Groaning, Randidly allowed himself to collapse onto the ground in one of the larger tents. Although he knew that he had already wasted quite enough time, he couldn’t force himself to head out and get whisked away by Lord Miln’s plot quite yet. He didn’t have the strength of will remaining to square off against the Supreme Commander of the battlefield at the moment. The armory had left Randidly Ghosthound almost completely drained.
It was honestly a satisfying feeling. Randidly rarely was able to push himself so perfectly on his own; the last time he remembered this sensation was during a training session with Shal.
As an added bonus, this wariness was much different than his usual damage after a journey into the Great Rift. Because there was no actual damage to his image, he could feel his energy recovery rapidly once he sat down and took a break. Plus, his Willpower seemed to come back much more compact and potent than it had been previously. The pressure of the liquid Aether certainly would end up being a long term boost to his capability.
But there was a single problem.
Randidly wiped sweat from his brow and turned his focus inward.
If you don’t cool it down, I’ll drown you in Nether again.
A towering pillar of rage blossomed out of the bare blade that was nestled between his two Nether Wells. The force of the emotion made Randidly wince. However, the blade didn’t unleash any heat this time, so Randidly refrained from pouring Nether on it in response. The two squared off like that for several seconds, waiting to see the other’s response. Both were running short of patience and understanding.
Slowly, the rage from the blade dissipated into nothing. Sighing, Randidly leaned back and shifted his position to something more relaxing. The blade was difficult to predict. It was only with the help of its flames that he had been able to offset the pressure of the liquid Aether and escape the armory. However, the behavior of the Fate was extremely erratic.
There were times that it seemed to understand Randidly perfectly like it possessed sentience equivalent to a human. There were other times, however, where it completely ignored him or its emotions suddenly dispersed abruptly, as though it had reached the edges of its limited consciousness. Both of which made communication confusion and frustrating.
It did, however, seem like it was finally remembering where it was and its new relationship with Randidly. No longer did it suddenly send out terrible waves of heat to give Randidly internal agony at the slightest provocation. Which had led to Skill Levels, but it hadn’t made his journey through the armory any easier.
If I could figure how to get it to talk, that would be even better.
But I have the feeling I’m going to need quite a bit of time before I acclimate to this Fate inside of me… I don’t want to force it before I’m ready.
At that thought, Randidly turned his attention to the wooden box that he brought out with him as his second selected Fate. Of course, the box itself wasn’t the Fate; the true Fate was locked inside by that extremely powerful lock. There were also patterns on the box that Randidly vaguely recognized as Aether Engraving. Yet the reason he had chosen this Fate was a sense of familiarity that Randidly felt as soon as he had touched the box. What was frustrating was that there was something… just a little off about that sensation that kept Randidly from being able to place whose image it felt like.
Considering some of the entities that Randidly was familiar with, he was deeply wary when he felt familiarity wafting up from the box. But it couldn’t be denied that every being that Randidly had met from the Nexus was extremely powerful. Perhaps even then Randidly wouldn’t have risked it without first learning how effective his two Nether Wells were at restraining the other Fate, so he hoped the risk would be somewhat mitigated.
Worst-case scenario and the Fate was the Creature’s, Randidly could open up his Nether Wells and simply drown the fucking thing until it disintegrated to nothing.
Besides, the box had saved his life.
It was quite soon after he had left the alcove where he obtained the burning blade. Randidly was still struggling to control the heat pouring out from his core while simultaneously moving through the dense Aether. The pressure was so crushing that his pace was abysmally slow. He had made it out into the tunnel but a rumbling made Randidly grit his teeth in furious helplessness.
One of those pillars of Fates had struck the ground. At that very moment, it had been rushing through the underground tunnel system toward him.
Randidly had pushed himself as much as he dared, ignoring the terrible internal burns his image received and simply dedicated everything to will himself toward a nearby alcove. Yet it wasn’t enough.
The current around him was growing, making proceeding even more difficult. Small Fates that weren’t stuck in the ground or walls began to tumble slowly down the tunnel around Randidly as they were tugged forward by the growing current. In the distance, the rumbling sound of the Fates smashing into each other and the walls of the tunnel grew steadily louder.
It only took a few seconds before Randidly realized that he wouldn’t make it; it wouldn’t even be close. He was stranded in the middle of the tunnel due to his abysmal speed. At that time he had immediately prepared himself to use All Things Succumb, Yet Time Whirls the Earth, when he saw something approaching rapidly from a distance.
A rather large trunk rolling directly toward him, spinning end over end. With a wild grin on his face, Randidly had lowered his body and prepared for its arrival. As the rumbling grew louder, Randidly’s eyes had glittered. More and more Fates were becoming visible, pushed down the tunnel by the force of the Aether current behind them. The walls of the tunnel had begun to shake.
So Randidly had seized onto the large trunk and allowed himself to be carried forward at a speed that he couldn’t duplicate with his body. Because the trajectory of the trunk was slightly off-center of the tunnel, as the rumbling behind him grew louder Randidly and his trunk transportation neared the wall and eventually tumbled into an alcove.
In the nick of time too, because the whole tunnel shook with the passage of the Fates with such violence that Randidly was jarred and numb afterward. It was only then as he was recovering when Randidly examined the trunk and realized how familiar it felt.
There was one problem with this choice of Fate, however. Randidly eyed the ivory lock that kept the trunk closed suspiciously. Somehow, without even trying, Randidly could sense that whatever material was used in the making of this lock was truly extraordinary. When he looked at it, he didn’t think any amount of physical strength would make a difference without the true key.
Well, that’s why I’m going to cheat and burn it open with Nether,
Randidly thought with amusement.
Better to wait until we are in the Great Rift though. But it’s strange… Nadia clearly saw the trunk but didn’t say anything about it. Is that a good or a bad sign…?
Either way, Randidly closed his eyes again and simply breathed. His strength slowly recovered as he could feel time passing.
Eventually, his eyes snapped open. Randidly walked out of the tent and found his three subordinates waiting for him. “Time to go. We can’t keep delaying forever.”
Zagnal’s expression amongst the three was particularly sour. “Can’t we? We will only be assigned punishments, but those won’t take effect until after the mission. Might as well savor life now.”
Randidly sighed and shook his head ruefully. “Don’t be such a piece of shit about this. That sort of attitude doesn’t help anyone.”
“…yet what other attitude can I have?” Looking sharply upward, Zagnal spat out his words at Randidly. He kept his fists at his side, but Randidly could see they were clenched. “You are naught but an image. Where does your confidence in survival come from? Even if you have obtained two old Fates, it is only a matter of time before they devour you-”
“In terms of survival, there is no one in this universe more skilled than I,” The Grim Chimera laughed. Randidly eyes flashed cruelly as he considered Zagnal. “Besides, is there any meaning to having or not having confidence? If I am finally insufficient, it will all end no matter if I worry about it or not. Then it seems foolish to waste our time worrying, doesn’t it?”
“You are deranged,” Zagnal snorted.
Randidly shrugged, unwilling to admit that this casual insult was likely the most effective of Zagnal’s verbal barbs so far. After all, he was a fragment of a personality that was becoming increasingly fragmented the more damage his image received. The connections between him, the main body, and the other images were difficult to define.
He continued to think of himself as Randidly Ghosthound, but whether that was actually the case…
Suppressing his mental doubts, Randidly moved past the bitter Zagnal and led the way back toward Lord Miln’s base. Above their heads, the strange half-light of dawn slowly filtered downward. Randidly shook his head in disgust.
An entire day, wasted. Not that I think it was worth it to antagonize Lord Miln purposefully, but making him wait is slightly amusing.
To Randidly’s relief, the journey back to the base was an easy one. In addition, they received no questions when they returned; apparently, their delay was considered par for the course for trips to the armory. Without even needing to speak to Lord Miln, they were escorted to the staging area and given the Aether Key they would use.
Even in its dormant state, Randidly couldn’t resist staring at the heavy form of the Aether Key in his hand. The power wafting off of it was palpable. So much so that Randidly felt his image body tingling just from holding the thing. In terms of power…
But Randidly’s examination would need to wait. The guards hurried them through the gate and with a nauseating twist, Randidly was once more floating amongst the blackness of the Great Rift. Randidly breathed in and out, letting the Nether sizzle against his skin. It was almost a nostalgic sensation at this point, especially because his three bubbles reduced the damage from Nether in this relatively unconcentrated form to an absolute minimum.
Randidly’s claw tightened on the Aether Key and energy surged outward like a stampede of horses. But just as quickly as it exploded outward, Randidly was there guiding the energy to swirl inward. Unlike last time, Randidly was prepared for the phenomenon and much more experienced at shaping images, especially quickly. Therefore, a relatively small and solid image appeared in the surrounding area. Rather than size, Randidly kept the energy concentrated.
In addition, with a bit of inspiration from his experience with Nether Rituals, Randidly arranged some of the lines of the Aether image into a formation that should reinforce the area against outside attacks. It was rough work without Aether Manipulation, but it would do well enough for now.
For the form, Randidly chose an old memory. It was the small wooden hut that he had stayed in at the beginning of his time on Earth after he escaped from the Dungeon. The door was slightly off-kilter, letting wind and rays of sunlight through to the small interior area. There was a cultivated patch of land nearby where Randidly farmed.
Randidly was extremely dutiful in his reproduction. He created the small dirt path that led down toward the hill of Donnyton proper, as well as the track that led out to the place where Sam had been staying with Lyra and the other actresses. The soft slope of the valley could barely be seen from the relatively small cross-section that Randidly recreated, but it felt extremely familiar to his eyes.
An old home.
Randidly thought rather sadly.