Around her, everyone at the table froze. Ikaas with shock more than anything else, seeming to have recognized Bertarn as well, but aghast that Helen would talk so directly to him. Turn was torn between laughing and growling in anger, and his face was twisted in a very amusing fashion.
But of them all, Bertarn was the most amusing. His face was completely blank, as he seemed to struggle that someone would have the gall to say this to him. More than that, a woman said it to him. Well perhaps he didn’t think that, Helen allowed, but he certainly looked like the type who had been hiding some sort of sexism. Maybe he wanted to slap a wench’s ass while she worked in the kitchen…?
Contrary to her expectations, Betarn didn’t seem to get mad at all, after he had a few seconds to process her reaction. Instead, he began to laugh, a deep, belly laugh that had him bending over and slapping his knee. Turn seemed even more taken aback than Helen at his reaction, and Ikaas just laughed awkwardly along with him, carried away by her nerves.
Helen’s mouth twitched. Truly, the girl spent more time with her mother than was good for her. Slowly frayed away your ability to think for yourself. Although he seemed incredibly boring, Turn would be a good balance for her.
Straightening, Bertarn said. “Well, yes, it does suck. And thank you, I’ll have an ale.”
As if this was the most natural thing in the world, he pulled up a chair and waved a hand. It seemed that this man was more famous than Helen had given him credit for, because a waiter instantly scrambled over, looking delighted at the chance to take Bertarn’s order.
Helen supposed she had really known his fame, but… it was so hard to keep track of all the different people that Randidly beat in the tournament…
Like a bucket of ice cold water, it hit her that her association with him had changed her in incredible ways. He had opened doors that she never would have been able to do otherwise. Her strength too… in her chest, the warm, slender flow of Aether twined around her heart.
Fucking asshole. It was annoying to stay mad at him when he was just so fucking useful.
“So who are you two lovely ladies?” Bertarn asked politely, smiling at Ikaas before turning his gaze curiously to Helen.
She shrugged. “I’m here chaperoning these two fucking love birds. And drinking while I’m at it.”
Bertarn’s eyes changed slightly, and Helen knew that he had noticed her omission of any real information about herself. But he nodded, as if this was fine. “Indeed? Well it is truly a tragedy that such a pretty lady needs to drink alone. After my loss, I have some free time. Perhaps we could make this a double date?”
Randidly tsk’d to himself, tossing aside his most recent Engraving attempt. Although he had the idea down, his ability to Engrave was not yet at a high enough level to manage the Shadow IV rune. It was both a matter of control and sensitivity; the detail associated with the rune was bewilderingly complex, even in the curves.
After several attempts Randidly gleaned that the rune was actually made by drawing the lines effectively twice; once forwards, once backwards, layering the lines onto it in a complex way.
What it ended up being was an exceedingly painful headache. It was hard to tell with any surety how the two lines interacted and layered on each other. Randidly simply didn’t have enough experience discerning how they interacted. On that front, the 2nd volume of the encyclopedias he had been given seemed to be very helpful, but that was rough sledding. Studying those tomes took time, and perhaps it was due to the presence of the tournament, but Randidly didn’t have much patience to spare.
Randidly had spent most of the last day walking around the perimeter of Deardun’s walls, practicing his Engraving and Living Blood, trying to familiarize himself with his more recent skill acquisitions, so he would feel comfortable working them into fights.
Finding a nice patch overlooking a river, Randidly sat down and took stock of his gains over the past two days. He had been so focused on improving himself that he hadn’t really spent any of his PP, leaving him with a sizable amount.
Randidly had gained 7 Skill Lvls in Living Blood, 4 in Meditation and Bacterial Regeneration, 3 in Incinerating Bolt, 2 in Pierce the Skies, Shatter the Earth and Grace, 1 lvl in Flexibility of the White Hunters, Circle of Flame, and White Phantom’s Half Step, 3 in Haste and Empower, 2 in Heavy Blow and Flesh Eating Virus, 5 in Mana Engraving and Weeping Cloud, 4 in Burning Footsteps, 2 in Hammer of the Dawn and Superiority, and a surprising 11 in Weather Affinity.
Randidly believed that the levels in Weather Affinity were due to the fact he had spent the last day moving, creating rain clouds and feeling the soft, relaxing drops of rain spread across his skin while he Engraved. During his frustrating failures, he had considered the sky a lot. Although Shal’s world was somewhat different from his own, there didn’t seem to be any strange weather patterns. Clouds, sun, breeze… it all was the same. A strange fact, when Randidly thought about it, but likely a good one.
It just seemed statistically unlikely that two such climates would exist. Admittedly, it was hard to say whether his Vitality and Endurance had risen to the point where he could survive in other, more extreme climates, but he was likely close.
All in all, he had earned a fair amount of PP. Unfortunately, he hadn’t made any real headway on the Shadow IV rune. It was simply a few orders too advanced for his current self. So after he had spent his remaining PP and earned another Blessing of the Murderous Cold, Randidly finally addressed the issue he had been avoiding by working on his Engraving.
Should he go meet Azriel again?
On the one hand, he wanted to. She, while Shal was off doing god knows what, would give him some pointers and direction. She seemed to be genuinely working to help him, which still left Randidly feeling slightly suspicious, but he was willing to accept it, based on her actions thus far.
On the other hand, Randidly’s encounter with the Engraving Guild reminded him that his power was only suitable to face those at a similar age to him. With a powerful Vitality, there were monsters out there that were probably hundreds of years old, just constantly grinding their skill level…
In terms of sincerity, he knew he had some breathing room with the larger Styles as long as the tournament continued. The question was how long after that he would have to wait after the tournament ended before he could transfer back to his home Cohort. Based on the inquiries he had made earlier in the day, it actually wasn’t that expensive, the only problem was a village needed to build a Grand Teleportal in order to move between Cohorts. And the closest one was at the abandoned village that formed the core of the Qtal region…
Even being optimistic, Randidly knew that he would need to travel 48 hours at reasonable speed in order to arrive at the portal. Which, when pursued by annoyed upper tier experts from Deardun, was a little…
Probably a little too far, especially as his efforts to prepare an avenue of stealth through the Shadow IV rune failed. It was also hard to discern how effective such a measure would be. After all, these powerful individuals were clearly beyond his ability to deal with in terms of combat, and especially spear use. But their supporting stats, their detection skills?
It was possible that they were prepared with sharp reflexes for a direct fight, but magic would buy Randidly some precious time. But all of this was conjecture. He supposed he could ask Divveltian, but…
Sighing, Randidly stood. Divveltian had taken Shal’s departure rather hard, and was wandering about the city, coming in and out of their inn, muttering to himself. He seemed intent on finding Shal, but he wouldn’t speak of why it was so pressing. Randidly even had thoughts of breaching the subject of an Aether Donation with him, but this new Divveltian made him wary.
There was also Dian to worry about. Bertarn wasn’t the type to lie, and his stories about that impulse to reach out and seize a foreign power gave Randidly pause. His initial reaction was to believe that the Creature was beginning to move, but somehow this felt different. Less… powerful, less insidious. More of the temptations of a common street prostitute than the seductive way the creature had wormed herself into Randidly previously.
Besides, he didn’t seem to be the target. If anything… Based on what Bertarn said, it was anyone BUT him that was targeted…
Was it truly Dian, reaching out to the rest of the competition? But it seemed an incredibly inefficient way to target him.
“Of what are you thinking? Your anxiety is quite clear on your face. If you were like this in a battle, it would be simple to destroy you.”
Randidly blinked and turned to find Azriel and her bone white hair standing behind him on the wall, peering at him.
“How…. how did you-”
“Your female spear attendant. I accosted her and Bertarn while they were on a date. She told me to look for the wandering cloud.” Azriel pointed up to the small grey cloud still raining down on them.
“So,” She continued, her eyes burning. “Why are you avoiding me?”