“You are either born with talent or you are not.”
-The Dream and Dreamer authored by Talis Ranis.
“We’re doing a three versus three, you in?” Aulus asked, lounging over a sturdy tree branch. Lo was setting another block of wood onto a stump. He lined it up in the center, raised his axe, and sent it crashing down, splitting the wooden block. Lo left the axe in the stump, and used his arm to wipe sweat from his brow.
“Who are the three?” Lo answered with a question and then took large sips of water from a bucket.
“Hijo, Garriot and Veron.” Aulus spoke, offering little details. Lo and Aulus were two warriors born, they understood each other completely.
“Two sages and an augur.” Lo stated, thinking through it.
“Garriot and Veron bring an odd variable to a fight.” Aulus added.
“Winnow is with us?” Lo asked. Aulus nodded.
“Are you using Irokles or Ladotatus?” Lo asked again referring to Aulus’ Aspect.
“Irokles, I can take Hijo with him.” Aulus said confidently as he dropped from his spot in the tree.
“Winnow will provide cover and I can knockout the sages,” said Lo as he donned his thick jacket with a fur collar.
“Winnow’s on her way and then we’ll fight.”
“Be careful with Hijo, if he loses control pull back and wait for support.” Lo advised.
“Sounds good. Garriot’s a fighter too, he might even be stronger than you.” Aulus teased with a grin. Lo ‘tsked’. Physically Lo and Garriot were of similar size, but Lo had a more natural and raw strength whereas Garriot had a more trained and defined build. It was an even matchup.
“Ready?” Aulus asked as Winnow arrived, she nodded to each of them in greeting.
“Let’s go.” Winnow spoke from the side of her mouth, puffing on a pipe all the while. The trio walked in silence until they reached the location where the fight would take place. It was a large clearing, a familiar spot that the class had spent the last couple weeks training, awakening their Aspects one by one. They were still on the other mountain, the one they had crossed the log bridge to get to a month ago. Around half the class was here to watch the fight, including Master Klyle. The other half had gone back to the main campsite and continued their training with Professor Vandle.
Winnow, Lo and Aulus were the last to arrive. On the far side stood Garriot, Veron and Hijo. Standing between the two groups was Master Klyle himself, arms folded.
“This is not a fight to the death, if anyone gets carried away I will step in,” Klyle explained. “That being said, don’t be afraid to go all out. Your Aspects are still young and overall your powers are pretty weak.” Klyles voice easily carried itself to the two groups as well as the seven students watching.
“Remember, no grudges. We’re all on the same side but fights like this will help you grow your Aspects and give you an idea how to use it in combat situations, especially against other Specters.”
“Aulus is your group ready?” Klyle called out.
“Aye sir!” Aulus called back. Klyle turned his head.
“Hijo is your group ready?”
“It is.” Hijo responded. Klyle nodded and stepped out of the clearing.
“Fight!” He roared the word out.
The clearing was vast for a fight of this size, around eighty meters in diameter.
The two groups sprung into action.
Winnow took a last deep inhale of her pipe and set it down. She closed her eyes and activated her Aspect.
“Ash!” She said the word as smoke plumed out of her mouth. Her eyes turned grey with smoke oozing out.
Lo and Winnow ran forward, charging the enemy, Aulus stayed behind focusing. Hijo was on a direct course to meet them head on, calling his Aspect along the way, “Wild!”
Winnow exhaled fiercely, blowing out impossibly large amounts of thick, milky smoke. She tapped into a reserve that she maintained by simply taking in any form of ash, either eating the charred remains from a fire or her personal preference, smoking from a small glass pipe provided by the camp. Winnow no longer ate or drank anything, her body only demanded smoke and ash. It is not unheard of that certain Aspects change biological processes in the body, Winnow happened to be one such case.
The thick smoke quickly spread over the clearing, Winnow could somewhat influence the dispersion of the smoke, but her control was still rudimentary. She sent her smoke cloud in a slow whirl with heavy swipes and pushes of her hands.
Hijo stopped in his tracks, expecting a trap.
“Garriot take out the smoker!” Hijo called from within the smoke cloud, his mind was already unhinging as he couldn’t even remember ash-girls name.
“On it.” Garriot said running around the outskirts, “Goblin let’s go!” He called his Aspect. A small green creature appeared next to Garriot, it stood less than a meter high and had on a very odd looking conical iron helmet. It snickered before speaking in a very mischievous squeaky voice.
“Got ‘urself in a fight did ya?” The creature had a very broken dialect.
“Goblin take out the smoker.” Garriot ordered the little creature.
“Hehe, why should I?” Goblin said prancing around.
“Dammit not now Goblin!” Garriot stayed outside the cloud searching the area. He saw Aulus standing in meditation in the same place he had been when the fight started. Aulus’ Aspect took a while to start up so he still had a few minutes. Grabbing a stone, Garriot jogged closer to Aulus staying within throwing range but turning to Goblin first.
“I’ll give you something.” Garriot promised.
“Goblin wants shinies!” Goblin got really excited at its own request, it began jumping and spinning around, laughing the whole time.
“Okay, whatever you want! I’ll give you shinies.” Garriot was already exasperated from frustration.
“Goblin doesn’t believe you.” Goblin snickered. Garriot rolled his eyes angrily, took out a coin and flicked it up in the air with his thumb toward Goblin.
Garriot turned and chucked his rock at Aulus hitting him in the shoulder. Aulus’ concentration broke. He swore and dashed away.
“Lo, Garriot’s on the right!” Aulus called out before moving locations, opposite where Garriot threw his rock.
No one saw Goblin and Garriot disappear from reality.
Inside the smoke cloud Lo and Winnow were engaged with Hijo in a fistfight. A fight Hijo was winning. His strength and speed were increasing fast, but he gave up all defense. Hijo’s Wild Aspect turned him into a berserker. Lo and Winnow could land as many punches as they wanted and still not phase him. On the other hand, Lo was tanking most the hits and quickly getting fatigued and bruised. Even within the smoke Lo was not much of a sneaky fighter, he remained in full view of Hijo as often as possible. Winnow would dart around sending jab after jab into Hijo’s side and disappearing before he could land a retaliation blow.
“I’m going after Garriot, can you hold Hijo?” Lo called to Winnow, stepping back for a second. Hijo charged him.
“For a few, do what you have to!” After speaking Winnow cupped her hands over her mouth, creating a cone. Bending over she exhaled furiously towards the ground. A blast of ash erupted from her mouth, hitting the ground and billowing outwards. Ash and smoke mixed to create a hazardous storm that was hard to see through and even harder to breathe in. Winnow however, could breathe naturally in this air, restoring her supply of smoke. The ashstorm was rotating clockwise around Winnow, who acted as the eye of the storm. She continued to breathe out more ash, growing and intensifying the storm as she did. Hijo was lost in the storm, suffocating slowly from the smoke and burning from the hot ashes.
Winnow noticed a black form moving in the middle of her storm, going with the current. Hijo was running with the storm, inching his way towards the center. Winnow would be in trouble if Hijo could find the center, he could easily win in a fight at this point in his berserker state. She could tell from his silhouette that he was already changing. His legs were slowly becoming hooves and the first signs of antlers were growing, tiny stubs protruding from his head.
Winnow began to rub her hands furiously together, creating friction and heat. Her hands began to deteriorate, falling off in pieces of ash. Sparks lanced from her decaying hands at first but those soon erupted into flames. She sped up her hand rubbing until both appendages no longer existed and her arms merely ended in holes. Fire plumed from her open stubs and she fed them directly into the ash storm, adding fire to the mix of ash and smoke. The flow of the storm increased as well, reaching dangerous levels of wind speeds. Hijo howled in pain but continued his sprint through the storm.
Lo barely made it out the storm before it ignited. “The ashstorm’s set up!” He called to Aulus, sprinting toward him.
Aulus nodded, breaking free of his meditation.
“Ready.” Aulus confirmed as Lo reached his side. Garriot was nowhere to be seen. Lo asked about that.
“No idea, problems with Goblin perhaps?” Aulus suggested.
“Winnow doesn’t have much time, Hijo’s losing it.” Lo said catching his breath and coughing from his time in the smoke cloud.
“I’ll take Hijo now, find Garriot and Veron.” Aulus ordered. Lo nodded and left.
Aulus spread his hands, his connection finally established.
“Myrmidons, arise!” Two warriors ascended from the ground, materializing as they emerged. One was dressed in ancient bronze armor with the pectoral and abdominal muscles engraved into it. He was wearing a metal plated skirt and a plumed helmet, covering everything except for the eyes and part of the mouth. His weapons were a long spear, a massive round bronze shield as well as a short sword sheathed at his waist.
The other warrior was dressed in all black, his face covered in a mask. He had two curved swords strung to his back and wore a belt of knives.
“Who do you require, Lord Aulus?” The black garbed warrior asked.
“Sorry Ladotatus, our opponent is Hijo the berserker.” Aulus explained, “Irokles, you remember Hijo?”
“How could I forget, Lord. I’ve been eager to settle the score.” Irokles spoke grimly.
Aulus nodded and assumed control over Irokles. Ladotatus bowed before disappearing. Aulus remained standing motionless. He now controlled the bronze clad warrior. Irokles began marching toward Winnow, toward the storm.
Garriot reappeared with Goblin just in time to see the armored warrior disappear into the ashes.
Garriot landed hard on the ground, sick and throwing up. He was cursing up a storm that could match the swirling ashy one covering the greater part of the battlefield. Goblin was snickering.
“This ashes’ won’t do.” Goblin began chanting an incantation in what must have been some language suited for the little creature’s throaty and harsh voice. None of the words were remotely intelligible.
Garriot was laying on the ground his head still spinning. Goblin had taken him to what he could only describe as some sort of remote plain or dimension, traveling at impossible speeds, spinning with lights flashing and blurring in a kaleidoscopic spiral. Garriot was having trouble finding his bearings. Once again Goblin would get his way. He cursed again.
Goblin finished his chanting and dancing, then pointed a bony finger at the ashstorm.
A powerful wind suddenly blew, scattering the smoke and ash and clearing the area of all traces of Winnow’s storm. Goblin snickered once again.
“Much more better.”
Garriot rose to his knees finally orienting himself. He saw Winnow on the ground unconscious. Hijo standing above her, looking more beast than man. Garriot nodded to himself
“One down.” He found Aulus standing like a statue. Irokles was advancing on Hijo. Veron ran to Garriot’s side, helping him catch his balance.
“Ready?” Veron checked.
“What do you have?” Garriot countered.
“Viper, vertigo and charm.” Veron had a snake tattoo, which was the most recognizable of the three since the two other tattoos depicted strange symbols. All located on her left arm. She had to draw on her tattoos every time she used her Aspect. It was inconvenient but it allowed her to pick her abilities, just as long as she had the time to draw them on.
“My Jinx is ready,” Referring to her Aspect. Veron continued, “How’s Goblin?”
“Finally cooperating, but it’ll cost me.” Garriot cursed again remembering what he would have to do just to get Goblin’s help for the fight.
“He dispelled Winnow’s storm.” Garriot added. Veron nodded.
“Let’s help out Hijo, where’s Lo?” Veron asked realizing she hadn’t seen him. Before Garriot had a chance to respond, Lo charged from the treeline behind.
Veron spun around, “Go viper!” Her viper tattoo came to life and sprung from her arm, gliding through the grass. It leapt up biting Lo and paralyzing him just as he was speaking.
“Su-” Lo’s words were cut off as he fell limp to the ground.
“We got about fifteen minutes, we’ll win if we can take out Aulus in that time.” Veron said, running with Garriot toward Hijo and Irokles who had just engaged in combat.
“Let’s go!” Garriot replied. Goblin had a half-run, half-hobble as he lagged behind.
Irokles thrust his spear, grazing Hijo’s side. Hijo charged but was repelled by the large bronze shield. Irokles kept advancing, keeping Hijo pinned against his shield. He slid his grip on the spear towards the front, allowing for better close quarters fighting. He sent thrust after thrust into Hijo’s side. Hijo roared and pushed back. Irokles’ footwork was expert, never crossing his over his back foot. He remained balanced and advanced on Hijo once more.
A fireball burst on Irokles’ back. He turned to the attacker. It was Goblin who had two more fireballs, one in each hand. Goblin was hopping from one leg to the other snickering. The creature was too far away. Standing beside the creature was Veron and Garriot.
He was outnumbered, with no sign of Lo, and Winnow still unconscious.
Hijo was deep into his transformation. His legs were hooves, his arms large and bear-like. His skin was covered in a thick, stubby fur. His head boasted a helmet, covering a wolf-like face. Fully grown antlers that resembled an elk completed Hijo’s beast form. His Wild Aspect was menacing, but Irokles was a trained warrior, who never backed out from a fight, no matter the odds.
Irokles had little choice but to charge Hijo. The beast met him head on, this time Hijo allowed himself to be stabbed, the wound going deep. Hijo howled but gripped the shaft before, Irokles had a chance to remove it, and snapped it. Hijo ripped the iron that was wedged into his skin and tossed it aside. Irokles discarded the broken wood and unsheathed his short sword.
Another fireball hit his back and he grunted. His bronze armor could hold out against a few more fireballs only, the metal warping and softening from the heat.
Just as Irokles was advancing again a flash of light struck him. His world began spinning.
Veron’s vertigo Jinx. The warrior cursed as Hijo leapt to him, throwing him to the ground and delivering savage blows to the warrior.
A shouted word stopped Hijo in his tracks.
It was Lo. Hijo looked up in time to see the astral sword materialize in Lo’s hand. Tiny particles forming together. The sword was a translucent blue, huge and pointing up into the air, the blade nearing three dozen meters long. Veron and Garriot dove to the ground, taking cover.
Irokles managed to hold Hijo in place despite his dizziness, all the beast could do was roar in frustration and cover its head with its arms.
Lo took a heavy step to the side, grounding himself and gripping his sword straight up. He then spun around, leveling the astral sword at the same time. The sword passed through the trees behind him without causing damage. He finished his turn, the sword gliding straight into Hijo and shattering on impact, shards of astral glass exploded outward. The shards disappeared before hitting the ground.
Hijo was sent flying like a ragdoll, all the way across the battleground into the treeline.
“I thought you said fifteen minutes! That wasn’t even five!” Garriot stormed at Veron as they rose to their feet.
“It should’ve been, that was my most potent Jinx! Lo is strong.” Veron said in disbelief.
Garriot looked around, Goblin was nowhere in sight.
“My bastard Goblin must have disappeared when Lo was swinging that sword.” Garriot cursed a few more times for good measure.
Irokles recovered from the vertigo and stood up, he nodded to Lo, who was charging Garriot and Veron. Irokles marched to meet them, they would pin the two and finish the fight.
“I’ll take Lo, use your last Jinx on Irokles.” Garriot said, preparing for Lo’s charge.
“Right.” Veron stepped forward ready for the bronze warrior.
She made a gun with her fingers and aimed. She shot her last Jinx, charm, directly at Irokles. A small pink dot shot out from her finger, and her last tattoo disappeared.
The warrior simply deflected it with his shield.
“Oh fu-” Veron didn’t finish the sentence before a bronze shield knocked her to the ground.
Garriot engaged Lo, but couldn’t even start fighting before a sword was pressed to the back of his neck.
“I yield.” He raised his hands up in submission.
Garriot walked over to Veron, helping her to her feet.
“We lost.” Garriot explained. Veron nodded, tears in her eyes from the blow she received.
Just then an ear piercing howl came from the distance where Hijo had been launched.
Lo and Irokles spread out, ready for the inevitable charge.
Lo rearmed himself with an astral spear. It was much smaller than his astral sword, but still twice the size of any reasonable spear.
Hijo did emerge from the trees, but instead of running he had jumped the distance landing in front of Lo and Irokles, sliding as he landed and kicking up dirt.
The three sized each other up, but Hijo wasn’t done yet.
He bent forward, his spine shedding from his back. Hijo gripped the top of it, at the base of his neck, and pulled out a wicked sword. It was a curved sword of crude design. A wide and thick blade with chunks of flesh and bone hanging from it. A vicious blade, and one neither Lo nor Irokles had ever seen used before. Hijo had reached a new level with his Wild Aspect.
Hijo charged Irokles, sending a brutal downward swing into the warrior’s raised shield, denting it and bruising Irokles’ arm in the process. Lo stepped into Hijo’s exposed flank and launched his astral spear. It shattered, leaving a puncture wound in Hijo and spraying blood as well. Hijo growled and turned to Lo, but Irokles cut Hijo’s charge short, sending a slash into the back of an arm. Hijo swung around, his sword arcing back at Irokles. The blow caught Irokles in the shoulder, destroying his armor piece and cutting deep. Irokles grunted and started to give ground.
Lo had another astral spear at the ready, only this one was a translucent green. Hijo kept the offensive, all Irokles could do was block with his shield, which was quickly losing its shape.
This time Lo aimed for Hijo’s leg. The astral spear didn’t shatter this time, instead it passed through Hijo’s leg and stabbed into the ground. It didn’t deal any damage but Hijo was pinned where he was standing. His attempts to grab the spear were futile as his hands went through the astral spear. Hijo howled in frustration, he’d been beat.
Irokles kept his distance but his sword was pointed square at Hijo.
Master Klyle made his way to where the three remaining fighters each stood their ground.
“It’s over lad, you did good.” Klyle was talking to Hijo who was still in his Aspect. Allowing the fight to continue any further could result in someone’s death, the fight was reaching that point. Hijo was too far gone to be able to hold back, and Lo and Aulus would have no choice but to dispatch him or die themselves.
Hijo started to calm down once he realized no one was continuing the fight, Lo had gone back to check on Winnow.
“Boring, the real fight was just getting started. They think because they pinned us that the fight was over. Neither one could deliver a real finishing blow to us.“
“Whatever, call to me when you are ready to fight again, brother.“
The beast in Hijo’s mind finished speaking and disappeared. Hijo began to revert back to his original self. Lo noticed and released his astral spear, turning off his own Aspect.
Hijo sat on the ground exhausted, he rubbed at his wounds. Only a few thrusts punctured deep enough to leave lasting wounds on Hijo’s regular body.
“Gather around everyone.” Klyle called. The seven other students who had been watching the fight and both teams made their way in front of Klyle.
Aulus emerged from a hiding spot behind a boulder. He spoke with Irokles before sending the warrior away. Aulus found a seat next to Lo and Winnow. Winnow was rebuilding her arms by huffing smoke onto the stubs as Lo held the pipe for her.
Hijo approached Winnow.
“You okay? I guess I lost control.” Hijo was a genuine person who was always looking out for his classmates, it was quite the opposite of his Aspect.
“Yeah I’m fine, just going to have this headache for a week.” Winnow said as she rubbed her temples. Hijo offered some water and she gratefully accepted.
Hijo turned to Lo, “I didn’t know you could use Sunder like that.” Hijo was referring to the last green spear that had pinned him in place.
“My astral weapons either break on impact, causing damage, or they can pass through objects and act as barriers, like that last spear.” Lo explained but withheld any real details, what he said was obvious to anyone watching the fight. Hijo just nodded, if it was Lo’s decision to keep his Aspect a secret than Hijo could respect that. He made his way back to his team, checking on them.
“Let’s review the fight.” Klyle said, speaking to everyone.
“Hijo, we’ll start with you. Your Aspect is brutal but train and discipline yourself to better control your beast and berserker form. Teamwork is vital in any fight, if you can’t communicate you’ll cause problems for everyone. Your team should work with you, not around you.”
“Yes sir.” Hijo replied. Klyle continued.
“Garriot your Goblin has a lot of potential to be devastating, so learn how to command him. If not he will end up taking over you. Aspects can be double edged swords, remember that.” Garriot gave a rue nod, still bitter over Goblin’s behavior and the debt he owed to his own power.
“Veron, you’re the ranged support type. Work in the shadows and deliver your debuffs when and where you can, but always keep an extra, hidden supply of Jinx’s. And don’t ever underestimate anyone.” Klyle continued.
“Winnow, your Aspect has a lot of good uses to it, but if it stops your allies from assisting you or cages you in, then you’re spelling your own defeat.”
“Lo figure out how to use your astral weapons more consistently, train to allow multiple uses of your weapons. You did good today but there will be situations where you won’t have the time or energy to keep producing more. An Aspect’s limit is your own. Allows seek to break that limit.”
“And finally Aulus. Winnow may have been saved if you could have activated your Aspect sooner, in a battle with guns or against a different matchup, you may not have so much time. Work on meditating and establishing a stronger connection.” Klyle finished his critiques, and the students took in every word he said. Even those who didn’t participate were putting themselves in the fight, imagining what they would have done.
“Any questions?” Klyle asked the class. One student raised his hand. It was Emilo.
“Who is the strongest out of all of us?”
Klyle thought for a moment.
“Out of everyone in your class, the person who is the best Specter, who is leagues above anyone else here, is Hales Ailor. Right now she’s on the other mountain training with Professor Vandle way harder than any of you. If you want to catch up, I suggest we get back to work.”
The atmosphere turned intense in just a couple sentences. Klyle had re-lit the fire under them once more, essentially insulting them. With four months into their training, only one month remained. Everyone wanted to be the best, and Klyle had clearly said that it wasn’t any of them in this group.
On the other mountain Hales just finished developing a new technique, one which involved two car sized stars spinning in a fast orbit around each other, causing them to spew hot plasma in every direction. She named it star shower.