“There are obviously harder versions of the previous exercises,” Mrs. Hamilton began, “But today we are going to get the final two that we have currently designed a good test, and then start to address areas that I believe can be improved. The first exercise will be one focusing on Weapon Accuracy and Fitness.”
Randidly glanced around. “Will Lyra not be joining us?”
Mrs. Hamilton smiled sweetly. “She has her own exercises and training; although she is a village spirit, she didn’t lose access to her stats and skills. As such, and considering how weak all of the survivors we found from Turtletown have been, it seems prudent that she improve as much as possible, so she can survive.”
Snorting quietly, Randidly followed Mrs. Hamilton to two strange new additions to the landscape. The first reminded Randidly quite a lot of the mobile they used to train vision and weapon accuracy, but this one had rings of varying sizes hanging down from it, rather than wooden disks. The other training ground was a strange series of wooden pillars, their heights varying. They appeared to be segmented and small pieces of wood stuck out of the sides of them.
It was funny to Randidly that Mrs. Hamilton had considered Lyra to need more help surviving. Out of everyone Randidly had encountered, only when he looked at Lyra’s impish face did he feel that she was the only one who wasn’t constantly in danger.
Even when he first saw her, in that strange moment they first met, there was something eminently practical about her. A lot of people paid too much attention to what she said, and never watched what she did, or how she did it. She had taught herself how to control mana. She had grinded up alone until she could control birds of mana that could rip through the hardened flesh of monsters like it was paper. She had learned to teleport, she had enough knowledge to attempt to teach others what she did, although it hadn’t gone very well in Randidly’s case.
And more than anything else, Lyra had tracked down Kim-Lath and struck when it was weakest, usurping the spot as Village Spirit from both it and Nul. Randidly was about as powerful as he could be, but these were not feats that he could have accomplished. They were on very different paths, hers esoteric and strange, and his..
He smiled sardonically. Well, he was discovering his own path every day. But he couldn't help but wish he possessed a bit of her strange genius, so he could master the use of Aether.
“We will start with Fitness and Weapon accuracy. To start, simply stand in the center and thrust your spear through the hanging hoops, in order. Use this spear-” She pointed to a ugly black stick of metal on the ground that Randidly knew Shal would barely consider worth of such a designation before continuing. “Once forward, once backwards, then switch arms. Speed doesn't matter, as long as it is consistent. This is meant to be a marathon. You must finish without any breaks, or you need to start again. Start whenever you are comfortable.”
“We aren’t waiting for Mrs. Hamilton or Sam?” Regina asked, frowning.
Only Regina, Daniel, Donny, Glendel and Clarissa sat around. Decklan and Dozer were out working, and Ptolemy had allowed Clarissa to take over his spot on the council with relief. The immigrants from Franksburg didn’t yet have a representative, although Regina was of the opinion that they would swiftly integrate into the already established groups, and be represented in that way.
Which was why Mrs. Hamilton’s absence was a problem. Without her, the NCCs didn’t have representation. If they protested…
But then Regina shook her head ruefully. No need to get ahead of herself. It would just be better for Mrs. Hamilton to appoint a 2nd in command, who could handle stuff in her absences.
Glendel blinked, and then spoke. “Mrs. Hamilton is still off with the Ghosthound and Lyra, helping get the training started. Sam is currently… testing or torturing the production focused individuals from Franksburg, it’s hard to tell.”
Regina waved her hand, surrendering, and Daniel straightened his papers and spoke. “As per the recommendations of the council, to this point, SP has primarily been used to upgrade our shops and build defensive structures. We have also expanded Donnyton’s ‘influence sphere’ which prevents monsters from spawning inside of the city perimeter. In addition, Mrs. Hamilton’s suggestion of the increased energy density zones we could use was a good one; it was used on the farming areas, and crop yields have increased by 20%, as well as some of the crops showing signs of interesting mutations. Now that all of these goals have been accomplished, we have less of a pressing short term need, and still a sizable pool of SP.”
Clarissa yawned. Regina’s eye twitched. The former librarian was really playing up her ‘lazy witch’ persona. Not that it was harmful, but still, if she could have a little bit more respect…
Seeing that no one interrupted, Daniel puffed up his chest and finally got to the point. “Since that is the case, I believe this is a good opportunity to invest in two new buildings. The Adventurer’s Guild, and the Communications Array.”
“Oh? Didn’t you really want to save up for the Cathedral?” Donny asked curiously.
Daniel hesitated, and then nodded. “...Yes I did. But the Cathedral’s cost keeps increasing. It is currently at around 15k SP. It seems to be tied to the number of Classers a village has. Not only is that a lot of SP, its more than we’ve ever had at one time. I think it’s better to buy these two other buildings right now.”
“Even though we don’t know what they do.” Regina said coolly.
Daniel stiffened, but nodded.
Regina knew that Glendel would vote with her, and Clarissa supported the building of both of these buildings. So it all came down to what Donny wanted.
Once more, Regina regretted the process by which the council was run. They needed a more… sophisticated system. Everyone else at the table appeared to know this too, so everyone remained silent while Donny looked at his hands. On his chest a fresh new breastplate sparkled, made by Sam with a strange rune carved into it. Sam had thrown it away, claiming it was “Trash and scrap” but it was better than anything else they had, so Donny had claimed it.
It was honestly quite intimidating too. There was a strange ferocity about the rune on the breastplate, and the longer you stared at it, the more it seemed to vibrate with ferocity. Shaking her head, Regina looked away.
Donny coughed lightly. “...For now, let’s just get one of the buildings. I think we should raise the difficulty of both of our kept dungeons. The weaker to 8, the stronger to Lvl 23. I also want a third dungeon, which we can keep at 5, so the NCCs can train somewhere against real monsters, especially if the city limits keep expanding. Daniel, which should we get?”
After a brief hesitation, where he considered pointing out that it was impossible for NCCs to go into the dungeon, but it wasn't a good idea to attract annoyance at this juncture, Daniel said “Adventurer’s Guild.”
Clarissa nodded, her eyes bright and excited. Sighing, Regina gestured helplessly. Then she went to stand, the meeting basically over. After all, her corps of doctors and nurses needed to be honed into more physically fit individuals. A lot of the medicine they would do now was healing, and that required that they be near the injured person, able to go to the front line. Which is why she begrudgingly accepted Mrs. Hamilton’s absence. If she could figure out efficient ways to train…
But to her surprise, Glendel raised his voice. “Wait, before you go, there’s one more thing.”
The group turned and looked at him. Shrugging, he said. “I know not when it happened, but… sometime last night, Kraig left the medical area. He’s disappeared from Donnyton.”
Randidly dragged himself forward towards the barrel of water that Mrs. Hamilton had prepared, dipping his head entirely into it and sucking it down like a vacuum. He probably had chugged 10% of it before he was satisfied, and straightened, wiping his mouth.
Mrs. Hamilton was a devil, he thought to himself, sparing her a sharp glance, and only receiving a sunny smile in return.
The spear she had provided for the first exercise had been just as heavy as that godforsaken vest, and swiftly caused his arms to burn. But he knew that she really would demand he do it again if he paused, so he finished her exercise, his chest heaving. She had only shook her head, and said words that made a vein in his forehead throb.
“Aren’t you a little too weak? And the whole point was to stab the spear through the hoop without touching it, working on your control… well I suppose it’s fine for your first try.”
So they moved onto the next exercise, which required Randidly to move around, between those strange spinny wooden pillars, hitting the pegs in a certain order, at a certain angle.
See, the pegs were covered with 6 letters, spaced equally apart on the peg. At most points, Randidly was surrounded by 3 or 4 pillars, each with 9 pegs, 3 for each segment, pointing out in different directions. So usually 3 pegs per pillar were within reach. Which meant he had access to 54 letters that could be touched at any one point.
The whole idea was that Mrs.Hamilton would say a word, and Randidly would spell it out by hitting the letters in the right order. Unfortunately, there was a lot of letter overlap, and uncommon letters were only located on one or two of the pegs, in the 20 or so pillars, and the 180 or so pegs.
It was allowed to press a letter, and take a single step, moving so he would be close enough to the letter he needed. This sometimes pushed his footwork to the limits, making him use his imagination to move to where he needed to be with a single step.
Another problem was that everything was spinning constantly, moved by the wind from his steps, or from the touches of his hand. So not only did he have to look around and try to memorize where the letters were, but he had to keep track of them all while they moved.
This was still at the limit of possible. Then Mrs. Hamilton started giving him words that would have him touch the first 3 letters, then freeze, because it was impossible to make it across the pillar group to the W on the other side.
“This is impossible.” Randidly said flatly.
Mrs. Hamilton chuckled. “You just don’t think. Why did you pick that first E just because it was in front of you? If you had thought about it, you would have realized that if you moved that direction, the W coming up would be impossible.”
Randidly just gave her a long glance.
He had noticed something different about her since she obtained the Soul Skill. But this was insane. Truthfully, no one had ever really understood how much work Mrs. Hamilton did, handling all the logistics of the NCCs. But it certainly required a mind like a steel trap, and an uncommon eye for detail. And now with the bonuses provided by her soul skill…
Her level of insight and planning was slightly intimidating.
Randidly broke off the glance and tried again, and again, and again. It was late afternoon before he finished, performing at a level that Mrs. Hamilton found “barely acceptable.”
Stretching, Randidly removed some food from his spatial ring and took several bites, swiftly devouring the food. Even though they had much increased stamina, Aether only did so much in terms of support; people with stats and skills still slowly developed an increasing amount of hunger. Randidly consumed close to 40 pounds of food a day. Luckily both the Wolverine raising and farming was booming, otherwise he wasn’t even sure how much more growth Donnyton could support.
After he had sated himself, Randidly turned to Mrs. Hamilton and asked “What’s next?”
“Quiet reflection, or spell training. I need to think a little about how I want to proceed, and check in on Lyra. I’ll come back around dinner with your training menu for the next week. Good luck~”
Nonplussed, Randidly watched her go then wandered a bit away from the training equipment. While he calmly brewed potions, he created swarms of pestilence, he created Walls of Thorns and waves of Spearing Roots, he shot Incendiary Bolts and made Rings of Fire. He could still feel the small boost he could give his spells by burning a little bit more mana, but Randidly didn’t force it now.
Instead, he just felt the mana expenditure, feeling the small differences in the ways it flowed out of him, depending on what spell he used. They were currently just vague impressions, but Randidly had the feeling that as his sensitivity increased, he would grow nearer to having the same strange power as Lyra had, able to freely manipulate and control mana.
After he had repeated the cycle of spells several times, he sat down to meditate, activating Agony. The vicious, digging, jarring pain became his world, but Randidly was used to it now, and his powerful will made it possible to ignore the worst of the pain for now. Instead, it served as a kind of isolation, removing him from the influence of outward stimulus. The sound of the wind and the warmth of sun on his skin slowly faded away, leaving only his razor sharp focus.
With his attention inward, Randidly focused on the one area of himself that proved that it was possible to control Aether, or at least to direct it; that strange place where his Soul Skill rotated inside of himself. Even now, the strange, decadent, rotting green energy flew around the core of Aether, opposite the bright orange energy, burning everything the green energy left behind to ash.
When he had caused the Aether to move, two details of the situation stuck out to Randidly. That he wanted to avoid his Soul Skills collapsing into nothing incredibly badly, and that in that moment, he had a strong image of Aether forming the core of a rotation, balancing the two forces.
From his experience with the system, both of these were logically important. The system responded to your desires. With a stronger desire, the system would respond more powerfully. And your perspective on what the system was changed how it behaved. It made sense that a powerful and logically consistent image of an outcome could bring that outcome to be.
Since he had used Aether to change his Soul Skill, why not experiment in that area again? Refining the Soul Skill further? He likely couldn’t do it immediately, but while he was working on Agony and Meditation, it was a good way to keep his mind occupied. At the moment he didn’t have any ideas on how to do such a thing, but Randidly believed that it was due to the fact that he didn’t have a strong image, and wasn’t sure what he wanted.
So sitting there, the energies rotating within himself, Randidly tried to imagine what was going on in this cycle.
At first he tried to handle one at a time, but then when he tried to move them together, they crashed and collapsed, probably like his Soul Skill would have, if he let them encounter each other. No, if he was going to get the right image, he needed to handle them all together.
In his mind’s eye, Randidly could see a small rocky prairie. What was rot? What was ash?
He watched as grass grew in the prairie, and then the rot came, eating slowly away at the grasses, forming a strange, blobby mass as the rot consumed and grew. Then the burning came, devouring even more completely than the rot could devour, burning away all of the biomass, leaving only the earth. For a short time there was nothing, but then grasses began to poke out of the soil and grow, and the cycle started again.
When there was enough grass, the rot swiftly spread, growing large and fat and destructive.
Then, when the prairie was almost entirely rot, the fire would come, burning it all away, leaving the prairie clean. Only then could the grass grow again.
The energies circled and circled, even and steady, never growing closer, stead in the orbit. Randidly watched, entranced.