Slightly disappointed with Shal’s response, Randidly returned to his room in the Hall of Stances. On his way back to his room, he asked one of the young initiates of the hall how busy the main part of the Hall was, and was disappointed to find that it was as popular as ever. It would take longer than a few days for the joy of being able to encounter some of the greatest images the world had ever seen to wain.
Mulling over what he had learned from Trentyon, Randidly returned to his room. However, as soon as he was alone, his eyes sharpened.
Even though the past was important in order to prepare for the future, Randidly’s main focus right now was growing stronger. So he decided to focus his efforts over the course of the next week to polishing his Skills. Not particularly on raising the Skill Level, but Randidly believed the right course of action was to make sure using the Skills together was second nature.
As he began to develop a training plan for himself, Randidly was pleasantly surprised to receive a response from Shal.
Will be returning to Hastam. We shall speak. Be careful.
Shaking his head but slightly heartened, Randidly focused his attention one more inward on himself. Those strange Skills lost to ash remained in him, cluttering up space within his Soul. Much to Randidly’s chagrin, he discovered that they really took up space inside of him. He would not have the same potential of learning Skills as he had previously due to the influence of Ash inside of him. Simultaneously though, many of Randidly’s Skills had combined, so he still had a dozen or so slots inside of himself for Skills.
That was around the amount he had from his Class anyway, so there was no use becoming frustrated over the lost efficiency. Instead, Randidly considered what to train to the utmost in this week. But as he looked at his Skill List, his face was covered by a frown. He had gained quite a few Skills today, almost 20. But in Talon Strike, Mana Engraving, and Spriggit’s Tinkering. The nine in Spriggit’s Tinkering was especially confusing. There was no way that his careful consideration of history earned him points in engineering, right?
But what was the alternative? How ELSE could Randidly be gaining Skill Levels?
It was obviously beneficial at the moment because he had more PP to spend, but Randidly had a bad feeling in his chest. Gifts like this rarely came free. He had learned that from Lucretia.
To his surprise, Randidly realized that he missed the centuries-old woman. Both for her ability to use Aether and karma, and also because of the strong, steadying effect she exerted over both himself and his Soulskill. With her helping to administer Randidly’s insides, there was one less thing for Randidly to worry about.
Still, he understood that wasn’t a reasonable expectation. Lucretia would likely never return to be inside of him again, and that was alright. The life inside of him wasn’t a true life. Perhaps it was most akin to a clinical trial of some sort where a person was brought away from their real life to test some esoteric detail of life. Randidly had been blessed to have her as long as he had inside his Soulskill.
And speaking of his Soulskill…
Randidly sat on his bed and buried his head in his hands. His Soulskill was an area that Randidly always meant to give more focus toward, but he always ended up being distracted by something else. It was basically the equivalent of his Class for his Soul, and yet he completely let it fall by the wayside. Truthfully, Randidly guessed that if he really wanted to make a change to the overwhelming quality of ash that had suffused his Skills, even the plant ones, the Soulskill might be the place to start.
With a light sigh, Randidly leaned back on his bed. It was nowhere near the comfort of a bed from Earth, but it was still lightly cushioned for those rare times people from Tellus slept. And there was something profoundly soothing about staring at the ceiling. The sounds inside the room were practically nil, so slowly the sphere of hearing expanded to his whole wing of the strange dorms the warriors were placed.
As it was mostly empty, there were barely enough creaks to slow his Perception, and he stretched further. It was only when he reached the training ground and the kitchens of the Hall of Stances were his senses suitably engaged. And while his focus was stretched across half of the building he released his mind so that his eyes grew dull and he could give his consciousness a few seconds of rest where he thought about nothing.
The zen state was difficult to maintain, but Randidly forced himself to remain there for several seconds, letting his thoughts about the Ashen Image’s presence accumulate. It was a hard thing to address immediately, but Randidly had been putting it off long enough.
As he gathered himself back together after the refreshing break, Randidly’s mind went to one thing: Plant Dominance. All his ability to cultivate growth had basically been sacrificed for raw power. Not that he didn’t value raw power, but…
Randidly silently grimaced. Here, in the dark room, while staring up at the ceiling, it hit him like a physical blow: his ability to grow things was gone. No longer could he be the same man he had been for so long leading up to now. His time here had Tellus had hardened his heart and burdened him with a deep sense of responsibility, and it also saw one of his most concrete ways of benefiting others disappear.
His original little garden in the dungeon safe zone, the fields around Donnyton he had cultivated, the bloom of flowers by the shrine near Tatiana’s base that he had playfully planted… all of it was beyond him now. He had gained much, his mental voice assured himself. But it did little to alleviate the deep sense of loss that he felt in his heart.
His grand image was the tree of life. And now for power, it was burning everything that grew around it to ash. The sheer violence of the Ashen Image left a bad taste in Randidly’s mouth.
Reminding himself that it was not his choice that had led to here also didn’t do much to stop the frustration and anger. It was true that the Patron of Ash had forced his overwhelming Ashen image onto Randidly, forcing Randidly to open himself to the desolate and lonely image. But Randidly knew what sort of world the Patron of Ash had inhabited. It was pretty reasonable to expect that as one proceeds down the path of a Patron, their relations to that image would grow.
Despite that, Randidly had never thought what becoming more tightly bound to the Patron would mean. He only followed that Path for the power that he was sure waited at the end. This was a decision that he had come to on his own, and now he was dealing with the consequences.
Randidly raised his hand and conjured an Incinerating Bolt. It hung, hot and smoking, above his hand. Slowly, his Mana drained as the thing remained in his grasp without being loosed. Drops of molten metal fell to hit the ground, sizzling softly against the wooden boards. With a crunch, Randidly closed his hand.
The first Skill he had gained was root based. Well, perhaps that was not true. Randidly frowned as he tried to remember the exact series of events years ago in that dungeon. But the first choice between Skills that Randidly had, he had chosen Grasping Roots. That ability to control had blossomed into something so much greater.
His Soulskills up until this point had been based partially on growth, even if it was a rotting growth. Now, with all of the induced growth he caused resulting in fire and ash, that long-standing leg of Randidly’s had been cut.
As if on cue, there was a throbbing in his chest. With a slow hand, Randidly reached up and placed it under his heart. His frown deepened. Over the past few weeks, he had noticed this pain intermittently. When had it started? Although he couldn’t pin down the date, it did seem that it had begun when he had gained the Ashen Image. Perhaps the loss of one of the focus points of his images was having a deeper effect than he realized.
Perhaps, like when the Cycle of Rot and Ash grew too quickly, he was suffering from growing pains. Randidly closed his eyes. Within the next coming days, perhaps it would be best to spend some time in the Hall of Stances proper. Although it was not an option Randidly liked, stealing another’s image to balance out his Soul would be important.
Growth… growth was why Randidly had strived so hard for strength. He had wanted to find the power to let humanity flourish. To lose that now…
Even further back in the past, Randidly recalled being a child and helping his mother and Kulwort garden. A simple, wholesome activity. Those memories were some of Randidly’s favorites of his mother.
So much had changed, in so many ways. But that didn’t mean he missed it any less.
Randidly closed his eyes, and as he did so a salty tear ran down his cheek.
Some mechanical part of Randidly that wondered if using that tear in a potion would make it extremely effective. Experimenting with the tear would undoubtedly result in great effects. But Randidly simply wiped it away. For this small moment at least, Randidly was unwilling to force himself to always aim constantly to be working for the future. This had hit him harder than expected, and it was time to feel that grief.
Although he needed to find balance in himself, there were also so many other things grabbing at his attention. It was exhausting. His was now a dread Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom. At the moment, it felt like the change in the name was an ominous sign.
For another fifteen minutes, Randidly laid on the bed, listening to the soft noises in the building. The tread of feet upon wooden boards. The bubble of boiling water. The tired breath of an old man removing his outer garments in preparation for bed. A young boy singing to an even younger girl. Wind, tracing its fingers along the roof. Even as Randidly was seized by grief, everyone else continued to move forward. That was life.
Then the moment passed, and Randidly stood with a firm expression on his face. It might not be now, but he would remain on the lookout for a way to find his balance. “Alright, it’s time to get to work.”