“Really?” Randidly asked as he twisted to look at Azriel. She nodded affirmatively.
“My goal is to earn honor for my master. If it is proven to be legitimate… I will finally feel satisfied.” Azriel said simply. “This move will earn us the recognition of the people if what Orangey says is to be believed. That attention is valuable.”
“I agree,” Skarch added. “All of the established Styles hate us anyway; what’s the harm in making some new friends?”
Orangey broke out into a wide grin and drunk down about half of his mug. When he finished, he slammed it down on the table and smacked his lips. “This is wonderful news. You might think we are simply a band of malcontents and wayward elements, but we are the voice of the people. This will do a lot to bring some cheer to the common farmers around here-”
“Not a lot, of course. But it will help a little.”
Randidly turned and looked at the girl Orangey had brought, who had finally spoken up. She was very obviously not looking at Randidly, which made him sigh. Still, his little blip of self-control earned him this behavior. If he didn’t want it, he should have been more careful.
“...it’s the food thing, isn’t it?” Randidly asked the girl. His mouth firmed into a line. “Actually, I can-”
Then Randidly froze. Like a glacier melting, his face once again fell back to a deep wariness. No, he couldn’t. Although he could swell vegetables and fruits to huge sizes for barely even 10 Mana, that Mana was a death sentence to those foods. Suddenly, the enormity of what Randidly had lost to the Ashen Image struck him.
Randidly shivered as he imagined what would happen to a person if they ate one of his vegetables before the burn-up time frame had expired. Would it hurt them?
The shook her head sadly. “It’s a problem of manpower, not something you can solve by fighting someone. Too many of our stronger individuals went to the front lines to defend against the Wights. Fields aren’t being worked, and if the seeds aren’t planted soon…”
She didn’t finish the thought. Soon, talk moved away from that topic and back to the Black Feather Style. Azriel and Skarch questioned Orangey relentlessly about what it was, how many members it had, what its goals were, etc.
Instead, Randidly just sat there, his eyelids slipping down until they were half closed. But in his heart, his frustration and fury burned. His emerald eyes were bright. They flashed with the violence of his emotion. Then, he began to channel his Mana. Although he had lost his gentle touch, it couldn’t be denied that what he gained was a much more powerful tool with which to affect the world. So he spread his influence across the surrounding miles and pushed.
If any at the table weren’t caught up in the discussion, they would have noticed that there was a strange flickering redness at the edges of Randidly’s iris. When compared to the bright green, it was almost as if flames were slowly eating in at his eye color.
Jera rose before the sun, as he did every day.
First, he washed his hands and face. Then he moved to feed his livestock. Afterward, as he was walking back to his house, the sun was finally peeking up over the horizon. Rubbing his back, Jera allowed himself to rest on his porch for a few minutes and watch the sunrise.
Today’s labor was the same as yesterdays, and it would be the same for the rest of the week; he had to see how many of the nearby fields he would be willing to clear and till. With all of his neighbors drawn South by the war effort and promises of glory, Jera had much more land than he could handle by himself. By maybe a factor of 20.
But as the sun came further up into the sky, Jera’s eyes widened. He rubbed them to wipe away any effects of sleep, and then looked around him to be sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. Even then, Jera quickly got up and roamed around the house to see how big of an effect it was. He hadn’t noticed it in the darkness, but the fields in the surrounding area…
All of them had been hoed and cleaned. They sat pristine under the sun, ready and waiting for the seeds to be planted.
From the hill where Jera’s house sat, he couldn’t see a field that hadn’t been tilled. And that was a mighty far distance for one to have worked, especially at night.
Curious, Jera approached the fields with a critical eye. When he drew close, his slowly budding hope turned to a spike of fear. Frowning, he walked up to the field and picked up some of the strange grey substance that had been left on top of the topsoil in some areas. Now that Jera knew what to look for, he saw it everywhere. The entire field was covered in it.
Rubbing it between his fingers, Jera’s frown deepened.
The sound of running drew Jera’s attention, and he looked up as a group of three men jogged up the road toward his house. One of them he recognized, Albby.
As the three approached the house, Jera wiped the ash off onto his pants and returned to his porch. After a brief discussion, two of the men waved at Jera and received a nod in return. Then they continued past his house and down the road, heading west. Albby walked up to the porch.
“Those boys were from Magedevlin way,” Albby grunted. “Every field tilled and ready, just like yours. A few people are complaining the lines aren’t always completely even, but damn. There wasn’t a Year I remember where I’d seen such pretty fields for such a long distance.”
Albby sat next to Jera, and they both considered the strangeness of it. Almost as one, they both shrugged; they weren’t in the position to wiggle the head of an inherited spear.
“They are running West, to see how far it extends.”
Jera nodded simply. Then he frowned. “Do we know anything about the ash?”
“Some of the best damn fertilizer I’ve ever seen,” Albby said fervently. “If I didn’t know better, someone shipped compost from a forest fire in the Heart School. High nutrient density and Mana is practically rolling off the stuff. I bet harvest time is naught but two weeks away, and we haven’t even planted yet. Whoever made this has a gift. Probably a Skill.”
As one, the two men smiled at each other. Jera rubbed his back as he stood and then shook Albby’s hand. “Alright, time to get to work.”
The girl returned to the Black Feather headquarters, but Orangey insisted on accompanying the rest of them as they returned to Hastam. Randidly didn’t mind, but Skarch enjoyed it the most. The entire journey was her teasing Orangey over his name. What was perhaps more amusing was that Orangey fell for it every time, spitting and stomping his foot in anger at her more cutting jokes.
Randidly supposed this was somewhat akin to watching a bull and matador fight. No matter how much he knew he shouldn’t, Orangey just got enraged and charged at her. And unlike the bull being able to trounce the matador, Randidly had no doubts which of the two would be more powerful.
“Are you ready?” Azriel asked.
Randidly tilted his head at her, and she continued. “You might have ignored the announcement at the preliminary meeting, but we have all earned time in the Hall of Stances by qualifying. However, it was being investigated when we arrived, due to the Spearsource being stolen. But I have spoken with my contacts in Hastam, and it is being prepared for us.”
“What is the Hall of Stances?” Randidly asked.
Azriel seemed to consider this question. “...Hastam was one of the most powerful Villages in Tellus. It possessed a Village Spirit with unparalleled power and vision. Over the course of hundreds of years, Hastam purchased a strange treasure that enabled it to record ten seconds of movements from an individual in stones.
“Upon reaching the Pontiff level, an individual possesses the qualifications to be selected to be within the Hall of Stances. But generally, it also requires proof of great power and influence. Generally, this is interpreted as great merit, but there are also many great villains and Tellus’ history that have been enshrined there. Although they were beings of great evil, their spear use was exquisite.”
Azriel’s eyes hardened. “One of my goals is to have my Master acknowledged there. If that is impossible, I will make it there, and obtain a spot in the inner circle, where the ten most powerful spear moves in history are enshrined.”
“A tall order,” Randidly said lightly, considering this information. He suspected that whatever this was conveyed a bit more than a video recording would have, otherwise Azriel wouldn’t have the note of reverence in her voice as she talked about it. Likely, it would let you experience something similar to that Skill. Sampling so many powerful images… it was no wonder why they were cherished.
“Rich, coming from the man who tried to kill a Propagator,” Azriel said with a shake of the head. “After all, there was only one person who ever had a confirmed kill on a Propagator.”
Randidly didn’t say anything but wondered about the veracity of that. If the Propagator was the expression of the deep fear of Tellus’ images, then the Spearman would have fought against one. Before the Spearsource was stolen, the Propagators were clearly on the rope. Had the Spearman failed to kill one…?
Then Randidly’s eyes sharpened. The Hall of Stances recorded old styles for future generations. The Propagators picked up their dead and refashioned them into more soldiers. Was that a coincidence?
With Orangey and Skarch bickering behind them, the group entered into the gates of Hastam.