They made good time, heading south, mostly because everyone other than Randidly sat in the tractor trailer and drove, while he roamed through the forest, slaughtering anything he came across. The monsters were relatively strong for a while, in the teens, as they traveled through the area where the Newbie Zone had fallen. During that time, Randidly had mostly worked on his Fireball and Summon Pestilence, gaining 1 Level in the former and 2 in the latter.
But after the third day, they had entered the area where the Newbie Zone around Franksburg, and the common level of enemies halved, to something like 7 or 8. During that time, Randidly started training Agony.
It was a vicious, brutal skill. It drove him insane every time he used it. If he didn’t see it ripping apart the will of his enemies by the same token, he wouldn’t continue to rely on it. In addition, he didn’t have that big of a health pool to draw from. But against these low level enemies, especially in groups, it was more than enough.
By the end of three days, they reached the spot on the highway where they would need to turn east, and Randidly had gained 1 level in Roundhouse Kick, 2 in Pollen of the Rafflesia, 1 in Wall of Thorns, 3 in Mapmaker, 1 in Physical Fitness, 3 in Running, 4 in Sprinting, 2 in Pain Resistance, 1 in Equip, 2 in Pathfinding, and an impressive 8 in Agony.
Randidly had a hunch that the pain you went through as you used the skill increased the effectiveness of the leveling, by stressing the body. Either way, his growth was an impressive thing.
As they camped, Randidly poured his PP into the Apprentice Path. At 10 and 20, he received 2 distributable stat points each, but he received a strange notification at 25.
Congratulations, you have encountered a branching path! Choose a patron from the following list, and complete your apprenticeship.
Randidly idly scrolled through the list, but then his eyes widened as he examined the options.
Patron of Silence…? Patron of Frostbite…? Patron of Nightmares…? Patron of Crystal…? Patron of Zephyr…?
Honestly, this seemed like another instance where the system gave him no guidance, and being the first one to reach this point came back to bite him. Sighing, Randidly simply went with his gut; he chose Patron of Ash. If he really was going to commit to fire as his damage dealing spells...
The path you walk has become littered with ash. The sky darkens. The fire stands before you, and you do not blink as you walk towards it. Ash fills your lungs with every breath, but you dare not falter.
Other than the cryptic notification, nothing seemed to change, so Randidly shrugged, setting it to the side. He walked towards the group, who were gathered around the back of the truck, all 13 of them. They stood as he approached, the squad saluting him, Clarissa, Alana, and Devan simply nodding.
“You should figure out what your plan is when you enter the area, and who your leader is. I will not accompany you. I have… other business.”
Although Alana seemed slightly unsettled, she said nothing, and the rest nodded calmly, as if this was expected.
“Anything else?” Randidly asked, feeling quite strange. Although he supposed everyone at Donnyton had always listened to him, to have them be so deferential to him now was a bit…
“Ah, actually…” The leader of the squad spoke up, adjusting his pendant numbering 16, his eyes bright and nervous. “We were wondering… if perhaps you could give us some pointers. On fighting.”
Alana was unwilling to join the rest in all coming at him at once, but at Clarissa’s insistence, she relented.
“You will understand after it starts,” Clarissa assured her. Alana pressed her mouth into a thin line.
In the meantime, Randidly went and cut down a sapling, whittling it into a good approximation of a spear. The balance was a bit off, but it would be better than cutting someone in half with his huge Spine-Spear.
Randidly used his Root Manipulation to clear cars out of a 20 meter circle, and stood at the far side, calmly drinking a mana potion. After restoring himself to prime condition, he added. “...I won’t use skills to start. If you touch me, that will change. Deal?”
Alana’s eyes were burning, but Devan nodded seriously. Randidly was slightly worried it would take a while for them to start, but Clarissa was not a shy woman. An icicle zipped towards his head.
Grinning he spun his sapling and knocked it harmlessly away, eyeing the rest. They surged forward in neat lines, the front with shields raised, moving to encircle him. As they neared him, he simply stepped forward and delivered a non-Roundhouse Kick, kick to the one on the far right, throwing him stumbling back several meters.
In that opening, Randidly strolled through, his sapling lashing out, keeping the rest at bay. Another icicle rushed at his head, which he again knocked away. Then he lowered himself and rushed forward, putting his significant agility to use. Clarissa would make this fight annoying if they ever locked him down enough to use her powerful spells.
“Gotcha!” Alana growled, lunging forward, stabbing towards his side.
Randidly only chuckled and spun the sapling to his left hand, which he jabbed backward with, expertly knocking the spearhead harmlessly to the side.
As Randidly turned back to face forward, he found a shield bash rushing toward his head. He swayed his torso, straightening and spinning, avoiding it completely, and twisting around Devan to have a straight shot to Clarissa, who stood with her hands raised above her head, a ball of glowing blue energy held at the ready.
But Clarissa had stuttered to a stop; upon seeing her, Randidly knew what spell she was casting, and leapt back towards the 10 man squad who were hurrying back towards him out of formation, desperate to assist.
Three strikes had knocked three men to the ground, with a 4th and 5th soon following. At that point, Alana arrived before him, furious, swinging her spear.
Randidly calmly blocked it, and watched as she tried to kick him in the chest. Randidly sidestepped, and then knocked her legs out from under her. Before he could deliver a blow, knocking her out, a shout dragged his attention back to Devan.
Grimacing, Randidly rushed forward. Challenging Shout was a bitch of a move. He felt as if he could overpower the compulsion to attack the user directly, with his high Willpower, but there was also no harm in going along with it to demonstrate the difference in strength.
He simply thrust, his sapling sliding cleanly through the air towards Devan’s shield, having no other choice but to attack directly. The wooden imitation spear and the reinforced iron shield collided with a dull boom, the force large enough to throw a shock wave outward. Eyes wide, Devan stumbled backwards, his stance completely overpowered.
“Lightning Bolt!” The spell shot out, catching Randidly in the chest. He gritted his teeth slightly to withstand the weird tremors, and then rushed towards Clarissa.
Randidly hopped off the ground, using the moment of his earlier dash to carry him the rest of the distance towards her. A wave of cold hit him, creating a layer of frost over his skin, but his strength was more than enough to easily overpower it.
He landed and punched her shoulder casually, then looked around, nodding.
“That should be about it then, right?”
Alana stared at their small campfire, her gaze clouded.
Devan sat down next to her. “You’ve never seen him fight before?”
She shook her head slowly. “No… I’ve seen… the monster he killed and brought back, but...I didn’t know…”
“Ah, that’s right. You were out on patrol the day he fought against the Kill squad.” Devan nodded.
The Kill squad was the nickname for Dozer’s personal squad. It also could include Donny, Ptolemy the healer, and the Brawler, depended on what they needed. It wasn’t ranked, both because it included people from multiple squads, and because Dozer and Donny didn’t join the squad competition, but its strength couldn’t be denied. “Who was there?”
“Everyone.” Devan’s tone was bitter.
“How… how did they do?”
Devan offered her a mug of coffee. She took it. “Better than us. They started out being brutalized, but Donny was guarding Ptolemy full time, and they managed to slowly box The Ghosthound in while getting healed, and the Brawler was able to touch him. After that….he used one of his basic skills. Phantom Thrust. It was… impossible to see. You saw him raise his arm, and then you woke up, hours later with a headache. This happened to everyone.”
They sat in silence for several minutes, Clarissa drifting over and settling down next to them, hearing what they were talking about. She leaned forward conspiratorially. “He hasn’t told anyone, but Daniel says that based on his talks with Nul, the Ghosthound’s Spear Skills should be around 30. Maybe even higher than that.”
“Is he…” Alana hesitated, then said. “Is he ever gonna take a class…?”
Devan shrugged noncommittally. “Does he need to?”