Dehark was sweating. Watching the slender man walk forward, down the hill towards the caravan, he quickly turned to the lazing man with the blue skin. “You… you don’t really think he can kill one of them right…? They…. They….”
The man grinned up at him. “Yes, they are some soldiers of Tomkat. Attacking them… is akin to challenging the honor of the city. An act of defiance the First Spear of Tomkat does not take kindly to.”
“But…” Dehark was flabbergasted, his knees trembling. “If he were to seriously harm any of them, this whole camp-”
“Would likely be hunted down and tortured for 1000 years,” The man said, seemingly with relish. Dehark stumbled backwards eyes wide. Sure, he had spent the last several years building up power here, upon this spot in the road, driving away most of his competition or absorbing them. But if someone seriously challenged Tomkat’s soldiers… it wasn’t just the perpetrators, the whole group they were near would be hunted, to stomp down any spark of resistance.
The strength and forces he had built up thus far were not worth his life. It would be best to flee-
Then a thought struck him, and Dehark turned back to the slender man running forward towards the caravan. A lone defender, after a brief hesitation, came out to meet him, seemingly shocked.
Perhaps there was nothing to worry about. If it was just some superficial wounds, the soldiers would not pursue the matter. After all, it was understandable for a young and foolish man to throw himself at them to test himself. Some, a select few with talent, might even impress some members of the soldiers and be invited to come apply for a foot soldier position, which was the dream of many.
This was originally why Dehark had maliciously encouraged them to go challenge them. The soldiers would likely beat them into the dirt, breaking their spears and ravaging their bodies. It would be a good lesson, and demonstrate why they needed someone like Dehark, who was a good leader.
But the blue skinned man had spoken with such confidence. And watching that slender man’s back as he ran forward to meet the spear user on a horse…
Dehark quickly beckoned some of his lieutenants over and made preparations to break camp immediately.
Randidly ran forward, his eyes narrowed. A grizzled veteran of a man with grey hair was riding out to meet him, a brutal frown clear on his face. As they grew closer, Randidly realized there was a very official seeming regalia hanging off of this man’s chest. Not just typical merchants then, or guards. These were something more.
But Shal had seemed confident that Randidly could handle it, even if he had implicitly said it would require his spells to do so. Either way, there was no way that Randidly was going to let him down after they had come this far. What would come later would be even worse.
When they came within earshot, the man began to speak.
“Leave, and I will forget this foolishness,” The man said with a snort, clearly dismissing Randidly.
Perfect, he was arrogant too. That would make this so much easier. Randidly said nothing and raised his spear, and that seemed to signal something to the soldier, who snorted, then examined Randidly a little more closely. His eyes narrowed as he looked at that spear though, as if he had seen it before. Randidly adjusted his grip, appreciating the strange warmth of the obsidian in his hands.
“If you insist-”
But Randidly already created Spearing Roots that ripped up into the belly of the horse and higher, stabbing towards the man. Filled with fear and pain and roots, the horse attempted to rear upward and screeched.
The man however, responded very quickly, flipping expertly off the horse with a grace that made Randidly worried.
The Incendiary Bolt, however, that hit the man’s right hand mid air and blew most of it off, did much to alleviate these fears. Unwilling to pass up the chance, Randidly ran forward, noticing how although the man’s eyes widened, he quickly shifted his grip to his left hand, and raised his spear to meet Randidly’s.
Their spears clashed against each other twice very quickly, and Randidly soon realized that he was rather overmatched. Even with the man on his back foot and reeling, missing a hand, his strikes still had enough power to smash Randidly’s strikes to the side.
If he wanted to actually kill, he would need to keep pushing.
At this point, there was no hesitation, only resolve. He would kill. For his path that led towards strength… this man in front of him needed to die.
A Circle of Flame blasted outwards, smashing the man backwards. His stats seemed sufficient to keep it to a stumble, but in that time Randidly had summoned a Wall of Thorns behind the man and ran forward. As he moved, he waved his hand and Summoned Pestilence, the air filling with the buzzing of hungry insects.
The man regained his stance just in time to get hit in the face with 100 chittering bugs, which quickly dug into his nose, mouth, and eyes, biting into his flesh. The man roared, and stumbled backwards, right into the wall of thorns, several of them sinking deep into his flesh.
Randidly leveled his spear and prepared to strike.
The man screamed again as more Spearing Roots stabbed upward into his legs. But now his spear was moving, shearing away the roots and the wall, killing insects by the dozen. Within around 2.5 seconds, the spear, and the seemingly powerful Battle Intent around it had defeated all of Randidly’s spells, and he turned forward, ready to face another.
But of course, this time there was only a looming spear. “The Inevitable Phantom Arrives.” Randidly whispered, his smile a coy one. The air around them darkened. Clocks ticked incessantly. The spear grew larger and larger, and behind it was the ghastly phantasm of a woman, Randidly’s mother, her smile pitiable and final. Before that smile, before that spear, all one could feel was helplessness.
In a battle composed only of spears, a 3 second windup for a strike is almost impossible to manage. But luckily, Randidly had many tricks up his sleeves to give him the time he needed.
The man didn’t have time to block, and the spear crashed into the man’s chest, ripping open his flesh and destroying the bones and nearby organs. The man’s body spasmed, and leaned forward, but then it froze, and the man slowly looked up, his chest cavity a mass of gore, seemingly somehow still alive.
“You-” The man started to howl, but Randidly stabbed with his spear, again and again, using Root Control to reach up and grab the man’s body, tearing away strips of flesh that he was cutting away, slowly ripping him to pieces.
Randidly even used Phantom Onslaught, just ripping into the man’s body, before he slumped forward. Even then, Randidly cut off the head and sent a few dozen insects eating down through the neck before he was satisfied.
All at once, everything he had done hit him, and all Randidly could smell was the man’s blood on his clothes, the weight of his head in Randidly’s hand. As quickly as possible, as instructed by Shal, he stored his spear into his ring and used Root Control to take the ring and throw it back towards Shal. He was about halfway there, through the relay of roots, when there was a dull roaring, and Randidly could just see a wave of Battle Intent sweeping towards him, and then he was unconscious.
When Randidly awoke, he was in chains. Surrounding him were several other unconscious prisoners, lying in a wooden cart. He instinctively checked for his ring, panicked when it wasn’t there, then remembered he had given it to Shal.
“Ah, good, disciple. You wake, we must speak quickly.”
Randidly looked to the side, and saw Shal, also bound in the gloom. Shal continued to talk. “Here, take your ring back. Keep it in your mouth until we are inside.
“There is good news and bad news. The good news is we are in, but the bad news is that I was recognized. I will be bound in a place… that even for me, will be difficult. In addition, I will not be able to teach you while I remain there. So we must change our plan. From my investigations, you will be tortured by Battle Intent for 100 years before you are sent out to the badlands. This is too slow. You will need to escape prior to that, and flee to the badlands. Once there, you will need to discover your own means to assist me in escaping from where I am kept to the badlands. Only then can the training begin.
“After you have reached suitable levels, or if you have taken so long there is no other choice, we will break out. It is that simple. A few pieces of advice; you will soon learn the trick of the Battle Intent torture. It will not work against you. But I recommend you bide your time.
“Second… when you make it to the badlands, avoid others as much as you can. They may kill you to alleviate boredom.”
Randidly blinked very slowly, his head still pounding from getting hit with the Battle Intent earlier. A ring rolled across the wooden floor to him, and Randidly leaned forward and picked it up with his mouth. Then a thought struck him, and he froze.
“Should we have really discussed it with all these people here…?” Randidly whispered, glancing around.
Shal nodded. “Ah, good, you are learning. Obviously not. It is why I kill them before you awoke.”
Looking around slowly, Randidly suddenly realized that they were perhaps too still around him. There was no movement. Not even the rise and fall of chests. The dim lighting had hidden it before, but dark stains surrounded the spots where these men lay. In a way, it was chilling. But in another… it was eye opening.
Randidly stared at one of the still bodies, pondering. Is this really the only path to strength…? But Randidly stayed silent, brooding over the dead shadows around him. Even if it wasn’t, this was his path. And he refused to believe that it wouldn’t lead to strength if he followed it until the end.