Rumbling with condensed power, Paolo led the charge toward Randidly with his fists raised. He was not fast, but his sheer momentum meant that Randidly did not have much time before the Brawler arrived in front of him.
His blows came short and sharp with barely any pause between them. To those strikes, Randidly raised Acri and spun the spear expertly. Then he lowered himself into a grounded stance to unleash the combination of Spear Advances, Ash Trails and As the Sun Stills, but Randidly was forced to jerk his head backward right before he was about to move.
A thin line of blood trickled down his cheek and into Randidly’s gritted teeth. The knife that careened past twired mid-air and began to accelerate toward Randidly’s back. A cute trick, but Randidly had more than enough tension to follow multiple projectiles. Yet Paolo’s next round of strikes finally arrived, pushing Randidly back even further.
With two quick chops of Acri, he knocked aside the strikes and dispersed the force. Yet Paolo used that opportunity to close the distance and his left hand shot forward in a twisted claw. With two fingers acting as daggers, he pierced toward Randidly’s left shoulder.
Randidly’s eyes widened as he followed the line of the attack to its destination.
Going for the leather bindings of my arm? …foolish.
Rather than dodging, Randidly allowed the strike to smash against Sulfur. Paolo grimaced in pain as his finger strike failed to pierce, and followed up with a quick right cross. Randidly lifted his left arm, batted away the knife that was heading toward his back, and then chopped downward to throw the punch off of its course.
When their blows crossed, Randidly’s grin widened while Paolo’s eyes narrowed. Their strength was near equal, even while Paolo continued to funnel Strength through his vast image. Randidly, standing still and not drawing any strength from his images, was able to match that amount of force.
But, it’s time to stop playing around.
Randidly’s image exploded outward. Bones ripped up from the earth and formed into a keening Ashen Phantom. Its body was surrounded by an amorphous cloud of ash that pulsed and seethed with its hunger and fury. The only portions of its body that were truly visible was the burning eyes and the long fingers that had been so thoroughly stained by blood to become maroon.
That wave of ash blasted outward, knocking Paolo a few steps backward. Unfortunately for Randidly, two of Paolo’s Squad members rushed into that gap, both releasing heavy punches toward him. Frowning, Randidly brutally smashed both of them backward but was forced to hop to the side to avoid another vicious cut from Kayle.
Two Squad members aren’t nearly as good as either Paolo or Kayle, but when they combine forces they can buy a split second… well, let’s see how they handle the accumulated damage.
Randidly thought idly as the blade hummed past.
The ground cracked and shattered, evidencing the dangerous power contained in Kayle’s strike.
Such was Randidly’s attention on Kayle’s attack that he noticed Kayle’s Squad Members attacks too late; they drew pale lines across Sulfur, unable to penetrate the powerful armor. Still, it was a blow to his pride. He cut twice with Acri, hitting the first but narrowly missing the second.
These two step quickly… well then, it will be easier to burn through Paolo’s lackeys…
But then Paolo was back with fiery eyes, rumbling forward in an attempt to tackle Randidly to the ground. Raucous Phantom’s Finale, the Skill coded into Randidly’s powerful left arm, hit Paolo in a brutal uppercut motion. The cartilage of Paolo’s nose broke and his head jerked upward in a spray of blood.
Yet Paolo gritted his teeth and forced his head back down to glare at Randidly. With grim determination, he took another step forward.
Three more Raucous Phantom’s Finale smashed him left, right, and then directly down into the ground. The arena floor cracked and cratered, Paolo bouncing slightly from the concussive force.
But Randidly felt Kayle appear behind him.
“Got you,” The knife-wielding man whispered. Then he cut, aiming to sever Randidly’s metallic left arm.
Wild Phantom’s Embrace, All is Ash
The Ashen Phantom’s eyes burned as it became nothing but a spec of ash, borrowing the momentum of the attack to blur away and appear behind Kayle. Acri ripped forward in an As the Sun Stills, but unfortunately, Kayle spun to the side and only received a glancing blow.
Still, even deflected, the power contained in that Skill was enough to smash Kayle backward. Instantly, the two Squad members who were supporting him leapt forward and caught his body.
As Randidly took a step to follow up on the moment of weakness, Randidly paused for two reasons.
The first was that the timing of the six people he was facing was almost perfect. As he made to step forward, Paolo’s two bruisers came at him from the sides. Not only did they work within their Squad well, but the two Squads clearly spent a lot of timing fighting together, against each other or otherwise. They knew when to move so there wasn’t enough of an opening for Randidly to take.
Which was partially his own weakness, Randidly reflected bitterly. Because the transition between styles wasn’t seamless, Randidly had to completely condense after Wild Phantom’s Embrace, then use As the Sun Stills. That moment of warning was enough to give Kayle an opportunity to shift the blow into something survivable.
Well, he probably would have survived eventually,
Randidly reflected as his eyes scanned Paolo’s two goons.
The second thing Randidly noticed set his teeth on edge. The leather bindings that held his left arm in place made a soft noise as they hit the ground. Seeing Randidly pause, Paolo’s supporters didn’t press the issue.
As Kayle’s two supporters helped him to his feet, Kayle smiled sweetly at Randidly. “With such sloppily combined Skills… did you really think you could dodge my blade?”
Randidly just looked at Kayle as he reached up and used his right hand to press the metallic arm to his shoulder before it could detach all the way. Which would have been extremely painful. Kayle opened his mouth to speak, but as he did so Paolo roared forward, swinging his fists in wild arcs.
Narrowing his eyes, Randidly studied Paolo.
Looks like I will need a few seconds.
Immediately, the ash-grey circlet around his head erupted in emerald flames. The flames were so large and eye-catching that Randidly felt like he should be partially blinded by their brightness, yet they didn’t seem to affect his vision at all. In fact, Randidly’s focus expanded to cover every single detail of Paolo’s assault.
Two Reach of the Jade Slags erupted out of the ground, seizing Paolo’s legs. With a roar, the Brawler just ripped forward through those as if he were stepping through tall grass. But then he barely crossed his arms in a defensive posture in time to catch an Ignition Bolt in the chest. But this wasn’t just a normal Ignition Bolt.
This was empowered with one of the three wishes from the Sun’s Teardrops Belt. It was an emerald cannonball crackling with golden electricity that struck Paolo solidly in the chest and sent him shooting backward. His leather armor was destroyed and the flesh of his chest was smoldering, but Randidly was relieved to see that the man had survived.
Looks like he invested pretty heavily in Physical Defense. If he hadn’t… well, this would challenge would certainly have taken another turn…
As Paolo shot toward the stands and Alana was forced to leap up and prevent him from physically crushing some spectators, Kayle moved forward like a silent reaper. But the image of the Ashen Phantom physically imposed itself between Randidly and Kayle.
Kayle frowned and slashed out with the same powerful Skill that was able to cut Randidly while he was dodging. The maroon dagger fingers of the Ashen Phantom clashed against Kayle’s knives, and a cold icicle of pain shot through Randidly’s head.
It was difficult to condense the image into something capable of resisting a Skill from another individual, even with Randidly’s extremely high stats. Grimacing, he endured the mental strain and focused on his arm.
At his beckoning, emerald fire flickered to life around his shoulder, bridging the gap between himself and the metal arm. But that wasn’t enough. Soon, he envisioned the golden writing of Yggdrasil. Behind him, the sound of rustling leaves emerged.
Luckily, Kayle was still frowning at the monster between them. “I don’t have time for you.”
But the Ashen Phantom was a creature of need. Released of its bounds and given almost all of Randidly’s mental strength, it shrieked and cut forward through the air. With quick movements, Kayle drew and threw several gleaming knives. They tumbled end over end, striking at the relatively weaker joints in the Ashen Phantom’s body.
One cracked its knee while another found a home in the burning socket of its eye. The most debilitating shattered the Phantom’s ribs and filled the air with the spray of bones. Each wound was a blow against Randidly’s psyche, and he trembled as he endured the layered mental agonies and tried to control Mana Engraving and Ignition of the Emerald Essence at the same time.
Slowly, the golden glow of the writing shifted to burn emerald.
Despite its wounds, the Ashen Phantom’s ungainly body charged forward and struck out at Kayle. In terms of stubbornness, it had no equal. Kayle’s two supporters moved forward, but he waved them back. “Some things need to be done personally. Besides… can’t you feel how he is weakening?”
Randidly pressed his lips into a line; it was true. The area influenced by the cloud of ash around the Ashen Phantom was shrinking. The image wasn’t losing definition, but it was becoming more difficult to manage. And at the same time…
Randidly’s flesh was sputtering and burning as he worked on his other pressing issue.
Deflecting the Ashen Phantom’s strike, Kayle lanced a knife through its chest in his resposite. Then he twisted and blade and cut upward, shattering one of the bones in the Ashen Phantom’s upper arm. With a hiss, the Ashen Phantom drew back. Although it did not know fear, it was growing wary of Kayle.
Abruptly, the cloud of ash shrank even further, but the Ashen Phantom sucked that ash in to condense a substitute bone to keep its shattered arm functional. With an ash cloud that had shrunk to the point where its scrawny body could be seen, it once more raised its hands in a vicious promise.
But Kayle wasn’t giving it the time to take the initiative. With six quick attacks, its leg, one of its hands, and part of its remaining front teeth were hacked off. The bones tumbled to the ground and the Ashen Phantom staggered backward. It had faded to a flimsy, flickering shadow, but still, it struggled to recover.
Warning! Damage to your Skills is accumulating…
If this continues, Skills may-
“I fucking know,” Randidly hissed. The Ashen Phantom didn’t collapse, however. The remaining ash spiraled behind it to reform its severed leg. Rather than a human leg, this was closer to the leg of a grasshopper, folded and spindly. And when the ash rushed to fill its hand, the appendage twisted into a vicious bear claw, gaining mass with the last bits of ash.
The repurposed limbs looked oversized and strange on its skeletal frame. So much so that Kayle laughed.
“This is your image? It’s more monster than anything else, at this point. Which makes this very easy. Sever.”
But the Ashen Phantom disappeared at the last second and Kayle’s Skill struck nothing but air. Tilting his head, he looked up at Randidly. His eyes widened.
Once more, Randidly was standing with Acri raised, grimacing through the pounding headache he had acquired from the series of mental gymnastics he had endured. But in that time, he had added burning lines of emerald fire that twisted upward from his metal shoulder into the flesh, spreading in a radiating shape.
With Mana Engraving, he had bonded the limb to himself. It hurt like a bitch, but it would mean that any further attacks to the binding would be pointless.
Behind him, a dark cloud of ash slowly gathered. All across the arena, a wind picked up. Flakes of blood and ash, spread earlier by Randidly’s image, were now slowly pulled back to the source. His grin was wide and feral.
“Nothing is eternal. Especially Strength. Especially weakness,” Randidly said softly.
Due to loss of integrity, your Skillsets the 7 Kata of the Ashen Spear (L) and the 6 Signs of the Spear Phantom ® are merging! Warning, this process may result in a reduction in rarity as the synergy rate may be low!
Calculating Synergy Rate…
Randidly used every ounce of his remaining mental strength and significant Willpower to press, forcing those two Skillsets closer to each other within himself. He recalled every second of desperate practice, with the Root Avatars and with Helen. He recalled the years of training with both, and his struggle to distill them down to their essence.
And now, forced backward by the tightly woven teamwork of the Number 1 and 2 Squads of Donnyton, Randidly was done being gentle with himself.
Unable to determine Synergy!
The image of that misshapen monster appeared in Randidly’s mind. Then he flexed his fingers.
Congratulations! Your Skillsets have merged into the Descent of the Grim Chimera (M)!