“Hey! Hey, kid! Isn’t your fight today? Shit- Althor, get over here. This fool has been stuck in that ice image for god knows how long.”
The voices were extremely clear, even as Randidly felt like he was hidden in a deep well. Noise and sensation reached him slowly, only after reverberating against the walls of the prison that Randidly had constructed for himself.
Some distant part of Randidly’s mind was strangely pleased by the number thirty-four for some reason, but the part of Randidly that was most in control of his body was puzzled by this number. Instead, the controlling Randidly swam through the frozen morass of a swamp that was his mind to turn woodenly around and look at the two acolytes who were staring at him with a worried expression.
Randidly’s head hurt, but it was just a small twinge. Everything was hollow and chilly. Sensations at first appeared to be occurring to someone else before Randidly belatedly realized that he was the subject of these feelings. Both of the acolytes looked at each other.
“Do you think he is alright…?”
“Didn’t you see him on your earlier patrol? How could you let him like this? From how pale he is, he might have broken the record for being stuck in that image…”
“This is why some people get so riled up about taking it down! It’s a danger to the supplicants who come into the Hall of Stances!”
“...He’s not even wearing shoes…”
“Do you think he lost them…? Well, I have a spare pair he can use.”
Randidly wasn’t exactly unable to walk, but his body took quite a while to obey the instructions of his mind. There was a freezing expanse of body between his brain and his muscles. As such, most of Randidly’s movements were simply wiggles.
Besides, Randidly could really figure out why he would want to move. He was torn. On the one hand, a part of him was very sure that what he was doing was helpful somehow. But another part of him seemed to recall that he had something he needed to be doing…
In the end, the two acolytes carried Randidly bodily up through the curving hallways. Every now and then, they would spare glances for Randidly’s glassy eyes and wince. At one point, one acolyte spoke a short phrase to the other one and the two stopped. With great care, they sat Randidly down on a stool. After rummaging in his interspatial ring, the man produced two fur boots.
He put the first boot on Randidly’s left foot and then began lifting Randidly’s other leg to place the other boot in its place. To everyone’s surprise, Randidly leaned down and grabbed the top of the boot on his foot. His fist tightened.
The boot acolyte frowned while the other acolyte wrung his hands. “What is he doing?”
“He probably has brain damage. He took the image too deep,” The hand-wringing acolyte said. “Let’s just hope that we aren’t blamed for this.”
Randidly began to pull upwards.
“You mean you hope you won’t be blamed for this,” The boot acolyte said while he shook his head. “You were the one who missed him on-”
After pulling for a few seconds, the leather of the boot failed and Randidly forcibly ripped it off his foot. He blinked slowly, trying to understand what was going on. Then he shrugged and dropped the ripped leather. This was not a good thing, he understood instinctually. Randidly did not need it.
“What the fuck?” The boot acolyte said. “Those cost a full gold coin!”
“Pah, Althor, when have you had a gold coin laying around? Don’t tell me your mother took up whoring again.” The hand-wringing acolyte said.
The other sent him a withering glance. “I hope that wit is enough to support you when you are kicked out of the Hall of Stances… Well, come on. Better just bring him up to the sun. Maybe that will warm him up.”
So Randidly, buoyed by the two acolytes, was washed up out of the Hall of Stances to the open world. It was still early, but the sun was already warm on Randidly’s skin. It certainly allowed him to relax somewhat, but the cold had taken a pervasive hold of Randidly’s core. Instead of making things better, the warmth of the sun certainly intensified the pain from the headache as Randidly became more aware of it.
And it set him to shivering.
“Let’s just leave him here, Althor.” The one acolyte whined.
“This man is in the tournament. We cannot just leave him. We will need to wait with him, and hope he recovers sufficiently in these two hours.” Althor said with a firm expression.
The other acolyte winced. “...what if he doesn’t recover by then?”
Althor’s only answer was a glare.
Randidly abruptly smiled. Thirty-four was the number of Skill Levels. And Skill Levels… were good…? Surrounded by ice, the thoughts came slow. But some part of Randidly was immensely pleased and looking forward to what would happen when the insidious chill inside of his body was vanquished.
Deep within his core, several tall runes that had been hollowed out and turned into ash began to hum softly. His mental furnace coughed and sputtered, then turned on.
“Mr. Darke, rest assured that the Spearman School is completely behind the activities of the Engraving Guild.” Aylwind spared the annoying young man a sharp glance with enough vicious heat that Aylwind hoped the boy would get the hint. “Unfortunately, these contingency plans can wait; I have other matters to attend to.”
To Aylwind’s surprise, Aiden Darke only flashed a smile. “Perhaps, but are we not currently at war with the Wights? Understanding how the chain of command would work when your Excellency was out of contact would do much to alleviate the fears in the Engraving Guild’s mind. Perhaps if you could just-”
It was a short word, but Aylwind’s bubbling anger combined with a Skill sent Aiden Darke stumbling backward. His face paled, but he certainly shut up.
Immediately, Aylwind felt somewhat guilty, but he simply snorted. “I do not often speak twice, Mr. Darke. Do not force me.”
The other man nodded meekly, and Aylwind felt even worse. All in all, Aylwind’s temper was indeed once more rising to be a conflagration of rage and animosity. Aylwind was well aware of this, and he considered whether he should once more stop using Skills in order to let the strange emotions that drove him forward pass.
But in the past, he had to spend ten months in the strange suppression room for that to happen. His Spearman School couldn’t afford to have him missing for that long. Although there might be small lapses of temper in the interim, they wouldn’t be any long-term negative effects. And once the war had passed, Aylwind could freely rid himself of this strange darkness that crept up in his heart.
Was this truly due to the Spearman himself…? The mark of his violence upon the world…?
Aylwind smothered that thought. Best not to think like that. Instead, he turned to Aiden and extended an olive branch. “Well, the relationship between the Spearman School and the Engraving Guilds can be considered significant, so how about this: consider yourself free to act while I am not here. But, know that I will return, and if I find things not to my liking… Well. I do not easily give warnings twice. Do not force my hand, boy.”
Paling even further, Aiden Darke nodded seriously. Although he knew it wasn’t a completely honest reaction, it was still somewhat pleasing to Aylwind. But of course, the fact that this kid was chosen as the representative in Hastam meant that he wasn’t a simple individual.
Honestly, Aylwind didn’t truly know much of what the Engraving Guilds did. They charged exorbitant amounts of money for the smalling engraving task and hunted down anyone unassociated with the guilds. So they had money and not much else. Even if they had power, Aylwind didn’t fear a rebellion from them. They would need to rely on another Style to have the strength to contend with Aylwind, but even then…
Abruptly, Aylwind looked up. To the South, a strange energy was moving.
“Another army? Well, it’s about time.” Aylwind said, cracking his knuckles. “I suppose I should welcome them to the Spearman School.”