So, with very little else to do, Randidly and his three spear attendants set out for Deardun, even though it would only take them two days to reach the other city at their normal pace. Or at least that was what Claptrap assured them, who was also coming.
At first Randidly was slightly hesitant to allow Claptrap to join them, mostly out of worry that he would slow them down, but Claptrap seemed insistent, and honestly it was convenient because Claptrap was the only one who had traveled often to Deardun before. Helen stated that she was from a nearby area, but she quickly became quiet as Randidly pressed, her eyes glinting with some of that explosive flintiness that was one of the first things that Randidly noticed about her.
As their relationship was still strange, what with neither of them speaking of what happened, Randidly let it go and graciously accepted Claptrap as a guide.
It seemed that more than just staying around Randidly and selling more of his Engraved armor, Claptrap had another motivation for returning to Deardun, but Randidly couldn’t bring himself to care. There was the strange worry about being effectively alone in this strange world, and there was also the raw fury he felt towards Shal still. What the fuck was he doing?
So they set off, but Claptrap wasn’t their only extra traveler; the wispy man who Teliph fought and defeated also came with them. After recovering from his wounds, he came and threw himself at Randidly’s mercy, asking to be his spear attendant. Randidly instantly refused. He already had enough of these people. He didn’t want a whole parade coming, following him around.
Unfortunately, the man promptly turned to Teliph and asked to be his spear attendant, and Teliph accepted. Which, Randidly supposed, was for the best, because Teliph was still struggling with his Aether Sickness, which was slowly growing worse. Apparently the severity of the sickness was determined by a few parameters, like exertion, skill levels, and stat levels. But stat levels earned the lion’s share of the Aether consumption, just a little behind exertion. Although Teliph had been in the prison longer than most, he had not leveled in there, just vastly increased his stat levels. As such, as long as he kept his exertion low, his weakened Aether connection was still enough to support his increased stat levels.
Which would explain why Shal’s problem seemed much more severe. And everyone seemed to understand that they didn’t bring up the fact that Randidly didn’t seem affected at all by Aether Sickness. It was just a fact of life, for his spear attendants, and Randidly didn’t want to dwell on it for too long.
‘Heretic…’ Randidly brooded, as the group looped around a small trail through the woods above Qtal, departing. Then he shook his head and sighed. There was something strange going on with that, and with the Judgement. There was a way to do what Randidly had done somehow, that was something predicted by the system, although seemingly discouraged. And it involved taking Aether from other people. But the details….
But they continued to travel, and Randidly put those thoughts to the side. As he worried, Claptrap ended up being the limiting factor on their speed. By midnight, Claptrap was already trembling and exhausted, barely able to continue. Helen sneered, Teliph snorted, and the male spear attendant looked haughty, but Randidly decided to stop, so they took a three hour break.
Claptrap was incredibly relieved and thanked him profusely, but that just made Randidly more uncomfortable and he waved him away. Then, during the break, Randidly removed the next volume of the technical encyclopedias given to him by the Willow Tree Spear Style, reading carefully.
Randidly had to read carefully. It was like the authors of the books assumed that not only had the reader thoroughly read the first volume, but also possessed an uncanny level of mastery and understanding of the concepts contained within. Randidly was familiar with them, because he very seriously studied the text, but he was well below the level the second volume demanded. But rather than quit, he simply got out the first volume and used it as a reference, slowly plowing through the pages. Eventually, he got fed up, and went over to a still exhausted Claptrap.
“...Paper. Do you have some? And a pen.”
Randidly’s words were sharp, as some of the frustration he felt from the material showed through. Claptrap gulped and nodded.
So, almost two years later, Randidly created a makeshift desk on a stump and began to take very thorough notes on Engraving, as if he was studying it in class. The similarities towards his late night study sessions in college brought him some amusement, although he had never sat out under the stars like this and studied. Which was a shame. There was a life and a vibrancy to the outdoor world that didn’t distract, but rather…
The sights and sounds… it all crystallized a hot contentment at life, and living in the moment. And a great hunger to continue living. Although Engraving wasn’t a direct skill that would help, Randidly couldn’t help but believe there was a great secret hidden in it. If it really was somehow connected to the Aether constructs within him…
If the Engraving hinted at a larger, universal language of the system…
But the more that Randidly read, the less likely that seemed. Because the second volume was making clear that the meanings of the symbols seemed completely independent of the shape. Although there were certainly technical adjustments you can make between different geometric shapes in the connections, in order to make the Engraving more efficient, the Engraving’s effects couldn’t really be predicted by the shape.
Some of the discussion of this became extremely esoteric. Like one philosopher hypothesized that rather than a language, Engraving was a vast map of understanding. Engravers only used tiny bits of the map at a time, conveying a specific meaning, but the meaning didn’t stem from the specific shapes, but rather from context.
This was criticized on the grounds that there was no real proof, or even a shred of evidence that this was the case, but it was widely heralded as an important theory for advancing the study of Engraving.
The other big subject was just that, the History of Engraving. Years were listed in the book, and after checking with Claptrap, it seemed that something happened around 50 years ago that had caused the study of Engraving to cease, at least publically. This was probably around the time of the formation of the Engraving Guilds, and it was frustrating, because Randidly didn’t want to take the time to understand this information only to find it was completely dated.
But Randidly continued, because that was the only way to improve, and move forward. After 3 hours, he packed up his books and gestured for the others, and their journey continued.
Twice more over the next 24 hours they were forced to stop, Claptrap completely exhausted, and each time, Randidly would study the encyclopedia, slowly working his way deeper. Although it was incredibly rough going, there were several tips and information bits about Engraving that were incredibly useful, and Randidly carefully inscribed them, making a note for the future. For now he was satisfied, but Randidly knew that he wanted to attempt the Shadow IV rune soon.
Perhaps he would have time before the Regional Tournament started, perhaps he wouldn’t, but he definitely wanted some items to give himself an edge. But thinking about the Regional Tournament just got him thinking about Shal, and Randidly shook his head, disgusted.
It was around 3 in the morning when they arrived. Most of their journey was across a wide plateau, covered in a sea of tall grass. They encountered the occasional monster, but they were usually around the level 25, and were easily overpowered by Randidly’s party. But eventually, the tall grass ended, and they found themselves at the base of an enormous mountain. The mountain was so large that Randidly was briefly stunned.
To be fair, he hadn’t really grown up in a mountainous terrain, but the sheer size of this… They had been approaching for quite a while with it looming ahead, but it still appeared incredibly distant. The speed they traveled was not slow, even with Claptrap. To still have it be so incredibly distant.
“The Great Spear. Your first time seeing it? Fucking a sight, right?” Helen said, looking up at the mountain with a wistful expression. “It is said that the Spearman ascended that mountain to face the Calamity, and save us all.”
“And yet the Calamity returned, right?” Randidly said, almost instinctively, looking up at the mountain.
Helen glared at him and spoke, her voice frosty. “Not all worlds have a Spearman, smartass.”
Then she turned and walked away towards Claptrap, who was pointing to a glowing circle on the base of the mountain, still some distance from their position, which was Deardun. But Randidly wasn’t listening to their discussion. He wasn’t even dwelling on the anger tinged conversation with Helen.
Instead, his wheels were slowly turning.
Not all worlds have a Spearman…
Randidly’s initial assumption was that it was just another weird example of the worship this culture had for this man, but what if it wasn’t? What if she meant it more literally. Like, they faced another Calamity, not because it was supposed to happen, but because…
Because there was a Calamity elsewhere that wasn’t defeated. Something like a Tribulation, only on the scale of the world.
Randidly’s expression turned grave. He had great confidence in his own power, especially now, against enemies back on Earth. But if there was something coming that was so strong that it could rival a whole planet… And it was often too powerful to be defeated by even the Master class here…
It also made the story about the woman who possessed the emerald Tassle before Randidly make more sense. Why would the powerful individuals not just defeat the Calamity, but send their youth to fight it? Perhaps there were some hidden rules, but if that person had to go to another world, another world that had been turned into a giant dungeon… It made more sense why they would hesitate.
The frontlines, then, were places where the worlds were connected, possibly.
Randidly shook his head, and then looked with clear eyes towards Deardun. He didn’t know why, but the system hadn’t edited away his access to the information. And that made him suspect that it wasn’t that the system messed up, but this information wasn’t the important part. So Randidly put it out of his mind.
After all, his goal right now was very simple. Make the top 8 at the Regional Tournament.