Chapter 26 The Interview

“I really surprised myself today. Making it as far as I did was not an easy accomplishment. Even though I set out to win from the start, dreaming and achieving are two very different things.”

“Would you have done anything differently?”

“Winning, I would have liked that outcome considerably more.”

“Still, you should be proud of your performance tonight.”

“I am, partially. I’m just unsatisfied with losing, it leaves a bad feeling in my stomach.”

“And why is that do you think?” 

“I keep replaying the fight in my mind. It gives me anxiety when I look back and see mistakes or missed opportunities. I think the anxiety stems from an eagerness to be thrown in a similar situation in order to test what I’ve learned, to see improvement instantly. Though in reality I know it could be a long time before another fight happens, certainly with him again. By internalizing all the failures I can avoid them in the future. This whole process makes me sick but I wouldn’t be as strong without it.”

“Very interesting. Do you think you could run through the fight for us from your perspective?”

“Sure. My opponent was the mysterious Salt specter. He doesn’t come from anywhere nearby and I’m not even sure how he found out about this tournament from someplace so remote. But we started the match by activating our Aspects, as usual. With my own Solar Aspect I can quite literally draw out any variety of planets, stars and asteroids from an inner galaxy I only assume is tied to my mind or spirit or maybe both.”

“You can see this inner galaxy?”

“Oh yes, it’s not unlike using imagination only it’s more vivid, more real. Like I’m a formless observer that can instantly travel to any part of my galaxy. I select whatever I want to use and draw them out. They are tiny, barely visible but I can grow their size to up to a few meters long.”

“This must require immense concentration, to focus on your enemies and peer inside your galaxy at the same time.”

“Yes and no. It does require a lot of concentration and energy, especially to grow a whole solar system simultaneously, but looking into my galaxy to decide my choice of planets is second nature. Think of it like breathing, it’s something you do unconsciously all the time yet you can focus the breath how you want. Consider my galaxy as an extra sense or brain, a natural extension of myself that is inside of me and functions as any other body part would.”

“I see, there must be dozens of possibilities within your Aspect that you can take advantage of.”

“Exactly. It is versatile and plays into my own fighting style which I think of as being very angular.”

“Angular?”

“Yes. The way I break it down in my head when planning a strategy is to use the most direct method of attack that isn’t straightforward. In other words, I make a point to attack in directions that are unpredictable without wasting time. That’s how I’ve come to categorize the method to myself.”

“That is a fascinating look inside the thought process of one of this generation’s most adept Specters.”

“So I activated my Aspect and drew out ten stars. These I grew each to a meter wide and set their gravitational centers to the middle of the arena, between myself and Qortiko. I threw them in different directions and let them orbit in a large path around the arena. I wanted them as moving obstacles to clutter the battlefield, put out some pressure and set up defenses. I have the process down pretty efficiently, maybe ten to twenty seconds to set something like that up. Qortiko acts fast and I knew I would only have enough time for one group of stars so I figured an early attack would be a waste on someone of his caliber.”

“How important is energy conservation in a given Specter fight?”

“The smallest waste could cost you big time. Everyone has their physical endurance and mental stamina that you build up with training and time, right? With Aspects it is like a third category of resources, you might call it energy, that must be exercised vigorously in order to sustain extended use. If you grow a new arm today it would take months and years of nurture to even bring it near the same level of strength as your other limbs. Aspects are like that concept in a lot of ways. There is a catch though, using powers still drains you physically and mentally.”

“Thank you for explaining.”

“Of course. In this fight doing nothing at the beginning would cost me more than a useless preemptive attack. This was the most logical course of action, setting up a spinning system of stars in the neutral area. Control of the terrain is extremely valuable in any fight. Unfortunately for me, Qortiko never appeared bothered by my starfield. He made his way through it and stood in the center. I suppose he knew where the gravitational axis was set which meant he knew the safest place to stand.”

“If the center is where the stars are set to orbit than how is it the safest spot?”

“That’s the reason! The stars would orbit that point, not cross it. They fly using their momentum to swing in a circular path around the center. An interesting note to make is how much learning is involved in the Specter world. Everyone is exploring their own abilities and tactics while also memorizing everyone else’s. It keeps you from becoming stagnant, moves from the beginning of the tournament simply don’t work against the later opponents, not without adding a clever nuance at least.”

“How much of that has to do with more skilled Specters simply being better?”

“That’s part of being more skilled, know your enemy. I was in range of Qortiko’s Salt pillars and my first move had already been countered. He attacked with salt fists and I defended with blazing suns. The interaction between salt and fire is pretty simple. Salt doesn’t burn, not like wood does. It really only melts at high temperatures and enough salt can easily smother out a flame. My suns aren’t the real thing. Their much too small, a real star can measure millions of kilometers in diameter and the smallest being closer to twenty kilometers. Mine are obviously nowhere near even the smallest ones. The result is substantially less heat, far too little to melt the massive salt sculptures Qortiko fights with.”

“Did you know this chemical relationship going into that match?”

“I did, but I had a theory that my stars could outplay his salt pillars at their end range. I knew they would destroy my stars at closer ranges when they first expand. But at the peak of their extension I thought I could stop them at least a couple meters short. I underestimated the solidity of his pillars, there was no give in them. I wasted more energy failing for the second time.”

“A battle of attrition.”

“That’s a good way to put it. Qortiko has a limited supply of salt and I have an unlimited supply of ammunition but only so much stamina. Growing stars uses the most energy out of all my attacks and at this point in the night my reserves were all but exhausted. My theory going into the fight was that Qortiko would be able to use my destroyed planets and asteroids by withdrawing the salt that is naturally in them. I didn’t want to resupply him so I stuck with stars. So Qortiko’s in the middle and I’m in his range, he punches salt pillars and I defend with stars. My stars get destroyed but his sculptures still suffer damage from the bursting stars. All in all he wins that trade. Qortiko runs along one of his sculptures towards me and launches another fist. Now I had backed off at this point but not far enough to be completely safe. One of my orbiting stars from earlier saved me by almost hitting Qortiko, since he had left his safe zone in the middle of the arena. It was enough to throw his aim off. But I switched tactics, instead of making great big stars I kept them marble-sized and spun them rapidly.”

“Now we have seen you do this before but how exactly does this spinning work?”

“Good question. When I first draw out a star or planet I can increase its size, rotate it, throw it in a direction and set its gravitational fix. When rotating I can speed them up or slow them down, there are many different uses for really slow and really fast spinning stars. I can only do this while the objects are under my direct control. And like anything else, it’s fatiguing after extended use.”

“So when you first draw out a star or planets or whatever celestial body of your choosing, it falls under your mancer abilities? As in you can control the size and speed and then once you set their gravity or throw them you can no longer influence the objects.”

“Precisely, that’s the simplest explanation. With tiny stars rotating at breakneck speeds I can launch them fast enough to pierce through the salt. It was my plan at that point to deal direct damage to Qortiko rather than battling his pillars head-on, a fight I knew I couldn’t win at that point. It worked. The mini stars just melted through the salt satisfyingly but they didn’t have enough power to stop Qortiko. He could dish out far more of his power than I could of mine, added to that his carried a lot more impact. It wasn’t a good matchup for me at this stage of the tournament, carrying all those injuries I received just getting to the finals. I think his Aspect was a natural counter to my Solar, probably to a lot Specters.”

“The fight ended shortly after that.”

“The fight itself was short. It must not have been a very entertaining last round, each move held so much consequence that you’d have to watch replays and study all the details of Qortiko and myself, our fighting methods and the intricacies of our powers. But maybe I’m overthinking things. Bottom line is, his next move won the fight. He punched downward from his position on his other pillar, no stray stars to save me this time. I sidestepped it, narrowly dodging the salt fist. Another one came a split second after, how he was so fast is beyond my comprehension. It came at an angle and blocked my escape. I was pinned between the two pillars and he stood several meters in front of me.”

“Was there anything you could have done from that point on?”

“Of course, there is always a way out. However, hindsight is twenty-twenty and I did the only thing I could think of. Qortiko had to crush a bracelet and pinned by his salt I threw out every star that I physically could. I probably pulled out a good fifty stars. With a shout of adrenaline I threw the entire mass of stars at Qortiko. For his part he stood his ground and met my attack with his own double palm strike. The cascading salt became a huge sculpture of his palms joined at the wrist with fingers pointing outward. The collision between my stars and his salt palm created a spray of flames, chunks of crystallized salt and thick smoke. Heartbeats passed excruciatingly slow as we waited in anticipation for the air to clear and the dust to settle. What I saw from my position on the ground was the silhouette of a robed man who materialized before my eyes. He was covered in burns and those robes were torn and singed all over. But in the end he stood and I didn’t.”

“Thank you, Ms. Ailor. It was quite the night with its fair share of upsets and explosions. This tournament will go down in the history books as having some of the most unpredictable and over the top duels we’ve ever seen. Thank you for tuning into this exclusive interview with the Solar Aspect herself who placed second in this year’s tournament.”

Hales sighed and shut off the lights to the bathroom, her interviewer disappearing with the dark. She gingerly prodded her ribs that were wrapped with bandages. At least three broken ribs and bruises everywhere, cuts all up and down her arms and legs and a host of other random injuries covering almost every square centimeter of her body it felt. Hales reached her bed at long last and tucked herself under three blankets. Light shined through the windows, sunrise already. Hales drifted off at some point and slept a dreamless sleep.

The end of arc 2: The Tournament

1 Comment

  1. The holidays and end of semester threw off my schedule so thank you for bearing with me. End of arc two means the start of the next arc is midnight Saturday. I’m curious to here feedback, thoughts or criticisms on the story so far. This is really just the beginning as the first two arcs were establishing more of the power system, the general mood and feel of the world. Arc 3 has more world building and plot development as Villain Throne progresses onward.

    This is my first writing project of this scale and it is my aim to continuously hone my writing skills and grow as an author. Feel free to ask any questions in the comment section and tell your friends if you think they’d be interested! I definitely want to build a close-knit following and if anyone is feeling rather generous I have a Patreon with some cool things planned, most notably the opportunity to vote on polls for bonus chapters following specific events or characters more in depth as well as submissions where patrons create their own characters with Aspects that can make it into the story.

    Anyways the main point is thanks for reading and I hope to connect with you all, see you Saturday.

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