Randidly scowled at Salazar and threw up his hands. “I can’t tell you
to feel it. You either do or you don’t. And if you can’t manage to find the core of your star inside yourself, then I’m not going to waste time trying to train you.”
“W-w-well, if y-you would j-just share your t-t-trick-!” Salazar began, but Randidly had dealt with the snake-man’s nonsense for long enough. He simply seized his rather skinny subordinate with his claw and tossed him to the side like a ragdoll. Salazar hissed in alarm and tumbled down the narrow alley behind their assigned tent.
Randidly folded his arms across his chest and stared at the collapsed image. “So, this time, let me go alone. I promise to not put myself in danger without first finding you to be my personal meat shield.”
Huffing in annoyance, Salazar pushed himself back up to his feet. “Z-zauna is staying with Yggdrasil. S-so-”
Randidly stepped forward and used Chimeric Avoidance to cut through the intervening space at a speed that shouldn’t be physically possible for him. Abruptly, Randidly was right in front of the other man. With as much gentleness as Randidly could manage while his temper flared, he helped Salazar to his feet while making sure his talons wouldn’t cut through his skin.
Then his Grim Intuition spread outward to scan for individuals in the surrounding area before he whispered to Salazar. “We both saw how some of the images were looking at Yggdrasil after he helped heal some of the most dangerously wounded after the artillery strike. The recovery he could cause was too stark. I fear that some of the image’s greed would get the better of them. As strong as Zauna is, I don’t want to have her face it alone.”
This was only partially true. After all, the stink of Lady Iellaya’s image and Abiodun’s meddling was thick over all of the people that were carefully watching as Yggdrasil did his work among the burnt tents and impact craters sporadically spread around the edge of the camp. Plus, it seemed unlikely that any image underneath Iellaya would have enough gall to aggressively try to seize Yggdrasil as a resource. She would be more circumspect about how she went about acquiring his services.
Yet there was always the chance something would happen. Even if it wasn’t some greedy image that was the real source of danger, the very real Nether bombardment was still fresh in Salazar’s mind. So after a hesitation, he nodded and walked back toward the tent.
Heaving a sigh of relief, Randidly finally turned away from the tent so he could find a place to train his ability to use his Nether cores without being constantly worried about someone watching and reporting what he was capable of to Lady Iellaya. It was fine for them to hear whispers about it, but they would most likely assume that Randidly’s image had adjusted somehow to mimic Nether, rather than the shocking truth that Randidly was learning to utilize Nether.
And to his supreme annoyance, Randidly found himself face to face with Zagnal, the soldier who had helped Randidly immediately after he had arrived on the front lines. From his stance, it was clear that he was blocking Randidly’s path forward.
“It’s been a while since we talked,” the dragon-headed man said amicably. “I figured it was time to catch up-”
“Get out of my way,” Randidly said shortly. It did not seem likely at all that Zagnal’s words were even remotely honest. His arrival to catch up right after a heavy bombardment seemed completely farcical. “We don’t have anything to discuss.”
Zagnal snorted out an ember of flame as Randidly tried to move past him. “Pretty quick to sever old ties, don’t you think?”
“Wasn’t I the one who stuck my neck out for you? And afterward, you were pretty quick to throw your lot in with Lady Iellaya and conveniently forget about any relationship between us.” Randidly barred his teeth at Zagnal.
Zagnal’s hand snaked out to seize Randidly’s arm. “That was a misunderstanding. Between my new responsibilities and your injuries, there hasn’t been much time where we are both conscious and in the base. So I would appreciate-”
The Grim Chimera growled out the barely controlled aggression roiling in Randidly’s chest. “Back the fuck off. How many times do I need to make it clear that I’m not the usual oblivious image? I don’t care you chose yourself over me. But don’t expect to be able to scamper back to me when your new keeper asks you to.”
Tightening his grip on Randidly’s arm, Zagnal leaned forward. “Now listen here, I didn’t want to do it this way, but if you aren’t going to-”
After feeling uncomfortably guilty for putting Yggdrasil into danger by being wounded, being rejected from visiting with Vualla by Terith’s idiotic rules, and finally being followed around by puppy-duo Zauna and Salazar, Randidly had left the tent today with the expressed intent of working off some steam. He needed the outlet dearly.
He hadn’t expected Zagnal to be the method, but at the Grim Chimera’s urging Randidly didn’t think too much about the circumstances.
His arm blurred upward and his bone spear ripped through the air like a scythe. In his chest, Randidly began to resonate his Nether to force his three cores up into the tip of his spear. They began to spiral rapidly around each other as they moved from the slow rotation in his chest down through his shoulder and elbow. Nether gathered and seethed through his limb.
The further that he pushed the cores through his arm, the more quickly they spun. More and more Nether was sucked in between them to form a “core” of energy that they circled. Still, as the cores accelerated the required energy to keep them in balance was also rising sharply. With the current supply, the rotation was swiftly becoming unsteady.
Randidly’s mouth firmed into a line as he cracked open both of his Nether Wells to continue to fuel the attack. Zagnal sneered as his other hand blurred up to try and seize Randidly’s moving arm. “Heh, you have no idea what I went through to get here, and yet you dare-”
The image of a dragon of smoke and smog roared behind Zagnal, blowing out mist into the surrounding area. But the dense ambient Nether that covered Randidly’s bone spear didn’t spare the image at all as it ate upward through the dragon image’s scaly torso. Zagnal immediately paled as he watched the attack approach with wide eyes.
Randidly could feel the Nether in his limbs weakening as he pushed his attack forward. Once more, the rotation began to stutter and slow. After all, it was eating directly through Zagnal’s Aether to hit the infuriating piece of shit in his shocked face. But a large amount of Randidly’s Nether was consumed in the process. Zagnal wasn’t as powerful as some of the other soldiers on his mission into the Nether Gatekeeper’s base, let alone Vualla herself, but he was a veteran with an extremely stable image.
Honestly, Zagnal would normally be a difficult fight for Randidly. Although Randidly’s current aggression assured him he would defeat Zagnal in a straight-up confrontation, it would take a great deal of time and effort but Randidly would ultimately triumph.
But Randidly wasn’t playing fair. He didn’t need to rely on solely Aether any longer. And some part of him longed to try it out.
Nether flooded down his limb frantically to keep the rotating cores balanced, but the attack didn’t lose any momentum. It cut cleanly through Zagnal’s image and ripped viciously into the fleshy portion of his shoulder. Randidly felt a strange shock of sensation as he cut directly into a physical body for the first time in a while. Real, solid blood sprayed onto his torso, sizzling strangely as substance and image took the measure of each other.
Zagnal, the owner of the blood, released Randidly’s arm and stumbled backward. “What the hell!”
“Didn’t you hear me? I said move,” Randidly said coolly. Some part of him wanted to strike again while Zagnal was off-balance, but another part of him realized that one quick exchange could be overlooked, but if Randidly continued revealing his Nether capability it would only be a matter of time before someone with the power enough to overcome Randidly would show up asking questions.
So instead, Randidly swept past Zagnal and continued down the narrow lane. Around them, Randidly could sense the images that were drawn by the sound of the fight watching with avid interest.
Randidly flashed a bitter smile.
I’m not your posture child for images deserving equal treatment to individuals with physical bodies. If you want something to change, you need to seize your own fate.
Moving quickly, Randidly left Lady Iellaya’s camp and thoroughly enjoyed the sensation of being able to breathe deeply without the distinct tang of her image filling his lungs. Rather than heading toward the badlands between Iellaya’s and Terith’s camp, an area that now filled Randidly with an aggressive bitterness that he didn’t know what to do with yet, Randidly headed directly away from the Great Rift.
He crossed the pitted track that the supply caravans used and arrived at the pitted scrublands that had the comparative benefit of only being weakly affected by the corrosion of the Great Rift by virtue of its placement behind the camps of Aether’s forces. The stones and ridges seemed relatively normal compared to the floating boulder field that was in front of the Great Rift.
But as he walked out into the scrublands, Randidly had to grimace.
Well, that might have been true until last night…
The effects of the Nether bombardment were abundantly clear in the surrounding area. While the Commanders had frantically protected both of their camps, neither cared overmuch about the Nether meteors that shot down toward uninhabited areas. Which meant that the ground that Randidly now surveyed was even pitted and damaged than Iellaya’s base.
Most of the ground was warped in a weird combination of scorched and corroded as if the Nether couldn’t describe which one of many destructive substances that it wanted to imitate. Some particularly deep craters were still smoking.
“Suppose there’s no better place to practice though…” Randidly said as a smile crept across his mouth. “If I make a few more holes… no one is going to notice, right?”