Zone’s eyes twitched ever-so slightly at having her full force blow being stopped dead in its tracks. It was a sloppy block that diffused none of the momentum or force behind the attack, yet this magic caster was still able to endure it. The fact that the Sandman was able to react to her presence and move fast enough to pull that off was something of a surprise as well. Physical ability aside, his staff was also still in one piece after colliding with hers, so his equipment was nothing to be scoffed at either.
Having instantly reevaluated the strength of her opponent, Zone immediately resumed her assault. Her staff became something of a blur in her hands as she unleashed a barrage of strikes at her target, denying the Warlock any opportunity to focus on using magic. Just as she had established moments earlier, however, his martial prowess was far above what a Caster would normally have.
Despite coming at him from various angles and putting a ridiculous amount of strength behind each strike, she was still unable to land a single hit. She was certain she had the upper hand when it came to brute force, but this Sandman was definitely faster in spite of that towering body. He had the weight advantage as well, so knocking him off balance proved to be quite difficult. Haphazard blocks became parries and parries became evasions as her opponent rapidly adapted to her combination attacks, proving he had fighting ability to back up his physical attributes.
However, unlike the time she fought Hilda during the war, Zone’s current opponent was lightly armored, which left him vulnerable to her hand-to-hand techniques. The angelic Monk suddenly dashed forward, momentarily letting go of her staff as she pushed into the Sandman’s wide chest.
“Flurry of Blows - Rending Assault.”
She then unleashed a combination of a Skill and a Martial Art. Her hands seemed to momentarily multiply as she delivered a total of eight strikes in what felt like an instant. Her opponent had been caught off-guard by the sudden change in tempo and took the brunt of the attack. His cloak was shredded and his torso was left covered in deep gashes that bled profusely, almost as if he had been mauled by a wild beast.
The attack didn’t end there, however, as Zone grasped the staff that had still yet to fall over due to gravity and thrust it forward like a spear. It wasn’t a sweeping attack that could be stopped with a glorified magic stick, so the Sandman was forced to defend with a cross-arm block. He caught the end of it on the thick steel vambracers protecting his forearms, but they did little to defend against the Ki-enhanced strike.
You have inflicted excessive blunt force trauma. Target HP -811.
Energy ripples through your target. Target HP -162.
Bones became splinters and skin split asunder as both of his arms were crushed by that one attack. The armor, such as it was, had been cracked open like an egg while yet more blood spurted out of both broken limbs. Zone swung her staff around to deliver a follow up blow, but a massive pair of metal clad fists interjected themselves between the two. She instantly recognized their owner as that red-skinned fiend from earlier and leapt backwards rather than try to take that absurd mountain of muscle head on.
“Hey!” yelled the demon. “Come back here and get crushed, skank! Ora ora ora ora ora!”
The barrage of fists that came raining down on the Monk threatened to overwhelm her while the demon’s master slinked off to lick his wounds. However, each of those strikes were thrown haphazardly and without any real intent or purpose behind them. Though this fiend appeared to be a Berserker like Hilda, their fighting styles were completely different. Whereas that dwarf’s every strike flowed seamlessly into the next in a calculated assault that had the sole purpose of ending a life, this demon seemed to just be swinging wildly hoping one of those would hit. It was the stereotypical way of fighting for one who had a lot of strength and no idea how to use it, so an experienced fighter like Zone had no difficulty fending off the assault. In fact, half of those wild punches missed pretty much on their own. And the more the two fought, the less and less the fiend had a chance of landing a clean hit.
For Zone was a follower of the Axel and as such possessed the Disciple of War Skill. The longer she fought any one single opponent, the more she grew accustomed to fighting them, and the better she could predict their next move. Unlike Disciple of Chaos, however, she wasn’t tapping into a pseudo-precognitive ability, but was rather expertly reading her opponent’s movements. Muscle twitches, breathing, eye movements, weight shifting - the more she saw of her target, the better she got a feel for their fighting rhythm. This Skill was the main reason why Monks in service to the God of War were considered to be the most troublesome duelists.
But, even if it gradually turned any one-on-one fight in the user’s favor, the effects of the Disciple of War Skill would be reset if the Monk switched targets. But now that it had ‘spooled up’ again, it gave Zone a lot more breathing room against this careless fiend than one might think. She took advantage of a gap within the rush pushed the demoness back with a pinpoint staff thrust to her solar plexus. Granted, it wasn’t as effective as it would’ve been on a person since demonic bodies made no sense, but it still gave the Monk a chance to take in her surroundings.
It would appear that Edge had been momentarily webbed up by the stalker demon, judging by the sticky strings clinging to her outfit. She had cut herself loose almost immediately afterwards, but that had given the other side enough time to rotate out and pick better targets. The fiend was blocking the Monk, the icy spider-girl was now playing cat and mouse with Hook, and the Sandman was bearing down on Edge. Compatibility against one’s opponent was the most deciding factor when it came to high-Level bouts like this, so it made sense that the enemy would want to take advantage of their various strengths.
The Psionic, for starters, was obviously struggling to keep his distance from that stalker in the relatively confined space of this atrium. The tough and stubborn fiend was meant to keep the most dangerous of the three busy while her boss attacked the weakest fighter of the Gilded Hand trio. Which wasn’t to say Zone was badmouthing Edge inside her head. Even if she was arguably the lowest Level among them, the elf was still a proficient assassin. However, her stealth-focused specialization also meant her ability to engage in a straight up fight like this was subpar. Normally she would rely on her speed to outwit and outmatch her opponent, but this Sandman was more than her equal in that respect. He also had the upper hand when it came to raw physical strength. The only reason Edge was still alive was because her experience allowed her to anticipate the attacks before they were made, but she was steadily being overpowered. She couldn’t even create some distance between them, as she would be nailed by a nasty Spell in the next instant.
However, the Sandman and his minions weren’t the only one who could play ring-around-the-battlefield.
Zone activated her Ultimate Skill - the Spirit Guardian - and dove straight into Kora’s storm of random punches. An ethereal copy of the Monk leaped out of her body to block the left arms while the real one parried the right. She delivered a flying kick to the demon’s gut with one leg, then followed it up with a boot to the underside of her jaw with the other by using her weapon as a vaulting pole. This precise application of force rocked the brain of the much taller demoness, causing her to pause her unrelenting assault and stumble backwards. This gave the Monk just the window she needed to unleash another bare-handed Martial Art.
“Flurry of Blows - Nerve Strike.”
Her arms moved so fast they seemed to multiply once again as she ripped through the red skin under each of the fiend’s arms with the index and middle finger on both hands. Or at least that was the plan, but a layer of metal scales formed the instant before she could make contact as a result of Kora’s activation of her Armored Carapace. The attack was much shallower than Zone wanted, but it still had the desired effect of temporarily immobilizing all six of those arms. She then grabbed hold of her staff once more and swept the demon’s legs with a descending spin on her heels. The mountain of muscle fell over to the side, though not before insinuating Zone’s mother had intimate relations with a dog.
The Monk then unfurled her wings and once again lunged at the Sandman’s back. Edge noticed her approach and immediately moved to support her. She suddenly ducked low and stabbed a dagger through his foot to nail him to the ground, though the compromising position this left her in resulted her getting viciously kneed in the face. This act of hers gave Zone the opportunity to latch onto the hooded Warlock’s massive back, who was unable to stop her due to being pinned. The angel used her adamantite staff to choke on him from behind while grabbing onto the top of his head with one of her hands.
In a move no sane man (or woman) would consider wise, the angel had attempted to read her target’s Status in the middle of a fight. Knowing one’s enemy was of utmost importance to defeating them, and if they were to capture and interrogate this guy regarding Nao’s whereabouts, then she needed to be sure of what they were dealing with. However, the information that began flowing into her head in the next instant made that infuriatingly emotionless face of hers twist into one bearing the tiniest of smiles.
In the next instant, several massive steel spikes erupted out of the Sandman’s- No, out of Boxxy T. Morningwood’s backside. They failed to pierce Zone’s Ki-Imbued Skin, but still succeeded in throwing her off. The monstrous mercenary then willingly detached its pinned limb and swiveled around to glared at her, his cloak almost completely in tatters by this point.
“You saw?!” it growled at her.
“I did,” she confirmed immediately.
She had either been shown the made-up Keira Morgana’s Status that Essence Concealment was still broadcasting, or her quasi-divine species had allowed her to look past it entirely. Boxxy didn’t know which was which, but its identity as the Hero of Chaos was now assuredly exposed. Which meant that the gloves were now off. The shapeshifter gave up on trying to fight these guys as a person and fell back to its wilder, more vicious methods. It lashed out at Zone by extending its arm while covering it in steel spikes like a makeshift flail, only to have it effortlessly beaten back by her Spirit Guardian.
The resulting opening prompted Zone to lunge at it once again by using her wings. She was gearing up to take a full swing at Boxxy’s head as if to take it clean off. The Mimic responded by literally throwing a naked doppelganger-shaped Mirror Image at her with its other arm. The meat puppet splashed against her like a blanket of flesh, coiling itself around her and making her fall to the ground, right in front of the original. The shapeshifter retrieved its favorite mithril dagger from Storage and swung it down on the Monk with all its weight and strength, intending to nail it clean through her skull.
However, Zone was not alone in this fight.
The stone pathway underneath Boxxy’s feet split open and slammed shut on either side of him like a gigantic bear trap as a result of Hook’s Spell. It would appear Edge had knocked the webstalker away, giving him the chance to cover Zone while Kora’s partially paralyzed body was still recovering. The Monk’s explosive strength allowed her to rip through the living straightjacket she was put into while Boxxy did the same with the Ground Coffin.
But Zone did not continue the fight. Rather, she spread her wings and launched straight up into the air. A Gate simultaneously opened up right at Edge and Hook’s position, no doubt an escape route prepared by their allies. Arms tried throwing stones and debris at the retreating angel while Claws moved in to rip the portal apart, but neither of them made it in time. Boxxy managed to hit the retreating Monk with the Ebonfire Spell, but it didn’t even slow her down as she sped through the night sky. As for the other two, they had safely made it through the magic rift before the webstalker could collapse it.
“Shit!” cursed Boxxy as it stomped the ground. “Shit-shit-shit-shit-shit-shit!”
The Gilded Hand officers had escaped with the knowledge of the Hero of Chaos’s true identity. The shapeshifter couldn’t help but think back to that blasted smile on the Monk’s lips, which only made it even more furious. It really should’ve went all out from the start instead of trying to maintain the Sandman’s already compromised Facade, but it was already too late to change the past.
Speaking of which, this was neither the time nor the place to throw a tantrum. Though this corner was relatively quiet for the moment, it wouldn’t be long before the FIB agents showed up to investigate. At least this fiasco didn’t last more than a minute or two, so its Mirror Image from earlier was still around. It telepathically ordered it through Spirit Echo to swap places with Arms, then the real one used a Transfamiliar of its own to vacate the area.
The shapeshifter found itself in an old disused section of the sewers beneath the mansion, with the passed out Nao and Kuro propped up against a filthy brick wall. It had used its familiars to carefully map out the labyrinthine tunnels to use as emergency escape routes in times like this, so it could find its way back to its lair easily enough. Snack was still posing as Keira after the two swapped during all the smoke and confusion surrounding the emergency evacuation, so swapping with her at this point in time would be foolish. There was no point in having Arms and Claws loiter around the mansion any longer though, so it forcibly dismissed them.
“Grrnh! Who the fuck are you, spooky?!”
It would seem whatever mental shock that hooded baldie had given the two wolfkin was wearing off, as Kuro was already rising to his feet while growling and with a magic knife in each hand. This timing was hardly ideal, as Boxxy hadn’t yet changed out of the ripped up bloody rags that were once a weakly enchanted cloak. It still had the guise of a heavy-set human underneath, but it was hardly the appearance it wanted to show either of those two. It was also not in the right frame of mind to deal with this game of lies, so the urge to just take its frustrations out on them was almost overbearing.
‘Almost’ being the operative word there.
“You’re safe, so stand down. Or I will put you down.”
Which was why it somehow ended up giving Kuro a warning that was dripping with murderous intent instead of lashing out at him.
“I’d like to see you try!”
Needless to say, it wasn’t very effective.
“Where is this anyway?!” asked the wolfkin while warily looking around.
“These are the sewers under the mansion you were just in,” replied the Sandman. “Your enemy will not find you here.”
Kuro seemed to relax a bit, as neither he nor his brother were in immediate danger. It also helped that the hostility emanating from this stranger was diminishing rapidly. In reality that was just Boxxy dosing the musty air with a calming scent through Pheromone Control, but that was besides the point.
“Okay, that’s a start,” stated the wolfkin. “Still haven’t told me who you are, though.”
“I’m nobody important. Just a passing Warlock who hates humans.”
“Really now? You look pretty human yourself, if a little on the large side. Was your dad a giant or something?”
It was a decent enough guess. Though children born from interracial relationships would always be the same species as the mother, they would still retain certain traits of the father. A coupling between a human female and a giant male would definitely result in a human of above-average height. Whether the woman in that hypothetical scenario would survive mating with a partner roughly twice her own height was another question entirely, but it was also completely irrelevant to the matter at hand.
“What difference does it make?”
The Sandman threw in a menacing glare in addition to those cold words. Thankfully the shapeshifter’s considerable Charisma (CHR) Attribute made it so this was enough to intimidate even someone like Kuro.
“Right, nevermind. So, what happens now?”
“Now you two will head that way for about three hundred meters until you see a rusty ladder. That’ll lead you to the surface. I suggest you get in touch with the authorities as soon as possible. As for me, I have other business to attend to, so I’ll be going now.”
The Sandman turned around to slink off into the darkness, but Kuro wasn’t quite done with him just yet.
“Wait, why did you help us?!” he shouted after him. “I doubt it was out of the kindness of your own heart.”
“… Because Heroes are a precious resource, in more ways than you realize. You really should protect yours better.”
“Ah, fuck. That’s why I hate you mystic types. Always with the cryptic bullshit.”
Nobody was around to hear his complaint though, as the tall stranger had already disappeared down the dark, dank tunnel.