The world spun and training continued. Even as the benefits accruing to Randidly slowly decreased, his determination didn’t waver. His mentality seemed to split in half: one part of him sharpened while the other broadened and deepened. Tension and healing spiraled together in harmony.
It had been eleven months since Randidly had arrived in the Dungeon. Time and haste seemed to have receded slightly. What was left were determination and Willpower.
Randidly had told the mayor of the mollusks that the knowledge that doomed humanity was perspective, but at that moment, he was extremely thankful for perspective. Perspective became image, and image was the weapon that began to animate every single movement that Randidly executed. Slowly but surely, he was becoming the master of his images.
Someday, but not quite yet.
Perhaps the true reason that he was preparing to move on from training was that Randidly sensed that his images had reached the cusp of something. Randidly had tried several times to create a clone based on the image as the Masters on Tellus could, but that was still beyond him. However, he could now reliably become an incarnation of the image, greatly boosting its power and effect.
So for the last several weeks, the time he spent on images waned. This wasn’t something that he could grasp simply by wishing hard enough.
With some time freed up from refining his images, Randidly had also done a much more thorough examination of his damaged Class. As he had prevented any more experience from fueling its flawed growth, all had remained as it had been after he arrived. But he was able to see the specific places where his images and thoughts had been scattered by the attack from that strange being. He could slowly detail the parts of himself that had been irreparably ruptured by that casual glance.
It wasn’t truly a fruitful way to spend time, but at least Randidly would be able to directly treat the problem areas when he had Nathan’s assistance.
His training of his combat Skills had also hit a plateau, but this was one that Randidly had seen a long way off. At this point, Randidly’s Skill Levels were so high that it was difficult to force them any higher in a short amount of time. Training was important, but it didn’t possess any sort of necessity that would drag out Skill Levels. So Randidly did the only thing he could: he accepted that he was as strong as he could be without a very long training session.
And after being isolated in the Dungeon for so long, Randidly was comfortable considering a few months to be a short amount of time. Although Randidly believed he had been able to balance the relaxation in his mindset somewhat, he didn’t want to risk it without definitive need.
It was only in the field of Engraving that Randidly continued to experience noticeable improvement. His flair for runes improved, as well as his proficiency in containing energy with elegant runic sigils. Studying his Sigil of an Approaching Fate was invaluable in this regard. Randidly’s understanding of meaning and syntax within the system of Engraving finally hit the level where he didn’t need Lucretia to polish the finer points of his designs.
But perhaps the project that made Randidly the most excited was the moving city that he had delivered to Wendy to design. She had resisted mightily at first, but ultimately the temptation that Randidly offered was too sweet to resist. Rather casually, he had simply delivered to her the accumulated resources he had gathered by ruthlessly harvesting the Dungeon for almost a year. The mountain of metal ingots, gemstones, precious plants, and magical materials was too large of a bribe for her small stature to withstand.
Plus, Randidly had gleefully taken the mollusks into his Soulskill and given them to her to distract them from their current decline into petty squabbles. Although they were a low level, their innate understanding of clockwork would make them invaluable additions to the project. It also didn’t hurt that their small bodies would help them work on the finer pieces of the grand design, freeing Wendy up to focus on larger issues.
As Randidly had slowly run out of steam in his training, he had a new hobby that he enjoyed quite frequently: thinking. He thought about the System, about how it was constructed, about Classes, Fates, and Calamities.
In particular, Randidly reflected on why there was a limit on the amount of Skills that someone could earn. Of course, this wasn’t a hard limit; it worked more based on a series of coincidental rules that conveniently fit together to form a cap on Skill use.
The main culprit was the fact that Skills and Paths demanded Aether to form and grow. When the ambient energy in the air wasn’t enough to sustain the Level of Skills that you possessed, people began to suffer from Aether Deprivation. The only reliable way to acquire more Aether was to accept a Class. Once a Class was ‘constructed’ in an individual’s Soulspace, it would take up room where Skills could have been made.
Yet the more Randidly thought about this, the stranger it seemed. Not that there would be a limit on Skills, but that a Class would take up so much room in someone’s Soulspace that the number of additional Skills they could learn would be reduced to a discrete number. Which was even more suspicious because Randidly knew first hand that different quality Skills had different sizes. Yet why could the System provide a number?
Finally, Randidly’s fervent of the System’s Aether and his own damaged Class began to provide tangible benefits: by examining his Class, he discovered the function of a very specific arrangement of Aether at the base. At first, Randidly was somewhat appalled at having included it in his Class, but some research on Classless individuals in his Soulskill revealed everyone had this construct.
And everyone he scanned who had a Class had this at its base. The construct was one of the core portions of the System’s grip on the people it slowly indoctrinated.
Once Randidly identified the construct, it was another thing altogether to investigate it. This was a tiresome process where Randidly basically just did various activities and checked whether it would react. But it was undoubtedly effective. It turned out that one of the main functions of this construct was to serve as a cover to test an individual’s ‘image density’.
When Randidly realized this, he performed some additional tests in the Alpha Cosmos. To his horror, it wasn’t just a function of Classes. People who hadn’t yet received a Class also were affected by this construct, it was just in a rather reduced state. It seemed designed to activate once a Class was earned.
...Knowing that the System desires images, I think I can see what’s going on here. Randidly thought. Skills are premade images. What the System wants is a strong image. It doesn’t want people to have a bunch of Skills and improve by simply improving their versatility… it much prefers a world slowly focusing their Aether in a specific direction.
Due to the Aether Deprivation restriction, people won’t have many Skills until after they have a reliable source of Aether. Which is when this construct activates...
Image density was a relatively inaccurate term, but effectively the Aether constructed tasted the surrounding images to determine if they were at a certain threshold. Randidly even watched some people in his Soulskill use a lighthouse to get a Class. Depending on the outcome of the taste as someone activated the lighthouse, a variation of a Class with a different Skill limit would be given.
Perhaps the bitterest truth about the image meter serving as a base for Classes was that it evolved into a much more complicated mechanism after it was part of a Class. At a much higher frequency, it would continue to taste people. From this, and from the baffling esoteric series of runes that surrounded it, Randidly made a logical leap to a very disturbing conclusion.
That this image meter shifted to a more active role when you possessed a Class. Specifically, it monitored you more carefully and was the sensory organ of the System that gave birth to Paths.
Therefore, it was likely this fucker that tipped the System off that something was up with Randidly and slapped him with a Heretic distinction. Randidly’s immediate reaction was a powerful urge to rip it out and leave the eviscerated shards of energy on the ground. But at this point, it seemed like a rather pointless thing to do. Randidly’s secrets were already largely recorded by this device. Even his Alpha Cosmos was discovered.
Besides, his Class was damaged enough at this point...
Instead, Randidly had continued to study the Aether construct to understand its functions. Randidly had a vague notion of using it to give himself access to Paths he hadn’t yet earned. But Randidly’s next discovery finally gave him a hint about a problem Randidly had spent quite a lot of time considering: why his Alpha Cosmos was treated like such an original occurrence.
It was only when Randidly started fiddling with the mechanism of the Aether that he realized it. To his surprise, it circled right back around to the original question that pushed Randidly to ponder; why did the System limit Skills?
The recent readings of the construct seem to indicate that… my images are relatively thin. After all this training, how is that possible? Randidly had frowned at the realization. Am I misinterpreting the construct? Or was I wrong about Skills being suppressed to limit how many images one would possess-
Again, Randidly returned to his Alpha Cosmos. And again, he carefully studied the Aether of other individuals. This time, he was forced to engage in a much more focused and extended examination in order to find the reason.
Because at first, Randidly was frustrated. Based on what he could infer about a person’s images from their strength, Randidly’s construct kept returning a reading of extremely low image density. To make sure he had everything accounted for, Randidly relentlessly looked for images among individual’s Aether.
It was hard, but once Randidly had the knack, it quickly became second nature. And all the people he examined had their images in the same space: the Skill area. That same area that Randidly used to think about the core of himself.
But now… When Randidly went to his Soulspace, he saw his Skills and his Class. But then he could walk beyond it, out into a vast darkness that seemed to have no end in sight. That was where his images waited.
….Did my connection to the Alpha Cosmos expand my Soulspace?