“I thought you won your war,” Randidly said. Honestly, he remembered a message from Helen indicating that vividly. “You said-”
“We should have won,” Leyalta said quietly. Helen seemed to be grinding her teeth. “These wars… they follow a certain power. We are the current holder of the Spear-Source, and therefore our world is filled with energy. We can Level and develop images. On the other side of the rift, there is a desolate world. The world of the Wights. They were perhaps similar to us once… but without the Spearsource, they became monsters.
“It costs these monsters a great deal of energy to open a large rift between the worlds, although there are small passages that are constantly present. The only reason that the Wights would open the portal is to make a mad assault on the Spear-source. And… we repelled their elite. The Spear-source was ours. They managed to keep hold of fortifications in our world, but-”
“But without them accomplishing the objective,” Helen whispered. “We saw no need to drive them out so soon after the war. We knew they were consolidating their forces, but we assumed it was for an attack. It wasn’t; they were digging in. Somehow, one of their agents got into the Forest of Spears and took the Spear-source. When we pursued… those footholds the Wights held were turned against us. The initial response was to disregard planning in a mad attempt to capture the source back before it was brought to the world, but those fucking-”
Helen’s words ceased, and the teeth grinding started. Leyalta looked at her with some sympathy, before turning to Randidly. “...for various reasons, those initial attempts to recapture were insufficient, to put it lightly. In terms of our fighting strength and moral, they were disastrous. Many of our best and brightest were lost in the worst of the fighting. So now…”
Now they did their best, Randidly surmised.
Very quickly, Helen recomposed herself and the group began to head South. They would be skipping a stop at Qtal entirety, and instead making quick time towards Niergem, the capital of the Western Domain. There, they would meet up with Azriel Blanche, as well as the representatives from the Western Domain, and then head towards the Central Domain for the tournament.
According to Helen, the tournament would originally have been hosted by one of the other Schools, but due to the war, it was rearranged to occur in the capital of the Spearman School, Hastam.
The Spear School Domains were arrayed in something that looked like a lowercase ‘c” with a stretched out bottom. The portion that was the Northern Domain, the provincial land that raised Shal, was the small curve at the top of the ‘c’. The Western Domain was the bottom part of the curve. The Eastern Domain was the small end at the bottom of the ‘c’. Below the ‘c’, there was a chain of rather large islands the was the Southern Domain.
Everything in between was the Central Domain. In terms of size, it was likely the equal of all of the rest of the Domains put together. In terms of populations, it was likely 80% of the Spearman School. This was the seat of power for all the truly great Styles that moved to war under the banner of the Spearman School. It was also a location of one of the four groves of the Hall of Stances, the location that served as both a memorial and a home for the touring Spear-source.
Perhaps most notably for Randidly’s immediate concerns, it was also the location where the Spear-source was taken. There was talk of a delay for the tournament due to the investigation, but Helen assured Randidly that the tournament would occur, although the location might change.
Randidly was pleasantly surprised at the group’s speed. Leyalta might grumble, but the three of them were traveling at quite a clip. It was almost a constant sprint through the heavy jungle, which was rather exhilarating for the first four hours. Randidly also believed that it would be good training for some of his Physical Fitness.
But then the hours continued to run. About 12 hours since Randidly had come to this world, they finally arrived at Niergem. By that time, Randidly was winded. Even his powerfully high Stamina and Regeneration were drained. Helen seemed to be slightly amused by his shock, but Leyalta was positively pompous.
“If you think that was bad, wait until we head to the Central Domain. It will take about five times as long,” he said with a sneer.
Helen shoved him. “Which is why we will simply teleport there. Alright, let’s head into the city.”
The first thing Randidly noticed about the city was the walls. They were separated in portions. The bottom was black stone and stood about 5 meters tall. Above that, wooden walls were erected that stretched up to 25 meters.
Helen saw his gaze. “They’ve been recently retrofitted. Although it’s probably unnecessary, the Sentinel of Niergem was adamant that they be ready for the Wight assault. It might not accomplish much, but it keeps the citizens happy. Although they aren’t Central Domain prisses, they also aren’t as gung-ho about battle as the Northern Domain. They would prefer to hide from their foes.”
“What are the Wights?” Randidly asked as they walked up to the open gates. Several guards milled around, chatting as they watched the group approach. “I mean, how do they fight?”
“Mmm...if I had to say, it is honestly like you,” said Helen as she flashed him a dark smile. “They are pale, with strangely colored hair. Physically, they are weaker than us, but they use spells to empower themselves. Spectral Claws, Psychic Poison, Haste… things like that. Even one on one, they aren’t much threat. But when they field a full host-”
“Let them come!” A voice interrupted. One of the guards, a young man with bright eyes, stepped forward and grinned at Helen. His eyes traced the finer details of her armor. “In Niergem, we breed our warriors strong enough to wipe out a dozen hosts-”
“Really, cadet?” Leyalta snapped, and Randidly felt a blast of mental force emanating from the heavy man. He leaned forward and glared at the guard. “Then how many lives will you be personally taking? How bloody will your spear be when the fighting ends?”
The air trembled as the force of whatever Skill Leyalta was using was enough to manifest visually for people other than the target. Randidly grinned. Ah, it was good to be back on Shal’s World. Here, people took their images seriously, and it showed.
Although the guard tried to rally his spirit and resist the Skill, his resources proved insufficient. He visibly deflated and the trio passed through the gates without any fanfare. Once inside, Randidly looked around with curious eyes. This city certainly had a different feel than any of those he had seen in the Northern Domain. Not everyone was carrying a spear, which was an extremely strange thing to see.
Suddenly, Randidly felt rather dumb that he had kept Acri in full spear mode the entire run. He had just felt like it was part of the authentic Tellus experience. Not that it made much difference, because Acri could bend and wrap itself around Randidly’s waist to stay out of sight. But it was the principle of the thing.
But still, the people were fascinating. Although some had dyed skin, they looked oh so very human. People yelled about wares, there were street vendors selling meat on a stick, and even dirty looking children play fighting with sticks down alleys. The buildings were built tall and thin. Randidly looked upwards and wondered whether there were similar gyms in Niergem that were present on the roofs of these buildings.
Grabbing Randidly’s hand, Helen dragged Randidly forward through the crowd, ignoring his instinct to take in the new surroundings. As she did so, she shot a glance back at him. “Hurry up, or someone will step on your toes.”
Randidly flexed his toes in mute rebellion but followed after Helen. With a dramatic sigh, Leyalta formed the end of their merry train. As they cut through the city, Randidly saw dozens of Tassles hanging proudly over shops. Idly, he wondered if he still had his somewhere. He probably hadn’t been able to gather it before he had fled the tournament the first time, but maybe-
Interrupting his thoughts was, in fact, his Tassle hanging over a tall building that Helen led him towards. The bright emerald of the background was a sharp splash of color in the sea of orange, red, and yellows that Randidly had seen thus far. Beside it was a pale red and white Tassle that Randidly recognized as Azriel’s.
As Helen stomped into the building, Randidly followed and found Azriel herself there, curled up at a table lit only by candlelight in the far corner of a rather classy looking inn. However, some of that ambiance of class was broken as Randidly saw a waiter serve what was clearly a gourmet cheeseburger to a rich couple at a nearby table.
Azriel stood as they approached her table. At her side, Randidly noticed, was the thin needle that she wielded as a spear. “Ah… Randidly Ghosthound. You look well?”
She wanted to ask him to spar, Randidly sensed immediately. Her body language was tense, and of all of Randidly, her gaze focused upon Acri more than any part of his physical body. Not that the thought that she was attracted to him or anything, but why would she hesitate to ask him to spar-
“Ahem,” Helen said with crossed arms. She glared at Helen, then turned and gave Randidly an even more acidic glare. “We three are all now officially grouped together to join the Spearman School group in the Inter-School competition. Therefore, it would be downright foolish to spar with each other when we will soon compete. No sparring.”
Helen glared once more at Azriel, who didn’t seem intimidated but simply resigned. She shrugged at Helen. “Perhaps it is so. But will not the format of the tournament be different, considering the circumstances? We will hardly be wasting our strength fighting each other when the entire world is in such dire straits. We have lost our ability to Level, Sergeant. Surely a little sparring won’t hurt.”
“No. Sparring.” Helen said through gritted teeth.
“We will see each other fighting during the tournament anyways,” Randidly said with a sigh. “What does it matter if we spar now?”
There was an audible crack from Helen’s jaw. She spun to glare at him. “Do you think the trip to the Central Domain will be quick? The fighting won’t be for at least-”
Which was, of course, just the moment that Helen was interrupted by the noise similar to an air raid siren cutting across the entire city.