Perhaps he should have expected it, but there was something very different and intimidating about the dangers Randidly had been put into with Azriel, more so than any of the times with Marco Polo or Shal.
Mostly, Azriel wasn’t very good at actually not killing him. Her attacks were fast and direct, and she seemed to have an inordinate amount of trust that he wouldn’t let himself die just from these “training spars”.
But she didn’t pull a single punch, and aimed for weaknesses and blindspots. She was brutally fast, and stronger that Randidly initially would have guessed. Part of that may be related to the sheer amount of momentum that her body seemed to have at any point, but likely related was the amount of base stats you needed to channel that much force through your body during her chained attacks.
After 3 losses, and painful regenerations, Randidly was encouraged to start using spells to try and throw her off. This worked for a time, or at least doubled the time it took her to win, but the amount of mana that he had to use in order to keep her at bay was not sustainable in the least. Spearing Roots, Root Control, Incinerating Bolts, Circle of Flame, all of these had to be used in quick succession in order to give him even a second in front of Azriel’s brutal assault.
The next time Randidly lost, and drank the position, hanging onto his life by a thread, he tried to use his newer spells, Hammer of Dawn and Burning Footsteps. They briefly gave her pause, but both were at a insufficient level as compared to her. Although it was interesting to note that she seemed much more sensitive to the magic’s effects than he was. Likely she had a much smaller amount of Resistance.
In this and only this, Randidly felt a small amount of superiority. His training had increased his Resistence much, although it had initially been a similarly pitiful amount. He supposed the people of this world were lucky that most magic monsters had been hunted and were contained within the dungeons. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to so brazenly ignore the dangers of having low Resistance.
But he supposed it was also intelligent to focus their stats elsewhere at this point in their careers, focusing on obtaining a greater evaluation at the Regional Tournament, rather than making themselves more survivable overall. If the chances of encountering a mage were small, then the stat points were more efficiently put into other categories.
After exactly 10 duels, where Randidly was repeated beaten bloody by her insistent charges, Azriel tilted her head to the side. “There is more, yes? What are you hiding from me.” Grumbling, and with the hot fury he had mostly dispersed earlier, Randidly rose to his feet with a vicious grin. After he had completely healed, he attacked.
This time, with Randidly changing tactics, Azriel allowed them 5 whole duels before she was satisfied, even though each time she dealt with Randidly’s techniques even more effectively.
“That should be enough for today. I have a good idea of your capabilities. It’s almost dawn, why don’t you recover some and we will meet again tonight. I’ll have a plan for us then.”
Randidly, still lying on the ground, gave her a frank look. “How do you know if it will be in time? If I’m matched against him in the first round-”
Azriel snorted. “Do you think the great Styles of Deardun would leave such a thing to chance? No, our elders, with a very discerning and critical eye, have already arranged the tournament for maximum drama… your first match is against the one you faced previously, Bertarn Yish. They believe that you will lose, but rather impressively, perhaps driven on by your shame of losing previously?”
Azriel shook her head. “Sometimes I don’t understand them. They seem to recognize your various strengths, but all they saw was the previous outcome. Could they not tell that you had no Stamina, and no real tenacity in that fight? Well, it’s fine. An easy opponent to start, to warm you up.”
Randidly smiled uneasily. Sure, he had faced him before. And Bertarn didn’t fill Randidly with the same sort of awe that he felt towards Azriel, but that didn’t mean he would be an easy opponent. His strength and defense were real, and Randidly suspected that Bertarn’s images were not weak.
But that was why it was worth doing. An easy opponent wouldn’t be nearly as fun.
Lucretia sat, her legs folded beneath her, Shal’s body lying on one side of her, the head of the Yeti on the other. Before her was a broken mirror, with seven complete shards held together in its case. Each showed the image of a different person, struggling training….
Desperately pushing themselves to the limits of their abilities, seeking to grow just a hair faster, more proficient, more capable, before the first round of the tournament tomorrow.
Lucretia opened her eyes, smiling. “I’ve never really bothered with weaklings such as these, but… perhaps I was a bit short sighted. I might as well plant a few seeds while I’m here…”
She held her hand up and rubbed her fingers together, and a fine lavender dust floated towards, sinking into the mirror and fading away. But then one of the sections of the mirror began to glow yellow, swiftly glowing in color.
Hissing in annoyance, Lucretia made a small construct of her precious Aether and sent it into the mirror, dissipating her seed. The glowing yellow color faded slowly, clearly aware that something was amiss, but unable to determine what had earned its ire.
“It seems even this backwater place has a high level Pontiff… well as long as I stay away from that girl, it should be fine… he will likely assume the interference was something to do with the tournament. It will be dissatisfying, but without proof of harm, he probably won’t seek me out…”
Lucretia sucked on her lip contemplatively for several minutes. Then she sighed and stood, gathering up her two packages.
“Didn’t get this far by taking pointless risks. Anyways, let’s leave this place. Move somewhere closer.”
Almost unwilling, Randidly set down the spatula and fork and began to walk back towards the city of Deardun. After finishing his training that day with Azriel, he had hurried out of the city and created a small fire, then constructing a hasty grill over it. These past few hours, as the sun slowly rose and called for the beginning of the day, he had been cooking and practicing his magic, as he had wanted to do as the closest thing his work ethic would allow to a “break”.
All in all, it had been a very well spent time since he had last checked his PP. Randidly had gained 3 Levels in the Spear Phantom’s Embrace, 6 Lvls in Dodge and Bacterial Regeneration, 2 Lvls in Aether Connection and Spear Mastery, 4 Lvls in the Golden Roots of Yggdrasil, Circle of Flame, and Battle Intent, and 1 Lvl in Incendiary Bolt, Stalemate Breaker, Physical Fitness, Grace, Flexibility of the White Hunters, and Cooking. This was in addition to some of the other skills that Randidly had tried, to some success, to distract Azriel.
It was enough to allow Randidly to finish off the Bacterial Mutation Path.
Congratulations! You have completed the Bacterial Path! Some paths are not the places where your feet walk, but ways your body grows and adapts to the world around you. The places you have been have been harsh and unrelenting, and for that, you have been forever changed. But your body teems with life, and is ready to evolve. Branching Path!
You sense that your body can continue to refine itself further, either by directing its increasing improvements within the body or without. Where shall your blooms mutate?
It didn’t necessarily say what sort of improvements this would entail, so Randidly was rather annoyed that he had to make a decision without information. But still, Randidly had gotten this far by following the path he believed in. From the earliest time, as he had chosen rot as a source of life, to now, when he selected on focusing his refinements inward, his goal was always to improve himself.
At the moment, he had more than enough weapons. In his opinion, the other option would increase survivability, which especially now, was important.
Congratulations! You have focused your attention inward. Your organs and blood vessels are refined in purged, becoming more robust. Perception +5, Reaction +5, Resistance +5. Health and Stamina Regeneration increases by 1 per level. You have learned the Skill Living Blood (Un) Lvl 1.
Living Blood (Un): Your blood has an increased affinity to you, and carries a large amount of your Vitality. You have developed a small amount of control over your blood. Upon being wounded, should you have great concentration and remain undisturbed for an amount of time, you can control the spilled blood to flow back into your body, rapidly increasing the regeneration speed of the wound. Control over the blood increases with level. Amount of percentage of lost health that regenerates increases with skill level.
A sort of Meditation for health? But he had to focus? Intriguing, but it was hard to know how useful it would really be. That stat boosts were more concrete for the moment, and also more encouraging. But Randidly was nothing if not accepting of new skills, so he removed a spear and cut his arm, letting the blood slowly drip down his arm and away.
Then, closing his eyes, he focused on the wound, guiding his will there, and seized the blood, and began to will it back up his arm, flowing back into the wound. As promised, there was a huge boost in health regeneration, making it so half of the health he lost from the cut was recovered by absorbing the blood. The rest of the damage was low enough that his already impressive regeneration took care of it by the time he finished. However…
Randidly opened his eyes, panting, with a slight headache forming. Controlling blood was fucking hard. Ridiculously hard. His Control was at what he had assumed was a monstrously high level already, so he should be able to do it relatively easily, but this was far, far from easy.
The other problem was that healing the wound had taken him almost 5 minutes. His more optimistic hopes were that this would be able to help him heal mid match, but it seemed pretty certain that this was useless for now. Perhaps he could use it briefly, seizing only the blood nearest the wound, guiding it back into him, just earning a nice boost in health. That benefit would add up, and probably wouldn’t take too much time…
Randidly sighed. So many things to train. He had earned 2 skill levels in it already, so at least there was that.