It was more a trance than anything, else, Randidly reflected, as the time trickled past. The weight grew to a dull pounding, but was possible to support, as Randidly quickly managed to find an equilibrium with Meditation, Mana Strengthening, Empower, and Rejection in the face of the weight.
That almost dreaded PP came and went, and Randidly was sorely tempted to just finish the path, but he knew that his wild anger he had within him, due to the long nature of the challenge, was just prodding him towards dumb decisions. So he resisted that urge, and instead just doubled down on the task at hand. The weight was not growing in a literal sense, but it did seem like Randidly’s strength and the weight were on a teeter totter, and as one went up, the other went down.
If his will waivered, if he allowed his shoulders to drop, it became that much easier to let it fall another inch, and it was almost impossible to press upwards, returning to the previous equilibrium.
Although his competitive spirit was definitely roused by the presence of Orangey, Orangey himself was a pretty dull opponent. After their initial acknowledgement, Orangey settled into a stance and stuck to it.
He was even drooling a little.
After a brief grimace, Randidly closed his eyes and attempted to do the same. After all, no matter what happened, it would be a long night.
Helen sat very still. After a while, as the male spear attendant chatted with the old man from the Steel Feather Style, she had realized that the situation had devolved into a strange drinking match that more and more people were joining, and her intervention wasn’t necessary. Although Claptrap and the brewer had wild eyes and nervous twitches as more and more people approached, demanding to be served, Helen didn’t make any effort to assist either.
After all, their pockets were heavy with coins. If there was any lesson that her mother taught Helen that she actually valued, it was that money had an influence independent of power. Because in a way, money was much more versatile.
It was very difficult to both create a merchant empire and to reach even the Artisan level with the spear. But for an individual at the helm of a merchant empire, even Pontiff level spear users could be swayed by the offer of rare materials and equipment. They would be fine as they stumbled haphazardly into their newfound wealth.
Instead, Helen’s attention was focused on the Tassles. A few hours after it had begun, one of the 6 had fallen. It was neither the Ghosthound’s, or the Tassle that still remained on his same group. Still, it was disappointing for that individual, for that was considered a loss.
They were forced to gamble with their opportunity to pass this stage. Discovering wealth came with a cost, just as Claptrap was learning.
The world seemed to slow as Helen stared intently at the Tassles. She was so focused on it that her hands were grinding away at the material of the seats, almost instinctively. Was it because they had slept together that she felt this attachment? Was it due to their relationship, as his spear attendant? Was it something more, some inexplicable connection?
Either way, it was fucking annoying.
But Helen couldn’t bring herself to look away. She told herself that it was just because she was thankful for the strange boost of Aether that he had provided, and perhaps there was a thread of truth in that, but she sensed it was a lie. She was here for a large and strange reason that she refused to examine too closely. Better to just experience this without having to face some parts of herself that she might not like.
Parts of her that filled her will fear.
Time continued to pass, and the drinking began to grow more raucous at first, and then less as some people were finally unable to continue, even with their extremely high Vitality and Endurance stats. That or they had drunk all of the alcohol brewed by that woman, leaving her nothing but gold and empty casks.
The Tassles were at the the 19th pole, the 14th pole, the 13th, the 9th, and then finally the 2 at the 7th. It was around 7 hours into the 24 hour period that Tassle on the 14th pole fell. It was the most excitement that had happened for a while, so it inspired another fit of revelry. Another brewer was called. In addition, the people who had passed the first half of the preliminary were mostly recovered at that point, and came back to watch those foolish people who attempted to persist.
Claptrap was forced to send out for more ingredients. It would be a long night for him, as he had established his small stall as the place to be around the stands. Very quickly the high level sects and merchants began to jockey for position at the tables Claptrap had set up. The Steel Feather Style old man had claimed the most central and convenient table for viewing, and around him the social strata eventually worked themselves out.
For those who arrived late, unless they had a high level of prestige, it was almost impossible to approach those central tables. Instead they could only eat surreptitiously at the fringes, looking around at the strange set up in wonder.
Two hours later, the Tassle on the 13th pole fell. Helen’s eyes sharpened. Not because of anything in regards to the Tassles, but because the old man from the Steel Feather Style was staring intently at the Tassle on the 19th pole. A frown slowly grew on his face.
Based on this progression… Helen grimaced. At least, if there was some sort of pattern moving through the poles, the Ghosthound’s pole would be the last to be reached.
Sure enough, around 16 hours into the exercise, the Tassle on the 9th pole fell. There was only the two on the Ghosthound’s pole now. Helen felt the tension descend through her spine, twisting her body inward, into a small ball. What was most frustrating was that she could do nothing. She supposed that was to be expected, generally spear attendants were rather common, and rather useless. They might obtain some small amount of teachings or benefits from the relationship, but it was a route taken primarily by the desperate.
Like a desperate woman following an impulse, all in order to escape the grasp of her family.
But her time with the Ghosthound and Shal and Divvit was special. They had treated them with respect, and the two experienced spear users had both casually given pointers to the spear attendants, which was a great honor, considering they both were at or near the Adept level of spearmanship.
It was a family very unlike her own, in a way. A brutal and violent family. A family that sometimes had sex with each other-
“Shut the fuck up.” Helen whispered to herself, her eyes narrowing into slits. Why the fuck did her brain always spit out the most fucked up shit?
So she tried to maintain a clear head and just stared at the 7th pole, waiting for something to change.
Just the weight, just him, in eternal balance. Randidly had proceeded past the stage where he felt the exertion, he had just internalized it. Additionally, he didn’t seem to breath any longer. The only movements were the circulation of Aether within his chest. It was wild and hungry too, and the longer Randidly resisted the urge to give in, the more it responded to his actions. He would bear this weight to the day he died, he swore to himself.
Of course, another part of him was very skeptical of this sort of fatalism, but it was certainly easier for him to commit to something ridiculous in order to manage something attainable. It pushed his boundaries in a very real way. He even had thoughts of continuing to hold up the weight long past the time of the Challenge of Tarnak.
Just to see his own limits.
It was also possible for another reason; his eyes were long since closed, and time was a nebulous concept. It grew and stretched, becoming infinite and fleeting. It was extremely strange. There was only the struggle, and under the metaphoric weight of that struggle, time bent and struggled.
Although most of his attention had to remain focused on the struggle, the constant cycling of skills used to maintain his position, another part of him explored that small insight into time. Sometimes it flowed quickly, other times slowly. It was not even and standardized, but elastic, like a rubber band that grew longer the more pressure there was.
But that wasn’t exactly true, was it? It was standardized. For even the most vicious and painful experiences were eventually yanked offstage by time, as the world moved on. But for the truly terrible experiences, that time would remain within you, endlessly looping, endlessly heavy, just dragging at your sanity…
It was almost as if… there were two parts of time. The time you experience, and the time that passes….
Randidly would perhaps have continued to puzzle over this with his spare attention, but in his chest, something strange was happened. He, with a great effort of will, returned to his inward area, where he saw his 5 emerald wisps of energy dancing. But they weren’t the source of the commotion. It was his Soul Skill.
Immediately, Randidly felt a sinking feeling, but as he watched, his fears didn’t come to pass; the flaming ash energy that continued part of his cycle was beginning to glow brighter, and somehow more furious. There was also a strange vibration in the air. A strange, eloquent resonance.