Chapter 22 Salt vs. Dragon

“Chaos Blue!” The black and blue swirling mass floating above Genjam’s head spawned four steel spears that projected themselves at Kris when he stuck out the fingers of one hand, minus his thumb. 

“Swarth.” Kris became invincible right as the spears reached her, they passed harmlessly through her and planted themselves into the sand beyond. Genjam closed his hand into a fist and the spears rejoined the blue mass after reducing to particles first. 

Kris advanced, her long hair remained oddly still as she moved, unaffected by even the air. Genjam tried again launching spears, sending them one at a time with accurate aim. Kris made no effort to dodge, she didn’t need to.

She closed the distance and Genjam created a shield in front of himself. Her fist glided through the shield, and clocking Genjam hard. 

Genjam was a big guy, he took the blow without flinching, his counter however, never landed. Kris continued to harry him with a combination of jabs and hooks. Being unable to hit his opponent with either his Aspect nor fist visibly frustrated him.

Despite this Genjam tanked the hits and stayed level headed as he began to work out possible solutions to fighting Kris’ Swarth.

Kris proved tricky as no one yet had been able to figure out her power’s secret. Running low on time as Kris racked up the blood and bruises from him.

Genjam found the spacing he needed when a wicked drop kick sent him sprawling to the ground. He rolled back to his feet and swiftly made another O with his hand, but this time raised his arm up in the process. A shield materializing above him with the flat end angled parallel to the ground began floating upwards.

He jumped to it, grabbing around the rim and hoisting himself atop it. Ten meters above the ground stood Genjam observing, arms folded, down on Kris’ ghost.

“Banshee.” Kris gathered herself, preparing for her screech. Genjam had little to work with, any use of his Chaos Blue diminished the total supply and gathering any weapon deformed all of his creations. The result would obviously send him plummeting to the ground far below.

With that limit in place, he planned carefully his next move.

“What’s your secret?” He shouted to Kris.

Kris raised an eyebrow and wagged a finger, “No telling!” She berated.

Genjam rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “You’re no fun.” 

Kris spread her arms in mock apology.

“Come down and we can play some more!” She offered.

“I think I’ll take you up on that offer,” agree Genjam, “But first…” Genjam signaled his Chaos Blue with a single index finger and moved it in a series of circles. A spear emerged from the mass over his head and shot down towards the arena floor, before hitting the ground it changed directions and took a wide arc around Kris. It made two more rotations around her before losing momentum and falling uselessly to the ground. 

Kris’ expression changed drastically.

“You figured it out?” Her voice full of shock and disbelief.

“More or less.” Genjam replied casually.

Genjam took a deep breath, this next move would drain him physically by a lot. His fingers curved, stretched, contorted, went in every direction he could make them go. The orders for his spears were clear if not sporadic and random. The pathways were set and the twelve spears fired out of the blue cloud, reducing its size almost completely. Leaving enough for what he needed…

The spears whizzed around the arena at ground level randomly in the specific and chaotic patterns he set. Kris still remained motionless.

With his spears acting as a distraction, Genjam created another shield, using the last of his blue in the process, and signaled it to float downward. As the shield descended he stepped on it naturally and waited until he could leap the rest of the way to the ground.

Genjam landed in a squat, stood, and called back all of his spears and shields, reforming the mass. He wasted no time sending more spears back out again. Kris attempted to charge but the onslaught of projectiles made her cautious as he fired volley after volley in a wide spread, fingers stretched apart in a five.

She never had the opportunity to gather herself for her Banshee move.

One spear, blunted of course, finally found its mark. It punched into an invisible body. With her concentration broken, Kris’ Aspect deactivated. The body of Kris, her Swarth, the one that had been fighting all along disappeared. Her invisible body became physical once more as she doubled over in pain, the spear having smashed into her stomach. Genjam stayed his hand, more spears at the ready with the signal of a simple gesture.

“How did you figure it out?” Kris managed the words in a groan. 

“I had an idea but when we chatted your voice didn’t quite match up with that ghost body.” Genjam said.

“But I was right next to her!” Kris referring to her double.

“I guess I got lucky.” Genjam was being humble without sounding condescending.

“Well however you did it, you win.” Kris nodded to the referee who in turn made Genjam’s victory official.

The two Specters made off back to the bleachers chatting about their match and Aspects alike. Their easy camaraderie and nonviolent finish saved face for the military students. Genjam had a natural charisma while not being cruel or vindictive which made him especially likable by the crowd. His easy-going personality masked a brutal and calculating mind, one that was able to formulate a way of fighting an unknown ability under the duress of unrelenting attacks. The fact that he made a friend, won the fight against a match-up in his opponent’s favor, and both parties walked away without serious injuries proved his effectiveness as a fighter while displaying qualities of a natural born leader. Genjam took his spot in the bracket for the quarterfinals.

“You ready?” Dartan asked, back in the stands of the arena.

“Of course.” Magun sounded confident, but didn’t he sound excited. He didn’t relish the thought of fighting his classmate Bria, the Ribbon Aspect. Not after seeing her last match. 

“Well, I’m off.” Magun declared as he found the stairs.

“Break a leg!” Veron teased only after he was too far along his way to respond.

Bria stayed on a lower level so she reached the arena first and waited for Magun.

The majority of people watching the tournament didn’t exactly like the military students but they couldn’t deny the entertainment factor they offered. They were well trained by professionals to be the best, their Aspects developed and used in the most optimally creative ways.

The referee signaled the match.

“Ribbon.” Bria spun and immediately shed ribbons from her skin in every direction.

“Tank.” Magun stayed light on his fight, moving around the arena, buying his cannon time to grow in size.

Bria didn’t engage either, content with marking the territory as hers. The multi-colored ribbons served more purpose than simple color theory. It was a show, and not a harmless one.

More than simple cloth, the ribbons were shimmering, dizzying kaleidoscopes of light bending mirrors made of a fine silk-like material reflecting a myriad of mirages. Bria’s graceful movements blended seamlessly with her Ribbon field. The result created a mesmerizing and entrancing performance that distorted depth perception.

Bria in essence used her Aspect as an optical illusion. Had Magun not been in the same class as Bria he might have been lost by the beauty and hypnosis of it all.

He did what he knew best.

Magun hefted his cannon, aimed and fired at Bria.

The bone-shot missed.

Bria evaded the trajectory of the cannon even before Magun fired. The force of the shot rustled the ribbons on the ground and air causing them to float slowly back to the ground. They were so light that the slightest bit of wind could drag them away. 

Magun hadn’t noticed it before, but the thinness of the material played a huge roll in Bria’s overall strategy. When she danced her movements flung up previously shed ribbons back into the air giving her more presence and room to move around hidden in as well as adding to the confusion and illusory effects. Bria was always a second or two ahead of where she appeared to be.

Magun switched to a spread shot. By flexing his cannon arm he could crush the loaded ammunition and fire it off as shotgun style round. With less of a need to aim, he fired in a nondescript fashion at the flurry of ribbons. Something was bound to hit. 

If his attack did hit, Magun never knew. Bria didn’t make a sound and she didn’t slow. Bria did change strategies, however.

The ribbons shedding from her body started to shoot out further and further into the air, until they were like massive drapes falling from the sky. She was ready to close the distance.

Magun sensed this too. He kept firing at a rate that allowed his cannon to regrow steadily as he took advancing steps. 

Ribbons landed on and around Magun, timed perfectly so that hundreds fell in a group all at once. Bria made her move. Appearing from nowhere, she kicked Magun’s cannon arm, throwing off his aim and cartwheeling smoothly out of his sight. Magun turned but only saw sparkling silk. A ribbon wrapped around his neck and pulled tight.

Bria was attempting to choke Magun out. More ribbons wrapped around Magun’s cannon, yanking it out of place once more. Bria worked quickly, tying the ribbons from limb to limb, like a spider spinning its web.

Magun tried punching Bria with his normal hand but she dodged expertly, caught the hand and entangled it. Magun was slowly lost in a cocoon of surprisingly sturdy cloth. It was flexible enough that his already restricted movements couldn’t tear them apart.

Magun’s vision turned blurry from the lack of oxygen and pushed to his final resort he managed to aim his cannon straight to the ground.

With the last of his breath and energy he charged a shot that swelled and swelled until a huge bulge appeared where his bicep should be. Covered by ribbons and too busy securing Magun in his prison, Bria didn’t notice his cannon.

Magun managed a hobbled jump as he fired the oversized shot at the ground directly below him. The explosion that ensued sent him flying in the air. The ribbons either disintegrated or were blown away by the force. Bria caught the worst of the explosion as shards of bone shrapnel imbedded themselves into her legs and torso. 

Magun landed hard but rose to his feet ripping of the cloth tied around his neck, cannon arm obliterated by the explosion. Bria was on the ground unconscious a few meters away. 

Magun inhaled in relief but coughed from the soreness of his throat. The medic team raced onto the scene and checked both Specters, carrying Bria away on a stretcher.

Magun waved the medics away and returned to his seat. On the way up the stairs it was Xander who gave him a dark, deadly glare. Magun failed to pay attention and never met the exchange. 

“Well you managed to break something.” Veron commented at his destroyed arm. Magun shook his head.

“I feel bad, Bria probably hates me now.” Magun said with guilt, still rubbing the sore neck.

“Not much of a ladies man are you?” Dartan tried lightening the mood but Magun remained sullen.

“She didn’t leave you much choice.” Jid tried consoling. Magun just shrugged and didn’t say anything more and the subject was dropped.

The next battle would serve as an adequate alternative to conversation.

Arsus, a short boy wearing baggy clothes stood in a fighting stance across from another kid named Qortiko, who was dressed in brown and tan robes. Qortiko looked exotic and estranged, with hundreds of crystals adorning his body and face. He wasn’t only wearing bracelets and necklaces and rings but the crystals pierced him all over. His ears were covered in crystal piercings, his nose, eyebrows, cheeks, lips, neck and even his hands and barefeet sported piercings as well. Some dangled, some were rings, some pointed, some were round or square or triangles or any other shape imaginable. Qortiko had it all it seemed. And that was only what was visible, the rest of his body hidden under his desert style robes.

Each crystal was the same milky white color. He was average height but stood with immaculate posture and an unreadable expression. In comparison Arsus looked boring, but with boring came a semblance of normality. Qortiko came from a different world and a different life. 

“Arsus is the one who beat me, his Dragon Aspect can devour almost anything and it even hit me when in my Hunter.” Jid said to the group. Hales was surprised that she missed the fight, daydreaming during it no doubt. Being able to hit ethereal objects gave him an edge over any Specter that fought in such a way, like Lo or Jid.

“He’s also one of the best martial artists I’ve ever seen.” Jid praised, perhaps an edge of pride in his voice as not wanting to accept he lost to a weak Savant. Hales didn’t say anything, but she knew Jid kept things real. Arsus probably was as strong as Jid hyped him up to be.

She was more curious to see Qortiko in action though, his mysterious crystal adorned body fascinated and freaked her out to no end.

A wave of the referee’s hand was all the eager Arsus needed to start his Aspect.

“Dragon!” A roar resounded across the arena as a scaled and feathered Dragon soared down from the heavens above, passing through the ceiling of the mansion and arena and gliding around Arsus in an orbit. It compressed in size and was no bigger than a large lizard. The Dragon slowly took on a more astral appearance, going all but invisible with only the occasional glimpse of reality revealing its identity. It continued to soar around Arsus wherever he moved.

Arsus, in a power stance, took heavy steps forward stomping the ground and thrusting a fist at a time, exerting shouts as he did. Where his fist punched a fireball would emerge and shoot out from the Dragon’s mouth. The snarling creature would become visible for a split second. Timed with the movement of the Dragon around his body, Arsus advanced by punching with opposite hands and sending fireball after fireball directly at Qortiko. 

The robed boy simply side stepped each flaming projectile with ease, despite the velocity they traveled at and the closing distance in which Arsus fired them.

With a final fireball at point blank range, and one that Qortiko dodged again, Arsus switched to a kick that his dragon followed the path of, materializing physically along the way. The kick was high and aimed at the chest, Qortiko dropped to a low duck, the dragon whooshing over his head and hissing as it missed. It would take a second or two to circle back around to its master.

Arsus reclaimed his fighting stance, waiting for his dragon and ready for any counter attack. He fought without rush, only making the most precise moves and never lowering his guard.

The kind of fighter Qortiko could tear apart.

When he had ducked under the dragon he reached into the sleeve of one his robes and pulled out a large armband of white crystal.

“Salt.” His voice gruff and low and almost vicious sounding. He crushed the crystal armband, which was really salt, the most pure and clean salt, in his hand and tossed the grains in the air.

Before the salt fell back to the ground, before the dragon could return and before Arsus could react, Qortiko half-turned and elbowed the falling trail of salt. The salt took on the mold of his elbow and expanded outward at ten times the size of the original in an instant. The salt elbow smashed into the face of Arsus, breaking his nose and knocking him out meters from where he had been standing.

The salt sculpture remained suspended in midair until Qortiko touched it lightly, causing it to crumble back into the small grains of salt it had once been. He caught the pieces in his outstretched palm and they naturally remade themselves into the armband which he slid back under his robe sleeve around his arm.

Qortiko turned and walked away, so inexorably. So slowly.

Hales struggled to decide if he had the walk of someone always wary of his surroundings, ever at the ready, never missing a beat. Or the walk of a man who stopped, at one point in his life, enjoying the novelty of the whole affair. Bored by the human method of self-transportation evolved over millions of years.

Hales wondered about this for some time even as she dreamed of fighting him.

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