But there really didn’t seem like there was anything that he could do. The golden gates blocked his path, and the reward advised him that he couldn’t survive that way. Perhaps it was just making extra sure that he understood that wasn’t the way he should go…?
Either way, Randidly was getting very good at bottling up his anger and using it to fuel his fights, so he just accepted the option and clicked to ascend the mountain. And in a flash, he was there, standing on the mountain path, a grey seething land around him, seemingly barren. Randidly turned, and found that the path behind him had disappeared.
Sighing, Randidly turned and began to walk forward. Hopefully this wasn’t as traumatizing as his time being transported to the Patron of Ash’s world. He slowly ascended, climbing up the increasingly steep mountain path. As he did so, the air became chillier, and he could slowly make out more landmarks around him. It seemed that the higher Randidly climbed, the higher the peak loomed above him. Gnarled, twisted trees, bare of all leaves populated the mountain side, twisted and angry.
If he looked at them for too long, Randidly was sure that they began to quiver slightly, and were a touch away from coming awake, so he hurried onward, heading further up the path. It was full of jagged turns and cutbacks, but Randidly followed it, shifting more from walking to climbing, clinging grimly to slate grey stone faces as he ascended.
He seemed to walk forever, and the trees grew thicker and thicker below him, crowding around the spot where he ascended, almost staring up after him.
After climbing for a while, he reached a ledge, and that was where the wind began to blow. At the edges and backend of the wind, there seemed to be a voice, whispering to him, but as he would listen, the wind would howl even more loudly, making him grit his teeth. There were many parts of the climb that were difficult physically, even for him, but no matter how Randidly concentrated he could not manage to use any skills.
So he simply closed his mouth and forced himself to continue.
After the wind came the snow, first a sprinkling of it, then thick waves, almost as if it was getting dumped from above on him. The chill quickly sank to his bones, and Randidly felt very bitter about the fact that he couldn’t use any of his many fire spells to drive away some of the cold.
He could only slog on, pushing is way through the deepening snow. By the time it was waist high, Randidly stopped, panting, looking up above him. Still the summit loomed, much closer, but also much farther away, with this difficult to handle snow in the way.
Sighing, Randidly looked down, and then froze. Slowly, his hand trembling from the cold, he reached down and touched the “snow”, rubbing it between his fingers.
It was bone shavings. They weren’t cold either, just filled with a frigid, hateful energy. Randidly looked slowly up, and the summit seemed to curve in a vicious way, like a murderous blade. Lowering his gaze, Randidly pushed forward, moving through the shavings of bone.
He definitely could not have done it before Mrs. Hamilton’s training, because the whole thing left his body trembling with exertion, barely able to continue. His physical potential was completely wrung out of him. Even then, if he had not spent so much time reading the words of the Spear Phantom… the vicious cold rage of the shavings might have overwhelmed him and ground down his will to nothing.
And what would happen then? Randidly wondered, as he moved forward on a path, the bone shavings slowly falling away, even as more softly fell around him. Would he just remain here…?
Randidly reached the summit and looked around. It was a small little valley here, with a pond that was frozen over. Sighing and shaking his head, Randidly walked over to the pond, his feet so numb by this point that he couldn’t even care. Deep within the pond, laying on the bottom, some strange item, looking like a strange sphere, pulsed with a blue black energy.
Randidly went down to his knees and punched the ice. It cracked, but barely. Growling, he looked around. He spotted a dozen or so skeletons leaning up against the rock wall, their arms crossed, looking exceedingly peaceful. So Randidly walked over and took the bones from one of the skeletons, and then returned to the pond.
But has he did so, the skeleton began to hum and wail, somehow making a ridiculous racket, even in death. Randidly ignored it, and began to use the bone as a pick to dig at the ice. This continued for a while, before the bone shattered into small pieces that were unusable.
So, almost helpless, Randidly returned and took more bones. The wailing grew louder. The bones continued to break, Randidly had to move on from the first skeleton to the second. Now that one began to wail, and the first continued to make noise, even though all Randidly had left was the skull.
Slowly, after an hour of work and all the skeletons, he had cracked and scratched the ice enough to finally make it to the bottom. A strangely lopsided sphere, half dark blue and swirled black and white sat there, almost breathing. Randidly just shrugged and grabbed it.
Congratulations! You have obtained the Heart of the Wandering Butcher. End +10. Str and Agi +7. Per and React +5. You have learned the skill The Pervasive Chill of Death ® Lvl 1.
Warning! Pervasive Chill-
Randidly narrowed his eyes as he reappeared in the tent, and the warning notification, and the follow up notification, was snuffed out right before his eyes. What was more disturbing was that when he checked his status, he hadn’t received any such skill. Annoyed, Randidly closed his eyes, and focused his attention inward. There was the Aether Spring, some disturbingly thick branches extending outward inside of him.
There was his Soul Skill, still swirling endlessly, refining the rotten biomass into that strange emerald material.
There was that small core of energy that remained as a reward from the Lonesome Spear Path. And right next to it… a small, chilling orb of hatred and rage, bound into a small ball of energy. Surrounded by a disturbingly familiar golden chain, that included a tinkling bell.
Are you fucking kidding me?!?! 1000 PP for this?!?!
Although it took some time, Randidly managed to force down his anger. Then he turned to the next step, which was selecting his new path. Hopefully something actually useful.
A vein in his temple twitched, and Randidly took several deep breaths, promising himself that he would take his anger out on the next spear user that Shal let him challenge.
Heretic IX 0/???, Oathbreaker 0/25, Initiate of Ash I 0/75, Nexus Traveler Cohort 5 0/50, Path of Control 0/200, Grace I 0/75, Basic Mana Engraving 0/100, Weeping that Falls like Rain 0/200
The big change was that Heretic had shifted to Heretic IX. And sure enough, when he looked, Randidly found a notification among the sea of skill increases saying that he should turn back, take a class, or else he would face the consequences, etc. It just made him sigh. There was no way that he would at this point, or any way that he could.
But he would need to be more careful about not having notifications if it was possible for him to be attacked by a Judgement.
The new arrivals were the Mana Engraving and the Weeping Cloud Paths, and of the two, Randidly felt the draw from both. Especially the Weeping Cloud path. He relied on the Weeping Cloud heavily in order to recover from the mental strain of all of the training. In addition, it was his first path from an non-Common rarity skill. But after blowing 1000 PP for nothing… it was hard for Randidly to justify another huge expenditure.
Instead… Randidly checked how much PP was remaining. Seeing it was enough, he quickly chose and finished off Oathbreaker, which he had for quite a while. Every 5 PP earned him a point in Willpower, which was a nice state of affairs, after this most recent path debacle.
Congratulations! You have completed the Oathbreaker Path! You have broken your vows, and left your shackles lay fallow behind you. You feel no shame, but only a righteous anger. Your path is more important than any bond that they may force upon you. Forward you continue, because the path is long, and continues ever onward. Resist +10. You have gained the skill Rejection Lvl 1.
Rejection: May resist compulsions, geas, foreign influences, healing, status ailments, and other unnatural states. Likelihood of success depends on skill level.
Randidly smiled wryly. An old remnant of his time with the King Constance, huh…? Well, the Willpower and Resistance would help him, so he didn’t mind it. And although this current skill seemed unreliable, it did seem broadly applicable, which would probably help.
With his few extra PP, he put them into the Grace I Path. That would likely give him a positive return, based how he felt it improving every aspect of how he moved.
Once more, Randidly lost himself in the training. Time passed slowly as his body, his mind, and his spirit were brutalized day after day. Slowly but surely, Randidly felt himself growing less angry, more grounded. He almost seemed to enjoy the abuse, throwing himself into it with wild abandoned. Shal pressed him harder and harder, as they slowly made progress into the Northeast area, fighting constantly. Marco would destroy Randidly’s stance with easy, shattering his confidence.
Then he would read words, left by a spear user, sure, but two dozen or so years ago, and he would almost pass out every time he tried to read that first line on the fifth page. It was depressing.
But there was progress. He pressed and pressed, and he was able to gaze for longer and longer on the back of Death before it paused, as if it noticed him, and then slowly turned, forcing him out of his focus.
Knowing that Shal secretly observed the process, Randidly refused to give up. Shal’s relationship with his father was clearly complex, and Randidly understood that. He hated his own father. Hated him with every ounce of his being. But somehow, he knew that if his father had left him a job, he would have dutifully completed it. This was that same thing for Shal; he would look for an heir for his father’s legacy, even though Shal wanted no part of it.
But that didn’t mean Shal wanted it to die. And so Randidly continued to try, slowly moving forward, word by word.
The second anniversary of their arrival in the badlands came and went, and Randidly’s eyes were slightly glassy, worn to the edge of sanity. But still, he pushed. Everyday, and those days he found himself slightly improving, Randidly pushed harder, seeking not just improvement, but results..
And the amount of sentences he could read slowly grew, one word at a time. Soon, he could make it through half of the page without being forced away. Then 3/4s, then 4/5s, slowly approaching the complete picture for the move that Shal could not master.
The Phantom’s Embrace.
Shal looked at the fire, brooding. Marco Polo sat next to them, as his disciple once more tried to read the diary. There had been progress. Significant progress. But while a lot of it was in his disciple’s spear skill, the scariest part was the things that were hard to quantify.
Randidly’s recovery speed. His work ethic. The viciousness with which he wielded a spear. His spells, his tactics in a fight.
His stance, his Battle Intent.
His disciple’s personality too, was slowly changing, under the incredible pressure that he had handled for the past two years. Becoming more centered around gallows humor, more sardonic pessimistic. Randidly had always been reserved, and this Shal appreciated, but it was growing to an almost ridiculous degree. The boy barely spoke a word, if not directly asked a question. He would just wait for the order of the day, and then throw himself into it.
“This might be his limit.” Marco commented, looking carefully at Shal.
But Shal just nodded. This was true. His disciple was settling too much into life here, and gaining bad habits through repetitions. This was probably as close as they could come to getting him battle ready. More skill levels would be useful, but…
“But it will still take some time to leave….” Shal said aloud, gazing up at the mountain on which the prison sat. “The preparations…And… ideally we would want another powerful individual, one willing to offend and attack guards, in order to cause a distraction….”
“If you need a distraction like that, I have an idea.”
Both Shal and Marco turned, surprised. Randidly stood there, rubbing his chin, his voice raspy and his eyes somewhat gaunt.