What was it? Why did the System intervene then and only then? Directly into the lives of its users? It gave Classes, but that was a choice. And as far as the System was concerned, it didn’t care whether you took a Class or not. Because as the System slowly upped its game, those without Classes would die.
That was just how the System worked.
It didn’t interfere in your Skills, your Paths, or your Soulskills. But at Level Fifty, based upon your actions and your Class, the System gave you a Fate. Capital F. You were forced to capitulate and then a decree was handed down to you. Generally.
When Randidly was involved, there were always exceptions.
Yet even at Level One Hundred, from what Randidly understood of what happened to Shal, you could choose your own Great Fate that would be used to overcome the Second Calamity. The System did not force the issue. It allowed you, once more, to fulfill its criteria or die. But it would not directly kill you. The circumstances around would just slowly grind you to mush and remorse.
So this strange uniqueness of Fates didn’t make sense to Randidly. His main experience with Fates came from assisting Alana in breaking through to Level Fifty. She had rejected the System, and for that, it had attempted to crush her. Randidly had seized that energy and flooded her Class with it, giving her a Fate in the form of the helmet that she now always wore in battle.
According to her, it gave her a slight boost in Level up gains. In addition, it could Level up, which in turn would further increase the Level up gains. At the time, Randidly had been curious, but not curious enough to really grill her on the details of it. In addition, at the time, he didn’t have the ability he did now to examine the structures of Aether.
When he had seen Alana in Donnyton, it was too late to ask about it.
And now, with this cruel and twisted Fate consuming Drake’s senses, it was too late to ask.
I wonder which came first, the Fate or the stat boost…
Randidly thought idly. But then he shook his head. Time enough to find answers later. After he beat this wild dog back into submission.
You’ll have to thank me later, Sydney.
Once more, the bastard sword sliced sideways to bisect Randidly. The air hummed in rumbled. But Randidly hopped lightly back and continued to evaluate Drake without any aggressive moves. To Randidly’s surprise, this time Drake followed up the dodge with a nasty riposte that clipped his shoulder.
Hissing softly, Randidly lowered his stance. Then he used Wild Phantom’s Embrace and followed the momentum of the next strike to dance around to Drake’s back and slash with Acri’s long and sharp tip.
It was a near thing, too. Randidly wasn’t sure at first, but now he was positive; Drake’s strikes were getting faster. But Randidly managed to ride the extremely sharp edge of Drake’s slash and return that force back at him. The blow struck deeply into Drake’s back but stopped dead as it ran into the bones of Drake’s ribs.
You had high Endurance didn’t you, Drake?
Randidly thought with a smirk, even as another of Drake’s blows sent him spinning away to strike at another weak point.
Again, Drake stoically endured the blow and struck back at Randidly, this time aiming for his waist. His sword seemed to hum, the swift passage through the air making a piece of strange music.
As he dodged, Randidly eyes narrowed in expectation. And just as Randidly had been predicting, Hank blurred into motion, raising his hand even as a bone dagger appeared there and thrust it toward the spot where Randidly was about to dodge.
If you want to learn from fighting, you are nowhere near as horrifying as Azriel.
Wiggling around the blow, Randidly raised his metallic left arm and pressed his fingers together.
Raucous Phantom’s Finale.
Randidly fist smashed into Drake’s face with a satisfying crunch. He could clearly feel Drake’s nose give way beneath the unrelenting metal of his fist. But Drake only took a single step back and Randidly became abruptly aware of a wall of bone growing from the ground to surround him.
Huge thorn whips as thick as a thigh smashed the bone prison to pieces even as Randidly backed away to open up some distance. Drake’s strange bloody visage continued to remain fixed upon him. Perhaps what Roy said was partially true. Without his senses, Drake only had the focus to lock onto one speck of life and then would do his best to eliminate it. But Randidly would need a little bit more proof before putting any stock in what Roy had to say.
Randidly glanced sideways at the boar. The maroon arm was flailing about, but the boar had used its bone spurs to wrap up the arm and keep it from striking it, urging it into battle. Instead, the boar just stared intently at Randidly. It was waiting for something, some answer.
This strange creature… was Drake’s elemental then? It was the first of two unpredictable elements that Randidly was afraid would make this fight more difficult. At the very least, it seemed like this Elemental was on his side.
On the other hand… Randidly grimaced at Drake.
The second unpredictable element is becoming troublesome…
There was a thick aura of blood that filled the air around Drake. It wasn’t present at the beginning, likely because of Roy’s suppression of his ability to sense another. But now that Drake was focusing his will for violence upon Randidly, it was starting to show real fangs.
It was an image for sure, and a dangerous one even at this amorphous stage. There were similarities in it that brought Silo to mind. But while Silo possessed the chaotic violence of battle and glory, Drake’s was a quieter sort of pain. It was resentment and aging rust-colored blood and self-pity. There was something deeply wrong and dangerously flawed inside of Drake. And perhaps that was exactly why Randidly was wary of the image that animated him.
“Drake, can you hear me?” Randidly said slowly. Not that he couldn’t see the maroon crystal covering the man’s ears, but it wasn’t a mistake to take to test the veracity of Roy’s words. And Skills could compensate for almost anything. But Drake’s focused intensity didn’t waver at all.
Randidly tried to recall his time spent with Drake and produce something that he could say that would give the other man pause if he could hear the words. But before he could land on an answer, that horrible rust colored violence exploded in a wave.
The ground in front of Randidly rippled and then dozens of bone spikes shot upwards to impale his feet. It was such a novel sight that Randidly froze for a split second before laughed aloud. With Grasp of the World Seed to feel every bit of bone that slid up through the plant matter in the ground, it was easy to avoid the bones trying to stab him. “Drake, this is a bad idea. Even if your Intelligence and Control is tripled… well, let me just show you.”
For all Randidly’s teasing, a good fifty meters of ground was densely packed with sharp protrusions of bone. But Randidly’s eyes burned emerald as the ground in an almost one hundred meter circle, aside from a small area left so Shual and his basket wouldn’t be burnt to a crisp, exploded in a series of tightly packed Eruption of the Blazing Leylines.
It took almost half of Randidly’s Mana pool, but it was worth it. That thick emerald fire wrapped up around Drake and caused him to raise his head and spread his mouth wide as if to whistle. But when the bit of crystal in his mouth bobbed up and down, there was no noise. The dismal rain turned to steam, and the grey world was dyed a deep green for several seconds.
Before Drake could recover, Randidly followed up with Reach of the Jade Slag, but Drake was done messing around; apparently, that last wave of spells did enough damage for him to give Randidly the acknowledgment of being a true opponent.
Without even seeming to see the Skills, Drake sidestepped through a slim gap in the jade claws and gathered a thick rust colored aura around his sword. Randidly bared his teeth in response, even as Crown of Upheaval and Gloom, Deific Mien of Yggdrasil, and Cruel Indignation of Yggdrasil surged to life. The arm warped and rumbled, small imperfections emerging in the world as his three auras blasted outward.
That tower specter of the World Tree that Randidly had planted as he had rushed across the marsh rustled in pleasure, sending thick tendrils of power down to Randidly. Even then, Randidly pressed harder, his Willpower sharpening those images into a blade that he raised as Drake advanced.
As that rust colored light gathered around Drake, Randidly could feel it sucking the life and Vitality out of everything in the nearby area. It was a self-destructive, vicious power. As one who wielded Cruel Indignation of Yggdrasil, he recognized a kindred spirit in that image that Drake held.
Which was why Randidly rushed forward without a second thought. Sometimes, the best message was beating someone at their own game. Acri sang in the air, thrusting forward to meet Drake’s chest. Drake brought his bastard sword down to deflect the strike and Randidly twisted his spear and pulled it back.
Drake’s slash turned into a lunge and Randidly’s pullback turned into a sidestep. The two combatants passed within a hair of each other, and at that moment both gazes studied the other. Their images clashed, the weight of those destructive ideologies grinding against each other and physically churning up the marsh with their presence.
But Randidly’s expression darkened. It was a strange feeling, but he was abruptly reminded of his image practice with Skarch. Yet instead of himself, he was now playing the role of Skarch. Drake’s image was amorphous and poorly defined, but Randidly could tell that the man who still lived believed extremely deeply in it. Meanwhile, Randidly’s image was well established and strong.
Still, that image that wafted toward Randidly was overwhelming in its tenacity. Randidly didn’t want to acknowledge it, but the image that Drake had resonated with his Fate and seemed to multiply the substance of what it was.
Were those images the role of the Fates, then…? Which was why the System interfered so directly, because of its strange fixation upon images…?
But those were thoughts for later. For now, Randidly needed to beat Drake. Honestly, everything Drake was doing right now reminded Randidly…
…Of what I would do if I faced a stronger foe,
Which means what comes next would be…
Drake’s figure blurred as he launched himself forward and cut toward Randidly’s chest. Almost lazily, Randidly brought his spear up and blocked the blow. Immediately, Drake lowered his shoulders and began to press downward on Randidly.
…a direct contest of Strength,
Randidly thought as he gritted his teeth and resisted the push. Yet Randidly found himself almost hopelessly overmatched in the Strength department. It seemed that Endurance wasn’t the only stat that Drake had poured his points into before he multiplied his Stats. But Randidly wasn’t going to be outdone.
Stalemate Breaker brought them both to a stalemate, Randidly on his back foot and almost off his stance altogether. The Skill devoured his Stamina, but the sudden resistance brought a little bit of uncertainty to Drake’s pressure. The pressure eased somewhat, and Randidly began to push back.
So you are conscious in there, aren’t you Drake? Is it strange? To know the heights of your stats… and then to meet someone who exceeds you?
Acri twisted up and seized one of Drake’s legs. Before Randidly completely ran out of gas, a sharp yank destroyed Drake’s stance and let Randidly push past the attack. The bastard sword smashed into his shoulder, but Sulfur could handle a deflection of that level.
The first Raucous Phantom’s Finale Randidly used was once more a hit to the face. But Randidly had noticed that these didn’t seem to phase Drake much. He followed up with two more in quick succession, depleting quite a bit of the energy stored in the Engraving. Both smashed into Drake’s collarbone. The first staggering him and the second knocking Drake to the ground.
“You know what the difference between us is, Drake?” Randidly asked rhetorically. His eyes flicked sideways to the mass of roots still restraining Roy by continuing to grind his bones to nothing, then back at Drake. It didn’t matter if Roy heard this. Randidly used the Inevitable Phantom Arrives to send a powerful blow crashing like a freight train into Drake’s collar bone, then grimaced as he didn’t get the response he wanted.
“We might fight the same… such stubborn boldness. But it’s the opponents we’ve been facing are what make us. And while have been struggling for my life on Tellus…” This time Randidly activated Yyrwood Body of Yggdrasil and Spear Advances, Ash Trails, point blank. The blow sent Drake tumbling backward.
But the fucker hopped up to his feet in a split second, raising his bastard sword in preparation. Another Raucous Phantom’s Finale knocked the sword away and allowed the giant fist of roots that Randidly had conjured to forcibly smash Drake into the ground. No matter how much Strength he had, he wasn’t ready for the sheer mass that crashed into him.
And yet, even as his body bounced and it was clear even through his gruesome and warped face that he was stunned, Drake managed to land on both feet and stare uncannily at Randidly. Tenacity and determination burned in those still sockets.
“What have you been fighting, Drake?” Randidly said softly. Drake’s gaze remained focused on Randidly.
Which was why he didn’t see the refined and molten sphere of metal that smashed into his left shoulder from above. Influence of the Molten Core was slightly ungainly, but Randidly had simply held it up and let it drop. While it was doing so, he pressed as hard as he could with his Willpower so that more and more metal was pressed into a smaller sphere. By the time it hid Drake, it was about the size of a bowling ball.
If mass didn’t work, Randidly would use density.
As Drake’s left arm swung down at his side, Randidly grinned.