Was it just him, or…
Did this skill appear totally useless…?
Randidly tried to refrain from judging too hastily, and used the skill. Immediately, in the room around him, a light mist began to form on the ground. Very soon these figures resolved themselves into images of his father, who stepped forward out of the mist, his face lined and serious.
“What can you offer me?” The man said simply, looking Randidly up and down, his gaze lingering dismissively on his armor. “Even after all of this time, and all of this… ‘self improvement…’ you are nothing-”
Randidly dropped the skill, his fist clenched in rage. He breathed in slowly through his nose, then out through his mouth. Although he had addressed a lot of things in that strange purification process in the Trial of Ash, he had not rid himself of the long years of hatred and resentment and hurt he had towards his father. Besides, what Randidly experienced in the trial was at best the ghost of the past. It would have no bearing on the present.
That father that he connected with in that moment existed no longer. This father, the one who was disappointed, was the one who actually existed.
Perhaps there were some uses for this skill, after all, training his mental state, and maybe learning some assistance skills from it, but Randidly didn’t want to bother with it right now. Instead, he entered a meditation state, breathing slowly.
After an hour of sitting like this, his eyes flickered, and then opened slowly. It was time.
Ciel sat in the underground room below the stage, trembling slightly. Ever since yesterday, when she had had a long talk with Claptrap about seizing her potential, she couldn’t stop. She felt… out of control somehow. It was a wild, ravenous hunger inside of her that wanted her to rip and tear her way to the top. But…
It threw off her mental focus. It was a more wild and desperate desire to win than she was used to. Whereas she had previously had a firm determination to make the proposal, and then win, now she wanted to destroy in kill, cutting her way to a more perfect fate.
But she was not the pampered daughter for nothing. Although she had been powerfully incited by Claptrap, and it had carried her to now, she breathed calmly, and her trembling slowly fell away. The heat was pushed back as she focused on the issue at hand. A single victory, seizing the momentum by proving that she was more than just someone who would birth the next generation of the Steel Feather Style.
The referee announced her name, and Ciel stood, gracefully walked up the staircase, her nerves and strange fire from earlier disappearing. She shook her head, amused. Why was she so concerned and fearful. This was the spear. And in terms of the spear…
There was no one who could surpass her in mastery of the Steel Feather Style.
Ciel stood and turned, as her father cheered loudly from the announcer stand, and looked at her opponent. Perhaps what had shaken Ciel most of all was how Claptrap had changed so much, and attributed it to the man in front of her. The Claptrap she had known was sweet and somewhat shy, but now he was capable and intelligent, swiftly becoming the leading businessman in Deardun.
Maybe in the entire Northern Region, at this rate.
Her opponent stood tall, holding a thick and black spear made of heavy obsidian. His hair matched the spear, falling to his chin. His eyes were focused and bright, a brilliant emerald that seemed to grab the attention and wouldn’t let it go. There was a feeling in the air around him too, that made Ciel cautious. She was also aware that in addition to being a rather accomplished spear user, he was a master of spells, and would use the combination of these to throw off her rhythm and strike.
This was a daunting prospect, but her father had insisted on spending the previous few days going over ways to counteract the mage’s ability to strike. They hadn’t thought to discuss it before, due to the the nature of the tournament rarely attracting the mage types, but even her father admitted that when it came to utility, there were few who could match the Ghosthound.
But utility wouldn’t win matches, he assured her. Power and technique would. Although she knew that the extra attention was likely due to the proposal bet, it was still fun. But for Ciel, what made her the most upset, and the most happy, was suddenly how important her father seemed to regard her, training her in the break.
Happy for finally feeling valued and validated. Upset because of how much she relied on him for support and validation. Ultimately though… none of his actions would matter. Only hers were. In this moment, she could seize her own validation from this match.
Randidly looked at the woman he would be fighting, his blood pumping powerfully through him. She certainly was lovely. He could understand why Claptrap had gone to such lengths to grasp her attention. But what had him the most interest in was her spear.
It was long and grey, and spread out in a fan of steel feathers on both ends of the shaft. He hadn’t really encountered it up to now, but he made a mental note that he would also need to watch out for the butt of the spear, which would also contain a large destructive power.
“Are both fighters ready?” The referee intoned. Randidly nodded. Ciel did as well, still smiling at him.
“Then begin!” The referee announced. Randidly fell into a fighting stance, his eyes narrowing. Very quickly, he rose onto his toes, ready to move, but at the last moment he stopped. While standing still, Randidly simply looked at his opponent.
She was also still, but raised her spear above her head and began to spin it slowly, looking at him with curiosity. They remained that way for several seconds, sizing each other up. Randidly wasn’t sure why he hadn’t attacked. There was… something about her that set his teeth on edge. Some sort of trick or power that made him raise his hackles.
“If you won’t come… I will.” She said simply, her eyes glittering. But still Randidly didn’t move, watching her closely. From him, he began to release the oppressive image of the Spear Phantom’s Embrace, which colored the nearby air, but still he hesitated.
Ciel shrugged. “The Shrike Glides through Low Hanging Clouds.”
Then she stepped forward, and her body was whisked forward, moving with an unearthly grace, actually appearing as though she simply floated forward. But floating was a misleading word, because the distance absolutely disappeared as she rushed forward. It was just so graceful and smooth that it was difficult not to stop and stare.
The sound of their weapons smashing together quickly brought Randidly back to his highest level of tension, because he lost out slightly in power against her. Which was honestly quite shocking, because at this point, he had been confident his Strength had climbed to the level that he could go toe to toe with Bertarn.
Still, Randidly should have known better. That was one of the great dangers of the system; you could not tell what stats someone had invested into based on their appearance.
After he blocked the first slash of her spear, Ciel simply spun away, around behind Randidly, and lashed out again, the blows a grey blur. With this vicious attack heading his way, Randidly finally acted, the image of the Phantom’s Embrace surging forward to surround the area. Ciel narrowed her eyes, but otherwise didn’t respond.
However, her face became unsightly as her strike hit nothing but air.
As he reappeared behind her, Randidly’s eyes glowed emerald. A ticking filled the air, and his spear slid forward, a vicious Phantom Appearing behind him, arriving at Ciel back in a split second. Randidly’s improvements to his stats and Spear Mastery had greatly improved the utility of the Inevitable Phantom Arrives by lowering its build up time.
But Ciel vanished before his very eyes.
“While Feathers Flash, the Shrike Hunts.”
There was a burning sensation in Randidly’s eyes, and he was somewhat stupefied to look down and see a wide gash right below his armpit. Immediately, long experience with Azriel took over, and his will clamped down on it, gathering the blood that was spurting to the surface and pressing it back in. One of the tricks that Randidly learned was that he didn’t need to control all of the blood, just create a film of controlled blood at the edge of his body, preventing anymore from bleeding out. This way he wouldn’t get the bonus returned health for reabsorbing it, but he also wouldn’t lose any health from bleeding.
Then Randidly stepped, twisting away, and just in time, because three lighting quick swipes ripped through the air, right where he had been.
Ciel truly deserved the praise he had received. Randidly hadn’t even seen how she had moved to avoid his gaze and strike at his blind spot in that second. She was too fast, too practiced. It was the difference of skill levels. Perversely, Randidly suddenly realized how sometimes, higher stats weren't’ necessary the best option. After all, the concept of a change-up was very real.
The boost in speed she received from her skills was such that Randidly’s eyes, which had grown used to Ciel’s earlier movements, simply couldn’t follow it. He suspected that he could force her to slow down and go to his tempo if he used spells-
Which was when Randidly realized why he was feeling so off. There were so many open points on Ciel’s back and legs for roots to strike, it was suspicious. She must know that he also had mage abilities, so why would she make no effort to protect herself…? It was either a very ballsy bluff, or a trap of some sort.
Plus, Randidly was now annoyed that his own Spear Phantom Style had been outmaneuvered in close quarters quickness by the Steel Feather Style. Randidly could almost feel Aemont’s Battle Intent shaking its head in disgust. If she was holding a card back for when he used a spell, she could hold it as long as she wanted. But in the meantime, he would demonstrate that in terms of speed, at least…
There were none more fearsome than the Phantom.
Their spears clashed several times, each time Randidly gave up a little more ground, loosening his stance and allowing her strikes to knock him around, positioning himself for the next salvo, gaining some of the tempo back for himself. But Ciel was clever, and saw what he was doing. She already seemed annoyed that her wound had swiftly seemed to seal itself, and now he seemed so casually dealing with her strikes, how could she not be annoyed?
But she was cool, and didn’t strike out in anger. Instead,she waited a few more strikes, then, when he let her push him back, she switched up her attack, immediately twirling and whipping the other end of the spear towards him.
Randidly’s eyes narrowed. This time they clashed and he used the active of the Golden Roots of Yggdrasil, Haste, Empower, Mana Strengthening, and Stalemate Breaker, absolutely blazing through his stamina. But in the process, he totally smashed her attack aside, setting her off balance.
Her eyes widened in shock. Randidly’s grin stretched wide, as he stepped forward, immediately activating Idiosyncratic Cut. The blade teleported half a meter, ripping through the air towards her with the tick of a clock. Ciel gritted her teeth.
“While the Feathers Flash, the Shrike Hunts.”