Randidly quickly checked his Stamina and winced when it was barely 300. His constant Phantom Half-Steps really started to add up after a while. Still, the Stagbat was wounded, but the Regalias were still in its body. With his Aether Detection, he could see increasing amounts of power swirling downward, filling its veins. There wasn’t time to drink a Stamina potion, and his rings were out of Stamina.
Randidly moved forward quickly, pulling a spare spear out of his spatial ring, but he wasn’t the first one there: Ace was. His old friend came quickly, unleashing a flurry of blows on the wounded Stagbat. It seemed like its body had been almost severed in half by the strike from Alana’s avatar, but there was still enough dust in the air to give Randidly a slight suspicion. He couldn’t see the exact details of the body, but-
It seemed it was attempting to scream, but the Stagbat simply spewed blood and bile, mixed together, and then its body blurred, smashing Ace backward, directly towards Randidly. It straightened in an impossibly fluid motion, and formed several grey balls, and launched the beams at Ace’s flying body.
Randidly’s pupils dilated. Although Ace’s body was traveling fast, it wasn’t so fast that it would be able to outrun beams. Meanwhile-
“Galant Intervention.” Randidly heard himself saying, and the 5 or so meters between him and Ace’s body disappeared in an instant, with him arriving at his side. As quickly as he was able, he grabbed Ace and threw him sideways, not bothering to be gentle. Ptolemy could take care of the details afterward.
As soon as he threw Ace, of course, those beams of grey energy became visible, shooting at him at a speed he couldn’t follow with his naked eye. Once, twice, three times, five times, Randidly used Phantom Half Step to throw himself backward.
But immediately after spamming the Skill, it became clear that it wasn’t enough. The Stagbat threw itself forward, so Randidly wouldn’t be able to avoid it by simply retreating. Feeling so close to his limit that his hands were trembling, Randidly reached upwards and grabbed at Rose, off to the side, Half-Stepping towards her.
Randidly didn’t even have time for a reaction as his normal connection to Neveah didn’t yield him Stamina even as he had none, he just blinked, and the beams arrived.
He was knocked to the side, and then hit the ground. Instantly, his touch to the ground filled him with energy as his Golden Roots of Yggdrasil kicked into high gear. As he looked up, he saw Annie streaking in from the side, two arrows held in her hands like daggers. Before the Stagbat could react, she had landed on its back and stabbed downward, cutting into the bat’s face.
The Stagbat whirled, screaming, but Thea was there from the front, dodging perilously close to a grey beam, and had the Stagbat been looking in her direction, she would have likely died to it. Instead, the Stagbat probably was still thinking of the vicious vengeance it would have on Annie while Thea’s hammer crushed the skull of the stag, driving the light from its eyes.
It swayed, then fell to the ground, disintegrating into a pool of green liquids and stained fur. From that pile, the Wild Rider’s Helmet and the Sword of the Skeleton Knight emerged from the antlers and the eye of the bat respectively.
Slowly, Randidly felt himself, standing. Then he turned to his left.
Chrysanthemum lay there, her tongue lolling out of her mouth, amusement and teasing clear in her intelligent eyes. Her huge body lay on the ground. The beam had struck her in her hindquarters when she had bodied Randidly to the side, knocking him out of harm’s way in the same way that Randidly had saved Ace.
Immediately, the hair around the spot where she was hit began to go grey. In the second that this had spread to cover all of Chrysanthemum, the hair at the initial spot turned white and fell out, revealing wrinkled and withering flesh. It was somewhat like watching someone pop the bubbles on crust in a pizza shop, Randidly thought with a strange impartiality.
There was a snap, and the skin over the back part of Chrysanthemum’s body just spread away, ripped by the passage of time. Her huge mass, about the size of a van, rapidly decreased, reducing her to the size of a St. Bernard, while still being draped in the skin of a van-sized bear. The front half of her body seemed simply misshapen, while the back half seemed to have degenerated like a rotten tomato.
Her eyes closing, the bear’s head slumped to the ground.
“Chrysanthemum!” Thea bellowed, realizing almost immediately after the blow landed that something was wrong. She sprinted back over towards the bear, her eyes wide, her breathing ragged, even before the Stagbat collapsed to the ground.
Randidly stood, looking down at Chrysanthemum, remembering the good-natured amusement that she looked at him, right afterward, when their eyes met. It was as if she was saying “No, no, this is how you protect, boy. Sometimes, strength isn’t enough. Sometimes, triumph demands sacrifice.”
Weeping, Thea collapsed next to Chrysanthemum. It took several seconds, but everyone else seemed to free themselves from the strange stasis that they were locked in from Thea’s scream.
Ptolemy took two steps towards Thea’s back, but then hesitated, glanced at Randidly, then went to Ace. Within 5 seconds, Ace sat up, shaking his head, and then vomited to the side. Only then did Ptolemy hurry over to Chrysanthemum.
“Is she…?” Annie asked, the concern in her voice very real.
“Alive,” Thea managed to choke out around sobs. “But-”
At that point, Ptolemy arrived, placing his hands on Chrysanthemum’s side, hairs falling out and skin flaking away immediately. Randidly shook his head and moved to stand next to them, peering closely with Aether detection.
To Lucretia, he asked,
Do you think an Aether Donation-
There is more to life than Aether, I suspect.
Lucretia said. Then, after a pause, she said.
When you finish here, I have news. Big news, about the Creature. No immediate danger.
Randidly had the sudden, impulsive urge to lash out at Lucretia then, for seeming to imply that Chrysanthemum would soon die, but he reigned that in, barely. Instead, he watched carefully as Ptolemy used his Skills to examine her, feeding Aether to them both, even though Lucretia seemed to think it wouldn’t help.
Ptolemy opened his eyes, his face solemn. But before he could speak, he was interrupted by a notification.
Congratulations! You have defeated 9)(*$)32092[warning, unexpected error], the Boss of this Raid Dungeon! As such, you have freed your Zone from the Tyranny of the Raid Dungeon, and Aether shall be abundant in your Zone. In addition, another rare natural occurrence shall be created within the new, expanded confines of your Zone.
As you have defeated the Boss, all of its treasure behind its throne room is yours. In addition, you may use the Key of Death to clear the Dungeon from any point. You need not be at a Cathedral to use it.
Everyone examined the notification mutely, and then Randidly said, “Before I came up, I found the treasures I think it is talking about it. We can handle that…after.”
Randidly’s gaze turned to Ptolemy, and everyone else mimicked him, gazing at their healer, wondering if a miracle was possible. But at the same time, everyone knew, based on the sad, solemn look on Ptolemy’s face, no salvation was coming.
As Ptolemy opened his mouth, Randidly remembered, scant months ago, meeting Chrysanthemum in that field, while he was traveling with Simon. She was only a normal size for a bear at that point, and she had come into their field of view shyly, perhaps long used to rather fearful reactions from people.
When he saw the bear, in a very human way, raising its emotional defenses by acting standoffish, Randidly felt a profound sadness and empathy for the creature. And instead of being afraid, he grinned and stepped forward, lowering himself into a sparring stance. She gazed at him curiously, still aloof.
He ran forward and forcibly bowled her over, using his superior Strength.
Then they had just played. Cautiously at first, then rougher and more freely, Chrysanthemum had crashed into him and swiped playfully at his head. After proving his toughness, she was more than willing to rough house with him, losing herself and just being a bear for the first time in a while.
Now, Randidly watched as Ptolemy confirmed his fears. “There…. There aren’t any wounds. It’s just like… the body is giving up on itself. Like… it has lived too long.”
There was a long moment of silence.
“Let’s take her out of this place,” Randidly said warily, pulling the Key of Death out of his spatial ring. No one said anything, and the group congregated around Thea, so he activated it. The group disappeared, and a wave spread outwards, eradicating any stragglers remaining. This Dungeon was just a tool, and the monsters grown here meant nothing to the System.
When they had outlived their usefulness, they would be replaced.