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Perhaps it was due to his previous matches against overwhelming individuals, but Randidly’s 4th match was somewhat of a letdown. His opponent was a woman with short brown hair and a long, flexible spear. She came at him with very efficient weaving of attacks, striking at odd angles, moving in unpredictable patterns.

But Randidly had methods of keeping her honest. With his participation in the tournament on the line, Randidly freely used his spells, using Incinerating Bolts and Spearing Roots to keep her off her game, and then approaching her and overpowering her physically.

Perhaps there was something about passing through the preliminary, but aside from Bertarn, who was a monster in his own right, it seemed Randidly could rely on his strength somewhat in direct contact with these opponents. The disciples of the powerful Styles were perhaps more intelligent about their stat distribution so they kept all of their physical stats near each other, and likely put some into mental stats, to affect the sharpness of their decisions.

Still, even though he slowly overwhelmed and defeated his opponent, the opponent’s spear strikes, and the image ladened strike she eventually revealed, were intimidatingly sharp. There was still a difference in levels when it came to their ultimate moves. Randidly was able to mitigate the damage with other things, but…

As Randidly left the arena for the day, heading out the back, to his surprise he was stopped.

“You did not break.” Azriel stood there, hands on her hips, looking at him with a strange expression on her face. “This… you even were crushed again by Bertarn yes? Yet you still continue… interesting…”

The girl seemed just like a normal, albeit very attractive, girl as she walked up and began poking him with her finger. Randidly shivered slightly; she was poking the exact spots where her needle had ripped through him earlier.

Then she stepped back. “If you survive tomorrow, come find me.”

Blinking at the departing figure, her white hair swinging, Randidly could only wonder what just happened. Then he shrugged. A problem for another day. There were more pressing issues to address.

When he arrived back at the inn, Shal was already waiting with folded arms. Based on his expression, he had come to the same conclusion that Randidly had; he was currently missing something. Shal said nothing for a long while, and then said. “My father… well it is enough. No longer must you read only the 1st and 5th pages of the Diary. Read it straight through. Find a weapon in its pages. For if you do not….”

Again, there were several seconds of silence. “...those level of enemies must be overcome, if you are to make it into the top 4.”

Randidly frowned. “I thought it was only the top 8.”

There was a strange, ugly expression on Shal’s face. It was a face full of bitterness. “...as you say.” Then he left, leaving Randidly alone.

Randidly put that strange matter to the side. This was not something that he could address yet anyways, the difference between Top 8 and Top 4. Right now, he simply needed to make it to the tournament portion of the fight. And already having 2 losses meant the rest of his run had to be perfect.

But the day had been long, but fruitful. Truly, nothing spurred growth like the pressure of struggle..

Randidly had gained 3 Skill Levels in Spear Mastery, 4 in Root Control, 2 in Spearing Roots and Physical Fitness, 5 lvls in Meditation, 1 in Eyes of the Spear Phantom, 7 in Bacterial Regeneration and Second Wind, 3 in Superiority and Incinerating Bolt, 4 in Spear Phantom’s Footwork, 2 in Dodge and Fighting Proficiency, 3 in Empower and Stalemate Breaker, 1 in Calculated Blow, 6 in Flesh Eating Virus, 7 in Golden Roots of Yggdrasil, 2 in Grace and Flexibility of the White Hunters, 3 in Rejection and Mana Strengthening, and 7 in Struggle.

Combined with some PP that he had earned the night prior, after cashing in, Randidly now had 78 PP. Which was enough to finish his current path, and then also put his Soul Skill up to 200, which would give him both of the remaining benefits. The first 5 PP that were put in finished off his Initiate of Ash I Path.

Congratulations! You have completed the Initiate of Ash I Path! A trail of desolation lies before you. Above you is the volcano. To come and witness the majesty of your Patron, energies begin to infuse your body. But you know this is only the halfway point, should you choose to become an Anointed of Ash. Strength +3, Intelligence +3, Reaction +3. A more difficult path lays before you, traveler. Go with care.

Randidly frowned. The bonuses were in useful places, but rather small. But more than that… He peered at his new path menu.

Heretic XII 0/???, Nexus Traveler Cohort 5 0/50, Path of Control 0/200, Basic Mana Engraving 0/100, Journeyman 0/150, Experimenter I 0/50, Agony I 0/100, Initiate of Ash II 0/150, Bacterial Mutation I 0/125

Randidly grimaced. There were simply too many desirable options, and his 73 remaining PP was only enough to finish of Nexus Traveler Cohort 5. It wasn’t all that desirable of an option, either way… The two new arrivals were the second half of the Initiate of Ash Path, and the Bacterial Mutation I Path, both of which drew Randidly. There was also the Path of Control, which was still his highest and most used stat as an option. Although it didn’t really draw on it directly, Randidly’s spear work had always been more graceful and delicate than his skills could explain. They were likely aided by that high Control stat.

Increasing that would help him… But Journeyman was a Path that would provide him with skills. That would increase his PP, but likely do nothing for him in the short term… Agony could perhaps give him some gifts… Bacterial Mutation was an intriguing new addition, which was likely due to his high Bacterial Regeneration skill, but the inclusion of Mutation made Randidly somewhat wary.

All of these paths were investments that would pay off at a later date. He would likely not be able to get 20 PP tonight, not with how sore and battered his whole body was, even with his powerful regeneration abilities… He might spend his time pouring over the full version of the Spear Phantom’s journal, but Randidly wasn’t sure how much good it would do.

Then, sighing, Randidly made his decision. What had truly decided the day, had rid him of that persistent, violent energy that Azriel had injected into his body, and gotten him back on his feet in the wake of Bertarn, was his regeneration. If he could push that to the next level… that was his advantage, it always was. His unrelenting determination.

Randidly put PP in Bacterial Mutation I, and every 5 PP he received 1 point in Vitality, which was an amazing return for this level of Path. And after putting 23 PP into it, he received another notification, which made him smile in satisfaction.

Congratulations! Your Soul Skill has released the Blessing of Fetid Growth upon you. Vitality +3, Control +6, Resistance +3, Endurance +3. Your body increases in size by 1%. Your body compacts, retaining efficacy but decreasing in size by .5%. Health Regeneration increases by 15.

For a second, nothing happened. Then Randidly’s body began throb and pulse. It was actually…. a profoundly enjoyable experience. His muscles bulged and flexed, his bones creaking and stretching, his tendons elongating. Then everything tightened slightly, and pressed back downwards, his body returning nearer to his original state. The feelings passed quickly, and Randidly looked down at his fist, feeling the power pumping through his body.

Then he smiled bitterly. It was a step in the right direction, but it would not take him within striking distance of the two individuals he had faced in his 2nd and 3rd matches. It was the same sort of qualitative difference that Randidly had undergone through his training in the prison area…

Well, perhaps a little less than that. He was getting very near to them in terms of physical capabilities, but he believed there was a profound difference in terms of image and skill level. That was the oppressive weight that being an Artisan possessed. Even though Randidly had fought successfully against one before, that was an average fighter who had reached that peak, and had allowed himself to regress through laziness. These groomed young geniuses likely had higher rarity skills, and better training, even though they had less experience.

Randidly made a mental note to ask Shal how exactly rarities were determined and turned back to himself. He put the remaining 50 pp into his skill, earning even more Vitality. Then he received the 4th, and he believed, final notification that his Soul Skill would give him.

Congratulations! Your Soul Skill has released the Blessing of Devouring Ash upon you. Strength +3, Willpower +9, Focus +3. Your body temperature increases. Your immune system grows more robust, resistance to all status ailments and debuffs increases by 1%. Free stats +3.

The world of your soul skill turns! The denizens of your inner world evolve. A matriarch appears amongst the White Hunters. Her eyes rise to the sky as she searches for you, the Soul of the world that animates them.

Hobgolems arise amongst the Earth Golem people. Their cunning and strength lead to the formation of tribes across the land.

Very few of the Swamp Spiders grow old and wise, and become Weavers, and they begin to record the history of this realm in their intricate webs.

The clever Spriggits discover the power of steam, and their technology bursts forward, bringing with it progress and prosperity. As a people, they grow rich and happy.

As the world turns, Arbor and Thorn become more deeply involved in its function. Their connection grows deeper, and their strength grows as the world evolves. Due to their influence, small animal life has been brought to your world.

It has been one cycle since this world’s creation. Would you like to add anything to the world? (Warning, the added qualities will be taken from a skill. A single skill level will be consumed in the taking. Other side-effects are unknown).

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