The day went extremely well, as far as Randidly was concerned. With the addition of Darrune as dead weight to protect, Helen was nowhere close to pushing his limits of using four avatars to fight with her. Just managing to keep the oaf safe was more than enough trouble.
However, Randidly also acknowledged that Helen’s improvement wasn’t as stark on the first day. Her rage was sporadic and increasingly tainted by a helpless frustration. Part of it was the clearly unusual request that Randidly had put to her, but it was also that Helen’s rage shifted and grew more quickly than Randidly could have anticipated. There were several times over the course of the day that Helen decided to say screw Darrune and just used the distraction on the avatars to try and kill them.
Of course, Randidly used Influence of the Molten Core to mess with her, but it wasn’t a super high-Level Skill. In some ways, she was able to resist it and just kill an avatar if she put her mind to it.
Which, of course, meant that the first thing that Randidly was planning to do today after practice was improve Influence of the Molten Core. It was something he was always interested in sharpening, but he simply didn’t have the chance until now. Besides, it was associated with only a general image of heat. That was barely enough to catch the Hellfin Reaper’s notice.
But before Randidly could head out for his personal training, Azriel found him on the roof.
“Are you taking the long view of this?” She inquired immediately, without any preamble. “To directly empower Helen’s anger, especially toward yourself… it is something that you will need to deal with for a long time.”
Randidly grimaced. Yes, this was the big flaw in his plan. It was all well and good to put Helen in a mental space where she didn’t care about the consequences and would just fight to her heart’s content. It was another to do so on short notice and make sure that Helen wouldn’t be any the worse for wear.
Considering Helen’s usual broad anger and snappy temper, Randidly had thought focusing on rage would lead to the easiest transition of focus. In addition, there was something about Helen’s shouts and outbursts that he could stand.
However, she had stopped shouting during the second half of the day’s practice. She had been completely silent.
The fuming, glaring Helen was much more chilling than her more vocal incarnation. Randidly had started to wonder if she would ever be able to look at him the same again. So Azriel’s comments struck too close to home for him to ignore.
Releasing a sigh that he had held all day, Randidly could do nothing but shrug. “You are right. It’s… dangerous to indulge further. But I am here to give her a path to victory. The first day went so well. If we can capture that a few more times-”
“You are better at this teaching than I thought,” Azriel admitted. “I would have assumed you to be without hope while instructing. But no matter how simplified and focused you are, you have no experience to rely on. It is difficult to judge these things. People… are complicated.”
The two fell silent and stared out over Hastam. The training sessions had lasted 10 hours and they had started early in the morning, so it was only now transitioning from twilight to deep evening. In the distance, Randidly could feel the faint stirrings of Wights as they gathered to move against the Northern Camps once more. At least they would give him a good opportunity to use Influence of the Molten Core.
“I have a suggestion.” Azriel finally said.
Randidly glanced at her with his eyebrows raised.
With a shrug, Azriel said, “Well, the worry is that her rage will grow so large she will lose sight of the training and just attack you, yes? Then perhaps the answer is to fight her once more directly. Beat her. If you are vastly superior, how could she really hope to triumph over you?”
“Scare her into behaving?” Randidly said lightly. His skepticism was thick in his voice, but of course, Azriel ignored it.
“Exactly. A sufficiently tough lesson will keep her eyes focused on the current threat. It is a good plan,” Azriel said with a nod.
There was no point in vocalizing his worries to Azriel. Not that she couldn’t understand, but there was a particular focus in her that kept such concerns from being something she would think about. Perhaps it was her dogged determination to win glory for herself. She fed everything into it, and that left her a streamlined and sparse perspective.
“So, what about you? Don’t you have a match soon?” Randidly asked.
Azriel gave him an amused look. “I fought earlier today. It was an easy win. You are looking at a semi-finalist, Mr. Ghosthound.”
After blinking, Randidly couldn’t do anything but laugh. “Really? Perhaps we should have taken a break to come watch-”
“No need, it was a weakling,” Azriel said dismissively. “Once more, my path to the finals is extremely clear. It is only a matter of who will rise up out of this bracket to face me…”
Then Azriel’s expression turned brooding. In a way, Randidly could see right through her at that moment. For all that Azriel was rather oblivious to some things, she couldn’t escape the way that this scenario resembled the Regional Tournament. More than that, she also knew that her opponent would either be a friend or companion. The winner of Skarch and Helen would face Silo to choose who would meet her in the final match of the tournament.
“This tournament won’t turn out the same,” Randidly said quietly. “Hell, if it all goes to shit again, I’ll fight you myself over the city. It will be a firework show the like Tellus has never even seen. And it won’t even be associated with the dubious label of under Level 25. You’ll get your glory.”
Azriel turned and looked at Randidly. She didn’t seem pleased. If anything, she seemed shocked and agitated. It was as though Randidly’s words cut through the haze of her day and struck at her secret fears. In a moment, Randidly reached over and put his finger on her weakness. Their gazes locked for several seconds, Azriel’s crimson gaze studying Randidly’s emerald eyes.
“Well, in other news,” Azriel finally said to break the silence. Randidly shrugged inwardly. If she didn’t want to speak about it, he wouldn't force it. “I would also like to extend an invitation for you to come to meet my Master. It is very interested in coming to know you. Perhaps after Helen’s match.”
“Mmm,” Randidly said with a nod. He was actually quite interested in meeting the person that inspired such devotion in Azriel. In addition, because of his close relationship with Azriel, the Master might have a positive enough impression of Randidly that it might reveal some of the history of Tellus. That would depend on their age, but it was an actual person of power that would likely answer his questions-
Randidly paused there. Perhaps not today, but going and seeing Aethon Thai might also be worth the danger of Aegiant discovering him. Helen was ultimately a responsibility that he wanted to fulfill to one so intimately connected with him, but it was not the main goal on Tellus.
Besides, with his Skills, he was rather confident of being able to survive most things and Aethon might also be better acquainted with the history of this world.
“Well, I need to head out for now.” He flashed Azriel a wry smile. “Keeping ahead of Helen is not easy. I’ll consider what you said. I believe that something similar had occurred to me. Do not worry, Azriel; I’ll bring Helen into your waiting arms in the final. Then she will be your problem.”
“A delightful problem to have,” Azriel chuckled. Then her gaze turned extremely serious and her eyebrows knitted together. “I cannot fail this time, Randidly. There are no other chances. I can sense it. It has to be this tournament. I’ll do anything to repay my Master.”
Then she left.
Randidly cracked his knuckles. He quickly rushed out of the city and toward the low hills that surrounded Hastam. Although it was possible to use this Skill far away, he had nowhere near the necessary Mana efficiency for it as he did with Grasp of the World Seed. For all that he had a monstrous Mana regeneration total, using Influence of the Molten Core from too far away would deplete it in a matter of minutes.
He found a detachment of Wights resting in a low valley that would be his first victims. There was something disturbing about the Wights at rest. They folded themselves up like lawn furniture and hid among the brush and trees. When at any time, they could spring into motion and attack a passerby.
Well, today they would pay for their relative lack of readiness.
Letting his breath escape his mouth in a low hiss, Randidly summoned the sphere of molten metal that was the core of the Skill. It produced a small wind with its arrival that rustled the nearby tree canopies. But after a single rustle, the noise passed. The Wights did not stir.
Why would they? Who fears the wind?
The orb was about two meters in diameter and seemed to be constantly oozing molten metal. Sometimes the liquid exterior of the core parted and there was wave of light and heat that exploded outward, hinting at the fiery furnace that kept it going. But very quickly the metal of the ball would ooze downward and it would assume its relatively harmless exterior once more.
The power of the core was partially its strange version of Gravity Affinity, but also the ability to use the core as a physical battering ram. The weight and heat could overwhelm most materials with ease.
And that was area Randidly wanted to focus his image, and also the reason that he was having such difficulty. During the creation of As the Sun Stills, he went through an entire process of gathering heat and weight together and then having the combined density of those create a paradigm shift that caused the beginnings of a failing sun. But that very image now became a problem for Randidly.
Because he wanted powerful heat and weight. As powerful as he could image. But he didn’t want the thing to collapse inward.
Randidly wasn’t sure what would happen to his Skill if he imagined it imploded upon itself, but he wasn’t very enthusiastic to find out the answer. So he simply raised the core slowly above himself and considered it.
Silvery, coppery molten metal. Thick drops that rapidly hardened to a dark grey when cooling on the ground. Randidly pursed his lips. Perhaps his earlier thoughts were the correct path. What he wanted to focus on was not the heat and weight, but the function. This was an engine.
As if the thought flipped a switch, the air around the core began to hum. Waves of heat started radiating outwards and the metal began to flow and drip more quickly. Randidly grinned. He was drawing on someone else’s image right now, someone connected to him. Likely Sam, or even Ghost. But he could feel the shift as the core switched from a heavy and hot object to the engine that could drive a world for millions of years. Randidly didn’t know who it was, but someone connected to him had thought a long time about engines.
Perhaps sometimes these connections were worth the trouble of having his Aether settle.
“Well then,” Randidly said with a smile. The core began to float silently toward the valley. Ominously, the heat coming from it was so intense that most plants wilted as it passed. “Wakey-wakey, Wights.”