The squads, after a long afternoon and evening of being reamed out by Donnyton’s leaders for their flaws in terms of stat and skill choices, were not in the mood to help build houses. Some were injured, others were dead tired, and still others were slightly angry now, at the whole situation.
So when Alana came down with her trail of refugees, the initial response was icy cold. She looked around, somewhat helpless. Based on their moods, it seemed like something had happened today that had depleted their usual enthusiasm and drive, but the refugees were even worse off; without the benefit of higher Vitality and Endurance stats, they were about to collapse.
If they couldn’t receive any help, it would be a cold and uncomfortable night in Donnyton, which is exactly the opposite of what Alana had promised.
Then, much to everyone’s surprise, Dozer stood, his left arm still in a sling, although his shattered collarbone had been mostly healed. His squad, extremely well trained, stood with him. Very quickly, Donny’s squad stood too, as well as men from Paolo and Kayle’s squad, although none of their squad leaders but Dozer was present.
“If not us… then who can do this?” Dozer spoke softly, but all the Classers hunched their shoulders.
They had taken the burden from the Ghosthound. The town was now their responsibility. Slowly, they all stood. All 35 squads. It took two hours, but it was mostly a problem of organization. When the Classers of Donnyton moved, they moved.
Although they weren’t pretty or particularly straight, the new arrivals of Franksburg slept in newly made houses that night.
As dawn rose over Donnyton, Raina walked slowly up the path they had used to arrive at Donnyton, once more ascending the location where they crested the mountain and could see Donnyton sprawled out below them.
There, she sat down on a rock and looked down at the town for a long time, as it slowly came to life. Then, when she had a better feel for it, and the light filtered down over the mountains more fully, she began to draw.
She took her time, because honestly drawing was a skill that she had forgotten about, a remnant of her time in high school. But as she did her best to reproduce the lines of Donnyton below her, drawing the long, thin valley, the road, the Classer compound, the spread of tightly packed farms, the arena, the defensive fortifications, the quaint NCC village, the new housing addition for the people from Franksburg, and as she did so notifications flooded her, demonstrating a rapid rise in her drawing skill. She ignored them for now, instead focusing on reproducing the image.
After a half hour of drawing, the sun rose higher than she liked, changing the light, and Raina paused, examining the picture critically. There were more details she wanted to fill in, but it would have to wait until tomorrow. As it was, she decided to head back.
Her trip down the winding road was much quicker than the trip up, but halfway down the hill, she paused, a strange pounding noise coming from a nearby grove of trees.
Abruptly, Raina remembered that even if the area around Donnyton was surrounded by tight patrols, keeping monsters out, it wasn’t completely effective, and the odd monster got through. She supposed it would be poetic justice if she came all the way here, only to be mauled by a wandering monster. Not that she couldn’t defend herself, but...
Still, the noise made her curious, so she approached, doing her best to stay quiet. Making her way through the brush and trees, the pounding grew increasingly loud. Then, as she pushed a branch out of the way, she saw him.
A man was sweating, his chest heaving, holding a large iron ball attached to a chain. He had dark skin and bright eyes, and his face was narrowed into a look of focus. His shoulder muscles bulging, he threw the iron ball, where it richocheted off one tree, and with a twist of the chain, was made to crash into another, obliterating the bark and cracking the wood underneath. The trees around him were clearly showing signs of wear, but still he practiced working tirelessly on his control.
There was a strange… charisma about the man, Raina realized. Almost without a conscious decision on her part, Raina settled down, and began to draw the captivating man.
Randidly took a small break, looking down at his spear in frustration. He supposed that he had to consult this problem eventually, but to run into this wall so soon after he resolved himself to train was quite inconvenient.
He had spent the night working, and he had received one skill lvl in Phantom Onslaught, and one in Eyes of the Spear Phantom. But as he continued, he realized…
...that ultimately, he only had one way of improvement. And that was repetition. He would repeat the movement, under various degrees of strain. The higher the strain, the higher the gain from the repetition. He could continue this endlessly, slowly grinding his skills up. Eventually, he would grow stronger. It would even be at a predictable rate.
But Randidly suspected that this wouldn’t be enough to stay ahead of the threats that would come for Donnyton, let alone be enough to stay ahead of the looming threat of Judgement.
This flaw of Randidly’s came back to the same reason that the earlier stages were so simple; because he viewed this “system” through the lense of being a game. It made things predictable, but it also severely limited Randidly in terms of the way he could learn and gather skills.
Speaking of, he made a mental note to check with Lyra whether she still had access to the skill trials. Although he didn’t currently want to grind a bunch of skills that he might not use, there would perhaps be some gems among the choices, now that he had access to the Apprentice tier.
Repetition was all well and good, but Randidly knew of another view of the world, one which he would very much like to move towards. That would be, of course, the concept of martial art “epiphanies” that would rapidly increase his power. The idea was that application of the skill could be improved rapidly, just by a sudden shift in perspective-
Randidly laughed aloud. So what he was looking for, in a way, was an epiphany that would abruptly change the way he used the system. Shaking his head ruefully, Randidly prepared to switch over towards more active skill and spell focused grinding, while he pondered how to change the way he thought about the system, but he was interrupted by a voice.
“I think I can help.”
Randidly turned slowly to face Lyra, who stood there solemnly. Although the connection between them was gone, and they hadn’t really talked much since he had returned to find her human form dead, he had to chuckle; she was currently dressed just like Nul always was, with drab clothes, and her face studiously blank, looking exactly like their previously bland village spirit.
Then she grinned at him, and they both laughed.
As the laughter died, they examined each other, both aware that something had changed. And from the slightly sad gleam in Lyra’s eyes, it seemed she had more of a clue over what it had been that they lost, but she didn’t say anything, and Randidly was more focused on other matters.
“You can help?”
Lyra frowned at him. “Why the hell do you sound so surprised? I’m basically a shapeshifter now you know, I’m very useful for-”
Abruptly, Lyra blushed and looked at the ground. “Well… nevermind that. But you are wondering how to get stronger right? I always thought you were an idiot for looking at the system the way you did, but I couldn’t deny it got results. But now look at you-”
Again, Lyra stopped, and she flushed again. Less this time from embarrassment, and more because… it felt different. She wasn’t drawn forward into mocking him like she had been before, and the words just came out stale in her mouth. Things really had changed.
Slowly, she spoke again. “Well, anyway… I can help. But not for free.”
Randidly looked at Lyra, really looked at her. The determined look in her eyes conveyed her honesty. Her golden blonde hair hung down around her ears, curling with a natural grace. Her face was skinny and sharp, but he couldn’t deny he had always been attracted to her. Perhaps the reason he had refused it before, and focused on her age was due to an instinct he had that it was unnatural. And now…
And now everything felt strange. But that didn’t change the facts.”Yes, I would like your help.”
Smiling sweetly, Lyra held out a small potion, that seemed to be pitch black. “There are costs, of course, but I believe this will solve your mental problems. According to my… information, a sip will block your access to notifications. Think that will change your… perspective?”
Randidly was very quiet for several seconds. Blocking access to notifications would do nothing to change his improvement, on the surface. But at the same time…
If his thinking started to change, while he didn’t have notifications…
The notifications acted as positive reinforcement to his grinding mindset. They validated it. Without them, Randidly wouldn’t feel as though he was improving just by grinding. He would need to do some sort of training, with quantifiable metrics. Then, he would train, pushing his limits, not to get in more reps, but to make those reps count. Just like sprinters wouldn’t just run to get stronger, they would do exercises to isolate the different muscles, and then return to sprinting to fine tune the process.
Overall, it would mean that he would have to isolate the different parts of his fighting style, finding training regimes that would work them. Being without the notifications would hopefully focus him more on improving his results.
“But that would mean that I-”
“Actually,” Lyra interrupted, her normal smug smile returning, and Randidly felt a glimmer of the old frustration with her. “You’ve had Daniel and Mrs. Hamilton working on trying to find ways to improve the base skills for the squad members; they have some ideas, but need someone to test it out before they implement it across the board. Scale up the difficulty, and you will have a Doggy portion of exercise.”
After a long moment, Randidly smiled in spite of himself. Especially after his furious display the previous day, he realized how valuable it was that this girl, whatever they were to each other, just treated him like a person, rather than some protective deity. Dealing with her, it felt as though some of the tension that he now carried with him everywhere was finally dispersing.
“So, I’m a glorified guinea pig,” Randidly said wryly. Lyra rolled her eyes, but nodded.
If it blocked ALL notifications, there was some danger that it would prevent him from realizing that another Judgement was coming, but Randidly believed, and hoped, that it would take some time for that to happen. He would also miss out on getting a jump on new path availabilities, but as he wouldn’t be spending PP, because it would be better not to check the skill growth, he could wait until after.
Randidly decided that if he was going to do it, it was better to do it all the way; no notifications for a week, to start. Hopefully that would give him time to lose some of his bad habits, and give him some indications of the effectiveness of the strategy.
After all, even if it didn’t work, he would have only wasted a week. And in terms of possible notifications that he would miss, honestly, what is the worst that could happen.
Nodding, Randidly held out his hand. “Alright coach, count me in.”
“Coach? Kukuku, call me Mistress Lyra, if you please. By the end, you will be begging for my mercy~”
Randidly just winced.
Devan casually discussed some of the new training changes with his squad, going over the parts that he believed were most important for their improvement, and then indicating specific areas of focus for each squad member. They studiously marked down what he was saying, and then looked up, as he stopped speaking.
Devan frowned, trying to follow a figure through the crowd, his eyes tracking after very distinctive ears….
“What is it?” One of his squad members asked.
Shaking his head, Devan said. “I think we brought a furry back with us from Franksburg; I swear I just saw a bunny walking around.”