Fox and I freeze up unconsciously for about three seconds staring at where that arm had just snatched Sunghee away from us!
“We have to move!” I said loudly, yelling.
Then I activated my light spell at the same time Fox dives down the hole where Sunghee was just sucked in or pulled in from whoever or whatever that thing was. I tried to snatch back at where Sunghee was sucked in but I was woefully too late. She was so afraid that she’s left some nail marks where she was trying to scrape her fingers raw trying to avoid being pulled in. That takes guts; most people can’t handle having their fingernails scraped off because of how wretched it feels, so she was definitely scared.
“What the hell just happened?!” I screamed with wide open eyes.
“I don’t..I don’t know yet, but we’ll solve it,” Fox said trying to calm me down, but upset herself.
Fox can see how panicked I am so she repeats what she just said, and has a hand on my shoulder for comfort. This is the worst thing that could happen. I’m more attached to my companions than other people in an adventurer’s party, so it’s hitting me harder when something bad happens. Plus, it’s Sunghee who was with me right from the beginning, so I’m really freaked out. I feel over protective of her naturally from wanting to save her from the hate, terror, and despair of this world.
Wait…is that why my desire magic is so focused on healing and protection? I’ll think about that later. For now I have to get her back.
“I can’t believe this is happening?!” I then said as I jumped into the hole. It was risky, because we weren’t sure exactly what was on the other side of the hole. But somehow the way Sunghee was pulled down made me think there was something there on the other side…
We’re both sliding down a giant slide with Fox making sure she has a hold of my pant leg both to stay together and because of the emotional trauma we’re both experiencing of what’s just happened. Fox is ahead of me with her ears laid flat against the back of her head like a terrified cat. Despite all of her bravado and jumping in quickly she is still scared of falling…who isn’t right?
For long seconds we’re sliding down in near pitch black which is terrifying.
We end up hitting the bottom, tumbling into a round torch lit room, like a small gladiator’s arena after a good ten seconds of maddening fright that made my stomach queasy because the angle of the slide was so freaking sharp. We’re also on a huge pile of sand in the middle of it. Although instead of benches for spectators to watch from on the outside, it has massive high walls going to the ceiling blocking any escape from the arena.
“Ouch! That hurt!” Fox cried out in spite of both of us landing on a soft sand pile. She’s already trying to get up and on her hands and knees with her rear end sticking out facing towards me. She didn’t realize that her skirt is flipped up. Wow; she isn’t wearing underwear. I can see everything there almost, and only have my view partially blocked by her two tails which hang down from the same area.
“Where the hell are we? Do you see her?! Do you see what took her?!” I groaned. It’s hard to get up because I feel like I’m in a lot of pain from sliding out onto the ground with no cushioning.
“I’m trying to get my bearings still. This place feels kind of dark, even though I can still see, but just not as far. Stay close to me Shun. There’s no telling what would happen if that thing got hold of you instead of Sunghee,” Fox replied.
Actually she’s right, and thinking about it makes my stomach queasy. Did I just get lucky because I was the farthest away from the hole when it happened, or was Sunghee specifically targeted?
Fox manages to stand up, but she’s kind of got her hand on her lower back where she must have twisted it in the fall. I risked a small heal on her. “Thanks,” she said. She might have smiled if we weren’t in a totally desperate situation.
Subconsciously I didn’t realize that healing makes people really like you. Like they would do all kinds of stuff for you just because they know when the chips are down only you might be able to pull them out. It’s like subliminally when they are kids they look to their mom when they get a small wound. Fox doesn’t realize she’s starting to develop a similar rapport with me maybe, even though her logic would fight it.
Recent events have made me happy a lot of my skills are team oriented. I think my team is the only team that’s really not had tragedy after tragedy after coming to this world out of the people that survived the school sacking when we were summoned here. Well, even if you say we avoided tragedy after tragedy, this is a hell world still…
“What do you see?” I asked her while igniting my light spell, just in case. I ended up hanging two light orbs onto both Fox’s tail number one, and my weapon, which is now drawn and kept ready. Now I just follow her lead. Fox is crafty and a veteran, I try to tell myself.
“I see her now,” Fox points at the evil in question.
There’s more cackling again, the evil laughter coming from the doppelganger girl who is on the opposite side of the massive arena mocking us. Like before she is brave and adversarial and not the least bit afraid of us while still wearing that white porcelain ghost like mask. That’s even weirder considering things didn’t go so well for her last time.
At least we know who it is. But we still don’t fully understand what she is only that she has chosen a mix of Sunghee and Fox’s forms together.
“Why the hell did you attack us again?” Fox demanded angrily.
“Does the steak dinner ask the human why it’s eating it? I thought we went over this before. It’s no hard feelings I’m just taking what I have the right to take because I can,” the doppelganger girl sighed and shook her head.
“But we don’t have to fight. We don’t want to hurt you. We can coexist and help each other,” I protested.
“Why the sneaky crap too? You can’t handle a fair fight bitch?” Fox scoffed angrily.
“Oh you are so concerned with rescuing the maiden and righting injustice aren’t you? You think you are so righteous? Have you thought maybe I’m the one that’s righteous? That you invaded my home maybe? You aren’t innocent!” Doppelganger’s fox mask twitched just a bit. It’s like a demonic white porcelain mask just like she’d had in the past. It makes me really curious what’s behind it. Will she look like Fox’s face, or Sunghee’s, or … something else?
“Is she trying to do some kind of discrimination scam on us?” Fox asked.
“Maybe? I guess it’s like a confusion thing too? Maybe she wants us to second guess ourselves too,” I guessed.
“Maybe I’m the victim here!” Doppel-chan ranted again. Her fingers tap her own chest viciously.
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. This is like wolves accusing sheep of being carnivores,” Fox said shaking her head.
“Can’t we reach an agreement or cooperation of some sort?” I pleaded to the Doppelganger, who has gotten a bit closer but still some distance. She gives me an odd look, suddenly looking at me. She’s quiet for a few seconds, but then the silence is broken by Fox.
“Forget it Shun. This kid probably gets her kicks off killing baby birds, clubbing baby seals, and poisoning small children,” Fox leered at her menacingly.
“There’s no reason to get offended. I’m just doing what I’m told, and what I need to rule and reclaim what’s mine,” Doppelganger said.
“What does she mean by that?” I said.
Fox and I are looking at each other in question.
“Does that mean she’s also got a boss? I thought she was the real boss?” Fox contested.
“Oops. I wasn’t supposed to let slip, but now that it’s already out, there’s a chain of command,” Doppelganger said.
“Who do you work for? Why are you doing this to us?” Fox pleaded.
Doppelganger girl just snapped her fingers, and slowly inch by inch a giant golden birdcage lowered itself from the ceiling from a long high cable that’s disappeared into the high vaulted dark ceiling. The ceiling is high enough it’s hard to see where it actually comes out of, or if she just pulled it out of the mana ether. Even with such a long cable and hanging far from the ceiling it’s still dangerously high above us.
Sunghee is screaming to let her go or else from one of those cages suspended above…we can faintly see Sunghee above us trying to shake the cage bars to no effect.
Of course Doppelganger girl is ignoring her completely but has her stare fixated on us. “I wouldn’t try to escape if I were you. A fall from that height would surely kill you or break several bones, even if you could get past the cage bars.”
“What’s the plan?” I asked Fox, hoping she might have a few ideas. Normally we’d charge in, but with Sunghee trapped in the cage, I’m lost as to what we’ll do since Sunghee was our tank. Fox was good at combat, but her evasive style meant it would be unpredictable where she would be from one moment to the next too.
She regards me coolly, “you already know the plan. We cut off her head, survive, and end of story,” she shrugged.
Fox sounds pretty bad ass actually. She’s not even fazed by Doppel-chan’s strength.
“But you can’t win this time with your lead combat specialist in the cage. You only managed to get me last time through luck and double teaming me before. Too bad for you it’s now my win. You can’t beat me without a tank,” Doppelganger girl said, beckoning us seductively with her finger motioning for us to come to her.
“I’m going to enjoy this. She’s wrong too by the way,” Fox hissed.
Fox ran forward with her arm outstretched and within the first step had snapped a spark of something in her hand and the energy sword that I’d long coveted is back. I’m happy to see it, but for her to bring it out this early on means she’s also going all out right away. That means she feels really threatened too. I don’t know yet if it was a good decision or a bad one to use a high energy output weapon like that so early.
I also begin moving, casting runic shielding on both of us and follow up with buffs right after.
But I frown seeing that by the time I’ve got all our buffs up, Fox and the Doppelganger girl have already been trading heavy ricochet filled blows full of sparks and mayhem with each other for a good ten seconds, all of it with massive ricochet. There’s heavy sounds of mana discharge that feels like rumbling earth as their strikes hit each other, since both of their weapons are coated in magic, and tremors in the arena that feel like cracks will swallow us up any second. The doppelganger has a strange long slim black blade that looks well made but gives off an eerie feeling. It looks heavy too, but she’s using it at ease, and able to parry and block with Fox.
“Stay in the back Shun. Don’t get close to her,” Fox warned me.
I can’t even get close when they are fighting like this can I? My mana sensing is picking something up too…from Doppel-chan’s weapon. It’s hard to even keep up with the speed. Oh crap, I’m so way over my head. How did it end up like this?
Because Fox’s magic is altering reality, it probably wouldn’t be too hard for her to have some trick to be able to have her senses keep up with moving that fast and doing all kinds of weird floating in the air maneuvers defying gravity, which is what she does. But for me it’s tough to even watch it clearly, while I try to stay clear of swiping distance and also stay moving myself in the back.
“She’s got some spell active on her blade,” I warned Fox desperately, trying to talk quickly and urgently.
“Got it,” she replied curtly. Then her ego forced her to add, “I already knew that. Stay back, I got this. Just heal me and stuff.”
Still Sunghee is shaking the bars of the golden cage and crying desperately. I have to concentrate on what’s going on around me. It would be easy to get caught up in talking to her and seeing how scared and desperate she looks.
“Shun! Help!” Sunghee calls down to us.
Fox is desperately trying to keep up, but as a mage it’s hard for her to do close combat even though she looks like she excels at it. She’s being forced back, though she’s meeting it blow for blow.
Doppel-chan’s blows are much heavier and tougher though not too much faster, I realized even with the high energy weapon that Fox is trying to burn into her. Maybe Doppel-chan is the one that’s badass I realized.
“Debuff it!” she cried out.
“Already on it. Just looking for an opening,” I said. In spite of both of them trading blows, I can’t just zip debuffs at them when they are close together. I had to time them when Fox was jumping away so that I don’t accidentally debuff Fox too, which would probably get her instantly killed when she can barely keep up.
I hit the movement speed debuff and the combat stats debuff on the doppelganger. But she’s still somehow fast. Fox manages to stay out of its range barely but gets a cut that scythes through my runic shielding like it’s made of jelly, leaving an edge that’s so sharp it almost looks like a clean cut from a table saw or cross cut saw. It’s also further proof that Doppel-chan is using a sort of magic type reinforcement in her attacks. I suspect part of the mana edge spell or whatever it is that she’d added to her weapon, is partly responsible but she’s also got a lot of arm and power in her swings.
Is there some tricks to learning how to move like that? I feel a bit jealous still and very worried for Fox.
“Holy shit!” Sunghee cried out as she’d jumped back. Yep, she’s still watching from above, though she can’t do anything.
We’re both shocked. The doppelganger has in one sweep cut entirely through my runic shielding with that strange looking bastard sword that almost looks like its made out of shiny wet blood. The mana shield has completely been obliterated.
“I see you didn’t fall for my ruse. I’m actually surprised you are still alive,” Doppelganger answered back with mock admiration in her twisted metallic voice.
“She’s a monster,” muttered Fox retreating for a bit while Doppel-chan is rolling her neck and shoulder muscles to either show off, stretch, or both.
“Weird,” I echoed right after while drawing the mage symbols for runic shielding to renew Fox’s shielding. Even if it was pitifully weak compared to the opponent’s strength, I had to try to keep Fox alive. While I’m trying to get her defense back up Fox is evading and pulling away, with me also on the far end of the arena as much as my casting distance allows.
What’s also interesting is the blood edge black bastard sword wielded by Doppel-chan leaves molten sand when she ends up brushing the sand over the arena. The molten sand appears more clear and liquid like but still hot while the molten glass flows around the impact area. This also becomes a danger to both Fox and me to avoid. This also means we have to watch both in front or in back of us since this is a long, never ending cat and mouse dance where we often are circling over the same areas twice.
Times like this water magic would be useful. And I suspect more than one type of demon has magic or energy attacks that cause heat problems.
“Stay back Shun. Don’t engage her,” Fox added right after that to remind me. Fox is cool, she knows what she’s doing and knows that I’m desperate to rescue both her and Sunghee. She’s read my movements and the look on my face, even while watching Doppel-chan.
Because the doppelganger can easily cut through our magic shield in one blow we have to avoid her often and run constantly trying to look for openings or sniping shots. She goes after Fox constantly because fox is taunting her and flipping her off, but I wonder why.
Why doesn’t she go after me first? Do the pheromones affect her? Is that why she is going after Fox first?
I don’t want to test that, but she must have some effect from the pheromones or she would have attacked me right?
“Stay moving Shun, and make sure out of both of us you are the farthest from her reach. There’s no guarantee she won’t find an easy opportunity irresistible,” Fox said.
Again in the creepy voice, the Doppelganger echoes the same thing right after her, in almost the same tone of voice but somehow more corrupt and with a sinister evil clown laughter echo at the end.
I wonder too if Doppel-chan is some kind of mana program, illusionary program in loop, or actually a real person? She’s very skilled in combat whatever she is.
Fox dodges again, as we keep running some more. The Doppelganger’s sword slices through the brick work of the wall, showering the area with dirt petals and scum cloudy earth that smells dusty like an old cellar. Again like before some of the broken up rubble in the walls, is dripping clear colored molten glass.
We keep moving, and more dirt clouds are formed from her trying to slash us and hitting the wall.
“We can’t fight her Shun. Not without Sunghee,” Fox said nervously full of fear, but having reached a logical conclusion after what seems like ages of fighting. I’ve not even seen Fox nervous before, I think. This is like nervous and her breaking a sweat, which seems like it shouldn’t have been possible. Before now she seemed like this impassible monster of willpower, but she’s rattled to this extent.
And yet now she’s running for her life, with me.
How did that happen?!
“But aren’t you faster than she is?” I asked with a lot of my stress showing.
“Nope. Unfortunately no, I mean. She’s just too fast and puts a lot of heavy force into her swing. Even if I were to somehow get rid of that demon blood sword she’d still hit pretty heavy. And I’m worried about what will happen once she learns to swing it properly considering right now most of the force is coming from her strength and not real sword techniques,” came back the reply while breathing harshly.
“Well what about…” I started to say, but she’s already shaking her head.
“Sorry Shun. Just run OK?”
I can read the worry on her face.
It seems like she’s not sure if we’ll win.
“So?” I coughed as my lungs and body are being shaken up from all the running. This arena is full of dust and sand too and it feels all nasty to run through it. I just hope there are no bugs or insects in here; that would be about the only way it could get worse.
“We basically have to run until she can’t anymore, or until it’s time for you to wake up,” Fox said filling both of us with despair.
“Ah, that’s the worst thing you could possibly say,” I groaned.
I’m not too good at distance running. I hate marathons. Running in gym class was worse than math class, when we were forced to do it for very long.
Can Fox handle this?
I’m not sure but I guess she’s done this before with the former orc boss, so that might be why she was able to think of it so quickly. I just have to somehow hang onto the fact that Fox knows situations like these, but I dislike retreating.
After the first hour the Doppelganger has tired some; but not enough. She’s managed to almost catch Fox, a few times. It was when my buffs wore of us, and I was in the middle of recasting them when she started to gain on us again. I got the movement speed buff up, and then the other. Then I de-buffed her again.
Seriously, debuffs rock. I am so glad I picked good skills and not just what looked cool. Luckily my buffs and debuffs don’t use very much mana compared to my total amount. And with my shared mana pool skills my mana regen is higher than a normal mages would be as well.
“Will she catch us do you think?” I’m breathing so hard I have like this vapor of water running from my nose to my mouth and my clothes are drenched.
“Probably…” Fox managed to wheeze out. Running for a long time like this does that to you.
But then Fox had some inspiration. “Ah, now I get it.”
“Her stats are based on ours or mine rather,” she said.
“How so? Are you sure?” I asked while pumping my arms that felt too heavy.
“Remember when we first met her; she copied parts of our bodies?” Fox is blushing. We both remember how last time the Doppelganger had been trying to show us her cookie.
“Stop that!” Fox objects as I without realizing it had been staring at Fox’s school uniform skirt covered groin remembering the cookie incident.
“Sorry. I can’t help it. It’s the demon genes,” I said.
“I guess that’s true,” she admitted taking it well. “Sorry,” she added. “I shouldn’t …have…gotten mad.”
“So basically she cloned parts of Sunghee, and parts from me. I’m guessing her stamina is probably at a modified level beyond that too but on a scale based on us. Otherwise she wouldn’t be following us toe to toe so much,” she said.
“Like?” I didn’t quite get it at first. We both also tentatively checked behind us again. About thirty steps behind us the Doppelganger girl is still hanging in there with sweat pouring down her chin and jaw at the edge of her porcelain mask.
“Well this is like she’s copied off a set digit for our endurance. Let’s say on a scale of 1 to 100, that maybe my physical endurance as it relates to running had been a 72. I have no idea what it is and neither does anyone else in this world, but we’re just using that as a model. Hers is 72 times by let’s say, 120%.”
“OK, but why 120%?” I asked her, while we kept up our pace. We both kept checking behind us at every steps.
Sure enough Doppelganger girl is still there, although she’s sweating like crazy now. “I’ll…catch you…filthy foxkin…your game…will end bitch. Fuck you for making me run like a dog. I’ll make …you…my bitch…soon,” she gasped. Even though powerful and evil, everyone hates marathons right? I almost laughed at her just from seeing her suffer from running like we are. Running a marathon is true suffering after all.
“Think about it. Every time she gained ground was when your buffs were wearing off and when the debuff wore off too. The only explanation for that and how balanced we’ve been while running for the last hour is that her strength is directly related to ours with a multiplier factor of some kind to grow it a bit beyond what I have. And it just so happens, that multiplier is barely below the difference of your buffs, which implies there’s a scale factor that’s reasonable on that multiplier amount. If it was something else the balance wouldn’t be so close,” she said.
“Your right. So it’s just like ten or twenty percent increased,” I concluded.
“Right, twenty I think…unfortunately…although this is still hell even if we have a pattern,” she kept huffing hard.
“So that’s for the endurance stat, but…is it just me or was her physical and attack strength a bit more than twenty percent higher than yours?” I said.
“Good…point. You’re right on that…too. Much…much more…than twenty percent increased,” she gasped.
She’s good, to be able to think of that all on the fly.
“But isn’t there like a difference from willpower too? And how does that affect the running?” I asked.
Fox gave me a stern look. “I’m the queen of willpower. Where do you think she got that from? Probably both of us are so high on willpower, that it’s kept us fairly even when factored in with the running. And because I’ve training you to become a man, naturally you can keep up with me too, since you are my apprentice,” she said while looking like she might hit me then and there.
“Should we stun her and try to face her again?” Fox then suggested.
I shook my head, “nope. We have to save that. I haven’t used that because it’s a safety switch for if she decides to change her mind and stop chasing us and tries to kill Sunghee instead, or go after me directly. I can’t use that get out of free card lightly when its cool time is larger than I like,” I said.
“But the cage is so high?” Fox started to say, but I cut her off.
“And what if she has yet to reveal some kind of jump ability or other means of attacking her from range?” I suggested.
“Oh…I didn’t think of that…sorry,” Fox looked embarrassed.
“Actually it’s good you were thinking beyond just attack and defense. Good long term growth needs strategy that goes beyond one step. You need to think like what if situations like that. Maybe you will survive,” she murmured with a hoarse voice.
Somehow we kept running…and running…but we want to die. Jogging in a marathon is the bitch of all bitches. I guess technically we’re not going full speed anymore for either party, so it’s just jogging.
“She’s too strong,” I gasped near the end. “I almost want to die rather than to have to run more.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Fox said with a ragged voice.
But Doppel-chan decided to finish this. She poured all her spirit into one dash towards me near the end. As Doppelganger girl is running straight for me and about to slash me…I think I called out yelling…
Then I wake up, sweating like crazy in my blanket.
“Are you OK Shun?” Asakura asked, grabbing my hand. She could feel my distress I think. She’d just barely started to ‘feed’ off me, impaling herself onto me. She’d also taken off my clothes at some point too.
“Tell me what’s wrong?” she asked while shivering. She’d just started to try to go up and down on me.
I feel so…tired. Its like, how the heck am I going to get my stamina back? This like I haven’t slept in two days. Tomorrow…I have to have a plan or we’ll die. I’m not sure what time it is but it’s very true that I haven’t slept a full eight hours, maybe four?
Asakura saved the day again, it looks like.
And I still don’t know the trick to pulling the girls into and out of the dream state to interchange them with each other or for reinforcements.