A split second later, Randidly was floating in the Great Rift. Small azure paths of energy scurried by his face like schools of curious fish. Vast, black space pressed down on Randidly from every direction.
The first sensation that hit Randidly was a sledgehammer of cold. Not a physical cold, but a mental cold that felt like falling into oblivion and the hole you used to get there closing up behind you. Then an eternity seemed to pass, cracking through the neat processes of Randidly’s thoughts to rip at the core of his being. It was one of the worst feelings that Randidly had ever encountered.
Against the Judgment, Randidly had felt cold. But that was a literal cold that was so acute that it started to forcibly shut down Randidly's biological processes. His brain hadn’t been able to handle the temperature. That was the sort of trial that Randidly endured against the Judgment. But this cold seemed to extinguish Randidly's Willpower.
Don't lose yourself.
Randidly's eyes glowed with a furious emerald fire as he opened his mouth and roared. The noise started at the pit of his stomach and clanged back and forth through his organs, inside of his windpipes, and then ripping out of his throat. As if responding to the righteous fury and refusal in his chest, the snow globe clutched in his claw began to glow.
Simultaneously, something distant and ethereal began humming in Randidly's chest. Whatever was there began to slowly build as the cold continually pounded against his will to continue. As Randidly refused to give in, it budded like a flower in spring.
Yet it was the glow whipping outward into the surrounding darkness, smashing into the blue veins and shattering them, that finally freed Randidly from the vice grip of the cold. The outward expansion of light slowed and the energy whipped back to swirl around Randidly. The terrible cold was driven away and simultaneously the humming in Randidly's chest ceased.
But he found in himself a strange new capability; Randidly could use that light to shape the surrounding space. It was an instinctive feeling, but it felt impossibly true at that moment. Randidly could wave his hand and make.
Then that certainty trembled. Randidly spun around in his halo of light surrounded by darkness filled with azure veins and felt something desperately shooting toward his position through the unimaginably large space in the surrounding area. And as Randidly felt that expanded sense, he couldn’t help but gasp at the size of the darkness around him.
The teleporter had brought him out here, but Randidly could not for the life of him detect anything in the surrounding darkness but those intermittent azure lines. In the vast expanse of space, Randidly was completely alone.
For a second, Randidly thought while he tapped his jaw lightly. The strange certainty of creation, the huge distances, the lonely darkness… it all gave him pause. Yet he couldn’t wait around forever. It seemed that the response from the Nether was coming. Even here, a small island of slowly stabilizing Aether in the Nether, something was coming to kill him.
Randidly's face split into a grin. Some things are too comfortably familiar.
And with that thought in his mind, his will twitched and then spread outward in a nova of genesis. Within a second, that very same arena that Randidly faced the challenge of Donnyton and then the Eidolon Crucible condensed around him in stuttering waves of light and substance. The flat surface of the arena, the pristine waters of the quarry, the surrounding cliffs, the empty stands...
All was perfectly reproduced. The dreamland descended once more to surround Randidly.
Randidly's smile was the site of a vicious battle as hunger for violence and bitter regret warred across his face. There's a certain sort of poetic justice that I keep returning to fight in this place that I left annihilated… But I can’t help but fear that if I keep returning here, one day I will lose on this battlefield.
Then Randidly’s gaze hardened. But that day will not be today.
Then the Nether creature arrived, and all of Randidly's focus narrowed to a point.
Randidly wasn't sure what he had expected. But certainly, he didn't believe that this sinister existence, so reviled by Lord Miln and Zagnal, would turn out to be so... acceptable. Rather than some unspeakable horror with twisting inversions and an inside out body comprised mostly of hungry mouths, the being of Nether that pierced into Randidly's created area like an arrow was like a midnight black jellyfish. Its tentacles seemed rather dehydrated and wrinkly, but still, it was a familiar silhouette cast in inky blackness.
As it shot downward, it flailed wildly, ripping large gashes in the Aether that was pulsing out of his Aether Key.
Swirling it like an aura, however, was that same terrible chill that attempted to extinguish Randidly's Willpower. Yet with the admittedly fragile backdrop of the conjured world behind him, that same chill that had briefly left him stricken now filled Randidly will grim purpose.
"Let's see then, what a being of Nether can accomplish," Randidly hissed as he stalked forward like a hunter going to meet game that had fallen into a snare.
The black jellyfish hit the edge of the arena like a comet, splitting the ground and sending shards of stone flying up into the air. Randidly activated Man is Proud, But the Chimera Craves and launched himself forward with all of the concentrated momentum of Spear Advances, Ash Trails. That very same aura of cold grew stronger as Randidly shot forward, but he ignored it. Even though the ground that the black jellyfish impacted began to slowly float upward as the concentrated Nether destabilized the space.
Randidly's emerald eyes were locked on the dozen or so tentacles that began to lash out and rip through the arena. Rather than an evil... Nether is just the opposite of Aether. It might be some sinister evil force whose invasion necessitated the System, but that doesn't change HOW it operates. And that way is to destabilize space by slowly sapping away the strength of inherent order of the world. Which... might just be an image...
In that split second of that reflective thought, Randidly focused less on the actual bone spear of his right arm and more on the image of heaviness. Rather than physical strength, all of his effort spiraled together to form an image of unstoppable weight. And as Randidly concentrated his Willpower to go toward that point, he felt strength flooding into him. Strength that wasn’t just originating from himself.
No, the weight that condensed into the tip of Randidly’s bone spear was the strength and vehemence that he had siphoned off from the images of those who followed him from the Eidolon Crucible. Individual, it was an infinitely small amount. They likely wouldn’t notice the difference in their image, aside from the bitter truth that they had lost. But to them, that truth would only drive them to reach more desperately to grow strong.
That weight only had meaning when aggregated. And then when it was combined with Randidly’s already significant determination.
When Randidly smashed into it, the jellyfish of Nether popped and exploded like a soap bubble. Black inchor spewed everywhere, drenching Randidly and the surrounding arena in viscous sludge.
In addition, a howl of fury emerged from the creature’s previous position as it began to eat directly into the image of the surrounding area. Randidly’s mouth twisted in distaste. This fucker didn’t know when to give up. And then the pain hit.
For a split second, the agony of that Nether eating into his image directly left Randidly's face warped in hatred and wrath. His breath came out in an explosion of steam as fury and his pounding heart kept the sizzling antipathy of Nether at bay.
It was strange, as time seemed to travel in bits of filmy pictures across Randidly’s mind. The pain was something that he could see eating away at him. Not at his body, because that was a luxury that Randidly didn’t currently possess. No, when Nether and Aether met directly the two forces crackled and spat and parts of him began to blur and diminish.
‘Don’t lose yourself,’ Zagnal had said with a tired expression of one too often disappointed, and finally, Randidly saw with absolute clarity why Zagnal would feel disappointed from even having the smallest bit of hope for his success.
That expression was motivated by the same reason that Lord Miln was willing to toss away what amounted to little more than ghostly images in an offensive. Because in those moments of filmy time, Randidly felt a strange pivot opening up before him. The Nether Jellyfish hated him, hated his very existence. They repelled each other like magnets and pressed together that rejection became mutual destruction.
And as Randidly felt bits of him being destroyed, he could have easily panicked and allowed the damage to worsen. But some instinct honed through a year of carefully refining his images roared to the forefront of his existence. It buckled down and brought every shred of his Willpower smashing against this influence that invaded his body. It would not lose to this strange darkness.
It was a burning desire to live. And Randidly suddenly suspected that regardless of how deeply rumpled or shellshocked all those images were after being ripped out of their bodies, no amount of preparation would have gotten them ready to endure that agony. It wasn’t something that preparation could equip you against, so why bother to prepare?
You could either handle it, or you couldn’t. And among the recruits who came here unusually, not due to the Fourth Calamity, it seemed that most simply couldn’t handle it.
“Chimeric Avoidance,” Randidly hissed in agony, and he felt the pain immediately lessening. More than the Skill itself, Randidly used every iota of his Willpower to picture himself as an inviolable entity that simply avoided the dangers of this contact with Nether. He had no true shield but the firm belief in himself.
Honestly, what followed was somewhat akin to the Eidolon Crucible that Randidly endured the prior day. Except where those images had demanded a portion of Randidly’s strength, this being of Nether demanded that he cease to exist. It completely denied his ability to avoid this damage, and instead wished him into oblivion.
Steam hissed upward from the spots were the jellyfishes black ichor pressed against the skin of the Grim Chimera. The emerald light in Randidly’s eyes brightened. That strange ringing was back in Randidly’s chest, too. The globe in Randidly’s hand flickered as the Aether Key attempted to keep the surrounding space stable while Randidly clashed directly with the monster of Nether. The ground quaked, causing several small pebbles to drift upward into the air.
Randidly raised his head and bellowed with such violence that spit flew out of his open mouth. The veins across his body were bulging out of his skin as the agony continued to pound against his WIllpower. Some inner fire was burning in Randidly’s chest, refusing to give in to the agony. More and more of the Grim Chimera was beginning to flicker, but with that rising ringing in his chest-
Then something clicked within Randidly. Abruptly, the pain took several steps backward, so it was still extremely painful but not so existential in nature. A very familiar feeling rose up in Randidly’s hand as the Nether still maliciously tried to eat into his body.
...Nether Resistance… Randidly thought blankly. Nether Resistance activated! After being exposed to it for so long, I was able to trigger the Skill!
A Skill from the main body… that I shouldn’t be able to use if I was simply the Grim Chimera…
To lend credence to Randidly’s theory, a notification popped up in front of him.
Congratulations! Your Skill Nether Resistance has grown to Level 75!
Then Randidly pushed away all his shock, wonder, and excitement. Because for now, he had a fucking black jellyfish to annihilate.