Exhausted from the day, Randidly could say nothing as Skarch insisted that they hire a cart to allow Randidly to rest. At first, he staunchly refused, it was slow them down immensely. But the headache was back with a vengeance and Randidly felt some strange instability from his inner world that had him worried.
He couldn’t pinpoint the source, but he figured there would be no problems with taking some time to relax.
It wouldn’t change the course of the war, but the defense seemed to come alive with Randidly’s actions. He had been previously shunting off large amounts of Aether into the atmosphere to keep some Leveling occurring amongst the spear users, but it was a small effect. This was not.
As Randidly reaped the life from those Wights, a tidal wave of spear friendly Aether spread across the entire Spearman School continent, and likely abroad. After weeks of the wounded piling up, they began to heal. Levels were earned. Hope was restored.
Randidly was exhausted, but satisfied. When they had departed, Captain Platton was white. But the lines of worry from his face were gone, instead, he was speechless in a different way from the hopelessness from earlier. He hadn’t even said anything, he had simply put his hand on Randidly’s shoulder and bowed his head. But Randidly understood.
The most pleasant surprise for Randidly was that it didn’t seem like a one-time thing. He couldn’t really judge how long the Mana would persist, but for a while, the Wights could not enter into that 20 kilometers of ground South of the Hallat River without fueling the Aether of the spear users. And they had tried. After the first hundred thousand died, another Wight army appeared and trotted right up to be reaped as well.
More and more Aether gave life to that heartbeat in the sky.
Still, a lot of the high from accomplishing that slowly dispersed as Randidly sat in the back of the cart and listened to Azriel and Skarch bicker over which of them would seize the ultimate prize at the tournament. It was somewhat hard to listen to. Randidly was aware that both of them understood that the tournament meant nothing in the grand scheme of Tellus anymore. But it was hard not to cling to it when everything else seemed so dire.
But Randidly was under no illusions. This problem they were facing was a pay grade above himself. Perhaps that was the same conclusion that Skarch and Azriel came to. They had done all they could. It was better not to waste their worries on a looming doom they could not themselves fight against.
To try and shift his own mind, Randidly turned to his PP.
Over the past month, he had been busy. Aside from general increases in his combat and spell Skills, Randidly had several Skills that had jumped rapidly upwards as he worked them more into his usual repertoire. When a Shadow Departs, Fireflies Dance and Volatile Ash both saw huge jumps, likely due to the circular nature of their effect. The former created ash, and the latter empowered ash.
In terms of the biggest spell growth, Incendiary Eruption and Incinerating Bolt had become his bread and butter spells. The combination gave him a shot that could hit aerial targets and another that could wipe out concentrated ground forces. Although Ring of Fire was powerful, Randidly preferred to rely on his spear Skills when they would come in close. This also had the added benefit of keeping his Level 34, where Randidly suspected he might have tried to rush towards 40 at the rate the Wights gave experience.
Still, perhaps the greatest focus Randidly possessed during this time was to raise is Visualization. His spars with Skarch and Azriel had focused on it, and there were concrete benefits to improving his images across the board. In addition, Randidly had to admit that there were some supplementary effects of the Skill that seemed to make it easier to interpret the information provided through his plant sense.
All in all, Randidly gained 133 PP in a month, which is some of the highest growth he had experienced in a long time. But his heart cooled somewhat when he saw that his Path, Chosen of Ash, would be completed by this amount of PP.
It was not a small thing that Randidly remembered hearing in this world that there had never been a Chosen of Ash. But Randidly was never one to mind trying to be the first.
Still, he did not yet complete the Path. He put most of his PP into the Path to raise it to 199/200, but he didn’t add the last bit. Instead, he leaned back and enjoyed the sound of Azriel and Skarch’s voices. Their travels in the cart were quick, as there were no others along the road with them, but the Central Domain was vast. It was nice to feel the cool breeze of farmland and have the air be cleared of the smell of smoke.
Randidly smiled sardonically. To be fair, generally, the smell of smoke was his doing. But still, it was a relaxing break. So he simply meditated.
It took almost four hours, and night had fallen, but Randidly finally felt well enough to attempt this. Sitting up, Randidly moved into a comfortable position.
“Azriel,” Randidly said.
Azriel poked her head back through the front of the cart to look at him. “Are you ready for your turn to drive? Ha, to think Skarch thought you so self-absorbed that you wouldn’t think to offer. It appears she owes me a new spear.”
Randidly opened his mouth and then flushed. Well… he supposed he hadn’t exactly thought that this was a shared responsibility. Still, it made sense-
“I was joking, to add levity to the situation,” Azriel said with a sigh. Shaking her said. “Truth be told, I owe Skarch some currency to improve her spear due to this. She said you would be unmoved by my humor. Please, tell me some good news to raise my spirits.”
“...I go to speak with my Patron, and hopefully be Chosen.” Randidly said lightly. Although he didn’t need to tell her, it was likely good manners. And perhaps Azriel would know some facts about Patrons that would make this easier.
“Ah,” She said simply. Then she nodded. “Good luck.”
Without another word, she removed her head from the back of the cart. With a small smile on his face, Randidly added the last PP to the Path.
Congratulations! You have finished the Path “Chosen of Ash”! Your growth has come far, and the road you walk has been paved by a great existence that rules over the domain of Ash. Without a doubt, the further you proceed down the road, the deeper you see into the forbidden mysterious of Ash. To choose this Path was always a gamble, because at the end of all Ashen Roads lay the burning heat that created them. There is a plain of ash and at the center a volcano. At the summit of the volcano, there is a face. Although this may be the end of your Path, never doubt the journey is worth it.
Without any fanfare, Randidly’s vision immediately faded. The darkness was not a kind darkness, however, and it felt thin and grainy to Randidly’s senses. But he didn't press. Instead, he waited. Yet the darkness stretched on, seemingly endless.
To Randidly’s surprise, the darkness persisted. Eventually, he frowned. Originally, he had assumed that this was a transition back to that Ashen World where the Patron of Ash waited. But minutes ticked by without any change. It was difficult to accurately track the passage of time in the pure darkness, but Randidly suspected at least a half hour had slipped away.
Implacable and eternal, the darkness showed no signs of dispersing.
With his fingers, Randidly reached out and touching his face and shoulders. All here. Acri wasn’t present, but he was physically in a location. Crouching, Randidly touched the ground and dragged his fingers through a layer of slimy and grainy ash to feel the cold ground beneath it. Sand.
Randidly grimaced. The strange sensation to this world was familiar to him but he couldn’t-
Then he froze. Because he definitely knew this feeling. This was the thinness to existence that Randidly felt while he utilized Ashes to Ashes. Slowly, he stood once more. The one thing that Randidly kept in mind constantly was that none had ever returned from this place. It would not be smart to behave aggressively here. It was entirely possible that others didn’t have the same experience that Randidly did with Ashes to Ashes and lashed out here.
Exposed suddenly to pain, they went mad and died here in the darkness. At the sudden thought that he might be standing next to a grimacing and contorted body, Randidly shivered.
Raising his hand, Randidly used Incinerating Bolt to see a bit of the surrounding area. Well, he tried to. Nothing happened. Then he attempted to activate Golden Roots of Yggdrasil to draw strength from the ground. Nothing.
None of Randidly’s Skills worked.
He moved his hand really fast back and forth in front of his face, feeling like a fool. But the wind he generated was not that of a normal person. He still retained his Stats. But he was somehow cut off from his Skills. At this, Randidly could only sigh.
All the others before him couldn’t have died because the Patron of Ash required them to fight something without any Skills, right…?