Daniel sighed. “I hope this isn’t one of those situations that he will swear vengeance, go train in the woods for a month, and come back and do it again, only to gloriously succeed.”
Annie rolled her eyes, leaving to go check on the hobbling Dozer, and Mrs. Hamilton chuckled. “...I think you read too many fantasy books.”
Giving her a skeptical look, Daniel said. “Do you really want to underestimate the Ghosthound?”
“No, I think he will grow more powerful than I can understand. But it’s still a numbers game.” Mrs. Hamilton spread her hands wide. “Sure, he might grow faster than one person, but what about two people? Three people? 10 people? 50? He cannot out level an entire village. The population of Donnyton will now control the destiny of this town, although there’s no doubt that the Ghosthound will always play an important role.”
A dull bang sounded, and the talking ceased as everyone turned to look at the source of the noise, Donny. He stood tall, and now it was clear how exhausted he was, his youthful face lined with worry. But it was brightened by a joyful smile.
“Classers of Donnyton. Do not rejoice. Although we won, there is no reward; only more work. We fought the Ghosthound for the dubious honor of being the last line of defense, the ultimate shield that protects everyone who lives in Donnyton now, and will come to live here.”
“Rejoice!” He continued, eyes glittering. “We have won more work-”
The shout came from Tykes, who had just regained consciousness, looking around wildly, his eyes wide. As Donny looked at him, although Tykes was 2 years older than him, his face softened, as if looking at a promising grandson.
“Yes, we won. Now, who’s prepared to meet with Decklan, Dozer, and I to talk about their performance in these trials? Mrs. Hamilton has apparently been taking exceedingly detailed notes.”
Mrs. Hamilton smiled kindly at them all, as the Classers turned to look at her with mounting horror. She coughed lightly. “We should start immediately. There is a LOT to go over.”
Randidly looked at his hands, then clenched them, gritting his teeth.
“It’s… so bitter.” He whispered. His eyes were, to his surprise, wet with tears. Randidly hadn’t cried since… since walking home from his talk from Tessa. But he had been resolved then, just like he was resolved now, although he felt slightly helpless.
Not that the loss bothered him so much.
Which, in fact, was a lie. It bothered him a lot. These people had none of the head start that he had, of that long 7 months alone with Shal, training against monsters that could kill him as quickly as looking at him. And yet already, as they grouped together after a month, they could defeat him. This was supposed to be his chance to demonstrate his superior strength, to show them how powerful one individual had been.
It was a lesson, and a small revenge, and a stress relief, and 1000 other small reasons that he wasn’t truly aware of. He was simply sure that it was something that he wanted to do.
Yet they were stronger than him, which he had never expected. Or at least strong enough push him so far that he had two choices. Either admit defeat, or….
Which was the other reason that Randidly was so upset; in that moment, after his pole broke on Dozer, he knew that struggling to fight normally would not work; he was at too much of a numerical disadvantage. If he wanted to win, he had to drop all unwillingness to kill them in order to win.
So he had raised his hand, prepared to use an Inspired Circle of Flames to wipe them away, and claim victory. When Mrs. Hamilton said, “Can you see how much they want this victory, Randidly?” what Randidly actually heard from her was slightly different.
“Can you see how much you want this victory, Randidly?”
That raw anger he had gained in Franksburg had almost driven him to kill the fruits of a month of labor; Donnyton’s finest, wiped out in a wave of fire. Who knows, too, how many other casualties they would have suffered.
And so Randidly cried hot tears, because he felt weak. He did not blame the anger; only because of it, had he fought that long against impossible odds. What he blamed was his basic skills, which were not enough to support him.
He was too weak. He had almost made a mistake, and let the anger control him.
Wiping away his tears, Randidly once more looked at his hands.
It had been such an innocuous noise, the small crack that had sounded when he used brute force to knock aside the Iron ball wielded by that brown skinned young man. A crack he had thought nothing of. Until his pole split in half, striking Dozer.
Closing his eyes, Randidly supposed that he couldn’t always be the one fighting against impossible odds, and still achieving results. That young man would be worth watching in the future.
But he would leave that to the others. Donnyton had several capable and responsible people right now. Randidly’s job was simple: to eliminate the weaknesses they hadn’t discovered, and grow strong. To prepare for the unknown. Although they didn’t know from what direction it would come, the Nexus was not a peaceful place to be.
“A spear can only advance.” Randidly muttered to himself. Then he looked at his status screen.
He had gained 3 skill Lvls in Spear Mastery, 1 in Phantom Thrust, 2 in Eyes of the Spear Phantom, 1 in Spear Phantom’s Footwork, 4 in Fighting Proficiency, 1 in Empower, 3 in Calculated Blow, 2 in Roundhouse Kick, 1 in Pierce the Skies, Shatter the Earth, 1 in the Spear Advances, Ash Trails, 1 in Spearing Roots, 2 in Root Manipulation, 2 in Pollen of the Rafflesia and Summon Pestilence, 1 in Wall of Thorns, 4 in Agony, 1 in Incinerating Bolt and Circle of Flame, 2 in Physical Fitness, 1 in Grace, 5 in Bacterial Regeneration, and 1 in Superiority.
Chuckling that he gained a point in Superiority after a lost battle, Randidly used the PP he gained to finish off the Phantom Thrust II Path.
Congratulations! You have completed the Phantom Thrust II Path! As you continue down familiar paths, you may find that you blindly passed by treasures previously. The world is wide, and the path is long, and familiar paths might still hold new surprises. Effectiveness of each skill Lvl of Phantom Thrust has increased a very small amount. Agility +3. Stamina +50. Stamina Regen +5.
Randidly sighed. No skill, but increased the effect of Phantom Thrust would be very powerful. Stamina, especially after that long battle today, seemed especially important as well.
Once more, Randidly looked at the paths open to him.
Watcher: 0/??, Heretic V 0/???, Oathbreaker 0/25, Initiate of Ash I 0/75, Empower 0/60, Path of Carnage I 0/???, Agony I 0/100.
It looked like one of the ??? paths disappeared, as well as Heretic increasing to V, which Randidly would be hard pressed to forget about anytime soon. In addition, he now had access to a path related to the skill Agony, although it was quite expensive.
For now, Randidly did not feel the need to address Heretic. And based on what he had gathered, it had something to do with him refusing to get a class through the system, and growing in power anyway. It was also implied that taking Heretic would solve the problem. If it was some sort of Path that would end up giving him a class, Randidly wanted no part of it.
Ultimately, Agony was too high, and it was better to go for another skill that would improve a skill he used all the time: Empower. Randidly poured the rest of his PP into it, but was annoyed to discover that he gained no extra bonuses, all the way through 20.
He felt an immediate sense of regret in his heart, but put it out of his mind. Best not to dwell on it. IN addition, this PP expenditure proved that there were only 5 options in rotation for his new Soul Skill, which was enough for him. The bonuses were:
1: +15 Health, +2 Vit
2: +3 Control, +2 Free stat
3: +15 Stam, +1 Agi/Str
4: +3 Focus, +2 Free Stat
5: +15 Mana, +1 all regeneration.
All of the options were attractive, in their own way, and Randidly was fine with this. Sighing, he considered the details of his next step. He wanted to experiment a little more with potions, and hopefully Mrs. Hamilton would help with the gathering of materials. Randidly also wanted to push his Meditation and Bacterial Regeneration skills even higher.
In terms of spells, Spearing Roots, Root Manipulation, Summon Pestilence, Circle of Flame, and Incinerating Bolt would be where his attention was. If he encountered a large group, it might be worth it to level Pollen of the Rafflesia.
Agony Randidly almost didn’t count as a spell, but should also be in the rotation. Luckily it used health, and could be used only on himself, which made it only slowly level, but perversely helped him focus.
But of course, Randidly’s main focus would be on his spear combat skills. If he could raise his basic proficiencies with the weapon…. The duel against Donnyton would have gone very differently.
With a plan in mind, Randidly settled down to rest.
It had, after all, been quite a long day.
Alana stood on top of the mountain, looking down at Donnyton. It was… surprisingly good, to see that the little village still stood there. It somehow felt like home, even though she had only lived there for a few weeks.
“What are those lights?” Clarissa, who stood with her, asked curiously.
There did seem to be three weird, giant torch things, in the village, one on the base of the dirt track they were heading down, another deep in the NCC village, and another to the North, by the quarry. Alana just shrugged; she was far too tired for this nonsense.
Raina’s humming magic had worked wonders for their speed, even the younger children that Alana and Devan had begrudgingly allowed trotting on at an increased pace. This had continued up the highway and onto the mountain road. But right now, as they crested the hill to see Donnyton, all the exhaustion they had put off earlier fell on them like a weight. Everyone looked with weary eyes at the town, just a short mile away.
Grunting, Alana walked forward, a small glow, due to her skill, coming from her skill. It was still dim at night, just enough to notice and catch the eye, but in front of these tired people, it was a small impetus they needed to stand once more, trudging down towards the village. The goal was in sight, it was time to move.
Clarissa looked behind her at the following crowd. Behind them, the trucks filled with supplies drove slowly over the bumpy road, encouraging the most lazy. “Does Donnyton even have room for these people…?”
Alana shrugged. “The village looks pretty peaceful right now, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get a few Classers and some of Sam’s crafting people to wake up and build some quick houses right? While we were making a cross country trek, I bet they were enjoying cushy patrol jobs, and sipping on coffee. Holy fuck, I want some coffee right now.”
Clarissa lifted her blouse and smelled it, wrinkling her nose. “...And all I want is a bath. You’d think that Franksburg would have better infrastructure, and sure they have working plumbing, but no hot water? What sort of sick joke is that?”
“This is Donnyton?” The two women turned to find that Raina had come up to them, for the first time since the night the horde broke through Franksburg’s defensive lines, mask removed. Her skin was warped and stiff, not exactly making her ugly, per se, but giving her a very rough appearance.
But there was wonder, in her voice, and a strange joy.
Devan, who had been walking some distance behind them, came forward. “Yes, this is Donnyton.”
Raina laughed, and it was strangely beautiful; no matter what she looked like, her voice was still liquid honey and tinkling bells. “It looks likes a commune. Everything is wood, is any metal or plaster here at all? What was here before?”
Scratching her head, Clarissa answered slowly. “....a cabin I think? Nothing else.”
Raina gasped, gesturing at the Classer compound, the NCC village, the farms, the watch towers, the walls that were slowly becoming easier to see as they approach. “Then all this…?”
“We built,” Alana said, unable to keep the pride from her voice. “Which is why it’s nice to call it home.”