Randidly stood completely still as Kharon continued on without him, heading to the West. The air was warm from the late evening sun, but Randidly had a suspicion that would soon change. It was almost time.
Cracking his knuckles, Randidly cast his mind around for anything that he had forgotten. It would likely be too late to do anything about it now, but nothing came to mind. He had said his goodbyes and left instructions with Helen, Naffur, and Tatiana. He had a long talk with Nathan about Classes and images. He had even been in contact with Ghost.
All that remained was to face his Judgment.
Randidly couldn’t stop a grin from creeping across his face.
Goosebumps danced across Randidly’s arms. It was almost a nostalgic feeling.
With a flick of the wrist, Acri stretched out into a peerlessly straight position. Sulfur hummed against his chest. Both had been relatively bored in the long months that Randidly spent focusing rather completely on his Engraving, so they were eager now to see action. Randidly licked his lips. “And I have a feeling, that this will be fun.”
The sky cracked open and a world of snow and cold breathed down a column of sleet onto the Earth. The temperature dropped below the point of water freezing almost immediately as rolling grey clouds spread into the surrounding area. Soon, the sun was dimmed and the wind was chilling. With wide wings made of ice, the Wendigo Judgment floated down out of that hole in the sky toward Randidly. In both hands, he held golden hammers covered in complex Engraving.
Randidly’s hands were tingling as he watched the Judgment drift downward. Shifting in excitement from one foot to the other, Randidly called up to the Judgment. “Haven’t I already fought and beat you three times? Is there any meaning for you to come out once more?”
The Judgment snorted. “Is there any meaning to this display? You know that you have passed my tests. You have proven your power. All that remains…”
The Judgment touched to the ground in front of Randidly. Frost crept outward from the place its feet touched the ground. Randidly continued to grin up at the monster, who was about double his size and probably four times his weight. Snapping its fingers, the Judgment opened a glimmering blue portal behind it and gestured toward it. “Is for you to accept your fate. You have flaunted the rules of the System, fine. But you cannot escape conscription in the great war.”
“And if I refuse?” Randidly said lightly.
Even knowing how much he had been warped by the violence of the System. Even having made the mistake of killing Ki-Kunot and then struggling with his guilt for months. Even though it was likely a pointless gesture that would only bring him hardship.
Randidly had learned a lot from Shal, but one of the first things he internalized was the pure glory of fighting. The violence, the struggle… it called to him. And after almost a year of simply relying on the Riders to expand his influence…
Randidly wanted to fight. As an individual who wanted to test his edge. To clash with this known quantity now would be the perfect sort of warm-up before actually proceeding to the dangerous battlegrounds against Nether.
The Judgment sighed. “I suppose it won’t sway you to say that you will not just be fighting against myself; the entire weight of the System is behind me-”
If anything, Randidly’s grin widened even further. Shaking his head, the Judgment raised his hammers. “Fine then, let us get this over with. Domain of the Long Chill.”
Randidly felt the image coming before he felt the physical change in cold, but it was more than enough to make him abruptly serious.
Seems like the System isn’t hampering his uses of images any longer.
Ignition of the Emerald Essence erupted around him, bringing light and inspiration to smash against the horrifying greediness of the cold that slithered out to seize Randidly.
But then the physical cold caught up to the image, and Randidly’s expression twisted in a grimace of pain. The cold seemed to stab at him with bony fingers. Frost immediately began to condense just on his skin. Although Randidly could barely handle the refined image that the Judgment smashed him with, he was taken by surprise by the actual effect it had on the world. Or rather, Randidly abruptly realized that the Judgment hadn’t been lying; his Skills were being fueled by the System sitting behind it.
And this is only a Domain…
Narrowing his eyes, Randidly lowered his spear and pointed it toward the Judgment’s Heart.
Man is Proud, but the Chimera Craves.
The icy ground around Randidly’s feet cracked and shattered. Long splinters of ice shot upward in a nova as Randidly and Acri became a blur of violent toward the Judgment. The weight of all his momentum concentrated to the tip of his spear in a terribly destructive attack. But of course, the Judgment wasn’t slowed down at all by his own Domain and jumped to counter.
It stepped to the side and then brought one of its glowing golden hammers around in a heavy swing. “Freezing Detonation!”
With Monstrosity’s Appalling Physicality, Randidly was able to twist mid-air and cause a minute adjustment to his charge. His spear slid upward to follow the Judgment’s torso while his left hand activated Molten Fang of the Pariah and shot out to intercept the hammer strike.
Acri skidded off of the layer of ice armor the Judgment hurriedly condensed around itself. And then Molten Fang of the Pariah struck Freezing Detonation. Once more, an overwhelming wave of cold blasted outward from the Judgment’s Skill. In fact, the cold was so intense and abrupt that Randidly felt like even his thoughts stuttered to a stop for the briefest of moments.
Grim Intuition, unhelpfully, pointed out that the cold was very dangerous and this individual bore him a significant amount of ill will.
“Heh, you are starting to feel it now, huh?” The Judgment loomed closer as it brought its other hammer around to strike in a horizontal blow. “So why don’t you just- Eh…?”
Randidly relied on Chimeric Avoidance to endure the blast of cold and then ripped holes in the Judgment’s armor with several rapid strikes by using the Chimera Weeps, but Man Mourns. Then he lowered his spear and prepared for another Man is Proud, but the Chimera Craves from point-blank.
The Judgment’s dark eyes blinked as it considered its shattered armor. “You… why aren’t you frozen?”
“I avoided it,” Randidly said lightly. Then all his weight and momentum blasted forward in a piercing strike.
Despite how quickly the attack traveled forward, the Judgment somehow had the wherewithal to let go of one of his hammers and simply bring around one of its paws to try to seize Acri out of the air. “Chilling Grasp!”
But of course, Acri was not a normal spear; it easily flexed out of the way and avoided the Judgment’s hasty grasp. Although Acri’s strike was now out of the picture, Randidly still possessed the overwhelming forward momentum to strike at the Judgment and he wasn’t about to waste this chance. His emerald eyes blazed with the thrill of the fight.
For a split second, Randidly’s left hand flexed to reveal a thin triangle of darkness that had been previously hidden there. But then Randidly’s hand closed as he forcefully dismissed the Skill.
No, better to not reveal it now in case someone is watching. My usage of Nether should be saved for an emergency.
Instead, Randidly unleashed a Talon Strike empowered by Catalyst of Agony while simultaneously casting Reach of the Jade Slag behind the Judgement. Randidly’s palm slammed against the Judgment’s face even as he was forced to rely once more on Chimeric Avoidance to not get turned into an ice statue just by touching the damn thing’s furr. The fucking boost the System was giving the Judgement was no joke. It seemed like the Judgment had some passive defensive Skill that was similarly empowered.
Then the Reach of the Jade Slag ripped into the Judgment’s back, staggering it further. Randidly followed up with several sharp thrusts with Acri.
But the Judgment had seen these strikes before and wove its body back and forth to avoid the worst of the attacks. When it pulled back, its torso only had three shallow gashes that were rapidly freezing over. Then it raised its hand and pointed at Randidly “Flash Freeze.”
Howling, Randidly spun away and clutched his right hand. Acri, covered in a layer of ice almost a foot thick, clunked to the ground. Randidly hopped backward to open up some distance while he tried to restore feeling to his right hand. But the Judgment lowered its shoulders and dashed forward with the intention to take advantage of his weakness.
“You know, my Skill Level for that Skill is barely a hundred. Yet with the System’s support… heh, this might be more enjoyable than thought. Let’s see how long you can manage to ‘avoid’ me.”
Randidly gestured sharply. “Infinite Fingers of Yggdrasil.”
If one root froze in the Judgment’s obnoxious Domain, a second shot up to take its place. If a dozen froze, a hundred would come surging upward. If that wasn’t enough, Randidly threw a thousand jagged and thorn-covered roots upward. His Mana hummed with activity as he spared no expense to buy himself some time to recover. Tingling spikes of sensation were only now coming back to his right hand as the blood flow sluggishly continued to move through his veins.
Thousands of roots were frozen into crystalline statues in a single moment. Even Randidly, standing behind them all, released a shuddering breath as Chimeric Avoidance barely managed to weasel his body out form being physically frozen solid. Snow began to heavily fall around them. Winds whipped up at the sudden drop in temperature.
Randidly grinned darkly down at his bare toes.
Hopefully, I don’t get frostbite.
The Judgment strode up to Randidly. Briefly, Randidly considered trying to open up some distance again, but that would likely draw another blast of an overpowered Skill. Instead, he stood still and let the Judgment approach.
“You really won’t go peacefully?”
Randidly just smiled.
After shaking his head, the Judgment pointed at Randidly. “Flash Freeze.”
All Things Succumb, Yet Time Whirls the Earth.
For a split second, Randidly was another version of himself, one that burned with an internal fire. The image in his chest was the molten core of the world, a thing of industry and ash and avarice that could never be satisfied.
Roaring, that version of Randidly forcefully endured the Flash Freeze and took a step forward.
But in the next moment, Randidly was back to himself and the Judgement was blinking in surprise and opening his mouth to speak. “White-”
Randidly smashed his Willpower against the Judgments, activating Eternal Cravings of the Wraith to suck away Stamina, Mana, and breath from the Judgment. Of course, stopping it from calling out the Skill wouldn’t do anything. But the forceful taking was enough to distract it into canceling the Skill.
Which left Randidly time to run the Judgment through with Acri, who immediately trilled in pleasure. It was at that point that the Judgement ignored its wound and brought both of its hands smashing toward Randidly’s temples. One hand held a golden hammer, but the other simply twisted into a claw and ripped upward.
Randidly flexed his previously numb hand and used it to launch a Molten Fang of the Pariah toward the Judgment’s hand. His attack destroyed his opponent’s momentum, but it also left his right hand encased in ice. And Randidly’s left hand…
Looking over, Randidly could see the energy in the Engravings of his shoulder failing as the cold grew too intense. He could only watch as the golden hammer shot closer to his temple.
Grinning, Randidly twisted and spat out blood than immediately froze into a small pebble-sized bit of red snow that smacked against the Judgment’s nose. His body was still trembling from the first activation of All Things Succumb, and Randidly didn’t want to push things too far. All he wanted to do was have a bit of fun before he was sent to the battlefield.
And if he also learned a bit about how the System could empower Skills, that was a convenient bonus.
The hammer struck the side of Randidly’s head and brought with it ice, submerging Randidly into the wide darkness of unconsciousness.