The creature looked at him with its luminous eyes, slowly taking in his wide smile. It seemed she had realized the conclusion that he had come to. “So you choose this path. But as I have stated, it is useless. You are an accident I never expected; did you really think that I would simply let you go?”
Sounds of ringing filled Randidly’s inward world, and golden chains and locks fell from the sky, covered in tiny tinkling bells. Those chains swirled around and slowly settled down around Randidly’s different skills, wrapping the tiny shapes of Aether in their chiming expanse. As they did so, Randidly felt a strange sense of weakness suffuse his body.
His eyes widened and he gritted his teeth, and thrust his hand forward towards one of the chains, the image of his Inevitable Phantom Arrives imbued into the attack. But when he hit the chain, it simply curled around his arm, the strength of his attack disappearing to nothing. Although he attempted to leap backward, pulling his arm away from the chains, it was no use; they followed him, swiftly wrapping around his body.
Opening his mouth to say something, Randidly found that he couldn’t produce any words. Strength fled from his body, passing through the parts of him that were touching those chains. They sucked and sucked, and after his ability to speak, his sense of smell left, then his vision, then sound, then touch.
He was in that pure, endless darkness that he had seen when the creature had said the word Weapon.
“I cannot take control. But I can break you, take away all your strengths, your connections to the outside world. You need but simply acquiesce; I’ve taken away your ability to do anything else, after all. Then I will use your Aether Crossroads to create a utopia for you humans. Simply give in, and you can escape that darkness. Otherwise…”
Then the silence returned. And stretched.
Time, Randidly reflected, really did have two simultaneous existences. The time you live with, and the time that is objectively true. But without both, existence is impossible. Knowing only the objective time sucks meaning from life, making everything feel pointless. The world was far too vast and broad, objectively, for the subjective to have meaning. But knowing only your own subjective, as Randidly did now, robbed you of perspective.
For now, Randidly set aside the problems of this darkness, the isolation, the failure of any of his skills to activate, the lack of ability to escape out of his inner world to his actual body, and instead thought about a rather mundane question: What is the difference between meaning and life?
The creature referred to them as two independent things, and sure, they had different influences. Meaning shaped the world. Almost was the shape of the world. Based on what the creature said, Randidly suspected that meaning had something to do with images, too. It was why Aether from a village was harder to use. Because it took life from the class people and dealt out its own meaning, which was heavily influenced by the meaning fed to it by the Nexus.
Still, there seemed to be some processes to adjust that. Specifically the Calamity. The Spearman had powerfully altered the meaning of Shal’s world somehow, resulting in Aether that only accepted images relating to the spear, making any other weapon obsolete.
Randidly shook his head, or tried to; so he mentally mentally shook his head. Because not even his mental body was working for him. That was interesting, but not helpful to this line of questioning.
On the other hand, life was… an animating force. It allowed for change and growth. It was movement. But alone, it too was pointless. Life was just drive without existence. Meaning was just invisible ink on a blank page without life. They couldn't be separated.
Which was why, Randidly suspected, they were two processes that were the two sides of a coin, just like time. The village connection was the subjective one, the meaning and life experience of an individual, while the connection that the being maintained to the villages were the objective, standard meaning and life. And this was a process of keeping them purposefully separate, and gathering power through the imbalance created by doing so.
Randidly scratched his head. That was definitely… dangerous? But he didn’t really know what it meant, or what he could do about it. It also seemed like those things would not be useful for his attempt to escape.
With an inaudible groan, Randidly sat up in the darkness. His body was completely numb, but somehow, he knew that, if he willed it, he could move his body. Just like the being that created the system, this creature couldn’t actually take his inward Aether and control him. All they could do is separate two parts of the whole, and manipulate him based on his insufficient information…
Which meant… although he felt weak, and that his skills weren’t activating…. Perhaps they were this whole time, and he was only prevented from sensing it?
Then he snorted. Not that there was anyway to check. And his logic was tenuous at best; from a hypothesis about time, to a hypothesis about an explanation given to him by his captor, to a hypothesis about a whole monstrous system that was taking over his world, to a hypothesis that his senses themselves couldn’t be trusted?
It was too comical.
But still, Randidly focused his will, which responded sluggishly, swishing around inside of him. Using that will, he opened his mouth.
“If you are there… help me.”
The silence and darkness pressed down on him. For several minutes, nothing happened. And for the 15 or so minutes following that.
Randidly sighed. He briefly amused himself with the possibility that this creature WAS the Being that spread the System, then set that to the side. Why would a creature with such power take the time to fuck with him like this if it wasn’t being chased by something bigger and more scary?
Although his body didn’t respond, he held up his hand and reached towards the sky. Well, the upper part of the endless darkness around him. But then he focused upwards, and forgot where his arm was, and he couldn’t really feel it, so Randidly just froze, extremely confused.
Then he began to laugh.
The only way for a spear is forward.
If you crave something, take it.
“It’s not so simple as that, unfortunately…” Randidly said, or at least thought he said, with the wide and deep darkness humming quietly around him.
“Just acquiesce…” The darkness hummed. Randidly snorted.
“I was planning on rejecting your proposal anyway, but now that you are being a bitch… I’ll burn it to the ground.”
“You will have to get out first…” The darkness whispered, and then the world went silent.
Randidly chuckled again, or tried to. And then he straightened, because he saw something, floating through the darkness. A group of somethings. His mouth, stretched into a smile. 7 or so emerald wisps of energy zipped through the void to float before him, spinning around him. Just by their presence, Randidly felt some small bit of his strength return. Perhaps it wasn’t really some of his actual strength, but their arrival lifted the isolation, letting him breath a little easier.
They came and spun around him, and Randidly chuckled. They had certainly been active since he had played with them last. It seemed that now that there was a certain number of them, they could interact with each other and grow without him, which was both interesting and scary. Unless he had simply lost his ability to count down here.
Randidly shifted his body, or attempted to, but the physical feedback was still extremely slight and ambiguous, so he couldn’t really know what he was doing. But then the largest, which was still a long and thin emerald streak, swirled, and settled down on his outstretched palm. Sucking in his breath, Randidly felt as though electric shocks were spreading out from the point that the wisp was touching him, slowly reviving his body.
Throwing his head back, Randidly smiled at the sky. The air was humming with the wisps as they rushed around him. These were… the refined form of “life” that he absorbed? The creature had made it seem like a very sinister thing, when she had said it. But they were just alive. They were simple creatures, and it seemed there were still further secrets to these strange creatures, but for now, it was enough that they came to him in this dark, isolated place.
Although they weren’t people, they had kindness, and when he called, they came. That was more than enough. And likely more than most people would do.
“This… do you think this is enough…? If you refuse to accept your isolation, I will have no choice but to punish you.”
The darkness around him was still for a long time. Then he felt a strange chill come to the air, and even the flesh the wisps touched began to return to numbness. With great care, Randidly leaned backwards and looked upwards. A giant wheel slowly turned above, like the steering wheel of an antique ship, with rungs sticking out at even intervals.
And as he watched, it slowly began to descend towards him.