Randidly hopped down to the next level of the rings. There were 10 in total, and Randidly needed to get down to the 8th, the third innermost ring. And the innermost ring was already beginning to turn into a red color…
But immediately upon hopping down, the temperature shot up to something that was quite uncomfortable. Sweating profusely, Randidly jumped down to the next one, hoping to get the whole ordeal over with as soon as possible. This was one of the rare moments that Randidly regretted not wearing shoes-
“Randidly, what are you doing?” Tessa asked, rubbing her eyes as she leaned upwards, the covers slipping down to reveal her shoulder and the white skin of her breasts. Randidly winced, he was hoping that she wouldn’t have noticed him coming home… But then he started to get distracted by a profound sense of wrongness.
It was like… he had forgotten something…
“Were you meeting with Sydney again?” Tessa asked, her voice carefully neutral.
Randidly frowned. Sydney was probably dead, and Tessa-
His eyes snapped open, and Randidly once more found himself standing in the slowly heating up circles of stone. He was now standing on the 2nd circle, and based on the fact that the bottoms of his feet were starting to get uncomfortable he must have been standing there for several minutes.
Randidly turned and glared up at the Patron of Ash, whose smile only spread wider, the craggy rocks grinding against each other as its grin spread.
“You should also know… because this is a trial related to the System… only a short amount of time is passing in the real world. Feel free to take your time overcoming the illusions…”
Randidly’s smile was vicious. Without hesitating, Randidly tossed himself down into the next ring of heating rock. The distance was only about 2 meters or so, but Randidly felt strangely light as he dropped down toward the next level, almost as though he was floating through the air, drifting-
“Oh! OH! Oh! OH OH OH Yess right there Derek, fuck me!”
Randidly sat in the darkness of his bedroom, hiding in the closet. He had ripped out the stuffing from the teddy bears and animals his mother had given him, and had made a bed of sorts out of their innards, where he curled up. He clenched his eyes shut.
If it was going to be another long night like this…
For a second, he wished for his father. But then he crushed that feeling. That asshole didn’t care about him. When he was a burden, he left, breaking his mom and turning her into this… thing….
“OH, OH GOD!”
“It’s fine…There is nothing wrong with a sad woman seeking out sex.” Randidly whispered out loud, his eyes regaining clarity. “She was just grieving in her own way. It’s that right…?”
At his words, the world twisted, and a phantom floated forward, half human, half skeleton, bearing his mother’s hopeless face.
Randidly stepped forward on the 3rd ring, only pausing for a few seconds before he continued. He was prepared now, and knew what was coming, so it was a rather simple thing to brute force his way through it with his Battle Intent. Randidly also saw notifications that his Fire and Pain Resistance, as well as his Mental Strength, were increasing, so it seemed that this would be a valuable experience. Which was just what he needed.
Before the next round, Randidly hoped to sharpen his Willpower to a sharp point, ready to strike at his opponent. Best to continue quickly though, before the heat continued to build. Even as he stayed on this same platform, Randidly could feel how the temperature was rushing upwards. He shuddered to think how bad the temperature would be at the 7th circle. It looked like the stone was starting to turn the red of cherries.
Randidly leapt to the next platform.
Randidly was in a clearing, and he paused, looking around. This… didn’t seem familiar. Shal was sitting against a tree on the far side, his head against his chest. Cradled in his arms was….
Randidly gasped. It was the head of that fucking Yeti. And on the ground next to the two of them was a sphere with a face in it. Dian’s face.
“Well, well, well. Who is spying on me now?”
Randidly spun around, surprised to hear a voice so near to him. The person behind him had the body of a woman, but her face was… blurred out, swirling with strange colors, so it was just a mess of colors. But she was tall and slim, with light purple hair.
“Ah, that’s smart. You can’t see me, I can’t see you. A clever way to do it. Looking for my location? Looking for my dearest Shal? But still, even if I don’t know who you are, I can still hurt you.”
The woman reached for Randidly, her hand beginning to glow a frosty blue-white color. But before she could touch him, Randidly snapped back into the rings, breathing heavily.
For whatever reason, that had given him the strangest sensation… of danger. What sort of memory was that? He had never seen Shal and the Yeti together… and Dian was there…? Maybe it was some sort of dream…?
“What…. what did I just see?”
The colossally big face floated closer, so much so that Randidly began to worry that it would seal the strange coliseum of stone rings, but it began to shrink, becoming simply the size an asteroid would need to be to cause a catastrophic loss of life when it descended to Earth. This allowed it to float marginally closer, and it seemed to breathe deeply, opening its huge maw wide and sucking in air, ruffling Randidly’s hair.
It was honestly somewhat pleasant, because the breeze at least cooled him off for a couple of seconds, while the temperature climbed ever higher.
“Kakakaka…..” The Patron of Ash rumbled. “Interesting. These test you, strike at your inner demons, your weaknesses. You need to be purified, in a way, to become my…. Anointed. What you saw, is an outstanding weakness of yours.”
“What does that even mean?” Randidly growled, but the Patron of Ash continued to just chuckle in its odd way, sucking in air occasionally, getting some sense of what Randidly saw.
Still, it left Randidly’s mind racing. He could be self reflective enough to admit that Shal probably was a point of struggle and weakness in Randidly’s psyche, probably because Shal fit so perfectly into the disappointed and distant dad role that had been open for years. Even thinking it made Randidly grit his teeth with bitterness.
Then that image was related to purifying that weakness? Or overcoming it? Or… was it showing him the state of that weakness right now?
Because that image definitely had a different feel to it than the previous ones. It wasn’t trying to immerse him and drown him, like the others, with familiar images or emotions. It was trying to show him something. A name rose unbidden in Randidly’s mind.
Shal had left, but… where had he gone…? Divveltian seemed to think that he had been behaving weird, but to Randidly, he had simply shrugged and accepted it, because he had been conditioned on mentor figures leaving in his life. But perhaps he should have been more skeptical of the leaving. After all, so far, Shal hadn’t done much to abandon him-
Aside from beat him, berate him, constantly refuse to acknowledge him, and then leave him without a clue what to do and head off to a dungeon.
But setting most of those things aside, the only real abandonment was heading to the dungeon. Was it possible that already at that point, he was under the influence of something else? Driven and manipulated by his hatred of this woman to rush towards her. In a way, it reminded Randidly of what the Creature had done to him.
But where the Creature was a master of runes and Aether, this woman seemed to use more traditional means of emotional manipulation.
If this was the case, and that was a big if. But it also explained Dian’s sudden strange suicide on the ring. If she had been pushed by Lucretia…. Again, only an if.
The temperature continued to rise, and Randidly gritted his teeth. He couldn't just sit and think. He needed to proceed forward. So with a step, Randidly moved towards the 5th ring of stones, descending dutifully towards that crimson and black sphere.