Yawning, Randidly got up from one of his rare naps in the Dungeon. Even if he didn’t need the sleep, sometimes it felt quite rejuvenating. He stretched and scratched his lower back as he walked up to the surface and fresh air. Immediately upon exiting the dome, he had to raise his hand and shield his eyes from the hot sun.
After staying here for a bit over five months, the surrounding jungle had been completely devoured by the two antagonistic groups of Riders who were in a cold war of architecture against each other. A few weeks ago, Randidly finally forced them both to do their own improvements to their miniature castles. This, he had assumed, would slow their mad expansion and mean he would no longer waste as much of his time.
This was very incorrect, as it turned out.
The night Randidly had made the declaration they would now be forced to do their own construction, he had felt a weight lifted off his shoulders. The next morning, two square kilometers of jungle had been leveled in their mad dash to gather their resources. And if anything, their building methods had only become more refined without his interference. The ability to utilize the gathered resource was now one of the rewards for which the groups competed.
Randidly shook his head sadly, Honestly, I can’t wait to go back to Earth. At least no one there has any expectation of me participating in these pointless political squabbles… I wonder how much time has passed in Erickson Steel… probably barely a day.
Randidly walked over to the worn stone monument and pressed his hand against it. He closed his eyes and allowed his will to flow down through his fingers and into the cool stone. That pervasive aura of timelessness was like a familiar chair that he settled into quite comfortably. The ambient image it contained was like spring rain, spitting down to fuel his World Tree image.
Over the past month or so, the ambient image in the surrounding air had no longer been enough to fuel Randidly’s training with the World Tree. It had grown too diluted by Randidly’s constant use. So he was forced to proceed out to the monument itself and use it directly in order to achieve any benefit.
This too would eventually lose its usefulness in a few months. But even if Randidly knew that he was rather helpless. If he didn’t use this method, his image wouldn’t improve. Even if he was caching in on a limited resource, he would still do it to continually improve. Part of Randidly’s growth needed to be focused on understanding the threats arrayed against him. He had no space to be gentle with the denizens of this Dungeon and their monuments.
After all, Earth would become a Dungeon itself if Randidly failed to reach a sufficient level of strength.
Every night before engaging in his Engraving training, Randidly had been carefully sharpening his mental state by carefully thinking through possibilities for the future and ethical dilemmas. One of the questions he came up against was whether he could live with the truth that he was killing other individuals to save the world.
Perhaps a normal individual from Earth who had been able to survive the System’s arrival would eventually grow strong enough that he or she could pick their fights and would deem it worth it to consider the ethics of their action. But Randidly was raised by Shal. Who made it very clear that it was only the winners who would have the convenience of discussing philosophy.
I obviously won’t torture someone… but I also won’t shy away from killing in order to protect the Earth. Randidly felt his heart grow heavy. Being a saint confined to a Dungeon would be tragic sort of irony.
Randidly also constantly reminded himself of that strange being and his previous struggles against a Judgement to maintain his tension. To balance those fears, Randidly also reflected on the liberating emotion of being away from Earth with time to discover his own Path forward.
With these two thoughts both grinding at Randidly’s mentality in different ways, he continually pushed himself forward. Because there were so many ways that Randidly needed to improve to truly be a worthy opponent for the System. He couldn’t afford to overlook anything while he had this time to refine himself.
A snort brought Randidly’s focus out of the stone monolith. Turning slowly, Randidly faced the group of three Riders that were looking at him in askance. He rolled his eyes and waved his hand. “It’s not the time to go to the plateau yet. Please, simply patrol the edges of our domain.”
The three nodded. Then the three Riders turned and trotted off across the rather shabby looking plains that were left in the wake of the deforestation. As they went, the central Rider’s mount unleashed a powerful spurt of thick spit that pasted a nearby flower against the ground as if it had been laminated.
Randidly rubbed his head. Since he had no longer provided architecture services, he had been forced to broaden his rewards for the Riders. The unanimous decision from the Riders was to ask for more Riders to be created. So, despite Randidly’s misgivings, he had begun producing more. Now, there were almost a hundred Riders in the Dungeon, spreading their conflicting ideologies.
Strangely, three of the Riders refused to join the two previously created Legions. These became the Legion of the Marching Cadence, who quickly evolved to ride a mount very similar to a camel. These came from Randidly’s intermittent memories of Divvet, who had been something of a stand-in for Shal when Randidly’s master was busy with other things. Above all else, what Randidly remembered about Divvet was his patience.
Although it's possible that this was simply a response from spending so much exhausting training sessions with the short-tempered Shal.
Unlike the other two Legions, the Marching Cadence Legion didn’t care about the rivalry. They instead requested permission to explore the plateau which Randidly had expressly forbidden. Honestly, the constant requests were becoming a headache.
Their attitude is admirable… Randidly shook his head. But there is no point in sending them to antagonize something dangerous before I’m ready to meet it. Still, if in a few months even this monument isn’t enough for the image of timelessness…
After giving the stone monolith a long glance, Randidly returned to the depths of his base. Although usually, he would use this time working on his forging process, Randidly did something out of character today; he went to his kitchen and quickly cut up all of the ingredients that he would need to make breakfast.
After about ten minutes, Randidly had produced an omelet. Which he then ate quickly, cutting off large chunks and tossing them into his mouth.
The omelet was fine. The eggs were whipped and salted, making the omelet itself fluffy and flavorful. The monster meat core was tender and cooked throughout. Not the best meal that Randidly had ever had, but it was certainly satisfactory. Randidly had no doubt that the could have set up a ramshackle stand in Tellus with these and made a killing.
Then Randidly cleaned his dished and looked at the second portion of ingredients that he had previously set aside. Cracking his fingers, Randidly walked slowly to stand above them. His emerald eyes glowed dangerously.
I think… it’s finally time I tested the limits of this. Randidly thought. With infinite gentleness, Randidly reached down and dragged a fingertip across one of the eggs he had prepared. Then his eyes narrowed. All Else Succumbs, Yet Time Whirls the Earth.
The air around him bent and twisted as though Randidly had hammered down on the fabric of the world with his knee. The egg he was touching cracked and splattered everywhere, but in slow motion. Suddenly Randidly was spread across two versions of himself. Then four. Then eight. His muscles flexed and spasmed. He bit his lip so hard that a fat chunk of flesh was hacked off. The taste of blood filled all eight of his mouths.
After being cracked by his spasming muscles, bits of that shattered egg continued to float outward slowly. Time twisted and pooled.
Then there were sixteen of him, twisting and mutating and warping through the surrounding timelines. The pain slowly built gradually upward. His muscles were on fire. Randidly was spasming so powerfully that his bones were shaking. Then-
The Grim Chimera raised its head and howled. That tight skin across its skull grew taut, showing the dark outline of its mouth. Its arms spread and multiplied. The limbs wove into each other, slowly constructing something. Randidly’s feet were locked to the ground in the base he had constructed but it felt like he could reach beyond his current location. If he stretched out his fingers and truly wished for it-
With a gasp, Randidly collapsed. His heart was pounding. His right hand was covered in egg. The horrible hammering filled up his awareness. After being stricken by small tremors for so long, he couldn’t stay on his feet. His breath came out of his nose as he kneeled on the ground and attempted to regain control of himself. It took several minutes before his limbs were completely willing to follow orders.
When Randidly stood, his eyes were locked on the steaming omelet that lay on a plate before him. Frowning, Randidly studied the plate carefully. He hadn’t brought any plates into the Dungeon with him. At least no plates this ornate looking. When his hand was well behaved enough to use a fork, he carefully cut off a corner and brought a bit of the omelet to his mouth.
Randidly couldn’t resist a sharp hiss. “Fuck, that’s good.”
The process of eating the delicious omelet was relatively drawn out. He thoroughly enjoyed every inch of the creation he had made by relying on the Grim Chimera’s strange ultimate Skill. As he did so, he reflected on what this experience had taught him.
Wincing, Randidly eventually stumped his way up to the surface and laid himself carefully on the grass. The first thing that Randidly had learned was that despite his general improvement of 10 or so Skill Levels in all of his passive physical boosts, this Skill still reduced him to a quivering mess. Although it was annoying, Randidly resolved himself to put more points into Endurance so he could withstand its use.
It was slightly embarrassing that his Endurance Stat was at a measly 348. That would soon be rectified.
The second thing that Randidly learned was that he was right about the function of the Skill. The Grim Chimera’s ultimate move was an evolution, of a sort. But rather than directly evolving, the Skill forced Randidly’s body to be split into several parallel worlds, seeking a variation where Randidly had the requisite Skills to accomplish the tasks that he was trying to accomplish.
Or at least, that was a passable definition of what the Skill did. The exact mechanism of the Skill still eluded Randidly, especially because the Grim Chimera’s Skill could be used to accomplish so many different things. It could give him anything he reached out for.
In this case, a high Cooking Skill.
Randidly winced. But the problem… this time was much more draining on my body even though my request was relatively simpler. Before, I had wanted to strike down Paolo and Kayle in a single strike. And I managed that while having enough Stamina remaining to walk away from the arena… so why was this more difficult?
But Randidly already had a hypothesis. The pain he experienced was not the pain to make the desired act happen… but it was pain he had to endure while looking for a variation that fit his requirements. Which meant that the cost was likely related just as much to the complexity of the request as to how distant from his current self the required mutation was.
Still, what I don’t get is how the ‘distance’ of the mutation is determined, Randidly thought with a frown. But it does make some sense that it is easier to find a variation of myself with great destructive power, rather than a master chef version…
Shaking his head, Randidly savored the feeling of the sun on his skin and soft grass on his back. Even though Randidly had been pushing himself close to the edge in these several months, this moment reminded him that perhaps he had still been going too easy on himself.
This was, after all, the first time since Randidly had arrived in the Dungeon that Randidly was completely reduced to a blubbering mess from training. Even the small headaches that Randidly developed after working for longer periods on Engraving were relatively small things, in the grand scheme of Randidly’s boundaries.
Randidly smiled up at the sun above him and licked his teeth. Well, that can easily be arranged. I suppose we just need to kick things up a notch here.