Helen sat panting on the ground. Above, the midday sun blazed downward, looking brighter than it had in weeks. The sky was so blue and wide she had a strange urge to reach up and scoop some of it and raise the rich color of the sky to her lips so she could drink.
“Fucking dumb,” Helen whispered.
All across Hastam, the city was almost dead silent. Hissing whispers and tentative laughter were the only infrequent disturbances.
The silence was not because the city had fallen. But perhaps the opposite. Everyone had seen the marshaling Wight forces outside the city. And every citizen was aware of the mounting tension between Hastam and the Northern Camp. Their Masters were salivating for an excuse to strike at the other’s throat. While the Wight army was preparing, Aylwind and Ophelia, the two great leaders, were preparing to head toward the Northern Camp.
Helen was feeling furious and afraid. Her emotions boiled over in her chest until her black flames of rage were wide and maroon colored. Too much was filtering into her. She had lived on the front lines for almost a year. She knew what would happen to Hastam when the protection offered by those two departed to deal with political issues.
It had seemed like the world itself was ending. Letters crawled across the ground in an invasive, glowing script. It spread on the edge of the wind, sweeping across all of Hastam in all of ten seconds. The letters climbed up buildings and across the Hallat in a snap. Then it had swarmed under the Wights.
It was somewhat strange to see the Wights turn tail and flee from it, but the strange script was too fast even for them. And so quickly did it happen that no spear user could figure what it could mean.
It streamed forth endlessly, driven by some unseen imperative. And following the script, almost a minute later, there was the endless light. It was blinding. So much so that Helen could see through her eyelids closed. The light pierced through those tiny apertures like they were nothing.
In that dreamlike blindness, Helen wondered what would happen to her world. It seemed… too late. The impending doom was beyond her own spear. Violence could not move the implacable number of Wights. Even the great Masters of the world hadn’t managed to turn this doom aside. This was… just how it would end.
And then Helen had awoken from the light to find the world had completely changed during her light-dream. The Wights toppled over. They were still.
No attack came.
Such was the confusion that even Aylwind and Ophelia returned to the capital to investigate. Several bold adventurers eventually ran out from the city to investigate the happening in the Wight camp; they discovered that their eyes weren’t deceiving them. The Wights were still. The hill on which they sat was still and dead.
The whole countryside was silent.
Without the horrid motion of their bodies, they appeared like dolls, strewn across each other in pathetic slumps. After a few hours passed and there was no change, the even bolder individuals stacked them up like firewood to burn. They danced with the frozen bodies of the dead Wights. They found Witch Kings and stitched them together with sticks of wood and paraded them across the city.
A playful, hushed celebration. A cautious spirit of optimism was born in the city by these small acts of control. On street corners, people whispered about what might have caused it. Most suspected that the Spearman had returned and defeated the great Propagator, the Autarch. Yet if it were so, others reasoned, why hadn’t the Spearman revealed himself yet?
And why had he allowed things to grow so dire before moving?
Helen rubbed at the cobblestoned ground with her thumb. Although it had largely faded, there were some spots were the burnt lines of that strange, expansive script could still be seen. It had covered the ground and left its mark.
“Looks like what Randidly did to Skarch’s spear…” Helen muttered. She looked to her left and right, listening as small noises began to grow commonplace. The grand spear-users of Tellus had become church mice after brushing so closely with death the prior night, but they were rapidly crawling out of their hiding spots.
Soon, the streets would be crowded and noise would radiate outward. Basically hell on Tellus.
Nodding to herself, Helen set off across the city. Regardless of the why the change had occurred, Helen wanted to accomplish something that she was very afraid of letting slip through the cracks during the fallout from the Wight offensive: she wanted to do Azriel a favor.
As she hurried across the city, Helen determinedly activated her Tides of Blood Domain. The layering was shallow, but waves of blood energy radiated out from her body to wash against the buildings and people that were slowly coming to life. It wasn’t the most efficient method, but it would give Helen an extra edge to find Azriel.
There were a few places that Helen checked immediately as she crisscrossed the city: the Hall of Stances, Azriel’s personal quarters, and the spot where Helen had met Helen’s master outside of the city. All of these were empty.
Slowly, as Helen got used to the sensory information that was flooding in, she spread her Domain farther away from herself. The slow beginnings of a headache crawled together and formed a knot by her temple. Still, the greatest distance she could cover was one hundred meters. Beyond that Helen’s vision began to swim and there was a strange darkness in the peripheries of her vision.
“How the fuck does Randidly manage this…” Helen muttered, kicking over the broken remnants of a wall. Shaking her head, she continued. But as she methodically worked back and forth, she was able to get a pretty good picture of the state of Hastam and who was in it.
Helen was somewhat disgusted by certain individuals celebration rituals. And oddly aroused.
When she finally found Azriel, Helen felt like an idiot; Azriel was standing in the middle of the Colosseum, looking up at the sky.
The vast building was empty as Azriel stood on the center stage with eyes closed. The immense edifice was like a bowl held aloft to the sky. The sunlight slowly filtered down, filling the place with an incredible weight. Thin layers of light refracted off of Azriel as she stood on the stage, in the focal point. If anything, Helen became
aware of the intense silence here. Staring at Azriel, as she just seemed frozen in time…
Helen couldn’t bring herself to walk forward for a long time. She simply watched. In a way, Helen knew Azriel. They were both women who wanted to accomplish something. Only the methods they went about it were quite different. Azriel chased the feeling of control by perfecting her own spear art. Helen got super fucking pissy about it.
Basically the same…
Helen thought while wincing.
After releasing a breath through her nose, Helen walked out onto the Colosseum grounds.
Azriel’s eyes flicked open. “Helen. Have you seen?”
“Of course.” Helen retorted.
“Do you think it was… Randidly?”
Helen had no answer for that. It was the same question that she burned to ask. Yet Helen could sense through their connection that Randidly was deeply involved with something currently. She didn’t want to send a message and risk distracting him from something important.
“…Azriel, I want to offer you something.”
Azriel twisted further and looked at Helen with an inquisitive look. Helen couldn’t help but notice how pristine Helen’s clothes were. Pure with, with a crimson vest. Her eyes seemed to burn like lanterns.
Helen licked her lips. “We fucking won, right? So what the people need are a celebration. The tournament… it was derailed by the Wight attacks. But now those fucks are gone. And that fuck Silo… well he attacked me in the chaos, and I beat him. Your opponent… let’s not pretend like he would have been your equal. So what I’m saying… we should spread the word that we are finishing the tournament. We can fight in front of the crowd, winner take all. I know how important proving your master is… so let’s settle this. All of this. The finals you’ve always waited for.”
Azriel just looked at Helen.
Helen frowned. “What? What are you looking at?”
“You beat Silo?” Azriel’s eyebrows quirked upward. “Surprising. Not as surprising as you beating Skarch, I suppose… but still.”
Scowling, Helen threw up her hands. “I get it. I’m the ultimate underdog. Everyone is very shocked that I continue to be able to get myself out of bed without losing a fight. Your glory, if anything, would be tarnished by a victory against me. Why don’t we all-”
“Helen, you know it’s not like that.” But Azriel’s expression was sad. “It is… too late. My Master has left. It… matters not now whether I achieve glory. This isn’t my stage any longer. All that remains is to watch as everything falls apart.”
“Like the Wight army collapsed?” Helen said sardonically.
For the first time since Helen had arrived in the Colosseum, the pressure eased as Azriel’s face twisted into a smile. “Truly, it boggles the mind. What other strange effects will the Ghosthound have on Tellus? I for one, am excited to find out.”
After a few seconds of silence, Helen said again, “…so no fight?”
“No fight,” Azriel agreed. “At least not between us.”
Then her gaze lifted upward toward the heavy sun hanging in the sky. “…but I doubt that the peace will last. Especially now that the external threat has been removed from our necks. I suspect very soon, all those who have been waiting in the wings for hundreds of years will come forward, staking their claim on the soul of Tellus.”
“And those are the people we are going to rip to pieces for glory?” Helen asked. Both women grinned. It was a rhetorical question.