Chapter 20 Hales vs. Kassel

A massive, snarling purple head tore up from the ground, erupting sand in a showery spray. The arena rumbled as it did. The head produced a shout of relief with a voice as deep and loud to match its grand size. Hoiden leapt daintily on its left shoulder as the purple titan pressed down with its hands, pushing itself out of the ground further. The titan reached far enough to expose half a chest, baring thick and defined muscles. The forearms and elbows still lay submerged under sand, but a quick heave of its upper body freed them at once.

More sand showered on Xander who stood within touching distance of the monstrous titan. Hoiden giggled from her place perched on the shoulder, meters above. She got serious suddenly, pointing her scepter at Xander, who swiftly recognized the gesture as an order to attack and sprung himself into the air just as a fist bore down on him. 

When the dust settled from the thunderous pounding of the ground, Xander could be seen standing on the arm, the titan kept its fist in the ground awaiting new orders.

Xander took the hesitation as a chance to run up the titan’s arm, he cursed when he realized that he stood on its right arm. He needed to be on the left if he had any chance at reaching Hoiden.

His Karma had given him the chance to evade the attack but hadn’t given him the one he needed. Xander leapt off the arm, rolling on the sand to break his fall. A moment later a loud slap resonated from above, right where he had been climbing.

Xander skirted around the titan, sliding under a sweeping arm that threatened to obliterate him. A quick dash landed Xander right behind the titan. It tried turning in the sand but found it impossible to rotate with its abdomen packed tightly by dirt and rock below the surface.  

Hoiden swiveled around while sitting, facing Xander now. They studied each other. Hoiden knew the safest place was exactly where she sat, and despite her titan now facing the wrong direction, it could still reach around its back. Something Xander had evidently thought of too, as he stood trying to figure out the best option for attack. Hoiden had the advantage in so many more ways than Xander, but he had his luck, his Karma Aspect. Eyes shining with the gold of his Good Karma he ran to the titan’s back, the muscles being thick and sinewy enough to make for decent climbing grip. Hoiden tossed her scepter into the air, flicking her wrist so that it rotated once and landed comfortably in her hands again.

The purple titan sunk its hands in the ground, dug them in deep, muscles bunching and bulging from the effort and heaved a great sigh as it dislodged two huge mounds of dirt, one for each hand, backwards onto Xander. The piles cascaded over itself enough to dislodged Xander from its back.

Xander hit the ground running back from the titan which could now rotate. He charged the purple monster.

The titan swept its massive arms as it spun around, mirroring the swing of Hoiden’s scepter. Xander, with a running start, dove over the arm, rolling to his feet and dashing up its chest. 

He made it halfway up the titan’s barrel chest before one of the purple hands grabbed him by the leg and flung him effortlessly across the arena.

Xander managed to orient himself in midair to slide on all fours along the sand as he slowed his momentum to a safe halt. Standing up and checking his hands out he saw that they had been burned significantly by the sand. His leg where the titan grasped barely could move.

The pain would have to wait, he had a duel to win.

Xander expended all of his stored up Good Karma on his next move, something that was supposed to last him the whole tournament. 

“Karma Form, Grand Awakening!” Xander’s whole body trembled, a light glowing sheen of golden sweat bathed his body. He took a second to drink in the feeling. It was exultant, the pleasure unimaginable, almost too good to be real. 

Instead of walking, he levitated slightly over the ground. With all his Good Karma being exhausted in a short burst his possibilities were limitless, as if the whole universe bent to his will for this short time period.

Hoiden narrowed her eyes, judging out her next move. The titan switched to a boxing stance, elbows bent, fists clenched. Hoiden made a flurry with her scepter.

Xander came into range and easily dodged each punch. A fist finally found its mark, only for Xander to stop it with a palm. A fist five meters wide stopped dead in its tracks by a hand a fraction of the size. Xander pushed back on the fist, sending the titan rearing and falling on its back, thudding and making the ground shake once more. Hoiden leapt at the same moment her titan fell, landing safely on its stomach. 

Xander charged soaring through the air. Hoiden tried vainly to deflect Xander’s attack. The punch delivered to her chest sent ripples of gold light out. Hoiden collapsed to her knees breathless and beat. Xander could easily have sent her flying with his blow, but elected instead to bring her down right at his feet. Make the king bow to him.

Hoiden’s Aspect deactivated, the titan sinking underground and her cape, crown and scepter dematerializing. 

Xander’s Karma changed, his gold reverting to blue and his power terminating. He no longer floated, but remained standing over Hoiden.

“Damn you.” She managed to mutter as she clutched her chest.

Xander shrugged and turned to walk away. Hoiden wanted to say more, to curse and rage at him, but she couldn’t find her breath and before long he returned to his seat in the bleachers.

Hoiden could only glare at Xander as she was led out of the dueling grounds by a medic who half carried her.

“Looks like I made a friend.” Hales heard Xander remark when he greeted the classmates he sat near, namely Bria and Garriot and a few others that tended to stick with each other. Now more than ever Hales’ class really began to divide into separate and distinct groups. Dartan, Jid, Magun, Veron, Abajem and herself were all the more lighthearted but still serious type, the ones set on going to the military and doing the best they can to excel in it. They weren’t the most athletic kids but they were problem solvers, and that was a skill worth its weight in gold in the world of powers.

Then there was Uana, Jilian and Hido, who kept to themselves in an aristocrat sort of way, like they believed they were a higher class than everyone else in the class and even the world. It had been that way for the last couple years, Aspects only serving to reinforce that notion.

Yillo was a lone wolf of course, though Hales decided she had made befriended him in the Camp of Awakening. Talayia fit in to every social clique in the class, she had no enemies that Hales could think of.

Antho made it clear that he was cutting off his ties to the school and his classmates, having joined with Josua and his vigilante gang. Hales wondered if he would even return to school once the next semester began again.

The other twelve students fell roughly in the same group together, with the exception of maybe Lo, Aulus and Winnow. The death of Jonatan, not more than an hour ago, already shifted the dynamic of his group with Garriot, Benhan and Emilo. They integrated with the rest, now without their ringleader to instigate them.

Bregan took a large swig of water and descended the stairs. Alessa, his opponent for this match, stood waiting to greet him. She looked livid. Alessa was friends with Hoiden, or at least they sat together so it was an obvious conclusion. After Hoiden’s loss especially, Alessa wanted vengeance. Her tone alone gave that much away.

“You don’t belong here,” she started. “None of your class is going to win this, none of you even need to.” Bregan said nothing, he couldn’t. Alessa’s anger increased as she spoke, fueling her own frustration. “Some of us need this opportunity, to be something besides a soldier. I don’t want to be drafted and used as a weapon!” Alessa’s voice choked with emotion.

Bregan still could not speak. The referee began the match.

“Heaven!” Alessa screamed, still full of raw emotion. She was probably worried for her life, only Class for the Savant students had killed any Specters in this tournament so far. And she was fighting one of the coldest ones.

Alessa began channeling a white light so thick and hazy that the particles were visible. It wrapped around, bathing her in holy light. She breathed in the light which had the effect of calming her angry expression. She took a moment to enjoy the high then seemed to remember what she was doing. Alessa extended her arm and the holy light followed in the same direction, moving at a sluggish pace without any sense of urgency.

During that time Bregan spit out the water he had held in his mouth onto his left hand. He cupped his palm to ensure that he retained as much liquid as possible. He squatted low to the ground grabbing a handful of dirt in his right hand.

“Synthesis.” Bregan clapped his hands together combining the two elements into one. The sand and water fused to become mud. He spread his hands apart to reveal a floating ball of mud. This would serve as his ammunition supply. 

Bregan snatched the magical ball of mud and absorbed it into his body. He finished his preparations in time to see a beam of light inch toward him. The light moved slow only in comparison to how normal light would move, Bregan dashed to the side to avoid the white glowing fog.

Once Alessa’s Heaven light reached its destination it remained there lingering and effectively cutting the arena in half, unless one were to tempt their fate by running through it.

Alessa pointed again far in front of the direction Bregan was running to. Viewed from above, the white light created a V shape that emanated from Alessa, and Bregan caught in the middle had to go on the offensive before he lost all open space.

Bregan stopped running before reaching the second bog of light, turned, and opened fire on Alessa with a gushing hose of mud from his palm.

Bregan pointed upwards so that the mud shot in an arc, he also kept his fingers folded onto his palm, which was facing upwards. This changed the flow of mud, instead of a line the mud sprayed out in a messy sprinkle. The effect was quite the same as putting a thumb over a water hose.

Alessa put up an arm to shield the mud from blinding her, but she was quickly soaked in mud everywhere else. An idea struck her. She pointed at her first path of light, thickening the beam further, then she turned and ran behind that path of light, positioning herself outside the V and continued to emit more and more light. Her plan was to grid out Bregan. 

Bregan and Alessa could no longer see each other, the wall of white light too thick to make anything out on the opposite side. Both Specters were firing blind. 

Alessa pointed in random directions, she was bound to catch Bregan at some point. Bregan sprayed mud randomly, unperturbed by his diminishing time limit. He was cool headed, sticking to his plan and executing it to maximum efficiency. 

With his other hand he started pouring mud low to the ground, invisible to Alessa through the light. His plan was to flood her.

The high spray was enough to distract Alessa from paying attention to her feet, she was soon ankle deep in a gushing layer of mud. Bregan had more time to react to Alessa’s gradual moving light than she did with his mud.

The light was easy to see and sluggish. The catch was if he got hit the fight would be essentially be over. The mud was faster and did relatively little in the way of actual damage, serving more as an auxiliary or support attack type. 

Alessa’s footsteps sloshing in the mud was all Bregan needed to hear. With her location pinpointed Bregan put his wrists together, palms facing inward yet open sightly. This would ensure a high pressure blast of mud.

That’s exactly what happened. A narrow torrent of sticky, cold, wet mud flushed from his palms in a single line of unending liquid.

Alessa yelped, being unable to defend from the attack. Her wall of light began to dissipate rapidly. Bregan stepped through the gap as the force his mud was making dispersed it, hosing her down all the while. She tried to move but the mud was too thick and she tripped and fell face forward into it. Bregan stayed relentless, not stopping until either she surrendered or died.

Alessa struggled in the mud trying to stay from drowning. She thrashed and waved her hands in a panic.

Bregan found his humanity and ceased his mud stream. He needed no further validation from the referee, simply turning to walk away back into the bleachers. Alessa finally found her way out of the mud, beat and dejected. She was too breathless to say anything to Bregan’s back, only nodding to confirm with the referee of her surrender.

“What happens if you get caught in her light?” Hales asked, she had downtime as the arena crew cleaned up the mud before the next duel, her duel.

“Euphoria. Alessa’s Heaven makes you go into laughing bouts.” Dartan as usual did the explaining.

“Scary.” Hales commented. She could see how that would be a useful weapon in a war, but it made sense that a power like that was more suited for a different lifestyle. 

“Hey Hales,” Veron said, her voice tinged with a hint of concern.

“Yeah?” Hales asked hesitantly. 

“Watch out for Kassel. She’s… different.” Veron concluded lamely.

“Different how?”

“I saw her fighting earlier and her Aspect isn’t like anything I’ve seen before. I mean everyone has unique powers, I get that, but there’s something off about hers, about her.”

“You’re being weird.” Hales said planely.

“No I’m serious. Kassel is someone straight out of a children’s horror story.” Veron left it at that. And Hales left the bleachers.

She stepped into the arena, as she had plenty of times already throughout the night. 

Kassel made her entrance as well. She was taller than Hales and very thin, to the point of looking too delicate, her long black hair only serving to accentuate her sharp bony features.

A different referee from the last match started the fight, and the two Specters activated their Aspects at the same time.

“Solar!”

“Vitro.” Kassel’s voice was hoarse and cracking. Hales initiated by drawing out a solar system. She started to grow and spin it, the sun, the axis for which the planets orbited, floated right above her index finger which was pointed straight up. The solar system sped to a blur, becoming a disc of flashing light.

On the other side of the arena something grew out of Kassel. An umbilical cord that was feeding into a sac on the ground in front of her. Contained in the sac was a glass fetus, being pumped nutrients by Kassel via the umbilical cord.

When Hales was ready she flicked her arm, sending the solar disc spinning in the air at Kassel. A jagged wall of glass grew up from the ground in front of Kassel, shielding the solar disc. Both objects exploded into pieces of rock and glass.

Hales already prepared another disc. Glass began to sprout all over the arena grounds, covering it in patches as it randomly spread to different places. The glass would bubble and pop then solidify in mid air, creating strange and irregular shapes. Glass stalagmites, bridges, hanging drapes, geometric shapes… all made of glass. The arena transformed from a sandy battlefield to a beautiful glass landscape that was equally alien and dreamlike, terrifying and nightmarish. 

Hales almost forgot she was fighting as she admired the primordial architecture of Kassel’s Vitro aspect. The glass created wondrous prisms from the light that reflected off of her burning suns.  

Hales didn’t want to fight, she wanted to play in the glass world with her stars.

It wasn’t until a glass spike grew from beneath her, threatening to impale her where she stood, did she return to reality. Hales leapt out of the way.

Only to land on a brittle plane of glass that shattered on impact and slid easily through her shoes and into her feet.

The shock of waking from her daydream and the sudden pain from the glass lodged inside her feet made her scream in a startle. Despite the pain, the first thing she thought of was how anxious she was for reacting so poorly in the situation, shouting aloud without thinking. This frustrated her to no end.

Hales ignored her feet and sent planet after planet in every direction, shattering as many glass structures as she could.

The glass was all equally as brittle, Hales found out. It was double edged, on one hand it made breaking it a walk in the breeze, on the other hand broken glass… and lots of it. She would have to be careful. 

Hales didn’t feel the tiny bits of glass shrapnel that found its way under the skin until red dots of blood wet her clothes. 

Don’t discount the micro side of things. If this fight lasts too long I’ll be in serious trouble from just breathing in all the particles.

Hales switched tactics, and it hurt so much to move, but she had to avoid the new glass that formed around and under her. 

Hales drew out stars only, this way the glass would melt as opposed to shattering.

“Star Shower.”

With the pain she felt she needed to say the words to help her body along. Create two stars, enlarge them and send them spinning above and the two opposing forces of gravity will tear the stars apart and fling plasma in every direction.

Hales was going for the glass fetus, which was surrounded by a fortress of thick and opaque glass.

With the two stars ready, she launched them in the general direction where Kassel still stood in the same place. The crowd on the far side of the bleachers scrammed, staying well away from the loose plasma.

A glass dome grew around Kassel and her fetus, though the plasma was hot enough to melt the glass, it grew back quicker than the stars could melt it, especially given that the attack landed in random places.

“Should’ve just launched the stars normally.” Hales muttered to herself when she saw how ineffective her attack proved to be.

Hales was going to be trapped inside a glass prison if she didn’t do something fast. It was growing quicker than she could destroy. This whole fight would be easier if she could stand in a single place and focus only on using her power but watching for shards of glass and being cut and impaled by the glass really took its toll on Hales.

“Okay, new strategy.” Hales needed something to wipe the board with. Glass bubbled and popped in front of her face, causing shards of glass to launch her way. She sacrificed her forearm, putting her face in her elbow in order to block the glass. They entered deep into her arms, bloodletting the warm fluid of her life.

Hales was getting sloppy, she could admit that to anyone. She should have used a planet to block the glass. The pain and blood loss and the inhalation of micro glass threatened to stop her. Stop her from winning. Hales didn’t want the military, not totally. It was a means to an end, not a dream or goal. Hales understood the criticism that the other Specters made about her class, to some extent she found herself agreeing with them. But she didn’t want the military anymore than anyone else here. She too searched for a way out. 

Kassel was not about to stop her.

“Constellation!” Improv attacks are as good as any, Hales determined. She drew out half a dozen stars, increased their mass to a three-ish meters in diameter size and arranged them all in a bunch with one star above her index finger. Hales made sure not to rotate their speed, they needed to be as slow spinning as possible.

Hales stepped over to the side as more glass invaded her. She winced in pain from stepping and bit her tongue hard. Tears began to form in her eyes, blurring her vision. Hales quelled them instantly, focusing only on her next move.

She sent one of her six stars forward, at a leisurely pace, barely rotating in its path in a straight line in front of her. She sent a second star right behind it with all the same parameters. Three more stars followed behind, one by one in a row. Hales had her first star, still in her control, floating right above her finger. 

She whipped her hand around her head, increasing momentum and allowing the stars to do their dirty work on the glass, shattering and melting. The five stars out of her control were set to gravitate back toward the star above her finger. The lack of velocity at which they rotated mixed with how fast she whipped the stars, though too fast would send them flying away, ensured that they stayed in relative formation. Hales had made a line of stars that effectively worked like a loose cosmic whip

She flicked it around and around destroying everything Kassel had grown. Hales spotted the protective dome around Kassel and whipped her stars sideways, if Hales attacked vertically she ran the risk of launching her suns straight into the ground causing them to explode instantly. She got far more use out of them by keeping them horizontal.

The stars melted through the glass dome, leaving Kassel open, though the fetus still had more layers of glass surrounding it. 

The dome tried to regrow but Hales whipped her formation of stars back around and attacked again. Hales inched forward, shuffling slightly to avoid more glass in her shoes.

Hales finally found the opportunity she wanted. She launched the star in her finger at the fetus protected by glass. The other stars followed the orbit of the star and moved into the glass. 

Sun beat glass as it melted all the way through into the sac housing the fetus.

Kassel cried out, as if the glass fetus were a real baby. Kassel broke into a fit of tears as she crouched over the sac. Now that all the suns were extinguished she could reach her baby, though not before they had left their mark. Steam from melting glass still simmered in the air around the fetus. Hales couldn’t get a good look but something wasn’t right.

“Don’t cry mommy.” A voice from Kassel’s direction spoke. The voice was scratchy, artificial, matter of factly. If glass could talk, perhaps it would have sounded like that. Hales prepared more stars, she had a really bad gut feeling. 

Out from the sac, which should have been utterly melted down, arose a child. The child, upright now, stood too tall and had an unsettling stiffness to it, in the way that something that shouldn’t be alive became living.

Hales was only a head taller than it. All its features were perfect, sculpted to match everything a fine child should look like. But it wasn’t a sculpture, it was an organic, living, walking, and apparently talking, glass child.

It’s eyes were the worst. They were eyes that could see. It seemed ridiculous and otherworldly but those were the eyes of something heinous that did not belong alive.

Hales was bruised from her previous fights, bleeding from this one, bruised from this fight and bleeding from her other fights. She was a mess through and through and now this glass child, born from the umbilical cord of a woman standing across from her, gazed a gaze that spoke of hate and death.

Revenge for making its mom cry?

Hales saw no mercy in its cold prism eyes. Kill or be killed, the law of battle. The law Hales was ready to obey.

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