Like I’m gonna fucking gonna waste a year of time here,
The Grim Chimera immediately growled. With a flinty light in his eyes, he ignored the rest of Zagnal’s tirade and got to work.
The first thing Randidly did was return to his shack and confirm the truth of what Zagnal had been saying. His Aether Detection Skill focused in on every flow and ebb of the Aether around them. With a patience that the Grim Chimera rarely showed, he carefully monitored the situation of the Aether Key and the energy flowing out of it. He carefully monitored the amount flowing out of the Aether Key and the tightly bound chunk of Aether he still felt within it.
Congratulations! Your Skill Aether Detection has grown to Level 170!
Hours passed with agonizing slowness. Even though he felt his Perception stretched to its limits, it wasn’t enough. He still couldn’t make out any change in the quantity of Aether contained in the Aether Key. His face twisted in a scowl.
It’s an answer. If I can’t fucking tell any difference after this long, it’s going to last a long time. And it’s hard to know if I”m going to be away for what I think is a year or a year in real-time. If what I heard about Aether warping the perception of time is true…
The second thing Randidly did was rip the careful but ungainly arrangement of Aether he had added that helped maintain the vulnerable energy once it was exposed to the influence of the Great Rift. If he was already going to be stuck here for almost a year, Randidly wanted no other forces extending that time limit. It was one thing to be away from the battlefront for a year, but to also be away from Earth for that length of time…
The First Calamity isn’t something I should need to help with anyway, but still
… Randidly’s bone spear lashed out in the middle of the shack, gleaming with the baleful flames of Nether. The air in the surrounding area warped and rippled, but quickly recovered; the Aether in the surrounding area was simply too dense.
But at least that proves I can actually use my own Nether to deplete the Aether here if I have to.
Randidly’s eyes burned emerald as he turned his gaze on the Aether Key. But his mouth twisted.
But I doubt it would be smart to attack the Aether Key directly. The Engravings that cover it are clearly powerful… it was specifically designed to be sent into the Great Rift; there is no way the forces of Aether would send it out alone if it had no direct defenses against attacks. Which means the safe plan is slowly depleting it.
Randidly released a breath and did his best to force himself to calm down. Despite that terrible urgency in his chest, the cautious way was the best method. A year felt like a long time, especially considering all the other factors that were in play. But it wouldn’t be that long, not so long as he kept working at shortening it.
Without relying on Nether this time, Randidly reached out toward the steady flow of energy that was coming out of the Aether Key and began to try and seize it. It was an extremely difficult thing to manipulate directly. The familiar icy coldness and burning heat of Aether flowed unwillingly through his fingers like water. He could force it to flow in certain directions, but he could not control its movements. However, the difficulty didn’t make Randidly give up. If anything, he bent over his task with even more determination.
After an extended struggle against the Aether, he felt the familiar resonance in his chest. With renewed vigor, Randidly continued. Very soon the notification popped up.
Congratulations! Your Skill Aether Manipulation has grown to Level 199!
Well, that Skill Level is certainly much higher than it was previously,
Randidly looked at the notification with relish.
What has the main body been doing that made Aether Manipulation rise so quickly…?
Randidly could guess the details, but the specifics really didn’t matter for his current purposes. All that mattered was that it was one more confirmation the main body had his own struggle and that he had not just given up and was waiting for his images to return to him.
That thought gave Randidly pause.
Does that mean the main body is severely weakened because all of the images were taken out of him…? It might be why he can only really work with the Aether based Skills… nothing else has enough punch to make a dent without an image behind it.
But Randidly’s focus quickly returned to the present. It wasn’t like there was a hard time limit on what he wanted to do, but the Grim Chimera’s impatience urged him forward.
The third thing Randidly did was speak quietly to Zauna and Salazar. Around Salazar’s frequent digressions and Zauna’s one-word answers, Randidly was able to basically flesh out the information that Zagnal had so harshly flaunted in Randidly’s face.
It confirmed his worst fears. They were using a ‘strategic’ grade Aether Key whereas most missions usually involved ‘tactical’ grade. And this difference would mean that their experience would be vastly different. Even worse, Zauna confirmed that the time limit for the mission was measured in real-time, not in the time that they would experience.
Tactical grade Aether Keys were genuinely used to destabilize the strange formations that the Nether used to gather momentum for attacks. Meanwhile, the strategic grade Aether Keys were often used as a smokescreen for large scale operations. When a sufficient number were deployed at key locations, essentially all of the Nether’s available information was blocked off. Nether could send forces around the outskirts to attack, but most of the frontline was screened off.
Of course, the Nether could overwhelm these Aether Keys. But why would they? Considering the presence in the Great Rift, the Aether Keys would eventually be depleted without the main forces even raising a finger. Because in the history of this long war between Aether and Nether, a year was a pittance.
Yet neither side would miss this chance to mass their forces for the confrontation that was to come.
The reason that everyone believed that this was a suicide mission was that the Nether would inevitably break through the Aether keys
, after they had weakened, so as to take the forces of Aether by surprise. It was partially a question of when, but it was also a calculated gamble on the part of the Nether.
Too early and they might take the forces of Aether by surprise, but the attack would be too costly. Too late and the forces of Aether would have basically finished their own preparations anyway and moving wouldn’t be worth it. But it also wasn’t like the Nether wanted to let Aether dictate the timings of their engagements.
Randidly chuckled darkly as he returned to his shack.
I suppose both sides will be quite surprised when this Aether Key flickers out early. But it might be a problem if the massing Nether forces notice and attack while this thing is still dimly functioning.
There was one more piece of information that Randidly obtained from Zauna. Unlike the tactical grade Aether Keys which worked off of a timer, the strategic grade would only teleport back to the battlefront when all of the Aether in it was completely exhausted or if it was triggered by a powerful force of Nether.
Unfortunately for Randidly, the teleportation process for the later would be prefaced by a devastating explosion designed to punish those seeking to attack the Aether Key. So it probably wasn’t safe for him to trigger the Aether Key the second way, even assuming ample preparation time. The Grim Chimera was designed for survival, but none of its Skills were really defensive in nature. He could only deplete the energy the old fashioned way and hope for the best.
With everything confirmed, he got directly to work.
Slowly, Randidly’s days settled into a certain sort of routine. In the mornings, he focused on training up his Grim Chimera images. These Skill Levels came slowly, but it was the only time that Randidly could rid himself of the insidious hatred that was bubbling up toward Lord Miln and the ridiculous unfairness of the Great Rift battlefront. So much had been done to him, and Randidly was left with very few ways of refusing.
The price of being weak.
The Grim Chimera whispered. The Fate blade in Randidly’s chest hummed in agreement.
After exercising, Randidly first spent some time communicating with the Fate blade and raising his intimacy. To his surprise, despite the continued erratic behavior out of the blade, he found himself getting along with it quite easy. Slowly but surely, Randidly could feel some of its defenses lowering and a warmer and more nurturing heat flowing out of the Fate blade to reinforce Randidly’s image body.
Of course, ‘warmer and more nurturing’, was simply a relative term.
Congratulations! Your Skill Fire Resistance has grown to Level 142!
It was still an extremely painful process. Even if the Fate was slowly feeding Randidly power willingly, it was still power from a blade with no handle; there was no way to get around the fact that this power would wound the user just as deeply as it would cut the enemy.
In addition, Randidly was somewhat surprised by the jumbled and contradictory answer he received when he timidly asked the Fate blade why it was willingly giving up its power.
Do you think I wanted this power? It is the reason I have not yet been able to die. Take it all from me, Tomo.
The Grim Chimera grew very still at that answer, and it wasn’t the fact that the blade had started weirdly referring to him as Tomo at some point. A deep kaleidoscope of emotions flashed out of the depths of the Fate blade as it spoke, a dense misture of hatred and fear and depression and an endless sea of loss drowning all of the rest. The blade began to glow cherry red with the force of the emotions and the will behind them. But then the emotions twisted and vanished. In the next moment, it seemed like the blade completely forgot what it had said.
Randidly didn’t ask about its motivations again.
From midday to midnight, Randidly practiced with Nether and wore away at the ivory lock on the chest. During this time, he didn’t forget to allow a significant amount of Nether to escape and deplete some of the surrounding Aether. These were the most… tedious of Randidly’s training methods, but he had no choice but to simply put the weight of his will against the lock and continue to force the issue. Unfortunately, progress was annoyingly slow. Some part of Randidly worried that the Aether Key would give out before the trunk did.
Once every day, Randidly would leave the shack and talk to his subordinates. To his surprise, both Salazar and Zauna seemed quite content to just savor the image and do their best attempts to harvest the image vegetables and fruits that grew in this place. They had almost doubled the size of the farm while Randidly kept himself locked away, and this action made some deep part of Randidly trembled. There were simply too many memories here-
Then, sharing a meal about two weeks after they had arrived in the Great Rift, Randidly realized something. He grinned up at the sky. The issue of escaping this place and the relative time difference had grabbed too much of his attention. He was stuck here, but that doesn’t mean he was blind.
Randidly still had Nether Rituals.