Within the Dungeon, time flowed onward without pause while Randidly immersed himself in training.
It had now been four months since Randidly had entered into the Dungeon. In the areas of Skill usage, image integrity, and Skill Level, Randidly experienced rather constant improvements. Although he hadn’t had much actual combat with any sort of opponents that could be considered a true challenge for him, he still hadn’t hit the wall of plateauing in his growth.
Which, Randidly reflected, spoke to how many difficult challenges he had fought through in the last several months without having time to really internalize the lessons he had gathered from those conflicts.
Every time Randidly’s focus was drifting away from the task at hand, Aegiant’s cruel smile would appear in his mind. Or a cold fist of ice would grip his heart as Randidly thought about Donnyton attempting to fight against the Calamity with their shallow images. Or jagged daggers of fear would slide between Randidly’s ribs as he thought about Octavius warning of individuals from the Nexus watching him or Lyra knowing what had occurred with Shal in the strange trial after the Second Calamity.
The constant state of half-anxiety was slowly settling, but for now, those emotions were his frequent companion.
Those thoughts would force Randidly to push himself even further, testing the edges of his Willpower. He endured, he overcame, he absorbed, he accepted. Time flowed past and Randidly tirelessly refined himself. Soon, these moments occurred much less frequently.
The only real change that occurred in the last month originated from the mollusks. After Randidly had given them a watch, they became altogether obsessed with time and its keeping. Now most well to do mollusks had figured out how to produce their own relatively primitive clockwork timepieces. Several strutted around with a barely functioning watch attached to their shells as a strange display of status.
The time pieces they produced were almost comically bad. But they were working with bits of shell and small amounts of scrap metal that Randidly had donated to them, so it wasn’t strange that they were having difficulties creating something that would stand the test of time.
The watch that Randidly had given them was hung from the leader mollusk’s house. Which, given the population boom after Randidly stopped forging for a few days, had now become a rather towering building.
At first Randidly had a headache as he considered expanding the pool even further, but the mollusks turned out to be happy enough to do all the work themselves if Randidly gave them ‘tools’. So Randidly took all the failed Levelable Engravings and any other scrap metal he possessed and made a large pile next to the mollusk’s pool.
They dutifully crawled out, would grab anything that they needed, then pull it back into the pool at a painfully slow speed.
Still, Randidly wasn’t there most of the time, so he spared himself the torture of watching the relatively inept creatures struggling to move a chunk of burned metal that was often two times their size. Rather casually, Randidly went one night with Acri and cut the bracers down to more manageable sizes.
What watching the queer mollusks did do was finally wake Randidly up to how strangely warped his sense of time was getting. After all, Randidly had initially been preparing for a Judgement that should descend upon him within a month’s time. Yet he used the Dungeon to trade a few days into a year without much difficulty.
As his sense of urgency slowly left him, Randidly wondered why the System made such an invention as Dungeons.
Of course, most people couldn’t have done what Randidly was doing. Without their own personal supply of Aether, they were exposing themselves to a huge risk by staying in a Dungeon longer than a month or two. Randidly was already at double that limit. With the dense Aether of the Dungeon, most people’s bodies would rely less and less on the Aether connection with the Village.
Then, when they left the Dungeon, the weakened connection would be abruptly forced to handle an increased amount of Aether to support the individual. That demand on the withered connection was the source of Aether Sickness, and why most people had to carefully consider how much time they should remain in a Dungeon.
Randidly didn’t have this problem. And it was with some amusement that he realized that if he had brought a group of people into the Dungeon with him, his constant explosion of Aether would have exacerbated the problem of Aether Sickness immensely. With the current density of Aether in the Dungeon, perhaps normal individuals could only stay within the Dungeon for a week or two before their connection to the Village began to atrophy to a dangerous point.
But Randidly quickly discovered a much more insidious and dangerous problem of the time dilation, one that he couldn’t avoid: perspective shifts.
After all, Randidly had been driven to train because of two looming threats that would arrive in relatively short order. He had also had to deal with the mental turmoil of being struck by a casual glance while some powerful being locked onto the scent of the Creature. Lyra’s offer weighed heavily on his mind. Those things reminded Randidly of his own inadequacy and mortality.
Yet four months had passed and nothing bad had happened in this warped swirl of time. Although Randidly still was doing a good job of maintaining his mental edge at the moment, likely due to Shal’s brutal training early in his System experience, he could feel some part of himself relaxing.
At least while he was in the Dungeon, Randidly felt… safe.
It had taken Randidly this long to realize what the feeling was because he hadn’t felt that way for so long. But within the Dungeon, as his Riders basically burned down the surrounding jungle for materials, Randidly had no real sense of tension. He was free to grow as he wished without external threat.
What happens to a person when they realize they can simply slip into a Dungeon and immediately have the time and space to train to their way into solving any problem resolvable with time…? Randidly wondered. It was a question he didn’t really know how to answer.
Randidly’s immediate instinct was to rush toward whatever secret lay in the direction indicated by those strange arrows he found in the mounds in order to introduce an element of danger to his existence here, but he restrained himself. Instead of returning to the constant state of near-panicked reaction that Randidly had existed in for almost three years, Randidly just observed himself for a week as his training continued. Before he understood the effects, he wouldn’t act hastily.
By this point, his constant production of Aether had finally dislodged the many remnant pieces of Aether left by that beings observation. Still, Randidly didn’t slack off his production of Aether. It was extremely likely that the other being possessed a fineness of observation of Aether that Randidly couldn’t duplicate. Therefore, he continued to throw out waves of Aether to dislodge even the smallest bit remaining.
Carefully making notes of his own progress, Randidly continued to train.
In the mornings, he would use his hands to carefully refine his personal forging process. He added more pressure and heat, straining the materials before empowering them with his Ghosthound’s Touch. Then, when he was satisfied with his progress, he would attempt to expand that method to his ten thousand root forging process. There were obviously issues, but Randidly found that so many perspectives on the process helped him further think of small adjustments to make for tomorrow.
Because of that, every day was a step forward.
After that, Randidly would practice spear Skills. He would perform each of his basic Skills one hundred times without any target, letting his high-Level Skills rip through the open air. During the performance, Randidly would force his body to relax and truly experience the Skills in their entirety.
Then he would perform each Skill one thousand times, this time by simply relying on the image of each Skill for the action. Slowly but surely, his understanding and potency of his attacks climbed upward.
Then Randidly would return to the room holding his increasingly impressive store of refined ingots and practice his World Tree image. Randidly had no real proof of this, but he believed that the constant submerging in the understanding and supportive image of Yggdrasil would slowly alter the metal for the better.
In the evening Randidly would take a small break and cook himself a sumptuous meal. His Cooking Skill had only improved to 97 over the past four months after constant use, but Randidly felt rather pleased with his ability to prepare food.
Looking at his Status screen, Randidly shook his head sorrowfully. A Skill Level under 100 is enough for me… maybe I really am losing my competitive edge. Shal would eat me alive.
Once the meal was done, Randidly checked on his area of influence within the jungle. He made sure that the Riders weren’t getting into trouble and the mollusks weren’t running amok. He also scanned with Aether, looking for any sign of whatever might have placed those carefully engraved arrows.
Yet Randidly found nothing unusual.
At nights, Randidly returned to his base and worked on Engravings. Most of it was dedicated to Levelable Engravings, but Randidly also worked on his basics. He returned to the animalistic inspired Engravings that would boost a single Stat and focused on improving his ability to produce each one. After careful practice, Randidly created Engravings of that type at the tier of VII, which granted almost one hundred stats with just the Engraving.
It was a time-consuming process, but Randidly’s understanding of Engravings slowly deepened. Through the night, he worked under the emerald light of Ignition Essence and continued to explore the ancient encyclopedias he had been given on Tellus. His second time reading through them was perhaps even more inspirational than the first.
As he proceeded to learn about the study the strange, perspective based meaning of Engravings, Randidly felt doors in his mind opening. Connections that Randidly hadn’t made in the past were slowly emerging. Just like with all the battles that Randidly fought, his haphazard and frantic Engraving left him with a lot of half-learned lessons. As he gradually solidified his understanding, those unrefined benefits naturally emerged.
A week had passed since Randidly had noticed his gradual relaxation. The entire while, a portion of Randidly’s focus was occupied by monitoring himself. His great fear was that without the constant presence of a threat moving closer, Randidly’s progress would stagnate. His internal ambition would dull and stall out.
If his body grew too used to peaceful training, he wouldn’t be prepared to return to the real world, where the threat of the System was very real and very dangerous. Even the smallest stumble before the System’s test would doom the Earth. He couldn’t afford to slacken at this point in the process.
What Randidly found ultimately made him shake his head wryly. I should have expected this. It’s the mental equivalent of exercise. Too much exercise, the body’s resources cannot be replenished in time which leads to stymied growth. The exercise loses most of its benefits.
Only after a long rest, after the body restocks its resources, can more muscle be efficiently created. But of course, too much rest leads to fat.
Right now, my growth for the forging and Engraving related Skills are exploding… because that restored mental resources finally has let me make connections I had been blinded to see previously. But without the constant threats spurring me forward… progress in combat-related Skills has somewhat slowed. And that will only get worse.
Scratching his head, Randidly stood and then stretched. Just another thing I need to balance. Most people can’t overindulge in Dungeons as I can, but… I’ll have to be aware of the possibility in the future.