“Who do you think will win?” Helen asked as she slowly moved through her warm-up routine.
Azriel didn’t even blink as she replied. “Randidly.”
Inwardly, Helen was thankful for Azriel spending time with her over the past few days. Knowing she would need to fight Randidly, and one of them would lose in the tournament… It pissed her the fuck off. Especially given the blatant favoritism shown to Squad One.
Helen’s fingers tightened on the wooden shaft of the spear, but her movements didn’t increase in speed. Balance in all things. The river is movement, but it does not move.
“Your lack of faith is disconcerting,” Helen commented briefly. “I have grown.”
“Not enough,” Azriel replied.
Helen’s eye twitched. It wasn’t much, but the two women were likely the only two who truly understood how much a monstrous change had seized Randidly in the past year. An unlikely bond, but one that was easy to rely on in times of war.
From barely qualifying for the Regional Tournament, he was no in the Inter-School finals. If not for the looming invasion of the Wights, this would be the most talked about event of the year. He had grown at a rate that defied the imagination, and Helen knew that he wasn’t truly giving it his all.
It was infuriating. Doubly infuriating was that Azriel refused to pull her punches and continued to reminder Helen of this disparity. Triply infuriating was that the fucker hadn’t even stopped by to talk to her about it. Was he refusing to acknowledge their impending match? Did he think it a guaranteed thing that he would win?
What do you want him to say?
Helen thought sourly as she finished a circuit of her warm-ups. She had no answer for herself and just threw herself into the next series of motions. Her hands guided her spear in elaborate loops.
“As long as he doesn’t take me seriously, I have a chance,” Helen announced to the training grounds.
Azriel shot her a bemused look. “You sound like you are trying to convince yourself. Your chances-”
“Fuck this,” Helen growled, giving up on the progression. “It’s time to spar. Give me your best Randidly Ghosthound impression.”
Buoyed somewhat on the success of his modification of Skarch’s spear, Randidly returned to his room with a smile on his face. Even he hadn’t known how effective it would be as a battery. Now, battery life suddenly became a demanding problem, and Randidly could only guess at that. But no matter what, Randidly was looking forward to seeing how she performed with her newly freed up weapon.
As Randidly went to open the door to his room, Acri slithered up his arm and gave him a sorrowful look. Randidly chuckled. It seemed Acri knew he was thinking about another weapon and was slightly jealous. Well, that was easy to fix.
His hand fell away from the door and Randidly turned and head down to the courtyard below. There were training fields provided by the Hall of Stances for everyone for the duration of their stay, but Randidly could feel his connection of Aether leading to those fields. Both Azriel and Helen were there.
At the moment, Randidly had no desire to face Helen. He was going to have so bad news when he saw her next, and he wasn’t relishing his role as the person who would deliver the news. Of course, he could have someone else do the work, but…
Sighing, Randidly pushed it from his mind and walked into the small courtyard. It was a problem that could wait for later. Now was a time for training.
Although he had never been lazy during his time fighting the Wights underneath Platton, it also couldn’t be said that Randidly spent much time working on the technical flaws of his spear use. Mostly, this was just due to lack of time. But now, Randidly was intent on really focusing his attention on himself. After all, his Perception ability had never been higher. It was time to begin remaking himself.
He started by simply standing and holding Acri, feeling the weight of the spear. His bare feet were on the soft grass of the open air courtyard. His eyes were closed.
Randidly had known for a while that he would need to begin consolidating his spear use, but he hadn’t truly known what to do about it. Not that it was exactly pressing, but his image spars with Skarch had made it clear that as a whole, Randidly’s images were starkly divided. If he wanted an offensive Skill, would he use Spear Advances, Ash Trails or the Inevitable Phantom Arrives?
One was a raw explosion of fury that had gifted him his first Skillset. The other was the modified movements of Aemont and Shal, both of who were likely far superior to Randidly in terms of spear use. But suddenly it seemed that Tellus’ strange fixation on your ability to use images had very tangible effects. It was important.
It wouldn’t be an easy thing, but it would not occur without work. Instead of having two move sets that Randidly relied on, his goal was to merge both into a single theory of fighting. Ideally, it would be composed of the refined movements of The Spear Phantom with the powerful images of the Kata of the Ashen spear.
Randidly sighed. That was the idea anyway.
To start, he moved slowly through each of his different moves. Almost out of habit, the Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom flicked to life above his head. The presence of that twisted crown gave Randidly pause, but it couldn’t be denied that it focused his Perception to incredible heights. For all that it would grate on any who approached him while he was training, the effect was probably worth it.
After all, it was much more palatable of the Cruel Indignation of Yggdrasil.
Finishing up each Skill Randidly possessed, he moved on to the different training movements taunt to him by Shal. Most of these were supposed to be done with an instructor, but Randidly didn’t worry so much about this. The whole point of this exercise was to focus on himself.
After finishing those motions, Randidly returned to his Skills. This time, he performed each one dozens of times, shifting his balance or making small adjustments to the way he twisted his hips and moved his shoulders. Sometimes the corrections weakened his strikes. Other times there didn’t seem to be any changes. After all, it was not an easy thing to even understand yourself, and how to improve.
What Randidly couldn’t accomplish with the System’s assistance in improving, he brute forced with repetition. Time and time again he would repeat small moves. It was a good thing that the courtyard was so small and relatively fragile because it meant that his moves were largely limited. He could only satisfy himself with basic footwork steps and simple attacks with the spear.
But the more Randidly continued, the more he realized he had vastly underestimated the amount of work his idea would require. What immediately became clear was that the methods of force transference were very different for his different styles of attack. That wasn’t crippling to the idea of combining the Spearwork, but it was still daunting.
So eventually, Randidly settled on footwork. Start small. Understand your base, your core. Feel the strength that came up through the ground and move with that momentum.
By the time the sun was setting, Randidly was covered in sweat and panting. As he allowed the crown to fade away, he laughed in delight. It was fun, training like this. The small improvements were more a function of stumbling onto small opportunities, but the feeling of improvement was palpable. The first step a warrior takes from his guard stance was something Randidly had never truly considered before, but the more he focused on it, the more its relevance seemed to grow.
Likely, Randidly would come here tomorrow and work on the same thing. And that gave him a wide grin. He wondered what Helen would think to know he was practicing stepping in preparation for their match.
Abruptly, his good cheer fled. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and grimaced. Most of the tournament goers were still below in the Hall of Stances. Only Azriel and Helen remained in the training grounds, glowing darkly in his Perception due to their familiar Aether. If everyone was still busy, then…
Perhaps it was time that Randidly moved into Hastam proper in order to do some research. For a brief moment, Randidly considered asking Skarch or Silo for assistance, but Skarch was busy in her room with her new toy and Randidly had no desire to get closer to Silo. Already, he could see that the effects of the foreign images were exacting a high toll on the man’s body. Besides, his newfound touchiness was more harm than he was worth.
Whistling softly, Randidly strolled off into Hastam. Perhaps normally he would enjoy the peaceful sounds of a city at night, but he was still hyper-aware that the Wight horde was out there, slowly killing its way towards Hastam. As such, it was difficult to set aside the tension held deeply in his chest.
He needed to get moving. There was simply so much to do.