Randidly blinked, thinking furiously. He couldn’t think up a good reason why NOT to, which was exactly why he was hesitating. But maybe that was what the Creature wanted-
“Arrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Randidly bellowed, throwing his hands up to the sky. A spear advanced, that was it. All of this double thinking… it was useless. He had a weapon against the Creature now, maybe, thanks to Lucretia. They had found Rhaidon, who appeared to be in no immediate danger.
That was positive. The Wild Rider’s Regalia was behind him, and the Skeleton Knight brought his Regalia to him. There was nothing to think about. Use absolute power, and crush them all.
“Yes, let’s.” Randidly said, listening as the sounds of battle grew more intense, as Neveah, Thea and Dozer ripped into the Skeleton Knight’s personal retinue. But none approached the two individuals standing in the center.
At first, Randidly expected that there would be some sort of ceremony to it, but as soon as Randidly agreed, he felt something in the air, something change. A dampening of the noise, a great barrier around them. Not isolating them, but pushing everything farther away. Randidly’s eyebrows rose. This was…
The Skeleton Knight nodded. “You have good senses. It cannot prevent interference, but… it discourages it. Now then.... Let us continue until both of us are dead.”
The Skeleton Knight looked expectantly at Randidly, who could only shake his head. “Was that… supposed to be a bad joke…?”
“Mmm, perhaps,” The Skeleton Knight conceded, as he walked towards Randidly. “I have spent precious little time conversing with you humans, and your customs are… mmm… not sophisticated, but rather devious, in terms of humor. Hard to get a grip. I think I’m doing admirably, considering the circumstances. If I am to rule you people, I must understand them.”
“In order to rule us…” Randidly said slowly, as he moved to meet the Skeleton Knight in single combat. “You need to beat me.”
Simon focused his will, channeling it through his Soul Bound companion, feeling his Astral powers growing stronger. A giant claw formed, and began to rake through the charging skeletons around them, that threatened to overwhelmed them.
Or at least, Simon initially assumed they would quickly overwhelm them. They were tough enemies, high above the level of the skeletons they had faced in the past. Already, Simon had gained two levels in the course of the fight, just crushing the weakened ones left by the other people around him.
But, as the fight dragged on, it seemed that Simon had vastly underestimated the scope of this battle; simply put, his teammates were unreal.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that as the fighting intensified, Neveah became increasingly wild, lashing out in every direction and leaving only wreckage. In her brief moments of respite, she ate the bones around her, her body trembling, and slowly but surely increasing in size. It filled Simon with awe.
This… was a Raid Boss. This was a creature that had reached Level 30 by relying on its Stats and meagre Skills alone. And now… it had the benefit of inheriting a portion of the Ghosthound’s strength…? It would be more surprising if it wasn’t monstrous.
No, what really shocked Simon was the performance of Thea and the one the Ghosthound referred to as Dozer.
Dozer, of course, was someone they had heard about in the North. He was the siege breaker of Donnyton, a man whose huge strength could crack any armor, break any formation. And although his size wasn’t immediately as impressive as his myth’s, the huge club that he wielded like it was made of plywood was exactly what the rumors had spoke of.
Before him, the skeletons were nothing. Even Neveah’s tail couldn’t move with the brutal speed of that club. Bodies were reduced to powder with a methodical efficiency of a surgeon. The whole time, Dozer’s face was rather placid, his eyes scanning the battlefield, flicking over to the spot where the Ghosthound was, which was currently obscured by a weird mist.
Simon frowned at that, but before he investigated, he spared Thea his attention.
He had never seen Thea fight before, but since learning that their ages were relatively close to each other, as compared to the Ghosthound, he had assumed that she wasn’t as powerful as he had initially expected her to be, based on her gruff exterior. If anything, Simon learned he should have adjusted her in the opposite direction, moving her towards the upper tier of anyone he had seen before.
There was a ferocity to her, a wildness to her that Simon could never remember seeing, a brutal strength as she dual wielded hammers, knocking back skeletons, while Chrysanthemum knocked the bulk of the forces off their balance.
Chrysanthemum, too, was more beast than rather stoic bear that she had always seemed, but Simon was beginning to suspect it was due to the very strange plants that he had seen the Ghosthound feeding to Chrysanthemum those few times they had played with each other. Simon had seen the desire that had filled the animals in the Wild Rider’s test, as they looked at those fruits.
Her fur, too, seemed to be changing, with flecks of red and grey, turning her fur more dusky and desolate. But it was hard to see in the dim light, and even harder during the day, when her typical gold showed through. But Simon trusted his instincts at this point, and had learned that of everything the Ghosthound was, he paid his debts.
Just like he had helped Simon as much as he could, giving him advice, pointers for his Skills, and introducing him to several powerful people. It left a slightly bitter taste in Simon’s mouth.
Perhaps the Wild Rider had been right. The Ghosthound was just like Neveah, pure and violent. But that didn’t make the betrayal any easier to swallow, even if the fires of his emotions had dimmed somewhat at this point. The man wasn’t a monster, he was just… awkward, if anything.
Which made his actual level of strength all that more intimidating, to think that a real human, with human weaknesses, was wielding it. His mom spent her entire life campaigning against just that sort of political and personal power being focused in single positions like President and Governor, due to its possibility of corruption.
It was strange, now, to see the reason for her work personified, and to feel slightly helpless in the face of it. Because in Simon’s mind… what other choice did they have, but to allow it? Avoiding it was impossible…
The strange fog cleared, and Simon’s senses flooded forward, the force stopping them gone. Simon frowned, or at least mentally frowned, because when he scanned the area, only two people stood there, the Ghosthound and the creature that appeared to be the Skeleton Knight. Which was weird, because right before the fog sprang up, he would have sworn that someone else had been there.
Strangely, a new energy emerged around the two, and although Simon could sense and see them very well, he somehow knew that interfering in that fight… would be difficult. Not just working up the nerves to do it, but because there was a strange… fabric of energy wrapped around them, isolating them somehow…
His investigations were interrupted as he felt a swift touch of that strange numbing mist from earlier, blacking out a brief area. But then it was gone. Worried, Simon came back to his physical body, sitting up.
“The Ghosthound is fighting the Skeleton Knight. Everyone alright…?” Simon asked, feeling somewhat lame.
Dozer spared him a glance, not even batting an eye as he destroyed a dozen more skeletons. “Fine here.”
“Fine! Fine! Fine! Here!” Neveah repeated, grinding the skeletons around them to dust.
“Also fine. How’s the fight going?” Thea said, taking a brief break while Chrysanthemum rushed forward. She looked at him, and wiped beads of sweat from her forehead. Feeling abruptly flushed, Simon turned away, towards Ten’Malla, the Wild Rider.
But then he paused, because she wasn’t there. Feeling slightly confused, he spread out his Astral senses, leaving his body behind. Still nothing. She had departed, and taken that flaming skull with her.
Still, if anything, that was helpful. One less liability like him. Simon looked towards the fight, his attention fixed upon the two fighters. After exchanging a few words, the two approached each other, weapons raised.
It was a strange pairing, the Ghosthound barefoot and holding a spear of roots, the Skeleton Knight in his cast iron armor, holding a greatsword that flashed silver. But when they moved, it was clear that these two were of one kind.
The force with which they collided was so great that Simon was almost jolted awake in his actual body, jostled by the shockwave. Both stumbled back, their eyes scanning the other.
“Excellent. A true duel.” The Skeleton Knight said, his voice oddly distant. “This is much different than I expected, being paired against the Wild Rider. Nothing more than chasing rats in a wine cellar. But you… you will not run, will you? You will die with honor.”
“You remind me of someone, you know.” The Ghosthound countered, considering a deep divot in his root spear, which had been cut by the weapon of the Skeleton Knight. With a simple flourish, the Ghosthound created another, and squared off against his opponent. “Arrogant, perfect martial form, told from birth he was the best… but I beat him.”
“You are unlucky then, that this man and I… are very different.” The Skeleton Knight replied slowly, raising his sword. “Because as I will show you… I was never told I was the best. Everything I am now… I took from those who underestimated me. Be wary, for I am coming.”