There was one step of this plan of Randidly’s that was the most difficult. It was not the construction of the array to free himself from this prison, and it wasn’t creating a garden to grown kindling so he could see what was going on.
No, of all the tasks, the one that seemed the most difficult to Randidly was to create the spark that would light that fire.
At first, Randidly had completely overlooked this as an issue. After all, even if he was weakened, he had several Skills that produced fire. Although he wasn’t able to display the full power of such Skills right now, he could still produce fire.
But then Randidly had attempted it. And although he could achieve brief bursts of flame…
Was that enough to ignite his kindling?
Brief bursts of heat were good for inflicting damage and rapidly depleting something of hydration. But most of that heat would dissipate or be absorbed as the water in something was burned away. It was only after that water was driven away that something would truly ignite. In order to achieve that, heat needed to be constantly above a certain temperature for a lengthier amount of time.
That wasn’t possible with the rate at which he burned through Mana. Therefore, it needed to be supplemented somehow. The less useful option would be to use his Grasp of the World Seed to seize some plant life and then use the slowly smoldering plant as part of his heat. That plan had merit, but the heat of the plant being consumed had never seemed overly powerful in the times Randidly had used it.
As the first option seemed so unappealing, Randidly had focused most of his effort on the second plan: empowering fire with images.
The issue with this was Randidly’s continued inability to hold a strong image of light or fire while he could clearly see the heavy darkness around him. Therefore, he had to wait until he had enough Mana to gather a spark and see how he could empower that small spark with a powerful image of fire.
It was hard, there was no doubt about that. However, Randidly was already seeing progress.
Instead of shooting it, Randidly simply condensed the superheated bar of metal in his hand. At that moment, Randidly’s emerald eyes shined in the darkness. Again, he remembered the vast power of a world burning to dust. Although it rapidly depleted its strength, that stretch of time saw fire rise to unbelievable heights of power. Fire’s ability to consume and grow was beyond doubt.
But that was not what Randidly was doing here, was it? No, Randidly was crafting a fire not to consume, but to nurture. What it was nurturing was other fire, but still…
The two seconds passed, and Randidly’s glowing hand once again went dark.
Expression thoughtful, Randidly turned and looked at the ceiling. Fire was strong, and focusing on that strength was one way of improving his image. Another was to focus on how fire would look, feel, sound, etc.
But… why did fire burn?
As Randidly exerted his will even more forcefully against the world, that was the question that the world seemed to ask back.
So he closed his eyes and let himself expand. From his past, Randidly saw campfires and candles. He saw forest fires and volcanoes. He saw his coat catch on fire and used his fingers to put out a birthday candle.
His eyes opened. Fire burned because it was the release of energy. A substance of condensed energy was broken down to create heat and light. Randidly wasn’t overly concerned with the chemical nature of the cascading chain reaction that propagated fire; it was enough to understand that substance was broken down and energy was released.
In the darkness, Randidly slowly smiled. Which meant it was part of a cycle. Where the other half was energy being consumed to create substance. Interesting.
It wasn’t a way to directly contest the Ashen Image and its influence, but Randidly would keep the role that fire played balancing substance and energy in mind.
But with this lead, Randidly’s path forward was clear: what he needed to do was construct the substance of what was burning if he wanted his image to have true weight. After all, all of the images that Randidly had of powerful fires stemmed from a fuel on another magnitude altogether.
The Ashen Image, after all, came from an entire world building.
So as Randidly’s Mana slowly came back, he constructed what would burn. What was a world to him? What was the substance he carried in himself? Burning his Class or Soulskill, even as just an image, seemed dangerous. No, perhaps it would be better to stay away from System related things. It was difficult to predict how that would turn out.
Perhaps a relationship? One of the thick lines of karma he could see? Or-
In the core of Randidly, he found a floating figure. The powerful image he had spent much of today refining for detail, but which also held a great deal of emotional weight and memories.
His mother, if only in likeness. Randidly paused. Then he did his best to stop thinking about the ramifications of that. It felt right.
The timing would be important, but other than that, all he would need to do is let his inner images see it through.
The burning of his mother. Some part of Randidly twitched just thinking about it. Sure, she had put him through so much shit in his lifetime, but she was still his mother. She had given birth to him. There was really no harm in what Randidly was about to do, but it didn’t feel like that. It felt like this strange mental act of rebellion was forbidden. It was a sacrilegious act of violence.
Randidly bared his teeth. That was, of course, where the power of burning it would come from. It was also while the Phantom he was slowly constructing for himself would be powerful. Because it signified something real that was lost to the darkness.
But to begin, Randidly needed his mother. Wide green eyes. Wavy, dark hair to her shoulders. A smile that only the charming troublemakers were able to pull off. Tall and slender for a woman, but shorter than him.
Then Randidly went in for the detail. Her perfectly white teeth from dental habits bordering between meticulous and obsessive. The bags under her eyes. The reddening knuckles of her hands as she aged. The perpetual frown she wore when she was trying to read.
The echoing sound of her laughter as she was in another room with one of her many male friends at night.
With his Mana back, Randidly once more called for an Incinerating Bolt. This time, he held that fire underneath his mother and watched as she slowly burned away.
Her skin rapidly dried and crackled. Then it flaked and smoked. Then slowly, her flesh caught fire. Her hair was rapidly consumed by the flames. The fat and skin on her body seemed to evaporate and leave ghastly white bone. Her clothes were lost in the hot conflagration around her.
The heat grew more and more intense because even after her face had burned away to leave the skull underneath, Randidly still could recognize it as his mother. Gritting his teeth, Randidly pressed with his will, urging the fire ever higher. The laughter continued to echo, joined by the tickling of a clock.
Those noises repeated until they lost meaning as the body was warped. With blazing eyes, Randidly witnessed every second of the changes.
If what fire does was reduce a substance to energy, take it all away. Wipe away the mark of my mother’s memory from my images, Randidly thought passionately. Burn it all away.
The skeleton bubbled and popped. The pure white of the bones began to fade into a dirty yellow. The bony fingers curled upward. The spine hunched forward. Wreathed in flames, the skeleton seemed to writhe like a piece of bacon on a hot skillet.
Fifteen seconds, Randidly’s Skill interrupted.
The illusion was shattered. His Mana long spent, the fire he held in his hand went out. His image collapsed with it, the heat and light dispersing instantly.
But Randidly began to laugh. Fifteen seconds. At most, his Mana was able to support two or three seconds of flickering heat and light. To increase that amount by five fold…
It remained to be seen whether that heat would be enough to light a fire, but it was definitely a start. More than that though, Randidly had also gained very useful from the image. With delicate care, Randidly plucked that image of a twisted and haunted skeleton and pulled it out of the fire.
Then he traveled deep into himself, finding the endless fields of frigid ash. There, he wrapped the skeleton in hundreds of layers of the ash, until it seemed to function as a core of a desolate world.
I’ll be back for you later, Randidly promised. Then, after a brief hesitation, Randidly reached out through the inner pathways he had discovered and found the connection he had to Acri. It had been a great relief to discover these because it meant that Acri and Sulfur hadn’t been destroyed.
But Randidly spread the vicious image of sharpness that Acri was eternally pursuing and spread it across the surface of the giant ball of ash.
For good luck.