Turning his head slowly, Randidly looked up at the blade and then back to Kailm. Eventually, Randidly was unwilling to allow the silence to remain any longer. The raw look of loss in Kailm’s face made him uneasy.
“You are here to…?’ Randidly started to stay, but he held his tongue rather than accusing Kailm of coming to kill him. Even for someone as aggressive as the Grim Chimera, it was a little much to antagonize Kailm right now.
The old man sighed. His short grey hair seemed so thin and frail. “I will not help you claim this Fate, nor will I hinder you. But also…”
Kailm let his arms fall to his sides. “I would not have acted if you had simply passed this place by. But you walked into the room and looked upon the grave to my daughter. You have stood before her memory. I am not fool enough to think that this lingering fragment of her dreams is truly her, not in the way that I believe Nadia still hopes. But that does not mean that I like seeing the woman who shared with me that debilitating tragedy disappointed. Since you came into this place, you will leave with this Fate or die trying.”
Randidly turned his attention back to the grey blade hanging in the pillar of fire. His mouth quirked up in amusement. “Then I suppose there is no reason to delay.”
Walking slowly to recovery some of his will while he didn’t need to fight off the liquid Aether, Randidly approached the hanging Fate. Undoubtedly the liquid Aether had been pushed back by a towering aura of heat and fire, but these were old hat to the Grim Chimera. He had lived through the fires of calamity and then endured the chill of oblivion as the tragedies of his life were slowly forgotten. Even though Randidly didn’t currently have his related resistance Skills, he did not fear fire in the slightest.
Instead, he continued forward until he stood right before the blade. It seemed to react to his presence, spinning faster and faster in its column of lava. Before it spun so fast that Randidly’s eyes couldn’t follow it, Randidly raised his claw and seized the blade.
Immediately, he winced.
Maybe it was a bit early to say that there was
reason to fear fire…
Randidly felt the skin of his palm blister and flake away as it was baked by the proximity to the blade. There was no discoloration to the blade itself, but it was clear that it was the source of the heat. The only comparable heat that Randidly had ever encountered was the core of Aegiant’s image. Which in retrospect, compared to the completely inert and faded Fate that Randidly now struggled to hold in his hand, did quite a bit to make Randidly realize the tier of opponents he had been matched with thus far.
But there was a positive side effect as the heat that blistered Randidly’s hand sent sharp daggers of pain and then proceeded to follow up with waves of agony. Randidly could feel the slight resonance in his chest as one of his Skills activated. That resonance grew and grew until-
“Having trouble?” Kailm chuckled. “Take your time, I have nowhere to be.”
Why the fuck are both of these guardians so chatty?
Randidly thought with a frown as the distraction shattered the resonance. This time, Randidly closed his eyes and did his best to ignore the mounting pain in his hand as he waited for the resonance to build.
Time crawled past as sweat dripped down Randidly’s temples. It was a close thing. His arm was beginning to tremble as the notification that Randidly was finally waiting for arrived.
Congratulations! Your Skill Fire Resistance has grown to Level 114!
Congratulations! Your Skill Pain Resistance has grown to Level 112!
“Jesus fucking christ,” Randidly gasped. Instantly, the Skill whirred to life and did a lot to blunt the edge of the heat that was making the skin of his claw hiss and pop. Yet even if his Resistance Skill was active once more, it wouldn’t completely dull the damage done by the ambient heat. And it also wouldn’t get rid of constant pain that Randidly already possessed from allowing his hand to get burnt to its current state.
Randidly took a few steps backward, unsure of what to do next. Kailm laughed but otherwise didn’t offer any guidance. After sparing the old man a glance, Randidly focused back on the blade in his hand. Up close, Randidly could see intricate runic patterns covering the superheated blade. Again Randidly bitterly wished the main body was here. Likely then he would be able to learn much more from this weapon than he could currently manage.
But the main body has his own troubles.
Randidly released his breath through his nose.
This is my own task. But honestly… what do I do now?
Congratulations! Your Skill Fire Resistance has grown to Level 115!
Although it seems like simply waiting here isn’t entirely the worst decision… I stay here an hour and I bet I could get thirty Skill Levels.
“I can see you are confused,” Kailm said quietly. “Would you like a hint?”
Randidly glared at Kailm, extremely torn whether he wanted to hear the hint or whether he just wanted to rip Kailm’s throat out for suggesting that he needed it. Either way, Randidly definitely would need to be the one to make a decision soon. He felt his flesh crack on his claw as he continued to clutch the grey blade. Yet it seemed like a failure if he dropped it now.
Kailm continued to remain silent. Randidly grimaced and tightened his grip on the blade. Or at least, he thought he did. Unfortunately, most of the feeling was gone out of his hand so most of his grip was guesswork on his part. Furrowing his brows, Randidly continued to project disgust and distaste toward Kailm’s passive stance.
To Randidly’s vicious pleasure, Kailm scratched his cheek and sighed. “Ugh, I hate you patient types. Fine, the Fate is currently in a dormant state. Although you can never receive the same benefits from an external Fate, you can absorb a portion of its potency and… flavor, for lack of a better term. If you bring it in proximity to your image, the Fate will… intermingle with you. Considering the current state of your image, that will boost your strength quite a bit.”
Patient types? You barely lasted two minutes.
Randidly was so abruptly amused that he almost dropped the grey blade. But then his thoughts focused on the last portion of what Kailm said. “If that’s true… why don’t more people absorb Fates? Does it happen more than I think? I’m not sure I’ve heard of it happening while I’ve been at the front lines.”
Kailm gave Randidly a strange look. “Of course not, it’s incredibly dangerous to mix foreign Fates with your own. And if you do this now and eventually regain your body, there will perhaps be a conflict with your original Fate. But aren’t you here to gather power enough to live that long? Everything becomes moot if you die.
“But maybe even more importantly… do you think it’s easy to obtain a Fate powerful enough to make enough of a difference to be worth the risk of corrupting your own Fate? The System watches such things very carefully. You might not realize it, but this is a chance of a lifetime for you.”
“One which I earned by being sent to die,” Randidly muttered. Kailm shrugged.
But Kailm’s previous points did give Randidly pause. It was obvious in retrospect that this wouldn’t be a costless process. Of course, the main body didn’t possess a Fate currently, so there wouldn’t be the sort of negative reaction that Kailm spoke about. But what that made Randidly worry was that taking in a Fate now would preempt him forming his own Fate later. Which would be quite the tragedy.
Because no matter how capable this deceased woman was, Randidly refused to admit defeat to her. Their differences lay in age and experience, not in potential.
And also in how our stories will end.
Randidly thought with a tinge of sadness as he looked at the plain grey blade.
Still, Randidly’s sudden unwillingness to absorb the Fate into himself put him in an extremely awkward position as Kailm had made his stance clear; Randidly would absorb the Fate or Kailm would kill him. All the while, the blade in his hand continued to exert its dangerous influence over Randidly’s hand and arm. He initially kept the blade as far away from his torso as possible, but as his arm weakened from constant exposure, it drifted closer to him.
Congratulations! Your Skill Fire Resistance has grown to Level 116!
Very quickly, Randidly had an idea. Quite like how the maker of the System had taken the principles of Nether RItuals to create Classes, Randidly had it in mind to treat this new Fate like a ‘core’ of Nether and have himself become the bubble. The problem of heat would likely continue but was debatably beneficial in the long term.
Plus, if he could learn to harness the heat it released, it certainly would do a lot to help him survive in the Great Rift by purely burning away Nether.
Besides, Randidly couldn’t deny that if the blade produced this much heat in its passive state, its activated form might be more dangerous than he wanted to deal with at the moment. Especially because he expected the protection against liquid Aether afforded by the Fate to swiftly disappear once he took any action with it, leaving him once more in the unenviable position of resisting the liquid Aether directly with his image body.
Closing his eyes, Randidly turned away from Kailm and attempted it as discretely as he could. His image for what was about to happen was sharp and clear. The burning blade would become a part of him, floating in his internal world. His will stretched out to accomplish his goal.
And of course. It didn’t work.
Taking a risk, Randidly unleashed a bit of Nether and had it circulate through him to more fully duplicate the feeling he was looking for. Then he tried again But even with the Nether strengthening the specificity of his desire, his mental grip on the slate-colored blade could not find any purchase.
…unfortunately, it looks like it would need to be in an active state to be pulled in like that.
Randidly frowned at the shimmering grey surface.
Not because of the power required… but because an object can’t be a core. A bubble can be anything, but the core… the core needs to be special. Vital. Connected.
Which was valuable information in its own right, but didn’t help Randidly in his current predicament.
Congratulations! Your Skill Fire Resistance has grown to Level 117!
Congratulations! Your Skill Pain Resistance has grown to Level 113!
Randidly barely kept a groan from slipping out of his lips. Then he did his best to school his face into something relatively neutral before he turned around to face Kailm. Even though it was probably pointless, Randidly refused to show any weakness in front of this powerful man who had forced him into action with an ultimatum.
Which, Randidly was aware, was sweeping under the rug the fact that he had rather thoughtlessly proceeded here in order to become more powerful in a short amount of time, knowing the risks. Likely he would have made this attempt even without Kailm’s ultimatum, he would have attempted it. Yet the fact that Kailm did force the issue made all the difference to the Grim Chimera’s pride.
Randidly even allowed what he thought was a relatively convincing smile to cross his face as he looked at Kailm. “No need to play coy. Do I really even have a choice in whether I absorb this blade? The alternative is death. The ultimate failure”
With much more weight than Randidly had expected from his flippant remark, Kailm looked at the grey blade in Randidly’s hand. “…there is always another choice. There are even many who take it.”
For several seconds, Randidly was too taken aback to speak. He looked at the blade one more time, this time looking less at its surface but more at its shape.
A blade with no handle… I suppose it is fitting that the user bled herself until she died with such a Fate.
But that does not mean that I will be bound by that future.
His resolve firmed, Randidly reached out with his bone spear and pressed it against the blade. His image raised its head and howled in challenge to the sleeping Fate. Ash and the tenacious craving for survival swam down around his bone spear and congregated at the tip. Then, inspired by his experience with Nether, he began to rotate those facets of his image at a high speed until they wove themselves into a deadly point.
Then be began to drag that point across the slate grey blade.