After checking the performance of the equipment, Randidly removed the Tinglesilk Gloves and stored them within his new belt. He kept brushing the sleeves against himself and giving himself a dose of the numbing poison, which was extremely inconvenient right now.
Perhaps at some point, Randidly would have time to try and give himself paralysis immunity, but Randidly didn’t really have the time right now to grind that Skill.
His next order of business was experimenting with the new ash manipulation component of All is Ash. Especially since ash as an image would be injected into his entire spear usage, Randidly wanted to test the edges of what this ash could do.
When Randidly activated the Skill, Randidly could feel his Mana begin to trickle away. But it was a very manageable amount. Slowly, waves of ash began to spread outward from his current position, filling the air like desolate waves of sorrow.
Randidly gestured in a grasping motion and the ash spun happily to his call. When he gripped it, he could feel the hunger and the emptiness that animated the ash. Ash, as an element, was very different from the natural order of plants that Randidly touched. It also was divergent from the Emerald Essence that was Randidly’s fire.
Both of those two images were focused upon growth and possibilities. Yet to ash… Randidly closed his eyes.
What I feel from it most is wistfulness. A longing for the past. An all-encompassing remorse over what has been lost…
Which Randidly could use to his own benefit. Ash spun around his figure, gathering to him and creating an armor that was marshaled from a hundred thousand motes of ash. Randidly’s Mana continued to trickle away and more and more waves of ash spread out from him. Slowly, his armor became larger and more imposing. Spikes and heavy plates formed, transforming Randidly into a walking fortress.
But that remorse could also be transformed into envy and hate. With a simple motion, Randidly cut forward with his hand.
The ash craved. And what it craved, it took for him.
A three-meter blade of ash slashed forward, shooting forward twenty meters to cut down a dozen trees before dissipating.
Randidly’s eyebrows rose. What ended up limiting that attack was not the attack’s limits, but that Randidly’s Mana expenditure had escalated and he had ended up cutting it off before it could suck away too much Mana from him.
It seemed that the cost was increased by moving the ash under his control further away from where he was standing. He passively lost Mana to produce a constant supply of ash, but the actual manipulation of the ash within the surrounding area cost basically nothing at all. Therefore…
With a bit of pressure from his Willpower, Randidly surrounded himself with a dozen blades of ash, spinning them rapidly around his person. When this didn’t test his mental or Mana reserves at all, Randidly doubled the number of blades. When that still seemed manageable, Randidly focused on the image of Sharpness to up their attack power.
At this point, he began to feel a hint of strain. But someone standing outside of the circle wouldn’t even be able to see Randidly; all they would see is a dense forest of rotating grey blades. And this was without even applying his images to the process.
Randidly dismissed the ash. All at once, Randidly was standing alone in a wide space that had been cleared of trees. Kindling and scrap lay on the ground around him in a thick covering. Grinning, Randidly once more returned to his hut, doing his best not to glance over at his little volcano.
Randidly did his best to assure himself that the fact he could continue to hear its constant bubbling was only due to his high Perception.
After eating a quick lunch of monster meat stew, Randidly turned his attention to engraving. He really wanted to spend an hour or two considering the possibility of merging his Mana Engraving Skill into his Yggdrasil Skillset.
Ever since he had the idea, it had been sitting in the back of his mind, demanding his spare attention.
The trick was making it so that Mana Engraving was the language of the World Tree. Or rather, the World Tree was only Yggdrasil because it was covered in these extremely intricate engravings. Yet the functionality of these engravings was what wasn’t clear to Randidly
What were the writings?
Were they the source of the tree’s power?
Were they a recorded history of those who had lived with the world tree, grown into mythic proportions over time?
Or where they another natural phenomenon, a portion of the ancient power of the tree, made physically manifest?
The gravity of the issue lay in that this decision would have powerful ramifications for what the Skill would become. Depending on what Randidly chose, the evolution paths for his Mana Engravings would go in very different directions. More than that, what his Mana Engraving could accomplish would change.
Randidly tapped a finger against his jaw, considering. There was a low line of stubble there, reminding Randidly that he likely needed to shave. But he ignored that for now and focused upon the Engraving.
It was doubly important to determine this now because he was finishing up the Advanced Mana Engraving Path. Although Randidly couldn’t be sure that it would matter, having the image present before he finished the Path would likely affect the reward.
And of the choices…
Making the Mana Engravings on the World Tree the source of its power would likely make the Skill the most powerful, but it was also dangerous. Randidly was worried that it would weaken his World Tree Skills in the long run.
Meanwhile, making the Engravings constitute just a history was a bit… bland. And with his most recent experience with a strange continent appearing in his Soulskill, Randidly was a little leery about allowing another obvious path for similar shenanigans
Which just left the Mana Engravings as a natural expression of the laws and powers held within the World Tree. Also a bit worrying, because it meant that the Mana Engravings themselves weren’t necessarily powerful. But it did mean they were intimately connected to the powers held within the World Tree.
It would just be a matter of figuring those out.
After quieting his mind, Randidly focused his efforts toward imagining the concrete image of what this was.
Infinite strength, a powerful and boundless lifeforce, communicating with the world with these ancient symbols. That was what Mana Engraving was. It was a language of energy, speaking of things beyond the understanding of most mortals.
It was the oldest language in existence. So old that no one even remembers who first spoke it.
To seek to understand the symbols was to approach godhood. Because those symbols had the ability to channel the natural forces of the world.
Randidly felt the vast tree, its golden roots spread through the world. He felt the beat heart of the planet aligned with this towering tree. The bark was deep and rutted, having endured the weather for millennia. But when one looked closely at the deep brown bark, they would see glimmers of gold.
These glimmers could be seen when looking up toward the vast canopy of the world tree when sunlight filtered down through the verdant leaves. Tiny motes of gold seemed to dance on the undersides of the leaves’ veins.
These motes then were infinitely small engravings, made by the natural laws on this tree.
Although Randidly’s eyes remained closed, his vision in the dream world expanded. The whole of the world seemed to be before his vision, the spinning air currents and ocean currents and geothermal energy and solar waves and drifting tectonic plates…
Everything was slowly moving. There was no true stillness in the world. All things were in a state of change. Such was existence.
Yet when Randidly looked at the tiny lines along which these powerful forces move…
He saw small glimmers of gold. The writing of the future, the channeling of the great forces, directing everything like an unseen conductor.
But to call the Mana Engravings a conductor was wrong. It was more akin to the force of destiny upon the world. It was the karma of each bit of energy. A promise that it would not betray its nature and act outside of its purview.
Something shifted in Randidly’s chest as the image slowly coalesced. For almost an hour he sat, simply savoring the sensation of his image of Mana Engraving shifting and settling into what it would now be. There were rumbling changes from his Yggdrasil Skillset, but these were much less comprehensive.
Finally, Randidly opened his eyes and stretched. He had another headache, but he was very pleased with himself.
It was a small thing, this shift in image. But Randidly believed it would guide him in a new direction somehow.
Coughing lightly, Randidly stood. He must have been shifting his image for longer than he had thought because the sun was sinking behind the horizon. Deep maroons and mauves crisscrossed the sky, seeping slowly into royal blue.
“I guess all that’s left,” Randidly said lightly. “Is to create my Ashen Phantom.”