The moles near Sunny hustled at him while those that were far shot their nails. Quickly, he smashed through hordes of them as nails grazed and split his skin red. Overwhelmed, he used Earthen Shark and rode it down the stairs, all the while with two Storm Falcons buzzing and fending off the approaching moles.
The breathing of Richard was labored. He did not expect to be this winded after facing the moles in the stairway. His grip over Sylnal tightened and he whipped the wind and laid waste to the encircling moles. As he panted, he realized that he would not last long if he carried on using Sylnal since it consumed too much viger. Sheathing the short sword into its green scabbard, Sylnal disappeared. In its place, a samurai sword with a sapphire scabbard appeared.
“Blessblizz,” Richard said as he sidestepped from a pouncing mole; however, before the mole could get out of his reach, he spun his body and halved it with his sword. “This has got to end. Blizzard Samurai Style: Unending Winter!”
Richard dematerialized the scabbard in his hand as he stabbed his sword deep into the ground, and the area around him exploded outwardly with icicles. And for that instance, all eyes in the cavern were on the icicles, as light shone upon them and wrapped around their body and shimmered, it looked as if each of the icicles had worn a piece of party dress adorned with large-scale sequin patterns, and each of them had their figure flattered, be it they were petite and thin, or tall and voluptuous, and for that—one and significant—instance, each of the icicles felt beautiful, in the eyes of everybody and most importantly, their own eyes. With their beauty at its peak, the icicles each flirted with the crowd of ogling onlookers, and with their fingers placed upon each of their neck they felt their way down to their chest, pressing against their hard rock muscles, but everything abruptly changed, and they smoothly pierced their pretty nails through their stomach and dug past their innards, smoothly skewering each of the lustful onlookers into the air, hanging their pudgy forms there as they broke apart like baked clay, like the narcissistic moles they were. And it was at this moment that the illusion broke, and the moles had their cloudy eyes wiped clear from all lingering traces of the trance. Again, all eyes in the cavern were on the icicles, but this time, the moles looked at the beauty of the icicles with renewed perspective and stared hard at the breaking figure of their kinsman, feeling pity that they had been the ones to fall to lust and reaped its fruits, yet thankful that they were not among those who had strayed and neared the seductive perils of the icicles. Alas, with one last look upon the icicles, they dawned upon the threatening tips that ordered their retreat, and they obeyed, fearful of the beauty that had once enamored them.
Pulling Blessblizz out, a pillar of ice elevated under Richard and he was pushed up several meters into the air. His body spun and his next attack came; only this time, it was aimed at Borrit.
“Blizzard Samurai Style: Heaven Dew Blade,” Richard said.
“Shoot him down now!” Borrit roared.
Richard wielded his sword and it tore into the air, staining it an indelible blue, and out of these strokes, countless swords of ice arrowed out and ripped the moles that shielded Borrit. However, the one in trouble was not Borrit; it was Richard, who was still in midair and was surrounded on all sides by flying nails that threatened to impale him. But he did not panic.
“Blizzard Samurai Style: Ice Fantasy,” Richard said.
The air chilled and ice gathered into slabs around Richard, shielding him on all sides. Some nails hit the ice and bounced off; others were embedded. Richard landed on the pillar of ice he used to launch himself into the air. Scanning the place, he saw that the number of moles had decreased. However, with more moles rushing out of the castle, he had to decide the battle outcome fast.
Borrit was in a stressful situation since the moles he had were wiped out. Though his two spells were still active, Sunny had pummeled through the moles in the lower level; only those in the upper level remained. He could not see the situation improving. In a battle of attrition, he might have been able to win, but this was no battle of attrition. Richard had victory in his hands with his powerful weapons and sword styles, and Sunny was quick with dispatching the moles, no matter how many there were.
Only one solution remained. Borrit had to buy time with his remaining moles—and use that.
The land roared vehemently as Borrit gathered the earth around him. The rock ground pushed up against his legs in a servile manner, layer by layer, till they reached his waist, and as if eager for his affections, they climbed up to his neck, to the curves of his face, and finally swallowed him. Richard used Severance Wave and sent a slash at the pile of earth, but the moles jumped to receive it. At that moment, an abrupt unease took hold of him and he was compelled to think that dawdling any longer might prove to be a mistake. Richard sprinted past the moles that persistently blocked his path, hacking and parrying. He noticed that they were less on the offensive and more on the defensive, which made them more tedious to destroy as they executed the hit-and-run tactic. He grew frustrated and unease knotted around his heart, and he was forced to inhale harder and exhale deeper.
“This is bad. I’ve to hurry.” The mind of Richard was rampant with these thoughts. But he could not get to Borrit with the moles pouncing on him left and right, then scurrying away from the reach of his sword.
A magic circle appeared on the ground as the pile of earth levitated into the air and smoothened into a sphere. From it, an immense viger fanned out and suddenly, the ground shook and rumbled and the cavern felt like it was close to collapsing. And Richard ran for his life—which was the right choice.
“Boom!” The wall in the stairway at story 1 was kicked out. From the opening, the head of a mole flew out and rolled onto the ground, and cackles grew audible. Three Storm Falcons flew out in a blinding speed and left a trail of blue in their wake.
“Please make it,” Sunny prayed.
“Karmic Rock.” The voice of Borrit resounded loudly in the cavern.
The sphere morphed into a rock creature: it had an eyeball for its body and two large claws floated on its left and right. And as it looked at the three Storm Falcons that came flying, a torrent of spikes barraged from its eyeball. Quickly, Sunny took direct control and the Storm Falcons split up and zigzagged past the spikes; however, the spikes numbered many and they were vanquished.
Sunny rushed out of the wall opening and ran with long strides toward Richard, whom had begun his confrontation with the rock creature. As he ran, the sound of his heavy breaths drowned out the surrounding noises, but all of a sudden, the loud shuffling of furious footsteps broke his rhythmic huffing. Sunny spun his body back to face the throngs of moles that had filed out of the wall opening. Snapping his fingers, a shark took the cue and torpedoed out of the ground, ramming aside the pursuing moles and parking perfectly into the wall opening. The moles in the stairway were trapped and they started to claw their way out. Sunny hastily sprinted toward Richard, all the while, with a Storm Falcon piercing the pursuing moles that remained. It left a fine strand of electric blue in its wake, which was reminiscent of a sewing needle pulling a blue thread, as it pierced through fabric seamlessly, accurately, and with unceasing speed.
Richard jumped high as the rock creature clutched its right claw at him. Flipping his body forward to build momentum, he sank his blade into its wrist and its detached claw fell with a small tremor. However, it simply regenerated its claw the next second, as if derisive of the efforts of Richard. Richard saw that the moles had started to huddle toward him; they had gotten close while he was battling the rock creature. Hastily, he retreated from them to build adequate distance, fearing that if given the chance they would swarm him, but as he backed, the moles shot their nails. He used Blizzard Samurai Style: Ice Fantasy to block but the intensity of the attack climbed when the rock creature joined in by shooting spikes. The slabs of ice that protected him were chipping off fast and as they wore thinner, cracks grew virulently and the sound of cracking was hushed, yet ironically heralded his hopeless situation. Richard panted and held on, forcing the slabs of ice around him to grow thick, just as the blitz of projectiles wore them thin again.
“Earthen Shark!” Sunny said.
The ground ahead of Richard erupted and a large shark charged out to receive the barrage of nails and spikes for him. He had a cover now but it was not for long. The rock creature had already closed in and swung its heavy claw at the shark.
Only one solution remained. Richard had to regroup with Sunny—and use that.
Using Blizzard Samurai Style: Ice Fantasy, Richard dashed toward Sunny. Even as the moles shot their nails and the slabs of ice around him wore thin, he did not falter—he only ran. Upon noticing his intent, Sunny sent out two large Earthen Sharks. They surfaced from the ground, one on the left of Richard and the other on his right. Together, they swam as Richard ran, enduring the attacks for him until finally, he reached Sunny.
“Blizzard Samurai Style: Unending Winter!” Richard roared and stabbed his sword into the ground.
The ground froze and icicles dug their way out from underground, striking off the arms, legs, and heads of the surrounding moles. Even while committing this savagery, the icicles preserved their graceful mien: they wore the green light of the cavern like a tailored ball gown, and in turn, the green light wore them like a perfect glass slipper. The two complemented each other well, marrying into some rare emerald spears.
However, this beauty lasted only for a fleeting moment before melting. “Thanks for the ice,” Sunny said, and he swung his right hand back in a spearing position, just as water from the melted ice gathered as a swirling mess above his hand. Within a few seconds, a big trident formed.
Meanwhile, the rock creature floated sluggishly toward Richard and Sunny. Noticing the trident, it brought its claws forward and launched them at Sunny.
“Now or never,” Sunny said. “Hydro Trident!”
Clutching his hand over an imaginary trident, Sunny brought his weight back and with all his strength, he threw the Hydro Trident. Water spewed from its end and it accelerated, spearing past the opposing rock claws. But that was not the end. It charged and rammed, stabbing into the eye of the rock creature and sticking its three prongs through its back.
The rock creature laughed. Having picked up its grim undertone, Sunny could not shrug off a resultant chill and he braced himself as it permeated his entire body, spinning its cold and negative web. Suddenly, he noticed that the surrounding had its voice robbed and a stifling silence was enforced. The silence hung palpably in the air, strutting and wagging its finger to continually shush the surrounding. It was at this time that the trident failed to keep its form and its water dispersed, gushing out of the rock creature and onto the floor. Puddles rippled raucously and disrupted the unbearable silence. Richard held his sword closer to his chest and his eyes scanned the place: there were only a few moles around him while more were in the stairway.
“I think the eye has to be destroyed with a big attack,” Sunny said. “My earlier attack didn’t do much, even if it looked like it’d dealt a fatal blow.” His fingers snapped and invited a chorus of loud buzzes, and he looked at Richard.
“Go on first,” Richard said.
Sunny sent his five Storm Falcons straight ahead and the rock creature retaliated with spikes. The Storm Falcons hurriedly split into five different directions, zooming and swerving independently through the spikes. At the same time, the gaping hole in the rock creature sealed itself while large claws of earth gathered around it—only this time, there were four claws.
“Doesn’t matter,” Sunny said to himself. “I just have to beat it with a stronger attack.”
Sunny brought his open palm up in front of him and clenched his fingers, and the five Storm Falcons that went in divided directions reunited and merged into one big bird of prey—one big Storm Falcon was all that remained. Its body was made of disquieted blue-white lightning that shone a robust saturation, and as it flapped its brightening wings and cawed fervidly, it also puffed its chest and bolted stray lightning.
“Fly!” Sunny said and the Storm Falcon cannoned to the ceiling before swooping toward the rock creature.
Lightning burst in every direction and a blue-white light consumed the cavern. There was a pause as the eyes of everybody strained from the blinding saturation, determined to witness the conclusion, which was as such: the Storm Falcon had arrowed through two of the claws of the rock creature, only to be caught by the remaining two. As the two claws clutched over its body firmly, it felt its body crushed and it struggled and cawed with vengeance. Sunny expended more viger and the Storm Falcon fought like never before, flapping its wings like a crazed beast, and as a long spike protruded from the rock creature and neared its head, it strained its head back and its shrill cry tore through the cavern. Nonetheless, it proved futile, and the Storm Falcon dispersed into vestiges as the spike dug into its head. Turning toward Richard and Sunny, the rock creature laughed—again.
Walls from different levels in the stairway collapsed and from within poured forth a multitude of moles. Nervousness balled in the throat of Sunny and he gulped it down forcefully. He and Richard faced impending demise. They would be unable to cope with concurrent attacks from the rock creature and the mass of moles.
The moles rushed like ravenous predators and jumped from the stairway. “Sunny, defend like your life depends on it!” Richard shouted.
“My life does depend on it and so do yours!” Sunny replied, scoffing at the irony. “Cherish Cat.”
Sunny raised both his hands and erected a barrier that enclosed both him and Richard. It was amber, yet one was able to perceive its considerable thickness. And as the moles flew from the stairway onto the top of the barrier, they landed with claws dug deep into it; on the ground, the moles surrounded the barrier and brought their claws against it to sharpen. Sunny gritted his teeth and withstood the strain of the ceaseless attacks, his eyes locked onto the rock creature that treaded closer and closer. It had regenerated the two claws that he had painstakingly destroyed. Maintaining the barrier was now unbearable and Sunny crumpled up his face, exerting past his limits, and even as more cracks drove their way around the barrier, his expression merely hardened and he held on.
“Cherish Cat: Purr Party!” Sunny said, and he pushed his arms out, one on the left and the other on the right.
The surface of the barrier became torched with flames from which lithe cats of fire filed out from. There were many cats, and at the sight of their pudgy preys, their irises narrowed into slits, and they lunged and sank their calescent claws and teeth into their brown body, as if the moles were made of chocolate and not hard rock. The extermination continued and the cats and moles fought to death: the moles swung their claws and vanquished the cats into wisps, and the cats stabbed their canines and severed the moles into pieces.
“Richard, more moles are coming,” Sunny got increasingly agitated as he spoke, “and that rock creature too! Hurry, I can’t maintain my barrier any longer!”
“Then don’t,” Richard replied curtly.
Though incredulous, Sunny trusted the resolve of Richard and he dissolved his barrier, just as Richard held up Blessblizz with its tip pointed at the ceiling and said, “I’ll admit, Earth Shattering Mole. The two spells you’d cast were formidable and followed by Karmic Rock, you’d the upper hand.” A magic circle spun below the feet of Richard, awaiting its cue.
“Are those your last words?” Borrit asked.
The air in front of the rock creature seemed to freeze over as ice appeared from thin air and formed a ginormous slab of ice. It was so tall that it neared the ceiling, and it was so thick that when seen through the image was distorted. Richard suddenly dropped onto the floor, huffing and puffing.
“Pathetic, you made this to block my attack?” Borrit stifled a laugh. “I easily tore through your defenses with my moles and spikes.”
“You’re bigoted,” Richard chastised. “I’ve never said that this was to block you. It’s to strike you down—once and for all. In the beginning, Blizzard Samurai Style: Ice Fantasy wasn’t meant for blocking”—he paused to catch a huge breath—“it’s to attack!”
A crack split the slab and chunks of ice fell onto the floor. Inside, a dark figure resided. Its shape flashed in the ice and Sunny saw that it was big and tall—it was the ice demon, Dandorvin.
Dandorvin placed his head against the surface of the slab of ice and pushed. The ice cracked but he carried on pushing, albeit with a look of exasperation. When his head was finally out, he stopped, but by then, numerous cracks had already stemmed out from the area his head emerged from.
“Richard, you did an incomplete summon,” Dandorvin complained.
Searching the place for Richard, the hair of Dandorvin undulated over his eyes. He had long and straight hair that streamed smoothly down his head, to around his two spiraling horns, and to his chest. Unable to find Richard, he rested his eyes on the rock creature and smiled, revealing rows of sharp teeth. Borrit, who was inside the rock creature, quailed from the demonic stare. He could not hope to face this colossal monster that towered over 50 meters; the rock creature he was in was only over 10 meters.
“Dandorvin, I’m here,” Richard said while kneeling on the ground still taking in deep breaths. Creating the ginormous slab of ice had taken its toll on him. “I apologize. I didn’t have enough viger and I’d rested while Sunny fought, but it seems the viger was still insufficient.”
“Next time, make the ice thicker and taller. Look, I only have my face out and this slab of ice is already cracked. If I force more of myself out, it’ll collapse. And did you say Sunny? You mean—”
“Yes, whatever you’re thinking is right.”
“Today is a merry day. Sunny, I’m Dandorvin, and I hope to see you again.” Hearing his name, Sunny struggled to see past the slab of ice to the other side, but he only saw a distorted image of a head with horns. “I’ll help you two for today. Is this thing and the moles bothering you?”
“Yes. Actually, there’re even more moles here, where we are and where you can’t see.” Dandorvin tried to turn his head back to face Richard, but as he was stuck to the ice, it only caused the ice around his neck to crumble. “You just have to do something about the rock creature. The person who’s controlling them is inside. They’ll stop when he’s dead.”
Dandorvin stared at Borrit as he ran with all his might. Irritated at his efforts to delay the inevitable, he puffed out a cold zephyr from his mouth. It raced through the air, playfully bellowing and prancing in the cavern before it decided to catch up with Borrit, and then over his exposed back, it approached on tiptoe and mischievously draped layers and layers of ice over his shoulder till he was heavy laden and frozen.
To destroy Borrit, who had used Karmic Rock to form a rock creature for residence, one had to deal large damage in one attack so that the rock creature he was in would have no time to regenerate. Thus, with the rock creature frozen, all that was left to do was to crush Borrit, whom was inside. Hastily, Dandorvin pushed his left foot out, in obvious worry that Borrit would break out of the ice; however, he did not know that Borrit had already tried to do so with all his strength and found out that he could not, since the mass of ice around him was too large to break. The toes of Dandorvin stuck out, causing cracks to cut across the surface of the slab of ice but he persisted, even as cracks spread far and wide, until he got his left foot out.
“Goodbye, Richard and Sunny,” Dandorvin said. “I hope to see you two again. And remember, Richard—”
“Thicker and taller,” Richard said.
“—thicker and taller.”
Dandorvin held his foot over the rock creature as Borrit screamed from watching death encroached on him. His scream was heard up until it grew muffled from the eventual stomp and the collapse of the ginormous slab of ice.
“It’s over,” Sunny cried out in joy. “Richard, are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Just tired,” Richard said.
“That’s good. Unlike you, when I overdo, I vomit blood.”
“I do vomit blood from time to time. But this time round, I didn’t overdo. Didn’t I let you fight after we’d regrouped? I knew that a strong attack was needed to destroy him. That’s why I’d rested while you fought to avoid straining myself.”
“But how did you know that you’d to use a strong attack? Was it when I used Hydro Trident?”
“No. I’d known it was needed. There were four points I’d confirmed as the fight progressed. First, with his indefinite production of moles and that rock creature, a halfhearted strategy wouldn’t work. That’s why I’d to go all out. Second, I’d suspected it when his claw regenerated after I’d cut it. I’d to face the possibility that his technique might be that convenient and was able to regenerate from damage. But I’d also considered that if he were struck fatally, his technique might unravel.” Richard smiled and pointed at Sunny. “That’s where you come in. Your Hydro Trident struck him fatally but he regenerated, which meant that the damage has to be excessive.” Richard got up from the floor with his breathing now in control. “You know, I’d wanted to do an incomplete summon but because of the fourth point, I gave up and did a full summon. You want to take a guess?”
“It must’ve been the two extra claws of the rock creature. They’re shockingly hard and strong.”
“Correct,” Richard said. “Even though you’d increased the power of Storm Falcon, it only pierced through two claws and the other two caught it. This meant that with each claw, he was able to block more powerful attacks. It wouldn’t be smart for me to save viger by doing an incomplete summon, only to have the plan backfire because he’d formed more claws to block. Thus, I’d to do a complete summon, such that even if he’d done so, my attack would’ve crushed him nonetheless.”
Sunny nodded at the load of explanation and said, “We were at a major disadvantage this time round. I didn’t expect this much trouble from him.” He pointed at the large number of moles that littered the ground.
“Ha! This is the kind of thing I go through every day—and you will too. But I really should’ve killed him early, so that he wouldn’t have been able to cast his two spells and use Karmic Rock.”
“Isn’t it because you prioritized my safety? You kept dragging me to the basement and ignored his pursuit.”
Richard smiled. He was at a slight loss that Sunny would notice something so subtle. “I’m actually glad this happened. It’s been so long since I’ve fought with you, side by side, protecting each other’s back. It’s been too long.
Ineffable emotions welled up inside of Richard and he had to inhale deeply to abate the congestion inside of his chest—specifically his heart.