“As I was saying,” Azriel said with a glance at Helen, “The easiest problem is the difference in skill with a spear. The unity that Skarch can display is horrifying. But there are more difficult issues.”
Randidly twisted and looked at Helen. It seemed like her face was in a state of rigor mortis. A twitch had developed in the corner of her eye.
Her fury was readily apparent. Which is why Randidly turned to Azriel with a renewed focus. He needed to assist in any way he could. After all, Helen was tied to him. Their fight was a close one. She had pushed him to the edges of himself. Mid-fight, he had only been able to succeed by strengthening his images to the point that they were Pontiff level. No matter what Azriel said, Randidly wasn’t going to take this challenge lying down.
“Beyond that, we are both familiar with Skarch’s powerful images. While we have seen no proof that she is a Pontiff, that might be due to the fact that all of her images are superimposed on her spear anyway,” Azriel reasoned. “Even now, I have no confidence facing off against her in our little image game.”
Randidly winced. That was very true. In terms of images… Skarch had trained since birth to focus on images. “But in terms of Skills-”
“It is true that Helen has powerful ones. And her new Soulskill will make her growth exponential, should she have the chance to grow.” Azriel folded her arms. “She doesn’t have time to grow, Randidly. Despite Skarch’s rather bland Skills, they have been honed to a point. They will not fail her now. I’ve sparred much against Helen to familiarize herself with the Skills, but we simply don’t have the time.”
Randidly looked up sharply. “Then maybe a Dungeon-”
“It’s forbidden by the rules,” Helen muttered. “If I have to fucking resort to cheating to win, what’s the point.”
Randidly, the Level 35, coughed awkwardly. But he said nothing. It was clear that Helen’s pride prevented her from relying on external means to grant the time she needed. Shaking his head, he looked once more over at Helen. “How much time do we have left?”
“Azriel’s fight is tomorrow, the third quarterfinals match is three days after that. Mine is three more days. A week. Only a week,” Helen's voice was bleak.
“To briefly cover the rest,” Azriel added. “Skarch has a longer range and better Skills for closing distance. She weighs more. When considering their respective fighting Styles, Skarch’s consistency likely is the ultimate winner. Skarch has better dynamic-”
The table Helen was sitting at had a dent in it.
“It’s hopeless, I get it,” Helen hissed, her eyes narrowed to slits. “You two stay here. I don’t need to hear how I will lose anymore. I’m going to go train.”
“Wait,” Randidly said quietly. And to his surprise, she stood in the doorway. Her back was to him, but she didn’t move an inch. After clicking his teeth together a few times, Randidly finally said, “I think you are going to win, Helen.”
Where her hand was on the doorframe, a large chunk had been snapped off. Randidly blinked in surprise. Just how strong was her grip strength…? But out of the corner of his eye, he saw Azriel looking at him and shaking her head.
Had she just followed his train of thought and bothered to inform him that in that area, too, Skarch was superior…? But Still, Helen really needed to stop trashing this place before an acolyte of the Hall noticed...
“It’s an easy thing to say,” Helen whispered.
“I mean it.” Randidly grinned at her back, so she would be able to hear the smile in his voice. “These are all of the same sorts of stats that Azriel could have given as to why I would never win against Drak in the Regional Tournament; just ignore them. There is more to fighting than just Stats and Skills.”
“The last thing is experience,” Azriel added helpfully.
Randidly glared at her and then said. “There is one more thing. And if you are weaker than Skarch, less experienced than Skarch, and have less powerful images, you are just… going to have to be better the old-fashioned way.”
Helen slowly turned it around. “Why do I get the feeling you are about to say something corny?”
“Just want it more,” Randidly said. “Just let go of who you are and become who you have to be. Become the very specific version of yourself that is better at winning than Skarch is.”
Both of the women just looked at Randidly.
“Your words are inane. If that were truly all it took, beggar could become invincible,” Azriel said dismissively. “These criteria-”
“I’m not asking a beggar to use these methods.” Randidly interrupted. “I’m asking Helen.”
Helen shivered. Then she straightened and her bright eyes locked with Randidly’s. “Do you truly believe I can win?”
“Don’t bother to ask whether the Path exists…” Randidly said slowly. “Ask rather how to pay the pound of flesh necessary to walk the high passes. Come, we will begin to train immediately.”
They didn’t take much convincing. Randidly could tell that for all of her anger and sorrow, Helen desperately wanted to win here. Azriel wanted her friend to win as well but was just too honest to allow any deviance from what logic dictated.
A week… Randidly thought to himself reflectively. Could he spare a week to train with Helen?
In his Soulskill, the huge migration continued to move down through the lands. The Monster Kingdom had capitulated and was slowly being absorbed into the mass. But the journey across the Monster Land for a group of that size would not be a short one. Beyond that, the Earth Golem Land still needed to be crossed. Randidly sensed that waiting a while to intervene more directly in its happenings.
Plus, Randidly saw his own struggle against karma in Helen’s strange desperation. He could sense that she was attempting to escape something she owed to her family at the moment, and the ties were becoming heavy on her shoulders.
The Acri and Sulfur problem was more concerning. Not that Randidly believed they were being harmed, but… it just felt foolish to let them in an enemy’s hands for so long. But crossing the sea in search of them… it would be a long journey, regardless. Perhaps it was best to ask Shal about travel and see if a teleporter was an option.
The final hesitation was Shal. Something was strange about his master, and it wasn’t just his newfound love of Rumera. Some other sense of Randidly’s pinged when he was near him, and he only realized after he left Shal’s company. But for the life of him, he couldn’t put his finger on what was going on.
Blowing out his lips like a horse, Randidly let all those thoughts and emotions pass. Worrisome, worries on all sides. But he had a duty. Helen was one of his knights. He would do right by her.
Randidly asked, “Helen, what is the core emotion that motivates you?”
Helen seemed to be taken by surprise and pondered for a few seconds before saying. “Honor,”
But of course, that few seconds of thought was enough for Azriel to slip in another word: “Rage”.
Very slowly, Helen turned to glower at Azriel. “You think I’m some sort of berserker motivated by Rage?”
Azriel just gave her a knowing look. Randidly chuckled. “Well, basically. If you were a deadly sin, you would be wrath. Before we begin, I just wanted to make sure of something; if this is to happen, you have to want to win. You cannot simply want to not lose.”
“Isn’t it the same?” Helen’s lip curled upward.
Randidly shook his head. “...it is not. One is fear, and another will come from your core. So whenever you are afraid of losing-”
“I’m not afraid,” Helen announced.
“-whenever you are afraid, strike at it with that rage.” Randidly continued. His eyes were luminous, even in the well-lit training area. The air around him trembled with the cadence of his words. “They want to take away your power? Call you a loser? Deny you your right? Tear it all down. A rage that will consume the world. Rip it to pieces. That is what you need. If the door is locked, rip it off its hinges. If the mountain will not budge, dig through it.”
Helen snorted. “You are an idiot.”
Randidly shrugged, and then shooed Azriel. “You can help later, but I want to just get a sense of how powerful she is, and what her Skills can do. It will start with just me.”
Grinning, Azriel backed away. “You are confidence. Have you so gained in strength that you will be capable of such things alone?”
“Well…” Randidly drawled slowly. The ground underneath them rumbled. Then the entire training room began to shake. Randidly’s eyes were neon green. “I’m going to be cheating.”
Out of each corner of the room, a thick root exploded and twisted upward toward the roof of the training area. As it twisted upward, it threw off smoke and ash, partially consumed by fire as it was. But as it reached the roof, it split into hundreds of different roots that would down and became a cage around the room. These roots split off further and the cage shifted and flexed.
Soon about a dozen human-shaped root avatars stood with spears at the ready. It had been quite some time since Randidly attempted to practice using this method, but it came back easily. More than that, Randidly instantly could feel his ability to project Skills through them by relying on images, taking their combat strength up to a relevant level. With his high Control…
It was time to play.
Randidly grinned at Helen. “Ready?”