Null rolls his eyes and smirks. The man might be a robot, but he’s a cocky robot. A smug robot with discouraging red lettering hovering over his head. Even with the all the time we spent in Chronos’s cave he still probably has twenty levels on us, easy. The disparity won't get better with time. This guy has years of figuring out the optimum way to level a character in role playing games under his belt. I have years of figuring out when and where to shoot someone, that won't change in a few days.
"Now's the time gang. This won't ever be easier. Let it rip." I say.
Null steps forward and swings his sword at my torso; the grey dulled steel and blue runes blur in my vision. I barely have enough time to block; he must be nearly as fast as me. I step away from his blow as I bring up my staff, hoping to soften the blow. I hear a thud and feel a deep vibration go into my hands. The power of his swing still rocks me onto one leg before I can settle.
An expectant tingling on my skin reminds me that Energy Sink is still active. It’s too late to Electrical Shunt into Null. Wait, I can capture the energy from an attack even when I block the blow? Awesome. I shunt the energy into Bonesy, who gives out a quiet...moan? Gross.
Null raises his sword and chops down at my head with both hands. I sway to the left, dodging his attack completely, and slam the end of my staff into his right ankle. I don't hear a satisfying crunch or see an icon -- no luck on Jointbreaker. I must not have enough strength to get its effects, but I did thirty damage. His health bar doesn’t move -- rats.
A drill shaped piece of ice appears behind Null, whining as it spins. The sun shines through the suspended ice and the droplets of water mesmerizes me -- an odd beauty to such a deadly boon. Null glances back and stands up, waiting. He doesn't bother to turn around, something's wrong.
"Samantha, move!" Doc shouts.
A fireball bigger than my torso shoots past, deafening me in its rush to reach Null. I clench my body bracing for impact. Nothing happens. The Ice Drill and Fireball no longer exist. They didn't bounce, or extinguish, or shatter -- they just disappeared.
“What did you do?” I say.
He just raises his eyebrows. Right, no reason to give us useful information.
“His god doesn’t believe in your gods -- he has a boon called Nihilist’s Cloak,” Mary says from the edge of the village center. A glance back her way.
“That doesn’t even make sense. A Nihilist believes in nothing.”
Null frowns and scowls at Mary. “I’m not the Nihilist, Nihil is.”
“Wait, but if he believes in nothing, why does he provide his followers with boons? Shouldn’t he not believe in his own role and responsibility as your god?” I say.
“The game makes him. He hates speaking with me. I don’t care. I wanted boons to nullify supernatural abilities. If you consider it long enough you’ll know why it’s overpowered. Are you ready to give up yet? Abandon your town? Save me the time?”
I answer his questions with a glare, I say, “Get out of here, Mary, if we fall, Athens might still have a chance.”
I launch into Flurry of Blows, my staff slamming into his new armor. I barely do any damage, five hit points, but the stun effect seems to work. Leonard exits Stealth, driving one dagger into Null’s left knee and the other into his right. They barely sink in, doing a pathetic seventy damage. I can see a small chunk out of Null’s hitpoints now, maybe two percent.
Null brings up one arm and knocks my staff to the side, ending my Flurry of Blows. Crap, that wasn’t very useful. He takes a small step forward like he’s going to hit me, before whipping around, bringing his sword down crosswise, cutting deep into Leonard’s shoulder. Leonard’s hitpoints crash down to ten percent and Doc shouts, “Leonard!”
Null kicks Leonard in the chest, dropping his hitpoints to zero before my staff strike can hit Null’s right knee. Jointbreaker works this time, slowing him and taking another two percent off his life, but not in time for Leonard. Doc runs and screams from behind me, but I can’t look while trying to combo into Leg Sweeper. My spinning kick hits Null’s right leg, dropping him to the ground. I take a small jump driving my staff down toward’s Null’s face -- like I did to John -- and another five percent of Null’s life falls as my staff leaves a bloody red welt on his chin.
Null cuts his sword at my leg from his prone position, I step back but fail to avoid the attack completely. I use Electrical Shunt to send a nasty shock into Null but he doesn’t even flinch. Crap, Nihilist’s Cloak must make the energy disappear when it reaches Null. Not fair, if you ask me, but that’s nihilism for you. Partially dodging his attack still cost me twenty percent of my hitpoints, nearly one hundred and twenty damage, after absorbing 40%; I can’t survive many blows. I land a Two Handed Bash chipping another few percent of Null’s life off before he gets his feet under himself and starts to stand.
Doc catapults by me, almost knocking me over in his haste to reach Null. His giant arms stretch wide to wrap Null in a bear hug. I’m not sure if he’s just angry or if he intends to hold Null while I bash him, probably just angry. I’m guessing Null is way stronger than Doc. Before Doc can say anything, the point of Null’s sword erupts from his back, dropping Doc’s hitpoints to zero.
Darnit! Leonard, Kuruk, and Doc are all dead. David can’t do any damage if his spells won’t affect Null. This is not looking good.
My hitpoints rise back to one hundred percent as a warm feeling, Vitialia’s blessing, surrounds me.
“Careful Samantha, I don’t have too many of those left,” Dan says from behind me.
“Got it,” I say, still absorbed in the sight in front of me. Doc’s momentum and deadweight prove useful, even after death. His nearly two and a half meter rotund frame still has a lot of mass, enough to prevent Null from escaping his grasp before being dragged to the ground.
I lunge towards the Doc and Null pile. Null’s head and right shoulder peak out from under Doc, the rest of him is trapped between Doc’s bulk and the ground. I picture the piston of a motor, holding my staff vertically in front of me and slamming it rapidly up and down into Null’s exposed face. I don’t have an angle to swing it in a full one hundred and eighty degree arc for Melon Crusher. My stamina drains rapidly, dipping below fifty percent as I brace my body and put all of my weight into my staff blows. Thump, Crunch, Thump, Crunch, Crunch.
Null’s face looks like a plate of tomato soup, but his hitpoints are still at fifty percent. David runs up to my side, take out a thin wooden stick (a wand?) and slaps Null in the face with it.
Between breaths, I say, “You...really...think...that’s...going...to...help? You’d...be...more...helpful...wiping...my brow...or...hiding.”
David frowns at me and keeps slapping Null. A wizard that can’t use his spells is truly pathetic. Doc’s body rocks wildly now from Null’s frantic struggles. His sword cuts back and forth, almost escaping from the left side of Doc’s corpse. His arms must be trapped on the hilt of the sword making it hard to leverage his body out from under Doc.
I keep my staff engine going, slamming into Null Division’s ears and temples; he tries to dodge by whipping his face from side-to-side but my dexterity makes it easy to connect every time. His hitpoints drop to twenty percent. Holy Chronos, we might actually do it.
Null screams and rips his sword through the side of Doc’s body, rolling out from under it and standing in one fluid motion. I step back, recovering from my barrage on Null’s face; I glance down and see my Stamina bar shows only ten percent left.
David tries to retreat but not fast enough. Null screams and twists his body, putting everything he has behind a sword blow to David’s neck. It’s gruesome but almost funny to see David’s surprised face flying through the air as his body collapses to the ground. He should have listened to me and stayed back. Null’s bloody platter of a face looks towards and he says, “You’re next.”
I adopt a wide stance and bring my staff up, ready to deflect his blows. If I get lucky enough, I should be able to avoid his attacks long enough to chip away at his remaining twenty percent health. Null steps towards me, looks to my left side and starts running. Crap, Dan!
I turn and try to get between Null and Dan but my body feels sluggish, maybe due to the lack of Stamina. This is really not good. Dan starts glowing as Null approaches. Null holds his sword point at Dan, both hands to one side. Once he’s in reach, Null lunges forward with one leg, driving his sword into Dan once, twice, three times in rapid succession. I note the skill, I bet it would work with my staff too, and try to hurry to Dan’s side. Dan’s hitpoints plummet to twenty percent. He’s hardier than David and Leonard, but not by much.
Dan’s body emits white pulses of light in faster and faster bursts. Null pulls back for another swing, I stretch my body forward, leaving my feet and holding my staff out, trying to get between Null’s sword and Dan; I’m hoping to give Dan time to complete whatever boon he’s channeling. It doesn’t work. Null’s sword parts Dan’s rib cage, the light dying near the new wound, the blow like a shockwave canceling all the energy Dan was requesting from Vitalia. Dan’s eyes close, his corpse falling to the ground.
I scramble to my feet and Null turns toward me, breathing hard. I imagine an angry facial expression but his features are still an oozing mess.
“You’re fast,” he says, “ and somehow, my strikes do much less damage than they should. But I think you have missed one thing.” I’m not going to tell him about Energy Sink, it’s foolish to give away a competitive advantage like that. I also suspect that if he hit me with his fists, whatever boons he has from Nihil would cancel out my Energy Sink. His sword didn’t cancel my Energy Sink, but Doc’s fireball and David’s Ice Drill both ceased to exist when they touched Null’s armor. I just hope he doesn’t put two and two together.
“What’s that?” I say.
“You really don’t know much about melee fighting. I prepared for this game for months. Now you’ll see why.”
He steps towards me and pulls his sword back for another swing. A green tracing line appears, showing me the exact arc his sword will take. This Instant Tracers skill seems almost like cheating. I raise my staff to intercept it, preparing to retaliate with one end of my staff after the block. But Null stops his swing mid-blow, pulling it back to attack on a different vector. I readjust to block that, but he sidesteps, poking his sword directly at my waist instead of following through on his second attack vector. I don’t have time to dodge, and his sword sinks in, dropping my hitpoints thirty percent.
I activate Human Battery to store the captured energy in my own cells. My body vibrates and I take another five percent damage. Darn, I must have already reached the maximum I can store with Human Battery its current level.
“That is called a feint,” Null says.
Passing my staff into one hand, I snap it forward, hoping to catch Null off guard with One-Handed Snap. He blocks it with his sword, and then brings his weapon down along the angle of my staff, cutting into my arm for another thirty percent damage. I use Electrical Shunt, sending the energy into Bonesy; he groans again. The leather ties holding Bonesy to my belt tug against it. I look down; Bonesy hovers, straining towards Null. Wait...what if...I smile, thanks Chronos, you were looking out for me!
“And that was a riposte,” Null says. “This is typically called a finishing blow.”
Null leaps off his feet, bringing his sword down with both hands. I dive forward, rolling underneath him before turning and sticking out my tongue. “And that’s called a somersault, I learned it in Kindergarten.”
He steps forward again, swinging at me as I backpedal. After one particularly powerful blow, he swings his sword back lightly, hoping to catch me unaware, I step into it, taking the cut in my right shoulder. My hitpoints drop to twenty percent, but I ignore it, activating Electrical Shunt and sending the energy into Bonesy one more time. The leather ties holding him to my belt snap and he shoots up to the closer piece of metal, the end of Null’s sword. With a clang, Bonesy sticks to Null’s sword.
“That is called a magnet. You see, Bonesy’s isn’t a normal skull, apparently, his skull is ferromagnetic, like lodestones and other magnetic metals. Just dormant.”
Null pulls his sword back, holding the point at the ground and stepping on Bonesy, trying to snap him off his blade. I step forward and hit him once, twice, with the ends of my staff. His hitpoints drop five percent.
“When you send an electrical charge around a ferromagnetic metal, it aligns the magnetic domains inside the metal, causing it to become a temporarily magnetic. I’m guessing Bonesy has a ferromagnetic core with an electrically conductive casing.”
I hit him again in the face with both ends of my staff. I’d love to use Melon Crusher, but he might dodge and I don’t have enough Stamina. Null stops trying to dislodge Bonesy and hefts the sword instead. He swings at me but his sword moves so slow I almost reach out to tap it, just to prove I can. Putting so much weight at the end of his meter and a half long sword makes it much, much more difficult to swing. It’s like how a shovel feels before and after the end of it has a full scoop of dirt.
Whomp, whomp, whomp, whomp -- I smash Null four more times and he drops his sword in frustration. He reaches back, presumably for a different weapon but I step forward and hit him in the back, dropping him to one knee. He only has five percent of his health left.
“Wait, let’s make a deal. I can help you. Just let me go. I won’t attack Athens, and I will powerlevel you to level forty. Please, I can’t take a death penalty and stay on top of the leaderboards. And if word gets out a bunch of newbies like you killed me, I might lose my sponsorships...” Null says.
There are so many holes in his plea.
“Why would I trust you now? You were already ready to burn Athens down once you found that sword and breastplate. And if you’re so scared of wasting time and not making progress, why would I believe you would spend days of your time helping me? No, none of that makes sense. Here are my terms.”
I talk with Null for another five minutes. Ironing out our agreement.
Then I smash his face. Eyes wide open, his back hits the dirt with no health left.
I’m exhausted. My notification icon is blinking crazily, but I just don’t have it in me right now. I sit down and think about returning to my apartment as the whole world goes black.