From the moment that Randidly recalled Nether Rituals forward, he spent the middle portion of his day depleting Aether with the convenient distraction of the Nether Ritual taking his attention to another place. It was a surprisingly complex process, but it definitely helped alleviate some of the monotony of the task.
For better or worse, Randidly chose Vualla as his first target. Inwardly, he justified it by saying that Vualla was the only individual who he had successfully targeted in the past and therefore she was a safe first choice, but the Grim Chimera was very glad to have another opportunity to see her. Considering the fact that he was forced to leave so suddenly…
There was a moment of hesitation as he fed Nether into the ritual as he wondered if it would work from within the Great Rift with the strategic grade Aether Key active, but almost immediately the image of Vualla fluttered to life before his eyes.
Randidly gritted his teeth.
If this works… is there actually any point to using the Aether Keys to screen the forces of Nether? If not, then why-
But for the moment he let that thought slide away and focused on Vualla. Of course, this was where the difficulty started.
There was a marked time difference between Randidly and Vualla. Because his Perception accelerated, she appeared to be walking underwater in slow motion. Randidly studied the difference for several seconds, then clicked his tongue.
It’s about one-third of the speed of what I’m experiencing. Shit, that means that it will feel like I spent three years here if I let the Aether Key run its course.
But honestly, it was better than the alternative of time passing too quickly while Randidly was training here. At least this gave him more of a chance to work up some Skill Levels. But while watching the Nether RItual, Randidly couldn’t handle the speed. So he breathed slowly in and out and forced himself relax. Then he relaxed further. With half-closed eyes, he slowed his heart rate down until it beat only once every five seconds.
Slowly, his Perception slowed down until the picture he was watching seemed close enough to a normal speed.
Vualla was walking along the supply caravan track along the rear of the camps, accompanied by two people. To Randidly’s surprised, this was one of the few times where the supply caravans appeared to be running, so large clouds of dust partially obscured their figures. But Randidly could see that Vualla’s long strides put her well ahead of the other two, who were trailing along behind her while talking to each other quietly.
One of the two Randidly recognized: it was Lady Iellaya, looking particularly well behaved. But the other person was a small, hairless main with rather pallid, grey skin. Randidly’s lip instinctively curled upward as he considered the three people, filled with a flinty rage that seemed to have no real justification. But then Randidly noticed the slight interference and pulled back to look inward.
Main body, this isn’t funny,
Randidly’s rage easily shifted to a new target.
Even if her Aether feels ancient, she is a good person. Don’t you dare try and influence my feelings any longer.
There was no response from the main body, but that feeling of disgust and rage directed toward the individuals he saw in the Nether Ritual faded away. After waiting a few seconds to be sure the emotions were gone, Randidly turned his attention back to the picture in front of him. Once more he forced the heart rate that had accelerated with his rage to slow back down.
Vualla continued to stride forward, gaining more distance between her and the other two. Eventually, Lady Iellaya looked up with a frown. “Vualla Mateo! As I said, he has already departed for his mission. There is no purpose in hurrying. Why not enjoy the sights?”
Vualla gave Lady Iellaya a look so disgusted that Randidly snorted. After gesturing with obvious sarcasm to the surrounding area that was mostly obscured by smoke, Vualla said, “Ah yes, the sights. Wonderful.” Then she turned on her heel and continued to stalk forward.
“Little missy, not much farther than that,” The hairless man said with a disturbingly high giggle. Which was exactly when Randidly realized that there was no visual variation on this man at all. He dominated his own image perfectly.
With deliberate care, Vualla slowed and turned around. “Bah, haven’t the testimony of all those in Lady Iellaya’s camp proven that Randidly was sufficiently singular? Which proves that you don’t catch every talented individual called here. Which
prove that I’m not maliciously here on the frontlines- your stupid Brigade simply isn’t as effective at catching all the talent here as you think it is. Don’t be too disappointed, realizing your weaknesses is just part of growing up.”
The hairless man’s smile grew sharper, but he only shrugged in response to Vualla’s scathing words. “This boy is a diversion, nothing more. I’m sure you realized that I didn’t really care much for him. Otherwise, would I have simply let him go on his mission without acting?”
Vualla’s jaw clenched, but she didn’t seem too surprised. “So then Terith keeping me locked up in my tent for insubordination…?”
“Games are never fun if they are too easy.” The hairless, grey-skinned man grinned wickedly at Vualla. His voice continued to pipe up erratically as he spoke. “If you have a problem with my behavior, there is an easy solution; just agree to join the Xyrt Brigade. I’ll have this Randidly fellow recalled immediately. And believe me, I naturally possess the clout to order your precious Lord Miln around.”
Vualla didn’t answer. The man’s smile stretched even wider. “Do you care about him or don’t you, girl? Is he so singular that he caught your attention or is he an image you will let die like every other image here on the frontlines?”
Randidly could see the throbbing veins in Vualla’s temple. His gaze narrowed to a sizzling point as his focus moved back to the wrinkly and small man. This bastard was trying to use him to apply pressure on Vualla? Although Randidly didn’t have much information about the Xyrt Brigade, he certainly couldn’t think it was a very good place to be if this was how they typically recruited people.
But some part of Randidly did snag on the word singular.
That’s… that’s a good way to describe how I feel about Vualla. She…
It seemed that Vualla’s anger was obvious to this hairless fellow as well because he cackled again. “Of course, there is always the third option; if you can defeat me in battle, I’ll swear my eternal loyalty to you. I will become naught but your humble slave~ But if you lose… you’ll come to the Xyrt Brigade for one hundred years. Aren’t my terms fair? Ah, I know what this hesitation is… an older man such as myself, propositioning a younger woman… are you perhaps intimidated? Let me assure you, your shapeless and fleshy body isn’t what I desire. It’s simply that image you possess. That is what will soon be mine.”
Randidly’s gaze contained every ounce of condensed hatred that he could manage. So much so that the blade Fate in his chest activated in response. Its howl for blood exploded outward inside of Randidly, scalding his insides. His heart rate spiked once more, and he began to grudgingly force his rage down so the time difference didn’t grow too great.
It isn’t enough to goad her into a duel against someone who has lived for far longer in the Nexus than she has, but he’s also insulting her?
I’m just one more lever in a litany of tools this piece of shit is willing to use against Vualla…
Vualla turned away from the man. He leaned forward, sneering as he walked with Lady Iellaya up toward Vualla. “Do not believe I will hold up my end of the deal? I swear on the honor of my name, Cail Tweocs. Ah… or perhaps this Ghosthound’s life isn’t important enough to you? Lady Iellaya made it clear what his mission was, yes? He will not return alive from the deployment of a strategic Aether Key. The Nether will overwhelm him in an endless swarm. If you don’t act before that happens…”
Randidly bit his lip so hard that it bled. His gaze went to Lady Iellaya, who remained completely passive through the entire conversation. In addition, this Cail’s statements about being able to recall Randidly… it seemed like he was from another battlefield of some sort. One that had a much higher standing than Lord Miln.
This was exactly the sort of figure that Randidly wanted to get in contact with so he could try and use this power from within the Nexus to get his body back. Yet as Randidly watched this Cail Tweocs using Randidly’s own life as a bargaining chip to coerce Vualla…
I will kill you someday, Cail Tweocs.
The Nether in Randidly’s body that he was using to erode the surrounding Aether and the ivory lock roiled. Time was slowing down in the Nether RItual as his own time returned to its normal progression, but he didn’t care. There was a strange sense of oneness coming from his chest. It seemed that every fibre of his being was imbued with that burning hatred against this man. With the strange feeling of parallel time, the sensation was chaotic and violent, but Randidly found strength in that oneness.
I will not forget what you are attempting to do here.
Only after he had burned his resolution into his mind did Randidly set about the task of reducing his heart rate once more. But even once he returned to watching the scene, the strange changes weren’t finished.
In the periphery of his focus, Randidly sensed the Nether Ritual begin to mutate. Perhaps it was really a gradual process of evolution, but as Randidly allowed his Perception to slow down to match the vision he was seeing in the Nether Ritual, the Ritual itself now seemed to bubble and warp at a monstrous pace. As his emotions seethed through his chest, the Ritual was fueled to a transformation monstrous enough to match them.
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Ritual (A) has grown to Level 17!
Perhaps even more strangely, Cail Tweocs abruptly froze in his stalking walk toward Vualla. He raised his bald head and slowly scanned the surrounding area. Randidly felt a tingling feeling of shock, but the hatred was too large to take back now. The emotion flowed endlessly into the ritual. It had previously filled his being and now it was being fueled by that wild obsession of the Fate blade inside of him. The Nether Ritual was coming to a point.
“…who…?” Cail Tweocs muttered, but at that moment Vualla raised her head and laughed.
“…Is he that important…? I actually find myself asking myself the same thing pretty often. He couldn’t be, right?” Vualla flashed a dazzling smile toward Cail. “I haven’t known him long. We’ve only been on one mission together, taken one walk, and had two conversations beside that. The amount of time we have spent together is so short. And yet…
“Do you ever feel like your life has been completely laid out for you? Like even as you walk and talk, you are simply repeating the script that someone else provided to you…? That’s how I feel. Or how I felt.” Vualla shook her head ruefully. “I didn’t even realize how stale my life had become until I met Randidly Ghosthound. The image who had fought long and hard enough to obtain two stars. Something I had never seen before. Someone who thew himself into danger time and time again not because he knew he could survive, but because he wanted to make a difference. He woke me up from a dream that everyone else had for my life.”
Randidly twitched awkwardly. …
I’m not that selfless a person…
Even as warmth surged through Randidly at her words, it didn’t stop his emotions from flowing into the Ritual. The fuel changed, but if anything, it only grew more quickly once Randidly’s hatred toward Cail changed into something more tender aimed at Vualla.
If Cail had been able to sense whatever it was that was occurring with the Nether Ritual, his attention was now dragged back to the young woman in front of him by the same words that had such a profound effect on Randidly. Vualla raised her heavy gauntleted fist and pointed toward Cail Tweocs. “That’s why… yes, he’s important to me. More important that can just be explained by what’s actually happened. Because… because I believe when we finally get the chance… the connection we will make…”
I shouldn’t feel as connected to you as I do, yea I get it. But still… That’s the way I feel.
All of the hatred faded into something less violent, but the Nether Ritual continued to rapidly inflate underneath the surge of emotion that Randidly felt.
“Shallow relationships will fade with time. Someone like you… someone like that… you two should not have met.” Cail arrived next to Vualla. Although he was slightly shorter than her, his presence was still a towering shadow cast by this strange man. Every step seemed to shake the visual cues in the surrounding area into a more frantic vibration. “You were meant for a higher calling. With an image like yours, we can finally find what we are looking for.”
Chuckling, Vualla raised her head to the sky. “Then why can’t I get the warmth of his tail wrapped around my waist out of my mind? Why, even now, do I feel him by my side? It’s like he’s looking over my shoulder right as you are blabbering nonsense at me.”
Yes, that’s exactly right. Don’t give up and neither will I. If we never get up, this whole fucked up System…
Randidly’s eyes burned. The Nether Ritual began to rumble ominously. The energy spiraled inward toward the core, building and building. With the time difference, Randidly could barely keep track of the changes going through the Nether Ritual. It was barely enough for him to continue to peer through it to Vualla.
And then Randidly felt it. If he raised his hand now…
He didn’t hesitate at all. Randidly reached with every fiber of his being toward the woman with the azure hair and the will to destroy everything in her path. The Nether Ritual exploded, but his hand was traveling across time and distance. Heat and desire and the memory of the sound of her voice carried that reach forward even as some terrible weight of the universe took notice of his grasp. Instantly, Randidly felt resistance from the surrounding area. The things between them were a wall that prevented the connection. The wall whispered to him it was insurmountable.
Randidly continued to reach. The wall denied him passage and chided him on his foolishness.
It was like Randidly could follow the particular image of Vualla right back to the source. The grasp pierced forward through the talkative wall, shooting through the Great Rift and back toward the domain of Aether.
But as soon as that certainly of arrival reached Randidly, the Nether Ritual in front of him withered. With the touch sent, the vision that Randidly was watching faded. The dull ache from channeling so much Nether wildly through his body for so long hit him and Randidly could only groan. His heartbeat sped rapidly up as he finally released the tight pressure he had kept against it. Nether was visibly wafting out of his body so Randidly hastily closed off his Nether Wells.
Collapsing on the ground, Randidly’s mind yearned to be with the… whatever he had sent toward Vualla. But for now… it was enough that it was sent.