A towering light filled the sky as Arbor erupted. It wasn’t just the leaves that were burning, but all of Arbor was burning. People screamed as the flames caught the spider silk cathedral and the entire thing went up.
But Kiersty stood stock still, staring upwards at Arbor. To her, these flames held no heat. But she held her breath, unsure of what this meant. She could feel his energy, rising and rising and rising some more… but this…
It was too much, she realized. Whatever he was doing-
As the cathedral collapsed and everyone fled, ash began flaking off from Arbor’s trunk. The core of Arbor was burning, hotter than anything Kiersty had ever seen. She looked, and could feel the vision in her eyes going, burnt away by the flames. There wasn’t heat here, but there was light.
So much light, so bright that for several seconds the sun above seemed dim in comparison.
Then it was gone, snuffed out, leaving nothing but floating ash behind. Arbor was gone.
Thunder crashed overhead as Lucifer knelt on the ground. His two swords were broken. He felt a small disappointment at that, but not as much as the bubbling excitement that filled his heart. It had taken 12 men, and even then it had been close, but… still, the harpoon lodged in his chest hurt. But it was worth it to feel the exhilaration of the fight. It had been far, far too long since Lucifer last felt that thrill.
The dead and dying surrounded Lucifer. Well, they were likely only wounded in the current era. Killing someone was hard with the System. Whereas before you could reduce their quality of life to a certain extent and their fires would sputter out, the System supported lives. It used them like fuel of course, but until that point they were well maintained. If Health Potions were passed out, most of them would likely pull through.
Even Lucifer, for all that his heart was barely managing to continue pumping blood at the moment. He… had lost. It was a hard thing to admit. Numbers didn’t matter on the battlefield; he had been the one to end up on his knees.
The walls to the East were the smallest, and when the army had arrived they had been breached in multiple places. Lucifer had plugged up all those holes, and then a huge one opened up as a force of a dozen charged to gain a low hill that would give them a foothold to take the whole district. Lucifer had gone to meet them, and killed all but one, the leader.
The Malaysian man who had defeated him stood in front of him, looking like a piece of meat from a butcher block. He was bare from the waist up, covered in crisscrossing slashes. But none of Lucifer’s strikes had been able to inflict any fatal wounds before their final clash. It seemed that in terms of their most powerful Skill, Lucifer just lost out.
“It will be a shame to kill you all.” The man said quietly, but his hand tightened on the chain that was connected to the harpoon in Lucifer’s chest. “Surrender. Join my crew. Once your Zone joins with mine, we-”
“I cannot,” Lucifer said calmly. “Nor would I. We should fight again, sometime.”
“How can your army function without a leader?” The man said reasonably. “You may have training and numbers, but mine is a seafaring army. When I add your numbers to mine-”
“I am not truly the leader of the army. I just… am the backbone.” Lucifer said. Inwardly, he was sighing. He could feel his Health rocketing upward as he was given time to recover. As if on cue, the man twisted the harpoon, cutting his remaining health in half.
“Then the backbone has been broken,” The man said with a frown.
“This is one of three armies that Franksburg can field. Besides, our armies are not those who you need to fear.” Lucifer looked up to the sky with a puzzled expression. “...but it appears that Donnyton was actually not the first on the scene. Interesting.”
“I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’m waiting for the official request to intervene.” Sydney Harp said, walking up to join the two men on top of the hill. The darkness abruptly parted and she was there, even though Lucifer hadn’t sensed her approach. Magework, Lucifer had no doubt. He didn’t trust magic, or attempt to learn it, but he understood why so many fell prey to its allure.
Instantly, the Malaysian man’s eyes narrowed as he considered the new arrival. Which made Lucifer feel less bad about losing to the man. Because Lucifer too was wondering how many tricks Sydney had in her arsenal. How well would her magic fair here, surrounded by blood and screams…?
He had never officially met Sydney, but Lucifer had largely been led to believe that the entire town aside from Drake was a footnote in the Zone. He would need to revisit that characterization. So Lucifer smiled and said, “You have it. I am just curious how you beat Mrs. Hamilton here.”
Sydney smiled, but it was a proud smile. “Some of the elementals sensed a change was coming, and it was happening down here. It was a gamble, but… Those seem to have been paying off for me lately. Now...”
She turned to the Malaysian man. “Let’s get started, shall we? I’ll be your next opponent.”
The man looked nonplussed. Taking advantage of that moment, Lucifer grunted and threw himself backwards. A chunk of his heart was ripped off, and his eyes wrenched themselves to the piece as it fell to the ground. There was a terrible moment of stillness in his chest. Fear filled him, and regret. But then there was a tremor, and a sputter. His heart healed and began to beat again. His Health surged upwards.
“By the sea god’s tits,” the man swore, but he ignored Lucifer and faced Sydney. She raised her hands. Both glowed blue. But the right hand was what she was known for. It was a deathly cold, and ice was creeping down that arm. But her left hand was a different sort of blue.
There was a crash that hit Lucifer like a physical force, and then the searing vision that was a bolt of lighting sliding down from the sky and into Sydney’s hand blinded him. He blinked rapidly, and then found her standing there proudly. One arm was covered in frost while the other was crackling with electricity.
“The way you are looking at me…” Sydney paused, seeming to cast around for the right word. “...well, whatever. It’s a good feeling.”
Randidly smashed Thea to the side, and as he did so he felt that pressure on his chest. Was he really preparing to kill…. Thea?
But still, Randidly simply smashed Thea to the side. The opening was there, his spear was fast enough, but he didn’t attack her weakness. He just smashed her back, knocking aside her strength. Then he scanned around at the four combatants. Another goal was to finish Father Foster, and he had just cut off her arm. Aside from her, the real problem was Chrysanthemum. Physically, she was just as obnoxious as the Level 70 three headed ogre in terms of defense. And offensively, she was even more physically earth shattering. If Chrysanthemum was alone, he could probably handle it-
If I kill Thea, Chrysanthemum will-
Yes. A spear only advances.
Father Foster was scrambling backwards, splashing as she tried to open up distance. The strange man who was covered in the black tar like material was lumbering towards Randidly. Chrysanthemum was barreling towards him. The moment stretched. Randidly blinked once, slowly. They all… seemed so slow.
He had the ability, he was just refusing to squeeze the last bit of effort into moving against them. It was one thing to fight and kill the Creature, or the monsters that the System had arrayed against him. Or even people who were the in the midst of acts of violence. But now, he was considering that Thea was a tool of the Creature, and what that meant. And to Randidly, it meant that leaving her alive… was a threat to the whole of the Zone. The World.
Then Randidly realized why he was hesitating. In his thoughts of Sydney in the past, his words closely mirrored that of another individual. Someone that he deeply despised, albeit briefly, who used his powerful Class to dominate an entire Village before Randidly intervened.
...A king has three burdens, and three tools…
The tar guy arrived and Randidly met him with an Inevitable Phantom Arrives. Weak blows didn’t do much to displace his strange armor fluid, but this thrust ripped a deep hole in the armor. Chrysanthemum was hard on his heels, but Randidly just leaped up and jumped off the bear to cross the distance to Father Foster.
With predictable timing, Thea, leaped in the way of Randidly with her hammer raised. He remembered how cool her eyes were when she was faced with the truth that Father Foster would probably kill even more. That weight on his chest grew stronger. This decision affected someone else’s life. And it was final. He couldn’t take it back-
And what he was worried about was becoming a twisted man like the King of Turtletown. As he slowly came closer to using something like those tools, Randidly felt the burden growing increasingly cumbersome to handle.
A spear always advances.
Something loosened in him, Randidly raised his spear. “The Spear Advances, Ash Trails.”
In a blazing line, Randidly rushed forward. He kept his spear aloft, so instead of impaling Thea, he physically smashed her backwards with his body. She grunted softly, and there was the brief realization of how small her body truly was, and then Randidly’s momentum carried him forward and he rammed his spear into Father Foster’s chest.
To his surprise, Father Foster’s chest was extremely durable, and cracked only after extreme pressure. Although Randidly had been able to pierce into her chest briefly, the momentum then threw her further away, where she splashed and choked in the water.
Thea staggered to the side, clearly stunned from the collision, and Randidly looked down at her. Again, she was open for a strike. Randidly didn’t take it.
It was one thing to live your own life by your codes. It was another entirely to enforce your codes of living upon the world, or force the world to change to you. That was the line Randidly was now considering crossing.
But his vines were soaked in the blood of bodies of… things that had been deemed “human” by the System, based on the small amount of experience he gained for killing them. His fists tightened on the shaft of his spear. The weight on his chest was unbearable.
That… couldn’t be allowed to continue. They made this choice, that was clear. Then they wouldn’t leave this lake alive.