The next day, Randidly, Helen, and Azriel set out on their journey towards the Central Domain. This would be at least a week-long leg without teleporting and no one had the funds to swing all three of them. The representatives of the Western Domain would be departing by teleportation in a few days. Helen seemed tight-lipped when Randidly suggested that they ask the military to assist them, and just glared at him until he let it go.
Although they could get varies mounts, none were as consistent and quick as their own bodies. Therefore, they would continue the rest of their journey on foot. The first day of this was relatively novel as they passed through strange pyramidal trunked trees that Randidly didn’t recognize.
But by lunch on the second day of jogging, Randidly was bored. It didn’t help that Azriel’s injuries were still lingering, so she wasn’t able to go at full speed. So he had spent a day and a half slow jogging. He spent his Mana as much as possible, forming Incendiary Eruptions and Lava Golems, but it wasn’t really that entertaining.
Plus, it was difficult to lose himself in the sensation of training while the dull cadence of jogging kept scratching at his senses. It was difficult to turn jogging into an autopilot activity like he had done others in the past.
Instead, most of the focus Randidly had was not raising the Level of his Skills but strengthening his images. More and more he weaved the sharp image of impossible heat he had used in As the Sun Stills into his various fire Skills. There were only small changes at first, but the more he pushed, the more he felt the flavor of the Skill changing. In addition, he gained a few Skill Levels in Visualization.
Luckily, Helen brought something up at lunch of their second day.
“…I believe I was mistaken when I said we shouldn’t spar.” She announced as Randidly expertly flipped the vegetables he was frying.
He peered up at her, then sideways at Azriel, who was reading a leatherbound book. “Is this because…?”
“No.” Her glare could spoil milk. “When Azriel heals, I believe it would be good for her to join in the sparring as well. Before, I thought that it might give either side an unfair edge, but now that we have fought some, it seems…”
“I agree,” Azriel said, looking up from her book. She looked at Randidly and then shook her head. “You are rusty. What sort of fool attacks a Witch King directly?”
“Didn’t you do the same thing?” Randidly retorted.
Azriel sniffed. “It was tactically different. My attempt was to distract the Witch King. You were flailing.”
“It’s weird to say, but she’s right,” Helen cut in. “You have so many tools… it almost feels like you’ve never tried to standardize the image you have. So you behave like a series of disjointed responses. There is no flow to you. Your Skills have gotten stronger, but your battle sense has not.”
Randidly frowned at her. Helen frowned right back. “What is that look for? Unsatisfied? Let’s spar again, and I won’t hold back.”
Randidly’s eyebrows rose. “You were holding back?”
It turned out that she had. Not that she then proceeded to beat down on Randidly, but when they dueled until first blood, she generally won. Even when Randidly used spells to surprise her, she had this strange preternatural sense of what was coming. Helen claimed it was due to how disjointed his Style had become, but Randidly’s investigation of his Aether connection to her made him inclined to believe she had a Skill that gave her mild precognition.
So they began sparring twice a day to pass the time, always to first blood. Randidly lost every time, to his great frustration.
“You are too aware of your own strong points,” Azriel said after Randidly ground his teeth after a spar. “You spend no time avoiding hers. You think you are better than her. Which is so strange, because you have lost all of these small duels since you have begun.”
Sighing, Randidly let his anger go and shook his head. She had a point. He knew that he could endure blows and keep coming because his Yggdrasil Skills made his body extremely durable. Small scratches meant nothing to him. But in this sort of fight, those scratches were exactly what mattered. It was frustrating.
“Fine then, duel me,” Azriel said, standing up. Helen looked up and watched them both.
“Are you-” Randidly began, but Azriel cut him off.
“Indeed. Let’s begin immediately.”
So Azriel entered into the rotation of dueling. Whereas Helen was focused about controlling her body in the small area around her opponent, Azriel was more like Randidly in that she was really, really quick and powerful, and perfectly willing to rely on that. So their first duel was a rumbling, crashing affair, where Randidly finally lost after quite a long time of keeping her at bay with increasingly complicated Spearing Roots spells. Afterward, Randidly had to admit that he might indeed by rusty at this sort of combat.
Then Azriel and Helen dueled.
To his surprise, Helen won, but barely. Even though the match was close, Randidly was flabberghasted after watching it. He looked at Helen with wide eyes.
“Is your spear… really so delicate as that?”
There were times during the fight where Helen’s spear would move in a seemingly innocuous manner, but then it was there to nudge Azriel’s attacks to the side. There was a strange certainty in the way she fought. Small advantages would pile together to finally turn the tide of battle against more powerful or faster enemies.
It was clear that Helen was happy to receive the compliment but also annoyed that Randidly was so surprised that she had turned out to be the most powerful of the three of them. After some reflection, Randidly supposed it made a certain amount of sense. When he couldn’t rely on his higher stats, Helen was the one with more Skill.
Their journey continued, and Randidly slowly refined his fighting Style while moving with the two women. Helen assured them that they still had time, so they slowed down their pace and upped the number of total duels in a day into the double digits.
At first, Azriel seemed suspicious, but perhaps she realized that Helen benefited from the same thing that she did, and said nothing about the fact that all three of them were rapidly improving.
Randidly especially felt that improvement, as he began to work the Spear Phantom moves back into his usual fighting Style. As the Spear Phantom Style reared its head, his close quarters dangerousness rose precipitously.
By the time they arrived in Hastam, Capital of the Central Domain and therefore the entire Spearman School, two weeks and a day had passed. And from Helen’s increasingly worried tones, they were very close to missing the deadline for their arrival.
As they moved closed to the city, Randidly couldn’t believe what he was seeing. There seemed to be millions of people loitering around in the small, impromptu towns in the surrounding area, with the height of Hastam rising up above them.
Hassam itself was built on a mountain that rose as tall and proud into the sky as a spear would. Helen rolled her eyes and explained that this was exactly the sort of legend they told about the place; it seemed that far in the past the first individual looked at this mountain and envisioned using it as a weapon. The next day, he forged the first spear.
Randidly’s fuzzy understanding of Schools made him wonder whether this was actually appropriate for the Spearman Style, but ultimately he said nothing. It wasn’t really something worthy of slowing them down.
The gates were huge things of smooth stone, with one open to allow foot traffic in and out of Hastam. And the closer they got, the more people there seemed to be. All of them carried a spear, and when he encountered them, Randidly couldn’t help but noticed how these strangers seemed to take stock of him and then sneer at him.
‘Great, a bunch of stuck up little shits,’ Randidly grumbled inwardly.
Although it wasn’t slow, the passage of people through the guards at the gate wasn’t fast enough for Helen either. After two minutes of waiting, her internal alarms were ringing like crazy, and Helen made the executive decision to start pushing her way towards the front. Many people cursed them, but for all their sneers people stumbled to the side when Randidly shoved. It would take a very special spear user to have the kind of stats he did.
As they moved closer, it soon became clear that there was something of a commotion going on at the gate. Very quickly, they had reached the front of the line by where it was occurring and they could witness the event.
“This is impossible Garritt,” A young man with bright blue eyes was saying. He stood straight and had an unadorned spear strapped across his back. “We grew up together. How can you refuse my sister entry into the city? We aren’t foreigners, we-”
“I’m sorry sir,” A young looking guard looked at the ground as he answered in a quaky voice. “I cannot seem to recall meeting you before.”
“That’s exactly right, guardsman Garritt.” Another guardsman stepped forward and put his hands on Garritt’s shoulders. Based on his fancier uniform and the obnoxious mustache, this guy was a two-bit villain. “A spear user like this… there is no way such an individual was ever born into our esteemed city of Hastam.”