“And it is all thanks to you, Claptrap.” Tears were running down her cheeks now, thick streams of emotion finally given a form in the light of day. “You were just a clerk… a cute, jumpy, polite little clerk that I thought would be there my whole life, amusing me at the shop with his antics. Did you know that I came the day after you left, looking for you? And when the other clerk told me that you had left to change your life… It was the most beautiful and tragic thing I had ever heard. I was so afraid you would never return. Not because we had anything special between us, but because… you were a part of my life, and I’d never thought anything would change, not so abruptly, not so permanently.
“Is it perverse? Isn’t it selfish? Isn’t it childish? But that’s how I felt. I wanted you to stay because… because suddenly, you reminded me of all the things I can’t do. But you came back! And in a way, I was happy. And in another, I was so confused. Because you had all of this illegal armor, made by a rogue engraver, and you bartered with the representative of the Steel Feather Style as if you were equals. You barely even looked at me, and when we met, you seemed so shocked, like you had forgotten all about me. You were changed.”
You were changed.
Claptrap’s heart was a tornado of emotions. He wanted to tell her immediately that he hadn’t changed, that he was still the same old clerk, that he had been picked up by a spear using, equipment engraving, idea creating, food preparing monster that seemed to have no weaknesses, used as a front for him, so he could concentrate on the tournament. But…
But even as these things were true, it was also true that this chance, this opportunity to talk with her, only occurred because he had accepted these things and passed them off as his own. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have an opportunity to learn so much about her, to finally see that in her own way, she valued him, even then.
So, even as the bitterness in his chest twisted and spread, Claptrap said nothing and allowed Ciel to continue.
“But you didn’t stop there, did you? No, you had to revolutionize food, and beverages, and then these concessions, and then the coverage and commentary for the tournament, the memorabilia, the interviews… you became ubiquitous. And now, I look at you and just think… what happened to the Claptrap I knew? He transformed, before my very eyes.” Ciel let out a breath that she had been holding, her slender body wilting slightly. Then she breathed back in, her spine straightening.
“I want that too. I need that. But I’m still sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin your show. But I needed this-”
“No, don’t worry,” Claptrap spoke, hearing his voice as if he was very far away. Ciel, admiring him…? “I don’t mind. I actually appreciate the extra intrigue. Although your father…”
“Oh, him,” Ciel said, waving her hand dismissively. “His bark is much worse than his bite. He probably wouldn’t do anything to intervene, even if the Ghosthound won. He definitely can see the talent your friend has. But… I can’t let that happen.”
“I have it all planned out, you see,” Ciel continued, leaning forward, her warm and now alcohol tinged breath wafting towards him. “I defeat the Ghosthound, and then face Drak in the semis. As long as I put my life on the line, I refuse to believe that he will be able to escape unscathed. I’ll scar him, weaken him. Ideally, we draw, but even I know what a monster he is. Just if I make it more difficult for him to win in the finals, if I control that… I’ll have made my mark in everyone’s minds. Then I’ll-”
“You really just want… to hurt someone…?” Claptrap said slowly, almost believing that he had misheard.
Ciel blinked, and then nodded.
The two exchanged glances for several long seconds. Then, Claptrap slowly said. “If you don’t believe you can win… do you even think you can scratch Drak Wyrd…?”
The question hung in the air for a long time, silence slowly pooling under it.
During one of their breaks when Azriel let him recover mana, Randidly turned to her with a frown. “Can you explain to me this marriage thing between you and Drak?”
Azriel shrugged. “Not really. It’s an old game that I’m quite tired of. But it’s useful, in that playing at it lets you predict how some other actors will move.”
Randidly snorted. Although it was strangely endearing and refreshing to him, Randidly found that Azriel’s relentless pretentious analytical drive was extremely counter productive in discussion. “For my sake then, explain how other people view the scenario.”
Azriel gave him an unamused glance, as if she had completely guessed his thoughts due to his response to her previous statement, but then began to explain. “Before the Northern Region was reclaimed from the monsters and dungeons, this was a wild area. 5 families worked together and cleared the monsters, founding Deardun and creating the Northern Region. But at the last minute, the greatest of the families, who would grow to be called the Breaking Dawn Style, were betrayed and ambushed. Most of them were killed, and only their heavily injured patriarch and his granddaughter were able to escape. They considered giving chase, but they had experienced their own losses in the clash, and the two of them went out beyond the bounds of the Northern Region. Assuming they would die, they were let go.”
“It was only 200 or so years later, as the Northern Region expanded, that the now entrenched 4 Styles discovered there was an area already cleared of monsters; owned and controlled by that very Breaking Dawn Style. They considered aggression, but the Breaking Dawn Style seemed to be content to remain in its area, and as such, they were left alone.
“Fast forward to now, of the 4 original Styles, one has gone extinct, while mine, the Sleeping Moon Style, is basically on its last legs, with all its hopes on me. The Steel Feather Style is still strong, but Bertarn’s Toppling Mountain Style has not had someone inherit the full Skill Set in 100 years. With more and more Styles sending feelers from the Central Region up here, sensing weakness, the heads decided better the enemy they know. So they want to bind the still very powerful Breaking Dawn Style to them through marriage, through me.”
Randidly scratched his chin.
“Which, of course, will be irrelevant when you make Drak Wyrd reveal his cards, and I defeat him, demonstrating that enlisting their aid is pointless,” Azriel said so dismissively that Randidly had to chuckle. She glared at him. “Now…. you’ve had enough time, let’s go again.”
Randidly groaned as he stood.
Claptrap wandered the streets, confused and angry at himself. After he had told Ciel his opinion on her chances, she had become extremely sad and bitter. Very soon after, she had left. In his heart, Claptrap didn’t want to apologize for speaking what he still believed was the truth, but there was no doubt in his mind that he also wished… the night had ended differently.
He wasn’t sure how, and didn’t want to think about it too much, but…
That hot jealousy, that envy and bitterness, the negative emotions, and a new fear that he would be discovered as just an individual who stole from the Ghosthound, riding his coattails, choked him, preventing any words from passing his lips as Claptrap left the bar and began to wander. It seemed to harden in his chest, becoming a hot core of negative that pulsed, dragging him onward.
As long as he carried this in his chest… he couldn’t rest, he couldn’t sit down, he could only wander, looking for something. Some way to escape it. Some way to not disappoint this woman he had loved, and who now saw him as an example to emulate. The irony crushed him, grinding down his hope.
So Claptrap continued his unsteady steps, following the dark pulses from his chest, seeking an answer. It would be a very long night for him.
The male spear attendant stood next to Helen, as they both moved through the forms, watching her out of the corner of his eye. Although it was good for training his image, it was not enjoyable to have her catch him checking her out and be beaten within an inch of his life. Which she had done, multiple times.
Deciding to focus, the male spear attendant had thrown everything into his defense, abandoning any thoughts of actually beating Helen in a fight, but at least hoping he could endure through her attacks. But she defied his expectations yet again, growing with leaps and bounds, becoming stronger every day, faster than the male spear attendant could cope with.
He wasn’t sure when it had started, but this growth was a relatively recent thing. Since the start of the tournament. There were even moments when the male spear attendant caught Helen looking at her hands, seemingly in shock herself at the speed of her growth. Which just confused the male spear attendant even more.
Where had this come from?
“Like what you see?” Helen said, twisting around in a way that made her chest flop back and forth, but still the male spear attendant winced.
But suddenly he was struck by inspiration. She often became so pissed when he denied it, what if…?
“Yea, I do.” The male spear attendant said, flashing Helen his most charming smile. Perhaps he had been going about this all wrong-
Helen’s mouth transformed into a flat line, and her eyes were dead and empty as she stared at him. The male spear attendant sighed. It was worth a try.