“He is not invulnerable, but he’s good at almost everything.” Decklan turned, surprised to find Lyra standing next to him. She tucked her blonde hair behind her ear in a motion that was so human that Decklan was chilled to the bone. She looked at the Ghosthound thoughtfully for several seconds, and then said. “He’s also packing a lot more firepower than he’s currently letting on, which is the real trouble with bringing him down. If you push him, he will push back, hard.”
Decklan nodded slowly, doing his best to seem casual. Everyone had heard about Lyra’s “death”, but her continued presence took the bite out of that somewhat for most people. Fortunately or unfortunately, Decklan was not most people. During the chaos of the previous day, Decklan had quietly reached Lvl 30, and earned himself another class skill: Instincts of a Killer.
And right now, all they were saying was that the thing standing next to him speaking, was dead.
“Using your new status as town Spirit to cheat?” Decklan asked, surprised by how unnerving he found her. Even a Tier II Raid Boss didn’t give him hibigeebies like she did.
“No.” Her eyes burned violet for a brief moment. “This is… an old skill.”
Decklan turned back to the arena as the aggression from Alec’s skill overpowered his caution and he charged forward, axe raised. All at once, the Ghosthound blurred, springing into motion so fast that Decklan could barely believe it. Decklan had some tricks too, and knew how to fool the eye into losing sight of him, but this…
This was a pure difference in skills.
A Roundhouse Kick struck a confused Alec in the temple knocking him senseless. The Ghosthound slowly stood, turning to the group of watchers.
“The 3rd Squad of Donnyton has fallen. Who dares fill the gap?”
There was a long silence before anyone spoke. Then tension rose, as Squad III was dragged off of the arena by the healers, and their wounds were repaired. Decklan remained still, waiting. All the defeated squads sat, looking at them with serious eyes. Although they had each individually failed against the Ghosthound, they had hope that Donnyton’s best could grasp victory. They hoped, not that their guardian angel would fall, but more that the town would succeed. That they had finally reached the point that they could stand on their own, without relying on him.
The Ghosthound waited, brooding silently. Decklan had heard Dozer and Donny’s theories about why this was happening, and perhaps there was merit to it. There could be no doubt that the Ghosthound had returned from Franksburg with more of an edge to him.
But ultimately, this was a battle that was about the fate of the town. On this day, they would decide whether they would live forever in the shadow of the Ghosthound, or... Almost on cue, Donny stepped forward, his head raised high. “The First Raid Party of Donnyton dares.”
He really had come a long way, this past month, growing into his role as leader. Only intermittently would the teen that he really was show through, and then it was only in forgivable, slightly comical doses. Gone were the days of bluster and cowardice. Now his shield was always the first thing an enemy would see before battle was joined.
With an even stride, he led the 50 individuals who would be taking part in this final battle out onto the arena. They had debated heatedly, but at the end, they reduced their squads to only the most necessary, the best of the best, in terms of stats and skill levels. Against the Ghosthound, there was nothing else they could do. He would rip through weak links.
“...Do you truly wish to come with so many?” The Ghosthound asked, seemingly bored.
Annie, stringing her bow, raised an eyebrow. “Scared?”
Everyone shifted uncomfortably, as they moved into position, as if Annie hadn’t spoken. They did feel slightly guilty throwing everything at him, but….
“Yes,” Donny answered coolly, drawing his sword. “This is Donnyton’s full strength.”
The Ghosthound just smiled.
Randidly closed his eyes, breathing in and out. Although he would do his best to avoid inflicting anything that would kill any of them, he would hold nothing back. He would crush them as best he could.
They had to learn helplessness. Only then could their resolve be firmed, and they could reach forward towards strength.
Randidly opened his eyes and scanned the crowd. Donny, Dozer, and Decklan were obvious inclusions in the Raid Party. The leaders of Squad I and II were also there. Ptolemy and another healer stood at the back, surrounded by a thick wall of bodies. Annie stood at the back as well, sticking her tongue out him, which almost made Randidly grin.
Looking away, Randidly scanned the crowd. Lyra would of course be watching, but not likely somewhere he could see…
But that Randidly blinked, when he saw Lyra standing there, slender and sad looking, with her hair hanging loose down to her shoulders. Ever since becoming aware of the frigid and yet fiery energy that pulsed within him, Randidly had been cognizant that there was… something between him and Lyra. He had always been drawn to her, but now he was slowly realizing that it was related to that energy; it was more than a simple human attraction.
They were pushed, towards one another, from the very get go. That energy was guiding them towards one another. But now that she was… well, whatever she was… the connection had grown more tenuous, although it hadn’t yet frayed into oblivion. Although slowly, very slowly, it was weakening.
The whole situation was disturbing on so many levels. At the very least, once he recognized the connection as something he had been subconsciously feeling for a while, Randidly finally put all doubt to rest about who this new Village Spirit was. It was, without a doubt, Lyra.
But as he looked at her, he wondered if things would continue to change between them as the connection frayed. Their interactions had been violent, and mocking, at least for Lyra’s part, but it was… fun.
Randidly had never been one to care for respect from others, and he rather enjoyed the passionate exchanges they had. And now… now that might be ending. Had she been only drawn to him because of their connection, formed through this strange energy, this “Aether”?
And why would the system draw them together…?
For almost 30 seconds, their gazes locked.
Suddenly, they both laughed. Lyra flickered out of existence, and Randidly turned back to the raid party, smiling.
At that moment, he had no doubt that Lyra’s thoughts had almost mirrored his own. Even if they were no longer what they had been… they were still similar.
As time continued, Randidly removed several rings that he had Sam made earlier in the day, and slipped them on his fingers. His talks with the potion makers here had gone well, and they were now hard at work, gathering the materials to create more potions. 10 rings an all, each with around 60 worth of storage. 300 Stamina and 300 mana, waiting for the moment where he needed it.
HIs ace in the hole, although Randidly suspected that this would swiftly become a battle of attrition. Health, Mana, and Stamina would ultimately be the limiting factors on him. But he made no effort to store health. That was never his game. His top end performance was undoubtedly what gave him the ability to battle, while the numerosity of this opponents meant that once that ran out, it would be much more difficult to continue.
He would either crush them with skill, or be worn down by numbers. With a mild gaze, Randidly looked at Donny. “Are you prepared?”
Lyra felt the summons coming even as she maintained eye contact with Randidly. Smiling softly to herself, she turned away, allowing her body to slowly disperse, while her core was strangely teleported away, off the planet Earth and to a place deep within the realms of the Nexus. If the connection between Randidly and herself fell to pieces, so be it. Just because the system no longer pushed them together, didn’t mean it couldn’t happen anyway.
Her body recondensed, and Lyra found herself standing on a dais. Opposite her, also on a dias, was a grey blob that she recognized as Kimmy, and a floating eye ball. She winked at them both, and was delighted to see the blob begin to roil, and the eyeball scrunch itself up into a ball of annoyance.
A higher dias completed their triangle, and on it sat a creature with the head of a Rhinoceros. The area around them was filled with waves of color, like they were inside the aurora borealis, but none of the other 3 seemed to pay it much attention. Instead, Lyra coolly glanced around, demonstrating how unruffled she was by the whole ordeal.
Sitting below them, on a lower level, were dozens of… creatures, who appeared to be typing and writing, talking back and forth, as if they were simply working in an office. Lyra used her skill Eyes of Wonder and glanced around again.
She was amused to find that the two individuals on the dias opposite her, which were likely Nul and Kimmy, barely had a thimble’s worth of Aether between them. Meanwhile, she had about 2.5 Aether Springs within her, 1 for Donnyton, 1 for beating a Trainee level tribulation, and .5 from Turtletown being absorbed by Kimmy prior to her own subsequent absorption.
But she was chilled to find that the Rhinoman burned with Aether in her vision, on another level altogether.
“Ahem,” The Rhino spoke, with a surprisingly soft voice. “I, Octavias Shrike, do hereby call this hearing to order. The conduits are below, bearing witness, may the will of Aether be served. Err…. Mr… Nulmilima, you may begin. Please present your evidence.”
10 seconds crept past after the two sides both acknowledged they were ready, with no motion on either side. The tension was almost unbearable for the crowd, who were locked in agonizing stillness, not able to move, lest they miss what happened, when it happened.
Ever the profane, Annie loosed an arrow, which shot through the lines, screaming towards the Ghosthound. As it whistled past, several individuals sprang into motion, following it in a low sprint, led by Paolo and Kayle. Decklan moved like a ghost among them, not ready to attack, but wanting to use this opportunity to close the distance between them.
Dozer fell back, setting himself in from of Annie, club raised. Donny began to march forward with his squad, intent on surrounding the Ghosthound. The mages prepped themselves, waiting for the Ghosthound’s response, ready to bombard him at the slightest sign of space.
They did not have to wait long.
“Pierce the Skies, Shatter the Earth.” the Ghosthound’s form blurred upward, before falling down back behind Donny’s squad, putting himself between the tanks and the healers. His ascent was so rapid that he slipped past the arrow, and the vanguard only had time to turn before he crashed to the ground, leaving large cracks in the carefully constructed arena.
The healers and mages were close, and stunned by the blast of force and dust, but most of Dozer’s squad was around him now, and they were very quick to regain their footing, leaping forward. The Ghosthound’s eyes landed on the nearest person, a young man with short hair and brown skin, who wielded a heavy iron ball on the end of a chain.
The wave of pain billowed outward, afflicting them all. The closest were the most powerfully affected, and they seemed to be frozen, unable to compute the mental strain they were abruptly placed under. In the Ghosthound’s mind, it was only an annoying buzzing at the edges of his nerves, but he remembered how the whole world seemed to warp under that wave of pain, the first time he experienced it.
Of course, these individuals might not have the stats that the Ghosthound did at the time, but they surely had more levels than he had, and the young man in front of him had gritted his teeth and forced his eyes to focus on the enemy in front of him. But of course, this was only the beginning.
“Circle of Flame.”
Fire crashed outward, knocking most of Dozer’s squad on their asses, already barely managing to handle the crushing pain. Donny’s squad was hurrying around, but the Ghosthound was much too quick, and he streaked towards the heavy mages with the middle of the formation, his agony crushing their ability to respond intelligently.
A few were able to raise their hands to cast icicles and fireballs, but they were easily dodged. However, a whistling cause the Ghosthound to still, a arrow whizzing in front of his face. Immediately, he raised a hand and pointed.
The burning projectile ripped forward, burning Annie follow up arrow to a crisp. Dozer stepped forward, raising his club to block the magical attack. To his surprise, the spell bore a hole straight through the enchanted metal of the rare club he had obtained from a dungeon, and ripped a huge hole in his bicep.
The defense had saved Annie, but it spelled doom for the heavy mages; while Annie was prevented from firing, the Ghosthound arrived among them, breaking their legs, knocking them out, and then tossing them out of the arena.
The Ghosthound turned slowly, his eyes blazing emerald. His message clear.
Had this been real, those people would have just died. Donnyton would have suffered losses, not 20 seconds into the battle. Their damaging magics were sealed.
This was his true strength. This was the monster that could defeat a tribulation before even obtaining a class. This was the one who made Donnyton possible, who made sure it thrived.
This was the legend named Randidly Ghosthound.