14 Ardor

A loud clang reverberated throughout the alleyway, and Zack was thrown back by several feet. He landed in a pile of wooden crates, taking seventy points of damage as a small yet sharp wooden plank impaled his left arm.

He clenched his teeth and screamed angrily, his arm spasming uncontrollably as wooden splinters impaled a variety of tendons. The pain was unfathomable, causing his vision to blur every so often.

"Where'd all that bravado go you cocky bastard? You really think you've got the stats to compare with someone three levels higher than you?"

ShortFuse22 laughed as he watched Zack scream in agony. "Music to my ears! Next time you try pulling a stunt like that, maybe try having the stats to back it up!" He then began walking over to Zack, dragging his greatsword along the ground.

From where Zack had fallen, ShortFuse22 looked extremely imposing. From behind him though, Zack could see Diz quickly shoot through the plume of debris, skybound.

As soon as he emerged from the cloud of dust, Diz opened his eyes and quickly took aim, firing an ice arrow at ShortFuse22's back.

The arrow got lodged into his muscles, and nearly hit his spine. Shortly after, the ice spread, causing his body to tense up.

Zack stumbled to get up, knowing that he needed to take the opportunity to attack.

With the haphazard swing of his sword, he managed to cut into his assailant's leg. It wasn't much, but he could see that the swing managed to do something.

Then, another arrow flew through the air and hit ShortFuse22 in the collarbone, causing him to grunt angrily. The ice spread, going up his neck and down his shoulder, seemingly incapacitating him.

Diz then landed gracefully about twenty feet away from the other two, and got ready to fire another ice arrow.

Zack was quick to throw out another flurry of simple melee attacks, creating small cuts all along his shabby armor and exposed skin. To end the flurry, Zack thrust the blade forward and stabbed it into his abdomen.

Zack then violently ripped the blade from his body, jumping back to avoid another swing of the man's blade. ShortFuse22's eyes then began glowing with a bright red hue, as heat waves began emanating from him, melting the ice that covered him instantly.

"Enough! I'm not about to lose to a pair of zeroes!"

Suddenly, the many cuts and wounds along his body began spewing flames. He lunged at Zack, and rather than swing the sword carelessly like Zack hoped he would, ShortFuse22 kicked him in the gut.

Landing against the wall with a thud, Zack took eighty points of damage. His unconscious body slumped to the ground as ShortFuse22 turned his attention to Diz, charging at him like a wild beast.

Diz was quick to shoot more arrows and move closer to the wall, continuously firing arrow after arrow. To ShortFuse22, it seemed as though he shot a volley of them at once, a mix of frost arrows and normal ones.

ShortFuse22 stopped in his tracks and swung his blade, deflecting most of the arrows Diz had just shot. He couldn't get all of them though, and some still managed to hit him, causing his health to drop to two hundred.

'Damn, that jackass was right, I really should have allotted some points into my health stat. Whatever, I'll correct that wrong later.'

ShortFuse22 continued his charge after that thought, the pain he felt subdued by the overwhelming heat that continued to grow within him.

Now that he was close enough to do damage, he swung his greatsword, creating a large gash on Diz's torso. However, he had fallen prey to Diz's ploy. He couldn't stop his swing, and his greatsword got lodged into the stone wall as a result.

ShortFuse22 had been careless, and was now struggling to pull it out. Diz was quick to take the chance to run, but stumbled and fell to the ground, the pain from the wound he'd just received overwhelming him.

It all happened too fast, and Zack had just shaken off the unconsciousness status effect. When he saw Diz struggling to pull himself away from ShortFuse22, he wondered if continuing would be worth it.

'I could run away and leave Diz to die, I'm sure he'd understand. But. . . I can't leave like this. I have to help him.'

Suddenly, the overwhelming pain he felt dissipated as his mind became clear.

He stood up effortlessly, and could feel his body brimming with energy the likes of which he'd never felt before. Zack could feel that same energy all around him. 'This must be Ardor. . . What a strange feeling,' he thought to himself.

But he couldn't revel in that feeling for long, he had to help Diz. Looking left to right, Zack was quick to find his sword on the ground.

Rather than pick it up, he put his hand outward as if to grab it. He felt a heavy strain on his mind as the sword lifted off the ground and came to his grasp, but it was manageable.

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He then dashed at ShortFuse22, forcing the energy to rotate around his blade as if it were a chainsaw. A shimmering emerald outline encompassed the edges of the blade, and it began emitting a sharp whistling sound.

ShortFuse22 was quick to turn around as soon as he heard the strange whistling sound, and saw Zack charging at him. With one final pull the sword came out of the wall as Zack swung his shimmering emerald blade at him.

ShortFuse22 quickly used his sword to guard against the downward chop, but felt his blood run cold as he witnessed the clash in slow motion. Sparks flew as the two blades hit each other, but Zack's blade kept going as if his High Grade Postulant Tier Greatsword was a stick of butter.

But his shock didn't end there, as Zack's blade began cutting into his flesh. Small damages of five and the occasional seven were accumulating rapidly, as the concentrated wind current allowed the blade to cut deeper.

ShortFuse22 shakily reached for the blade, feeling pain again as the sword neared his heart. Zack smirked at this and didn't stop him, putting more force into the blade. ShortFuse22 gripped the blade as hard as he could, and lost hope as he watched his fingers drop to the ground.

With one final thrust, Zack dealt twenty points of damage to ShortFuse22, ending his life.

Zack quickly let go of his focus on the wind currents he had formed around the blade, feeling the intense pressure on his mind disappear. With a quick pull, the blade came out from ShortFuse22's lifeless body, and Zack allowed it to fall to the ground with a loud splat.

Having died once, Zack knew that ShortFuse22 was likely lingering there with the respawn option in front of him. So, to add insult to injury, Zack was quick to say "Punk ass bitch, I dare you to try and get revenge."

A notification rang out in his mind. "Experience from killing your attacker will be withheld until completion of The Basics."

Sheathing his long sword, Zack was quick to turn to Diz and make sure he was alright. Luckily, he had already sat up against a wall, and seemed to be in a stable condition despite the large gash.

"Don't worry about me, loot the bastard first."

Zack searched the man's utility belt, finding thirty five copper coins, and two Low Grade Health Potions. He stashed the coins and completed his copper collection objective, and then placed one of the potions into the free spot on his utility belt.

"Hey Dith, can you catch this potion?"

"Yeah, do an underhand toss though."

Zack did just that, allowing Diz to catch the health potion with one hand. Diz then took out the cork with an arrow and then hastily drank the contents of the spherical bottle.

Diz let out a sigh of relief after downing the entirety of the potion, activating a temporary regeneration buff.

Zack then grabbed the wooden plank impaling his arm and took a deep breath. 'Alright, this is going to hurt like hell, but I should be fine after I drink the potion.'

With one swift movement, he ripped it out of his arm, screaming loudly as his health dropped from fifty points to twenty-two points. He then hastily drank the health potion just like Diz had.

The health regeneration buff matched the speed he was losing health, so rather than healing, his health sat at a critical point. With that in mind, he quickly reached into his stash of berries and quickly devoured all of them.

Zack's health was now sitting comfortably at seventy eight points, allowing him to breathe a sigh of relief as well. After that, he went over and picked up the beast head again, before walking over and sitting down next to Diz.

Zack then reached into his utility belt and pulled out twenty copper, handing it over to Diz. Having grabbed the copper, Diz now had his copper collection objective complete.

"So, I guess you won't be getting that bone refinement potion, huh?"

"Nope, but I figured out how to use magic, tho it counts for thomething."

Diz then handed back the twenty copper, and thankfully the objective guage remained completed.

The pair were exhausted, but were quick to get up, knowing full well another encounter with Cruel Blood meant death.

Before they could leave the alleyway though. . .

"Halt!"

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