Pain. That was what Helen knew at that moment. Part of it was the burns on her legs and back from Randidly’s eruptions. Part of it was the feeling of her heart beating too hard for too long, exhausting her body. Part of it was the scalding image of blood that she felt completely submerged in. The heat was worse than Randidly’s Skills in a way.
But it was the way that her heart fell silently to pieces when Randidly closed his eyes to her words that truly set her aflame. Like cracks in an iced-over pond, this moment was long coming. The fracture lines had been clear for a while. But the ice had been holding strong. She had held out hope that at some point he would lower his eyes from the distant horizon and find her own gaze.
With his silence, Helen had received all the answer she needed. For better or worse, Randidly would never cease chasing the elusive concept of destiny. His passion was to struggle against the System itself.
Compared to that, Helen was…
Around the arena, the plants continued to sprout forth and attack her, but it wasn’t as thorough an attack as previously. Her words had given Randidly pause. Not that this was a good thing. Even as she cut through the lashing roots she sensed that something was gathering in Randidly. There was a barely audible ringing coming through the energy connection that Randidly had given her. He was preparing something.
The previously sluggish currents flowing through the air sped up as Helen forced energy into her exhausted body. The roaring in her ears grew louder. Her heartbeat intensified even further. Her vision filled with steady drops of blood, each tiny sphere slowly spreading to dye the entire world in front of her crimson.
Fuck this. Fuck him. Even if I can’t change the world Randidly… I sure as hell won’t let you leave me behind like this…!
With her face twisted in a snarl, Helen ripped the channel of energy between them open even more widely. Power poured into her body, and her will grasped it with steely fingers.
There were only 5 meters between them. Randidly stood with his eyes closed, a cold breeze surrounding him. But Helen was burning up, submerged completely in blood now. Around the arena, the currents swirled haphazardly. She had largely lost control of them, but at the same time, she had managed to condense them even more solidly than she had ever before.
Her spear tip burned in Helen’s vision. The flecks of Randidly’s blood on it set her mind to ringing. She was hungry. She wanted more. Her own blood felt like lava in her veins. The energy she was receiving from Randidly was setting it aflame.
Congratulations! You have created the Skill “Domain: Tides of Blood ® Lvl 1”.
Domain: Tides of Blood: Surround yourself in a deep sea of blood. Within the sea, your Agility and Reaction are greatly increased. Efficacy of all Skills is increased. This effect increases with Skill Level. Opponents will find themselves restricted by the fickle tides of blood around them. Opponents within the Domain will experience an increasing amount of mental strain the longer they remain within the Tides of Blood.
There was a silent reverberation through the arena as the thing currents abruptly condensed to thick flows of blood. The crowd gasped as their view of the fight became obscured as the Domain snapped into place. Helen noticed the referee’s frown, but he did nothing to stop the fight. Domains were uncommon at this Level, but not unheard of.
Helen’s hands on her spear tightened. Her fingers felt less like human appendages and more like claws. Her eyes were locked onto Randidly’s peaceful form. She would rip him to pieces to prove her worth. She would maim him. She would-
Congratulations! Due to your powerful will, your soul has evolved! You have gained the Soulskill “Hunger of the Hellfin Reaper”. Within the Tides of Blood Domain, the power and growth of your Soulskill is doubled!
This time, the reverberation was completely internal. She felt her grin stretch wider, showing more teeth. Her vicious anger was replaced by a hungry, predatory instinct.
Randidly’s eyes calmly opened, and their gazes met. With a shriek, Helen sprinted forward toward him.
As Randidly opened his eyes, he felt the Aether in his chest gathering. He was almost there. He just needed to find the shape of what he wanted. But as he looked at Helen, he frowned slightly. Helen had shifted, somehow. And strangely, Randidly felt… underwater, with the air tinted with the metallic tang of blood.
This was… a domain?
Helen’s spear ripped toward Randidly, forcing him to spin sideways to avoid. It seemed that her predictive abilities rose once again, because she instantly stepped toward him the middle of her previous attack, cutting off his line of retreat.
Randidly used When a Shadow Departs, Fireflies Dance to move behind Helen, but he released a blast of cold as he did so. The frozen puff of ash was just enough to avoid the thickened currents of energy that flowed around the arena. Grimacing, Randidly landed and lowered his center of gravity. It was annoying how restrictive this Skill was becoming. But this was the sort of pressure he needed to shape this Skill.
“Freeze,” Randidly hissed, spreading his hands toward Helen. She largely ignored the concentrated image of cold heading toward her back and twisted around. Her spear thrust was almost a thing of beauty, with powerful image condensing as it approached Randidly. He could feel it then, more clearly than he had ever before. The spear that Helen thrust toward him was not just a shaft of wood with a metal tip, but it was something more than that.
It was burned and stained with blood, but unbroken. As Randidly watched the spear approach. It shifted right before his eyes until it became a jagged tooth of some deep sea monster with grey skin. The spear, to Helen, was not a tool. It was a way of life. It was a part of her. It was her hope and dreams, experiencing the vicissitudes of life.
That tooth hit Randidly’s wave of desolate cold and ripped right through it. The difference in depth of the images couldn’t be compared. Randidly had done a little to refine the cold into his image of ash, but it was still mostly an imitation. Narrowing his eyes, Randidly met the sea monster tooth with a Talon Strike.
Randidly felt his arm shatter from the collision and was filled with a deep shock. Then he bitterly smiled. Helen’s follow up was lightning fast, and in it, Randidly could sense that her image had shifted somewhat. No longer was she the river, but she was a carnivorous Queen that dwelled at the bottom of the sea of blood, flowing along the bottom of the river to ambush the unwary. The sleek movements of the sea beast made her speed even more impressive.
Randidly allowed his left hand to fall uselessly to his side. It would take a bit to heal through that wound.
Instead, he slowly exhaled. Aether burned icy hot in his chest. So powerful that even the image of chill that had suffused him was forced to give way for the power of Aether.
Ash was a remnant. Much of the Ashen Image Randidly had inherited was the process of creating ash through terrible consumption, but ash was ultimately a remnant. After the heat passed, the ash could remain for an eternity, a tragic sort of memorial for what had been destroyed.
In the face of Helen’s imminent attack, Randidly only grinned.
All is Ash.
Randidly still had about half of his Mana pool remaining, so when the blow struck him, his body disintegrated to nothing. This was the first time in a quite a while that he had used the Skill like this, and also the first time he had done so since it had evolved. As such, Randidly felt a profound sense of control over himself, as well as a deep connection to the world. Time seemed to slow as Randidly savored the feeling of the sameness of it all.
The heat and chill of the world faded away, and Randidly could feel the deep sense of loneliness and nostalgia that suffused the air. There was a deep sense in the ash around him that this was so much less than had what been present before, before the great fires of genesis consumed the one true source and left this world. And in those emotions of deep longing, Randidly found the home for the frigid chill he had been seeking.
Still, every second in this form depleted his Mana at a horrendous wait. So as Helen spun around in confusion, searching for Randidly, he condensed out of ash right in front of her.
With great care, Randidly spread his hands. The hot flows of blood in the air smashed down toward him to completely restrain him. Like a carp flicking her tail, Helen shifted instantly into overwhelming motion. She pounced toward him, spear raised.
Randidly’s eyelids slowly lowered. The deep cold that suffused him trembled. The crown above his head burned with a strange heat. All the great things in existence would slowly be consumed. And what was left…
“Frigid Ash, Extinguishing Storm.”
Congratulations! You have developed the 5th Kata of the Ashen Spear, “Frigid Ash, Extinguishing Storm (Ru) Lvl 1”!
Frigid Ash, Extinguishing Storm: Tap into the deep pervasive laws of Entropy that afflict the world and create a storm of frigid ash that radiates out from yourself. These ash particles will devour all forms of energy that they encounter around you. Size of the particles and storm increases with Skill Level. Mana is constantly drained during use. Mana cost decreases with Skill Level.