Randidly woke to the omnipresent feeling of danger. It felt like the world was crashing down around him. The pounding of his own heart in his ears did nothing to distract from the impending doom.
Sharpening his senses, Randidly immediately sensed the source: a figure was floating above Hastam. His heart dropped out of his stomach. Someone was here? And they were going to-
A searing pain in his chest silenced him, and Randidly hissed in annoyance. It was on something of a whim that Randidly had laid down to rest for a few hours, and now he deeply regretted it.
What was the most surprising was that no one else seemed to notice it. The Hall of Stances was quiet around him. Dozens of participants slept soundly or trained without noticing the vortex of rage hanging above them. The vicious and murderous Aether seemed to seeth around the figure like nothing Randidly had ever seen.
“Endless Heat Style…” The figure said. Randidly couldn’t hear, but he could feel the speaker’s lips by feeling through the thick and knotted Aether around him. “Bonefire.”
The spear fell like the ticking of a clock, moving exactly 45 degrees.
Then the hairs on the back of Randidly’s neck stood straight up as he realized he could hear the roar of flames from inside his room, inside the Hall of Stances, inside of Hastam. Instantly, his Perception spread outward. Paling, he pushed further, riding on the Aether heartbeat in the air. That heartbeat seemed to be even louder, despite the noise of the fire. It seemed in some way, Tellus was coming alive before Randidly’s eyes.
And the South was burning. All of it. Everything that Randidly could sense.
“That,” Azriel said shortly, staring out from the walls of Hastam at the charred and destroyed fields south of the city. The ground wasn’t completely burned, but it seemed in an area spreading outward from Hastam like it was the tip of a triangle, everything was gone. “Was Aylwind Sky, the head of the Spearman School.”
Randidly just looked mutely out at the ground. Something inside of him shivered. Is this what awaited him in his own future…?
But Randidly pressed that thought down. He knew his ashes functioned as an excellent fertilizer. Meanwhile, this…
“Apparently an army of Wights was sneaking up on the city at night. Almost a million. Gone, just like that. Afterward, he walked straight South through the night, attacking when he found anything. They say the Southern Domain is… basically no longer there.” Azriel continued grimly.
She turned and gave Randidly a look. “We are powerful. But this… this is beyond us.”
“The ability to turn the tide of the war,” Randidly said softly. The Styles of Hastam seemed to have finally moved. And the final result was far beyond what he had expected.
The early reports did indicate that Aylwind was careful with his strikes, to avoid hitting the remaining areas of resistance or destroying too much farmland. But when the cleaver he held was so large, there was only so much damage control that could be done. Still, moral in the capitol and on the front lines was up. Randidly had received a message from Platton that they were retaking the entirety of the South on the back of Aylwind.
Lifting his gaze, Randidly looked at the soft clouds and the heartbeat of Tellus’ spirit that was within them. Another tier higher on the power scale, huh…? Was this a normal thing? Would he need to reach this level of strength in order to face down the Calamity…?
Or perhaps was this a result of Tellus stalling out as it had?
Over the past few days, Randidly had managed to convince Trentyon he had meant no harm with his common, and the two of them had spent a few hours each day researching into the history of Tellus. Although Trentyon had access to his own scrolls he had collected, they were relatively limited in scope.
But when Randidly had told him that he could grant Trentyon access to the Hall of Stances, and their records, the thin man was delighted. The caretakers of the Hall of Stances were decidedly against it, but Randidly pointed out that they allowed him to view the images held there.
How could scrolls be more valuable than that?
Randidly needed to hold Trentyon’s mouth practically to keep him from fighting against Randidly’s argument, but it had worked against the caretakers. Even now, Trentyon was chuckling to himself and unrolling and rerolling scrolls in a mad search for more details.
It made Randidly concerned that he might be wasting his time here. Even more so than he had previously. He was, however, now waiting for Shal’s return, so at least that gave him some direction…
“Do you wish to talk about your upcoming bout with Helen?” Azriel asked.
Randidly chuckled because Azriel intuited the general focus of his thoughts if misconstrued his motivations. “Thank you, but no.”
“Am I correct in thinking you two have had sex before?” Azriel asked.
Randidly did a double take. “What? Why-”
“Ha, do not treat it as such a special thing,” Azriel said with a deep frown. “Helen and I have engaged in intercourse regularly in order to release stress.”
There was a moment when Randidly just stopped. His mouth was wide open as he looked at Azriel. Then her eyes crinkled up in the corners and Randidly glowered at her.
“Ha ha!” Azriel’s laughter was low and warm. “Truly, you are a delight to bother. You should not act so seriously. It will impair your ability to read feints. Social skills are necessary even for a warrior.”
With an exaggerated sigh, Randidly turned away from the burned grassland and walked down the staircase of the stone walls. Azriel followed close behind. By an effort of will, Randidly forced himself to relax. Azriel was perhaps correct, if a little weirdly focused.
Finally, he said. “Yes, we had sex. And honestly, I bet Helen would have blushed worse than I did if you suggested you two were coupling up. Try that joke out on her”
Azriel raised her eyebrows. “Do you think so? Hmm, intriguing. Well perhaps. Her reactions are generally violent. I do not mean to bring such ancillary things up, but I suspect the tension you are feeling is due to the previous sex.”
In spite of himself, Randidly chuckled. “There is no tension, Azriel.”
“Then why are you two not speaking? You spoke before, and you are not speaking now. All has changed due to this minor duel.”
“Minor duel? From you? Haven’t you staked your entire reputation on this tournament? No need to downplay the reverberating implications of this.” Randidly said to Azriel over his shoulder. She frowned at him, so Randidly continued on a more gentle tack. “We aren’t talking because she won’t like what I have to say. Better to wait and let the fight speak for itself.”
“I suppose fights are an oddly erotic activity,” Azriel said while scratching her chin. “It makes sense that your emotions could be successfully sublimated during the tournament. Just have a care that you don’t disappoint her.”
“I don’t want to have sex with her, Azriel.” Randidly said, giving Azriel a sharp look.
She grinned at him. “Because you want to have sex with me?”
This time, Azriel blinked and found herself at a loss for words. Then her face scrunched up into a look of annoyance. “I suppose I deserve this, but I don’t appreciate these jokes.”
“Welcome to adulthood,” Randidly said grandly. “Where we look each other straight in the eye and lie about the sexual tension.”
“I am your elder, but should you ever desire true courtship I would be open to the concept. Hopefully, your opening gift is persuasive, to make up for all the work I had to put into your spear skills.” Then Azriel barred her teeth. “But I do not share such things with another. You would be forced to make a choice.”
Shrugging, Randidly let the matter drop. There was a lot to do, and now was not the time to chase fleeting emotions. They would either prove true on their own or burn out. A joyless outlook, perhaps, but one that put the fate of the world much higher than his libido.
“So do you have time for a spar?” Randidly asked. He was itching to really push himself after seeing the destruction caused by Aylwind. And his match against Helen was the morning of the day after tomorrow, so he wanted to push his PP up as much as he could in the interim. Because according to his plan, everything would start after that first match.
Azriel clicked her tongue, a habit she had learned from Randidly. “We just spoke about the sexual aggression of violence. So, of course, my answer is yes.”
Randidly rolled his eyes.