Drake Graft shifted his hand position on his halberd, trying to choose his next words very carefully. “Let it go kid, the Skeleton Knight is gonna win this war. This is just one Reanimator of many. Just pledge to-”
But the young man started moving in the middle of his statement, and moving with such speed that he was past him and his men before he could even blink. That level of speed… at least 100 Agility?
Drake felt a sinking in his chest as he swore. He KNEW when Sydney had assigned them to help the Skeleton Knight’s forces that something was going to go wrong. She had been too understanding, too warm, in ways that he had never really seen before. The absolutely glacier aura she exuded seemed to have thawed somewhat.
Originally, Drake had thought it was because some of the stresses of protecting their Newbie Village had fallen away when she finally decided to agree, and allow their group to pledge to the Skeleton Knight. But now-
Had she just been aware how difficult this trip would be, and had been manipulating him…? A scary thought, and one that rang too true to be ignored.
But that was for later. Regardless of whether he had been set up, he had a job, and he meant to complete it. However, Drake knew his own strengths, and stopping this man… “Fucking Christ, another monster. Vandal, slow him down.”
It seemed that Vandal had already noticed the situation, because there was no hesitation in stepping forward, interposing himself between the Reanimator and the black haired young man. All of the usual playful laziness was gone, and now there was just a strange glee in Vandal’s eyes.
Drake’s heart sank. If that idiot went into one of his battle manias now…. He was just as liable to destroy the Reanimator himself in a fit of rage.
As the human blur continued to advance, Vandal raised one of his culinary creations to his mouth and slipped it in. His jaw worked softly, seeming to tease the meat. His smile widened.
The blur arrived, curving to avoid Vandal, right at the same moment Vandal transformed, the monster flesh he cooked and consumed shaping his body in that image. Basically, where there was once a small boy, there was now a towering were-panther, pouncing at the blur, smashing it aside.
The two tumbled sideways, the force of the pounce so high that they careened into a nearby carriage, demolishing it somewhat. In an instant, Vandal was back on his feet, lashing out with his claws, but to Drake’s horror, the black haired man was on his feet even faster.
With almost comical ease, the man avoided Vandal’s slash, then he stepped forward and punched Vandal in the diaphragm. Wheezing, Vandal collapsed instantly, scrambling to get back to his feet. Drake winced.
He honestly wasn’t surprised. Vandal’s cooking could let him reshape his body, giving him boosts to any stats he wanted to focus on for that dish. The only problem was that Vandal had no instincts from that species, and his ability to fight was clumsy, at best. Vandal had always been dismissive of Drake raising just these concerns, stating that it was more than enough to rely on his superior stats, but…
What if you fought an opponent who rivaled your stat total…?
Honestly, HOW did this fucker rival Vandal in speed…?
The blur resolved itself into the young man once more, taking a second to pause and look down at Vandal, and this time Drake gave him a much more searching glance, activating his sensory skills to the max. He was a little under 2 meters tall, with black hair down to his jaw. His body was wiry and athletic, the kind of man that a year ago, Drake would have assumed worked out everyday, but now he would say that he was some Newbie Village’s ace monster hunter.
But of everything, it was his eyes that Drake caught and couldn’t let go of. They were bright emerald, almost burning with intensity. It was a piercing gaze that hid a will that left Drake shaken.
Who the fuck was this guy?
From the portion of the carriage that wasn’t destroyed, there was a soft noise, and the man turned, but not before a blast of purple blackness hit him in the gut, throwing him across the clearing. From the ruins of the carriage, a figure stepped outward, clothed in a tall robe. Drake involuntarily stiffened. Although he understood what had happened to him, it was still a bit… disconcerting to see.
The bony hand of the skeleton mage still pointed towards the black haired man, who had smashed into a tree trunk with the force of the blast. The hood fell away, revealing a skull.
“Thanks Copper, good thing you were there.” Vandal growled, still in Werepanther form, standing slowly.
The skeleton waggled a finger at the monster in front of him. “What do you mean good thing? Are you saying you just almost killed me by accident?”
“Well-” Vandal began, but Drake cut him off, striding forward.
“How hard did you hit him Coppernicus? How long will he be down?”
The skeleton scratched his head, looking at the toppling tree, and the smoking body. “…Probably way too hard. But the way he fucking moved… Anyways, probably we have at least 5 minutes of unconsciousness, and 5 more minutes of afflicted weakness after that, unless-”
The black hair young man stood smoothly. Then he casually cracked his neck, looking at the three of them. Coppernicus froze, and Vandal involuntarily took a step back. Drake just raised his halberd and hurried forward, aiming to join the other two, but he was far, far too slow.
“-unless he has a Resistance over 50, in which case-”
The young man rushed forward, this time aiming for Coppernicus, who seemed to realize what was going on, and drew several strange runes in the air in a single breath. For all that Coppernicus’ fate had cursed him with this body, it had also given him some advantages, including his general resistance to fatigue, fear, and his quick reactions.
Those curses formed and flew forward. The young man made to avoid them, but they homed in, landing on his body, glowing brightly purple. Flaring brightly, the curses immediately went to work, slowing and weakening the young man.
“He’s going to-” Coppernicus shouted, but it was too late, the curses flared bright, then shattered, broken within two seconds.
Luckily, Vandal moved much more quickly than Drake did, and had arrived at the young man, slashing once more with his claws. What happened next Drake more heard than saw, as several pops and cracks reached Drake’s ears, and suddenly Vandal was on the ground, completely still.
Drake blinked slowly, the mental movie replaying the scene in his mind.
The young man had deftly caught the strike from Vandal, and then twisted his arm, as if he was dealing with a child. He punched Vandal’s right shoulder, knocking it out of its socket, then smashed his palm into Vandal’s sensitive feline nose. As Vandal reeled back in pain, the young man unleashed a low kick, hitting the side of Vandal’s knee and making it bend sideways.
Finally, the young man reached up, grabbed Vandal’s head, and brought it down to meet his knee. The teen fell boneless to the ground. Surprising himself more than anyone else, Drake felt a sharp pang of fear. Vandal was one of the only ones who could make Sydney smile. If he died…
But the young man was moving past him now, and Coppernicus sent an even thicker swarm of curses his way. These the young man didn’t even avoid, but allowed to hit his arm, and to his surprise, stopped and studied them briefly.
Then the young man turned to Coppernicus. “You… are a person.” It was a statement, not a question. This seemed to confuse the young man, which was the first time that Drake had felt some sympathy for him. Even Drake, who had been there at the beginning, when it happened, was still slightly confused as to what Coppernicus really was. What he had become.
But then the young man shrugged, and flexed his hand. The curses flared brightly and then popped. Then he turned to walk away.
Panting with the effort, Drake arrived by Coppernicus’ side right as the opponent seemed to leave. The two stared at his back, both very confused.
“Who….” Coppernicus began, but then he shook his head, and walked over to Vandal, who was shifting back into his human form. Luckily, the worst of the damage sort of just seemed to fade as he shifted back, and after a few seconds, Vandal sat up, burping lightly. With bright eyes, he looked at the departing back.
“Hmph, I knew we could win.” Vandal declared. “That asshole wasn’t so tough.”
The young man paused, and then turned around. All three of them tensed. Some of Drake’s men were near the young man, halberds raised, but he gave the order to stand down. If that guy could handle Vandal in a split second, a normal person, even one with a Class, would be absolutely useless.
Then the young man pointed, and all three raised their arms, in defense. With his usual quick reactions, Coppernicus summoned a shield of darkness between them and the assailant, hoping to blunt the worst of the damage.
Nothing happened. The young man turned and continued to walk away. The three blinked, and exchanged a glance. Then they all jumped, as three flaming hammers the size of mopeds crashed down, one destroying the long legs of the Reanimator, one smashing its torso, and the final hammer, slightly delayed, annihilated its head after it fell to the ground.
For several seconds, there was only the sound of fire.
“Is it too late to change sides…?” Vandal muttered. “I thought the Wild Rider was supposed to start off weak.”
“That wasn’t a Champion, and he wasn’t even pledged.” Coppernicus said, his voice, even without vocal cords, thick with fear. “That was just… a guy.”
No one had anything to say to that.