To Be Oneself (II)
The massive sphere suddenly rolled forward, startling Emma who heaved herself out of the way and barely dodged the bulldozing giant that sped through the group and arrived on the other side of the arena. The construct’s ‘body’ spun abruptly and faced the party, the red gems on its ‘head’ lighting up as a hundred golden halos appeared around it.
“Shit,” Senna grumbled.
“BRACE FOR IMPACT!!” Jamal screamed as he ran over to Emma and flipped her on her feet, promptly hiding behind her as she summoned out an array of shields.
Senna pulled Diya by the arm, jerking it so hard that the latter dislocated the shoulder, yet she didn’t even cry out, biting her tongue as she knew she couldn’t distract the young girl. The two just barely made it before the gigantic swords began landing at and around them. Emma steeled her nerves and ground her teeth till her gums bled, feeling mountains fall on top of her, yet withstanding them all in the process.
Jamal pushed against her back as she began to slide, Senna joining right after in the effort, with Diya showering all three with buffs and heals. The barrage continued for good thirty seconds before the world settled down in a timid silence for a moment; dozens of massive swords lay around them, embedded into the ground at angles, blocking the view like mountains.
“We need to close the distance again,” Emma said, gasping for breath and using the warhammer to steady herself. “Diya, did you notice any signs before it began rolling?”
“Yes,” Diya nodded. “It withdrew four of its ‘arms’ and... uh... protected its face.”
“Alright,” Emma nodded as the group steadily began moving around the swords that formed a labyrinth-like structure. “Watch out for it if you can and warn us.”
“Yes,” Diya nodded. “It also seems to react strong to attacks at its face. Maybe Senna can take Jamal’s role and attack directly, while you try and get at it from behind.” she added, looking at Jamal.
“Alright,” both Senna and Jamal nodded.
“Don’t overexert yourself,” Emma warned Senna. “Conserve your Mana and Stamina. As soon as it picks up on your intentions, I’ll hunker down while you get some rest.”
“Hunker down my ass!” Senna exclaimed angrily. “You look gassed as fuck! We need to end this quickly or you’ll break!”
“I’m fine!” Emma hollered back. “Don’t worry about me and focus on doing your things! Ending this quickly is impossible -- remember, this is the final boss. If it was possible to end it quickly, it wouldn’t be a final boss.”
“... if only Cain was here...” Diya mumbled.
"He's not," Emma looked at the three as they landed near the sphere. The construct seemed to have some downtime after using that ability as it was yet to attack them again. "It's just us. Besides, it was high time we learned our ways without him to babysit us. Are we always gonna shiver and shake until he swoops in to save our asses? If that was the case, then why the hell did we even enter the Tower? We coulda just stayed outside and sucked on our thumbs. Forget about him and focus on what's in front of us -- this giant piece of shit that needs some ass-whooping. Alright?"
“...” the three nodded silently, the looks of determination in their eyes speaking volumes.
Diya dipped to the back, taking a deep breath as she no longer had Senna to cover for her. She also slowly began to realize why Cain never truly fought all-out with them nearby -- it was all to instill some resemblance of battle instincts in them. Emma was right, though -- he wasn't here with them and it was pointless to think of the 'what ifs'.
Though she was nervous, she maintained as calm of a mind as she could, constantly analyzing the construct in front of her, trying to see whether there were any more weaknesses to exploit. By now, the behemoth had awoken, its 'eyes' alighting, a roar of the machine shaking the entire arena. Emma had managed to draw its attention again, slamming her warhammer into the sphere. Due to the previous experiences, she was slightly better at swallowing the backlash, though it still required Diya’s timely heal to restore her back to full. Senna hovered just behind her, repeatedly sending her swords up toward the construct’s ‘face’. It was, however, extremely difficult -- not only was the creature immensely tall, as tall as a skyscraper, but due to the need to stick close to its body, a great chunk of its ‘face’ was covered up by the protruding ‘belly’ that was the sphere.
Even then, she managed to curve several of her strikes decently enough to force the creature to use its ‘limbs’ to deflect. It split its attention -- four limbs remained entirely on defense, and four started raining down at Emma. The latter tried to dodge as best as she could, largely to try and conserve Diya’s Mana, but more often than not, she was forced to hoist her warhammer up and summon an array of shields and take the impact head-on.
Her feet continued to dig into the ground, inch by inch, the sound of her bones breaking that used to grate at her mind now just another background noise. She could feel the blood in her veins boiling, her anger at just acting as a punching bag surging.
She roared, charging Mana and pouring it into her warhammer, swinging it with all her might upward and meeting the fist squarely. Her arm ruptured immediately, skin peeling back as blood sprayed out from her wrist to her shoulder. She entirely ignored it, however, sustaining the roar through the burning throat and the pain that screamed at her to sit down.
There was a mountain above her, one so immense it bloated out all the hope. But she held it back from falling. The fist that blocked out the sky remained hovering above her, the singular warhammer that looked more like a needle in comparison holding up the behemoth seeking to flatten her.
From the corner of her eyes, she saw Jamal sprint and heave onto the ‘limb’ of the construct. Biting her tongue to perish the oncoming bout of weakness, she gritted her teeth and endured as the golden shower of warmth began to heal her.
Jamal ran up the massive limb of the construct, his expression distorted. He felt useless -- completely useless. He’d done nothing this entire fight. Emma took the beating for all of them, Senna kept Diya alive, oftentimes throwing herself in the harm’s way in the process, and Diya repeatedly kept bringing everyone back from the brink of death through her timely heals. What did he do, however? Nothing.
He threw empty strikes at the construct, with the creature shrugging each and every one of them off as though they were pelts of tiny rain. His entire job was to deal damage, to make sure that others didn’t need to suffer for too long. Yet, he was failing.
He ignored Senna’s and Diya’s pleas to get off and continued to run up, charging starlight into his feet and the blade. The construct’s massive face slowly shuffled, the red gems acting as ‘eyes’ landing on him. In that moment... he felt tiny. Like a pebble carried by the stormy, tidal waves. He was staring at the face of something his mind couldn’t comprehend and it caused the blood in his veins to freeze. But he didn’t pause.
Through the brutal terror he ran, ignoring his body's pleas to jump and to hide and to run away. But... he couldn't. Not again. He couldn't run away again while people he cared for suffered. In his heart, this was the moment he either truly became the man he dreamed of becoming or forever nulled himself.
He screamed to shake off the feeling of fear, jumping high to avoid the swipe of the massive limb and landing onto the crown -- the construct’s ‘head’. The gems were right there, two rubies glistening brightly. He ignored everything and burst forth, combining Blade Dash, Surging Blade, and Visceral Slash into a singular combo.
Milky-white starlight burned out from him, fumes like smoke spilling over the edges of his blurred silhouette. He sped past so quickly he broke the barrier of sound, the sword extending like the blade of ruin toward the gem, landing squarely at its center. Blazing fire dyed in holy white blew out from the tip of the shaking blade, his eyes surging with starlight beyond compare as his entire body scorched in that momentary detail of stillness. He felt incomparable, the fear, the terror, the guilt -- all vanished. He was free, unchained, in that singular instance of lost inhibition.
The moment passed and the ensuing explosion collapsed the world. The construct roared in the perceived pain as the gem exploded into thousands upon thousands of bloody-red shards that rained down upon the world, he in their midst. He felt spent, yet full. A string of notification windows flashed past his eyes that he entirely ignored. He did it. He awakened to the moment and didn’t crumble.
Entirely forgetting that he was in a freefall toward his death, he was only awakened from it by Diya’s piercing shout. Panicking, he saw that a good three hundred feet drop to the ground awaited him, and the fear returned. Oh my God, what the fuck was I thinking?!
Just then, however, a sword came flying by and -- as gently as possible -- scooped him up and carried him to the ground, next to Diya, who quickly healed him. Only now did he realize that his entire body was pinkish-red and that smoke continued to fume. Adrenaline briefly wore off, and he took the full brunt of third-degree burns for just a few moments -- but those few moments were more than enough for the pain to scorch itself into his memory.
“You idiot!” Diya exclaimed, teary-eyed. “You could have died!”
"Yeah, well, I didn't!" Jamal grinned with pride as he quickly shuffled back onto his feet. "Anyway, no time to chastise me! I'm pretty sure I pissed off the big guy... big time."
“Leave the bad puns to Cain and get your ass back over here!!” Emma yelled at him angrily. “Find the position with Senna while I take this fucker’s punches for a while! Finish this off!”
“A’righty,” Jamal nodded, a burst of speed sending him toward Senna. “Let’s get our first glory, right, guys?”