After Azriel stated that she would not participate in the finals, Randidly stared at her for a long time. He supposed what she was saying made sense. Was he really so far removed from old Earth that he didn’t remember the hazard of injuries?
Not that he had been injured very often. There was one time he broke a finger, but it was a relatively minor injury. Still, it had been a persistent pain for Randidly for quite a while. This situation, however, was a bit different.
Azriel smirked at him. “Don’t make such a face. Regrets come easily and leave just as fast. I will find the necessary stage to prove my master’s capabilities. If something like this stops me, then it simply proves I wasn’t ready for it. Perhaps mentally, more than physically.”
Immediately, Randidly knew he had an answer for her. If he created an Aether Connection to Azriel, she would have energy once more flowing into her body that would help the wounds heal. In addition, it would give her a boost that would enable her to gather power much more quickly. The speed at which she would gain Levels would jump.
There were two concerns that Randidly had. The first was the tournament. Such a boost would vastly increase Azriel’s chances of winning. Or at least, in Randidly’s mind, they did. Of everyone at his Level in this world, she was the strongest. Her ability to read and recognize an opponent’s Skills was positively uncanny. There were very few attacks that she wouldn’t be able to counter when they were deployed against her for the second time.
Now his powerful sense that she would be the winner of the tournament might be off base; the Northern Domain was the backwoods of Shal’s world. But it felt like a premonition to him.
Ultimately, however, Randidly didn’t really give a shit about the tournament. It was small potatoes on his plate. Instead, he believed he should focus on the way the System worked so he could predict how it would proceed on Earth.
Shal’s world, Tellus, was entered into the Nexus hundreds of years ago, so the details were a little shaky. But Randidly sensed that there was a secret hidden in the way this world functioned, in a constant struggle with another world. While he was here, Randidly would investigate what this strange connection meant for the System. It was his current goal.
He hoped the tournament wouldn’t interfere too much with this goal.
Second, and more concerning, establishing an Aether connection with Azriel would bind them together. And although the effects were currently small, Randidly couldn’t help but be aware that he was influenced by the people he was connected to, even as they were influenced by him. And as the person that was at the center of the web, there were the most influences active upon him.
It was hard to tell whether such things would shape just his Skills or even his personality, but it was something to keep in mind. Because Randidly knew next to nothing about Azriel. She was the last inheritor of a dying Style. She was to be married off in order to cement one Style’s ascension in the North.
Through sheer force of will, and through a little help from Randidly, all of those plots had been foiled. But at her core, who was she?
“Still…” Azriel said suddenly, shocking Randidly awake from his thoughts. “I must admit that I… I almost feel better… saying this to you.”
There she seemed to pause, and a small from emerged on her face. “...yes, I definitely feel better after talking to you. Not just emotionally, but physically. Am I… healing faster?”
Now, her eyes pierced through him. “You have a way of helping me? Can you heal- Well, whatever it is, please. I would prefer not to miss this chance. On my name of Azriel Blanche, I swear to you that I will repay this kindness if you can help me.”
Randidly chuckled, in spite of himself. “Where did the fatalistic Azriel who was just sitting here go? That was an abrupt shift to begging for help.”
Shamelessly, Azriel flipped her hair over her shoulder. “I am a creature of necessity. It turns out it is possible I need not come to terms with my condition. I am reevaluating.”
Still, Randidly considered the young woman in front of him carefully. Her white hair framed her face in a way that made her look very young. For the first time since they had met, Randidly wondered how young she was. Did it make a difference in the decision to provide her with Aether? He supposed it did.
“How old are you?” Randidly asked quietly. His eyes were intent on her the entire time.
Matter of factly, Azriel said. “27. And you?”
Randidly opened his mouth, then hesitated. How old was he now…? “25, I think. But sometimes the System makes it hard.”
“Mmm. You look old for your age. You are frowning all the time.” Azriel said. Then she tilted her head to the side. “So? Can you help me, Randidly Ghosthound? I do not give my word of repayment lightly.”
It was a toss-up. But the negatives weren’t so present that Randidly wanted to stay cautious. He had worked together with Azriel in the past and it had turned out well. He wouldn’t mind doing so again.
He reached out and touched a hand to her shoulder.
Helen knew, rationally, that what she was about to do could get her court-martialled. Her hand twitched. Her spear strapped to her back seemed to sway, calling for her grip. But she withstood the temptation. Barely.
“What did you just say to me?” Helen wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad at how violent her tone was. But it was the truth, and the part of Helen that wanted to keep her cool was swiftly losing.
Had it really only been a few weeks since she had received permission for her leave of absence from the army? It felt like it was years ago. There was a drain inside of her, and all of her self-control was slipping away.
“It is a not a pretty truth,” Viro Roonst, Sentinel of Niergem, said with a placid face. “I am a man. I have… needs. It will not be the work you are accustomed to, sure, but I will take great care to respect your boundaries. Things can be perfectly amicable between us.”
“Now why-” Helen began, but Roonst cut her off.
“Let’s not play coy, dear. You are far too… well-shaped for that,” He said with a small smirk. “I am familiar with your relationship with Randidly Ghosthound. He owes me. Although he provided the Ring of Mass Flight, if he had not interfered I would have killed one of the five Witch Kings of the Wights. That-”
“Baseless,” Helen said with a snort, enraged by so many things the Sentinel was saying that she didn’t know where to begin. “And he put his life on the line to save the life of a comrade-”
“A civilian, although her status is somewhat delicate,” Roonst commented.
Helen continued unabated. “And much more talented spear-users than you have attempted to kill the Witch Kings, to no avail.”
“That quite enough,” the Sentinel barked, hitting Helen with a glare. There was still enough military training in her that she went silent, although she was beginning to believe that this man was not deserving of the respect his position afforded him. “I had hoped you would understand. I am aware of your relationship with Mr. Ghosthound; you served as his spear attendant. If you will not repay me… I will be forced to go after him more directly. He will pay.”
For a second, Helen froze solid. He knew about their relationship? Even she didn’t understand what they had been, and what they were now several months later without any contact. If it truly was as simple as her being his spear attendant in the past… But honestly, wasn’t that all they truly ever were? Even if they had once-
But then Roonst had threatened Randidly directly. And to that, Helen had only one response.
She laughed in his face.
His frown deepened. “Perhaps you think that I am joking, or that the under 25 Inter-School tournament gives me pause. I assure you that is not the case. Listen to me. What I am offering is perhaps an indignity, but it is a promotion. And after some time serving under me, you could-”
“The only service I would do under you,” Helen spat, “Is trimming your scrotum as a service to every woman who has the bad luck of being in your chain of command. And no, I don’t think you are joking, but it’s a joke that you think can threaten Randidly Ghosthound.”
Now Roonst snorted. And the air in the command tent trembled. “It seems under 25s have lost their sense of perspective. If you won’t help me, I will be forced to-”
“Did you know who he is?” Helen said sweetly. “He is Randidly Ghosthound, the youngest inheritor of the Spear Phantom Style. He is Shal’s disciple.”
Viro Roonst looked confused for several seconds. Then he went pale.