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Emory lay in a puddle of blood. His blood. He had been stabbed through the heart— defeated, just like that.

He was the Frenzied Barbarian. The leader of the Frenzied Five. He was second-in-command in the Miststorm Riders, and he was confident he was a better fighter than his so-called boss. It was the reason why Emory was left to rein freely despite his ostensible allegiance to the bandit group. And that was because there was no true singular person in charge of them. After all, the Miststorm Riders were supposed to gather west of the Astrad Kingdom, but it was not a directive given by their boss.

Instead, they had been given explicit orders from above— from the Sect of Abyssal Thorns.

Very few members of the Miststorm Riders were aware of this fact. Only half a dozen of their members were even aware of their true allegiance. They had no idea they were supposed to aid the Kingdom of Kal’s offensive against the Astrad Kingdom by raiding and pillaging the cities and towns to the west. Westwend, Lullin, Skystead, Whiteridge… a plethora of targets, some they had even previously struck before in the past.

Most of the bandits just followed these orders, thinking it was their boss who was capitalizing on this war for profit, even if in reality that was not the case. So there was no true leader of the Miststorm Riders. Emory was free to do as he liked as long as his actions were in line with the Sect of the Abyssal Thorns. That was why he was out here, burning some random village in the middle of the Astrad Kingdom.

At least, until that brown-haired woman showed up.

He didn’t understand it. She had killed Adrian, the newest member of the Frenzied Five, with a single swing of her sword. She had moved so fast, Emory couldn’t even process what happened until moments after it happened. She stabbed him through the chest, destroying his heart.

Now Emory just lay there. He couldn’t feel his hands. His body grew cold. The world around him slowly faded away, like flakes of snow melting by a fire. He tried to gasp, but no words came out.

His vision grew dark. His Skills refused to respond. Even [An Unbridled Rage] failed to take over and push his body beyond its limits. After all, no one could survive without a heart.

But as the Frenzied Barbarian felt his grip over his life slipping— as he heard the echoing sounds of battle in the distance— he heard a voice calling for him.

He heard the Void’s call.

And he seized it in that instant.

 

—--

 

I stepped back from Emory, lowering my blade. I flicked the blood from the rusty metal and faced the remaining three figures standing before me. Jalynn, Gerard, and Lizeth. Bandits, or whatever. I didn’t know or care about their motivations. I just waited expectantly as they gaped at me for a moment.

“So… are we done here?” I asked with a raised brow.

And they broke out of their stupor. All at once, they cried out in outrage.

“How dare you mess with us!” Jalynn the Savage Swordsmaiden yelled as she charged me with her broadsword. The weapon shimmered, growing in size as she swung down at me. “We are the Frenzied Five—”

“More like the Frenzied Three,” I said, raising a hand and catching the giant blade. She blinked as she tried to pull the weapon back, and I slashed up with my own sword. I sliced her in half as I spoke simply, watching her fall. “Or… the Frenzied Two now, I guess.”

“Gerard! Distract her!” Lizeth called out, taking a step back. She began waving a crooked staff in the air as the mist coalesced around me.

She vanished within the white blanket as Gerard sprinted around me. He circled faster and faster, splitting into multiple different figures. He became nothing but shadows as the mist grew thicker until it was practically solid.

“[Shadow After Images],” Gerard the Darkmaster whispered. His voice echoed all around me as I saw shadows darting all around me. “You may be strong. But you cannot kill what you cannot see—”

I just turned around and reached out, grabbing him out of the mist. He yelped as the shadows vanished. I held Gerard by the neck as he choked, struggling in my grasps.

“W-what? How did you see me…?”

“I can see that you’re an idiot,” I said flatly, before tightening my grip.

There was a snap. His body dropped limply on the ground as I turned around. My eyes narrowed as I raised a hand, pointing into the mist.

“I can see you too, you know?” I called out at Lizeth.

But she continued chanting quietly to herself, weaving a spell circle out of the air. Symbols floated and glowed as they shifted. The last of the Frenzied One pointed my way, yelling out.

“Die you monster! [Baleful—” she started.

But a distorted scream interrupted her. A terrible cry of agony and anger. It almost didn’t sound human. Like the death throes of a dying monster.

I paused, glancing back as a powerful gust of wind swept over me. It blew away the mist and nearly knocked Lizeth off her feet. Her spell vanished, and her eyes grew wide as she stared at the source of the warped voice.

Emory the Frenzied Barbarian rose to his feet as he was engulfed by an empurpled aura. His eyes had become hollow— no pupil or isis to see, but dark husks that stared at nothing. I watched as his veins bulged black, and his flesh darkened like desiccated skin.

The stab wound in his chest grew larger, forming a hole where his heart should be, as if his flesh was being eaten away. It was immediately filled with purple threads knitting together to form an imitation of a heart. I could see it pulsing. Beating. Almost as if it was real. But there was no blood there. No skin to cover it up. It hung in the open for all to see.

I frowned as I recognized this power. This aura that permeated the Fractured Realm. It was almost nostalgic for me to sense.

Because it was a power that belonged to the Void.

 

—--

 

“Oh, how I’ve missed this,” Emory whispered as he stared down at himself.

He took in a deep breath and raised his head. The feeling in his hands returned, only to multiply tenfold. He was much stronger now. He could feel his strength surging through him as his darkened flesh rippled. The purple aura wisping off him calmed as he swept his gaze to the brown-haired woman.

She just stared at him with narrowed eyes.

“Do you see this power?” He spread his arms wide as he strutted forward. “You may not comprehend it. But I have been blessed by the Void itself with its power. You have heard the stories, haven’t you?”

“I have not—” she started.

But Emory continued. “I am sure you have wondered how it was possible— how a mere Level 56 bandit like me was able to slay an S-rank adventurer. But this is how. I have been Void-touched. Though I can no longer level, I have surpassed you slaves to the World System and become something far greater than you can possibly imagine!”

Normally, the Void’s power was something he had to reach for himself. It wasn’t easy, and he only ever used it as a last resort. It was how he had beaten Fay the Fabled Sorceress in battle. But this was different.

Not only had he never been able to regenerate before, it was also the Void that reached out to him. He was stronger than ever now. He wasn’t sure what the limits of his new power was, but he knew it was enough to crush this insolent girl that tried to kill him.

With each step he took, the ground beneath his feet trembled. The entire world shook. The eddying air quivered under the pressure of his power. He sneered, and Lizeth dropped to her knees.

“E-Emory?” She stared at him, utterly befuddled.

Amelia just quirked a brow. “So you’re with the Sect of the Abyssal Thorns, then?”

“Indeed.” The Frenzied Barbarian lowered his arms, and the pressure bearing down on the world itself eased. He shook his head simply and raised a hand to his chest. “I am quite surprised, of course. While the Void has given me much power in the past, to even surpass an S-rank adventurer, I didn’t think I’d survive my heart being destroyed.”

He flexed a hand as the brown-haired woman stood there, evidently frozen in fear. It was only expected. How could anyone comprehend this power? This was the Void’s power, and it even exceeded Emory’s own expectations of it. So she just gaped at him as he smiled.

Lizeth managed to force herself to her feet. The Twisted Enchantress looked at him with wide-eyes before nodding at him.

“Emory, we should be able to take her on as long as I can restrain her,” Lizeth said as she dashed his way. “If we—”

“Begone,” the Frenzied Barbarian said as he swung a fist at her dismissively.

His knuckles flashed with a purple power, and the Twisted Enchantress exploded into a thousand pieces as she screamed in terror. Her remains were splattered across the ground and equal-sized chunks of her flesh rolled to a halt.

Amelia just watched this. “Man, you are an asshole. I wouldn’t want to be your friend if that’s how you treat them.”

“No one can see this power and live.” Emory glanced dismissively towards the crimson stain on the earth that had been Lizeth. “Friends, family, and especially enemies. So worry not for her, but for yourself.”

The purple aura around Emory flared up again as his muscles tensed. His body twitched, and his arms doubled in size in an instant. A cruel smile spread across his face as he craned his neck to look down at Amelia.

“Because I will make sure your death will be far more painful than that!”

With that, the Frenzied Barbarian leapt forward. The ground exploded at his feet. A massive crater was left behind just from his sudden movement. He cackled madly as he raised a glowing fist and struck out at the brown-haired woman.

He had moved so fast, she couldn’t see it. She couldn’t even react. Amelia just stood there as he punched her across the face. The ground shattered open. A crevice opened up behind the girl. The nearby houses were blown apart from the impact alone.

Emory grinned as he stared down at the brown-haired woman.

“How’s that? Do you feel the full might of the Void?” he asked triumphantly.

And Amelia just stared back up at him, having not budged an inch. “Not bad, honestly. I wasn’t expecting that.”

The Frenzied Barbarian paused. “What?”

“But if you think that’s the full might of the Void—” she continued, and Emory gritted his teeth.

“Die!” he screamed as he threw a flurry of punches at her.

He assailed her from all directions. Rapid strikes that aimed for her abdomen. Kicks to the head. Powerful blows that should have been able to wipe out an entire city. The ground shook, and the landscape shifted. But his attacks just bounced off her like they were nothing.

And she continued speaking nonchalantly. “...you’re sorely mistaken. You’re hardly as strong as the weakest voidbeast I’ve fought as you are right now.”

Emory clicked his tongue and leapt back. He stared at the brown-haired woman as she looked back at him with a bored look on her face.

“This… is impossible.” He clenched a fist, eyeing her angrily. “You are impossible!”

For a moment, he almost let his rage overtake him. But he caught himself. He was a [Barbarian], but he wasn’t going to let himself lose his cool. After all, a [Barbarian] beholden to his rage is nothing but a foolish brute with no real strength. It was by mastering his anger, Emory managed to reach his level of strength.

The Frenzied Barbarian’s anger dissipated. The veins on his face vanished as he steeled himself. He faced Amelia with an amused look on his face. “Ah, I understand now. This is some kind of Skill, isn’t it?”

She didn’t reply. He must’ve been right on the mark.

“I am sure you are quite proud of yourself. But you know just as well as I do that your Skills cannot last forever. Meanwhile…”

Emory thumped a fist on his chest, a crazed look on his face. He had struck himself so hard he had drawn blood. But the wound vanished, being healed in mere moments.

“I cannot be killed! Not as I am right now! If you strike me down, I will keep coming back until your Skill ends and you are dead!” He laughed wildly as he took a step forward. His purple aura grew in intensity as the world vibrated once more. “I am invinci—” he started.

And Amelia slashed down with a glowing blade. There was a flash. In an instant, his vision vanished. Emory vanished. A blast of white light engulfed him. It blew apart the earth, cutting across the sky as the clouds above parted. The purple aura was no more, and the world returned to normal.

It happened so fast, Emory didn’t even realize he was already dead. He had no last thoughts. No moment of realization. He was completely gone from Vacuos in a fraction of a second.

The glimmer of light dimmed as Amelia sheathed her sword. Taking a step back, she sighed as the white aura briefly covering her quickly vanished.

“Annoying asshole,” she said, shaking her head. “Making me use magic to kill him even though he’s so weak. I probably should’ve just cut him into pieces like that minotaur, but…”

She swept her gaze around the destroyed village. Bodies lay scattered across the gravel roads. Some were corpses, while others were still alive and breathing, although bleeding and dying.

“That would’ve taken too long, and I probably need to get them some healing potions.” Amelia glanced into a bag she had at her side. She saw the vials she had inside, remembering their price. “This… is going to be expensive.”

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