“So anyway, while his one son was slowly being warped by exposure to the Devourer, and the other was growing up slowly, both with a barely present father, Aemont continued to fight on the frontlines. And he won, and won, and won. Perhaps the story wouldn’t have ended so tragically otherwise but… Aemont was a profoundly competent spear-user. With just the one skill, he was acknowledged as reaching the Adept level, and given a promotion, and control over a larger group of men.
“That was the worst fighting the front lines had ever seen. And Aemont was the reaper who kept back the hordes. But it wasn’t enough. We were still losing. At that point, the central region did demand its powerful Styles send Pontiffs out, to push back the enemies. Because some of those sent to his area were from the Endless Heat Style, Aemont took his long overdue break, returning to his sons.
“He stopped briefly in to see Shal, and the people there urged him to investigate Haelthing. There were deaths and disappearances, so much so that Haelthing’s Style was almost destroyed, from fear and defections. Aemont’s face darkened, but he said nothing. Instead, he simply had a long talk with Shal.
“Aemont stayed with Shal for several days, giving him very specific pointers about spear use. Then Aemont went to see Healthing. It is not known what they exactly talked about, but is rumored that although Aemont confront Haelthing, he was tempted and distracted. Even his son Pronto, whose mental illness was growing increasingly noticeable, could not distract from the goal that consumed Aemont: perhaps in his eyes, the army was his new family. And for that family, he needed strength.
“So when Haelthing offered the use of his isolation matrix, Aemont accepted. For 6 days he stayed within, meditating, and when he emerged, he was a changed man. When he stepped out into the air, shrieking ghost flowed around him. The spectre of death lingered in his shadow. The lightest touch of Aemont could steal away one’s life from weak opponents. The years of fighting on the frontlines, watching allies and enemies die in droves… it had paid dividends in a way. For Aemont had spent 6 days in that formation, slowly refining the Aether that had embedded itself within him for 20 years.
“He had become the Spear Phantom.
“His return to the frontlines was as a walking Catastrophe. He destroyed the resistance of the enemies on the frontlines. Beneath the Pontiffs sent from the Central Region, Aemont very quickly became the number 1 spear user on the Western front.
“But he was recalled from the frontlines by news that could pierce his martial heart; his son Pronto had fled from Haelthing’s care, wounded and blubbering about evil skills and forbidden rites. So, with a heavy heart, Aemont returned. Pronto had fled to Shal’s caretakers, where he refused to talk with anyone other than his family, preferring to lock himself in his room, refusing to take visitors. When he arrived, Aemont interviewed both his sons, for Shal had been the one to find Pronto in the wilderness, and heard the truth for himself. Then he waited for Pronto to recover, and because he was a strong young man in his own right at this point, the two of them then went to the lair of the Devourer for vengeance.
“Before he left, he gave to Shal a chest and a book, which was all the belongings that Aemont owned, aside from a sizeable amount of pay that was uncollected from the army, and formerly established the Spear Phantom Style, naming his sons Pronto and Shal as his heirs. For a few weeks, he trained Shal in the Spear Phantom Style, its moves and intricacies. Then he proceeded with the eldest son to disappear off the face of the world.
“The area around Haelthing’s lair grew to be a zone forbidden for travel. Some local powers sent scouts in, but none returned. Still, if one did not enter into the zone, nothing happened. The zone was not spreading, and no monsters wandered out of that area either. As the local powers were busy sending spear users to reinforce the front lines, they opted to leave it alone for now, despite the danger. So the land was just avoided for 5 years. The only reason that 5 years ended was Shal; he marched into the base and slaughtered Haelthing. Unfortunately, he found his father and brother had already been slain.
“Or at least, that is what people originally thought, and why he was so widely heralded in the initial few years after he returned, bearing the spear of Haelthing, the Devourer. But when experts went to investigate… they discovered that it appeared that Haelthing had been dead for years, likely by the hand of Aemont. There had been a great battle, sure, and there was a body there, but it was so mutilated that it was impossible to tell who it was. And the body of Aemont, the war hero, was also discovered, peaceful and undisturbed, as if he was simply taking a nap. It was like his very life had been stolen from him.
“So some of the accolades fell away from Shal, for there were too many pieces missing from the story. And he refused to speak of the situation, which didn’t help his reputation. He opted to remain in the Northern Region, and he was barely seen training for 20 years, rather he was primarily seen just sitting, brooding, remaining in Qtal as most of the previous family friends, due to his mother and father, drifted away, fed up with his behavior.
Even if people were initially skeptical of what happened, a few duels he got into in fits of anger in the aftermath convinced them that he was exceedingly powerful. But to then sit and brood for 20 years…? That was the actions of a weak willed man. Although his potential was great…. Everyone concluded it would all come to naught.”
Artisan Dwei gave Randidly a meaningful look. “I am not sure why, but…it appears your presence has awoken Shal from his slumber. But based on how things fell… all is not resolved in his path. Be careful.”
And then he left, leaving Randidly and Claptrap alone. Claptrap sat back in his chair, almost glassy eyed, his mouth forming a large O. “I can’t believe… wow….”
Shrugging, Randidly stood. He thanked Claptrap, took some of the leather armor that Claptrap had obtained while he was away, and returned to the boat. As Randidly strolled back, Randidly noticed that he was being watched. And based on the crazy Battle Intent the other was throwing off, it wasn’t with good intentions.
Still, Randidly made it all the way back to the boat with no incident, so perhaps he was being too paranoid. He had done that with Artisan Dwei too, immediately assessing him as a threat, before anything else. Randidly grimaced. It was a habit he had developed in the prison, which he would likely need to work on. Although being prepared to fight at anytime was good, acting too ready for a fight would bring more fights to him. Although he had improved greatly, Randidly was under no impression that he was unbeatable.
Especially considering he had only been strong enough to get into the Northeast area of the prison. The North and West were dominated by people far above his skill level. But now that his Spear Mastery was barely over a hundred, and the other skills had risen by about 20 each, hopefully Randidly would be able to hold his own in the Regional Tournament.
Shal had been very tight lipped about that issue, simply giving him a scathing look when he had asked. So Randidly let it slide for now. Shal obviously wanted the top 8 as much as Randidly did, probably more. He had wanted it enough to call him up to this Cohort, which was quite dangerous. At the time, Randidly had been quite weak. From the talk around the camp, Randidly had been able to gather that there were still monsters here, but that they often were much, much stronger, and forced back to certain areas.
If he had wandered into one of those places…
When Randidly arrived at the boat, he found someone else had beaten him there, and was standing there, with his hands on his hips, yelling at the top of his lungs. “What is this!?!? How dare you touch my wares! You’ve doomed yourself. I will crush every little.”
“Enough.” Divveltian said, his voice carrying a strange weight to it, even though he was standing 5 meters away, at the edge of their ships deck, and the yelling man was on another ship.
When the vocal wave hit the small, portly little merchant looking fellow, he froze, and then hiccuped. Randidly watched then, bemused, as the merchant seemed unable to control his body, and began to twitch. The twitching became increasing violent, until the merchant keeled over forward and fell in the water.
Shaking his head at the idiocy, Randidly leapt over back onto their boat.
It seemed that the water had done some good, because the fool resurfaced, but in addition to spluttering, he once more began yelling. “Yes, yes! Enjoy it now! You have no idea who I am. I’ll crush this little enterprise like bugs- hrrkk!”
The man’s head jerked backwards, as the nameless male spear attendant managed to hit the drowning merchant in the head with a bar of iron. As the merchant began to bob unsteadily, looking ready to pass out and really die, Divveltian walked over to the male spear attendant and clapped him on the back.
“To think I had written you off as a talentless retainer…! Boy, never give up your dreams!”
“What do you mean, talentless retainer?” The male spear attendant asked, frowning. By this point, Helen and Teliph had walked over to him as well.
“When I first met you, I directly assessed you as no threat to me.” Teliph said with relish. Then he sighed dramatically. “But to think your manipulation of garbage had progressed to such a degree….”
Helen interrupted him before he could get a word in edgewise. “Even I am intimidated at your talent as a merchant. If I had a daughter of marriage age with some sort of physical handicap, I would gladly offer her body to you and know she would be well cared for, if physically unfulfilled.”
“You-!!” The male spear attendant’s face hand gone completely red, and he stepped forward and stabbed towards Helen with his spear. She chortled and twisted, spinning around the attack and past the male spear attendant. Then she kicked the back of his knees, knocking him off his feet.
“You are as graceful as a fucking heart attack. Learn to read the mood, asshole.” She said teasingly. Teliph and Divveltian laughed. Although the corners of Randidly’s mouth twitched upwards, he kept his eyes on the man in the water, who was being fished out by some servants. It was a hard, habit to break, the calculating-
“Fool disciple. Will you simply moon about all day? Come, there is more training to do.” Shal rumbled, his voice coming up from below. Sighing. Randidly turned and trotted into the belly of the ship. But of course, Shal was right. There was always more training to do.