Randidly sat in the room provided for him by the Hall of Stances, meditating. Unlike most of his peers, he did not choose this time to excitedly enter into the Hall of Stances itself. Not only was the inner sanctum portion barred to him, but there were also quite a few fellow competitors who would be using it at the moment. It would not be the proper environment to experience these other images from powerful spear users of the past.
All of those who wouldn’t be in the final tournament had seven days to peruse the images. Undoubtedly they would be in the Hall of Stances this entire time, hoping to squeeze any benefit they could manage out of their time here.
Exactly the sort of attitude that would make such a trip useless.
Today was the day that the tournament arrangement would be released. Although Skarch and Azriel went to the presentation, Randidly did not join them. He didn’t really consider it necessary; they would bring him the answer as soon as they had it. Finding out which random spear user he would fight didn’t have much meaning.
Releasing the rest of his breath, Randidly felt he was ready. So he activated All is Ash.
Per the Patron of Ash’s advice, most of Randidly’s practice with Skill was simply using it in a resting state. The idea was to give his subconscious a baseline to feel what being himself under the influence of the Skill would be like. That way, an accident like what had struck him previously wouldn’t repeat.
The world flattened, and Randidly felt the flimsy shell that was the world around him. Everything was Ash. All was fragile and empty.
His eyes burned emerald in the dimly lit room. At the edges of his irises, the faintest trace of crimson could be seen.
The other thing that struck him about this state was how much movement there was in the world, and how little it mattered. Randidly could clearly feel how the small motes of dust in the air wandered around the room. It gave the eternal silence around Randidly a sense of erosion. Slowly but surely, she shapes we created out of ash would decompose to leave nothing remaining.
The only conclusion was oblivion. It felt intimidatingly close, but Randidly didn’t shy away from it. That was the trick with this Skill. Growing comfortable in the balance on a razor’s edge.
Abruptly, Randidly ran out of Mana. Sensations crashed back around him. To his chagrin, he realized that he was audibly breathing. With a wry smile, Randidly stood and stretched. Acri slithered over like a snake and Sulfur oozed across the ground, excited to be retrieved once more, but Randidly held up a hand. Not quite yet.
Instead, he walked to the window and looked outside into the dingy courtyard below. Although this place was clearly constructed with the finest materials, the traces of the thorough and demanding investigation by the different Schools marred the surface. The fine marble of the floor below was scuffed and dirty.
Randidly’s mouth thinned to a line. Although he wasn’t sure how to go about it, he was sure that he would want to spend some of the time here in the Hall of Stances trying to figure out what went on with the Spearsource.
The first question he had was what the Spearsource was. Taken literally, it seemed like the Spearsource was a source of power, or perhaps more accurately, a source of images. Considered in the context of Tellus trying to pass the second Calamity, it seemed likely that the Spearsource was the bundle of images that was going to vanquish the fear-fueled images.
The Wights made a lot of sense as the product of a villainous version of images, as well. Where the Spear users believed individual might was everything, what did individual might mean when your body was assembled by a Propagator and once dead you could be recycled without any effort?
But from everything Randidly had heard about the war against the Wights, the Spearman had won and had been left alive at the suffrage of the Spearman. Then, as far as Randidly could tell, the Spearman disappeared, leaving the Spearsource.
Randidly scratched his chin. Did they have a comparable to a library? Looking up some history might make this process much easier. He needed more information to understand what was going on.
Besides, images couldn’t just occur naturally on their own. Was it just as simple as the Spearman severing his own, victorious images from himself? But why? Did he know what was coming? Perhaps he had a clue what was through the portal, and how he would be tested? Was he trying to buy time?
Or was the premise Randidly was beginning from flawed? Had the Spearman lost, and the Spearsource was the last bastion of his images?
Or was the Spearman a misnomer- perhaps in the past, this world wasn’t governed by the image of spears at all!
Randidly sighed. Useless to speculate. Instead, he opened up his menus and spent the few PP he had earned over the past few days. To his surprise, it was quite a bit higher than he had expected. But as he examined it, his frown deepened.
He gained 12 Levels in Talon Strike and 7 in Counter…? As far as he could remember he hadn’t used those Skills recently.
His finger tapped the wooden frame of the window. Were there perhaps more benefits to being in the Hall of Stances than Randidly assumed? There certainly was an air about the place… the vibrancy and strength of the images that lay below Randidly were palpable. He had no doubt that he could gain a lot from staying here.
However, that could wait until the week was over, and only the final 20 remained. Then there would be more chances to peruse the images.
Long before there was a knock on the door on his door, Randidly heard the footsteps approaching. They were light and soft, but the time between each step was very precise. Shaking his head, Randidly prepared to see Azriel.
After knocking once, she opened the door. To his surprise, her face was serious as she considered him.
“What is it?” Randidly asked.
“Your first match… is against Helen.” Azriel said quietly. She seemed to be watching him very carefully for his reaction.
Inwardly, Randidly was somewhat annoyed. That would make things complicated between himself and Helen, especially if-
Then Randidly blinked. With a laugh, he shrugged. “Alright, that’s fine. By the way, where is Skarch?”
Azriel pursed her lips. “Your reaction is unusual. One of you will not pass this trial. Although I admit your emotional fortitude has increased, it is honestly not for you I worry. Helen will-”
“It’s fine, Azriel.” Randidly interrupted in a tired voice. There was a lot to investigate, and he was already far behind on what he believed he should be doing. He didn’t need more pointless worries to distract him. “It will work out.”
“I believe I could mimic her Skills to a satisfactory extent if you would like to practice spar,” Azriel added.
“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.”
This finally seemed to annoy Azriel. “You do realize she held back in the past. Her abilities have been honed to a killing point. I have no doubt that this three months only polished that. She has the capabilities to beat you. Kill you, even.”
“Then I suppose it’s time I give her the chance to demonstrate that,” Randidly growled, shooting Azriel a glare. “Now, where is Skarch?”
Aiden Darke and Selfia sat in a room opposite where Randidly and Azriel stood. Darke’s face was creased with a frown.
“You can find nothing?” He asked.
Selfia shrugged helplessly. “He doesn’t match the description of any known agents. It was confirmed that he obtained some information from one of the previously established breeding farms, but he holds none of their traits. So, therefore, he obtained their methods by luck, or-”
“Or he knows enough to have sought them out,” Darke finished grimly. His gaze pierced through the polished wood of their walls, and the walls of Randidly's room, as if to finally see the truth of the man. Randidly Ghosthound was an enigma. Before appearing along with Shal in the Regional Tournament, it was like the kid didn’t exist.
Because of course, the spear-user Randidly Ghosthound didn’t exist. Which was why he was called.
“Just watch for now.” Darke closed his eyes. “Disguises we have dealt with before. After the tournament is over… we will simply have to retire Mr. Ghosthound and gather the truth from his broken flesh.