The first thing that became obvious was that ‘armory’ was used extremely loosely by the forces of Aether. Randidly currently was floating above a raw force of nature.
If anything, the beauty of the armory grew more apparent as he exited the shaft and appeared in a wide crystal cavern. Most of what Randidly could see as he descended into the lower area was huge currents of liquid Aether, buoying with them the tumbling mass of weapons, armor, and strange crystal shapes that could only be Fates. Refracted light and noise bounced off every surface, reflecting infinitely with a luminosity enough to leave Randidly momentarily blinded.
Huge currents of Aether carrying thousands of Fates whirled around below in a vast maelstrom, throwing of gleaming reverberations of power and light as the Fates chaotically smashed into each other in the violence of the Aether currents. For a split second, Randidly paused and just watched them move in wonder. His breath and thoughts disappeared and Randidly just witnessed.
Because truly, Randidly was just a speck of dust before an uncountable number of whirling Fates. They formed thick columns of light and energy that wriggled across the submerged armory like eels. Thick rings of gold, beams with that safe refreshing orange as the fruit rind, deep midnight blue speckles… the spread out and mixed, hitting each other and the crystal-covered walls. It was a vast dance that held Randidly transfixed.
His eyes could only follow those vast currents, wondering how heavy the will needed to be in order to move such a heavy amount of substance. Even more shocking was the fact that they periodically dived down to smash into the bottom of the large area below Randidly, sending hundreds of Fates careening sideways.
Yet there seemed to be some sort of facet of the dark bottom of this place that Randidly couldn’t make out from his vantage, because a little later another eel of Fates would form and rise sinuously from the ground, smaller but still similar enough that Randidly could only assume that this was the very same grouping of Fates that had been flowing before.
As Randidly blinked, some of the refracted light became easier for his mind to parse apart. Beauty gave way to a basic understanding.
Now that he knew what he was looking for, Randidly saw large piles of Fates along the bottom, slowly ebbing toward the sides. Randidly shook his head numbly as he realized what he had assumed were crystalline walls were really titanic mounds of dim Fates that sat forgotten against the edges of the cavern. These were rough and unused, but sometimes the roiling eels would pass closely and gather some of the drifting Fates.
But not all were picked up. In this way, those pillars of Fates would grow, larger and larger, until they turned once more downward and smashed into the ground.
“Pretty violent way of storing weapons,” Randidly muttered. Again, Randidly felt the bits of energy left by Nadia flare to life and he began rapidly descending down. Which immediately made him
Not that he didn’t think he was very tough, but being smashed with one thousand Fates pulled by a strong current of Aether seemed like a quick way to die.
Thankfully, Nadia clearly appeared to be guiding his descent around the more violent of the currents that smashed Fates into the ground. Proceeding at a speed that had Randidly wincing, they first headed toward the edge of the open area and followed the wall steadily down toward the vast piles of Fates along the edges.
Congratulations! Your Skill Monstrosity’s Appalling Physicality (A) has grown to Level 230!
One thing that Randidly noticed as they moved downward was that he could feel that familiar resonance in his chest while he was suspended in the liquid Aether which meant a Skill might be activated soon. Likely, it was exactly Aether Detection that he had bided his time for an Aether Key in order to learn.
However, there was simply too much pressure for the process to happen smoothly in the armory. When he tried to leave the feeling along, it was shattered by the pressure squeezing him. When he tried to protect it, his attention made the resonance falter and cease. So Randidly could only throw his hands up in the air and turn his focus to the Fates that he sped past in the descent.
Most of the ones along the wall appeared to be closer to haphazard crystal than any sort of intelligible shape. Quartz and sapphire and ruby and emerald sparkled as Randidly passed, looking like some sort of dragon’s treasure trove stacked up here at the bottom of the armory.
They produced none of the light that was coming from the Fates in the more violent currents, but there was a certain aura of raw power that wafted off of them, especially when so many were gathered together. Their combined presence pressed against his senses in a way that Randidly hadn’t often encountered.
Maybe that’s why condensing an actual form is so unlikely. Because the System makes it difficult.
Randidly thought grimly as he scanned the stacked Fates.
As Nadia hinted, the System is creating a large quantity of them in a very raw form. If they guideposts are poorly shaped… they are less bound by the rules of their makers, I suppose.
Randidly looked back to the center of the huge room. A dull rumble swept outward as a huge column of Fates smashed unhesitatingly into the ground and some were flung away by the impact.
That this isn’t a natural phenomenon or even a whim done to pass the time. This was designed to slowly grind well-formed Fates into a more raw and suggestible form…
Soon, Randidly’s path was forced inward as the heaps of Fates along the walls crept slowly toward the interior. As he did so, he could see that he was right earlier; the ground of this place was covered in gaping holes. Likely a portion of the Fates would continue down after smashing into the ground and find their way through the cave system below, which was the source of the Fates reappearing a few seconds later.
Some part of Randidly was alarmed as he proceeded down directly toward one of those holes, but too much of his attention was distracted by the increasing weight of the liquid Aether against his image. As they reached a greater depth, the cumulative weight that Randidly had to endure kept growing. At this point, he dearly wished for weight at the level of what he had faced in the shallower portions of this armory. Randidly remembered it quite fondly.
Congratulations! Your Skill Monstrosity’s Appalling Physicality (A) has grown to Level 231!
But at least it’s fueling Skill growth,
Randidly thought as he shot into a jagged crack into the ground and was immediately surrounded by darkness. Several times during the hurried passage through the tight tunnel there were large rock outcroppings that Randidly whipped past far too closely for comfort, but it seemed that this was just the reality of the cave system rather than Nadia teasing him.
Or it better fucking be,
Randidly grumbled inwardly.
Ultimately, however, Randidly soon emerged from the honeycomb-like caves into a deeper, wider thoroughfare. It was still dim here, but only dim; embedded in the walls and ground were luminous Fates.
These, unlike the Fates that had been piled against the walls, were mostly formed as objects. A pair of ivory wings fluttered out from behind a low stone in which they were lodged. There was a humming ax stuck into the dark stone wall on Randidly’s left. Directly in front of him on the rutted stone ground were seven crystal balls the size of the fist. Small jumps of electricity periodically flicked out from one to another nearby.
Randidly spun slowly around. The main portion of the tunnel stretched forward into the darkness, dimly lit by other Fates that had become trapped down here like candles leading him forward. But Randidly also noticed the presence of small side alcoves. Most interestingly, each one of the alcoves was emitting a bright light.
“We don’t have much to do down here, so we do separate the Fates worth keeping and tidy up small rooms for them.”
With annoying slowness due to the heavy liquid around him, Randidly spun and saw Nadia standing there.
She smiled at him, almost shyly. “Truly impressive that you can manage to move as an image down here. Yet… how long will you hold up underneath the pressure? I cannot help but wonder.”
Randidly didn’t even twitch, staring at her with a rather tired determination. After all, it wasn’t like he hadn’t dealt with sadistic teasing rather constantly since the System had arrived and whisked him away from his normal life. And that was even the main body. For the Grim Chimera, anything less than an active attempt to kill him was pleasant. And even though Nadia had been rather upfront about the fact she hoped the Fate she would give him would devour him, the Grim Chimera didn’t take it personally.
That was just the way the world worked. People died and became food for the next cycle of people seeking to run from death. There was no reason to get worked up about it.
Nadia chuckled when he didn’t respond to her prodding. “Fine, fine, you’re no fun. But I suppose it is that iron in your spine that lets you handle the liquid Aether. Anyway, my daughter’s Fate is right through there, in that alcove. I won’t force you to take it, but believe me, it is the most powerful Fate in this place. If you want power… that is the path forward.”
You can be afraid most of the time, but if you claim to be alive you cannot be afraid all of the time.
I want that power. I need that Path forward.
Randidly showed his teeth to Nadia’s amused expression even while another part of himself was shaking his head at the Grim Chimera’s aggressive choice.
This isn’t a matter of fear at all. There’s no need to use Vualla’s words to justify this decision. In fact, doing so is exactly what someone seized by fear would do…
Those words gave Randidly pause, but ultimately it didn’t change his decision. With that typical moving through liquid Aether slowness, he walked past Nadia into that small alcove.
Immediately, the light changed. From an airy, ambient blue Randidly stepped through the threshold and found himself inside of a harsh, red furnace. The ground was hot and volcanic, with thin cracks in the ground showing the lava bubbling below the cracked stone.
But for Randidly, the entrance into the room was quite the relief; suddenly it seemed like the pressure from the liquid Aether was gone as this Fate warped the surrounding area to suit its image. Which certainly made Nadia’s claim that this Fate was extremely powerful much more credible. But really, Randidly suspected he wouldn’t have the capability of determining if it was truly the most powerful.
It’s enough that it can stand up against liquid Aether.
In the center of the room there was a pillar of fire running from floor to ceiling. The heat flowed upward in a spiral, submerging the dark-colored Fate in its red light. Yet the Fate itself was a plain slate grey. Perhaps in an even more mundane choice, it was a blade. Randidly took several steps forward and examined the Fate more closely, but it truly was just the blade of a sword.
It was about a meter long and as thick as Randidly’s forearm. It spun slowly in the fire pillar, revealing the exceedingly sharp edges of the blade. But although the top ended in a point, the bottom ended in a flat bluntness that was so sharply separated it gleamed.
“Like your right arm, our daughter’s Fate came as simply a weapon when she condensed it. It did start with some rather ugly crystallization on the attachment point, but as she grew, she refined that away. She was… a genius.”
Randidly twisted sideways and found himself looking at the form of Kailm, crossing his arms and looking up at the naked blade with raw longing. His mouth was slightly opened, as though he wanted to say more but no words he could come up with were enough to explain what he was feeling.
After all, words couldn’t truly make Randidly understand. It was only after seeing Kailm look on this blade and seeing its light reflected in his eyes that Randidly understood how extinguished this man was now.