Dozer scratched his head, looking at the rather empty parade ground. “Not much to look at now, but when the Squads are all gathered… well, it's impressive. Very moving, to see everyone drilling in unison. Alana lectures sometimes and draws a thousand people.”
Helen nodded absently. Surely, the large flat ground surrounded by low wall and outbuildings was impressive, but it wasn’t anything compared to the Colosseum of Hastam where the under 25 Tournament was fought. It honestly seemed to be rather hastily erected. And constructed of wood, rather than heavy stone.
Instead of focusing on the background, Helen was fascinated by the dozens of people training on the grounds, even now. Although Dozer spoke dismissively of the people here, it only took a glance to see that they were all very competent with their weapons. And some people with weapons that Helen had never even seen.
From what she could understand, this Donnyton held a very important place in the heart of this Earth. It was with pride that some of the people in Alana’s squad boasted that they were the strongest army on Earth.
Perhaps not due to numbers, but simply looking at complexity and fluidity of movements, Helen could believe it while watching these Squads practiced.
Groups between five and twenty-five moved together and toward each other. It seemed that there were several practices going on concurrently in the area. There were more… Helen struggled not to say spellspears… spellcasters, likely about ten, two to each group. Although they were not the core of the Squads that Helen saw, they were definitely important. To see that they made up such a large part of this world’s armies was a shock.
When Helen had heard Randidly talk casually about tactics during his first visit to Tellus, she had a difficult time understanding him. It was true that the spear wasn’t infallible, but it was the greatest weapon ever invented. It was used by the Spearman to save the world. It was in her blood to worship the spear.
After being exposed to Randidly’s energy and straying some from her home planet, Helen was able to finally grasp how the Spearman had shaped the world with his spear. Not necessarily to Tellus’ detriment, but there was a cost by the excessive focus on the spear.
It only took a spar each with Annie and Ptolemy to realize how costly abandoning all other weapons truly were. Against Annie, Helen could do practically nothing; the other woman was able to fire off a string of deadly projectiles from a distance without giving Helen a chance to approach. With the Domain restrictions on her strength keeping her speed down, she had no chance to close the distance.
Ptolemy was a more manageable matchup, but his cantrips and Skills often left Helen infuriated. So much so that she had unleashed a diatribe of filth so overwhelming that he had hurriedly put an end to the spar, believing the anger to be real.
Well, it was real, Helen admitted. But it would only have lasted until I smashed his face into the ground.
“...It’s…” Helen opened her mouth to respond to Dozer, but the emotions were too tightly wound in her chest. The strange exhilaration of seeing the world that birthed Randidly. A frustration that the passage to this world had so restricted her strength. Wounded pride that she hadn’t won a single spar against Dozer. All of it conflicting and exacerbating each other, until Helen didn’t have a nameable feeling remaining within her chest, but simply the seemingly endless beat of her own heart.
Again, Dozer scratched his cheek. “You’ve got that look.”
Trying to play off the growing kernel of excitement in her chest, Helen casually shrugged. But that kernel of heat was dangerously close to igniting those compressed frustrations she held in her breast. “Huh? Don’t project your emotions onto me.”
“This thing you do isn’t cute,” Dozer grunted. “I can see it on your face. You want to spar.”
For several seconds they held each other’s gaze. Then Dozer looked away. He whistled. “Hey! Clarissa. You in the middle of something important? I need some help putting someone through the Hound’s Ladder.”
The two larger groups that were fighting each other with brutal efficiency the moment before slowed and peacefully disengaged from one another. It was incredible to Helen that they were at each other’s throats one moment and then peaceably laughing the next.
There is a comradery to the violence they wield, Helen realized. It held none of the brutality that she had learned from her mother or the stern disapproval that was the attitude of most of Tellus. No, this… this way of viewing fighting… it’s the same acceptance that Randidly shows...
One of the mages at the back of the group walked out, leaning against her tall staff. Her hair was frizzy and greying at the edges. “Nothing important here, just helping a lower thirties Squad by letting them practice with us. But this will be fun for them, too. Who's the sad victim? You want a go, Dozer?”
Dozer jerked his thumb at Helen. “Never again. This one. A masochist. Brought around by Randidly. Wants it more than has it, but possesses a lot of potential.”
Helen wanted to curl up into a ball and die while simultaneously beheading Dozer. It wasn’t that she didn’t have it, it was that Randidly had deprived her of it with his stupid Domain.
The mage eyed Helen critically. Then she offered her a wide smile as if some invisible test had been passed. “Alright, but make sure you put us through our paces. These fools need the combat experience.”
Randidly paused in his work to glance subconsciously at his left arm. For whatever reason, he could feel Helen practically yanking against the bindings of his Domain. A seed of a headache was slowly digging into the area above Randidly’s temple.
Closing his eyes, Randidly considered his Domain. It was already Level 43, meaning that it had risen by twelve Levels over the course of the last few days. And Randidly would be lying if he said that it had anything to do with him. He was doing his best to isolate himself so he could familiarize himself with one arm fighting and learn his new Engraving. Mostly, it was Helen’s stubborn refusal to back down against the bindings of her circumstances.
It was truly admirable. Inspiring even.
Randidly wished she would fucking quit it.
Gritting his teeth, Randidly returned to his engraving and did his best to ignore the strange sensation of tugging on his Domain. Perhaps it was due to the outside influence, but Randidly moved quickly through the rest of the pattern. His focus was razor sharp and when he finished he was surprised to find that the energy flowed easily through the pattern.
After half-closing his eyes, Randidly felt the new “world” he had created within the breastplate. It was a thin and flimsy thing, unable to hold much. That was due to how large Randidly had made the pattern. This gave him more room to correct the pattern across the contours of the armor, but it reduced the amount of space that the Skill growing within would have to grow.
This portion of the manual on engraving was a bit more amorphous. You had to prime the pattern for accepting the Skill. The understandable portion of this was you needed to ensure that the Mana depth for the engraving was uniform. This was important because any flaw would cause an imbalance that would lead to the destruction of the armor.
Randidly checked quickly and found a few places that were too shallow or too deep. Grimacing, Randidly carefully deepened the entire pattern. Making a mark too shallow wasn’t that big of a deal, Randidly realized. You could simply deepen that portion to match the rest.
But if an area was too deep, the entire pattern needed to be deepened in order to match it. The deepness didn’t refer to anything physical, but simply to the amount of Mana stored in each line. And the deeper the Mana was within the lines the easier it was to overlook small flaws in the construction of the engraving. It increased the difficulty of uniformity exponentially.
A once over ensured that the pattern was mostly complete. This time as well, Randidly’s energy pulse to check the small world for the Skill to grow also came back successful. Somewhat bemused, Randidly sat back in his chair.
Acri raised its head to consider its master. Randidly waved a hand, showing that he was fine. In fact, he was happy.
But then, thinking about Acri-
It had been a day since he had seen his two riders. He was so caught up in his Engraving that he hadn’t even thought about it. Where had they gone?
Could he just leave them wandering around? They did look a bit like monsters...
“Fuck me,” Randidly muttered as he looked down at his nearly engraved breastplate. There wasn’t any specific statement of such within the book, but Randidly couldn't imagine it was good for the engraving to have a cooldown period between when the energy was inserted into the equipment and when the Skill was added. Likely, the energy would begin to react strangely when it wasn’t put immediately to use.
He sent a mental command to the riders to return, but the distance meant that the connection was extremely distant. It didn’t seem like anything could go through their mental communication He could unsummon them and then resummon them, but he was still curious about whether they could grow in intelligence. So Randidly just threw up his hands and simply pulsed Mana along the connection to them.
They would definitely feel that and hopefully return to investigate. But for now, that would have to be enough.
After all, what was the worst that could happen?