Divvet stopped Randidly as he was leaving the inn. “He’s still asleep… and he looks to be locked in some inner conflict. Two parts of his Battle Intent are fighting each other. It is… exceedingly strange.”
Randidly nodded, then moved to step past Divvet, but the older man put his hand on his shoulder.
“Where are you going?” His voice was stern, with a hint of fear hiding at the edges. But the emotion was strong enough for Randidly to detect it, even in his own emotional state. Randidly’s emotion was mostly panic and a low current of self hatred. If he had asked for more specific things, if he hadn’t been afraid of seeming dumb by requesting too much, or by pushing for more answers…
Randidly hadn’t wanted to give away how little he knew, but in retrospect, two things were clear: Lucretia had known exactly how little he had known, and ultimately, Randidly had held all of the power. Lucretia wanted access to more Aether, whatever the cost. She would have agreed to his terms if he had only pushed-
Then again, Randidly had no idea whether his little information on how Lucretia operated was true at all. Perhaps even if he had asked for more, she would have just said yes and then-
But ultimately, Randidly knew, what had held him back most was his own social weakness. She had taken him by surprise by appearing before he had worked out a plan, and taken advantage of it. With her sudden arrival, Randidly behaved exactly how he had learned to, by instinct: by advancing.
In this instance, however, it was not for the best. It had been several hours, but Shal remained asleep, locked in some… combat of Battle Intent in his mind. Divvet had suspected that someone could use Battle Intent to release him from it, but it would require someone of the Pontiff level, and those weren’t figures that were easy to bring to your side.
Especially when Randidly had upset so many of the plans of Deardun’s elite… Divvet promised to make inquiries, but…
All in all, Randidly was frustrated at his own inexperience and weakness in the important moment. It was a reminder though, that although his strength was growing, it was a one dimensional strength, only focused on the spear use, and offensive spells.
“You are worthless…” Randidly’s father whispered just to him.
Randidly’s mother smiled prettily. “Sorry hun, I’ll be out with ----- tonight. You can make yourself dinner, right?”
Randidly’s mouth twitched, but otherwise he ignored the phantoms. There was no proof this was healthy, or even helpful, but Randidly had activated Torment, letting the ghosts of his past haunt him. Because what he needed was mental toughness, whatever the cost.
“To train,” Randidly said softly, as he pulled himself out of Divvet’s grip. “I’m no good just waiting around here… I need the distraction. If anything changes…”
“Of course, I’ll send someone.” Divvet said, nodding, his eyes shifting to a knowing look. Perhaps he had some inkling of Randidly and Shal’s relationship, because he made no further effort to stop Randidly’s departure.
“Everyone will leave you, in the end.” His father mused. “If you have nothing of value to offer. And you…”
“Worthless,” Ace sighed, shaking his head, floating in the air around Randidly.
Aethon Thai looked at the figure in front of him, then over to the window to his study, where Ciel was still recovering, then back to the figure in front of him. His drinking partner, the Ghosthound’s male spear attendant, was battered and bruised, but still somehow managed to stagger back up to his feet, his usual affable smile in place.
“Hmm, some light exercise, eh?” The foolish drinking partner said, rubbing his hands together, his expression especially bright.
Aethon Thai was flummoxed. “You know… I hit you with almost 20% of my power right there. And you are still standing. Not only that, but…. You are almost an Artisan. Your image…”
Then Aethon shook his head. “It seems that in taking a beating, at least, you are a genius. But nothing else.”
Pounding his chest proudly, his drinking partner nodded.
Aethon sighed with exasperation. This fool… didn’t he realize that there were very few situations where a firm defense would be able to carry the day…? Only when defending can it be useful, and when you are solely defending yourself, it can only lead to a draw. But still, those other skills could be trained, if he is this talented in-
Aethon turned around, quickly forgetting this fool that he had brought back to the Steel Feather Style Compound to release some stress. Ciel had walked out of the study and stood on the edge of the courtyard, wearing simply a thin shirt of his, which absolutely enveloped her.
Unfortunately, it only reached mid thigh on her, revealing a bit too much leg in front of this idiot for Aethon’s tastes, but… “You’ve recovered?”
“Yes, but…” Ciel frowned.
Aethon’s face turned stormy. “Are there lingering wounds…?”
“Oh, no, nothing like that,” Ciel said, waving her hand lightly. “If anything, I feel amazing. Lighter, freer, than I have ever before. It isn’t such a bad thing, right Daddy, that I lost?”
His face softening, Aethon stepped towards his daughter. “No sweet thing, it’s not. Even I have to admit… that boy is strong. He deserves to represent us to the Inter-School competition.”
“Yes, he had very… direct eyes. It reminds me of you.” Ciel mused, rubbing her chin. “I’m just wondering… I think he completely forgot about our marriage bet. Should I just wait, or go to him and bring it up? I want to be… seen as a woman of her word. With how many people know about it, I probably need to...”
She trailed off. The training spear in Aethon’s hand snapped, and his blood beginning to pound. “Honey, surely…”
“No… I need to do this.” Ciel said, her eyes determined. “I’ve always just… followed along with what you’ve said, done everything for the sake of the Style… this foolish bet was the first thing I did on my own. I just want… to handle the consequences myself. To be, myself.”
Although Aethon suddenly had a tirade of acidic commentary on her opponent’s flaws in his throat, it remained lodged there; he was torn between protecting his daughter, and allowing her to grow. Ultimately, the urge to let her grow won, and he remained silent.
Not that this was a purely fatherly sentiment. Aethon had known for a long time that Ciel had been too… meek about her fate to ever be a truly influential powerhouse in her own right. She could serve as one of the vice-leaders of the Steel Feather Style, but she hadn’t yet shown the spine or initiative to have the potential for anything more. It was just profoundly aggravating that she chose to finally show some stubbornness for a dumb boy.
“Milady, if you’d like to go over now, I’d be happy to accompany you to see the Ghosthound.” Aethon’s drinking buddy said, bowing foppishly. “I, of course, stay in the room next to his.”
“Perfect,” Ciel said, hopping down off the raised porch and into the courtyard proper. Aethon’s eyebrows raised in horror as the small hop caused even more of his daughter’s legs to be exposed.
“Surely, you-” Aethon began in his sweetest voice, trying not to grab Ciel and just lock her in her room, but he was interrupted by the drinking buddy walking up to Aethon and rapping his knuckles on Aethon’s chest.
“Can’t you see her mind is set? Can you not even support your daughter?”
As the two then departed, Aethon just stood frozen. After they had gone, he spoke, enunciating each syllable very clearly.
“I…. will kill you someday. It will not be quick.”
But the sentiment quickly dissipated, and Aethon hurried over to the several craters he had made, “sparring” with his drinking partner earlier, to deal with his frustrations.
Even after a careful investigation, Aethon was left flummoxed. The force had clearly dispersed through that fools body, and impacted the ground. Yet somehow, his body hadn’t taken enough damage to incapacitate him at all. It honestly hurt Aethon’s pride a bit. This boy… nothing short of cutting off his head or ripping out his heart would kill him.
And filled his heart with a small amount of fear. “This Ghosthound… he is definitely surrounded by complicated characters…”