The Spearman looked up imperiously when Shal and the boy returned. His eyes flicked between them, suspicious. It had taken the two almost an hour to return, and as they stood before him, the boy wiped a bit of frost from his leather. Both were rather soaked.
The Spearman then turned and looked outside. Sleet came down in waves, soaking and freezing Hastam. It looked like the weather had finally turned on Tellus. The long summer that they had enjoyed was over. Could they truly have simply been slowed by the weather?
The Spearman’s lip curled up. How… mundane.
But for all the time they took to arrive, they had come. And they were tools that the Spearman wouldn’t refuse right now. Both were capable enough to be of use in what would follow.
“I suppose this is it, then,” The Spearman said as he considered the dismal weather. “Out of respect for your Master, Randidly, I will allow you to accompany us. Besides, I suspect that the Propagator will assemble a small army of puppets to try and slow my advance. You will be of some use.”
The boy twitched, but his expression did not change. Internally, the Spearman chuckled. You think you are worth my time, boy? Perhaps in one hundred years. Right now, you are simply fodder. Accept your truth.
“We depart immediately,” The Spearman announced as he turned away from the window. “Oracle, we will take your ship and sail back out to the sea and then South toward the Heart School. There, we will break through any blockade around the portal and crush the Wight resistance.”
“This time for real,” Shal muttered. For that display of insolence, he earned himself a vicious glare from the Spearman, but the Spearman was not pleased to see a brief smirk on the boy’s face.
I’m surrounded by fools, the Spearman thought with barely controlled anger. They think this a game, to be cracking jests while everything falls to pieces. Well, I will not give in. I will never give in.
“We go,” The Spearman rumbled, and everyone sprung into motion to see it done.
As it should be.
While the cruise liner sped down the river and then South, Randidly returned to his Soulskill.
This time, Lucretia was carefully carving runes into the leather armor. Randidly’s eyes scanned the work area around her, where three leather pieces of armor already hung, ready for distribution. “Moving into the crafting field?”
Lucretia smiled sadly and continued to work without pause. Her hands moved fluidly across the leather as she traced out the runes. Honestly, Randidly was somewhat entranced by her movements. For all her sad expression, Lucretia was genuinely good at this.
Sighing, Randidly asked, “Is your legacy that heavy?”
“Yes,” Was all the reply Randidly received. Her hands continued to work. Idly, Randidly wondered where Lucretia had obtained the Mana Stylus.
Although time was pressing, the voyage to the portal into the Wight world would take some time. So before he got down to the reason that he had come, Randidly sat next to Lucretia and began to work with her.
The work didn’t last long; when Lucretia finished her sixth armor and Randidly had already caught up were her, and done so higher quality runes, Lucretia raised her eyebrow. “I had forgotten how unfair Skills are. To what heights has your Engraving Skill reached?”
“One hundred and seventy-three, and honestly I haven’t been able to focus on it in a while,” Randidly admitted, then he rubbed his shoulders. “I forget sometimes, how much I love doing this. It’s hard work, but… it’s so satisfying.”
“These… I’m going to store for a while,” Lucretia said with a smirk as she shook her head after examining the armors he had made.
Blinking, Randidly tilted his head to the side as he watched Lucretia put the six armors he had made into the closet underneath a thick blanket. “What are you doing? I’m a little rusty, but those armors should be good enough for people starting out to use.”
“Randidly,” Lucretia gave Randidly a looked like he was an idiot. Then she shook her head helplessly. “These armors give almost 50 stats altogether. Focused on Agility and Reaction. Most people don’t even have that many stats across everything yet. You can’t just give these out. People will go crazy for one. Killing, turning on each other. Perhaps even more dangerous will be those who grow strong relying on those items. They will die when the largess you have extended runs out.”
That set Randidly back on his heels. He looked down his hands and he studiously examined them. Knuckles, tanned skin, nails, joints, several small scars… They looked like his hands. But the chiding note in Lucretia’s voice reminded him that ‘his’ hands weren’t normal.
Maybe Lucretia was right. In a lot of ways, Randidly had lost touch with the baseline of the System. He had always fought against ancient monsters and warriors from higher cohorts. How much would he have given for a piece of equipment that gave him 50 Stats when he had first started out in the System…?
Probably a lot.
“Okay. Now that you have officially come and broken the equipment economy, why are you here?” Lucretia asked after she had stowed away all of her materials. “I appreciate you checking up on me, but you have the sort of face you only have on when you have a dumb idea.”
While grinning, Randidly explained.
Which resulted in Lucretia chuckling. “Bold. Pointlessly dangerous. But hmm. Yes, I do believe I can travel outside of you once more on Tellus. Would you like me to head out now?”
The First Propagator considered itself to be a true creature, one that deserved a name. But it did not have a name.
This realization turned out to be deeply disturbing to it. For it could not find a reasonable reason for the oversight up until now. Everything had a name. Why didn’t it?
Clicking its mandibles, the First Propagator turned and looked at the pale-faced and sweating Azriel as she struggled to absorb its prior images. Already, the toll of holding so many images within her body was beginning to show. Her hair was black and frail, and her eyes dulled to the color of mud. She had not spoken in an hour. She simply shuddered and blinked, struggling in some inner battle.
But, the First Propagator was pleased to note, she was continuing to absorb the images smoothly. That was all that mattered.
Not that the First Propagator didn’t care that Azriel was in pain. She was, after all, its first creation that relied mostly on external influences. It had only guided her at critical moments, moving her toward her current self. It was a study in restraint, and the First Propagator was very pleased with the outcome.
But above all, results were the most important. Azriel’s life was valuable, but not as much as escaping the purgatory the Spearman had doomed them to. It was time for Tellus to ascend.
Satisfied that Azriel was proceeding as planned, the First Propagator continued to ponder the mystery of a name as it walked out into the great hall where it had assembled part of its forces. Before having Azriel absorb the image, the First Propagator had used the image to animate some of the Wights that were laying around in the surrounding area.
Waiting there were a dozen Witch Kings as well as Aegiant and Aethon.
“They are coming, of that, I have no doubt,” Aegiant said as he folded his arms. He eyed the Wights standing around with suspicion and pushed one to the ground. Satisfied as it simply stood itself back up and resumed its harmless at-attention stance, Aegiant turned to the First Propagator. “Will these forces be able to hold their own against the spear-users of Tellus? We are the most powerful group in the universe.”
“They will buy time,” The First Propagator said mildly. He did not trust Aegiant, but it was undeniable that the man was powerful. Aside from itself, the Propagator believed that Aegiant was the most powerful of those who fought for its side. “All we need is time and Azriel will ascend. Then Tellus will be able to prove itself worry of notice to the universe.”
Aegiant grunted and then continued to mess with the Witch Kings.
Slowly, Aethon gave Aegiant a sidelong glance and spoke. “Are you sure they will come? Isn’t their goal to have Tellus ascend as well? If we need not fight, I would prefer to stay back.”
“Bah, so modest.” Aegiant grin was all shark teeth and hunger. “Even if you are recently risen to the rank of Master, you have talent. Do not worry about death.”
“I don’t worry about death,” Aethon said harshly. “I worry over pointlessly spilled blood. We have had enough of that, to date.”
The First Propagator nodded sagely. “They will come. The Spearman has been twisted by his own selfish desire. He will not stop until he can control this entire world.”
“So we fight,” Aegiant agreed. Aethon looked at the ground.
The First Propagator signaled the Wights waiting outside the door with clicks of its mandibles. In neat rows, hundreds of Witch Kings stamped their feet, awaiting their orders. “So we fight.”