The Spearman didn’t like moving himself. It stunk of the scramblings of an amateur. But things were getting too close to completion. And this time, he needed to be sure. He had waited for far, far too long. What the situation needed was perfect. And that meant his personal touch.
Bitterness sat in the Spearman’s chest like a crate full of rotting lemons.
Are you watching, Ethe? Even if I couldn’t save you, I’ll save your world. It’s the least I can do after you saved me.
The Spearman steps were broad and devoured distance. Although he didn’t use images any longer, lest he taint the world, he still had the Skill Levels that were approaching Level 400. With them, most mundane tasks were all too simple for him to accomplish with his vast physical abilities and Skills.
It was quiet out in the countryside, the Spearman noticed. Then he clicked his tongue in distaste. That strange interloper Randidly Ghosthound, who somehow resembled his images yet didn’t have the Spearman’s own distinct energy signature, had performed some grand spell working earlier in the day. Somehow, the fool boy had destroyed the sea of energy that animated the Wights.
Long ago, the Spearman had dismissed most forms of Mana based Skills, finding them lacking in efficiency. Sure, they possessed more flash and often contained a certain amount of charming utility, but they were nothing in the face of reliable performance with a spear. Since then, he hadn’t bothered working overmuch with such Skills.
Even now, when most of the Spearman’s day to day work was with engravings, he had developed his own method of engraving that relied on Stamina.
But all that seemed pale and weak in the face of what that boy had done.
Jealousy flashed hot and vicious in the Spearman’s chest, but he suppressed it. Per his orders, Mydia and Versault were currently speaking with the boy about the way of the world. For all his… irritating timing, he would be a useful tool going forward. Who knew what new trial the System would throw at Tellus once they passed this one.
The Spearman’s eyes narrowed. And to protect Ethe’s memory, I will use any tool necessary. All so that her world will survive.
If it still survives. If it didn’t starve just like Tellus did. The Spearman couldn’t suppress the insidious thought quickly enough. But while walking, he kicked out and shattered a mountain to vent his frustrations at his traitorous mind that spawn such darkness and pessimism.
The stone shattered, finally breaking the silence. The Spearman then continued forward.
His mood was much more even by the time he arrived in Hastam.
The city was clearly in the throes of bleary relief. People were singing and drinking in the streets. That damned C Corp had set up carts on street corners to sell their malt beverage. It was infuriating both because the Spearman still hadn’t been able to determine the leadership of the Corporation and because it had made the city smell like cheap beer.
The Spearman considered destroying a few of these to send a message, but he knew it was just a distraction. Better to continue onward.
He arrived at the room they were staying in without in a minute. After a single knock, the door opened.
As soon as she opened the door, Ophelia bowed deeply. “Milord Spearman. I apologize for forcing you to come so far out.”
The Spearman grunted as he walked past her. “You dealt with the situation… with appropriate responses. We remain on for the conflict, then?”
Ophelia kept her nose pressed against the ground. “Yes. We have just returned from the Dungeon; Shal has reached Level 99.”
Aylwind, who had been sitting on the couch, hastily jumped to his feet and also bowed. Which just left a single figure standing in the middle of the room. The Spearman took another step forward, examining this turning figure carefully.
Shal was tall and muscular, with a slight bluish tint to his skin. That, combined with the closed third eye in the middle of his forehead, were small hints at his genetic heritage. The Spearman also felt a flash of fury as bright and sudden as an ignited firecracker. They also hinted at the Spearman’s own failure; he had been able to genetically modify Wights to breed with the people of Tellus, but he had never been able to rid those of mixed blood of these genetic ticks.
Even now, it irked him so much he wanted to kill them all and start over.
Everything for you, Ethe. I’ll stay calm for you.
Aside from his heritage, Shal was tall with a strong gaze. Even though Shal wasn’t using any images, the air around him was filled with vivid pictures of his Wraith Viper, as well as venom and fangs. The Spearman’s eyes narrowed.
This was the true reason he had come. One last examination. Most wouldn’t be able to sense these thin phantom images, but the Spearman had cut himself off from images long ago so he would no longer infect those that came after with his own image. Part of the reason why it was necessary was that it had given him an extremely delicate sense of images. Even when not in use, the Spearman could see the shadows of the Skills an individual used just by looking at them.
The other reason was so others wouldn’t resemble his images, and the System wouldn’t doom Ethe’s world because their image was created by a Nemesis. Even so, the damage had largely been done. He had been forced to wait generations for new images to slowly take shape, even as his images calcified and slowed the process.
All for this.
The Spearman smiled, because there wasn’t a shred of his energy in the images that Shal carried around with him.
“It’s time to seize your destiny, Shal.” The Spearman said in a low voice. “We have waited so long for this; so much has been poured into strengthening you. You are the hope for Tellus. And it is time you make good on that promise.”
There was a flash of tightly controlled fury in Shal’s eyes at those words. The Spearman almost laughed; the fool was incensed by him. Likely by the manipulation that the Spearman used to get them all to this point.
But anger was useful. It was an excellent motivator. The Spearman would know; he had been angry for six hundred and thirty-two years.
Since the System took you from me, Ethe.
“So?” Shal asked in a tight voice. His face was twisted into a rigor mortis blankness as the man clearly struggled to not glare outright. “Who else need die-”
As if on cue, there was an explosion a few blocks distant from them. The shockwave shook the building. Immediately, Shal’s face drained of blood. In a whisper, he said, “There is no need to involve her.”
The Spearman kept the grin from his face, but only barely. Some part of him wanted to tell Shal that Rumera was only a piece of his own Spearsource that had unexpectedly gained sentience. Just to see Shal’s expression. But that impulse too was suppressed.
At first, the Spearman had been furious when he found out that, rather than being stolen, the Spearsoure appeared to have gained sentience and wandered away. It was relieving that he wasn’t being betrayed, but it also filled him with fear that the incarnations would once more spread his image across the land. It would ruin hundreds of years of work.
But when he realized he needed to use his own images to be the loser of this battle anyway, he had acknowledged the Spearsource’s usefulness. It rapidly empowered those who came into contact with. Especially fools like Silo, who didn’t possess half of the combat experience and sense that Shal had. As such, it was an easily slain villain.
For all that, the Spearman had dreaded allowing Shal to associate with Rumera. But it did serve as a convenient lever to force conflict now.
“Run toward destiny, boy,” The Spearman whispered, even as Shal leapt out the window and dashed toward the building in which Rumera had been waiting.
“You need to let me go,” Randidly said evenly, looking at the Oracle. She was the weak point of the duo. If he could convince the Oracle.
“Impossible. You are an unpredictable element. You will only cause difficulties,” Versault said with a shake of his head. “You are young and impatient. It is known. But still-”
“You were right about me being betrayed,” Randidly said, his face twisted into a grimace. “You just… didn’t realize who had betrayed me. It’s just a theory, but you have to listen. If I’m right… this battle is going to go wrong. Someone is going to steal Shal’s thunder. Someone who is an expert at getting thunder stolen.”
Shal pictured dozens of horrifying images as he dashed over to save Rumera. Her body contorting, blood dripping from her lips, her limbs broken and mangled, her eyes dead and empty, her hair tore away from her scalp...
None of them prepared him for what he found when he arrived at the spot of the battle.
Rumera sat, pale but unharmed, against the remnants of the destroyed wall.
In the center of the room, Silo stood, covered in ridged bone armor with a powerful veil of darkness rolling about him. Ghastly claws formed and dispersed as easy as the scales of fishes flashing in the shallows of the ocean. But even through that thick, cloying blackness, a bright spot of color was visible: there was a crimson needle sticking out of Silo’s chest.
With blank eyes, Silo slid off of the spear, blood spurting from the gaping hole in his chest to flood the small apartment. Above him, with ivory hair and fiery eyes, Azriel stood. A pair of vivid red ribbons extended from each hip on her leather armor, coiling behind her.
With an inexorable flow, darkness traveled up Azriel’s spear from Silo into her body.
She grinned at Shal. “And here Helen told me he was already dead. Foolish girl. Do not worry Shal, I will be much more thorough.”