Randidly fought to keep a scowl off of his face as he looked at the painted-on smile on Lord Miln’s face. “What do you mean, I should expect some ‘temporal variations,’ while participating in the mission?”
Zagnal, who was standing behind Randidly with Zauna and Salazar, flinched like he was struck at Randidly’s words. Considering how Lord Miln’s smile sharpened with malicious glee, some part of Randidly realized that Zagnal’s shock was likely due to the tone that Randidly had chosen to take.
But the smug fucking look in this bastard’s eye when he said it…
Randidly purposefully didn’t let his gaze stray from Lord Miln, leaning over his desk, to the pods covered in Engravings behind him. In one of them, Randidly’s own body currently floated.
The only reason that Randidly managed it was that the Grim Chimera refused to give this fuck the satisfaction of being the one to break eye contact and look away. So his gaze remained fixed on the jailer of his main body.
There was a small temptation to take Randidly’s newfound Nether capability as a sign that he should strike and try and free himself, but even the Grim Chimera’s aggression abated somewhat when faced with the serene aura that Lord Miln threw off as he held Randidly’s gaze. He didn’t want to admit it, but this guy was powerful. Likely just as powerful as what Randidly had seen from Lady Iellaya and Commander Terith.
And considering he was their boss, likely a little bit more on top of that.
“As I explained, we are currently under constant siege from the forces of Nether,” Lord Miln said smoothly. For all that his expression seemed to scream that he wanted to murder Randidly in his sleep, Lord Miln’s tone was cool and professional. “Our normal missions involving Aether Keys have had to have been scrapped in order to keep abreast with the developing situation on the frontlines. Therefore, we have spent extra resources to significantly empower Aether Keys and send them to strategically critical areas.
“As such… not only will your missions tend to last a small degree longer so that the Aether Key can accomplish its mission, but it has been noted by respected scholars that the collision of powerful Aether and Nether often result in small deviations to normal temporal proceedings. So it might feel like even more time has passed during your mission that has actually occurred. I offered it as a well-meaning warning, soldier.”
Randidly’s claw tightened into a fist with such force that Randidly felt his own talons beginning to dig into the toughened skin of his hands. “This hardly seems like the sort of mission you would give to an image then. Especially not when I know there are plenty of soldiers who possess bodies that could serve more aptly.”
Again, Lord Miln’s smile grew exponentially sharper. But this time, an accompanying chill followed the curling of Lord Miln’s lips that smashed into Randidly with a physical force. Frost began to form on Randidly’s limbs, creeping in toward his torso.
“Don’t think that your accomplishments thus far mean anything,” Lord Miln said quietly. “All you have managed to do is survive. A cockroach can routinely claim as much. If you disrespect me one more time, I’ll show you why such tenacity has earned cockroaches no dominion over the world, and why people like me still rule it.”
A shallow and pathetic rule you have, here on the frontlines,
Randidly thought acidically. But he held his tongue.
Lord Miln’s smile shifted to something more genuinely cheery. “But of course, you are right; you are vastly under-qualified to serve as Captain for this mission. Yet now one of your subordinates possess a physical body… Which barely qualifies you as a suitable choice, in the eyes of my superior. And you know, you and I have a personal relationship. We were connected intimately before you even came to the front lines. Considering our history, it would be heartless of me to not do you this one favor.”
This drivel again?
But then Lord Miln raised his hand and conjured a golden hammer covered in extremely familiar runes and Randidly was left speechless.
“Do you know how much trouble you caused for my nephew?” Lord Miln mused as he looked down at the golden hammer he held, a hammer identical to the hammers that Randidly’s Judgement had used against him. “He has his own dominion, you know. Only Tier 2 Citizenship, but still respectable enough. He possesses a realm that requires Aether to function, which is why he serves as the Judgment underneath the Patron of Frostbite. Allowing a Heretic to reach the final conscription Path is not a death sentence… but it certainly makes him look incompetent. His people have suffered immensely due to your actions. Thousands have died from Aether Deprivation while he struggled to cope with your growth while he was limited by the System.”
Again that cold came, this time freezing Randidly’s feet to the ground. Then the ice continued to creep upward, covering Randidly’s raptor-like legs and reaching his waist. Randidly simply stood with gritted teeth, careful to not reflexively use the Nether bubbles to negate a portion of the image that Lord Miln was radiating.
Unlike the individual who served as Randidly’s Judgment, it was immediately clear that Lord Miln’s power was not due to the weight of Aether behind him. No, this was simply someone who reached the pinnacle of power with his image. Abruptly, Randidly was very glad he hadn’t attempted anything more foolish than disrespect. This was not a foe he was ready to face directly.
“With all due respect,” Randidly said through gritted teeth, hating himself for every word, “Isn’t the situation on the front more important than our… previous differences?”
“Oh, I have the situation quite under control, don’t you worry,” Lord Miln said with remarkable cheeriness. He glanced to the side toward a specific suspension tank behind him, and Randidly was immediately sure that the object of his gaze was the very tank that held his own body. “I suspect that a very lucrative business deal that has been on the table for quite some time will finally go through quite soon. In which case, all of my problems will be solved.”
Then Lord Miln looked back to Randidly. “In any case, I’m a busy man and you are just one of many foot soldiers. You have your orders; get to it.”
Two powerful-looking guards stepped forward but Randidly looked at Lord Miln for several long seconds. His mind was whirring at a rapid clip as he studied the Supreme Commander of this frontline. Then Randidly turned away. The Grim Chimera roared silently and the muscles of his legs flexed. The ice that was binding him to the ground shattered and Randidly casually turned away, trying his best to look more in control than he actually felt.
If he is really referring directly to my body when talking about that business deal…
Randidly thought with a sinking feeling in his chest,
Then it might be that someone is aware that I, physically, am the Alpha Cosmos. And that this mission he is sending me on is especially designed to be deadly.
As he left the command tent and stood on the high rocky outcropping over the entire battlefield, Randidly had to suppress his desire to laugh. Or at least he tried to, but then the sheer irony of his solemn vow to avoid suicide missions from now on came back to bite him only a few days later.
Salazar reached out and patted Randidly’s shoulder. “It’s f-fine to be a little mentally b-b-broken by circumstance. Even if y-you start s-stuttering-”
Randidly waved his hand, still chuckling. “Relax, this isn’t a mental breakdown. It’s just… funny. This is how it always happens. It’s like there is a fickle god watching over me, constantly making my life more difficult than it needs to be.”
“Everyone has that,” Zagnal said with a scowl. “Sometimes its someone trying to kill you, sometimes its an idiot for a commanding officer. That’s just life.”
Randidly spared him an amused glance. The dragon-man still was both bitter about his inexplicable loss to Randidly in between the tents and also because he would be following Randidly on this mission designed to kill him.
But before Randidly replied, one of the guards spoke up. “Although this mission is difficult, that does not mean it is impossible. Lord Miln has seen fit to allow you to go to the Armory and remove two weapons before you depart.”
“The armory?” Randidly asked in confusion. Valuable weapons were slightly intriguing, but not so much that it would affect the outcome of the battle. Even if they were powerful, Randidly didn’t currently have a body that could be affected by the Stats or properties of a weapon right now. Although some part of him was intensely curious about what sort of weapons the warriors of the System possessed at the high end of things.
Sam would probably be drooling right now.
The guard nodded. “Yes, the armory. It contains thousands of years worth of Fates, harvested from those who have died fighting the Nether. If you are lucky, you might find something powerful in there that can save your life.”