Several seconds passed. What was most annoying was that in that same time, the crowd appeared to regain some of its confidence, perhaps boosted by the rather strange turn of events on stage. Several spear users edged towards the stage, perhaps preparing to ascend, joining the increasing number of people on stage.
But Dian flicked her hand, and fresh, wet, and red wounds sprouted from two nearby individual’s necks. The nearby spear users once more scrambled backwards, shocked by the strange turn of events, and Dian nodded seriously. “I’ll keep the trash away. May your battle be long and honorable.”
Tartet and Randidly turned to one another, both frowning, but…
As Randidly looked at that lemon skinned idiot, it was hard not to feel his hackles rise. In the same way, Tartet began to sneer as his eyes ran over Randidly’s worn leathers, and his bare feet. Perhaps there was a smarter way to handle the situation, but both looked at the other and saw a person unworthy of respect. They could not both remain on the stage, allowing the other to persist.
They would need to fight to demonstrate their own worth in their mind. And both knew that the other was thinking along almost the same lines, but it did not matter. It was better this way. There was an answer they would only find after crossing spears, and both were determined to find the answer they wanted.
Randidly moved first, his grip on his spear tight, rushing towards his opponent. But although Randidly moved first, Tartet was the one who seemed to arrive to first, bursting into a flurry of motion, both spears ripping forward in vicious stabs. Gritting his teeth, Randidly unleashed a Phantom Onslaught, barely able to keep up with the amount of blows that the opposing spear user unleashed.
Although Tartet’s attacks were stronger, Randidly’s were faster and more unpredictable, slashing upwards at weird angles, deflecting the strangely vicious strikes of his opponent. But Randidly was forced to use Phantom Onslaught again and again, his stamina rapidly draining down. And from the bright fire in Tartet’s eyes, it did not seem like he was depleting his stamina at the speed Randidly was.
The other had an advantage, and it was slowly pushing Randidly backwards. No longer did he have any attention to spare for Dian or the surrounding contestants, there was only this man in front of him, who was infuriatingly competent with his spear.
But this didn’t discourage Randidly. Instead, it only made him want to be able to triumph even more. In his chest, he felt the stirrings of that frost and lava energy, spreading its tendrils through his limbs. Although he could feel weariness building up, it was nothing compared to the helplessness and fear that Randidly had started with those months ago.
Compared to the fear of death, this was nothing. He had trained for several weeks, preparing for just this. His spear strikes were accurate and tireless, intercepting and deflecting, constantly struggling against the other’s overwhelming power.
Although his breathing was heavy, inwardly Randidly was calm, as he unleashed another Phantom Onslaught, focusing all of his will on the image he had of the move. It was unpredictable, endless, eternal, unavoidable. It flooded towards you, unstoppable. Part of the image was based on the very mental attack that Tartet had used on Randidly. But it was an accurate picture of what Randidly wanted. Those endless, howling spears…
It was a small thing, but Randidly felt his spear attacks during the move becoming more ephemeral and numerous, seeming to come from every direction.
To Randidly’s shock, Tartet just growled, and his spears began to hum and vibrate. Then he launched his attacks, the spears blurring and unpredictable, but also extremely powerful, so much so that the entirety of Phantom Onslaught was blown away.
Luckily it seemed that the unpredictability cut both ways; although there was a split second where Randidly was defenseless, Tartet couldn’t manage to change the path of his attacks, and the strange vibrating thrusts ripped across his ribs and shoulders, inflicting small wounds, but failing to fatally wound Randidly.
Hissing out through his teeth, Randidly relied on Spear Phantom’s Footwork to spin around Tartet, creating some distance. His opponent’s reaction was quick; the other spun around and rushed forward, the spears wildly swinging.
His mouth firming into a line, Randidly planted his feet, lowered himself into one of the strange stances taught to him by the old turtle, activated Haste, Empower, and Mana Strengthening, and used Sweep, his spear whipping around to crash against one of the weird, vibrating attack.
The power of those blows was evenly matched, or even a little in Tartet’s favor, but the momentum of his attack had been stopped. Or at least, that spear had been.
While Randidly was stumbling, shaken and almost unable to grip his spear due to the aftershocks of the collision, Tartet’s other spear ripped forward, aiming for his heart. For once, the strange unpredictability seemed to go Tartet’s way. But Randidly simply stepped backwards, creating space. Tartet leaped forward, following.
Again, Randidly hissed and sidestepped with Spear Phantom’s footwork, avoiding the blow, but Tartet just spun, his eyes burning, barely losing any time before leaping after Randidly. There was something about him, Randidly realized. A strangeness, a pervasive feel to the air. A hunger. His spear, well spears, were hungry, and that feeling infused the entirety of his movements.
Randidly’s eyes narrowed. This was…
A skill set. A complete one, one that was accompanied by a very powerful image. Its effect was obvious, so much so that even he could recognize it relatively quickly. For a moment Randidly considered using a spell, but then he pushed that down, his mouth quirking up into a grin. He would not be able to live with himself if he was walking upon this path, only to willingly leave it.
“Then let’s see which of our images can carry us farther.” Randidly whispered, his feet moving in a strange, profound way. Of all the things Shal had seen of his, he had only received a compliment on one of them; that in terms of running away, he could be considered to have talent. This was the Spear Phantom, the warrior who could perfectly control his positioning in battle.
Randidly moved to the side and Tartet followed, roaring and accelerating. Again, Randidly slid out of the way, and Tartet was forced to twist and leap in a new direction. But Randidly was already dodging, moving out of the path of those wild spears. Now Tartet was roaring aloud, his eyes scrunched and furious.
They twisted and turned, one constantly following the other, their speed slowly increasing. Strangely, Tartet managed to maintain his momentum, slowly building in intensity until his tendons and muscles strained and thrummed, throwing him back and forth, turning on a dime.
But Randidly was even more impressive, and he felt it, or at least the edges of it. The utility of these steps, in controlling this space that he could use to trick an opponent. Tartet wasn’t an opponent that was pay attention to feints, but in that moment, Randidly felt those steps too, the infinite possibilities, the steps leading in 1000 different paths. First Haste, then Empower, and now Mana Strengthening, he used all of his combat skills, pushing his speed further and further, leading Tartet on a wild chase.
It was obvious to Randidly that Tartet couldn’t handle the speed for much longer. Their was a hair of hesitation during the turn where there wasn’t before, as his opponent struggled to keep his feet while they danced back and forth. But Randidly’s stamina and mana depleted just as rapidly, limiting how long he could continue like this.
Or it would, if not for…
His expression remaining placid, even as his fury burned hot and proud in his chest, he drew 300 Stamina from the rings on his fingers, upping the speed a little bit more, appearing behind Tartet and finally attacking with a Phantom Thrust.
For a second, Randidly thought that the attack would hit his opponent without a hitch. But then Tartet spun weirdly, causing the attack to only inflict a flesh wound, and also positioning himself with one spear held high and angled downward, the other low and angled upwards.
Before he could react, those spears snapped forward, like the jaws of a wolf, one ripping a gash in Randidly’s thigh, the other digging a deep hole in his shoulder. Just as quick, they pulled back into that position, and then sprung forward, that hunger that pervaded his spear style howling, wanting more.
But Randidly had already activated Phantom Half-Step several times in a row during that split second, teleporting himself some distance away. He had teleported himself so far away that he was off the stage, and tumbled into the crowd.
His fall knocked some individuals over, splattering them with his blood. They yelled first in shock, and then in anger, and regained their feet and rushed towards him, spears raised. They were like bottom feeders, avoiding the strong, but content to attack the weak. Randidly didn’t spare them a glance, instead, he was staring at Tartet.
After Randidly retreated rapidly backwards, Tartet sneered down at him, and then turned away. With a clear dismissal, Tartet walked cautiously towards Dian.
The disappointment in Randidly’s chest was hot and fresh, and strangely familiar. It was the same feeling he had gotten when he had conceded the match against Donnyton’s Classers. It was the bitter truth that his spear skills were not enough alone for him to win here. Although he truly had some talent when it came to dodging, using Spear Phantom’s Footwork, his spear work hadn’t come together enough for him to inflict damage with his attacks. He simply would walk into traps in that way.
The spear users around him surged closer, thrusting out with their weapons, their faces gleeful and vindictive. Still Randidly ignored them, his pulse pounding in his ears.
He had wanted this to go differently. He had wanted his spear arts to slowly grow through battle, becoming peerless in a single day. Idiocy.
His fists clenched. This was a lot like the Donnyton challenges all over again, but he had been even more harsh on his inclusion of moves. Another difference was that when it came down to it… The only thing holding him back was his pride, not fear of killing. So this challenge would turn out very, very differently, that Randidly swore.
With blazing eyes, Randidly activated Agony, which smashed outward, turning those gleeful faces into stunned and stupefied expressions. A dozen Phantom Thrusts ripped out, killing the briefly stunned spear users around him.
Some of the others were able to withstand the pain, but they still looked at Randidly with fearful expressions. Dropping all pretenses, Randidly drew several potions, one Health, one Mana, and three Stamina, and drank them all, putting him much closer to an optimal condition. His flesh slowly closed, the bleeding ceasing. Blood continued to pound wildly in his ears. The Aether in his chest was furiously pulsing now.
“Fine,” Randidly growled, hopping back up onto the platform. “Let’s play for keeps.”