Chapter 23 Hales Vs. Uana

“Karma.” Xander’s eyes snapped open, gold irises gleaming. He sprinted at his opponent, covering ground at an impossible rate just in time to slap the water out of Bregan’s hands right as he tried activating his Aspect. 

“Sythn-” Water spilt from his palm and on his expression was a mask of shock from the surprise at Xander’s timing. Bregan worked the numbers in his head enough to know that he should’ve had time to spare when activating his Aspect before an opponent could reach him. Xander’s Karma apparently thought otherwise. Xander followed his slap with a hard punch to Bregan’s stomach and a cross that smashed into his jaw. Bregan raised his arms in defense but Xander kicked low, catching Bregan in the hip, staggering him. Bregan, knowing he was severely outmatched by his classmate in hand to hand combat, decided to go on the offensive in desperation. 

None of his jabs connected and Xander sent brutal counters with every one of Bregan’s misses. Bregan licked his bleeding lips and attempted to back off and give himself space. He needed his Aspect but had no opportunity to activate it. Xander continued his relentless combination and just when Bregan couldn’t take any more hits, Xander’s eyes changed to an unnatural blue. Bregan threw out a last-chance fist aimed at Xander’s torso. Xander sidestepped, only he actually tripped forward straight into Bregan’s punch. He clocked Xander in the throat by accident. Xander doubled over coughing and choking.

Bregan leapt on the chance to tackle Xander, pinning him to the ground. Xander surrendered when he could speak again. He knew he needed a fast match because of his weaning Karma but Bregan was tough enough to withstand Xander’s onslaught. With bad Karma, winning was nearly impossible. Xander fisted the sand in frustration. 

Bregan advanced to the quarterfinals. Xander did not.

*****

Hales took three deep breaths before forcing her worn legs to lift her off the bleacher seats. Her body argued its resentment at the movement. She felt like what happens when a bus collides with an unsuspecting pedestrian. The walk down the stairs was painstaking at best. Hales could only imagine how much worse she’d feel without Veron’s Bloom Jinx healing her. 

“Gotta find a lower seat next time.” She griped to herself on the stairs.

Hales took another deep breath upon arriving at the starting place in the arena. Looking at Uana she could see how much the fair girl had changed physically because of her Aspect. Ice blue lips, skin that sparkled with tiny snowflakes when caught in the light, hair the color of pale turquoise that was now tied up in a fancy bun. She was only slightly above average height but her faded blue jeans and long legs made her appear even taller. That and her haughty personality only accentuated her angular facial features and high, defined cheekbones. Finishing off her aesthetic was a winter coat with fur lining the hood and dangling ice colored earrings. Her fingers were beginning to turn a light blue as well. Uana was always striking in a high fashion beauty sort of way but was now what Hales could only describe as surreal. A similar transformation had been taking place with their other classmate Winnow, though her changes were more biologically internal. The two Aspects were strikingly similar, Gale and Ash, both based on breath and both evoking some sort of change to the user the more they developed their power. 

Hales didn’t hear the referee begin the fight, instead it was Uana’s calling that alerted her.

“Gale!” Uana’s voice strong and high-pitched. She sighed forcefully, expelling freezing cold wind. The temperature started to drop instantly and snow flurried in Hales’ direction. The flurries continued to grow in size as Uana breathed her storm to life. Hales thought it silly to see snow and sand together. The contrast made her move her head in a disapproving shake.

At first she welcomed the snow at it cooled her angry wounds. It wasn’t until the freeze bit her bones that her exhaustion wore off. And not until the adrenaline kicked in that she finally spurred to action.

“Solar.” Hales took in the situation. Uana had established her element obtaining control over the battlefield with her blizzard. Icy chunks were also propelled from somewhere inside the snowstorm towards Hales’ side of the arena. She was going to fight an uphill battle, with no one to blame but herself for her stasis. 

Hales decided to fight Uana at her own game. She created half a hundred fist sized asteroids and launched them all forward with gravitational centers fixed on herself. She estimated a quarter of a minute before they came zooming back at her, taking the intense blizzard winds into account. 

The storm made it impossible to see further than a handful of meters ahead. Uana was safe inside her blizzard as she began her icicle attack. Hales had to brave the storm despite the ice launching at her.

One chunk of ice flew far to the side, missing her by a longshot. The miss gave all the information Hales needed. Uana couldn’t see through the storm either. She undoubtedly expected Hales to use stars which would easily reveal her position.

“Give me some credit, I’m not that stupid!” Hales said internally. Hales took slow steps, reassuring her balance and keeping her timing how she planned. The blizzard was deadly with ice and hail and freezing temperatures, Hales raised an arm to shield her eyes effectively sacrificing it for the sake of her vision. An icicle to the eye could blind her for life. The skin of her arm was torn up by the ice and freezer burn all but paralyzed the limb. A large chunk of ice impaled her leg before falling to the ground. 

Hales grunted but forged on through the blizzard nonetheless. At her correct count the asteroids came streaming toward her from in front. She crouched in time and they flew passed her. Her only fear was if she misjudged or mistimed anything. 

Hales stood up and sprinted through the storm as fast as she could, hail and ice cutting her cheek along the way. Finally Hales and Uana spotted each other. Uana inhaled enough to puff up her chest, held the breath for a count of five then released a sub-zero torrent of wind. The cold threatened to freeze Hales where she stood, yet she didn’t stop her advance until only a couple arms lengths away from Uana. The Gale Specter was breathing heavily, worn out by the heavy use of her power. Her panting only added to the cold and continued to feed the raging blizzard that spread to the entire arena and even the bleachers around it.

Hales shivered and chattered her teeth uncontrollably as she stood still in front of Uana nursing her damaged arm. Uana hesitated, neither attack nor moving. She carefully watched Hales as she slowly froze. Uana breathed into the top part of her fist where the index finger curls inside the thumb. When she removed her fist an icicle had formed inside her palm and this she kept poised at Hales.

Her plan took a few seconds longer than expected, the windy snowstorm not helping, but the asteroids Hales had sent were on their return orbit controlled by a force so primordial that even the blizzard was subject to its power and influence. A force all things must abide by.

The asteroids that wrapped behind Hales swung back in her direction in a marginally wider orbit, their trajectory boosted by the wind and their own momentum slingshotting them around. Hales had predicted correctly how gravity would affect the asteroid volley. 

The Solar Specter didn’t need to duck out of the way this time. Her asteroids, in an attempt to reach their axis which was Hales, shot around her smashing into Uana in a barrage of dense space rocks hardened further by the freezing cold. Hales noticed at least twenty of her fifty asteroids had perished in the snowstorm, colliding with equal sized hail and icicles no doubt. 

Uana took heavy hits and failed to recover in time to defend Hales’ next attack. A single finger with a tiny pebble of a star floating over it poked Uana’s cheek. The miniature explosion was still powerful and Uana’s head whipped back as if she had been punched. 

Uana recovered fast and pursed her icy lips to exhale a tight forceful geyser of air point blank at Hales. 

In one fluid motion Hales managed to turn with the wind that nearly blew her away and rotate in a full circle while she grabbed at her eye with all five fingers from her good arm as if she were pulling out a loose hair. Instead of a hair she drew out five more tiny suns, one that floated above each finger. Once facing forward again, Hales hit Uana in the chest with her five finger sun punch. The explosions accompanied the bursting stars made the hit far more powerful than any punch Hales could have delivered normally. Uana fell to the ground and killed the fire starting on her coat with her icy breath. 

When Uana made to stand a burning inferno blinded her from a meter above. The heat was intense. 

“Surrender.” Hales threatened. Uana responded with a slow sigh. The sun began to dissipate from the cold, not the reaction Hales expected. She assumed freezing a star would trigger it to become unstable and explode. Perhaps Uana’s slow freezing circumvented this problem. Either way the star dissolved out of existence, an amazing sight to see, and Hales’ backup planet that hovered above that star froze solid from Uana’s Gale and fell right on top of the girl.

Uana stifled any pained sound but she did declare her surrender in a way that almost sounded she was bored of the fight rather than admitting defeat. Hales couldn’t blame the tone of voice, she looked way worse than Uana did in the aftermath.

Uana’s expression remained stoic and proud as she gazed a chilling stare at Hales’ own galaxy eyes. Uana turned away first and walked regally and arrogantly back to her seat. Hales was sluggish in her own movements, cold slowing her blood. She declined the offer for first aid.

Hales wasn’t about to look weak in front of the crowd or Uana, not after winning. 

Hales sat down on the first row bleachers closest to her. They were all mostly empty, the majority of people electing to sit away from where stray powers could likely harm them. 

Hales didn’t care at this point. She could do another fight but any more stairs and she would go crazy.

Mathis approached. “I might go crazy anyways.” Hales thought.

“Miss Ailor.” He greeted formally. Hales gave an annoyed face, her mood changed with the breeze. Mathis stayed composed and cleared his throat.

“Again, I will keep this brief but it is important as it pertains to your future.” He paused for a response that Hales never gave. 

Mathis continued, “The gentleman Rabio wishes to extend a most generous invitation to you for a permanent line of work.”

“What’s the job?” Hales eyed the arena as she spoke, it had been almost cleared of ice. 

“I believe it will be bodyguard duty, the gentleman Rabio is gathering a collection of soldiers and specters alike as insurance should anything… bad happen to Garghent in the coming months.” 

“If I say no?” Hales countered.

“Then you simply walk away, Miss Ailor. You’re meeting will be a few nights from today so you have time to think on the matter.”

Hales assumed Mathis had been instructed to keep things purposefully vague. Rabio offered work and information, but at what price? She really did not trust anyone in the mansion above.

“I’ll think about it.” Hales said after a moment’s thought.

“Very good I shall find you after the conclusion of the tournament.” With that Mathis stalked away without another word.

“Doesn’t mean he won’t return before the end of the tournament too.” Hales thought vexed. “Speaking of which, only three fights left. Assuming I win the next ones that is.”

*****

Garriot cursed multiple times when Luri stepped in the arena because by his side was another Specter. Under normal circumstances Garriot wouldn’t have a problem fighting two opponents at once, he had his Goblin to even out the odds. His issue came with who the second person was. Hijo the Wild. Apparently Luri’s Aspect somehow took Hijo under his control and the tournament allowed this on account of the nature of his Beast Tamer power. 

“Oh Goblin if you fuck this up we’re dead.” Garriot said aloud to himself as Goblin had not actually been summoned yet. Garriot knew how vicious Hijo was and only someone like Luri could conquer the Wild Aspect, someone who specifically countered him.

“Beast Tamer.” Luri swaggered and picked up a pebble and tossed it in his hands up and down. Garriot would normally be the bigger guy between him and Hijo, but now Hijo’s transformation had progressed far. Antlers, a wolf head and hooves instead of feet altered his appearance. Hijo was also more muscular and taller. He snarled in anticipation of the fight, saliva dripping for the taste of blood.

Luri turned around as if deciding his next move. He eyed the crowd with an odd expression, a confused look crossing his face. He turned to face Hijo again though his gaze still wandered far away.

“Get him.” Luri suddenly commanded. Hijo howled his rage at Luri but charged regardless of his own choice. Sprinting with powerful legs, the hooves giving him ample running speed.  

Garriot summoned Goblin and the little green creature pranced about excited.

“Goblin take care of wolf-face.” Goblin said and a flashed Garriot a mock-horror face and twisted back to see the rushing Hijo.

“Scary!” Shouted Goblin and snickered at its own joke. 

Goblin started a chant in a strange tongue with a voice that was both croaky and guttural. Garriot tensed as Hijo pounced the rest of the distance but Goblin simply pointed a bony finger at the airborne Hijo. Light erupted from the digit and blasted Hijo, ragdolling him across the arena. 

Garriot sighed his relief as Goblin was in the mood to fight. 

“I’ll fight Luri.” Garriot set off at a jog, ignoring the sneering chuckle from Goblin behind.

Hijo rolled to his feet and growled as he charged again. This time Goblin threw a series of fireballs at Hijo. The first fireball tagged Hijo in the shoulder, searing his shirt and the fur underneath it. Hijo skirted around the next two fireballs and pounced again sending both claws in a downward swipe. Goblin leapt back at the last second and reached into a pouch tied around his waist.

Goblin grabbed a pinch of white powder and threw it on the ground right in front. A blinding flash of light caused the attacking Hijo to rear back and cover his eyes. Smoke plumed from the ground and Goblin disappeared behind the screen. The smoke proved to be poisonous as well and Hijo coughed and clutched his chest as he retreated to find a way around.

Luri whistled for Hijo to return and the beast took a long route to avoid the smoke. Garriot reached Luri first and locked him in a fistfight. Luri proved to be an able boxer and held his own against the skilled Garriot, though he took more hits than he landed. Garriot relaxed, confident in his element and forgetting all about the approaching Hijo.

Garriot sent a brutal uppercut that nearly knocked Luri off his feet. The Beast Tamer remained standing but backed off while he could.

Hijo charged into Garriot but Goblin pointed his finger and blasted Hijo once more. Hijo launched meters away. Goblin’s spell did little in the way of damage but provided a fierce knockback. 

“Goblin need stick!” Goblin cried out to Garriot who decided not to re-engage with Luri after hearing the creature. 

“Pouch is not enough?” Garriot asked concerned.

“Pouch is not enough.” Goblin echoed the words in his croaking voice. Garriot gave a string of interconnected curses.

Hijo made it to Luri’s side and stood awaiting orders, growling in a low tone as he caught his breath. Garriot raised his arms in a defensive stance. Garriot knew that Goblin’s fickle nature meant he would now be fighting Hijo and Luri on his own without any powers.

Luri gave Hijo the orders who howled in response and covered all the ground he needed in only a few steps. Hijo charged leaning forward, antlers poised like a tree of spears ready to gut anything that stood in its way, which in this case was Garriot.

Garriot tensed and tried diving out of the way only to discover that Goblin had jumped onto his leg and clung tight. 

Goblin spoke a strange word and Garriot swore in a knowing tone.

The two vanished through a portal that closed as fast as it appeared. Gone without a trace. Hijo growled in frustration for the lack of blood.

The referee waited five minutes before declaring Luri the winner on account for Garriot being disqualified for leaving the arena perimeter. 

Luri advanced to the quarterfinals. And the last match of the current round began soon after.

*****

Antho and Josua, which meant it was probably closer to a training session than a serious fight. Antho had been able to beat Vare who forced a draw against Lo but Josua was undefeated without a scratch. Antho sported more than a few wounds from his fights. Still it would be a good fight and Antho was far more capable than he let on during school. He reserved all his energy for nightly vigilante work and still maintained adequate academic and physical scores during school. 

“Let’s see what you can do with that Aspect of yours.” Josua said to Antho as they stood on opposite ends of the arena. 

“You barely beat me before I ever had one.” Antho countered.

“Ah, but win I did.” Josua pointed out. Antho grinned, thrilled at the chance to fight his partner on even grounds. They had saved their match for the tournament, painful weeks of abstaining from combat. 

“Don’t hold back.” Antho threatened. Antho slipped his headphones on, ensuring he would get the last word in.

“Now that we’re on the same level, I won’t have to.”

“Fight!” the referee shouted.

“Zone.” Josua dialed up his music.

“Yellomancy.” Glowing auras of yellow surrounded his hands. The two Specters advanced recklessly at each other. When Antho’s hands moved they left a trail of solid yellow behind that remained fixed wherever he moved. The yellow trail traced back to his starting position in an unbroken line, curving with Antho’s natural movements.

Josua jumped and extended a leg to kick Antho with. Antho raised an arm above his head and the yellow trail, which proved to be as hard as steel, blocked the kick. Josua repositioned his weight and instead of a kick he simply used the yellow to jump again, propelling himself up and over Antho.

Antho raised his arms and spread them to his side as far as he could, creating an arch of yellow above his head. Josua again adjusted and stepped on the trail, this time he dropped straight down behind Antho. Ducking under a sweeping back hand from Antho, Josua used the new yellow above his head to swing into a kick like a gymnast. 

With Antho’s other hand he swiped low blocking the kick. Josua was now laying flat, arms holding on to one beam of yellow and legs pushing on the other. Antho moved around his yellow to deliver a chop down on Josua’s stomach. With an incredible amount of core strength, Josua brought his legs straight up and rotated up and over the beam of yellow his hands were holding.

Back on his feet Josua dodged a hook from Antho and snaked his hand around the trail Antho’s punch left and jabbed him with three fingers in the ribs. The jab had enough force to bruise the bone and push Antho back a step.

The fighting should have been awkward with all the yellow blocking random space, yet Josua merely contorted and leaned passed the obstacles in impossible ways. All while landing hit after hit on Antho. The Yellomancer failed to land a single finger on Josua even after minutes of brawling.

Antho retreated behind his yellow and took a moment to catch his breath. Despite the random web of yellow criss-crossing the arena Josua was unstoppable. 

Josua never gave Antho the time he needed to recover and ended the fight with a flurry of punches and kicks and never once did the yellow slow his attack.

Antho got KO’d and his Aspect deactivated at once, the yellow trails all fading to nothing.

Josua slipped his headphones down on to his neck and walked away without so much a glance at his partner.

The Zone specter advanced to the quarterfinals.