Claptrap kept his face carefully neutral. The grinning man was no longer grinning. His face was still, as the ran his fingers over the bracer. Almost reverently, he set it back down, and picked up the next one. Here too, he took his time, his fingers deftly tracing the engraved lines that the Ghosthound had left in the leather.
Claptrap felt it, growing in him like a noxious weed, abating his anger. It was hope, spreading wildly. He wouldn’t possibly be taking so much time, if it was just for a joke, now could he…?
Izzat was now hovering behind the man, but from a distance, it was impossible to see the engraved lines, filled with a rich and vibrant mana. So he could only wonder why this man, a member of the great Crashing Wave Style, would spend so much time on a piece of leather armor that he could have made himself, with barely any levels in his Leatherwork skill.
The man set the second bracer down and picked up the third, which was the Ghosthound’s greatest, with an effectiveness of 52%. The man’s eyes tightened, but he said nothing, taking the time to use his fingers to explore every inch of the engraving. Claptrap was starting to realize that he was searching for something, but he couldn’t be sure what that was. As it was, he could only wait.
The man set the final bracer down, and spoke. “Madam Adept, a moment of your time.”
Claptrap and Izzat both paled as the towering woman handed off the tassle to one of the other members of her style and walked slowly forward. She was one of the Adepts of the Crashing Wave Style?!? Although they had a few dozen Spear Artisans, even the largest style in Qtal only had 3 Adepts at the moment. And considering her prodigious size, and gender…
There was only one that fit that description. Ivkka, the Slow Tide.
Her eyes flicked across the bracers, then she blinked slowly. “...Is this a joke?”
Claptrap stood there for several seconds, before it became clear to him that in fact, she was talking to him. “Uh… no…” But he didn’t really know what would be a joke about his wares-
Then he realized and stammered. “A-a-at least I d-don’t think so. A man approached me, saying he was a novice engraver, unaffiliated with the guilds…”
Claptrap stumbled to a stop. And from the way that Izzat’s eyes widened, he suddenly regret that he had stammered that out so easily, where anyone could hear him. The Guilds took their trade very seriously, and took certain… steps to ensure that any individuals with the talent for engraving joined their guild.
Or they became unable to engrave in a series of tragic accidents.
If Izzat would leak that information… or worse, try to blackmail him with it…
But Ivkka just chuckled, her laughter, and voice, slow and even. “You need not lie, friend. I am aware that the guilds occasionally send out their apprentices with a shell merchant, in order for them to gain experience. But I would never had guessed that the Guilds would come to such a small place as our Qtal.”
Claptrap couldn’t respond. He just opened and closed his mouth. Izzat was now looking at him with narrowed eyes, calculating. Ivkka continued to speak. “Perhaps then… when you are willing to display your true wares, we can do business. Come, Sevven.”
The grinning man, Sevven, whose easy smile had returned, spared Claptrap a glance before following Ivkka away. Hesitating for a moment, Izzat decided quickly to scurry after them, still interested in a deal. But from the stink eye he gave Claptrap over his shoulder, this business wasn’t concluded, and Izzat still had his suspicions.
Abruptly alone, and with the gazes of the surrounding merchants on him, Claptrap felt very cold. Why had he said that…?
After shivering for several minutes, he abruptly put the bracers away, and left, not even bothering to speak to the event staff. He needed space, and some time to think what saying that would mean for his business.
Would this Ghosthound end up being a blessing or a curse…?
Despite his high status as the most talented recruit of the Iron Spear Style, he had simply jogged around the arena for the first hour, content to wait things out. He saw many powerful spear users that aroused his fighting spirit, but he had received instruction from his master, Egger to help the Iron Spear Style dominate every stage.
He had even taken to wearing a disguise, so he wouldn’t be recognized. After all, in Qtal and the surrounding areas, the most talented disciple the Iron Spear Style had seen in 50 years needed no introduction. Just his trademark aura of confidence was enough to make lesser opponents quake with fear.
Much to his disappointment, only 4 of the stages had the tassle of the Iron Spear Style at the halfway point. He shook his head sorrowfully, but it could not be helped. After all, although he had done all he could to assist his fellow disciples, they didn’t possess his talent and poise. They would never understand the Iron Spear Style like he would.
It was a style focused on steadfastness in the face of adversity, of withstanding incredible pressure without bending. It was perhaps not the flashiest style, which disappointed him somewhat, but that didn’t matter. After all, his shocking performance would be flashy enough to make up for any weaknesses in the Style.
As he jogged past a stage, he looked up to see that the crowd here was rather thin. Although there were already 3 people on the stage, they all seemed to be heavily injured, and were carefully sipping potions while eyeing each other up.
Seeing the first stepping stone he would take to lead the Iron Spear Style to greatness, he moved forward, heading towards the crowd. Apparently even his talent for disguises was too impressive, for as he pushed his way through the crowd, no one gave him a second glace. He secretly memorized all of their faces with his prodigious memory, swearing to repay this slight 1000 fold.
As he moved to the front, he realized how decidedly pathetic all three of the spear users up on stage were. He hadn’t seen any of their moves, but all 3 of them had ripped clothes and dried blood on their bodies, evidencing their earlier wounds. One wasn’t even wearing shoes.
Grinning, he removed his cape and mask with a flourish, revealing himself, right at the edge of the stage.
No one around him wavered as they stared intently up at the three on the stage. And those three continued their strange pregnant silence, as if waiting for a sign that they should overcome their fear and resume fighting. There was currently no honor here.
He would change that.
“Ill fated peasants, why do you bleed over my stage?” He said, stepping grandly up onto the stage with the three cowards. For several long seconds, they did nothing. The closest, the pitiful, shoeless one, didn’t even turn. A man foolish enough to wield two spears at once squinted at him, then yawned. The woman spared the new arrival a glance, but then turned back to the shoeless one.
He was infuriated. To think that these fools would have the audacity to ignore him…! Well, he would show them all how high the sky truly was.
He drew his spear, which was a beautiful piece of artisanship, studded with precious materials to boost its effectiveness. It even had a very basic Gazelle Engraving, which boosted his Agility and Reaction.
With this spear, he would-
He stilled, his eyes locking with the far man’s, who used two spears. In that man’s eyes, he saw a desolate wilderness, and a rising storm of spears, threatening to engulf him. They were endless and hungry, those spears, like a pack of hyenas, and they rushed forward, aiming to eat him alive.
Sweating, he used every ounce of will to dispel the illusion, emerging to stagger forward slightly. The man snorted, looking away.
His eyes narrowed. To think they would rely on underhanded mental attacks in order to throw him off his game…! Truly, these three were bumpkins, because they didn’t recognize him as the most talented member of the Iron Spear Style! And obviously, the Iron Spear was not one that could be swayed by petty illusions. The Iron Spear was a Style that-
His gaze met the womans.
Her eyes were dark, so dark that the irises seemed black from this distance, and He found himself unable to look away. As their gazes remained locked, in spite of his struggles, He found that the edges of his vision began to darken. Slowly but surely, piece by piece, his vision was ripped away at the edges, consumed by the darkness in her eyes. As his gaze narrowed, there was less that he could see apart from those eyes, and even more quickly he was drawn into them, until it felt like he was falling to his death there.
Abruptly he blinked, finding himself sitting on the ground, trembling, his spear laying next to him. He had no idea what had happened, or how long this had been going on for, but he was filled with shame and a vicious anger. After this he would track down these bumpkins and murder their families in their sleep…!
“We won’t move, while you deal with him.” The woman said, glancing at the far man. The far man nodded, sneering. The close man tilted his head to the side.
“You are closest.” The far man countered. Seemingly despite himself, the close man chuckled.
“It’s already taken care of.”
He gritted his teeth and stood, furious that this shoeless savage would treat him so jokingly. When his spear was deep in the near man’s gut, he would-
But instead of standing, he toppled over, and then vomited all over his spear. As he struggled upwards, his vision began to swim. The edges blurring.
But he was well trained, and his style specialized in defeating illusions, so he marshalled his will and created a wave of power that should clear his head. Nothing happened.
His vision grew dark, and he could feel his mouth start to foam. The nearest man turned, and regarded him for a second. The near man’s gaze didn’t inspire illusions, and it didn’t consume his line of sight, but there was something more intimidating about the mild, light green gaze. It was a look that demonstrated how little this near man cared about him.
It was a look that, for the first time in his life, made him feel inferior.
“Poi...son….?” He mumbled, his fat tongue barely obeying him as he collapsed forward.
Randidly tsk’ed inwardly, and Dian’s eyes narrowed, and Tartet scowled. The energy around Dian expanded, eating up the Pollen of the Rafflesia that had been drifting towards her. For his part, Tartet raised his vibrating spears, which also seemed to destroy the pollen.
Randidly shook his head, lamenting the fact that one idiot could waste the 10 or so minutes he had wasted standing here, hoping the pollen would drift towards one of them, knocking them out and giving him the chance to inflict a killing blow.
“Uh sir…” Randidly glanced behind him, towards the voice. A beautiful woman with long brown hair gestured helplessly. “I’m just… going to remove the trash, so….”
Shrugging, Randidly spared the man who pulled out a fancy spear just to vomit on it one more glance. Then he turned back to Dian and Tartet. He listened very carefully, but he needn’t have bothered. The woman came on stage and simply dragged the twitching body away, swiftly leaving.
After she left, as one, the three of them raised their spears, flexed their hands, and cracked their necks.
“Well then, I suppose this is a good a time as any to kill you,” Tartet said lazily. Dian said nothing, her strangely intense gaze still on Randidly.
Randidly was never the one liner type, so he simply walked forward, a smile on his face as his feet carried him forward on his path.