Randidly sat cross-legged in the training-field portion of his underground base. Around him, a rustling sea of leaves seethed. Whereas his previous World Tree images were only composed of a single large tree, now Yggdrasil was surrounded by millions of inferior trees, all with their branches twisted up in worship.
From the green canopies of the lesser trees that gnarled and luminous trunk of Yggdrasil emerged, a towering pillar that was so wide it was difficult to imagine its true size.
From beneath him in the depths of the ground, a terrible rumbling roar echoed upward in contrast to the serene swaying of the trees. Randidly’s eyebrow twitched as he struggled to stay focused on his image in the face of the noise. The second layer of his base that Randidly had constructed seemed to be possessed by an infinite spirit of wrath, constantly bellowing the liquefied fury of its existence directly upward toward Randidly.
Training in the face of a distraction must be… helpful… Randidly thought rather tiredly. Honestly, the noise was a rather unfortunate side effect of another project altogether. And at this point, it seemed a waste to stop that project just so Randidly didn’t have to deal with a noise which wasn’t exactly incompatible with his World Tree image. So Randidly just buckled down and focused.
Randidly had been training within the Dungeon for almost a month now. While he remained at the base, bands of a dozen or so Riders of the Baleful Court roamed farther and farther afield to slay and return monster bones to him.
...Which was also because the monsters had been driven away by the god awful rumbling. At first, Randidly had been worried about the capabilities of the Riders as his Skill Level was only 89, but those fears proved groundless.
Not only did the Riders become increasingly adept at combat the longer that they were summoned, but they were quickly settling into ranks. Of the thirty-two Riders that Randidly currently had within the Dungeon, seven were at what Randidly associated with the Lieutenant tier from Tellus. They served as aides to the main leaders with extreme ease.
And of these leaders, there were two. Their mounts were even longer and more unusual looking than their fellow Riders as they galloped with their slender limbs covered in wicked horns of obsidian. They wielded two lances with preternatural grace and were constantly attempting to make the other look incompetent.
Sighing, Randidly shook his head. It had become something of a problem. He wasn’t sure where this competitive drive came from, but both groups of sixteen Riders had taken one of the nearby other mounds as their personal base. The only reason that Randidly allowed it was to harvest the special copper and to see if there was an arrow at the core of those mounds.
As it turned out, there was an arrow at the core of every one, all pointing in the same general direction. This didn’t do much to improve Randidly’s mood, but he simply resolved himself to investigate it after he had accomplished the main goals he had in coming into this Dungeon.
But the Riders didn’t care about his growing irritation. Thankfully, they competed by bringing Randidly increasingly high-Level monster bodies or special flowers, fruits, or ores that they found by wandering through the surrounding area. So it wasn’t as if he gained nothing out of the arrangement.
As a reward for these brave activities, the only thing the Riders ever requested was for Randidly to modify their base to be larger or more prestigious looking than the opposing group of Riders. Finding himself suddenly thrust into the role of architect, Randidly did his best.
With Randidly’s small and carefully repaired mound was in the center, two ‘guard outposts’ emerged that dominated the nearby area of the jungle. Some distance to Randidly’s North was a tall and sprawling medieval castle, complete with banners that the Riders had somehow sewn from the skin of the slain monsters. The Riders had taken to taking their mounts up onto the battlements, gazing cooly out into the surrounding canopy that completely blocked their vision.
To Randidly’s South was a more amorphous dwelling, composed primarily of the dyed silk of some spider monster that the Riders had miraculously domesticated. Their billowing, multicolored tents and bonfires seemed a much weaker defense than the castle, but Randidly had casually scanned the area with Aether and had been horrified by the complexity and number of traps that lurked within the camp’s boundaries.
Seriously, why am I the only one who seems to be focusing on training while we are here? Randidly sighed. Unfortunately, the thundering roar from below smothered the released air. Shaking his head, Randidly set everything to the side and refocused on the image of Yggdrasil.
With great care, Randidly floated through the lower trees to stand right next to the World Tree. When his hands caressed the bark, that familiar understanding and warmth flowed into him. Sighing, Randidly spread his image even farther, allowing the edges of it to disperse into the surrounding area. Including that ageless monolith.
Like an infant after eating a meal, Yggdrasil cooed in pleasure as it slowly absorbed that air of timelessness. Randidly’s smile was sharp. It’s taken a while… but I’ve finally found the Path forward.
The current training facility had been transformed by his presence here for the past month. Perhaps more than anything else, the constant presence of Ignition of the Emerald Essence had flooded the training area with the nurturing energy that plants craved. Already, the walls were covered in moss and mushrooms. In the area directly around Randidly, many luminous flowers had begun to grow in order to absorb the radiation he naturally threw off while he was deep in the image of the World Tree.
Although the plants possessed no true intelligence, they stretched upward, yearning to be closer to the World Tree. It was due to that reaction that Randidly felt a grim sense of satisfaction. So day after day, he let the Grim Chimera wait while he worked on Yggdrasil.
The more Randidly pushed, the more Randidly felt close to pushing his image of the World Tree to the next Level. As he had learned from Skarch on Tellus, images could be strengthened in many ways. But the most reliable was familiarity and specificity. However, Randidly's past month of training had not been simple.
For almost the first two weeks in the Dungeon, Randidly had worked hard to improve both of those two criteria.
It soon became apparent, however, that familiarity was a dead end for him.
Unlike Skarch, Randidly couldn’t’ simply take out his spear and run his hands across it in order to understand how his image should be formed. Familiarity was hard to come by. Although he had been informed by mythology, ultimately he was using his own imagination to create something. There wasn’t any ideal version of the World Tree that Randidly could examine in order to check the progress of his image.
Meanwhile, if Randidly spent time in his images, he could refine their specificity with relative ease. His image was growing so large that there were plenty of areas he could improve. The more attention he gave to the details, the more sharply defined the image became. Every day seemed to see Randidly improving his images with specificity while familiarity didn’t see even the slightest bit of improvement.
In fact, the more Randidly had tried to familiarize himself with the image, the more he had a growing sense that what he pictured was unrealistic. Which, Randidly realized in horror, likely was weakening his image.
So Randidly had a decision: should he abandon familiarity as a way to refine his image and focus on specificity?
Two weeks ago, it had been a long night as he considered how to proceed.
Currently in the training hall, the rumbling roar from below was so powerful that all of the plants in the training area were vibrating. Randidly would be too, had he not used the moss beneath him as a casual buffer that would absorb the vibrations. In fact, the moss was growing so well even without the light of the Ignition Essence. Which made Randidly wonder if it had somehow evolved in a short period to feed off of the vibrations.
Like that silly fellow, Randidly thought, casting his gaze down through the ground toward Sulfur, who was in the thick of the thunderous rumbling. Even from here, Randidly could sense the pleasure it felt from absorbing so much ambient kinetic energy. If nothing else, both his armor and weapon were exceedingly predictable.
Randidly closed his eyes again. When he had been faced with the choice, and because he had a year in a Dungeon to work on his basics, Randidly had ultimately decided to not abandon familiarity. Because him being inept at that method right now was not a good enough reason for him to abandon a Path that might make him stronger.
Some things took more work than others. That was just life.
For a while, it was really rough. Randidly attempted to bring a tall tree down to the training area for him to examine as an aid. Unfortunately, it didn’t go so well without Mana constantly keeping it healthy. When that method failed, he ordered the Riders to surround a particular tree with Ignition of the Emerald Essence torches and then hoped it would grow into something that looked like a World Tree.
Afterward, Randidly went to the surface to investigate and seek a concrete image from it.
Of course, this weakened his image even further. The more Randidly focused on regular trees, the more that Randidly hadn’t been able to find out how the image of timelessness of that stone monolith could be injected into a tree.
It was going so poorly that, for the first time, his World Tree image had shrunk.
Faced with the fact that Randidly might have earlier made a mistake, Randidly had ceased his other training and thought about this issue for an entire night. A second night of absolute stillness while surrounded by darkness to assess his failure to improve. He swam through the image, pondering what he was doing wrong. And then he had an epiphany.
It isn’t that I should make my image like these trees… the image is already there and was already heading in the right direction. No… it’s that these real, concrete trees… are trying to become something akin to the world tree. They are not my aspirations, they are aspiring to be the same thing I want my image to be…
So Randidly watched trees. He watched them grow. He looked at their branches, their leaves, their bark. He used his powerful senses to trace the routes their roots carved through the ground. When that wasn’t enough, Randidly had a whole jungle that he submerged in Aether. As part of his daily training, he let his Perception spread and cover the whole of the jungle.
Even the smallest vein on a falling leaf was carefully scrutinized. With his high Intelligence, Focus, and Perception, he practically buzzed with the flood of tree-related-data flowing into him.
When one tree wasn’t enough, he looked at a hundred. When a hundred wasn’t enough, Randidly looked at ten thousand.
Slowly, Randidly’s knowledge of vegetation as a whole grew. Randidly could always use his Skills to control it, but now Randidly simply observed the way trees grew when he didn’t interfere at all. By watching the independent instincts of ten thousand trees, Randidly could sense the edge of what the trees were truly attempting to be.
That was his World Tree. The Platonic Ideal beyond the mortal world.
As these general principles of the efficient distribution of roots, the reasons for leaf size and shape, the idea thickness of bark all filtered through Randidly, his image no longer shrunk. Now, it only grew heavier.
It grew more familiar.
Randidly inhaled and then exhaled. Beneath his seated form, the moss and surrounding flowers shivered in pleasure. As Randidly was continuing to throw off vast quantities of Aether, his breath was like a blast of airborne fertilizer for them. They wiggled in delight, as though the sun had given them each a sweet lemon candy.
Then he cracked his neck and stood. The phantom image of a vast tree rising above an ancient forest that had filled the training area dispersed. What was left was just the rumbling moss and flowers.
Randidly released a breath. “Probably about time to work on spear moves…”
Below him, Randidly ceased exercising his formidable Control. Ten thousand roots holding one thousand forging hammers paused in their constant labor. There was a few clangs and then silence. Influence of the Molten Core, which had been whirling constantly below to move the bits of partially smelted metal to all the right places paused and drifted toward the ground. The superheated metal of the core slowly cooled, still humming with reverberations from the deafening cacophony of a few seconds ago.
After stacking up the hammers next to the anvils Randidly had made earlier, the vines that had held them slithered back into the ground. The rustling noise of roots faded to silence, leaving not a single sound in the lower Level. Currently, there was only mass waiting there.
Rising above the anvils were four piles.
Two were rough and haphazard. Thousands of corpses had their flesh burned away to leave only the bones and now stood like the dreadful warning within a lair of a dragon. Next to that was a thick mound of ores of different varieties.
The other two piles were gleaming and neat. One was made of copper ingots while the other was steel. These four piles took up almost one-third of the area within the second level, which was ten times the size of the first. So about six of the football field-sized training areas were filled with ingots neatly stacked to the height of three meters.
Randidly scratched his head as he walked outside. “Gonna need to find another big ore vein to keep up this production… and I feel like Influence of the Molten Core is close to changing somehow too… just a bit more…”
Then Randidly patted his stomach. “Huh, well I can practice spear Skills later. Maybe spend a bit of time working on my Cooking Skill…?”
Mumbling to himself, Randidly yawned and wandered outside.