The tall, handsome, well dressed man in the suit named Mathis shimmied through the bleachers to get to Hales, who was scratching behind her ear in embarrassment.
“Ah Ms. Ailor, there you are! How have you been?” His voice was formal, as if he never spoke in a different tone other than the one he currently used. Too long working for the rich, Hales thought. He presented the glass of water he had promised a while ago. Hales had forgotten she asked. The sight of water made her mouth even drier.
Hales took it gratefully and nodded, still self-conscious of her classmates around who were turning their heads in bewilderment to watch the interaction.
“Congratulations on your placement in the tournament. The Gentleman Rabio is most pleased with your performance.” Hales could have guessed Mathis was going to say that. His speech was so typical of the ‘butler’ type that it was almost funny to hear in person.
“Thanks.” Hales said shyly.
“The Gentleman Rabio is considering placing his bet on Kassel in your upcoming bout, but he wanted your opinion on the matter.” There were no available seats in talking range of Hales, so Mathis crouched awkwardly in front of Hales’ spot to avoid blocking the view of the fight that was beginning. Hales wanted to respond with ‘I don’t care’ to end the conversation so she could focus on the match, but decided against it.
“Tell Rabio to bet on me if he wants to win more money.” Hales said a little more shrewdly than she meant. Dartan was giving her a quizzical face.
“Very good Ms. Ailor. I will tell him your response and get out of your way immediately so you can watch your classmate.” Mathis got up to leave without another word. Hales, still anxious, just forced a smile.
When Mathis was gone more than a couple classmates fired off a barrage of questions at her. Hales stared down at the ongoing fight, ignoring them. Now wasn’t the time to talk. Winnow was in the heat of battle.
Ash started to fill the entire arena, covering the air in a grey hue. It was always obvious when Winnow was fighting. And doubly obvious when she was losing and frustrated.
Winnow was throwing everything she had. Nothing she did even touched Kris.
Kris was an averaged height girl with extremely long hair that reached below her hips. Hales thought it more than a little impractical in a fight. Well, it would be if not for her Aspect.
Kris was essentially a ghost. She looked normal, not having any of the spectral or transparent qualities usually associated with ghosts. Winnow’s strategy was to smoke her out. She was betting on the fact that Kris still needed oxygen, at least occasionally.
Hales only caught glimpses of shadows moving in the thick bog of smoke in the center of the arena. Winnow stayed camouflaged, flinging ash balls, blowing smoke gusts and igniting firestorms at Kris from the safety of her clouds.
Hales was intrigued by the fight, without being able to actually see much of the fighting she could tell that Winnow knew where Kris was at all times, yet no attack damaged the girl. And Kris was unable to navigate the ashclouds fast enough to find Winnow.
“Winnow knows how to move through her clouds without giving away her location.” Hales leaned forward to eavesdrop on a conversation Aulus was having with Xander and Bria, a few rows down and to the right of her. She had trouble hearing the rest as the ever-growing smoke muffled most sounds. More than a few people started to cough or cover their mouths.
Hales turned to Dartan to whisper, “So whoever figures out the other’s Aspect wins.” It was as much a statement as a question.
Magun who had reclaimed his seat after his fight with Crnobog answered first.
“Yeah, but Winnow’s in a lot more trouble. All Kris has to do is find her but Winnow has to find a way to even touch Kris.” Dartan confirmed what Magun said.
Hales turned back to the fight. She heard someone say something, and only because of the context of who said it could she make out what exactly was said.
Kris shouted the word, “Banshee!”
“Oh hell no!” Talayis gasped out from behind. Hales looked back, a question in her expression.
“Don’t you remember Klyle?” Was all Talayia said before covering her ears. Hales did remember. Kris must have a similar ability to Klyle’s roar. There was no sound at first, as Kris gathered herself.
Naming different abilities and attacks within the use of an Aspect helps to open ‘doorways’ which works in the same way as awakening the Aspect in the first place. By establishing a connection one can activate their Aspect in an instant. Once activated it is essential that the user creates a word, gesture or some other action that will work as a trigger. By reinforcing this trigger through meditation and training the brain learns to enter this doorway by means of the trigger. In most cases it is a word and the easiest word to memorize is the name of the Aspect or a specific ability one has invented or discovered.
The mind and body need to be attuned to a specific wavelength in order to use powers. The faster one can attune themselves the sooner that Aspect can be utilized and its power unleashed.
Hales had learned how to awaken and use her Aspect of course, but the details of how and why everything worked was still something she didn’t fully comprehend, but Kris was taking her time to use her Banshee move. This was the opening Winnow needed.
The smoke started to swirl around Winnow, she was making circles with her arm, as if she were swinging a lasso over her head. This started to gather all the smoke in the arena, as the current drew in the haze and ashclouds. A tornado formed around her, going as high as the ceiling. It was tall with all the smoke compressed together, the width of the tornado no wider than the rotation of her arms.
Aside from the tornado, the arena was cleared of smoke. Winnow stayed more than a couple dozen meters away from Kris, she obviously needed space to set up her tornado.
Winnow suddenly stopped moving her arm, and immediately the tornado began to slow in its spinning. Without the vortex of momentum, the smoke began to trickle back out. Most of her ash had stayed intact, however, and the tornado became more like a large, slow spiraling column.
Winnow grabbed hold of it.
Holding her giant smoke club in one hand, Winnow snapped the thumb and middle finger with her free one. A tiny spark flew out. She made a few more snaps, a spray of sparks flooding from her thumb. She was directing her snaps at the enormous twenty meter high club in her hand. The sparks caught, and the whole club erupted in flames. This would eventually burn through all her smoke, as it acted as fuel.
Winnow wasted no time, taking two steps forward and leaning into her attack, she sent the club to crash down on Kris, who had been standing peacefully meditating.
As the flaming club bore down, Kris let out a shrill, high pitched ear piercing scream. She had decided on a strategy similar to the one Klyle had used on Uana’s blizzard. Sound.
Obviously Kris wasn’t in Hales’ class so she didn’t know about Klyle. Her scream was far more painful than Klyle’s roar, but then it was meant to be. Klyle’s roar was forceful, and had more of a stunning and shockwave effect. Kris’ banshee scream was sharp and painful, something that could rip and tear.
Kris didn’t scream alone. An apparition of a grotesque old woman appeared.
She was huge at least eight meters high and ghastly, and extremely transparent. A faded image of a woman in rags screaming alongside Kris.
The force of the screams proved strong enough to shred the club apart. It hung suspended in air above Kris. At first the descent merely slowing, but as more and more smoke corroded off, it became lighter until completely breaking. The club was no more, replaced by the cloud it once was. But Kris didn’t stop screaming, she screamed until all the smoke blew away from her, dispersing it utterly.
This didn’t make sense to Hales. How could the scream completely disintegrate the smoke? That’s when she glanced at Winnow.
Winnow was inhaling deeply, deeper than should be possible for any human. She was reabsorbing the smoke back in like a vacuum.
When Winnow had drawn all the smoke back into herself, she then forcefully expelled the gathered smoke out at Kris. The smoke flew at a fast enough speed to peel flesh off. Hales knew this because Kris was being torn to shreds, until she herself was ashes.
Hales looked around and found that the referee for the match was unconscious, likely having passed out from the smoke when it filled the entire arena and his close proximity to Kris’ Banshee scream.
“Damn, well Winnow just lost.” Veron said in a whisper, to no one in particular.
“What?” Hales asked, the implication in her tone that the girl said the wrong name.
“Didn’t you see? Kris just made an apparition that looked like it was dying and turning into ashes.” Veron explained, “It started to die before the ash even reached her. Weren’t you paying attention?” Veron asked puzzled.
“Apparently not.” Hales muttered. A second later Kris appeared right behind Winnow. Kris tackled the taller girl before she even finished exhaling smoke. The surprise attack gave Kris enough time to pin the girl, with threats of dislocating body parts. Winnow had no choice but to surrender.
Kris was the winner. She had simply walked around the smoke as Winnow hadn’t seen through the extra thick clouds. The apparition Kris had set up was enough to buy her the time she needed to finally get close to Winnow. Winnow’s biggest mistake was staying still, she had paid for her mistake with a loss. “Wow, I didn’t know Winnow had gotten so strong.” Magun commented, when the aftermath settled in.
“She had a bad match up.” Another classmate agreed.
“I’m still not sure how Kris’ power works,” A different classmate commented.
The clean up crew came in as usual. Dartan turned to Hales, not forgetting her encounter with the suit.
“Who’s your friend?” Dartan could tell from the eye contact that Hales knew who he meant and that the man was anything but a friend.
Hales sighed and explained. “He’s some guy that works for one of the masked aristocrats in the mansion named Rabio. I ran into him on my way in on accident. All they do up there is bet on fights.” Hales decided to add the last sentence in so she could vent to someone her disgust of it.
Dartan showed no surprise, at least not to the last sentence. The surprise in his face registered at the name of Rabio.
“You’re serious?” Dartan asked, confirming what he heard, “Rabio!”
“Yeah… You know who he is?” Hales asked hesitantly.
“He’s extremely well known in the underground world.”
“I’m joking, I have no idea who that is.” Hales rolled her eyes.
“Can you look him up when this is all over?” Hales asked.
There was still six matches before Hales’. She took sips of her water. Winnow’s smoke hadn’t helped her hydrate.
Hales sat back, and rested her eyes. She was more exhausted than she thought. More from physical fatigue than any desire for sleep.
Hales didn’t open her eyes even when the next fight began. A Specter named Cathee was up against her classmate, Bria.
She heard Cathee activate his Aspect, Totem. Hales was confident Bria could win. She was nimble and athletic and was able to utilize a fairly weak sounding Aspect to her advantage. Bria was an elusive fighter. Hales didn’t know what Cathee’s Totem did though.
It took a loud bird’s caw to bring Hales to open her eyes. The noise startled her, not because it scared her, it was more along the lines that she didn’t expect to hear anything of that sort.
When she looked at the battlefield, Hales saw hundreds of ribbons thrown about the ground. Bria was dancing, twirling, jumping and spinning as she simultaneously dodged and attacked her opponent.
Cathee was riding a large bird-like creature. It had the face of a boar, with large wings and deadly talons on its legs. Long ivory tusks jutted from out its beak. The noise it made resembled that of a vulture, yet more nasal. It’s dark brown wings carried it up and around the arena, diving down to strike at Bria.
Bria held her own, never exposing herself. She was hidden under the flurry of ribbons that shed from her skin and shot out from her feet and hands. Because the ribbons were light, they tended to fall slowly to the ground, this gave her a second to move around. She never stopped dancing, and her position was revealed based on the ribbons shooting out of her. Hales only caught glimpses of her body.
Cathee and his monstrous bird failed to touch Bria once. Each swoop of the boar-vulture left it with more and more ribbons thrown around it. Bria could manipulate the ribbons enough that they wrapped over, weaving into other ribbons. It was reminiscent of how a spider savagely ties its prey around in web. A dancing spider that used ribbons instead of silk. Unless the ribbons were made of silk, if that was the case then she was even more akin to a spider, thought Hales.
Before long Cathee’s Totem creature was overrun with ribbons, its eyes covered by the tightly wound cloth. It landed and struggled to remove the ribbons, Cathee tried to help but the creature was panicking and he risked being injured by the jagged tusks.
It was a smart move on Bria’s part. Birds were hunters that primarily used eyesight after all.
Bria kept throwing more and more ribbons around the creature. It was charging recklessly in random directions, courtesy of its boar instincts.
Bria took advantage of its two raptor legs by tripping it up. She threw ribbons at its legs as it charged by her without any idea of her actual location. Cathee was shouting out commands to the beast, but it didn’t listen.
When it tripped, it landed hard, sliding on the ground and struggling to rise. The unsure footing from the hundreds of ribbons on the ground made it extra hard for it to find its footing.
Cathee was thrown off the bird as it tripped. He got up muttering curses.
Bria finished him off with haste. Dozens of ribbons flew in his face, but a surprise kick is what ended the fight.
Bria was victorious. The crowd loved her fight. It was closer to a circus show than a duel. Bria was a performer to the core, and she used that skill to dominate the match.
“Damn she’s good.” Talayia said with passion. A number of other students chorused their agreement.
The clean up was longer than usual, with so many ribbons on the sandy floors.
When the arena was finally ready, Aulus rose to his feat. He was next in line to duel.
It started as an odd fight. Neither fighter made a move. Aulus activated his Myrmidon, which took a minute before he could summon his warriors. He had improved his speed, but also he could move as he gathered energy to use it. That’s how he had survived in the tournament, he no longer had to stand still while he summoned his warriors.
But in this fight, his opponent Darius, made no move either. Darius was taller and more muscular than Aulus. He had long hair that was tied back in a ponytail. He even sported a full beard. How some of these Specters were still around the same age group was a wonder to Hales.
Darius stood arms crossed, a number of strange tattoos marking his body. Hales couldn’t make out exactly what they were from the distance but they just looked like patterns and lines rather than illustrations of specific things.
Aulus summoned his warriors and chose one with two swords, saying the name Ladotatus in the process.
The other warrior bowed as he disappeared. Aulus sat down and went completely still has he assumed control over Ladotatus.
The black garbed warrior drew his two swords and saluted the referee and then Darius.
Darius nodded in acknowledgement and began walking to Ladotatus. Ladotatus stepped forward as well.
As the two Specters approached each other it looked like they were going to greet like old friends reunited.
It was only when in arms reach of each other they spurred into combat.
Ladotatus lunged and stabbed Darius in the bicep. The blade slid through his skin and out cleanly, only no blood followed. Ladotatus stepped back.
Darius called his Aspect in a deep, gruff voice.
“Ichor.” Blood finally streamed out of his wound, only to congeal over his open hand. As it formed he spoke to the mass of blood, connected by an unbroken trail of blood that led into his wound.
“Herakles.” The blood in his hand morphed into a massive double barreled revolver. The back of the blood red gun was attached by a cord which acted more like a vein as it was from the same stream of blood that fed into his open bicep wound.
He leveled the pistol, the double barrels aimed at Ladotatus only a meter away, and fired.