Randidly took a glance around at the surrounding street. It was truly abandoned. It appeared that Randidly had wandered into an older part of the city. The wooden buildings were dirty and the alleys were stacked high with trash. The upper story windows of the surrounding buildings were closed.
And that glance was all the preparation that Randidly took.
Breath of the Spear Phantom. Cruel Indignation of Yggdrasil.
Even before Darke could move, Randidly used his anti-personnel moves on him. Randidly wasn’t sure how strong Darke would end up being, so he sensed that he should take it seriously from the get-go. The familiar pain was almost nostalgic to feel, and it surprised Randidly to find that his Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom hummed softly along with the Skill. It was a high and halting melody, but it was akin to singing, in its way.
Darke opened his mouth with a condescending smile but paused. Randidly felt a light tugging on his Breath of the Spear Phantom. There were several seconds while Darke attempted to figure out what was going on, and in that time Randidly attacked.
Inevitable Phantom Arrives.
Randidly’s spear slid unstoppably forward, but Darke’s eyes flashed. There was a concussive burst, and Darke seemed to teleport to the side. The air was filled with the smell of ozone and Darke produced his spear with a flourish.
Randidly’s expression was grim. Looked like someone with lightning images. And based on the faint numbness in his face, the image was a powerful one. It had been five hours since the fight, so Randidly’s monstrous Mana regeneration had been able to bring him back up to full. If he was the speedy time, cold ash was likely the best bet. Randidly opened his mouth and bared his teeth.
Frigid Ash, Extinguishing Storm.
Light flecks of ash began to radiant out from Randidly. Small wind currents carried them to and fro. The deep coldness that had receded somewhat after Randidly had mastered the Skill came creeping back. Soon, it felt like Randidly was submerged in the Arctic Ocean. Sensations were distant and small. The only truth here was the cold.
To add on to that effect, Randidly gathered his Cruel Indignation and struck with a hammering mental attack. Darke blinked, and even if that was all the opportunity Randidly received, he was taking it.
Spear Advances, Ash Trails.
Acri chimed with glee as Randidly launched the duo forward. Darke seemed to snarl and Randidly felt a stronger pressure on his Breath of the Spear Phantom Skill. But there wasn’t enough time before Randidly’s spear was at Darke’s throat. But once more, he stomped his foot and vanished.
Or rather, he accelerated to an unbelievable speed and twisted out of the way. In order to understand Darke, Randidly closed his eyes and had locked onto him with his Aether senses. That way, he was able to see that Darke’s body was charged with an incredible energy for a few seconds, granting him a burst of speed.
Not true teleportation, then. That was a good sign.
But then Darke’s spear blurred forward toward Randidly, and the rumbling of thunder once more rang out. Randidly grimaced. That had happened at the beginning of the fight as well. It seemed that Darke wasn’t a pushover in terms of images either.
Randidly was still affected by the momentum of Spear Advances, but he had trained against Azriel to hone his reflexes for times like this. Acri cut sideways and knocked Darke’s spear to the side. But to Randidly’s surprise, Darke stomped his foot again. Narrowing his eyes, Randidly used his own version of this.
When a Shadow Departs, Fireflies Dance.
But even as Randidly zipped to the side, Darke simply stomped his foot again and was before Randidly. Growling, Randidly summoned all the cold he could muster and slammed it into Darke. Cruel Indignation seemed to howl, causing the air to wrinkled and bend. There was another tremor through Breath of the Spear Phantom, but Randidly pressed it down.
Even now, Randidly was just beginning to feel the lack of oxygen as a distant concern. Hopefully, Darke was in an even worse boat.
But Darke seemed oblivious to the mental attacks. Instead, his hand shot out toward Randidly’s chest. Eyes flashing, Randidly unleashed a Talon Strike to meet it. Their hands smashed into each other.
Electricity discharged through the contact, causing blue bolts of power to spark across Randidly’s body. Instantly, his muscles began to seize. Just barely, he was able to resist the powerful push of Willpower that Darke put against Breath of the Spear Phantom. That caused Darke to frown and level his spear against Randidly.
Grinning, Randidly’s eyes went to the dozens of bits of ash that had landed on Darke’s body. His flesh was already starting to sizzle as the strange toxins in the ash affected him. At the same time, Randidly switched images. Behind Darke, a dozen thigh-thick roots whipped outwards, smashing into his body.
Darke just looked to the side and mouthed a word.
It was silent, but Randidly heard it as clear as day. There was a moment of frozen time. Then it seemed the heavens opened with a crash.
The force of the lightning strike tossed Randidly backward like he was a child. The air buzzed. As quickly as he could, Randidly blinked his eyes to get rid of the streak of bright color that was burned into his retinas. Unfortunately, as he struggled to his feet, Darke was above him.
Like a crackling executioner’s blade of thunder, the spear stabbed downward toward Randidly.
All is Ash. I’ll show you how to teleport.
Lightning was strong, that was true. However, Randidly suspected that if he could land a hit against Darke… then he would gain an edge he could use to win.
The world flattened. All was oily and hollow. The world was filled with strange caricatures, empty things that were designed to imitate a great ‘before’ that was so distant from being a memory that it might very well have never existed. In that world, Randidly felt his body part and return to the great all as the thunderstrike blasted the surrounding area. Flecks of his ash were knocked away, but Randidly ignored it. That didn’t matter.
Instead, Randidly formed behind him, remaining in the All is Ash form. His Mana fled from him, but he could sense the weakness in Darke before him. It was a hollow being of ash that he raised his hand against. The Patron of Ash had spoken about the power of attacking in this form, but Randidly had never attempted it. Now, immersed in the power of images as he was after Helen’s fight, it just felt right.
Randidly clenched his hand, and he felt a huge spear of ash condense above Darke. The annoying man instantly turned and looked up, but Randidly didn't give him a chance. Even as he wondered what Darke saw, the huge spear of ash crashed into Darke-
Darke took a step backward and grimaced. Randidly blinked.
...what? That was all?
Randidly returned from All is Ash. Back with his regular vision, Randidly could see that the flesh of Darke had been pushed to the side. It lay sliced open and bloodless. And within that flesh was…
A strange exoskeleton of blue steel. Just like a Wight would have.
“What the fuck…?” Randidly whispered. Then he cursed himself for releasing the Breath Skill. But then again, if Darke was just a puppet…
“You certainly surprised me,” Darke said. “And this body will need replacing. But your struggle is pointless-”
At the other end of the desert street, a building exploded as hundreds of spears of roots surged upward. There was a worried chirp as the deep azure bug flew up out of the fiery explosion of plant life. Instantly, Darke’s face blanched. “Don’t you dare-”
Randidly was already moving. Once he realized that Darke was a puppet, Randidly knew what to look for. The tell tale energy frequencies were extremely subtle, but they couldn’t escape from Randidly’s examination of the surrounding area. He was somewhat surprised that this Propagator had chosen to keep his true body away from the puppet, but he wasn’t going to complain.
Acri cut upwards in a deadly arch toward the bug.