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Claptrap spent most of the morning using the money he had received from Artisan Dwei to purchase leather bracers, steel boots, and iron breastplates. He was able to cash in some of his other armors, and use the rest of his savings, and got 200 of each, which would be a solid start to satisfying the Crashing Wave Style.

Then he returned to his boat, only to be flummoxed by a simple truth; Claptrap had no idea how to contact the Ghosthound. He opened his friends list and began to scroll through the previoulys met tab, but because Qtal was such a densely packed city, and he had also just been at the market, at the most well attended event in the last month…

Finding the Ghosthound was almost impossible; there simply was no way to track him down. He would probably have a few days, but eventually Artisan Dwei would return. At that time, if he didn’t have any finished armor to give him…

Claptrap shivered. Although the other seemed like a personally reasonable person, you didn’t become an Artisan by being soft. So in the meantime, Claptrap needed to-

There was a knock on the door to his cab, causing Claptrap to frown. Standing up, he walked over and opened the wooden door, finding three individuals standing there.

“Yo,” The Ghosthound said coolly, rubbing the back of his neck. Claptrap almost burst into tears. Then he refocused and launched into a rapid explanation of everything that happened with the Crashing Wave sect, and how Claptrap may have revealed the Ghosthound’s engraving, which might possibly get back to the guilds, who would then come out to find him. How this might all lead to them tortured in a dark place, far away...

As he finished, breathing heavily, he had the chance to look around. What Claptrap saw caused his eyelids twitched slightly.

“Ah…. these two… are trustworthy… right….?” He said, gesturing towards the shapely woman and the angry seeming man who was opening his mouth. The Ghosthound snorted, cutting him off.

“A little late for that, isn’t it? Don’t worry about- more importantly, they said they would buy as many as I could make? Interesting. What’s the price?”

Claptrap’s face fell. He couldn't’ forget the Ghosthound’s incisive questioning, that slowly stripped away Claptrap’s bargaining power. Even now, although the question sounded innocent, he felt the possible profits fleeing away from him.

“W-well, the price is dependant on the quality of the Engraving. At certain levels-”

The Ghosthound held up a hand, then gestured to the woman. “You...what’s your name?”

She bowed, her lovely brown hair cascading forward to cover her face. Her voice was soft and sweet. “It is Helen.”

“Helen, handle the details of this transaction. You will probably be doing this a lot for me in the future, so… uh… good luck.”

The woman seemed to tense, to Claptrap’s eyes, and what followed was a very awkward series of bargaining between the two of them, while the Ghosthound and the other spear attendant watched. After a few minutes, the Ghosthound sat down and began to engrave right there, working while they hammered out the details of the deal, and things began to go much more smoothly.

Although Helen was very savvy, she lacked the sinister and unrelenting quality that allowed the Ghosthound to ask seemingly innocuous questions and still have Claptrap’s confidence in his price plummet. There was just a calculating way that he had, that made him impossible to fool. It was much less stressful for Claptrap to negotiate with Helen, but he sensed that for her, she was sweating bullets. After all, if she failed at obtaining a good deal…

Luckily, she seemed well versed in the subject, so much so that they started talking more exacting details on the quality of the workmanship, turnover times, and cost sharing.

But then the Ghosthound spoke, interrupting them both, right before Claptrap was willing to accept a deal that would have earned him enough of the profits.

“Oh Claptrap,” the man said, standing and smiling at him. “Just one quick question.”

Inwardly, Claptrap began making calculations, trying to parse out how much lower he could go, and still respect himself. There was definitely money to be made here, but if the Ghosthound insisted on keeping it all to himself, there really was nothing that Claptrap could do. But when the question was finally asked, Claptrap just blinked, completely bewildered.

“...do you have any information on Patrons?”

“Err...yes,” Claptrap stuttered. “Would you like the general Risk Sheet, or the detailed-”

The Ghosthound simply glanced at Helen, his mouth twisted into a frown. She seemed to hesitate for several long seconds, torn between two options very near to each other, but after a time, she seemed to settle on her answer, and said. “...We will take it all. Perhaps you can throw it into our previous discussions and we will call it a day?”

After another quick round of mental mathematics, Claptrap nodded, and he shook hands with Helen. The Ghosthound turned to leave, then paused, and pulled a long streamer out of his ring.

“Oh, here. I heard that if I wanted to show my support, I should give you this. Just hang it wherever, I guess.”

And with that, the Ghosthound took the armors to be Engraved and left, leaving a very confused Claptrap holding the streamer. And when he looked down to examine it, finally noticing its color, his confusion only grew. This color….

He recognized this color. The color of the great shame of the Spearman School. Why would he….? Was he possibly connected to that woman, all those years ago…?

As his eyes ran over the gold lettering and the incredibly large and bold “Ghosthound” across the streamer, his eyes landed on the Style affiliation. It wasn’t one that Claptrap immediately recognized, but it seemed strangely familiar to him. The Spear Phantom style, huh…? Why did that seem so familiar…?

Making a mental note to research it more later, Claptrap pushed those thoughts out of his mind. Instead, he began to consider how to proceed with his purchases. Although Izzat had been silent for a single day, if Claptrap continued to make such mass purchases, he would eventually surface, looking for a slice of the pie.

If he couldn’t get that…

Better to start planning now. Claptrap breathed in, and then breathed out, picturing Ciel’s shy smile. He was not a particularly bold man, but neither was he a scared one. He had always lived his life simply, because he was content. A few months ago, he had found a goal, and flailed out, searching for a hope. Just when he thought it was impossible, a hope came flickering into his field of view, but now more things followed that hope, including the cold threat of steel.

Claptrap smiled and began to hum. For Ciel… he would break this entire world. Let them come.

Then he shook his head ruefully. Confidence and madness was one thing, but…

How was he going to handle it…?

****

Randidly set the last scroll down, his mouth twisted into a grin. The information provided by Claptrap had been a rating sheet, that showed the relative risks of several of the most common Patrons, a guide that detailed the training sequence of some common Patrons, and finally an encyclopedia that listed all of the known Patrons, and some background on Patrons.

Patron of Ash wasn’t included on the risk sheet, which was initially very confusing to Randidly, but his reading in the encyclopedia helped him understand. It was unclear what Patrons were, but it was clear that different worlds had access to different Patrons. Perhaps once more due to their perspective on the subject.

There were dozens of varieties of fire Patrons, but there was only one Patron of Ash, which was addressed in a fairly large section, explaining some history and sightings of the Patron, and some notable Initiates of Ash. From the guide materials, Randidly had learned that there were 3 levels given to people who take the Apprentice Path: Initiates, Anointed, and Chosen.

These labels were related to how far along in the apprenticeship a person had progressed. All Patrons had 3 requirements, each name signifying how many requirements an individual had passed.

The Patron of Ash encyclopedia entry stated that at one point, Initiates of Ash were fairly common. There were even some Anointed of Ash. But there had never been a Chosen of Ash, according to the encyclopedia, and many Anointed chose never to advance through the third path, giving them access to the third challenge, although they would not speak of why.

Perhaps it was simply the failures of their predecessors, but the book described how many speculated there was more to it than that. There was a certain set to the eyes of the Anointed that made the writers suspicious. But of course, this was only speculation, and for now, Randidly had no proof.

There was a small relief; it was clear from the texts that only the 1st and 3rd challenges would teleport you to the world of the Patron. The 2nd challenge was one that needed to be accomplished where you were. So Randidly decided that he would soon try for the Initiate of Ash path.

But before that… he needed to get through this strange, seemingly bugged path. Randidly had seen a lot of things about the Nexus and its system that made him think that it was a programed system, of some strange, extremely esoteric energy language, but the more he experienced, the more suspicious he was of whether that was all there was to it. The Lonesome Spear path made him dubious.

And those fingers…

One step at a time, ever onward. Never stopping, always advancing… and eventually, Randidly knew that he would find the answer naturally. But right now…

Being here, among these individuals who had trained since birth under the system, where his strength was only that of a Lvl 15 individual, and where his skill level was so far below his peers… Randidly was still shocked at Shal’s casual reveal. When Shal had told him, all that time ago, that his skill level was around 50, who would have thought that he had meant his lowest and weakest skills. As for his strongest skills… Spear Mastery was 202. Phantom Thrust was probably even higher…

Randidly shivered, but he couldn’t help but smile, as the knock came on the door to his room.

“Disciple? Come, we begin immediately.”

At the very least, it wouldn’t be boring. And being here reminded him no matter how far he had already come, the path stretched ever onward. Randidly stood and walked out to meet Shal.

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