Aemont turned around, and Randidly was immediately surprised by how similar he looked to Shal, aside from the skin color. His eyes, too were different, were bland and empty, which was very different from Shal’s lively, often angry, eyes. But Randidly could not fault Aemont for this; the man had sold his heart in exchange for power.
A heart that Randidly now carried in his chest.
After a small hesitation, Randidly focused and drew those disparate feelings that had embedded themselves within him out and tried to collect them all together, to return. It was a difficult process, one that did involve Randidly weakening himself as those emotions were extracted. But before Randidly had accomplished much, Aemont raised his hand.
“Keep it. I no longer live, boy. What strength you can draw from those feelings… consider it a gift.”
Frowning, Randidly ceased gathering the emotions, allowing them to return to their current locations in his soul space. “...So now you test me?”
Aemont shrugged, looking at his hands. “It is a curious thing, this ash of yours. I truly feel as though I have been revived… and I sense that afterwards, I will cease to be. Here, I can create anything I want. It is.. .curious that of all things, I find myself here. I chose to recreate this moment in my life...”
After a minute of moving his fingers, Aemont seemed to return to himself, and looked up sharply at Randidly. “Ah, that is to say, I am in no hurry, but I also do not mean to tarry here long. Just reminiscing, as well as I can with my hollow soul.”
A strong wind arose, rustling the ground. Before Randidly’s very eyes, time seemed to reverse, and some of the fighters that littered the ground stood, removing their weapons from the bodies of their enemies. Then they walked back away from each other, and more and more bodies rose from the ground. To his horror, Randidly realized that the ground was covered with a layer 3 bodies thick. More and more rose, their gore flowing creepily back into their bodies, making themselves whole.
“Follow me.” Aemont said, producing a spear and handing it to Randidly. Gingerly, he took it, and followed the other man as he walked to the center point, in the valley between the armies.
The wind ceased, and now noise and time returned to normal, and the armies were shouting and bellowing, rushing towards each other, with Aemont and Randidly standing in the middle of them.
Although they were both strong individuals, it was one thing to to fight against a bunch of people, it was quite another to simply be crushed by the force of the bodies rushing towards them, foaming at the mouth. The blood lust was a thick, palpable thing in the air around them. Everything seemed to shimmer, charged with emotion.
With the armies charging towards them, Aemont led Randidly out and into the middle of the group. A dull roar filled the air, and suddenly the fighters had arrived, thrashing and attacking, striking every which way, the bodies crashing together.
Aemont, for his part, just seemed to move his spear and a path opened in the bodies as they fell away around him. The wounds were small and precise, barely noticeable, but instantly the other’s lives fled their bodies, under the guidance of Aemont’s spear.
Meanwhile, after Randidly realized that his mana was suppressed somehow, he had to struggle to use his spear to protect against the attacks that came from every angle, and began to wade through the enemies as best he could. What surprised him was that while the bodies of the monsters here were powerful, their spear skills were abysmal. Not just the spear skills either, but all of their moves were clumsy and full of holes.
After finding his footing, Randidly began to move with more confidence, catching up with Aemont, who spared him a glance.
“Simply recruits… these only have held a spear for a week at best. It is a dishonor to struggle like this, boy…”
Randidly frowned, but said nothing, and he began to look more closely at those that fought around him. Although some had strange, monstrous forms, he could see how wild their eyes were, how thick the madness, how powerful the fervor. These were not true zealots, elite warriors, Randidly could instantly see, but instead just conscripts with a basic amount of training. The subsisted solely on ideals. And yet they gladly rushed forward, throwing their lives away in this brutal meat grinder.
Although Randidly had been very quickly disabused of his innocence with the arrival of the System, it was still somewhat disorienting to see all these people throwing their lives away. They didn’t have the strength to win here, and yet they threw themselves forward anyway. Why….?
But Randidly knew. He knew since seeing them. Because they believed in something greater than them. And it gave them courage, and…
Randidly watched as one bold individual bellowed a furious rejection, smashing aside another’s spear, throwing himself onto a stomach wound in order to kill 5 of his opponents. As they all fell, he raised his head and screamed, squeezing his hand on the shaft that penetrated him, then slowly removing it, blood running down shaft and mixing with the churned up muck and grime beneath the fighters.
As the spear was removed, he could only pant, and then he straightened, wading deeper into the melee, looking for more opponents.
It made them strong too, these beliefs.
“Do you see their strength…? You pick it up faster than I would have expected. Good, your heart is open to other paths than your own. That will help you, when you hit that final wall that is ‘The Calamity.’” Aemont said simply, glancing over his shoulder towards Randidly. Then he began to move forward, increasing in speed.
Randidly hesitated for a second, then shook his head. These men were already dead anyway. But he still muttered, “Rest well,” before cutting into them with abandon.
After walking for about 3 minutes in the deepest parts of the fighting, they came to an area where the men were thinner, but more well armed and serious. These fights were brutally quick, displaying a level of skill that caused Randidly to pause. But Aemont walked forward through the gauntlet, his casually placed spear making the warriors around him look like children.
Randidly swore under his breath before following. He really needed to stop apprenticing himself to these overpowered monsters. Sure, they provided great benefits, but the things they expect from their students were absolutely ridiculous. This man…. had no real concept of difficulty.
So Randidly could only force his way forward, battling against these warriors. Truthfully, they preferred to fight each other more than him, but they were still determined and vicious if he came over towards their area. And their physical prowess was a level higher than the previous fighters bodies, and they had the skills to back it up.
Luckily, it seemed that Randidly’s two years in Shal’s world had still given him a slight edge, and he was able to beat them in skill, even though he felt like he was just barely below them in stats, even though he had just received a huge boost in stats. It instilled a sense of awe in Randidly, because that meant that the stat total of these fighters was absolutely monstrous, and not due to grinded skill levels.
After around 10 minutes, Randidly finally made it through, wincing. It did still seem that his passives were working. Bacterial Regeneration quickly restored the small wounds he had earned against the souls in those hard fought 10 minutes. Aemont stood, waiting for him, and didn’t comment on the time it took him to get there. Instead, he turned and walked forward.
“The System will interfere if I say anything specific, but… The skill I want to leave to you is my own small answer to the Calamity. And it wasn’t enough…” Aemont whispered without turning, continuing to walk rapidly forward.
Now, the crowd was completely gone, and there were only 4 figures. A man in gold armor on a hill, and three men below. Aemont stepped, and with a single step, moved across the battlefield, arriving next to the golden armored man. Then he turned and beckoned towards Randidly.
What followed were probably the hardest fought 30 minutes of Randidly’s life. In terms of stats, they were another order of magnitude higher than the previous enemies, absolutely smashing apart his guard, shrugging off his attacks and lashing out with their weapons with expert precision. Randidly felt an abrupt pressure. Although the people he had fought in the tournament were powerful, they were not powerful like this. This was…
Just the pure difference in stats. Although he was skilled, it took about 4 skill levels to equal a single stat. It was an unbelievable difference in efficiency. Although it could be said that overall, a Skill level would increase performance across the board, both mental and physical, a single stat would be useful in every skills.
And these 3 had skills equal to Randidly’s own.
For the first half of time, Randidly attempted to force his way through. This produced no benefits. Then his strategy shifted to turning two of the juggernauts against each other, which worked slightly better. After 10 minutes of struggle, one grew annoyed and landed a direct attack against the other’s back, sending the other stumbling. In that hole, Randidly advanced.
And so, panting, Randidly arrived before Aemont, who stood before the golden armored man. Aemont glanced at Randidly.
“Would you like to give it a try?”
Randidly didn’t even need to ask what it was for. It was to strike the man in front of him. A man who was likely another caliber of being higher than those three below. Another huge difference in stats. A monster, in every sense of the word.
The air around the golden armored man was heavy. A thick stillness weighed down on the several feet to each side.
Randidly shook his head slowly. Aemont chuckled. “... you might be surprised, by I am not my son. I respect that you recognize your opponent is beyond you. It takes a certain awareness… and a certain self control.”
But Aemont stepped forward, and continued. “Now watch boy, the move that changed my fate. The Breath of the Spear Phantom.”