Randidly found Azriel among one of the small cloisters of White Hunters, participating in their training regimen. The area given to them was filled with towering, gnarled trees that kept the area shaded. It was cool and breezy, and largely silent, aside from the small gusts of wind. This gave Randidly pause before he approached.
The group was moving slowly through some martial art form, their bodies moving smoothly from one form to the rest. It was clear, out of all of them, Azriel struggled the most. Watching her faltering movements, Randidly’s expression soured. Although she had retained her mental clarity, there were some… physical repercussions for the failed Ascension.
Or more directly, for him halting the Ascension by ripping the image out of her chest.
It pissed Randidly off that Azriel had considered herself honor bound to go through with the plan of her Master. It pissed him off more that he had let her go through with it. In retrospect, her attitude before he left for the Death School had been decidedly strange. At that time, it was clear that she had something weighing heavily upon her.
Strangely, it pissed Randidly off that he had done something similar, returning for Shal’s sake for the tournament. Although the actions were different, both in specifics and magnitude, he had some empathy for her motivations.
And also, Randidly was pissed that he hadn’t been more proactive in keeping her from going through with it. Could he have taken another action to remove the image from her chest? So she wouldn’t be so damaged by it?
I didn’t know,
Randidly thought to himself.
That doesn’t make me feel better,
came the reply.
After the two dozen individuals finished moving through the forms, all of the martial artists bowed to each other. Azriel joined them. They held that position of the bow for almost five minutes, as leaves drifted softly downward around them.
By the end of it, Azriel was trembling and supporting herself by leaning on her knees. Then two White Hunters came over to her and assisted the white-haired woman to sit amongst them by fire.
Randidly waited a few more minutes while she at the food given to her before he approached.
Immediately, she smirked at him. “You were watching for a long time. If I did not know better, I would say your intentions were to mate with me.”
It felt good to roll his eyes at her rather deadpan joke. Azriel had been extremely weak for the first week of her recovery, so the fact that she reached this point already… “Doubtful. You’re much too honest for me.”
“And so it will always be, that you steadfastly walk forward while fearing the reality of your own situation…” Azriel said. Randidly frowned at her, but she just laughed. “Don’t worry, there is no need to try and correct that. If not for your stubborn ignorance, could you have come so far? That’s part of what I appreciate about you. Besides, change is not such an easy thing.”
That was honestly a bit too close to the mark for Randidly’s likely. There were a lot of times in the past where he had only been able to succeed because he didn’t know any better. Rather than continuing on that conversation line, Randidly rubbed the back of his head and asked, “It looks like you are up and moving, that’s good. The training will help you recover more quickly.”
“You make for a poor nurse and a poorer therapist,” Azriel said tersely. She dragged her fingers through her hair like a comb and then said. “Also, I was told by Rejt that I need to inform you that I will be accompanying him into the mists. I’m… curious.”
Frowning, Randidly asked. “Why is he taking you into the mists? Considering your current condition-”
“Ah, was my language ambiguous?” Azriel asked. She tapped her chin then grinned at Randidly. “I’m going into the mist and he insisted on accompanying me. Really, it should be unnecessary. Even if I’m weakened, my Skills and images are still there. Monsters at this Level… honestly, I will be more insulted then afraid if they attack me.”
Do you really still have your images?
Randidly thought, but he didn’t say anything. He knew enough about Azriel that even if he thought it was a bad idea, he wouldn’t be able to stop her. It was a helpless sort of gentleness that he regarded her. Plus, if he attempted to stop her, she would likely just endanger herself more to get around it.
Sometimes, it was better to just allow people to take actions you thought were mistakes. That was part of life.
Besides, he suspected that she really had lost her images. And if Randidly was in her position, he would want to immediately return to the wild in order to reclaim his strength as well.
While staying with the White Hunters would be enjoyable, but it wouldn’t help her attain her previous levels of proficiencies.
So Randidly agreed and made small talk for several more minutes before returning to the real world. Immediately after he returned, he winced.
I need to stop calling this the real world… that’s a bad image to support. Instead… it’s Earth. And inside of me is the Alpha Cosmos, my Soulskill.
The Soulskill was growing organically to the point that it had stabilized, so he could relax knowing that no sudden change was going to occur within.
Well, until the System made its presence known more directly in the Alpha Cosmos. It hadn’t, as of yet, and that worried Randidly. But he didn’t doubt that it was only a matter of time before something went haywire.
Feeling a bit better about being back on Earth, Randidly exited his tent.
Helen ground her teeth in frustration.
“Don’t feel bad,” The towering hulk of a man named Brute rumbled. “There are Illusionists in Donnyton; I have experience against fighters like yourself. Besides, your Skills are damn good.”
I’M NOT AN ILLUSIONIST,
Helen wanted to scream for the hundredth time. But she kept her mouth shut and just continued to sit on the ground and brood.
Brute scratched his cheek. He looked at her in a very analytical way, as though trying to parse apart what she was thinking by her dirt covered fingers. “…I suppose you want to try again.”
“If you insist,” Helen hissed, popping up to her feet in a flash. Then she walked over to the aide that was standing with the equipment on the side of the training arena. After all, she had to replace the broken spear that had given out on her in the earlier spar.
Mental note, blocking Dozer is a waste of time,
Helen thought venomously.
Next time, attempt to maim while your body is being crushed.
The man seemed bemused by her scowl but gave her the spear. Then she turned and faced Brute while striking a stance. He just casually stood there, his huge club resting on his shoulder.
The problem was two-fold. First of all, she felt strangely weak and light. More so than she had let on to Randidly during his annoying check-ins. The discomfort had largely left since then, but she still felt… like something was missing. Her images were a little fuzzy. Some oomph that she had possessed previously had disappeared during the transition.
Which, of course, only made Helen stubbornly force herself to use those images. Which had not worked out well, as of yet. There were definite improvements, but subtlety was largely lost on Brute. It was enough to say that she hadn’t improved enough that her images could overcome him.
Other than that, it was hard to tell when he just smashed his way through everything.
The second problem is that her power was somehow filtered through the Skill that Randidly used to bring her and others into the world inside of himself. She could feel it wrapping around her images like a thin net, limiting how precise they could be. It was getting better, true, likely due to Randidly’s continued activation to allow her to be here.
But not fucking fast enough to wipe the mild expression off of this fucking lug’s face.
Plus, her Skills and images were pretty well maintained… but her stats were absolute shit. Which was why he thought she was an illusionist because her Skills were insubstantial due to a lack of stats to back them up. And every time he fucking brought it up, Helen’s vision went red.
Stamping her foot, Helen launched herself toward Dozer.
Calmly he stepped to the side and brought his huge club smashing downward. Helen spun out of the way and created her Tides of Blood Domain. What she had learned in their prior contest was that this fucker was so strong that a casual strike would shatter it to pieces.
Dozer followed up by twisting with remarkably light steps and sending a Roundhouse Kick toward her chest. Sidestepping, she cut at him with several blisteringly fast thrusts.
Although she inflicted some small wounds across his chest, he obviously had a Skill that toughened his skin. And rather than backing off, he simply body slammed Helen. Hissing her fury at the audacity of the man, she hastily danced out of the way. But that just opened up enough space for him to stamp his foot.
Stamping his fucking foot had enough strength to shatter her Domain. The tides quaked and seethed.
When really pissed Helen off was that she definitely could withstand this type of force before. But because of Randidly and his dumbass teleportation-
Instantly, Dozer hopped backward away from Helen and looked up toward the speaker. It was the archer, looking down at Helen with frightful intensity.
“Alana’s back. Time to talk with Randidly. Oh, you come too,”
A vein in Helen’s forehead throbbed. Was everyone on this godforsaken planet trying to piss her off…?