“No,” Rumera said with her arms folded.
“It is just dinner. You are my woman. There is no reason to refuse.” Shal said firmly.
“Does that normally work for you? Using the ‘my woman’ line all the time?”
Shal gave an innocuous smile to Rumera. “Never before. Because I will only have one woman in my lifetime. That is you.”
It was clear from her face that Rumera was torn between vexation and amusement. The two were standing near the banister at the edge of a rooftop cafe. Although there were few enough restaurants in Hastam, especially considering the looming threat of the Wights slowing business down, the C Corp was doing its best to ignore that reality of the situation. With her hands gripping the railing, Rumera leaned back and looked up at the sky to hide her expression.
Of course, Shal was taller than Rumera. It was clear she was grinning toward the sun. He felt somewhat smug with this proof that she would soon capitulate to his demands.
But to his surprise, her expression was serious when she looked down toward him. “Don’t you think it's strange that you were so instantly were drawn to me?”
“Such is the fate of two people who were meant to be. Our bond is…” Shal frowned. Not that he questioned the feelings he had for Rumera, but he was unsure how to describe them. “Our physical bodies feel ancillary to the connection. If we were to die, it feels as though our souls would snap together and form a perfect whole. Which is why I look forward to our children.”
Shal’s tone was relatively even, so it was a few seconds before what he said seemed to register with Rumera. Her annoyed smile hung on her lips until it fell right off with her dropping jaw. “Our… our children?!?”
“Of course,” Shal said with an amused nod. “What do a man and his woman do but make children?”
Rumera punched Shal in the gut with enough force that he grunted in discomfort. Instantly, his eyebrows rose. Truly, he had excellent taste. What a sharp and decisive punch…!
“We are not having children,” Rumera said with a sharp gaze. There was something else there too, in the tightness around her eyes, but Shal couldn’t figure out what it meant. “If you force the issue, I’ll leave.”
“Aye, it is a talk for another time. It was foolish of me to rush. Let me make it up to you. Dinner tonight, anywhere you want.”
“Anywhere…?” Rumera thought about it. Shal stood calmly by her side, waiting. She purposefully dragged the silence out for almost five minutes and Shal said nothing. He was confident that if he simply waited-
“Well,” Rumera began, but she was interrupted.
“Shal, to me now.”
Ophelia’s voice boomed out of the area, projected by a strange Skill. Instantly, Shal grimaced and shot Rumera an apologetic glance but leapt from the roof. As soon as he hit the ground, he transformed into a phantom, weaving through the people at an almost impossible speed. Within the minute, he was back at the impromptu headquarters that Ophelia had erected.
“What is it?” He asked shortly. Not that he really thought that Ophelia would purposeful fake the concern and cause a commotion to ruin his time with Rumera, but since Ophelia insisted he dine with her there had been some growing suspicions in his heart.
But her first words put those worries to rest. “There is news from East. There has been an attack.”
“Have the Wights made landfall in the Heart School?” Shal asked with raised eyes.
But Ophelia shook her head. “Further. The Death School. It is… we believe…”
“The Death School was under attack since the beginning of the war,” Shal said, somewhat surprised at his own callousness. But to be fair, he had spent several months cutting down Witch Kings there. “Even if they gained an advantage-”
“We haven’t received a message from a single person on the Death School for a week,” Ophelia said quietly. “Even Versault. Despite our… disagreement, he would not remain silent for so long willingly. He would take every opportunity to lecture. We believe… the Autarch himself moved. The Death School has fallen.”
Helen rubbed her eyes and looked again. Once more, the training area was completely clean. There were no roots or vines. There were just dirt ground and a man with a spear.
Randidly stood calmly and watched her approach.
“So, you decided to face me today.” Helen finally said, when they stood only ten meters apart. The whole walk up she had proceeded slowly, so as not to spook him into running away. After yesterday's hell, she had spent all night dreaming of what she would say and do to him. But she was somewhat thrown by the fact she had such a chance immediately. Her eyes fastened on the training spear in his hands as proof of condescension. “Why do you not use your own spear? Is that training spear all you need to defeat me?!”
The black flame in her heart was perhaps two fingers wide now, and it flared greedily to life at this question. Her heart pounded with the indignation of protecting that toad. And the constant scathing and condescending comments… the fact that Randidly allowed it-
“Unfortunately, my spear was stolen from me,” Randidly said with a sad shake of his head. Helen suspiciously watched him for any hint that he was lying, but there was none. Slowly, Helen’s stance relaxed. She frowned. That living spear had been… stolen? It couldn’t be so easy as that, could it?
“So, today’s training,” Randidly said slowly. Instantly, Helen was back on guard. She was aware that Randidly was trying to help her, but it was so difficult to remember that when he was so obviously going for every opportunity to goad her into a lathered up fury. He rubbed his neck awkwardly and opened his mouth to speak. But before he did so, another figure sauntered into the room.
“Huhuh… after watching you so closely yesterday, I had several ‘training’ ideas.” Darrune said with a sneer. He glanced furtively at Randidly, and seeing a neutral expression, he continued by saying. “Errr… I think you will like what I have in mind. Your improvement will be heaven-defying… but ah, I apologize Mr. Ghosthound. You were about to explain. Please, do go on.”
Helen blinked very slowly. “Wait… these training regimens… they were your idea?”
Darrune instantly opened his mouth wide, but then seemed to choke on something. Darrune’s gaze quickly returned to Randidly. The two just stared at each other. Helen grew increasingly annoyed.
Just when she was about to say fuck it and try and stab one of them, Randidly grinned. “Oh, yes. Darrune has been instrumental in developing these training regimes. I’m not… well, you know me. Teaching is not something I have any experience in. For all Darrune’s… quirks, teaching is something he understands intimately.
“I- ah, well, that is very kind of you to say… ahem, my ideas are quite… ehehehee… truly, it is hard for a talented individual such as I to go anywhere without being praised.” For a while, confusion and raw pleasure at the compliment warred on Darrune’s face. Pleasure quickly won and ran away with his body. “I must admit that… errr… I was instrumental in these training plans. Not so much experience as expertise, I would say… obviously, there is no need to thank me-”
The Tides of Blood Domain exploded outward. Quick as a flash, Helen was gliding in front of Darrune, prepared to cut his head off and stuck it down his dick. It was with great pleasure that she imagined the sensation of doing just that.
Randidly’s spear stopped her strike dead, and the two of them faced each other directly. Helen’s face twisted into a snarl and pressed harder. Randidly’s emerald eyes flashed and he smashed her backward with enough force to throw her several meters.
She regarded him warily, her eyes darting from his face to Darrune’s hideously afraid visage behind him. The black flame greedily eyed him. “Get out of the way, Randidly. He deserves this.”
“His training plan for today,” Randidly said slowly, “was to lure you directly. I know he can be harsh, but he’s trying to help. I’ll be protecting him today, so attack to your heart’s content.”
“I will rip you to pieces to get at him,” Helen hissed. Just as she was about to explode into motion, she felt her Domain shudder and fail as it was sliced apart.
Helen spun around and saw two root avatars behind her, slowly closing the distance. Her vision went red as memories of being tormented by these plant men surged to the forefront of her mind. Growling, Helen conjured a Maw of the Hellfin to gnaw on one while she spun to deflect Randidly’s spear strike.
Even the contact sent her tapping backward. For all her anger, Helen’s face turned grim. What she was missing in the fights with the plant avatars was weight. They were strong, but she was stronger. But when her spear crossed with Randidly’s she was rapidly reminded that this wasn’t always the case. Others were often stronger than her. Skarch would definitely be. Helen’s strength came from other places.
But just as soon as clarity returned to her, Darrune spoke and ruined it. “Ah, too bad I didn’t bring a novel… well, I suppose you won’t improve without my instruction. Here, I’ll add commentary of what you are doing wrong… ah, behind-... jeez, why did you let that strange plant strike you? Just dodge it more. Maybe… eh, that is passable, but- And THAT! Mr. Ghosthound might be strong, but stop letting him push you around. Strike back harder-”
“I WILL MURDER YOU!!!” Helen roared, smashing her spear as hard and fast as she could at Randidly’s guard. Infuriatingly, he calmly deflected her blows and gave ground until it was clear she was running at a huge Stamina deficit. But as soon as she slowed the barrage down, Randidly struck back with an Idiosyncratic Cut followed up by As the Sun Stills.
Helen had a sudden impulse to tear Randidly to pieces, but she shook her head and shed that emotion. Instead, her eyes locked on Darrune’s smug face. He had produced a canvas chair from his interspatial ring and was now sitting while he called out the most useless advice in the world to infuriate her.
You will pay, Helen thought grimly. Then she focused her attention on Randidly and the plant avatars as they circled around to attack.