Shal opened his mouth to say something, but his student’s frown simply deepened. Chuckling, Shal shook his head but remained silent. He supposed that everyone deserved the chance to fail. Especially foolish students.
Once more his disciple created one of those strange root creatures, which skittered up the bars of the prison. But as Shal watched, his disciple created another. And then another. And then another. Soon, a dozen of those things were clinging to the wall.
His disciple breathed in, and then breathed out. And then roots exploded, almost a hundred of them, rushing forward towards the key. Instantly this time, the small defensive disk flew down, quickly splitting into 5 pieces to rip through the roots more effectively. His disciple’s eyes narrowed, but he did not lose his nerve, and the roots split and spread, branching and crisscrossing before Shal’s eyes, moving in a strange, mesmerizing pattern.
Something clicked in Shal’s mind, watching his disciple manipulate the roots. He knew that his disciple had put points in his spell focused areas, in order to increase his destructive power. In a way Shal was disappointed, but he knew that it was a shortcut to power. Shal would eventually beat those bad habits out of him, and he settle on the spear, but it was just a disappointing fact of life for now.
But as he watched those bewildering and smooth movements of the roots…. Shal realized how much his disciple had truly put into his mental stats, specifically Control. Shal had already noticed that he appeared to possess a knack for spotting incoming threats and responding delicately towards them, but he hadn’t really pushed that issue in training. But now his mind was racing. With this much control…
Of his father’s 6 moves, Shal had mastered 4 of them, and that was mostly because that was how many he had mastered before it had all happened, and he had lost himself in the wake of that tragedy. Now, if he dedicated himself to it while they remained in this prison, Shal had no doubt that he could master the rest.
And once he did… the 5th move, the Spear Phantom’s Embrace, would likely be the other move that he taught his foolish disciple who focused too much on mental stats. It would not possess the bloodthirsty aura of his father’s move, but Shal was mildly curious what the boy would do with his own strange images.
Of course, that wouldn’t help Shal deal with his own problems when he left this place. Perhaps the boy could help, but… it would be rough going, especially to recover in time to meet Lucrecia…
But Shal’s eyes refocused as, even though the small disks were furiously ripping through the roots, more and more were branching outwards, just clogging up the air. Unlike previously, his student didn’t just let the severed and withering roots go away, he pushed them forward, from behind the rot, shooting them forward. It severely reduced the speed of the root growth, but it still made the air thick with them.
Through the densely packed roots, Shal could still make out those glowing emerald eyes, narrowed in concentration.
But those disks were merciless. They cut and cut and cut, pushing the roots slowly back, until the air was empty, and all of the Root spiders were rotted away. Except one.
And from that one, a thin root emerged, running around the window and up to the ceiling, rushing to the corner, then sliding along the wall over the key, now slowly dropping down.
As soon as the other roots were destroyed, the disks noticed this small root, but by then it was too late. The root flicked lightly, and the key spun through the air, flashing as it caught the light of the small illumination stones in the wall. Shal opened his hand and caught it.
An alarm began to sound. Shal’s fingers twisted, and he expertly flipped the key up, and positioned his arm so the key slid into the lock, clicking into place. Then he saw the small, smug smile forming on his disciple’s face, but Shal just sat there, unmoving.
“You must turn the key for me, obviously. I cannot reach,” Shal finally said, savoring the way the smug expression was very quickly wiped off his disciple’s face. Ah yes, this was how it must be done. Let their confidence grew a small bit, and then crush it, so it could be rebuilt later, stronger and more durable than ever, based in truth, rather than youthful hotheadedness.
“Also, hurry.” Shal said, almost bored. “The guards will arrive shortly.”
Randidly gritted his teeth. He would swear that Shal seemed pleased at his newfound helplessness, as the alarms blared, and undoubtedly people were rushing over to this location. That amount of roots were close to his mental limits, and already he had a headache beating behind his eyes. But perhaps, now that he no longer needed to remain sneaky…
First things first: his mana. Randidly removed several mana potions and quickly downed them. Within around 10 seconds, his mana was almost back to full, but Randidly just pointed to the sky and created the Weeping Cloud, and continued to drink the potions.
Slowly, mist formed and condensed above him, swirling together as he restored his mana, then quickly spreading and creating a light and refreshing rain. Around 14 seconds had gone past since the alarms began to ring, and Randidly could detect the barely discernable clomp of heavy footsteps approaching.
With the rain hitting his back, his headache melting away, Randidly cracked his fingers and got to work. He continued to drink mana potions as he made a stream of root spiders and sent them towards the approaching guards to hide and strike. Hopefully that would buy him some time. Then he placed more on the wall of the prison.
Taking several deep breaths, Randidly reached inside of him and felt the pulsing Aether, that frigid lava, that strange source of life. Almost instinctively, he began to move in those strange leg movements given to him by that old turtle, evoking the image of powerful, ancient roots. The Aether stirred, almost as if it were growing excited.
He still remembered some of the things that Mrs. Hamilton had told to Lyra, as they had raised Lyra’s ability to manipulate her birds of mana. It was not about controlling each individually, but in fact the opposite. All you had to do was set up certain patterns, to lessen the load on yourself, and concentrate on what was important.
So while most roots began to move forward in zigzag patterns, one root did the same, but with all of Randidly’s will and strength within it. In a barely discernable way, a dense green energy formed around that root, proof of his time spent being repeatedly assaulted by Battle Intents.
It seemed the disks did not notice the energy, which, Randidly realized, would have been a dead giveaway. They did, however, seem to remember his previous trick, because two started at the outsides of the roots, instead of cutting right in as they had previously, as if checking for any sneaking roots. Meanwhile, the rest charged forward, heading for the area with the thickest density of roots.
As Randidly planned, all of the roots split off diagonally but one, which straightened and rushed forward. The disks swerved towards the larger groups, all but one, and Randidly’s gaze grew heavy. But he had planned for this, and prepared for it, he just wished he wouldn’t have to take this risk.
So as the thin root and the spinning disk of metal rushed towards each other, Randidly concentrated his will in the tip, which began to glow a deep emerald as all his intent moved to that one area. He felt that even this small root was connected the larger tree of life, Yggdrasil, as his legs trembled and he moved through the motions.
As the two items crossed paths, Randidly twisted the edge of the root with his will, avoiding the initial slice of the disk, and smashed it on the flat side with as much strength as the thin root could muster. It did send the disk skittering, but it wasn’t that far.
It was just enough.
That root burst forward in a surge of speed, rushing towards the key. The other disks seemed to notice this streaker and angle themselves downward to intercept it, but the other roots cut across, blocking their path. The disks finally arrived, ripping through everything, but it was too late. The root settled on the key and turned it.
Randidly could hear shouts of surprised very near, as guards were likely waylaid by his Roots Spiders; he did not have much time remaining. The strain of using Root Control so much and so fast was wearing at him, but the cooling drops of the Weeping Cloud did a lot to control the fraying edges of his consciousness.
Shal stood and the chains fell to the ground. He walked calmly to the door and opened it, apparently freely leaving from the inside. Then he held his hand out to Randidly. “My spear.”
Randidly blinked, then remembered the strange spear that he had seen inside his ring. He had been curious about how it had gotten there, but he had been so distracted by surviving in this place that he hadn’t really put any thoughts to finding out the answer.
He removed it from his ring and marveled at it for a second. It was the blue of ice, a long slender spear made of sort of strangely flexible crystal, almost like a plastic. Both ends had spear heads, which were a dark indigo. The spear was strangely long, springy, and light; based on what Randidly knew from Shal, he sorta would have expected exactly the opposite sort of spear as his weapon of choice. Probably something like the heavy spear of obsidian that Shal had given him to use, that almost seemed famous, based on some people’s queer reaction to it.
Shal took the spear and spun it. It hummed strangely in the air, then settled into his hands naturally, like a hug from an old friend.
There was a gleam in Shal’s eye that Randidly had never seen before, he had always been slightly morose, sardonic, and even dismissive in the way he had spoken to Randidly. But what was in Shal’s eyes now… was joy. And hunger.
The guards rushed forward, 20 men who looked just as talented as the man that Randidly had killed to earn their place in here, and Shal was silently laughing, raising his spear.
Then it began to blur, and Shal simply walked forward, Randidly following with an awed expression in his wake.
Whereas the original Spear Phantom focused on death as the source of his image, and Randidly had chosen the inevitability of time, Shal was… something different. Shal emphasized pursuit and adaptability. His was a Phantom that could float through walls and under doors, chasing you to the ends of the earth in order to finish the attack. His spear bent and twisted, almost like the wind, working around spears to slash off arms and slice off feet.
In their wake, they only left a trail of moaning bodies. Randidly did notice that Shal was very careful to not kill any of the guards, and that probably made sense. This prison was meant as a punishment, but the jailers did not pursue anyone who escaped from their individual cages. After all, they would be forced to return to use the portal, or else be stuck here forever.
That might change, however, if a spear user went on a murder spree while they were leaving their cell. Prisoners killing each other was unfortunate, and against the stated goal of protecting talent, but ultimately acceptable. It was just proof those prisoners weren’t strong enough to be worth protecting. Killing guards was another slight on the First Spear of Tomkat, which would be met with equivalent force.
So they left without any fatalities, and were curiously undisturbed after meeting the first group of guards. Together, they once more descended into the badlands, which would be Randidly’s home for a long while.