Perhaps the reason that Randidly had immediately released the Yggdrasil Image that he had been saving for the later rungs was that the Ashen Phantom would have killed Stan immediately. The World Tree's righteous fury bought Randidly time. It possessed wisdom enough to consider and judge.
It was, unfortunately, true that this image, too, judged Stan should die.
He wanted to take the blame for Donnyton's transgression and overshadow it. Randidly believed that affecting the audience with the Skill would manage that. He did not want to become a monster himself by killing someone who wasn't even competing in the challenge. But it was also unacceptable to allow his images to suffer such a grievous blow in order to protect Stan's foolish little life.
Randidly bared his teeth and wished for magic.
Magic could describe two things. First, an input that would sometimes lead to different outputs, all other things held equal. Or the second possibility, a strength that was so absolute that it violated causality. Making inputs and outputs irrelevant.
Seconds ticked past. As Randidly racked his brain, he felt the surety in his images falter. Images were tools, but they were living things. In a way, they were like children. They didn’t understand why something so obvious as Stan’s death hadn’t yet occurred. This man should die. But I am not killing this man. So...
Yet the strange resemblance to feeling trapped by the Creature for the first time returned some of the light to Randidly's eyes. If I don't like the output, just add more inputs.
To escape from the Creature, Randidly had reached out and absorbed strength from the four individuals to which he had given Blessings: Mrs. Hamilton, Alana, Annie, and Sam. With their strength, he was able to find himself and connect with Neveah. That was the start of his rebirth into the world of the System.
Now that Randidly had his Alpha Cosmos, his physical body was another world. That entanglement meant that the two existences were linked implicitly. Because the Alpha Cosmos was his body, it was immersed in the sea of Aether that formed Randidly's core. Through the interconnection between himself and Neveah, the people of the Alpha Cosmos would never want for energy.
Yet shape and flow were very important to Aether. Before Randidly found Neveah, she was just a fragment of an idea buried deep under a stagnant pool of Aether. The energy became an agent of inertia, preventing her from progressing. If not for Randidly's overwhelming need, he likely would have been unable to wake her. Even now, Neveah's origins were quite mysterious. But she taught Randidly everything he knew about energy.
No matter how placid the sea appeared, it wasn't alive unless the body was filled with currents.
Although the Alpha Cosmos benefited from his lighthouses, those were just concentration points of ambient Aether. Springs of pure energy that emerged in the world and were shaped by the people's meaning.
But those were the origins of energy, and it was left to the people to determine how they shaped the world. Over time, those flows would naturally congregate. An ecosystem would slowly evolve in the living world of Randidly’s Alpha Cosmos.
But Randidly didn't have time for that. This situation called for an image, immediately. He reached within himself, his will stretching outward. Unlike the Blessings of the past, there were no hard points of Aether to follow. He hadn't engaged in direct transfers of energy, so the process of finding suitable connections was much more difficult. What Randidly grasped at, then, was meaning.
His consciousness traced along the lines of his lighthouses, searching for a firm grip to stabilize himself and form a connection. It was a hasty decision, perhaps, but Randidly believed to be the right thing to do.
What was within, without. Without, within.
Now all that’s left is to find people who can handle to be connected...
With a small noise, connections of Aether snapped into place as four willing individuals accepted his touch. It was so easy that Randidly felt somewhat shocked. Those he had harmonized with had accepted without a second thought.
A feeling of vertigo overwhelmed Randidly for a split second because his sense of self was immediately twisted. Whereas before Randidly was located within his Soulspace, that Soulspace now shifted rapidly, leaving his body and floating somewhere in the nebulous boundary of his skin. Four beams of support shot outward to connect him with the four people on Earth who were bound to him.
Yet now there were also four connections that solidified his connection to four individuals within his Soulskill. Perhaps before Randidly was suspending himself with his original four connection, but now he was pulled in a different direction. Because his body was his Soulskill and he now was intimately bound to four figures within his Soulskill, he was pulled to the edge of his skin. The boundary between his Alpha Cosmos and Earth.
It was there that he found himself existing, no longer quite within his body. It was… an extremely strange experience. Randidly raised a hand and looked at the skin of his hands.
Releasing a breath, Randidly allowed himself to relax. The frigid air that he had been projecting cracked and began to thaw. Meaning flowed through him, buying him a little more time.
In the arena, the Squads were cautiously forming back up into a group as they stared at Randidly in fear. Above him, the World Tree was a towering monolith. Helen had returned to his side, but she was staring at him with a frown. Everyone began to move as Randidly let air circulate through his lungs and search for another path forward.
I must kill this man, Randidly's Crown called weakly. Its light was still fading. It could not understand why its image hadn’t been followed.
Although his balance had shifted, it was still difficult. A difficult thing to get around the necessity of Stan's death just by drawing additional inputs.
But as Randidly waited, the knowledge eventually flowed into him. From a most annoying source. So much so that Randidly physically chuckled.
One of the four beings that acted as a fixture for Randidly's meaning was the Monster Prince. Not one that Randidly would have chosen, but the Monster Prince had shown time and time again that he had a knack for surviving.
Even now, Randidly's brief contact with the man revealed that the Monster Prince was leading negotiations with one of the nearby nations that Randidly's Soulskill citizens encountered. Very soon, it seemed he would be named Duke of the newly exposed lands, with full political power within this already established country.
A peaceful solution. One that attempted to avoid the greed turning their way, Randidly thought with gritted teeth. Most of his ire was not for the Monster Prince, but for the fools of this world that were coveting the resources of his people. All of this was created for them. These “previous residents”... they were nothing but baggage of the System.
Yet it was very clear that the Monster Prince had purposefully sold a portion of their land's riches to this country in order to avoid open war. And the answer that Randidly found was in the Monster Prince's fear.
Their path is not my path.
The thought came as the Monster Prince watched Alicca and Rejt continually growing in strength and expanding their sphere of influence. To the point where the Monster Prince’s new allies were only forced to recognize him because of their fear toward the other individuals active in the Alpha Cosmos.
There were many subordinates that followed the monster prince, but none of them possessed the pioneering spirit that was epitomized by these two. Indeed, the Monster Prince wasn't charismatic or innovative. Yet he could maintain the status quo. His goal was to make the people who trusted him feel secure.
I... cannot follow them. Their path is not my path. It was a bitter truth that the Monster Prince realized. Even as he respected and envied their strength, there was nothing that he could do to keep up with them. They were leaving him behind. Somehow, the Monster Prince’s palace became empty and dim.
But right now, bitter medicine was exactly what Randidly needed.
With a huge effort of will, Randidly shifted the golden writing along the World Tree. The death of Stan had been written, but now Randidly shifted it, sending spiraling changes across the whole of the tree’s writings.
The lettering glowed and flickered, as though the shapes were small tears that let the viewer see a burning sun that was housed within the towering form of the World Tree. Randidly traced through the writing, line by line, across the whole of the tree. It rippled like water and changed to suit his will.
His eyes were emerald lanterns, and his gaze shifted from Stan to Mrs. Hamilton. Their path is not my path. If you choose to allow this liability to continue to exist... well, it isn't my business. It isn't just Donnyton that is watching this challenge.
I'll show them all how powerful my images can be. It was not my first choice… but Donnyton doesn’t need to lead the world, does it?
As though they sensed Randidly finally losing his horrifying level of tension, the Squads began to surge forward. Melee fighters covered in copper armor dashed forward while Skills sizzled above them, heading toward Randidly and Helen.
Helen's eyes brightened and she looked toward Randidly, but she was instantly disappointed when he waved her to stand behind him. No, he had sharpened his Ashen Phantom enough. Since Yggdrasil had made an appearance, it was time to hammer home its power.
It was time to make a point.
Of all of Randidly's Skills, Yggdrasil was the core of his growth. It gave him his physical and regeneration buffs, as well as sharpening his aura into a weapon that could warp space. It had grown with him until it towered over Donnyton like the city itself was just an ant. The leaves in the canopy rustled, releasing a noise that deafened those below.
Cruel Indignation of Yggdrasil.
Previously, Randidly's intent to kill Stan had released the Skill in an indiscriminate wave. This time, it was concentrated in the small space between Randidly and the forces of the Squads. Basically, he erected a three-meter wide three-meter tall wall between himself and them. And then Randidly waited as he watched the challengers approach.
The air cracked and roiled, creating a strange heat haze in the middle of the arena. Roaring, the vanguard of the Squaders charged into it without care. That was their confidence. That was their pride.
Perhaps they wouldn’t have done so originally. They would have calmly considered the problem and found ways to address it. But Randidly had landed too many solid blows against the legitimacy of Donnyton’s Squads. To them, this was their chance to get even.
They collapsed, tripping over each other and falling like cloth dolls into haphazard piles. When the offensive Skills entered that zone of Indignation, projectiles disintegrated to powder and spells sputtered out.
The ground underneath the barrier began to crack, even as the concentrated zone Randidly created continued to refuse everyone passage.
One enterprising young woman leapt over the barrier, spinning her staff like a helicopter as she traveled through the air. With a soft tap, she landed on the far side and immediately leveled her spear at Randidly.
His Crown pulsed with power. When Randidly reached for Grasp of the World Seed, the image of Yggdrasil was hanging over everything in the area, staining it all with its resplendent glow. It wore the Crown. It was monarch.
Congratulations! Synergy detect. Your Skill Grasp of the World Seed is evolving!
Your Skill Grasp of the World Seed has evolved into the Infinite Fingers of Yggdrasil (L)! Skill Level will be maintained. Infinite Fingers of Yggdrasil has resonated with the other Yggdrasil Skills! Creation of a Skillset possible.
Warning, creating a Skillset will cause a shift in the related Skills. Attempting with insufficient energy will result in loss of life and sickness. Would you like to create a Skillset now?
No need, Randidly thought brusquely. It was nice to confirm a Skillset was close for his Yggdrasil Skills But now was not the time. Randidly was aiming to have one more Skill become a part of it before he took that step.
But with his newly evolved Skill, Randidly smashed back the staff-wielding woman who jumped over the barrier. Yelping, she managed to spin around and regain her feet just in time to enter into the barrier from this side and collapse anyway. Foam frothed up from her mouth, making her abrupt loss of consciousness clear.
There was a pause as the Squaders tried to figure out what to do. In that time, Infinite Fingers of Yggdrasil ripped up from the ground and stabbed deeply into their thighs and calves. Then the roots sprouted thorns and ripped the surrounding muscles to shreds.
Randidly grinned; the main boost he noticed immediately was how quickly the roots appeared. If one was standing on the ground, it now seemed impossible to avoid being pierced. Such was the small fraction of time between the root ripping up out of the ground and punching into someone's flesh.
If you noticed it breaking through the ground, it was already too late.
"Kneel," Randidly announced. Then he ripped his roots out of the Squader's legs. As one, they collapsed in pools of blood, struggling to block the flow of blood from their wounds.
Then Randidly looked down at Eli Iron, who was looking with wide eyes up toward the image of Yggdrasil. "...this is where you surrender."