took a step forward even as he felt something deep inside of himself rip and tear as it was overstrained.
Congratulations! Your Skill All Things Succumb, Yet Time Whirls the Earth (M) has grown to Level 144!
Congratulations! Your Skill All Things Succumb, Yet Time Whirls the Earth (M) has grown to Level 145!
Congratulations! Your Skill All Things Succumb, Yet Time Whirls the Earth (M) has grown to Level 146!
Congratulations! Your Skill All Things Succumb, Yet Time Whirls the Earth (M) has grown to Level 147!
Congratulations! Your Skill All Things Succumb, Yet Time Whirls the Earth (M) has grown to Level 148!
Congratulations! Your Skill All Things Succumb, Yet Time Whirls the Earth (M) has grown to Level 149!
Congratulations! Your Skill All Things Succumb, Yet Time Whirls the Earth (M) has grown to Level 150!
Even as he moved with more speed and elusiveness than should be possible, the Grim Chimera sensed something was wrong. The fragment of personality that it had inherited flickered and cracked. That certainty of self went dim, leaving the Grim Chimera in near darkness while surrounded by foes.
Of course, that just made the Grim Chimera smile. When had it not been this way? Such a situation was more familiar than family or friends.
A pressure the Grim Chimera hadn’t truly noticed until now suddenly disappeared as he had been able to lose the gaze of the Nether Gatekeeper for a brief moment. The Grim Chimera shivered. A frightful beast, the Nether Gatekeeper, one best avoided. And even though its sense of self departed, the Grim Chimera still remembered the old mind’s plan. It was a good one, although dangerous-
The Grim Chimera glanced behind as it continued to streak forward through the final few meters. That fool Kel’ev had swelled again, becoming almost ten meters tall. In addition, the Grim Chimera suddenly could sense that this swelling body was just a puppet; something vast and dangerous was lurking behind this strange transformation.
But the body it currently possessed was simply too weak to handle that terrible, empty image. Three of the tentacles had punctured the body and now ate rapidly away at Kel’ev’s flesh. But even though he was incredibly injured, Kel’ev only looked confused.
Finally, Kel’ev’s eyes located the Grim Chimera’s form. He ground his teeth in fury. It was obvious who he blamed for this turn of events
The Grim Chimera grinned, allowing its long tongue to loll out of his mouth. Following its instincts, the Grim Chimera pressed Vualla against himself and absorbed her into itself. She became a core, and the Grim Chimera the bubble. It was slightly uncomfortable, but it would do for the moment.
Then, while Kel’ev continued to bellow something unintelligible, the Grim Chimera reached out and touched one of the blue veins. He became a core to the bubble that was this vast network that the Nether Beasts hadn’t bothered to shut down around him.
With an effort that had the Grim Chimera shivering and sweating, he pressed himself elsewhere and disappeared.
Unfortunately, the Grim Chimera hadn’t been able to make it completely to the location of the hidden Nether Key. Still, it was now only a short while away and no Nether Beasts materialized to attack it.
Perhaps more importantly, the density of the Nether in this area was so much less than it had previously been enduring that it felt almost refreshing. Still with its tongue hanging out of its mouth, the Grim Chimera took several steadying breaths.
Grinning with the glee of a successful delay of its final death, the Grim Chimera quickly began to move through the Great Rift. It seemed like the Nether Gatekeeper was not pleased to find that it had escaped.
Very quickly, the Grim Chimera moved until he was very near to the Aether Key. Then, with another shudder-inducing effort, it removed Vualla from his chest. It studied Vualla carefully. Even though most of its cognition was gone, it still was deeply attached to Vualla. The destruction she pursued seemed sublime to its sensibilities.
Luckily, she seemed to still be sleeping peacefully; being a core didn’t have any lingering effects.
So the Grim Chimera took a step forward and arrived at the hidden space with the Aether Key.
Nine pairs of eyes widened as the Grim Chimera appeared. Then they noticed Vualla in the Grim Chimera’s arms and they instantly became annoyingly agitated. They were speaking to the Grim Chimera, but it couldn’t understand what they were saying. The words were as empty as their eyes.
The Grim Chimera gestured toward itself Vualla, hoping this would convey what it wanted. Then it pointed toward the Aether Key.
It would be difficult to kill these people, the Grim Chimera decided, but not impossible. But considering that Nether Gatekeeper was likely pursuing it… fighting would take too much time. And the Grim Chimera was so, so tired.
One of the people stepped forward and said something else in a low voice.
Helpless, the Grim Chimera cast its weary mind around to try and remember how the personality would have handled such a situation.
But before it found an answer, another roar ripped through the Great Rift. And this roar was much closer; it seemed that the Nether Gatekeeper was heading in their direction.
Just as the Grim Chimera was about to take action, the individual that had spoken to it last reached out and touched the Grim Chimera’s shoulder. The Grim Chimera’s first instinct was to cut off this offending limb, but it kept control and observed this motion. It remembered dimly that this sort of gesture could convey intimacy. Which was quite confusing.
After that, the speaker gestured to itself and spoke several sentences very quickly. The individual patted the Grim Chimera’s shoulder and then offered it the Aether Key.
The Grim Chimera didn’t really care what they were saying. After blinking rapidly several times, the Grim Chimera confirmed that they truly had understood it. So it simply took the key and was finally teleported with Vualla back to safety.