Calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm, calm.
Focus on the fight.
There is nothing else, right now. No pain. No anger. Just the fight. How to most efficiently decompose these two gods in front of me into their constituent parts. Making them suffer is not on the table. Only killing the two of them is important.
First step toward that went rather well.
Trading a minor injury to a lung that had already been crushed by whatever they threw at me earlier, against the chance to destroy that annoying demon-sealing stone, was a very good deal. I’m pretty sure I could have destroyed it without taking damage at all, if I’d taken the time to do it more carefully, but I needed my magic back right away, or I would have died from my wounds in about 30 seconds.
Even now, my body is basically falling apart a bit more every second. I’ve used ice to delay my death for a short while, but there is not a single uninjured organ inside me. Some have been half-destroyed, some have been displaced. If my unbreakable ribs and sternum hadn’t protected most of the important stuff by taking some of the blast, I would simply have been killed instantly. As it is, my heart – technically, the only thing in my chest I can’t do without – didn’t burst on the spot, but its beat is erratic, and it’s been moved a bit to the left, collapsing one of my lungs in the process. One of my main arteries was almost torn off, too. I managed to fix all this by creating a sort of complex lattice of buttresses with ice magic inside my own ribcage to keep my organs in their proper shape and place, but this is only a temporary solution.
And it really, really hurts.
I need to end this fight fast, or I’m going to lose consciousness in the middle of it.
Though I suppose Sanae could take up the slack, if that happened.
I grit my teeth against the crowd of impulses shouting stridently within me for the painful, excruciating death of everything and everyone in a 1000-kilometer radius. I force them back and stamp them down. This is not the time to lose my mind again. Now is the time for technical excellence and ruthless efficiency. And that requires cold deliberation, not roaring anger.
But these idiots are really testing the limits of my self-control.
That one was called Orsino. He already escaped from me once, in the past. That won’t happen again. He will die by my hand, today, without fail.
And the other…
What on earth is a little brat like him doing here, trying to fight me? I’m perfectly aware that I look even younger than he does, but he stinks of youth. I’m pretty damn sure he actually looks his real age. That would make him, what, 16 years old? 17, maybe?
What did I do, that even children want to kill me, now?
Well, that doesn’t really matter. What matters – what annoys me – is the question of how a 17-year-old became a god. I don’t think my own experience could be reproduced by just anyone; this guy certainly doesn’t look like a demon. Which would imply he actually trained to this level. In just a bit more than a decade.
Which is ridiculous.
I don’t think what I’m feeling is jealousy.
I don’t think I resent him for his talent.
But it’s a bit discouraging and frustrating to know that reaching that kind of power level took me nearly 20 times longer than it did for him. It’s like he’s throwing it into my face that the only reason I spent so many horrible years in the Tower that I forgot almost everything about my old life, that I even forgot my own father’s face, is because I’m an incompetent fool who just wasn’t good enough to do better.
My mind is starting to wander. I think my brain must have been shaken too violently when I was sent flying. I feel a bit dazed and confused.
Anyway, I just need to kill him, too, whoever he is.
The magic he was trying to channel into his sword, beforehand, felt pretty dangerous, but he’s still human, with a human body. He’s too young to have strengthened it to any appreciable degree. He can probably catch up, to a point, using magic on himself, but this means that much less qi to send into his other spells.
I swallow back the blood rising up my throat. The air around me is starting to freeze. The surrounding moisture is coagulating into tiny ice crystals floating and glittering around me. Frost is creeping over the ground starting from my feet.
Abruptly, I sense gathering qi around Orsino, floating in the sky, and a second later, a crackling thunderbolt sears its way toward me.
Fortunately enough, it’s drawn off course by the pockets of cold air I formed all around me and impacts the ground harmlessly. I had readied myself to physically block Orsino’s attack, just in case he’d corrected that particular weakness of his since the last time I saw him, but it looks like he’s even more of an idiot than I thought, to come fight me again knowing my own magic can divert his lightning.
Still, he may have done that to lull me off guard for his next attack. I can’t eliminate the possibility that he can actually control his lightning’s trajectory through my interference and is just pretending otherwise. Better stay alert.
In the meantime, however, the nameless brat is rushing at me, sword and dagger at the ready. As expected, he’s clearly strengthened his body, and the ground shatters with each of the steps he takes toward me. I would scoff at his lack of control over his own strength, if I could do any better myself when in battle – which I can’t, much, mostly because I don’t bother. At least, his reinforcement magic is truly powerful. In just an instant, he arrives in front of me, sword swinging down. I lean to the side and deflect its trajectory with my right hand, but then his dagger sweeps up from the other side, trying to skewer me below the chin. Usually, in this kind of situation, I would just stop the dagger by biting onto it with my teeth, then counterattack with my left arm, but considering this boy seems to possess some kind of blade magic, it would probably be wise to prevent anything even remotely blade-like from entering any part of my body again. Depending on the potency of his spells, it might really be able to cause some heavy damage to me. Which is why, instead, I flick my fingers into the flat of his long sword, sending it just a tad further to the side, right into the dagger’s path. The brat’s own strength does the rest of the work, and the two weapons collide with a crystalline sound. I see the shock spread up his arms like an electrical jolt.
Then my leg smashes into his shoulder.
Actually, it was supposed to hit his neck and rip his head off, but he must have noticed it out of the corner of his eyes, at the last moment, and hunkered down against it. Looks like his strengthening magic also improves his reflexes and perception.
My kick lands fully, but as expected, a powerful resistance sheds most of the strength from my attack. A bare instant after contact, vibrations run against my foot, then a small explosion rings out and blasts my leg back – along with the brat’s entire body. He rolls away along the ground, quickly springing up to his feet once he’s a few meters back.
Steadying his breathing, the boy tightens his grip on his weapons, glaring at me maliciously. He doesn’t seem particularly injured or anything, though.
This is what happened when I kicked his belly, earlier, too. I managed to destroy the demon-sealing stone, which was my main objective, but by all rights, that strike should have directly cut him in half. Instead, we were simply blown in different directions, almost none the worse for wear. What kind of defensive spell is this, that it can resist my strength so easily? I don’t want to boast, but I can flatten mountains with my bare hands – at least, when I’m at full strength. That brat may be a god, but he has even less raw power than I do. The only reasons he might be able to accomplish such a thing are either a powerful artifact, or a perfectly optimized, inherently powerful magic – like Jodene’s deconstruction magic was inherently powerful as an offensive weapon.
Still, no matter which one it is, I doubt it’s perfect and infallible. Enough brute strength, concentrated and compressed in a sharp point, should be able to break through and kill him.
Problem is, shifting force vectors to make them converge on a single point of impact in order to pierce through such defenses would require telekinesis. The same kind of telekinesis, in point of fact, that I would use to diffuse and spread the force of my blows over a wider area than my fist, when I want to destroy something as huge as a mountain. I’ve tried to use this little trick a few times, over the past few weeks – in Kohln, and against the devils just earlier – but I’m still not ready. If I attempt it with the kind of power I can muster when I don’t hold anything back, my soul won’t be able to bear the strain, and its injuries will worsen again, possibly beyond repair. Unless I have no more options, I can’t risk it.
I watch as the brat slowly walks in a wide circle around me, his eyes wide, like he’s worried he might miss my next move if he so much as blinks, which he would, as I wouldn’t let such an opportunity pass by. Orsino is still hovering up in the air, looking for an opening.
I want to kill them so much…
Ngh… Calm down. Calm down. Calm down…
I take a deep breath and let it out, trying to relax a little. Then I wince inwardly and swallow the blood flooding into my mouth. My crushed lungs made this hurt intensely, so I resolve not to breathe again until I’m healed. It’s not like I need my sense of smell, right now, anyway, so I think I’ll forgo air entirely for the foreseeable future.
Now. Let’s try this again one more time. Even the most impervious of enemies have weak points I can exploit. If I look closely, I may be able to find a hole in that shielding spell of his and rip this brat apart a little bit. I’m sure that would do wonders to assuage my temper.
Then, test number one.
Can his shield handle multiple simultaneous impacts from random directions?
More blood-qi flows through my meridians and powers a new spell. The radius of cold air around me abruptly increases, and small, glittering petals of ice appear, floating through the air on imaginary air currents.
Orsino is immediately wreathed in lightning bolts which strike down any of the petals that dare approach him, the cracks of thunder forming a continuous rumble that makes the very air tremble.
“Hah! Hah! Hah, hah, hah! Wooaaah!”
shing, shing, shing, whoosh…
As for the nameless brat, he launches into an energetic – and noisy – dance, his sword and dagger weaving a complex barrier and cutting down the petals around him. Which doesn’t work very well, as it happens. His blades are just too sharp. They cut the ice petals in halves so cleanly that they simply continue on their way almost unimpeded – only, they’re now twice as numerous as before. A few moments of scrambling and ineffectual efforts later, the first petals land on their target, their sharp edges slicing into him at the same time as they release the freezing cold they contain. From a distance, I see his shielding spell frantically vibrate all over his body, automatically turning the petals into white dust, leaving the boy himself mostly unharmed. A few patches of his clothes are covered in frost, but I imagine the skin underneath should be fine.
A failure, then.
No matter. Test number two. Repeated powerful impacts on a single point.
Sending a volley of ice spikes toward Orsino to keep him busy for a moment longer, I rush for the brat as I send more of my magic into my meridians. The radius of cold temperature I’ve created suddenly shrinks, but the air becomes markedly colder again, as if it all concentrated in the smaller area, the very earth and the few surviving trees nearby freezing solid. Orsino easily floats away from my ice spikes and sends a series of lightning bolts in return. My magic diverts all of them from their assigned trajectories, except for one, which blows a crater right next to me and pelts me with soil – though I suspect its better accuracy was more due to luck than any skill on Orsino’s part.
As for the brat, his whole body stiffens as the temperature of the air around him drops 40 degrees in a moment.
This is what I aim for.
His defenses had been adjusted for the previous level of cold, and changing it so suddenly creates a short gap before he can readjust. Frost even starts forming on his eyelashes.
This boy’s spells are all very impressive – either that or he owns several very precious, very helpful artifacts – but I’m starting to doubt whether or not he’s ever even fought someone before today. This little trick of mine frankly shouldn’t have worked as well as it did against a god like him. How could he not have expected such a thing after seeing me freeze the air around me to divert Orsino’s lightning bolts?
The brat’s eyes widen as he realizes his newest mistake but I’m already upon him.
In panic, he sends a hurried slash my way. I spin past it – and a moment later, I am heartily glad I did, because a strong qi fluctuation suddenly bursts out from the brat’s body, and a blue streak of light flickers over his sword’s edge.
A high, clear whisper of a sound follows that blue streak of light as it traces a straight line into the air next to me. However, the line doesn’t disappear as the blade keeps moving. Instead, it widens, its edges gaping like a wound through which only pitch darkness can be seen.
And it’s not small, either!
Certainly a lot bigger than those I needed to dance around while fighting Jodene.
Making space cracks with mere blade magic? Surely, there wasn’t enough qi channelled into that spell to cause such an effect? I might understand if this was deconstruction magic, but this…
Looks like I was even more right than I thought; I absolutely mustn’t let him cut me.
And looks like my gambit to destroy the demon-sealing stone by letting him stab me was a lot riskier than I believed when I did it. If he’d been as fast with his spellcasting then as he was just now, I wouldn’t have gotten out of it alive. Indeed, space cracks are so far the only thing I’ve found that can actually damage adamantine. Well, this one still looks a bit thin and shallow to cut or pierce through my limbs and my bones, but it would certainly be enough to destroy the rest of me without fail.
Even I wouldn’t survive a space crack appearing inside my own body.
Fortunately, he used this power too early. If he’d waited to show this particular spell until the next time I planned to risk an injury to take him down, it would have been a very good and very lethal surprise attack.
The huge gap between this kid’s powerful magic and his horrid combat sense is growing wider every time he acts. It’s like he was given the best weapons in the world and read an instruction manual about them, but then never used them in battle against anyone for fear of getting them dirty.
In any case, that threatening, dangerous space crack doesn’t get anywhere near me. By the time it appears, I’m already well inside the idiot’s guard, safe and sound.
In desperation, he tries to stab me with the dagger again, but I divert it as easily as I did earlier, this time by knocking his hand off course with a knee strike, which I then smash into his belly.
Once more, his powerful defensive magic tries to blast us away from each other, but this time, both my hands are holding him in place. So I knee him again and again and again.
boom, boom, boom, boom!
Each time, it’s like a loud explosion shakes the world, the sound of my attack compounded with the blast of his shield trying to separate us. With each strike, the earth around us buckles and tilts and rocks like an angry sea. At the same time, my soul is roaming over the boy’s shield, analyzing it, measuring and testing the qi constantly being fed into it, and tiny needles of my magic seek openings, trying to sneak and plunge inside it to reach the weak and fragile body beyond. The brat tries to get his weapons to bear against me to counterattack, but his sword is too long to be convenient in such close quarters, and even using his shorter dagger becomes difficult when being subjected to such a pummeling.
Orsino, witnessing this, sounds flurried, and he suddenly drops out of the sky. I hear him land something like 20 meters behind me. If he didn’t suddenly decide that committing suicide would in fact be a great idea, doing such a thing could only mean that he wants to invest the qi he’d been using to sustain his flight into a different spell.
And that supposition is soon proved correct.
A powerful pulse of qi suddenly spreads through the world, starting from his position, its intensity second only to the one I felt right before whatever it was earlier sent me flying like a cannonball and practically crushed all my organs into paste.
Finally using his artifact, huh?
But doesn’t it require some setup time, in order to use it? That’s the impression I’d gotten from our last battle, at least. Does he really think I’m going to allow him that time?
However, unexpectedly, it takes barely half a second for a dozen balls of sizzling lightning to pop out into existence all around me, sphering me in. All of them are holding a fearful amount of energy.
Was Orsino’s artifact ready as soon as he stopped flying?
Ah, no. I think I understand. He’s been preparing for this since the start of the fight. That’s why he stayed in the air, only throwing half-hearted lightning bolts in my direction every now and then. He must have hid his preparations behind the qi fluctuation of his flying spell so that I wouldn’t be able to notice it.
His magic isn’t all that powerful, but in a way, someone this clever and sneaky is more dangerous than the brat with the annoying shielding spell. I should eliminate him right now, before he finds another opportunity to escape again.
But first, I should dodge this ambush of his.
One more time, I strike the boy’s shield, as hard as I can – ironically, it’s only now that I’ve run out of time that I finally feel it start buckling under my continuous assault – but this time, I release my hold on him and stop keeping him in place. As always, the shield flares up and blows each of us in opposite directions. Instead of fighting against the push, I ride it and allow it to fling me out of the sphere of lightning balls Orsino arrayed around me.
Just in time.
They were already crackling with power, and just as I fly out of their encirclement, thick lines of electricity link each of the lightning balls to each other, their combined light as bright as a sun.
And their heat as scorching as one, too.
I’m still quite a bit too close for either safety or comfort, so I hastily surround myself with layers upon layers of ice to resist the wave of heat washing over me, but the barriers I create almost instantly turn into vapor, a thick and heavy fog instantly covering the entire battlefield.
Even through all my defenses, the heat affects me, melting the ice that had been sealing up my wounds. I feel my consciousness grow faint, and only the intense pain running throughout my entire being keeps me awake. My current state is bad enough that I can’t even keep my balance under the weak blast of the boy’s shield and fall to the ground. I try to make my way up to my feet but feel more blood go up my throat. This time, though, when I try to swallow it back down, a spasm wracks my body, and I end up coughing it out onto the ground.
My injuries are even worse than I thought. This is simply pathetic. I can’t even take this little bit of punishment. Looks like I can’t criticize the humans for being fragile creatures, now.
Well, I still have no idea exactly what hit me and brought me to such a state, but it’s obvious I’m in no condition to fight anymore.
I need to finish this right now.
Without any useless chatter, Sanae crawls out of my eye socket while the heavy fog bank still hides us from sight, then quickly skitters away, disappearing into the cracks and crevices running all over the ground.
I clench my teeth and slowly stand up, my blood dripping out of me like a black rain wetting the shattered earth beneath me. Laboriously, I turn toward the position where Orsino’s breathing can be heard.
Sanae will keep me alive, but knowing her, she won’t fix all my problems for me just like this. Well, unless she’s in a helpful mood, I suppose; her behavior can be a bit hard to predict. Still, if I want to kill Orsino, I’ll need to do it myself. As for the nameless brat, I doubt I have enough strength remaining in me to break his shield. I still haven’t tested whether it protects him against things like joint locks and dislocations, either. What a shame. I always enjoy testing the limits of my enemies; it’s like solving a puzzle.
Shaking my head, I try to focus my senses through the dizziness assailing me. I think I feel a new qi fluctuation spread through the air from where I’d guessed Orsino was standing. There is a stronger one, off toward another side, but I recognize that one as the brat pretending to be a swordsman.
Orsino appears to be rising upward, toward the sky.
Trying to fly away to safety again?
Not a chance.
Trusting my senses, even as battered as they currently are, I gather the last of my strength and stamina and pounce toward the origin of the qi fluctuation. The thick mist hanging in the air stirs and roils in my wake, forming a spinning tunnel behind me as I pass through it.
Then, all of a sudden, a dark silhouette appears in front of me.
With my own blood flowing down into my eye, my blurry sight can’t really make out the silhouette’s features, but that voice is definitely Orsino. We collide in mid-air, and my sheer weight is enough to overwhelm his flight magic. We both plummet toward the ground, me lying on top of him.
Ooooh! Based on his reaction, I’m guessing he doesn’t have a nifty shielding spell!
Then, prepare to die, scum.
In a last-ditch effort to shake me off and free himself, a powerful electric current starts flowing into my body from his, but it barely even has time to singe me before we crash into the ground. Obviously, I make absolutely no effort to soften the impact – I don’t think I could, right now, even if I wanted to.
Orsino’s body, stuck under the roughly 2 and a half tons mine weighs, basically bursts upon landing. His bones shatter; his muscles tear and shred; his blood splashes everywhere, like a fat frog exploding under someone’s stomping foot. Finally, just to be sure, I give him a last good headbutt, my horn piercing through his skull and brain like they’re paper, ending his life once and for all.
…Heh. Good. I at least got one of them. Next time I see that nameless brat, though – Orsino called him ‘young master’, I think – I’ll definitely tear him apart piece by bloody piece. If I’m in a good mood, I’ll go so far as letting him live 30 seconds more to explain precisely why he attacked me today. Because I’m a kind and merciful person like that. Oh, and I even stayed very calm and composed all throughout the fight, too. Although it still kind of feels like I regressed since my days of focus and self-control in the Planar Tower, I’m still proud of myself. It’s… a great step toward… Nerys’s… safety…
My thoughts gradually slow down to a crawl, and I barely have time to encase myself in a cocoon of ice before finally losing consciousness, leaving my safety to Sanae.