As Paolo and Kayle fell, Ace sat very still with his hands folded in his lap. There were several seconds of silence as those brief, blurred images repeated themselves before his eyes. Had he truly seen what he believed he had seen…?
Unfortunately, that moment of clarity passed like a dream. Immediately, his senses distracted him with information about the curious woman from Zone Seven and her minder sitting next to him, but he ignored them for now. Ultimately, they were a diversion. But this… what Ace had just seen was the real deal.
It was powerful enough to fill him with dread. Powerful enough that he couldn’t move while he was witnessing it.
So instead, Ace sat in the dark space of his mind and did his best to replay what he had just seen a few more times. He repeated that vision that he had barely managed to catch. Even with his Perception Skills revolving as forcefully as they could, Randidly had simply moved beyond what he had been capable of perceiving. Barely beyond, but the speed was enough that Ace would bet he could count on one hand the people watching that were able to truly see what happened. A smaller portion still could understand it.
Mrs. Hamilton, Alana, and Annie definitely would have, but Ace wasn’t sure any of Donnyton’s other elite specialized in Perception. Still, would those three reveal the truth? Or would they silence it?
Certainly, the crowd had no idea what was going on. Well, they knew the result and generally the method; Randidly had finally overpowered Kayle and Paolo, two of the most popular fighters in the town. But they didn’t understand how much the method of his actions changed things. How different that last attack had been.
If they did understand… would they feel fear?
Could a bug truly understand why it must fear the fickle whims of man?
“...how could one man move so quickly?” Yazhu muttered blankly, staring at the stage. Ace’s smile widened. That small spark of joy was enough to shake him out of his concentrated state, but he didn’t mind. It was enjoyable to feel superior to others immediately after Randidly had outclassed them all.
Heh, fool. This is the world stage. This is the pinnacle. And even with it occurring right in front of you, you cannot see it…
Am I jealous? Ace thought, watching as Randidly turned and walked away to find a spot to meditate. Is that why I enjoy the weakness of these two?
“I didn’t see anything at all,” Xia admitted, shaking her head. “But what I don’t understand is why the ground wasn’t destroyed by the force. If he was moving as quickly as he must be, and he returned to his starting position, how much control must he have…!”
That gave Ace pause. For the first time since he had met her, Ace examined her thoroughly once more. It seems this one isn’t for show. Sharp.
Because Xia was right and wrong at the same time. Randidly, for all his capability, would not be able to control his momentum enough to protect the arena. More so, there was no reason to; destroying it was par for the course for him. He had done it repeatedly thus far in his challenges.
It was one thing to know that, it was another thing to realize something was strange when it didn’t happen. For her to notice this when the rest of her senses were so blinded… well, perhaps Zone Seven wouldn’t be so weak forever.
Because Randidly hadn’t truly moved when he attacked. Ace reflected as he watched the healers hurrying out to Paolo and Kayle. The high-intensity fight between Helen and the group around her slowed to nothing as they realized that the fight was over. His feet were planted the entire time… He had simply grown.
At that moment, Randidly’s body had evolved into something monstrous. So quickly that Ace hadn’t been able to follow what was occurring at all. His limbs had stretched and scythed outward, cutting Paolo and Kayle down.
Interesting. Grinning, Ace got up and stretched. Very, very interesting.
Randidly sat on the ground, meditating. Or at least putting up the front of meditating. What he was actually doing was frantically using Golden Roots of Yggdrasil and Monstrosity’s Appalling Physicality to heal the damage that Randidly had done to his own body with the last move.
It was… hard to describe what had happened in those few seconds. Where Randidly had been expecting something grand, what he ended up experiencing was ultimately just extremely strange. As he activated All Else Succumbs, Yet Time Whirls the Earth he had been very careful to monitor his own condition. Yet even with that careful observation, he was still unsure exactly what had happened.
First his heartbeat. That had risen to become a dominant feature of his body. It filled his body with a strange power, one that was reminiscent of Randidly’s early images of the Inevitable Phantom arrives. But that was just the prelude. As his blood continued to pump, his whole psyche began to twist, like a spring being wound.
Finally, as the pressure inside of his body continued to build, Randidly’s formidable Willpower coalesced into the thought ‘Strike’. And he had lashed out and attacked both Paolo and Kayle at such speed that neither could react. Yet the damage he had done to himself was just as horrifying.
Looking at the Skill description was similarly unhelpful to determine what exactly had occurred in that tense moment.
All Else Succumbs, Yet Time Whirls the Earth (M): A Skill with great destructive power and infinite potential. The Chimera is a being that lived with suffering, forced to seek the pinnacle of adaptation to avoid the multitude of threats that would delight in the chance to snuff its life out. Time and time again, the Chimera was forced to evolve or die. In terms of survivability, none rival it. Yet, even the Chimera cannot resist the currents of time. Death, as with all things, would inevitably beckon. To the Creature that thrives on growing, this final end is its greatest fear. For this reason, out of all creatures, a Chimera accepts that ultimate invitation most unwillingly. Such is its blessing. Such is its curse.
But being dogged by such a dangerous enemy as time has given the Chimera vast insight into the world’s mysteries. By drawing heavily on the power of time that will inevitably destroy it, a Chimera is briefly able to travel through blurred Paths that it has not taken and will never take. All possibilities are open to it.
Warning! The further afield from its own Paths the Chimera wanders, the larger the damage it receives will be. Warning! Some damage may be permanent. Power of the effects gained vastly increases with Skill Level. Damage received marginally decreases with Skill Level.
Randidly grimaced. At least it's clear that the effects are powerful and grow quickly as the Skill becomes more powerful. It’s just unfortunate that the damage received is so slow to grow to compensate...
The state of his body was currently a testament to that. Even now, Randidly relied on the physical reinforcement Skills he received from both the Descent of the Grim Chimera and Yggdrasil to withstand the force. Even then, all Randidly had been able to do was make sure the damage was something he could cope with after an hour’s rest.
Unfortunately, this would be one of those moves that Randidly wouldn’t be able to use often. As such, the growth might be stagnant…
On the other hand… Twisting his mouth, Randidly looked at this offending Skill. It grew six Levels from only a single-use…
Then Randidly shook his head. Rather than finding a way to better avoid the damage, the correct path was figuring out the exact mechanism that the Skill used to accomplish that vast power Randidly had briefly felt. With a more concrete image, he would be able to offload a lot of the strain.
Although the text of the Skill was rather ambiguous, one thing was clear: the Skill allowed Randidly to briefly enjoy the benefits of Paths he had not taken. The further those Paths were from what Randidly actually had chosen, the more strain Randidly had to withstand.
From what he had felt… Randidly had gathered a vast amount of energy into his body… and then he had somehow… compressed time with himself…? Which would explain the damage he received…
“Ugh… I can’t figure it out without time to experiment.” Randidly sighed. A bloody Helen looked at him dully. The gulf of disappointment in her gaze had been present since Randidly finishing the battle before she had managed to overcome her sixteen opponents. Rather than being angry, she just seemed resigned. Bleakly, she gazed out across the arena, looking so much like a disappointed child that Randidly could barely stifle a laugh.
When Helen looked sharply up at him, the venom in her gaze abruptly restored, Randidly raised his hand to his mouth and pretended to cough. For a split second, he allowed the true damage he received from the Skill to show through.
Helen frowned at him. “Are you alright?”
“The new Skill is… strange.” Randidly admitted. Then he looked at Helen speculatively. “It… was hard for me to understand. Did you…?”
“Nah, but I felt when you used it.” Helen shook her head. “The whole arena shook. Not physically, but I felt… well, something strange through our connection.”
Randidly just grunted. Well, if I can’t figure this out, better think about how to use the other Skills…
The shift from two Skillsets into one saw some bleeding of different Skills, but after experimenting with them against Paolo and Kayle, Randidly was rather satisfied with the final result.
Cursed Appetite of the Wraith seemed to have absorbed the offensive capabilities of All is Ash and combined that with the suppression of Breath of the Spear Phantom. In addition, it gave him a passive damage boost the more attacks he avoided, likely as part of Wild Phantom’s Embrace.
As it was, Randidly could still create condensed blades and shields of the terrible hunger that he felt, as well as taking in a deep breath. This deep breath would rip the ability to breathe from people in the surrounding area, as well as stealing a small amount of Mana and Stamina. These Skills were based on ash exactly, but a sort of condensed grey emotion. A combination of despair and resentment that seemed useful at leaching away the strength of opponents.
Unfortunately, I was so shocked at the effects that I repeated the Stamina and Mana absorption several times. There is no way that Kayle missed it, Randidly thought grimly. He looked over at the tightly packed VIP box. Because it steals from each person, it would give me an even bigger edge if they send everyone against me. Still… useful for the future.
Monstrosity’s Appalling Physicality was a pure physical boost, and likely the most pedestrian of the Skills he obtained. Of course, that was just because the bonus was of a recognizable type. The magnitude of the bonus was anything but average. Likely, in terms of physical defense and recovery, Randidly’s abilities had doubled. Which, considering his already inhuman levels in those areas, was ridiculous
However, considering the strain some of the Skills put on his body, now seemed entirely necessary.
Reaper’s Mantle of Catastrophe was an evolution of Frigid Ash, Devouring Storm. Randidly also couldn’t help but notice some thematic elements that it had stolen from his Crown of Upheaval and Gloom. As it was, all people within a few meters of Randidly would find their movements restricted. If Randidly burned Mana, he could spread that area out to fifty or so meters. The longer one remained in the area, the more he or she would be afflicted.
Unfortunately, using his other Skills just seemed like such a more efficient way to spend Mana, but as the Skill Level improved, the passive effect would become more valuable.
Molten Fang of the Pariah was the baby that Randidly had received from Ulaat, Patron of Ash. It contained all of his anguish and bitterness, condensed into a brand and shaped like a spear. And also mixed with the uncanny attack speed of an Inevitable Phantom Arrives.
Man is Proud, But the Chimera Takes was the combination of Spear Advances, Ash Trails, and As the Sun Stills. While using it, Randidly would rip across the arena and gather all of his terrible hunger into a strike that would destroy anyone who dared to receive it head on.
This was another Skill that had a powerful physical toll. After using it a few times, Randidly had ceased to experiment with it against Paolo and Kayle. Paolo seemed to have some way to disperse the damage, and Kayle was able to deflect too much of it away. It wasn’t cost-effective to use it against them.
But against monsters that were less skilled at dodging...
Chimera Weeps as Man Mourns was a move that allowed Randidly to strike up rapidly for a short period of time. Although the power wasn’t that impressive, the sheer speed and wide area of effect made it a useful tool.
And the most confusing of his newly acquired Skills… honestly, Randidly hadn’t been impressed at first by Chimeric Avoidance. As it was a Skill that blended together All is Ash and When a Shadow Departs, Fireflies Dance, Randidly had high expectations. Yet the name was rather bland.
But in practice… it was even scarier than Randidly could believe.
Chimeric Avoidance (L): The uncanny ability for the chimera to avoid grave harm is its greatest strength. A portion of all damage received is always avoided. A portion of Attribute expenditures and mental strain is always avoided. In addition, the Skill can be activated to shift the physical body to a position that violates the laws of physics. With this Avoidance, even universal laws can be briefly surpassed. Effect of avoidance increases with Skill Level. Time limit of avoiding universal laws increases. Current Avoidance Percentage: 8%.
When Randidly saw that 8%, he just blinked. Did that mean… he avoided 8% of all damage that he would receive… and all Skills cost 8% less…?
And the line about avoiding universal laws…
Randidly couldn't’ help but wonder if this Skill, rather than Monstrosity’s Appalling Physicality, was the reason that using All Else Succumbs, Yet Time Whirls the Earth was possible. Somehow, he was now only bound by 92% of the limitations that covered other people.