Lord Miln smiled widely at Iellaya as she walked into his headquarters. From his relaxed stance, it was clear that he had been expecting her. As always, he stood behind his ornate desk, the ground around it covered in thick lines of Engraving. Behind him, his mausoleum of isolated bodies floated suspended in the strange mixture of Aether and Nether that would ensure that they would be cut off from the System. “Lady Iellaya, to what do I owe this pleasure? It has been quite some time since you’ve come to visit me for a pleasure call…”
His smile artfully slipped away, as though a true tragedy had occurred to him only at that moment. “Unless… you made the trek over here in order to talk business…? Ah, I suppose you must have heard about Commander Thrall’s camp… truly a tragedy. To think that the monstrous creatures of Nether would be so insidious and deceitful as to corrupt an image to infiltrate our base… but worry not, it has all been taken care of. There is no need for you to be personally involved.
“To be honest…” Lord Miln leaned forward. He smiled like a shark eyeing a haunch of meat as his eyes glided over Iellaya’s tightly controlled feathers. “You are somewhat superfluous at the moment.”
“No need to worry, this isn’t about today’s bitter defeat. But I can understand your tension. You could use a break after the day you’ve had.” Although Iellaya knew better than to press it, she wanted to squeeze a little to see if any blood oozed out. Lord Miln’s eyes were glassy and mild as he returned her stare.
Nothing. That’s a pity. She continued, “Actually, I would like to apply to have one of your precious prisoners freed. An extremely strong image was transferred to my base in the latest batch. I think he would be invaluable if he possessed his body to fight.”
“He survived an offensive battle?” Lord Miln’s sculpted eyebrows rose smoothly upward. The man ran on clockwork and snake oil. “How lucky he must be to have avoided an area of dense Nether, and likely encountered no beasts in the Great Rift.”
“I have it on good authority that he did, in fact, avoid any beasts today,” As prettily as she could, Iellaya smiled. But her feathers stayed tightly pressed to her scalp and spine. Lord Miln was the worst sort of predator: too lazy and sure of himself to even hide his dripping fangs.
“How strange that such a fortunate individual had garnered enough ire to require my involvement.” Lord Miln’s fingers drew slow circles across his desk. “What is his name?”
Somehow, Iellaya knew that Lord Miln already knew his name. This was all just a game. But just like Iellaya came to weave a net to protect what she wanted to protect, it seemed that Lorn Miln also had skin in the game. Interesting. “His name is Randidly Ghosthound.”
“The peculiarities of this individual seem to be perpetually multiplying.” Lord Miln’s eyes practically glowed with the glee of a positive determination. “I must be misremembering because it seems to me that was the very name of an image you reported to have been destroyed two days ago. Right after you lit your Beacon of Duty, if you recall.”
Iellaya’s eyebrows pulled inwards in confusion. Her face displayed only the confusion she wanted to be present there. “What are you playing ate, Miln? I have no doubt you are aware that the body possessed multiple images. And it seems like one of the images might possess the capability to heal other images. As such, it is in the best interest of the front that the image returns to their body.”
And I want the main image to be beyond your reach.
“You know well the danger of returning images to a body after one of the images has been destroyed. Sometimes there are… consequences.”
“I”m willing to risk it.” Crossing her arms, Iellaya studied Lord Miln. Although there were generally consequences, sometimes it didn’t occur. It depended on how discrete the images were. In the case that the images were very different, the physical body could continue as normal.
And they both were aware that it would be impossible to determine what images were returned to the body unless the images were once more extracted. So the images would be safe.
“I cannot risk such a tragic loss of life.” was all the reply she earned. That same stupid smile remained pasted across his face.
I had hoped it would not come to this. Iellaya leaned forward with her face twisted into a scowl. She was overwrought and frustrated, nothing more. “You owe me a favor. My vacation last year was very timely, was it not? I wasn’t present at all for the Aether flow inspections.”
Lord Miln shook his head sadly. “Lady Iellaya- or should I call you Queen?- I cannot believe you don’t trust how deeply I value our candid relationship. It would bring me nothing but joy to acquiesce to your requests, no matter what they may be. Alas… I cannot. There is a superior lienholder.”
Turning slowly, Lord Miln glanced over his shoulder, almost fondly. “This body… Well, let’s just say you aren’t the first to express interest in it. You can consider it to be on lone for as long as the images yet live. And after it is emptied… it has already been purchased by a very influential citizen of the Nexus. So satisfy yourself with just the images, please.”
Yggdrasil and Randidly sat above the emerald form of Ignition Essence in silence, each considering the information that Randidly had brought for them to consider from his experience watching Abiodun and Iellaya.
“There is something I have to tell you as well,” Yggdrasil rumbled to break the silence. “After you left… I was approached. By a wounded image, suffering. It said that it heard a rumor that I could perform healings.”
“Fucking bitch,” Randidly swore without bothering to keep his voice low. It seemed like they planned on moving quickly to discover the veracity of the rumors about Yggdrasil. And asking Yggdrasil how he responded was almost unnecessary. “You healed it, didn’t you? The image.”
“Of course.” Yggdrasil’s branches creaked as he shifted. “I could not fully restore its strength, but I could trigger some of its latent potential with the image of timelessness that has been woven into me. Rather than healing it, it might be more accurate to say that I have taken away the lingering damage done by the wounds. But the lost portions of the image cannot be recovered by my efforts alone.”
Randidly scratched his cheek with his upper tail, trying to conceptualize what Yggdrasil was saying. So the strength wouldn’t return to normal, but perhaps Yggdrasil could remove the headache, as he had often done for Randidly. “How useful do you think is it?”
“Unfortunately, very,” Yggdrasil shook his canopy with palpable regret. “After receiving my assistance, that image was ordered by that rock man to proceed to the Aether Fountain. I followed at a distance to observe. It seems that part of the benefits of my healing process is that the speed of leaking Aether from the image is drastically slowed. It greatly raises the efficacy of the Aether Fountain process.”
Abiodun… just how dirty are your hands? Randidly’s claw twitched. The feeling of bloodthirsty competitiveness and strange sense of kinship that Randidly felt toward the stone man was extremely confusing to him. He simultaneously wanted to murder Abiodun and also team up to murder someone else with him. But there could be no doubt that Abiodun was the right had of Iellaya.
Lady Iellaya didn’t do anything without reason. This was calculated.
“They will come again,” Randidly said tiredly. Rather than the peaceful experience he had resisting the Nether, Randidly wished he would have been able to rip the skull off of some sick Nether monster in a burst of adrenaline. He needed to relieve some of his stress. “We need to figure out how to respond to it.”
Yggdrasil’s branches shifted. “There is a bright side. The experience allows me to sharpen my own image immensely. And there is an aspect of growth assistance to it that… the main body often forgets or does not utilize directly. If we allow this process to happen, I will improve. I have strength enough to assist Ignition Essence and a few other images a day.”
Randidly shook his head. “True, but it won’t just be a few other images a day if it is really so useful. It-”
Immediately, Randidly’s mouth twisted into a snarl as a heavy mental blanket began to smother his ancillary thoughts. “Perfect timing. Just when I needed some ways to blow off some steam, the images of Donnyton decide to swarm up to the plate.”
Shifting rapidly, Randidly laid himself down. Yygdrasil’s leaves rustled in concern. “Mmm. Try your best to not destroy any of them.”
Randidly fell asleep laughing.
The mist wrapped around him until it solidified into a thick and fluffy sea around him. Randidly floated downward, his eyes blazing like a chemical flare as he sunk deeper into the strange depths of the dream world. As his ‘body’ became subdued into unconsciousness by the strange Skill, clarity returned to his mind. Despite Randidly’s building rage, he couldn’t help but notice that some lingering wariness he hadn’t been able to eradicate was lifted away from him as he was taken by the skill.
Seems like it isn’t just another way to exhaust myself. Well, point for Eidolon Crucible. And the timing was at least reasonable...
This time, Randidly didn’t find himself in that familiar arena in Donnyton. Which, in a way, was a relief. He was awfully tired of that place, where he constantly needed to seize victory in order to protect himself and the entire world through the direction of Donnyton.
But perhaps this place held an even more troublesome place in Randidly’s heart. As he examined the surrounding, the sound of his heart pounding in his ears grew increasingly loud.
He was floating in a sea of lava, watching as that superheated metal and stone evaporated around him like it was rubbing alcohol. Floating above Randidly, the combined force of the thousand images of Kharon, was the faceless form of the sun. A strange amalgamation that served the role of Aegiant.
Heat hammered at Randidly’s skin. Compared to Nether, it was a rather mundane assault, but it did feel like thousands of fingers were scrabbling at Randidly to rip away his skin and feast on his core. The lava around him hissed and spat its heat in a malicious spray. Perhaps the most obnoxious part was the weight of the warped molten metal against Randidly, restricting his movements.
That shadow figure rippled as the multitude of images that formed it struggled to demonstrate their unique charms. This was more than just a constant spiritual raid perpetrated by the images of those who swore their cause to Randidly’s: this was also the chance for the images to prove themselves as capable.
But right now, Randidly didn’t care. The shadow of Aegiant raised his arms and screeched. The heat spiked upward as its power began radiating outward. Thin vapors of evaporated rock whistled up from the growing spear of superheated air that neared plasma.
“Is this all you have?”
Randidly spread his arms wide and began to pull himself up through the thick lava. His two tails sinuously twisted, pushing him upward. When he broke the surface of the lava, Randidly took a deep breath. His lungs screamed in protest, but the Grim Chimera just smiled.
“I always wanted a second chance at this. Perhaps this Eidolon Crucible isn’t such a bad thing after all.”