Shal opened his eyes, putting his thoughts to the side. It was nearly time. It was impossible to see what was happening through the thick formations that choked off all outward sources of Aether, so it was possible that the disciple had foolishly spent his Aether early on, and had since died. His body would be perfectly preserved, but the spark of his life...
It would be a disappointment now, as Shal had spent this time gathering his thoughts for how they could manage to pull this off. And how he could convince Divveltian to lend them his aid. With his help, it was possible to pull it off…
For the first time in a long time, Shal felt a pang of regret that so many bridges had been built and then burnt by his father. Very few of their older allies remained well disposed towards them. They would effectively be on their own, without the aid of any local powers…
Sensing time was up, Shal prepared to lower the formation.
“Thank you senior,” The male spear attendant said, bowing. “It was truly helpful to see your strength.”
Divvit snorted. “No need to flatter. But fine, I suppose I could give you some pointers from time to time. Assume a stance.”
Excited, the male spear attendant did so. Very carefully and slowly, Divvit explained what he knew of the Iron Spear Style, its strengths and weaknesses, and what he saw in the male spear attendant. Honestly, the amount of information and insight that he so casually displayed was incredible.
Then, even more incredible, Divvit began describing an image and movement that could possibly turn into a great skill, if he had a spare skill for it.
The male spear attendant nodded excitedly.
“Then all that remains,” Divvit said. “Is to strike. Focus on the image. Feel its truth in your body. And move. If you want it enough, the world will respond.”
The male spear attendant raised his spear, but then hesitated. These past few days… everything that shook his confidence, he had pressed it down tightly, binding it into a ball. Then he maneuvered that ball of tight emotion and put it in the tip of his spear. An iron defense, and impenetrable strike…
A split second before the male spear attendant moved, a very peculiar thing happened. A strange, chaotic burst of energy came from below, thick and wild. It rampaged upwards and everywhere, sinking into the bodies of everyone on the ship almost immediately, filling them up with a powerful ferocity and focus.
Eyes bright with confidence, the male spear attendant struck, his spear smoothly rushing forward. For whatever reason, with that energy filling him, he could feel the image. A fortress of invulnerable iron. Although many have tried to raze it, they would only crash against it and fall away.
“Bulwark of Iron!” He shouted, his cry clear and bright.
To his surprise and joy, after his strike surged outwards, a notification popped up in front of him.
“Ahahahaha! Finally!” He said excitedly. “This is just proof… this is just the proof I need..! My strength is without equal! A move has been created by I, Ro-”
The deck of the ship was blasted upwards, knocking the male spear attendant unconscious.
Helen paled, seeing the ground explode underneath them. What the hell were those idiots doing!??! And this energy… could it be…?
But then she saw two unconscious bodies tumbling through the air. One was her fellow spear attendant, who was an idiot. The other was the Ghosthound. Without a second thought, she rushed across the boat, and leapt up, catching the Ghosthound, cradling him in her arms as she dropped onto the deck of a nearby boat..
As she landed, she was almost surprised by how light he was. It was easy to forget that although the was tall, and his eyes seemed to burn with an intense light, he was still just a spear user their age, albeit with an ideal body for the spear. His hands were large, and his limbs were long. His shoulders were much wider than hers, and his stance was exceptionally low and strong when he attacked.
He was, Helen admitted to herself, a good source of genes for her children, if nothing else. So Helen had followed an impulse and became his spear attendant.
Returning to the boat, Helen laid him lightly down on the ground, very gently. This asshole was probably responsible for the explosion, but she studiously controlled any anger she felt. It would be simpler if she didn’t display her more… extreme side around him.
How strange it was that she ran away from home to avoid being tied down by a family as part of a merger between two leatherworking empires, but now she found herself with prospects that made her seriously consider seducing him.
But then those thoughts fell away as she straightened and summoned her spear. Because right now…
It was hard to describe. She struck forward, then moved smoothly into her next stance, then into the third stance. Extremely slowly, she straightened. Suddenly, flaws in her movements were quite clear. She moved through her flowing stances again. And then again. Then again.
Her face grave, she continued through her stances for another minute as the last of that energy dissipated from her body. It was Aether, for sure. And…
An Aether so pure it seemed impossible. She had gained 5 skill levels in each of her three moves over the past few minutes. The first 3 skill levels happened the first 3 times she moved after she had the insight into her previous flaws. This kind of power…
It seemed that she wasn’t the only one that noticed, because people were coming to the decks of nearby boats, looking over at them with serious expressions. Even Divvit, the old fart, had moved, moving a finger back and forth lightly.
Shal appeared on deck, and he and Divvit exchanged a serious glance. But they didn’t speak, instead, Shal walked over to the Ghosthound, then looked down at him.
“You fucking dimwit.”
His voice was angry, but Helen was near to them, and could see Shal’s face. It was twisted in a manic smile, his teeth clenched in a dead simulacrum of a smile. Any other would just assume something had gone wrong in training, but the way Shal was looking at the Ghosthound… it was the way a wolf looked at a fat sheep. Shal was definitely pleased by something.
Then Shal abruptly straightened, and Helen blinked.
Two figures had simply appeared on a small boat to the side of their group’s boat,, a bobbing, sudden neighbor. The large, light blue Tassle of the Crashing Wave Style hung above the two figures, the man slight and silver haired, the woman huge and broad.
“Greetings.” The man spoke softly, his voice smooth.
Divvit stood and bowed. “Honored guest, would you bless our vessel with your presence?”
The man’s eyes slid over the scattered boards and gaping hole left in the deck. “...I think not. We were just out for a stroll.”
Then the man breathed deeply through his nose. “A good breeze, over here...Until next we meet, friends.” Then the small boat carrying the two turned and began to float away, boats hastily pushing themselves apart to allow them through.
Helen scratched her head. What the fuck had just fucking happened?
Shal looked at his disciple, who appeared to still be sleeping peacefully. The memories were still fresh in his mind of what had happened an hour earlier, as he had lowered the formations that surrounded his disciple.
As the formations slowly began to be disabled, there was a strange resistance. They were running mostly off energy from Shal himself, so he was a little stumped as to why the formation persisted after he had cut off its energy supply. He supposed that he had never been the one to run the formation for another, for such a long period of time, so perhaps he had given it too much energy previously.
So he reached out with his will and pressed the formations out of existence, the light flickering out of them.
What he was greeted by was a huge wave of energy that crashed into him, as the sweating, but standing form of Randidly was revealed. Energy surged around Randidly, swirling his dark hair and making the air around him almost glow.
Seemingly surprised, Randidly looked up, then smiled lopsidedly and said. “Shal, I think I found a new image. Let me know what you think.”
His disciple immediately lowered his stance, and then took a fighting stance. Before it even happened, Shal’s instincts warned him that a thrust would be coming. And a second later, it rolled forward, smooth and even, and strangely slow. But as Shal witnessed this spear thrust, his eyes couldn’t help but shoot open.
In that spear, he could see the cruel smile of his father. All his confidence fled his body, and for a brief moment, he trembled. But instinct was more powerful than fear, and Shal stepped forward and knocked his disciple up in the air, before he could complete that spear thrust. Such was his haste that he used perhaps too much strength, smashing his disciple’s body up through the deck and into the air.
It suddenly struck Shal that the thick energy around his disciple... was Aether. A thick and wild Aether, that seemed to fill his body and whisper possibilities of strength. So it seemed that his disciple was honest, if doomed. If the big Styles figured out about how this was possible to hold in the body…
Forget even the larger threat of some system based life form coming to deal with this deviation, the people on this planet would kill for the power that his disciple possessed in his body.
The detecting and arriving of the Crashing Wave Style so quickly was chilling. And from the stance of their leader, he was aware that somehow, a huge burst of very pure Aether came from this boat. Their intentions were peaceful right now, but if push came to shove. Shal narrowed his eyes and calmed his breathing. Perhaps it was good to leave then. And the Aether in his disciple’s body gave him hope. Perhaps he would get the chance at his long awaited revenge.