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A note from puddles4263

6/14

Mrs. Hamilton gritted her teeth as Annie, Decklan, and Kayle all collapsed around Randidly. His propensity for eliminating the sharpest and most powerful warriors on Earth was staggering. These losses were a bitter price to pay for only a few tenths of a second of keeping the man still within the swirling geometric patterns of the magic circles that Beryl created.

And of course, doubly bitter because it wasn’t enough.

But just as Mrs. Hamilton raised her own weapons in a foolish attempt to buy time for Donny to move into position, Sam appeared there in front of Randidly with his glowing hammer raised. A minuscule blizzard raged around him, swirling its cold tendrils to slap into Randidly’s face and pull at his armor.

Randidly’s eyes were twice as cold as that condensed frost as he considered Sam, his meaning clear from his expression. This is not your battlefield Sam. You are not a warrior. If you don’t yield now, you will fall.

Despite the obvious provocation in that split second of connection, Sam’s shoulders didn’t bow. Despite the flaws in his form, Sam still raised the hammer high over his head and brought it crashing down in a violent arc. Despite the fact that it was perhaps a futile strike, still Sam swung. And in that, Mrs. Hamilton saw Sam’s firm answer.

You do not know all of me, Randidly Ghosthound.

Blurring into motion, Randidly’s spear shot upward to meet the attack. But before it could arrive, Sam twisted his wrist sharply and flicked the hammer downward. The cold and momentum that he had built were shattered, exploding like a grenade between the two of them. Shards of ice and frost were the deadly shrapnel, piercing toward Randidly and Sam alike.

Perhaps in an even more bitter twist, the force of the twitch was such that the head part of the hammer pressed downward and fractured the shaft, the weapon itself breaking. Undeterred, Randidly’s thrust crashed into the freely floating hammerhead as it aimed itself toward Sam’s chest.

Crack.

However, Randidly had underestimated Sam’s resolve or perhaps his own strength. When he hit the hammerhead, the strange runes that covered the azure hammer were already dimming. Much of the animating force that Sam had lovingly crafted into its nature was broken now that the head had separated from the intricately carved shaft. At the moment, it was simply an extremely rare hunk of materials.

Unstable materials that had previously bound tightly by Sam’s will.

BOOOOM.

Cold swept outward in a nova, covering both Sam and Randidly with a thick layer of frost. Just as soon as Mrs. Hamilton’s eyes gathered this information, Sam collapsed and Randidly shattered the frost around him with a viciously determined expression. Binding of that level could barely hold him down for a fraction of a second. Above Randidly, the magic circles continued to turn and multiply.

I need more time, Mrs. Hamilton thought bitterly. Her mind scrambled to find any leverage she could use to keep him still. But in terms of power, without any tricks, she-

And in that second Donny was there, lashing out with his shield. Almost on instinct, Randidly unleashed that vicious left punch with his mechanical arm. This time, however, Donny was prepared for the abrupt attack.

“Steadfast!” He shouted, crouching to strengthen his stance and raising his shield in his own defense. In that same moment, someone stepped out of Donny’s back like it was a trap door that was flipped open.

Even with the Steadfast Skill, Donny was smashed downward by the punch. A fist-sized indentation was left in his shield. After falling to one knee, he struggled back to his feet even as the ground beneath him cracked. But he managed to straighten into a battle stance by the time Randidly’s emerald eyes shifted to the individual who had just emerged from Donny’s back. His shield once more smashed forward toward Randidly’s face.

Bodyguard was a Skill that Donny had obtained by happenstance, a Skill that gave a minor boost in stats to the user while protecting someone. More than that, it was discovered that leveling the Skill gave an incredibly benefit: for a few seconds, you could “absorb” the individual you were guarding to prevent them from being harmed.

And the time limit of this effect greatly increased with Skill Level.

Raina’s eyes flashed as she considered Randidly’s wounded and scowling form. Even although they had thrown everything Donnyton possessed at him, Randidly still stood tall and proud. He had a circlet of emerald fire and a crown of pale metal. His wounds were visible, but his stance was clear; he would be the victor on this day.

Raina’s abilities were strong, but overwhelming a rested individual’s Willpower was almost impossible. Only after pushing him to the edge was Mrs. Hamilton willing to use this blade against Randidly. After all, there was a secret fear in her heart that Randidly would have too much left in the tank, and the Skill would rebound and injure Raina.

Raina’s smile threw off enough voltage that it was immediately clear why she could become a pop idol. Then she spoke, her gaze never leaving Randidly’s. “Be Still.”

Randidly froze, his eyes glazing over slightly. Mrs. Hamilton’s breath caught in her throat. Time stretched as the magic circles continued their glacial revolution around Randidly’s head. Slowly, the Skill came closer to fruition. This was the edge they needed, the last trick they kept in order to land this blow against Randidly. If this failed now-

A half-second passed before there was any change. The Skill was almost entirely done. Joy came unbidden to Mrs. Hamilton, surprising her with its intensity. She hadn’t truly realized how desperately she wanted to win.

Then the spell was broken. Unfortunately, the one to move was Raina.

She coughed, then collapsed. Blood was streaming out of her eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Immediately, Mrs. Hamilton grimaced. Although she caught Randidly by surprise, it was clear that his mental strength was still far from something Raina could suppress for long.

As Randidly’s gaze focused once more, his expression had changed to something feral. For the third time this match, his gaze cut sideways to Mrs. Hamilton. Fury had housed itself in that emerald gaze, with enough intensity that Mrs. Hamilton felt a formless pressure against her psyche even from this distance.

I know how much you hate mental attacks… but that is part of our strength. Mrs. Hamilton said, annoyed at herself at needing to vocalize these reasons when it was only herself she was convincing with the explanation. Besides… that half-second was enough. You’ve lost.

“Isolate!” Beryl shouted.

There was a flash of light as the magic circle around Randidly erupted with brilliance. Almost immediately that light disappeared and revealed a furious Randidly still glaring at Mrs. Hamilton. The pressure from his eyes smashed into her, fresh as a spring dawn. Willing her heartbeat to slow down to normal levels, Mrs. Hamilton stepped to the side so that Randidly was no longer glaring directly at her.

Randidly’s gaze did not follow her. Instead, it remaining fixed on the spot where she had just stood. Mrs. Hamilton released a breath and then sent a message to Alana.

It’s time.

Alana’s reply was not what Mrs. Hamilton wanted to hear. If I leave now, Helen will likely overwhelm Dozer.

Mrs. Hamilton’s fingers were moving as fast as she could move them, gathering a net of strings around Randidly. But defeating him is the win condition. Regardless if Dozer falls, all of this is over if we can hurt Randidly now. Hurry, before-

The ground around Randidly cracked as he threw himself directly up into the air. Cursing, Mrs. Hamilton tightened her net, but he had reacted too quickly. He shot directly upward, escaping her web before it could even be woven.

Mrs. Hamilton could only stare grimly up at Randidly. Then she prepared for his descent.

*****

The abrupt return of darkness to Randidly’s life was shocking and not what he had expected from the drawn out cast of a Skill. He had been curious about the magical formation that they were attempting to work on him, but confident that he could it even to the last moment; he had been completely surprised by the emergence of Raina from Donny.

So… that bundle of Aether was another person wrapped in a Skill, Randidly thought bitterly. Even now, he gritted his teeth at the thought of Raina’s abilities. Extremely dangerous, will warping abilities. That Mrs. Hamilton used them against him…

But that brought Randidly back to the problem at hand. He believed he was gritting his teeth. But there was actually no way of knowing whether he was. Rather than the previous darkness he had encountered in the prison, this new darkness was total. It was less darkness and more oblivion. Rather than not having access to light, Randidly didn’t have access to the information from his eyes.

Or from his hands, or ears, or nose, or skin. There was nothing around him. The last thing Randidly remembered was the word ‘Isolate’ and then everything was cut off. In this oblivion, he was stranded.

Alone with his thoughts, surrounded by the remnants of his enemies.

However, he still had access to his inner world, which allowed him to see his Stats and Attributes. It seemed he wasn’t affected by any other unusual states or wounds, and his Health hadn’t decreased at all. Therefore, it seemed likely that he was simply denied access to his senses; he hadn’t actually been hurt or moved.

So he immediately leapt upward, to buy himself some time to figure out what to do next.

Without the feeling of his body or the air touching his skin, the sudden series of commands he sent to his unresponsive body felt... extraordinarily strange. More than that, Randidly had to focus his already taxed mind in order to remember how he had been standing exactly before he had been cut off from himself.

If his understanding slipped even a little, he would just be a sitting duck flailing around on the stage. But if his powerful Control could perform perfectly…

Randidly grinned. A setback, sure. Long term, Randidly would lose if he could not finish this battle quickly. Even his Control and Intelligence would slip up eventually. But Randidly had already been born again in darkness. He did not fear the demons that emerged without the veil of the world.

In fact, Randidly was now counting on them.

What is within, without. What is without, within.

Images bloomed around him. The sound of the Grim Chimera’s heavy breath came from above him. From this close proximity, Randidly could even feel the immense amount of heat radiating from the Chimera’s cursed body, and hear the labored breaths that revealed how much pain it endured just to survive.

But Randidly also felt something else as the Grim Chimera raised its head in the darkness. His grin widened.

In the oblivion around him, as the Grim Chimera’s aura spread outward… it eventually encountered obstructions. Areas where its aura couldn’t easily penetrate.

Other individuals who resisted.

Individuals who used images. One, in particular, was walking directly toward him, throwing off the scent of wind and battle and glory and victory. A glittering valkyrie, riding to slay the monster.

Well, hello.

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