“Never, in a fight, underestimate your environment. The location and circumstance of the chosen grounds can vastly influence the flow of a battle. Be one with the land.”
–The Dream and Dreamer authored by Talis Ranis.
It was against Klyle.
Professor Vandle had flipped the coin in front of everyone. Heads for Vandle, tails for Klyle. Vandle gave it one of those really crisp flips, the coin spinning so fast that it looked like a ball. The light glinted off the rotating metal and the air whizzed where the coin passed through.
Klyle stepped up into the clearing, going through a light exercise routine to warm up. Professor Vandle and the rest of the class not in the first group found a safe place to observe the fight.
Hales turned to her team.
“Two Augurs, two Mancers, and a Coder versus a Master Augur. Everyone knows the plan?”
“I’m all set.” Magun hefted his cannon. It was the largest Hales had ever seen. Magun had been growing his weapon for an hour before the fight. The cannon, as large as a tree trunk now, had large wire-like veins running from his chest, feeding into the area where his bicep should be. The excess growth apparently spreads to his chest, allowing for a greater store of ammunition.
“Ready to go.” Dartan added.
“Same here.” Meanu gave her ready up.
There came a high pitched chattering sound. It was Abajem, fully transformed. Her Metamorphose Aspect took hours to prepare, she had spent the entire morning in her cocoon. She had morphed with a green praying mantis. She was now over twice her original height, her four insect legs extending passed her own feet, which dangled in the air. Her arms also hung useless by her side. The front legs of the mantis, the ones that stuck out like arms in a prayer position, were covered with razors and spikes. Her body was covered in a hardened exoskeleton, the body of the girl lined up with the thorax from the anatomy of a mantis. Her head was partially covered by the head of the mantis, her mouth shut tight by the mandibles and chewing appendages of the insect. The eyes remained her own, though bug-like already, they fit perhaps better than they should have. A pair of antennae and wings completed her transformation.
It was intimidating and Hales found she couldn’t look directly at Abajem when she was in her Aspect. She felt like food, the way Abajem’s blank stare saw her.
“Let’s go.” Hales decided.
The five Specters spread out, Magun and Abajem taking the front, Dartan and Hales in the back, and Meanu in the middle.
“Ready lads?” Klyle asked, his voice more like a roar and his features more beastlike than before. Hales nodded and the first match in the final week of the Camp of Awakening was underway.
“Solar!” Hales activated her Aspect, she wanted to wait until the fight began in order to save as much energy as possible. They had but one chance to prove themselves to Master Klyle. Two solar systems streamed from her eyes, growing in size, one over each index finger. They began to rotate, turning into her solar discs. Klyle charged forward.
“Magun, cover Abajem!” Hales ordered. Abajem flew half the distance to Klyle, landing in his path, but standing completely still.
Magun ran closer and aimed, waiting for an opportunity to fire from his position behind Abajem.
“Meanu and Dartan, start setting up!” Hales said before following after Magun. She stepped and flicked her wrists, sending a disc left and right, the arc curving around to hit Klyle.
Klyle and Abajem met. Abajem’s front mantis legs flashed forward, skewering each of Klyle’s shoulders. They went deep and the serrated blades locked them in place. Abajem then leapt up, propelling herself over Klyle. She hung directly above him upside down, her arms supporting her weight. Magun relentlessly fired shots, at the same time the two solar discs collided into Klyle. The dust took a minute to clear. Abajem removed her legs from Klyle, drawing blood and landing on his far side.
Klyle crushed one of Magun’s cannonballs in his massive hand, the implication clear. That and the lack of burn marks or even singed hair made it obvious, Klyle was untouched, save for Abajem’s attack. However the bleeding from that already stopped.
Magun and Hales wasted no time preparing their next volley. Klyle didn’t even give them that moment.
He let out a deafening shout. The sound waves that emanated from the source of the lion’s roar propelled outward, crashing into Hales and Magun. The force was strong enough that it knocked Hales to the ground. Magun was able to keep his footing but was severely stunned and disoriented.
Klyle dropped to all fours, claws growing out of his fingers, and rushed Magun. Magun’s cannon fired off but was too high. Klyle tackled Magun to the ground raking his claw across his chest, blood spraying into the air. Abajem flew in from behind, her razor legs ready to spring. Klyle could smell the mantis attacking from his flank. He turned and swiped a claw. Abajem reacted fast enough to change course. Her four legs caught her landing easily. She pounced on Klyle and the two engaged in bloody close combat, two Specters that were crossing the boundaries between human and creature.
Hales found her footing and rushed over to Meanu and Dartan.
“We don’t have a lot of time, you ready?” Hales asked hurriedly.
“It’s all set up, but will it work?” Meanu asked, fearfully. She had seen what Klyle could do. It was not pretty.
“No idea.” Hales stated plainly. Probably not if she was being honest with herself. When she first composed this plan it had seemed like it would be effective against Klyle, but he was extremely versatile, way more than she had anticipated. He was durable, but just hitting him was proving difficult enough. This next move would probably be their last, judging Klyle’s ability to finish off opponents.
Meanu had used her Candle Aspect to place close to a hundred tiny candle flames in midair, creating a dotted wall. Her Candle flames didn’t burn out, but they also didn’t expand or spread anywhere. They were little green flames the size a candle would give off. Meanu had spent the week prior training with Professor Vandle learning sleight of hand, something he was apparently an expert in. Meanu’s Aspect benefited from the deadly skill of fast hand work. She was about to show it.
The biggest drawback was once she placed a flame she couldn’t move it. But that’s what Dartan was there for. Being the only Coder in the entire class made him a unique asset. Especially considering his specific Aspect.
“Rule.” Dartan said coldly His eyes turned glossy, reflecting only hundreds out of the millions of numbers he was seeing and processing all at once. His Aspect converted every single thing into an equation, with complex numbers and variables. He had to work them out in order to use his Rule.
Dartan started writing in the air with his right index finger, as if he were writing on an invisible chalkboard. Hales knew he had roughly thirty seconds to write his Rule before it either took effect or cancelled completely if it was unfinished. She also knew, from his explanation, that each time the codes changed altogether and he had to reevaluate how to solve and rewrite them. Hales could barely imagine the brainpower it took to do that. She also knew he could get debilitating migraines if he used it too many times. The effects were worth it though.
Dartan was finishing his Rule when Abajem was discarded. She had lost both front legs and another hind leg. Her wings were torn off and she was on the ground with brutal claw marks and fist-sized holes in her exoskeleton. Klyle sized fist-sized holes, so they were big. Abajem and Magun were out cold.
“All you Dartan, I’ll hold him off for as long as I can.” Hales said, unleashing a never ending barrage of planets and stars. Klyle easily evaded and advanced unharmed. Hales noticed a few more slash and stab wounds from Abajem but nothing serious and nothing that was still bleeding.
Just before Klyle hit Hales, Dartan shouted.
“Got it!” The flames from Meanu’s Candle suddenly grew in size by ten times. and they all surged forth in the same wall formation. It hit Klyle hard with Hales barely outside the radius. The flames never burned anything outside their range, not even giving off heat. Inside the flame was a completely different story. They burned hot and fast. Klyle felt them with an increased intensity as they were torch flames now, rather than candle flames.
Dartan had reworked Meanu’s Aspect and launched it in a straight line forward.
The green flames burned holes into Klyle, passing right through his body. He had jumped out of the way only after sustaining heavy damage.
It worked! But how is Klyle still moving? There are holes in his legs, arms and chest!
Hales watched as Klyle landed and pounced instantly on Dartan and Meanu. They didn’t last two seconds. Hales took a deep inhale.
It’s just me and Master Klyle. Great. In what universe am I supposed to win this?
Hales suddenly smirked, uncharacteristically.
In my universe of course.
Hales drew out a solar disc and sped it faster than she ever had before. Her hair was billowing from the wind it produced and the spinning star cast a haunting light on her. She almost lost control of the disc but managed to keep a handle on it. Klyle was closing in.
Hales stepped, spun, and threw her arm, obtaining as much momentum on the solar disc as physically possible. She tethered the gravity to Klyle’s head but the trajectory of the disc had it soaring far passed him. Klyle staggered, the gravitational force from the rapidly spinning disc proved strong enough for him to lose his footing for a step as his head was violently pulled around. Hales sprinted to the side, she barely had seconds to set up her impromptu plan.
Klyle wrested from the pull and turned around, only to see Hales had disappeared. She wasn’t actually gone he knew, he could smell her somewhere in the general direction in front of him. The sun, hanging at some sweet spot in the sky, was blinding him.
The sun spontaneously grew closer and closer. Klyle realized his mistake a half second too late.
Hales had replicated the sun, only it was in front of her, but she had the size right, creating an optical illusion where she seemingly disappeared behind the sun, but only from a direct viewpoint, Klyle’s viewpoint.
Klyle punched threw the sun, causing it to implode. He leapt through it, but slipping on his landing as a rockslide of asteroids rolled on the ground below him like, a spill of marbles. Klyle rotated his body, catching himself with an arm, going into a handstand and leaping back to his feet. Before fully recovering he met another two suns that blasted into him. Klyle grunted for the first time, but finished his sprint to Hales. The constant lights from exploding suns finally stopped, allowing his vision to readjust.
He found her on a rock, her arms supporting her weight behind her. She was pale and flushed, struggling to catch her breath. Klyle relaxed and smiled.
“You put up a good fight, Hales.” Klyle said in a low voice. Hales gave a half nod, her world spinning from fatigue.
She found her breath after a few minutes, “Are you okay?”
“These wounds? I’ll heal before the end of the day.” Klyle explained.
The other four students stirred and mosied over to Hales and Klyle.
“I liked your attack, Dartan and Meanu, it showed creativity and teamwork.” Klyle said.
“All Hales’ idea.” Dartan dodged the complement and Meanu nodded. Abajem shed her mantis, her skin sticky and gooey. Hales looked at her friend, she had stood toe to toe with Master Klyle in close combat for more than a minute. Abajem gave Hales a wink.
“So we lost?” Magun asked the group as Professor Vandle joined them to stitch his chest wounds.
“Yeah.” Hales said plainly.
“I’m getting old.” Klyle explained. “Was a time I could have got out without a single scratch.”
“I for one am glad you’re old.” Dartan said, his mood reverting to his usual good humor. The intensity of the camp, and specifically the last week preparing for their final challenge was wearing off and the relief in him was total.
Klyle laughed and patted him on the back, harder than necessary, just to mess with the kid.
He winced and rubbed his shoulder.
The day went on and the next group prepared for their fight. Hales’ group was mending their wounds and unwinding. For them the camp was essentially over, all that was left was to see how their classmates performed.
“We really didn’t stand a chance against him.” Hales said out of nowhere to her teammates.
“Yeah I got that impression too,” agreed Magun.
“If it had been a real fight, one which Klyle didn’t have to hold back from killing us, we wouldn’t have touched a single hair.” Dartan adding his two cents.
“Fur. A single fur.” Abajem corrected him. Dartan chuckled.
“It goes to show how much room we have to grow. We just started out but we had the privilege of seeing one of the greats in action. It gets me pumped really. What else can I do with my Tank, how far can I take it?” Magun said looking at his right arm, which was back to normal.
Hales thought about that. What would being a Master Specter be like with her Solar? Her imagination took over her thoughts. She fell asleep not long after, her body worn and torn. She dreamt of stars and space.
The next day found Hales on a log with her now retired team. The second group was getting ready for their fight, the coin had yet to be flipped. The other three teams were not present, electing to train instead. They had seen what they needed to, equipped now with a better idea of what they faced.
Hales knew the Aspects of Uana, Hido and Jillian. None of them screamed powerhouse in Hales’ mind. Their abilities were good, especially when working together, but would it be enough if they fought Klyle? Hijo and Bregan were two factors she wasn’t sure about.
Professor Vandle flipped the coin. He declared it landed with the tails side face up. Klyle once again went through his exercise routine, stretching and flexing, warming the muscles. He didn’t show any signs of the wounds from yesterday. Already at full strength.
“How do you think this will go?” Dartan asked Hales.
“The key to their strategy is going to be Hido, her Guardian Aspect will give them more durability. And who knows what Hijo and Bregan can do.” Hales gave her thoughts.
“I feel like they lack firepower.” Magun added in.
“I saw Hijo in training once a few days ago, he’s pretty scary.” Meanu said from the edge of the log.
“What’s his power?” Hales asked.
“I don’t know what it’s called but he was like a werewolf of some kind, that’s what it reminded me of.” Meanu said, embarrassed.
“Might be able to stand against Klyle for a minute.” Magun said rubbing his chin in thought.
Before anyone could speak again, Klyle’s voice boomed, asking for the ready up.
Uana nodded. The second fight began.
“Gale!” Uana shouted, the first to activate her Aspect. She looked up to the sky with lips pursed. She was exhaling fully in a narrow and controlled breath. Hales could visibly see the air drop in temperature as her power immediately took effect.
Hijo met Klyle’s charge, a reckless look in his eyes. Jillian was right behind him, the girl was extremely fit and a capable fighter. The pair fought smart and efficient. Keeping a good defense. It seemed to Hales that they could withstand Klyle’s hits. Hales knew Jillian’s Alacrity Aspect essentially gave her an unlimited supply of energy and adrenaline, which was different from an infinite usage. Jillian’s body just never ran out, not that she could use more, she could simply last for hours beyond what would be possible for the average human, or Specter for that matter.
If Meanu was right, than Hijo also had an Aspect that would keep him in the fight as he transformed. Even with their Aspects in mind, they shouldn’t be able to keep up with Klyle.
Klyle was sending powerful enough punches to fell a tree. Hales had seen it before.
Maybe they are just that tough?
“Look at Hido.” Dartan pointed out.
Hid had her hands spread, palms open, one pointed to Jillian and the other to Hijo. She was using her Guardian Aspect, that much was clear.
“I didn’t know she could use her power like that, and on two people?” Hales said in disbelief.
Hido’s Guardian allowed her to transfer damage to herself, she could apparently use Guardian on multiple people. How she was still alive was beyond Hales. She was suffering however.
Uana’s blizzard raged. It wasn’t the typical snow storm blizzard, this one had deadly icicles shoot and dash from all around. Hales compared it in her mind to a volley of arrows, with Uana as the commander.
Uana breathed more and more, adding to her Gale.
“Uana, I need ice.” Bregan called to her. Uana breathed onto his outstretched hand, ice forming over it immediately. Bregan dug up a clump of dirt and squeezed it in his hand.
“Is it enough?” Uana asked, taking a deep breath.
“Yeah, it will be.” Bregan said. “Synthesis!” He activated his Aspect, although nothing visible happened from what Hales could see.
Klyle threw Jillian a dozen meters, turned and sent a savage claw sweep across Hijo’s transforming head. Hijo crumpled, Jillian staggered, and Hido fell to her knees, all at the same time.
“Hido’s at her limit.” Magun said.
Klyle roared in the direction of the approaching blizzard, the force dispersing the storm. Uana continued to feed the storm with her breath. They were engaged in a lung capacity match.
The blizzard was falling apart, Klyle was winning. Uana was becoming lightheaded. Bregan stepped up, a flow of sludge pouring from his hands. The wrists were pressed together and his hands were open. Icy, muddy sludge avalanched toward Klyle. Klyle stopped roaring and skirted the incoming deluge, but Bregan just pointed anywhere Klyle went. The battlefield rapidly converted into what resembled a natural disaster. The temperature dropped considerably more. Hales shivered.
“Of course Klyle has all that fur he isn’t going to be bothered by the snow.” Dartan said frustrated for his classmates.
Klyle pounced on Uana, she blew her icy breath his way. Mane covered in frozen crystals and mouth iced over, the Lion still reached Uana and pinned her down hard. She was out of the fight.
Klyle’s nose was having trouble sniffing with the ice covering it. He didn’t smell Hijo sprint behind him.
Hijo jumped and sent a kick with his hoof to the back of Klyle’s neck. Klyle’s head whipped forward. At the same time Bregan switched his firing mode. Now his hands were together, index and middle fingers pointing out, the rest folded together. It was in a gun-like formation. The sludge this time came out in a narrow hose, more concentrated and deadly. Ripping and cutting into flesh.
“He’s like a sorcerer.” Dartan said impressed.
Klyle turned on Hijo, muscling through Bregan’s attack, giving him his back.
Hijo growled. Klyle returned the growl, only far more ferocious. Hijo had a twisted grin on his wolf-esque head. Klyle’s slash from earlier had healed over.
“The deadliest carnivore!” Hijo said in a language completely foreign from his own.
“You’ve got a long way to go, pup.” Klyle said in a growl, using the same language as that of the beast. To everyone in the area, their brief conversation sounded like odd growls.
Hijo the Wild charged. Klyle squared up, and lunged off his foot, throwing a rocket punch. Hijo took the blow in the chest, and was subsequently launched a good fifty meters. Hijo did not get up this time.
Klyle shook off the sludge and running on all fours, rushed Bregan through the treacherous terrain. Bregan stood his ground and stopped firing. He waited for the last possible moment.
“Now Hido!” Hido rolled up from her spot on the ground, where she was staying out of Klyle’s way. She pointed a palm at Bregan, barely in time to absorb Klyle’s punch.
Hido was knocked unconscious for real this time from the transferred hit.
Unaffected by Klyles punch, and with the Lion’s fist still on his chest, Bregan fell to one knee, his palm striking the ground and pressing hard.
A geyser of sludge erupted in front of him, right where Klyle was standing. Klyle was launched into the air dozens of meters. He was flung like a rag doll but reoriented himself in midair.
He landed on his feet, one arm supporting his fall. Bregan didn’t last much longer from that point. He fired off one more shot of sludge before Klyle dispatched him.
Another victory for Klyle.
Klyle gathered Uana’s team together on the far side, away from the cold and applying first aid to those who needed it. Hales decided to send a few stars out to melt the sludge. She couldn’t hear what Klyle was saying but it was obviously about the match.
“That was a good one.” Magun said excited. He loved action.
“Our class is scary.” Meanu stated.
“Whose team do you think did better, ours or theirs?” Dartan posed the question.
“I feel as if we did more significant damage, but they worked better as a team and controlled most of the fight.” Magun spoke truthfully. Not that either team came close to actually winning against the Master. It was fun for the students to break down fights and analyze the pros and cons.
The second fight was over, and in twenty-four hours the next group would have their turn. The hours passed by excruciatingly slow for Hales, who couldn’t wait to see more powers at work.
The next day did come, and Hales once again sat on the log.
Jonatan, Garriot, Benhan, Veron, and Emilo stood waiting for their coin flip. The result this time, was heads. It was Professor Vandle’s turn to fight five new Specters.
The group was about to learn why fighting Master Klyle was the easier opponent to face between the two in this exercise.
Klyle went easy. Vandle did not.