Randidly saw the confusion in Helen’s face as she experienced the wave of crippling cold he had dealt with for the past day. Truly, it wasn’t something easy to handle, even though he could reproduce only a fraction. For all that it was simply an image, the feeling of it spreading across your body wasn’t comfortable at all. Even now, Randidly felt strangely stiff and out of himself.
But still, at the moment of attack, Randidly felt very clearly how he could use the cold in the Inevitable Phantom Arrives. Ever since the movement’s inception, Randidly had always had a headache keeping the opponent still long enough for the hit to land. It was deceptively fast, but that only took it from slow seeming to average. But if he added the crippling wave of cold…
Something that signaled the arrival of the phantom…
With an annoying amount of capability, Helen twisted her spear and dispersed most of the force from Randidly’s attack. Still, it wasn’t as clean as Helen would like. Her steps were extremely shaky, and the hanging image of a river appeared above her head as she wove back and forth as the momentum forced her backward.
But Randidly wouldn’t let her off so easy.
Spear Advances, Ash Trails.
Randidly heard the ground beneath him shudder ominously as he launched himself forward. In an instant, his spear was ripping into the last meter in front of Helen, but again Randidly underestimated her ability to react.
Although he could tell that her left hand was somewhat numb from the last collision, Helen leaned back and allowed Randidly thrust to hum past her. Still bent backward at the waist, Helen spun her spear with only her right hand so that the point arced upward and then down toward Randidly’s neck.
With a small grin, Randidly used Phantom Half-Step to move himself a small distance away while maintaining his momentum toward her. Randidly planned on physically crashing into Helen, relying on his superior physicality to get the advantage of the trade.
But to his surprise, Helen straightened almost as soon as she launched her attack. Unless she had the ability to predict the future, such sudden movements should have been impossible-
Randidly’s grin stalled out. She had predicted he would do this. And she had taken a pretty significant gamble that she would be right. If he had continued and she had straightened like this-
Still, with her left hand only as a stabilizer, Helen thrust her spear toward Randidly. Above her head, the roaring image of a waterfall emerged. Suddenly, the spear that was sliding toward Randidly looked to contain quite a bit of force. Thousands of gallons of liquid smashed into rocks, throwing a light mist into the air. The thunderous noise was like a physical blow against his chest at this proximity. Enough to give him a bit of pause, although ultimately his mouth firmed into a line.
If she wanted to meet in a contest of power…
But just as their spears were about to clash, the image above Helen disappeared. In fact, all of Helen disappeared. Instantly, Randidly felt a powerful threat.
When a Shadow Departs, Fireflies Dance.
Rather than staying to find out the threat, Randidly teleported himself sideways, leaving a burst of ash in his wake. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he spun and to face Helen. But the attack he was expecting didn’t come. Instead, Helen simply hopped out of the ash and gave Randidly a sharp look.
Abruptly, Randidly felt a sting at his jaw. When he lifted his hand to touch it, he found a rather deep gas from the middle of the left side of his jaw to under his left ear. Very quickly, the blood was flowing freely, dripping onto the ground.
It was some small comfort that his blood sizzled on contact with the ground, and began to eat through. What was frustrating was that his body still was so damned chilly. Even the brief spat with Helen did nothing to abate that cold. Randidly rubbed the warm blood, savoring the feel of it on his fingers.
“That strike was very close to being deadly,” Helen said.
Shrugging, Randidly cracked his neck. After a few seconds, the bleeding had stopped and Randidly felt a fleeting trace of warmth along his jaw as the wound healed. Afterward, it settled right back down to tundra feel, however.
Even though Randidly didn’t believe that Helen had held back on the blow, he had learned something very important; Helen was good at reading him. Which, in a way, was more impressive than almost anything else Randidly had encountered. Azriel, perhaps in a similar manner, had grown used to his attack patterns and used that as an advantage against him. But this was pure prediction. Prediction while Randidly had access to more Skills than even he remembered to use.
He supposed one way to combat this was to use his lesser Skills, but that seemed a lot like admitting failure. The point was to overcome Helen. Not to avoid her.
As if emphasizing the thought, Randidly’s Crown pulsed with power.
Helen frowned up at the crown and then looked at Randidly. “You don’t believe me? Fine, I’ll prove it to you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
This time, above Helen appeared a small spring, water flowing up out of the ground. And as Randidly watched, the water slowly shifted. First a little, in thin tendrils, and then all at once, the spring was flooded by blood. The water ran thick and crimson.
Helen’s eyes turned red and she smiled savagely. Her grin was that of a hyena’s: lean, practical, and out for a pound of flesh. Randidly’s mental coldness was now accompanied by a true feeling of coldness that crossed his heart. Something had changed. Helen had bared her fangs. Contained here was the power that had given her confidence.
Sensing the change in the mood, the audience began to howl. The referee, who had already been watching closely, leaned forward to follow the two fighter’s movements. Randidly believed that the man generally had a duty to protect the contestants, but it was clear he was more intrigued by the prospect of blood than anything else.
This time, Helen’s approach set Randidly’s hairs on end. In addition, those thin currents of air that were constantly harrying him had thickened with the introduction of blood. They wound around and began to encircle him, flowing in a strange pattern. That, combined with the fearsome speed that Helen used, constituted a real threat to Randidly.
Such was her speed that in the split second he recognized its true depths, Randidly wondered whether he himself was faster than her. But then instinct took over, and the Wild Phantom’s Embrace carried him forward.
Helen’s attacks were fast and brutal. It seemed like a small thing at first, but the attacks she threw now were sharp and just a few centimeters longer than previously. Randidly twisted the side out of a slash but his chest was still slightly scratched. His counter thrust met only air, and Helen’s burning eyes were right in front of him as she smashed the butt of her spear into his chest.
With a grunt, Randidly endured it and activated Grasp of the World Seed. Instantly two thick vines exploded out of the ground. Their tips sharpened and they ripped up toward Helen’s exposed back. The river above Helen curved and she was away, slashing and severing the vines with ease.
Randidly’s eyebrows twitched. After dispatching his two vines, Helen once more leapt toward him and ripped at his neck with her spear. Using her force, the Wild Phantom’s Embrace carried him to the side… and into the path of another attack.
Randidly grinned, the challenge of it finally getting to him. She had used the force of the attacks to guide where he was moving to, and attacked there, huh…?
The blood empowered currents of air settled like a jailor’s chains around Randidly. A fiery-eyed Helen advanced with breathtaking speed. Her spear cut downward, aiming for his hands on Acri. Eyes flashing, Randidly twisted and raised his spear to meet her. Just as they were about to clash, Randidly felt her twist away to strike at another spot, but he largely ignored that.
Instead, Randidly used Incendiary Eruption three times in a triangle around where they were standing. Time to test her resolve.
The ground blew upwards, spewing bubbling metals and superheated gases. The area of effect was small, but Helen was surrounded. She was bombarded on two sides by a wave of heat and stone debris.
But although she stumbled, it was only briefly. The next moment, her spear was blurring toward Randidly’s face. He frowned. Strangely, through the chill and stiffness that suffused him, he felt that the currents of air that were holding him… were tightening. There was some serious juice in the infusion of blood into Helen’s images.
Even though the air was stronger, it wasn’t strong enough. Randidly shrugged and activated Yyrwood Body of Yggdrasil. Instantly, his Strength and Agility surged upward. With the Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom activated, Randidly moved perfectly to counter Helen’s spear.
For the second time of the fight, their spears actually crossed.
Instead of the concussive force that Randidly had been expecting, there was only a soft hissing as Helen’s spear skidded across his own. Even front this distance, she managed to twist out of the way.
“Incendiary Eruption,” Randidly said again, watching Helen carefully. The ground underneath her shuddered and began to split.
Her attack slid along his spear toward his chest and her body followed it as the full force of the Incendiary Eruption smashed into Helen’s back. But again, she didn’t react with anything but a tightening of her clenched teeth. There was pain there, but…
Helen’s attack smashed into Randidly’s chest in a small explosion of flame. He tried to lean back, but the currents of air binding him had toughened once again. It wasn’t necessarily heat that Randidly felt, but his heart was pounding under the influence of adrenaline. His curious numbness seemed to be lifted, if only marginally.
Immediately, Randidly’s expression brightened. Thank god, he had thought for a bit that he wouldn’t feel warmth again…
But before Randidly’s joy could manifest itself, Helen sidestepped and stabbed at him again. With her own force, Randidly spun to the side. But then the restricting air flows descended once again around him and Helen slashed left and right. Randidly raised his spear and blocked both. The force was dangerous, but not to his guard. But the pressure from the air currents…
It was rising. The whole stage part of the arena was covered in strange flows. It was beginning to look somewhat similar to a whirlpool.
Even though Helen’s strike was quick, Randidly noticed that her feet were slightly slow to follow through with the attack. It seemed that although she had somehow neutralized most of the damage from the Skill, it wasn’t completely useless.
“Incendiary Eruption. Incendiary Eruption. Incendiary Eruption.”
The Skills smashed upwards, continuing to harry Helen as she pursued Randidly. Her dodges were sharp and skillful, but she continued to force herself forward and keep the flows of air binding Randidly. While maintaining the pursuit, avoiding the damage was impossible.
Gritting her teeth, Helen slashed with her spear again and again. To his surprise, the speed and sharpness increased with every attack. At the same time, Randidly’s brow furrowed over worry for Helen taking damage from the Skills. Could she continue this…?
Her spear blurred toward Randidly’s chest, cutting sideways out of a different vector of attack. Randidly raised his spear to block, but then there was a hyper-sharp trace of Helen’s quickening spear. Randidly blinked. Helen’s spear swept upward, hitting at the right angle and with enough force to knock away Acri and leave a slash across his chest. It was shallow, but still…
Acri floated in the air for a second as Helen prepared for follow up attacks. But then it twisted, and like a lightning viper, struck downward. Eyes blazing, Randidly reached out and filled the air with as much of the cold image as he could manage, hoping that Acri wouldn’t finish that blow.