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Following Kieran's decision, a bloodthirsty and frenzied presence swirled around his body, several thick veins appearing throughout. From its initially calm state, Kieran's expression began to contort in rage.

Once he opened his blackened eyes that glowed a deep crimson, madness and depravity prevailed above all else. At least, this was the prevalent emotion for a few seconds until a few precautions reacted to Kieran's actions.

〈System: The «Fifth Syllable of Eni» within your soul has detected an immense source of nefarious emotions attempting to subvert your reason. The character is attempting to return your reasoning to an equal state…〉

〈System: …The «Fifth Syllable of Eni» is only partly successful in dampening the power.〉

〈System: «Deranged Spirit»'s link to its source has become dangerously estranged. As a result, the power of this ability is incapable of flowing properly. There's a chance that some aspect of the buff will face substantial weakening.〉

〈System: … Two of «Deranged Spirit»'s effects have been altered directly or indirectly. [Affected Portion: Sanity Consumption, Reduced Bloodlust]〉

When Kieran felt the faint connection to this empowering wrath, his expression somewhat darkened.

A weakened state of Bloodlust meant the trump card buff would be incredibly lackluster compared to what it could usually achieve. From what Kieran felt, even with his roiling blood, he estimated that the effects of this Bloodlust were no more than 50% of what he felt during his last activation.

Nevertheless, the improvement of this Bloodlust achieved the baseline of what Kieran sought, so it'd have to suffice.

Swoosh!

Seeing as the activation of Deranged Spirit had been completed, Kieran was now free to move and did so almost immediately, utilizing a Surge Step to cross the entire distance separating him from Bundal.

Once he arrived, Kieran swept Crimson Ashrune up in a beautiful arc, the ravishing crimson gleam of his Sanguine Slashes illuminating the area within a small scope.

Unlike before, the slash left an injury in Bundal's body, acquiring two Bleed stacks at once.

Until now, the number of times Kieran successfully acquired a double stack of Bleed could be counted on a single hand.

The requirements for it were too stringent, which led Kieran to believe it relied more upon luck than it did skill. Either that, or his earlier parameters failed to reach the threshold required to trigger certain double-stacking.

Nevertheless, Kieran couldn't be bothered with the specifics at the moment.

Right now, his main priority was gaining control of Bundal before two things happened—before Bastion collapsed due to his current condition, and before his unusual Deranged Spirit elapsed.

If it couldn't consume his Sanity due to his sparse link to the power, Kieran speculated its duration was also in a precarious state.

'I know she wanted to help me, which she did, but Hekaina has also hindered me. Though, I can see why she did what she did.'

Hekaina wanted Kieran to grow stronger naturally without relying on Argexes' Blood to act as a safety measure for every problematic dilemma. Of course, accomplishing this was easier said than done, seeing as it was a core element of his class.

After feeling the sting of Kieran's blade and the effects of his power entering the wound, Bundal's expression changed from one of extreme pride to disbelief.

"I have been wounded? This body that I achieved after years of grueling research? It has been cut by an individual who has yet to step within the realm of Advanced Beings?! I am ashamed! I am a failure to my supporters!" Bundal scowled, responding dramatically as if he had committed the most egregious sin he could think of.

This strange focus and Bundal's last words quickly caught Kieran's attention. 'His supporters? In other words, his experiments were funded by another entity? Then… that would mean it's possible that this is no simple dungeon.'

Eventually, a thought rose in Kieran's mind. 'Could being the first to clear this Hell Mode result in a questline linked to the Mad Alchemist? I feel like such dialogue wouldn't exist if my assumptions were incorrect.'

The prospect of gaining a new quest, despite his current load of tasks, excited Kieran. Bundal's ability to transmute, albeit imperfectly, was too appetizing for Kieran to downright ignore.

It was artificial, meaning it undoubtedly possessed a source.

"Die quicker!" Kieran uttered, suddenly accelerating the rate at which he hacked away at Bundal's body. The Bleed Counter swiftly increased from 2 to 47 in the blink of an eye as Kieran suddenly shifted his body with an Accel Shift.

In response, Bundal's arm changed into a hammer, which Bastion blocked to the best of his ability. However, the chestplate to his armor of Will had completely fallen off because of this action, exposing a large portion of his chest.

As Bundal moved to take advantage of this weakness, Kieran's blade suddenly appeared in front of the hammer's path, stopping Bundal's attempts in its tracks.

"Bastion… you've done enough. Retire to Sera's position and let her heal you. We'll handle this. You've done extremely well, giving me enough time to resolve myself to activate this skill," Kieran said without turning his head.

However, Bastion grumbled in response, looking at Kieran powerlessly. "I would… if I could. I can no longer move my body."

All of a sudden, a large shadow appeared over Kieran and Bastion as Bundal's other hand turned into a tremendous spiked mace. If Kieran pulled Crimson Ashrune back now, the hammer would drive into Bastion's body.

Thus, his choices were limited.

"If you can't move, then let me help you," Kieran voiced.

Unsurprisingly, Bastion seemed to be against it as he shook his head. Unfortunately for him, Kieran wasn't exactly one to listen to others. He lacked several subservient bones in his body.

In Kieran's mind, his words and impulses were law.

…Thud!

Kieran pressed his palm against Bastion's absurdly compact body, which was an effect of the Last Stand skill's tremendous increase to his defensive stats. The force of Kieran's palm thrust sent Bastion flying toward Nemean, who prepared to catch him.

Since time was no longer of the essence, Kieran returned his gaze to Bundal.

"Ordinance of Protection!"

Once he activated the Item Ability attached to his bracelet, Kieran's next move could only be described as bullish, primitive, and outright outrageous!

BOOM!

Kieran drove his head forward and headbutted the incoming mace.

While he didn't suffer any damage thanks to the Ordinance of Protection, allowing Kieran to withstand one attack without suffering damage, the ground around them fractured, threatening to give way if not for the solid earth beneath the cavern floor.

After headbutting the mace, Kieran looked up with a demonic grin, his eyes radiating an enormous amount of bloodlust.

"Sanguinem Tempest!"

Five large tempests immediately appeared from Kieran's back, followed by another skill that robbed Bundal's ability to move.

"Blood Bind!"

With the strengthening effects of Deranged Spirit, Kieran's blood power had become incredibly solid to where even Bundal, who bore an immense STR value, required some time to break free from the restraints.

The five Sanguinem Tempests impacted Bundal's torso simultaneously, burrowing five large wounds in his body.

However, despite this, Kieran's attack only robbed him of 8% of his Health.

"Kyakakaka! Is that all you've got? All that pressure and you can't even deliver a proper strike?" Though bound, Bundal laughed hysterically, cursing himself for the bits of fear he felt towards Kieran's strike.

The blood chains holding Bundal in place were pulled taut as he flexed his arms and withstood the incoming attacks of Alice, Khaos, and Sora with ease.

"Aatrox, he isn't budging. We're barely making a dent in his Health," Alice called out, concerned for the security of the run.

"Whether or not your attacks deal a large amount of damage is irrelevant. Everything counts, so continue to target him," Kieran answered.

Afterward, he shifted his attention back to Bundal. "You laugh in triumph, but did you know that this is only the beginning? I merely needed to understand what level of power is required to overcome your defenses, and I've already obtained that information."

'The amount of energy I'd require from my Aspect to empower an attack would render me powerless. So that's a moot option. All I can turn to, without Dread Culling in the equation, is one of those new skills. But based on what I read, they're not something I can activate instantaneously. Luckily… I know just how to go about creating a window of opportunity.'

Kieran quickly devised a plan, or rather a rotation of skills that could let him achieve the best results with the highest chance of success. Though, it all banked on one thing—his Soul Trait.

Before Bundal could break free of the Blood Bind, Kieran simultaneously unleashed Crimson Current from above to assault him with a wave of downward pressure.

Then, he unleashed Crimson Barrage coupled with Blood Wave to quickly amass the remaining Bleed stacks.

With the Bleed stacks at maximum capacity, Kieran stepped into the next part of his rotation.

"Wild Crash!"

A large scar ruptured the ground as Kieran slashed forward with the entirety of his amassed might.

"Ngh!" Bundal groaned, struggling to resist this particular attack, given its abrasive nature and the fact Alice continued to unleash flame spells when she could.

〈Battle Alert: Dungeon Boss «Bundal, Chimeric Abomination» has suffered «Shattered Defenses»! For the next 15 seconds, their Damage Reduction will be reduced by 25% of its current value.〉

After reaching its current level, Wild Crash, at the cost of becoming even more difficult to accomplish, gained the ability to not just interfere with DEF, but DMG Reduction as well.

The number varied based on the opponent's ranking, with the upper limit being a 50% decline.

This skill paved the way for Kieran to move onto his new attacks, which took place in a rotation one would find odd. Instead of leading with Blood Pulse to disorient first, Kieran imploded all of the Bleed stacks with Peril Implosion.

In response, Bundal lost a massive amount of Health in an instant, leading to him vomiting a large amount of blood and innards.

However, he similarly broke free from his restraints and charged Kieran despite the damage.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

The two descended into a back-and-forth battle where Bundal and Kieran's Health became roller coasters.

Until finally, Kieran dodged an attack and detected a window of opportunity.

"Vim Restoration!"

The beginning of the end… had commenced.