“I heard this story from the current patriarch of the Crashing Wave Style, which is an offshoot of the Endless Sea Style, based in the Capital of the Central Region. He told me that for a long time, before more information came out… Shal was widely idolized by the young elites in the Capital for his heroism in defeating the Devourer. But by the end… they just ignored him, like everyone else. Still, that comes later. First and most importantly, there was a man who would become the Spear Phantom, Aemont. Because Shal’s story is only a small part of following in the footsteps of his father.
“No one really knew Aemont’s family, but he enrolled in a small, two-bit Style, and worked hard to learn it. So hard that the people around him were shocked. After all, this was the Capital of the Central Region. There were thousands of Styles fighting viciously over the new recruits that came to the capital, seeking their fortune, putting their life on the line with just their spear. Those that had talent and dedication would go to the larger Styles. If this boy was here, and had such an excellent work ethic, there could be only one explanation; he had no talent with the spear.
“Which was true, in a way, Aemont was serious, but clumsy. The Spear was not his weapon. But he did have two things very early on in his career, while most others might train for years to obtain. Those were two skills: Battle Intent, and the very amorphous Struggle. And Struggle Aemont did.
“There were rivalries and duels, grand challenges and tumultuous relationships, but for our purposes, going into that might be a bit tedious. It is enough to say that by the time he was 25, Aemont’s name was known throughout the Capital, although it was only whispered. After all, Aemont refused to participate in the rather gaudy ‘Exhibitions’ hosted by the powerful and affluent Styles of the Capital. He was a poor man, even then with his success with the spear, and his Tassle was a threadbare, red piece that was so worn it almost seemed to be grey.
“But Aemont did fall in love, with a woman who was one of the chosen disciples of the Endless Heat Style. Luckily for him, she liked him too. Slowly, this very poor man from a Style that didn’t even have a skillset was hanging around a woman who would inherit an Ancient Rarity Skill Set. At first the elders thought it was just children playing around, and thought nothing of it; then the woman became pregnant. Now, the head elder at the time was furious, but he knew the female disciple was a stubborn sort, so he had a genius idea. To set the terms of him being allowed into the Style as an honorary disciple, to legitimize the relationship.
“To set impossible terms.
“So Aemont was brought before the elder, and the elder told him the wonderful news about the pregnancy. Aemont, a normally stoic man, smiled like he would be satisfied dying right there and then, if it came to it. Which was exactly what the Elder wanted.
“Then the elder continued to explain that there were some negative rumblings about Aemont and the female disciple from the other elders. That they weren’t a proper match, due to their difference in social status. And as Aemont began to frown, the Elder told the much younger man that he had an idea; perhaps if Aemont were to accomplish a seemingly impossible task, the elder could help Aemont sway their feelings. If there was irrefutable proof of Aemont’s abilities, even those stubborn elders would be able to do naught but give in.
“‘What sort of task?’ Aemont asked, and the elder said, ‘well, how about going to the frontlines and slaying a
Randidly blinked, aware of how the words had twisted midair and reverted briefly back to a language he couldn’t understand. He wondered what sort of secret the system was trying to hide from him this time. Something from the frontlines, huh…? A war with who, Randidly wondered.
But Artisan Dwei continued to speak, and his words once more became understandable, so Randidly didn’t do anything other than file the information away for later. “At first Aemont was dubious, but the Elder shook his head sorrowfully, and asked if there was anything else Aemont could think of that would be irrefutable proof of Aemont’s strength. Aemont could only remain silent.
“The frontlines were much more active in those days, and the
; were lousy with
, so obtaining an opportunity wouldn’t be difficult. What was difficult was the task. But Aemont had gotten this far by relying on his two skills of Struggle, and Battle Intent, and this was no exception. Aemont went and spent a year at the frontlines, despite the female disciple’s pleas. A year later, he returned. Older and stronger, and tired, but without accomplishing his goal.
“But now his resolve was set. He visited his now several month old son and spent time with the woman he wanted to marry in front of the world. Then, after a week, he returned to the frontlines. To the Elder’s horror, the female disciple was once more pregnant. Now it was extremely difficult for them to ignore the relationship between the two of them, because two sons had been made, and were staying in the Capital, on their property. But there was nothing they could do, all of the younger disciples were enamored with the children, showering the babies with affection.
“And there was the continued problem of Aemont. By all accounts, he found and challenged
to combat quite frequently. And although he was never able to slay one, he did survive, which is more than most can say. He was formally enlisted and began to rise within the army ranks. After his second year on the frontlines, Aemont once more returned, and although he was covered in scars, his sons filled him with youthful vigor. This time he remained for a month, meeting and fraternizing with the young disciples, who were swept away by this powerful young man with stories of the front lines.
“But after that time, he was forced to leave. But not before kissing both the eldest son, Pronto, and the younger son, Shal, on the forehead. Then he was off.
“But Aemont did not return immediately to the front line. He still possessed two open skill slots, and planned on using one to learn a skill that could push him to the next level. For after all, even if he had the power of an Artisan, without a skill with a powerful image, he would never be formally recognized as an Artisan, and his potential would be greatly diminished. So he sought out a powerful individual who could teach him a powerful skill. It is unknown who he found, but he came back wielding the powerful skill Wrathful Sickle, which powerfully influenced his later images.
“That year he did not return from the frontlines. Nor the following year. It was only 3 years later that he returned. But when he did come, it was with the head of a
“Of course, the Elders did not want Aemont to be formally recognized, so they acted quickly while Aemont was arriving. Some took it upon themselves to cut off the growth from the base; the female disciple was killed. Furious, Aemont gathered up his sons and fled, leaving the central continent and heading to the north. Rumors say that Aemont walked out, carrying his spear, burning with fury and the aura of death, while his elder son Pronto, carried the much smaller Shal like a baby in his arms.
“Strangely, no Elder came forward to admit to causing the crime. In the aftermath, the Head Elder instituted a brutal inquisition, at first secret, but then increasingly public as they could not locate the culprit. The Endless Heat Style even formerly apologized to Aemont, granting him an honorary discipleship for him and his sons. But it was too late; Aemont would never in his life return to the Central Region
“So Aemont settled in the Northern Region, and seemed content to settle down and live a peaceful life. But two things nagged at him, refusing to let him retire. First, the situation on the frontlines turned sour. So sour that it was believed for a long time that Central Region would finally commit a few Pontiff level Spear Users. Second… a string of strange deaths in the surrounding area to Aemont, of monsters, livestock, and even other people, led him to believe that the culprit behind his lover’s murder had followed them. But the culprit was a coward, and refused to move while Aemont remained, protecting his sons.
“For two years, as the condition on the Frontlines deteriorated. Finally, seeming to break under the stress of the realization strange antagonist wouldn’t strike while he was there, and his will eroded by the pleas of his former comrades, Aemont made a decision; he would leave his sons under the protection of some of his powerful friends he had made in the North, and return to the frontlines in the Western Region.
“Although they were only one year apart, Pronto and Shal were very different in their development. Pronto was hale and healthy, seemingly developing at an impossible rate. Meanwhile, Shal was weak and uncoordinated, with the body of a toddler, even though he was almost 8 years old. So Shal was sent to a Style in the Northern Region affiliated with the Endless Heat Style, where Aemont knew he would be cared for. Meanwhile, Pronto went to stay with the powerful Haelthing, who would aid in his spear instruction while Shal was gone.
“Years passed, and Aemont began to return from the frontlines less and less. His sons grew, Shal seeming to finally settle in and grow properly, becoming a talented, if mean tempered youth. Meanwhile, Pronto grew more and more wild and powerful, his moods becoming… violent. And at the same time… there started to be some very strange rumors going around about Haelthing. That there were numerous disappearances among people traveling through the lands his Style controlled. That he was practicing a very forbidden sort of magic there.
“That he had become a Devourer, who consumed the lives of others in order to refine pure Aether from them. Or, as the system refers to it, Haelthing had become a Heretic.”
Randidly blinked. “That’s… possible? Devouring someone else for Aether?”
Artisan Dwei waved a hand. “Well, that is what the story says. At least the popular versions. Others have the Devourer doing other things, but it all involved an evil magic transported here from one of the inner Cohorts. And it all involved sacrifice to power it.”