Nathan chewed on his lip as he removed his hands from Randidly’s shoulders. “Yea, there is definitely some intense damage done to your Class. I’ve never seen anything like it. The fabric of your growth was completely derailed… all the momentum you built up going toward 50 was destroyed. How did this happen again?”
While he waved his hand to dismiss the question, Randidly regarded the slender teenager fondly. Despite the serious content of the discussion, Randidly’s heart warmed to see how serious Nathan was acting. He’s so young. “Don’t worry about the why. What we need to do is figure out a way to fix the issue. By the way, what do you mean by momentum?”
While removing a series of brightly colored gemstones from his leather bag, Nathan spoke to Randidly over his shoulder. “If you’re sure… well, momentum is what I call the sort of image you are developing for your Fate. Like, looking at your Class, you have an insane amount of momentum. Well, had. You probably wouldn’t even need a condensing focus or my help to maintain the perfect shape of your Fate.
“But now… you have the sort of Class that would mean a normal person would just encase themselves in the strange Fate crystal stuff. No shape, no vessel, all bad news. Basically, it's suicidal for you to attempt to condense a Fate like this.”
Randidly mulled that over. Although he wasn’t positive, Randidly had a feeling that image was to Skills what a Fate was to a Class. Facilitated by the System, in order to allow individuals to produce something of value for the war effort, even if the world’s power was insufficient. Therefore, it should be possible to forcibly condense one with his strong images and understanding of Aether constructs. But as Nathan pointed out, the Class was the training wheels.
Having one would make things much easier.
Besides, even if Randidly could condense a satisfactory Fate without the complex and intricate patterns of his Class, he likely wouldn’t receive any of the benefits he would have obtained with an unbroken Class. Specifically, the quality of the Skills that he would receive in the future would take a sharp hit.
Not that Randidly needed more Skills, but it had seemed recently that only a portion of his compound Class had given him Skills. While the darker portions, the two layers to his Class added by the Patron of Ash and the Creature, had been suspiciously dormant.
They had definitely been building to something. And although Randidly had plenty of reasons not to trust either of those individuals, they had both been extremely strong. The weapons they used were quite deadly. Which just meant that it was relatively important that he repair his Class and excavate those powerful implements.
Nathan carefully laid out his seven gemstones on the ground in a circle: emerald, ruby, beryl, sapphire, diamond, amethyst, and onyx. Then he pointed to the space within the circle. “Please move to stand in here.”
Randidly quirked an eyebrow upward but did as he was bid.
Nathan rubbed his hands together. “These are all Level 75 Elemental Foci that I picked up in the East End. You should really visit, Sydney has completely transformed the place. It won’t ever rival Donnyton, but-”
Sydney, Randidly thought sadly. He should go visit her. They had been so close before the System had arrived. And although his feelings for her were complex, things should have… simplified by now. But that made Randidly think of Ace. And thinking of Ace made Randidly think of-
Just like I should remove one tenacious and malignant tumor from eating away at the health of Earth. Dad, what are you doing? Randidly’s jaw clenched. Was Ghost exaggerating, or are you truly leaving a trail of corpses in your wake? So many threats are piling up, but I don’t have time to deal with them individually. Better to focus on making Erickson Steel a mobile resource that can provide assistance where it is necessary. I can’t solve every problem for the Earth…
Yet to leave without doing anything when I have the capability...
But that line of thought just depressed Randidly even further. Perhaps it is for the best that the Judgment is taking me away for a period of time… only by being exposed to these threats can the people here grow...
Noticing the way the corner of Randidly’s mouth dipped downward, Nathan hurriedly continued to speak. “-well, these crystals just make sure some of the energies of the natural world are present to help give an extra push toward a Class that suits you. Most people have matured a lot from when they obtained their original Class, so there might be new options open to them that they couldn’t imagine originally. When I activate my Skill, you should feel some resonance with the different crystals.”
Randidly nodded and rubbed his chin. “So you think its better to try and repair or empower my Class… than just destroying it and starting over.”
Nathan winced. “Well, obviously. Especially with a Class as complex as yours. If you destroy it, even if you manage to rebuild everything exactly the same a few moments later, some of your Skill Levels will suffer. And that’s even setting aside the pain of having your Class destroyed…”
Inwardly, Randidly believed that sort of pain was likely a pittance compared to what he dealt with from exposure to Nether, but he still nodded. “Fine then, reinforcing the Class it is. Are we ready to begin?”
Nathan nodded. “I’m not sure how exactly it will interact with my Skill, but its probably for the best that you conjure your images. It will give us even more guidance for the reinforcement.”
Randidly wondered what sort of Skill Nathan was about to use, but he trusted the teenager. Soul Architect was the Class that had been personally crafted for Nathan. Although Randidly might understand Aether and images much better than the teenager, this was Nathan’s realm of expertise. And honestly, Randidly could use all the help he could get. Due to how busy he had been, Randidly hadn’t had the opportunity to dedicate much thought to this rather looming problem of a depleted Class.
Releasing a breath, Randidly opened up his Soulspace. At this point, Randidly didn’t even need to call. His images were steadily developing a very basic sense of self, and a portion of that was a rough understanding of what Randidly desired. Even if his images didn’t always agree with Randidly’s methods, they were aligned with his goals.
So Randidly opened himself up and called. After a second of consideration, the images came spilling out into the world.
The area around them rumbled as the World Tree blinked into shuddering existence only a few meters away. Inwardly, Randidly was glad that they had chosen to do this a fair distance South of Erickson Steel so that they were closer to Lake Apollo than any of the construction zones for the moving city.
The fewer people that look out the window and notice an abrupt addition to the skyline, the better.
Thick branches covered in dense golden script twined amongst each other as they reached toward the sky. Leaves as luminous and radiant as emerald stars gleamed brightly in thick clumps. Vigorous roots buried themselves into the ground, rapidly burrowing outward and deeper until Yggdrasil was sipping on the life energy of the entire world. The vast trunk that appeared so close to their position was so thick that it seemed to be a wall of bark, likely several miles in diameter.
With much less fanfare, the Grim Chimera faded in to stand next to Randidly. Its left arm was a bloody claw and its right arm was a spear of bone covered in ash. The dark holes of its eyes and mouth were hidden beneath a thin film of pale skin. Its bent and twisted legs cracked as it loomed over Nathan, seeming to consider this strange interloper with frank curiosity.
A dense cluster of emerald flames appeared. Unlike the original form, these emerald flames were smaller and almost crystalline in their structure. And as they clustered together, they began to rapidly orbit around each other, blurring into a bright ball of humming energy. As time passed, those moving flames accelerated, approaching some catalytic level of motion.
Close to a transformation, pressing up against the cusp. Yet for now, the current vessel held.
Now that all of his images were present, Randidly nodded to Nathan.
Raising his hands, Nathan looked down at the seven gemstones and muttered to himself. “Anima Survey…”
Randidly watched with interest as bridges of Aether suddenly began to form with loose connections to his soul and stretch outward away from him. After a certain distance, they became invisible, but Randidly could sense them continuing outward. Seven went to the gemstones in the circle around him, but there were almost a dozen more that seemed to stretch outward into thin air, running off to some distant target.
At first Randidly’s gaze sharpened with grim chagrin, worried that these connections would bring him some unwanted attention. Especially because the Creature had a hand in the creation of his Class and therefore it seemed likely that one of the connections might lead to any remnant of it that existed in the world.
But the more that Randidly studied the sudden connections, the more at ease he became. Rather than establishing a connection, Nathan’s Skill seemed to illuminate past connections. If he hadn’t seen them being made, even Randidly might have missed the delicate touch of Aether stretching away from him.
These connections were old things, some of them long dead. He couldn’t precisely figure out where each one led, but it was enough to know that Nathan hadn’t created anything new.
Nathan gestured sharply with his hand, pulling Randidly’s focus back to the current task. “Invigorate. Capture.”
The connections began to tremble with a steadily growing energy. Very quickly, Randidly felt the resonance travel through the connection and to himself. And as he watched, his three images moved.
Yggdrasil shrank to a seed and then floated easily into the emerald. Instantly, the emerald cracked and shattered. But in its place, a walnut covered in dense and intricate golden script appeared.
The Grim Chimera raised its head and howled toward the sky. Then it stretched out one arm and snatched the diamond, while its right arm speared the piece of onyx. Both shook for a split second before the Chimera smashed the two gems into one another. Bits of sparkling gemstone caught the light as they scattered everywhere, radiating outward in a nova of glittering monochrome. When the dust settled, a plain piece of charcoal sat at the epicenter of the explosion.
After a second of hesitation, the Ignition Essence floated down into the ruby and forced itself into the crystal. Rapidly, the color of the ruby shifted toward emerald. Then, perhaps strangest of all, the now emerald ruby twisted. Very quickly, portions of the gemstone moved to form a small crablike creature. It scuttled over on short legs and used its claws to cut off a chunk of the amethyst, which it greedily devoured.
Then it settled down, reverting to an emerald colored stone with a fingertip of violet flame at its core.
Although the close connections had finished their meals, the dozen connections that led far away began to undulate wildly. But Randidly couldn’t relax and let the process continue; he noticed that Nathan rapidly began to pale. The Skill he was using had drawn too much Mana from him.
Randidly couldn’t help directly, but he spread his hands and began to force raw Mana out from the fingertips of his right hand and into the air. Gleaming motes of light that alternated between aquamarine and navy blue blasted outward to swirl around Nathan. As Randidly pumped out more and more Mana, some settled on Nathan’s skin and sunk into his body.
The boy looked thankfully at Randidly, then refocused on the connections. The undulations became wild swings, as though some force had gripped the other end of the connections that stretched out from Randidly and was ripping wildly at them with all of its strength.
“Invigorate….” Nathan’s teeth were chattering as he forced out the words. “And… Capture!”
There was a swirl of rainbow-colored energy, thin wisps of it coming from each of the dozen connections, that wove themselves together in a tight spiral. With a crack, they condensed into a small object in front of Randidly.
“Ugh… I feel like crap…” Nathan collapsed backward so that he was sitting down on the ground with his legs splayed. The connections dispersed and the area around them quieted. After several breaths, Nathan heaved himself up and hobbled up over to the four objects that were on the ground around Randidly. “Well that certainly was- eh?”
Randidly followed Nathan’s gaze to the final object that had been created from the majority of his connections. He cleared his throat awkwardly as he considered the object. “Is something like this… normal…?”
“Definitely not,” Nathan whispered. He reached out and picked up the fourth object, studying it closely. As soon as he touched it, Nathan’s eyes widened.
Frowning, Randidly studied the object without bothering to approach and see the description. It was clearly a cloth doll, a perfect replica of himself. It had his short black hair, his metallic left arm, and his bare feet sewn in exacting detail. But perhaps the most disturbing feature of the doll was that its skin was covered in thin lines of black thread. The formation of the thread made it seem like it was a language, but it wasn’t one that Randidly recognized.
It wasn’t Aether, and it wasn’t something that the System was helping to translate at all. That tattooed version of Randidly sat in Nathan’s trembling hands. Randidly frowned.