With a sinking suspicion in his chest, Randidly closed his eyes and reached for Grasp of the World Seed. It took several seconds, and then the fuzzy shapes of the surrounding plants finally appeared at the edges of his mind. Even then, the energies that Randidly was so used to were sluggish and amorphous. As he reached out for the plants, his grasp felt weak.
With a grunt, Randidly pressed against the strange boundary that was around him. It didn’t give, so much as… grudgingly let more of his will through. The plants in the surrounding area spiraled upward under his implacable urging. But the growth was slow, overall. The effectiveness of Grasp of the World Seed at the moment...
Randidly’s eyes burned emerald. In his mind, the powerful image of the World Tree Yggdrasil spread its long roots into the surrounding area. Fine, do you want to test me, darksteel? Let’s see how you handle this.
The Skillset expanded with an unstoppable urgency into the surrounding area. But that too was muted. It was a pale and flimsy imitation of the sensation that Randidly was used to. Gritting his teeth, Randidly forced his will forward through the strange material of the armor. As he did so, Randidly could feel the darksteel beginning to hum.
That made Randidly raise his eyebrows. The passage of images physically affected the armor? So it was less of a strange side effect and more of a direct result of the physical properties of the armor...?
Well, physical was inaccurate. The Aether arrangement of the armor must somehow interfere with other Skills in the surrounding area. Which was… disturbing.
Snorting, Randidly took off the armor and threw it on the ground. Because of its weight and his one arm, it was actually a little inconvenient. Especially because his ability to make and control a fake arm was restricted by the armor.
When it hit the ground, a poof of dust spread in a small area. Sam raised his eyebrows. “Something wrong?”
“I need to try something,” came Randidly’s tight reply. He sat down cross-legged directly on top of the darksteel armor. Then he closed his eyes and brought his will to revolve around inside his Soulspace. Lowering his hands, Randidly pressed his palms against the arm and began to focus on reaching through the material in front of him and into the ground with the image of Yggdrasil.
The Golden Roots of Yggdrasil was one of the earliest Skills he had received. Randidly wouldn’t have been able to make it half as far in this System without it. It provided a very sizable boost to his regeneration qualities as long as his feet were touching the ground. For Stamina especially, this Skill had been the only reason that Randidly was able to rely on his extremely high-cost Skills during fights and get away with it.
When Randidly established that necessary connection, a spiderweb of vivacious golden roots would spread below him, sinking to the core of the Earth and drawing strength upward to fuel Randidly. Over time this web of roots had become more and more powerful. To the point that his Regeneration of Stamina was ridiculous.
And yet now…
Slowly the Skill activated, in fits and starts. Those golden roots that had been the base of his whole combat style were now thin and sickly. The boost that they provided was tenuous and weak as Randidly gritted his teeth and pressed as hard as he could against the Skill. His breathing became heavier. Yanking at the strength within the ground, the only response was a small wave of energy that trudged sluggishly up through the darksteel.
Of course, this wasn’t really an issue for this Skill if he would wear the armor normally. As Randidly’s feet were to be left bare, the energy would pass freely through him. But it was just strange that the material had such an effect upon Skills…
And these days, Randidly relied very heavily on Skills. Especially area Skills that would give him supplemented Perception and aid his ability to manage large numbers of enemies.
Closing his eyes, Randidly stopped using the Skill and then relied solely on the image that animated a portion of his soul. In his mind, the grand Tree of Yggdrasil towered behind him, reaching up into the clouds. He could feel the breezes amongst the branches, hear the rustling of leaves. Beneath the auspices of its bowes, Randidly slowly released a breath.
And below the ground, he saw the roots, as thick and sparkling like gnarled pillars of gold, rushed through the crust of the Earth toward the horizon. There wasn’t a spot on the planet that could escape the touch of these roots. He circumnavigated the globe, carefully wrapping the core beneath the protective forces of his roots.
Yet as Randidly pressed his image into the darksteel… the image wavered and began to fade. With a hiss, Randidly martialled his Willpower. The image surged into even greater clarity and specificity. Armed with this empowered image, Randidly flexed his fingers and smashed the image of Golden Roots of Yggdrasil downward toward the armor.
Sam was frowning. His eyes flicked up from the ground to the air above Randidly and then back down. “Randidly-”
“Give me a moment,” Randidly managed through his locked jaw. His eyes were open but he didn’t see the world around him at all; instead, his focus was completely consumed on creating the image within himself. What was within was without, what without, within. A seed in his chest exploded into the towering force of the world tree and the ground around Randidly shook as he forced the image to rise over himself. Then he brought it down like an executioner's ax.
Randidly’s hands were pressed against the armor, which began to hum and groan as he forced the image through the material. Beneath his fingers, the darksteel began to hiss and steam. Randidly’s emerald eyes were narrowed to slits. So there really is a physical component to this? And it was as I feared, the material doesn’t simply block Skills… If it were solely Skills, I probably could have managed it. But with images...
Almost wistfully, Randidly remembered the huge amount of stats and Health that this armor would provide to him. But then he sighed and shook his head. Just gathering Health wasn’t a way to grow stronger.
He remembered the overwhelming strength of Aegiant, burning like a sun as he laughed over an evaporating pool of lava.
Before that sort of image… how much use are stats? Even Aemont, the Spear Phantom who was a one in a million talent, found that he couldn’t overcome the Propagators alone. He needed an image to strangle them with…
The hissing beneath his fingers grew worse. He channeled more and more of his image downward, ignoring it. Steam began to waft upwards, obscuring his view of the armor.
“What… what is this…?” Sam whispered.
Randidly was too deep in his own concerns to answer. He felt every length of the roots that burrowed into the ground as if he had brushed his hand along their rough and knobby lengths. He saw their branching paths and the vital energy that flowed through them to invigorate him. Harder and harder he shoved those images down through the material.
Every second was a struggle as the passage through the material threatened to confuse and weaken the image. Honestly, it reminded Randidly in a terrifying way of the prison that threatened his Stamina and Mana.
Except this time, the focus was images. It took Randidly’s full focus to maintain the world tree image as it passed through the darksteel. Without using images, his strength-
Suddenly, there was a roaring boom in Randidly’s mind and the images exploded outward. Steam continued to waft upward, but thick pythons of golden energy swam through the ground like they were eels in a fish tank. Very soon, a tidal wave of energy crashed against Randidly as it was pulled forcefully up from the ground by his empowered image.
Now that it finally had free reign to move, the roaring image gleefully began to fulfill its purpose. The golden roots bulged as they ripped out energy from the ground and brought it up to Randidly. Such was the force of this sudden flow of energy that he was briefly stunned, simply staring down at his stream shrouded hands. His wrists were trembling.
Gulping down large breaths of air, Randidly leaned back. Then, shaking his head, he took several steps away from the steaming remnants that remained on the ground. Sam was completely mute as he stared at the source of the steam, seemingly mesmerized.
Slowly, the steam died down. What remained was a crumpled and partially melted pile of darksteel. Very clearly were two indentations toward the center in the shape of Randidly’s hands, which had completely burned through the armor.
“What Skill did you use?” Sam asked quietly.
It was difficult for Randidly to speak; he felt exhausted from the mental exertion of forcing his image through the armor. But with the energy flowing in from the roots, his mind slowly relaxed and recovered. “...it wasn’t a Skill. Just images…”
Randidly walked back over to the darksteel and crouched down next to it. Almost in spite of himself, he pressed his eyes closed. Just like that, 1000 Health was tossed to the side…
Even if it wasn’t going to change the course of his life, Randidly had also learned against Aemont how important having sufficient Health was.
But Randidly was confident in his decision to toss it to the side. Perhaps it would have been better to keep the armor and give it to someone else to use, someone who relied less directly on images, but Randidly had wanted to test this “darksteel”. And ultimately, the benefits it provided were nowhere close to equaling the value of what he would lose by wearing it.
Not only did it block his Skills, but it also prevented Randidly from using Aether Detection easily while wearing the armor. More than that, most of the benefits that he had obtained in Tellus were related to the strength of his images. Tossing that aside now… was akin to taking a step backward.
No, while this armor would have been a boon to him in the short term, it was extremely restrictive in the long term. It was better to make that clear now than wait until it was too late.
“I didn’t mean to destroy it completely…” Randidly said slowly as he looked up at Sam. But then he shrugged. “But… my armor cannot be made out of that material. It is strong, sure. But the user is also affected by the stifling effect on Skills. Such armor… will only end up limiting the growth of the people who use it.”
To Randidly’s surprise, Sam laughed. He began to chuckle at first, and then it slowly spread to a complete guffaw that had him slapping his knee. Randidly just watched as the man allowed his mirth to run its course. Very soon, Sam was simply shaking his head and smiling at Randidly. “I am… glad you think so. We discovered it before, but only now are most smiths able to work it into the shape we desire. Now that it has some traction in Donnyton, and everyone is very excited about using it… somehow, I don’t like it. It even muffles my Skills even while I attempt to forge it.”
Sam frowned down at the ruined armor on the ground. “For all that… it is powerful. But it is an external power. I was barely able to shape it into such a fine arrangement. I cannot promise that the armor I will next make for you will be its equal… that is truly the fearsome power of that material… but it will be an armor… that fits you must more specifically.”
Randidly nodded slowly. “Do your best, Sam. It doesn’t look like Donnyton will make it easy for me to challenge them in this contest.”
Snorting, Sam said, “Well it is a fool’s mission. Even if you wish to inject a sense of urgency into the town, getting publicly humiliated is not the way to do that.”
With a grin, Randidly said, “Even you think I’m going to lose?”
“Mmm…. if you had asked me yesterday…” Sam began slowly. But then he looked around at the surrounding ground. It had splintered and cracked underneath the assault of Randidly’s image. Visible holes appeared in the ground that were shoved to the side by the imaginary roots. And at the center of it, the pile of partially melted darksteel remained. “....well, anything can happen. That is the world we live in. But there is one truth I do not doubt; you will definitely lose without me making you the perfect armor.”
Randidly laughed. “Doesn’t that weigh on your conscious? You are one of the leaders of Donnyton. Doesn’t this count as aiding the enemy?”
Sam shrugged. “Making armor is much more fun than worrying about the aftermath. That is why I became the Dawn Smith.”