Probably four hours later, Randidly had a pretty good idea about the location where he was stuck. The small central island was probably only 15 meters across and was surrounded by water. As of yet, Randidly had no way of testing out how deep the water was, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t tried.
Randidly had twelves seeds in the pouch at his neck. One of those seeds he had filled with 1000 Mana, all of the Mana that had recovered over the time since his fight against Darke. The result was a thin plant, perhaps the thickness of a wrist, that stretched 5 meters. That arm hadn’t been able to touch the bottom of the water, which made Randidly sigh.
Afterward, he dragged the wooden arm back up and watched until it was consumed by the Ashen Image. Randidly had intended to use that brief burst of light to get a better idea about his circumstances, but the light from it had been so sudden and abrupt after the darkness that it had been somewhat blinding.
Even with his stats, the time between adjusting to the light levels was enough for most of the light to fade. Randidly got the sense of a high ceiling above and two metal poles in the center of his island holding aloft the hammock, and then his vision had once again returned to nothing. The darkness oozed around him like swamp mud, burying beneath its myriad layers.
Everything was infuriatingly slow down here. At first, it drove Randidly’s emotions slowly upwards in a vicious spiral towards a wrathful explosion. But at some point, Randidly found the whole exercise exhausting, and just let his emotions go. Instead, he continued doggedly to crawl around the room and explore.
He found the poles and the hammock. In some ways, Randidly was wistful to have left the hammock. Undoubtedly, it was much more comfortable to be swinging around… But he would also have lost out on a lot of information.
For example, there were some strange indentations in the ground on the far side of the island where there were probably large stones at one point. Randidly didn’t know what happened to the stones, but it did make small impressions that served as a comfortable location for Randidly to lay and think as he considered his options.
In addition, Randidly discovered a series of small scratches that ran around the lip of the island, right above the water. They were densely packed, but Randidly’s sensitive fingers were able to quickly count them. Around 800, Randidly lost interest. Partially because the thought of spending that much time here was horrifying, but also because it was possible that this person had been able to tell when the days began and ended.
And of course, as soon as Randidly thought about that, his Skill Absolute Timing seemed to activate. Although it was still difficult to understand the information provided by the System in raw Aether, this information was extremely basic. After observing it for about a half hour, Randidly had a pretty good idea how to read it.
His Skill was telling him that it had been six hours and twenty-eight minutes since Randidly had arrived in this strange purgatory.
On the small island, there were the poles, the impressions, and the markings. Other than that, it was agony inducing pebbles. At first, Randidly was just knocking them into the water, but his frugal side quickly kicked in. For whatever reason, he spent an hour crawling around and gathering up the painful pebbles into one of the smaller divots, just in case he ever needed them for something.
The water around the island was cool, but it was also an almost impassable barrier. Even if movement was easier underwater, Randidly was sure that expending Stamina would be just as vicious while floating. Even if he threw himself into the water and floated coincidentally to the other side, how would he get out? Then he would just be stuck in the water.
Worse yet, what if there were enough leather and wet clothes on him to sink him? Randidly would never gather enough Stamina to swim up. Once he was no longer floating, he would be fucked.
It was probably possible to use his miniscule Mana to conjure fire and treat his body like some sort of hot air balloon, but that seemed to be a worst case scenario thing. It would cause him to float up to the top of the water, but beyond that, it didn’t solve the problem. Then he was just a glorified floatation device. One that required Mana to function.
But that did pull Randidly down a deep rabbit hole of imaging his body as a hot air balloon. It wasn’t possible right now, but if Randidly created some Skills to allow his body to stretch to allow the air density inside of himself to decrease to a sufficient extent-
Ultimately, that was a waste of time, because the rational part of Randidly quickly pointed out that the edge of the room was likely simply a wall. The water was likely put there to deter escape attempts or punish those who braved the elements outside of the island. Randidly highly doubted that the individuals who could Engrave a room to have such specific and sophisticated effects wouldn’t rely on a fucking moat to keep their prisoners in place.
Still, the image of himself blown up like a puffer fish and tumbling slowly through the sky was highly amusing to Randidly. And that small chuckle might have been a waste of Stamina, but it did a lot to evaporate the thick layer of desperation that had begun to gather around Randidly.
With a much clearer mind, Randidly dragged himself to his favorite indent and looked up at the ceiling. He had taken to doing this a lot, waiting for his true experiments until he had full Stamina. However, the strange thoughts about Randidly Pufferhound did bring him a realization that might be the key; images still worked down here.
Of course, Randidly’s images for active Skills were basically useless. The same sort of mental gymnastics that had troubled him immediately after the fight with Helen hadn’t gone away. If anything, the stress of this dark place made them even more difficult to grasp.
So Randidly ignored the desperate part of himself and did something that was extremely difficult for himself.
He lay in the impression in the ground of an old stone and just looked up into the blank eyes with eyes wide open. Basically, he did nothing.
The first time Randidly did it, Randidly stopped his strange half-meditation half-image training as soon as he was full on Stamina. Then he pushed himself into a sitting position in one go.
What Randidly didn’t foresee was that sitting might not normally require Stamina if he had something to lean against, in his haste to get himself upright he had misplaced his center of gravity. So within a few minutes, he had slowly slumped over and fell right back to his starting position.
With a wry smile, Randidly patiently wriggled until he was looking at the ceiling once more. Then he checked his Absolute Timing Skill.
Almost exactly 24 hours since he had awoken. Well, he had no concrete plans, but it was a start.
Manifesting the Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom above himself, Randidly calmly looked upwards. It was stifling, but the blackness also had the benefit of being a completely blank slate. In the air above himself, Randidly could practice his images endlessly. When he began, it was hard to notice, but the longer he spent in an almost dreaming state with his images, the more detailed they became.
The sensation of the cool stone beneath him faded away. All that mattered were those images above him. When they were placed against the stark background of the heavy liquid darkness Randidly was suspended in, it was easy to see the flaws that kept them from holding any substance under the light of day.
Time began to slide past. Randidly was careful to continue to make experiments with the capabilities with his Skills, but it became increasingly clear that almost none of his Mana based Skills would have any tangible effect on the situation he was bound by. Although he could make small conjuring when he wanted long enough to save up a thousand Mana, how could that break him out of here?
No, most of Randidly’s hopes began to move toward refining his images into usable forms, with one notable exception.
Although it was extremely slow, it was still possible to use Mana Engraving.
When he discovered this, Randidly experimented for hours. It was possible to slowly fill in Mana Engraving Runes while using a miniscule amount of Mana. It likely increased the time it would take Randidly to complete something, but that was in an ideal scenario. What quickly became clear was that even with the most relaxed Mana expenditure he could manage, his pool would slowly decrease while Engraving. He couldn’t lower the expenditure to the level of the Regeneration he had in this place, which would have been ideal.
Therefore, Randidly needed to wait increasingly long periods of time to allow Mana to build up.
In terms of what to do with his Engravings, Randidly wasn’t sure, but he had some ideas. During his time working on energy transfer for the drones he had created, Randidly had invented a lot of failed runes to function as energy sinks. One of the earliest ones was the simple act of drawing a rune and then drawing the inverse of the rune, which would them devour the initial rune’s power. It ended up being useless as an energy sink because it would basically just invalidate the other room, but that was exactly his goal in this case.
So Randidly’s time began to be split into three sections. First, he would relax and refine the reality of his images. Then he would use his Aether Perception, and sometimes Manipulation if he needed a better picture, to forcefully view the runes that made up the boundary of the room. Finally, he would practice Mana Engraving under the Mana and Stamina restrictions he faced in this room. Mostly, this meant he had to memorize every facet of this island. That way, he would be able to take the optimal movements while Engraving.
Three days blurred, becoming stuck in the routine of work.
But in the middle of one of Randidly’s Engraving, his eyes snapped open.
The overlay System functions as something of a whistleblower, right? Both for myself, and for the underlying System. It’s the portion that recognizes what I’m doing with the base System and labels me a Heretic for the unusual outcomes. Therefore… since I'm already at Heretic 29... before I break out … It's time to reforge my Class without any prying eyes…
In the darkness, Randidly’s emerald eyes glowed. A dull metal crown hung above his head, catching the nearly invisible light of the energy burning at his core.