The glass child, though expressionless in physical terms, said all it needed through its blank paned face. It tilted its head slightly to the side, almost curiously, like how an animal would. Hales froze where she stood. She sensed it more than anything else, instinctually. Humans possess an innate ability allowing them to comprehend the danger of an unnatural entity eager for violence.
Hales experienced the feeling firsthand under the scrutiny of that crazed glass child. She was the meal and it was the wild hound sniffing fresh blood.
“Fight the instinct to run,” Hales whispered to herself quietly. Nothing worked, no muscle in her body agreed with her brains decision to do anything, save rambling nonsense out loud.
It’s ridiculous to think that mere dread could render a person useless.
Realization struck Hales like a hammer blow. It was waiting for her to act first.
Okay this is good, I get the first play but I do need to act fast. Adrenaline is starting to wear off and I can feel the sharp shards of glass in dozens of different places around my body.
Analyze the situation. I have two options, fight or surrender. Surrendering guarantees my continued existence, fighting does not.
Score one for surrender.
“But I want to win.” Hales hadn’t heard herself speak this thought vocally and so her voice decided for her.
In a state of either hyper-awareness or complete delirium Hales drew out gas planets, and a lot of them, without hardly giving a conscious command. The sizes of the gas giants varied but all being larger than her own head. They orbited around her body in the lumbering way that planets do.
Kassel’s glass child sprung into action finally. Its arms flashed up and glass grew rapidly, extending to Hales with jagged points and sharp edges. Hales swayed to the side narrowly dodging the glass and barely keeping her balance.
The glass child simply swiped its arms to the side but Hales rolled with the sweep and allowed herself to fall hard to the ground in order to save from being sliced. She gave directions for her planets as she fell.
The glass arms doubled back and chopped down on the now prone Hales, who in turn rolled over and the glass arms dug themselves into the sand even as glass shrapnel from the ground dug themselves into Hales’ shoulder.
Hales winced painfully.
The arms reared up again ready to strike down. Hales didn’t have to dodge this time. Her gas planets, close to a dozen, crashed into the glass child. It served as an adequate enough distraction to allow Hales to find her feet and draw out a single star.
Gas planets are flammable. A simple fact Hales was about to demonstrate. Upon colliding into the living glass, they burst, filling the air with hydrogen and helium.
Gas giants are planets that didn’t quite have the correct formula for becoming a star but they consisted of a lot of the same essential elements. Hales of course knew this and she was about to capitalize on it.
The glass child retracted its arms and tried in vain to fan the gas away. It was, after all, still a child ignorant of the chemical processes involved in combustion.
It did correctly sense that the gases were a threat. Hales gave no quarter, she launched her blue star straight into the glass child. The gas ignited, lighting the air ablaze and detonating the star in the process.
The last thing Hales saw before smoke and fire blocked her line of sight was the glass kid turning toward Kassel.
The smoke cleared almost as swiftly as it had come. The glass child had wrapped itself around Kassel, shielding her from the blast. It turned back to face Hales. She half expected it to wear an angry expression, but still it remained with the same blank stare. What changed was the chunks of glass missing from its torso, head and arms. Missing chunks that already started regrowing. Hales was more than prepared this time, assuming it would survive. But she could see that it suffered heavy damage.
Hales orbited dozens more gas giants and a few stars. She brought more and more out to join her armada of explosive space objects.
She could barely breathe, her body threatening to collapse on her at any moment.
Just a bit more. She fought for consciousness as her vision darkened and the sickness of blood loss all but debilitating her completely.
Hales managed, with a willpower that had been drilled and trained and beat into her for months on end, forged on that mountain by a Master Specter who never accepted surrender, to stand and talk.
“Kassel… surrender or you are going to die.” Kassel looked up with a shocked face, her hair was messy and sweat drenched her body.
To Hales, Kassel seemed too fragile to even respond, like she could break apart from the effort.
Hales continued, “If you survive this attack, you won’t live through the next, or the one after that.” Hales hoped Kassel would buy into her bluff. Hales had hit her limit, probably a while ago, so this was it, the final play.
She glanced at the glass child, almost fully repaired at this point.
Hales let out a breathless sigh, and raised her hands ready to send forth her exploding volley.
“Okay,” Kassel spoke with voice cracking. “I surrender.” Her eyes were focused solely on her child.
The relief in Hales was absolute. She could have kissed Kassel she was so happy to be done with the fight.
The referee officially declared the end of the match. He looked beat up himself, with more than a handful of red spots dripping down.
Hales let her planets and stars fall to the ground. The clean up crew could take care of the rest.
Kassel was hugging her glass child and consoling it. Hales didn’t see the rest as the medical team led her away to the side annex.
Hales won her first match in the finals of the tournament.
Odd because I don’t feel like a winner.
Her body screamed for the release of sleep, she denied it of course. Sleeping would mean elimination.
Hales slumped down on a white sheeted bed. Everything hurt and nearly everywhere had blood weeping freely. An older lady was speaking to a team of two other medics. She turned to Hales.
“You’ll need stitches and possibly surgery to remove any glass pieces lodged too deep under your skin.” The medic lady began preparing and sterilizing her tools, an assortment of scissors, scalpels and tweezers and other odd tools Hales couldn’t name.
Hales didn’t have time for surgery of any sort, the stitches would take too long as it is.
“I can’t. I have to be ready by the next round.” Hales said in a feeble voice. Bloodloss had a dangerous side effect called dehydration. Hales suffered from both in severe cases right now. Somehow she was still awake.
The medic gave her a scolding look. “Those wounds are dirty and you need stitches.” Her voice had that matronly yet condescending tone to it, shaped by years and years of fixing ‘stupid’ teenagers who got themselves injured, Hales thought.
“I have to be ready by the second round, there’s only five matches left.” Hales explained again.
“You’re still fighting?” The medic lady asked incredulously. Hales mustered up the energy to give her a relentless look.
“You ought to recover and get these wounds stitched up.” She repeated for the third time.
“The stitches will just break when I fight so can we do them after?” Hales pleaded, her expression softening. Not generally a good idea to get on the bad side of the person altruistically helping you.
Seeing the paleness of her complexion and the agony she must be going through but the strength to go through it, the lady sent away the two other medics and muttered apprehensive agreement to Hales.
She began immediately by searching for the most serious open wounds.
Hales had to remain awake, she knew sleep would keep her under for hours. Hales’ only choice was to dissociate and forget her injured body. Retreating into her mind.
It’s like her body went into autopilot, wincing and groaning at all the most painful moments. The glass piled up and Hales was too squeamish to look at the sheer amount of it that had been in her. Every couple of minutes a large ‘chink’ noise came from the table where the medic dropped the retrieved pieces.
The next step would be to clean out the wound, tweezing out each individual grain of sand that the medic could see. Finally the wound was sterilized by some sort of alcohol based wipe, the sting of which Hales found to be the best part. It was a sort of cathartic release and signified the wound was free of glass and ready to be bandaged.
The medic used a thick sticky gel-like substance to cover the wound, serving as a means to staunch any new bleeding that could result from Hales fighting more. That was the entire process for one wound and Hales estimated she sustained close to twenty areas of glass damage. The whole time the medic rambled on, mostly to herself, how she should be using stitches instead of the proxy gel.
Hales thought of Deo, the boy who made those haunting flowers. She wondered if he watched any of her fights tonight and what he thought of her as a Specter but also in general if he liked her or not.
‘I don’t think of you at all’ would be his answer undoubtedly.
The medic worked fast and efficiently but with so much ground to cover it was still taking too long. There was an explosion from the direction of the arena. Hales groaned, upset to be missing out.
“Why aren’t the other two medics helping?” Hales asked innocently. The medic was working on Hales’ feet which was a very painful and sensitive area. Hales was too tired to think and desperately needed conversation to distract her.
“The tournament allows only one medic for actively participating Savants.” She quoted.
“The reason is they figure if you need a whole team to patch you up then you shouldn’t be fighting anymore.” She gave Hales a look that suggested she counted Hales in that category.
“I’m just here for basic first aid.” The medic concluded. Hales only nodded.
It took an agonizing hour before the medic declared she finished.
“You’re lucky no vital areas were and hit there’s no sign of any glass remaining in you. You’re very lucky.” The medic began the tedious process of cleaning her tools. Hales didn’t have the morality to tell the medic her power did no such thing.
Veron’s bloom Jinx must still be in effect. I really do owe her one.
“You are free to go Ms. Hales. Mind the wounds.” She snapped at the end.
“Thank you.” Hales rose from the now bloodstained bed gingerly, testing her body. It hurt, she analyzed. She filled a glass of water, downed it at all in one drink and then refilled it.
Hales stepped out of the annex room room and saw two Specters fighting.
Hales sighed relief. It was Josua and Zeul fighting, which meant the tournament was still in the first round, just the final match.
She observed the fight as she slowly walked back along the edge toward her spot in the bleachers.
Several blobs of molten lava the size of men dotted the arena. They lobbed chunks of themselves in Josua’s direction, something he evaded easily.
Josua reached Zeul and the two engaged in hand to hand combat. Zeul held his own, though Josua clearly was the superior fighter, only he had to dodge flying bits of magma. His awareness was total, never once being hit by either the lava nor Zeul.
The blobs sluggishly advanced, encircling Josua. Zeul found a moment of opening to disengage, then threw up a stream of lava from his mouth. It became a blob and joined the others in attack.
Zeul’s eyes were red with flowing lava, Hales noticed. He wiped his chin of orange and red dribble. All things considered Zeul looked as if he had the advantage, but Josua never stopped moving and never lowered his guard.
When one blob reduced itself to a small enough size Josua dove over it without hesitation, lava flinging behind. The blob he dove over erupted, spewing the last of itself upward in an attempt to hit Josua, but was too late.
Josua rolled to his feet smoothly and rushed Zeul as he was puking out more magma. A few surgically placed strikes at different major pressure points while dodging the magma that spewed from Zeul’s mouth, Josua dropped his opponent.
Zeul lost just like that, with all his pieces on the board. His magma blobs extinguishing and solidifying as the referee declared the winner.
Josua dialed down his headphones and slipped them down around his neck.
Hales had only just made it to the stairs when Josua ended the fight and walked to the same flight of stairs. Hales made eye contact with him, but neither Specter had a word to say.
Hales climbed the stairs faster than she would have liked to, conscious of Josua behind her.
“You’re alive!” Veron greeteed Hales first with a wink. Hales forced a smile in response, though the pain was starting to recede.
The usual banter from Magun and Dartan ensued but Hales was only curious about the duels she missed. An announcement about the end of the first round of the finals along with an updated bracket on the board gave her the answers.
And her next opponent was a classmate, Uana Elis, the Gale Aspect.
*Round 2 of the tournament*