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“Let us begin the training.” There was something very different about Shal’s tone of voice now, but Randidly didn’t notice, too excited about his new skill. He was about to show Shal, but there was a coldness in his eyes that stopped him.

“Put down the spear,” Shal said coolly, holding a box in his arms.

Randidly did so, but slowly. When he had finished, Shal beckoned him over. “You must do something for me. Stay still.”

There was iron in that voice, and the hairs on the back of Randidly’s neck sensed something was coming that he wouldn’t like, but he was still taken by surprise when Shal dumped green goop on Randidly’s leg, and his flesh began to flake and sizzle.

Randidly screamed, all hopes for the future and pride forgotten. He fell to the ground and clutched his leg, the pain overwhelming him.

Shal kicked him. “Stand. This is nothing.”

“Hah, hah.” and as the shock wore off, Randidly realized that it wasn’t so bad, just a jarring burning sensation at the edge of his consciousness.

Frantically, he checked his health, to find that it was rapidly decreasing. With wide eyes, he looked at Shal. “My health…”

“You have health potions, do you not? And you have the materials and ability to make more. Stay here and survive.”

Randidly’s Acid Resistance rose a level, and abruptly he remembered why he was here. It raise his skill levels, to train. Although it was slightly barbaric, it seemed it might be effective…

Hurrying, Randidly fixed a health potion and drank it, satisfied even though it was only 37 health, it was still pretty good for wildly shaking hands. The acid continued to rip away at his focus with daggers of pain, but the rate at which his health decreased was slowing, giving him some hope. He still had 60 some health, and he drank another 40 potion, getting him back over 100.

Randidly gained another point in Acid Resistance, and cashed both PPs in, getting 2 more points of Willpower. Instantly, he felt slightly steadier, able to control the pain. It seemed like Willpower was a pretty useful-

Another splash of Acid hit him catching him in the chest and face. Some of it got into Randidly’s mouth, and he began coughing up blood.

Acid has reached your blood stream! You have poisoned. Poison Resistance has increased to Lvl 6.

“You better hurry.” It was slightly infuriating how calm Shal’s voice was. “If you do not work quickly, acid and poison shall kill you before you can brew more potions.”

Gagging on his own blood and bile, Randidly forced himself to drink two potions to restore his health to safe levels. Even so, the acid and poison ate at him, pushing his health back below 80, and then 50.

He gained a point in Acid Resistance.

With shaking hands, Randidly tried to mix another health potion. He succeeded, and his potion mixing went up, but it was only for 29 health; barely above a failure, but he still drank it as quickly as possible and began work on the next one, his hands steadying.

With a sigh, Shal grabbed Randidly and dragged him into the safe room. “Since it is your first day, and you are weak, I will be merciful. But you will regret forcing me to do this.”

Even though the movement jarred Randidly’s healing skin, it was still relieving to be back within the safe room, where regeneration was doubled. His regeneration rose, now barely letting the poison take away any health at all, and Randidly made another potion, this time for 50, which he immediately drank.

Just as his hands began to work on the second one, another wave of acid hit him, but Randidly gritted his teeth and did his best to ignore it. Just when it ended, he began moving again, but then another wave of acid hit, basically covering every inch of him. The pain was an incessant buzzing, grinding away at his focus. His hands could barely move, he wanted to vomit.

Shivering, it was the best Randidly could do to simply continue to exist.

“Three things affect how quickly you earn skill levels,” Shal said simply, setting his box down and giving Randidly a long look. “First, repetition. More is better. That is simple. Second, The theoretical difficulty. The more difficult it should be to accomplish, the more of your effort goes towards raising the skill level.”

“Finally,” And Shal punctuated this with another wave of acid that splashed across Randidly. “The actual difficulty.”

His chest heaving, his eyes bloodshot, Randidly began to slowly move, carefully mixing the amounts of ground crystal. Although every second was agony, he did his best to focus. He wanted to live. He needed to live. Sydney…

Ace…

“There is some disagreement on why it is so. Some say that the world knows your true plight, not just the theoretical one. Others say that the more an individual wants it, needs it, the more the world responds. You warp the world with your wish.”

Randidly mixed, almost ignoring the pain. Then a drop of goop slid down his face and dripped into his eye. It began to burn like a thin rod of iron was shoved into the soft flesh at the edge of the eye.

Even though it was twitching, Randidly kept it open. He gained the skill Pain Resistance Lvl 1, but ignored it.

Both Acid Resistance and Poison Resistance rose a level.

“I believe that is what it is. The want. The need. Do you want it? What did you call yourself? Ghosthound? Do you really want to get out enough to push through this? Do you crave that strength?”

Randidly was on fire, inside and out. It hurt and burned and deep down, he hated. Why the fuck was he doing this. Why did he need to go through this. Was was every moment longer than the previous one. What would be at the end of this road? Would he get a rest after this…?

“No, it never end.” Shal answered, as if he could read his thoughts. “If you start walking, you continue to accelerate, or you die. Do you have that strength?”

Randidly finished the potion. The result floated in front of him taunting. It would restore 71 health points after drinking it. He had gained a level in potion making too.

Randidly silently drank it, stoically choking down his screams as he was splashed with more acid, this dose seemingly more concentrated and vicious than the previous.

His pain resistance and acid resistance went up as he brought out more supplies, to make the next health potion.

Belatedly, his poison resistance went up.

Randidly wasn’t sure if he had that strength now…

He furrowed his brow, focusing.

But he would find it.

****

Randidly settled in a routine.

The morning was acid and agony, and potions. He would make and make, attempting to keep up with the veritable vats of acid that Shal would bring back, each a strange, painful variation. Some days he wouldn't be allowed to make potions, simply meditating. Focusing on that hair thin bonus it granted him.

Several times it was very close to killing him. But Shal somehow knew the edges of his willpower, his sanity and endurance, even as he pushed him.

His health would often drop down to something like 8, and then level off as Randidly trembled and tried his best to ignore the tears in the corners of his eyes.

His health would be plummeting below 20, crashing towards 0, and Randidly would finally manage to successfully finish a potion, healing 40 health, buying himself a brief respite. Half of those times, he could use that time to recover his mental state.

As days passed though, more and more, that would be when more acid was splashed on him, and he frantically would need to brew additional potions.

****

The afternoons were Randidly’s favorite. It was spell practice, with Shal as the target. A target who moved like a ghost, dodging Randidly’s Entangling Roots and mana bolts effortlessly, closing the distance and brutally knocking the wind out of Randidly, or throwing him into the forest, where Randidly would be forced to jump up with a yelp, and rush back out, fearful of the monsters there.

This would continue until Randidly had run out of mana and had meditated back to full too many times for Shal’s taste, and then would come the third and final training period of the day.

And the one that was the worst. Spear training.

“The Spear,” Shal had explained, giving Randidly a simple, light weapon, that he had been able to identify as being Lvl 10. “Is the greatest weapon. It is versatile. It can be quick, it can be powerful. It can stab, it can sweep. But most of all, it is wielded by a spearman, the most powerful warrior of all.”

“You are weak; you have no hope of being a spearman. But like my master still dutifully tried to drill the moves into me, I shall ravage your body until it knows the moves.”

“So… that is how you become a spearman…?” Randidly asked uncertainly. This day had largely numbed his fear of pain, but still the entrancing grace of Shal handling his spear gave him pause.

Shal chuckled. “No. But it is a way that non-spearman can slowly come to know the spear. Even I am not yet even close to being spearman. I am a man with a spear. But to you…”

His spear blurred, and Randidly felt his left arm, which was lightly holding onto the spear, shatter from the impact. “But to you… such concerns are too far in the future. For now, do you best to survive.”

And through mana shields and Iron Skin, Randidly did his best.

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