Randidly smiled as Simon made his selection. He had sensed that there was something unusual about the ox, but he wouldn’t have intervened if Simon had chosen another animal. He didn’t think it was his place.
But it seemed that the Wild Rider cared more than she let on, about her charges. Amused, Randidly turned back and regarded his own choices. He took a step forward.
“Hello little one,” Randidly whispered, looking at the newly born white sheep. “…I understand why your ancestor gave you here, so you could grow with me, and eclipse him in power. But…”
Sighing, Randidly shook his head. “Your kindness and purity… I am sad to say it is not my path. And my companion will be merged into you, affecting your personality. You are too pure for me to use as a body. I’m sorry, but no.”
The animal looked up at him with its wide eyes, uncomprehending. But out of the watching mass of animals, the regal fluffy white sheep walked forward, nodded to Randidly, then picked up its young counterpart with its mouth and carried it away.
“…and you are the opposite,” Randidly said, turning to the young crimson eagle. “You are here because your father fears me… but wants my strength. However… just like the sheep had innocence, you have pride. You do not need me to become strong, do you?”
With a righteous cry, the young crimson eagle screeched its agreement, and hopped off, its tennis ball sized body making poor time as it haphazardly hopped towards its father. The father gave Randidly an unfathomable look, then the too turned away and left.
Chuckling, Randidly looked at his final choice, the metallic dog, examining it closely. It appeared that the golden fruit that Randidly had gifted him had done wonders for it. Its eyes were clear and bright, the iris flashing that same gold color. And based on its age, it understood exactly what it was offering Randidly, that Randidly’s companion would wipe most of him away, taking away his will.
But Randidly still shook his head. “For you… you do this out of gratitude, and of loyalty. Beautiful sentiments. But…. unnecessary. I’m not truly the one you want to be bonded to, am I? And as long as you feel that way, you aren’t suitable.”
The metallic dog nodded, then trotted out of Randidly’s group, heading towards the young girl’s. Her eyes widened further, her already strained senses pushed beyond her limits as the dog came over to her, and she began to cry. With tears running down her face, she rushed up to the metallic dog, who stood about as tall as she, and threw her arms around it.
Randidly smiled, and put his hands on his hips. “So, what more do you need? A herald to announce you?”
“A display of power.” The words were a soft rumble. Randidly couldn’t sense the details of the other being, but he had noticed it was there from the beginning. The Aether that coiled around it was much, much thicker than any of the others, and there was only one logical explanation as to why, although it left Randidly shocked.
But that power was something Randidly needed. And if it wanted to see a display…
Randidly closed his eyes.
Simon rubbed the nose of his ox, pleased at his companion. His companion was pleased too, but Simon was very swiftly discovering that no matter what emotion the ox felt, his face didn’t change. Instead, it seemed looked into that strange dopey expression that had made Simon originally write him off.
Simon smiled, and opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t. Simon tried to again.
Truthfully, Simon wasn’t trying to speak, but he was trying to breath in before he could speak. And even though his higher than base human stats would let him survive for a long time without breathing, his heart began to pound, burning through his precious oxygen.
‘Why… can’t I breathe….?!?’ Simon thought, his eyes wide. But very quickly, the feedback from his new companion made him realize that the ox couldn’t breath either, and the difference in lung power between them was not small.
Spinning around, Simon looked at the surrounding area. Around them, all of the monsters, all of them, all of the pledgees, even the Wild Rider, seemed frozen, unable to breathe. Standing at the center of them all was David, glowing faintly, smiling at the ground with all teeth.
In that moment, Simon understood a little of what the girl had felt, thinking about David. He was… another level higher than them all, in power.
Something more than human.
With a sigh, Randidly released the Breath of the Spear Phantom. Unfortunately, that many people was hard to suppress at once, and he couldn’t control the skill with any fineness. It seemed to hit with an area of effect, rather indiscriminately. And he was forcefully keeping the lungs of those around him closed with his will. Thinking back, Randidly recalled the notifications after he had seen Aemont kill the Golden Armored man with this move.
Congratulations! You have completed the test of Aemont! Path complete! It was long, but at the end you received something that few others have received; a chance to know the Spear Phantom. Stamina +100. You have learned the final sign of the Spear Phantom, Breath of the Spear Phantom ® Lvl 1.
Breath of the Spear Phantom ®: Forcefully suppress the breathing of those in an area around you. You must experience the same effects. Intensity of suppression increases with skill level. Stamina cost decreases with skill level. Area of effect increases with skill level.
Truly, although it wasn’t a skill that had anything to do with the spear, it was the ultimate weapon of Aemont. After watching the battle against the golden armored man, Randidly understood that even Aemont was far from having the stats to equal him. But he could use this move, and his ability to dodge and control fights, to simply starve the other man out, letting him suffocate.
It obviously wasn’t true ‘suffocation’ but rather Stamina suffocation. At that level of stats, air mattered very little, if at all. But if you could destroy the other’s Stamina…
Randidly shivered, remembering how weak he himself had felt towards the end. Perhaps what was more memorable, however, was after that Aemont had slain the man, he had turned to Randidly and looked at him, and simply said. “Do you see it? Good luck.” And then disintegrated into ash.
From what Randidly understood, that was a true and final death for Aemont. And yet…
And yet he walked into it without fear, leaving Randidly a tool he had spent his life creating, as if it was the most casual thing in the world. It was a moving message, even though Randidly couldn’t quite parse apart what it meant.
But Randidly put those thoughts aside, focusing on the present. The ground rumbled, and a tunnel opened up, a creature the size of a tree trunk crawling up out of the darkness and into the sun, staying far enough away from Randidly to dodge back into the hole, if necessary.
“You…” Randidly said slowly, looking at the notification above the creature’s head. “Are a Tier II Raid Boss?”
It was a Lvl 28 Bone Wurm, regarding him with inky black eyes set into a thick carapace of bone.
“Tier I. I have just… hid in the earth, slowly growing.” The wurm said, crawling a bit farther forward.
“Why are you giving it all up then, to become my companion…” Randidly asked with forced casualness. There was certainly quite a bit of Aether billowing off this thing. If there were also hooks of the System associated with it… or even the influence of the Creature… “You understand I have this being inside of me, that you will host, yes?”
The wurm nodded. “But still I choose this path. For my children. If you swear to protect them, my body will be yours. We as a species can produce invaluable marrow silk. I suspect that you humans will be very interested in using it.”
Randidly pondered for a second, then shook his head slowly. “That isn’t enough. To trust you… I must truly know why.”
“Because there is no other way to survive.” The weariness was clear in the Raid Bosses voice. “We were given the ability to grow here, in a lower Cohort, yes. But it is a reduced thing, carefully controlled. I am a Tier I Raid Boss. On my own, I am nearing my limit. It is already a miracle I have made it this far… And you do not know how this world will change, as the System progresses. My people… will be ground to dust. Would you not take any desperate chance, if you could take it? Would you not risk it all?”
“You would be giving up your will…” Randidly said, but his eyes were bright as he looked at the Bone Wurm. Although they were very different… for a moment, Randidly was reminded of the eyes of those shades in Aemont’s example battle. That fervor, that madness. The power of having everything to lose, should you fail. The power to gamble your life for something greater than yourself.
“My will, my life…” The wurm whispered. “Is that not a cheap price, for my people’s peace?”
Randidly closed his eyes. Then stepped forward, reaching out, the being in him curious, pressing forward to the tip of his finger. After a brief feeling of his finger touching bone, and a weird give, as the being inside of him broke free and swam into the other being, there was only a small crack, and then the Aether began to surge around them.