Azriel released her breath and slumped against the tall pillar behind her. Her pounding heart sounded like the intense beat of tribal war drums in her ears, but she pressed her eyes shut and forced the beating to slow.
The battle is over. Foolish body. Why do you still fear this?
Rejt sat down next to her. “Woo, impressive. No wonder you are a friend of Randidly. Your ferocity is… impressive.”
“You were thinking intimidating, weren’t you?” Azriel said with amusement without opening her eyes. “Don’t worry, most men find me intimidating. Even… now.”
“Pah. I am Rejt. The Scarred One. I was marked by the Progenitor while he was still a god. It takes quite a lot more than that for me to be intimidated.”
Azriel was barely able to exercise her control and prevent herself from responding. He did not need her to pick a fight with the correctness of his words now. They had cleared the area surrounding this unlit lighthouse in the basin only by working together. Besides, she was tired. And it was not her role to correct this bold man.
A tremor ran through Azriel. I no longer know my role. I am… lost.
That was the truth that Azriel uncovered as she explored the mysterious world inside of Randidly. Her weakness was due to the fact that the image that had been given to her by her Master had been ripped out of her and destroyed. But the reason she wasn’t able to regain her strength very quickly was that the goal she had chased for her entire life… repaying her Master… was completed.
She opened her eyes and gazed up at the lighthouse above them. A calculating light appeared in her eyes.
Of course, even though she was growing slowly in her mind, she was still a step above anyone from this world. Most of them were still attempting to understand Skills and Stats. It was amusing that these people did not grow up within the embrace of the System, but it also filled her with worry.
Fear tightened its grip around her heart. After so long fighting for another… it was difficult for Azriel to think of her life as solely her own. And vastly more horrifying. Because soon, the people of this world would understand what they were missing and their speed of growth would increase by leaps and bounds.
If she continued at this rate, their growth would surpass hers, easily. Very quickly, she would be left behind.
More than anything else, Azriel feared that. Almost as much as she was infuriated by the caring look of genuine concern in Randidly’s eyes. Those eyes that said it was okay for her to be weak. But that was not the way of the work.
It was not okay to be weak.
If she was weak, she would be tossed aside.
She still had her old Class, but it was… rotting. She could feel it. The passage of so many dangerous images through her… it had warped her Class. Although the weight of the images had passed, the damage had not. It groaned under the demands she placed upon it. Very soon, it would collapse.
She had attempted to supplement that with the energy she obtained from Randidly. However, when she had stopped drawing energy from him briefly during her almost-Ascension, the bond between them had been… weakened as well. Filled with calcified images and strange eddies of meaning that polluted what transferred between them.
Everything within her was broken and weakening. Perhaps it would stabilize at some point, but…
Wouldn’t it just be better to clear it all out?
“I do not like the way you are looking at the Lighthouse,” Rejt said with a frown next to her. “Those are a national resource. You cannot casually use one for your own benefit.”
Azriel laughed as she reached up and pressed her hand against the Lighthouse.
Rejt sighed. “Damnit, this expedition was supposed to be my chance to do that.”
The rest of his words were washed away in an explosion of crimson light.
“Fucking shit,” Randidly swore. The smoldering pieces of his successfully Leveling buckler were spread out in the surrounding area like so much shrapnel from a grenade. As he had been warned repeatedly, just as the Skill reached Level 10, the buckler had exploded into three dozen pieces of flaming metal. Randidly had to create thin whips of vines that exploded out of the ground between his body and his arm to endure most of the blast.
As it was, the only remaining arm was rather scratched up by the detonation. To the point that he could sense Sulfur’s pitying “I-told-you-so” from where he had hung the armor up inside the hut.
Grinding his teeth, Randidly ignored his uppity equipment and carefully gathered the broken pieces together and carefully examined them to determine the culprit for the failure. At the very least, he would find an answer to this.
He didn’t have to look far, but the outcome surprised him. He had not thought that what he had made was a perfect product, but the pattern he made was sound enough that it had not given way. No, the real problem…
...was the Leveling of the Skill itself.
As it grew in Level, it required increasing Mana depth in the Engraving to contain the substance of what it was. The world he had created for it had rapidly grown too small for his Skill. As it reached the limit, it forcefully and haphazardly attempted to pry open a larger world for itself, only to shatter the equipment. What was especially frustrating was that the limit for the Engraving was reached only at Level 10.
Of course, as Randidly had noted previously, he had been attempting to make the Engraving as shallow as possible so there were as few flaws in the Engraving as possible. As deepness increased, there was also a sensation of… wideness. The deeper you went, the wider the area that Mana had to fill. And that extra area was more difficult to patrol for uniformity.
Obviously, Randidly could make the engraving somewhat deeper, but that sort of improvement… how many Levels would it add to the potential of the item? Certainly not a meaningful amount. And if at the end of the day, all items would eventually explode…
That couldn’t be right, could it?
Frustrated, Randidly turned to the Leather-bound book he had received. It was four hours later, perhaps almost 8 PM, that he set aside the book with a sigh.
“As expected… it’s a more complicated technique…” Randidly said with a grimace.
Indeed, as he had pushed deeper in the mystifying tome, he found passage relating to the very issue that he encountered. What followed was a dizzying series of layered engravings that one could make on an item in order to ensure that the Mana capacity of the item would grow along with the Skill.
This slowed the rate of growth of the Level, but it did ensure theoretically infinite potential. But the reason that this technique was placed after the base technique was not just the increased complexity of Engraving. Rather, the infinite growth was predictable growth that would just expand downward from what was already there.
Which meant uniformity from practice was necessary. As the Skill grew, the infinitesimal flaws that started would become magnified slowly until they destroyed the item. Consistency was even more important. The shortcut he had discovered couldn’t solve this issue for him.
Randidly groaned audibly. It looked like he couldn’t escape the truth that he would need to practice for a very long time before he would be able to use this technique reliably. Which was so unfortunate. He had quite a few dreams about creating a metal arm that could grow with him…
In the midst of his thoughts, a small noise grabbed his attention. For the second time of the day, Randidly paused and cocked his head to the side; there were people coming up the path to his house. A scan of Aether confirmed that one of them was Jameson the Meat Artisan once more. The other was an individual he didn’t recognize, but the man was a Level 49 High Knight.
“High Knight, huh…” Randidly said with a yawn. He supposed it was very impressive to obtain such a valuable Class. It probably had a much higher growth rate than even Donny’s Class. Of course, that difference was probably more than made up through Soulskills. But the fact such a man was also at Level 49 proved that he was strong.
Now, why was the butcher bringing this man up to meet Randidly…?
When the two arrived, Randidly walked outside of his hut and greeted them.
Jameson was much more respectful this second time visiting. Seeing the man’s hesitation that masked his fear, Randidly felt profoundly sad. This, perhaps, was one of the worst effects of his power. “Ah, Mr. Erickson… I’m sorry to bother you twice in one day, but Jerome insisted-”
“Please Sir,” Instantly, the High Knight Jerome was on his knees bowing before Randidly. “I was the one who purchased the shield you sold to Jameson. Did you also perform that Engraving? If so… I beg you to cover my entire armor with it!”
Randidly blinked. Then he frowned down at the High Knight. He wanted another engraving?
“...maybe. On two conditions. First… the price will be 500 Donnyton coins,” Randidly announced. Instantly, shocked expressions covered both of the two’s faces. Randidly winced. Was that too much…?
But he continued on regardless, his voice lowering an octave until it rumbled threateningly. “The second condition… I don’t really want to be disturbed here. I assume you two can see to it that there won’t be a flood of people coming up to beg for equipment?”
Both flinched. It also had the effect of rubbing the shock off of their faces. Randidly was pleased with himself. Good. Hopefully, that little chiding will make them more willing to shell out coins… bah, I wish I had more time to spend these coins though…
It didn’t take long for Jerome to make his decision. “Y-Yes! I agree!”