For the first several days in the suppression chamber, Randidly had felt enveloped by an inky darkness that flowed like liquid around him. Part of the problem was moving was simply displacing the dense dark liquid that he lived suspended in. It was heavy as lead and twice as toxic. But those toxins weren’t physical, but mental. For in the face of darkness, a human’s natural instinct is to feel fear.
Paranoia from lack of knowledge is the mental disorder that people evolved to have naturally. Everyone carries that same passenger to this day, the thin whisper that foretold doom beyond a stretch without information.
But Randidly had faced more dangerous foes than his own instinctual fear and had soon painted the darkness with his own images. He saw plants and fire and an ashen spear and a great tree that could support seven worlds and a crown that crushed the world into silence and gloom. He saw ash and violence, energy and meaning. He saw himself, wrapped in strange sigils that animated all that was him.
Everything he had accomplished since the System had arrived was reflected in those runes. Every mark he made on the world was first made on his own soul.
From darkness came vision. And the first thing Randidly saw was his ‘self’.
Blindly he felt through his inner workings, without the benefit of the overlay System to inform him what he was looking at. He moved with a gentle touch, unwilling to actually affect anything. It would be profoundly annoying if he located his Path menus somehow and spent his PP on a weird Path.
God, image if he completed the Heretic Path at this point…
That made Randidly grin because that overlay System was exactly the portion that would record and advance the Heretic Path, or so he believed. Under that assumption, that was why he was gearing up so purposefully toward remaking himself. Even if he couldn't’ accomplish it here, laying the groundwork would be useful.
But escaping came first. One thing at a time.
The profound and powerful view Randidly had of himself started around day three, and lasted until now, day eighteen. At this point, Randidly was beginning to feel antsy about whether the plants were growing. It had been a few days, and he only had a few days longer before he would need an answer one way or the other. Possibly. The exact timeline for Randidly’s stay here was unknown.
Still, the weird thing was that recently, Randidly had begun to sense something else. He could still feel himself in the darkness, but very slowly, Randidly sensed something else. They meandered like fireflies over a pond around him in the darkness, just as bright and fleeting.
So after waking and knowing self, the soul soon becomes aware of ‘other’. That eternal passenger of paranoia thus finds its new target. For definitely in the other, there is danger.
It was small things at first, little aberrations in his images. Randidly was attempting to refine his image for the Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom and there was a soft light that changed every. Like a whisper, he felt it more than heard it. But the crown was on a head above shoulders weighed heavily down by responsibility.
It clicked at that moment.
It was not that the king held his head high under the brutal weight of the crown. It was that the crown was the spine of iron that kept the king from bending before the onslaught of the world. The king and the crown couldn’t exist apart. They were one and the same. They were a symbol.
Then it shifted again. There was another light in the dim darkness. Suddenly the crown wearer was the grim reaper. He reached for the world and grasped it, and slowly all wilted and died. That was reality. Strangely, this king suddenly had Alta’s face.
“To have power is to consume. Those that consume the most will control how this world ends…”
Randidly shivered, bringing himself out of his image training. After getting a feel for his Mana and Stamina, Randidly opened his eyes and looked at the darkness once more. With a great effort of will, he kept it all quiet. None of his self seeped out of his body and into the darkness to be reflected back at him.
But perhaps that wasn’t true, was it?
Slowly, those strange fireflies came out of the darkness, drifting around Randidly. With half-lidded eyes, he waited for one to drift close. The bits of light moved randomly and disappeared just as quickly, so it was a long time coming. The minutes ticked slowly past, his Skill reminding him of every wasted second. Yet Randidly did not leave the strange distraction.
These were interlopers. Where had they come from? Why was Randidly seeing them? Were they from the room? Were they from the strange Aether of this world? Or…
Were they something else? Something strange or sinister or beyond understanding?
“You’ve been in here too long,” Randidly whispered to himself. “Your thoughts are going melodramatic.”
The words were enough to disperse those lights. Anything was enough to drive those lights away. So once more the inky liquid dark flowed back. That was the trick, wasn’t it? Like a gas, people and images expand to fill the space they are given. At first, when he was alone here, his own images spread and filled the space around him. What he was thinking within spread to fill without.
But then Randidly’s sensitivity toward images had grown more profound. His Control finally grew accustomed to engaging with images. Therefore, he could control himself to pull those images back within himself.
What then, was left to expand to fill the air?
After fifteen minutes of self-control, those strange lights came back. Randidly thought of them as lights, because they were aberrations that contained substance and color. But they were images, weren’t they?
Coincidentally, one formed in front of Randidly’s left eye. His emerald iris expanded as the pupil contracted. He looked, and he saw within.
An old man stood by a large dog, something so large and shaggy it could very well be a wolf. It panted, its tongue lolling outside of its mouth. Grimacing, the old man hefted the worn hatchet onto his shoulder.
‘Move quickly, Aims. The rain is coming.’
They increased their pace. Very soon, the old man made it to a grave of trees, trees so large that it would take you a minute to walk around them. These trees stretched up almost fifty meters into the sky.
After spitting on his hands and rubbing them together, the man approached the huge tree with the small hatchet. Its blade was only as big as a fist. It obviously couldn’t-
The man’s eyes suddenly became sharp pinpricks of red light.
“Part for me, oh tree,”
The man swung the hatchet. The whole strange world Randidly was seeing began to tremble. The ax blade didn’t change, but the entire world seemed to shrink as it cut forward. Without any resistance, it slashed through the trunk and the momentum of that blow continued forward.
It was peerlessly sharp. So sharp that everything began to unravel around Randidly. At some point, the world fell to pieces, and then the plane of existence. When there was nothing left but Randidly, he was cut too-
“Fuck me,” Randidly cursed, blowing all of the Stamina he had gained over the last… he checked his Skill.
He had been viewing that strange little image for almost an hour. And really, all he had been rewarded with was a terrible headache.
Breathing out, Randidly leaned back against the stone. It wasn’t a large or a long thing that Randidly had seen within that shard of time caught in that pinprick of life. The man in it had seemed human, but it was difficult to judge those things anymore. Was Randidly truly human any longer?
But what was strange was that when the old man had swung his small hatchet, he hadn’t thought that the hatchet was sharp or powerful. No, the old man had just had a stray thought that the bonds that hold everything together were weak.
When he swung, it was not overpowering. It was a reminder of the frailty of relationships and accomplishments. In just a single swing, one thousand worlds could change as they remembered their own weakness.
How… strange. Randidly reflect. Where had that come from…?
It served as a strange… honing of his own images somehow, Randidly felt. After seeing that strange old man take a swing at a tree one hundred times the size of himself, it instilled in Randidly that the trick wasn’t overpowering the world with an image. Or at least, that wasn’t necessary.
Rather, all you needed to do was convince the world that you are being honest. A genuine image could change the world.
Still, the headache seemed to linger, even as Randidly slowly eased away from his focus and allowed time for his brain to rest. If Randidly could find more images in those motes of light, all the better.
But right now…
He did not have time to play around.
With an effort of will, Randidly brought his hand around to look at it.