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A note from puddles4263

5/7

Randidly shook his head. “I can’t stay for the same reason that you need to stay. You have more to do in the tournament. I do not.”

“I’m not fucking- Jesus, I get it. Wight are everywhere. Sorry. It’s not about the tournament. That's not why I came to talk to you.” Helen shook her head. She was wearing casual leathers right now, but she was still attracting the gazes of many of Randidly’s newfound converts. While ostensibly making preparations for the upcoming departure, there were so many people that many had nothing to do. They clustered just a little bit away from the two, so there was an illusion of privacy. They were just far enough away that it was possible that the listeners couldn’t overhear the conversation.

Randidly snorted and glared. At this point, just a focused gaze was enough to send the group scattering. They still remembered clearly the pressure they had been under during the tests. Just the suggestion of such a weight brought back unpleasant memories.

After a second of watching the surrounding spear users scatter from Randidly’s glare, Helen said quietly,” It’s not… not the tournament. It’s Skarch.”

Randidly looked up with a frown.

“She’s weakening,” Helen whispered. “That last strike… it did something. Hurt something inside of her, permanent. I don’t regret attacking, but-”

“Are you asking me to heal her?” Randidly asked. Honestly, he hadn’t realized that Skarch was doing so poorly that it would be brought to Helen’s attention. Not that Tellus was particularly emotional, but this under 25 Tournament was a friendly endeavor. It still hurt to see a spear user injured when the Wight problem was looming.

There hadn’t been anything particularly special about Helen’s last strike, it was simply timely. In a fit of rage, she had broken the platform on which Skarch had been based. It wasn’t a spear which struck down Skarch, it was a scavenger of the Blood Sea.

Which, Randidly reflected, was perhaps the problem. Was Skarch afflicted with something like what he had dealt with after facing Aegiant? Some part of that battle had fractured one of Skarch’s core Skills? It didn’t seem likely, but it was possible. He had certainly sensed a disturbance in Aether in the wake of that fight…

Randidly had just figured that it was Tellus slowly settling on the image of what it would be. But perhaps-

“No, she doesn’t need healing.” Helen shook her head. “I was wondering if… I don’t know. She just… won’t leave the bed. And she won’t see me. I just figured since something similar happened to Drak-”

Helen looked at Randidly expectantly. Immediately he felt awkward. With a shake of his head, Randidly said. “...I’m not sure what you’ve heard. I left right after my match against Drak. Since being back, I’ve heard he was reduced to a vegetable, but I have not seen him. Or attempted to. It was made known to me that Aegiant still held a grudge. Right now, I have no wish of clashing with a Master level spear user.”

“Oh,” Helen said. “He’s not a vegetable, just…”

“Just what?” Randidly asked. Some part of him immediately was disappointed in himself that he hadn’t investigated someone who he had clearly injured. Another wanted him to go immediately. Both were quickly snuffed out by an overarching sense of practicality. Randidly could not spare the time. Already, he was wasting enough time speaking with Helen.

Honestly, if he hadn’t suddenly found himself burdened by the thousands of people who had passed his tests, Randidly likely would have disembarked already. Alone, if he had to.

“Just, he refuses to allow spears anywhere near himself. Just bringing one into his sick room sends him into a fit.” Helen grimaced. “Luckily Skarch isn’t that bad. If she was… fuck, I’m not sure how I would handle it…”

Randidly gave her a sour look. Helen laughed mirthlessly and shrugged.

Then she offered Randidly a hand. “Good luck.”

“I won’t need it as much as you. Keep it. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful. Well… I guess I’ll say this.” Randidly bit his lip and remembered lashing out with his Skills an accidentally injuring many people in the past. As he had escaped from the prison on Tellus, all those guards… “There are costs to power. But times like these are just chances to reaffirm to yourself that you are willing to pay them, albeit intelligently. Dwelling on them for too long won’t help the people you’ve already hurt. Ignoring them won’t help shape your actions going forward. Only with both can you balance yourself out.”

Helen’s hand was tight around Randidly’s. She nodded without speaking.

Then Randidly chuckled, his emerald eyes gleaming. “Plus, sometimes the best reward you can give someone is proving that they were the second best fighter in the tournament.”

After a few more discussions about concrete training plans, Helen left. Platton finally arrived and informed Randidly that the preparations were over, so the group could disembark. As the final preparations were made, Randidly proceeded directly to the largest of the longships. He sat cross-legged and felt out to the surrounding boats.

Their wood seemed to sing to him, whispering of growth or ash. Randidly’s Mana swirled in his grasp, preparing the sing out to the different boats. Now, managing the Mana would be a very difficult thing for such a long journey, but Randidly was confident that after his time in the darkroom that he would be able to manage the threads of mana. Even if they were split amongst hundreds of ships.

Also difficult would be not burning the entire fleet to kindling. But hell, if there wasn’t a bit of danger, where was the fun?

...well, better tell Platton about when his thoughts ran along those lines…

Humming to himself, Randidly distributed the PP he had gathered into his Soulskill. It had again only been a few days, and he had only gathered a few points in some key Skills, but it still added up to 35 PP.

Small steps toward a very large goal, Randidly thought with a wry smile. Then, as the boats pushed off, Randidly reached out and touched the wood that constituted the entire fleet. Very quickly, thin fins and flippers emerged from each and every boat. Randidly breathed in and breathed out.

His boat was at the head. He worked most directly on his own boat, strengthening the shape and image based upon Helen’s work as the Bloodfin Reaper. Then, with a grin, he unleashed his creation. The boat doubled in speed and let off a splash. Surf surged around the prow of the boat.

Laughing, Randidly activated the rest of the fleet behind him. It was gratifying to hear so many fall over and swear as the boats accelerated. Maybe this sailing expedition would be more fun than he had expected.

*****

Aethon Thai’s expression was hideous. His teeth were pressed so hard together that the tension headache had become a constant companion to his every waking moment. Aegiant's most recent troop shift had left him flabbergasted. After the slow strangulation they had managed over the past few weeks...! “What are you thinking? Letting this many Wights through will only further their plan! We need to isolate them, keep the experience that they need-”

“Relax, Aethon,” Aegiant said with amusement. “You are too hasty. We are playing a game that began before you were born. Leave it to those with experience, yes?”

Aethon released a hissing breath, but he said nothing else. Perhaps he had made the wrong decision, throwing his lot in with Aegiant. The two were sitting in a stone tower that had been erected in the center of the Northern Camp. Their armies seethed around them, shifting into a more streamlined form. One that would allow Wights to slip past their position unmolested in the area of Hastam.

“...besides. For what was done to my grandson…” Aegiant’s smile was vicious. “They must be made to pay. To think, even I didn’t see their treachery until it was too late…”

“It had to happen this way,” Aethon said, rehashing an old conversation. And one that he wasn’t comfortable with. His connection with Randidly remained clear in his mind. “If it hadn’t been the Ghosthound boy-”

“Let’s not do this again. Aethon, I must ask you to simply trust me. Letting the Wights past will convince them to let us here a little longer. Then, when the time is right…”

“How will we know?” Aethon pressed. “We have no inside information. Until we force the issue of them allowing us into the city-”

Aethon paused. His eyes widened. This sudden confidence, it could only mean that they had finally managed to obtain an informant. One at the heart of Hastam. One with enough influence to know the true war being fought in the city. “Who?”

Aegiant chuckled. “Who else but the ancient enemy? Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

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