Randidly left the tent 15 minutes later, feeling elated, but strangely sad.
The old woman who sat in the tent, carefully tended by several women due to her enchanted wounds that wouldn’t heal, spun a very sad tale. A year ago, they had been one of the two most powerful Styles of the Engraving Guilds in the Spearman School Domain. But they had been betrayed and attacked by those who wanted their engraving symbols.
For their Willow Style did not have many of the basic animal runes, nor many of the elemental symbols, that would add magical power to a weapon’s attacks. But they did have a very particular and powerful method that very few other Engraving Styles had; they knew how to Engrave a skill into a weapon or armor.
At its most basic, it was like a gun with limited bullets. It had a certain number of charges, which once used, would deplete it and cause the Engraving to disappear. At higher levels, these charges recharged slowly and used indefinitely.
At the highest level… the skill would grow like a normal skill, slowly growing stronger. But this was only when the Engraving was made by a master.
The old woman sorrowfully explained that they had escaped with their lives and these methods, burning all other records to ash as they fled. Although they could hide here, living as bandits, it was extremely difficult.
For they had broken and their power scattered, they had nothing. They needed hope. So even though it was only for a promise of assistance and support, they had given Randidly two things; the first was a very large set of volumes that detailed the very complicated and formulaic way that basic runes worked, and how they were discovered. Theoretically, the woman stated, one could use these basic principles contained in the book set to create your own runes.
The second object was a short list of runes that they had discovered. This included the Oxen Rune, which increased Vitality and Resistance, the Dolphin Rune, which increased Intelligence and Control, and the Preying Mantis, which increased Perception and Willpower. But the most valuable rune was the Shadow Rune, which was divided into 5 grades, each version even more simplified. But even the basic Grade V Shadow Rune made Randidly’s eyebrows rise rapidly. The mana required for it was about double his mana pool.
For obvious reasons, they weren’t willing to give Randidly any of their more complicated runes, or their Skill rune method. It almost seemed foolish to him that they even told him about it. But when he looked at the old woman, and the rest of the skinny women, desperately slurping at the tasty food he had provided, he realized that his was just flailing desperation.
They needed something, some hope to hold onto. That old woman didn’t know if Randidly could become that, but offering this small information was better than doing nothing at all, even though helping Randidly along on his Engraving path might lead the investigations from the Engraving Guilds back to them.
So Randidly returned to the fire, inwardly torn. It was just a promise, but… He took promises very seriously. He didn’t want to feel like he owed anything to others. Sitting down, he took out one of the books given to him by the old woman and looked at it for a long time. Then he simply sighed.
His eyes hardened. He had already resolved himself to take the path to strength. He couldn’t afford to waffle back and forth while the system continued to throw curveballs his way. If he wanted Donnyton, and in a larger sense, Earth to survive…
Following this train of thought, Randidly turned to Shal. “What is the Calamity?”
Shal didn’t even open his eyes. “There is no meaning in speaking of it.”
Randidly frowned. “I’ll go back to my own world eventually, and I will want to prepare. If I knew something about it-”
“As always, you rush to judgement.” Shal straightened, looking over towards the road. “I wish I could tell you, but you cannot understand it. Here look. The Calamity-”
As Shal began to speak, the words shifted, and suddenly Shal was saying something in a trill and clicking language. He talked for a minute while Randidly’s eyebrows rose, and then shrugged at him.
“-as I say, no point in speaking of it. The system will prevent you from learning information before your time. Just know that it is powerful. The only individual in the history of our world who can rival it was the Spearman. That alone should give you an idea of the power it possesses.”
Shaking his head, Randidly settled back to his thoughts. What he really grew to fear was the System itself. It somehow detected the content of the speech and reversed the translation function, however it worked, in real time. That made him wonder about what it meant for him refusing to get a class and the Heretic distinction. Clearly, if it really wanted to prevent him from doing something, it had no qualms about doing it.
Then why was he allowed to continue without a class…? Or rather, it wasn’t that the system wanted him to take a class, but he was just walking a path that would be dangerous, but with a high payoff?
Although this wasn’t a normal situation; very few individuals could rival what he was doing, just for lack of Aether. But the Judgement system was in place for a reason… If they didn’t expect this to happen, why would it have been created? Or rather, exist? Randidly wasn’t so sure he wanted to think about the beings that were capable of creating something like the system. Besides, it seemed strangely without a purpose. It had come to Earth, but Randidly still didn’t know why.
Suddenly, he remembered his conversation a few weeks ago in Franksburg, with the professor, where he flippantly responded they were giving up control.
‘Of what?’ The professor had responded.
Now, as Randidly thought about his decisions to sacrifice the lives of others in order to find power, he could do nothing but clench fists. But surely the system wasn’t here to drive individuals to moral bankruptcy. Likely that was just a side effect of another goal, the true goal. This wasn’t even close to the core of the system. There were 4 more groups of planets beyond this cohort. And perhaps it extends even further than that.
Randidly asked, “...then what is the system? Why does it comes to worlds? What is the point?”
Shal snorted. “Hmph, fool. I have had a small speck of respect for you because you did not immediately ask this. That is gone. The system is the system. It comes like weather. Perhaps someday it will pass. It gave us tools we didn’t have before, but our goal will always be the same; perfecting the spear. Even before the system came, our world chased this ideal, seeking previous Spearmen; the individual who defeated the Calamity was not the first, but likely the greatest. Do not ask question you don’t have the power to understand. Focus inward, idiot disciple.”
Randidly opened his mouth, then closed it. Shal’s answer might not have been designed to answer the question, but it did contain some information. From the way Shal was speaking, it seemed that they didn’t know. It came, and it changed their lives. But ultimately, it was secondary. Then Randidly wondered how long the system had been in this world, but decided against asking. It seemed Shal was done with interaction for now.
Perhaps after the shock of the switch passed, Earth would be like that too. Accepting the existence of the system, finding a new normal. It almost made Randidly sad in a way. But he supposed that even he couldn’t deny that the system’s arrival had done much for him. It gave people a path.
But another part of him whispered that path came at the cost of millions of lives. Sighing, Randidly looked down at the book. After a bit of hesitation, he opened it and began to read.
Time passed quickly as Randidly used Root Control to burn through his mana and studied the book. The beginning chapters laid out very generally some theories about engraving and how it worked. What Randidly was most interested in was when it described how Engraving was perhaps a simplified version of the way that Aether changed human bodies.
However, any attempts to Engrave on a living body resulted in horrible, monstrous, disastrous results. As such, the other half of the introductory chapter listed some things that you shouldn’t do with Engraving. Aside from Engraving living creatures, the rest was rather self explanatory. But what it did seem to indicate was that the reason that Engraving didn’t work was the issue of image; whereas objects couldn’t do anything but allow the image of the Engraver to be impressed upon them, living creatures could have their own images.
Because, as the text seemed to indicate, there didn’t appear to be any uniformity in what shapes and patterns created effects. What was really important was what the Engraver thought it would do.
This was complicated by a living recipient because the different images merged and changed, which was combined with the apparently agonizing pains of having your body engraved upon. This pain warped the image the recipient had even further, moving it far away from the original goal.
Randidly found it rather interesting, but he didn’t think attempting it sounded anything like a good idea. Better to focus on learning the background information in order to improve his regular engraving.
But footsteps distracted Randidly, causing him to look up. A bald man, who appeared to be the leader of the rust colored bandits, was walking up to their campfire with a sinister smile.
“Welcome, companions. Are you new to the area?” The man said, extending his hand towards Randidly. “I am Dehark. We in this business must maintain… relationships, lest any accidents happen.”
Randidly distastefully took the man’s hand, and some of his distaste must have shown on his face, because Dehark’s face tightened. After glancing at Shal, and probably realizing that even getting one of these people to acknowledge him was a feat, Dehark said. “Well I just came over to welcome you, and to give you a bit of a gift; a caravan is coming down the road, and as the newbies, you wouldn’t usually get the chance at an easy mark like this. But I like the look of you two, I think you will go far here. So want to handle this one? Stick it to those fat merchants?”
Dehark smiled manically at them, but Randidly just looked at Shal. Yawning, Shal straightened and held a hand up to his eyes. Then, strangely, he smiled. “Yes, why don’t you let us handle this one. Disciple, you will go, and you only need to make sure to do one thing.”
Randidly tilted his head to the side, and Shal continued. “You simply need to kill one of them. Do what you must to do so. Hold nothing back. Ah, take out your spear and give me your ring.”
After he handed over the ring, Randidly nodded and walked passed Dehark, who seemed to have frozen, the smile sliding off his face.
“K-k-killl one of them…?” The man muttered to himself, but Randidly ignored it. As he walked forward, he removed the large, obsidian spear from his ring, the one Shal had given for when he went into the formation. He hefted it, enjoying its weight, which was greater than even the Spine Spear that Sam had forged for him.
Just a single life.
Just a single step on his path.
But he must, because a spear that stopped advancing would be destroyed.
Breathing evenly, Randidly advanced towards the caravan.