The crowd milled about the stands, unsure of why there were signs put up, indicating there would be entertainment available in the arena today. Yesterday had been the matches to determine the top 16, so according to the schedule, there should be two days of break, for the people to wander around the city and enjoy the festival like atmosphere. Why did the referees signal something would be occurring here today…?
Claptrap’s smile was sly as he walked up with the male spear attendant and the head referee. This was actually an idea that he had come up with on his own, but when he approached the Ghosthound, he was surprised to find that he already knew of such programming, and offered some very concrete advice for increasing the success of his idea.
The referee coughed awkwardly, then began to speak in halting tones. “Ah… well… we are here today to offer to you, the- err- the supporters of the Northern Regional Tournament, for some analysis in the wider tournament….”
The referee gave Claptrap a pleading look, who simply looked on impassively. They had already come to an agreement, so why was he dragging his feet.
“So uh, here they are….” The referee finished lamely. Claptrap cursed inwardly, but gestured, and a dozen or so of his employees rushed out, erecting a small raised platform off the stage, with a table. Claptrap walked over and sat down, with the male spear attendant.
The one thing the Ghosthound had been very clear about is that they needed to take on different roles. Not just their usual personality, but in terms of what they were saying. One guy needed to constantly blow things out of proportion, while the other needed to offer commentary based more in fact, and reel the other one in. Claptrap wanted to start refining his image as a competent head of his company, so insisted that the male spear attendant be the hype guy. But he was a little worried about how easily the male spear attendant would accept his role…
Realizing the audience was staring awkwardly at them, Claptrap opened his mouth to speak, but the male spear attendant beat him to the punch.
“This!” The male spear attendant bellowed, standing and smashing his fist down, cracking the table. “Is perhaps the greatest Regional Tournament the Northern Region has had in 100 years!”
Claptrap’s eyelid twitched at the damage to the table. The audience began to whisper to each other, wide eyed.
“The-the last 100…” Claptrap said weakly, trying to establish himself, but once more the male spear attendant bellowed.
“NO! You are right, friend! The last 500 years! For the last 100 Regional Tournaments, I have no doubt in my mind that the concentration of heroic spear users we have now can be rivaled! Truly, it is the golden age to live in the Northern Region of the Spearman School.”
The people were more excited now, smiling and nodding. Truly, there hadn’t been-
Interrupting his own thoughts, Claptrap began to vocalize. “Truly, there hasn’t been so many upsets and powerful contestants of note in a long time. Which is why we are here today, folks. We now are down to our best 16, and I think we should take a long look at each one of them, examining their fighting style, and making predictions on the outcome of matches. So why don’t we start with…”
As Claptrap continued to speak, his eyes scanned the stands, as people watched with rapt attention, speaking in low tones to each other and then turning back for the analysis. All the while, they purchased concessions food and ale.
Claptrap could practically feel the gold filling his pockets.
Helen sat on the ground meditating, still nursing a burning anger towards Randidly’s dismissive attitude towards her the prior night. The fury had shrunk, but its core was perhaps heating up even further, the longer she mulled over it, because while she was mad…
A small stream of Aether flowed into her, filling her with strength. Ever since he had touched her back, and she had instinctively accepted the gift he was giving her, Aether was constantly flowing into her. And it wasn’t the same as the stiff, almost unhealthy thing she now regarded the Aether from villages to be, but it was pure and accepting. She could easily shape it, strengthening her images and body.
Her ability to level skills increased by leaps and bounds. It was truly a godsend. Her level, under the tutelage of Divveltian, rapidly improved to the level where Helen believed that if they could travel back in time, she could participate in the tournament herself, and achieve modest results.
Which in fact only made her fury grow more vicious. Did Randidly think that she could be placated with Aether, and he didn’t need to respect her? That fucking piece of shit, she would rip off his dirty Aether dick and sell it to the highest bidder.
But now he had disappeared, perhaps following the footsteps of Shal, and Claptrap and the male spear attendant were practicing being clowns in front of the audience. Teliph was strong, but his continued Aether Sickness meant that he couldn’t really spar with her for extended periods of time to work off her anger, especially now as her growth became explosive.
So she was forced to sit alone, waiting-
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in.” Helen said warily. Who among the pieces who knew where she was staying would knock…?
The door opened and Ikaas stood there awkwardly. Helen wondered idly if her mother had sent her cousin, but she was at least enough of distraction from the brooding that she brought Ikaas into the room and gave her some of Claptrap’s ale to drink.
“Why did you come?” Helen asked bluntly.
Ikaas blushed. “Do…. do you remember how Islinda would hire… an…. individual to accompany us when we would go out…?”
Helen’s mouth twitched. Yes, she did recall how her mother would insist that they take one of the half-way decent spear users among their distant relations when they would meet men for ‘dates’, where they would be trotted around like ponies. It was fucking dumb, and she would tell her mother this at every available opportunity, but her mother would insist there was safety in numbers.
Which wasn’t wrong, but these were cowardly men that Helen could beat black and blue, even before she had experienced her most recent…. boost. Before she had run away from her family, entered the qualifier, and met Randidly.
“Yes, what of it?” Helen said offhandedly, but as soon as she did so, she felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. Ikaas, sent here alone to her. Asking if she recalled the stupid chaperone rule. Right after her mother had witnessed her fight off Kanan…
She had to give her mother this; she would make use of any tool she could to accomplish her goals. Even her own daughter. Especially her own daughter. Except, the only problem now was that Helen wasn’t sure what her mother’s goal was. If Helen’s strength became known, there would be fewer small powers, similar to the leatherworking district she grew up in, that would be willing to offend them. There would even likely be suitors to relatives like Ikaas.
But that was too shallow, and Helen knew it. That was her one great vexation with her mother. For all that she believed her to be a foolish bitch, she took the long view in a way that Helen had never been able to manage.
“Would you… would you be willing to chaperone me…?” Ikaas asked weakly, her eyes already wet with tears at the thought of being rejected. Helen could only sigh.
Which is how she found herself accompanying Ikaas and a man from some Style out to dinner. To her mother’s credit, the man seemed passably attractive, in a large, bulky sort of way, and was genuinely interested in Ikaas as a potential match. Apparently he had seen her wandering the market and been captivated by her beauty.
He had even kept the amount of furtive looks he had given Helen to less than three, before he devolved into an animated conversation with Ikaas. To his credit, they had even been more speculative, as in sizing her battle strength up, rather that dismissive or lustful.
With nothing else to do, Helen could only sip her ale and listen in on their conversation, unwillingly learning more about him. His name was Turn and he was a very minor disciple at one of the 4 largest Styles in Deardun. In terms of potential, he was just average, but he had impressed a high level disciple by risking his body to protect a child. Due to this act, he was brought in and given instruction.
It was too much to say his potential had blossomed, but he had proceeded to grow at a nice pace, and the skills of the Style were well suited to him. If he continued to perform well, his instructors had told him he would be taught a 3-skill Skillset, which would boost his combat power and future potential immensely.
Recently, he had been toying with heading to the frontlines, after seeing how powerful some individuals his age could be, through the tournament, and…
On and on. Helen waved for another drink.
“Um, cousin, don’t you think… you keep ordering the most expensive ale…” Ikaas said nervously.
Feeling slightly drunk and very irritable, Helen simply waved her hand. “Nah, I get free ale. I know a guy.”
“Oh, well do you think-” Turn began good naturedly, but eyeing the high end ale with envy, but Ikaas hurriedly stepped on his toes and whispered several things in quick succession to him. He immediately blanched and shut up.
Helen nodded, very pleased with this. This sort of reaction… she could get used to it. And this sort of ale…
“Huhuhu, Turn, on a date, are you?” A voice behind her rumbled. Helen twisted around in her seat and looked up, and then up farther, because the man behind her towered over her. Then she blinked, because she recognized the man.
“Ah,” Helen pointed. “You are fucking Bertarn. Must suck to be knocked out of the Tournament. Have an ale.”