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The first thing Randidly noticed about Deardun was its size. Not only did the walls tower above them as he approached, but there were tents and lean-to's lining the road to Deardun, where people had set up shop and were happily living. The whole thing had a very festival air to it, and Claptrap whispered that the people were here to witness the Regional Tournament.

Randidly felt a sour feeling in the pit of his stomach. He knew, academically, people would be watching this tournament. And there were even people watching the qualifier. But at the qualifier, they were away and above mostly, out of Randidly’s awareness. If this was a more classic style battle, with stands packed with people…

Already, Randidly wanted to vomit. It was not that people made him nervous, but… the possibility that he would have to interact with that many people, or even just interact in front of that many people.

But as best he could, Randidly reassured himself that he had been fine in the qualifier. Before he thought about the issue of spectators. And also when he had been so angry that he had just started lashing out…

Complicating matters, Randidly had spent most of the past two years just sparring and training, perhaps exacerbating his people issues. There had been a lot of people at market day, but not many people paid attention until after he fought Gerel, because he was the cook. And that acknowledgment of his capability, while making no attempt to engage him, was exactly the sort of attention that Randidly preferred.

As they walked further toward the towering walls, more and more spear users were milling about, shouting and laughing, some even sparring, right along the road. Almost instinctively, Randidly scanned them, and didn’t find anyone who he believed was that impressive, but he supposed that was to be expected; no one worth their chops would be fighting out here.

“Hey!” A burly spear user said, turning around. The male spear attendant had been looking around with wide eyes and walked into the man, knocking him off his balance. The male spear attendant recovered and frowned.

“Yes?”

“Who the fuck do you think you are, rushing around like that-”

“Heh, I’ll have you know that I am the spear attendant of the Ghosthound with the most dedicated work ethic! My name is-”

As a group, Randidly, Teliph, Helen, and even the new spear attendant of Teliph exchanged a glance and kept walking, largely ignoring this incident. After all, giving it any attention would just be a waste of time.

As the shouting increased in volume behind them, the group continued, very quickly arriving at the gates, where several guards were standing. Randidly produced the token he had received from the qualifiers, and the whole attitude of the guards changed, but not in the way Randidly expected it too.

If anything, they shifted from bored to sneering, waving the group through while exchanging knowing glances.

“They underestimate you because you had to enter through a qualifier.” Teliph rumbled, his countenance stormy.

But Randidly only chuckled. Helen glanced at him sourly. “Why do you not demonstrate your own prowess? It is dishonorable. Don’t be a fucking pussy about it.”

This made Randidly shift uncomfortably, but he said nothing, just continuing to walk. Helen snorted.

“Do you know that 90% of individuals who make it to the Regional Tournament through a qualifier are fucking humiliated in the preliminary? Do you just want to be another number?”

Somehow, Helen’s words sparked Randidly’s temper. He grinned, and then began to walk forward with a much straighter spine. “I will not be a number.”

“Hmph,” Helen snorted. And Randidly spun slowly and gave her a long look, full of primal fury and the desire to kill he had honed in the prison. She faltered, a tiny bit of fear showing in her face.

Rather than bringing him joy, the fear just made Randidly feel extremely sad, and his posture shifted back. Mulling over the person he wanted to be. It was not fury, but it was also not placid or content. Strength without inherent violence, although a willingness to perform violence. Calm, but not passive. The ability to distinguish what was right and what was necessary.

His lips twisted wryly as they finally finished the walk through the long tunnel of the huge walls, and emerged into the city. Immediately they were assaulted by the yells of merchants from all sides, and to Randidly’s surprise, Claptrap stepped forward, his expression easing. Instantly, he barked several answers to the merchants, shooing them away, and the group was able to proceed without being harassed.

They followed Claptrap, who stated that he knew a place they could stay. The buildings in Deardun appeared to be what Randidly thought of when he pictured a medieval city. Brick and stone between wooden beams, but it appeared that the buildings here were of two varieties. Normal buildings that stood squat with 1 or 2 floors, and strange buildings reminiscent of mushrooms, that were normal at the bottom, but rose higher past the normal buildings and had a large upper floor.

Randidly supposed this must be used for spear training, which was a rather space intensive activity, which might come at a premium within the city.

Due to a nagging in the corner of his heart, Randidly glanced at Helen. Although he hadn’t realized it at the time, he had probably powered that glance he had given her by his Battle Intent, which was slowly growing in level. It was not something that he should use on… a compatriot.

A friend.

Again, Randidly’s mouth twisted. Helen was just staring at the ground, appearing thoughtful. She probably had already forgotten about the look he gave her. Why had he gotten so strangely aggressive about it…? But Randidly knew. It was a male thing. To be emasculated is never a fun feeling, even when it is partially in play.

But of course, Helen didn’t play so much as harass.

They passed restaurants and vendors and armor sellers and Randidly watched with interested eyes. He still wanted to obtain some equipment of his own. He had some haphazard pieces that he had gathered on whims back on Earth, but he was looking forward to seeing the quality of armor here, on a planet that had had the system for a long time.

Still, that could wait.

They finally arrived at an inn type establishment where Claptrap knew the owner, and they were all given rooms. While Claptrap hurried away, to check on the exact start date for the Regional Tournament and to contact some locals, Randidly was finally left alone in his room. He grimaced slightly, and opened up his status menu.

He hadn’t been looking forward to this, but it was probably best to do it before the Regional Tournament started. Based on what he had been told, the difficulty would be such that it would very quickly drive up his Skill Level. And doing too many PP at once…

Over that past 5 days, Randidly had gained 7 levels in Battle Intent, 1 in Struggle, 2 in the Golden Roots of Yggdrasil, 1 in Root Control, 3 in Weeping Cloud, 7 in Extract, 4 in Cooking, and 2 in Grace.

Dutifully, Randidly poured the points into the Weeping that Falls like Rain path, moving him slowly closer to completion. It wasn’t a large jump, but it was helping. The addition of the PP caused his soul skill to stir slightly, making his chest feel decidedly uncomfortable. But there were no other ill effects.

Struck by a sudden notion, Randidly closed his eyes and pictured himself in the world of the soul skill, as the rot and ash still spun and the ground was thick with those emerald crystals, containing a strange energy. Then, he reached down and tried to use a skill in his Soulskill world. He used Extract, targeting the crystals.

After first there was nothing. Then, slowly, as if an engine was turning on, Randidly felt the skill inside of him flicker and engage, as if it was initially unsure of what he wanted, but was slowly getting the hang of it. Randidly felt his spirit blaze around him, his will pressing, holding in his mind a very clear image of what he wanted.

Remove this energy from the stones. Purge the Soul Skill. He could figure out what to do with the energy later, but for now, he just wanted to see if this was possible. He was only focusing on a tiny shard of emerald crystal, in a veritable sea of it. But it was hard, incredibly hard, as if he was reaching through thick wool with his fingers. It was hard to focus the skill to the small shard.

But Randidly struggled and pushed, narrowing his eyes, and finally he had it, and the skill engaged. Randidly’s whole body trembled, and he ripped a thin wisp of the emerald energy out of the stone. The energy wiggled contentedly, spinning around his finger, and Randidly felt a strange pleasure coming from it. The emerald crystal darkened, becoming a strangely heavy and empty stone.

Then, Randidly felt a strange trembling, and then a vicious rushing, and then blinking, he found himself back in his room, no longer in his Soulskill. Hurriedly, he looked inward, and found the Soulskill was still there, but now it was locked.

By a golden lock with a small bell.

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