A blood-stained axe was swung downward, and a black staff shot out to intercept it. It hit the high-speed attack from the side, causing it to change course and miss its target entirely. Just like before, Zone used that gap to close in and thrust a palm out at Hilda, but the dwarf countered it with a punch of her own. Gauntlet clashed against bare skin, yet the noise produced was a metallic clang. Still, Zone lost in the contest of strength and was pushed back, which gave the dwarf enough of a gap to reposition her axe and take a wide vertical swing at her. The Monk’s eyes widened for the first time in surprise, as the speed of the blow surpassed anything else her opponent had shown. She lept backwards to dodge, but the axe still managed to cut a shallow wound across her abdomen.
Zone took a brief moment to reevaluate her opponent as her feet skidded slightly across the ground. The dwarf in front of her was much more dangerous than she initially thought. No, it was her own fault for underestimating the woman from her memories. She knew that even if Hilda was a blockhead, the old bat was the type of idiot savant whose mind was a steel trap when it came to combat. The type that relished the thought of fighting a strong opponent - a total battle maniac. Although she had let her anger run wild at first, she had now full control over it. She had honed her Berserker’s rage into a weapon and was pointing it directly at Zone’s neck like an invisible guillotine. That, combined with the Berserker’s oxymoronic characteristic of getting stronger as they took damage, only meant the dwarf would become even more troublesome as the battle went on.
In direct contrast to her was the Monk. A Job that required stillness of heart and calmness of mind. It read the opponent’s flow and became one with it, as if a blade of grass swaying in the wind. However, the one in front of her was no wind, but a raging tornado that threatened to rip out the very soil itself. Her attacks were completely nonsensical, yet each was a deadly strike that would most likely be fatal if taken head on. The fact she managed to rend through both the human’s dragonhide armor and Ki Infused Skin with so little resistance just now was proof enough of that.
In short, Zone had almost instantaneously come to the decision that she could not take Hilda unless she showed off her trump card.
The human in front of Hilda chanted something under her breath. Her yellow eyes glowed with a serene, cyan light and a swirl of similarly-colored energy enveloped her. It draped around her like a transparent film, a second skin that perfectly matched the contours of her body and her armor. The dwarf’s fierce toothy grin - a clear sign that she had been enjoying the fight - only grew wider in response. Her opponent had activated some weird Skill, perhaps her Ultimate. Of course she was going to get even more fired up.
Hilda prepared her axe for another attack, but it was Zone who moved first this time. The Monk dashed forward, spun around and swung her staff downward with all her might. The sharp-eyed Berserker sidestepped the wide swing, which crashed into the hard-packed dirt with enough force to kick up a small explosion of dust.
Hilda immediately recognized it as Zone having put all of her power into a single blow. She could already tell from their exchanges that their physical strength was comparable, but that move was completely unlike her. It was an attack that put her all into offense and left nothing for defence. If she was in the dwarf’s class in the Consortium, a performance like that would earn her a harsh reprimand. But this was a battlefield, and the punishment for mistakes like those were one’s life. A verdict Hilda was executing unhesitantly as she sent her axe flying at the Monk’s wide-open neck.
However, her blow never reached. A spectral, cyan-colored form bearing Zone’s shape leapt out of the Monk’s body and swung her version of the black staff upward, perfectly intercepting the horizontal blow and redirecting its path so that it barely grazed the top of the crouching Monk’s hair. The dwarf didn’t even miss a beat and used her sideways momentum to swing her weapon around with a spin and deliver another blow, even faster than the last one.
When she laid eyes on Zone once more, she saw the Monk was swinging her own staff at the dwarf’s head. Her spectral self once again leapt out and brilliantly parried the axe while her physical one smashed into the dwarf’s left arm, which she had raised in defense. The armor absorbed much of that impact, but the weapon infused with her Ki still sent shockwaves of pain through the Berserker’s body. Hilda recoiled slightly, giving time for her opponent to take another swing, which was blocked by the haft of her axe. The dwarf shifted her body forward and kicked out with her stubby leg, only to see a ghostly foot shoot out of the human and intercept her own with a metal clang. Although their power was similar, the dwarf’s much heavier body was still able to win out and push Zone away from her, creating some space between them.
With just that much she was able to grasp the nature of her former comrade’s Ultimate, a Skill that went by the name of Spirit Guardian. Well, she didn’t know its name, but her veteran mind quickly deduced its effects. That ghostly presence would automatically deflect incoming attacks, allowing the person herself to put all her energy into crushing her opponent. It was like fighting two people at the same time, a simultaneous application of one’s offense and defense.
Well, two could play it that game.
“Rearm!” chanted the dwarf.
Her massive axe disappeared in a flash of white light, followed by a few other flashes around her body. When the impromptu lightshow ended a few moments later, Hilda was already holding a completely different set of armaments. Her right hand clutched a bearded mithril war axe with a long handle while her left one grasped at a bizarrely thick mace that was closer in appearance to a club. It wasn’t just her weapons, either. A black metal buckler had been securely strapped to her left forearm and her previously exposed head was now covered by a bulky helmet that appeared to be made out of steel clearly wasn’t part of the same set as her bloodied and battered full plate armor.
Zone’s cold glare became razor sharp in the next instant as she finally realized how that reckless nutjob from her past became such a refined combatant.
Although an untrained eye might not be able to spot the subtle differences between them, each melee-focused Job had their way of fighting. A lot of it overlapped, but each of them had their own focus, their own area of expertise. Warriors trained their bodies, Berserkers channeled their fighting spirit, Monks mastered their state of mind, Paladins strengthened their faith, Rogues sharpened their cunning and Blade Dancers perfected their motion and rhythm. But the Job that truly honed one’s blade, the one that was focused on fighting in its purest form, was the Armsmaster.
An experienced Armsmaster could use every weapon conceivable with practiced ease and finesse, no matter how bizarre or complex it may seem and regardless of whether it was the first time they had seen it. It was a prestigious, versatile Job that complemented any and all forms of martial combat. The fact Hilda had access to it was surprising, as this Job was a closely guarded weapon of the dwarven nation of Hokensaft. Much like the Spies of the Empire, it was something taught only to select, elite individuals who had earned the trust and respect of the country’s leaders. These individuals would in turn swear a soul-binding oath, preventing them from spreading the Job without the express consent of their teacher.
That’s why it was extremely difficult to find an Armsmaster outside of Horkensaft’s elite military forces. And yet the person in front of Zone was undoubtedly one of those. The Rearm Skill that she showed off just now was one of their signature abilities, so there was no doubt about it. It allowed her to store a private arsenal inside an Item Box-like pocket dimension. And while it was smaller in capacity and only limited to arms and armor, it allowed the Armsmaster to instantly change their loadout as the situation demanded.
“Now then,” said Hilda while assuming a lower, wider stance. “Shall we give this a try?”
She dashed forward just like before and swung her newly-equipped axe at Zone. The Spirit Guardian deflected it with ease while the Monk’s physical staff bounced off the dwarf’s buckler. The mace in that shielded hand hurtled towards the Monk’s head, and while the Spirit Guardian successfully parried, the near simultaneous follow up from the axe on the other side forced Zone herself to block it with her staff. The bearded axe, however, moved forward at the last second, causing the shafts of the two weapons to collide. Hilda pulled on her axe with all her might, and the weapon’s long, curved blade hooked around the Monk’s staff, pulling it and its wielder closer to the Berserker-cum-Armsmaster. The human expertly twisted her staff around and pulled on it to unlatch it from her opponent’s weapon. She managed to release it almost immediately, but she still found herself literally face-to-face with Hilda. And while the Spirit Guardian kept that heavy mace at bay, the dwarf’s armored forehead collided with Zone’s.
An action which caused Fizzy’s special helmet to explode.
Zone’s light body was thrown off in the blast, causing her to fly several meters through the air. Her armor absorbed a good portion of that blast, but her face was covered in various cuts and gashes from the shrapnel. Hilda on the other hand, barely moved from her spot. The remnants of her helmet-shaped bomb fell off her smoldering head, while a few trickles of blood ran down her face. Even if it was a shaped charge that directed most of the explosive force forward, it was understandable that Hilda wouldn’t escape from it unharmed. Her head might have gone missing altogether if it wasn’t for her absurd vitality, coupled with the Craggy Skin Skill she got after Ranking Up into a Stonekin dwarf.
However, her opponent clearly got the worst of that blast, as Zone’s breathing had gotten ragged for the first time in the fight. Her normally still mind and emotions were disturbed by the absurdity that was Hilda. It was undoubtedly the same reckless dwarf, but this new fighting style was the polar opposite of her turbulent nature. Her swings were fast, compact and aimed only at vital areas, and that was a huge problem for the angelic Monk.
As expected of that muscle-head, she immediately grasped the weakness of Zone’s Ultimate Skill. Although it could block incoming strikes with all of Zone’s strength, it always used its full power to do so. The dwarf’s approach was the right one, as it was possible to overwhelm the Spirit Guardian’s defenses with a series of rapid, precise strikes. Zone herself could probably handle them, but her ethereal self stood no chance. It was a good thing Faehorn had stopped taking potshots at her, otherwise-
The Monk’s eyes widened as she recalled that long-ranged threat’s existence, and was made immediately aware of the Comm-crystal that was vibrating slightly against the back of her waist. This was bad. Really, really bad. Looking up at the tree Faehorn was likely using as his perch, she saw he was already engaging the incoming aerial reinforcements. She was supposed to block that Ranger’s anti-air capabilities and keep him busy while that mercenary made his approach, but the woman had lost sight of her surroundings. That battle maniac she was fighting had completely drawn her into her own world, where the only thing that mattered was the opponent in front of her eyes. As expected of the Tempest of Rage, her lust for battle was so infectious it might as well be called a plague.
But now that she had regained her right state of mind, Zone took advantage of the distance between her and the dwarf and unfurled her angelic wings. Her body soared into the air with a single mighty beat, and she rapidly gained altitude.
“Oi! Where’d ye think yer goin’?!” yelled Hilda from the ground.
She tossed several throwing axes after the ascending Monk, but failed to so much as graze her. In the next instant, the dwarf realized where that woman was headed. She fumbled around the pouch on her belt, but found that her own Comm-crystal had broken in the scuffle. Must have been that one good kick that Jen- that Zone had gotten on her earlier. Well, someone was bound to see and report that eyesore of an angel’s movements, so Faehorn would just have to deal with her in his own way.
Besides, Hilda didn’t exactly have the luxury to worry about other people, as Imperial soldiers still surrounded her on all sides, and her HP was actually looking quite bad. At the very least those humans were seemed hesitant to get near her. The duel that unfolded before their eyes was too absurd for any of them to follow it with their eyes, and a few of them had gotten needlessly caught up in it and lost their lives. The dwarf hurriedly Rearmed herself with her Masterwork greataxe and glared viciously at those around her, which caused them to recoil and take several steps back out of fear.
This was the natural response to seeing her bring out that monstrous weapon once again, but there was more to it than that. Somewhere along the way the dwarf’s Slayer of Humanity Perk had upgraded itself to Hunter of Humanity, meaning she had killed more than 2,000 of them in her lifetime. Its effects on those around her were rather subtle compared to the Butcher tier, but it still amplified her natural ‘charm.’ The result was that she was given a bit of extra room to catch her breath, but the injuries she sustained in that fight as well as the after-effects of using her Berserker Skills meant she might actually have a hard time getting back to her allies.
Of course she was planning to fall back. Even if she was a natural born muscle-head, she was not as big an idiot as others might think. One couldn’t make it to Level 100 if they only used their head as an explosive delivery device. Well, they wouldn’t even make it past Level 10 if they did such a thing, but that was besides the point. And the point was Hilda had recognized the need to retreat and recuperate before someone troublesome showed up.
Just then a loud yell rang out behind her, in the direction of her allied camp. She looked around to see a towering, four-armed, red-skinned demon almost literally ploughing her way through the Empire’s ranks. The fiend’s iron-clad fists sent Imperial troops flying with every punch, while her armored kicks made them bend over in weird, unnatural shapes. Her bright green eyes scanned over the heads of her opponents as she rampaged, and her stare was naturally directed towards the odd gap surrounding Hilda. The two Berserkers momentarily locked eyes, each of them instantly confirming the burning fury within the other’s glare.
Seemingly locating her target, the 250 centimeter tall demon leapt an astounding 20 meters through the air, landing right on the edge of the Empire’s encirclement of the dwarf. Her massive weight crushed some poor, unsuspecting soul’s skull underfoot, and the surrounding humans immediately made space around her in shock and awe. The blood-splattered silver-colored cloth tied diagonally across her chest signified her allegiance to the Republic, but the veteran dwarf did not relax in the slightest. This was only a natural reaction, as one never knew if a demon on a battlefield was still chained to their master or not.
The two muscle-heads glared at each other with vicious grins as they confirmed the other’s unique brand of wrath. While Hilda’s was a fine-tuned, constant burn that could melt through anything, the other party was a wild, raging inferno that no mortal could hope to contain. It was sometimes said that the Berserker Job originated from the demon world known as the Beyond, and the being before the dwarf’s eyes seemed to be the living testament to that.
“Hah! Hahahaha!” laughed the demon. “That’s a good glare you got there, lady! Practically sets my soul ablaze! I love it!”
“Right back at ye, spiky!” replied the dwarf in good humor. “So why are ye lookin’ around fer lil’ ol’ me?”
“I’m here to send you flying, of course!” answered the demon through her sharp-toothed grin.
“I see. Well, then should we get started?”
Hilda positioned her axe behind her and charged forward with a guttural roar. The fiend in her sights turned her left shoulders and hip forward as she got ready to accept it. Their audience tensed up instinctively as the monstrous dwarf jumped at a high speed and thrust her weapon forward. The demon deftly grabbed the upper part of its haft, just under the massive blade, and began spinning her body around like a top. After picking up speed for several revolutions, she let go of the weapon, sending it and its owner soaring through the air.
“Thanks fer the liiiiiiiift-”
The not-so-right-in-the-head dwarf’s cheery voice trailed off as she flew into the distance, towards the Republic’s forces. Kora watched with a bemused smile as Hilda was caught in the air by a certain blue-skinned succubus that had draped herself in a silver robe just for the occasion. Well, ‘caught’ was not perhaps the right word, as the dwarf was far too heavy for Xera to do anything of the sort. In the end, all she really did was cushion Hilda’s fall with those massive breasts of hers.
“Angry lady retrieval complete, boss!”
Kora reported telepathically back to her Master while giving four thumbs up to nobody in particular.
“Good, very good.”
“You sure you wanna let her get away so easy? We could’ve finished her off, you know.”
“It’s regrettable, but going after her life was too risky.”
Boxxy was able to steal and preserve that Holy Necromancer’s body unnoticed by using the dryad’s root system, but Hilda was too far out, too exposed for that to happen. VIPs on both sides had eyes on them at all times, so it was doubtful it could get away with something like betraying and murdering Hilda in full view of everyone. Besides, it seriously doubted that monstrous dwarf would fall that easily just because she was ‘weak.’ A Berserker was someone who was at their strongest when they stood right before death’s door, and that woman was a more terrifying existence than Edward to be sure. Confronting her in open combat was foolhardy to say the least.
Even in the off chance it won, it would have had to rely on its familiars to do it, which meant that its cover would be blown wide open. It had already introduced Snack and Arms to Republic forces as ‘the Sandman’s minions,’ after all. Therefore, it was far better to assist in her retreat and let its alter ego build some credibility among their top brass by proxy, rather than needlessly risk death. Frankly speaking, it didn’t think the Berserker Job or any of its related Skills were a good fit for it to begin with.
“Anyway, just keep doing like you always do. And keep an eye out for tasty targets - I’ll be coming out in a little while.”
“You got it boss!”
Kora then turned her attention to the still dumbfounded mob around her and cracked all four sets of her knuckles.
“Alright boys! Who wants to show me a good time?!”