Tziech looked down at his hands, his eyes red.
“It’s time to go,” the Thief said, softly. She was worried about him, Tziech knew, because of how much of the burden had been put on him this time. The Progenitor’s trust weighed heavily on his shoulders.
But perhaps she didn’t understand how liberating that could be at the same time, to finally have a direction, to have an escape from the Byzantine plethora of choices that had plagued him for years. To see 100 bad answers, and know that each one would have you blamed in a unique and tortuous way…
Now, that was gone.
Tziech stood, leaving his weapons on the ground. Outside, he could hear the strange, almost musical, almost mechanical call and replies of the invading army, as they marched on their position. The Thief looked at him in askance, glancing again down at his weapons.
“Some things…” Tziech said, flexing his muscles slowly, testing every muscle and tendon. “Just feel better when you do them with your hands. Let’s go.”
She nodded, drawing her cloak farther around her, taking back the Progenitor’s strange spear. Together, the two of them walked forward, heading towards the frontlines. What orders were needed were already given, and now they just had the hint given to them by Lucretia, the voice of the Progenitor here.
They needed to make it to the strange Spirit Conduit. Tziech didn’t plan to stop moving until he got there.
“Whatever it is doing, to bind you here-” Randidly began, but Gemma held up a hand.
“Please, it’s much too late for that. I’ve made my decisions. I’ve thought about this moment a lot, you know.” Her eyes stayed locked on Randidly. “I could never shake the feeling of how powerful you seemed to me, all those years ago. It was like you, and only yo, were the memory that was immune to the passage of time. My friends, my life before the System, the people who helped me when I first arrived here… all those have faded to grey despair. But not you.”
She raised a hand and seemed to reach out towards him. But after a second, she let her hand drop. “And yet… now I see you are strong, but I see it as a peer. Not invulnerable at all, and so foolish, to walk here, towards a trap. Yestyx will have her way.”
Randidly pursed his lips at the unfamiliar name, but after a pause, Lucretia said slowly.
…I suspect that is the Creature’s name. The fact that they have had enough interactions that she feels comfortable calling it by name… does not bode well. If what she said about a trap is true-
But Randidly shushed her mentally, his eyes hard, because he had his own ideas about how the Creature functioned, and what he needed to do to strike at her. So he took a step forward, looking at Gemma, wondering where Rhaidon was. “So, we fight?”
Gemma laughed, a tinkling, vindictive laugh of a mature woman who was supremely confident of herself. “…well, I guard this door. Whether you will force my hand is your own decision. Yestyx awaits beyond, in the Exofact. She will not be disturbed by the likes of you. She has promised, that after this task… she will allow me to die.”
There was a deep softness that Randidly had carried for Gemma, every since she had been used by the Wild Rider as a decoy, and had suffered dearly for it, time and time again. And yet, faced with this matured version of her… feeling the very air she breathed, lightly laced with a strange bitterness, Randidly felt something inside of himself numbing towards his empathy for her. So he took another step, and then another, slowly walking towards her.
The announcer man still looked upwards, towards the sky, while the 8 carpet men remained kneeling, while Gemma talked, almost to herself, her eyes slightly unfocused. “The irony of existence… it’s almost beautiful. That this is my motivation to fight, now… and that you, the man I thought could rescue me, were the great nemesis. Must we do this? We can pass this time softly-”
Randidly continued to walk, and abruptly, Gemma’s mood switched, her face contorting into a hideous snarl. She snapped her fingers, and a giant body leapt over the short wall, crashing down between them. It, of course, was Rhaidon, every bit as big as a truck, his legs spread wide, his eyes curiously mild as he regarded Randidly. It’s fur was still metallic, steel and copper and just a little bit of gold mixed in around his ears and eyes, a beautiful life form.
Nothing, it seemed, remained of the honorable beast that Randidly had pushed towards Gemma, so the two could find support and succor in each other. Randidly tried not to dwell on how perfectly these two had been poisoned, and likely due to his interference, although it wasn’t intentional.
It was still a weight. As he took another step, Randidly closed his eyes, and accept her malignant, crazed anger into the swirl of ill will that he carried, for each life he took, or destroyed, or warped. Then he opened his eyes, and took another step, his gait steady.
Rhaidon roared, seeming liters of spittle flying forward out of his mouth towards Randidly, who just narrowed his eyes. Roots spray up out of the ground to catch it and knock it away. When Randidly took another step, three fingers shot passed him from behind, interposing themselves between him and the beast.
Alana arrived first, pulling down, her Valkyrie’s Helmet condensing, sliding naturally into place on her head. Without any hesitation, her spear slid forward, aiming for Rhaidon’s throat.
Roaring, it hopped slightly to the left, moving its bulk with a surprising amount of grace, and snapped its teeth at her.
Snorting, Alana spun away from the play bite and smashed her shield into the side of Rhaidon’s jaw with a sharp blow. Although it was graceful, it was not nearly graceful enough, and there was a jarring crack as one of its teeth shattered.
Instantly, its eyes sharpened, and a great fury arose in the air around it, as if it was previously sleeping, and only now did it realize that it was about to fight, but at that point, Chrysanthemum arrived, spearing into its chest, bowling the larger monster over. Chrysanthemum was probably only half the size of Rhaidon, but when it came to strength and momentum, Randidly hadn’t encountered anyone more powerful.
Even now, he sweat slightly thinking about how he had used to play with Chrysanthemum casually. Of course, that bear had probably gained 400 pounds of pure muscle since they had done that last, so Randidly tried to remind himself that his talents extended beyond simply being physically strong.
“Fucking…all of you… just let me have this… just this….!” Gemma hissed, her eyes going wide, a great deal of blackness gathering up towards her hands, condensing into giant gauntlets covered in spikes. But Thea was there, whirling in front of her, and Gemma had to raise a gauntlet to bat the attack away.
Thea’s attack turned out to be a feint, and she spun further, her leg flashing out in a low kick, striking Gemma at the knee, causing her to stumble. Randidly took two more steps, and another body rushed passed him.
Taking advantage of her moment of weakness, Thea just thrust forward with her hammer, a brutal blow that aimed to break Gemma’s nose. Inwardly, Randidly was relatively impressed that Thea could fight so calmly, espeically against this girl who had been an age of her, and so nervous and weak, in their previous meeting.
Unfortunately, not only had Gemma become bitter, she had also become much better at fighting, and as the thrust rushed towards her nose, she actually lowered her forehead and headbutted the hammer that was rushing towards her. The strike was with enough force to send Thea stumbling backward.
Randidly took another step, walking calmly through the battle. Gemma blinked and shook her head, regaining her focus, somewhat dazed. Thea straightened, lowering her center of gravity to try again. Randidly took another step.
Gemma slammed her gauntlets into the ground, and there was a wave of blackness, knocking Thea backward. Then she pressed her hands together, forming a ball of black energy, pointing at Randidly. At the corner of his vision, he saw the details of the Skills ticking across his screen, entered into party chat by Rose. Heedless, he took another step.
In the instant, before she fired the Dark Blast, Ace was there, smashing Gemma’s gauntleted hands off target, causing the attack to whiz past and smashed into the wall about 400 meters down from where they were standing, cracking and shattering it.
As Rhaidon struggled to his feet, fending off Chrysanthemum, while Alana circled around him, striking at his weaknesses. Thea righted herself and charged forward towards Gemma, but Randidly noticed there were tears running down her face. He took another step, then another.
Ace brought his elbow down against Gemma’s chin, sending her stumbling, but only for a second, because his follow up missed, and Gemma weaved her way forward, her crazed eyes on Randidly as he approached the gate.
“This wasn’t… this wasn’t supposed to be what you did… you were supposed to save me!” Gemma yelled with her voice torn between rage and betrayal. Randidly ignored her, and leaped, covering the last few steps to the top of the walls. There, he activated Indomitable Will of Yggdrasil and Cruel Indignation of Yggdrasil, causing the warriors on the wall to stumble away. Then, he leaped again, heading deeper into the city.
After Randidly was gone, Gemma grinned, and sidestepped a blow from Thea, slamming her palms together. A black shockwave came outwards, knocking Ace and Thea backward. Rhaidon leaped over Alana and landed next to his master, gazing balefully at the remaining people.
“Heh, do you think he bought it?” Gemma asked cheerfully, a wide smile on her face. The Raid Party said nothing.
“Che, you are no fun,” Gemma said, kicking at the dirt. At that moment, the warriors on the wall stood, and began knocking and aiming arrows. Behind the intruders, the monster horde burst out of the treeline, running towards their flank.
To Gemma’s surprise, the woman at the back, with lightning crackling between her hands, laughed.
“About damn time, dungeons are such a drag without boss encounters,” The woman said cheerfully. Then everyone began to move at once.