Randidly sat, meditating, during the long break between the 1st and 2nd matches.
It wasn’t a difficulty of execution, it was a difficulty of balance and control. Although the skills had merged and become one larger skill, they still were activated relatively separately. He needed to focus on his movements, the image, the feints, and the mental attack all at once. It felt almost impossible on its own.
Still, every portion itself had a vastly increased effectiveness, so there were no real downsides to using the skill. But it was frustrating that he kept failing to achieve the perfect balance while moving. And the participants in the tournament were kept in the lower level, along these benches, so they couldn’t receive any help. In that way, it was fair, for the seeded individuals remained here as well.
But Randidly very much wanted to be underneath an open sky, so he could use his raincloud and his concentration belt in conjunction to really nail down how they should be combined. It hadn’t been easy, but it had been much more manageable this morning with the belt. Here, he had access to neither, and it was profoundly difficult to wrestle with the balance.
What he needed, really, was experience. Experience using the skill. Training, repetition. Randidly had grown strong, but that was through time. He wasn’t the genius type who could pick something up instantly when given it. He had to struggle his way forward.
His mouth narrowed into a thin line. Which was why Randidly was worried about the next match. It wasn’t necessarily against a seeded individual, but it could be. And based on the fact that he was able to defeat that seeded girl earlier, perhaps they would respond powerfully, seeking to crush him and knock him out of the tournament…
It was frustrating both to feel targeted, and also to feel helpless before their attempts. Randidly truly lacked the power to resist the upper level of these disciples. He could only endure.
At the point that he had completely dissected his experience in the past battle, and would no longer gain anything more from dwelling on it, Randidly switched to focusing on his image for the Golden Roots of Yggdrasil. His mind traced through the powerful roots that stretched downward, absorbing the strength from the ground beneath him, but now his attention rose, and he thought about himself, the trunk of the tree, the place where all these roots joined.
It didn’t have to be perfect, but he simply needed to focus on what that image was…
Very quickly, he lost himself in it, feeling the disparate golden lines slowly knitting themselves together in one powerful golden band that would funnel energy into him. It pulsed with power, its light becoming more and more reserved, yet somehow more concrete.
Time slowly passed, and when he heard his name, Randidly smiled ruefully. So they chose Dian, for his opponent for this round. How… simplistic. Did they know that they came from the same preliminary? Or was it simply enough for them that they were two individuals from a preliminary, who both remained in the tournament, where most others had lost. It also seemed like Dian was the one “Prince” who had won in spite of what they had thrown at her yesterday, so perhaps this was a punishment for her as much as it was for him, or even more so.
Randidly ascended to the stage, and was once more faced by the woman with fiery red hair. Her gaze had been sharp and searching last time they met, but now it was more determined and wary. It might have been a function of what she had experienced to get to this point, or maybe some of her resolve for vengeance had faded. Either way, the intensity remained.
“It’s been a while.” Randidly offered.
Dian was silent, her eyes burning. She simply lifted her spear and pointed it towards his heart. Randidly chuckled. In a way, it was relieving. He wasn’t the type to want to talk before a fight. He had simply done it because it seemed polite. Everything would be decided by spears anyway, why would they bother to communicate any other way?
“Are both fighters ready?” The referee asked, and immediately Dian launched herself forward, that strange, vicious energy gathering around her as she charged towards Randidly.
Randidly’s eyes narrowed. The referee frowned, but said nothing, backing out of the way. So it would stand, huh? So be it.
“Wall of Thorns!” Randidly called, erecting a thick barrier in Dian’s path. His eyes immediately narrowed, and he lowered himself into a very grounded stance. Golden Roots of Yggdrasil switched to the active mode, and he felt hot power flood his limbs as his Stamina began to drain away at a huge clip.
He focused, forcing his will to conjure a palpable phantom for the Inevitable Phantom Arrives. The woman’s face, half bone and half sagging flesh, wore a leery smile.
As predicted, Dian ripped through the Wall of Thorns, that strange, violent energy annihilating the obstacle, her eyes scanning around. For whatever reason, whenever a screen was thrown up in the way, everyone rushed forward with the idea that Randidly was running away, and was using the screen to gain some space. That somehow, it was simply a distraction to buy him time.
Randidly’s smile was sharp as his spear slid forward, as he activated Haste, Empower, and Mana Strengthening to improve the power of the strike to a ridiculous degree. His image smashed forward, concrete and powerful, and low, dull ticking and sense of inevitability spreading towards her.
When they had fought previously, Randidly’s Battle Intent had been formless and general, just an emerald cloud that he could use to protect and strengthen his attacks. It was almost a separate muscle that he could operate with his will, increasing the effectiveness of the blows. Now his images had solidified, becoming an order of magnitude more powerful. That combined with the increases to his skill levels and stats, made Randidly confident that he could overpower Dian.
But truly, when they clashed, Randidly’s eyes narrowed. Almost mirroring him, Dian’s eyes narrowed, her red hair framing her face like flowing blood. Although Randidly’s images had gone through a qualitative leap, Dian’s energy had also grown immensely. It smashed into Randidly’s image, doing its best to eat away at the edges.
It almost seemed to overpower his image, ripping slowly away at its effectiveness. After all, it was truly much easier to destroy something than it was build it. Her energy had the strange devouring quality that enabled her to defeat images much stronger than herself. In a way, Randidly marvelled; even more so than him, Dian was designed to defeat these pampered disciples of Styles.
Although he was strong, she directly eliminated the effectiveness of their powerful skills and skill sets, which was their claim to fame and pride, at least at this level, where everyone was limited by a level cap.
Unfortunately for her, she was facing Randidly.
Although his image was almost completely destroyed by the time the strike landed, that was only the image of the Inevitable Phantom Arrives; underneath his feet, the image of the Golden Roots of Yggdrasil burned with fervor, filling him with power.
The small satisfaction in Dian’s eyes as her energy ate away at Randidly’s image was swiftly replaced by shock as their spears crossed and she was smashed backwards with pure force. But Randidly let it lie there, and followed after her, operating the Spear Phantom’s Embrace at full force, passing through the space between them faster than should be possible.
Furiously she flooded the air with her destructive energy, but Randidly’s battle intent surged to meet it, forming a protective cocoon around his body. Both his skill level and Willpower had grown, giving him more than enough to simply oversaturate Dian’s devouring energy for a time as he rushed forward. If his exposure was stretched on for a time… but Randidly wasn’t going to allow that to happen.
Without bothering to form an image for the attack, Randidly struck quickly, smashing Dian around, bruising and battering her body, preventing her from regaining her stance. Her fury clearly grew, and the energy around her grew more palpable, but Randidly just snorted.
In terms of physical stats and passive skills… Randidly suspected that none were his equal. Where he really lacked was in terms of images. For an image seemed to increase the power and effectiveness of an attack beyond the realm which statistics could explain by overlaying a powerful narrative on the movement.
For Randidly, not only was he stabbing with a spear, but an Inevitable Phantom Arrived.
Dian’s energy devoured that image somehow, basically invalidating a lot of image based skills, leaving only the physical statistics and technical acumen a spear user possessed. In that regards she was confident, and was able to fight the stunned spear users to a stand still.
But to Randidly…. Such a tactic was useless.
Finally, after a good 30 seconds of beating her, using his huge obsidian spear to leave large gashes across her body, the bitterness in her sharp gaze reached the breaking point, she gnashed her teeth at him. But then she stepped back, lowering her spear.
Dian turned on her heel and left, not even bothering to look at him.
As his breathing returned to normal, Randidly lowered his spear. It made sense. She was losing, and it wasn’t because of Randidly’s little ploy earlier with the Wall of Thorns. Randidly was simply a bad match for her. But that last gaze… that last look… was filled with unwillingness.
Randidly believed very strongly that she had another card, another way to use that energy, that could have perhaps turned the tables on him. But she had refrained from using it.
The only question was why.