Rose knew this was mistake. Both for tactical, strategic, and personal reasons. But that recklessness was also the reason that she followed Dauntless. As she gazed at his back, she slowly sorted out her feelings. And found, to her surprise, that even if this man lost here, she would still follow him.
That realization, and the one that she thought he was going to lose, made her heart sink.
The Ghosthound didn’t even accept the challenge, but simply walked forward, the air around him crackling with violence. It was a strange thing, how one man could somehow embody so many different forms of strength.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t had her notebook out, but Rose still felt a certain amount of dread when she remembered the oppressive presence of the skill that he had used on the Wild Rider to stop her dead. Pain and regret, and an extremely high combat rating, and the control to lash out without anyone else being the wiser. If Ace were to deal with that…
There were so many things that Rose wanted to say, to warn him, to suggest as ways to test the Ghosthound, but in front of those burning emerald eyes, she could find no strength to say the words. They disappeared, sliding through her mental fingers, escaping like ghosts.
Which, Rose knew, was probably for the best. Understanding was never Dauntless’ game. He was all instinct while fighting. And the things that Rose could tell Dauntless about the Ghosthound… if anything, it would only distract him from the real, valuable information that his instincts fed to him.
In a smooth motion, Dauntless took off his jacket, then ripped his t-shirt off, leaving only his bare chest. He beckoned the Ghosthound, who continued to walk with heavy footsteps. They were two men, who had been friends, who became titans.
To Rose’s surprise, Dauntless moved first, rushing forward with his hands raised. Which was another reason that Rose knew this was not going to go well. Dauntless generally had the attitude of a boxer who held the title belt, waiting for the challenger to make the first move. But based on this turn of events, even Dauntless considered himself the challenger in this bout.
Left, Right, and Brute stood, eyes locked on the figures.
“We… are probably going to remember this for a long time, aren’t we…?” Rose asked weakly. Brute nodded. Carefully, Rose produced her notebook and sat down cross-legged, so she could write more easily.
Although that skill that the Ghosthound displayed was fearsome, one of Dauntless’ two great skills was Anti-Magic Body, which severely decreased the effectiveness of any skills against him. Combined with a Resistance of over 50, basically all magic of this level was unable to put any serious pressure on Dauntless.
But the Ghosthound did not lead with magic, but a simple hand strike, followed up by a kick, in a combo. These were even skills that Rose recognized: Talon Strike and Roundhouse Kick. These were common, basic skills, that even trained to a high level, couldn’t really display all that impressive a power.
Coughing up blood, Dauntless stumbled backwards, swiftly overwhelmed by the stats that backed up these two skills. Rose’s mouth tightened. Higher stats… that was not an easy boundary to overcome. But what was more confusing was how the Ghosthound had stats so much higher than Dauntless. What level could he be…?
Instantly, Dauntless’ powerful regeneration kicked in, mending the more minor wounds, and lowering the debilitating effect of the major ones. Righting himself, Dauntless tilted his head to the side and regarded the Ghosthound. “Truly, this was fate. For us to be friends, and for the System to come. Do you see it? Our violence-”
“You are still an idiot.” The Ghosthound interrupted, stepping forward. Instantly Dauntless’ body language changed, his glee turning to fury. There were a lot of effects of the mask, all of which were simply in Dauntless’ head. But one of them was the capricious nature of Dauntless’ emotions, and his insistence on committing to these larger than life characters. Now that the Ghosthound had refused that…
Once again the Ghosthound stepped evenly forward, his Talon Strikes lashing forward, smashing into Dauntless’ guard. But this time, although Dauntless trembled, his guard did not break. Instead, when the kick came, Dauntless twisted out of the way of the kick and brought his elbow around in a vicious blow towards the Ghosthound’s temple.
The move was so fast that Dauntless probably couldn’t even process information, but his body instantly gathered and categorized information, giving him knowledge of the space he had to work with. The skill that made Dauntless almost invulnerable, Adapt, flared to life, giving him the insight he needed to react much more effectively this second time around.
Adapt might be a relatively simple skill, but it was a skill of growth. With that skill, as long as the fight continued for long enough.
“Interesting.” The casual word weighed a ton, dropping on Rose’s heart. She watched the Ghosthound drop his kick, which had been a feint, and slap the elbow strike to the side as one would turn aside a fly. “I figured you’d be this sort of type. Unfortunately… I trained with someone who does the same thing… and she does it much, much better.”
For the next 30 seconds, Rose watched dispassionately as the Ghosthound calmly and methodically broke Dauntless’ wrists, elbows, and shoulders, and then knocked him out. With great care, he laid the body on the ground. The eyes of the Ghosthound were conflicted as he looked down at the man who had been his friend.
“...He will try again, you know.” The Wild Rider said, frowning at Dauntless. “And he might be weaker than you, but for a man, he has good potential. If you let him go-”
“I’m not killing my best friend.” The Ghosthound said, and then stood, turning his back on the group from the Refuge without a word. Rose lowered her head, and gestured Left and Right forward, to pick up Dauntless’ body. She had assumed that the Ghosthound would address them, give them a message to give to Dauntless when he awoke.
Which would be absolute hell, because it would drive Dauntless insane, and he would chase the Ghosthound down. But he said nothing. Perhaps they were more deeply related than Rose had suspected, and their connection was a lot more genuine than she had expected. Which might be… troubling.
“As I was saying,” The Ghosthound began, but he was interrupted.
“No, I’m sorry, I want to come.” The young boy said, his eyes bright, his hand on the strange, dull-eyed ox that followed him around. “I…. yea, I want to come.”
The Ghosthound nodded slowly, and looked at the other female rider, who snorted and mounted her bear.
After they had left, Rose looked in the direction they had went, still slightly in awe. The whole time, only Talon Strike and Roundhouse Kick. And yet Dauntless was made to look like a hapless baby. That level of strength clearly demonstrated how unnecessary using his spells against them were.
Strangely though, Rose felt only a tremor of excitement. Because everytime Dauntless was defeated, he came back, stronger than ever. She couldn’t wait to see how his new reincarnation would grow. It was a good thing, she supposed, to have rivals.
“Good luck,” Rose whispered, then turned and returned to the Refuge. And as she spoke, she spoke partially to the Ghosthound, but also…
Part of the message was for the fool that had earned the ire of the Monster of Donnyton.
Randidly rode on Neveah’s back, lost in thought.
He had had what he thought was a communication breakthrough, actually confronting Simon, asking them to work out there issues. Only to be interrupted by Ace, have him forced to beat Ace up, and then to find Simon no longer wanted to talk about it, considering everything resolved. So not only did he have a strange amount of anxiety regarding whether Simon actually forgave him or not, and confusion over what was the real issue, BUT also Randidly now had to come to terms with the fact that next time he saw Ace, the idiot might force them to engage in another battle.
Or worse, want to talk about it.
Or worse worse, not even acknowledge that it happened.
Randidly rubbed the back of his head, and then shook himself a bit. Better to focus on other things.
Randidly opened up his status screen. The past few days he had gained 2 Skill Levels in Dodge and Fighting Proficiency, 4 in Mana Engraving, 5 in Talon Strike, 2 in Empower and Roundhouse Kick, 5 in Aether Detection, 2 in Aether Manipulation and Living Aether, 1 in Mental Strength, 2 in Mana Strengthening and Haste, 3 in Anguish and Calculated Blow, 4 in Physical Fitness, and 7 in Soul Bond.
With a bitter smile, Randidly showed his teeth to the air. Which gave him just enough PP to finish off his fourth blessing, and let the world inside of him turn, time jumping forward. For a bit he hesitated, but even with Neveah’s brutal pace, with Toto and Chrysanthemum lashed awkwardly to her back with Randidly’s roots, they wouldn’t be able to make it to the likely location of the Skeleton Knight for a few hours. He had time, in case something went wrong.
And Randidly truly wanted to deal with the time bomb ticking in his chest.
He focused his attention, narrowing his focus, raising his awareness to a pinpoint. With his attention inward, Randidly gathered some of the floating prayers, increasing his Influence by 11. Then he checked how everything was proceeding.
Peacefully, but it was the fragile peace of a nation sleeping before a great war. Randidly chuckled in spite of himself. Hopefully, this wouldn’t destroy them all pointlessly.
This time, Randidly was prepared, thinking about different scenarios that Lucretia could cause, and how he would respond. And he also knew his ultimate goal; removing her from his Soul Skill. But that would have to wait until she could go somewhere that wasn’t Earth. Both because he wasn’t sure she could be at this place, which was a later Cohort, and because imagining Lucretia amongst these people was a bit…
Randidly opened his eyes. Then he fed his PP into his Path, bracing himself for the consequences.