Chapter 4: Poise and Intent

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Chapter 4: Poise and Intent

Post  Neutral Contrast on Tue Jul 24, 2012 2:10 am

Death follows you, child. It tags upon your heel, loyal and obedient, a servant to your endeavors… But, just as it shall always be with you, and reserve you from the harrowing depths of solitude, so too shall it deter companionship. Embrace it, regardless, for it shall love you and you alone, and accept it as yourself. It shall comfort you; shelter you from despair and deceit, yes… Do not mourn, for even as you continue on, and walk past this age of suffering, this age of men and power, it will remain, always, everlasting and never judgmental. Accept it, that void which derives itself from your will, all the pain you will never know and it will be your home, above those who anger and confuse. Your throne, child, it shall be your burden, your strength… Take it; take death, and rain down upon the weak and pitiful their release from the life which torments them as well as you. Do this, my queen, and you too will finally be able to rest.

~The Voice of Ajovich; a Fiction Among Truths


Chapter 4: Poise and Intent


As the clouds ceased, returning the desert to its usual, clear dusk, the town outside the walls sprung to life. The atmosphere now regular, and with the stadium back to normal, the adults who protected the town's children, fearful of the unknown, began to leave the shelter of their homes and question the circumstances surrounding the whole event. Cecilia counted herself among the crowd, but rather than spend time wondering, she immediately burst into a full sprint towards the arena, with many curious spectators-as well as most of the combatants-soon in tow.

Inside, the awe-inspiring field for combat seemed more post procession than ready for a series of brawls. Just as Cecilia approached the stage, Renoris had begun regaining consciousness. "Re-REN!"

"A-ah, good to see you're alright-"

"What happened, is Neph alright? Why isn't she awake? Whe-"

"P-please, shingles dearest."

"What's Tha-"

"It m-means your questions are s-slidi-Neverm-mind, would you just..." Renoris's voice faded into an unintelligible mutter, his face turning pale with onsetting faintness.

"...Huh? OH, Krau!" Cecilia raised her left hand, open, to the air. Within seconds, Krau materialized itself over her skin with a brilliant golden flash and was ready for action. With a swift, powerful jab to the ground facing Renoris, its crystalline wall pierced the stage floor and surrounded the feeble young man. She jumped over the protrusions, snapping off one of the jagged corners before landing solidly beside her brother, and proceeded to smash the chunk into his mouth. As the spike cut up his gums, the healing properties sealed the wounds in an ironic fashion, not giving him much time to gather his bearings. Cecilia immediately pounced again towards Nephiri, nearly a ghost as she laid silently, wrapped in her sheet. “N-Neph?”

Her tough expression turned to one of woe. Quietly, she choked back her sorrow, snapping off another piece of the nearby crystal, and carefully placing it in her friend’s mouth. Unlike her brother, however, Nephiri’s skin remained pale, her pulse weak and body limp after the ordeal. Cecilia’s eyes welled up with worry and confusion, expressing the misery of not being able to find some way to help. “Ren… All of this feels so familiar, why do I feel this knot in my heart? Why… isn’t Neph waking up?”

Renoris stood up achingly as his arm and thumb snapped back into place. He seemed reluctant to answer as he walked towards the two, never letting his gaze leave Nephiri’s face. With her eyes closed and a calm expression, she seemed more so to be in a peaceful slumber than in danger. He kneeled beside Cecilia, sighing heavily as he gathered his thoughts. “I said everything’d be alright, correct?”

“H-huh? Bu-!”

“And I definitely can’t have that faith shaking now. I’m… going to need you to do something. I’m not sure if it’s painful, or anything else for that matter.”

“Wait… What’s this about?”

“Well, regardless of if I tell you or not, the problem is that you won’t remember any of it. Well, at least you won’t if things turn out the same.” He turned and grabbed Cecilia’s shoulders, giving her a look of steadfast determination, “What matters is that it’s the only thing I know that’ll help Neph.”

Cecilia’s eyes were wide with an anxious fear, “I-I… What?”

Renoris sighed again, “If only it was possible to tell you and not have the memory be completely nullified… Lend me a peak at Krau.”

Cecilia hesitantly extended her arm out before him, “Okay. What… How’s this going to he-?”

With a single daft motion, Renoris knee and arms shot out, grabbing his sister’s arm at the wrist and shoulder. Without any type of warning, he snapped her arm over his knee, immediately dislocating her elbow. The pain caused Cecilia to drop Nephiri as she looked at the wound in shock. “W-w-w-?!”

Renoris went back to grabbing her shoulders, keeping her still. “Don’t look away from it; it’s the reality of your situation.”

With the shock unable to hold it back any longer, Cecilia screamed. For several seconds, she fell into sobbing combination of anxiety, confusion, and guilt, until finally they had taken their toll. As she began to faint, Renoris embraced her, attempting to hush her into a lull. “Just a few more seconds, it’ll be alright.”

Cecilia’s body began to cast off a shimmer of sorts as flakes of intangible, pitch black material emanated from her skin. Her struggles became weak, and as her last bit of strength edged its way out, Renoris grabbed her free hand. “Now, summon her… Summon Eutz.”

“B… bu-.”

“Don’t spend energy talking.” He raised Cecilia’s hand to the air, outstretching it as she had to equip Krau. “Everyone, stand back!”

The crowd which surrounded the stage hesitantly backed away, just as confused as Cecilia as she quietly spoke a last time. “Eu… Eutz.”

Unlike Krau, this gift from the matron of death materialized on Cecilia’s right hand through an eery, dark smog. The smoke sparkled with flakes of silver as it dissipated, revealing the gauntlet of a Lliese beneath. Compared to its black, diamond-laced brother, Eutz’s crystals were filled with a purple haze and cracks, releasing a weak fog which faded on contact with the outside air. The glove itself was riddled with scuffs and tears, like it’d been used for many a battle, and along the cuff, the normally decorative link was loose. Renoris let go of Cecilia’s wrist, yet her arm remained outstretched, out of anyone’s control.

The shimmer around her body spread out, eventually covering her body in a coat resembling the clear, black skies of night. The aura exploded, Eutz as its epicenter into a massive, impassible haze. It engulfed the trio as its diameter took up nearly three quarters of the stage, just narrowly missing Elaine and her young companion in its wake. The ground vibrated rapidly throughout the town to an extent where the dust which covered the earth seemed to float, creating an entire new layer of land. After several seconds, the vibrations came to an abrupt halt, followed immediately by a destructive slamming noise within the haze, and finally the smog came to fade.

Its passing went by in an instant, revealing Renoris as he held Nephiri and Cecilia close. Surrounding them, his reason for doing so was apparent- aside from the small circle upon which they stood, the rest of the stage which was engulfed had sunk to ground level, pressed flat along the ground, perfectly perpendicular to its own walls. Not only that, however, but the air seemed stagnant… one could even say that it had died entirely. For several seconds, not even dust could permeate the radius, swirling along its edge until it covered the space which had just been in a haze with a thin coat of see-through tan debris. Slowly, the coat sank in towards the center, cracking the wall of this intangible vacuum until it finally broke entirely. A gust of air overtook the trio, though Renoris had Nephiri’s and Cecilia’s faces buried into his shoulders, protecting them from the incoming change in pressure.

The air now stable, and with a suspenseful pause beforehand, Oren led the hesitant walk towards the three. With the assistance of a couple of the young warriors from the battle lineup, they formed a trio in chant, before dropping their hands to their sides. Cautiously, they lifted their hands slowly upward, their palms flat towards the ground, and with each of them, a third of the lowered circle raised in respect. The middle-aged gentleman winced as he struggled slightly with the lift, only to learn as it approached its end that he had manipulated a slightly larger area than intended, crushing through some of the bowl’s outer rim. “Err, my mistake fellas. Good thing I’m th’one takin’ this test a’ manliness here!”

He donned a newly worried expression, and before he realized it, the crowd had overtaken him at the front lines. He began to slowly work his way back towards the group, but along the way he was halted by the sound of a light pout; almost childish and, at the same time, restrained. “Don’t worry, it’s alright…” A quiet, reassuring Renoris whispered, Nephiri pushed herself from his shoulder, but immediately covered her eyes with the side of her arm.

“R-R-Ren, w-what… wh-why am I-?” She managed in between fits of hyperventilation, Renoris cut her off with a pat on the head.

Cecilia began to shuffle as Nephiri resumed her sobbing with as much restraint as she could muster. Renoris’s right shoulder shifted slightly, and then suddenly. Within an instant, and with his breath now entirely outside his body, he looked down fearfully to see a small fist planted firmly into his gut. “What?” Cecilia uttered silently, before pushing herself away, flustered and, quite obviously upset.

Renoris busied himself with getting a new grip on some air as it flitted along, completely ignorant of his distress. In spite of this, he still managed to respond roughly, “W----hat d-do-?”

“What did you do to make Neph cr…” She stopped, her body finally catching up with the sudden awakening. She looked shakily at her right arm, noticing its lack of correct alignment. Her face turned a bright red as she held back what looked to be a possibly agonizing scream. “Ren, g-g-gr-.”

Renoris handed his sister a broken off bit of Krau’s crystal, which she proceeded to snatch from his hand and swallow with haste. As her elbow relocated itself, she superseded the feeling by continuously slamming her fist into the sandstone. The force cracked the stadium’s tiles and by the time the healing had finished, several small imprints were easily distinguishable beside her. Nephiri tried to cope with whatever ailed her and react to her friend’s pain, but the strain on her emotions completely halted any attempts to overcome them.

Cecilia let loose a long sigh of relief, and turned back towards her brother, discontent in her eyes as she gave him a petrifying gaze. “Explain.”

Renoris was at a loss, so he sighed as well before taking a dive. “I would if I could… Neph?”

Cecilia’s brief state of calmness shattered when she remembered the state her friend was in. Immediately she dived for the distraught young woman, completely separating her from Renoris. “N-Neph! Are you alright? What’s wrong?”

“Just give her a bit of time.” Renoris responded instead, just trying to keep the stress of the situation at a minimum. Cecilia seemed hesitant to take his advice, but opted to just give her friend a shoulder to cry on in the end. Silently they waited, along with a speechless crowd at the ready, for Nephiri to regain her composure. It was only half a minute, but as the intensity accumulated with each passing second, so too did it seem like time was approaching a sudden halt. Finally, she wiped the final tears from her eyes, her cheeks now painted red, yet her eyes returned to their sapphiric hue. Renoris and Cecilia smiled, and several sighs of relief could be heard throughout the stage, yet nearly everyone seemed suspended in a state of curiosity. Their gazes never left the young woman for a second, and it left her feeling obligated to reassure them.

Anxious and confused, she blushed furiously as she stuttered, trying to come up with the words to break the tension which lingered in the air. She desperately tried to recall what had occurred since she rose from the warrior’s circle to assist Elaine, but the memories were now but a haze, completely obscured by something she couldn’t understand. Moments passed, centuries within her mind, and finally, just as she gave up on trying to explain, her lips began to part.

"De… DEMON!" The trio's reunion was interrupted by a spattering, rough shout at the edge of the stage. Bracing herself as she rose slowly against the stone pillar, Elaine's broken posture reflected her physical distress and fatigue. The cloth which covered her arms and legs in place of armor was dirtied and cut throughout, and her once-neat and ponytailed hair was frayed, concealing most of her face as she stood. It flew forward as she yelled and gasped for air. "Y-you... You're some t-type of monster!"
The deep fear and anxiety in Elaine's exposed eye staring cautiously made Nephiri sick to her stomach. A newfound guilt which confused her, tied with other circumstances left her in distress, unable to come up with solutions after having just woken up.
"H-hey! Neph'd never do anything to hurt anyone; stop blaming her for whatever it is you're mad about!" Cecilia took a stand to defend Nephiri's honor, although she was flustered and equally confused.

"Th-that... Thing, no person should be capable of wielding such power! It's blasphemy, do you think yourself to be on equal footing with the gods?!"

Nephiri couldn't get her footing in the argument, "I-I... I don't..."

Renoris looked to be on his last nerve as he listened to this stranger assaulting his friend, and finally took a stand. He walked over to the frightened warrior, causing her to cower in the presence of his disgusted stare. She tried to sink back down along the pillar, but Renoris' grip on her collar put a short end to that effort. Exhausted, just pulling her up to eye level left the young man's breathing ragged, yet his stance didn't falter.

In a deep, frustrated and broken voice, he quelled Elaine's ferocity, "Look at her... A young girl who’s just confused and upset… That’s no monster, if anything… She SAVED you, so I’d say that it’s in your best interest…” He paused and looked around to notice the concern on several villager's faces. The onlooking hardly fazed him in his moment of upstanding chivalry, that is, until he noticed Nephiri bundled up next to Cecilia, her face pressed up against his sister's shoulder. He let loose his grip, letting Elaine slide back down the pillar, otherwise frozen in her fear. A disheartening silence came over the stadium, dispelling the suspended sense of caution, though it didn't particularly improve the mood.

Oren had finally made his way through the crowd, covered in sweat. "Weaving through such a tight bunch, I'm in my 40s lads! Give a man some space!" He walked over to where the trio sat and gave Renoris a respectable slap on the back. "Y'did good lad, gotta stick up for your friends, especially the pretty lasses among 'em!" He whispered, making certain the others couldn't hear. Renoris reacted with a nauseated grimace as he began to ponder how others would see the situation. Oren stood back up, placing a palm on Nephiri's shoulder, and following with a reassuring, jolly grin.

"Y'know lass, Ren here's right." His voice permeated the still air as he directed himself towards Elaine, who sat with a look of shame before her companion's condescending stare. The noise was so sudden that it made a small feat of garnering the crowd's attention. "I'm not s'sure exactly what happened to you lasses, but the Neph who went t'help you out was surely looking out for yer safety. Now then, now's not really a time t'be arguin' anyways! Y'all look beat, let's get ya some rest!"

Oren's thick accent plastered the stage with its peaceful, homey paradigm, and the suspense which held everyone in place released its grip. Somewhat relieved of her hostile spotlight, Elaine braced herself against the pillar, shoving up with her back until she reached an unsteady stance. Nephiri found herself also approaching the end of her fit, and managed to restrain the unresolved emotions which had found themselves subsiding within her. Backing away from Cecilia, Nephiri stood to meet her rival at eye level. In spite of the red lines staining her cheeks, however, she looked at her opponent with an expression lacking humiliation, completely disregarding her episode and opting to meet her companion in distress with an excited grin.

Elaine grimaced, shooting down Nephiri’s hopeful gaze by just a peg. “Is that supposed to reassure me…” She whispered, barely loud enough for the child beside her to listen and display more of his disapproving sentiment. For now, though, she seemed oblivious to her companion’s cues, and the fear which once consumed her sight quickly transformed into an insatiable anger. “Look at you; a warrior, completely engrossed in a pathetic fit before a full crowd of peers, immediately after being taunted by her future enemy, and you have the gall to wear that expression…”

The corners of Nephiri’s lips dropped bit by bit with each of Elaine’s words, hammering at her provisional happiness until the thought of moving past such a negative string of events seemed but a pipe dream. Amnesia of events passed still left a pounding ache in her temples, making it more difficult to think of ways to suppress the flames of the situation than usual. “I just… just-”

Elaine cut in, her voice shaking, yet growing louder and fiercer with each word. “-Have no shame, or pride. Do you think this is all some type of game? That… thing, whatever it is you had become; what if that was to suddenly go out of control? You could end up causing the destruction of this village and her people with no trouble at all, and we don’t even know-”

“Elaine.” A childish voice spoke, though the formality and authority with which it had spoken could have left anyone confusing it for some type of royalty. The boy rose to a stand, displaying much less struggling with the act than his companion, though it was difficult to determine whether this was an act to assert an overwhelming presence or if he simply had such reserves of stamina to brush off what two experienced fighters could barely withstand. Had it not been for his height and the pitch of his undeveloped voice, it would’ve been easy to mistake such an indiscriminate and serious expression for that of a battle-hardened veteran.

Immediately, the young woman froze; her sentence to never be finished. She turned her head hesitantly towards the child, almost like a child herself, afraid of reprimand for breaking an expensive vase. Her ferocity still held some momentum, allowing her to finish with a disgruntled scoff, “Demon or not, if such a shameful display is representative of your mettle on the battlefield, I’ll never allow you to surpass me in this tournament.”

The boy sighed heavily to his companion’s disloyalty before walking towards the crowd. He halted midway, turned to Oren and gave a stern reply to his hospitable sentiments, “If that’s everything, we’re prepared to continue with the tournament.”
Oren was caught off guard, still concerned for Nephiri and Elaine’s health. “Err, well that’s all good lad, but these two-”

“The competition will continue as planned if my health is the issue, emcee.” Elaine replied, equally as stern as her companion.

“But that still leaves-”

“I’m well enough, please don’t delay an event of such importance for my sake Oren.” Nephiri’s reply lacked the hardened exclamation, but still managed to leave the emcee in an uncomfortable position.

He sighed, “You kids these days, too rowdy… Fine, we’ll do this your way, but I reckon the arena’s a might in need of some repairs first! Can’t be havin’ a glorious competition in the midst’a ruins now.”

The crowd began to acknowledge just how much the arena had been affected by recently transpired events, such as the entire pond being sucked dry, while the rest was covered in a thick blanket of rainwater and debris. Even more convincing was the fact that massive segments of stone were missing from the ellipse’s giant bleacher-walls, ground to rubble and spread out along with the rest of the mess; there was simply no way for a tournament worthy of the gods’ attention to occur in the midst of so much disarray. The audience dissipated and reorganized themselves on their way out of the arena, aside from a small group of men and women adorned with a simple, leather badge who began discussing who would handle which areas of the wreckage. Elaine gave a condescending ‘hmph’ before turning towards the exit with the child.
Nephiri halted their advance with an uncharacteristically deep and serious tone.

“Elaine.” Elaine paused and turned her head slightly in reaction. “Don’t lose before the finals.”

Elaine returned on her path, retaining the same, uninterested expression. Beneath the surface, however, a light bit of anticipation and anxiety welled up inside her. ‘Don’t disappoint me, demon.’ She wanted to say, but the toxicity of the situation had already reached its climax, and her companion would certainly scold her had she persisted.

Nephiri, Cecilia and Renoris left the stadium together, though their demeanors made them seem entirely solitary. In spite of the excitement she tried acting out, Nephiri still couldn’t keep herself from thinking about what must’ve happened during her conscious absence, and Cecilia was stuck in a similar rut, leaving Renoris to bear the brunt of their depression. In his fatigued state, however, he couldn’t find himself filled with the motivation to do anything except rest.

“I have to get dressed.” Nephiri spoke, trying to distract herself for the moment, or possibly just trying to divert the others attentions’ from her depressing mentality.
“Alright, I’ll walk you home-”

“That’s alright, Ren! We live pretty close, so don’t worry!” Her words were backed with very little conviction, though it was understandable; how could she want to burden her friends with feelings which she herself couldn’t even understand after all?
“Well, it’s a thick cloak, but I agree with Ren here Neph. It’s probably not a good idea for any of us to be alone right now, honestly, and that goes for you especially right now.

She sighed, defeated. “Alright…” And with that, they went off towards their hovel. The walk itself only lasted a mere few minutes, but the nearly staggering level of silence made it uncomfortable for all of them. They each wanted to share their thoughts, but there were no words to describe them, and no questions to which normal answers could suffice. Renoris and Cecilia remained outside as their friend went to change, understanding that, in spite of the fact that they should remain close that they should also allow each other some space to think.

“I’m going to see if everyone’s alright after that episode, could you stay so Neph’s not alone when she’s finished?”

“Alright, and Ren, if you spot those two… Nevermind, it’s probably best to leave them be for now.” Cecilia couldn’t even muster the focus to argue the subject.

Inside the clay hut, Nephiri pulled out a second set of leather armor similar to that which she had worn for the competition, though it was scuffed and worn in several areas. “Such a waste… Mae worked so hard on my new equipment, too.” Although she was changed and readjusted in the old raiment within a few minutes, she couldn’t help but avoid leaving the sanctity of her silent quarters. Another fit of confusion and helplessness was beginning to burst forth, and within moments the young woman found herself knelt before her bed, trying to at least create the questions which she knew wouldn’t be answered, yet even doing that seemed an impossible task. Thoughts ceased to form in her mind, leaving her exposed to be battered by a relentless onslaught of guilt and shame, though she still didn’t understand why. Irrational desire overruled her self-control, leaving her to weep until her tears had all but dried entirely. One thing after another ceaselessly assaulted Nephiri’s mind, the battering ram to a normally indomitable will, doing everything within their power to traumatize her peaceful mentality, though none of it left her as devastated as a peerless smile, creeping upon her lips; unmoving and uncontrollable in spite of her sorrow.

Outside, Cecilia was in no rush to get her friend back to the tournament. She sat down, disappointed and confused in her memory loss, unable to recall most of the entire day and feeling more uncomfortable with each passing second because of it. She even lacked the frustration of deciphering a haze of events, ‘It’s like I haven’t even existed since this morning.’ She didn’t feel saddened, though her focus was so caught up in trying to recall or take a guess as to what had happened that the rest of the world surrounding her simply passed by, unwanted and uncaring. There was probably nothing that could be done, and it left her exhausted.

The seconds passed by, fading into minutes, all melding together into the fabric of time. Before she realized it, Renoris had already returned. “Hey, is Neph alright?”
“H-huh? Oh, Ren, so how is everyone?”

“All the spectators were spared from the chaos, and aside from those two travelers and Neph, the rest of the contestants escaped without much difficulty. Is she inside?”
“Er, yeah. She’s been in there for a while, now that I think about it… Should we leave her alone for a bit longer?”

“The arena’s already been repaired, if she’s not feeling up to it we’ll have to figure out now anyway.”

They entered the hut, theirs and Nephiri’s home since they were just children, yet it seemed to lack its usual reassuring atmosphere. The twins shrugged off the discomfort as fatigue and worry as they approached their friend’s room, and Renoris gave it gentle rapping.

“Are you prepared, Neph? Can we come in?”

A minute passed by, no response. Renoris knocked again, slightly louder this time, “Neph?”

Again, no response, “There’s nowhere else she could be, unless she suddenly decided to exit through a window.” Cecilia reacted, worried as she thought about the strange attitude Nephiri had boasted before going home.

“Yeah,” Renoris knocked again, excessively louder than necessary for the sound to reverberate throughout the hut. “Neph, we’re coming in.”

He began rotating the wooden knob, but Cecilia slapped his hand. “Are you mental? What if she just fell asleep, for all we know she hasn’t even gotten changed!”
“Hu-?”

“Just… Go stand by your door or something, I’ll tell you if it’s alright or not!” Renoris sighed and walked down the hall towards his room next door, proceeding to lean on his door impatiently. Cecilia rotated the knob and slowly creaked open the door.

“Well?”

“It’s… safe, but I’m not entirely sure what’s going on Ren.”

Renoris walked back over, but the sight which awaited him made his heart jump with anxiety. Nephiri sat upon her bed, curled into a fetal position, her arms crossed before her head as she looked down towards the masterfully crafted bow leaning against her legs. Her hair had fallen and split along the bow string; covering it in such a way that it almost seemed like the bow had become a part of her. For a few seconds, she was silent, but finally a weak mutter could be heard beneath the curtain of locks.

“Ëliche… Where has your voice gone? The melody with which we were entrusted… Have I been denied?”

Renoris froze at the mention of Ëliche’s name, though Cecilia was already walking towards Nephiri. She tapped Nephiri’s shoulder, “Are you alright, Neph?”

Her head immediately popped up, awakened with a shock, “E-eh? Oh, Ceci, when’d you come in?” She looked around and noticed Renoris suspended by the doorway, “Ren? What’s wro… WAIT, why are you in here!? Did you even knock!?”

Renoris was abruptly pulled back into reality, “I’ve already gone through this! Ceci’s my witne-”

“REN, WHY ARE YOU HERE WITHOUT PERMISSION!?” Cecilia screamed, intentionally disregarding her brother’s alibi.

“-ss, she checked fir-WHOA HEY, traitor!”

“At least I’m not some type of… Miscreant! A scoundrel, a… a… Pervert!”

Renoris coughed, offended by his sister’s sudden betrayal. She continued to speak as he tried to get a word in edgewise, “Fine! Could we please just get back to the arena, the rest of the contestants are waiting for you.”

“-bringing shame and dishonor to our family, do you have any idea what type of affect that has on me? And your own friend noneth-” Nephiri stopped Cecilia’s rant with a calm chuckle.

“Yeah, I’m all set… Thanks.” She looked down towards her bow, smiling, “I suppose now’s not the time to worry about this.”

Renoris and Cecilia returned to their seats in the stadium, letting Nephiri off with a wave as she joined the other contestants not about to enter battle near the arena’s entrance. Oren handed each of the standers-by a decorative, runed emblem, and they separated to the far corners of the stadium. They each raised the emblems before their chests, and in turn the emblems glowed synchronously, steadily brighter until a translucent film formed an orb engulfing the arena, leaving only the massive projection out of its reach. Cheers burst forth from the bleachers as Vasch and Elaine met up at the center of the stage with Oren; Vasch seemed excited by the venture of facing off against this foreign opponent, and hoped to score some chivalric points for ‘defending Nephiri’s honor’ with the rest of the young women of the village, although Elaine seemed to lack any sort of determination.

“Alright, ladies and gentlemen, this is what you’ve all been awaiting so patiently! There’ve been more than this year’s fair share of mishaps and confusion, but spectacular battle has no such complexities, so without further ado, let the stage be lit up for our Gods for the sake of our next champion!” The crowd roared as Vasch extended his arm out for a respectful handshake. “I’ve been told you have some fierce, hidden strength, let’s make this a great match.”

Elaine ignored the gesture entirely, and began walking towards her starting position. “You can keep the crowd’s approval; I don’t intend to become acquaintances with any of you…” She lowered her voice to a mutter, “Demon harbors.”

Vasch sighed and began walking in the opposite direction, “I suppose nothing can be done about it. I suppose I’ve got the viewers on my side anyway, now all that’s left is defeating you and working my way up.” Oren did a surprisingly graceful twirl, surrounding himself in a thick band of light before vanishing in a haze of smoke and confetti, finishing just as Elaine and Vasch reached their ends of the stage.
The aerial display turned into a massive counter, starting with five. With each second, it dropped down with a loud ding, the starting alert for the competitors. Four seconds; Vasch raised his left hand to the air, and Elaine clutched the hilt of her blade. Three seconds; an intimidating battle axe materialized in Vasch’s hand, sizing up with a haft as long as an adult is tall, and a massive, double-sided blade to match. Elaine’s grip on the hilt of her blade remained steady, and she showed no signs of acting further.
In the remaining two seconds, the massive axe dropped to Vasch’s right hand, and he caught it in a two handed stance just as the final ding sounded off. He turned as the sound of a massive bell began reverberating through the stadium, his confidence apparent in a smug grin. He caught a glimpse of his opponent, still completely stationary with her hand resting calmly on the hilt of her blade and he couldn’t help but yell out in anticipation, “Heh, don’t disappoi-!”

Vasch was cut off by the dull thud of a sheathe hitting him from directly beneath his jaw. Without a moment’s notice, he was suddenly sent skyward in shock, and unable to recuperate. Much of the audience shared in his confusion, since to them, Elaine still remained stationary at the edge of the stage.

A blast of wind shook the stone tiles of the stage fiercely, taking Elaine with it as though she were just a mirage and there, just before where Vasch had stood, the crimson warrior had already swung her sword with sheathe attached in an uppercut. She wielded the massive blade with a single hand, and her pose was refined and solid to the point where it seemed a work of nature.

Now suspended in midair for a full second, Vasch attempted to regain his composure and swung his axe downwards in a spiral. The massive haft glowed with an irregular orange and yellow design, and as the blade cleaved the air before it in two, it sparked furiously. A massive column of flame suddenly erupted from the earth beneath his target, slamming up into the blade before being cut off by the stagnant air. Elaine hadn’t even attempted to dodge the attack, and Vasch landed soon after as he saw his opponent engulfed in a brilliant fire. He smirked again, “Guess that last attack was just a lack of attention on my part. Don’t tell me that one strike left you incapacitated!”

“I supposed you won’t be disappointed, then.” Vasch’s expression returned to a state of shock as Elaine’s sheath slashed through the flames, sending out another gust and causing the entire pillar to dissipate. Her armor seemed even brighter than before, reflecting the sun to a degree where just looking at her shoulder plates was a death sentence for anyone’s eyes.

“Th-that’s… Heh.” Suddenly the man’s shock turned into a disillusioned state of insanity. He laughed hysterically at how one of his favorite signature attacks was just shrugged off, before pointing the tip of his axe towards Elaine. His stance shifted, and he wielded the massive weapon in one hand as if in mock. “That… Was incredible! This, right here… This is the type of fight I was hoping for.” Elaine didn’t seem taken aback by her opponent’s sudden change in behavior, and remained still and calm, almost apathetic. “To be honest, I’ve come across very few people who could walk away from a direct hit by my blazing lightning without extensive injury, and only one other person who’s managed to shrug it off with such ease… I lost my chance to challenge him again long ago, but you… If I defeat you here, right now, maybe I’ll reclaim some of that lost pride!”

“That’s absurd.” Elaine responded smoothly.

“Regardless, prove to me that such a display wasn’t some fluke!” Vasch gathered his strength, and with a powerful thrust, he dashed towards Elaine with a renewed vigor behind his stride, and continued to wield the battle-axe with a single hand. With a straightforward yet precise movement, he slammed the weapon down directly towards Elaine’s head.

Elaine caught the strike easily with her sheathed blade, and she continued to feign apathy for a moment. However, her expression quickly changed, and suddenly her arm began buckling as the massive blade shook slowly downwards towards her helmet. Vasch laughed hysterically as his strike forced his opponent into a two handed stance, leaving Elaine to brace the broad side of her blade with her free hand. She clenched her teeth, grimacing at the change in offensives, and just as the axe approached within mere centimeters of her forehead, she turned her defensive into a glancing parry. Gracefully she ducked slightly, giving her just enough room to turn catch the axe on her sheath’s blade side. She adjusted the axe’s angle, causing it to slam into the ground just beside her, giving her an opportunity to catch Vasch by the knee.
In spite of her efforts, however, his leg refused to fold. In response, Vasch lifted the lower of his leg, catching Elaine’s and snaring her in place. He proceeded to catch her by the wrist with his free right hand, and in a single motion, he slammed his foot back down and threw the crimson warrior overhead, shooting her towards a clearing in one of the arena’s forested areas.

Elaine landed hard against the ground, rebounding into a helpless tumble before she managed to catch into a slide using her sheathe. She swiped some loose hair from her sight, only to watch as Vasch continued with another straightforward attack. Elaine grunted as she barely managed to glance the blow with the broad side of her sheathe again, causing the axe to raucously plummet into the ground a second time. Vasch had taken the parry into account, though, and turned his nullified strike into a crescent slash through the earth, showering Elaine’s blinding armor with a mess of soil as she scarcely managed to dodge out of the way. The reaction caused her to lose balance, and she dug her blade into the soil to regain it.

“You’d make this fight far more interesting if you’d just bother taking that sword out. Do you not consider us equals on a battlefield?” Elaine didn’t respond, so Vasch outstretched his axe towards her, hoping to intimidate her. “Your arrogance is starting to piss me off. I suppose I was wrong to assume that you’d be a worthy replacement for Noire…” This time, as she was able to hear the name, Elaine halted in her recuperation. “I suppose… If you won’t unsheathe that blade of your own volition-” He pulled the axe back, in preparation to strike, “I’ll just have you bleed the same red blood as I, and you’ll realize… You’re no God in the eyes of your opponent!”

Vasch appeared directly before Elaine, his movement so quick that the ground beneath where he stood collapsed from the force. His axe was ablaze as it shot towards her torso. Even with her agility, it proved no easy task for the crimson fighter to shift beside her blade in time for it to intercept the blow, but with Vasch’s passion and fury empowering the strike, her effort was left in vain. A typhoon of raging flames overtook the entire field in hues of bright orange and red, as the double headed axe smashed into the sheathed weapon. Elaine was swept up by her ribcage, barely keeping a grip on her weapon as her body was tossed towards a massive redwood until she slammed into the tree, back first, contorting her spine to a dangerous degree. The blade’s massive sheathe flew off into the wildfire which now covered a quarter of the arena’s grassy biome, and along with its owner, the blade itself dropped quickly to the ground below.

The silhouette of Elaine’s body appeared to land with an unusually soft demeanor in spite of a nearly 4 meter drop as her shadow tumbled twice behind the inferno. Vasch seemed increasingly disappointed with the results of his attack, but elected to end the match with a knockout before his opponent suffered permanent injuries. With a strong, horizontal slash, he let loose another storm of fire, clashing into the inferno and canceling them both out. The remnants of flame scattered to the winds, and without an opportunity to scan the area, the young warrior suddenly coughed heavily. Blood shot from his mouth and, at the injury’s source; a pool of blood began dripping from his lower torso.

“Wh…W-?” He tried to spatter out as he looked into the scorched field before him. In an instant, his left Achilles tendon was severed, to accompany a snapped collarbone and right femur. He plummeted to the ground, dropping his axe as it faded away in his defeat. His eyes were filled with fright as he laid there, suddenly helpless, though a borderline masochistic smile crossed his lips as the thoughts began to flood into his mind in shock. ‘That… was so beautiful.’ Passed a final thought, before the match was decided and his body burst into a crystalized stasis. Beneath jagged edges similar to Krau’s spikes, Vasch’s body entered a state of quickened recovery. Cuts and bruises which resulted from the sudden force healed within an instant, though he remained frozen as the smoke within the arena began to clear. In the bleachers, the audience waited, completely stunned by the match’s unexpected end, and in anticipation they waited to determine the victor. Standing just beside the fallen Vasch, Elaine was in the midst of sheathing her blade as they were revealed, leaving many of the onlookers jaws to drop in astonishment.

A shuffling noise was heard overhead the stadium, breaking the silence as Oren’s exasperated voice began to boom in the ears of the crowd. “Uah-it seems we… have our victor!” He almost spoke as if it were a question, but continued with his traditional script. “Elaine, the crimson clad, foreign warrior has defeated our powerhouse Vasch in a… landslide? To be honest, dear spectators, I’m not entirely certain what happened myself!” In the overhead display, predetermined highlights of the battle were showcased, though so much of the viewing area was obstructed in its final moments that everyone was left with an uneasy acceptance of Elaine’s success. Several clapping spectators could be heard around the arena, mostly consisting of pilgrims, nomads or good sports, though the majority seemed more inclined to be afraid and confused by this challenger.

Nephiri looked over the battlefield to get inkling as to what may have happened in hopes of getting an advantage in her future battles, but to no avail. All that remained evident of those few seconds was an overwhelming, ominous feeling. It was as if Elaine’s stance had been entirely different up until a few moments after she had withdrawn her blade, and although it felt like her imagination, Nephiri thought she saw those emblazed eyes pointed in her direction, trying to pierce the shield of her determination, and even with her sight she could just barely read the words which crossed her opponent’s lips.




“Those who stagger in their resolution… Will be answered with death.”




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