Despite Randidly’s misgivings about Darrune, the man kept up admirably well when Randidly started out. So he had upped the speed to the point where the Tellite was wheezing like a deflating balloon. From there, Randidly slowed down, but only a little.
Despite that, Darrune managed to make it all in four hours. Although he didn’t really mind, Randidly suspected that the ambient Aether that he threw off just by being an Aether Crossroad was a big reason that Darrune had been able to maintain the demanding level of exertion for so long. Randidly supposed that it was this man’s lucky blessing that gave him this opportunity.
After he arrived, however, Randidly wasn’t sure what to do with him. But it seemed like Darrune was content just to follow along after him and wheeze, so Randidly didn’t pay it any mind. Perhaps the journey had convinced Darrune to try and become Randidly’s Spear Attendant. Which would be convenient in some ways, but…
Darrune was not the type of person he wanted to be around.
So Randidly ignored him as he quickly set off through the crowded streets of Hastam to head toward the Hall of Stances. Although the streets were packed with people, most of the energy that had been here previously was gone. People were sitting on street corners and muttering to themselves. Despite the bright sky and sunny day, the mood was that of a funeral.
Randidly’s mood worsened, perhaps poisoned by his surroundings. But to his surprise, just as soon as he descended into a funk he was yanked out of it by a familiar voice.
“Randidly! Ah, good, you yet live.”
Randidly froze and turned. Standing there, hands on his hips, was Shal. Blue skin, closed third eye, glowering visage- Well, all but the last was present. Randidly was somewhat surprised that Shal appeared relatively happy to see him. Although he wasn’t smiling, his gaze was positively bright.
Slowly, wondering where his driven and haunted teacher had gone, Randidly walked over to him.
“Shal. It’s been… quite a while.”
“You’ve grown stronger,” Shal said, a hint of surprise in his voice. “I witnessed your match against the girl Helen. But now… The air speaks of the spear near you. Have you managed to control the abilities of a Pontiff?”
“Yes,” Randidly said with a nod. Still watching Shal carefully.
“Satisfactory,” Shal announced.
Then the two stood and looked at each other. It felt to them both that the situation that they had last seen each other in was a far cry from where they had once been. Randidly had been fleeing from an incarnation of a Master from the Northern Region, and Shal had been struggling with the truth about his lineage. In their knowing gazes toward each other, they seemed to acknowledge these things and then agree to let them go.
“This is certainly heartwarming,” A low woman’s voice full of amusement said. “Perhaps I should go? I’d hate to interrupt. Besides, I’m getting emotional just watching.”
Randidly blinked, turning to the woman standing beside Shal. She smiled warmly at him as he finally noticed her. Instantly. Randidly’s brow furrowed. “I… know you. You were out in front of Hastam when we arrived. You were waiting in line in front of us. You are… Silo’s sister?”
“The very same, Mr. Ghosthound. I’ve heard much about you. My name’s Rumera. It’s nice to finally meet you. But thank you for remember me.” Some of the good cheer fell away from Rumera’s face. She glanced sideways at Shal. “I want to get this out of the way; your Master had decided that I am to marry him and is not accepting my protests. Randidly, I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but when I make my escape attempt, can I count on you?”
Shal snorted. Randidly looked incredulously from one to the other. Was this girl, who was probably a few years younger than him, truly flirting with Shal?
“I would kill him without a thought if he attempted to steal you from me,” Shal announced.
Rumera rolled her eyes. “He isn’t
me. That’s the whole point; I am not a belonging. I’m just choosing to leave your side.”
“We will talk later and work out a signal, Rumera,” Randidly said with a small laugh. “But right now… I need to talk to Shal. I have… questions.”
Instantly, Shal familiar glower returned. “Hum. If it is so, then it is so. Come, I know a place where we may speak without being heard. Rumi, I expect you for dinner.”
“You certainly expect a lot, don’t you?” Rumera chided. But she waved at Randidly and then departed. Suddenly all business, Shal started striding toward the edge of Hastam.
Randidly gestured at Darrune. He obviously didn’t want to bring the man with him, but there was a certain cathartic joy in driving the man to his limits that Randidly hadn’t yet tired of. So better to send him somewhere he wouldn’t’ cause trouble. “Do you know where the Hall of Stances is? Ask around if you don’t. Head there and ask for Azriel or Helen. Inform them you know me. Then wait there until I return.”
Then Randidly exploded into motion to follow Shal, who wasn’t holding back on account of his disciple. Very soon, the two of the passed like a sharp wind through the nearby streets and covered quite a bit of distance. Randidly had encountered Shal in the business district, so they passed through the residential districts until they arrived at some of the industrial smelting locations.
The air here was clogged with smog and soot and the cries of blacksmiths, but Shal didn’t stop. He kept walking along an old dirt alley until he brought Randidly to an old rusted house frame. It looked like someone had built the bones of a house but stopped short of actually making it habitable.
“What is this place?” Randidly asked.
“An old friend of mine once believed that he could make a house using only spear moves,” Shal said wistfully. “It was a childhood friend. This is the extent of his efforts. I always come here to visit when I think of it. Although he didn’t amount to much, his family is influential. Out of respect for him, they keep this relic even now. None will hear us here.”
“What happened to him?” Randidly asked, even though he sensed he knew the answer.
“He died.” Shal turned and frowned at Randidly. “It is good that you have come to me to speak. There is much to tell you. Your life is threatened.”
Randidly gave Shal a helpless look.
In a surprising display of good humor, Shal laughed. “Hmm. It is true, you are generally pursued and hunted. But this time, it is a danger I do not have full confidence in protecting you from.”
Inwardly, Randidly marveled at the change in Shal’s disposition from his time flirting with Rumera. He supposed you shouldn’t underestimate the effects of a relationship. But in answer to Shal, Randidly shrugged. “The Wights are many, but they are weak. As long as I don’t need to fight a group of Propagators-”
“No, it is worse than that boy.” Shal’s expression grew even more grave. Long shadows lay across his face. “The Northern Convoy has arrived. It is with great joy that so many from Deardrun and the surrounding areas made it out alive, but… it comes with its own sort of problems. The first is general: there is some sort of tension between Aylwind Sky, head of the Spearman School and the head of the Northern Convoy. As such, those from the North have largely stayed away from Hastam.
“Which leads to your first problem… the leader of the Northern Convoy is Aegiant Wyrd, the Crimson Dawn. The man whose descendent you reduced to an unresponsive vegetable. I advise you to stay within Hastam as much as possible. Should word of your presence get out… well, there are larger fish to fry at the moment but Aegiant is not a man that would forget the loss you inflicted on him.
“And second… I have received repeated requested from Aethon Thai to approve a marriage between you and the girl Ciel. I am told you won her chastity in a tournament match? Such a thing is bold, but ultimately a distraction. One should concentrate-”
“I don’t need to hear that from you!” Randidly bellowed. Shal regarded him with an unamused look. Shaking his head, Randidly’s thoughts raced as he absorbed what Shal had just said.
It made sense that Aegiant Wyrd had reared his head and that might spell trouble for Randidly. He recalled generally that a portion of the Regional Tournament he had fought in was about the political state of the Northern Region. That point had become moot from the Wight invasion, but if in the wake of their fight Drak was reduced to a vegetable, Aegiant wouldn’t easily forget it.
That Aethon Thai and his daughter Ciel had accompanied him was more confusing, given how the last thing Randidly remembered was Thai and Wyrd fighting. But he supposed that the circumstances had pushed them into this. And the marriage proposal… Tiresome, but not a real issue. Just somewhat silly for it to crop up like this, all this time later…
This is what I get for thinking I would like to settle down someday,
Randidly reflected with an aggrieved expression.
Plant too many flags and the world will go out of its way to make you eat your words.