Before his last task, Randidly had one other thing to accomplish. And he wanted to get this inner focus task out of the way, in case things went… downhill.
Pointing his attention inward, Randidly slid into his Soul Skill, looking down at the world. He gathered some Progenitor’s Influence floating in the air nearby, raising his total to near 8000. After a few minutes, Lucretia flew up to meet him. Very quickly, Neveah also came, shifting from her training in the mountains to use her new body, joining Randidly for this very important occasion.
Before they began, Randidly smiled at Neveah. “How are you liking it.”
“I can walk,” She exclaimed brightly, her toothy maw pulsing quickly in a way that Randidly had learned to read as excited. “Words easier. Soon I will be sneaky into Village.”
There was a purity about her that still cheered Randidly up. Chuckling, he reached over and rubbed her head. Honestly, that was one of the main reasons that Randidly wanted to stay in Donnyton for a bit longer; just to be there when Neveah waltzed into town, demanding a burger and then asking where Dinesh was, so she could go play with him.
Randidly had a deep sympathy for the man’s nerves but trusted that as a member of the Squads of Donnyton, he would be willing to throw himself on the walking and speaking bone grenade that is Neveah in a humanoid form. With her wings pressed tightly to her sides, at least, she wasn’t too physically intimidating.
They just needed to find a veil for her face and she could play at being a mysterious foreign beauty…
Randidly’s smile froze as he realized that him moving farther away from Donnyton might mean Neveah would have to part with Dinesh. He didn’t understand their relationship but knew the man was important to her. So maybe-
Reading his thoughts, Neveah’s spirit projection bowled into him, knocking him away.
Frowning, he said. “You shouldn’t just look at people’s thoughts.”
“You shouldn’t stand still and silent for 30 seconds out of the blue so often,” Lucretia said wryly. “Are we ready to begin? I’ve tried to prepare the people below as much as possible.”
Randidly nodded. As there hadn’t been any pressing issues since defeating the Stagbat, Randidly hadn’t spent any of his PP yet. He remembered in great detail the vicious pain that resulted from utilizing a Soul Skill after it had reached the limit of its growth, and Randidly had learned from the Creature’s memories that reaching that potential was the reason it was able to break into his Soul Skill.
Specifically, the core of Randidly’s world had grown to a certain point, and needed to evolve in order continue on safely. Otherwise, he was cramming more and more power into a small, condensed space, moving it towards a dangerous reaction. Although it wasn’t something that Randidly liked, progressing to the next stage of Soul Skill would hopefully stabilize the situation, and give him a power-up that might be necessary, considering the threats looming against him.
Also from the Creature’s memories, he learned that what he held in his chest wasn’t so much a weapon, but a key. A Skeleton Key, but an incomplete one. Lucretia had investigated in great detail and informed Randidly that his images must have already worked some sort of change upon the original design because it had shifted the construct from what it had been originally intended to be. More than that, she refused to tell him, lest it color his image of it. Randidly was inclined to believe her.
Besides, if it was some sort of portal, it reaching maturity and allowing the Creature to attack him with it made sense. It also made him aware that if he could control it, he would be able to do something similar with other threats. Although he would prefer not to have it inside of him, backing off now wasn’t an option, it was already an integral part of what he was.
Randidly’s eyes glowed emerald as he began to focus his will inwards. The Soul Skill itself began to rumble as he shifted his attention towards it. First, he felt the entirety of it, feeling the four races he created below, as well as the monsters that mutated based on exposure to foreign Aether. In addition, Randidly was somewhat surprised to find that there was a colony of the Aether Thralls that had apparently survived the war and cullings afterward.
They were filled with fear and desperation, and the longer he noticed them, the more his initial anger faded away. He could feel that their connection to the Creature had been snapped when he ignited the Tellumurite in her inner world, and now they could belong to his. Although he couldn’t tell what sort of reproductive system they had, Randidly wasn’t too worried about them settling inside him; next to the danger of having this Skeleton Key at his core, what were a few thousand Aether Thralls?
Satisfied with his exploration, he withdrew his awareness and filtered it down to the core of his Soul Skill, where this construct by the Creature remained inside of him. He could feel clearly the power coursing through it, as it had shifted and settled into place over the last several months, rearranging itself to find its path to power.
Whereas the Class was the ‘Physical’ aspect of Aether growth, the Soul Skill was the ‘Mental’. It related powerfully to the images he used, the type of Skills he could use, and the efficacy of those Skills. As such, Randidly fully intended to try and bring his Soul Skill and his Class more closely into line.
When it came to images, Randidly had gradually realized that the trick was not to make something from nothing but to have your something and shift your perspective on it. Only then, would you see that it was something else this whole time, and you could make use of this more powerful image, fully formed.
So when he looked at what Lucretia spoke of a fully charged Skeleton Key at the core of the Soulskill, he didn’t see a key, or a power plant dangerously close to a cataclysmic core meltdown, Randidly saw a seed.
A seed that was ready to finish germinating.
“Grow,” He whispered, and for a blinding second, the world burned emerald.
Then the rumblings in the Soul Skill increased in intensity, the world splitting as huge branches lifted upwards, separating enormous tracts of land. The tree that was rapidly growing was surprisingly gentle, lifting the seven new continents upwards. Thin tendrils from the tree sunk into the landmasses, and pumped energy and life into them, both increasing the size of the lands, but also filling them with generations-old plant life.
Below him, Randidly could feel the panic and awe in equal measure radiating up off of the people on the different landmasses. Distantly, he could feel a few of their lights snuffed out, as some were killed in the transition. That set his teeth on edge, but there was little that he could do about it. This was an unavoidable stage of growth for him. He could not back away from it.
It hurt, how callous he was becoming. But he filed that hurt away, for examination later.
A powerful golden trunk formed as the landmasses were buoyed upward. From the bottom, roots emerged and plunged downward into the darkness of the Soul Skill, and from nothing, a vast sea sprung into existence. Instantly, the roots spiraled downwards, through the choppy water of the sea and sinking into the fabric of space beneath it, anchoring itself.
Seven branches rose upwards, each holding a landmass. With exaggerated care, Randidly took that construct of Aether of the Creature, splitting it into three pieces, running through the core of the tree. But the bulk of those three pieces were in the top, middle, and bottom of the landmasses. These landmasses were each about ⅓ the size of the previous world, which meant the land area available to the peoples of his Soul Skill had doubled and then some.
The bottom landmass, the one closest to the water, instantly frosted over, a strange flow of energy emerging from the portion of the Skeleton Key there. Very few life forms remained on that continent, and those that were there were mostly warped by the energy from the Skeleton Key and became the stuff of nightmares.
The second from the bottom landmass was populated by monsters, which swiftly began exploring their new region. Although it seemed difficult to Randidly, he could see how one could traverse the branches of the central tree to travel from one landmass to the other, although you would have to proceed upwards or downwards in order. Therefore, those monsters would be the buffer between the other races and these strange, emerging nightmares.
Above the Monster Landmass was the White Hunter’s Abode. They cared little about racial difference, preferring to stay to their small, nomadic groups. They would likely be the best neighbors the monsters could hope for.
Above the White Hunters were the Spriggits, and also the second portion of the Skeleton Key. The energy it was emitting was less than the bottom one, but it was enough that the Spriggit scientists would likely soon create something that would give Randidly a headache.
Above the Spriggits was the Swamplings continent, and above them were the Earth Golem people. Finally, the highest continent was relatively uninhabited for now, aside for the small population of frightened refugees from the Creature’s invasion. Near them, the third and final Skeleton Key sat, seemingly completely inert.
Slowly, the growth of the tree became less and less, until these continents hanging from the branches of this great golden tree settled into place. It was perhaps not a tree of enmity, Randidly reflected, but it would bring several of his images into line, which was undoubtedly good for his growth potential.
Congratulations! Your Soul Skill the Four Shaded Clockwork World has evolved into the Seven Lands of the Spectral Tree! Your Paths have led you forward, and you have moved far and away from the trails left for you by those that come before. Take this as both a warning and as vindication; the arc of you lays beyond the kin of lesser beings. Good luck.