After his careful examination, Randidly decided that there were three specific areas where a little bit of attention would result in quite a bit of effect to his overall image: his arms, his skin, and his tails.
Of the three, skin seemed the easiest to use as the starting point. In addition, it would require the most careful touch of the three areas, so Randidly wanted to start before he had expended most of his Willpower. So Randidly really focused on the skin that covered the body of the Grim Chimera.
As he had slowly incorporated Nether into his body, the skin of his chest had become increasingly translucent while the skin of his limbs became rougher and darker. So now Randidly began to carefully smooth out that transition from translucent to rough. It wasn’t that the change in texture was a sudden thing in Randidly’s mind; it was that the skin nearer to the Nether Wells was constantly bombarded with that light energy and purified. Meanwhile, the limbs were forced to endure the hostile elements of the world and had grown more dangerous to compensate.
I’ve become a dermatologist,
Randidly thought abruptly with not a little bit of remorse. Then he shook his head at the strange old Earth joke that manifested in his imagination. But still, creating the right sort of feeling was an extremely delicate process. So much so that it seemed likely that it required an expert’s touch.
Randidly worked with both the thickness and texture of the skin’s image. Which, if he was being honest, was not his forte. Both Randidly himself and the supplemental bit of personality of the Grim Chimera weren’t exactly experts in softness and smooth skin. Their initial attempts proved to be woefully inadequate.
It was only after several unsuccessful and frustratingly vague attempts that Randidly stumbled across an answer. One that made him feel not a little guilt in his heart.
Well, I’m only copying the soft sensation of skin.
Randidly’s mouth twisted at the thought that contained a shade of dishonesty within it. But he really could think of no other option at this point.
It’s not like it’s that personal a thing…
So, while anxiously glancing over his shoulder at an invisible specter shaking her heavy gauntleted fist, Randidly used his brief and sparse memory of holding onto Vualla’s bare shoulder while fleeing from the Nether Gatekeeper as a source of inspiration for what soft skin should feel like. Even though the nerve endings in his claw weren’t as developed as those on a human’s hand, he could still remember the sensation of holding her shoulder in his palm. Even now, even despite the mental damage he received and the accumulated weariness of these efforts, that sensation was crystal clear. With Vualla’s soft skin as a base, Randidly rapidly changed his skin to its new form.
Because although the skin of his chest that was most often being purified by the Nether Well’s strange light was that soft, his body was swiftly corrupted by the environment and his exterior became the rough and grey skin that was more cartilage than anything else. It came off and flakes and healed with all the quickness and tenacity of a nest of cockroaches.
Which is the balance I need to strike,
Randidly thought sadly.
Strength… but not so strong that I turn into a stone monster that seeks to kill all threats to my existence. Because… that’s just fear. I would be lashing out only because I’m afraid. And… I want to be strong enough to live with fear.
There was a small disgruntled reaction from the Grim Chimera, but it quickly settled back into place without comment. It accepted this truth that Randidly had presented.
Immediately after finishing refining his image for skin, he felt the difference in his body. As he sat breathing in the crowded tent, his skin felt… sensitive. It suddenly tingled as he became aware of the movements of air in the surrounding area and the heat of the Aether runes that lined the tent. Or at least his core felt these things, even as his arms remained completely numb and dangerous.
Which was a good point to transition Randidly’s focus from his skin to his arms. Mostly, he was working on their innate deadliness. He lengthened and sharpened the talons on his left arm. He enlarged the forearm muscles to improve the grip strength to the point that he could easily imagine himself crushing a skull. The bone spear of his right arm became more tapered, so the base around his elbow was thicker than the jagged and vicious point.
Then, again and again, Randidly dragged his attention across every surface of the arms and tightened the sensation and muscles connections in the area. As much as possible, Randidly wanted to make his image not just look like a body, but feel and function like a body. That would become a source of strength for him moving forward.
The more reality there was in his image the less his Willpower would need to be spent to make up the mechanical deficiencies of the image he had created.
Lastly, Randidly worked on the tails. After his experience with carrying Vualla and dealing with the headaches from his constant battles, he was becoming supremely fed up with how useless his arms were for normal activities. So Randidly decided to add the same dark skin that covered the outer portion of his extremities and line the tails with muscle. The lower tail could now move dextrously to grab nearby items, and the upper tail had been lengthened so that it could perform most of the deft and reassuring touches to himself that Randidly remembered doing with his body.
After carefully layering the muscles along the tail, Randidly performed an experiment: he used his upper tail to rub the bridge of his nose.
It curled easily around his face and pressed up against his nose. Then the rest of the tail twisted expertly around that area so the bridge of his nose was completely cupped. Still, Randidly could only shake his head and sigh.
Although it looked like he had accomplished his goal, there was no real pressure applied from the tail. Like a real snake, he would need to wrap himself completely around an object in order to possess the leverage to squeeze it with any sort of strength. What Randidly currently possessed simply looked like it was performing those casual human acts.
Ah well, it’s better than fucking nothing,
Randidly thought bitterly. Then he brought all three of his cores up to touch the bubble and record the image. There were a few more areas he wanted to refine, but as his headache was coming back, it was time to rest.
Randidly eased himself onto the ground and controlled his breathing. Breathe in, breathe out. Allow the mind to loosen its grip and relax. Very soon, his consciousness had dipped back down beneath into that meditative mindset.
However, a demanding thought kept nipping at him like carefully raised fish might eat the dead skin off people’s toes. No matter what Randidly did to try and shake it, he couldn’t allow himself to truly let go as long as that thought remained active in his mind. It buzzed with intensity, demanding his attention like an alarm clock.
With a grim expression, Randidly opened his eyes. Most of his headache was gone, but he knew it wouldn’t take much for it to come roaring back to life. But he couldn’t help himself. This was something that he needed to investigate.
After returning from the Nether Gatekeeper mission, which Randidly still didn’t even know the outcome of, he had slept for a day and a half. Then he had required another six hours to recover and had just now spent six hours refining his image. All told, almost two days had passed since he had returned.
And Vualla’s face was very prominent in Randidly’s subconscious. He couldn’t get either the image of her triumphantly destroying the army of Nether Beasts or the image of her unconscious in his arms out of his head. Both warred in him, seemingly pulling him for completely opposite reasons to look for her. However, those emotions mixed in his chest into something warm and precious; now that Randidly was partially recovered he needed to address these feelings.
Snorting, Randidly got back to his feet
His expression turned frigid as Zuana and Salazar unhesitatingly mimicked him in getting up off the ground. Randidly calmly drug a long talon across his lips before he spoke. “And where do you think you are going.”
“…walk…” Zauna said quietly. Salazar watched Randidly’s expression with obvious fright and simply nodded vigorously along with Zauna’s point.
The muscles along Randidly’s jaw flexed. His two tails flicked aggressively from side to side, making soft
noises as the lower tail impacted the walls of the tent with the controlled ferocity of a predator.
“Surely, you’ve had enough exercise today,” Randidly said with exaggerated patience. Both subordinates shook their heads.
The Grim Chimera’s hot annoyance exploded to dominate Randidly’s perception for a few seconds, but then it slowly faded back into the backdrop of his mind. Although the Grim Chimera had powerful impulses, it had grown to understand there was a need to suppress them while interacting with others. As such, it allowed the emotions to run its course while simply enduring them.
Then, after the emotions had drained, it looked upon the situation with rather calculating eyes.
Randidly shook his head helplessly. Even though his threats worked well enough to stop Salazar from speaking, this was another animal altogether. His subordinates took their roles very seriously. And as he considered their expressions now…
Some of their fear was backed by concern. Randidly’s lips tightened with guilt.
He could understand why they would be concerned, especially now. A few days ago he had disappeared for several hours and come back unconscious. Worse than unconscious. From what Yggdrasil had shared, he had been speaking in his sleep, although nothing particularly intelligible. But to have your commanding officer reduced to such a state and being able to do nothing about it…
The rest of the annoyance vanished from Randidly and he was simply left with exhaustion. That’s exactly why I fight against the System. So I don’t simply need to watch the Earth suffer any longer. So I can take the future into my own hands.
“…fine,” Randidly finally said. Both Salazar and Zauna fell in behind him as he walked out of the tent and followed the familiar path toward the badlands between camps. It seemed that it was quickly very obvious where their goal was because Randidly sensed both Salazar and Zauna exchange a knowing glance behind his back.
Ugh, sometimes I wish Grim Intuition wasn’t so fucking insightful,
Randidly thought with disgust right as Salazar opened his mouth.
“Y-you know b-b-boss… don’t r-read too deeply into Vualla not v-v-v-visiting you during your r-recovery. Maybe she didn’t know-” Salazar’s mouth clicked audibly shut before Randidly had calmed himself down enough to turn around and get him to shut up.
“The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind,” Randidly said stiffly. And completely honestly. But now that Salazar had brought it up…
There was no way that Vualla wasn’t aware of how dangerous the Great Rift had been for Randidly. After all, she had protected him through most of their journey, only allowing him to join the defensive rotation when there was no other choice. Considering the fact that she had gone unconscious toward the end-
Unwillingly, Randidly’s brows furrowed. Unless someone hid his involvement from her altogether? Perhaps they claimed that he died, or didn’t attribute the rescue to him?