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A note from puddles4263

2/14

The monster in front of her was a bear, of all things. Before even Chrysanthemum could roar a challenge, Thea leaped forward, raising her hammer. It was easier now, falling into the melodic dance of violence. It came almost naturally to her. Although it had taken almost three weeks of intensive fighting, she felt that her Skill was finally her own.

It was almost anticlimactic when Thea moved so quickly that her hammer caved in the head of the monster in front of her, ending the brief farce of a battle. Chrysanthemum snorted, expressing her pleasure, and meandered over to rip away the choice pieces of meat from the body.

Thea grimaced; apparently, cannibalism wasn’t a thing for bears.

Looking around, it was clear that everyone else was similarly bored by these opponents. Say what you will about the Death Cultists, they were a real challenge, especially in numbers. These monsters, on the other hand…

And these weren’t even the previous, high Leveled monster horde, although these were relatively high Level. They were a monster horde of a much lower quality, that emerged recently, in the last week. They were numerous, sure, but when they were only at this level of strength, it was hard to imagine any serious fighter falling to them.

Thea corrected herself to any serious fighter in their current group. Because she supposed that being here for the three weeks had completely warped her ability to understand strength. Compared to how she was back in Star Crossing, the current Thea…

She stopped herself before she could follow that thought process very far.

Plus, the monsters were moving in a direction away from the Raid Party group, which was a welcome change of pace. It was slightly like a vacation, to not be at the center of the monster assault.

Glancing behind her, Thea shivered when she saw the strange apparatus the Ghosthound was riding. Apparently, something of great importance had happened in his Soul Skill last night, and the Ghosthound was currently rushing to deal with it. To that end, so he wouldn’t be distracted, he had created a strange, spider-like creature of roots that he was sitting cross-legged on top of. The creature had no real consciousness or senses, but it would follow Rose, who volunteered to stay in relatively safe places so the Ghosthound’s body wouldn’t be in danger of being attacked.

Of course, he didn’t completely shut the world out, but he simply put a shade up, dampening the noise from it. Thea wondered what the problem was, and why solving it was taking so long. They had already traveled South for around 10 hours, moving as fast as they dared. But there were no ambushes, just the weak flank of the monster horde. And their huge group cut into it like a hot knife through butter.

Thea gulped as she looked behind the Ghosthound. Their group was huge because… almost five thousand Death Cultists had turned up when they sent the call out, 300 Red Death Cultists that were a match for the weaker members of their party, and around a dozen Grey Death Cultists, the strange casters that only the Ghosthound had fought.

It certainly was a strange feeling, riding at the front of a host of monsters, the sound of their claws and growls echoing around you until there was just a constant rumble. Thea herself believed that, combined with Chrysanthemum, they could handily defeat 3 or 4 Red Death Cultists. But all of these at once… even with the support of the group…

And those Grey Death Cultists, with their rheumy eyes and their broken fanged smiles, those were opponents that only the Ghosthound could handle. It even seemed that he respected them because when they had all arrived, he had broken out of his trance and spoke briefly to them, before they headed down, a veritable host.

More than external threats, Thea would have worried about betrayal from the Death Cultists, for all that they had provided the Death Key they needed to escape. But it seemed that the Ghostound was determined to retrieve the Regalia from this place before they left. Better to do it now, than leave it to the lookie-loos who would come next.

Plus… nobody said anything explicitly, but it was clear from the tightness around the Ghosthound’s eyes that whatever was occurring within him was tied into the strange happenings of this Raid Dungeon.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Ptolemy said, walking to stand beside Thea, looking back at the Death Cultists.

“...of all the people who would say that, you would have been the last person I would have suspected,” Thea blurted out, ignoring his question and responding from her gut. The fact that he was trying to strike up a conversation in such an Ace like way… Thea had seen them chatting a lot, but to think it rubbed off to this degree.

Ptolemy had the wherewithal to blush. “Yes, well. I just… you seem to get almost… taut to the point of breaking during a fight. Like a guitar string. So I just thought… I don’t know.”

After scratching his head, Ptolemy said, “Of all of the Ghosthound’s strong points… his dedication to a task at the expense of his mental health isn’t one of them. Just be careful, yea? Never forget that all it takes is one critical error for it all to come crashing down.”

Then he walked away.

*****

Randidly was slightly confused at the details, but it seemed like some of the time acceleration in his inner world was maintained even while he was in it. So even though he spent three days in his Soul Skill, speaking individually with the different leaders of the races, only a few hours had passed in the outside world.

Initially, he was quite excited about this, until he realized that he didn’t truly have a body, and was unable to grind any Skills while he was there. All he could do was speak, basically. There was no substance or Aether to him, which didn’t make ANY sense to Randidly, as he was what composed the whole of the world.

But there had to be balance somewhere, so he could only sigh as he was stuck with this wasted time. It wasn’t like there were many things to do except grind low Leveled Skills outside of his inner world, but… he felt slightly stressed about the fact he was just a puppet out there right now. Still, he had some confidence that the Creature wouldn’t make a move until it had to.

So he stayed in the inner world, and for the first time, was a teacher, in different ways to different people. It was decided that he would dedicate 8 hours to each of the leaders, to be used as they wished, to improve their strength, either their individual strength or the strength of their army. It was… strange, especially because everything he had learned from his father, or from Shal, about teaching seemed… inappropriate.

Instead, he adopted the attitude he cultivated around Alana: that of an intimate superior, offering pointers.

The Golem twins were the easiest, they simply wanted to learn his spear moves. And although it was slightly selfish… Randidly gave them his first self-created spear move, the Spear Advances, Ash Trails. It was a very basic, brutal, unrefined thing, but that suited their powerful, raw bodies much more than the Spear Phantom Style.

They were delighted with it, and within the first hour, they had both mastered it. For another hour they basically jousted with each other, while testing their Skills, and then they demanded to use it against him, so he could feel it.

Which, seemed slightly pointless to Randidly, but it was their 8 hours, so.

So he stood and was skewered over and over again, the spears passing harmlessly through his stomach as they passed. While it was initially very amusing, by the end of the 8 hours they had absorbed his advice and were slowly warping the move to be their own. To the point that their movements were so fast that Randidly had difficulty following it with the eyes of his strange, projected body.

Even if he were really here, they might still be overwhelmingly strong.

The White Hunter Champion, Melody, and the Spriggit Thief were both much more orthodox, simply wanting his opinion on their fighting style. The White Hunter was perhaps the easier of the two because she wanted to understand where his powerful Control came from. He couldn’t just say high Stats, so they started talking more nitty gritty over what it was to maintain awareness constantly, to feel that constant tension.

Then to separate yourself into 1000 component parts that simply had one action, ingrained with muscle memory for simplicity, and then have a central consciousness that reached out and touched each movement as it was needed. It was a trick that Randidly had learned to make use of his monstrous Willpower and Control, and the White Hunter was fascinated.

By the end of the 8 hours, Randidly didn’t know if it had helped her, but she had bowed deeply to him before departing.

To the Spriggit Thief, he taught her, as well as he could, the Spear Phantom’s Embrace. She was… perhaps the most short-tempered pupil, very quickly becoming frustrated when she didn’t understand something, but she was also oddly stoic about it, turning her anger and annoyance inward.

It was strange to Randidly, too, that of all the people here, the Spriggit Thief was the oldest, almost 60 according to her, even if she looked only in her late 30s. Not that Randidly knew much about how Spriggits aged, but…

He had watched her, as a teenager, almost die. And this whole time, while Randidly had been gaining a Class, and moving into the Raid Dungeon, she was living her life, almost into the twilight of her years, wearing his blessed weapons. She even still had that special spear that absorbed meaning to produce energy or vice versa, although that was given to the Monster King to use, as he was the best in close combat.

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