The Spearman’s eyes narrowed to slits to look at the razor-sharp point of the scorpion tail that was only a few scant finger widths from his eye. This is why I needed to kill this thing, Ethe. Because it uses your weapon. The perfect needle. And that I cannot forgive.
The First Propagator twisted its tail, dislodging the Spearman’s vice grip and retreating a bit away to make room for the group to be well and surrounded. The other side of the portal led to a high dias in Icklid. There, waiting for the Spearman, was the First Propagator, Aegiant Wyrd, and Aethon Thai.
And another army of Witch Kings in bristling ranks.
Pressing his lips into a line, the Spearman scanned them. There weren’t any that appeared to have any strength beyond the Witch King level; it appeared it hadn’t had enough time to make more Propagators. But the Witch Kings would still gum up the other fights going on. And the Spearman-
-had to twist out of the way as the tail struck again, fast as lightning. Even to the Spearman, that attack was dangerous. Seeing his awkward dodge, the First Propagator chuckled. “Truly, you’ve given up your images? This will be too easy. Die, Auto Rach. Rest knowing this world will finally prosper without you.”
Roaring, the Spearman rushed forward. Aegiant and Aethon let him pass without comment. Their eyes were on the three assistants he had brought with him.
Inwardly, the Spearman sneered. Fools. Did they think they could triumph two versus three, against Versault and the Oracle? They would soon be shredded to pieces. Those two had been with him since the beginning. They couldn't hold their own against these imitators.
As if hearing some unspoken signal, the Witch Kings began to rush toward. The Spearman reached out casually and smashed a few Witch Kings that drew too near, but they were an endless tide. Even with the Skills of Versault, this would be difficult to deal with easily.
The First Propagator leapt up onto a pillar and scuttled toward the ceiling. Narrowing his eyes, the Spearman decided to try and ignore it and dash through the entranceway to the lower part of the tower, where he could feel his images were… morphing. Reaching that process and stopping it was his goal. If this glorified bug would give him an opening, he would gladly take it.
But the First Propagator dropped like a stone right when the Spearman rushed forward, its tail flicking outward in rapid thrusts that forced the Spearman to stop. The Spearman's eyes burned as he glared at the monster in front of him. Truly, without relying on images, this would be difficult. Even he would have a hard time surviving a sting from this monster.
Instead, what he would need to do was find a way to take the tail out of the equation…
The Spearman advanced, even as he heard battle being joined behind him. His eyes remained on the tail, but this time the First Propagator swiped at him with its hammer-like claws. Growling, the Spearman smacked those blows aside and then had to lean to the side to avoid a stab from the tail.
“I will crack you open and drink your blood this time, monster.” The Spearman hissed.
The First Propagator seemed to shrug. “Can you even beat me, without betrayal and without your images? I think not. Besides, I have decided to have a name now. I will need it, now that my images have helped Tellus ascend. I will be… Adethe, in honor of those who birthed me.”
For a second, the name hung in the air as the Spearman tried to place it. Then the Spearman’s vision went red. He smashed his foot against the ground and rushed the damned monster as fast as he could. His steps were smooth as he weaved through the blurring thrusts of the tail to close the distance. “You are without images as well. And you were always the one to rely on them as a crutch-! For daring to even use a portion of her name, I will end you.”
Their bodies smashed together, both struggling for supremacy with lightning-quick blows that shook the entire tower with their force. Several times Witch Kings cautiously approached, only to be smashed away by an accidental blow or a shockwave.
The order of magnitude of these two was on another level entirely.
Shal reestablished his balance and lowered his spear until the point was directed at the chest of his mother.
He knew it was her; he knew it immediately. The energy was a dead giveaway, but the way she fought was what truly put it beyond any doubt. Sneaking a glance at Randidly, Shal had dubiously regarded Lucretia. Randidly had told Shal that he would provide an opponent that Shal was simply to duel with for a while without winning, to buy time for Randidly to free himself up. Once they both were free, the plan would continue.
Shal had begun with doubts that Lucretia would be able to slow him down now that he had matured. Then she smashed him in the chest, slamming him into one of the nearby fountains. Hot rock and specks of lava burned small holes in his shirt as he struggled to right himself.
Irritation bloomed in his heart, but Shal said nothing. Instead, the Wraith Viper awoke and regarded Lucretia with a deadly focus. Fine, then let us fight, mother. Let me show you how much I've grown.
“Why are you here?” Lucretia asked, even as she wove together a series of slashes and feints that had Shal backpedaling.
Gritting his teeth, Shal ignored her question. The few times their spears had crossed, it was clear that he was stronger. And his spearwork was more sophisticated. Yet somehow, Lucretia seemed to see through his every feint and strike at the core of his position. She broke his center of balance over and over again, sniffing it out better than a bloodhound. When he moved, she had already prepared a perfect counter for his every strike.
It was like she could read his mind.
Shal hopped backward and his spear lashed out wildly left and right. If she could predict him, then he would just remove the careful control. Slowly, Shal forced her backward with raw force. It wasn’t pretty, but Shal gritted his teeth and forced the issue. This wasn’t going to be a battle that he would lose. For all that it was mostly for show.
At least it was supposed to be for show. But her spear continued to mince left and right with deadly precision.
After forcing Lucretia up against one of the low alabaster walls of the plaza, Shal chanced a Vicious Viper Bite aimed at her shoulder. Reading it a mile away, Lucretia spun past the blow, slipped around him, and inflicted a shallow gash into Shal’s shoulder.
Then she danced away, eyes still fixed on his face. “Why are you fighting now? This is not your battle, Shal.”
“It is,” Shal growled. “It is the battle for Tellus. It is a battle to vindicate Rumera.”
“If you would not fight, the Spearman would likely lose. It is too late for him and his models and predictions. Already, the images are merging into something worthy of Ascension below,” Lucretia whispered as she avoided his attacks. The more she spoke, the more fluid her movements became. “Also… I’m somewhat annoyed you have this girl, and you haven’t bothered to introduce me.”
Shal flicked a gaze sideways. Randidly was mopping the floor with his Witch Kings some distance away, so it was likely safe to talk without fear of being overheard. “You haven’t bothered to be around, Mother. And even if things would have turned out fine here, without me, I had to fight. I was chosen to represent Tellus’ image. I take that responsibility very seriously.”
“You were chosen by a despot,” Lucretia pointed out. Then she started using the Spear Phantom Style to borrow the momentum from his strikes and lash out at him.
Incensed, Shal increased the speed of his attacks. But she simply sped up to compensate. Then he abruptly shifted to a more sinuous, controlling style of spear play, which did stumble her for a brief amount of time. The rapid shift in style was too much to cope with, and soon Shal had Lucretia on her back foot.
With three hammering blows, he had her dazed and retreating. But she continued to circle and deflect. She continued to buy time.
Shal’s eyes narrowed as very quickly, Lucretia was stabilizing and predicting his new moves as well. Was this a Skill? It was incredibly overpowered if it was. So Shal switched up again, this time moving toward aggressiveness to capitalize on Lucretia’s relative lack of Agility and Reaction.
The move forced Lucretia to rapidly backpedal away, spear deflecting his strikes.
Slowly, Shal’s momentum grew as he switched to something closer to Randidly’s style, making use of the terrain and his own mobility. “Even so. Even so, this is my spear. I hold it because I have strength, and therefore I have a duty to the people of Tellus. It is that simple. Because I have the ability, I have the responsibility to use it. And there is not point in being an individual with ability if I am not the bearer of my people's responsibility.
"It might be dumb. It might be foolish. It might be a concept that gets me killed. However, that is the soul of my spear. And I will follow that until the end of my life.”
To his surprise, Shal’s blow slipped past Lucretia’s guard and into her chest. She blinked rapidly, then, with painful tenderness, smiled. “All of this... for responsibility...? Good. Do not forget why you fight, Shal. If what is going to come next is as difficult as I expect… you will need it.”
In the next moment, she was gone, leaving a regular Witch King dying on Shal’s spear. With a deliberate flick, he threw the body onto the ground, then walked slowly over toward the area where Randidly was finishing up the Witch Kings.
Of course, then Shal blinked as more Witch Kings began to emerge from the portal with their keening song.
Sighing, Shal got to work.