Darrune was sweating so much that he dare not move, lest he slip on his own lubrication.
“Hmmm, what are you to Randidly?” The more aggressive woman asked. She was likely the most confusing woman Darrune had ever met. She was all sleek curves and lovely grace, but her eyes and wit had slowly cut away Darrune’s confidence. “He really told you to come here?”
As instructed, Darrune had come to the Hall of Stances and asked after Helen and Azriel. To his surprise, it had taken quite a bit of effort to make it through to see them; apparently the two of them had been inundated with their fans in the past few weeks, so Darrune had originally been assumed to be that. It was only after quite a bit of struggle and getting his message to the right ears that he had been let past the front gate.
While he was accomplishing this feat that he rather believed he should be praised for, he had learned a few things: these people were just as powerful as the man Darrune was trying to cling onto. They were in the quarterfinals of under Level 25 Tournament. Both of them.
Darrune himself was Level 46, but he had no delusions that he would be able to last a moment against them. Their intense gazes made that clear.
Darrune opened his mouth to answer but was cut off by the other woman. “Look at him. He’s sweating so much I can taste it. This is not a man who is bold enough to lie.”
Although his pride twitched at that comment, it did not stir. If anything, Darrune was more intimidated by the relatively quiet white-haired woman more than the attractive Helen. Since Darrune had walked into the room, Azriel’s gaze hadn’t shifted at all. The way she watched him was like Darrune’s cat had once watched him as he readied its food.
“Huh. Fine then. But why would Randidly send him here?” Helen asked, dissatisfaction clear in her tone. She walked in a slow circle around Darrune, examining him from every angle. Darrune could only wince. Did she expect to be able to figure out the answer just by studying him…?
Normally, Darrune would bluff and use his sleazy smile to make his way through an interaction like this. But it just felt… incredibly dangerous. Still… they were both young women. Surely… it couldn’t be too dangerous to fudge the truth just a bit…?
“Ah,” Darrune began, coughing lightly to clear his clogged throat. “I’ve become apprenticed to Randidly-”
He didn’t even see the spear. He simply woke up a split second later, staring at the ceiling and struggling to hold his skull together as a headache threatened to split it. With a groan, Darrune sat up.
“Apologies,” The white-haired woman said with a smile. “When I hear a lie, I strike without thinking. Perhaps use your words more carefully?”
Darrune’s mouth became very dry. If it wasn’t for his time on the frontlines, he likely would have wet himself. “Ah… well I’m his… spear… no… I want to be his spear attendant… so… any more violence is unnecessary…”
Rather than being concerned about Darrune, Helen seemed more shocked about the details of Azriel’s attack. “You have a way to sense lies? That’s so useful!”
“I do not. But I figured proving a point was worth ignoring the details.” Azriel said, her eyes still locked on Darrune. Shivering, Darrune hunched forward. His sweat was forming rivers down his back. What the hell had he done wrong to deserve this? As he stood, his vision swam. He had to hold onto the wall to stay upright.
“…Plus, if I’m being honest,” Azriel said with a small shake of the head. “I expected someone Randidly sent to be strong enough that wouldn’t kill them. Thank god I noticed how weak he was right as I was about to strike… Killing should never be done casually.”
Any relief that Darrune experienced as Azriel finally looked away froze into horror as she continued to speak. He had… almost died….? No, surely she was boasting…
this is all just boasting,
Darrune thought with glazed eyes. He blinked very slowly. His head was still throbbing.
If it’s just boasting… I can manage that…
“I am under strict orders not to harm either of you. Of course, I couldn’t respond to your strike,” The mildly concussed Darrune said. He flashed his greasy smile. Although he noticed it visibly sickened Helen, there was little he could do. This was his bluffing face. “But now that you’ve ascertained my identity, it is time I reveal my mission.”
Both women blinked at him. Then they looked at each other.
“Fuck your mission, where’s Randidly?” Helen said with a frown.
Darrune’s addled mind tottered along, scrambling to think up an answer. Or could he just tell the truth? It was so hard to know. “It’s hard to explain… do you believe in reincarnation?”
Azriel snorted. “Perhaps this clown was supposed to cheer us up before the fight?”
“When did Randidly ever care about our happiness,” Helen said morosely. Then her face shifted into a look of determination and she shook her head. “Well either way, you are here now. Don’t stay fucking dumb stuff; just explain the mission.”
They were training for this match, right? So… “I’m a training partner. Highly sought after, in certain circles.”
“Sought after by who, loan sharks?” Helen exclaimed. Her eyes seemed to weigh Darrune, and then she just shook her head in disgust. “I don’t believe it.”
“I dueled a Pontiff to a draw once,” Darrune announced. He was about to explain the entire made up situation when the second blow took him. At least this time he was somewhat able to notice its approach. Not that he could stop it. The thin spear smashed into his temple and sent him cartwheeling into the solid stone wall.
This time when Darrune awoke, his ears were ringing. It was only after several slow minutes that he was able to roll over. And then, he found himself covered in a thin blanket. Several ineffectual swipes later, he removed the covering and could see the room again. The two women were sharing a meal at the table, basically pretending he wasn’t there.
“What…” Darrune began. Then he frowned. What had he been trying to do again…? Honestly… what… who….?
As Darrune reached for basically any information, he drew up a blank. All he could find is his name: Darrune.
“You’ve been unconscious for a bit, so we didn’t want you getting cold,” The girl with the bone white hair said matter of factly. “Now, I have a question. If you are a sparring partner, how could you keep being knocked out by weak, sudden blows.”
Darrune filed that away. He was a sparring partner. Then he considered the question. For about six minutes he struggled with it. Both women appeared to have given up on him and turned back to their food by the time he finally found an answer. And Darrune wasn’t sure if it was a good one, but it was all he could think of on short notice.
“Probably… I’m weak to sneak attacks.”
The Autarch frowned as he read the scroll in his hand. There was, of course, no point in still using scrolls. But the Autarch found that he loved the feel of them in his hand. It reminded him of his precious years with Effie, reading by firelight.
As he finished reading, he closed his eyes. He was so close. After hundreds of years, all of the necessary elements were in play. But now, suddenly, an unexpected variable had appeared. One that appeared to have enough influence to affect the most critical piece of the plan.
Standing quickly, the Autarch shifted his cloak and walked over to the model of Tellus that he had commissioned. He looked at the tiles that indicated his armies swarming around Hastam. He reached down and tapped the pieces thoughtfully.
This wasn’t a foolproof move, but hopefully it would eliminate the aberrant element.
When he had reviewed the decision several times from different angles, the Autarch snapped his finger. A tall, willowy Witch King appeared, bowing immediately.
Without looking over, the Autarch said, “I want you to invade. As quickly as possible. Spare no expense. And make sure… to kill them all. None are to survive.”
The Witch King nodded.