Helen stood over the small stream, looking at her body’s reflection in the clear water. Always, her mother had pushed her into taking care of herself, encouraging her to exercise in order to sculpt herself in certain ways, push her chest up, her hips out. Use oils and stretches to make her skin soft, her body supple.
There were certain tangible benefits to her spear usage due to her mother’s influence, specifically her 3 movements that someone who hadn’t take such care of their body couldn’t hope to mirror. But as Helen slowly realized what was happening that she was fattening like a pig in the more feminine areas, she grew to resent her life, her mother, and what she saw as the path her family wanted for her. Still, she couldn’t work up the nerve to directly contradict them, so she slowly subverted their efforts.
She would not be a plump wife that was kept at home.
So she had gone above and beyond her mother’s training regimen, until her body was almost impossibly elastic and strong. Helen never had the pure strength to rival some of the other spear users, especially those from the family she served, but there was a grace and control that she had over her body that allowed her to hold her own. She even attracted the attention of a traveling Adept, who gave her some pointers on the training movements she used. From that, she was able to create an Uncommon Rarity Skillset that was all her own.
Helen wasn’t sure whether the interest was actually due to her skill with a spear or the lewd way that old man had watched her practice, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. In this case, the skill set was worth some of the shit she had to sift through to get there.
Although it annoyed her parents, her success was such that she would not be just the wife of a leatherworker. But then her mother had begun to set her sights higher. On the family of spear users that they served. There were even several lesser disciples that had been interested. To buy herself time, Helen had asked for the chance to enter the local qualifier, to test her skill. Her parents had assented, reluctantly, worried but tempted by the possibilities for marriage that a high finish would bring their family.
So Helen had traveled to Qtal, quite far from her home, and the rest, was history.
Now she stood there, looking at her reflection in the water, her hands tracing the faint bruises on her shoulders and hips from the Ghousthound last night. The fucking fool didn’t know his own strength. But she had invested enough in Endurance that it hadn’t actually hurt, really. It was cute, in a way, how wild he had been. How out of control and vicious.
Her reflection had a smile on its face. She didn’t hate that about him.
“Why do you smile, desert flower?”
Helen cleanly turned around, punched Teliph in the gut, watched as his expression twisted into shock and he doubled over, and then sauntered away.
Randidly found Shal sitting around a small fire, meditating. His master did not look up when he arrived, so Randidly sat down and began to meditate as well. Ever since he woke up, he felt wonderfully refreshed, and he wanted to hold onto this feeling for a while. So he didn’t supplement the meditation with Root Control, but just sat there, allowing the energy within him to slowly gather. At the same time as he meditated, Randidly revelled in the warm energies flowing up into him from the ground beneath him. In that moment, he truly felt in tune with the natural world.
The silence between them lasted a while, until Shal slowly opened his eyes. “You… have overcome your fear? No… at the very least turned to face it. Heh. You are a much quicker learner than I was.”
Almost sighing, Randidly nodded. It would be hard for him to come to terms with the killing. But it was both something that was sometimes necessary, and something that he would prefer not to do, especially if it was just for power. Even though without that power, he and the people he cared about might also die. But the logic could not find an answer. There wasn’t an answer. He would need to face every situation as they came, and find his answer.
And of that, Randidly was not a afraid.
“But, before you fight with the name of the Spear Phantom Style… you must answer. What is the value of a life?” Shal’s tone remained low and harsh, and his eyes seemed to bore into Randidly.
Randidly took a breath, and then thought for several seconds about it. Then he said, “A life… is worthy of respect. My own life is invaluable to me, as every life is to the person it belongs to. To take it away… is a grave disservice, and a heavy burden, and-”
“Haha! Enough.” Shal said, shaking his head. “You are foolish, but at least you understand it is much more than you can handle to bear the weight of another’s life. No need to bore me to sleep with platitudes. We leave in an hour. Prepare.”
And just like that, it was over, with Shal turning away and going to speak with the woman Artisan who came out of the prison and Marco. After some discussion, it seemed the woman was ready to go her own way, and bowed to both Shal and Randidly before leaving.
As they gathered supplies, Randidly found himself face to face with Helen. Their eyes met. Randidly flushed, then opened his mouth to say something, but Helen, stone faced, walked past him, whispering, “Don’t you say a fucking word.”
After Randidly had recovered from his jaw dropping, he shook his head and smiled. He supposed that was for a best. It wasn’t until after that he had realized how much he had needed that, as an outlet to relax and release aggression. In a way… it wasn’t personal, he supposed, so it would be silly to expect it to be anything else.
Besides, he didn’t feel feelings, he thought, just… a powerful, animal attraction to her body. So it would be pointless to push the issue. Better to just let it pass.
After they packed, they loped forward, running to Qtal. They were going to stay in Qtal for a short period, before proceeding to the Northern Region capital, Deardun, in a few days. Which would give Randidly time to give Claptrap some of the Engravings he had been working on during his time in the Prison, and probably experiment with a few related things.
They made good time, and arrived at Qtal in a few hours. Guided by a strange instinct, Divvit led the way, moving towards his boat as if by sixth sense. They swiftly came upon it, only to find that it had somehow been taken over by a merchant, who had gaudy decorations and torches everywhere, making it look like a walking funhouse.
As if not the least bothered by the fact that someone else was in his home, Divvet walked onto the boat and stomped his feet twice.
“The one who dares lay claim to this boat… come, raise your Tassle so I might sink it into the depths of the sea.” Divvet’s words echoed, and several figures appeared on nearby boats, whispering to each other. But no one came from this boat’s interior. Divvet’s face darkened.
So they, almost wordlessly, began to toss all the shit that someone had taken great care to set up on the boat, right into the sea. There were even some valuable seeming equipment and materials, But under Divvet’s furious eye, no one dared to take any of it for themselves. There seemed to be some dishonor associated with what was happening, here, so Randidly simply followed the lead of others and threw everything into the sea.
Such was the value of the items that some people from nearby boats dived into the water and began to grab some of them, but Divvet sneered down at them, and began dumping more stuff down onto those people.
“If they fucking want this trash, let’s help them drown in it,” Divvet said, and the spear attendants jumped to it with alacrity. Mostly, Helen began to throw heavy items down at the swimmers very effectively. At one point she seemed to knock a flailing woman unconscious, who then had to be rescued by another swimmer.
Rather pleased with the situation, Divvet gave Helen a pat on the back.
Shal beckoned Randidly over as the game continued with enthusiasm. “This is one of the rare times I shall say this, but rest. Once the fights start in Deardun, they will not stop for a week. You must prepare provisions and materials to last you at least that long. Be thorough. The competition…. is difficult to survive.”
With that rather confusing tidbit, Randidly walked down into his old cabin, which was filled with barrels. After moving them all up to the deck, he settled into the small wooden room, and began to breath. Then he grimaced.
It was… strange being here. His Golden Roots of Yggdrasil couldn’t reach up through the water, so he felt oddly tired all of the time. Still, it seemed that Deardun was on the continent, so at least there wouldn’t be that problem during the tournament.
Randidly carefully removed his last remaining bracer that was Engraved with a Shadow Rune with over 60% efficacy. He looked at it for a long time, frowning. It was true that he knew that there would be problems with the Engraving Guilds, but that the small time nature of the things that he was doing would probably mean their response would be too slow to catch him before he went back to his own Cohort.
But the Shadow Rune was possibly different. Some of the effects from it…
And this was even the most basic version of the Shadow Rune. So Randidly made the decision not to share his ability to produce the Shadow Rune with Claptrap. It was likely for the best. Besides, considering the new varieties of Runes that Randidly had obtained, he didn’t think that Claptrap would have any complaints.
Randidly began to consider 4 specific ones. The Gazelle, which added Agility and Perception. The Ox, which gave Vitality and Endurance. The Dolphin, which produced Intelligence and Control. And The Preying Mantis, which would assist in Willpower and Focus. With these 4, in addition to Bear, Fish, and Dragonfly, he could cover a lot of types of stats at once.
But before he actually began to Engrave, Randidly read some of the technical guide left to him by the Willow Tree Spear Style matriarch. The knowledge was pointlessly obtuse, it seemed to Randidly, but he pressed forward, feeling absurdly like he was studying. He had been able to read some during his time in prison, and as he pressed forward then, he was able to finish the first volume of the set.
He didn’t feel any different, but he definitely knew a lot more about how to layer energy in deep curves, and how it assisted the efficacy of the Engraving. Then, after he finished, Randidly snapped the book shut and checked the time. It had almost been 24 hours since he used Inspire, so he would have access to his mana once again soon. So he walked up towards the deck, to Engrave. After all, the soft rain of the Weeping Cloud was part of his process now. It was a part of what was necessary.