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A note from puddles4263

2/3

Randidly winced, slightly sore from smashing into the ground. Immediately, warm, thick threads of energy from the ground traveled up through his bare feet into him, but he definitely took some damage from it that would not recover quickly. But he righted his stance as best as he could and raised his spear, facing Ciel.

Randidly wanted to capitalize on the momentum he could see had taken, based on the shocked look in Ciel’s eyes, but his muscles were continually spasming and twitching. It was a small thing, that wouldn’t affect his overall movement, but it would make a centimeter of difference. So despite his desire to seize the momentum, Randidly stood still, pressing with his will to absorb that strength from the ground helping him recover. At the same time, Randidly activated Meditation, drawing every bit of value he could from the moments of pause.

Ciel seemed to slowly find herself, and to Randidly’s surprise she didn’t seem upset any longer, but oddly excited.

“Ahaha…. Ahahah…. Yea… this is why you are an opponent worth beating. This is why… when I beat you with my own strength…” Then she trailed off for several seconds, then leapt towards Randidly, her body once more gliding smoothly over the ground. It was a much slower approach, compared to her previous ones, but if anything, that filled Randidly with even more caution.

Her previous attacks were arrogant and curt, almost dismissive. But now Ciel floated over with bright eyes and a small smile, and all he could feel from her is the pure joy that came from a difficult battle. From an opponent worth giving your all to defeat.

Which, in a way, only made his own desire to fight rise higher, curling his own mouth in a smile. But Randidly was patient; as she floated inexorably towards him, he sucked more and more Mana and Stamina into his body. There were some definite side effects of using the Phantom’s Embrace in that way.

What was most surprising was that the side effects were due to his body being unable to withstand the physical trauma of borrowing the opponent’s force like that. Perhaps the efficiency that he would do it would improve as time went on, but it was a disturbing state of affairs that his physical prowess ended up being insufficient.

“When the Wings Beat, Feathers Dance!”

Randidly’s eyes abruptly narrowed as Ciel abruptly increased in speed, and her double sided spear flicking out. In that split second, Randidly opted to meet her directly, his own, larger spear smashing outward, Empowered, aiming to cancel out some of her force. As the spears crashed against each other, Randidly immediately felt a twinge of regret. It had been too heady, being out of the prison, fighting against those at or below his stat level… he had grown slightly complacent.

Randidly’s joints ached as he forcefully absorbed the strength from her overpowering blows, getting knocked somewhat back on his heels. Then Randidly stepped forward, moving in the space between her strikes, his eyes beginning to glow emerald. A low mist appeared on the ground, a slight, distant ticking could be heard.

Immediately, Ciel hesitated, her eyes narrowing. The strength of this move of hers seemed to be a peculiar cadence and rhythm of strikes, making use of the double sided nature of her spear. But now she hesitated, as it seemed Randidly was going to use the Phantom’s Embrace. So she interrupted her previous move and raised her spear.

“The Shrike Cries over a Barren Land!”

The spear twisted around, so quickly Randidly had to rely on just his instincts. Immediately he dropped the feint of the Phantom’s Embrace, a sly smile on his face. The power of it was real, but so was the strain, and he wasn’t yet sure he could beat her with just this. But it would be a good start.

Randidly poured most of the rest of his mana into throwing up Wall of Thorns and Spear Roots between him and the force, creating a thick, dense mesh of plant matter. It was a rather messy job, but he only had a split second to manage it, so it would have to do.

Another thing the barricade had going for it was that there was some suppleness to it; it couldn’t simply be cracked by the strange, overpowering force form Ciel. It would first bend, absorbing some of the power, before it would be obliterated.

At least, that was the theory.

Randidly braced himself, stabbing his spear into the ground.

In a way, it did work, the benefit was just so marginal that it was swiftly swallowed by the blast of force. Then that wave of force, filled with root bits and thorns, smashed into Randidly, causing him to wince. The force immediately knocked the wind out of him, and threw him backwards, his arms holding onto the spear stretched to the limits.

Although the feedback from Phantom’s Embrace was bad, this was almost-

Crack.

Randidly froze, abruptly aghast. The crack… came from his spear…? And sure enough, as he glanced quickly at the spear as he removed it from the ground, the obsidian had dozens of spider lace thin cracks running around the upper part of the shaft, right above the portion that thad been sunk into the ground.

But then Randidly moved his eyes forward, because it seemed serviceable, at least for now. And Ciel looked, slightly haggard, seemingly drained from her previous move, open.

Randidly’s grin stretched wide as he rushed forward, raising the cracked spear. He couldn’t breathe, and it felt like most parts of his body were bruised, but that was all to give Randidly this moment. Fights were not easy. They were simple, but hard, which was very very different.

And that was why they were worth giving your all to, and worth winning.

But Ciel’s face simply tightened, as if she were prepared for this eventuality. Her hands, which were still holding the spear aloft after her previous wave of force, twisted, repositioning herself, but Randidly was moving forward with Haste, Empower, and Mana Strengthening, so she had no hope of bringing her spear around for any sort of defensive posture. She would have to-

“The Shrike Cries over a Barren Land!”

Again the spear twirled around so quickly that it was impossible to follow with the human eye, and once more a wave of force ripped outwards. Randidly’s pupils dilated. He was rushing full tilt towards Ciel already, and most of his mana was gone. Even if he had the mind to do his previous barricade again, he might not have time, he might not have mana, and he might not do it as well this time, because he had been taken by surprise.

There simply wasn’t enough time to do anything eloquent, or reasoned. So Randidly went with his gut on this one, and did the one thing he truly knew how to do: advance.

The only motion he could manage is straightening his spear into a horizontal position, pointing the large, obsidian tip forward. But before he activated his skill, Randidly closed his eyes and felt the Aether within him flow, that icy boiling steam ripping through his veins.

One thing he noticed from watching Ciel repeat this move twice was the acceleration of the spear spin was instantaneous. One moment it was still, the next it was full motion. There was a power in that, a power that was somewhat similar to his own Idiosyncratic Cut.

The second Randidly existed in was bisected again, and then again and again, until he had an infinite number of extremely tiny bits of time for his thoughts to flit back and forth, examining this image.

But hers did not manipulate time directly, like Randidly’s did. Instead, it seemed her sheer power overwhelmed time, warping it as it activated. A sudden blast of force so strong that the bounds of time were rattled, just for a few seconds. Chains loosened, although not cheated or broken.

Power Randidly had gained, especially in terms of image and will, over the last several weeks. What he hadn’t had was a focus to apply that power to. Now Randidly could see its shape. A way to rip through space and time with tyrannical power. To dominate reality, to purely rip through it.

At Randidly’s core, a strange heat began to emerge, burning hotter and hotter, a swirling, small drop of black tar that existed in his marrow, now vibrating with excitement. It spread and grew, his bones beginning to ache as their internal temperature rose. But with all the other aches and pains that were assailing his body, it was just another blip that was drown out by the feedback from his overworked nerves.

His pupils glowed orange, while the emerald in his eyes intensified even further, becoming lantern bright. His eyelids snapped open, and he found himself face to face with a wall of air that was distorted with force.

All he needed was a spark. An… ignition.

“The Spear Advances, Ash Trails.”

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