The power I received was great, and everyday I grew stronger, but it was not enough. The mountain that they had put in front of me… was high beyond belief. Although I knew the curse of the Eternal Witch, I could not dissuade myself.
She obtained for me an ancient, evil rune, that would let me give my soul to obtain power from defeated enemies. As long as I use it on the front lines, against them…
But first, I must deal with the Engraving Guilds. I must agree to ridiculous demands that have me working on special missions on the front lines, obtaining materials for… dark experiments that don’t bear thinking about. But there is no choice. Both sides are playing with dark forces, and we hold in each other a mutual agreement for silence.
For two years they struggle to understand the rune, creating prototype after prototype. They are broken, dangerous weapons, which can destroy a man. But after two years, while my strength is sharpened and I must spend almost all of my waking days away from my beloved, and my two sons, one freshly born, one I’ve never even seen… they’ve done it.
Over the next three months, at the cost of my soul… my power doubles.
I am… death. The Spear Phantom. I can feel it so clearly, as I hollow out my insides for power. This… is who I am.
But I still remember. I still know the purpose of the man who I was, before I was emptied.
So I return… triumphant. I have killed the enemy that I promised to slay, and returned with its head…
To find my eldest, Pronto, holding one of those cursed prototypes I had stored at home. Standing over the cooling bodies of my wife… and my unnamed son, who I never got to see take a breath.
“What….” Shal was crying now, his hands balled into fists. “WHAT DOES THAT MEAN!”
Sensing something, Aemont lowered his spear, his clear eyes running up and down Shal, as if considering what to say. And to Shal’s surprise, Aemont sighed. “My son, of the woman I had sworn to love… died that day. You….”
Shal slowly froze. “You… didn’t name me. Pronto did. You never visited me, like you visited him. You… To you, I’m just…”
Time slipped past, silence hanging between them. Neither had anything to say.
“Then…. What am I….?” Shal mumbled.
Aemont’s eyes were profoundly sad as he raised his spear in salute. Then, for the first time since Shal had become stuck in this world, Aemont began to advance toward him, taking the initiative.
Although he was struggling to figure out what was going on, whether to believe the shade of Aemont and the strange memories he saw, Shal’s instincts still kicked in as Aemont advanced. Once more, energy twisted and flowed out of the misty ground, filling Aemont, making him seem more real, more solid, even as the ground around him faded away.
Soon, it was just the two of them, standing in a dimly lit darkness, only them and their spears on a flat plane.
“Damnit…. It was only ever this, huh…?” Shal whispered, looking at his hands around the spear. “This… this was the only way you could- the only way you tried to bond with us. If I’m… not your son, why did you even bother…?”
Suddenly, Shal just felt profoundly tired, as he looked at Aemont, rushing towards him, looking as if he had completely reincarnated. But in the face of this… Shal couldn’t care about this final confrontation. He simply let his spear go, letting it fall to the dark floor with a clatter.
Aemont paused, giving Shal a look. “...pick up your spear.”
“I’m tired of these games.” Shal said, sitting down, sighing to himself. “Just kill me, if I really am an imposter son, a fake to appease the Endless Heat Style or something reanimated corpse, why bother?”
“Because… you are my son. It is your destiny to hold a spear.”
Shal waved his hand airily. “Perhaps, perhaps not. I cannot find it in me to care. I have a disciple now, you know. I’ve been just as poor a teacher as you have been a father.”
Shal’s head jerked up as Aemont nodded. Then the shade looked at him critically. “You think I did not know? I dwell not only in your chest, but in the remnants of my will in my writings. That boy threw himself upon the teeth of my diary many a time. He has far more comprehension than you. It is a pity that his path does not lie in the spear. Still, you have done well to find him. He will bring our legacy honor.”
In that moment, Shal just looked. Then, he felt a powerful burst of hatred, wishing that Aemont’s words didn’t mean so much to him. But there was no way around it. Whether or not they were related… or Shal was somehow risen from the dead… Aemont had said that Shal was his son. Could it perhaps be something empathetic, like because I raised you, you are my son…? Shal didn’t think so.
Aemont was not the type to say such things.
“Your spear.” Aemont chided again, interrupting Shal’s musings. “To end this, to see the truth, to escape… we must fight. You must fight-”
Suddenly, Aemont looked up, glaring balefully towards the sky. But after a few seconds of this, his gaze softened. “Truly… the boy has excellent instincts. Much less short sighted than some other people. Now… are you prepared to continue?”
Shal said nothing.
Aemont sighed. “You know… that boy will likely die in the wake of this tournament.”
Grunting, Shal said. “He knew the risks, participating. At this level, accidents-”
“No, no, not due to the tournament, not due to his actions… but due to you.” Aemont said. “Due to your connection with me, and… the precious daughter of the Endless Heat Style. They have a very particular way of letting their inheritance pass from generation to generation… and it depends on blood. Those old bastards knew more than they let on… but they suspect, just like you, that you are not my son.
“For now, I can only offer my word, but I can show you… To them, your existence poses a threat both ways. If you are truly the descendent they expect, of the Endless Heat Style… you need to be taught. If you are not, if you are a fake… you must be killed, so you cannot be used against the Char’s, the current ruling family in the Style. They will come for you… but your disciple will not escape the culling. They would rather kill more than they have to, rather than miss a descendent.”
Still, Shal remained silent. But now Aemont relaxed, stepping back, watching Shal as he pondered. Time to think was the one thing they had in droves.
But then a voice made Shal look up towards the sky of this dark place.
I miss you.
For a few seconds, Randidly stood above Shal, holding the spear. But as he did so, he had a profound sense of regret. Honestly, did he really have to do this now…? His control over this weapon was pretty low, just because he hadn’t had occasion to try out its… particular powers. Besides there was no proof that using it would have any effect.
Also, what if the effects were negative…?
There were too many bad outcomes to Randidly to feel anything but foolish. He had an idea that might work, and rushed to try it. But that was definitely not the way to insure that there would be positive outcomes for them. This… this was hasty, and this was desperate.
“I miss you.” Randidly said to the man who treated him roughly through their entire series of interactions, beating him, training him, molding him. Teaching him to kill, and then becoming furious at him for his callous actions. Shal was a lot like life in that way: he didn’t make much sense.
But Randidly didn’t hate him for it.
Randidly also understood that Shal was fighting his own battle, one independent of Randidly. One that involved Lucretia, and a debt generations in coming. So, on a strange impulse stirring in his chest, Randidly removed both the Devourer and Inquisitor knives and set them on the table next to the sleeping Shal.
“A gift.” Then, Randidly turned and left the room. After he closed the door, he felt the handle tingle, absolutely charged with… something. It wasn’t mana, and it wasn’t Aether, but it was… something just as powerful. Something mysterious.
“Damnit…” Randidly whispered to himself, standing in the dark hallway. The world was wide and full, and he was just a very small part of it. As hard as it was to admit… things moved beyond him, things he would never understand. He could see a small part of Shal’s journey through the memories and emotions, scattered and jumbled as they were from Aemont, but…
That was not his path to walk.
So Randidly returned to his room, flexing his hands. It really seemed like the tremors had stopped. That was good. Now… it was time to check his gains from the previous 3 days, and plan his way forward. He didn’t have time for much, just to put the finishing touches on his plan for the fight, but Randidly planned to give it his all.
For the honor of the Spear Phantom Style, and for Azriel. These were two individuals who gave him help when others would not. For their own purposes, yet, and it was slightly tenuous in Azriel’s case. But Randidly swore to himself that he wouldn’t be brittle and leave like his father. In this situation, far out of his depth, he would stay and see this through.