Captain Platton sat on top of a tall stone tower, looking towards the South side of the Hallat River. The screen of trees made it difficult to tell exactly what was going on, but it seemed clear that the Wights were moving.
Construction, his instincts told him. This time Hell Maws for sure. With that cover, the Wights would push them back from the Hallat River and have free reign over the fertile countryside that fed most of the Central Domain. Farming was a largely mocked profession in Tellus, but if the farming villages in the surrounding area fell, the Central Domain would feel the absence very quickly.
‘Would that move them?’ Captain Platton wondered. Somehow, he knew that it wouldn’t. For whatever reasons, the elites held only apathy towards this invasion. It was painful and frustrating to admit, but there was no other explanation for the lack of response as reports of losses to the Wight horde poured in from every side.
When the Spearsource was lost, Tellus had gotten angry and frustrated. For the first time in the centuries since the great Calamity, they had lost their identity. Even if Captain Platton didn’t agree with the decision of the higher-ups to remain in the wings, he understood it; there wasn’t a fundamental threat that they needed to address.
But this was a different situation. The aggressive attacks from the Wights had revealed that they would ignore the precipitous losses that forcing the issue would cause. And they didn’t care at all. Unless the body was carefully annihilated, the Propagators had the ability to use the corpses to assemble more Wights without missing a beat.
That was what broke Captain Platton’s heart: he was being praised as a hero by all of the population who had heard of his exploits but all he managed was to waste hundreds of lives to delay the assault by a few weeks.
That was all the valiant defense that he orchestrated had managed. A few weeks.
And with the departure of his three most powerful warriors…
As if summoned by his thought, Azriel and Skarch pushed open the door without a knock and walked into Platton’s office. Randidly followed after the two of them, his expression slightly clouded.
Smiling warily, Captain Platton put down the stack of reports and nodded to the entrants. After all, they had given and sacrificed for his plans, it was not a problem to ignore the breaches of etiquette. “Good, you are all here. There is another day before it’s strictly necessary, but… since it appears the Wights will be working on their war machines for the next week, you may return to Hastam early. Perhaps the day of rest will do you good.”
“We have rested for two days already,” Azriel complained, and Randidly nodded.
“We have plenty of energy,” Randidly said, his eyes going over the dozens of papers scattered on Captain Platton’s desk. Platton’s heart sank when he realized the man pitied him. “If there is anything-”
“There is nothing you can do,” Captain Platton said. The room settled into an almost numb silence, and Platton winced. Perhaps too many of his morose guesses about the state of this war came through in his voice. In an attempt to get the mood back on track, he said. “Here, anyway. There is a tournament a hundred kilometers North that you are responsible for winning. Did you know that there are already betting pools, arranged by the C Corp?”
The three just looked at him, so Captain Platton soldiered on. “I took the liberty to arrange my paycheck go towards bets on each of you. Some of the men joined in on it. I’ll have you know that if one of you were to win the tournament, the rest of us would have enough to retire from the front lines and live like kings. So good luck.”
If anything, the silence grew worse in the wake of Platton’s pronouncement. All three of the eyes of the young spear users grew solemn as they looked at him.
“It has been an honor to be led by you,” Skarch said with a short bow. “If we weather this storm, my family will always welcome you at our table.”
“We will weather it, without a doubt.” Captain Platton found himself saying. He noticed that when he spoke, Randidly closed his eyes. It seemed that he was truly rusty when it came to lying.
“If we find unending glory,” Azriel said lightly as she tapped her spear on the ground, “You will be recognized in the song of our deeds. Likely not in the refrain, but as a minor character in an early verse.”
Snorting, Platton turned to Randidly. He reached into his pocket and produced his Soulstone. With a gesture, the energy he had gathered in the last month transferred over to Randidly’s own stone. It was a small thing, but-
Suddenly, Randidly’s eyes were glittering as he examined the energy in the air. There was a spark of hope in his eyes. But Captain Platton did his best to ignore it. He had allowed this young man to exhausted himself on this task for far too long. Best that he return to Hastam where he could be further refined. One day, he would be a spear user that could change the fate of a nation.
But not yet.
No matter what Platton was thinking, however, Randidly ignored his offered hand. Instead, he pulled out his own stone and stared at it fixedly. “...what does the Soulstone steal exactly? If it continues to take the energy, perhaps-”
“This was already looked into.” Captain Platton said with a stern voice. “It is true, the Soulstone takes a portion of the energy that is released when a Wight dies. But it was never the energy that is an issue. We have always known that the Propagator has the ineffable ability to light the fire of life in the puppets that are the Wights. But we always believed that broken bodies could only be reused at great cost. That was the variable holding the Propagators back. Whether they learned a Skill to circumvent this issue, or whether it was a ruse from the beginning doesn’t matter; the animating energy was always easy to create. Stealing a little-”
“Perhaps,” Randidly said, and now he was grinning. His mouth stretched wider and wider until it was a wild expression that no longer looked pleasant. “But I was stuck on the same problems as you because I believed I had to address them the same way as you do. I don’t.”
Captain Platton gave Randidly a look, and he smiled back up at him.
“Captain, give me leave to remain two more hours,” Randidly said with bright eyes. “Perhaps… there truly is nothing I can do in the grand scope of things. But right here, right now, I can present you with a farewell gift. And I think it is one that you will appreciate.”
Randidly stared at the sky. Tired but determined, the pulse of the images produced by that brave stand at Southpoint Beach continued. If anything, they had grown stronger the longer that Randidly examined them. At first, he had been deeply puzzled by this, wondering how the Aether was managing it.
Then he realized that there were new sources, from afar that were slowly connected to the living thing in the sky that the Southpoint Beach stand had created. Across Tellus, more spear users were dying with such fervor that it was altering Aether. The only problem that it was all shape, and no juice. It would give spear users the shape to grow, but they were being starved of vitamins to fuel that.
Standing on the hill above the Hallat River, Randidly looked at the graves he had dug. Then his gaze turned to the Wight encampment. Even now, they were felling trees to make room for their Hell Maws. Randidly closed his eyes. No matter what they did to those plants, they were still there. Without an overwhelming power, it was impossible to completely eradicate plant life.
With plants, Randidly had eyes.
What he had realized from watching Platton give him the energy from his Soulstone was how tenuous the Wights hold over the energy was. It was because they were like cups filled with the energy, animating them. It was a very specific sort of energy, not the type that would be any use spear users. Perhaps because of that, whoever had made the Wights didn’t bother to make the bindings on that energy very tight. They popped like water balloons when pressed the right way.
Or at least, that was what Randidly was banking on.
Randidly set out the last crate of Mana potions next to him and smiled at it ruefully. Although he didn’t like the lack of action, this break had at least given Randidly the chance to lose the constant headache that had from artificially recovering his Mana for the last month. But this activity would probably destroy everything he had struggled to accomplish during that time.
When the Incendiary Eruptions went up among the Wight camps, there were deaths sure, but there were likely a hundred thousand Wights in the area. Randidly alone could no longer dent their armies. The fiery heat scarred the ground, melting stone and Wight bodies alike. As the smoke cooled, Randidly drank Mana Potions. Then he struck again, spreading his reach out farther. Then again. Then again, until the edges of Randidly’s focus were fraying and a 20-kilometer space was covered in Incendiary Eruptions.
Then, to fill in the gaps, Randidly closed his eyes and felt with his plants. Where he needed it, he used another Incendiary Eruption. Slowly, the shape of what he wanted settled into place.
As he was so far from the occurrence, even Randidly felt strained. If his Control wasn’t so overwhelmingly high, it would be impossible. But with a Control of 697, Randidly believed he had just enough to manage it.
After all of his research into energy transfers for the drone, the principle behind this was almost too simple. Creating the transition to Aether was tricky, but he had experimented with some of the energy from his own Soulstone, and quickly worked through it. The melted rock cooled into certain shapes, filled with the warm glow of Randidly’s Mana. As the attacks seemed to cease, the huge army returned back to their work, ignoring the melted rock beneath their feet.
His eyes were burning emeralds as Randidly reached into that 20 kilometers of giant Mana Engraving. Doing this so quickly had driven Randidly towards the end of his endurance, but Platton had been adamant that he only have two hours. With the remaining Mana Potions, Randidly refilled himself. But even so, he produced his 10 rings filled with Mana.
Randidly took a breath. Then he pulled. The giant Engravings lit up with emerald fire.
As one, 100,000 Wights collapsed as their energy was sucked away into that beating pulse in the sky.