Shal was left momentarily dumbstruck as Lucretia, the Eternal Witch, the one his memories confirmed was his true birth mother, disappeared abruptly. Her blood flowed in his veins, and she was from the opposing forces beyond the frontlines, which made him-
A string of curses refocused Shal’s attention to the hole in the wall. Getting to his feet, he was surprised at how… good his body felt. Fit and refined. And his mind was clear and sharp, for the first time in a long time. Aemont’s shade, before he had dissipated, had explained that it was because he was taking up residence there, and Lucretia was trying to keep tabs on him. Both of their influences had muddied his inner world, making the flow of his Aether turbulent.
Now that those two mental weights dispersed…
Shal flexed his hands as he walked to the hole in the wall. What he found made him gasp.
A strange, golem like figure stood over Gerroark Char, Patriarch of the Endless Heat Style, holding a hammer and a scepter, grinning down at his opponent.
“This has been a joyous dance, but it appears that my role here is done. May your body remain whole for as long as your people sing your praises.” The golem’s words were strangely accented, in a way that Shal couldn’t place. Its body slowly began to dissipate.
Gerroark sighed, standing. “…I agree. It was a good reminder to not neglect training. I suppose I’ve been… pre-occupied, since I became a Master. Having that advantage…It has become a crutch.”
Chuckling in a strange rumbly way, the golem shrugged. “It is as the Progenitor wills. We all have our fates.”
Then the golem was gone, the lights dispersing completely, leaving to settle his own fate. Still, the situation was unbelievable. Gerroark, a Master, currently was heavily injured, portions of his armor shattered. Blood was on his lips.
To the side, Divveltian stood over a bound Claptrap. There were several unmoving bodies on the street around them. In addition, two strange figures seemed confused and lossed, standing off to the side. Shal hopped down off the second floor to the street level, bringing all eyes to him. Gerroark seemed to sigh.
“…perhaps I have been foolish these past decades… the glory of my family is worth nothing if my personal strength has fallen…” Gerroark mumbled, but then his eyes sharpened as he looked at Shal. “But I must know-”
“I am not the son of your granddaughter, no.” Shal said, the words coming out surprisingly easily. It left him wondering who his family was, who he felt connected to. He felt oddly adrift. The person he was closest to was Pronto, and Shal had been forced to-
He shut his eyes, willing the memories away. He would deal with that later.
Gerroark nodded, seemingly relieved. “That is for the best. It means that I will attack you, but if you have the strength to survive, I will not pursue the issue.”
Shal’s eyes snapped open. Fighting a Master…? He felt dread fill his body, as well as a wild recklessness. That recklessness was what he held onto, slowly letting it grow and fill him. It was a trait he learned from Pronto. Whatever else his flaws… he had been an excellent brother. More of a father than Aemont had ever been.
Masters were those people who were so close to the Spearman’s ideals that they held sway over the Aether of the world. Which made them the ones with the ability to create lasting Skill Sets, and even Soul Skills, by the most talented.
But in battle, they were oppressive for another reason. Their grip on the world’s Aether was so strong that they could deny it to you. Slowly at first, and the effect was weaker the more powerful the target was, but soon you would find your images unraveling, your body growing weak, your will fraying.
Your skills, useless.
Apparently it was dependent on the world, which is why that strange golem, which got its Aether elsewhere, was rather unphased. But with the golem gone…
Divveltian stepped up, but Shal shook his head. Getting him involved wouldn’t-
With a thump, Aethon Thai appeared in the fighting zone, holding a limp Randidly. Suddenly, something in Shal’s chest clicked. This was his connection, his family.
His disciple. Someone that, even in the wild storm of emotions in Shal’s chest, he had a responsibility towards.
If not for him, Shal’s fickle nature, Randidly wouldn’t have been brought here. For two years he had forced the boy to train in that prison environment, and there was a sickness in Shal’s stomach as he saw Aemont’s style of parenting in his own actions.
While Shal had been dealing with his own issues, the boy had continued to fight, apparently to the point that he was-
“We don’t have time for this,” Aethon growled, throwing the boy and a scroll into Divveltian’s arms. “This fool has made too many enemies. That scroll can teleport you 100 kilometers. You know better than I where to take him where it will be safe. Go.”
Divveltian hesitated just a second, then he snapped the scroll and disappeared, carrying the body. Shal impulsively reached out, opened his mouth, but…
What could he do? What could he say…? Randidly didn’t even seem to be conscious…
Another thump. A glaring projection appeared near them, a man that Shal didn’t recognize. But Aethon and Gerroark both knew who he was, based on their reactions.
“Where the FUCK is that boy?” The projection growled.
No one answered. It was a strange standoff, the four of them, with Claptrap bound over to the side, watching with wide eyes. The two other watchers moved closer to assist Claptrap with his bonds
Finally, Gerroark gestured, and Shal could feel the world respond to his will. The projection screeched in fury, throwing itself at Gerroark, but already it was dissipating, the edges of it ripping away. By the time it reached Gerroark, it was a puff of energy, and then nothing.
Gerroark gave Aethon a look. “Now…There is no need for you to remain. There is personal business. Shal must prove he is too difficult to kill, or…”
To everyone’s surprise, even his own based on Aethon’s expression, Aethon shook his head. “…No, I owe the Ghosthound boy a favor. I suppose it’s fair that his master cash in on that. He will not fight alone this day.”
The sky above them darkened, and Shal felt his Aether grow more distant, more difficult to utilize.
“Fine,” Gerroark growled, his eyes bright. “Then let’s begin.”
Randidly was barely conscious. Whatever that fucker had done, had left him mostly blinded and unable to focus. Thinking at all was too painful. Using Skills… moving… facial expressions… talking…
The jostling didn’t help, but strangely, it abruptly stopped. The blurs and colors slowly stopped spinning, and Randidly focused as hard as he could, narrowing his attention.
He was in… on a platform? Divvet stood outside of it, next to a bored looking man in a uniform, who pressed-
Energy, stange constructs of Aether in the air around him. They caught his attention, and Randidly focused, and immediately regretted it, groaning. His headache felt like someone was sharpening a rusty ax on his cerebellum.
Randidly thought it was a smile at first, on Divveltian’s face, which was shocking enough. But then he realized it was too low, and too red. It was on Divvet’s neck, and weeping downwards in long streaks.
Divvet fell forward, and the bored looking man was suddenly an alarmed looking man, spinning around, his eyes wide, but then he fell too, and there was now just a new man standing there, holding two objects, one in each arm.
The energy began to swirl and flare brighter around Randidly, blocking off his vision, but he could recognize the man, even through the swirl of energy. The man seemed annoyed, and his name-
The energy went bright, and Randidly lost consciousness.
Helen, her chest heaving, arrived at the inn. Or the site where the inn used to stand.
It had been leveled, totally and completely. There was no sign of Aethon or Randidly. Just a hole in the ground where the building had been. She wondered idly how Deardun would heal, after it had been scarred so completely like this. How the great Styles would defend their actions, doing nothing aside from Aethon’s interference.
How the people would remember this Regional Tournament.
There was only some dead bodies, and Claptrap standing over one, crying. Emptiness and fear swirled in her. She had been too late. Everyone…. All of them, had moved on, leaving her here, alone. She had no idea where the assurance came from, but she felt deeply, truly, that they had left. It was an unavoidable fact. And she-
The body on the ground at Claptrap’s feet was Roger’s.
Helen was shocked how easily that name came to her, when looking at him. He had been decapitated, but he was also covered in wounds, which wasn’t that strange for him. His face though…
Locked forever into that dumb look of determination. And now that she saw it so clearly, so frozen in time, Helen recognized where it had come from. That was Randidly’s expression, the tight lips, the narrowed eyes, the firm belief that he would succeed.
Helen had always thought that Roger was the furthest from Randidly’s potential of them all, barely taking it seriously, but… He was here, on the ground, the proof forever shaping how she would remember Roger.
Maybe he had been the one who looked up to him the most. Needed him the most. Wanted to be him the most. That day, when they had all met, Roger’s pride had been crushed. The arrogance that he had based on his pedigree was lost to him, so he had to find something new. A new source of strength.
The brutal dedication and refusal to give in he had learned from Randidly would have undoubtedly been something he could rely on for his entire life… They really seemed so similar in that moment, their faces overlapping.
But where Randidly’s eyes would glow emerald with that expression, Roger’s eyes were dead and empty.
“I killed him, you know.” Claptrap spoke up. “Because I hate you all. I hate… how weak you made me feel.”
Helen just turned and walked away.
“Does it piss you off?” Claptrap taunted, tears streaming down his face. “Are you just afraid? I could kill you right-”
“Claptrap,” Helen said softly, turning and looking over her shoulder. “You’re trembling.”
Then she turned and left. The emotions she felt were ugly and vicious, yes, but there was something colder and more lonely numbing it all. She didn’t have the will to deal with Claptrap and his issues.
In the wake of Randidly’s abrupt departure, they all had their own demons.