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A note from puddles4263

12/14

Helen’s breath came in ragged gasps. Alana was strong. She always knew that. Which was why Helen hadn’t had any intention of challenging her directly. It was Dozer that she had her focus looked upon.

Yet why was this fucking bitch constantly trying to kill her?!?! Without even using any active Skills… it was maddening. It was infuriating how stifled Helen felt.

Very quickly, Helen had been pushed to the edge of the arena. As her feet were up against that precipice, Helen’s anger drained away. All that was left was determination. Her focus on Dozer was discarded as useless; right now, this foe was far more dangerous. If she wanted to avoid death right now, she couldn't’ afford any distractions.

After all, Helen had no delusions about her abilities; although she had reached Level 50 on this planet, her Skills and images were still filtered through Randidly’s Domain. She could bring to bear most of her power, but that last 10% that she was missing was especially noticeable in battles of this level.

Her current failures against Alana were to be expected. Despite the other woman’s frequently divided attention, Helen couldn’t do anything but retreat.

And now there was no longer any room to fall back.

Yet Helen was not one of the apex predators in her mind. No, that was not her path. In her right hand, her harpoon began to hum softly. The cadence was carried along the chain snaking behind her back to her bone knife in the other hand. That noise grew, nurtured in her heart, even as Alana’s precise strikes continued to force Helen to inch backward.

Very soon, Helen’s heel was no longer on solid ground. It was suspended in the air above the two-meter drop to the area surrounding the arena. Still, Alana’s strikes rained toward her, faster and faster.

The Hellfin Reaper roared defiantly in her chest as if it would fight to the death to avenge this grievance. Yet its eyes roved around calculatingly, considering the different forces at play in the arena. On the far side, the group gathered around Randidly made its move, giving up on striking him down from afar and rushing toward him.

Honestly, they were forced to. With the assistance of the strikes from his roots, the riders were dancing around Dozer and deeply wounding the other elites. Clarissa cast spells to slow them down, but they weren’t interested in finishing off anyone. They were simply trying to sap Donnyton’s strength.

Helen breathed deeply, savoring the hint of blood in the air. Her Domain rippled, almost imperceptibly.

In response to the aggression toward Randidly, the tree behind him grew even taller, its thick roots covered in golden script digging greedily into the ground around him. Although it was just an image, the whole quarry rumbled ominously from the strain of withstanding Randidly’s image digging into it.

“Let’s stop playing around,” Randidly said simply. He raised Acri and pointed it at Donny. “Are you ready?”

Behind Randidly, there was a flickering in the air. Cold eddies of ash and dried blood gathered around him. Then the monstrous form of the Chimera condensed. Ripples spread outward, as the two images of the tree and the chimera coexisted.

As someone familiar with using images, Helen could sense the ripples brushing up against each other. However, rather than using them to influence the surrounding area right now, Randidly kept their influence rather focused. As such, they only served the specific purposes of strengthening his other Skills, rather than acting as a pseudo-Domain.

Yet those images together immediately changed the feel of the surrounding air. As with the area around all top-tier image users Helen had seen, the boundaries of reality were blurred by the System. They would need to move soon, or some of the surrounding individuals would naturally form a concrete image as the brains defensive response to the pressure they were under.

Although I suppose that is the point, isn’t it? Helen dodged Alana’s sluggish attack. While the other woman was so clearly distracted, her foot advanced imperceptibly, maintaining her stance on the edge of the arena.

It was a small movement, but it was still the first time she had managed to advance. Helen took another breath. The scent of blood in the arena was growing stronger.

The immediate shock radiating outward from the Donnyton group was palpable.

“How can you manage both-”

But before Donny could say anything further, the entire arena was engulfed in an all-encompassing light.

That wave of light that erupted from Randidly’s pale grey Crown. Suddenly, the entire area seemed to be bathed in twilight, transforming everything to a dreamlike state. While within the sphere of that light, even Helen tensed up. Although she had never experienced this ability of the Crown before, it was clear that it was not ordinary. Even Alana’s constant roiling energy couldn’t rid the area of it entirely.

Above them, it seemed that Randidly’s emerald eyes were inspecting every inch of the battlefield. Then, as quickly as the light had covered the arena, it disappeared. With the pause over, Donnyton’s group surged into motion to attack Randidly. But then Spearing Roots stabbed upward out of the ground in cruel waves, attacking everyone who was touching the ground.

Even Alana was hit by a wave, although a simple stomp of her foot produced a wave of flame that reduced the roots to ash. Helen grimaced. This woman was altogether too capable.

Still, that time was enough for Helen to push herself to go deeper into her own Domain, causing the thick currents of crimson energy to grow more dangerous and chaotic.

Helen’s Domain was somewhat special in that there were multiple layers to it that Helen could utilize. As with that final fight on Tellus, it was possible for Helen to dive deeper into the world of her Domain, causing its power and influence to skyrocket.

Yet at the same time, Helen’s dive expose herself to increased danger. If her Domain were to be shattered in this state, her image would be extremely damaged. Luckily, Randidly had beaten resiliency into her Domain. Although she still resented him for some of the torturous training she had been subjected to, she couldn’t deny how useful it was.

Alana’s spear whipped outward and Helen leaned backward. With a detached numbness, Helen watched the gleaming tip slide past the surface of her eye. No, deeper still.

Alana quickly pulled her spear back into a defensive stance and glared at Helen. It seemed that she sensed that the other woman was preparing something, and launched herself toward Helen to prevent it. Unfortunately, another wave of roots ripped upward, these cutting toward Alana at sharp angles that were much more difficult to deal with. Alana was forced lower her spear and shear the roots like it was unruly grass.

Perfect. Helen’s face bloomed into a grin. Around her, the crimson aura darkened into something close to maroon. The currents became wild and unpredictable. At this depth, even Helen couldn’t control the Domain perfectly.

But I can utilize them well enough, Helen thought as she stepped back into a current and let it whisk her away. Alana’s spear cut toward her, a split second too late to catch up. Growling, Alana dashed after her, spear raised.

Narrowing her eyes, Helen landed and adjusted her stance. It wasn’t fair to rely on her Domain to oppress Alana, but she had no other choice at the moment. Especially while Randidly’s Domain continued to act like chains around her. While the other woman was occupied, Helen sprinted across the arena toward the group battling against roots and the riders.

I’m a scavenger… it's time you learn how terrifying that is. While the unstoppable leviathan is the calamity that leaves destruction in its wake… it is the scavengers that cling to its belly that bugs such as these need to fear.

*****

Randidly’s eyes scanned through the arena in a split second, his Crown informing him of every movement and Skill within the area. Then he used the Infinite Fingers of Yggdrasil to rip up through the ground and destabilize the footing of all of Donnyton’s forces. In addition, those roots also struck upward with vicious intent.

Luckily the graceful bodies of the riders could endure that sort of uneven terrain without even slowing. Although Dozer, Paolo, and Kayle had managed to arrive in time to threaten the riders, they were slowed by the broken ground, giving the riders a chance to strike and escape.

All but one of the riders managed it, while one was unfortunately crushed to the ground by an overwhelming strike from Dozer. Still, five or six of Donnyton’s elites lay unmoving after the sudden raid. Without much fanfare, Randidly used roots to fling their bodies out of the arena. At this point, they would just get in the way.

Donny rushed forward and lashed out once more toward Randidly, but that just caused Randidly to grin. While maintaining two images at once was difficult, the burden on his mind was immensely reduced now that both were stable images. With their discrete details, it wasn’t impossible for Randidly to make use of both at once.

Immediately, the active of Cursed Appetite of a Wraith pulled at everyone within the arena. As Randidly breathed in, so too did he suck in Stamina and Mana, as well as stealing their ability to breath. Donny’s eyes narrowed as Randidly lowered his stance in preparations to attack.

Apparently, Donny’s Stats were greatly improved as well, because his shield moved sharply up in time to deflect away the Molten Fang of the Pariah that Randidly unleashed without any warning. Unfortunately, Donny wasn’t ready for the rapid movement Randidly used to then reposition himself at Donny’s strike and unleash a second Molten Fang of the Pariah.

Thin steel cords whipped forward from Mrs. Hamilton's fingers, but Chimeric Avoidance made these child’s play to step around. Besides, her goal wasn’t to wound him but only to keep him in one place and distract him. Many of the attacks were superfluous. It seemed that Mrs. Hamilton’s true goal was to figure out how much information his Control and Intelligence could handle.

Randidly’s grin widened. This isn’t nearly enough to give me pause.

The situation was complicated somewhat by Annie’s annoyingly accurate and destructive arrows, but in response, Randidly simply conjured more Infinite FIngers of Yggdrasil that reached upward and smashed the arrows out of the sky.

Which left Randidly in a melee duel. Donny chopped downward and Randidly was already gone. He sucked once more, using Cursed Appetite of the Wraith to keep both his Mana and Stamina at 90%. Honestly… perhaps he shouldn’t rid himself of the small fries just yet. They doubled the number of Attributes that he could absorb in this fight. If Donnyton didn’t have an answer for this…

“We can’t wait any longer,” Mrs. Hamilton said while shaking her head. Then she looked at Sam. “It’s time.”

While they were speaking, Randidly conjured several more waves of roots to harass Donnyton’s forces. Those who attempted to endure the damage from the roots without moving were blasted with Eruption of the Blazing Leyline. Across the arena, the ground continued to fracture as Randidly’s Skills emerged upwards at unpredictable intervals.

Donny’s blade was sharp and fast, but Chimeric Avoidance folden Randidly’s body. Soon he was around it and smashing Donnyton’s formation again with roots so his Riders could strike.

However, quite a few of those attacks Randidly was forced to concentrate on Alana. Of them all, she seemed the most unphased by his constant strikes. However, without his intervention, it was clear that she would corner and crush Helen. With his assistance, however, Helen rapidly rushed toward a tall man who had been acting as a healer for all of the Squads when Ptolemy couldn’t act himself.

Although Randidly had hit him with several powerful Skills, the man was remarkably fast at shifting his position. Not so fast he couldn’t be caught, but Randidly was fighting too many battles at once. Even if his Control wasn’t at his limit, his attention was. Although he could handle more information, there was no need to press the issue at this point.

Sam, who had just been standing as Donny was struggling against Randidly, raised his hammer and smashed it against the ground. Instantly, Randidly felt the change in the air. From the location where Sam had hit the ground, a wave of frost spread outward. Very soon, it had covered half of the arena.

Blinking his head in wonder, Randidly looked down at the frozen ground. What crazy sort of weapon did you make now, Sam…?

Before Randidly could respond further, Clarissa and a mage next to her began to act. Clarissa raised her hands to the sky while the short man crouched down and pressed his hand against the ground.

“Creeping Frost! Creeping Frost! Creeping Frost!”

“Harden! Calcify! Harden! Calcify!”

It didn’t take long for Randidly to realize what they were doing. Very quickly, his expression turned grim.

The ground beneath him had been enhanced and frozen. Although normally Randidly would be able to pierce upward through the ground without a problem, now the topsoil had been transformed into something akin to bedrock. A quick series of probes revealed that all of the ground around the arena had been forged into a heavy shield, pointing downward toward the ground beneath.

If that wasn’t enough, the powerful frost spells that Clarissa had cast had multiplied the effectiveness of Sam’s weapon, which severely weakened his plants. Underneath the effects of that pervasive image of cold, Randidly could only use a fraction of his Infinite Fingers of Yggdrasil’s ability.

Randidly’s expression darkened.

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