In the darkness of her private room, Ophelia Vade, the leader of the Heart School, tapped her finger against the cold obsidian of her small buckler shield. It was something obtained only accidentally from a Danger Zone, hundreds of years ago. It almost made her nostalgic to think of the way the world used to be.
Her memories of before the System were naught but shapes, of course. She had been only a girl when the change came to this world. But she had risen quickly to prominence afterward. And it was only by her hand, and the Oracle, that Tellus had weathered the loss of the Spearman.
When her thoughts turned in that direction, her lips thinned to a frown. Shaking her head, she dispersed those emotions like they were beads of dew. Such emotions would only get in the way of her goal, here.
“Versault, I appreciate that you came all this way.”
Versault Ignis, leader of the Death School, almost seemed amused as he walked into the room and considered Ophelia. The floor of the room was constructed entirely of a very difficult to harvest tongue of a monster. As it dried, it settled into an extremely soft and pleasing surface. Due to its high Level, it also boasted extreme durability. The rest of Ophelia’s office was similarly rare, but she felt no shyness about it.
This was what power could accomplish.
“I did not have a choice. You would have lashed out otherwise,” Versault observed.
Ophelia shrugged. “Fine, we can skip the pleasantries then. No matter what you say, I still remember the truth of your existence; there is no way you do not understand what happened to the spear source. Your power over memory is without peer.
Versault considered Ophelia carefully. Then he sighed. “…I am much less than I once was, Ophelia. We both are.”
Gritting her teeth, Ophelia resisted the strong impulse to lash out at Versault. It was a near thing. Her fury seemed to boil over the edges of herself, coloring the air. But as soon as she heard the soft hum of her Skills warping the world around she immediately stopped. Horror spread across her face, and she immediately suppressed her Skill usage.
Versault’s laughter was loud and full of self-hatred. It took him several minutes to control his guffaws. And when he did, his question caught Ophelia flat-footed. “How is the Oracle?”
The pointed question left Ophelia furious, but she wasn’t going to make a mistake with her control twice. “She is a fucking hero. The sacrifices she made- without the Oracle, we would be fighting
“What has it gotten us, Ophelia? We don’t even know who we are fighting against.”
They stood in silence for several minutes before Versault departed. Ophelia didn’t bother to stop him. Because he was right. The enemy they had been playing cat and mouse with almost seven centuries wouldn’t have struck at the spear source; they had finally reached something like an accord with him.
But if not their old enemy… who was moving…?
Aylwind Sky, leader of the Spearman School, looked up sharply at the news. Almost in spite of himself, he chuckled. “Is it truly so dire that even the Northern Domain has fallen to the Wights? Why would they even bother to invade there? Well, as long as Niergem is held, they will have hope. Let them handle themselves.”
His aide nodded, but after a second Aylwind grimaced and shook his head. “Fuck. It can’t be left to chance. How many escaped?”
“…the numbers are inaccurate. At the top end, almost a million people escaped, split into two forces. At their current speed-”
Aylwind waved her explanation away. “Who are the… leaders of the expedition?”
“Aethon Thai leads the larger portion of the forces in the area. Rumors are that he has broken through to the Master Level, and mortally wounded a Witch King. The smaller group is led by… ah… Aegiant Wyrd.”
The Crimson Dawn. Aylwind’s face turned stony. The man who had held the office of Leader of the Spearman Style before he was betrayed and driven North to the wilderness. A man that Aylwind never hoped to see again.
He grunted, looking at the table. “…it cannot be left to chance…”
Then he looked sharply up at his aide. “Send a missive to Niergem immediately. Have them retreat to the Central Domain. Convey that this is not a request- no, send Sazzeratta. She will compel them well enough.”
After the aide left, Aylwind Sky began to tremble. The old Masters were moving. Those that lived through the legendary life of the Spearman himself. But what was confusing was that they were at each other’s throats. Even now, Aylwind’s contacts informed him that Ophelia Vade and Versault Ignis were meeting. No expedition to recover the Spearsource seemed to be forthcoming. It was baffling.
What exactly was their goal…?
There was another knock at the door. Aylwind’s aide poked her head in and said. “Oh, also. We are nearing the deadline for the end of the tournament. Will you be appearing to greet those that survived the first part of the Inter-School Tournament? Based on what we know, we uncovered some talented youths this time. This will likely be a Tournament to remember.”
Aylwind nodded blandly and then stared at the door the aide departed from. He felt sorry for the girl. She was born and raised in the Central Domain. Although many talked about the attacks of the Wights on the South and West portions of the Spearman School, it hadn’t yet reached the capital, not truly.
Those spoiled brats, the ones that Aylwind was shocked to find himself surrounded by, thought this was just another storm that would inevitably blow over… Their stints on the front line were carefully pruned to expose them to just the right amount of danger.
Aylwind pressed his eyes together. They didn’t remember the precursor to the Inter-School competition, the Five-Way War. Even Aylwind was only a kid when that was shaking the world. Even now, the echoes of that war were waiting, right below the surface. But this next generation… they didn’t recognize any of it.
They didn’t even know that there were originally five Schools.
A new knock at his door distracted Aylwind. The hand that knocked this time was much more forceful than his aide. Someone who wanted a meeting? He had made no agreements that he could remember, and his people weren’t so jelly-spined that they would allow someone without merit to pass through to see him…
Straightening, Aylwind carefully schooled his face. Then he coughed lightly and said, “Come in.”
The door opened, revealing two individuals. The first he recognized. Aiden Darke was a snake of a man that had recently been promoted to the representative of the Engraving Guild in the Central Domain. All the people that Aylwind met complimented the young man for his passion and drive for the art of Engraving.
To Aylwind’s knowledge, this dark haired, pale skinned man’s only passion was torturing those unfortunate enough to be caught practicing Engraving outside of the Guilds.
But when Aiden Darke’s promotion came to his attention three months ago, Aylwind did nothing to stop it; they were losing the war and needed all the Engraved weaponry they could get their hands on. Failing to plumb deeper on the Darke boy turned out to be a grand mistake. The night he was sworn into office a large scale raid was launched upon the C Corp location in the city. Simultaneously, hundreds of soldiers were taken into custody, charged with possession of contraband Engraved weaponry.
As far as Aylwind could piece together, a rogue Engraver was prolifically active in the Northern Domain a couple years ago and had sold off a huge inventory of the equipment in the last several months. This sting was a passion project of Aiden, who had been chasing the Engraver for months, unable to locate a lead.
Aylwind couldn’t deny he was amused when it was clear that the Engraver was long gone, and the C Corp had already sold out their entire stock and the leadership has escaped with the money.
“Ah, Mr. Darke,” Aylwind said slowly. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Leader Sky, I am glad you were able to meet me on such short notice. May I first introduce my assistant, Selfia? She will be joining me in working on this case.”
Aiden indicated the girl, who bowed politely to Aylwind. He scanned her with disinterest. She was one of those rare people with a third eye in her forehead, but her skin was pale; not a talented spear user then.
“As to business…” Aiden Darke’s face twisted in a horrible grin as he looked Aylwind. “Does the name… Randidly Ghosthound ring any bells?”