“You fuck cunt! Get out of my way!” Helen bellowed, fighting against the huge press of bodies. After Aethon left with the Ghosthound in tow, and that projection followed, destroying a 10 meter section of the stands in the process, the crowd around her rioted, running to get out of the arena.

Which was dumb, Helen thought, because that was the direction that the fighting was going.

The referees really had no idea what was going on, and were trying their best to control the worst of the riots to protect people, but without using force, there wasn’t much they could do. The people could only riot.

A man’s elbow smashed into Helen's side, and her eyes narrowed. Flicking out a hand, she smashed him to the side, the difference in their stats clear. She was done playing nice.

Striding forward, shoving the larger men out of the way, while trying to avoid hurting any children or women, Helen quickly made progress. Very quickly, she had gotten far enough through the crowd to be away from the arena, and have space to hop up and pull herself on the roofs of the nearby buildings.

The people who had kept close behind Helen, using her to get out of the arena as fast as possible were disappointed, but Helen just glared at them before turning her attention elsewhere. Her mother and Ikaas were probably with that oaf that was trying to seduce Ikaas, so they would probably be safe. Meanwhile…

Again, a shockwave of force looked like it leveled a small building as Aethon continued to retreat, the Ghosthound in tow. Fucking…. Fucking fuck.

She began to sprint along the roof, rushing after them. She wouldn’t really be of any use, or be able to slow the projection of a Pontiff, but… She couldn’t just sit here and do nothing. Especially because-

What if that man killed Randidly?

The thought hit her so hard that Helen stumbled mid step, hit the lip of a roof, and tumbled into the alley. As the split second of chilling emptiness struck her, there was nothing that she could manage. She was just… adrift. But as she fell, her instincts kicked it, and she twisted around, landing on her feet.

Two children, who were taking shelter in the alley, jumped to their feet. The three of them eyed each other. Helen’s eyes softened, and then she moved at full speed, blurring past them.

They had been drinking out of Claptrap’s Ghosthound Tassle mugs, the bright emerald clear even in the dim alley.

The streets here were clearer, so Helen was able to move very quickly. So quickly that she caught up.

“Fool. You took that blow rather let me destroy a building? You could have saved the boy, but you also tried to save everyone else…” The projection mused, stepping closer. Aethon lay slumped in a crater, in front of a building where a dozen or so people peered out through the windows, their faces white. Randidly lay between Aethon and the building, kneeling and looking around.

Helen was behind the projection, so she immediately began to circle around.

“Not all honor has left Deardun.” Aethon said hoarsely, getting to his feet slowly, a wound on his side. “There is still strength here. We do not need you, Aegiant.”

“Up for debate. But not with you. Your successor will undoubtedly be more...amenable.”

The two began to fight, their spears not even moving to Helen’s eyes, but huge gashes appearing in the ground around them. Unfortunately, most of those were near to Aethon, and they were moving quickly closer to his body.

Aethon’s face was sagging, his breathing haggard. Aegiant was smiling lightly.

Randidly stood, throwing… a normal stone?

But then his eyes narrowed, and he pointed, and she felt… something flow out of him, that strange and pure Aether he controlled, and gave her, filling the stone, concentrating in its center. An image, a sharp, powerful one, that he used against Drak. A sun, slowly consumed, turning from a bright light into a hyperdense pinprick of darkness, that grew more and more dense.

Randidly was sweating, his legs trembling, and Helen scrambled over the nearby roofs to position herself near him, dropping to the ground.

Randidly’s voice was hoarse. “Dodge, Aethon.”

To Helen’s surprise, Aethon listened, and dodged left. His arm was severed in a spray of blood, obscuring Helen’s view of the battle. But she could hear Aegiant’s laughter. “Why would you let the boy distract- urk!”

A huge collision, every bit as powerful as the strikes between Aethon and Aegiant. Then a bellow of anger. “BOY YOU WILL-”

Randidly blinked, then his eyes rolled up into the back of his head. After swaying for a moment, he began to fall backwards.

“A Shrike Cries over a Barren Land.”

A wave of force hit Helen, sending her sprawling, missing Randidly by several meters.

“When Feathers Flash, a Shrike Hunts.”

This time there was no wave of force, but Helen was still groggy from the first, and managed to calm her swimming vision. What she saw when she looked up made her pale.

Randidly and Aethon were gone, even while Aethon’s arm remained on the street. And it seemed that Aethon could direct his skill somewhat, for while Helen had simply been knocked to the ground, concussed, the area where Aegiant had been standing was just rubble, for 100 meters. That area had been warehouses and part of the wall, but they were still strong buildings.

Howling, Aegiant climbed out of the rubble. “I’m going to kill everyone in this entire shit town. You hear me!?”


Aethon looked down at the boy, frowning. It was doubly difficult now, with only one arm, to carry the boy, but he was managing. To be sure, it was a great distraction, and well worth the cost of his arm, which could be regrown by paying a Village Spirit enough contribution points from the front lines, but…

“That was foolish,” Aethon said simply.

The boy’s body was limp, and although he was clearly trying to communicate, he couldn’t get his mouth to work. At the very least, his continued consciousness was a good sign, although…

“Your skill is strong… almost too strong. And you used it to the point that your mind couldn’t handle it. Which was necessary, otherwise it wouldn’t have even slowed him. But… the first impact surprised him, but the second impact he used to break the image. Your overstrained mind had something shatter inside of it. That’s why not even I dared use images against him, his will is that strong.”

The boy waved a hand feebly. Aethon snorted.

“Well, just lay there. Now that we have some space, I can get you out of the city, and-”

To Aethon’s surprise, the boy stretched his hand, and touched him lightly on the shoulder. Aether, pure and clean, the most robust and responsive he had ever felt, began to flow into him. Just a little, just a handful, but…

Then the boy slumped, seemingly finished with his task.

Which left Aethon very torn. This Aether… lent credence to the thought that the boy was a Devourer, just as the rumors about his Style had hinted. Was it part of their techniques…?

But Drak Wyrd had even more obviously been using Aether that wasn’t his. The reason for that boys dominance was the years he spent pushing his skills upwards, while avoiding gaining any levels. To use all of the skills and images he had… he should have triggered a pretty bad case of Aether Starvation in himself. And yet…

Plus, this Aether… was not at all what Aethon would have thought Aether from a Devourer would be like. It was… so perfect. Like he had been drinking bottled water his whole life, and only now had he found a pure, fresh stream.

More than anything though, was that the boy had been grievously injured in his gambit to buy them time. Aethon would have assumed the boy would be dead weight in such a situation, like his daughter, or even Drak Wyrd would be. But that was the strength of the Ghosthound. Adaptability, tenacity.

Direct injuries to images and the mind were notoriously difficult to recover from. Some never did. But if those images were recreated, coming back together… it was a refining process. The reforged version would be even stronger.

And somehow, Aethon didn’t think that Randidly was the type to never heal. It filled him with a strange pride. It filled him with an even more concrete dread. To give the boy time… he needed to send him back home. And he needed Divveltian to tell him where to send him.

Switching directions, Aethon rushed forward.


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