In the week before her match, Helen barely had time to breathe. It all blended together as the group trained day after day. By the evening before her fight with Skarch, Helen believed she had improved more than she had thought was possible.
Yet some part of herself told her it wasn’t enough.
Part of it was the strange conversations that the sicko Darrune would initiate after training sessions, while Randidly was away doing whatever the fuck he did. Part of her wanted to rip Darrune’s skin off his body and roll him across salt, but another part recognized that he was barely helping. Therefore, she left him alive.
It was a generous act, on her part.
But the conversations that he started were strange and awkward and left her feeling vaguely disappointing. Most of them were weird logic problems that he asked with a large amount of backstory. In the end, Darrune would always ask what a true spear user should do in different ethical dilemmas.
Helen didn’t know. It was hard to listen to his stupid ideas. Plus, she was exhausted. She had just spent all fucking day being dragged across the floor like a misbehaving child by Randidly. Questions were not high on her list of priorities. So she just said whatever she felt like. Often, Darrune seemed to be surprised and pleased by her random answers, often leaving with a chuckle and a pleased expression. Which was the most frustrating thing Helen had encountered.
Immediately after he would leave, Helen could release her tight control of the fist-sized flame of black rage in her chest. Obviously, had she not controlled herself, the whole salted Darrune thing would occur in a heartbeat. Part of it was his assistance, but part of her leniency against this bug of a Tellite was respect for Randidly.
For all that this was a trash person worthy of agony, Randidly had brought him. So just for that reason, Helen would let him go. But all of these small, flighty thoughts scattered when the larger truth looming over them all settled down in her psyche.
Tomorrow was the fight.
That thought hung in her head, shading her every emotion, as she stood on the roof of the Hall of Stances and looked out at the cooking fires of the Northern Camp. Strangely, she felt an impulse to visit her mother. That feeling was quickly smothered. Her mother was like a witch; thinking her name summoned her. Better to keep all of those thoughts to a minimum.
“Am I going to win?” Helen whispered to herself. She had seen the raw power that Skarch’s spear possessed. It was overwhelming. That, combined with the extremely solid and impressive basic spear moves that Skarch used, left Helen feeling somewhat pale and insubstantial.
Just the thought caused the black flames of rage to stretch themselves upward in fury. Helen chuckled.
That was the point, wasn’t it? To create this unwillingness in her that would even deny reality in order to get her way. A part of her believed that she should be resentful of Randidly for so forcefully planting this in her chest, but she couldn’t muster up any true rage toward him. That path was sealed when she lost her fight to him.
A different life. A different fate. A different… ending for the two of them.
Not any longer, Helen shook her head slowly.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Helen turned to regard Randidly, who stood on the low wall at the edge of the roof. His gaze was intense as he looked at her.
Helen bared her teeth. “What are you here for? Nervous I will bring shame to you?”
It was strange that Helen had thought her mother would be summoned by her thoughts, and yet it turned out to be Randidly that was brought to her side. But it made its own sort of sense. Since he had returned, Randidly had devoted a lot of time and attention to making sure she was able to win this duel.
She should have known he would come to her in the long night before the match. It would be the last push he would give her. It had better fucking be a hefty sort of push. She had no need of emotional speeches.
Her face softened into something closer to a true smile while Randidly considered his answer. Helen spoke again before he could. “You know, what I could really use was a good lay. I hold a lot of tension in my…”
But Helen began to blush furiously as her tongue and brain argued and debated which word she should use to finish the joke. It’s a good joke! Just make it you dumb bitch, Helen hissed at herself as the silence began to stretch. Oh god, now he probably thinks I was serious… was I serious? Why am I STILL fucking silent?!?!
“...pelvis…” Helen finished in a small voice.
Randidly chuckled, then shook his head. “I’m here to remind you how to win.”
“I remember, just be a better Helen than I am. Be the Helen that was designed to beat Skarch,” Helen said, still somewhat bitter at her awkward comment. Why the fuck had she tried to act playful? She was a spear. Stab stab.
Stab. That’s what she was good at.
Like a pine tree tiredly shaking off snow, Randidly shook his head back and forth. “Well, that’s one way. But no. What I wanted to say was… have fun.”
Helen blinked. Her mouth moved before she thought about what she was saying. “That’s dumb. That’s something a parent says to a child when they think they will lose.”
This time when Randidly laughed, it was quite a bit harder. After he settled down, Randidly scratched his head. “Well, that certainly was brutally honest. And maybe that’s true. But I think… look, a lot of times we write ourselves into weird narratives. We have an image of what we are, what we should be. We have the perfect image of the why we do the things we do. The reasons we wield a spear.”
A dozen images flickered past her eyes, dirt kicked up by those stupid conversations with Darrune. Protecting her family. Making her mother proud. Proving herself to the world.
Making Randidly proud. Making him look at her with… something. Some sort of passion, even if it would always only be pride.
“But…” Randidly’s dragged out syllable brought Helen back to the moment. Like skittish hares, the images fled towards the deeper and darker parts of her mental underbrush. Randidly was standing in front of her, looking at Helen with a serious expression. “Who the fuck cares?”
This time, Helen snorted.
Randidly said, “I think the most important point is that this spear is your spear. You are wielding Helen’s spear. Everything else can be left to storytellers to piece together later. Narratives can be retrofitted much more easily than they can be created in advance. So… have fun. Be true to your spear. Make the strike that Helen would make. Don’t leave room in yourself for regret. Everything else will follow.”
Helen’s mouth twisted upward. So much for no emotional speeches. But it wasn’t all bad. There were actually very few emotions involved. Even so, Helen felt a tingling down her spine as she accepted his encouragement, as inane as it may be. “You basically said the same thing you said before. It isn’t helping.”
Randidly grinned. “Did I? Well, there are only so many words in the world. It's inevitable that some will be repeated. Good luck, Helen.”
Randidly turned to depart, and Helen felt a flash of boldness. The black flames of rage stretched upward in her chest. She needed this, to blow off steam. Lightning fast, she drew her spear and created the Tides of Blood Domain. Before Randidly could leave, she launched herself spear first at his back.
He turned. His eyes were so bright and clear that Helen felt more in a tropical oasis than in a city surrounded by war. Then he smiled.
Her Domain sagged and disintegrated into thousands of motes of ash. And when her spear pierced Randidly’s body, he began to deteriorate too. After a few seconds, his soft laughter was all that remained of him.
Helen’s frowned was murderous.
“So unsatisfying,” She muttered to herself. Then she stored her spear away and took a seat to meditate. It took twenty-three seconds for her to snap and throw her hands up in the air. “This is the last moment before the match! Isn’t this where you are supposed to teach me an Ancient Skill to seize victory?!?”
No answer came from the night. It appeared that Randidly had truly left her alone with her thoughts.
Randidly grimaced. “The whole School? Fallen?”
“Truly,” Shal replied with a nod. “It has been quite some time since we have heard from them. And if you believe your equipment was truly stolen and taken to the East… the Death School is the most likely location. You say this was taken by one of the Engraving Guild members, yes?”
Shal’s expression grew complicated. “I have… inquired with Ophelia about them. I have learned some disturbing things. It is known that the Wights and the Engraving Guild have close relations. But it is not as I believed. The Engraving Guild… it is too simple to say that the Wights control the Engraving Guild…”
Shal trailed off. For several seconds he remained silent. Randidly felt a strange fluttering in his chest. What secret could leave his master so uneasy?
Finally, Shal sighed. “It is not such a deep thing that it is worth it to dwell on. But… the Wights are not so different than… us. All the people of Tellus. Almost exactly the same. Rather than being controlled by Wights… the Engraving Guilds members are simply those with Wight blood. Can only be those who possess at least a drop of Wight blood. It is said that those who can use more than spears as Skills possess Wight blood. So all of the Engravers are descended from Wights. There are signs as well, of the mixed bloods. Skin colorations. Strange physiques. Third eyes…”
Shal trailed off.
Slowly, a huge picture seemed to form for Randidly in his mind. Tellus was more like his Soulskill than he would have believed. This was a created world on one individual’s whims. There likely had been a very real Second Calamity, but the Spearman had overcome the difficult part of what he had feared. His image was superior.
Why the process failed after that was still a mystery, but the Spearman survived. And he inherited a whole world which he has been tinkering with ever since. With the broken pieces of two worlds, he settled down to build something very specific.