Randidly’s gains weren’t small, but it was still only two days worth of PP. Most of the Skill Levels he gained were concentrated around Visualization and the Ignition of the Emerald Essence Skills, but his Ashen Kata and Yggdrasil groupings also slowly ticked upward. That was part of the joy of how wide his Skill base was; over time, Randidly’s Soulskill would grow to impossible proportions. The greatest weapon he had was his potential.
Yet how short his time always seemed. Another deadline perpetually looming ahead...
Strangely, the greatest gainer was Stalemate Breaker with twelve Skill Levels. It was a Skill he had possessed for some time, but Randidly really grew to appreciate the feints it allowed him only now. Lightly tapping Helen’s spear would often cause her to lose her balance for a split second when she expected a powerful blow, and he could follow that up with a crushing power that never failed to inflict damage.
Which brought Randidly back to the speed of his own growth; the more he looked at it the more intimidated he got. Most of his Skills had just gained one or two Skill Levels, but that still brought him to 125 PP over two days. Was this just the new normal for improvements…? Randidly hoped so. Maybe reaching the end of this Path wasn’t as far away as he thought.
Yet somehow, Randidly suspected that this was a special result of the training that they were doing with Helen. Further sledding would not be so simple. Still, the gains were cumulative. The more he grew, the more capability he discovered to push practicing to a higher level. Using the multiple root avatars with images was one very effective example of that.
More concerning was the change in the messages Randidly received when he finished two steps in his Soulskill.
In the First Land, there is silence. Long ago this was a place of dreams, but it has become solely populated by nightmares. The wisdom here is twisted beyond recognition. The day of Judgement approaches. Intelligence and Reaction +30.
In the Second Land, a solitary carving of a grand figure stands on the greatest mountain the world has ever seen. No one is there to witness it. Silence pervades the land. Focus +45.
Randidly’s tongue slid back and forth like a graceful ice skater across his teeth. These were definitely not the previous notifications he received. It seemed that the gains he received from the Soulskill were also warning of a great change that would come. This, Randidly suspected, would be the last time he made it through the rotation. After this, his Soulskill would need to change. The bubbling tension would come to a head. The Procession would arrive at its destination or implode.
Honestly, Randidly now had to hope it was successful. At least on a small scale. The Procession had left a trail in devastation in its wake that would not be easy to heal. The Procession continuing to move and plundering more land was the only reason that the great costs of this endeavor hadn’t caught up to these people. And by extension, Randidly.
In addition to the Skill Level gains, Randidly also gained an actual Class Level during his Wight killing. Without the help of Acri to absorb experience, he was gathering it all for himself. Which made Randidly wonder what exactly experience was. It didn’t seem like any form of Aether, but it definitely was recognized by Aether.
Either way, Randidly looked at his new Status screen.
Class: Lord of the Baleful Wood (+x5)
Level: 37 (6%)
Health(/R per hour): 3522/4589 (2487)
Mana(/R per hour): 4109/5369 (1956)
Stam(/R per min): 3211/4546 (790)
Progenitor’s Influence: 31119
Combat: Spear Mastery Lvl 198, White Phantom’s Half-Step (Un) Lvl 88, Heavy Blow Lvl 111, Iron Skin Lvl 47, Dodge Lvl 109, Fighting Experience (Un) Lvl 155, Block Lvl 75, Phantom Onslaught Lvl 42, Calculated Blow Lvl 99, Roundhouse Kick Lvl 76, Idiosyncratic Cut (Un) Lvl 119, Stalemate Breaker Lvl 57, Talon Strike Lvl 89, Counter Lvl 84
LoBW Class Skills: Grasp of the World Seed (L) Lvl 220, Spray Holy Sap (Un) Lvl 25, Sharpness Lvl 104, Call Grove Defenders ® Lvl 34, Earthquake (Un) Lvl 47, Invigorating Call (Humanity)(Un) Lvl 14, Reach of the Jade Slag (Ru) Lvl 99, Erode Image (L) Lvl 11, Spriggit’s Tinkering ® Lvl 89, Aether Understanding (A) Lvl 59, Summon Lava Golem (Un) Lvl 46, Aether Infusion Lvl 46, Volatile Ash (A) Lvl 33, Visualization ® Lvl 178, Fruit of the Planting of Enmity (L) Lvl 25, Absolute Timing (Ru) Lvl 47, Cycle of the Gloomy Wood ® Lvl 8
The 7 Kata of the Ashen Spear (L): The Spear Advances, Ash Trails Lvl 103, As the Sun Stills (A) Lvl 74, When a Shadow Departs, Fireflies Dance (Un) Lvl 64, All is Ash (L) Lvl 93, Frigid Ash, Extinguishing Storm (Ru) Lvl 40
The 6 Signs of the Spear Phantom ®: The First Sign- The Inevitable Phantom Arrives Lvl 115 (Un), The Fifth Sign- The Wild Phantom’s Embrace (A) Lvl 194, The Sixth Sign- The Breath of the Spear Phantom ® Lvl 73
Aether Skills: Aether Detection Lvl 120, Aether Manipulation Lvl 120, Living Aether ® Lvl 111, System Interference Lvl 27
Spells: Yggdrasil Soul Seed ®, Inspiration ®, Ignition Bolt ® Lvl 105, Verdant Nova (Un) Lvl 77, Plantomancy Lvl 35, Burning Footsteps Lvl 23, Touch from Beyond ® Lvl 37, Influence of the Molten Core ® Lvl 81, Eruption of the Blazing Leyline (Ru) Lvl 73, Ignition of the Emerald Essence (L) Lvl 25
Crafting: Potion Making Lvl 73, Farming Lvl 34, Analyze Lvl 29, Refine Lvl 72, Extract Lvl 58, Mana Engraving Lvl 171
Yggdrasil, the Tree of Upheaval: Glittering Leaves of Yggdrasil (L) Lvl 130, The Golden Roots of Yggdrasil (L) Lvl 158, the Emerald Sap of Yggdrasil (L) Lvl 144, the Yyrwood Flesh of Yggdrasil (L) Lvl 168, the Deific Mien of Yggdrasil (L) Lvl 143, the Cruel Indignation of Yggdrasil (L) Lvl 136, Crown of Yggdrasil: Cataclysm and Gloom (L) Lvl 86
Auxiliary: Sneak Lvl 56, Acid Resistance Lvl 22, Poison Resistance Lvl 21, Pain Resistance Lvl 82, Fire Resistance Lvl 102, Sewing Lvl 11, Digging Lvl 5, Cooking Lvl 77, Clockwork Mastery Lvl 25, Aether Connection (A) Lvl 15, Soul Bond Lvl 107, Chef’s Palette Lvl 33, Nether Resistance Lvl 20, Child of the Rain (Un) Lvl 45, Chosen of Ash (A) Lvl 121, Engineering Savvy ® Lvl 106, From Darkness, Genesis ® Lvl 3
Slowly improving, Randidly thought to himself while looking at his Soulskill. But Lyra was right about one thing; if his opponent was the System itself, he had a long way to go. It was akin to a single fire ant plotting against a human. In mass, perhaps it was an attainable goal, but alone…
Randidly closed his eyes. Then he opened them and his emerald eyes flicked to check the sun. For all that he had Absolute Timing, there was a certain satisfaction in using his very high Perception to read the signs of the world to locate the time. Feeling in touch with the world was something Randidly was growing to value quite a bit. There was still an hour or so before he needed to arrive and help Helen with her training. Plenty of time to grab something to eat.
Randidly had eaten inside of his Soulskill, but he wasn’t really sure whether that counted. Upon more than a split second’s reflection, he was sure it didn’t. He doubted that he obtained any nutrients from Soulskill food. But did he require nutrients any longer? His body basically ran on energy.
Still, the fact of the matter was that just like he didn’t need to eat any longer, Randidly also didn’t need to stop eating. There were plenty of people who just enjoyed the sensation of food enough that they ate almost continuously. Randidly just thought it was a rather foolish way to spend time. After enough time you would probably gain an eating Skill, but those rather useless, PP farming Skills weren’t really that appealing to Randidly.
Still, with the chill half-light of dawn coloring the air, Randidly could use a warm belly to steel himself for what was coming. Lyra was moving. Could he believe her assurance about the Creature? Maybe. But it was exactly that plausibility that was so dangerous…
After waffling back and forth for a while, Randidly chose a small stall that sold crepe like pastries for his breakfast. What surprised him most of all was that almost immediately after he sat down Darrune appeared at his side. With Randidly’s Perception, it was the smell that alerted him first. Darrune hadn’t shifted from the frontline mindset of showers only available when necessary.
As per usual, Darrune’s face was curled into a satisfied leer. Perhaps the man was pleased with himself for locating Randidly? But Randidly had no space to ask because Darrune immediately began to speak.
“Sir Ghosthound, I believe we need to speak. It is time we had a meeting of the minds about Helen’s training… and your own path, sir.”
Randidly grinned strangely amused by the bold verbal salvo from Darrune. “Oh? Do you have more inspired ideas on how she should be trained? Please, I’m all ears.”
“Not how, sir. Why.” Darrune said. His expression actually fell into something that resembled seriousness. “I believe it’s time to talk about what sort of spear she should be wielding.”
“Like the material? I’ve done armor, but never spears… That part is up to her,” Randidly said with a shrug. What sort of question was that?
But Darrune shook his head. “Not the physical. The mental spear. Image is powerful. Your own accomplishments demonstrate that quite admirably. Please excuse me for my boldness, but we should be aware of how her fight in the under 25 tournament will affect the image of all of Tellus. She definitely has that power, if she keeps winning. Such a lovely young lass… many Styles would kill to have her as their poster child. So I just want to be clear, what is her spear? And of course, by reflection as her teacher, what is your Spear?”
Randidly’s eyes narrowed and he regarded Darrune like he was a snake. The man was an incompetent toad. And doing his best to try out for the role of a two-bit villain in a community theatre production. Lovely young lass? It was as though his entire dirty veteran veneer had to be followed to the letter.
But Randidly’s Aether Detection and Living Aether Skills felt that there was a weight hidden behind the man’s words. Aether hovered above them in giant circular machinery. A grand whirlpool of images and choices. In the sky, the heartbeat that began with South Beach continued to pound like a drum.
Darrune stared at Randidly, his eyes deep and empty wells. Anything could exist within this man’s strange mind. His was a dim gaze filled with mist and darkness. In spite of himself, Randidly’s heart began to beat more quickly. How had he missed this side of Darrune before? Thinking back, Darrune had brought himself before Randidly twice.
Was it a mistake to bring the man here?
“My spear is my own,” Randidly said quietly. Deific Mien of Yggdrasil manifested, only slightly, and with it came the Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom. Such were the energies that Randidly released in that moment that Darrune rocked backward, the strange emptiness of his gaze cracking to reveal fear. “Let’s not try and pigeonhole us in, yea?”
“Ah… I suppose…” Darrune seemed disappointed. That depth and unflappable mystique disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, leaving a smelly man in soiled leathers. Then Darrune shook his head. “Well, I’m just glad to help-”
“Darrune.” Randidly’s voice cut across the other man’s. It would be a mistake to let this go without comment. Randidly’s emerald eyes were glimmered like fresh-cut gemstones. Something about the question and the tremors Randidly had sensed in the Aether brought him an epiphany. “Thank you. But never bring up the issue of images again. Not so long as Helen hasn’t yet lost.”
As Darrune walked away, his expression was twisted and bitter.
Slowly, Randidly turned and regarded the whole of Hastam. Now that he knew what he was looking for, he could sense almost a half dozen of those same tremors as Darrune had produced. Some were small, some were larger. Images and Aether swirling. But all had different flavors to them. Different paths forward. Different images.
My Soulskill and Tellus are going through the same thing, Randidly thought, somewhat in awe. If not for the timing, he likely wouldn't have noticed it. Tellus needs an identity in order to even attempt the Second Calamity. And it seems like the world is getting impatient, considering how overt an ask that was…
Randidly filed that information away, but ultimately it wasn’t relevant to him. Tellus would find an answer, he suspected. He just wondered what sort of answer it would be. What sort of spear did this world want to wield?