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The duel began explosively. Brutus lunged forward with a powerful cleave. Before the sword was able to actually strike Constantine, a glowing yellow shield appeared, slowing the attack so he could juke to the side. His rifle came up and it was Brutus’ turn to dodge. He hit the ground as the crack of the rifle split the air.

Brutus grinned nastily as he sprang up. Vale understood why. Rifles in SOO were powerful, long-ranged weapons, but in melee fights, they weren’t great. They didn’t do much damage as bludgeoning weapons. Rifles could be hard to block with, too.

But before Brutus could end the fight, Constantine’s entire body burst into a golden glow. Plates of ghostly, incandescent armor appeared on his arms and legs. He deflected the sword strike with an armored, angled forearm, drew the short sword at his waist with his other hand and slashed. The point flicked out twice, viper-fast.

Brutus took one hand off the grip of his sword and somehow blocked Constantine’s attacks with his sword’s wire-wrapped grip. Then Brutus began to glow red. Vale recognized the skill: [Adrenaline Rush], the one of the signature skills of the Armsman class.

What followed were a series of strikes and parries so quick that Vale didn’t think he would have been able to keep up. Brutus frowned and used short, economical attacks, fighting in a conservative manner. Meanwhile, Constantine was using a strange fighting style holding his rifle in one hand and his short sword in the other. The sword’s blade was strangely curved forward.

It was only after the two fighters separated, neither with a scratch on them, that the Priest revealed that the short sword was actually a bayonet. Brutus narrowed his eyes as Constnatine affixed the huge blade to the barrel of his long rifle. Then Constantine drew the bolt back on his firearm, put in what looked like a cartridge of some kind, and closed the bolt again.

“What kind of rifle is that?” asked Brutus. “The game doesn’t have cartridge firearms yet but you are loading very quickly.”

“It’s a Chassepot,” said Constantine conversationally. “Only a couple of players have found the blueprint. One is in the Asian server. Materials to make it are rare. I knew about it before rerolling and planned my entire build around it.”

Brutus nodded like he understood. “Paper cartridges. Clever.”

“Thank you. When I decided on this class, using this rifle was always part of my build.”

Vale said, “Why would you plan your entire build around a type of weapon?”

“Simple,” said Brutus, answering for his opponent. “He more or less has a spear that he can snipe with, and the Chassepot is a pin fire rifle. He can reload with paper cartridges. It is almost as fast as a modern, single shot cartridge rifle.” He regarded Constantine levelly. “What level are you?”

“Twelve. And you?”

“Thirteen. I’m very close to fourteen.”

“So the same number of skills, then.” Nicholas Constantine smiled. “I’ve always wanted to fight you, Brutus.”

“You could have found me before. It wasn’t like I was hiding.”

“Yes, but before hitting level 12, you probably would have destroyed me. Now, though? I don’t think so.”

“I almost got you already,” said Brutus. His tone was thoughtful.

“Let’s go all out. No more poking. I think you will see what I mean.”

Brutus rolled his shoulder. “Alright. Not many players can actually stop me like that. Minerva and maybe a few others.”

“Not Vale?”

“Maybe now that he has wind magic. It would be a different sort of fight, though.”

“I understand,” said Constantine.

Vale scrunched up his face. He muttered, “Understand, my ass.” Vale was starting to feel like when he’d first gotten his Legendary class, when he’d been underestimated. Then again, he was part of one of the strongest parties in the world. His teammates were legitimately strong. And the two fighting now seemed to be ultra competitive.

The two fighters eyed each other for another few seconds. Suddenly, the red aura around Brutus flared brighter and the big, dangerous man attacked again. He darted in, moving incredibly fast, but had to spring back at the last moment as Constantine precisely jabbed for his throat. Then before Brutus had solid balance again, Constantine pointed at the ground behind his opponent. A streak of golden light shot out of his finger, detonating when it hit. The small explosion knocked Brutus onto his ass.

Constantine leveled his rifle and shot. Somehow, Brutus managed to cover his face with an armored arm. There was a flash of blood and he took damage, but it wasn’t a critical strike. He must have used his [Survivor Reflexes] skill.

Brutus surged up and delivered a series of blistering strikes. One snuck through Constantine’s guard and layed open his shoulder. With a grunt, Brutus surged forward, keeping his opponent off balance. But the next moment, an explosive bubble of golden light separated them. Constantine had been expecting it so he reacted fastest, immediately rolled to his feet and reloading his rifle. A golden glow surrounded his wounded shoulder, right at the edge of his glowing armor.

“Healing,” grunted Brutus in annoyance.

“I’m a Priest,” said Constantine with a shrug. Then he pointed a finger at Brutus and a flash of light zipped through where the other man had just been. Brutus ran at an angle, throwing knives. Constantine deflected each one with his supernatural wrist armor.

When Brutus made a move to close again, a mighty leap. Constantine hit him with some kind of force push and the larger man lost his balance. He rolled. Constantine’s echoing rifle shot actually missed--Brutus had committed to the roll, speeding up. He sprang up and forward, then was in melee range again.

That entire exchange had taken place in two seconds.

The combatants exchanged flashing strikes. Constantine had reach and leverage with his spear. His shimmering, faith-based armor and enhanced strength persisted, matching Brutus toe to toe despite the big man’s strength. But Brutus’ reputation was well earned. The big man constantly harried the Priest and avoided taking mortal damage.

Constantine launched magic attacks in addition to shooting his rifle and using his bayoneted rifle like a polearm. But Brutus didn’t fall again. Instead, he persisted and kept damaging his opponent. Localized balls of light showed where Constantine was healing himself.

Vale was impressed. The two fighters were fighting with the kind of skill that practically nobody else in the game could match. Their precision, timing, and sheer power were on another level.

As he watched them, Vale thought about how Brutus used to say he couldn’t beat Minerva. But since then, the big fighter had gotten a Legendary Class.

Of course, Minerva was receiving a Legendary Class right now, too. Maybe after that, Vale wouldn’t be her match anymore. That was not a happy thought. Winning a duel was how Vale had convinced her to join his team in the first place.

Meanwhile, this duel was reaching a fever pitch, but both Brutus and Constantine still only had superficial wounds. Brutus closed again before Constatine reached out a hand, directing a stream of golden light to broken pieces of wall. His power enveloped the area before some bricks and rubble sailed through the air directly at Brutus. Brutus nimbly dodged all of it.

Brutus growled as he rolled and dodged, springing forward. The runes on his sword glowed. He was going for a kill shot.

But Constantine practically erupted in light. Pressure shoved Brutus back and he began taking damage from the shining energy. He didn’t go down, though. Instead, the big man’s red glow developed flashes of lightning and a blood red halo formed above his head.

[Berserk Spirit] thought vale. The skill the Brutus got after becoming the Northern Warlord. In the next few seconds, Brutus dashed forward like he wasn’t affected by the ring of yellow light pulsing from Constantine anymore. Vale nodded in understanding.

[Berserk Spirit] was a double edged skill that bled Brutus of health and stamina in exchange for immunity to anything affecting his speed or movement. It also effectively worked like another layer of [Adrenaline Rush].

The new skill activation would have immediately resulted in Constantine’s death...if he hadn’t dodged straight upward. A wake of golden flame followed him as he sprang to a nearby rooftop. He leveled his rifle, took aim, and fired at Brutus. What followed was a cat and mouse game where Brutus would rush to close with the nimble Priest while Constantine reloaded and fired shot after shot from the rooftops, staying out of melee range.

After the first rush, Brutus dropped [Berserk Spirit]. The skill cost probably stopped being worth the extra burst of speed.

Brutus seemed to be getting frustrated, but it turned out to all be an act. Constantine grew a little slower to escape, staying on one rooftop too long and Brutus lashed out with some sort of whip. The attack snapped forward like lightning, wrapped around Constantine’s foot, and he was pulled down to street level with yelp.

The opportunity was not wasted by Brutus. He immediately activated [Berserk Spirit] again and practically swarmed Constantine. Massive, powerful blows were delivered with incredible speed and shattering power.

Constantine somehow found the time to attach his bayonet to his rifle again and grimly fought a defensive battle, giving ground while he took damage. A constant, moving glow told the story of his wounds healing one after the other.

Is this going to be a battle of attrition? Wondered Vale. Brutus was good, really good. And he could probably slaughter dozens of normal SOO players at once. But Constantine was not a normal player. Brutus’ lack of ranged attacks meant the slippery priest could just kite him and whittle him down from range. Brutus had the advantage up close, but not enough to decisively win, and Constantine could heal himself.

But somehow, Brutus was keeping Constantine firmly on the ground now. The two of them stamped and parried along the cobblestone street. Constantine used his spear to skilled effect, but barely kept his enemy at bay. Any powerful cuts from Brutus that missed were likely to pulverize brick walls, or even leave gouges in the cobblestones.

Every time Brutus dropped his [Berserk Spirit] skill, his body lost the telltale glow. Constantine hit him with movement-impairing abilities during this time, knocking him back, giving himself space. Brutus was not looking good. He wasn’t down yet, but small wounds covered him and he was slowing.

Vale was actually watching closely. He thought that Brutus might actually be about to lose, but a sudden shrieking sound interrupted his excitement. It took him a second to realize that the wail was coming from the ship. George’s voice sounded loudly, like from a loudspeaker. “Heads up! Incoming enemies!” A second later, barking shots from one of the ship’s turrets echoed through the abandoned streets.

How...Vale began to think. But a moment later he saw shadows dart across the street as something passed by in the sky above. He caught a glimpse of something long, thin, and the size of a crocodile...and white.

“Oh shit,” he muttered. “Hurry up! End the duel!” he shouted. “I think it’s those eel things!”

The two fighters eyed each other before nodding at the same time, reluctantly, and presumably the duel ended. Brutus looked better almost instantly. They jugged up to Vale, both of them watching the sky. “Attack? What do we do?” asked Constantine. “The others aren’t back yet.”

Vale thought quickly. “Brutus, you don’t have ranged attacks. Wait here, stay hidden. The moment your sister and the others are back, try to protect them and tell them what is going on. Get them to the ship. We need to get out of here.

“Constantine, you are with me. We are going to get to the top of the ship or to rooftops. If we are being attacked, attack them right back. We need to distract them. If they directly attack the ship we might be screwed.”

“They’ll have numbers. Shouldn’t we stay together?”

Vale thought for a second before shaking his head. “No. I can be pretty fast and you can heal yourself. They should be lower level and shouldn’t be able to KO us too fast, and we can meet up if it gets too hot. I want to just create chaos right now so we can get on the ship and get out of here.”

When Constantine looked confused for a second, Vale slowly said, “If they know it’s us, like us, the streamers, they’ll call their friends. We need to leave ASAP.”

“Oh. Understood.” Constantine nodded and ran away. Vale followed him and used < Wind Jump >, a movement spell he’d developed, to reach the top of the ship. He couldn’t remember the name of the vessel at first. That’s right, he thought. The Mitochondria.

His eye tracked the sky for a second before he saw the enemy. He’d been hoping that whatever wasn going on wasn’t an actual attack, that George had been mistaken or something. That thought flew out the window the moment he saw the Flying Eels.

They all looked different. Some were almost like giant sharks with too many eyes and fins. Others were all angles and spikes. But they all had a big mouth, and they were flying in formation directly at him.

Vale used <Wind Slash> at the same time as a turret on the Mitochonria opened up again. His <Wind Slash > had been powered by 10 points of mana and it tore through the Flying Eels, disrupting their formation. They were tough, though. None of them instantly died like Vale had been hoping. Instead, two of them hit each other. One fell, perhaps hit by a critical strike of some sort. Most of them spiraled out of control, but one of them was completely unaffected and sped towards Vale like a heat-seeking missile.

As it got closer, it was even more jarring looking. This Flying Eel didn’t look like an eel at all. This one was like a long, wriggling caterpillar covered in screaming faces with one, larger face up front with a single eye. Its mouth opened, displaying a mouth full of sharp teeth that glimmered with green malice. Vale began getting hit with SAN attacks. His willpower protected him for now.

He leapt aside at the last moment. The Flying Eye’s chomping bite hit nothing but air and Vale swept Yarikh’s Will in a glittering arc. His sword cut the side of the alien player as it passed, but didn’t bite deep enough to be critical, not even close.

About one hundred yards away, bolts of yellow fire flashed into the sky from Constantine’s position. The guns on the Mitochondria barked. What looked like tracer rounds mixed in with the shot let Vale verify they were hitting, but none of the Flying Eels were falling. In fact, they were regrouping. He yelped and scuttled back as one of them launched a glowing bolt of goo at him.

More of them seemed to be appearing, flying down from the clouds. He counted at least a couple dozen now. The instructions he’d given Constantine were quickly proven to be the wrong call. If they fought alone now, they’d die.

Luckily, the situation corrected itself quickly. “We’re here!” Constantine called from the street below. Vale glanced down and saw Brutus, Minerva, Bart, and Abbey all hurrying up the boarding ramp before it began to close. With a flash of light, Constantine flew up and landed on the deck next to Vale. “Go, George!” he shouted.

The ship immediately lurched upward. Volleys of fire flashed out from the guns as Vale leveled another < Wind Slash > at the largest concentration of Flying Eels. A moment later, the aggressors counterattacked. At least half a dozen launched glowing projectiles. Vale spun Yarikh’s Will, using his ability to deflect projectiles. Luckily, it worked as well on whatever the Flying Eels were throwing as it did on bullets. This ability sapped even more of his will and stamina, though.

The ship rose faster and began to move forward. After Vale delivered another < Wind Slash > he glanced back as a hatch opened and Abbey climbed to the top of the ship. “Nice of you to join us!” he shouted.

“Yeah, well, I had some things to take care of. How much mana do you have left?”

“Enough,” said Vale. He actually still had over 80 mana, which was really good. The fact he hadn’t actually downed any of the enemy yet didn’t bother him, either. He’d been attacking groups, and the Flying Eel players weren’t stupid. They were waiting for a quick or easy kill.

“Alright, well, I’m here so save what mana you have left anyway.” With that, she took tubes and parts out of a pouch at her waist and began fitting them together. “Target rifle,” she said.

“Good,” said Vale. “They’ve only been testing us so far but more are showing up. I think they’re getting ready to zerg us. This was probably a scout group and they’re calling in the rest of the raid. I’m glad you’re here with your guns.”

“That’s not all, though,” said Abbey. She had a glint in her eye.

“Yeah, I can help, too,” said Bart. He climbed through the hatch up to the deck.

Minerva lightly jumped up on deck after Bart. “We all can now,” she said confidently.

“Thanks to you, actually, man.” Said Bart. He opened his hand and a large, steady flame appeared from nowhere. “We’re all magicked up now. Legendary classes.”

There were at least four dozen Flying Eels pacing them now from behind, just out of range.

“Good,” said Vale. His stomach did a flip and he got hit by a dozen emotions, making him feel strange. He ignored it. “We’re gonna need all the help we can get.”

As if his words had been a trigger, the mass of weird, alien monstrosities silently surged forward.

“Here they come!” said Rivera Herterz over the ship’s speakers. A second later, the tail gun began to chatter.

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