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“This fucking asshole cunt… the whole reason I ran away from home was to fucking avoid the smell of leather. Now he makes me act like a common merchant…?”

The former star disciple of the Iron Spear Style sat still, his face studiously blank as he listened to Helen’s relentless tirade. Although she had been extremely well spoken around their master, for whatever reason, Helen continued her constant stream of mutters and hateful whispers around him.

“I hate its fucking shit color. I hate its vomit smell. I hate its old people skin feel.... Leather should be burnt and leather workers put to death…” Helen glanced quickly over at him, and seemed to see right through his carefully maintained facade. “But if you say anything about it, I’ll bite your cock off in your sleep.”

Her matter-of-fact delivery would have previously shaken him, but these past few days… he had dealt with several blows to his ego that left him largely numb. This crazy woman’s swarthy threats didn’t really phase him.

As she settled into her repeated rant, her fingernails scratched at the railing of the boat while their vessel continued to float unimpeded towards the center of Qtal, while he just sighed.

A simple two days ago he had been unshaken in his belief that he would change the world. Then he had encountered not one, not two, but 3 individuals who made him feel inferior. By the time he had regained consciousness, Helen had dragged him off the stage, and then used him and other wounded bodies as cover in order to hide herself from the vicious swarm of ravenous insects the Ghosthound had somehow summoned.

By sheer luck, he had been buried underneath Helen’s other victims, and had made it out mostly unscathed. Any small joy that he would have felt, waking up ontop of such a beautiful woman, was swiftly wiped away by the horrifying realization of how many people, and how quickly, Helen had killed individuals from the surrounding crowd to make a pile of bodies she could hide under.

It was likely done in a sneak attack, but still. If these people were taking part in the qualifier, they at least had some accomplishments in the art of the spear. That she had casually dealt with so many was unnerving.

So he swiftly found himself with 4 individuals who he acknowledged as superior. But of course, at their head, was the Ghosthound.

A mage who wielded the spear… It was a scary combination. There were some people on the planet who chose to become mages, but they were mostly in support roles, strengthening spear-users before and during battles. Or they became healers. But the offensive powers of the Ghosthound’s skills were no joke. They shook the former star disciple of the Iron Spear Style to his core.

Then, promptly after he had staggered out of the rapidly deserting arena, he had been waylaid by his former master Egger, who publicly humiliated and denounced him, casting him out of the Iron Spear Style for publicly humiliating him, and putting on such an embarrassing display as vomiting on his own spear.

Adding one last insult on top of the heap balanced on his former disciple’s psyche, Egger told him that he could keep the spear; after all, it had been sullied by his filth.

For the first time in 3 years, he was Styleless. Whereas he had previously seen his path to greatness laid out in front of him, now… he wavered. Without access to the Skill Sets of the Iron Spear style, becoming stronger on his own would be extremely difficult.

Still, although he was lying low currently, his pride burned hot and angry in his stomach. He would persevere. He had sought out that strong adversary who had caused him such a great blow, because that was the strength he desired. The strength to defy expectations, and shock the audience.

Although he had currently embraced his identity as the “male spear attendant”, that wasn’t a permanent solution. This was just a transition phase. If nothing else, it was clear that both the Ghosthound and his master were unusually strong. He would seize that strength, and rise higher than the Iron Spear Style ever could carry him, he swore to himself, and then, he could-!

“Oy, you two, move aside.” A cold voice spoke, and the two spear attendants jumped. Divvit, slowly stood, cracking his neck. “It appears we finally have encountered our first guest. Now the only thing that remains to be seen is who they are here for…”

Helen bowed smoothly, making the male spear attendant’s face twitch, but he controlled it, barely. That girl certainly switched personas quickly once there was an audience. Ahead of them, the path through the boats had finally been blocked. The boat in front of them was a small one, only a raft, but a bold, bright red Tassle hung above 3 men and a woman.

For several minutes, the two groups, the 3 on the boat with Blue and Emerald, 4 on the group below the red Tassle, just looked at each other as the two boats drifted closer. Slowly, the male spear attendant realized that the surrounding boats were filling with shifting crowds, whose eyes were locked on the two boats.

Neither said anything until the wooden boats rammed into each other with a soft knock.

“As mine is the larger vessel…” Divvit said, his tone of voice making his superiority clear. “I suppose the guests may come aboard.”

The male spear attendant’s face remained curious still, but Helen snorted. The traditional greeting before a challenge was “Honored Guests”. The fact that Divvit chose not to use it was either a slight, a comment on the difference in their social statuses, or on the difference in their strength. But considering the color of their Tassle, it was possible that it was all three.

The expressions of the 4 from the smaller boat were stony, but they ascended up. There was silence on the boat. Divvit seemed content to remain still, despite the new arrivals.

Finally, the man who appeared to be the leader among the red Tassle group, spoke. “It… is unbecoming. They both bear the curse of that man. And that color…. is unbecoming.”

Divvit remained seated, not even opening his eyes.

The man’s eyes narrowed. “If you do not willingly sink your Tassle-”

“-Then you will do what?” Divvit opened his eyes and smiled.

****

Randidly’s chest heaved.  Mrs. Hamilton’s exercises had been designed to allow Randidly to slowly push his body to limits, forcing his will to rise to the level that he could fully utilize his physical capabilities.

Shal, it seemed, thought this was a weak and inefficient method.

“True, your stats… are higher than your level should possess.” Shal said, standing over Randidly’s bruised and battered body. “But it has made you bold and shallow. You have many flashy moves, yes. You have a Runic Rarity skillset, yes. But you do not have the weight of training behind your strikes. They are light.

“This is what you must learn. How to face foes who possess that strength. Rise, and receive my spear.”

Randidly, his arms almost buckling, raised himself up. He could feel that frosted fire in his chest, pulsing slowly. If nothing else, Second Wind, Struggle, and Bacterial Regeneration were being well worked, even if he barely had enough time to use any active skills against Shal’s assault. Because when the attacks came, they were too much for Randidly to receive.

But he still tried, his body slowly regenerating, his stance settling down to its normal steadiness. Then Shal smiled, and disappeared.

This was truly the difference in levels. His Spear Phantom’s Footwork was at a level where Randidly’s eyes couldn’t keep up. By the time he could see where Shal had gone, Shal had already attacked. This was not a way that Randidly could survive.

So instead, as soon as Shal disappeared, Randidly stepped too, heading for the spot Shal had left. But immediately the hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up, and Randidly threw himself to the side, stepping with the skill as fast as he could manage it.

It was not fast enough, and Randidly felt his ribs crack as what could only be a spear, but felt like a freight train, smashed into his side. As he was sent tumbling, Randidly couldn’t help think back to his experience all those months ago, right at the very beginning, knocked so casually aside.

But although he wasn’t yet the one knocking another casually aside, he was still very different than his previous self.

Randidly pirouetted on his toes, spinning around to regard his attacker. Shal was already raising his spear again, unrelenting, but not before Randidly lashed out, using Ghastly Slash, which with the bonus of Haste, Empower, and Mana Strengthening, managed to arrive before Shal’s attack.

But Shal’s spear seemed to slither upwards, knocking Randidly’s attack off to the side, and then instantly lashing out towards Randidly’s stomach.

Using Phantom Half Step 3 times in a row, Randidly managed to open enough space for the attack to miss, but as his eyes tried to find Shal’s figure, he realized that he had once more disappeared.

Trusting an instinct, Randidly lashed out behind him, using Sweep to smash backwards. Shal stepped around the attack like he was strolling through a park, and struck Randidly sharply in the shoulder, breaking the bone. His follow up attack was even more vicious, ripping a large gash, but Randidly gritted his teeth and stepped into it, throwing a desperate punch.

Shal seemed to be annoyed by this, and his spear ripped upward, cutting off half of Randidly’s hand. But although it was painful, Randidly wasn’t stopping now, not with the fire burning in his gut.

Settling into those strange stances taught to him by the old turtle, Randidly settled his weight, took a deep breath, and threw a punch with all of his strength behind it. The butt of Shal’s spear whipped out, cracking the bones of Randidly’s hand, but it still had enough force to continue onward and hit Shal in the side.

Within a split second, another blow descended, knocking Randidly to the floor.

Shal shook his head sorrowfully. “You do not know the value of a spear, so you easily toss it aside. A mistake. Without it, you are but desperate-”

The ship rumbled, a strange wave of power spreading out from above. It was enough that Randidly tensed, and sat up, even though his ribs protested painfully.

“What…. was that…?” Randidly asked.

Shal chuckled. “It is what happens when fools do not know their own strength. Ignore it, and stand. Receive my spear, disciple.”

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