Shal watched as his disciple dropped the diary, huffing. His mouth twisted into a grin. “Still insufficient? You must have less talent than I had thought, to fail to improve even after all of this time with access to the diary.”
His disciple gave him a look that was more exasperated than annoyed, so Shal let it slide. Besides, although he had moved himself closer to a level of Aether that he could subsist on, the problems hadn’t completely gone away. After their spar the previous day, Shal had been forced to nap for several hours to reach an equilibrium.
It was incredibly frustrating. For Shal, this was the moment he had been waiting for his entire life, the chance for vengeance on Lucretia. But he was bound, tied by his Aether weakness, unable to train. So he could only sharpen himself mentally, working on clarifying his images, focusing on strengthening his Battle Intent. He wasn’t sure of her strength, but…
It was always clear from Aemont’s attitude when her name came up that he was wary of her. And although Shal thought himself strong, stronger than he had ever revealed, that strength was partially from relying on the legacy of his father. Since that was the case, and Shal had been unable to master the 5th and 6th moves as of yet…
Shal’s mouth firmed into a fine line as he came back to the moment, with his disciple standing in front of him. As Shal’s thoughts had wandered, it seemed as though his disciple was considering something.
Unsurprisingly, the idiot blurted it out after several seconds. “Shal, there might be a way to get rid of the rest of your Aether sickness. I have a skill-”
“The problem is solved.” Shal said smoothly, folding his arms.
Now his disciple frowned, clearly wanting to fight him on this issue. What annoyed Shal into action was the fact that his disciple was right, the problem wasn’t near solved. Still, while it was true that this boy had an exceedingly… strange relationship with Aether, Shal was unwilling to follow it any further. He did not want to rely on outside influence for this.
It was already enough that his ticket to the land that Lucretia had sequestered herself depended on the foolish boy. To also be borrowing his strength in the final battle… It was enough to make Shal ill. Even the ticket would likely never had happened had Shal not felt enough respect for Aemont’s legacy to pass it onto another.
And the fact that that happened-
Shal’s frown slowly fell away. Why had it happened? He was injured in the dungeon while his mind was unfocused, before he had found direction for himself, but why had he been in the dungeon. There was a letter-
“Are you sure?” His disciple asked once more, causing Shal to lose his train of thought.
Sighing, Shal rolled up his sleeves and cracked his knuckles. Then he invited his disciple upstairs. Sure, the fool had the tournament tomorrow, but some things could only be conveyed from man to man through fists. There was an honor, and brutal honesty to it that was unappreciated by many, but Shal had learned it from his father, and now he taught that same lesson to Randidly.
When a man says he is finished speaking, the only communication that is left is fists.
The tournament itself was very different from the preliminaries. The 76 individuals who had passed, which included Randidly and Tertet, were stretched out underneath a pole at one end of a wide arena, their Tassles hanging over them. Randidly’s still stuck out like a sore thumb, its emerald gold color clear in the gloom, but as he looked around, he saw a familiar Tassle on the far side, opposite his.
Red-violet with white, the Tassle of Dian, disciple of Haelthing the Devourer. Randidly’s hand instinctively clenched on his spear. After learning the story about Shal’s relationship with Haelthing, Randidly had more questions than answers, and none of the stories told why there was a disciple. Based upon what he had heard, towards the end, Haelthing had sent everyone away from his seat of power, except Shal’s brother.
When then, did he have time to raise a disciple…?
Randidly sighed. Probably pointless to decide. But there really wasn’t much else to do. They had been led out here and displayed, but only now were the stands of the arena beginning to fill. Slowly but surely, more and more people piled in, filling the seats. Randidly was slightly amused by some of Claptrap’s little henchmen running around, selling snacks and beer. It certainly was a surreal experience, watching a culture discover fast food.
They stood there for another hour before anything changed; finally, a bugle sounded, and a gate opened opposite them. Out streamed 100 individuals, each whose name and Style was announced, waving a tall pole with a Tassle made on a scale larger than those given to the individuals who passed the preliminaries. These young spear users were carrying ornate and Engraved spears, and wore luxurious clothes more fit for dandies than fighters.
But all armor that gave any boosts were required to be removed during the tournament, so Randidly supposed he could understand why they decided to take the fashion route. The only problem was how silly they all looked, like some weird cross between a roman legionnaire and a peacock.
Claptrap had asked what sort of industry Randidly advised they move into next, and the sight of this was a large temptation to recommend they corner the fashion market while there were clearly no competitors. But Randidly had to admit that he would be just as inept- well, not THAT inept- as these people, and it was a foolish decision.
Perhaps also it was annoying to have to wait while all these fops would be introduced. Which was what Randidly thought, until he examined them more closely. Sure, they looked and dressed and acted like idiots, but the auras they produced were not that of idiots. These individuals strutted and loped, their bodies lean and graceful. The air around them was positively electric.
There was even a feeling in the air that Randidly could intermittently catch whiffs of, it demonstrated how close some of these people were to the Artisan level with a spear. Their Battle Intents were strong and powerful.
‘So this… is the real level of the competition.’ Randidly thought inwardly, eyeing them up. And everyone around him was doing the same, watching the chosen ones carefully. There was certainly an us versus them mindset, that the organizers made no effort to conceal. These were the vetted and powerful, while these were the struggling trash.
Orangey’s annoying ass face floated to the surface of Randidly’s consciousness, and he grinned. Instead of being scared, Randidly felt his blood begin to flow more quickly inside of him. He had been training these past two years for these pampered individuals. It was good that they were worth all the hype.
In addition, it was now much easier to understand why Shal was so adamant that he train and reforge himself. These spear users were far beyond the level of his previous self, even with some of the advantages and surprises he could utilize due to his spells. These people couldn’t be beaten with cantrips.
“Welcome all, to the 132nd Northern Regional Tournament!” The announcer said, after every one of the disciples of the high ranking Styles had been introduced. He went on to talk about the honor of the tournament, and the glory of the Spearman School, but Randidly largely ignored it. This was not what he was here for. It was only when the announcer began to speak of the rules of the competition that Randidly tuned back in.
“From 176 of you,” The announcer spoke, “The first order of business will to be whittle down the group to the 32 finalists. For that reason, all of you will participate in several round robin, 1 v 1, style of matches, triple elimination. If at all possible, we will arrange the matches in a fair manner, so matches between disciples of the same Style will not be allowed. Each individual will participate in 4 matches a day until we reach the requisite number. In addition, in order to fairly determine the relative strength of the seeded participants versus the ones who came from the preliminaries, the first and third match of every day will be between a seeded individual and one from the preliminaries, as numbers will allow…”
The seeded individuals barred their teeth at their fellow participants across from them, and several of those who passed through the preliminaries shifted side to side. Randidly snorted. Every other match, as numbers would allow, eh…?
Going on the very real assumption that most seeded individuals were stronger than the preliminary ones, that would mean that a great majority of the seeded individuals would pass through the first day, while most of the preliminary participants would be pushed out. That wasn’t 100% true, but it was designed in such a way that this was the more likely outcome…
Again, the discourse turned to the glory and strength of the Spearman Style, but Randidly simply smiled, his grin vicious. Yesterday, after his mana had returned to him, he had been experimenting with his two new spells, Hammer of the Dawn and Burning Footsteps, as well as training with Marco Polo to strengthen Stalemate Breaker.
He couldn’t wait to fight.
He couldn’t wait to teach these fools the name Ghosthound.