Randidly swore quietly to himself, lowering the bracer back to the work table. Once more, he had let too much mana flow at once, and it had pooled and warped the rune, soon cracking the bracer. So not only had he failed at the Engraving, but the armor was also ruined.
Luckily, or annoyingly, Sam had him working with amateur level leather bracers made by some of the new recruits from Franksburg. It had made Randidly want to tell them that even their inept attempts had meaning. They weren’t just grinding away at their skill levels. They were helping him grind away at skill levels.
Shaking his head, Randidly refocused on the bracer before him. Sam cautioned him to focus on one rune, so he had kept attempting the “Dragonfly” rune. It was perhaps the simplest, or rather the shortest, rune in terms of line length. But at the same time, the middle section had several graceful loops that required the most delicate mana control, in order to execute properly.
Engraving, weirdly, reminded Randidly of icing a cake. The medium was already there, and it was a matter of controlling how much substance came out on top of it, and where. Unfortunately, unlike icing a cake, there was a constant pressure of mana, more pushing to come out of the Engraving Needle, which needed to be constantly monitored and controlled. Just like water, too, this pressure lessened as Randidly burned through his mana. So the pressure was initially much higher than it was by the end of the Engraving.
Further calculating things was that even the slightest distraction caused Randidly’s focus to waiver, and that waiver either increased or decreased the pressure for mana to come out. The outcomes were rather random seeming, but Randidly suspected that it had something to do with the type of distraction and how it affected him.
However Sam didn’t appear to have any of these problems, and was instead limited by his mana pool, so Randidly didn’t bring it up for now.
Inwardly, there were times that he was tempted to open up his Path screen and spend the PP that he had likely gained. Hopefully, he had gained enough to give him some distributable stats, and with that, he could improve his Control and Focus, which would increase the efficiency of this skill grinding…
But in a way, that too was the wrong path. After seeing Mrs. Hamilton’s training, Randidly realized it was less about increasing his possible output, but giving him mastery of the skills and stats he did have. Skill Levels would be gained as he further familiarized himself with the skills, but that wasn’t the end goal; it was to develop a mentality that let him use his skills to their utmost potential.
It was, Randidly supposed, a “classical” type of training. After all, before the system, there would always be an absolute wall for humans in terms of what was physically possible. They did not have the luxury of raising their stats to run more quickly.
Instead, they trained to lower the time it took for them to reach that limit of running quickly. They changed their running form to maximize their results. They lost weight, or gained weight, or changed their diet to sculpt their bodies all towards this goal of not pushing the boundaries, but moving closer to them.
But she had a point, Randidly admitted. At any time, he could raise his stats. But to make him utilize his stats more skillfully? That would require a concerted effort. And it was undoubtedly worth it.
Setting those thoughts aside, Randidly turned to his next bracer. But as he picked it up, he didn’t yet use the Engraving Needle. Instead he closed his eyes and breathed very slowly, seeking something. He looked, deep within himself, for moments where he was truly content.
Struggling under Shal, moving with him through the dungeon…
Fighting at night during those early monster hordes, being unstoppable amongst them…
Letting Agony burn away his excess thoughts, fighting outside Franksburg…
Challenging all of Donnyton’s Classers, holding up that final Inspired Circle of Flame, preparing to unleash it…
Repeatedly using his new found mastery of Footwork of the Spear Phantom to dodge Lyra’s birds of mana…
Randidly grinned. Who would have known that he took such joy in training to the point that he felt extremely powerful? Although he supposed it really wasn’t that shocking. Everyone desired to feel important and capable.
Now that he had gotten here, he sure as hell wasn’t going to slack off and let go of those feelings.
Randidly lowered the needle and began to Engrave.
When Alana walked into the low-ceilinged hut, Devan was already there, arms folded, and Kiersty and Nathan were curled up in the corner on a cushion. An old woman sat in a rocking chair, watching them, her hair black, her ears droopy and greying at the edges. But Alana froze as she entered into the room, looking at that woman.
Since fighting for so long, she had developed a pretty reliable ability to look at an opponent and guess their strength. This woman… was at the level of the Ghosthound, maybe stronger.
She turned and looked at Alana, her face a labyrinth of wrinkles as she smiled. “Bert! The guests are here. Bring some drinks.”
An extremely elderly turtle shambled out of a side door, carrying a tray with several mugs. Alana blinked, the aura of the elderly woman washed away by the tide of bloodlust that sprung from this new arrival. His expression was bored, but Alana could not avoid the vicious realization that this man could kill her as easy as breathing. The edges of her vision began to darken, and she couldn’t muster enough strength to even breath-
“Bert, stop that. These are guests.”
It was like that oppressive aura was a bad smell, and the woman’s words were a breeze, lightly brushing it away. Which, in a way, was even more intimidating. The woman smiled at Alana. “You have questions, I’m sure. But I don’t involve myself much in the affairs of the other totems. Instead, I’d like to talk about… our village’s, Kith Klark’s, gift for Donnyton. I’ve taken a look at that plant the girl brought over, and it is quite unique. Useful, and attractive. I haven’t seen something so intriguing since Bert here was a young man.”
She smiled good naturedly at Bert, who had given Devan and Alana a mug. Bert simply glanced at the woman, his face inscrutable.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but… who are you? I don’t understand much about your kind, but… You don’t appear to be either a Rabbit or a Turtle…” Devan spoke slowly, his eyes locked on Bert the entire while. But it made Alana take a second glance at the woman, and she realized it was true; her ears were smaller and more angular, and she could see the curl of a tail around the back of the chair.
“Excuse me! Where are my manners? I’m Hess. And yes, you are correct. Typically, Kiths in our world have 3 totems each. Usually two are dominant, while the third takes on a special role in the village… Yes, I am neither a Long Footed Hare, or the Grey Shelled Turtle; I am the current Spectral Lynx.”
Hess put her chin on her fist, looking at Devan and Alana with glittering eyes. “But I did find it extremely interesting that the girl spoke of a Ghosthound. It is perhaps fate that ectoplasmic cats and dogs are at each other’s throats constantly, is it not…?”
There was only silence to answer her.
But then Hess laughed, slapping her knee. “Oh come on, did you really think I would push our villages towards war just for a dumb coincidence like that? Jeez, you don’t have a very optimistic view of the situation, now do you? That old hare might have as much sense as a barrel of gunpowder, and the turtle have as much foresight as fashion sense, but I’m very wise, I assure you. Despite the events I have… allowed, this past week.”
Devan looked sheepish, but kept his eyes on Bert. Alana rubbed the back of her neck. “...Yes well, it hasn’t exactly been sunshine and butterflies between us. The welcoming party for us…”
“When the Turtles tried to kill the Hare Elder’s grandson? Quite an unfortunate choice, that. But I think it will ultimately prove beneficial, to you.”
Alana regarded the woman flatly. “...I see.”
Chortling, Hess turned to Bert. “Bert, fetch those newcomers before they cause any trouble. I have an idea.”
Nodding, Bert ambled to the door, all but disappearing as he rounded the corner. Hess turned back to Devan and Alana and made small talk, speaking of small matters, explaining the details of village life, asking about Donnyton. At first Alana hesitated, but it truly seemed as though the cat woman in front of them possessed no guile; she was simply curious.
So they began to open up slightly in regards to facts about the village. Based on what Hess was saying, Donnyton was much, much larger than this village, which they called Kith Klark. They were not the village prior to the system with the strongest warriors, but a lucky series of events let them become the first village in their zone to reach the level of Trainee Village. Since then, they had been struggling to survive, and had to withdraw most of their villagers to the inner part of the village. There were simply too many Raid Bosses spawning too quickly.
Although it hadn’t occurred to her before, Alana was forced to admit that Donnyton was much better off than this village, even though they hadn’t been forewarned about the approach of the system.
It was all because a guardian Ghosthound was there to protect them until they had their legs under them.
Randidly leaned back, barely suppressing a grin.
Engraving of Dragonfly 20% ©: Wearer of the armor has a small chance of moving more quickly when moving with the wind.
It wasn’t all that impressive of an effect, but it was a successful completion, Randidly’s first even after 3 hours of work. He supposed that in the old world, this learning speed would be prodigious, but now… it was slightly disappointing.
But then again, the point of the training was to make things seem more like the old way of training, thereby shifting expectations and results. So it made sense that Randidly wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of some of the system assistance from Skill Levels.
Randidly brought the finished product over to Sam, who looked at it, then blinked. “...C-C-Common rarity?!?!”
Turning to Randidly, Sam glared daggers at him. Randidly shrugged helplessly. What did Sam expect? It was only his first try. He had figured an achievement at this level was to be expected.
Snorting, Sam muttered to himself, “Probably a fluke…” Then directed Randidly to return to the bench and keep practicing until he could do three in a row. Although Randidly wanted to train some other things, Randidly supposed it was fair.
But secretly, for the rest of the night, while he was trying and failing at Engraving, he kept a tightly packed ball of Pestilence under the table, controlling it very carefully.
Randidly’s head throbbed painfully as his attempt cracked another bracer. Grimacing, Randidly rubbed his temples for a few seconds, but then picked up another bracer. Although it was difficult, the only way to get stronger was to push.
The only way to move forward was to continue to walk.