Staff of Asrai: 4
Ora had taken him out twice, and Jake had only caught that first glance of her, from a distance, as she had stalked Naleya. Some illogical part of his brain demanded he find her and take vengeance on her for that, but Jake knew that wasn’t a sound strategy.
Jake didn’t know this place, not like he had come to know the other arenas. It was larger, for one thing, than most. There was another arena full of buildings that pretended to be a settlement, but that was more of a village; this was a town, and not a small town, either. Jake couldn’t begin to guess where his foes might be hiding, because he simply didn’t know the layout well enough.
He had to rely on hope and happenstance to find agreeable matchups. Celia and Naleya were the easiest for him to defeat. He would prefer to hide within a building, or on a rooftop, but the drive to win wouldn’t allow it. He had to actively attempt to seek out others to defeat.
Jake climbed a single-story building, one with a flat roof. The sign outside proclaimed to be a women’s clothing store, but that was irrelevant. He would use the height to try to look around for signs of combat. With luck, he would happen upon another fight in progress and score two more points practically for free.
Naleya had yet to score any points. That was good. It meant that she was being shut down continually. It was impossible to know, from the score, how many times she had been defeated, but if she was left unhindered, she would slowly snowball to the point that the would easily win. Jake didn’t know if her power worked the same way on her home world, but here, given time, she could eventually construct a veritable army of her servants.
Just as he climbed over the lip of the building onto the plain, ugly roof, Jake’s ears caught a hint of something, a sound beyond his own breathing and the soft hiss of the air through the trees. He dropped down, peeking over the edge of the roof with just his head. A soft tinkling, rolling sound, like a mass of pebbles or ice all moving together, but more musical, approached down the road. Bastian.
Could Jake take Bastian, one-to-one? Yes, Jake thought he could, thought it wouldn’t be an easy fight. Bastian’s power lent him to quick, easy kills. Jake’s was more about delaying, debilitating, and finding the right opportunity.
Bastian’s path trailed behind him, a luminous line of smooth, lime green crystal. It energized Bastian and made his footing more assured, but for those that weren’t attuned to him, it was slicker than a sheet of ice. Luckily for Jake, his years of practice moving on his paint as a form of swift locomotion made that the slippery surface barely impeded him.
Bastian was moving down the sidewalk, fairly close to the buildings. If Jake timedit right, he might be able to drop down right on top of Bastian, surprising him. That was Jake’s best bet. Bastian could easily outpace him, riding his path at full speed, and Bastian had a natural ranged attack. If Jake didn’t get his initial attack right, Bastian could easily kite him.
Jake moved into a crouch, ready to spring over the wall. Bastian’s path took him past the building next to Jake. Jake’s muscles tensed. He prepared a coating of yellow paint on his hands, ready to electrify Bastian as he jumped upon him.
Then something dark shot out of the walls of the building as Bastian passed. Something pitch black, as though the shadows had come to life and sought to attack. A dark, clawed hand grabbed the front of Bastian’s uniform, bunching it up into a knot, and pulled.
A normal person would have been pulled from his feet, but Bastian on his path was difficult to dislodge. He kept his feet on the path, even as the hand jerked him toward the wall of the building. He made a thrusting motion upward with both hands, causing a wall of green, crystalline energy to erupt from the path. It should have slammed into the hand, knocking it free, but instead it simply passed through. Bastian hit his own wall with enough force to stagger him.
That was the nature of Mikael’s arms. He had two of them, arms made of a dark, forceful energy that resembled living shadow, which sprung from the center of his body like they emanated from portal in his heart. He chose what they interacted with and how, allowing him to, for example, reach through a wall as though it wasn’t there and grab a passing foe.
Bastian shook his head, gliding backward on his path. The walls of the building, and any walls he pulled up out of his path, would lend him no protection from Mikael’s arms. Luckily, Mikael couldn’t see through solid objects, even though his arms could pass through them. If he could, Jake would have been attacked long before Bastian. He found himself thankful that he hadn’t passed in front of the windows of that other building.
The large window at the front of the building, a toy shop, shattered under the force of a blow. From his angle, Jake could see the glass blow outward into the street. Then the clawed fingers of one of Mikael’s hands gripped the edge of the roof, and he swung outward into the street toward Bastian.
Jake moved swiftly, hoping that neither of the others would notice him. On his blue paint he skated to edge of the rooftop and jumped, easily clearing the space between the clothing store and the toy shop, so that he was behind Mikael.
Mikael arced upward into the air, propelled by the force of his swing. He tucked his arms and legs — his natural, normal human arms and legs, which had no particular durability or strength of their own — in close to his body. He whipped his dark arms forward to meet the ground and slow his fall.
As Mikael sailed through the air, Bastian took a chance to attack. He drew crystalline energy up from his path and formed it into a bolt, which he sent through the air toward Mikael. It caught Mikael in the shoulder as his dark arms sought the ground. He grunted in pain. Still, his arms balanced his descent to the ground, and he landed easily.
Bastian and Mikael were not like Celia and Naleya. They didn’t converse. They didn’t try to convince one another to stop fighting. They attacked each other, pure and simple.
Mikael lashed out with his right hand, the arm stretched outward as he reached across the distance between himself and Bastian. Bastian sent another bolt Mikael’s way, forcing him to keep his other arm focused on blocked and helping him to dodge.
Jake watched as Mikael’s frustration grew. He was not a person who remained calm when things became difficult for him. He took easily to anger, and allowed it to affect the way he acted. Bastian’s speed and surefootedness allowed him to keep dodging Mikael’s one-handed strikes. The majority of Bastian’s bolts were being dodged or deflected by Mikael’s other hand, but as Jake watched, he landed another solid blow: one of his bolts plowed into Mikael’s thigh.
Mikael shouted, a wordless call of rage and pain. He grasped a tree on the side of the road and pulled himself forward, thrusting himself bodily toward Jake. A mistake, by any account, for as he moved he left himself open. Jake sent two bolts at him, one from each hand. One missed. The other, Mikael caught with his free arm.
As far as Jake had been able to tell, Mikael’s arms could not be damaged. He could used them to block with impunity, with the only disadvantage being the fact that they were relatively thin. Bastian used this to his advantage. With both hands held in front of him, he sent out a blast of his green energy, which formed into a myriad of crystalline shards as he sent it out.
Jake did not wait to see the result. He jumped from the top of the building. It was a fall of only a single story, and unlike Mikael, his durability did extend somewhat beyond human norms, if only by the slightest degree. He skated forward as Bastian’s cloud of shards burst forth, hoping it would obscure him from view just long enough.
Mikael screamed, crossing his arms in front of him, but the damage was done. This time there was no anger in his call, only pain and despair, as Bastian’s attack stripped the flesh away from him.
Jake reached Mikael just as Bastian’s cloud dispersed. The man was a bloody mess. With all of the strength he could muster, Jake slammed his spear-brush into the back of Mikael’s head, not even bothering to attempt to use his paint. Orange paint did splatter the ground, mixing with Mikael’s red blood, but it was the metal ring around the end of the spear brush that cracked Mikael’s skull. His dark arms faded from existence.
“Jake?” Bastian shouted. “What the fuck? Where did you come from?”
Jake didn’t answer. He swung his brush around, aiming for Bastian’s face. If he paused to speak, he would lose his momentum and his drive. He would start to think about Bastian as a person that he knew rather than just an obstacle to be defeated.
Bastian brought up a wall of energy between himself and Jake. The spear brush struck it hard, bouncing backward, jarring Jake’s elbows. But it was Bastian who cursed in pain.
Jake moved around the shield, to where he could see the orange paint splattered across Bastian’s face and arm. It had already begun eating into his flesh. Bastian grimaced in pain. He brought a hand up, fingers spread, and Jake knew what was coming. He stepped back the way he had come, putting Bastian’s own shield between the two of them. He heard Bastian’s attack strike it.
He had only moments before the shield would collapse. He jumped forward onto the shield itself, dropping his brush. Using green paint on his hands and feet climbed up Bastian’s shield and, with a burst of strength from his legs, lept over it.
Brown paint welled up on his feet. They landed on Bastian’s shoulders, driving him to the ground. Or rather, into his path, which still glowed beneath him. Jake rolled to the side, off of the path, nearly landing badly himself. Before Bastian could recover from his surprise, Jake slapped his hands, coated in yellow paint, to the sides of Bastian’s head. He electrified it.
Jake looked away as Bastian’s body convulsed. He didn’t want to watch him die. Jake’s breath came heavily, though he felt he shouldn’t have been winded by the exchange. This was the proper strategy after all, stepping in toward the end of fights between others and finishing them both off. This was how Telline had made so much progress.
Something tapped Jake in the small of the back, and a tingling sensation washed over his body. He felt himself freeze. He cursed Ora with all of his might before another, sharper pain struck him in the head, causing everything to fade away.