When Randidly awoke, he felt an abrupt sensation of deja vu seize him. Time seemed to stutter and skip, leaving him stranded on the lush layer of grass. The soft bubbling of the creek was so familiar and poignant to him that he felt outside of himself. The memory was so vivid that Randidly believed that he was watching a movie of his past, peering through time to rewatch his own genesis.
How similar. How different.
Very quickly, the sensation passed and left Randidly alone with the feeling of dappled sunlight caressing his skin through the surrounding tree canopies. As fall finally came to New Earth, the colors of the leaves were beginning to shift from green to orange and yellow. When he looked at the color, Randidly couldn’t help but think over the repercussions of the past day.
Things are changing… Randidly thought, not without a healthy scoop of sadness. But not even the eternal present has the power to destroy the past. Even if my relationship with Donnyton has become warped, it won’t diminish what we have been for each other…
Shaking his head, Randidly sat up. Around him, the familiar scene of the natural spring where he had encountered Simon was as pristine as ever. For him, it was a place of healing. In the wake of his first visit to Tellus, he was forced to recover her for several weeks before the pain of his broken Skill subsided. Even remember the pain now was difficult. It was almost too fresh to bare.
Releasing a sigh, Randidly leaned back once more and let his eyes unfocus.
Just a few hours ago, after overcoming the last rung Donnyton had tested him with, Randidly had very nearly lost himself in the violence of the Grim Chimera. He had submerged himself for power, but it was not a simple thing to surface. It was only due to Helen’s timely intervention that he had recalled where he was and what he was supposed to be doing in the arena.
Even as his head throbbed from a long day of creating something from nothing, Randidly was able to pull himself out of the spiraling images and disperse his marshaled strength.
Honestly, it was a bit like his injury that Simon had treated. He was very close to losing himself in the pain. But this time, a reminder was all he required to save himself.
With Helen’s help, Randidly had moved himself a few kilometers away from Donnyton to recover as much as possible in a short span of time. More than any physical damage, the strain of maintaining a physical form for his images for so long really had depleted his Willpower to the point that another rung was an intimidating prospect. That, combined with that extended physical manifestation of his image in that last duel, meant that his tank was empty.
At the time, Randidly had resolved himself to the fact that he would likely need to use Neveah’s Mana pool or Inspiration in order to handle all of the groups at once. To challenge them with just his body and his weakened images would be beyond foolish.
Luckily, Helen had informed him that Donnyton was delaying, likely permanently. Helen had been extremely disgruntled by this fact, but she had clearly understood that this answer was exactly what Randidly wanted to hear. Even if Helen was relishing the change to test her limits, Randidly tired of striking at the best and brightest of Donnyton.
Rather than remaining near the Village, Randidly had immediately moved North, eventually finding and resting at this spring.
Some part of Randidly whispered that if he didn’t face the final rung now, the lesson he spent so much time beating into Donnyton might not take. Still, Randidly was exhausted, more so than he had ever been in the past. Emotionally, mentally, and physically, he had pushed himself to his limits in the battle against Donnyton.
He needed a break. He deserved it.
And he had shown them the power of images. Even now, from so far away, he could feel the stirrings along the channels of Aether that orbited the world. As images formed, they would insidiously spread their influence by competing with each other. Randidly had started the process early, but this was all in preparation to handle the Second Calamity.
Initial signs indicated that the goal that had motivated the whole initiation of the challenge had been accomplished. There would be many times that Donnyton could stray from that Path or squander the chance he gave them, but that was a problem for later.
A light touch of Randidly’s fingers against the ground was enough to throw himself a meter into the air and settle gracefully into a standing position. Without much sense of propriety, Randidly scampered over to the pool underneath the gurgling spring and used his hands to bring several ice cold gulps to his mouth.
Immediately, Randidly felt himself slowly relaxing. Some of the numbness that filled Randidly’s heart began to twitch and revive, finally giving life to the emotions he had felt as Stan encouraged Eli Iron to attack before the round had started. Some of his own horror at being isolated and therefore striking without any reservation at Alana made itself known.
The Grim Chimera was power. But it was powerful because of the weight it carried.
But I’ve never been a light traveler, have I? Randidly thought with a sigh. His mind drifted back to those guards he had killed in the Tellus prison. Not just blood, but expectations and dreams, too.
Unwilling to let any ball of tension or loneliness or betrayal escape this cleansing, Randidly followed up his gulps by dunking his head underneath the glassy surface of the water. Even though Randidly’s Stats were monstrously high, the cold stung when he opened his eyes and peered around at the pool’s inner workings.
Several finger-sized Level 20 Crayfish waved their claws menacingly at each other and began to duel below Randidly’s head, oblivious to the calamitous individual who peered intently down at them. Fish swam around algae coated pebbles, moving abruptly for several seconds and then not at all. Light danced across the bottom of the pool, warped by the uneven surface.
Underneath the water, the sound of the creek was much deeper. Rather than tinkling bells, it sounded like a mother humming as she cooked a child’s favorite meal. It was another world, one of lightness and chill clarity.
That thought made Randidly close his eyes. He released a long stream of bubbles, attracting the ire of the crayfish. What is without, within. What is within, without.
The roiling bitterness in Randidly’s chest that had been spinning at half speed, even after a full night’s sleep, finally settled down. Perhaps Randidly could have moved on without addressing it, but he still didn’t fully understand what he had done to become the image in those moments of isolation. It had something to do with that vicious resentment and rage that had been spinning. Before he understood how that manifestation occurred, he planned on carefully monitoring his internal situation.
Right now, Randidly aimed for a total reset. Only after that could he begin to move forward.
After seeing the might of both, Randidly didn’t dare try and let the Grim Chimera and the Yggdrasil images bleed into one another. He had already counted on his luck for too much in the last week.
With a soft splash, Randidly pulled his head back above the water. After shaking his skull to dislodge any loose liquid, Randidly moved to the small clearing immediately adjacent to the spring itself. It was in this area that Randidly and Simon had spent several weeks as Simon attempted to nurse him back to health.
So easy to forget his guileless kindness, after he seized the role of Champion for himself, Randidly thought distantly. But he has a good heart. That’s why he felt compelled to act, even then. Foolish beyond belief… but a good heart.
Still… A wave of Randidly’s hand created a whip of vines that gathered logs for a fire. A point of his finger ignited the wood, the flames fading quickly from emerald to the more mundane variety. Am I any different? The edge of experience with the System I have is a small thing, in the scale of years. It will eventually become meaningless. Plus… the image of this world will not be mine. Just like Simon, others will lead Earth to the future. I’m now… just a watcher.
So it’s time to focus on what I want to do.
What are my goals?
Randidly shifted into a cross-legged position and closed his eyes. The small noises of nearby animal life, wind through the drying leaves, and the babble of the spring faded away. He no longer possessed the Meditate Skill, but it had become part of the Yggdrasil Skillset.
Taking great care to control the image so it didn’t manifest itself physically, Randidly felt the myriad golden roots spreading downward from his position. He then felt the invisible Emerald Leaves springing from his body to gather the energy of the sun that drifted overhead. With his body as the core, an invisible tree made of humming Skills formed around him.
Moisture flowed upward while energy flowed downward. His extremities gathered air and purified it. Guided by his Skills, three threads of energy wove themselves together inside of Randidly. As he allowed nature’s cycle to play out through his body, Randidly tasted a hint of something… powerful.
Profoundly powerful. So powerful that Randidly felt immersed in it for several seconds without even noticing it. It was an intoxicating and vital energy, even as it was composed of exceedingly dense images.
It was only a faint whiff, but immediately Randidly had to suppress the urge to follow it back to the source. Time for a reset, not time to follow this natural connection...
With a sardonic smile, Randidly allowed his meditation to end. Looks like I brushed against the image of ‘Earth’ humans hold. Being able to observe it would undoubtedly be helpful to images, but… not right now.
Instead, Randidly considered the things that he felt he had to do.
Prepare to meet the final Judgement, due to him because he had been labeled a Heretic by the System.
Figure out how to subvert the designs that the System had on the Earth.
Create a countermeasure for when the Creature inevitably came back to interfere with the Calamities.
It was ultimately a short list, but one filled with problems that were difficult to grapple. Just the lack of information was debilitating enough, but Randidly also had to fight against the forces that actively wanted him to fail.
Beyond those few goals, there were several things that Randidly wanted to do.
Understand the warning given to Randidly by Lyra, that someone inside the System became aware of his ability to subvert Cohort Five.
Foster a certain type of images on Earth.
Address Tatiana’s continued complaints about competitors buying up suppliers to forcefully buy out Erickson Steel.
Build that promised body for Ghost.
Check in on the Order Ducis.
Find out what had happened after Shal had proceeded through that portal.
Maintain stability in his Soulskill.
Understand what significance Citizenship in the System had…
Very soon, Randidly was chuckling to himself. The more he thought, the more the list of things he felt he should accomplish grew. Even with his capabilities, it would be difficult to manage so many disparate goals. Yet Randidly believed that he would be able to accomplish several of these at once if he arranged his schedule correctly.
Mostly, it seemed smart to temporarily locate himself in the area of Erickson Steel headquarters. While he focused on forging and Engraving, Randidly could definitely grow stronger and build the body that he owed for Ghost. Plus he could call that kid Naffur to bring the Order Ducis troops down. Randidly doubted that he would have to personally act against the businesses eyeing Erickson Steel of the Order Ducis threw their bodies at the problem.
After all, if the people trying to isolate Erickson Steel had any real power, they wouldn’t have been so simply defeated. A rich fool was dangerous, but not difficult to handle.
Activities within the Soulskill could occur anywhere, so keeping a watch on those developments wouldn’t be the problem. But it was just a matter of how much time Randidly would put into it. Which made Randidly wonder how much longer he would be staying here.
Sighing deeply, Randidly used his Domain to check where Helen was. Immediately he could sense that she was within Donnyton proper, likely delivery the farewell gift Randidly had decided to give Donnyton.
What you do with that gift… that’s up to you. But I cannot help you more than this.
Saying goodbye was a hard thing, Randidly reflected. After the heat of anger and battle had faded, he didn’t even have the heart to go give the news himself.
Then his emerald eyes flashed with intensity. Still, he had other business to attend to.
At long last, Randidly looked at his Skill growth that had occurred over the last several days.