“It really is tragic that my talents as a teacher are wasted on one such as you…” Darrune said with a shake of the head. After being rather timid before Randidly had tacitly encouraged him, his personality had experienced a complete one-eighty since then. He openly embraced his role as genius teacher, even if he displayed none of the traits a teacher would possess. If nothing else, Randidly was impressed by how brazen Darrune was. “Do you need a break? Or perhaps a nap? Would you like me to read you a bedtime story and let you suckle from my teat? Hmph, hmph, this isn’t child rearing, girl. This is learning the art of war. Grow up.”
“Fuck…. You….” Helen wheezed. Her eyes were still narrowed, but they focused on Randidly this time. There wasn’t anger there, but… excitement. Her rage was giving way to something purer. Joy. The joy of fighting against an opponent who was stronger than herself. An excitement toward learning how to fight and struggle and triumph. It almost seemed sexual in its intensity
Well, Randidly reflected as he waited for Helen to recover, the rage isn’t gone. It’s just… sharing center stage with a more positive emotion.
Glancing up, Randidly noticed how long they had been training. It had been almost twelve hours since they had begun. Truly, he grew more wrapped up in the fighting if he was using his actual body then if he was just using avatars.
Almost unwillingly, he lowered his spear. “Let’s end it here.”
“I can continue,” Helen croaked out. Randidly looked at her. He could feel her drawing heavily from their Aether Connection in order heal as quickly as possible. Several bones were broken in her shoulder and ribs. But her eyes blazed with fighting spirit. It was true, she could continue. But it was unnecessary.
Randidly closed his eyes and shook his head. “You may continue, as you should, but we are done for today. You’ve had your chance to attack Darrune; you failed. If you so choose, reflect on what mistakes you made. We will see you tomorrow.”
Besides Helen’s injuries, there were several things Randidly wanted to do tonight. Not the least of which was visit his Soulskill, which he had let go a few days. In addition, he wanted to check how difficult it would be to create a Domain. He believed that the training would be even more effective if he could produce his own Domain that would combat Helens. But it was likely just a pipe dream at this point.
Something like a Domain should not be hastily thrown together.
Although she was unwilling, Helen couldn’t refuse what Randidly said. She lowered her spear and allowed Randidly and Darrune to walk past. She did, of course, keep a death stare locked on Darrune. But she didn’t say or do anything.
But perhaps sensing how volatile Helen was, Darrune was uncharacteristically quiet as they walked out of the training area. It was only after they were out of earshot that he spoke up.
“Milord Ghosthound… I am wondering if, ah… it would be appropriate for me to continue to be unaffiliated with you, considering our intimate teaching relationship. Perhaps as your spear attendant-”
“No,” Randidly said, cutting him off. Then he smiled wryly at Darrune. “Unless you believe you would be capable of fighting directly against Helen without my assistance?”
Blinking furiously, Darrune blubbered. “Ah? How- preposterous! I am a respected teacher! How could I sully my hands with violence against my students-”
“Well then, for now, let’s stay like this.” Randidly shooed the man. “You are free to explore the city. Meet back here tomorrow morning.”
Then Randidly used Phantom Half-Step on distant targets and pulled himself away from Darrune very quickly. The less time he had to spend with the man, the better. Now, to find himself a peaceful hill to meditate on outside of Hastam…
“FUCKING TWIGDICK FARTBAG!” Helen roared. “SUCKLE AT YOUR TEAT? I’LL KILL YOU AND YOUR SAD FAMILY.”
“Statistically,” Azriel opined. “With the Wight war, his family is probably already dead.”
For a second, Helen stood frozen. Then she glowered at Azriel, this anger for an entirely different reason than for her intrusion.
Azriel shrugged. “Well, I’m just being honest.”
“Yea well, you really ruined my mood,” Helen said sourly. Then she sighed. “How is your training going? You should join in on the sparring. It will at least give me somewhat of a break if they are training you too.”
“...I don’t think I should.” Azriel said quietly.
Helen opened her mouth to reply and then paused. She turned and looked at Azriel. Even though Azriel generally said things that were relatively tone deaf, the comment about Darrune’s family was especially so. Perhaps Helen wouldn’t have noticed that on its own, but Azriel’s thin face was especially tense. More than anything else… Azriel seemed exhausted. There were deep bags under her eyes.
“Azriel, is something wrong?” Helen asked. The black flames were annoyed that someone else was making this about them, but Helen shushed them.
Azriel shrugged. “...I had a talk with my Master. About my role. About what I need to do. To me, my Master is… everything. Yet it asks much of me.”
Putting her hands on Helen’s shoulders, Azriel faced the other woman directly. “Its life’s work was to become accepted by spear-users. To prove that it also possessed this capability. I am able to do that, I think. But my Master… has doubts. It suggests that if things continue as they are… if you continue to improve… I will not be able to keep up in the finals. And that cannot be allowed to happen.”
“Is this tournament really so important to your Master?” Helen asked, wrinkling her nose. So to Azriel, this strange crystal scorpion was some sort of warped mother figure? If it was about expectations, Helen understood how exhausting that was.
“No, not quite. The tournament isn’t important. Winning is,” Helen said with a small smile. “Spears are a vehicle to ride toward glory. It is unimportant where the victories occur; all that matters is that they are victories. Only then can I accomplish my Master’s dream…”
After a few moments, Helen nodded solemnly. Then she held out her hand. “Good luck.”
Azriel considered the hand, then grinned. “Hmph, keep your luck. You will need it more than I. Skarch is… well. No doubt whichever of you reaches the finals, it will be a glorious battle.” The two women hugged. Both had tight, white-knuckled grips on the other’s shoulders as they faced their own looming inner demons.
Shal stood with an iron rod of a spine as he faced the two people in front of him.
Rumera’s expression was brittle. “Silo. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be preparing for your match? I’m very excited to watch-”
“You haven’t come to see me and you’ve been within the city?” Silo’s face was pale and wan, but somehow his dark eyes seemed to glitter in his gaunt face. Shal stayed very still, standing a meter behind Rumera. This was not his fight to have, but Shal refused to budge in case he was needed.
Not that he expected there to be any trouble but… anger and death seemed to be radiating off of Rumera’s brother.
As if on cue, Silo’s eyes slid to Shal and narrowed. But the brother didn’t say anything to him. Instead, his gaze returned to Rumera.
Rumera bit her lip but spoke with an even voice. “You know I don’t like you when you are like this. After the tournament-”
“The tournament doesn’t matter.” Silo growled. “We are not just… we are family. But we are so much more than family. Why do you hide from me? What is there to fear? Our world is violence, Rumi. Stop trying to deny it. What harm is there in embracing what we are? Of reveling in our own strength? And worst of all, of all people to run to, you chose him?”
Gesturing to Shal, Silo’s face turned derisive. “He wields the same spear I do. Violence is in his heart. His hands are drenched in blood. Yet you seem to think he is any different than me? A stranger over your own brother. The elders would punish you if they knew”
“Not strangers, we are connected,” Shal rumbled.
Silo’s glare was scathing. “And you are suggesting we are not?”
Before Shal could respond, Rumera cut across him. “Your spear and his are very different. If you cannot see that for yourself, then you have… changed more than I am comfortable with. Didn’t you talk about how noble and heroic our leaders can be? Why have you lost that? I’m sorry Silo. I love you, but-”
“Fine then. I’ll prove it to you. That the heroism we chased is naught but stories.” Silo said. He stretched his spindly limbs and produced a spear. It was a brutal thing, with a wide and jagged head affixed to a wrought iron shaft. It was a heavy and hulking thing, a spear that was made to break bones in addition to cutting flesh. “You judge me? Your pretty little boyfriend is just as violent as me. And, he’s weaker.”
Shal’s eyebrow quirked up. It was quite a day that a foolish boy called him a pretty little boyfriend… and told him he was weak.
Shal glanced at Rumera. With tight lips, she made an extremely unwilling gesture of assent. “If you must. Be… gentle. But sometimes… he needs to be reminded of who he is.”
“To defend my woman’s honor,” Shal said with a tight smile. “There are many things that I would do."