That was the real change, Randidly slowly realized, as their fight continued. The Yeti’s strength had increased by a factor of 5, but that could be explained by having access to a greater portion of his actual stats and skill levels. After all, the attacks were faster, but its speed hadn’t increased as much as Randidly’s had, Randidly was able to maintain his defensive posture to his training, but it was slowly being chipped away, even as the Aether pulsed in his chest.
Because, Randidly realized, the Yeti was like him; or perhaps not like him, but an individual who practiced both physical and mana based skills. And mana based skills were its forte.
He hadn’t realized it until it was too late, but whenever the Yeti swung its hammer, a wave of cold was rushed forward. And sure, getting hit with it once or twice didn’t mean much. But by the 20th time…
They clashed again, the Yeti smashing sideways with his hammer. Randidly leaned back, grimacing and the edge of the hammer knocked against his chest with its passage, doing minimal physical damage, but greatly strengthening the thin layer of frost across his body.
Randidly growled, and felt the Aether heat up within him. He narrowed his eyes and pounded on his chest, shattering the small bits of frost and getting some blood pumping through his body. Shifting his stance, Randidly wondered how his feet managed to survive this, being bare. He supposed it had to do with his high vitality, but he definitely had no feeling in them right now. But still, the executed the Spear Phantom’s Footwork perfectly, somehow pushing through.
Then it struck him that it was perhaps those warm, life giving tendrils of energy that wound up through the ground and into his feet, spreading the energy he had drawn from the Earth beneath him into his limbs.
But the Yeti interrupted his train of thought again as it pointed with its hammer of ice, and a beautiful crystal clear flower bulb formed, both to his left and right. Grimacing, Randidly leapt forward, right into the Yeti’s arms as those bulbs bloomed, and a deadly wave of cold blasted outwards from them, freezing the ground solid for several meters.
It really did seem like the Yeti was toying with him, because it didn’t rely on those tricks too often, only now and again, to drive Randidly closer to it for a close quarters fight, where it could use those weapons, and its hands, covered in a golden Engraving. The surety and focus it had on those methods of attack was unnerving.
Randidly still hadn’t figured out the effect, but the Yeti kept emphasizing it, so he remained wary. When Randidly was forced to leap towards him, the Yeti thrust his attack forward, simply smashing the head of the hammer towards Randidly’s shoulder.
Gritting his teeth, Randidly galvanized the Aether in his body as best he could to resist the creeping cold that surrounded him. Randidly hopped to the right. He dodged the first attack, but then the Yeti ripped horizontally with the hammer, looking to knock Randidly’s head right off his body. This was also dodged, relatively simply, but then the Yeti once more dropped his hammers and rushed forward, arms raised in something like a boxing stance.
Just as he was about to back up, he noticed that more ice bulbs formed behind him, slowly spreading their frozen petals and blooming, creating an instantaneous cold snap that Randidly had no interest in being a part of. So instead, Randidly rushed forward, lashing out with a Roundhouse Kick.
The Yeti took it to the chest and was hardly phased. Instead, it just stepped up and started to throw hooks and straights, smashing blows against his shoulders and stomach. Randidly used the spear as best he could to block the attacks, but the Yeti was so large, and the spear was so unwieldy up close, that he realized it was useless; instead, Randidly put the spear away and began to dodge and weave through the blows.
With its hands continuing to glow with that strange golden Engraving, the Yeti struck, again and again, earning himself many glancing blows, and an increasing number of serious ones that sent Randidly staggering, seeing stars. But as they continued to fight, as the cold began to wear on him, and Randidly was growing increasingly worried about his ability to hold on, the Yeti began to frown.
“You… how many lives have you taken in order to walk this far down this path…?”
What was more surprising than the statement, was the fact that Randidly’s own heart dropped, and he smiled bitterly as he heard those words. He had not forgotten the innocent lives he had taken. He had not turned a blind eye to the fact he chose a path that made him willing to kill for strength. Even in the Badlands, he had broken and shattered the lives of other Spear Users in order to discover his own strength.
In a way, Randidly was able to justify it in the moment, because he knew they would do the same to him to grow stronger, and they bore him no ill will for being stronger than them. But when the facts of what he had done were presented to him…
Some of his sensitivities from pre-system Earth had grown numb in this place, but not all of them.
But then the Yeti continued to speak, and Randidly realized that there was some misunderstanding going on here.
“-these strikes should seal the Aether devoured from others…. Why is it you haven’t gone through withdrawal?”
Both of the fighters paused, looking deeply into each other’s eyes for an answer. Randidly’s mind raced. Aether devoured from others…? Was that… possible…?
Well, from the way the Yeti was talking, and its confusion now, it definitely was. Which would explain more broadly why the Heretic Path existed. Randidly was not the typical recipient of it, he just found himself here because…
Because he had his own Aether spring that wasn’t the system approved source of Aether? But why-
It seemed however, that the Yeti was tired of Randidly’s lack of answer, and was determined to beat the answer out of him, if he had to. Which was becoming increasingly likely, as the chill worked its way deeper into Randidly’s body, even as his mana was directed… elsewhere. As the Yeti began to stalk forward, and bulbs of ice formed behind Randidly, so close that at least one of them would blast him with its cold snap, slowing his movements even further, Randidly considered throwing away his Plan A.
But then a voice alleviated his worries.
“Yet again, foolish disciple, I find you without a spear.”
Randidly suppressed his grin, and said seriously. “I was just biding my time. Waiting for you to finish.”
Shal snorted, Randidly glanced at him. Although Shal appeared to be covered in blood, none of it seemed to be his; there were no wounds on his body. Behind him, the woman, Marco, and Teliph stood. Randidly didn’t need to ask what happened to the other man.
From the look in Shal’s eyes, Randidly also didn’t need to explain the mustached man’s absence; this level of casualties was expected. “Hmph, you have become dull from overtraining against weaklings. Since you were simply biding your time, you likely need no assistance to-”
“Obviously,” Randidly said with relish, finally activating the roots he had been so carefully controlling. The whole tower shook, and then chunks of it fell away as the roots Randidly had been working within the stone work wiggled back and forth, destroying the material that held the impenetrable material together.
The Yeti yelped as it fell down, the ground beneath it collapsing. Then it began to howl and roar. Not all of the tower collapsed, just large chunks of it, but the overall structure and shape stayed the same. After all, Randidly was worried about whether the portal would be maintained if he destroyed the tower. Plus, the core of the tower was made entirely of that material, and Randidly didn’t even know if he could destroy it. But he had certainly brainstormed this method to rid the upper floor of any obstacles.
Some parts of the floor seemed to be like a half built tower, where chunks of the material fell away after Randidly used his roots to destroy the mortar that held it together. The rest was relatively untouched, although Randidly destroyed most of the lower floors, causing the confused guards who were still on them, fighting against the mini-yetis, to crash into a heap at the bottom.
Randidly did his best not to think about how many of those men and women died during the fall, although it was becoming increasingly difficult to avoid feeling weighed down by their lives.
Unwilling to respond to Randidly’s small bragging as the Judgement was sent falling to the bottom of the tower, Shal simply walked forward with a snort. The others followed, although Teliph gave Randidly a strange glance. Sighing, Randidly followed. He felt suddenly very tired, and it wasn’t just the cold, although that still persisted, annoyingly.
They walked towards the center of the tower and swiftly found a few mini yetis, and the portal. But as they were approaching the flickering thing, the roaring from below grew louder. Shal gave Randidly a withering glance.
“Buy us some more time. If it follows us directly out, it might… complicate things.” Shal whispered shortly, as he led the rest of the group towards the portal. Almost unwilling, Randidly went back to the edge of an area where some of the masonry had fallen away to get a better view of the carnage below. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe getting rid of the Judgement was a good idea, but…
But when looked down through the hole in the upper layer, seeing how he had basically destroyed most of the floors, he could only think of the guards that he had killed. Randidly’s face tightened. Fucking, he knew… He knew this was necessary… He wanted the power that he could only get by walking this path…. So why was it so difficult to accept?!?!
The Yeti howled upward, finally done playing, finally displaying the full majesty of a Judgement. Bulbs of ice formed and bloomed all around it. Huge, draconic wings of ice stretched from its back. It bared its teeth at him as it raced upwards.
Fury filled Randidly’s chest, an urge to kill, but there was another part of himself, a part that had been asleep quite a bit for the past two years, but it was beginning to grow increasingly active, that just sighed; he was only angry because he was upset.
“Shut the fuck up.” Randidly whispered, his eyes narrowed. He raised his hand and shot several Incinerating Bolts downward. His training in that regard had paid dividends, because they managed to make it through the wave of cold surrounding the Yeti and punch holes in its dragon wings. Its flight path faltered, but then the creature bellowed, and the temperature seemed to immediately drop, as if in response to its call.
Randidly threw down 7 more incinerating bolts, ripping hole after hole through its wings, but with the boost of the cold, the ice reformed, and although Randidly’s attack had stopped it briefly, it now began to beat its wings and ascend upwards. It was only 2 floors away, and it reached out its hand, 5 ice bulbs shooting upwards.
“I said… Shut. The. Fuck. Up.” Randidly’s voice was cold, and his eyes burned emerald. He felt the power of Inspire fill him, and he used it to unleash a huge Incinerating Bolt that ripped downwards towards the Yeti.