The man walked calmly across the dusty battleground. His chainmail armor was spattered with the juices of deceased Wights. There were other people scavenging amongst the remnants of the bodies here, but all of them gave him a wide berth. After all, they had come only after the battle here was won. This man had been there during the thick of the fighting. From the rumors about him, he fought with a manic glee that few could match.
And everyone couldn’t help but stare awkwardly at the man’s left arm, which was tied behind his back. The man didn’t mind the stares; after all, it was much more annoying to attempt normal life with his left arm twitching constantly. Keeping it out of the way when it was not needed was for the best.
“Ho, friend.” Several spear users wearing the distinctive armor of the Spear School stopped the man. “I’m afraid you cannot pass, for all that we have heard rumor of your exploits. The corpse of the Witch King must remain until the Commander has arrived and inspected it. However-”
There were only three of them, and they stood with relaxed postures. The speaker was midsentence when he was interrupted. The man drenched in gore smiled. With a certain sick anticipation that made him tremble, the man reached behind his back and tugged on the end of the string binding his left arm. The binding fell away. His left arm grabbed a spear from his back.
Several minutes later, the man was walking briskly past the grisly bodies that he had left. They had been stronger than he had expected, and he wasn’t able to stealthily kill them. But it really didn’t matter. The man was very experienced at hiding himself in this place. The Death School was especially convenient for that. Their mausoleums and graves were often left undisturbed for years.
Pah, if I had my old body, such a thing would have been simple, the soul inside of the man insisted. But even to the man’s ear, he sounded whiny. Your body might have improved, but it remains inefficient. You can barely execute my Skills.
The man ignored the soul and casually tied his left hand to his belt. It had seized a chunk of a dead man’s flesh and was now massaging it. Hopefully, that would keep it entertained for some time. Instead of wasting time on his spectral passenger, the man continued forward until he arrived at a large crater in the ground. There were no other spear users around, but the man knew it was not for want of trying; the air here simply had a powerful image of death pressed upon it.
Even now, the dirt filled the man with an unavoidable dread. The image burned into this ground oozed power. But the man had grown very accustomed to how his body felt over the past year. Without fanfare, he descended to the body of the Witch King. It was not a pretty sight.
The body had been about as smashed into the ground as it had been sliced in half. So the back part of its flesh had split and the juice of its innards had leaked out. The man pulled aside the torn cloak of the Witch King and regarded its true body. Like all Wights, its frame was scrawny and underwhelming. It was a thing of iron and rebar, but with no true substance. Still, the man produced a dagger that glowed blue. Instantly a layer of frost began to form on the man and the Witch King.
Unwilling to keep the dagger out for any longer than necessary, the man reached down and cut out the heart of the Witch King. One of the weaknesses of the WIghts was that they didn’t handle rapid changes of temperature well. Something about the material they were constructed of destabilized during rapid heats or freezes. So it was surprisingly easy to cut into the chest cavity and retrieve the heart.
The brain was more difficult, but only marginally. Then the man stood and sheathed the dagger.
It was time to leave.
“You, on your knees,” A black-robed spear user growled at the lip of the hole. His eyes were bulging as he gazed down at the man. He was one of those rare individuals with a third eye in the middle of his head. His skin was brown with strange tattoos over him.
Even though he looked very different, that third eye was enough to remind the man of a past he would rather not remember. It instantly soured his mood.
“I’d like to kill this one myself,” The man said softly, his eyes glassy with hate.
Yes well. Don’t get injured or anything foolish. I require your services later. The soul replied. It almost caused the man to chuckle. But the man was no longer the type to laugh. That part of him had died a year ago.
Had it only been a year? It was hard to keep track sometimes. The man’s memory was stained with blood.
As he untied his left arm, he tentatively raised it. Then he flexed the hand with a pleased expression. With his confidence rising, the man drew a spear. It would be a good day.
It had only been a month since Lucretia had returned to Tellus, but already her tension was rising rapidly. Because as she began slowly moving the threads around her to give her the power she suspected she needed, something changed inside of her.
It was like something that had long slept in her chest woke up. It called her forward. It was beckoning. It promised peace and rest.
That was what scared her so much that Lucretia couldn’t sit still for a second. That some instinctive part of her wanted to capitulate to this instinct. To let go and allow herself to be driven by this strange impulse.
Lucretia was standing in a cave, tapping her fingers against a rock along the wall. But at that moment, she couldn’t stand it anymore and lashed out with her nails. Her strike ripped a huge amount of rock off of the wall like it was a styrofoam. But even that wasn’t enough. She hissed at the debris, her hands tightening into fists.
Lucretia looked up sharply, then forced herself to relax. “Marco… I didn’t expect you would be the first to return.
Marco Polo flashed his teeth and winked at Lucretia. With a deft mental twitch, she ripped at the threads binding his soul together. Instantly, his smug cheer disappeared as Marco went pale.
Still, Lucretia let up quickly, studying Marco Polo. Her interaction was actually not with him directly, but with Marco’s son. Young Holland Polo had allegedly assaulted a daughter of a very prominent Style head. As justice gathered around to punish them, a desperate Holland had encountered Lucretia and made a deal with him.
She would make sure he escaped from this retribution, but he needed to work in her debt for 10 years. It brought Lucretia a great deal of glee to approach Marco while impersonating a member of the slighted Style, and explain what his son had done. There was only one way to protect his son; Marco needed to take the blame.
He was sentenced to 70 years within a prison. On a whim, Lucretia had Holland serve as a guard in that prison. Karma moved in mysterious ways. Originally, she thought they would find each other and a delightful amount of misery would result. At the time, Lucretia was so twisted by her fear of death that she delighted in causing others to share her hopelessness.
What Lucretia didn’t expect was for Shal to turn up after so many years of being somehow beyond her abilities to detect, had arrived at the prison, unbidden. Imagine her surprise when Shal’s young apprentice, a then volatile Randidly, became acquaintances with Marco Polo and killed Holland Polo while escaping.
Even now, Lucretia occasionally considered telling Marco. But that was a soft part of herself she had learned while watching so many people struggle in Randidly’s Soul Skill. There were so many times while watching that world that she had dearly wished for the power to assist the people growing up inside of Randidly. Not that he could be blamed, but he was juggling so many plates it was inevitable some fell by the wayside.
The people of his Soul Skill were one of those plates.
“Like what you see,” Marco said lightly, regaining some of his attitude. But this time, Lucretia did nothing, nodding to the next chamber. Both of them walked away from the entrance to the cave and scratched wall and went into the room that truly mattered.
It was an altar of sorts. Several flat stones had been rolled and stacked to form a stone surface about waist height. Several complicated runes were carved into the top stone, which was wide and completely smooth aside from the scratches. But they didn’t glow with power, because these runes were based upon the workings of Aether, not Mana.
Right now they were cold, but Lucretia believed she would soon have the necessary pieces to activate them.
There were three circular spaces in the runes on the stone altar. The leftmost one was occupied with the head of a yeti. As soon as she entered the room, it glared up at her, rolling back and forth. The rather typical Mana Engraving that covered the face silenced the yeti and kept it from regenerating, but Lucretia hadn’t found a way to prevent it from being able to witness their actions.
Not that it mattered. It was clearly a lifeform from a higher Cohort, one of the few times the System permitted the higher tiered forms to descend to lower Cohorts. But besides being a Judgement, it didn’t have much ability to inform the System of the transgressors. That was reserved for higher Leveled Heretic Paths.
With a flourish, Marco Polo produced rusted, ancient chains. “Your son is incredibly capable, by the way. To think he was already at the Pontiff level of strength… it is not easy to touch upon the truths of the Spear-source.”
Lucretia grunted noncommittally. Her time with Randidly had informed much of her understandings of things; in this case, she understood what the spear source was, and why it was so important to this world. The spear source was a series of images that had been separated and now formed the basis of power in this world. It likely had something to do with the person who had defeated the first Calamity, the Spearman.
Once the concentrated images were formed and affected the world, it made sense why spears would become so dominant. Anything that was similar to those images from the original person would have a slight, passive boost. What Lucretia didn’t understand was how the images could be so perfectly and completely cut away like that. Had the System done it after the first Calamity was defeated?
Lucretia looked up abruptly as another person walked into the cave. Then she smiled.