With all of the people and positions of power talked to, things settled into a nice rhythm for Randidly. For over a month, his days neatly fit into a schedule. He worked on metal and forging in the morning, trained new steelworkers after that, then handled the affairs of Erickson Steel before lunch. Afterward, he did some combat sparring with Tatiana, Tykes, or Dinesh.
As they weren’t enough to press him, Randidly often traveled East to visit Neveah, and the two of them went to a deserted part of the Zone to duel. To Randidly’s chagrin, he was hard-pressed to win against Neveah without using Acri and Sulfur. Her Skill with illusions was reaching the point that it was extremely difficult for him to track which version was the real one. This was complicated by the fact that her true physical body was not entirely human in nature.
Eventually, Randidly could overcome this disadvantage with the raw power of his spells, but that brief amount of time allowed Neveah to close the distance and make things a purely physical fight. Even with Physical Fitness and Spear Mastery, Randidly was swiftly outmatched by her pure physical prowess.
Part of that was most of his Levels were in Spear Mastery, but Randidly focused his efforts on removing this weakness from himself before he returned to Shal’s world in the evenings. Mostly, this involved viciously draining stamina training with the increasingly hard and dense metals that Randidly created. Although traditional weight sets were almost useless to him, with his As the Sun Stills pounding he was able to make the metals smaller, harder, and heavier.
His experience with Breath of the Spear Phantom was much less fruitful. It was hard, Randidly realized, to change the way a Skill you had inherited from someone else worked. It was slow going, and Randidly realized that part of the problem was that the image he was trying to replace it with was weaker, and didn’t fit with the Skill.
So Randidly divided up his time further, spending a few hours each day at the bottom of the Lake Apollo, in the dark fissures at the bottom. Without light and air, Randidly sat. While he was there he worked with his Grasp of Lava and Incendiary Eruption Skills, further refining his ability to control the duration and heat.
But he also felt the edge of deprivation down there in the darkness. What he needed was to make that into an image. Breath of the Spear Phantom was a target Skill, but there was no real reason why it couldn’t have an area of effect. Well, aside from the prohibitive cost. The point was that it was a Skill to make up the difference in power between two opponents. What Randidly was doing would largely eliminate that advantage.
In the darkness, he considered the pros and cons of this approach. Ultimately, he decided that another person’s image would never be the tool he could use to defeat the opponents that he knew would be waiting for him in the future. Neither the Creature nor the Calamity would be stopped by breathing. So Randidly began to massage the Skill into the new shape.
The one other Skill that saw a marked increase in use was Ashes to Ashes. It was a Skill he had received from the Patron of Ash that let him dodge fatal damage and immediately reform some distance away. In the final fight in Shal’s world previously, it had been the tool that let him fight on equal footing with his opponent, regardless of the large disparity of training and stats.
It was strange, but he had thought of it during those moments of sensory deprivation at the bottom of the lake. It was a small likeness, but he could suddenly sense a depth to the experience of using the Skill that he hadn’t noticed before. There was a duality present in that instant that an attack destroyed his body, and before he reformed.
He sensed death.
Well, that was the wrong word. He did not feel death. He felt a stillness that could only be described as the absence of warmth or change. It felt like in the instant of impact, Randidly became a thin film that existed between two extremes. And by dancing in the space between the endless power of existence and crushing absence, he was able to move freely.
Strangely, that coldness reminded him of something. Touch from Beyond, the Skill that Randidly had obtained due to the Creature’s influence after one of the stock System Paths. And from what the Creature had said and Lucretia could suss out from its memories, there was a significance to these Skills. That coldness meant something to the System.
It was a powerful tool. One of the most powerful and Randidly’s arsenal. And even though these strange resemblances made him suspicious of the Patron of Ash, Randidly ultimately chose to continue to train in Ashes to Ashes. For whatever reason, he couldn’t take seriously the thought that the Patron of Ash was attempting to manipulate him in the same way the System was. Honestly, that strange being seemed to kill him.
But it did make Randidly wonder what exactly the Patrons were and how they fit into the shape of the System. Were they individuals from higher Cohorts, like the Champions and Nemesai seemed to be? Were they an offshoot of the strange occurrence of the Great Paths?
Oh the one hand, Randidly wanted to return and talk to the people of Donnyton for information. Their network was the largest in the world right now, and this was exactly the sort of tidbit that they would be closely monitoring. But other than the time he had returned to Donnyton to create the Fate Circle, which would hopefully remove a lot of the danger of condensing their Fate, Randidly stubbornly refused to return. And he knew it was his stubbornness that was stopping him. But he saw no imperative reason to change his behavior.
By the end of the month, he had gained almost 300 PP over the past six weeks. Most of his gains came from improvements to his crafting Skills as he continued to work on his method. Specifically, Spriggit Tinkering rose to 69, Gravity Affinity Rose to 62, Incendiary Eruption rose to 52, Chosen of Fire to 81, and Engineering Savvy to 68.
In terms of combat Skills, the big risers were Ashes to Ashes and As the Sun Stills, which Randidly used almost daily for the month. It did have the added benefit of giving Randidly much more experience in handling the strange weightlessness that resulted immediately after using As the Sun Stills. It never truly went away, but Randidly did develop the ability to largely ignore its effects.
All put together, the amount of PP was enough to finish off the Crown of Yggdrasil.
Congratulations! You have finished the Path “Crown of Yggdrasil”! Long have you tarried, letting yourself grow into the crown that you will bear for the rest of your life. To hold a crown is not to select a crown, but to find the crown always meant for you at the summit of your journey. Know that your feet have long led you to this crown, although you might not understand why. Still, tarry not long here. For the road leads ever onward.
Congratulations! You have gained the Skill Crown of Yggdrasil: Silence and Upheaval Lvl 1. Due to the nature of the Skill, it is impossible to determine rarity.
Crown of Yggdrasil: Silence and Upheaval Lvl 1: An active Skill. When activated, your Crown condenses over your head and inflicts a low-level silence on all nearby that dampens the effects of Skills. Effect increases with Skill Level. Also makes it difficult for individuals with low Willpower to speak. In addition, yours is a crown worn in times of strife and revolt. When attacked, results in each point in Perception and Reaction being worth slightly more. It becomes much easier to resist binding, deceit, and persuasion Skills. Effects increase with Skill Level.
Randidly laughed to himself. Due to the nature of the Skill, it is impossible to determine rarity? That was an unfortunate eventuality, because he had been hoping to use it to break the final lock on humanity by raising the rarity past Legendary. Still, there were other options for that…
In terms of Stat rewards, there were none, but the Skill would likely be something that he could use to affect Neveah’s illusions. Silence and Upheaval… well, that likely was the sort of King he was.
Sighing, Randidly looked up at the sky. He was above his workshop in the forest, and set off South towards Lake Apollo. When he arrived, the lake seemed more glass than water, without a single ripple moving across the entire thing. Randidly walked to the lake side and looked down at himself.
Know that your feet have long led you to this crown, although you might not understand why.
“Is this truly where I have been heading?” Randidly wondered aloud. But he knew the answer to that. Perhaps this wasn’t the form that he wanted… but for several months now he wanted the power and influence. “Fine then. Let me see this… crown.”
When he activated the Skill, nothing happened for almost five seconds, and Randidly at first wondered if something had gone wrong. Maybe it was more than rarity that was difficult about it. Adding to this sensation was the fact it had no cost.
But then slowly, thin tendrils of darkness rose up from his head and began to gather and circle around him. Before his very eyes, the crown condensed.
It was not very large, but it was black in color, with some tinges of crimson in the edges of the blades of the crown. And there were blades, slender and vicious, rising up out of the crown. The largest was at the center of Randidly’s forehead, sticking up almost as long as his hand. It was thin and deadly, with three sets of slowly smaller blades sticking off the sides until it reached the sides of Randidly’s head.
The band of crown appeared to be woven of wood, even though it was the same strange material. But it seemed alive as one looked at it, winding through the three strands over and over again, like three snakes seeking eternity with each other.
Suddenly, the crown snapped into place and settling onto Randidly’s head. A small ripple spread outward from his position, spanning the entire lake. There was a shiver in the air, and a strange dimness spread outwards from the crown.
Randidly’s lip quirked up as he considered himself with a crown on in the image on the water. “Something like… ‘Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ huh?”