Helen was in her element, swimming in the tides of blood that covered the arena. The swirling currents carried her forward with relentless momentum. When her spear clashed against her opponent, Helen was pleased to note that the other was driven backward by the force.
“Peace!” Azriel said raising her hands. The woman’s rib cage expanded and contracted as she struggled to catch her breath. “By the Spearman, if I let you establish that Domain it is hard to break free!”
Helen flashed a bitter smile. “Except if you don’t give me time to set it up, I’m fucking skewered before I can do anything. My Soulskill is still so young. It doesn’t have the power to overwhelm you without any handicap.”
Azriel walked over toward the table beside the sparring arena and took a long swig of water. “Still, attempting the battle both ways is the only way for both of us to benefit meaningfully from the experience. This is a nice warm up before tomorrow’s match.”
Shaking her head, Helen joined Azriel at the table and took up a small towel to wipe away her sweat. “I feel pity for your opponent. That fool will be right fucked if he doesn’t bring his A game.”
“Such an outlook is likely realistic, but the last tournament I was a part of ended quite outside my expectations. It was… unpleasant.” Azriel said with a frown. Helen couldn’t help but chuckle humorlessly. She empathized greatly with Azriel in this case. After all, the culprit had made a fool of her in the match over a week ago, and as per his MO, he immediately disappeared.
Such was the style of Randidly Ghosthound.
“Therefore,” Azriel continued. There is one more task which I wish to accomplish; I will meet with my master tonight, to see if it has any guidance.”
Helen looked at Azriel in surprised. Almost as if reading her mind, Azriel chuckled and said. “The Northern convoy is getting quite near to Hastam. At that distance, it is quite easy for my Master to arrive a bit early. Would you like to come? It always appreciates… socialization. I believe my Master is quite lonely.”
“It’s not like I have much else to do,” Helen grumbled. “Whose idea was it to have a single match a day, and allow a day break between the matches? It will take until the end of the month to get through this damn tournament.”
“When we are not at war, it is a sufficient distraction for many. Unfortunately, we are at war.” Azriel said simply.
Both were silent after that. After spending time on the frontlines, both were familiar with the stress that the Central Domain of the Spearman School was under. Aylwind Sky taking action personally did a lot to alleviate that, but he couldn’t be everywhere at once. Besides, when he mobilized, so did the powerful Propagators on the Wight’s side. They no longer took his purgings lying down.
After breaking apart to wash, Helen and Azriel met back up to head toward the city walls. TO Helen’s surprise, Azriel’s master remained beyond the limits of Hastam proper, in one of the small suburbs that sprung up in the surrounding area.
With their identity as competitors in the under 25 tournament, nobody blinked at the prospect of them leaving the city. But as time went on, Helen became increasingly bothered by her thoughts.
Although Azriel had alluded previously to her Master’s status as a… special, non-Tellite individual, Helen hadn’t thought about it overmuch. But now, walking alone in the darkness along a dirt track to a small nearby village…
I’m going to be murdered, aren’t I? Helen reflected, with a certain amount of relish. Then she mentally glared at herself. Why was she getting excited by the mounting tension of the moment? This wasn’t a battle, there was no reason to be excited.
But Helen couldn’t deny that her heart was pounding as she walked deeper into the darkness behind Azriel. She was grinning widely as she imaged all the ridiculous and sinister plots that Azriel could perhaps have been engaged in to bring her to a place beyond help, where she would be in deathly peril…
It was of course, all mostly a joke. But the part of Helen’s brain that took after her mother sighed and shook her head. This queerness was exactly why she had so much difficulty bonding with people.
Much to the delight of Helen’s dark fantasies, they eventually arrived at a crumbling stone monastery. Religion wasn’t popular on Tellus, at least since the Spearman came to prominence, but civilization had existed for thousands of years, so some edifices to the old gods remained.
Azriel looked over her shoulder to speak to Helen, but when she caught the other woman’s gaze, she frowned. “Helen, is something the matter? Your face is a bit…”
Helen froze, unsure of what to say. For better or worse, the choice was taken away from her as Azriel simply sighed and said, “You have spent far too much time with Randidly. Right this way, my Master is within. And please, do not, ah…”
Feeling profoundly confused and oddly insulted by the comparison to Randidly, Helen waved her hand airily. “Bah, I get it, your master is unusual. Which of us is not? Don’t treat me like a child.”
Azriel seemed unconvinced, but Helen walked past her. Within, holes in the roof allowed faint beams of light into the oddly must and destroyed space. What was once undoubtedly an imposing shrine now was a broken room with rotten pews and a pile of black rubble at the center. From the way the light was reflecting off the rubble, whatever had served as the centerpiece of this place had been made of incredibly valuable material. It looked shiny and crystalline, like a more transparent version of obsidian.
But the object was irrevocably broken. Although the base was wide and strong, whatever edifice had stood straight from it was broken and twisted. It hung like a tired old fishing pole, drooping over the once proud construction.
“Master, it’s good to see you,” Azriel said while bowing. “This is Helen, a friend of mine. I figured you would enjoy the company on your first trip to Hastam.”
There was a dull chuckle, and then a gravelly voice that set off warning bells in Helen’s mind. “As always, you are far too thoughtful, child. But it is true that I am very excited for this arrival. For far, far too long I dreamed of arriving, victorious at this place. Now, after so much has changed, even I am surprised how intrigued I am at the prospect. Well met Helen. I am Azriel’s Master.”
The pile of black crystal, the ruined edifice, shifted.
“Uh… yea… well fucking met,” Helen said, her eyes widening as she took in the whole of the movement. The thing… the thing was as big as a cart! And it’s body-
“You didn’t tell her?” The scorpion inquired, with a hint of amusement in its voice.
“Not explicitly,” Azriel said with the smirk. “Everyone has always been so relaxed in response to my warnings about you, I wished to be vindicated by seeing someone gobsmacked.”
“Wherever did you develop this troublemaking streak? Surely not from me?” The scorpion asked, mock aghast.
“Don’t play coy. Most everything I am, I learned from you,” Azriel said.
Helen recognized the familiar and intimate conversation of two long apart individual intellectually. But her body was coping with another truth.
Azriel’s master was a giant obsidian scorpion. The old fishing rod was a stinger the size of her forearm. The crystal insect could crush her body with a swipe of its claw. Although Helen had expected weird, this was a bit…
“It all makes sense why you get along with Randidly,” Helen mumbled. “Everything related to you both is so ridiculous.”
“Ah, I have heard much of this Randidly. Is he not here as well? I have looked forward to meeting him.” The giant crystal scorpion rumbled. Its obsidian claws flashed as they were clicked shut with enough force to sever Helen's spine.