After his exhaustion from long hours of Nether expenditure starting to build up once more, Randidly allowed the Nether Ritual to fade with a furious expression. The pupils of his emerald eyes were narrowed to pinpoints. Lady Iellaya had left the tent without giving Lord Miln a definitive answer, but it was clear that she was considering it.
Once more, the Fate blade gleeful released waves of heat through Randidly’s core as she reveled in the roiling emotions he was releasing. The emotions swirled around with the heat and became something almost physical. Randidly’s image body slowly became increasingly heavy as it was weighed down with the solidified emotions.
“I really can’t waste too much time here.” Randidly pressed his eyes closed. “Everyone is too vulnerable without me.”
But they are definitely stronger than these fucks think.
The Grim Chimera opened its eyes and offered a promise in the form of a crooked smile.
They will not go easily into the vast and final darkness. Try sending Yggdrasil out on a normal mission, and I bet he survives and grows stronger just like I did. Hell, he’s been around with main body longer than I have. In the short term, he will probably be fine..
“Then it’s an issue of how much faster I can push the destabilization of the Aether Key,” Randidly muttered as he looked down at his hand. His left claw now was covered in faint blue veins that pulsed slowly with light, exactly like the veins of the Great Rift. Perhaps the variation in the form was a result of his distracted usage. “Nether Acclimation is going quickly upward, but to unleash even more Nether…”
Randidly hesitated. He assumed that when he went back, he didn’t want it to be leaked that he could freely use Nether. Well, perhaps freely was the wrong word. But he wanted to keep his capabilities a secret from his subordinates in case they would inform someone else on him. But if he kept his actions convert…
It had been a little over two weeks since Randidly had first come to the Great Rift. An unprecedented amount of Nether currently swirled in his chest. Due to the rather constant usage of the Nether, his proficiency at keeping the Nether and the Aether from eating into each other had sharply risen. And in those situations where it couldn’t be avoided, Randidly used the bubbles of his false Nether cores to reduce the collateral damage.
Releasing more Nether was the quickest method to make a change, but Randidly wasn’t sure how much difference it would really make. There was simply a difference in quality between the Nether he made and the Aether of the Aether Key. Making more Nether would certainly have an effect, but it would be relatively small.
No, what Randidly really wanted to do was increase the quality of the Nether he was releasing. If he could refine it a little bit-
Of course, the only method he really had was to utilize the fake cores, but he would need more in order to condense more potent Nether.
But then Randidly blinked.
Well, I have a half finished fourth core inside of me, and I’ve seen the way they are formed… is there any reason why I can’t just make more cores? There is the worry that too many will physically restrict me, but I believe that’s just because no one else realizes how to manipulate them…
Tentatively, Randidly focused his attention inward toward the half-finished fourth star that was floating in his chest. Without the grand formation slowly moving energy toward him, it had not grown since arriving in the Great Rift. But very quickly, Randidly realized that the process of feeding Nether into it was extraordinarily simple.
Within a few minutes, a fourth false Nether core popped into existence inside of him. He rapidly brought it and the others to touch the bubbles, so they would record his current image. Because it became clear by the physical weight of his burning emotions and the blue lines on Randidly’s claw that his image was progressing, both due to the heavy usage of Nether and because of the Fate blade inside of him.
Small things, but things he didn’t want the cores to wipe away. These were Paths that would lead him toward power. Perhaps others would worry about purity of image, but not the Grim Chimera. It was the beast that accepted all evolutions. In order to pursue the goal of survival, no change was too drastic.
A few minutes of practice sufficiently confirmed that Randidly felt no physical impediment from the presence of the new core, but it was also true that Randidly’s current image body wasn’t truly ‘physical’ in the classic sense.
With the four cores, Randidly began practicing concentrating his Nether. Previously, he had sensed that there was a qualitative change that he was approaching as he rotated three of the pseudo-cores in order to concentrate his Nether for an offensive attack. Now he fully intended to push past that boundary and see if what was waiting beyond would help him refine Nether into a more dangerous weapon.
Breathe in, breath out.
Randidly forced himself to relax as the four cores began whirling around each other inside of his chest. He eased open the two Nether Wells more and more as the energy required to sustain the motion grew. The image of the Grim Chimera appeared hovering over the four cores. His limbs were monstrous and he bore the manic grin of Randidly Ghosthound. He reached out his claw and
his will against it. The whirring became faster and faster, even as the Nether required skyrocketed upward.
A frown tugged at Randidly’s face. A keening cry emerged from the humming cores as they spun. He could feel them calling out for more energy. Perhaps due to the fact there were now four cores as part of the rotation, the energy required increased at every level. So if Randidly wanted to reach that pinnacle speed, the Nether requirements…
Gritting his teeth, Randidly opened up his Nether Wells further. Randidly suddenly felt suspended in the middle of a whirlpool of Nether. He deftly used his bubbles to keep the damage from spreading too far, but waves of Nether crashed, again and again, against the surface of Randidly’s image. But even as the form wavered, he could feel the implacable will of the Grim Chimera growing stronger.
The whistling noise from the spinning cores grew louder. Between the four whirling cores, there was a tremor in the air. Randidly’s image body was shaking with the contained power.
Just a little more…
Randidly pushed a little harder, feeding more and more Nether into the process. It was like an unending hole, these four cores, continually sucking in more and more Nether. Within a few seconds, all of the Nether Randidly had built up was sucked away into the process, without an end in sight.
Narrowing his eyes, Randidly came to a decision. He opened up his Nether Wells further, flooding himself with the dark energy. His image distorted and hummed from the feedback from so much Nether, but the whirling cores gleefully began to devour it. Then something abruptly changed.
Randidly’s four cores cracked and shattered. There was a horrible feeling of disorientation, and then there was a vast sucking sound. All of the whirling Nether was devoured in an instant. All that was left…
The dizziness grew more intense before it got better. Randidly had to lean forward and press his hands to the ground in order to steady himself. Minutes ticked past and slowly the sense of equilibrium came back, allowing Randidly to look inward and examine the source of that terrible feeling.
Although he approached with worry weighing heavily on him, what he found was a pleasant surprise. He blinked and then he laughed.
Certainly, this can be the weapon to cut this realm apart.
What he found waiting in his chest was obvious; the dark black marble floating there, surrounded by seething blue-black flames, was the true form of the Nether core. All of the false cores and bubbles had been sacrificed, but now Randidly felt how shallow and empty they had been. The new bubble and core probably had an additional 50% power over the combined capability of the four previous ones.
More than that though… as Randidly spun Nether through the core, the energy condensed and more dangerous strands were spun out of it. A smile tugged at Randidly’s mouth as he flicked that condensed strand forward and had it sizzle against the ivory lock.
Unfortunately, it didn’t immediately disintegrate the lock, but the damage was obvious. In that brief few seconds where his dense strand of Nether continued to burn away at the lock, it likely was three times more effective than any of the Nether that Randidly had tried previously, even with the help of his false cores.
Of course, the Nether strand was also depleted in four seconds. Before Randidly attempted such a thing again, he planned on stockpiling quite a bit of the stuff.
With this new tool, Randidly’s days entered into a new, variable cycle. Because Randidly now had to make several hard decisions on how to spend his Nether. He still continued training in the mornings, but his days were now divided between spending Nether to create additional pseudo-cores, refining Nether into the dense Nether strands, and actually using the Nether he possessed to reduce the Aether of the ivory lock and the surrounding area.
Ultimately, Randidly decided that while it would hurt him in the short term, he would focus on the first option of pseudo-core genesis in order to create a second true Nether core and speed up the refinement process. Unfortunately, the false Nether cores were somewhat haphazard to make.
Once the false core had been given shape and was started, it was an easy thing to supply enough energy to finish the thing. But his early attempts at setting the shape of the pseudo-cores ended with no results. Randidly was sorely tempted to give up, but he knew that being hasty was the wrong decision. Even with his most optimistic projections after seeing the Nether strands, it would take him perhaps another 6 more months to accomplish his goal.
Six months of real-world time. For him, it would feel like a year and a half.
Which was five months faster than expected, so it was not a small thing. Plus, Nether might attack in that last month of his stay and accelerate the timetable even further. So he could afford to waste a few days seeking that shape for the false cores. And then, even when days turned to weeks, Randidly refused to give it up.
Meanwhile, Randidly continued to use Nether Ritual to watch Vualla. He saw her training underneath Cail, enduring that fuck’s constant attempts to undermine her confidence and her relationship with Randidly. He saw her internal struggle as another huge Nether attack arrived at the frontlines, concentrating its fire on her father’s camp.
Randidly also used a few days to check on Yggdrasil and Lady Iellaya, but both seemed relatively inactive. Despite Lord Miln’s rather ambiguous offer of assistance to Lady Iellaya if she sent Yggdrasil to his death, she was not acting. Randidly didn’t trust Lady Iellaya overmuch, but he wouldn’t forget her restraint on this point.
Of course, most of Randidly’s focus was on Vualla.
Vualla wanted to help the individuals being attacked by the huge Nether assault, but she also knew that she was still not yet enough to make a large difference. Her father continued to suffer as the Commander on the flank, and she could do nothing.
Randidly also saw how effective Cail’s training was at strengthening her abilities. Vualla’s image was intensifying, even as Cail stressed all the destructive and dangerous parts of Vualla’s image.
Randidly watched as Vualla snuck out of Terith’s camp and stood on the spot where Randidly and Vualla had first encountered each other. She looked resolutely up at the sky and Randidly knew that she was wishing for a moon.
“I… can feel you, you know,” Vualla said.
Randidly, a dimension away and surrounded by Nether, blinked in shock.
“Maybe it’s just my imagination… but ever since the visit to the headquarters… it’s like I can feel your warmth.” Vualla hand went to her collarbone. “Do you… do you feel me too? Can you hear my voice?”
I can hear,
The Grim Chimera’s eyes blazed as he looked down at Vualla.
Shaking her head with a small smile, Vualla continued. “Do you see the struggle? Should I stay and train, seeking the power to change something… or should I go help now, even knowing that I don’t yet have the power to change something? For how long should I sequester myself and focus on growing my power?”
Randidly looked sadly down at Vualla. That was a question he couldn’t answer. Perhaps it was one that Randidly had struggled with unconsciously, over and over, since his arrival in the System. There were so many times that he had regretted not acting to protect the people he could protect. Those memories were heavy with regret. But also, there were times where he was able to protect another… and that was only because of the focus he had put toward strengthening himself in the past. It was an unending balancing act.
As a storm of indecision brewed inside Randidly’s heart, Vualla suddenly laughed. “Well, I used to wonder about that… but you know… after meeting you…”
Vualla raised her heavy gauntlet and looked at it. Then she slowly reached over with the other hand and loosened a buckle. The heavy gauntlet crashed to the ground while Vualla also removed a thin under-glove and dropped that on top of heavy gauntlet.
It wasn’t like Randidly didn’t assume she had normal hands underneath the gauntlet, but it was still exceedingly strange to see her like that. He had grown so used to her oversized hands that it now felt strange to see her human fingers and knuckles. Vualla’s gaze turned upward to the sky and she reached her bare hand as though hoping to put apart the sky and reveal the coy moon waiting beyond.
“But you know… it isn’t just capability we are training.” Vualla announced. “We also need to train our desire. Our desire to stay involved. Our desire to protect. Our desire to be connected… because if we lose those things, how valuable is power? Which is why I need to go to try and help. Despite the danger.”
Randidly nodded, although she couldn’t see him. But he knew somehow that their connection was enough for that understand to pass between them. Or maybe Randidly just hoped that was the case. Then, with a deep sadness, Randidly closed the Nether Ritual.
Not that he no longer wanted to watch, but he felt… guilty. He had already shown his support for her. And just like Vualla said, sometimes you needed to cultivate your empathy so all you sacrificed for power was worth it.
So this time, when Randidly activated Nether Ritual, he chose a different target. It was time to cultivate empathy. His focus had been distracted since losing the main body, but even the Grim Chimera felt he owed a deep debt to the planet that birthed the main body.
The world swirled, and suddenly Randidly looked down at Alana.