Valdis wildly fended off Humphrey’s attacks as behind him, Sigrid desperately healed their team members. Even using his smaller sword Humphrey couldn’t match Valdis’ speed but his strength was overwhelming. Valdis was more highly-mobile striker than defender and could not meet the barrage of special attacks leaving him to a slow retreat as Sigrid fell back behind him.
In their previous encounters, Valdis had always ended up fighting Sophie while Humphrey used his heavy sword style to pressure the heavy defender from Valdis’ team. He had dismissed Humphrey’s swordsmanship as all power, no finesse.
Now Humphrey used his smaller sword, stylised as an angelic wing. Despite the embellishments it was still a practical, single-edged sabre, flashing out with much more rapid attacks than Valdis had seen from Humphrey in the past. When he first moved to protect Sigrid, Valdis assumed his superior skills would compensate for being forced into holding his ground. Only now did he remember that Humphrey’s mother was a famous swordswoman. Humphrey’s swordsmanship was every bit as rigorously trained as his own.
If it were simply a duel, Valdis’ mobility and experience at duels and lighter blades would have given him the edge. Forced to keep himself between Humphrey and Sigrid, the advantage fell to Humphrey, whose style was more suited to a standing clash. He pushed Valdis back step by step, with solid, unrelenting attacks.
While Valdis had the unquestionably stronger team, the one advantage Jason and his allies had was versatility. They had seen almost every trick Valdis and his highly efficient cohort had to offer, while they had more up their own sleeves. Their ability to surprise was what had forced Valdis into the position he was now in.
As the fight began, Sophie, who normally went after Valdis, had instead bolted away while the rest of her team had converged on him to sell the feint. Clive switch-teleporting her with the heavy defender guarding Sigrid was the signal to give up the feint and move on her instead.
The defender had not been worried. Displacing the defenders was a standard strategy he had faced before and his abilities included a rapid-movement power that allowed him to reposition as circumstances required. When he went to use it, however, he was yanked back like a chained-up dog trying to sprint and getting pulled up by the neck.
He turned to look at what had jerked him back. There was a crystal rod sticking out of the ground, with a force tether connecting it to him. He launched into a charging special attack, which bounced off a force field around the rod, although he felt the impact weaken the field. At first he failed to notice the sense that another of his abilities suddenly became unavailable, as if he had used it as well.
He was human and had no shortage of special attacks, so when he started unleashing them, the force field quickly starting to buckle. When the field finally gave out, the crystal rod exploded, blasting him backwards. He was far too tough for that much to stop him, although he certainly felt it. It was not his first experience with the armour-penetrating feel of resonating force damage.
He pushed himself swiftly to his feet, only then realising that for every attack he had used, another power had been expended, including his critical movement powers. He recalled it was the effect of a curse levied by the strange role-shifting woman on the enemy team. With a grimace, he started running back in the direction of the main battle, encumbered by his heavy armour.
Sigrid had suffered a near-fatal damage when Jason and his team had sprung their trap out of the feint against Valdis. As Jason predicted, her team had suffered a brief but critical moment of panic, leaving the most slender of windows in which Sigrid was exposed to attack. Their enemies were poised for that moment, Jason’s team poised to switch gears while Valdis’ team moved to protect him.
Sigrid had barely kept herself alive through the use of a potent self-heal that would not be available again for hours. Even then, she was left badly hurt and even suffering some afflictions. Humphrey’s spirit reaper attack had pounded down her personal shield, giving Jason the chance to throw some quick spells her way before the shield snapped back up.
Both teams had six members although their make ups were very different. Compared to Jason’s eclectic and versatile team, Valdis had a traditional healer and heavy defender. The rest of his team were mobile and attack-focused and they focused on swift blitz tactics. Along with Valdis himself was a spearwoman who specialised in potent, charging strikes. Their ranged attackers were an archer using a mid-range skirmish style and a spell caster with the wind and needle essences.
Those three attackers found themselves in a fast-moving dance with Jason and Sophie, startled to find the pair more than holding their own against superior odds. Sophie was even faster than they were and apparently impervious to harm. She deflected projectiles with her bare hands, physical and magical alike. When they tried to catch her in area attacks, they hit empty air she had already vacated.
Like Valdis, the trio were startled by the skill of their enemy. While they were frustrated at the inability to inflict any real damage, they were relieved by her lack of powerful attacks. They turned their attention to Jason but found him just as much trouble. Their own shadows had come to life, draining their mana as Jason moved in and out of them at will. At any moment he could appear or disappear right next to them, slashing out with his black and red dagger or quickly chanting a spell on the move.
Although the reach of his dagger was short, Jason’s deceptive style proved a tricky opponent. His cloak floated around him, shrouding his movements as a dark arm reached out, carrying his dagger past the reach of even the spearwoman’s lengthy weapon, while being far more flexible. He wasn’t landing critical hits but he didn’t need to.
The fight drew out as Jason’s powers filled his enemies with a growing sense of dread. His afflictions carried their horrifying work on their flesh, only Sigrid’s stream of healing holding it back. Their own shadows seemed to have turned against them, an intimate and unnerving form of attack.
Between rapid-fire shadow jumps and raw speed, Jason and Sophie flickered around the trio of enemies like mating hummingbirds. Jason was more aggressive than his normal in and out style, his quick attacks left only superficial wounds but each one was a clock of doom counting down on his enemies. He even cast the odd spell in the direction of Valdis and the defender madly sprinting back toward the fight. It was only the efficient healing of Sigrid being spread around the battlefield that kept things under control, although she didn’t have time to spare to cleanse the afflictions.
Jason’s more aggressive approach left him more exposed but he trusted Sophie to cover him. Every time their enemies thought they pinned him down, suddenly Sophie was there. Most teams preferred a traditional, heavy defender but Sophie was demonstrating the true value of the mobile guardian archetype.
When all three of their enemies came too close together, Jason unleashed one of his trump cards in the form of leeches spraying from a cut he sliced on his hand. That could well have spelled the end of the fight if not for Sigrid. Using another of her long cooldown powers, every member of her team other than the distant defender gained a short-lived shield that exploded out from inside them, blasting away the leeches covering their bodies.
Many of the leeches were destroyed on the spot, others being scattered across the battlefield. Even the brief exposure left more afflictions behind but Jason was taken aback. Once he actually caught enemies out, the deployment of Team Colin was normally the finisher. Never before had his familiar been so thoroughly and immediately countered.
With all their members caught up in fights, Valdis’ team faced one more threat from where Clive, Belinda and Neil were gathered behind a protective wall of summons and familiars. The bunker strategy was one of many the team had developed, a place for Belinda and Clive to launch control and attack powers from safety. It also freed Neil up to throw out shields and healing without the pressure Sigrid was being subjected to.
Neil had frequently sought out Sigrid over the past weeks. Their ability sets were similar and her experience was far more extensive than his. He had confidence in her abilities, but could not help but admire the equanimity with which she directed her team, even as Humphrey pressed in on her.
Even as Sigrid’s team was thrown into chaos, caught up and scattered, they were slowly moving to regroup. Their discipline and experience showed as they slowly returned to formation, even caught up in their individual fights. If not for the dangerous spells pouring out of Clive, they might have turned the fight already. The need to shield her team was a key reason Sigrid was too busy to cleanse Jason’s afflictions.
The minion wall made going after Clive, Belinda and Neil an infeasible option for Valdis’ team until they had regained a semblance of order. The only attackers they could spare were their own familiars and summons, which could do no more than initiate a distracting monster brawl.
On Jason’s side was the ominous figure of Gordon, whose blue and orange beams poured relentlessly onto the enemy minions. Belinda, Clive and Humphrey’s familiars were likewise present, along with Neil’s summoned chrysalis golem and Humphrey’s summoned dragon-tooth warriors.
The golem looked like an ogre carved out of diamond. With every attack against it, a rune appeared on one of it’s many facets. Clive’s familiar, Onslow, fired off elemental attacks from the runes on his shell as Clive periodically recharged them with his own mana. Onslow was back next to Clive, as was Belinda’s lantern familiar that fires bolts of force at the enemy. Her other familiar, the illusory echo spirit, was dancing around the enemy familiars, distracting and baiting them.
Humphrey’s dragon-tooth warriors were normally humanoid figures with bodies of ivory, decked out in conjured equipment provided by his personal space power, magic armoury. In this case, however, the summons were affected by the summoning die Jason had gifted to Humphrey that randomly affected the form of summoned creatures. What were normally three ivory soldiers were instead a trio of hulking bone gorillas, covered in heavy conjured armour. They even wielded hefty, iron-shod clubs.
The final members of the wall of minions was Stash. Like Gordon, Stash was smarter than the summoned creatures, with the added value of being versatile, like the team to which he belonged. He moved wildly through the brawling familiars and summons, his form rapidly shifting from one shape to another. One moment he was a resilient bark lurker, soaking up an attack aimed at the gorillas. The next he was a darting bird, quickly repositioning.
The summons and familiars on the other side were, like their owners, fast and attack-oriented. A were wolf-like creature fought alongside a sleek metal humanoid figure, covered in sharp edges. There was a ball of needles with chitinous spider legs and a scorpion that fires spined from its stinger. Floating amongst them was a small lantern, projecting shields to protect them. They were outnumbered by the familiars and summons of Jason’s team, making little headway beyond forcing Clive, Belinda and Neil to keep an eye on them.
Behind the minion melee was the key reason Valdis’ team had not yet managed to regroup. Clive’s offensive potential was primarily contained within in a single, potent spell, wrath of the magister. He could charge it up and unleash powerful attacks, on a one minute cooldown. With Belinda’s ability to reduce an ability’s cooldown by that same amount, both with an ability and her tattoo, Clive unleashed a mana-hungry but incredibly potent series of attacks. As his mana pool was greater than any two of his teammates, however, he had the freedom to do so.
More than anything else of the battlefield, Sigrid was poised to respond to Clive’s spell, throwing out her strongest shields to intercept. Even then, the spell burned through protections, forcing Sigrid to follow up with her strongest heals. As with Jason unleashing Colin, it was only the consummate skill and power of Sigrid’s healing and shielding that prevented the fight from already being over.
For a while, at least, Belinda’s ability to loop Clive’s potent spell was a defining force on the battlefield. She even copied the spell and cast it herself when he was done. It was another strategy they hadn’t used against Valdis before and his team couldn’t be certain how long Clive and Belinda could maintain the barrage. They were too busy to do any more, however, and were forced to endure.
The failure of Jason’s team to finish off Sigrid with their ambush was the defining point of the fight, as there was no question she was the most impactful person on the field. Standing bloodied and unbroken with her Valkyrie blond hair, her piercing blue eyes took in every part of the fight. She was the glue that held her team together in the wake of the enemy’s divide and conquer strategy; the critical factor in every part of the battlefield. Through the chaos, she fought desperately to bring her team back into order, barking out directions between spell chants. Their practised teamwork and extensive experience allowed them to make subtle moves to coordinate, even caught up with more immediate concerns.
Jason’s team had defined the pace of the fight, but the arrival of Valdis’ defender turned the enemy’s six on five advantage into an even fight. The defender’s cooldowns were finally back up and he erupted into the battlefield at Sigrid’s direction. Jason and Sophie were pushed back, Jason not daring to dive into the formation Valdis and his team were falling into. He recalled Shade’s bodies to himself as Valdis started attacking them with disruptive-force special attacks.
The reformation of Valdis’ team came as they realised that the spell barrage from Clive and Belinda was finally over. They knew they had to seize the moment and turn the tide as Jason had placed them on a clock. Jason’s afflictions were past the point that Sigrid could eliminate them while still healing the team. They took one of their sweeping attack formations and started moving on Clive, Belinda and Neil. If they could take out the healer along with Clive before his cooldowns ended, the fight would be over.
Valdis launched forward at the head of his team, flashing a triumphant grin at the chance to finally fight on his own terms. Then he saw an uncharacteristically hungry smile of Humphrey’s face and concern flashed through his mind. Sigrid had also intuited that something was wrong but he warning to scatter came too late.
A crystal rod rose up from the ground in the space between the two teams. The air shimmered as tethers of force yanked Valdis’ team toward Jason’s. Then Jason’s team vanished. Cold, dark energy flooded the area, the merest touch opening terrible wounds as their flesh rotted away like it was recoiling.
Belinda’s tether had brought the teams close enough for Neil to catch both teams in the six hour cooldown power he obtained from his reaper awakening stone. Reaper’s redoubt placed his team safely in a dimensional space and flooded the area with death energy. Given Valdis’ team were all afflicted with Jason’s necrosis-enhancing curse, it was a finishing move that closed out the fight. In the strange, dark dimensional space of Neil’s power, the team started receiving messages.
- You defeated [Valdis Volaire].
- You defeated [Sigrid Freyn].
As the most capable members of the team, Valdis and Sigrid had put themselves on the line to cover the others, making them the first to fall. The others soon followed and moments later, awoke in the mirage chamber control room.
Valdis sat up on his platform, glancing between Sigrid and the still bodies of the enemy team still inside. He let out a relaxed laugh.
“That was unexpected,” Sigrid said.
“And just think, Sig,” Valdis told her. “You didn’t want to make friends.”