As soon as Alana pulled away from the fight, Helen loosened the tight control she had kept over her movements. Her Tides of Blood Domain spiraled around her, dark and thick. The pressure it exerted on Helen was enough to make sure she didn’t forget how deeply she was proceeding into her own image. At this depth, even she was in danger.
Yet she needed to utilize that strength now, while she had the chance to make a comeback.
Dozer’s roars had slowly fallen away over the course of the fight so that his red eyes were now simply fixed upon her. The only noises in their fight were the noises of their breath and the fearsome whispers of their weapons ripping through the air.
Even as Dozer brought his huge club across toward Helen, she danced backward out of its effective range. Which was quite a long dance, due to the horrendous size of the thing. Then she hopped onto a current of blood and flowed around to the side of Dozer, fast enough that she left a series of after-images in her wake.
But Dozer had seen this trick a dozen times before and was still under the boosting effects of his Skill. He kicked toward her chest, forcing her to twist awkwardly and leave the current before it carried her directly into his strike.
Even if he knew that trick of hers, Helen wasn’t one to let such a wide opening go without punishment.
Helen’s harpoon sunk deeply into Dozer’s leg as she passed. With a loud grunt, Dozer yanked his leg backward and then used his hand to pull Helen toward him. His Strength practically ripped her shoulder out of its socket. Gritting her teeth, Helen accepted the pull and allowed herself to fly toward Dozer.
He immediately dropped his club and his hands shot out like projectile steel traps, ready to grip and crush her limbs. But Helen’s eyes glittered as she made her skinning knife dance across her left hand’s fingertips. Did you think that this much would be able to slow me down?
Pressing herself to the limit, Helen drew them deeper and deeper to the world of her Domain. Around them, large shadows began to circle, curious about these two strange beings that suddenly emerged in their sovereign waters. But Helen didn’t have time for them now. Instead, she began to unleash a blistering series of slashes toward Dozer’s arms.
Dozer endured the attacks stoically, choosing to sacrifice his limbs in order to catch Helen. With the amount of blood in the air, Helen’s speed had reached the point that Dozer wasn’t able to catch up to her under normal circumstances. And as long as she could continue to dodge…
But Dozer’s eyes were sharp. Helen wriggled out of the way of one of the hands and found that the other jumped abruptly forward toward her chest. Time seemed to slow as the currents spiraled downward, giving her the slightest edge. But it wasn’t enough.
With raw force, Dozer blasted through the bindings of those currents.
Narrowing her eyes, Helen refused to retreat. I will beat him. For weeks, it was for this moment, this chance, that I struggled against Randidly’s fucking Domain…!
Like a lightning strike, Helen’s hand blurred outward and severed Dozer’s thumb. The small appendage fell. Seeing the difficulty in grabbing her without a thumb, Dozer opted to simply smash Helen directly backward with his attack.
Choking, Helen was smashed into the ground and rolled lightly back up to her feet was still partially stunned. Her head was still spinning when Dozer appeared in front of her again, his club cutting downward to crush her into pulp.
Instincts kicked in, forcing her dazed body to yank on the chain of the harpoon still stuck in Dozer’s leg. It was nowhere near enough to shake his stance, but it did give Helen the momentum to tumble down between Dozer’s legs. Such was the difference in their physical sizes that she passed under him easily, slashing his calves for good measure.
Unfortunately, Dozer was not the vanguard of Donnyton for no reason.
Even though Dozer’s attack simply struck the ground, the surrounding area buckled and seethed. Even as Helen was leaping to her feet, the stance she had was shattered as the ground gave way beneath her. Luckily Dozer’s weight made his situation even more precarious; as his attacks split the ground, his legs pierced into the ground almost up to the knee before the shattered ground managed to stabilize.
As both twisted and attempted to face each other, small aftershocks made the surrounding ground tremble. Horrified and fascinated, Helen stood stock still as she could feel the ground underneath the arena shift and collapse on itself. To her left, Helen saw a portion of the stands groan and crack as the ground beneath it began to slide down into the surrounding water.
Immediately, members of Donnyton’s Squads surged into motion. As the people in the cliffs over the quarry watched, Donnyton forced those who were on the actual island of the challenge to evacuate.
Her gaze flicked to the sudden flow of intimidated bodies away, then back to Dozer. A cracking, rustling sound came from the ground, warning them that its protestations were not finished. At almost the same time, Helen and Dozer recovered from their lack of balance and leapt toward each other. Even if the ground collapsed beneath them, their fight would continue. That was their resolve.
“DRAAAAAAAAH!” Dozer bellowed, unleashing a blast of noise that slapped Helen face with a physical force. Immediately, she could feel her own Strength ebbing somewhat. Apparently, the yell was some sort of Skill.
“I’LL KILL YOU!” Came her immediately caustic response. At that moment, all Helen saw was the disapproving face of her mother.
I only want what’s best for you, Her mother’s specter seemed to say. It will be much better for the family if you just settle down-
Dozer swung his club downward toward Helen. Helen yanked on her chain, ripping her harpoon out of Dozer’s leg in a spray of blood that left drops splattered across her torn and ripped armor. One drop even landed on her cheek.
Why can’t you be more like your cousin, Helen’s mother complained.
“I’m a knight, mum,” Helen mumbled. She straightened and rushed forward, aiming to get closer to Dozer before he could fully smash her to bits. But her current speed wasn’t enough. Even now, after she had obtained Level 50 and a Fate, she could still feel the tight bindings of Randidly’s Domain holding her back. As long as she wasn’t of this world…
As long as she was an outsider…
Why do you struggle?
Dozer’s eyes possessed no hint of malice or excitement. They were a vast expansive of brown, dispassionately observing her as she attempted to kill him. The tip of Helen’s harpoon slid upward. Although she was unable to reach Dozer’s throat easily, his heart was well within her spear’s range.
Yet she would not be as quick as Dozer’s club. She would be shattered before he could be skewered.
“I’m his knight,” Helen wheezed through gritted teeth. In her mind, a dark silhouette with burning emerald eyes and a pale crown stood behind her. His hands floated downward and touched her back with the lightness of a feather. The feeling of every finger was clear on her shoulders. His hands were warm.
I’m his knight… and he is my lord. In a way, we are one.
He gave her a nudge forward.
The constraints of the Domain loosened just slightly. So slightly Helen thought she might have imagined it. But for the first time, Helen wasn’t an ‘other’. She was his vast left arm that bound this world to the world inside of him. She was the knight of Randidly Ghosthound. She was a spear.
She was a bridge.
Randidly’s Domain rustled and trembled. Helen stepped forward.
When Dozer’s club struck her, it shattered her femur and sent her tumbling to the side. Such was the force of the blow that it had imparted upon Helen enough momentum that her eventually crash into the ground hurt more than the initial strike had. Luckily, he hadn’t struck her exactly in her center of gravity, and much of the force was dispersed by the spinning.
Even still, Helen had lost her weapon and she felt her Domain slowly breaking apart. As the connection between the worlds faded, those deep monsters that were watching the two fight simply remained passive observers, mystified by the sudden appearance and disappearance of these small beings.
The sky above was dark and overcast. No stars could be seen. But the ground below shifted. Biting her tongue to stay conscious, Helen sat upward.
Dozer stood there, a harpoon sticking out of the middle right of his broad chest. He looked at Helen and grinned. “A good fight.”
Then he toppled over, leaving the panting Helen alone.
For several seconds she just coughed, trying to gather herself. She released her Fate, unwilling to simply let the harpoon remain in Dozer’s insides. Already, a team of Donnyton’s medics was scurrying outward to Dozer, even as the evacuation of the stands continued. By this point, over half of the stands were empty.
Below them, the ground continued to shift. Helen regarded the thick cracks uneasily. At this rate, the arena wouldn’t last through the end of this rung.
Abruptly, a sharp wave of mental pressure made Helen looked sharply upward. Floating in the sky, Randidly seemed to burn like a solar eclipse. The edges were blinding, but the core was infinitely empty and black. And as she watched, Randidly’s form slowly twisted and changed.
His left hand twisted and cracked audibly, its elbow and fingers extending into long, dagger-like blades. The skin rippled, shifting to deep grey scales in a heartbeat. On Randidly’s right arm, his hand twitched until a long spur of bone emerged from his palm, crimson with fresh blood.
Very quickly that bone extended, forming a spear-like shape even as his fingers withered to ash and bone dust around the newly appeared weapon. Dark veins spread across his body as two long bone tails emerged from his neck and tailbone. That pale crown he wore continued to burn, but his features faded away as a thin layer of skin grew to cover him. Then, all that could be seen were two dark smudged that indicated his eye sockets, and the dark gulf that was his mouth.
The Grim Chimera… is actually manifesting. Helen thought in shock as she stared upward. He’s using Skills to create an image, and then using that image in a way that should be possible only with Skills… this form… is an independent manifestation.
Which means… Helen thought in awe. Randidly Ghosthound is touching upon the Master level…
And to meet this monster at the location of its descent, a woman surrounding by the hot orange wind walked slowly forward. In her too, Helen could sense no animosity or hatred. Like Dozer, she did not fear the approaching fight.
No, as Alana moved forward… the only emotion she was projecting outward was joy.