When Randidly awoke, it was to a black and silent night. The thin light from Ignition Essence illuminated the inner portion of the grey tent, but its actual usefulness for distinguishing details was low. All Randidly could make out were several figures at the far end of the tent, with one of them being familiar. Yggdrasil sat at the far side, talking to two individuals who were standing outside the tent in a voice pitched low so as not to wake Randidly.
Instantly, Randidly’s focus sharpened to those two shadowy individuals. With a few sharp movements, he materialized on his feet. He half expected to find that Iellaya herself had come out to harass Yggdrasil, but instead, there were two unfamiliar figures at the door. One was a smaller and more brown version of Abiodun, a man completely made of rock and mud. The second was a thin man covered in scales and with the head of a snake.
Both were images. There was an ambiguous quality to their bodies that Randidly was beginning to recognize.
Sensing that Randidly awoke and was glowering at the new arrivals, Yggdrasil turned around. “Ah, good. It seems you had… a good dream. You were… ahem, laughing in your sleep. But these two are…”
Yggdrasil rustled his leaves as he gestured to the two figures. “This woman is Zauna. She is a relative of Abiodun’s. This man is Salazar. Lady Iellaya issued orders that since you had proven yourself in your first two missions… you would be sent to more dangerous areas in the future. Areas where you could make more of an impact on the battlefield as a whole. Therefore, you would need subordinates.
“In addition… I will be responsible for healing them.” Yggdrasil paused briefly. “But Lady Iellaya also informed me that as long as these two remain in fighting shape, I will need not use my talents on any others.”
That sharpened Randidly’s gaze. His eyes took in the pair once more. It turned out that the brown Abiodun was a woman. She didn’t appear to carry any weapons, but Randidly supposed most images didn’t carry weapons with them.
Meanwhile, the snake-man Salazar had two miniature scimitars strapped to his lower back. His long fingers were constantly wringing in front of his slight body.
Spies? Likely both of them. What a hassle. But if it kept Yggdrasil from being worked to the bone...
“Nice to meet you,” Randidly said through his teeth. Honestly, he was in a rather good mood after slaughtering his way through the images of Kharon. Even this strange ambush couldn’t shake his optimism. He had tried his best to not be too violent to the rather feeble images, but the tiresome experience of remembering what information he should and should not share had built up in his chest over the past several days; the images had been the perfect outlet.
And compared to Nether, the small individual images, even as one monstrous Aegiant replacement, were almost comically simple to overwhelm with raw force. It was like comparing someone who fought for sport on the weekends to someone who fought to stay alive. There was simply no tenacity to the images of Kharon. So Randidly took it upon himself to teach them the true brutality of images.
It would be worth it in the end, he knew.
I bet the main body will even thank me when we are all finally united...Randidly thought as his hand remained extended toward the two images. Salizar looked up at Zauna nervously while wringing his fingers without any visible reaction. Zauna nodded shortly and reached out to shake Randidly’s hand without saying anything.
Only after Zauna moved did Salizar seize Randidly’s hand with both of his own. “A p-pleasure. We have heard… heard much about you.”
A silent woman and a coward. The perfect sort of subordinates. Soon, dominion over the entire world won’t be just a dream…!
Setting aside his sarcastic thoughts, Randidly did realize that there was no reason that his Eidolon Crucible needed to be focused on only Kharon. The main body’s subordinates could be from any world. He made a mental note to talk to Yggdrasil about vetting these two more directly to be recruited into the Eidolon Crucible.
They were likely spies, but that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be other chances in the future. Even if it took some time, it might be worth looking into the option.
“Well, I need to spend some time training after that. I will see you both later,” Randidly said shortly. He nodded at Yggdrasil and walked out of the tent while brushing past Zauna and Salazar.
It was about ten steps later that Randidly stopped and turned on his heel. He glared back toward the tent. “Is there a problem?”
Both Zauna and Salizar were following him. Salizar glanced up at the stoic face of Zauna, then winced and offered Randidly a weak smile. “It is… d-difficult you know? For images l-like us around the camps. So if we f-f-f-follow you, at least…”
Randidly brought his claw and tried to rub the bridge of his nose. He almost punctured his eye with one of the sharp points of his talons. He calmly lowered his hand and hoped the large size of his hand kept his new subordinates from seeing his close call. When his face was revealed, it was glowering at the two of them. “Then return to your tents. Is there a need for you to wander around so late at night?”
“We w-will be staying with you and Yggdrasil from now on, sir,” Salizar said in obvious discomfort. His tail flicked rapidly back and forth behind him.
“Then it won’t be a long walk back to the tent, will it?” Randidly hissed.
But the two simply stood there dumbly. Zauna said nothing. In fact, she seemed completely unphased by Randidly’s obvious ire. It seemed that she definitely inherited some of Abiodun’s nerve. And as for Salazar… although he began to wring his hands more quickly, there was no other change.
From behind them, Yggdrasil said unhelpfully. “To be fair, I was told that Lady Iellaya ordered you to familiarize yourself with your new subordinates tonight. It might not matter much, but on the other hand…”
Sighing, Randidly just shrugged. “Fine, just stay out of my way.”
He had planned on heading back out to the border area and spending some more time working on his Skills. It didn’t seem like the presence of these strange two would make much difference to the process. If they were going to accompany him into the Great Rift in the future, they would see his capabilities anyway. And perhaps seeing them while in an Aether controlled area would lower their inevitable shock after seeing what Randidly could manage in the Nether.
Randidly’s eyes narrowed as a resolution formed in his chest. Not knowing the details this place and walking on tiptoes to avoid revealing my hand… it’s unsustainable. Now that these two are going to be following me out into the Great Rift… time to shift the strategy. Stealth won’t serve me well for much longer.
I need to have a candid conversation with someone around here that knows what’s going on. Considering Zagnal’s recent change in attitude… He’s no longer an option. Which probably means that the conversation needs to be had with Iellaya. And to sway someone like her, I need to prove my capability. Perhaps these two are a test for exactly that. Better to keep them alive then.
So Randidly proceeded to the no man’s land between the two camps once more, intending to spend some time training. But as he approached the edge of the camp, noises ahead caused his gait to slow. Glancing back at the two follow him, Randidly was relieved to see that both noticed his expression and moved stealthily in his wake.
Despite her size, Zauna seemed to drift across the land like a ghost. Her heavy footfalls didn’t register even the smallest sound to Randidly’s ears. And Salizar seemed to fade into the nearby shadows so naturally that even Randidly’s luminous eyes could only barely distinguish him against the shadowy backdrop of the dirt.
Snorting softly, Randidly turned back forward and began to activate Chimeric Avoidance to its limit. While he also slowed his gait and took care to remain quiet, he also simply avoided making noises. The Grim Chimera had its own methods.
Moving near silently, the trio drifted forward to the edge of the camp. About three-fourths of the way across the no man’s land, two figures were arguing in the open area, with some space left between them and the tents of the camp. With glittering eyes, Randidly could intuit their conversation just as he had been able to do with Abiodun and Iellaya.
“Vualla, I will report you,” The tall and broad-shouldered man said.
The same woman with azure hair that Randidly had seen here a day ago shook her head. The motion sent long, undulating ripples through her dazzling hair. “Even so. I’ll take the demerit. This is personal.”
“That demerit will see you sent to a deathzone on the next mission.” The man hissed.
“Then don’t report me,” Vualla replied rather flippantly. Even to Randidly, her smile looked fragile in the night. “Then I won’t need to worry about the deathzone.”
The man sighed. “If I have to report you to stop you from going, I will. This pointless errand of yours is not worth it. We’ve already received the reports. What more do you need?”
Vualla raised her chin. “Most things aren’t worth dying for. A few things are. And I know that this is one of the things I would die for.”
They stared at each other for a long time. So long that Salizar began to wring his hands to work off his nervous energy until Randidly shot a glare his way. He made a mental note to ask how much control he really had over his subordinates when he saw either Abiodun or Iellaya again as he turned back to look at the duo across the no man’s land.
The large man shook his head one more time. “I’m going now. To report you. So… so please. Please be there when the patrol comes to your tent.”
“It is a petty man that asks a woman to betray her principles. And not even for love… but out of fear. You can be afraid most of the time, but if you claim to be alive you cannot be afraid all of the time.” Vualla spat at the man’s departing back.
Strangely, Randidly cocked his head to the side. You can be afraid most of the time, but if you claim to be alive you cannot be afraid all of the time.
Something shifted in his chest. As a being deeply rooted in fear, the Grim Chimera constantly needed to be wary of threats. Wariness stemmed from fear. So Randidly was constantly in the throes of a small amount of fear.
You can be afraid most of the time, but if you claim to be alive you cannot be afraid all of the time.
Randidly found his legs moving across the dimly lit barren land between lands, making a beeline for the woman’s lonely back. He could feel Salizar and Zuana moving silently behind him like a mute entourage, which pissed him off a little bit. Some part of him dearly wished this was about to be a private meeting. Yet Randidly was more unwilling to let this moment go than he wished to hide this interaction with the azure haired Vualla.
After all, there was a completely reasonable basis for this action. This was the one person that Randidly had encountered who wasn’t associated with Lady Iellaya at all. That same pervasive feeling that Randidly had felt when he arrived in Lady Iellaya’s camp had become a subtle backdrop to his experience, but it ran through everyone he had seen and talked to in a greater or lesser degree. But from Vualla, there was a completely different feeling.
It was, in a word, refreshing.
Perhaps I won’t have to impress Iellaya after all. Randidly grinned. If I can help Vualla right now, perhaps she can give me the information that I seek.
Vualla was standing with her shoulders trembling and her fist clenched as Randidly arrived about five meters away from her back. More than her actual body, Randidly would see her cascade of hair. But it was clear to him that she was facing the ground with her features steeped in shadows.
What does a salesman say to sweeten a deal before the sale… well, the obvious step is to remind the recipient of our previous interactions...
Randidly cleared his throat lightly. But of course, he didn’t have a real throat. He didn’t really understand why he did it. “For someone with a body… you seem incredibly fragile right now.”
Vualla flashed into motion. Unlike Randidly how had opened up some space when surprised, Vualla twisted around and brought one of her heavy gauntlets around in a haymaker toward Randidly’s head. Eyes widening, Randidly brought up his claw up to catch the blow. But his body wasn’t moving quickly enough to catch up to her dazzling speed.
How the fuck can she be so fast?!? So this is the ability of someone fighting on the front lines-
Randidly released a low breath that came out grey and ashy as his image billowed outward. Chimeric Avoidance and Monstrosity’s Appalling Physicality roared to the fore. His body contorted as muscles bulged to accomplish his will.
Even then, Randidly gritted his teeth to brace for the blow as he watched it approach; the power behind Vualla’s strike was obvious from a single look. The air quaked with its passage. But at the last second, she halted in her abrupt attack. The shockwave of the sudden stop still struck Randidly, sending a ripple through him and through Vualla’s waterfall of azure hair.
Randidly’s eyes widened at the casual force. Then he saw her glittering azure eyes sparkle even in the shadowy no man’s land. It took him a second of confusion to figure out what was happening; then immediately, it was obvious.
Vualla was crying.
For a second, Randidly was transported across time and space to a moment in the port town on Earth when he encountered a young woman whose life would be wasted. All he needed to do was reach out and help her, but he hadn’t.
Slowly, Vualla lowered her gauntlet and turned away from Randidly. “...sorry. It’s been a long day.”