Randidly’s hands tightened into fists. This fucking…!

But then something distracted Randidly, something that helped defuse some of the aggression he had in his chest. Even though his Soul Skill, or the strange image Randidly produced of it, was locked to his view, zooming around his inward world, stopping to examine all of his skills, was that strange wisp of green energy.

When Randidly re-entered his inward world, it noticed and flew over to him, to fly around him excitedly. It was much easier to let go of the tight ball of anger with an adorable, seemingly alive energy creature flitting about. But that didn’t really stop the gears in Randidly’s head from spinning wildly.

How was this possible? Who was doing this? And why didn’t they want him to be doing this…?

More interesting though, was that the skills weren’t just an outside phenomena. Randidly could use them in a meta fashion, like within his Soul Skill. This…. There were definitely implications, but Randidly couldn’t really think of anything. Most of his skills were combat related. He sincerely doubted it would be a good idea to use them upon his visualization.

But on the other hand… now that he had been effectively forbidden from doing it, he wanted to try it. And he knew academically that it was probably a bad idea, but then the impression of foolishness was quickly overridden by the overriding anger that the strange being that was interfering in his body was taking away options from him. Randidly valued independence highly. He wanted his decisions to be his own.

And lately, in regards to paths… they hadn’t really been.

Randidly held out his hand and the wisp of emerald energy landed on it calmly, hopping back and forth. It was a combination of a christmas light and a wisp of smoke, and it felt strangely warm on his palm.

Randidly briefly opened his eyes, and could no longer feel it, sitting in the inn, but closed them again and visualized his inner world where his skills sat, and it was there, warm and real. Frowning at it, Randidly noticed for the first time that there were very dim notifications floating in front of him.

Randidly’s frown deepened. He hadn’t taken the black potion in a while, why were they-

Narrowing his eyes, Randidly considered the black potion. It somehow interfered with his perception of the system. Also… he couldn’t remember being influenced in quite the same way as he was now before he was taking he potion. Were perhaps those same annoying locks with bells hiding away his notifications? Was he perhaps allowing some other creature’s skill to act on him by taking the potion…? It was a chilling thought, and one that made a weird amount of sense.

But it was also possible that the forces were acting on him now because he was a much more powerful individual than he had been in the past, and because of the Aether Spring he held inside of himself. Those were likely not unrelated details. A series of strange coincidences that led to an individual that desired power and had an Aether battery inside of himself that could do it. An Aether much more pure than the Aether that others had access to.

Which didn't make sense to Randidly. Why should his Aether be more pure, when villages also had Aether springs? What was different?

Also, Randidly had his doubts that his strength was on the level that the entity that could manipulate Aether in his chest would want to control him too directly-

The emerald energy vibrated furiously against Randidly’s hand and he blinked. Palpable in the air around it was annoyance that he was so distracted from it. Laughing and shaking his head, Randidly proceeded to grab at the strange emerald energy which flitted happily from side to side, dodging his attempts.

The energy itself was extremely strange. There seemed to be some actual substance to it, but Randidly was unable to get his hands, well, imagined hands, on it. It was a slippery creature, full of glee and animal cunning. It also seemed extremely well disposed towards him, although perhaps that was just because he was the only one here.

After a time of playing, the energy seemed content, and Randidly opened his eyes and returned to the small room. This was… a strange development. It seemed that the energy possessed its own life independent of him. It was a basic life form of some sort. Well, Randidly wasn't really sure about the details, but if his soul skill was somehow refining life…

Which seemed slightly ridiculous a proposition, but Randidly suspected that there was some complication to the whole Aether Spring situation that he had missed. What was Aether? Some form of energy? The language and hardware of the system, perhaps?

Stretching slowly, Randidly set this most recent issue to the side and tried to rid himself of his smoldering anger. He made a mental note to ask Claptrap to purchase him some meat from high level monsters. Then he also reminded himself to ask Claptrap what exactly the Regional Tournament comprised. Was it going to be a strange sort of tournament like the qualifier? Or a more typical 1 on 1 single elimination tournament?

Randidly went to his window and opened it. Below, many people with varying shades of skin walked around, talking, laughing, shouting, bargaining with each other. Here, not everyone had skin with a red tint. More were orange or yellow, denoting their higher status. There were even a noticeable group with pale green and light blue skin colors. Deardun truly was a tier higher than Qtal.

Which didn’t necessarily translate into higher skill levels, but rather superior skills and resources…

Randidly chuckled. There was so much he didn’t know about this place, and yet he was thrown here rather directly. He really had to work on his bad habit of being so focused on his task that he forgot to ask questions. So many problems could be solved if he were simply willing to talk more directly with the people around him. But his bad social habits still remained. He preferred not to ask a question when he figured the answer would arise naturally over the course of normal interaction.

Claptrap had stated before he left that he had chosen this inn due to the training facility on the roof, and sure enough, when Randidly stuck his head outside and looked up it was one of the strange mushroom buildings. Smiling ruefully, Randidly left his room and wandered the halls for a few minutes before he found the stairs.

He arrived in the training hall to find it a wide, brightly lit white bulb, around the size of 4 basketball courts. There were even several other people diligently training, glistening with sweat, and what seemed like a youth training course, where an old man was bellowing at a half dozen youths. There were wooden dummies to attack and even foldable partition walls to spread if you wanted privacy with your training.

All the partition walls were taken, so Randidly went to the far side of the training area, where there was a straight stretch of space fairly open, and pulled out one of his last bone spears made for him by Sam.

He took the time to feel the smooth shaft that fit so well into his hand, smiling at the memory. It would be strange though, to return to Donnyton and act so nostalgic when it had only been a month or two from their perspective. Although he supposed that the squads were constantly going into the dungeons, so time would be rather extended for them too. And Randidly knew that the Tier III Raid Boss had descended, attacking the town and their neighbor, after he had left. But it was hard to be worried. The town was strong. Not just because they had learned from him, although that was part of it.

The town was strong because they wanted to be, because they were willing to put in the time and sweat to earn that strength. Things would change later, as some of the novelty of the system wore off, but for now, everyone was so caught up in the changes that there was peace, and internal consistency within the town.

Hoping that would stay the same, Randidly began to move through some basic stretching exercises. As he did so, he couldn’t help but overhear the words the elderly man was yelling at the youths, for they were the closest group also using the training ground.

“Sharper! With more force! Do you think an enemy is going to just let you take turns striking?!? You need to overwhelm the opponent! Use our hips!” The old man’s eyes were bulging wildly as he shouted down at the youths, and dutifully, they struggled to fulfill his expectations. It was adorable in a way, to Randidly, but also confusing. Because it was so far from his own experience being instructed by Shal.

Shal did not try to explain a problem, he exploited it until Randidly learned his mistake with his body, and naturally sought to rectify it. As a method, it achieved an incredibly efficient result, although it required an amount of violence that perhaps was unpalatable to some.

WIth a sure grip on his spear, and with the warming streams of energy flowing up through him from the soles of his feet, Randidly began to train in earnest, focusing on basic spear moves. All the while, his will was pressing as hard as he could, attempting to impress on the air around him that, like time, his spear moves were an irresistible force. He would continue to flow forward regardless of resistance.

He activated Spear Phantom’s Footwork and teleported several feet to the side. No area was outside the reach of time. It claimed all, touched all, ended all. Time was an agent that had been called many names, even including death. But it was more than that, and it was grander than that. I was the continuum that we all existed upon, as we struggled futilely to avoid our end.

And just like all things, time would someday come to an end, taking us all with it.

Randidly lowered his spear, tightened his grip, and used the Inevitable Phantom Arrives. His spear moved, not slowly, but surely not quickly. It was a speed that seemed perfectly aligned with the state of the world, like it was just one more force of nature. It was a thrust that one could look at and fear, but doing so would bring you face to face with the fact it was impossible to avoid.

Such was the strength of the blow that the air rippled lightly after completion, spreading a small amount of distance. It wasn’t much, but the elderly man stiffened and paused in his tirade, and then turned and gave Randidly a small look. Almost imperceptibly, the man bowed slightly. Taken slightly aback, Randidly bounded slightly in return.

Then the man returned to shouting and Randidly felt strangely relieved. In some ways, this world was a much simpler place than Earth. That man sensed his strength, acknowledged it, and then returned to his previous activity. The lack of interaction was such a relief.

Humming quietly, Randidly returned to his training, slowly using the methods and exercises employed by Marco Polo to push his body to the limit.


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