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A note from puddles4263

So it's not really feasible for me to comment on everyone's characters, but trust I'm getting them all.

For now, if you want to enter the character creation contest, put all your entries on Chapter 157. It's easier for me to get them all from one place.

This process continued until a familiar face arrived, looking for Randidly: Marco Polo. At first Randidly was excited that there would finally be a distraction, then he was worried that Shal would kill Marco for interrupting, and there was indeed a long moment of tension as Marco Polo arrived, his jovial face falling as he saw Randidly reduced to such a miserable state, hanging onto life by a thin thread.

Still, Randidly reflected as Marco slowly turned to Shal, it probably wasn’t apparent, but the thread was thin but strong. It had served him well thus far. He just seemed extremely pathetic.

But something passed across Marco Polo’s face very quickly, and he bowed slightly. Shal nodded in return. It seemed that they instinctively recognized their relative strength, and it was not close; Shal was more powerful than Randidly had expected.

What he had also not expected was that Marco would quickly come around to the idea of training Randidly, and bring his own exercises and tortures to the table. More along the lines of Mrs. Hamilton, Marco believed that repetition outside of battle would have a powerful effect on building up things like endurance and muscle memory, so more exercises were worked into the routine.

In theory, Randidly was all for it; he was tired of being almost murdered for hours on end. In practice, he swiftly was filled with dread by the exercises that Marco suggested. Often there would be heavy penalties associated with deviating from the exercises, of failing at balance, or improperly following instructions, which were much worse than simply being attacked. These were designed to inflict pain.

As the brutal training, now with Marco Polo’s assistance, stretched on, first one month, then two, and his skill growth slowed, Randidly was forced to wonder whether Shal had a point; he was a rather talentless individual when it came to the spear. But he tried to ignore those thoughts. Which was rather difficult, when Marco took to expressing them constantly.

“Ah boy, boy… you are truly cursed! To have such a powerful master, yet be so unworthy… it is a hard burden to bare. Fear not! I will encourage you no matter how pathetic you may be…”

A hot flame of rage and humiliation began to burn within Randidly constantly, driving him forward. The sighs and snide expressions from Marco were even more motivating that Shal’s brutal glares.

There were moments when it got so bad that Randidly considered murdering them both with spells, so they wouldn’t expect it. But he was forced to admit that it probably wouldn’t work, especially on Shal. And it truly seemed like they were doing it to help him…

However, sometimes it was very hard to remain focused on this fact, especially when they constantly discussed how disappointing he was. It was purposeful, Randidly knew, but that didn’t mean it didn’t affect him.

Time continued to flow on, until it had truly lost meaning to Randidly, but he believed it to have been around 6 months since they had come down to the Badlands and started Shal’s training. At that time, something else changed; he was allowed to fight other people.

The local spear users had been aware of Randidly’s hellish training, and largely made fun of him. During that time, Randidly transformed that chemical hot anger and turned it on those others, of whom he was insanely envious. To freely wander, without constantly training all day. So it was with great enthusiasm that he began to wander afield and challenge people.

He won.

And he won again. And again.

Honestly… Randidly felt very little challenge from them. He perhaps hadn’t realized it, because each skill had only gained about 10 or so levels, even after all this training, but when 20 skills gained 10 levels… that was the difference of 200 skill levels. It was quickly starting to add up.

He was also pleased to see that fighting in battles, and testing out different things that he had thought about while training, once more added a bit more to the speed with which his skills grew. Hoping to prolong this effect, he began taking the black potion, which still remained strangely full, much more frequently, completely cutting himself off from notifications. He submerged himself in the feelings of fighting and violence, searching for efficiency and grace.

They were eventually forced to move from the Southeast, to the middle of the East, where Randidly once more began to struggle. But Shal and Marco Polo were unforgiving teachers. They pushed and pushed, demanding constant advancement. Slowly, bitterly, he fought and continued to win.

It was now mostly due to the accumulated experience of having constantly fought for so long, and the growing realization that Randidly possessed a body that could withstand damage much better than most of the people he faced. Very quickly he realized how to force exchanges that were perhaps even a little in his opponent’s favor, but his superior regeneration passives quickly enabled him to fight through it and grasp victory.

But the string of victories was not to last. Just at the edge of the Eastern area, before the Northeast, there was a wall of Spear users who beat Randidly back again, and again, and again, and again, leaving him bloody and broken in a way that was much more dangerous than Shal or Marco Polo.

Finally, his master relented, and he trotted back, exhausted. Shal walked over to him and held out his hand. “Your spears. Give them to me. For a month… you do not deserve to even hold the weapon after that performance.”

Randidly gritted his teeth and glared up at Shal. But Shal’s face remained impassive. Marco Polo happily ate off to the side, seemingly oblivious to the whole exchange. They stared at each other for several seconds. Randidly did not move. But neither did Shal.

Finally, while grinding his teeth, Randidly handed over the obsidian spear, and the dozen or so remaining bone spears Sam had made him for training. Shal simply nodded and left.

For several long minutes, Randidly sat, looking at the ground, shame pumping through his arteries instead of blood. But Randidly felt very clearly that he had hit a wall. The difference in strength between him and those spear users was like the difference that existed between him and the people from the Southeastern area now. It was the difference of skill levels in the triple digits. With it feeling like he wasn’t improving in Spear skills… perhaps it was a good idea to take a break.

It was just bitter to admit that he was weak.

Shaking his head sadly, and trying to shake a strange melancholy, Randidly produced a bracer, used Weeping Cloud, and began to engrave.

****

Shal sat next to the strange, fat man and watched his student Engrave. They both remained quiet for a long time. Shal thought the focus on Engraving was foolish, especially considering how much trouble they could truly encounter if the guilds discovered it, but it was hard to worry about such things here.

Marco coughed, and then sighed. “...That boy….is monstrous.”

Shal allowed himself a small smile. He had always expected that within his disciple’s body was something more than a talent for running, and it had been true. Although he didn’t have any natural affinity for using a spear, he quickly picked up the ways to commit acts of violence, and had a sharp mind for battle tactics.

It had been slightly daunting to train him at first, due to his strange ability to recover so quickly, which was why Shal allowed Marco Polo to remain, although he was leery of staying around him, a man who clearly recognized Shal and Shal’s school. But he was skilled enough, and gave Shal some time away from the zombie that his student was becoming, so it worked out.

“Has his skill always risen so quickly…? And his recovery….?” Marco Polo continued to speak, shooting small glances at Shal. The only response that he received was a chuckle. Shal had some guesses as to why his growth was so quick, but Shal respected his disciple’s secrets. The amount of improvement had been quite staggering, however.

So much so that it was somewhat of a hassle to travel all the way over here, to an area where there were spear users that would defeat them. His disciple was distinctly too clever for his own good, learning to rely on his superior physical capacity to bully his way here. That was a dead end, and Shal had rushed them forward as fast as possible to get away from that, so Randidly didn’t develop any bad habits.

Now that they had made it to a very distinct line in skill, it was time to settle and allow some of the training he had gone through to sink into his bones. Already the attitude seemed much improved. All that was left was to finalize the images. Shal smiled and closed his eyes.

Marco Polo sat silent for a long time, then spoke hesitatingly. “Did you truly simply come here to train? I suppose that this is filled with skilled spear users, but… to come here and throw your disciple to the dogs like this… I do not know any other Style as crazy as yours.”

Shal’s eyes snapped open, and he shot Marco a glare, losing control of his Battle Intent for a second. The man paled and fell backwards, scared out of his mind.

“I-I Didn’t mean-”

“No, worry not. What you say is true.” Shal closed his eyes, forcing the anger down. After all, the reason that all this was necessary was revenge. A revenge he couldn’t let go of now that he had smelled. “The Spear Phantom Style… only attracts those with unearthly determination and drive. Those who do not accept the bonds of the world.”

Allowing himself a small, pleased smile, Shal looked over at Randidly and said, barely audibly. “Even our youngest member.”

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