Randidly looked around the street, suffused with predawn light. It all struck him as a little surreal. All week she had been coming to speak to Shal, and now suddenly she was willing to speak to him? He supposed it did make sense if she was worried about her safety after she lost, but this almost seemed like a tacit admittance that she would lose to him in the next match. After all this training, was victory really going to be this easy?
But… that sort of feeling wasn’t in the air. Dian didn’t feel as though she had given up, just that… she was nervous about something. There was a great anxiousness to her, even now, as she waited for his response.
“...I assume you won’t just talk here?” Randidly asked, somewhat lamely.
Dian’s lip curled. “No. Follow me.”
Curious, and feeling like there was truly something worth learning from this woman, Randidly gave the inn behind him one final glance and then followed her. She led him through the winding streets of Deardun, crisscrossing between alleys and thoroughfares. Very quickly they had traversed the city, and ended up in one of the more poverty stricken areas.
Only after they had dropped down into underground tunnels did Dian stop, and then only for a moment to listen. Then, satisfied, she continued.
The whole underground tunnels vibe was interesting in a way, but in another way, it made Randidly doubt very much that he had made the right decision by following Dian to talk. Perhaps he should have insisted on a location. But finally, she stopped in front of a dark opening, and gestured to Randidly to walk through.
He gave her a very skeptical look. She sighed dramatically. “You come all this way, and you don’t trust me?”
Randidly didn’t bother to reply, but instead his gaze turned from skeptical to withering. To her credit, Dian laughed and waved a hand, then pressed her palm against the wall. Threads of light emerged, tracing strange runes around the doorway, and illuminated the inner room, which was simply that: a small room.
“These are runes to hide us from the tournament officials’ attention. You are familiar with some Engraving are you not? Feel free to check them.” She gestured, as if checking strange runes was some perfectly easy activity, that anyone could do on a whim based on a small familiarity with Engraving.
Which, Randidly supposed, it might very well be. But based on most of the reading that he had done, it was NOT that simple. Perhaps if he could sample the energy from the runes themselves, but he wasn’t sure how to do that without shorting the whole thing out. In addition, the books seemed to imply that the meaning of the same rune could be very different between two different individuals. But there was apparently a lot of controversy over the issue.
Perhaps the explanation was something to do with Aether, and how the runes in a place drew their meaning from somewhere. Theoretically, the same runes could mean different things, but they never could find two different sources of meaning in one location, likely due to the System’s influence…
Either way, Randidly had no way to check the runes. So either she was bluffing, or completely unsure of how runes worked, or…. or something.
Randidly scratched his head and walked through the door. It had really been a long 2 days of training, and he wanted to get some more… calming relaxation done before his own match. This was not exactly stress free.
Besides, Dian had been very convincing that she genuinely needed to talk to Shal. For whatever reason, he was inclined to believe her, and decided to take this one on faith.
Luckily, nothing happened when Randidly entered into the room. Dian simply pressed a few more things on the wall and followed him in. The runes glowed brighter, perhaps now active.
However, when Randidly turned around, Dian’s expression was serene and solemn, very different from the prideful and direct Dian he had encountered in the past. In fact, her gaze on him seemed almost sad, as she studied him for several seconds. Then she shook her head.
“It… shouldn’t be like this. But I suppose it must be. I fear that I am too late.” Straightening she put her arms behind her back and began to speak in a more considered fashion, as if she had practiced this speech previously. “Greetings, spear user. I must admit I have been dishonest in the past. I was raised in the Central Region, and am from an offshoot of the Endless Heat Style. Since Aemont’s… involvement with our beloved daughter, Alycassia, we have watched him.”
“I come to you today because there are several… complicated issues regarding Aemont, and therefore Shal. Things that the wider world doesn’t really know. A very powerful seer foretold that in the future, the next man who could *(#(*@ a Calamity would be the son of the Spear Phantom. For that reason, Aemont’s appearance was the subject of bitter debate, when he sought a match with Alycassia. We delayed as long as we could, discussing the subject with other Styles, but they were young and strong, and eventually overcame our hurdles. But we didn’t realize… how extreme the methods Aemont used were, at first.”
Randidly held up his hands. “Wait a second, does this mean you are not associated with Haelthing at all? Are you just trying to hide the fact you are from the Central Region from the tournament staff?”
Dian shook her head, her expression so calm. It was truly slightly off putting after seeing her glare for so long. “No… This was never about the tournament staff. All of this, is for the sake of hiding things from the Eternal Witch, the Genie, Lucretia.”
“The Genie, Lucretia….” Randidly muttered, frowning.
“Yes. She is so named because she will always grant a wish by giving you three gifts. Do you not know of her? I would think-” Then Dian seemed to realize something, and smiled bitterly. “Of course, the compulsion. Ha. We were quite foolish, it seems…”
Then, shaking her head, Dian seemed to come back to the present and began to speak to Randidly directly. “Legend speaks of how the first people on our planet were hunters, who traveled around through the System completely naked, with only their spears, sleeping under trees and wrapping themselves with leaves for warmth. One… unlucky man encountered Lucretia, who had erected herself a dwelling. After looking on with envy for a while, the man wished aloud that he would have such a home.
“Lucretia appeared, and told the man how to hunt and skin animals, gathering their skin. The man tried this, and basic clothing was developed. The next day she arrived and gave them tools, making the skinning easier, and teaching them to harvest the trees and create dwellings. Soon, they did this, but some were more affluent, better hunters, and their houses were much larger. Envy was widespread, and there was much discontent over those that monopolised the housing.”
Dian’s smile was bitter. “They were simply low wooden huts, but it was enough to drive these people crazy. Fighting ensued, and the man who made the wish had his house destroyed. That day, Lucretia appeared again, and taught him how to harness and create fire. With the heat from fire, the man and his family were kept warm at night, but he craved more. So he created a small, hidden house, with a low roof and encased the whole thing in mud, so it was difficult to spot. For warmth, he placed a fire pit right in the middle. After lighting the fire, the family laid down to rest.
“Only he woke the next morning, coughing from the smoke. There was of course no ventilation, so his sons, daughters, and wives were dead from the smoke filling their lungs. He was able to escape, but the fire had started to burn through the house, and spread to the surrounding forest. By the next morning, the entire forest had burned down, and everyone in it was either injured, homeless, or dead. It seems… extreme to us now, and we don’t exactly believe this occurred, or that Lucretia is that old, but she has definitely spread this legend and defined herself this way, and whatever else you believe about her, she will definitely give you three gifts if you find her and make a wish.”
“Aemont found her.” Randidly said, less a question than a statement.
Dian nodded. “Yes. Needless to say, the powerful Styles in the Central Region were… concerned when we realized that this man was the most likely father of our next Hero to defeat the Calamity, and also had made a wish with Lucretia. And already received two of the gifts. An image, given to Aemont by Lucretia, which let him rise quickly to power. And of course, a rune of the Devourer… which, by the way the things played out, she gave directly to Aemont’s first son, Pronto.”
Randidly slowly absorbed this information. In the story that he had heard back in Qtal, Aemont truly did leave, heading away for a time, and returning stronger, with a skill that let him succeed on the battlefront. Supposing what Dian said was true about this ‘Rune of the Devourer’... The original story was that after Aemont had obtained his skill, he was finally strong enough to accomplish the goal set by the Elders to marry the woman he loved, but when he returned with proof, the elders moved against him, killing the woman, and driving Aemont and his two sons away. Then they fled to the Northern Region. Once there, Pronto went to Haelthing, while Shal went with a smaller, local Style.
“What… is a Rune of the Devourer? And when did this happen?” Randidly asked slowly. It was hard to know why Dian would bother to lie about this, but it was also hard to see why she was telling him this, especially now.
Dian nodded. “This… is something that we have all wondered. But we are not too sure what the Rune of the Devourer is. Based on our information, it is an Engraving, but a living one, that can be moved across… mediums. As for when… we believe that the kills of Aemont’s love, as well as the related attacks… were all done by Pronto, under the influence of the rune. For that reason, Aemont fled North, to seek out Haelthing, who…”
For the first time, Dian stumbled, her face scrunching up. “Who… although it was only a cover for me to be his disciple, was my uncle, who raised me after my parents were killed on the frontlines. Haelthing, contrary to popular belief, specialized in stealth and suppression. He was widely regarded as a crackpot in the spear user community, but Aemont seized on it as a chance, a way to perhaps restrain the rune, which had driven Pronto to murder his own mother.”
Sighing, Dian’s eyes focused back on Randidly, her gaze bitter. “It seems that the people… found it easier to believe that Haelthing was studying dark methods to gain power, rather than ways to restrain himself, which was why the rumors about it spread so quickly. It was seen as more ‘honorable’.”