Randidly’s had crossed space. He could feel the rough stone of the hastily carved image tone even though he no longer had his physical body and he was quite some distance away. He could even feel the thin seed of the seed he had originally left in the image stone.
This time, Randidly left something much more powerful with his meaningful touch. Then the darkness consumed him.
Randidly woke up intermittently several times over the next few hours, but every time he did so his throbbing headache informed him that it was better to allow himself some more time to recover. Perhaps it was due to using Vye as an intermediary, but imparting a portion of his increasingly powerful image had taken a lot out of him.
Although maybe that’s because I actually passed a kernel of my actual strength and consciousness through to Earth…
Randidly thought fuzzily.
I actually sacrificed something to so that they could continue to grow their images in the future. But if it keeps them from being consumed by their fear of something like Zone 1’s weapon, it will be worth it.
So Randidly allowed himself to rest. Then there was one point where he had basically restored his mental strength to the point that he at least wanted to get up and speak with Salazar and Zauna, but just as he was about to do so an annoyingly familiar drowsiness ambushed him. His eyelids slid swiftly down to snap shut as his consciousness was buoyed away toward the waiting Eidolon Crucible.
After all I do for you, Kharon, this is how you repay me?
When the surroundings began to resolve themselves, Randidly found himself in the vast darkness of the Great Rift. The drifting blue veins danced in the air around him, adding a little depth to the emptiness around him. But the reason that Randidly gritted his teeth in fury was that, when he looked down, Vualla was lying unconscious in his arms. Her eyelashes fluttered as she struggled against the nightmares that seized her in this fake image realm.
You were the first stranger who trusted me to protect you.
Randidly’s claw tightened around Vualla’s shoulder. But even Randidly himself knew that it wasn’t him speaking; it was the Grim Chimera.
To everyone else, I am a monster. But to you…
Even as his thought trailed off toward a rumbling sea of emotions, the numerous images of Kharon’s people flowed out of the darkness to surround Randidly. They wore the form of Nether Beasts, strange amalgamations of different physical creatures that were designed to maim and kill those built of Aether. These images disguised as Nether Beasts possessed none of the toxic constitution of Nether’s servants, but they flowed forward with the same determination that the attendants of the Nether Gatekeeper had possessed.
Randidly knew this was fake. The reason that this location was chosen was exactly that it affected him so strongly, even now. Randidly couldn’t even prevent his claw from tightening around fake-Vualla’s shoulder. But even so.
Even so. Maybe it was the constant heat that Randidly was devouring from the Fate blade, but being pulled here pissed him off in a way that he hadn’t been in a long time.
It had been quite a while since the last Eidolon Crucible, so these images possessed none of the fuzziness that Randidly had seen previously from the people of Kharon. Perhaps because Randidly had so often pilfered some of their image’s weight, they took advantage of the preparation time and came with dense and focused images to make up for the lack of weight that Randidly had repeatedly taken from them.
“But none of it matters,” The Grim Chimera said coldly. His tail snapped back and forth as he considered the approaching images. “Not when you choose to bring me here. For her… I will never allow defeat.”
They came like a swarm of locusts but Randidly roared and his voice and body were suddenly fire. He consumed them like beetles rushing toward a bonfire, accepting their small popping bodies without comment. The terrible intensity of his determination didn’t waver as his image was impacted by thousands of smaller images, all seeking to tear him down.
Compared to the System, you are nothing.
Randidly’s eyes were neon-green lanterns in the fake Great Rift.
As Randidly had expected, this was the most difficulty that he had triumphing in the Eidolon Crucible since he had acquired the Skill. It might have been the preparation time and the growing number of images that seemed to come from Kharon, but Randidly could also sense that he truly had lost some amount of his power when he had repaired the image stone for the Order Ducis. Not much, but it was noticeable.
Plus, the fights against Kharon’s images were trials of resolve. With a weakened mentality, those sorts of struggles quickly became agonizing.
Still, as Randidly also had expected, he eventually slaughtered all of the false Nether Beasts and took his due as victor of the Eidolon Crucible. Weary and victorious, his consciousness returned to his body. Then he once again fell into a deep slumber that required a significant amount of time to work through.
When Randidly opened his eyes again, he was ready to move. Hopping quickly to his feet, Randidly left his hut and walked out to find Zauna and Salazar continuing to tend their ever-growing farm on this Aether built island surrounding by Nether. But what brought Randidly to an abrupt halt was how large the lush fields of crops had grown.
Almost half of the land was now covered in fields that were flowering or covered with ripening vegetables. And it also seemed like Salazar and Zauna had taken the time to build relatively modest lodgings of their own at the opposite end of the island from Randidly’s hut. Slightly dazed by their accomplishments, Randidly walked up to Zauna, who was carefully weeding in a small herb garden. “This… You’ve done a lot.”
Zauna nodded. Inwardly, Randidly sighed. In some ways, Zauna was the exact opposite of Salazar, but similarly obnoxious. She would usually only speak if a question was asked directly to her. Otherwise, she kept her own council.
“How did you accomplish this so quickly?” Randidly asked tiredly.
Zauna gave him a strange look. “…not very quickly…”
Randidly reached up and rubbed his forehead.
Well, nowhere near as obnoxious as Salazar, but still. Somewhat of a surprise for her to reply with snark right now…
“Alright, how long did this take you?” Randidly asked.
“Three months, maybe…?.” Zauna replied.
“Three months-” Randidly began, but then he froze. He raised his claw and did his best to gently rub at his temples. “…how long has it been since we have last talked?”
“Almost two months,” Zauna confirmed.
For several seconds, Randidly stood still. Then he spun on his heel and marched back to his shed and shut the door behind him. As he sat and tried to remain calm, Randidly tried to remember how much time had passed before he had donated a portion of his image to the image stone. He hadn’t gone out to talk with them after using the Nether Ritual to spy on Mrs. Hamilton, so that could explain several days of the missing time. Maybe even a week.
Then Randidly had spent a smaller amount of time watching Vye before he had gone through her to repair the image stone. Combined, perhaps those Nether RItuals could explain two weeks of time. Which meant that the combination of what he had done for Kharon and the Eidolon Crucible had taken more than a month from him in recovery time. Which was relatively softened by the fact that time moved three times as quickly here surrounded by the dense Aether, but that was still a week in the outside world.
For Yggdrasil, who had been threatened by Lord Miln, a week on the frontlines was a long time.
Even though Randidly had assured himself nothing dangerous would happen to Yggdrasil previously, his inactivity for so long reignited those fears. As Randidly wistfully savored the lack of pain in his hand after recovering from Nether overuse, he prepared a Nether Ritual.
Better Nether pain than losing Yggdrasil.
Randidly did notice, however, that the ivory lock was now over halfway corroded. And now that most of the structure was damaged, it was further corrupted much more easily by his Nether energy. Quite soon, Randidly believed he would be able to see what was within the trunk he had carried out of the Fate armory based solely on a feeling.
Then his focus narrowed to the elaborate weaving of Nether that appeared in his hands. The base of anti-energy spiraled calmly together. Feeling strangely inspired, Randidly wove it more tightly than usual, creating a branching root system of Nether that would ground the Nether Ritual. Then he spun the Nether upward in a thick trunk to cover the distance between them. With a smile, Randidly regarded the small omage to the Nether Ritual’s target.
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether RItual (A) has grown to Level 55!
As Randidly’s experience with Nether RItuals grew, he began to be able to pick out individual differences between the energies and sensations of the rituals as he created them. Or rather than the energy, it was the flavor that was different. Even while only making the Ritual, the connection to the target was already partially established. Therefore, bits of their flavor began to manifest.
His experience with reaching through Vye had been extremely illuminating, because rather than his ambiguous grasp toward Vualla, Randidly had attempted to accomplish something very specific when he reached through Vye. So for a few seconds, Randidly had been completely aligned with Vye as he accomplished his goal. During that time, Nether had acted as a conduit to bind the two of them.
It had been strange. Because although he couldn’t sense Vye’s consciousness itself or images, Randidly had swum through Vye’s memories as they were connected by the Ritual.
It was a far different way of sensing another than what Randidly was used to. But Randidly could begin to see how memories were the inverse of image. Or the seed of images. Or the price of images. Which had given Randidly a weird sense of insight toward what actually happened when Aether and Nether met.
Aether and Nether were two sides of a coin. An image came from memories, memories were born from the continual growth of an image. Yet when Aether and Nether typically met each other, there was a sharp dissonance as it became obvious that the Aether and Nether present were from different ‘coins’. The images and memories that formed them were not complimentary.
So Nether denied the image’s memories, while Aether denied the memory’s direction. So both hissed and spat themselves out of existence by denying each other with every bit of their energy.
Which did beg the question: was it then possible to have Aether and Nether in harmony?
For a brief moment, Randidly’s focus turned toward the true Nether core that he now possessed.
Then his focus turned back to the Nether Ritual. Very quickly the image of the frontlines resolved before Randidly. He was relatively relieved to see that Yggdrasil was still in Lady Iellaya’s camp, but there were several facts about the picture that Randidly saw that gave him pause.
First, Abiodun was standing next to the hunched over form of Yggdrasil. The two were in a long and dimly lit tent lined with low cots.
Second, even though the Nether Ritual, Randidly could feel the tang of Nether in the air. It wasn’t strong, but it was much stronger than Randidly would have expected, even on the front lines. And the visual effects of the Great Rift meant that the whole tent around them seemed to be buzzing.
Third and finally, shadowy and blood-covered figures lined the costs on the ground in front of Yggdrasil as he bent over them. It was clear from the energies around Yggdrasil’s branches that he was pouring energy into these wounded figures in order to heal them. And the real kicker that all of these people possessed physical bodies and weren’t simply images.
I suppose there is no reason that Yggdrasil can’t heal the images of people with bodies. But if all these people are injured…
Things on the front line took a turn for the worst.
When Yggdrasil leaned back from the patient he was tending, Abiodun spoke quietly to him. “Even if you truly can help us recover our fighting strength, there is no time. Lady Iellaya is stalling, but Lord Miln won’t wait forever.”
“I appreciate your candor,” As Yggdrasil spoke, Randidly’s heart broke to hear how weary his voice was. But there was iron in the tree’s spine as he straightened. “Which is why my answer remains the same. Agree to give me over once it is confirmed that the Grim Chimera image has perished. There is no other way.”