A note from puddles4263

I know it's been a week, but really, these next chapters should all be released together. No more cliffs! I'd rather see dissatisfaction with posts than dissatisfaction with cliffs.

1/however many this arc takes.

Randidly pressed his own Aether into the spear, banishing the murky Aether he gathered from Drak and reclaiming some of the frustration and rage that Randidly had sacrificed to suck it out of his opponent. Although it was just a small cut in the hand, it was enough for the strange rune to act on that small wound.

Drak blinked, and then slowly looked up to stare solemnly at Randidly. Then his eyes turned ugly.

“You…. are a Devourer. A Heretic.”

Randidly said nothing, although he couldn’t help but shift uncomfortably at how familiar Drak was with the term. More than that though, Randidly couldn’t deny that in this case, he had purposefully sucked Aether out of his opponent as a way to get an advantage.

Even though he had clearly heard, and the crowd was murmuring, the referee said nothing. Which was all the signal Randidly needed.

Another hot barbed wire jab of Anguish went out, making the already trembling Drak flinch. For his part, Randidly made Spearing Roots smash Drak forward, towards him.

Which, he suddenly realized, was a mistake.

Because although he had now a deep Aether debt to pay, Drak was clearly very willing to dig himself deeper.

Not only was Drak moving at a speed that Randidly was hard pressed to follow when he was caught flat footed, he also simply punched Randidly, rolling forward from his crouch and knocking Randidly flat.

The spear followed, silent, the real threat. Randidly could feel it in the air, but was off his balance from the brutally strong punch.

Gritting his teeth, Randidly felt his world go grey. Silence spread. The spear pierced through his chest, killing him.

Ash to Ash.

As the other body disintegrated, another body formed, unfortunately still with a useless right arm. But he was behind his opponent. The world was strange too, strange connections and densities. It seemed that the audience had a palpable presence of heavy grey. Drak was thick and viscous too, colors and distortions flitting around him in this strange world.

To conserve his mana, Randidly let the effect drop and raised his hand, holding the spear and driving it into Drak’s side. One more good syphon of the Aether, and-

“That’s enough.”

Instincts kicked in again, also from Azriel. He was throwing himself backwards out of the line of the attack. It was instantaneous, so much so that some part of Randidly knew that it must have been a skill, splitting the air to aim for Randidly’s vulnerable neck.

Even afterwards, Drak didn’t stop, and Randidly’s eyes narrowed as he retreated farther, missing the tip of his left pinky. Just a small bit of flesh, too slow to avoid Drak’s retaliation.

A skill was good news, for the depletion plan. But there was also bad news. Because Randidly had felt the spear cut Drak as he dropped it, avoiding the first strike. The continued connection, growing stronger each time he used it, let him syphon Aether again, albeit more weakly without the physical contact with the spear.

But Randidly had acted quickly, and got a fair chunk of Aether from the wound. Only to find…

The Aether was different now. Thicker, and more familiar.

His Aether. Or…

Aether that he had gifted to another, regifted.

Drak straightened, the energy running through his body, making him glow slightly, his strong, blunt features almost disappointed as he looked at Randidly.

“No more playing. You will be the lesson that I need to give them.”

Again, the powerful image of the sun came back, but this time it was not just rising, but seeming to fill the horizon, then it rose, expanding further and further, filling the sky until all was the sun. Until one realized that this celestial body that was “dawning” was so close, and so much larger than the world that it was comical.

This was not a dawn. This was being consumed.

There was a strange jaggedness to the air that Randidly recognized as something akin to his own Anguish; it caused the opponent pain, and slowly sapped away at their will with this heavy weight. Drak for his part was the center of this sun, seemingly concentrating very hard to maintain it, but otherwise was staying put.

Gritting his teeth, Randidly realized that this was worse than he thought. Because this didn’t just aim to eradicate his images, leaving him naked, but it also pressed like a physical force that drained his Health, Mana, and Stamina.

Aether crackled around Drak’s body, and he finally seemed satisfied, his eyes flashing as he stepped forward, even as the huge sun continued to dwarf the world in Randidly’s view.

Desperate, Randidly lashed out with Anguish, even as he began to worry about the state of his health. Drak paused briefly, but a lot like Azriel, he had seen this before, and was able to neutralize it when it hadn’t taken him by surprise. Maybe too, the strain of defending against it would have cost too much Aether, and he had decided against it.

This… was strong. This was crazy strong, the weight of the image, the implacable nature of the attack, even as Drak was left free to move… And this was just a broader technique, if his anti-personal attacks were this strong…

Randidly shivered.

A wave of Spearing Roots came up out of the ground, avoiding Drak’s spear as best they could and striking him. Another wave, even as Randidly winced at his depleted mana reserves. They struck him, again and again, scratching, wounding him a little further each time, but Randidly quickly realized that there was something about Drak’s skin that was special. Perhaps a Skill?

It was like a piece of flesh armor. Or a fine wrapping of silk. It didn’t do much to prevent blunt force trauma, but Drak had his Physical Defense stats for that. Instead, it was some sort of extra resiliency.

Which might explain why Drak moved to protect his eyes so quickly, but didn’t bother with his body. And didn’t sport any burns, even though he had been blasted with Randidly’s flames.

Still, there wasn’t really much that Randidly could really do with this information. And with his mana running low…

Randidly switched tactics, stepping forward. Again, this was a terrible idea, but at least this time Randidly had a better idea about how terrible it would end up being.

Drak’s spear moved forward, faster than Randidly could see, and Randidly tensed, his world going black and white, before immediately dropping it, to save mana.

Twisting Drak avoided striking Randidly, causing him to grin. Like Azriel in that respect too, if you used a skill the same way against them twice, it would be less than half as effective. But if you kept varying the use…

So when Drak’s preternatural grace let him turn back to face Randidly, this time, he was punched in the face and sent sprawling. Randidly bit the bullet and used Stalemate Breaker, costing him a hung chunk of Stamina, but it would restore itself quickly. Health, too, was concerning, now at about 30%, but the regeneration was still high enough that Randidly could delude himself into thinking he might be able to get up around 50%, should they banter for a bit.

Mana was more concerning. At 25%, and the regeneration… while much higher, would be negligible in such a short amount of time. Instantly Randidly sank into Meditation, but didn’t know if it would be very much use.

At the same time… Randidly realized the dawning sun overhead hadn’t left. And as he watched, only his Stamina climbed upwards, as his health was held constant by the strange image’s effects, while his mana drifted downwards, one point at a time.

“I have not been this humiliated in a long time. I will grind you to dust.” Drak said, straightening. The Aether around him was dimmer, but the fact it was still bright enough to be seen was not good. It wasn’t something that would run out, or even close, before Randidly’s body did.

Randidly tried flexing his right hand and winced, like nails of hot agony twitching back and forth. Better, but not useful yet. Arm still out of commission.

“Does it really count, grinding me like this, when you’ve borrowed the strength of another…?” Randidly asked wonderingly, trying to buy time as his roots brought his spear back to his left hand, and he began to focus his will.

Drak just showed his teeth and began to stomp forwards. So much for banter.


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