The ground around us disappeared freeing them from the trapping spell. Berardo should have thought of doing that initially but the fear had prevented him from strategizing.
Cockatrice knew what had happened and six of the heroes he was controlled vanished. “Awaken” he called and the remaining five heroes regained the power that they had been missing. Five was a number that Berardo could think about handling.
“Team 1 attack! Team 2 run!” Shouted Berardo but it only mattered for team 2 because team 1 had already started to move. Diane Simon, Blade of Unique Sway, Demon of Forgotten Soot, Eyes that Gaze the Horizon, and Rose of Unyielding Flames all split up toward the different enemy heroes.
Berardo however locked his eyes onto Cockatrice. The two of them were their own dual. Berardo had already cut his communication spell and was preparing to use Speed Boost. Even with the barrier activated and the field and 5 heroes Berardo knew he would at least have a couple of crystals free to swing the flow of a battle.
Berardo only had one so he had to make it count. He had to respond to Cockatrice and ensure that everybody in team 2 escaped. Berardo paid attention to the heroes fighting in the background just enough to know who might need help.
He recognized Reaper of Wandering Souls had paired off with Rose. Hunter Stained with Blood was being countered by Horizon who could stop him with the shield. Blade of Unique Sway was having a stare off with a woman with pitch black eyes, neither of them making the first move. Diane was fighting a frail looking man whose eyes were covered with his black hair and was wearing nothing more than short pants. Demon of Forgotten Soot was attacking a brawny man who took each of her attacks but after each one he didn’t look like he was even bleeding.
With the situation appraised he returned his gaze to Cockatrice and noticed that Cockatrice had been doing the same thing. Berardo couldn’t make any mistakes. He had already made one and had it not been for Horizon everything would have already been lost.
They eyed each other for what felt like minutes but was only seconds. Then Cockatrice called out, “Activate, Icon of Pain”
A blood red crescent on staff materialize in his hands. As it did Berardo could feel pain shooting up his body. As Cockatrice waves the staff back and forth it felt like each swing was cutting into him and tearing at his flesh. Then Cockatrice began to walk toward Berardo.
“Ah, so that is your plan. Attack the wounded yourself.” Said Berardo was he drew his gun from the holster.
“Activate, Barrier of Friction” called out Cockatrice again activating another spell which shimmered to life around him.
Berardo fired and like he fear the bullet hit the shield and then spun wildly out of control eventually going off into the sky. A shield and a weapon and Berardo had nothing to counter it. He considered his options. He could boost one of the heroes fighting and hope that let them win fast enough for them to come to Berardo’s aid. He could speed boost himself into the Barrier and take a shot before being attacked, that seemed promising but Cockatrice was likely prepared for that. If he had even one more crystal to use then that plan was sure to fail.
Berardo could also use the spell to escape, try to distract Cockatrice long enough for team 2 to finish escaping and then have everybody pull out. They were all possible outcomes and could be foiled by the right spell on Cockatrice’s part.
As Cockatrice got closer Berardo finally made his decision. All in. “Activate, Speed Boost.” As he felt the rush of speed. Then he passed through the barrier around Cockatrice. He could feel rough grinding at his skin however his mass allowed him to push through the shield and get close to Cockatrice.
Then Berardo pointed the gun toward Cockatrice and began to fire. He expected to hear the words of a spell being called, something that would spell his doom and lead to destruction. However he was prepared for that. If Cockatrice spent his last crystal here defending against him that would give team 2 enough time to escape from the barrier.
But there was nothing and then the sound of his gun firing. Blood streamed from underneath the robes. Then the staff came crushing down upon Berardo. The pain was more than he could image and it knocked him back and down to the ground.
He laid there and tried to pull himself from the ground however the pain was too intense, he couldn’t do anything. Cockatrice took a few steps forward and looked down at Berardo. The blood continued to soak into his thick robes.
“You are still weak.” Came the rasping voice. “You can not yet see the true nature of this world. But you are getting better. You have gone through each of my trails moderately well, seen through my illusions and hand waving. But it is not yet enough. I will find the Eternal Hero and you will help me.” There was a croaking laugh.
He continued speaking, “And it looks like you were not even able to beat my heroes. How pathetic.”
Berardo looked around from his fallen state. The others were losing. They looked exhausted and pushed to their limits. He had expected it to be more evenly matched but they were all being pushed back.
The voice continued, “Each of you were not strong enough to win, but today I will let you live because I believe that you will lead me to the Eternal Hero. And if you fail, I suppose I will kill you then.” He laughed, a dark haunting laugh.
The he help up a card and called out, “Activate, Banishment, expanded.”
A sphere of light appeared around Cockatrice and then quickly expanded. It engulfed Berardo and then the other members then it as gone but the light was not. They were outside the barrier and Cockatrice and all of his heroes were gone.
Then there was a loud slam from nearby. Berardo turned to see the busted tiles where King of Endless Water now stood. Sitting on one of his shoulders was Meike who was bitting her lip, “We were too late. He got away.”
Berardo looked down, so that was it. Cockatrice had let them live because they were on the way. “No,” said Berardo, “he knew when you were going to arrive. He could have killed us but then you would have gotten there while he was weakened. So instead he escaped and let us live.”
Meike looked down from King’s shoulder now fulling paying attention to Berardo. “You sound disappointed that he let you live.”
Berardo pushed himself into a sitting position. “He did let me live. The others you saved by arriving here when you did but he even with that time he had the opportunity to kill me and chose not to. He realized you were coming and even with that chose to let me live. And I have no idea why.”
“He let you live?”
Berardo nodded and the got to his feet. He walked over to the heroes that had been fighting just a moment before. Once they realized that the danger was over they had all collapsed. Berardo looked over them for any obvious injures. There were a bunch of minor wounded but nothing that seemed extremely dangerous.
“Are you all alright?” Nobody spoke up so he said, “Then good job. Considering what we went through it was a miracle that everybody survived. Demon of Forgotten Soot you should probably go catch up with Patrick and the others. If you need my help in the future just contact me.”
She looked like she was worried or uncertain but finally she nodded and said, “I’m sure you will see me again.” Then she ran off toward where they could see the other off in the distance.”
“Diane, you can go to them too.”
However she just laid there on the ground. She had released the armor spell but she didn’t show any signs of sitting up.
Berardo tactfully turned his back to not see her crying. Then he said, “For your first illegal battle you did well. Certainly better then I did.”
“I thought it would be different. It felt right but I wasn’t strong enough. How can I get stronger?”
“I would say training and practice but it feels like you already do that plenty. I think perhaps that the answer is instead to understand yourself. To figure out why you lost because it usually isn’t because you didn’t practice or train enough. There is usually another different reason, one that is hard to understand.”
“Must be nice to be such a calm adult.”
“Huh, must be nice to be able to make such childish jokes. In reality I’m boiling inside. Everything that happened in there went according to Cockatrice’s wishes. Nothing I did made any difference. The only one who really did anything with Meike over there. Without her all of us might be dead.”
“Then do you plan on beating him next time?”
“Yes, I think I truly realized how different illegal duels are. Horizon and Rose did plenty but it was me that failed because I thought that just being a Dreamer was enough. Cockatrice, he already know that to win not only do you have to control the battle but you also have to participate. To take control of the battle with our own hands.”
“And maybe I did that too much. I was never much of a Dreamer to begin with. During that battle I had available crystals but I didn’t use them because I was concentrating too much on fighting.”
“I guess we both have to get better.”
Finally Diane stood up with the help of Blade of Unique Sway. Then the two of them began to walk away toward the other three members of the card club. Berardo watched them got. When he turned around he saw his two heroes in front of him.
He sighed, “It looked like I’m not the only one disappointed by the performance today. You both look like you have had enough with losing against Cockatrice.” The two of them grimly nodded not wanting to release the anger and sadness.
“Well, our first order of business will be to get a new card pack. I realized that I simply do not have enough spells to compete with an opponent like Cockatrice. Without more options I will never be able to beat him. Rose, I know there are a lot of different pack types. I’m looking for one with some equipment cards, I don’t want to be as defenseless as I was today when faced with my own opponent.”
“Self equiping like Diane? That could work although there isn’t really too much support for that by Destiny Burst since it only happens in unofficial battles. However I believe the ‘Hidden Treasures’ packs might have something that you are searching for.”
“Thanks. Now, I’m sorry but I need some time to think by myself. Can the two of you meet me at the Destiny Burst store in two hours.”
They looked like they wanted to say something else but eventually decided not to and instead they nodded. Berardo then turned and talked away. As he passed Meike he said, “Thanks.”
She nodded to and then King leaped away once more taking her with him.
Then Berardo was alone. He walked for a while dwelling in his thoughts. He didn’t know how long he had been wandering before he finally stopped. He thought somebody had called his name. He looked up and saw Detective Alexander walked down the street and waving at him.
Berardo waited and in a moment Alexander was there smiling. “Hey Berardo, how has it been doing? I haven’t see you around the station much.”