The strange existence that had interfered with Randidly’s Paths and Skill, as he referred to it “the Creature”, smiled as it looked down into the reflecting pool that displayed the battle between master and disciple. But her eyes peered more deeply that the truly insignificant skills that both of them used.
“Fascinating… to think that he would transform my masterwork into a simple powerplant…” The Creature muttered, its fingers stretching, lengthening until they were just short of touching the surface of the pool. But at the last minute, it hesitated.
Another voice interrupted its thoughts. “Are you afraid?”
A woman, a human woman, hung at the other end of the small room, opposite the Creature. Her hands were bound by an iron chain off the ceiling, which was just so long that her tiptoes could touch the ground as she was stretched out by her hand binding. She had dirty blonde hair to her shoulders, and violet eyes.
“Not as afraid as you are, dear Lyra. I can see it in your heart. I can smell it in your sweat. Yet you remain so calm. Why?”
Lyra chuckled, and the chains rattled. But the laughter swiftly turned into coughs, and her body shimmered and bulged, as she stretched her shape into a taller creature. But as she did so, the chains began to glow with strange runes, and bolts of electricity shot down, making Lyra shudder. Her form shifted back into her human body, which was still just a little too short to stand, with her hands bound in chains in that manner.
The Creature just shook its head, turning back to the image of Randidly. “He chose life… again. Perhaps I should have suspected this, when he chose to transform his rot into the path of life, earlier, but… it still puzzles me. His strength could be so much higher, if he would embrace the aspects of himself that have an affinity to death. And yet… Perhaps he doesn’t understand death’s power….?”
“Just as you intended, he is an unaffiliated individual wandering the System, with one of the most powerful Soul Skills ever conceived-”
“I would say the Soul Skill has the potential to rank 6th, in all of the Cohorts…” The Creature interjected, but Lyra ignored it and continued speaking.
“-but you miss the point, you fucking cunt. You ask me why I’m calm in spite of my fear, why I gave you the withered connection Randidly and I used as Sword and Sheath? It’s because you can’t see it at all. The thing that makes him so special.”
The Creature grimaced, as if it had smelled something extremely disgusting. “You are talking once more… of hope.”
Lyra nodded, her eyes focusing on the reflecting pool, and glowing violet. “Yes. He burns with it. That’s why I would sell everything, to give him a path forward.”
“I could have dominated him. He might have been unable to escape that darkness, and I would have ground his will to nothing. He would be a puppet, and one quite a bit more useful than you.” The Creature said, watching Lyra carefully. The teenager just smiled.
Sighing, the Creature pressed a hand to its temple and transformed, becoming the spitting image of Lyra. “Well fine. Do try to behave, won’t you? I have a village to run.”
The Creature flickered out of existence, returning to Donnyton. Lyra remained silent, still mesmerized by the reflecting pool. Likely as a way to drive her insane, the Creature kept her here, constantly watching Randidly. But after the first few days, it stopped stressing her out and making her extremely annoyed at the ridiculously shortsighted decisions he sometimes made, and instead calmed her.
After all, if a fucking idiot like him, although a cute one, could survive out there, what could someone like her accomplish?
Thin flows of Aether emerged from Lyra’s eyes and slid up to the chains that bound her to the ceiling. They didn’t touch the chains or the runes but began to rub against the roof, slowly grinding it away.
One day she would be free, Lyra swore to herself. But as she watched Randidly grow, she couldn’t help but be extremely pleased. He grew and grew and struggled and grew. Her smile twisted her whole face. It was that, that endless strength and resilience that they needed.
Because if Lyra had learned anything from the Creature, it was the Being that it feared was very real, and so powerful that words failed. And yet, the thought of such a foe only made her more excited. Lyra couldn’t wait to see what the edges of possibility of Aether contained.
Lyra watched Randidly’s reflection with a cheshire smile, enraptured. Her Aether ground away at the roof. It was only a matter of time.
Randidly winced as he walked over to the much smaller queue of individuals waiting for the second part of the preliminaries. Shal’s reunion fight was very… thorough. But there was a definite difference in Randidly’s mind, as he viewed Shal.
Beyond his level of power, sure. But unbeatable..?
Well, to him, probably yes. But Randidly was growing to understand his moves, able to follow the attacks and patterns. His experience from two years of constant fights in the prison was crystallizing into a very useful set of battle experience.
There were only 150 or so contestants in the preliminaries now and as Randidly looked around, he recognized Tartet, the individual he fought against in the Qualifier, staring at the ground. Randidly considered approaching, but then shrugged. If they both passed and made it to the actual tournament, they would face each other. There was no need to struggle now.
And honestly, although he was much better at it now, Randidly wasn’t a social person. A more convenient time to talk would emerge, Randidly was sure. But he couldn’t help but notice that the aura of hunger that surrounded Tartet had grown much heavier. Or perhaps Randidly had just grown more able to appreciate it.
After a time, the group was led to a large room, where a serpent sat in the middle. It was almost a dozen meters long, with a head the size of a microwave, that it raised as they walked in, glancing at the intruders. A tall, bearded member of the tournament staff stepped up onto a small stage and spoke to them all.
“Welcome. You can consider this a kind of ‘reward’ round. As you are no doubt aware, certain… affiliations allow their disciples to pass through directly to the preliminaries. As this treatment is… unfair, we saw fit to add some benefit for those of you with enough strength to force your way into the tournament without relying on the strength of others. That is not to say that this is easy to pass, but… everyone will have the opportunity to gain some amount of strength.
“This, as some of you may have guessed, is a “Skill Spirit” that was purchased by the village of Deardun. It can teach you the skill “Flexibility”. The requirements for passing the second round of the preliminary is simple. Learn the skill and raise it to Lvl 15 in a 24 hour period. The Skill Spirit, as it is intimately familiar with the skill, will be able to inform the staff when you have passed this level. You have an hour to prepare, before you will be given the opportunity to learn the skill. Good luck.”
Randidly cracked his neck. Honestly, this was not such a difficult task. For him at least, the most prohibitive part would be the 24 hour time limit. He also hadn’t gained 14 skill levels in a single skill in a single day before, but he had never really tried. He had definitely gained a lot more skill levels generally than 14 in a day. Besides, the simplest levels to gain were the first ones. Now that Randidly’s overall level was much higher, he anticipated that he would have very few problems finishing this task.
For his part, he was pleasantly surprised by the task. Flexibility, as a skill, was probably profoundly helpful for using the spear. Randidly suspected in his heart that Helen had such a skill, based on her usage of the spear and, ah, other activities they had participated in together.
But around him, there were numerous individuals with ugly expressions on their faces. After Randidly thought about it a bit, he understood. Likely the upset people were those who had no free skill slots, or only one remaining. Taking Flexibility here would be a boost in their strength, but they wouldn’t get a powerful Skill Set later, or they would be forced to forget something they already had.
And for spear users at this level… they didn’t have any low leveled skills. How could they gain enough PP with their lower number, but higher level skills to forget something in only an hour…?
Randidly sat on the ground and began to Meditate. With his powerful will, Randidly visualized the Golden Roots of Yggdrasil flowing into him. Time passed, while some of the other participants looked calm, others trained desperately, and a few just sat, numb and hopeless.
Standing, Randidly began to approach the snake with a group of others, as the hour time limit had passed, the snake was open for business. It hissed calmly, almost as if it was trying to reassure the participants it was friendly, but many of those spear users, hopped backwards, unnerved.
The first to reach the snake was Tartet, who touched the snake’s scales, closed his eyes, seemed to glow for a moment, then turned and walked away and started to stretch.
Randidly and a large group followed next, and touched the snake.
As Randidly left the snake, a vein in his temple was throbbing.
You do not have a class! Please see the nearest Village Spirit to obtain a class, and unlock the use of Skill Spirits.
Randidly walked over to the bearded man who introduced the task. “Excuse me, sir…”
The man looked up, so Randidly continued. “Ah, the System informed me that, uh, I have a skill too close to Flexibility to learn it. Is there perhaps another task…”
The old man looked at Randidly for a long time, and the blood in his chest began to pound. He had guessed that such a phenomenon was possible, based on some of the interactions of Soul Skills, and had chosen it because he didn’t want to reveal his lack of class. But if he had guessed wrong…
But then the old man sighed, and shook his head. “Bah, I’m sorry lad, but that’s your bad luck. The Skill Spirit can sense similar skills to its particular brand though, so just consider this an easy pass to the tournament.”
Randidly opened his mouth, then closed it. It seemed as though the old man was generally sorry that this task hadn’t helped him at all. Then he nodded and turned away. Well, it would be an easy pass if he had a skill similar to Flexibility… It did confirm that such things happened, but…
Then Randidly’s eyes began to burn. Aether began to quicken in his body, the frosty radiation swirling around. The only option then was to create another skill.