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A note from puddles4263

2/8

Makes me realize that this is gonna put me pretty close to current, so I have to write a bunch the rest of this week. T.T

Randidly stood panting almost 10 minutes later, a dozen or so bodies around him ripped to pieces, or devoured by insects, or burnt to a crisp, or slowly drowning in their own foaming saliva as Pollen of the Rafflesia destroyed their body from the inside.

He stood with closed eyes, panting. Even though the anger had justified this to himself, and even now he still believed in those reasons, it was one thing to kill another. It was entirely different to look at the bodies of those you had slain and lay their spirits to rest inside of yourself. But Randidly stood there and struggled, slowly adjusting his mindset.

He had killed before, and will kill again. That was definitely true. But today… especially in the wake of being presented with the choice by Shal, it felt like he had stepped on a path of death. But in his heart, Randidly knew that this was bound to happen. All those months ago, when given the choice, he chose this.

When he selected rot and got Pollen of the Rafflesia and Edge of Decay.

When he had chosen the path of the stinking corpse lily.

Still, it hit him strangely now. Perhaps it was their weakness. They were much weaker than him. Just average people here, the dregs of society. And he had killed them for envying his meat.

After a few more minutes, his breathing slowly turned to even. Randidly opened his eyes, the green in them dark like a shadowed forest. Then he turned and began walking calmly over towards the woman who had given him the meat.

In this world, displays like this were common. There was no need to feel embarrassment or shame. Those around had simply backed up while it happened, and picked through the bodies as Randidly departed, showing their callous treatment of death. This was a fact of life to them.

For a second, Randidly regretted leaving his spear attendants back in Qtal. They really were rather convenient for avoiding interactions like this. But it would be useful. The faction the woman clearly belonged to seemed rather normal. And perhaps it would be good to appear friendly after killing those people, for relations here as they waited for caravans.

Then Randidly sighed. He had no fucking idea how to deal with interpersonal stuff. Was it weird that he transitioned so quickly from killing to going to offer food…? But he was already walking over, so it seemed strange to just turn around. The woman had noticed his approach, and was gazing at him.

Randidly’s frown deepened. What if she thought it was some sort of courting ritual…? Well he supposed it wasn’t worth it to worry. One of the few sayings he had taken away from his mother was that ‘humans are only big enough to hold emotions for one person, so worry about how you feel, and fuck the rest. And do your best to feel good, that’s all life is about.’ The point had wandered at the end, but he had found worrying solely about himself and leaving other people to their own feeling involved less interaction on his part, and appreciated it.

“Hello again,” He said simply, walking up to the woman. Another, shorter woman had approached as he came, and was standing nearby, leaning on her spear.

The woman he had spoken to nodded serenely, and then said nothing.

Scratching his ear, Randidly just said it. “I had some extra of the boar you gave me. Here, as thanks for helping me. No one else would.”

Randidly waved his hand and produced a pot with quite a bit of the extra meat and vegetables. The woman nodded as if this was the most normal thing in the world and took it. Then she bowed to him.

“I appreciate the gesture, Mr…?”

“Ghosthound.”

“Mr. Ghosthound then. If you need any more wildlife, please come find me. My name is Jade. You appear to have the Cooking skill, which is rather rare, but appreciated. We of the Willow Tree Spear Style will be willing to sample your cooking anytime.”

Randidly shifted awkwardly and nodded. “No problem.” Then he turned and walked back to Shal.

As Shal seemed perfectly content to rest, Randidly removed bracers and began to Engrave. Time slowly slipped past. It was frustrating, but he didn’t seem to be able to get above 60% for now with the other two types of Engraving. But he kept using all of his mana to make a Weeping Cloud and attempting it. Shal didn’t even seem to mind, as his face lost a lot of its lines as the soft rain landed on him.

About 3 hours after they arrived, just around the time Randidly was switching over to playing with his Root Spiders to pass the time, a caravan rolled past. Randidly stood, but Shal shook his head. Confused, Randidly looked at him.

“This is not the quarry for which we wait. Do not worry, it will come within the day.”

Meanwhile, the largest group present, with rust color armor rolled forward, headed down towards the caravan. Several people from the caravan separated from it, getting off their horses and walking over to meet the bandits.

“This road is very special. Banditry is encouraged here, on most caravans. Brave and foolhardy and desperate merchants use this road. The other routes are relatively safer, but take much longer. It was a lesson, made by the founder of Tomkat, who had a very large disdain for merchants.”

Randidly watched as the bandits split off too, an exact number equal to the defenders continuing forward. Then they battled in a group, the bandits quickly overpowering most of the defenders, except for one. That individual fought valiantly, until 3 bandits ganged up on her and stabbed her repeatedly, killing her.

Aside from that very exemplary individual, who died just like that, the rest ceased fighting with just wounds. Randidly felt slightly sad for that young woman, who died just like that, for some strange reason that he couldn’t understand.

“There seem to be some rules?” Randidly asked. Shal snorted.

“The playacting of the weak. Worry not, when you make your move, you will not bother with it.”

Randidly’s eyes rose. “My move?”

Shal leaned back and closed his eyes again. “Of course; we wish to be imprisoned in a place that cannot contain us; if I reveal my strength, they will place me in the highest tower without a hope of escape. So I am just a companion of yours. Keep yourself ready. They may arrive at anytime.”

Mulling this information over, Randidly settled back down around the fire they had made. The bandits returned, guffawing and happy, having been paid off by the caravan to let the rest of them pass.

With nothing else to do, Randidly returned to Engraving. But he was swiftly interrupted by a familiar voice.

“Mr. Ghosthound… are you engraving?”

Randidly looked up sharply. The figure was basically indistinguishable from all of the other members of that strange Style, due to their golden robes, but the voice made him confident it was Jade. He also felt slightly guilty for so blatantly practicing Engraving, after Claptrap had implied that it was extremely dangerous, but he didn’t really think he would be here long enough for it to matter.

So to her question, he hesitated, but nodded. That seemed to put her very deep in thought. All of a sudden, Randidly recognized from Shal’s stillness that he was paying very, very close attention to what was being said.

Jade bowed to Randidly then, and then to Shal twice. “We had recognized you, Artisan Shal, but hadn’t known how to ask for your help. But for the son of the Spear Phantom, we would pay a high price for your-”

“Not interested, and I don’t have time.” Shal rolled away, ending the discussion.

Jade turned back to Randidly. “Please Mr. Ghosthound. At least come see my mistress. We can offer significant help with your… studies.” She glanced meaningfully at the bracer in his hand.

Randidly thought it weird that she would ask about engraving so directly, and now was playing coy, but he also knew something strange was going on. He glanced at Shal. When Randidly had asked Claptrap about the Phantom Spear Style, he hadn’t known anything, but promised to investigate. It really seemed that Shal’s father was quite the notable figure.

“We require nothing right now,” Jade quickly said, as she saw his glance. “But… in the future… if you acquire the strength… to assist my Willow Tree Spear Style. Simply a promise.”

Randidly kept his gaze on Shal, who hadn’t moved, but was breathing normally again. Honestly, he was quite tempted by the offer, especially if it would help his Engraving. Not really because he desired the money from selling them, but because Engraving was undoubtedly a powerful skill. As he developed it, the effects grew increasingly powerful. Someday he would need to work on his own equipment, and it would be extremely useful then.

Also, if he returned to Donnyton with this knowledge… It would become a powerful weapon and source of trade. If he really would embark on this path of blood, in order to obtain power… it would be good to help build something with that power.

“Well… I suppose hearing her out wouldn’t hurt.” Randidly said slowly. Shal didn’t move. So he turned and followed Jade back towards the main tent of the Willow Style.

****

Dehark’s glee for a good haul was wiped away as he watched the newcomer approach the tent of the Willow Tree Spear Style. An insidious and acidic jealousy filled his heart. He had ignored it when the newcomers demonstrated their power, but… perhaps he had been too merciful.

But then again… if this gave him a lever to use to get into that tent.

Gritting his teeth, Dehark forced himself to do nothing as that young man proceeded into the tent that he had fantasized so often about over the last few weeks. He forced himself to remain cool and calm.

His mind began to tick as he turned to look at the horizon. This…

This would not go unpunished. Dehark smiled, showing all of his crooked and yellow teeth.

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