Randidly fell to his knees, coughing. That was… profoundly uncomfortable. Before the system came to the world, Randidly had considered himself a person with an iron stomach and rock solid inner ear; he never had experienced motion sickness. With the benefits afforded to him by his Vitality and Endurance, he figured it was physically impossible.
With the strange, shaking feeling over, Randidly finally gave into the nausea, and vomited.
“That’s going to cost you extra.” A voice dryly said, but Randidly’s stomach heaved again. He cared very little who was talking next to him, right now he needed very desperately to deal with the very real possibility that all of his organs had switched places.
“Ha, it is worth. The fact he is still conscious is a good sign.” An amused voice sounded, and even stricken by the sickness, Randidly was able to wipe his mouth and look up.
An hour later, Randidly was wearing a set of robes given to him by Shal and following his master down a cobblestone path. Shal was the same as Randidly remembered him, a tall, athletic man with a spear in his hand. He had a third eye, closed, that was in the middle of his forehead, and he had a blueish tint to his skin, but otherwise he looked rather like a human.
“I waited hour after my missive was sent. You did not respond; but I did not worry. The honor of the Phantom Spear Style of the Spearman School was at issue. I knew you would understand.” Shal said with a calm voice, striding ahead. They had been walking for most of the previous hour, moving as soon as Randidly had closed his mouth and seemed well enough to move.
“…So you summoned me here? Why?” Randidly asked, slightly annoyed. He had prepared himself for spending a month or two training with Mrs. Hamilton, pushing the limits of his skills in order to gain power. It was already almost impossibly difficult to continue, and every day found Randidly collapsed on the ground, needing to rest before he could even brew a potion to recover, but the improvement was definite. His degree of control over his spear and footwork were miles ahead of what they had been when he had started.
In addition, his continued use of Root Manipulation, Summon Pestilence, and Circle of Flame had vastly increased the power of those spells. Especially Root Manipulation. Even more intimidating was his slowly growing ability to “Flex” his mana to create slightly more power in the spell. And with his Intelligence nearing 100, a slight extra boost meant a lot.
His time spent alone training his use of the spear also had another benefit; he was greatly benefiting from this time in terms of getting a more vivid picture of what the spear could do. Randidly somehow knew that if he used the first move of his created skill, the Spear Advances, Ash Trails, the powerful image he had gained, both from his Phantom Thrust training and also from the root avatar time, would result in a drastically increased power and skill level.
But now he had been pulled to…. somewhere, interrupting that time.
Still, Randidly comforted himself, at least Shal’s presence likely meant he would receive additional pointers on his spear work. Perhaps now he could learn some more techniques, to raise his skill even further.
Shal simply chuckled. “I already say; it is for the honor of our Style. Come, I’ll tell you more when we arrive.”
Miffed, Randidly followed after Shal, moving along the path through the forest. They were winding along through a heavily forested area, so much so that only the occasional sun beam could break through the foliage to illuminate the path. Shal calmly strode forward, apparently content to remain silent the entire way. Randidly sighed, accepting this outcome.
This was the Nexus, he assumed. A real part of the Nexus. And he would be damned if he didn’t gain some information while he was here.
“How did you summon me here?” Randidly asked.
Shal waved a hand. “Once you are connected to the Nexus and have access to the friends list, you may pay for the privilege to ascend to other worlds connected to the Nexus, as long as those worlds aren’t in a Cohort below your own.”
“…So this isn’t the Nexus?” Randidly asked.
Apparently his comment was so amusing that Shal turned to him and flashed a smile. “Ha. No, pupil, this is not the Nexus. The Nexus does not exist; or at least if it does, it is far beyond our ability to reach. This is simply my homeworld, which is a member of the 5th Cohort of the Nexus. Now be still, you will want to see this.”
They walked around a bend in the path, and Randidly was shocked to discover that they were at the edge of a cliff. To their left and right, a sheer rock face dropped down to the crash of strange reddish water. A rather dangerous seeming rope bridge led downwards, connecting to dozens of other ropes, until it resembled a strange spider web.
But floating before them, taking up most of the area below, were boats, hundreds and hundreds of boats. They all flew sails of orange, red, yellow, and light blue. But only rarely were there blues, popping out of the surrounding boats.
The boats appeared to be tightly lashed together in places, and bobbed up and down. All around people came and went, hopping from boat to boat. Shal beckoned to Randidly.
“Come, come, we must hurry. All will be explained in my quarters. Welcome to Qtal, the Floating City.”
After being rushed through a press of bodies as they swung down the ropes to the boat city, and rushing across several wooden decks, Randidly was led belowdecks on a small, old looking boat. An old man sitting on the boat spared them a glance as they went below, but quickly closed his eyes once more, appearing to be in meditation.
When they reached the area, Randidly was surprised to find that the boat was even bigger down here than he had thought. It was a square, 5 meter by 5 meter room. The only problem, in Randidly’s mind, was the strange swaying of the location, due to being on the water.
Shal took his spear off his back, turning to face Randidly. “Now first; let us see how rusty you have become.”
Randidly almost rolled his eyes, but obligingly removed his spear from his spatial ring. It was not the weighted training spear, nor was it simply a wooden pole. Instead, it was a simple thing of shaped bone made for him by Sam. It did not have the weight or size of his previous spear, but it was still the spear he was becoming most accustomed to.
Shal’s eyes critically scanned the weapon, then he nodded. “At least you have not been dirtying your hands with unnecessary trash. A simple spear is best. Come.”
But unlike Shal’s invitation, Shal was the one who rushed forward, spear raised. Gritting his teeth, Randidly started using Footwork of the Spear Phantom, crossing the distance to Shal and shifting around to his side.
Just as he was in position, and planted his feet, Randidly’s eyes widened; Shal all but disappeared, reappearing in a position ready to attack Randidly in his blindspot. Almost instinctively, he moved again, dodging to the side.
But again, Shal was quicker, appearing right where Randidly was attempting to move to, thrusting towards him. Gritting his teeth, Randidly swept his spear up, blocking the blow. It was a close thing, too, because Shal’s attack was quick, but not so quick it couldn’t be caught. However, when their spears crossed, there was only one word to describe Shal’s attack.
Heavy like a blow from Dozer would be.
Randidly spun to the side, then activated Haste and Empower, using Phantom Thrust. But with just a slight body sway, Shal was able to avoid the strike, and before Randidly could react, another thrust rumbled heavily towards him.
Changing his grip on his spear, Randidly switched to a Ghastly Slash, bringing his spear down on the oncoming attack, knocking it to the side. But in that moment, Shal stepped quickly forward, twisting and raising his spear again more quickly than Randidly could believe.
Randidly used Phantom Half-Step directly backwards, creating a small amount of distance, but when he attempted to reset his stance, he bumped into the back wall.
Shal attacked viciously, aiming for that small hesitation. Randidly’s spear flashed forward to meet it, and he was able to deflect it slightly. Seeing his chance, Randidly went for another Phantom Thrust, but the ship swayed abruptly, making the attack falter.
Slightly pissed off, Randidly used Footwork of the Spear Phantom and circled around to the side, attempting to open up some more space for himself. But again and again those heavy thrusts came, smashing him back, until he found himself cornered, desperately lashing out to keep the blows from reaching him.
Right when Randidly thought he was going to have to do something drastic to escape, Shal stopped, stepping backwards. “Hmph. If nothing else, you have earned yourself some callouses while you were lazing about. Your grip is childish, but firm. And you have become passable at fleeing. Congratulations. Come, sit, we must speak of your mission.”
Feeling strangely disappointed that the fight hadn’t escalated, Randidly moved to the space that Shal indicated. After clearing his throat, Shal began to speak.
“On my world, you are known by two things. Primarily your School, which is important for distasteful reasons, but most importantly by your Style. We are, of course, the Spear Phantom Style, of the Spearman School. Our Style emphasized speed and control of distance. In this regard, you can be considered passably talented, due to your skills and fleeing ability.
“Every 5 years, a member of the youngest generation of each Style must accomplish one of many certain tasks, in order to maintain the honor of the Style. Only then will their Style remain upon the great list for their respective School, in our case, the Spearman School.” Shal grimaced. “Unfortunately, the Schools have a very… generous definition on who is counted, and they use tools granted to them by the System in order to select. You have been selected. As the youngest in our Style, you must accomplish these tasks. Now, you may ask questions.”
Randidly pondered for a second. Although Shal was rather inconsiderate in how he had done this, Randidly supposed he understood. This was an important organization to Shal. This goal had to be accomplished, and only Randidly could do it. “How many Styles and Schools are there? They all have to do these every 5 years?”
Shrugging, Shal said. “There are as many Styles as there are stars. 1000’s makes the Spearman School list every 5 year cycle. As for schools… there are 4. Spearman, Spear, Death, and Heart.”
Filing away this information, Randidly wondered what else he should be curious about. Then his expression brightened. “If it has to be me… there is no one else in our Style? Are all Styles so small?”
“No, ours is very small. The Spear Phantom, who founded this Style, was my father. He has died. Only you and I remain. Other Styles possess hundreds of disciples at every generation. And their disciples… typically show more promise than you.”
Randidly didn’t take the insult to heart. His main focus was magic anyway, even if recently he had been working very hard to raise the skill of his spear. “And what are these tasks?”
Shal shrugged. “There are several challenges…”
Shal continued, explaining the tasks. They seemed focused on different aspects of ability with a spear, like speed, strength, endurance, etc., but as Shal explained them, he ended every explanation with the same sentence. “…this trial is located in the __________ Dungeon…”
Randidly raised his hands. “Shal… I still don’t have a class. Is there anything I can do outside of Dungeons?”
Blinking, Shal looked at him for a long moment. Then he spoke. “No class… well that is an issue for another time. The deadline is two months. In that time… there is only one task that can be accomplished without a class; to place in the top 8 in the Spearman Northern Province Tournament. But…”
He looked Randidly up and down. “With your current strength… it is…. Impossible.”