It seemed that luck was with Randidly today. Which honestly wasn’t a phrase that Randidly thought very often. After only three hours of scouring the countryside, he was able to find a Dungeon that satisfied most of his requirements in a low valley surrounded by constant mist.
Luck might have been less of a factor than the System’s foolishness, however. If not for the constant mist, Randidly probably wouldn’t have given the area a second glance.
The Dungeon Level was 67 so Randidly wouldn’t have any problems Leveling or gathering monster bones of sufficient structural integrity for his forging experiments. Rather briefly, Randidly glanced around at the mist filled valley. Hopefully, visibility won’t be this poor within the Dungeon…
Then he stepped through into his new training ground. After blinking for several seconds, Randidly raised a hand and shaded his eyes from the intense sun that hung low and fat above him. The drone of insects and the harsh calls of birds filled his ears. In front of him, a low slow covered with lush ferns led downward to a field of bright flowers.
Beyond that lay heavy jungle, thick with vines and humidity.
Aether exploded outward from his position, giving him a general feel for the surrounding area. Although the location wasn’t particularly mountainous, within the Dungeon were several cracked and ancient hills that Randidly could spot. As there was one nearby, Randidly began to dash through the thick ferns, grinning evilly at the rather loud noises the ferns made when shifted.
Already the surrounding jungle was beginning to quiet down. It seemed some predators had finally noticed his presence.
From just a casual exploration when he arrived at the mound, Randidly again wondered if his luck was finally coming through for him. The mounds were strangely uniform, but they were also oddly corroded, as though there were monsters with acidic properties in the surrounding area. Randidly tucked that tidbit of knowledge away as he inspected the corrosion. Against all odds, within those areas of corrosion… there was copper.
Not just copper. A copper that was unnaturally hard to the point that Randidly would be confident using it as a substitute for iron. Scratching his head, Randidly looked around. Somehow, this jungle… there was a feeling...
...that this Dungeon seemed very familiar.
Randidly’s attention was dragged to a nearby tree when a Level 67 howler monkey pounded its chest in fury, calling its fellow monkeys from the depths of the surrounding jungle. Randidly unleashed another casual pulse of Aether. Although there were dozens gathering from the surrounding trees, there weren’t so many that they would be able to swarm him.
But what cemented the feeling was that Randidly detected several acidic toads perched on a boulder some distance away. Although they lazily raised their heads at the monkey’s calls, they ultimately settled back into their respective holes to doze.
...I suppose this isn’t impossible, but… Randidly reflected as he reached up and snatched the howler monkey from the tree with a Reach of the Jade Slag. This seems to just be a higher Level version of the same Dungeon where I started this strange journey underneath the System. Too much to be a coincidence, but I can feel my karma with this place. By the time I returned to Earth from there, I was ready to tackle all the changes that had occurred when the System arrived. When I return this time, I wonder how I will have changed…?
As more Howler monkeys gathered, Randidly used Acri to scythe through them without difficulty. He was nearing Level 48, but he was a little leery of gaining the final two Levels he was willing to gain in the Dungeon quite yet. Although he had been previously distracted by the ore golems into killing them himself, Randidly knew it would be better to feed all of the experience to Acri until he had the chance to give his Class a thorough checkup.
Based on his estimates of the flow of Aether out of the Dungeon, the time dilation between here and Earth would be extraordinarily high. So much so that Randidly’s possible one month before the Judgement would descend could be stretched out to a dozen or so years.
And that was on the conservative end of the estimation. The problem of Aether Sickness generally kept people from abusing that function, but Randidly didn’t have any such qualms. Unfortunately, Randidly didn’t intend to use the entire month for training.
Lyra would come seek him out in six days. Naffur and the Order Ducis would hopefully arrive at Erickson Steel headquarters around that same time, bringing Nathan. Randidly hadn’t yet decided if he would try and condense his Fate before the fight against the Judgment, but he certainly wanted to understand the details of a Fate as soon as possible. Then he would be much better equipped to make that judgment call.
Randidly sighed. Strangely, he missed the days where Lucretia was looking over his shoulder, rolling her eyes at his occasional bad puns.
Still, Randidly’s understanding of Aether wasn’t so exact that he could tell the exact difference in time. And as his Absolute Time couldn’t be extended to a different place, it would only be able to tell how much time he experienced. Therefore it would be rather cumbersome to determine the exact difference in time. It was much easier to estimate and then make an educated guess on when to return.
So Randidly set himself a time limit that made his mouth twist: one year. One year within this jungle based Dungeon would be all the time that Randidly allowed to refine himself and to build the foundation for his imagined version of Erickson Steel. Less time than that wouldn’t give him enough of an opportunity to truly grow familiar with his evolving images. In addition, that time would be plenty to thoroughly strip this Dungeon of all of its natural resources.
More time than a year would be wasteful; not only would Randidly eventually reach limits in terms in how he could refine his images without new outside inputs, but also the threat of the Calamities cast a long shadow over him. They could happen at any time.
Randidly wanted to be on Earth and ready for when the new threats arrived. Plus, he wanted to have the chance to push Erickson Steel to the next level before that time. In order to accomplish this, Randidly would likely need to work tirelessly on Earth for quite some time. There was only so much he could do for Erickson Steel from within the Dungeon. To make them the wandering supplier that he imagined, their forging abilities needed to shoot sharply upward.
Still, all of that was for later. For now, he needed to grow familiar with his new home.
Randidly spread his arms wide, savoring the feeling of the thick humidity that filled this place. His fingers rubbed against his sweaty palms. As he did so, Randidly released thin pulses of Aether that mapped out the surrounding area in his mind. His first goal would be to establish a base somewhere while he figured out his specific game plan for improving himself.
Very soon, he found an appropriate location next to the largest of the nearby mounds. In addition to the mound, a tall stone monolith with vague facial features stood directly in front of the mound like a guardian. The ground around the mound was completely clear of grass. There were about five meters of space between it and the thick greenery of the surrounding jungle. The howls and squawks of the surrounding area were surprisingly muted here. It was a place that seemed isolated from the surrounding chaos and strife.
Yet it wasn’t the mound that was the source of that feeling, it was the monolith. Rather solemnly, Randidly walked closer to the monolith and dragged his fingers across the stone that had been worn smooth by wind and rain. There were slight indentations at the base that might have once been carvings, but now they were just differences in texture that even Randidly’s extremely sensitive fingers were barely able to detect.
All these Dungeons were once worlds. Randidly thought with a sigh. It’s easy to forget that. That if we fail to triumph over the System, Earth will just be recycled and used as fertilizer for other possible images. Will humans become the denizens of a Dungeon someday in the eighth cohort….?
Randidly’s eyes narrowed. Not if I can help it. That’s why I’m here.
As a sign of respect for those that had been conquered and devoured by the System, Randidly kissed his knuckles and pressed his palm against the stone monument. Just as he was about to remove his hand, his gaze sharpened.
It was faint, but Randidly was immediately shocked he hadn’t noticed it before. This whole area was suffused with an ancient image; that was why plants weren’t growing in the surrounding area. The passage of time had eroded the image to the point it was just an air of solemnity, but it continued even though the meticulously carved statue had been worn smooth. Randidly’s gaze drifted upward to the stone in front of him.
It was now but a tall pillar. The hints of facial features were so slight that they would only be noticed by the peripheral of your vision. Yet the feel of it felt cool and refreshing to Randidly. The flow of water out of a spring, it pooled in this small area.
It was a valuable image, Randidly abruptly realized. The World Tree, especially, would benefit from exposure to this image that seemed so timeless. Yet the reality of the situation twisted Randidly’s face into a horrible grimace as he proceeded past the monolith and began to clear out the interior of the mound.
This image was so strong that it has persisted within the time accelerated world of the Dungeon. During its heyday… could I have stood against an image like this?
And yet… this world became Dungeon fodder. Which means it was only able to defeat the first Calamity. Ultimately, it was consumed by its own darkness.
In the face of that grim reminder of the very real danger that faced Earth, Randidly began to work in silence. The mound itself was about ten meters tall and about twenty meters in diameter. As Randidly dug deeper into the structure, it was swiftly apparent that this wasn’t a natural phenomenon.
The mound was essentially dozens of incrementally larger domes stacked on top of one another. Seeing the way that the copper ore had managed to corrode and emerge from within the inner portion of the domes, Randidly had been operating under the impression that there were valuables stored within the dome that transformed the surrounding materials into copper. So he dug deeper, hoping to find the source of the strange ore.
Despite his hopes, the domes revealed no reward for digging through them aside from a significant amount of the copper ore. Instead, what Randidly found at the center was somewhat more disturbing: a disc of stone that was heavily reinforced with runic engravings.
Scratching his head, Randidly released a sigh. I really wanted simply build a base here. Yet suddenly this has become quite complicated. If this area around this monolith is covered with engravings, it would be safer to move elsewhere.
Yet he didn’t yet pack up and leave for another mound, one without this strange monolith. Because from what Randidly could see, the runic engravings he could sense were just there to maintain the integrity of a drawing that was carved into the stone disc. Perhaps a worthy pursuit in most cases, but what he found on the non-engraved portion of the stone disc made Randidly frown.
Rather clearly, the drawing left there was an arrow.
Based on its direction, it pointed East, toward a thick stretch of jungle and beyond that, to the plateau. Randidly cautiously moved closer to the disc, examining it carefully. Although the engraving on the stone disc was rather clumsy to Randidly’s eyes, the maker had clearly wanted to keep the stone in place at all costs. As the runes clearly still had power, it seemed likely that it still pointed unerringly toward its objective.
Even after frequent scans, Randidly could discover nothing strange about the stone disc. It was exactly what it claimed to be. Cautiously, Randidly approached.
With infinite care, Randidly rapped the knuckles of his metal arm against the stone disc. Nothing happened. Frowning, Randidly proceeded to dig down a meter into the ground beneath the disc. Very soon he discovered that the stone was attached to a metal pillar. Although Randidly dug around it and cleared the surrounding ground, it still stood firm.
For several seconds, Randidly regarded the strange arrow atop the metal poll, still determinedly pointing to the East. Then Randidly shook his head and began to sort out the rest of his new base. As he had cleared out the ground and found no addition engravings, it was likely that this area was safe for him to use. In addition, he still believed that the image hanging around the stone monolith would be extremely useful to him if he submerged himself in it for a time.
Although he was confused by the presence of the strange arrow, Randidly thoroughly scanned it and couldn’t find any trace of runes that would make it more than a peculiar compass. So he instead focused his attention on the structure around him.
The fact that this mound was a series of domes was somewhat awkward for Randidly because he had broken through each of the layers to get here. Therefore, the overall structural stability was somewhat diminished. In addition, Randidly would need to clear out the inner domes to make room to work on forging and his images. His space requirements were rather high
In an ideal world, Randidly would only need to maintain a single dome over his base. But time had been quite cruel to the outer domes. They had slowly been broken down by the elements. It was only after you went a few domes inward that the entire dome would be mostly intact So Randidly carefully cleared out domes from the inside out, looking for the first signs of instability.
Ultimately, that instability came too quickly. Although the domes were quite thin, the instability started showing up when Randidly had only opened up about eight meters of space for Randidly to work with. His mouth twisted. Randidly’s entrance had been altogether too rough.
Therefore, he had no choice but to dig downward. And since he was clearing out a large space anyway…
Randidly figured he might as well take some time to add some of the trappings of modern civilization to his year-long home.