Randidly studied the lines of Versault’s face very carefully. What sort of conversation would this man wish to have with him…? And he greeted Randidly by name…
With delicate softness, Randidly asked, “Perhaps I could retrieve my weapons first…?”
Versault inclined his head shortly and then continued to speak as if this sort of minor task was beneath his notice. Beside Randidly, the Oracle folded her thin arms and pinched her face into an aggrieved expression as she rolled her eyes.
It seemed like there wasn’t an extreme amount of fondness between these two figures.
“You know…” Versault spoke in a low, sonorous voice as Randidly took even steps toward the table on which Acri and Sulfur squirmed. “You have been a thorn in our side for some time, Mr. Ghosthound.”
Randidly paused in his walking. But seeing that Versault just remained in his seated position, he started to move again. All the while Versault continued to talk.
“I am not… privy to the inner workings of the mind of the Spearman, but I am well aware of his plans. After all, in the old days, we fought side by side; I too am a Nemesis, descended from a higher Cohort, you understand. And I am old. And tired. Far too old for the plans that the Spearman subjected himself to. But he was obsessed. He would not let go of the memory of Ethellem, his love. To protect the world that spawned her, he subjected us to hundreds of years of suspension in this hell. And now our emancipation is so close that I can taste it.”
Randidly reached the table. Unfortunately, Sharpness was one of the images still recovering from the Soulskill debacle. So Randidly produced a small shard of Erickson Steel and slit the leather bindings around Acri. Instantly, the half plant half spear twisted around Randidly’s arm in a familiar embrace.
Despite the strange situation he found himself in, Randidly grinned; it was good to have his equipment back. Very quickly, he cut Sulfur free as well and helped the armor onto his body. The more quickly he was ready for the worst case in this scenario, the better he would be.
All the while, Versault continued to speak.
“You see, the Spearman needed an image not of his own making to ascend for Tellus. In addition, he had no desire to leave his images around to be the butt and lose in the battle for Ascension the next time around; the Spearman was too proud for that. So he created a political schism that isolated a Style from the Spearman’s own images. It took a few hundred years of careful pruning, but he managed it. So then this common young spear-user was to rise to prominence in the escalating conflict with the Wights. With that as a backdrop, this spear-user would fight and win over the corrupt leadership of the Spear users, and become Tellus’ new savior.”
“Yea, Shal.” Said Randidly, slowly looking from Versault to the Oracle. “But-”
“No, that is where you are wrong,” Versault said with a tiny little laugh. “Where there must be a winner, there will be a loser. Opposite the common spear-user, there was to be the disgraced son of a hero, who had been persecuted all his life. While stuck in a Dungeon that perfectly countered his weaknesses, he would experience a psychotic break. The pressure would be too much for him. When he did finally escape, he would witness the Northern Regional Tournament, and by chance meet his mother, a Wight. The truth of his existence would so strain his already wounded mind that he would go mad, and be controlled by his mother like a puppet to kill and kill his fellow spear-users. Only when that unassuming spear-user rose to prominence and defeated him would he finally find peace.”
Randidly stopped and turned to look at Versault. Blinking, Randidly said. “…Shal was made… to be the bad guy.”
“So you understand why your interference… was such an unpleasant surprise.” The Oracle spoke out, her high pitched voice a thin veil over her clear disapproval. “Of course, it is clear that you were a minor figure; you had no idea the plans into which you were interfering. You were simply a boy out of your depth. Yet somehow, the mere presence of having a pupil saved Shal. He endured. He became an exemplary spear user.”
“Ruined your perfect plan, huh,” Randidly said with a deadpan expression. Not that he truly minded interfering on principle. The Spearman was a sociopath clearly, and these two henchmen were just as bad. But considering the state of his Skills… antagonizing these two was not high on his to-do list.
He upped his Aether absorption, and made no move to head toward the door; Randidly sensed that his attempt to exit would provoke a response.
“You don’t even know the half of it, boy,” Versault said with a thin smile. “Decades of work, thrown into the trash because of your unthinking actions.”
“So this…” Randidly gestured around. “This was to isolate me and punish me.”
Even though Randidly was trying to relax his Skills, he could feel the Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom throbbing to be used. Righteous ire rose in his chest. They might be Masters, but if these two thought for a second that they could bully him-
“No, of course not.” The Oracle hastily added. “Well, it was to isolate you. But we have no plans to punish you. We might be callous, but we won’t cast aside useful talents. For all your interference, you are obviously a talented spear-user. One of the elite. For that, you have earned a place on Tellus working for the Spearman. But we cannot risk you altering our plan once more. Shal is on his path. H needs to stay there.”
“Why?” Randidly asked, scrunching up his expression. But for all that, a part of him relaxed now that they seemed to be here to detain him, rather than being dead set on lynching him. More time to heal.“Are you afraid that I’ll tell Shal he’s being lied to about his role as the hero?”
“We are not lying to Shal,” Versault cut in. “He is the hero.”
“But you just said-”
Versault’s face twisted into a grimace. “Your interference changed more than you know. Because of you, the original hero is no longer viable. So we have been scrambling to assemble a suitable duel that will have enough weight to shift the defining image of Tellus. For all of Shal’s… deviations, he was still an image that was acceptable for Tellus to use to ascend.”
That gave Randidly pause. “What happened to the original hero?”
“You happened,” Versault hissed lightning fast.
Tilting his head to the side, Randidly regarded the two with confusion. “You are blaming this on me as well?”
“The original hero,” continued Versault, “was Drak Wyrd.”
Oh. Yea, that was my fault.
“Really?” Randidly said with a frown as he thought further about it. “But he accepted energy from Lucretia- he was a heretic.”
“Due to your influence, as far as we can tell,” The Oracle said with a shrug. “This matter of arranging for two images to fight for dominance and achieve ascension is not an exact science; even someone as wise as the Spearman has his limitations. For us to be unable to see through the conflux of fates is understandable.”
Randidly’s lips quirked upward. “But are you not the Oracle? Isn’t this your cup of tea?”
“It isn’t as easy as it looks,” The Oracle barred her teeth. “Sometimes I feel flashes of insight. My knowledge of karma is unmatched, even by the Spearman. But there are limits. Touching fate is reaching into murky water where the clearest image you see is your own reflection on the surface.”
“So what you said to me earlier, about a betrayal…” Randidly said slowly. “Why did you tell me not to come to the Death School? When you clearly now want to keep me here. If I had attempted to turn around at your advice, would you have just let me go?”
“Of course not,” The Oracle said dismissively. “But there was little chance of that. We have been controlling stubborn groups of young men for generations. Is it truly so strange that I would advise you do the opposite, knowing that you would refuse to listen to my advice? Perhaps you are not as intelligent as you look.”
Randidly looked at the Oracle then, but his eyes were not filled with hot fury. He was angry. But that wasn’t the dominant emotion that he felt as he looked at the Oracle. Then he turned and glanced at Versault, who was watching him with dark eyes.
What he felt was pity. These fools. Even now, they didn’t understand how they would doom themselves through their strange manipulations and distant controls. It was an unfortunate coincidence, but Randidly suspected that even if he had not appeared on the scene, Drak would have gone off the rails and failed at becoming a hero.
That was life. Unexpected things happened. Especially when your true goals were mired in lies and deceit.
“Why do you look at me like that?” The Oracle demanded.
Both Randidly and Versault ignored her.
“What now?” Randidly asked. His Skills were close to being fully healed. Very soon, he would have some confidence in escaping the two of them.
Versault smiled. “Now, Shal is being prepped to fight the Spearman’s own image, warped by the violence of that shade Silo. You are familiar with him, correct? We discovered him by accident, but he will serve admirably as the final hurdle Shal will defeat.”