The next day passed in a blur.
When he wasn’t being derided by Sam for his lack of mana control, he was going through one of Mrs. Hamilton’s training games, or dodging around Lyra’s mana birds, which were becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. Between those exercises, Randidly ate as much food as he could fit inside of himself, and burned through his mana, throwing out spell after spell, flexing the extra mana to increase the effectiveness. He believed that he was slowly growing more proficient in this method, but it was hard to tell.
Then there were the times that Randidly trained in the individual steps of Footwork of the Spear Phantom, familiarizing himself with the moves. Only by repetition would the distances he could travel with the different steps become instinct, and he would truly be on the path to mastery.
Randidly also took time out of the day to practice his spear moves and skills. He considered trying to improve the effectiveness of his Ashen Spear skill, and perhaps learn the next Kata, but Randidly didn’t know where to begin. Once more, he believed that the spear move was created due to the powerful image that Randidly had at the time.
That image was due to Shal’s teaching and philosophies about the spear, as well as Randidly’s own previous insights into the power that was Ash. Together, they formed a powerful penetrative move. To develop another such move… he would likely have to have more ideas and images about what to do. Instead, it would perhaps be more effective to simply improve on the moves he had now, familiarizing himself with them.
Which, Randidly hoped, would happen naturally during this time of training. His ideas about how a spear advances would hopefully change, and his meditative moments, when he slowly settled and watched the soul skill cycle within himself, gave him more and more insights into ash. At some point, he would be able to combine them, he hoped, but now was much too early.
Instead, he just threw himself into the training. Unlike training under Shal, there was no constant threat of violence, but in a way, that only made things worse. There were moments where Randidly waivered, during Mrs. Hamilton’s grueling exercise regimen, and wanted to quit, or ease up. Was it really necessary to go to such lengths? Was it really possible to accomplish such things without improving his stats?
Mrs. Hamilton certainly thought so. Randidly thought so initially, but when he thought about how much the difficulty would increase over the next two weeks…
After one of the exercises where Randidly dodged the mana birds, he looked over to Lyra, who was sitting on the ground. His eyes widened as he saw that she grimly glared at him, wiping a long, thin trail of blood that was coming out of her nose. Then she soundlessly stood and walked away.
He obviously had noticed that the birds were moving in increasingly complicated patterns, that made it difficult to dodge. And he had noticed that halfway through, just as he was starting to run out of options, dodging became much easier. He had assumed it was because his knowledge of the steps was beginning to pay dividends, which was probably true, but if it was also because he wasn’t the only one pushing himself beyond his limits…
If Lyra was struggling furiously to grow stronger too…
Randidly’s eyes narrowed. That was right, he wasn’t simply racing down this path in order to see what lay at the end, but also because there were other individuals out there struggling forward on their own paths. It wasn’t enough to be strong, but you also needed to be stronger than the people who mean you harm.
“This…” Randidly said aloud, watching Lyra walk away, speaking quietly so she wouldn’t hear. “This isn’t enough. I need more.”
Instead of resting, Randidly raised his spear and began to practice, waiting for the next exercise to begin.
Daniel yawned, sitting up. Although sleeping wasn’t necessary for him any longer, he still enjoyed the leisure time. So every day at sundown, he would lie down for a 3 hour nap, to clear his head and lounge on some cushions and pillows he had squirreled away.
Setting aside the pile of paperwork having to do with the trading convoy Donnyton was sending south to Franksburg in the next few days, Daniel ambled towards his door, scratching his butt. After all, the fact that the person at the door hadn’t yelled meant it wasn’t someone who could truly threaten him.
At the same time, the fact they dared come to the door was a bit…
Daniel opened the door, only to find a woman standing in the darkness, her eyes blazing with a strange light, the Classer that guarded Daniel during the night standing to the side fearfully.
Inwardly, Daniel made a mental note to go among the NCCs and to start training someone to be his full time body guard. This guy randomly assigned to him was apparently intimidated by a-
The woman turned to him, giving him a face full of anger blast. Daniel gasped in spite of himself.
“Where-” The woman growled, reaching up and grabbing Daniel by his collar. “Are my CHILDREN?!?!”
Randidly lay panting on the ground, reexamining the day’s training. It was rough. Beyond rough. He could feel the slowly growing ache of sore muscles, something that he hadn’t felt in a long time. Not since the system had come to this world. At no point, even under Shal, had he pushed his physical limits to this degree.
Part of it was the methods; with Shal, he held on as long as he could, and then was knocked senseless by Shal’s brutal spear, giving him a chance to rest. Here, he continued with the back breaking exercises, with only small breaks in between. Time and time again, his focus and patience were tested, and he was tempted to give in, allowing his body a break.
But Mrs. Hamilton’s small smile made him hold on. Lyra’s scrunched up face as she tried to catch him with her birds of mana made him hold on. The image of that group of Classers from Donnyton, battered but ready to fight him to the death, made him hold on.
This was his path. And even if it was hard, Randidly refused to stop walking it. Not for pain, not for respite, not for even Judgement from the system. That was how he wanted to live.
Frowning, Randidly leaned forward. Although he was definitely improving physically, it was slow; he could barely feel any differences in how he was able to handle the difficulty. When training changed…
But perhaps there was another solution. If he could create an armor of roots with root manipulation…
Randidly laughed aloud, amused at the image. Then he shook his head ruefully. Even though he was better, and his control was monstrous for his level, there were likely even more monstrous mages out there in the Nexus. Perhaps one day he would get to that level, but for now…
Focusing his will, Randidly poured his energy into the ground, and the roots there responded. They pulsed and moved, curving up out of the ground, inflating with his will, twisting into 3x their original size. Then Randidly shaped them, moving the roots smoothly together, forming a hand. That hand clenched itself into a fist, then flexed itself, opening.
Randidly pressed harder with his will, and a second hand sprang into existence. Grunting, Randidly pushed even further, conjuring a long, thin trunk of roots that spiraled upwards, raising the hands to chest height, splitting and forming two arms.
Sweat dripping off of his brow, Randidly pressed a little forward, and two roots sprang from the ground and spiraled upwards, ever so slowly. They rotated around each other, closely bound, winding even tighter. Randidly breathed carefully, afraid to spoil the spell. Maintaining the hands, the torso, and this new object of roots, all at once…
To say nothing of the mana expenditure, which was quite significant, his attention, divided between so many different roots in so many different shapes… was quite stretched maintaining it all.
But finally, the spiral had reached a height of 7 feet, and the two hands reached forward, grasping the spear of roots, hefting it, raising it. Eyes glowing, Randidly felt the connection between himself and the strange root avatar, more than just the fact that he was maintaining it with his mana.
So he closed his eyes, focusing on it, and he realized that it was feeding him a small bit of information, a small fraction of tactile sensation. Although it was faint, he could feel the root spear in his hands. So he gripped it.
Then he thrust it forward, instinctively aiming for a Phantom Thrust. The spear cut quickly through the air, but it felt oddly… clumsy. Frowning, Randidly opened his eyes. All at once, the strain of maintaining the avatar overwhelmed him, and the roots started to bulge and twist, straying from the desired shape.
Snorting, Randidly crushed the resistance, forcing the roots back into line, and then drank a mana potion. He would need more mana to maintain this. Then he produced his small training spear, and closed his eyes.
The root avatar gripped the spear with him, and Randidly had the extremely odd sensation of controlling two bodies at once. But, in a way, it was simple, because he wanted them to perform the same action; he used Phantom Thrust.
His main body unleashed a thrust that ripped forward through the air with audible speed. But once more, the root avatar felt clumsy. But this time, Randidly caught why he felt so strange when he used the avatar.
“System assist, huh…?” Randidly muttered to himself. It was small and slight, but minor differences in stance, posture, and source of force that were instinctual for his actual body didn’t occur in the avatar. Or perhaps they couldn’t, because he was using roots. Of course, Randidly shouldn’t have any instincts of the sort. He had never handled anything remotely like a spear before the system, and his training after the system was still quite short, and rather haphazard.
The only explanation was that the skill levels were giving him ‘training wheels’ that let him succeed more easily. He obviously could still improve a lot in his actual technique, but these training wheels were also areas that he could improve on, because he could observe them in the differences between his normal form and the movements of the root avatar.
Randidly wasn’t sure whether it would actually help, but then smothered that thought. Image was important. Of course it would help. He would more fully understand the skill, increasing the skill level.
Which would in turn probably increase the amount of system assistance, which would give him more areas to focus on during his training. The corner of Randidly’s mouth curled upward.
Then he sighed and rubbed his forehead, the root avatar falling to pieces. Another benefit of training like this at night would be that he would train Root Manipulation at the same time, but it was also extremely tiring mentally. He would take a break for now, then continue later.
Chuckling, Randidly gathered his things and began walking back towards Donnyton. It wasn’t quite a break, but Sam was quite insistent that he continue to learn to Engrave. His skill wasn’t even to the point where he could control the leaking mana well enough to form an entire rune, but it was nearing that point. And it was excellent practice in detail orientation, even if it was only marginally less mentally draining than the root avatar.
Randidly supposed he would need an actual hobby soon. But preferably one that would take no time, so he could keep up this training speed.
Karen, mother of Kiersty and Nathan, glared daggers at Regina and Daniel. “What do you mean, you don’t know?!?”
The two exchanged helpless glances, and were about to speak, when another figure appeared.
“Karen, I have to take responsibility for this one. In all of the recent excitement, I lost count of the days. It completely slipped my mind.” Mrs. Hamilton said, stepping forward with a smile. Behind her, Decklan’s full squad stood, grimly outfitted in leather and steel rubbed in charcoal to dull its reflective properties. Annie and a few of the more skilled archers stood with them, serious expressions on their faces.
“What…?” Daniel asked, bewildered, but Karen was much more direct.
“What did you forget?” She demanded.
Mrs. Hamilton’s smile turned decidedly vicious, the smile curling upwards. “That we have… new neighbors.”
It took a few seconds, but recognition finally arrived at Daniel’s brain, and he paled immediately. The whole troop quickly moved, heading to the portal to their “sister town”. The air rippled softly, but otherwise it seemed extremely peaceful, like a scenic pond.
“My children…. wandered in there alone…?” Karen asked, her anger giving way to horror, but Decklan shook his head.
“No, from what we can tell Alana and Devan’s squad are also missing, and likely accompanied her. She will be safe.” His voice was low and sure, and Karen visibly calmed down somewhat, nodding towards him thankfully.
“So,” He continued, looking around at his squad. “Let’s go investigate this other village.”
In a fluid motion, they loped forward, low and silent, passing through the rippling doorway to another world.
Alana slumped to the ground, covered in blood. Although the sprouting of Arbor, and the aura it provided, did a lot to change the rabbit woman’s opinion of them, it didn’t seem sufficient, in her harsh eyes. Her grandson’s life was very important. A more genuine apology was necessary in order to compensate for allowing such an accident to happen.
Inwardly, Alana was furious at the whole charade. But for whatever reason, the people who knew that the injuries were inflicted by the turtles were desperate to hide that fact from the grey haired rabbit. And for now, Alana was content to fight for this strange animal village, defending it for a small amount of time. Not because she thought it would be particularly beneficial to the village, but it would be very, very difficult for Kiersty and Nathan to be protected on that journey.
Besides, Alana wasn’t a child that cared overmuch for whether something was true enough. Real life wasn’t so simple, and it seemed the group from Donnyton had just gotten caught between the two strange races here. Alana hadn’t forgotten the turtle’s earlier mention of the Class draft they were instituting, which did a lot to demonstrate how badly things were going for the village.
The “compensation” ended up being holding off the swarms of monsters that were constantly besetting this village from every side. It seemed that while Donnyton had waited quite a while to grow in strength before upgrading to the Trainee tier, this village had rushed to that level, due to some general information about the buildings available at that tier, and what they could do to improve the village’s chances at surviving.
Unfortunately, the information obtained by this world was rather general; they didn’t realize that a Trainee village also would have to cope with Raid Bosses. They also didn’t possess someone with the extremely overpowered abilities that Glendel had, so they were unable to really locate Raid Bosses until they had established themselves and spawned Lieutenant monsters. These monsters were just slightly stronger than the normal mob spawned by a nearby Raid Boss, but they also could spawn their own minions, and possessed a fierce intelligence that the Raid Bosses lacked.
Under the constant raids of these Lieutenant monsters, the defenses of this village were slowly being eroded, their powerful Classers driven to exhaustion. They simply didn’t have enough bodies to hold them off. Meanwhile, it seemed the turtles wanted to force some individuals to take classes, but the Rabbits were unwilling to do so. So the turtles needed a way to incite the grandma rabbit to act, and also a scapegoat, so the village wouldn’t destroy itself with infighting...
Which is where Alana and Devan’s squad came into the picture; they were the perfect victim. Luckily they had managed to preserve Razor’s life, or….
Alana shook her head. It was bad enough already. Just today, they had already slaughtered 3 such Lieutenant monsters, ambushing them as they came to attack the spring that served as the village’s water supply.
Forebodingly, they were all of the same type of monster, and they had spotted more such groups, watching from the shadows; those Raid Bosses had already established themselves here and were propagating at an exponential rate.
The village was aware of this, and Alana was able to slowly parse out some things about the situation. Whether it was racial or not, the rabbit and turtle people were firmly divided about what to do on the issue, although Alana couldn’t figure out the details. She also asked Cadence, who was Razor’s sister, about the children, and apparently those little grey people, at a certain age, ‘chose’ whether to become turtles or rabbits.
But as Alana asked more pointed questions, she had clammed up, unwilling to speak further.
Groaning at the aches in her body, Alana slipped off her shoes and began to massage the soles of her feet.
At least the skill leveling was good, she mused to herself, but then looked up to a knock at the door. The “door”, which was just a stone wheel, was rolled to the side, to reveal Cadence. “Come, there is someone you must meet.”
Karen glanced fearfully at Mrs. Hamilton, who had turned away from the portal and began to walk away. “Where are you going?”
“Unfortunately, there are other things I must handle.” Mrs. Hamilton said consolingly. “But Decklan is smart, as well as an incredibly talented fighter. He can handle this. Trust in Donnyton. Your children will return safe.”