Suddenly, Randidly’s eyes snapped back to focus, and he activated Spear Phantom’s Embrace, almost effortlessly moving past the projectiles, even though he had been frozen for several seconds. This was just the difference in levels and stats. Attacks of this level couldn’t even come close to scratching Randidly.
Sydney seemed just as surprised that Randidly didn’t instantly fall as Randidly had been when she attacked him, because she just stared at him as he appeared in front of her, taking a step closer.
“Sydney… you were alive?” Randidly asked, reaching out towards her. “Your cancer-”
“Guards!” Sydney yelled, snapping out of her shock and creating a thin wall of ice between the two of them. Randidly smashed it to pieces with a single hand, and then grabbed her hand as she stabbed forward with another dagger of ice, pulling her close.
Randidly frowned at her. “Sydney-”
The doors burst open, and a tall skeleton with a flaming skull for a head walked in. Randidly simply blinked, once again shocked. The skeleton’s jaw clacked in amusement.
“Hehehe, Countess… you seem to be in trouble. My master’s offer still stands. If you-” The skeleton began, but he was quickly shut up as wave after wave of Spearing Roots ripped up into his bones, picking him up and carrying him into the hallway.
“Will you just listen? Holy fuck, were you always this stubborn?” Randidly growled.
“Well how the fuck am I supposed to believe you when you are doing shit that seems IMPOSSIBLE, especially for Randidly!” Sydney said, twisting away from him. Randidly let go, afraid that he would break her wrist as she struggled. It was… a strange reminder. One that he hadn’t had since Tessa, that he was on a different level, and had a responsibility not to hurt people around him.
“Who else would I be? And what is that supposed to mean, especially Randidly. I-”
Randidly found himself strangely back in the rings, but… everything was monochrome. His foot lightly touched down, as he arrived in the final ring. Strange shockwaves spread from the spot his foot touched, moving through the jelly like rock. His bare foot sank into the stone, but there was no pain. The heat waves continued, but they were just visual phenomenon, without any real meaning.
“This is ash.”
A loud voice echoed, different than the Patron’s, but somehow Randidly knew it was him, a deeper, purer voice, not coming through the mouth of a giant monstrous glob of lava, but his true body.
“If you continue… you too, shall be burnt to ash. Endure, that is the only path available to you.”
Randidly felt it now, still. Not the heat, but the weakness. Although this strange state meant that the heat was not crushing him as it was, his body still was crippled by it. But, by a supreme act of will, Randidly stepped forward, reaching out towards the sphere. He took a step, then another step. He was only about 2 meters away now, when abruptly, the heat began to rise. It was though the area around the sphere was a line that divided Randidly from the real world, where he was slowly being annihilated by the real heat.
After all, the way heat decayed meant that the closer you came, the sharper the increase would be. And after not feeling the heat in this strange monochrome world, the pain… the absolute agony… the anguish…
But Randidly just smiled, his eyes twinkling, and took another step forward.
“You… you walk forward to become naught but ash… endure and-”
“Shut the fuck up…” Randidly said, or tried to, because the words just emerged from him like a sigh, formless and running together. But he refused to sway from his path.
Whether or not it was purposeful, going through the strange illusions taught Randidly a lot. Some of it was about his own weaknesses, some of it was perhaps speculations on his past… but what it definitely showed him is that nothing would happen without acting. In the past, there had been moments where he had remained still, and he had lost something dear because of that.
There were probably times where inaction was for the best, but for now…
Randidly took another step forward, even as the ground sunk beneath him. The heat continued to rise, slamming back against his body, going beyond its previous levels. In his body, the weakness was systemic, and he could barely continue. So he leaned forward, and just let his momentum carry him.
If the only way forward was to become ash… so be it. Because he refused to back down.
Only 1 meter away, Randidly just leaned forward, stretching his arm out, as he slowly began to fall towards it, his hand reaching. His skin, then his muscles and tendons, caught fire and burned away, and a vicious, insane pain ripped up his arm. But Randidly couldn’t stop now.
Still, when he tried to control his arm to grab the sphere, there was no response; the physical necessities for movement had burnt away. So he simply fell forward slowly.
This his eyes began to glow emerald.
This streams of blood, protected by a dense layer of Battle Intent, ran up his arms, taking the bones of his hand and wrapping around them. His head throbbing, Randidly continued to force forward with his will, pressing and pressing, and the blood hurried, wrapping more and more completely around his hand.
At the same time, the pain in his head grew more deadening, causing the edges of his vision to blur. And the Battle Intent around the blood, controlling his hand…
But he reached, disregarding all else. If Sydney was alive… if Ace was alive…
He would pay the debts he owed to people here, and then return to Earth. For now, at least Sydney seemed fine, although the fact she was consorting with skeletons…
As with all things, to accomplish his goals, he needed strength, more and more. Because hanging over Earth was still the Calamity. If they had lived this long, he wasn’t letting some monster of the System end their lives.
Stretching, Randidly’s hand extended, and his hand….
Above, the Patron of Ash watched silently, as the hand landed on the sphere, and a wave of burning heat exploded outward, a heat far beyond what it had previously released, annihilating the boys flesh, and leaving only the bones. As the Patron watched, the bones fell a bit, but were then engulfed by a strange burning energy.
Humans, it thought, were profoundly strange creatures.
The crimson glass cracked, and most of the black liquid dropped back into the earth, burning its way to the core, but a small drop hovered there, then began to float towards the bones. It split up into innumerable smaller drops, and then spread out, going to each bone, piercing in and settling in the marrow. The bones very rapidly began smoking, their color changing to a dull, deep grey.
But… that didn’t mean they were unlikable.
Randidly started awake, sitting up promptly vomiting. Grimacing, Randidly straightened after his body was cleansed, and then the trembling started, resisting his every attempt to control. Very soon, he was seizing on the ground, his whole body burning. His whole body… no… the pain was concentrated in the bones, slowly spreading out in waves, flooding his whole body.
He reached for his Aether, and began to rotate it, resisting the pain, but it seemed like there was nothing to fight against the pain in his body. So he could only lay back and allow the strange spasms and pains to continued, gritting his teeth.
The last he remembered, he was on the final ring, reaching for the sphere. Did this mean he had touched it, or…? Was this some strange backlash for failing to pass the test and become an Anointed of Ash.
But his worries were unfounded. After around 10 minutes, the strange pain tapered off, although the heat in his body continued, if anything, growing stronger. After he could control his body, Randidly straightened, sighing, and was met with several notifications.