Three days later, Randidly stood on the bow of his longship and looked at the foggy shore of the Death School. Some of the more seafaring among the crews had warned that the Death School was an inhospitable place to land, but Randidly was still surprised by the shore; it looked to him like the exposed bottom jaw of some long-dead monster.
“Not a great first impression,” Randidly muttered to himself. Flexing his hands, he reached out through his inner connection to reach Acri and Sulfur.
Immediately, Randidly could feel Acri’s joy. And it was clear why; they were close. If Randidly wrecked his ships against those exposed stone teeth and sprinted for the rest of the day, he didn’t doubt that he would finally be able to seize Acri before dusk. It wasn’t what he planned on doing, but it being a possibility was nice. Truly, he missed his equipment.
It was easy to forget the small, understood things he had relied on Acri for when the two were working together. But when all he wielded was cold wood…
Truly, it made Randidly appreciate the equipment he had made. Not only for the convenience of always having it there, but their connection was so intuitive that Acri would stretch when it needed to in order to strike a target that was attempting to dodge.
But seeing the shore reminded Randidly of the end of his conversation with the Oracle.
“Thank you for the story, but how is that relevant to what I am doing right now?” Randidly had asked.
Cackling, the Oracle answered. “Well, you are right. Not directly. Perhaps I warn about the folly of plans? But mark my words, Mr. Ghosthound. Should you land on the Death School land, neither you nor your Crown will be able to return to the Spearman School in time to see your Master. By that time… he will have passed from this world…”
Which, Randidly reflected, was a very ambiguous statement. Based on what he understood about the Second Calamity from both his acquisition of the Ashen Image and then this story, after defeating the Second Calamity a portal would appear. This “Ascension” through the portal was somehow part of passing the Second Calamity. But of course, all the details that would be actually helpful to know were absent.
Still, if Shal truly was gone by the time Randidly returned, it was possible he simply had ascended rather than died.
Gritting his teeth, Randidly threw his hands up to the sky. Which brought him right back around to wondering
the Oracle was attempting to prevent him from making landfall on the Death School. Randidly turned and glanced behind.
Like a hungry whale following a school of minnows, the huge cruise liner of the Oracle loomed behind his longboat caravan. Since hailing Randidly the first time and speaking with him, the Oracle made no attempt to interfere with his group’s journey. At least not in any way that Randidly could detect. And likely not at all. The voyage here was rather uneventful. A starving child could have navigated the placid seas that Randidly had faced.
That ominous wind after his meeting with the Oracle had turned out to be nothing.
Honestly, the fact that it had been so easy made Randidly nervous. It made it seem much more likely that the trouble was waiting out beyond the edge of his vision. Randidly’s hand went up to his chest. There was a budding pain there.
Sighing, Randidly best to ignore the pain. He already knew that his Soulskill was approaching the end of its viability. Alta was preparing to force his hand. And Randidly was not looking forward to attempting a remaking of himself while this boat loomed over him. In addition, Randidly’s plans wouldn’t be possible on the sea.
Which was why, no matter how intimidating it may be, the rocky shoreline was a relief.
What was also weird was that it wasn’t that the Oracle wanted to stop him, per se, she just warned of the costs of landing…
“Well then,” Randidly announced to the salty air. Time was growing short. “No more waiting around. Time to make landfall.”
Even Ophelia’s face was smudged with dirt and ash. “Let’s not panic. There’s been an attack, but the damage is not as serious as it appears-”
“This is not an attack,” Shal growled. He gestured out the window to the haze of thick black smoke that wafted up from a dozen sizable fires. “There were Wight forces within the city. Strike forces, true, but that doesn’t it mean it will not be difficult. Even if we are not truly fighting the Wights, this-’
“You are right, of course. I must go speak with Aylwind immediately.” Ophelia picked up her spear and spun it. Even from the casual movement, the air hummed with a strange note. “Your girlfriend is already here, is she not? Safe. Therefore, go out and pacify any rogue elements within the city. They spread chaos. End it. Start with the Southern portion.”
Shal grunted, not pointing out that it was Ophelia’s meddling that he and Rumera were still in their squat base rather than exploring the city. For the third time this month, Ophelia had demanded a dinner. She had even allowed Shal to invite Rumera.
Shal thought sourly.
Yet, if this was truly all according to plan, why was Ophelia’s generally perfect hair messed up? Where did the smudge on her face come from? Shal was aware that Ophelia had moved immediately when the attack came. He was sitting with Rumera before the decided upon mealtime.
Ophelia’s image was very distinct. She had responded even before Shal had realized something was wrong.
“Perfect,” Ophelia said sharply. With a quick gesture, the window exploded outwards. “We are past the point that you need to hide; fight with speed in mind. The attacks are at the edges of the city, but those fleeing inwards will cause more chaos. There is a lot of city to cover.”
Then she was gone, streaking toward the city center. Shal watched her go for a second, wondering how long this crazy charade would go on. When would the people stop paying the price for the games of their leaders…
But then Shal shelved his thoughts and rushed out into the city. Immediately, he located a group of spear users fighting against a contingent of Wights in a nearby gym. To someone of his power, the stone walls were nothing but paper.
With a crash, he tore through the side of the building and hit the Wight lines like a collapsing mountain. Those that weren’t ripped to shreds by his Phantom Thrusts were physically broken by his body. Shal slashed and cut a space clear around the spear users so fast that they just stood, struck dumb, with their spears raised.
Shal paused to look at them. “You stand. Good. How well can you follow?”
To this credit, their leader nodded.
In an instant, the booming roar of the Phantom shook the city. A shadow fell over the district in which Shal stood. The surviving Wights slowed their constant bombardment of Psychic Venom as the craned their necks to look upward.
Shal’s eyes flashed. The weight of the Phantom’s hand crashed down on top of the building. It wasn’t screaming per se, but the Wights made that noise of unwilling death as the stone and wood supports shifted and crushed them to mush against the ground.
But Shal was already thrusting his spear forward, forging a path for himself and those fools that were dumb enough to get separated and attacked by Wights.
When they were out on the street, Shal closed his eyes briefly and listened. He heard the heavy breathing of those that followed him. Beyond that, he heard the dying of Wights. Beyond that he hard crying and fires and screams for help. And beyond that was the light tapping of the Wight hit squads.
There were seven in total in the area Shal could easily sense. In groups between forty and fifty. Some light fighting, but most of the individuals who lived out here in the edge of the city weren’t strong enough to fight a group of Wights.
With a grin, Shal glanced over his shoulder to the group following him. “This will be harder before it is peaceful. Agreed?”
“I…” The man who led the survivors said uncertainty. “We don’t have much strength. The attacks-”
“Almost all of Hastam is burning.” Shal lied shortly. He didn’t have time to baby these fools “The only safe place is the Central Square and the Colosseum, but how long will they remain safe after we have fallen? Take shelter at my back, or make it on your own.”
Shal didn’t bother to wait to see their answer. This group was led by a coward, and the others with the elderly man were likely pupils. Too young to recognize what sort of spear user the man was. Shal immediately set out down the alley and out to the main street. Two Witch Kings looked up from where they were ripping through buildings as they pursued a wounded woman. Immediately, Shal’s face turned grim.
Distantly he could hear other sounds of fighting. But one by one, they were being silenced. Some Shal could tell were spear users ambushing Wights, but there were also more worrisome noises. There was a force amongst the Wights that was systematically seeking out resistance and eliminating it. That was unusual. All of this was unusual. It was too sudden. How had they missed this?
Had they missed this?
Perhaps due to Ophelia’s comment about speed, Shal released the looming image of a phantom that hovered over him. Instead, a giant serpent’s hiss echoed across the city. Shal’s spear flicked out and the two Witch Kings expired, smashed to the ground.
The elderly man and his pupils had only just arrived in time to see Shal’s casual attack and the rapid death of the Witch Kings. “What-”
The whole city rumbled with the fury of the sound. Shal’s eyes blazed, yet he remained torn. There were so many places to go, and he was only-
There was a cry nearby. That was all the impetus Shal needed. This was clean up, and wouldn’t accomplish much in the grand scheme of things. Likely the goal was just to destabilize an already tense city. Even if the death toll was only in the hundreds, this attack would strike fear into every citizen of Hastam.
But still, Shal would fucking enjoy ripping some Wights to pieces right about now.