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Shal did not tell his disciple this, but he had lied to him: he would not be within the formation for a single hour, but for 6 hours. For his disciple, this would be 12 hours of hell. Well, if he chose that path. If he was cautious, 12 hours was about the amount of time it took to deplete the ambient Aether in your body if you were not exerting yourself.

The point of this 12 hour period was twofold. First was to force the boy to confront his own Aether, and push him beyond the point his body could stand. This would have tremendous positive benefits for his training, if he could harness it. Especially if what he said was true, and that somehow, he was a walking village in terms of Aether…

What would that mean for his ability to use an image to shape Aether…?

Even Shal, who had long assumed his heart had stiffened and died in a way, felt some inkling of excitement. If he was really carrying this blessing, his disciple needed to get as strong as possible before others discovered it, and it became a curse.

Another wave of power exploded above, but Shal ignored it. Divveltian should have no trouble dealing with enemies who came this early. He was one of the few spear users who hadn’t received any status designations from the school, but Shal’s father had still been cautious around.

But Shal knew in his heart that Divveltian was far above the level of the common Artisan. Qtal was not a town that could easily push Divveltian around.

The second reason that Shal put his disciple into the formation for a longer time was a more cold and calculating reason. He had said it multiple times, but his disciple did not seem to get it; the enemies that would come would be far above his level. His disciple had some tricks and a knack for survival, but their strength would be at the level that he wouldn’t have that chance.

What they needed was the disciple to find a powerful image of the spear, and for the time to perfect it. This 12 hour period would completely deplete the impure Aether in his body, giving him the best chance to develop a powerful image. Although there was also a high risk of death, Shal was not one to worry overmuch.

If his disciple was too weak, it was better that he die now, before Shal risked overmuch to help him. For Shal knew of an answer to the time dilution problem. But it would be difficult, extremely so, and pose extreme risk, with Shal bearing most of the risk. Even if it worked, Shal might be completely out of commission for a long time. In the larger city they would need to go to to perform this plan, both the people who resented the Spear Phantom Style and Rainbow Hunters would be more common. Without Shal’s strength…

Even he, who knew he was about the Adept level of strength, felt some fear in his heart at the thought of such weakness.

But Shal’s eyes burned as he stared into the formation. He was unable to see his disciple, but he wished very strongly for him to succeed.

Not for the Style, not for the health of his disciple, but due to a name he had buried deep within his heart: Lucrecia. And thanks to Egger, Shal now had a location.

His father's actions had earned Shal many things, but part of the settlement with the other Schools was that the travel of the Spear Phantom Style be restricted to only the area controlled by the Spearman School, who defended them. So Shal needed a reasonable ticket to leave their area.

Like a disciple who was traveling to enter a distant tournament.

It was almost a pipe dream at this point. His disciple had struggled at the Qualifier for the Regional Tournament. After that was still the Regional Tournament, where the true competitors who had been preparing will be waiting. At that tournament, the top 4 would get a ticket to the Spearman School Hall of Stances, and then…

Then those 4, as well as the other groups of 4 from the other Spearman School regions, would travel to the All School Tournament. Which was being hosted by the Death School.

“Top 4… huh…” It seemed impossible to Shal, but his disciple had an almost infectious optimism about him. Besides, their current goal was top 8 anyways. Just one more win.

Shal would risk anything for that win. Even the lives of himself and his weak disciple.

“Lucrecia… you cannot run from me forever…”

****

Time dragged on, and everything began to blur for Randidly. Everything began to revolve around the spear. He saw it, even with his eyes closed. It grew, and it grew distant, like the way your limbs felt when you sat alone in a dark room with your eyes closed.

It was strange and weird, but Randidly didn’t let that perturb him, he simply held the spear and thrusted forward, Aether writhing through his body as he moved.

The thrust was inevitable, it was instant, time…..

Randidly paused, hesitating. Time… huh….

His mind moving rapidly, in spite of the vicious pain in his forehead, Randidly could picture his spear moving so fast that it seemed to move slow, somehow bending the laws of time. Or using time to simply speed up the time it took for his spear to arrive before his target.

But after a few seconds, he shook his head, banishing that image. That wasn’t his spear. It was… inevitable. It wasn’t that his spear used time to its advantage…

But that the attack was inevitable and irresistible, like time. It was coming, it was just a matter of… time. There was a countdown.

Randidly thrust out again, his spear speed much slower than it was previously. The Aether inside of him quivered strangely, as if confused.

In fact… it was possible that his spear actually hurt him with its image of time. Trading off the unpredictability and speed for power. Randidly thrust again, the spear seeming to slow even further.

But as he did so, he felt instinctively that the attack seemed more like a phantom. Drifting and slow, sure, but when it arrived…

As the thrust was fully extended, the air seemed to hum with the violent power of the thrust. Randidly drew the spear back and thrust again.

It was almost if… the time power even let the enemy know far in advance that it was coming.

The air hummed.

But it was an unstoppable force, when it arrived…

The air crackled and hissed.

Again and again Randidly thrust, and the Aether inside of him began to move. Where before it was icy needles, now it was like there was an inexhaustible furnace within his chest, belching out smog and heat, his body beginning to feel hot and strange, his head fuzzy.

But he forced himself to continue, thrusting again and again. Only through repetition of this feeling would he find his answer. Randidly wasn’t sure how much time remaining in here he had, and wasn’t sure whether it was having an effect on gaining skill levels, but it certainly was doing something to his Aether. And that something was narrowing his focus to a razor edge.

Even as his insides began to feel bone dry and as inhospitable as a desert, Randidly thrust, his spear now making strange crackling noises as it exploded with force.

His eyes glowing emerald, Randidly felt the image. The inevitable nature of time… It approaches, sweeping us all away… it affects us all… it is the the strongest weapon. The sharpest spear.

For some further amount of time, Randidly continued to thrust. His chest was a burning volcano. The Aether bubbled within him, mixing and swirling in strange shapes. It was almost unbearable, the pain approaching the level of having Shal dump acid inside his body.

Then Randidly slowed, thoughtful. It seemed at present that he had reached the limit of what he could do with this image. And it was probably a bad idea to continue to refine this without first checking with Shal. Randidly didn’t want to proceed too far down an incorrect path. And while he was still within the focused state…

Before anything else, Randidly sat for a few minutes and let the thundering in his head subside a bit. The Aether continued to roil around in him unpleasantly, but without him focusing strongly on something, it just seemed to flail, almost listless.

After a suitable amount of time, Randidly stood, and then began to move through the strange stances taught to him by that old turtle. At this point, Randidly could persist through one complete circuit of the first exercise, and almost all the way through the second. The third was still far beyond him.

Still, Aether swirled lazily down into his legs, feeling like a cool, refreshing stream, driving away the exhaustion. Randidly could see what he wanted, the image he had since the turtle had done this. It was one of the first things he had gained from the system: roots.

Randidly pictured his legs as ineffable roots, thick and durable and sturdy, glowing golden with life, so strong that it seemed like they would never be shaken. Roots so large and strong that they supported a tree strong enough to hold up the sky. That was the strength he wanted. Privately, in his mind, he said the word that described what the tree would be.

Yggdrasil. His legs, his base, would be the roots that could hold up Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

That was what he was seeking, that strength. With it, even if his spear skills were below his opponents, he would not falter. He would not struggle. His base was endless. His roots stretched so deeply into the earth beneath him that he could not be shaken. Energy and life flowed upwards, giving him substance. He would be eternal.

Randidly smoothly moved from the first movement to the second one, his legs beginning to tremble. Aether surged downward, an ice cold river that would grab you and pull you under. The kind parents warned their children away from.

As he focused on these huge, golden roots, Randidly moved through the second movement, the shaking getting worse. But although his chest heaved, and large drops of sweat dripped down his face, he didn’t cease as he moved his body strangely, skittering and scuttling, working every part of his thighs and hips.

Like a crashing wave, he finished the second movement and began the third. He struggled onward for several seconds. The ice cold Aether sloshed around his legs, swirling and probing, drawing sigils.

But then the wave ran out of momentum, and sloshed backwards.

Randidly collapsed, but he was laughing.

“Just a bit more…” He muttered, “Just a bit longer…”

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