The young rune-swordsman wasn’t sure what he was expecting when he came to a stop in front of his brother. Words of admonishment, yelling, rattling off of all the stupid mistakes he made by running off on his own. What he got was a bop on the head and his brother grasping his shoulders and shaking him like a can of spray paint.
“You little idiot!” his older brother shouted. “What were you thinking going off like that? You could have gotten yourself killed!”
“I know!” he said. The entire time he’d been trapped there that very thought had been plaguing his mind. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut when I can’t even stand-up because I was trying to get to you!” He lifted his pants legs to show the injuries off. The graphics had gotten really detailed since the game’s launch. “This is the consequence of your actions! It’d also be your own fault if you died, or any of us who came to get you!”
“I’m sorry!” he said again. “You’ve been so mean lately, I—”
“I’m stuck in some nutjob’s game with my younger brother, who decided to run off on his own with a stranger and only sent word after he got himself trapped. Of course I’m mean! I never asked for this and you’re making this harder!”
“You don’t have to rub it in his face!” Aoili said in his defense, now armed with a new weapon. “He feels bad enough as it is. Blaming him will do nothing.”
“I’m driving it in so that he doesn’t make the same mistakes again!” Endri argued. “And you shouldn’t have helped him get this far in the first place!”
“He could have very well have died if I hadn’t gone with him,” she argued. “He was going to run off anyway because you tried to lock him down in one place when he wants to explore. He needs supervision, not to be told to stay in his room and out of sight.”
“Don’t tell me how to look after my brother! He’s my responsibility and when he does stupid crap like this it falls on me to clean it up—”
“Stop fighting over me!” Endel finally yelled. That was one of the things he hated the most, them speaking for him like he was a child that couldn’t put together words. “I admit it! It’s my fault and you can yell at me all you want when we get home, but give me my sword so I can help that man being attacked before he dies!”
He pointed to the distance, where they could make out the twin streaks of the boxer’s fist as they left pale trails of light while he moved to avoid the boss’ attacks. The two he had partied with could see beneath their health bars that he had taken a hit or two since he had first arrived.
Endri clicked his tongue. “He can’t dodge forever and if he goes down that thing will likely chase us next. I’d rather attack while all of us are here.” He turned to his brother. “Tell me what it can do and how it’s been chasing you. I’ll come up with a plan while someone does something about my legs.”
Sanda was fast enough to dodge the massive creature that moved far more quickly that its size belied. He didn’t need a weapon after his gauntlets broke against the mob’s slimy skin, the durability giving out and causing it to shatter. He used those two facts to his advantage, which was the only reason he could last as long as he did against the large monster while the others escaped.
At least he hoped they did. He couldn’t afford to spare them a glance at the moment. Right now he only had eyes for the beach-ball sized pair that did the same, time lost as they continued their dance.
It turned out that boxing, while great against humanoids, was lackluster against giant amphibians. His fist lacked the power needed to penetrate its skin deeply and wound it. And, while the creature could not dodge his blows, he couldn’t really do any substantial damage to it before it scored a few lucky hits. Such as when it craned its head while pivoting on its legs, managing to hammer him from the side as he threw up his guard.
Better now than never, Sanda thought as he skidded to a stop and got into a sprinter’s crouch, kicking the [System Assist] into handling the [Savage Tackle] skill while he wreathed his torso in Ether and then attempted to manifest it like other elements through Psychogenesis. Now covered in a mass of Ether Clump, he formed a shell of the malleable substance around his upper body and used the [Reinforcement] spell to harden it further. Thus he was adorned in an expendable and short-lived armor plating to make contact with the boss, without risking the rest of his gear breaking.
Once the makeshift armor set, the [Reinforced Savage Tackle] fired him forward like a rocket at the enemy. It buckled under the assault of the human missile, skirting back as the sand beneath it offered too little friction to hold it in place. Its health dropped by a margin as well, but not nearly enough to be decisive. It may as well have been a glorified love-tap, which the [Ruin Axolotl] responded to by gleefully bringing its tail around like a sledgehammer and introducing it swiftly into his torso.
Sanda was thrown backwards, sent distant as the impact shattered what remained of the hardened Ether Clump he clad himself in. The sand and silt covered shoreline allowed him to survive with minimal damage as he tumbled and rolled to a stop. Agony still permeated his body though, leaving him to wish that his defenses had been more durable, but he got back up in time to see that his enemy had yet to move.
Instead, the [Ruin Axolotl] began to suck up prana and knead it into a ball. It was then transmuted into water through the primitive magecraft that it possessed. He braced himself, readying for it to come—
—only for the spell fail as it abruptly shrieked after the sound of something wet being pierced rang out, like a sack of water being punched through by a nail. The transmuted water collapsed and cascaded from the sides of its mouth, while its head thrashed in the wake of a crossbow bolt laced with poison finding its regenerated eye.
Sanda turned to see that the Druid he had been traveling with hadn’t fled. He was standing on his own two legs, preparing another wooden bolt and firing it into the hide of the gargantuan axolotl that was steadily losing health. It must’ve not had any real resistance to poison that brought Damage Over Time then, allowing them to counter the regeneration.
Unfortunately, the [Ruin Axolotl] charged him in a rage instead of Sanda. He pulled back after firing another bolt, letting his younger brother and the woman that they had come to rescue step forward and into the path of its charge. Both of them flung low-quality gemstones at it like what Yumina had done before, using the [System Assist] to get the necessary distance. They landed straight in front of it, but detonate yet.
“YUMINA NOW!!” she yelled as she pulled out her rapier.
Yumina flared her prana through the invisible connections she had with the stones. It may as well have been the same as pulling the pin on several grenades at once, because the stones that were sprinkled along the path it would take erupted. Only, instead of a spray of fragments to pierce its soft and malleable body, there was instead a blossom of ice beneath it.
The invasive cold ensnared its limbs and underbelly, holding fast as the two others leapt and brought their new blades directly into contact with both eyes again. They then plunged their hands into the perforated gelatinous spheres and then pulled out as it started shaking its head, with the woman snapping her fingers as they landed. The eyes popped from the inside out, spikes of ice jutting from its head as its health dropped straight into the Red Zone while they ran backwards.
It turned red in response. The boss monster went into a second phase, its slimy skin turning red beneath the surface as it bellowed with a wet shriek that managed to grate at their ears. Then it exhaled an acrid mist that billowed out and over the ground, spreading around it and covering a huge swath of land.
“It’s eating away at all of our equipment!” yelled the new girl as she rushed up the slope, the boy now following her. Sanda did a quick check to see that his jumpsuit’s durability was indeed taking a substantial hit with every passing second, shown by bits and pieces being dissolved. “Gather around me, I’ll get us high!”
The ethereal boxer rushed towards them, his bolster speed allowing him to reach just as the Druid swore from the loss of his crossbow to the damaging mist. When they were all gathered, the rapier-user stabbed her weapon into the ground and used it as a conduit to conjure stone made from her prana—the basics of Earth-aligned Psychogenesis. The ground shook and then rose as a pillar of stone lifted them off the ground and above the mist.
“Whew.” She looked faint, panting as her rapier remained fixed in the artificial stone and sweat covered her face. Her eyes drifted from the second sea of lavender gas below to her prana-construct and she smiled. “Like I thought, it’s not affecting anything made of prana. This is a boss that’s meant to be defeated by magecraft.”
“Well, that’s just peachy.” Endri drew his dagger and turned it in his hand, inspecting the damage. “Except that none of us have any long-ranged magecraft. What am I supposed to do without my crossbow, hit it with a block of wood?”
“I don’t know, make a stake or a wood spear—” Her eyes widened as she looked ahead and then placed a hand on the stone. It lengthened right as a shot of water from the Event Mob smashed into the section where they had been. Some of the stray droplets fell on them from the splash and their equipment took another hit. “Yumina, give Ken-kun the rest of the Quartz before it fires again! We need those runes engraved on them!”
Yumina rustled through her inventory for a moment and her expression panicked. “We’re out of Quartz!”
Another shot was fired. This time she caused a portion of their support pillar to crumble as she dispersed the prana making it up, lowering them haphazardly and allowing the shot to pass overhead. “I don’t have enough prana to keep this up and it’ll keep correcting its aim until it eventually hits us.”
“No choice then, we have to aggro it away.” The Druid sighed as he poured the contents of a bottle of poison on his dagger. “Sanda, you’re with me. We need to finish this fast, while its health is still low and the others can’t move fast enough.”
“I can’t do any real damage to it,” Sanda admitted. “I can’t break the surface of its skin.”
“Can’t you shape that stuff you used before to be spiked or something?”
“I’ve never tried before,” he said.
“Now’s the time to try.” Endri tossed the empty bottle over the edge of their platform, leaving it to disappear partway down as he turned to the young woman. “Make a slope so I can go down.”
“You could say please,” she mumbled as she did so. He slid down into the waist-deep gas, barely setting a foot down before he rocketed forward towards the crimson axolotl.
Sanda took a moment to breathe deep, close his eyes, and concentrate as he focused on gathering Ether around his fists. Boxing gloves came to mind when it came to a mold, two wedges on the end for penetration. He then formed the mass of Ether and shaped the putty-like substance into the spiked gloves. When he breathed out and opened his eyes, the ceramic-like gloves were on now.
They felt hard, leaving his fingers unable to move. All the same, he reinforced them to ensure they didn’t break. Then he leapt into the fray, sliding down the slope as the Druid darted in and out as he had been doing before, carving gashes into the monster that tried to crush him beneath its tail with poison mixing into its blood.
Sanda felt the wind rushing past his body with every step, until the boss’ imposing figure was once more before him. He jumped with his enhanced strength and slammed his spiked fist into its body from above, the hardened points penetrating it. The damage wasn’t as minuscule as before and he smiled beneath his scarf as he started pounding away.
The [Ruin Axolotl] shrieked at the combination of poison, dagger, and puncture wounds, its health ticking down. Of the two attacking it, it focused on the doing the most damage and brought its own tail down on its back. Sanda broke off the attack and twisted his body, leaving him to fall off. It craned its head around fast enough to batter him to the side again.
He brought his arms up to defend himself, but the ugly tumble left him hitting his head against the ground hard enough that the world flashed and his brain pounded at his skull. Everything tilted as he tried to stand, leaving him unable to as he saw it approach him. The Druid was nowhere to be seen.
It seemed like this was it… well, he bought them some time, right? That was better than nothing. He could at least die feeling that he’d done something important. There were worse deaths….
“Ken-kun, no!” he heard before a small figure stood in front of him, the boy they came to save. He did something and the air thickened as he risted a rune upon it and suddenly buffeted it into a winter squall. Hoarfrost coated them boss and its health continued to tick down to the point where it was a sliver. Then he abruptly stopped, panting as he ran out of prana, and drew his half-melted sword while the monster shook off the light coating of ice.
“Run,” Sanda said as he tried to force himself back to his feet. He couldn’t let someone else die for him.
“I won’t let anyone die because of me!” he said, even as he trembled. His sword glowed with the light of a Sword Skill as he prepared to launch forward to meet it with a scream… Then the boss collapsed onto itself and skirted to a stop, revealing that Endri was on top of it.
His cloak and dagger were missing, disintegrated no doubt. He made due by using one of his remaining crossbow bolts as a spike and plunging it into the creature’s skull. He twisted it, sinking it deeper, hurting the boss even more to finish emptying out its health bar at last.
It dissipated into pixels, having been vanquished once and for all....