Is this some sort of joke?
I thought this would be a showcase of the most dangerous techniques on Caldera, executed by the most dangerous individuals on Caldera.
Even if one isn’t a god, surely one wouldn’t be killed by bugs?
Only ordinary mortals get killed by bugs. Practitioners squash bugs.
As it is, despite the idiot’s confident face, despite the thick layer of squirming insects covering my entire body, I am unharmed. Even forgetting the fact that I’m wearing Miroslav’s indestructible black suit, those little creatures’ mandibles simply can’t pierce through my skin. Perhaps, if they tried to cut, it would work a little better, but instead, they try to rip and tear. Even if I stand there and let them do it, which I won’t, it’s never going to work. I do have to close my eye, because I don’t want to risk it, no matter how confident I am, but even those trying to eat at my eyelid are failing. It only tickles.
As for those trying to get at my other eye, Sanae destroys them instantly. She doesn’t take kindly to foreign creatures intruding on her nest. It’s like the back of my eyepatch is a black hole swallowing everything that goes past it.
Well, I did block my ears and nose, though. I don’t want anything to enter my body through them. It’s not like that would cause any damage – in fact, any organism sneaking inside me would either freeze to death or be poisoned by the Taint. It’s just that it would be unpleasant.
(Could you please get rid of these things? I’d like to remind you that I’m sharing your senses, and this is just… disgusting. There are centipedes squirming on your face!)
[…They can’t harm me.]
(That’s not the point! The point is, it’s disgusting! Ew! Gross!)
[…Just cut off your link to my senses.]
(But then I won’t see you destroy this insufferable pig. Look at him! Look how he’s gloating after casting such a disgusting magic! If he were a majin and born with it, I wouldn’t comment on it, but he’s human! That means he made the choice to learn that particular rune! That is just gross. Just kill him quickly! He gives a bad name to all humans!)
Well, I do think I’ve seen all this magic has to offer, so…
A simple spell causes all the bugs to fall dead to the ground, like a rain of tiny, frozen corpses. Using telekinesis, I brush off the few left lying on my shoulders and the top of my head.
(Phew. Thank you.)
Then, the human calls up more bugs.
(Oh, come on!)
Notwithstanding Phineas’s distaste, I wonder if the idiot realizes that the only reason he can even make a second attempt is because I’ve allowed him to. I could so easily have killed him while he was laughing smugly, earlier. In fact, even if he wasn’t laughing smugly and was instead entirely focused on the battle, I could have killed him easily. That’s how great the difference in strength is.
Eventually, though, it looks like he’s not too stupid.
Instead of doing the same precise thing as before, as I suspected he would, all his bugs gather together to form six different constructs. These constructs are indeed stronger than the sum of their parts, but that’s all. They’re still far from reaching the apex. The charge of my opponent himself can also be safely disregarded.
I feel fairly confident that this fight has already become pointless. There is nothing this incompetent fool can teach me. His magic is crude. His body is feeble.
(Kill him! Kill him!)
I kill him.
Hopefully, the next fight will prove more entertaining. I didn’t come here expecting a challenge, but I would still like to learn a thing or two, to witness some innovative new techniques I haven’t thought of before.
I give a last, disinterested glance at the headless corpse lying in front of me and turn away. From what Sirona said, my next match isn’t going to take place immediately after the first, so I should leave the arena in the meantime.
In my dantian, Phineas is floating around in circles and rubbing uncomfortably at his arms.
(Oh, that was quite traumatic. I wonder if I’m going to have nightmares about this, later. I can’t believe you allowed all those insects to crawl all over you like this. It was just, ugh…)
I ignore Phineas’s whining and walk off the platform. I glance through the crowd surrounding me, habitually looking for a figure I know I’m unlikely to find there. They’re quite a distance away, but my eyesight is sharp enough to make out each and every face – at least for the species that have a face; the rhuths just have an eye.
Naturally, I can’t find Nerys.
But I freeze mid-step when my search finds someone else. The boy. The brat who tried to kill me time and time again. And who always survives his failures to try another day, astonishingly enough.
I see. It was his voice I heard earlier, outside the arena. I was busy with something else, so I didn’t pay too much attention, but I did indeed recognize it as one I’d heard before.
He is looking at me.
It’s been a while since I rejoined civilization, now. I wasn’t confident at first, but now, I’m pretty sure I can reliably interpret facial expressions. The one on the boy’s face right now is… satisfaction. The satisfaction of a predator watching a helpless prey saunter before it.
He thinks I am at his mercy.
Because he has 100,000 human reinforcements surrounding me at the moment? Because he has gods here to help him?
My blood starts to boil. The whirling cloud of black beads in my dantian becomes erratic. The black fog around the second rune seethes and roils. Sanae stirs in response to my bloodthirst.
This brat dares to stand in front of me. He dares to watch me with that look on his face. The man next to him dares to do the same. They dare. They dare.
When it comes down to it, I don’t even know who they are. I don’t even know why they want to kill me. I suspect it has something to do with me escaping the Tower. Maybe. I’m not sure. It could be something else altogether.
It doesn’t matter, though.
I don’t need a reason.
This time, the brat dies.
(Wait, Akasha, calm down!)
Phineas seems to have caught some hints of my thoughts from the disturbance in my dantian. But his voice is drowned out by an idea that slithers into my mind and replaces the previous one.
This time, everyone dies.
My entire being singing in approval with this plan, I rush forward, exerting all my strength. It takes but a fraction of a second to cross the whole arena.
The first punch crushes the barrier separating me from the spectators. The next crushes everything behind it. The humans sitting in the periphery of the impact also die, but I couldn’t care less about them.
Or rather, good!
Every single one of you, just die already!
A pleased smile lifts the corners of my lips.
But my main target is still alive. I saw a new barrier spring up right before the force of my blow could reduce him to a mere bloody stain on the ground. He sure is careful. Even when all the apparent defenses have been breached, he still has more fallbacks to take up the slack. The rain of ice spears I summon crashes ineffectually against it.
But today, even the thickest barrier won’t help him.
bam, bam, bam, bambambambam! crrrrrk, klink!
One after another, my fists rain down on the barrier. The earth behind me explodes from the counterforce of my blows. The entire island buckles and rocks like a boat in a storm. Until finally, the barrier shatters with the sound of splintering crystal.
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to capitalize on this before several powerful qi fluctuations surge out. The rubble that covered my view of the brat and his allies is suddenly flung outward, turning into deadly projectiles which pepper the spectator stands indiscriminately. If the audience wasn’t exclusively composed of powerful practitioners, this would have led to a massacre, but as the case may be, every projectile is destroyed by bursts of various magics before they can cause any damage.
Four gods, all of whom I saw sitting not far from the brat earlier on, stand tall where the rubble was previously piled. The brat stands behind them. One of these gods, in particular, a middle-aged man wearing a white robe and holding a paper fan, exudes an especially overwhelming qi pressure. He’s not as bad as the Sulfur Frog from the 199th floor of the Tower, but he’s not far.
Five against one, all of them gods.
(Akasha, wait, he’s a 2nd-rank god. You don’t have a chance. Retreat for now. Selecting the right battlefield is also an important skill for any warrior. Didn’t you say yourself earlier that fighting these opponents in a melee would be foolish?)
One of the three other gods, a young man with spiky black hair and a large scar cutting across his nose, takes a step forward. “Worthless beast, you…”
Before he can finish his sentence, he has to scramble back to block a devastating kick. With a flash of light and simultaneous cracks of displaced air, a dozen clones precisely identical to his main body – and outwardly just as powerful – appear. They all brace themselves and resist my attack. Each of the clones lifts up a piece of paper with Ancient Eashiri symbols drawn on it. The papers shine brightly, and the shockwave of my kick gradually fades to nothing as it approaches the light.
What is that?
I’ve never read about something like this. Is it a new kind of focus for formations? But I can’t see any link between each symbol. And there is no way paper could handle the strain required to cast a god’s magic. It’d just burn away in an instant.
But it’s no time to research this.
Another god suddenly appears at my side. He was still 100 meters away a moment ago, but it took him a mere instant to cross that distance. A pair of daggers slashes toward my neck, fast as lightning. This man can move as fast as I do, except he doesn’t seem to be hampered by air resistance. His movements don’t cause much wind, and there is no sonic boom to herald them. I slap his daggers away by striking the flat of the blades, my hand bouncing – bam-bam – from one to the other, then I step into his chest. My elbow is just about to smash into his ribcage when he suddenly retreats, as if rewinding time. There were no preparatory motions to his leap backward, no tensing of his thighs, no flexing of his knees. From what I can see, he created a tunnel of vacuum and magically propelled himself through it.
The instant the second god retreats, the third finally strikes. This one has taken flight and holds a bow at the ready. An almost invisible arrow of spinning, compressed wind is nocked on the string. He looses the arrow, and it soars toward me much faster than I expected. I dodge only by the barest of margins by tilting my head to the side. The arrow flies by my cheek, the wind of its passage playing with my hair, and strikes the ground behind me. The air it’s made of expands to produce a great explosion, pelting me with mud and pebbles. The crater is a good 5 meters in depth, and twice that in radius. A direct hit would be dangerous.
The fourth god, the most powerful one, doesn’t take action. He remains in the back, sheltering the brat behind him and paying attention to the whole situation.
The smile on my face widens.
I slowly lower myself close to the ground, crouching on all fours like an animal. My claws dig into the earth to give me purchase. My muscles tense in anticipation. Ice continuously floods into my left arm to give it more weight and solidity and to allow it to momentarily change into any form. Its fingers sharpen into blades. My tail swings left and right behind me, stabilizing my balance. My ears twitch back and forth, catching the slightest hint of contracting muscles and creaking bones from my enemies that will signal their next move. My entire being is focused on the need to do battle, on the need to kill these people, to rip their spines out of their bodies and claw their eyes out and rip out their hearts.
(Akasha, calm down. This isn’t the way. Try to think of what your sister would want you to do. Would she want you to risk your life so foolishly?)
In my dantian, Phineas is still trying to convince me to restrain myself. I ignore him. In my ears, his voice is a mere meaningless background hum.
As my opponents and I gauge and measure each other and our battle pauses for a moment, chaos spreads all around us. The Competition has been interrupted, but the audience doesn’t care. After the destruction of half of the human spectator stands and the start of the battle between the human gods and me – who looks like a majin to the uninformed eye – most of the surviving audience seems to have become invested in our conflict. At first, few dare to approach us, ready to provide support for their chosen side, but soon, emboldened, both majin and humans rush down in great numbers from their seats and invade the arena’s floor, hollering and howling for blood.
“Kill these rotten humans! Slaughter every single one of them! Show no mercy!”
“Exterminate the majin! Murderers and cowards, the whole lot of them!”
“Girl, don’t worry, you’re not alone! Let’s butcher these dogs together! All the majin stand with you!”
“Protect the Emperor! Destroy the craven assassin who dared to attack him! Cut her head off and put it on a spike for all the world to see! Any who dare to slight the honor of the human race must perish!”
Their voices too are meaningless background hum. My focus does not waver. I continue watching my enemy, waiting for the right moment to strike.
Still, a touch of amusement can’t help but flow through me.
Those majin are severely misunderstanding the situation…
Right then, as the standoff continues, a werewolf pushes past the line of weaklings shouting their endorsement of my actions and their hatred of humans and comes to stand half a step in front of me, as if to lead the charge against the human gods. Even for a werewolf, his build is gigantic. He towers nearly 3.5 meters tall, all of that of muscle and sinew. Even sitting on his haunches, he would be twice my height. His fur is dark grey, with streaks of white to mark the lines of old scars.
His mouth opens into something vaguely resembling a smile – a particularly violent one, revealing rows of sharp fangs. “Hehehe. Little girl, if you’re trying to slaughter these little lambs, count me in. I wouldn’t want to miss this for anything. Hehehehe. Today, the war starts early.”
The eyes of the first god – the one with the clones and the scar on his nose – narrow, and he sneers disdainfully. “Helden Whisshark. Old thing, you think you have what it takes to stand on this field? This isn’t like 15 years ago. This time, I’ve grown far stronger than you could imagine. One move from me, and you’re gone.”
“Hehehehe.” Slaver drips from the old werewolf’s mouth. He looks hungry. “Maybe, maybe not. I guess we’ll see, won’t we? I sent you running with your tail between your legs back then; I’m pretty sure I can do so again today, even with your little friends here to hold your hand.”
The human god’s eyes fill with rage. He grits his teeth, and his hands ball up into fists, veins jumping up and down beneath his skin. “You mongrel. You think I…”
Before they can continue their conversation, I cut it off.
More accurately, I rip it off.
The werewolf’s head, that is.
His spine comes out, too, still attached to the base of his skull.
My left arm retracts to its usual size, and I throw the head to the side, licking the blood off my fingers. It rolls to a stop halfway between me and the majin arrayed behind me. A heavy silence falls upon the arena, the only sound the thump of the werewolf’s corpse dropping to the ground, raising a small cloud of dust that soon settles. Even Phineas stopped talking and just stares open-mouthed.
“You…!” Strangely, even the human god looks aghast. Shouldn’t he feel grateful that I removed his enemy? Instead, he fairly seethes with rage and glares at me with searing eyes. “You really are insane… And cowardly. Murdering your own ally with a sneak attack. Have you no shame? Looks like I was right; you are no more than a beast.”
Whether human or majin, it doesn’t matter.
My telepathy transmits this message to every mind in the vicinity. My soul’s voice is still as cold and emotionless as a glacier, but this time, I make some effort to infuse some emotion into it. In those two words, I lace all of my bloodthirst, as well as the bedrock of anger on which it takes root.
My voice isn’t loud, but everyone takes a step back away from me.
Even the gods pale. I catch the shiver that crawls up their limbs.
The earth explodes behind me as I pounce forward, claws and fangs and magic ready to tear through everything.