Randidly came back to himself slowly, fully reveling in the sense of peace that was now radiating outward from his Soulspace. Although the damage to his Class was still painful, the harmony amongst his images following his previous actions was palpable. It muted the pain and hastened the recovery.
Now that balance had returned, Randidly could move forward.
It wasn’t so much that the image of the Grim Chimera itself was in any danger of taking over his body, as he had implied to the Grim Chimera when interacting with it. Although images were powerful, Randidly was not under any sort of delusion that his images were currently so powerful that they were tangible enough to actually exist outside of him. That simply was a problem that was thankfully still in his future.
No, the issue was that images relied very heavily on certain perspectives and traits to gather their potency. While Randidly used those images, those traits were magnified in order to strengthen the image. Constantly magnifying those sorts of traits, in this case the feeling of anger and isolation that Randidly carried with him every moment, had consequences for his psyche. As these negative emotions were indulged, it became almost habit to rely upon these traits in real life situations where they were more dangerous than helpful.
And as Randidly had come to Erickson Steel to act as a leader, the Grim Chimera definitely needed to be massaged back to only a small portion of his personality. Although that darkness existed inside of him, that was not all he was.
His interactions these past few days had felt extremely draining and stilted. Even if Randidly wasn’t the most social person in the world, it occurred to him that this might be a deeper problem than just a Donnyton hangover. In order to build this company into the traveling source of value that Randidly imagined, he needed to be able to interact with them directly.
Therefore, it had been time to demonstrate to the Grim Chimera the realities of their relative strengths.
So although Randidly had actually fought against his own image, in a sense, he had really addressed the tight knot of emotions that the Grim Chimera represented in order to relieve some of the tension…
Scratching his head, Randidly couldn’t help but wince. When emotions get tied up in images and metaphors, my sense of self becomes way too confusing...
Anyway, there wasn’t really any need to go into a deep psycho-analysis of himself at the moment. It was enough to accept the fact that pacifying his negative traits exemplified by the Grim Chimera was a victory. However, it had also impressed upon Randidly that rather than continuing to empower Yggdrasil, working on his Ignition Essence might be just as fruitful for his tasks here with Erickson Steel.
Those strange and enlightening emerald flames served as the buffer between his two images, the glue that held his disparate pieces of personality together. If he could strengthen that image, Randidly believed that the other things that he wanted to accomplish with Erickson Steel would be much easier. Perhaps interactions would not be so strained. Plus, being able to manipulate the extremely hot flames would help him immensely in the forging process.
Chuckling to himself, Randidly stood and stretched. But there is only so much time in the day. I can’t simply work on everything. Ignition Essence certainly is a part of me. A strong part. Just hard to know how much I can force that image to grow in the short term.
But it was a possibility that he would consider.
For now, Randidly looked around the room and at the several samples of metals that Mark had provided for him from Erickson Steel’s current production. Frowning, Randidly thought for several seconds about how to test the materials. Then he walked over to the table and peered at the various samples.
From the labeling provided, the metals provided fell into three categories: civilian use, mass-produced, and high-end. Of the categories, most of Erickson Steel’s money came from the sale of high-end materials, because that was the area that they had the biggest advantage.
Randidly spent a small amount of time playing with the mass-produced metals, but he directly skipped the civilian use. He wasn’t very interested in looking at the basic metals made by his company. It was enough that they were competitive, focusing overmuch on basic products seemed like a poor investment. After all, Randidly believed that the quality of their base metal would increase if he could jumpstart innovation at the top end. A complicated refining process could be streamlined and simplified to affect the bottom line in the future.
In industry, if not in economics, progress tended to trickle down into the consumer sphere quite well.
For the mass-produced metals, it quickly became clear that Randidly was physically able to bend the metals with his bare hands. It took some effort and it was slow, but the material was definitely not durable enough for him to bother with it at all. If his grip could warp it, there wasn’t any point in putting the metal under any sort of rigorous testing. Instead, Randidly simply used his Ignition Essence to melt the metal, taking care to note the general temperature where the metal was completely melted.
Finally, Randidly arrived at the high-end products. There were three varieties provided, likely from Erickson Steel’s most skilled craftspeople. Each was a variation on the same theme that Randidly had previously pioneered: a mixture of metal with refined materials from monsters. A theme that seemed to have not been sniffed out by the competition.
Which likely has made people focus too much on the bones, Randidly thought with a sigh as he considered the examples. When they really needed to work on their own basic Skills...
One bar of metal appeared closer to a crystal than a true metal. Another seemed as dense and heavy as lead. The third was covered by a very general engraving, and there was an included note that stated that the engraving was impressed upon the metal while it was still in liquid form to aid in its resilience.
That, at least, was something that piqued his interest. Randidly wondered how the individual was able to affix the engraving in liquid metal. Maybe a special processing area?
For reference, Randidly produced a single bar of the metal that he had made in order to construct his metallic left arm. Then he proceeded to test each one.
It took five minutes for Randidly to throw his hands up in the air. He glared at Acri. “Would you stop being so sharp?!? How am I supposed to judge the differences if you can just easily cut through them all?!?”
Acri looked relatively chagrined, shaking its head sadly at its master’s disappointment. It was clear that the spear felt very guilty about it, so Randidly regarded Acri with suspicion. Through their connection, Acri sent Randidly a stream of information in an attempt to explain.
As it turned out, it had an epiphany in the fight against Donnyton. After that evolution, it was able to steal experience directly from victims it attacked without needing to kill them. Therefore, it had greedily devoured quite a bit of experience from the people of Donnyton who dared challenge Randidly. There were, however, strange limits that Acri could not understand. People possessed varying amounts of experience that it could steal, although this amount was not related to that person’s strength.
...Perhaps Acri can take experience, but not reduce someone’s Level… Randidly thought in awe, looking at this innocuous looking branch/snake/spear. It wiggled guilty under his fierce observation. Then Randidly couldn’t help but release a low giggle. I can imagine some Squader’s horror when an entire Level’s worth of experience disappeared in the fight against me… They certainly won’t be willing to attempt that again anytime soon. I suppose I’ll just consider it my payment for teaching them so thoroughly about images.
Acri continued to wait for Randidly’s judgment, hoping he would agree that it wasn’t at fault for being sharper than this metal. Randidly glanced at his own bar. Acri had left a deep gash from a single slash, but it had only pierced about one-fourth of the way through the metal. As for the others… they had been completely sliced in half. The sliced portions were so glossy and smooth that they sparkled.
Randidly considered melting them as well, but he shook his head. Waving airly, he gestured in a manner that conveyed that he was relieving Acri of all responsibility. The spear gleefully curled around his waist. Then Randidly turned to the sliced metals.
This is just a waste of time, Randidly finally decided. He had come to see if there had been any interesting innovations, but it seemed like there was just the process of putting an engraving in the liquid metal. And from what Randidly could tell from his basic test, the benefit was extremely small. So small to make it indistinguishable from the uninteresting methods used by the other smelters to make their own signature metal.
With a shake of his head, Randidly turned his attention back inward to his Path screen. The memory of that strange being within the vast crystal caused him to freeze for a second, but a surge of resolve emerged within his chest. I won’t reach that Level of ability by cowering fear. I need to advance. After working on my forging process, it might be worth it to hole up in a Dungeon for a while… the Judgement can definitely arrive in a Dungeon, but since it is based on a dwindling time, is that time my time or the world’s time? I’ll have to test it…
...if I can delay by spending time in a Dungeon…
When Randidly attempted to pour PP into his Growth of Yggdrasil Path, he received a notification that made him want to pull out his hair.
Growth of Yggdrasil III is not yet ready! Please germinate for an additional 27 days, then the Path will be prepared.
“Fuck me,” Randidly muttered. When he had checked earlier, he had sensed that raising his Stats would open up his Path. But now that he examined the feeling more carefully and translated the constructs of Aether, it seemed that increasing his Stats would only lower the amount of time that Randidly needed to wait. It wouldn’t rid the Path of its gestation period altogether.
“So now…” Randidly looked bitterly at his Path screen. “Do I save this thirteen hundred PP for 27 days from now, or do I get another one of those 1000 PP Paths…?”
Ultimately, Randidly swore quietly several more times and walked the circuit of the room for several minutes. When no obvious answer manifested itself, Randidly walked out of the small room without making a decision. Spending time simply sitting around and considering right now felt like a waste of time. It was enough to now know that the decision was one that he needed to make. Although the Judgement was coming, it wasn’t coming suddenly.
Randidly’s attention again shifted inward. Rather than his Soulspace, he examined the constructs of Aether that the System had constructed around him, including the probe left by Octavius Shrike and the looming Judgement. After a brief examination, Randidly could feel that his actions thus far shifted the timeline up. In three or four weeks, the Judgement would come.
Like Lyra’s proposal, the issue of whether to use the PP immediately would be put on the back-burner while he focused on other issues. Hopefully, clarity would come from giving himself some space and perspective on the question.
Mark jumped to his feet when Randidly walked out of the room. “Mr. Ghosthound! Have you finished already? It has only been about twenty minutes-”
“Yep,” Randidly said lightly, although he inwardly cursed the fact he hadn’t thought to check his Absolute Timing before blandly walking out. Part of his haste was because he had mistakenly been under the impression his fight against the Grim Chimera had taken quite a while. “Thanks for the help. Is there a room where I can work on some forging?”
“Ah! Yes, everything is prepared.” Mark bowed. “You will not be disturbed while you work. I have personally arranged the details. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.”
Those words gave Randidly pause. Not because this man was obviously a leech-like being worthy of disdain, but because it gave him an idea. An idea that caused the blood to immediately drain from his face.
But Randidly gritted his teeth. If you want to be a leader… you need to lead.
“Actually… would there be any way that you could broadcast my forging?”