Silo eyed up his opponent. Strangely, even through the haze of darkness and erratic impulses that was Silo’s current worldview, there was something about Shal that quieted the monstrous voices that whispered to him. Which was liberating.
And infuriating to the part of him that was lost to the voices.
“Draw your spear,” Silo whispered. His own spear felt heavy and unwieldy in his hands. But that was the point, wasn’t it? It wasn’t a tool of control, it was overwhelming. The destruction caused by the spear was its ultimate power. It could level cities and raze the countryside. Before such a spear, what could this man do?
“So foolish,” Shal replied with a shake of his head. But he produced his spear. It was a traditional spear, with a stiff shaft and a triangular head. Unwilling to wait for a more sporting moment, Silo rushed forward.
They had drawn spears. They were opponents. Once those two things were determined, all that awaited them was contest and bloodshed. And Silo was determined to prove to Rumi that he was the one who deserved to received her affections. Silo understood the spear so much more than this old fool.
Blighted Slash cut sideways toward Shal’s throat, but the other man moved with a surprising elusiveness. A few short steps to the side and Shal had completely disappeared from Silo’s vision. Roaring, Silo spun around and brought down Weight of the Rotten Hero. The parted as it descended, grinding away at the substance of the world around Silo. The ground shuddered underneath the sudden pressure. A nearby chair shattered into splinters as Silo’s ability became too much to bear.
And yet, when Silo laid his eyes on Shal, the other man sidestepped again and was gone with a smile. Although absorbing strength from the jewel had rendered him rather numb, Silo could dimly feel that his Skill wasn’t hitting Shal any longer.
“Fucking ghost,” Silo hissed. He rapidly gathered the thin threads of violence that he had produced in his attacks to empower his Momentum of Tragedy Skill. Already, his gaze was sharpening and some of the numbness was starting to wear off. Using this Skill was one of the few ways that he could truly felt alive since absorbing enough of the jewel’s power to rise to Level 70. Without this Skill, everything was so thick and murky. It was almost impossible to live.
It was only through fighting that he could feel truly present. That was the true Path of the Spear.
Shal’s counterattack was a brutally quick thrust. Such was its force that even though Silo twisted aside and dodged, the wind of its passage buffeted him backward. Still, Silo’s expression was gleeful as he straightened and readied himself to meet the assault. But then he blinked.
...Shal’s attack hadn’t left any threads of violence…? That was impossi-
The next spear thrust came. Silo attempted to deflect this one away from his body.
Looking down at the spear sticking out of his stomach, Silo couldn’t figure out what had happened. He had clearly smashed his much heavier spear against the thrust with perfect timing. It should have been deflected.
Yet the attack was so powerful that the air pressure weakened his attack, and the thrust itself didn’t even seem to notice his attempted interference. Just how high was this man’s stats…?
Silo’s expression twisted into something like glee. Perfect then. Time to go all out.
“Do you yield?” Came the bored voice of Shal. With a light tap, he appeared before Silo and yanked the spear out with enough callous force to rip open a large wound. Black blood poured out and spattered on the floor. Both looked down at it, Silo in mesmerized wonder, Shal in revulsion.
“What-” Shal began, but Silo surged into motion.
Once more, he brought down Weight of the Rotten Hero. This time Shal was within its area of effect, but Silo was infuriated to see that the other man didn’t even flinch. So he followed it up with Forsaken Thrust. Darkness gathered around the attack as it slid toward Shal’s heart.
Silo blinked. The thrust was knocked away-
The sound of his nose breaking from Shal’s elbow hit him before his eyes could even notice a flicker of motion. Stumbling backward, Silo greedily gathered up the violent threads he himself had made. Somehow Shal was avoiding causing his Skill to trigger, but that didn’t matter. If he continued to fight, he would catch up eventually. That was the terrible power that Silo held. He was unbeatable. It was just a matter of time.
“For the second time, do you yield?” Shal asked mildly. “I will not ask a third time.”
Silo spat blood at Shal’s shoe in answer. The other man snorted.
“Your simplicity is becoming. But you are not my opponent. You are a child who does not understand the spear.”
Silo’s eyes slid sideways to Rumi. She stood with her head lowered and eyes closed, not even watching the fight. Of all things, that infuriated Silo most of all.
“You have already cut yourself into so many small pieces… do you truly think that your little bit of assistance matters? You are a fraction of what you once were. You are meaningless. Only together-” Silo spat out blood and words together, but it didn’t seem to matter.
“I’m sorry, Silo,” Rumi whispered.
The fury in his blood bubbled up to steam through his brain. The conscious parts of Silo slowly shut down. His pumping blood began to sound out low drums that filled his entire frame. Mad Cadence activated and took away his last bits of conscious thoughts. There was only the spear and the trail of broken bodies he would leave in his wa-
Silo looked down at the stumps of his hands. He tried to flex his hands, but nothing happened. A kick knocked him backward into a ruined building.
“Sleep, monster. You are not wanted here.”
Domains, Randidly ruminated, were just another Skill. But unlike most, they directly affected the System in the surrounding area. That was key difference that he had isolated from watching Helen use her Domain over and over again. Normal Skills could reproduce the same effect of a Domain by causing a large scale effect directly.
But the part that made Domains so powerful was that they altered the System in the surrounding area in small ways. The most obvious benefit of this shift was efficiency. It was much more efficient to alter the System to tilt toward your Skills than to empower them directly. The System just had so much more oomph than you did, and a backdoor was built so Domains could do just that.
A second benefit, that Helen didn’t make use of but Randidly had seen in Dinesh’s Domain, was that it could also bend the rules of Skills a little. This made the expenditure much less efficient, but it did mean you could cheat. So what Randidly was wondering was whether he should endeavor to make an efficient domain or a cheating one. Or, perhaps, one that did both. But focusing on both would mean neither was as powerful for as little expenditure.
Randidly made the thin emerald flames he held dance across his hands. He sat on a sunken log in the middle of a swamp, the only illumination the dim stars above and the emerald flame. Its strange light transformed the swamp from a place of stillness to a twisted fever dream. Everything seemed to be moving and shifting in its ghastly light.
Which it probably was, Randidly reflected. The light causes plant growth. Even now, algae was creeping up along the log at a visible rate to create a fluffier seat for Randidly to sit on.
In addition to causing the plants in the area to go, it also incited the monsters. Although it hadn’t made itself known, there was an alligator monster that was Level 35 at the bottom of the swamp, staring covetously up at Randidly and his flame. Randidly was surprised by this for several reasons. The first was that largely, Wights had annihilated most antagonistic monsters from the surface of the world in their mad expansion. That this Level 35 creature escaped was somewhat impressive.
The second surprising bit was that it managed to restrain itself. At first, Randidly had noticed it as it prepared to attack. But the longer the monster looked at the flame, the more reserved it became. It was envious, but it dare not strike.
Which was either because it realized that Randidly’s ability to produce the flame spoke to how powerful he was, or because it realized that without Randidly, the flame wouldn't’ exist. Either way, it had grown more intelligent at a rapid clip. That was… worth considering. That even monsters would benefit was something Randidly had not considered.
But the effects of concentration weren’t just for the monster; Randidly also had an idea about Domains he hadn’t before. Besides efficiency and cheating, there was another effect that only a Domain could accomplish.
And that was scale.