In the darkness of the room, Randidly slowly toiled.
After slowly gathering enough Stamina, Randidly’s hand flexed, crushing the pebble into powder. His expression remained neutral, even as his Stamina ran out before he could completely crush the stone. All he could do is try again. So he breathed in and then breathed out. Stamina slowly filtered back into his body.
After a few minutes, his hand flexed again. The stone was crushed to dust.
So it had continued for several hours as Randidly moved slowly toward his plant to produce a sustainable source of light for himself in the suppression room. Oddly, the activity was soothing. Although each effort seemed gargantuan and the effect was small, Randidly was slowly creating something in the darkness. That seemed to have a certain charm that brought a smile to his face, despite the Stamina cost to even facial expressions.
Which was good, because Randidly’s time in his Soulskill left him with a sour taste in his mouth.
The reason for the strange pains that Randidly felt was clear; the terrible destructive mindset of the Ashen Image had infected his Soulskill. That Alta Bounty character that Lucretia stuck beside was certainly the most egregious, but Randidly had taken the time to travel to different lands and speak with people from all walks of life.
War-torn regions, peaceful small villages, reclusive mountain communities… Randidly visited them all.
Despite the differences between them, one thing was the same. They all seemed to acknowledge that their world was dying. And, because the people in his Soulskill believed it, it was slowly coming to be so.
Randidly had thought of several ways to reinvigorate the energy of the world to withstand the strain due to technological advancement, but that missed the point. It would simply push away the problem.
Randidly had done that for far too long. What he needed was to find a way to combat that mindset directly. And in terms of mindset, the way to get at that was to use an image.
Simply put, Randidly had none. It was the same problem that he was struggling with in regards to his plant Skills. He didn’t understand how this terrible destructiveness fit into the cycle that he had relied on until now to advance. So in the moments between crushing pebbles, Randidly reflected on his life.
Unwilling to let anything pass, Randidly started with his oldest memories. He thought about his relationship with Sydney and his parents. Then his awkward time in high school. The college application process where he chased Sydney. Meeting Ace. The bright days where their trio was perfect and balanced.
The dark days as Sydney slowly weakened in her battle against cancer.
All of those memories flashed past in the blink of an eye. Then, because he had little else to do, Randidly considered them again, going deeper.
He thought about throwing a baseball against that old oak in his backyard. He thought about the car ride with his father to see his mother in the hospital. He thought about being ditched by his prom date. He thought about staring at the back of Sydney’s head in freshman psych class. He thought about the long looks Ace gave him when Randidly was unable to reveal Sydney’s secret, and Ace was unwilling to ask.
Another moment passed. Randidly crushed another pebble.
Overall, Randidly quickly realized that heading into his Soulskill gave him to reflect, but there was something missing there. Even the practicing of images was ultimately hollow. In the Soulskill, his own images were empowered. Upon coming back, Randidly quickly realized that his practice there had helped fine tune what he had, but ultimately, time in the Soulskill couldn’t strengthen his images. They had to be forged in reality.
So after staying for a few weeks and traveling, Randidly had departed. At the time, he had offered to bring Lucretia with him.
Unsurprisingly, she declined him. She believed that it was her fate to watch the conflagration that was Alta Bounty.
But Randidly had established a mental contact with Lucretia. That way he could receive her assistance with the array to destroy the suppression in this jail. It was simply creating an inverse of most runes, but they did need to be done in a specific order to ensure that the wrong portions of the suppression were knocked out first, and his jailers wouldn’t be immediately alerted.
Stealth at that point was nearly impossible, but Randidly wasn’t overly concerned with remaining entirely under the radar. He just didn’t want to kick open the jail doors and find a Propagator waiting for him.
His face expressionless, Randidly crushed another pebble.
The dirt in the impression was slowly accumulating, although Randidly knew that the plants he grew here wouldn’t be able to be too tall. Optimistically, Randidly could gather enough debris in the surrounding area to reach a depth of one foot of soil. Any more than that would require him to break off more small rocks to shatter or gather ones from elsewhere.
Neither was particularly possible at the moment.
So plants at that size would have to do.
With great care, Randidly condensed almost a dozen fruits and squeezed them out above the soil. Even though it got rid of another one of his seeds, Randidly waited almost four days for his Mana to fill entirely up, and then blue all of his Mana to expand one of the seeds as much as possible.
Ultimately, all of his Mana could only create a sapling about as thick as a thigh and about 10 meters tall. But that was more than enough to create quite a lot of ash that Randidly then laboriously mixed with the rest of his soil.
Although he couldn’t be sure that it helped, sometimes during his image training sessions Randidly focused on empowering the soil. He remembered, a couple of years ago, how during the cycle of rot and ash there were small motes of emerald power that slowly emerged in his soil.
With the growing power of an implacable will, Randidly forced that energy into the soil. From this ground, the tallest and broadest tree would grow…
Abruptly, Randidly grinned in the darkness. Of course, this was impossible. He had seeds for grain. What would grow was… a wheat variant or something? Randidly wasn’t too sure of the details.
After great thought, Randidly ultimately resolved himself to spending another two seeds to create ladles to bring water up onto the platform. Most of it was splashed into the soil, but Randidly managed to get some into a nearby impression. Eventually, it would evaporate, but it would give him some more water he could push onto the soil in the meantime.
Randidly considered his small field with a doting smile. In the end, he decided not to add his blood to the mixture. There were a few reasons, but the main one was because his blood had destructive properties. The whole point of this exercise was to create something without his influence. The impetus here would be on the seeds to grow in the natural ways.
Right now, Randidly was infected with an overwhelming image of destruction. In a small way, even if it had no real effect on the image, Randidly had the strange feeling that it meant a lot that he was embarking on this path to grow something the old-fashioned way.
After his experiments, Randidly had seven seeds remaining. With great care, Randidly buried five of them in the ground he had created. Over the course of five hours, he brought a handful of water from his little aquifer and poured it on each.
Immediately afterward, Randidly checked the time. It had been sixteen days since he had entered into this prison. His smile was sharp. The nebulous deadline was drawing closer, but he had no way of verifying when that would be. On the other hand, plants generally grew very quickly in this new world, but it was hard to know whether the suppressions of the room also worked on plants.
They seemed to target Mana and Stamina directly, and as far as Randidly knew plants weren’t governed by that, but if they were…
Either way, for now, he would do his best to grow the plants for the next 5 or 6 days. Beyond that, Randidly was worried about the timing of the jailers return and so would need to begin work on the anti-suppression array, regardless of what happened with the plants.
So Randidly closed his eyes and imagined the sun. With all his will, he projected the warm energy of the sun out above him. During this time, Randidly would focus his attention entirely on his images. Although there were other ways to spend his time, none were as important as ensuring that he could get out of here.
Although none of Randidly’s images particularly related to the sun, his time in his Soulskill reminded Randidly how much interdependence and influence there was between his inner world. As such, Randidly drew powerfully on Sam and Alana to find bright and crisp images of the sun.
However, with Randidly’s high stats, it was easy to divide his focus. While Randidly projected that image outward, inwardly he went through his own images.
The consuming chill.
The devouring heat.
The relentless grasp of the Spear Phantom.
In the darkness, Randidly slowly painted with his imaginations. And slowly but surely, those strokes against the world’s canvas stayed longer and longer, becoming clearer and clearer. Without even consciously thinking about it, Randidly felt him walking steadily towards a solid foundation as a Pontiff.