The problem, Randidly rapidly realized, was in a difference of attributes. There were only five sword and shield wielding fighters that arrived to hold Randidly off while the rest redeployed, but they were enough to buy a little bit of time. The reason was Health.
One man had his collarbone broken and his thigh slashed by an ashen blade, but he still grimly stood and kept his shield between Randidly and the man with the rapier. Another had been hit by almost a dozen stabs in a split second, leading to liters of blood pouring out onto the arena. Yet the man stood tall, breathing heavily.
Losing a lot of Health quickly came with some side effects. Mostly dizziness and weakness. So Randidly’s strategy thus far had been cutting huge chunks out of the opponent’s Health and breaking through in that opening. But these fucks had so much Health that cutting away about a thousand was something they could withstand.
Not easily, but they managed it. Although the lead two were below Level 50, the rest were not. They were veterans.
Shaking his head, Randidly stopped being gentle; thorned roots speared into their legs and thighs from below. Then Randidly smashed them into the ground for good measure. As he looked up beyond these brave five, a line of about a dozen warriors was already in place, with two men throwing javelins behind that.
It was a small force, but they did obscure Randidly’s view of the two leaders. Siblings. They look similar and work together so well… must be siblings.
But his vision wasn’t all that Randidly relied upon. They couldn’t hide their Aether, so Randidly surged into motion, heading directly for the two siblings. Cut off the head and the rest of the snake will follow.
“Fuck…” Isabella said, scrambling to her feet and cradling her left arm. The limb twisted awkwardly, sending a dagger of pain through her body. “How strong…”
But she didn’t bother to finish the question. With a grimace, Isabella gripped her arm and shoved it into place. For several seconds, she bent over and suppressed the urge to cry as all the nerves in her shoulder screamed bloody murder. But then they slowly settled down, realizing that everything was back to normal.
When she straightened, Pan was standing in front of her. “That’s why you don’t challenge him directly.”
“I know, but…” Isabella said stubbornly. “I thought…”
Pan shook his head. “Alana was right, you can’t treat him like a person; better to think about him as a monster.”
“He fights like a person,” Isabella said waspishly as indignation rose in her chest. But in her heart, she knew that she was just trying to defend her foolish mistake. Randidly Ghosthound’s blows were anything but light.
In fact, Isabella had even been surprised that her arms were numbed by the first strike. It felt like getting punched in the gut even when she blocked it. She was trying to calculate how many of such blows she could endure when he had hit her the second time. Much, much harder.
Grimacing, Pan turned around and looked at the backs of the Squad that moved to protect them. “That’s why he’s so dangerous. But we don’t have time to talk. He’s coming.”
“If we retreat to…” But Isabella trailed off. Their back lines were still engaged in a furious battle with the woman who summoned that strange red sphere. And to their front, huge whips of vines physically battered the twelve defenders to the side, revealing a single figure.
His black hair had grown wild, sticking out over his head. His eyes were emerald green, instantly locking onto Isabella and Pan. Although his body was covered in sprays of blood, Isabella knew that none of it was his own. In his hands was that strange leafy spear.
Perhaps the most disturbing was the phantom behind him, still reaching out covetously toward Isabella, as though she was some object that the crazed monster sought to possess. Isabella shivered in spite of herself.
“Were you talking about me?” Randidly Ghosthound’s grin was wide and vicious. Seeing him now, it was easy to see how this man could have easily created the superpower that was Donnyton. Even his presence was enough for Isabella to feel like he was suffocating. Waves of ash spread outward, darkening the nearby air.
Isabella and Pan didn’t participate in the early Zone trials; they were frozen in stasis until the Zones connected to New Earth. They were one of the first batches of refugees found and brought to Donnyton.
During their training, there was always this sense that they had missed out somewhat by being frozen. All those who survived that time spoke of it in hushed tones. When two strangers both learned they were one of the original members of a Zone, there was instantly a knowing look they exchanged. Both recognized the desperation the other had to go through.
In a similar way, all those individuals never spoke much about Randidly Ghosthound. And when they did speak, it was never casual. His was a name that none of the original inhabitants of Donnyton would willingly bring up. Most of the new members were either obsessed or dismissive of him, thinking that his exploits had been exaggerated.
Neither of these attitudes was enough to draw more than an expression of respect out of the original members.
Isabella hated it. She hated that she felt excluded because of something she couldn't’ control. She hated that the original people of Donnyton treated Randidly like some secret that needed to be kept. She hated how, to them, he was something more than a human.
He was a man, just like everyone else. So Isabella had pushed and prodded until she found a man willing to speak at length about Randidly Ghosthound. His name was Stan, and he was the elected commander of Donnyton’s army based on his tactical acumen.
And all she had managed to get from Stan was the urging to stay away from Randidly Ghosthound, and the following few sentences: “He’s not a fraud; everything you’ve heard is real. In fact, I bet that bastard is twice the monster that people say. But always remember this: his favor is just as dangerous as his ire. The people who interact with him never come away unscathed.”
Which, of course, was endlessly infuriating to Isabella. Yet now, facing him, she understood why the people who had seen Randidly Ghosthound fight didn’t want to speak about it.
To know him was to face your own weakness. And before him, she was just-
“Bella! Get your shield up,” Pan said, smacking her back. By instincts, her left leg pivoted backward and she kept her right arm up as the only exposed portion of her body. Randidly’s attack smashed her backward, sending her sprawling.
Daggers spun in Pan’s hands as he rushed to strike in the opening that Isabella created. Scrambling to her feet, Isabella righted herself just in time to see Pan cursing and cutting away at the ashen blades that cut at him from the sides. All of the attacks concentrated on his legs, seeking to seal Pan’s mobility.
Isabella roared and rushed toward Randidly, but he disappeared and reappeared behind Pan.
Quicker than Isabella could believe, Pan performed a backflip to avoid the spear thrust and flung something down at Randidly. A blade of ash cut the projectile out of the air just before it was going to hit Randidly’s eyes.
To Isabella’s shock, Randidly was grinning at the still midair Pan. “You cut your own arm to get blood to blind me?”
Pan smiled uneasily at Randidly as he twisted through the air. “Well, I haven’t been able to get any of your blood, so…”
Grunting, Randidly gestured and produced thick spikes of plant matter that rushed up toward Pan. Because Isabella could sense the roots and vines that ripped through the warriors that rushed to assist them, she knew that no one would be able to get there in time.
Sibling Bond gave her the burst of speed she needed, closing the distance to Pan in a split second. Two of the spikes she blocked with her shield, while she was forced to slow the others by allowing them to pierce her side and thigh.
Quick as a flash, Pan spun and landed on her upturned stomach, avoiding the spikes. Then he pulverized her organs as he leapt forward toward Randidly, who was only a meter away. Go for it, little brother.
An ashen blade shot out to stop Pan’s thrust, but his Aura Shield emerged and reduced the strength of the attack enough that his arm was just laid bare to the bone, rather than severed.
A sense of elation filled Isabella as she saw Pan’s dagger stab into Randidly’s shoulder. But that feeling of pride was quickly transformed into confusion as both Pan and Randidly stayed very still, allowing Pan’s Stamina Syphon to work.
“...how?” Pan finally asked.
“You can drain me up to your Stamina pool, right? Well, just this little amount… I can eat the cost.”
His spear cut Pan open, blood filling the air in a wide arc. Slowly, Pan toppled over backward. Randidly looked down at them for a second, considering. Finally, he said. “Before you get Level 50… find Nathan.”
Then Isabella passed out. When she awoke, she was told that they hadn’t managed to beat the previous team's record of lasting against Randidly Ghosthound.