Randidly felt it then, years of experience, of implacable will, of dominating violence, of a deep, sad, knowing love, and a yearning. More than anything else, the spear was filled with yearning. It was wide and deep, and so thick that Randidly couldn’t make sense of it all.
There were flecks of memory, soft, warm moments with his sons, as Aemont slowly grew, as he returned to visit them while he fought on the front line. He was so desperate to make more memories each time he returned, Randidly could feel, because he had to keep feeding the spear. This strength wasn’t enough. The challenge set for him by the elders of the Endless Heat Style was impossible, some might say.
Curious, Randidly pushed, looking for what he had to do, but he was swamped then with a wave of dread and hatred, a deep primal fear, that caused Randidly to begin to tremble. He pulled his mental feelers back, shocked, but it was exploding forth now, a huge fear and anger, threatening to consume Randidly. Wave after wave of hungry emotion crashed into him, threatening to eat away at his sanity and Randidly could only buckle down, pressing his eyes closed and smashing the emotions back with his own Battle Intent and Rejection.
It was a long slow slog through the waves of crashing emotions, and no longer could Randidly spare the attention to sift through the memories. They all swirled together in a jumble, and just had to be slowly neutralized.
Even though it had been years since their inception, the poignancy of each individual emotion was intimidating. Aemont… truly was a master, and just from the level of emotions he felt, Randidly knew that Aemont’s Battle Intent was absurdly high. So high it scared him.
But then Randidly lost it again, and could only sit there, bobbing up and down in his own body, besieged by the raging emotions that had been bottled up in the spear for so long.
Azriel Blanche cleaned her spear, applying small amounts of oil and then rubbing them into the spear with an old rag. This was something that she had been taught long ago, by her grandfather. To care for the spear, and not just the Spearman himself. Although they were part of the Spearman School, that didn’t mean the Spear School didn’t have its own merits.
‘Your spear is just as important as you, just as vital,’ Her grandfather had said, whispering because his windpipe had been crushed one too many times on the frontline, the injuries so heinous that even healing spells couldn’t correct the bone deviations. ‘Care for it… train it… as you do your own body.’
Her grandfather was profoundly weird, but he was one of the only people who saw her talent early on in her life, and supported her, giving her tips and attention when she was just one of a brood of distant relatives. Without him, she would not have been able to see the things she had, or followed the path that led her here, to cultivating a monstrous physical memory.
Out of respect for him, although he was long dead, Azriel continued to clean her spear.
It was a spear she had been given recently, this thin needle of a spear, a spear she had demanded from her Style after she had demonstrated impeccably that she was the best bet the Style had to return to prominence.
It had been a win she had long fought for, and Azriel had originally thought that this would put the matter of marriage to bed; the spear was a peace offering, a silent apology given by the Style leadership. And yet…
There was a knock on the door, and then a man entered into the room, bowing.
“Ms. Blanche, Master Wyrd has invited you over to his courtyard for dinner.”
Azriel’s lips twitched. And yet, it was still like this. “Master Wyrd,” Huh…
“It’s 4. Does Drak dine so early in the evening?”
The spear attendant shook his head. “No, but there are matters to dis-”
“No. I’ll arrive at 7. Have the food hot for me.” Azriel interrupted, throwing out a powerful, drilling Battle Intent that smashed into the man’s gut, sending him staggering.
“Azriel-!” The man said through gritted teeth, but then he seemed to realize the situation he was in, and hurried away. Not that killing him wouldn’t cause hassle, but both the leadership of her own Style and the Breaking Dawn Style would relish it; it would give them an excuse that Azriel couldn’t deny to force her into talks with Drak. After all, it was tradition to pay a price for murdering another’s spear attendant…
Well, if she had to do it, the timing was at least good. With practiced ease, Azriel continued to rub oil into the spear. The Ghosthound had apparently taken her suggestion of a break and wandered off with it. It had been several hours since she had seen him, and she was getting profoundly tired of being forced to seek him out. It was especially frustrating that Drak continued to pester her, but her pet project to force Drak’s potential in front of her discerning eyes was so lackadaisical.
But that was only while they weren’t training. While they were training… Azriel had always been of the opinion that the goal of strength was to do one thing so well that it makes the opponent’s plans irrelevant. That was why she had worked on her speed, and the piercing power of her spear. She had turned that into an unstoppable advance.
The Ghosthound… instead grew stronger by applying pressure in 100 mediocre ways. It certainly wasn’t near the point that it could threaten her, but his strength increased by strange jumps and bursts. And deep, in her heart, Azriel knew why, and it filled her with a small sense of awe.
‘Paths. He’s completing a path every few weeks’
It was… a ludicrous thought. Most people could only choose and learn about 30 or so paths in their lifetime. A lot of the times, they would save up PP for the rarer paths that one would get, associated with their Skill Sets, which would vastly increase the power and effectiveness of their skills.
But the Ghosthound had so many skills that he could just continue to grind them up, gathering PP like he was farming radishes. With such an upwelling of PP, he could finish paths, earn more skills, and the amount of PP he could gather would just grow and grow.
Azriel frowned the more she thought about it, however. Other people had heard about this strategy before, and pushed to use it, but they were stopped by the limits on skills imposed by their Class. There were some rare, spear-user variants that allowed for higher numbers of skills, but there were none that Azriel knew about that could allow this many skills. Even if the Ghosthound had a prodigiously powerful Class, it could at most give him 15 or so skill slots, and that might be stretching it a little.
But based on her own instincts, Azriel suspected that he had upwards of 40 skills. Which meant most of them had to have come before the Ghosthound got a class. Most people preferred to push one or two skills high, while getting themselves some useful passive skills, before obtaining their Class so the Class they obtained would be focused in a certain direction.
In rare cases, they were able to obtain elemental spear-user Classes, giving all of their skills a use. But perhaps the Ghosthound knew of a rare Class that he obtained…?
They weren’t questions that Azriel could answer now, on her own, so she let them drop, sliding out of her consciousness. Instead, she began to let everything slip away. Her consciousness of her surroundings, her determination, her will, her thoughts… the looming figure of Drak Wyrd above her, and the small, restless worry that she wasn’t as perfect as she thought, and even if the Ghosthound brought out his true strength, she wouldn’t be able to rival it. That this whole plan was built on a sham.
But it all fell away, and left just the image. Her mother, calmly sitting above her instructing a young, irritable Azriel in sewing. Time and time again Azriel simmered as a child, and then exploded on her mother, asking why they had to practice this. The spear was the way, not the needle. Her mother would just smile.
On Azriel’s 7th birthday, a man had come to the compound of the Sleeping Moon Style, a rainbow hunter, from the Death School. After he had challenged her father and cut off his arm, the hunter went for his life. Azriel’s mother stepped in, with a single thrust.
In that moment, it was like the world narrowed, to become about solely the needle she attacked with. With Azriel’s flawless memory, every day she saw that move, and marveled at the simplicity and dominance of it.
Needless to say, after that Azriel took her mother’s lessons much more seriously. Because she realized that what her mother taught her was not just how to sew and hem, but what she taught was patience, understanding, competence. It soon became apparent to Azriel, as she watched the situation in the Sleeping Moon Style, that her mother had always been the true wielder of power. But for a reason that Azriel couldn’t quite understand, her mother allowed her father and his brothers to run things, and do it poorly
A call to the frontlines that ended in her death had made it so Azriel would never know. But immediately afterward Azriel had seized the reins of control, disabusing her family about their previous ideas.
The rumors had started then, the whispered comments; greedy, whore, bitch, cunt. Immense pressure from all sides, from men and women, just for leading the Style. But the members of the Sleeping Moon Style couldn’t deny that Azriel Blanche was their future. It would be based on her power that they would make a comeback. She was the pillar they needed so desperately.
Wanting to alleviate their worries, Azriel made a deal. A deal in regards to her hand in marriage. Just to consider it, but now… it was a mistake. She should have just broken their resistance with force…
Azriel opened her eyes.