Donny folded his arms. This was his least favorite part of the preparations. His hands were sweaty and his breath came short and often. That was excitement. But most of that was being dispersed by the reality of what he had to accomplish before the actual battle would start.
The plan was important, he knew, but it wasn’t something that he needed to participate in. At this point, it just felt like a farce. Donny reached up and rubbed the bridge of his nose. This was why so many people were turning toward battle, he knew. This management portion of being a leader… it was a heavy weight to bear.
Likely, that was why Randidly had passed it off on Donny so long ago. That was why his life had taken an abrupt turn for the better, even after everything went to hell.
“His ability to absorb people’s Mana certainly makes things difficult,” Glendel said.
Stan shrugged. Then he shot a quick glance at Mrs. Hamilton, who was standing behind him while wearing a thin smile. Seeing no other indication, Stan turned back to Glendel. “Maybe, but it was already for the best we streamline this group. If people aren’t able to ignore the mental strain that Randidly can cause, they will just get in the way during the fight.”
“Plus, it seems that those with Fates condensed can have somewhat lowered Stats and still resist the image well enough.” Mrs. Hamilton added lightly. “Although these two criteria cut down our numbers to only about fifty… those fifty will be the most capable group that Donnyton can field. They will be the group that shall gather information as to whether the final rung will be necessary.”
Frowning, Donny forced himself to remain quiet. This was all just an act. An act that he knew was necessary.
Not that this would be the end of it. Hell, before the challenge started he was required rile up the spirits of the audience. That could be considered a portion of this act. Yet it all felt so… exhausting. All this effort spent on placating and preparing, while Randidly simply stood in the center of the arena and waited for the challengers to line up before him.
It was somewhat envious. To simply walk from one battlefield to the next, waiting for brave challengers to throw themselves at him. In between, to be able to lose oneself in training and not be required to manage the lives of others.
Of course, Randidly had his own concerns. They just seemed somewhat manageable, from Donny’s perspective.
“Ahem,” Stan coughed lightly. “There are a few details that I want to review with everyone. Specifically… images. That is that stated motivation for this challenge; that is Randidly’s main justification.
“What we have learned is that in a lot of ways… he’s right about their effect.” Stan readily admitted. “These are a powerful force that are a much broader application of Skills. When trained to extremes… well, everyone felt the reverberations from his attacks. Everybody heard the terrifying noise produced by the grand tree he summons. If Donnyton can master that, our strength will be that much greater-”
“Shouldn’t we focus on the plan, at the moment? There is no need to dither here, throwing out meaningless compliments.” Mrs. Hamilton asked sweetly. Stan paled.
After blinking several times, Stan spoke again. “Ah… yes of course. There are only two critical facts relating to images that give us a fighting chance: two images can’t be maintained near each other and Skills possess inherent, albeit weak, images. Therefore, the initial part of the battle will involve us attempting to circle around both Randidly and Helen to force them to stay in close proximity.
“So far, they’ve separated and acted independently to lessen their individual images interference on each other. So we force them to remain in next to each other. Both images are powerful, but that is without us being able to mount any real resistance to the image. If the two images mix, their strength-.”
“They will simply overpower us to break out,” Dozer said, folding his arms. Many of the surrounding elites nodded, agreeing with his assessment.
Stan nodded as well. “Of course. That’s when we spring the trap.”
Mrs. Hamilton cleared her throat. “By far, Randidly’s most dangerous weapon is his ability to manipulate plant life. Without suppressing that, it becomes a battle of attrition, and his monstrous regeneration makes any sort of competition on that front extremely perilous. By letting him break through with his Skills and then quickly suppressing them, we will put him on the backfoot. Also, he will be alone. Without support, we will then we force him into melee range.”
The surrounding people’s expression darkened at that last statement. Paolo and Kayle’s injuries were too fresh in their mind for them to be excited about the prospect of facing Randidly’s attacks directly. Donny sharpened his gaze. Even I need to take part, then?
Then Donny spoke lightly, keeping his tone even to gently refocus the thoughts of the surrounding individuals. “How confident are you in suppressing his plants?”
Rather than answer, Mrs. Hamilton turned toward two individuals standing next to each other on the far side of the VIP booth: Clarissa and Sam.
Sam just sent Mrs. Hamilton a sour look. He detested these sort of shows even more than Donny did. And although Sam likely didn’t know the true trick of the battle, he was too used to dealing with Mrs. Hamilton not to expect a dagger hidden in the dark, aimed at Randidly’s back.
Instead, Clarissa spoke. “Relatively confident. During my challenge, it seemed that my frost within the ground heavily suppressed his Skills effectiveness. And that was only collateral damage; if I focus my spells, it will be much more effective. He can brute force his way through it, as he previously demonstrated, but it is enough to make sure he cannot simply dominate all of us with that Skill’s reach.”
Stan spoke to continue with the explanation. “So they break through, we begin to suppress the plants. In addition, the group will split into two groups. The final group insisted on by, uh, consensus… is fifty-two people. Only those who possess a Fate and the requisite ability to resist Randidly’s images… and those who are deemed-”
All she had to do was frown and Stan shivered.
Donny suppressed a laugh. Mrs. Hamilton certainly had this fool on a short leash after the debacle of the earlier rung. Donny had only heard the end of their discussion, but Stan was willing to give ground on all of those who participated without Fates, except the Cortez siblings.
Theoretically more was better against Randidly, but Stan’s plan involved pushing Randidly to the edge. Therefore, Stan argued, if the individual standing nearest when Randidly’s weakness was revealed couldn’t strike a decisive blow…
But Donny agreed with Mrs. Hamilton on this count. Having the kids gain experience wouldn’t make a difference either way. Besides, Mrs. Hamilton didn’t currently have a Fate, and yet no one dared to voice opposition to her inclusion.
“...anyways,” Stan drew a shaky breath. “While most everyone will surround Randidly and work together to whittle away his Attributes, Alana, Dozer, and the two Cortez siblings will work on suppressing Helen.”
Alana’s gaze tightened, but she said nothing. She simply looked at the stone ground. That caused Donny to blink in surprise.
She’s getting better at hiding her displeasure. Is it because she understands that Helen is the weak point we need to manipulate, or does she think it won’t matter, in the end…? But to think she isn’t going to say a word as the rest of us hog the dubious pleasure of slowing down Randidly Ghosthound...
“If we can force Helen into desperate straits and eliminate her, then Randidly will be entirely surrounded.” Mrs. Hamilton finished. “Without overwhelming power, Randidly Ghosthound will fall before our combined attacks.”
A logical statement generally, Donny allowed. Yet none of the evidence we have witnessed today seems to support it… It will be a long fight, either way.
Everyone nodded sharply as an air of determination spread over the gathering. The easy sense of what she was saying was enough to guide most away from their earlier worries. In its place, a steely fortitude settled over the group.
...and then was promptly destroyed as Annie stretched and yawned. “Hopefully, this at least last long enough for that dumb kid to fall asleep. Then I’ll get a night alone in our bed…!”
“And I?” Dozer rumbled.
Annie shooed him away. “We have a couch, don’t we? Do you know how fucking long it’s been since I’ve been able to chug a barrel of wine and just burp without worrying that little terror would start mimicking my gas for the next week? So stressful. It’s very possible I might fall prey to wrinkles soon...”
As Annie and Dozer continued their strange version of flirting and walked out onto the arena, most of the other assembled people followed. Then, all it took was a sharp gesture from Mrs. Hamilton for Stan to hurry away and she and Donny were alone.
“Are you prepared?” She asked shortly.
Donny just nodded.
She tapped her cheek with her long fingers, considering him. “And the time limit…?”
“We tested it up to thirty minutes, and there were no… permanent side effects.” Donny grunted. Then he scratched the back of his neck. Although he suspected it wasn’t a comfortable thing at all to endure for the other party.
“Good. Then I have no doubt we will win. Donnyton will remain as the unshakable power on Earth, despite Randidly’s best efforts.”
Donny looked at Mrs. Hamilton. He supposed that she was trying to sound encouraging, but she just sounded tired. At that moment, she looked how Donny felt. That made him grimace. The weight the two of them had borne together for so long was finally starting to take its toll on both of them. Yet he had no small amount of sympathy for Mrs. Hamilton.
Donny supposed that the antics of Stan had hit her harder than he had expected.
It was good to know that sometimes, Mrs. Hamilton was just as shocked by some things as the rest of them were.
“Paolo and Kayle’s healing took much longer than anticipated,” Donny said lightly to change the subject. “Regina informed me that some strange energy was present in their wounds… it took a repeated Revitalizes in order to remove the lingering damage, and only after that energy was gone would the healing begin.”
Mrs. Hamilton just twisted her lips. The two looked out at the arena. All of Donnyton’s strength was gathered here. This was the best they had. Both understood that the last rung would be pointless. They would either win here or lose.
“Did you see it?” Donny asked simply.
Nodding, Mrs. Hamilton seemed someone helpless. “The most powerful Raid Boss that the Earth has ever faced…”
“And it's the man that saved all our lives,” Donny murmured.
Both looked over at the sitting form of Randidly. Neither spoke for several seconds.
“Let’s have fun,” Donny said as he looked out toward the unadorned silhouette of Randidly.
“You sound like Alana,” Mrs. Hamilton replied, her lips curling upward. ”Today, let’s just avoid the loss, shall we?”