“She shall be honored as a martyr put to death by these heinous criminals, enemies of both humans and majin and reviled by all. Never will we submit to their repulsive designs! No matter where these cowards may hide, they shall be found, and they shall be destroyed to the very last!”
I listen to the child’s ridiculous speech as he extols the virtues of his dead sister and condemns the evils of, well, me. The contents enter in one ear and leave out the other, but I take great care to carve the face and voice of the speaker in my memory, for future reference.
The son of Wayland Adkins.
There will come a day when I drown him in his own blood.
“Hey, Boss. This is outrageous. This kid is calling you a worthless, cruel, mean-spirited, overbearing, piece of dogshit garbage,” Sif whispers in my ear, sitting beside me with a snack in her hand. “You should go out there and beat him up.”
“I think I’ll refrain, thank you very much.”
Rather than summing up the speech, she’s taking advantage of this opportunity to insult me as viciously as she possibly can. And then advise me to go and get myself killed. That boy isn’t like his elder sister; he’ll have a suitable protection force around him.
I throw a sidelong glance at Sif, and she warily leans back away from me. She keeps the same guileless smile on her face all the while, but I can tell by the stiffening of her shoulders that she’s bracing for the punishment she expects will come the next moment. She looks beautiful and innocent and vulnerable, incapable of causing the slightest harm to anyone. Only, I’m perfectly aware that even before working for me, her hands were already dyed red with the blood of countless people, some of them vastly superior to her in cultivation. There is no way I would let my guard down around her, no matter how weak she outwardly appears.
Added to that is the fact that she most definitely hates me – or at least holds a significant dislike of me – after the murder on my orders of the late imperial princess…
Sif barely even bothers to hide her disaffection, really. Just like the volley of insults she just threw at me so clearly proves. I know for a fact that, if I don’t constantly hover over her shoulder, at best she’ll do the barest minimum amount of work to prevent me from just killing her off, and at worst she’ll actively throw obstacles in our collective road. All this, despite the fact that her life hangs on the success of our search. She can be spiteful, like that.
Those guts are a part of her character – maybe the only one – I could come to admire.
It’s only a shame that they’re aimed at me.
Really, even without her dragging her feet, her past treachery should by all rights warrant her death. Unfortunately, however, she is still useful to me. Her connections in the human world and her easy, natural charm have several times allowed us to find and follow Akasha’s trail, to Aldenfell then Fushia City – and good riddance to that place; I should have destroyed it myself a long time ago – or on the contrary, decisively dismiss places Akasha never visited.
The moment I think of her name, a torrent of memories follow. I feel my heartbeat surge out of control, and tears almost threaten to spill from my eyes, but I forcibly restrain myself.
Unbelievably, she’s alive.
And with the delight and hope engendered by that truth also come confusion and doubt.
Even so many years later, I still feel something stuck in my throat as more memories flash unbidden through my mind. This time, however, those memories only serve to sicken me.
I saw Akasha die.
I watched as a pack of dog demons hunted her down, as their alpha tore into her, ripped off her arm, and how she struck back against it and killed it. I watched as her eyes slowly lost all light and her pained face slowly stilled into lifelessness. The whole thing has been carved indelibly into my memory.
But now, she’s alive…
Was the recording of her death my spy provided me fake? This wouldn’t be unimaginable, since I’m aware that Wayland used that very same recording to torment our ‘father’ after he captured him – Wayland may have staged the scene of Akasha’s ‘death’ for that very purpose. But my spy assured me it was real. Did that bastard deceive me? Why? Is he trying to play both Wayland and me at the same time? Again, why? And to muddle the waters even further, Sif’s account of Akasha’s missing left arm fits the events depicted in the recording.
Even forgetting the mystery of Akasha’s supposed death in the Planar Prison, how did she survive for almost three centuries, considering the most optimistic estimates at the time placed her lifespan at a measly 15 years? Her sickness wasn’t something she could have recovered from so easily. In fact, by the time she was taken from me, just one or two days without her medicine would have been enough to kill her outright.
Gareth Adkins is still speaking animatedly up on the podium, his voice a meaningless background hum in my ears. Sif is eyeing me warily, as if wondering when I’m finally going to get back at her for her childish insults.
Absently, I reach into my coat’s inside pocket and take the thin amethyst cylinder from it. I slowly spin it and weave it between my fingers, this way and that, listening to the hypnotic ‘clink-clink-clink’ of the pills inside as they roll back and forth and collide with each other.
“What is this thing?” Sif asks.
I give her a pointed look, taking in her curious eyes as she follows the amethyst cylinder’s movements around my fingers. Usually, that kind of stare from me would be enough to cow her into silence, but apparently, she’s feeling particularly rebellious today.
“I’ve seen you take it out and play with it a few times,” she continues, “but you’ve never opened it. What’s inside?”
“Poison. I’m considering testing it out on you. I’d like to see if your magic would truly make you immune, even with an extreme dosage. Personally, I think not.”
Sif shrugs, a smug, provocative smirk on her lips. “You’re welcome to try. I for one am pretty sure I’ll be just fine.”
“Shut up, Sif.”
She does. Wisely.
Gareth Adkins, however, does not.
How long is this fool going to keep spewing his bullshit? We get it; your sister was a saint. Don’t worry; you’ll be joining her soon enough. So move on and shut the fuck up, you disgusting human trash.
I let out an irritated sigh and lean back deeper into my seat, my thumb idly rubbing the cap of the amethyst cylinder. After so long – nearly three centuries! – the pills inside must have long since lost their efficacy. Now, this thing is little more than useless garbage.
But I’ve never been able to discard it, to convince myself to let it go.
Back then, even after I was forced to flee the human kingdoms and enter majin territory, I still didn’t lose hope. But I only had this one cylinder left; just enough for Akasha to live for a week, once I’d found her. Our ‘father’ was gone, so I studied by myself and worked hard, day and night, to produce more, in anticipation of our reunion. Eventually, I was unsuccessful, even though I had learned the theory behind their creation, from that time when I cornered our ‘father’ and made him spit out why exactly I could only stand there and watch as my little sister slowly withered and died.
Essentially, Akasha’s elven and fenrir blood were improperly fused together. Her originally elven body was rejecting her fenrir cells, trying to destroy them. Which, considering those cells were spread everywhere inside her, meant that her body was trying to destroy itself, as stupid as that sounds. The solution, then, was to reduce the ‘combat efficiency’ of the elven cells, so that they would stop attacking and killing the fenrir cells. This wasn’t a perfect solution, by any means. It only slowed the deterioration of Akasha’s health. And it also meant that she would have to remain cloistered in her room for the entire span of her short life – and the room kept within a sterilized bubble by our father’s magic, or those weakened elven cells would instead find themselves overwhelmed by normal diseases and also cause Akasha’s death…
I remember that, at the time, I suggested that our ‘father’ simply surgically remove Akasha’s fenrir ears and tail to fix the problem. That wouldn’t have worked, obviously, since the fenrir cells had seeped into every single organ in Akasha’s body.
Not to mention that Akasha would have hated me forever for coming up with this idea…
I feel my lips stretch into a grin.
That idiot was always insufferably proud of her stupid tail, even downright pitying me for not having one of my own, not even realizing that it was the very symbol of what was killing her.
According to Sif’s story, Akasha has now become a devil – or a demon, perhaps, depending on how one defines these things. Maybe, that was what healed her sickness? I don’t really know, though. Such things were never my specialty.
Still, while I know that this transformation isn’t… entirely unthinkable… considering the circumstances of Akasha’s birth, just how could it have happened? There had previously never been any indication that this part of her would ever awaken. Did Adkins do this to her on purpose, as part of his sick experiments?
…I would almost think that this is all a huge trap, somehow. That Sif is cooperating with the humans to bait me using my little sister’s name. But that doesn’t add up. Sif knows too much about Akasha. And about Nerys. Even if she had learned all this from Adkins’s interrogation of our ‘father’, how would they know the value of this information to me? To Sif and to the rest of the world, I am the Major. There is nothing linking me to ‘Nerys’. Nothing to indicate that the Major would be particularly interested in the whereabouts of a little girl called Akasha.
But the whole thing is so outlandish and unexpected and unexplainable that I still can’t help but be suspicious.
This suspicion only came afterward, though.
At the time, when I heard the news from Sif in that jail cell, I simply pounced like a wild beast and clung to it for dear life. I discarded everything else with nary a word of notice and scrambled to the human continent as fast as physically possible to start searching.
If it had truly been a trap, I would have fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker. Wouldn’t they have sprung it then, while I was still reeling from the blow? Why wait until I start thinking more deeply about it?
Rousing myself out of my meandering thoughts – I know I tend to wallow when it comes to Akasha – I notice that the speech is finally over and the contestants are starting to file into the arena. Sif looks so excited about it I’d almost think she believes we’re here on vacation or something.
I shake my head at her antics and cast my gaze over the crowded stands surrounding the arena’s field in a multi-story circle. I have to admit that this edifice is a stunning achievement of architecture. To hold 200,000 people, all sitting together side by side like this… It’s quite a view. It’s apparent that, despite the coming war, the Inter-Species Competition undoubtedly remains one of the most popular events to Caldera’s practitioners.
To the heightened sensitivity of a god’s soul, however, that view also presents another picture. So many practitioners are gathered together in such a cramped space that, even though each of them individually is quite weak, the aggregate qi radiation suffusing the air would likely kill a mortal in a few short days of exposure. Even one who survives might find herself with strange mutations popping up a few years down the road.
My gaze trails back to the fighters below. Not all of them are taking the field at the same time, obviously. Even this arena isn’t large enough to house several dozen fights at the same time. They’re instead divided by brackets, with all the contestants in a bracket coming at once to battle one-on-one atop partitioned platforms. There are a dozen such platforms, each with two referees – one human and one majin – which means a dozen matches take place at the same time. Only when the best elements of each bracket have been selected will they face each other in combat within the whole arena. There are enough contestants – and thus enough brackets – that those preliminary rounds will likely last throughout the day. The genuinely exciting battles will only start tomorrow.
When the matches finally begin, the spectators all start cheering loudly for their favorite contender, producing a terrible cacophony.
…Well, they sure are enthusiastic.
On the other hand, I just can’t muster up any interest and spend most of my time scanning the crowd, looking for a figure I know I’m unlikely to find here.
Some contestants do display some level of skill, but they are few and far between. If anything is worthy of note, it’s that, whenever a human meets a majin on the field, neither side holds anything back. After merely three brackets have been conducted, the number of fatalities has already reached the double digits. And with every drop of blood spilled in the arena, the fervor in the spectator stands also burns hotter and hotter. At this rate, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the whole thing soon devolves into a giant brawl – or a giant massacre.
“Hey, Boss, can you believe this?” Sif asks suddenly, leafing through a small booklet as new contestants enter the arena to replace those of the bracket which just concluded. “In this bracket, there is an F-rank mercenary. Quite ballsy to enter the tournament with that paltry skill, wouldn’t you say? I wonder how she’s going to fare…”
“F-rank?” Curious, I lean toward Sif and try to steal a glance at the booklet’s contents over her shoulder, but she flinches away, taking the booklet with her. Still on her toes after our little argument from earlier, I see… “Who’s her opponent?” I ask, settling back into my seat.
“Um, a human called Pogrom. He’s not a mercenary, but the royal family of Naos seeded him in, so he should be pretty strong.”
“I know the name. He’s an 8th-rank warrior. As far as I can remember, his only magic of value is insect control or some such.”
Naos, as one of the largest human countries, definitely wouldn’t want to sponsor a weakling. It would be a stain on their honor, so it’s not surprising they’d call upon such a powerful practitioner to represent them. They must have paid him a hefty price for it, too.
I quickly find Pogrom on his platform, down in the arena, speaking animatedly with the human referee, who looks quite honored and proud to face such an exalted figure. The majin referee, on the other hand, looks distinctly uncomfortable and stands awkwardly on the other side of the platform, at a safe distance. Additionally, it seems like Sif and I are not the only ones to have our interest piqued by such a lopsided matchup, especially considering the other, distinctly lackluster matches of this bracket. Even from all the way over here, cheers and jeers for Pogrom and his still-absent opponent can be heard all the way from the human side of the spectator stands.
Did that F-rank mercenary concede the match already?
I have to admit that this would be the smartest thing to do.
The majin spectators around me seem to disagree, though.
“This is just shameful,” I hear someone say somewhere behind me. “If she registered for the tournament, then she should fight. Running away without even trying is something only a human would do!”
“If it were me down there, I would show that Prokrob or whatever what it means to be a real majin!”
“Rank five, huh? Pretty good for an F-rank mercenary, I guess. But without the courage to face adversity, she won’t go far on the road of cultivation. Disappointing.”
I blink at that last comment.
Warrior rank five?
That… is truly very high, for an F-rank mercenary. Her mercenary rank must only be so low because she joined her outfit recently. It probably isn’t a reflection of her actual degree of skill. In fact, to have been selected for the Competition despite her lower rank, she must have something.
I turn to Sif to ask her to lend me that booklet, to check the info myself, but before I can verbalize my intention, I find her staring intently at the arena below, a strange laugh spewing from her lips. The expression on her face can best be described as… schadenfreude, her smile that of one who’s about to take great pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.
“Oooohohoh. There she iiiis,” she whispers in a sing-song voice full of venom – metaphorically speaking; she’s not using her poison magic.
Frowning at her strange reaction, I reflexively follow her gaze toward a diminutive form strolling calmly toward Pogrom’s platform. That figure is very short, but distinctly female, and covered from head to toe in a black suit, a hood hanging to conceal her features. Her appearance doesn’t strike me as anything strange, but her poise and calm, even in the face of the jeers and mockeries from the humans and the lukewarm reception from the majin, who still predict her imminent, embarrassing defeat, very much do.
From start to finish, when she stands on the platform opposite Pogrom, nothing in her body language betrays the slightest tension. From her arms – one of them as white as the other is black – hanging loosely at her sides, to her tail swinging peacefully behind her…
My breath catches in my throat as I lean forward violently, almost bumping into the tenjin sitting in the row in front of me. My eyes bulge out as I strive to get a better look at the distant figure.
“This… This is…”
We’re pretty far up on the stands, so it’s hard to see the details, but that tail…
For a while, I thought the girl was a werewolf, but that can’t be. I take back what I said; her appearance does strike me as strange. Very strange! Her height is much too short; her posture is too straight; her breasts are too high on her chest and too large in proportion to the rest of her abdomen; the line from her knees to her ankles is absolutely human-like, and so are her feet themselves… Really, the only werewolf-like thing about her is the tail.
I watch as Pogrom starts speaking, pointing, and gesturing to his opponent, looking smug and superior. I don’t know what he’s saying – even without the deafening screams of the spectators, it would be impossible to hear their dialogue from here – but I suddenly want to kill him.
I finally manage to tear my eyes from their unblinking staring of… of… the mysterious contestant… and whirl on Sif next to me. It’s like she’s read my thoughts; she’s already offering me the booklet, opened at the right page, a wide, teasing smile on her face. Heedless of her behavior, I snatch the booklet from her hands and read.
Naos Royal Family – Pogrom Devis
Warrior Rank: 8
Mercenary Rank: –
Biography: Born the same year the infamous massacre of Rivia occurred, Pogrom, the first son of a marquis of the now-defunct kingdom of Heres, was always…
Fuck off, you insignificant worm!
With an irrational surge of anger at Pogrom, who dared to pollute my eyeballs when they have more important things to look at, I finally read the entry right below.
High-Sea Verse Mercenary Group – Akasha
Warrior Rank: 5
Mercenary Rank: F
I look up from the booklet fast enough to give myself whiplash and stare unblinkingly at the girl in the arena.
And I can see it.
I can see it in her form so easily.
Her limbs are thicker than before, and the fur of her tail is white instead of black, and her left arm is gone, replaced by a magic prosthesis…
But this is unmistakably…
While I stare dumbfounded, almost uncomprehending, the match begins.
Pogrom takes the initiative by taking a deep breath, then spitting it out. What comes out of his mouth, however, isn’t air, but a swarm of flying, buzzing insects. The human spectators let out deafening cheers at their favored contestant using his signature move, while the majin give cries of disgust and revulsion at the scene.
When I see Akasha stay rooted in place and the tide of insects bear down on her, I leap out of my seat in panic and prepare to expend all my magic to flatten this whole arena around her and protect her. There’s no way I’ll let anything injure her before my eyes!
Sif’s hand uses this perfect opportunity, as my surroundings are completely forgotten and my whole being is focused entirely on attacking, to grab my shoulder and forcefully pull me back. Her ‘nerve’ magic enters me and numbs my entire body, and I flop back into my seat.
It takes me a fraction of a second to shake off both her hand and magic, then I round on her with a murderous glare.
She unexpectedly dares to stop me! Looks like erasing this annoyance from the world is long overdue!
“Waiwaiwaiwaiwait!” Sif shouts urgently, her face pale with fear, her loud voice almost drowned out by the screams of the excited audience. “Think, for one fucking second! I already told you that Akasha is pretty much invincible on Caldera, right? There is no way a scrub like Pogrom can harm her. And if you suddenly jump down there and blow everything away, what do you think that boy-emperor is going to do? He’ll send his gods after you! You’ll be the one putting Akasha in danger!”
That last sentence stops me cold, and my brain abruptly starts working again.
Even if I appear openly in front of Gareth Adkins, he wouldn’t recognize who I am, but the Major’s magic is famous. The moment I cast a spell is the moment I reveal my identity. If Akasha finds herself linked to the Major, it might motivate my numerous enemies to find her to get at me.
But… wouldn’t Adkins recognize Akasha anyway?
I throw a glance at the private, open compartment the new emperor is occupying. He’s deep in conversation with the man sitting next to him. Neither of them is paying any attention to the Competition.
Let’s hope it stays that way.
If they start moving, so will I. Otherwise, I’ll wait for a chance to meet Akasha in secret. That’ll be safer.
I mustn’t mess this up!
Let’s not botch it by rushing!
I force my tense body to relax and continue attentively watching my little sister’s match. I need to be ready. Despite the need for prudence and patience, the moment she looks like she’ll be in danger, I will let loose the most potent spell I can and just worry about the consequences later.
“Fuuuu…” Sif lets out a long breath and wipes sweat from her brow. “You scared me, for a moment, there. I didn’t think you’d react so… sensitively. You sure are taking this whole business to heart.”
She gives me a speculative glance, probably hoping for an explanation, but I ignore her and focus on the battle.
Akasha has been engulfed in the swarm of insects, her small form invisible in the middle of the buzzing, chittering cloud.
Some of the insects on the outer border of the swarm seem to be escaping Pogrom’s control. Instead of attacking Akasha, they land on the platform itself and start eating it, apparently satisfied with a meal of stone instead of flesh. Each individual bug doesn’t cause noticeable damage – at least, not at the distance I’m viewing the scene – but there are so many of them that it doesn’t take long for whole chunks of the platform to disappear, the creatures’ mandibles clearly strong enough to bite into solid rock.
Pogrom is laughing, watching his opponent’s quandary. The human spectators are shouting out their anticipation at seeing another majin casualty.
I grit my teeth. My nails bite deeply into my palms. I feel my muscles tighten with anxiety and the sheer physical need to do something. Am I actually just sitting there? I need to do something right now!
Just when I’m about to completely exhaust what little dregs of patience Sif’s warning allowed me to gather together, the situation in the arena abruptly changes.
Just like the swarm engulfed Akasha, a cloud of white fog suddenly coalesces out of thin air and engulfs the swarm. In a second or two, all of Pogrom’s insects drop out of the air and shatter on the tattered stone floor like delicate crystal sculptures.
A surge of warm pride spreads through my whole being.
Is it ‘ice’, like Sif described?
A good rune. An expected one, too. Fenrirs are the masters of ice and snow. It would have been weird if she hadn’t inherited that power.
I wonder if she has another rune or two, though? It’s normally extremely rare for a majin to be born with a single one, but I’m not sure how Akasha’s peculiar birth might have affected that probability.
I feel a smile lift the corners of my lips when I realize that, as soon as we’re finally reunited, I’ll be able to just ask her.
When Akasha reappears out of the swarm, there is not a single scratch on her. Even her strange clothes are pristine. She stands there like before, relaxed and peaceful, watching her opponent but not taking the initiative to attack him. Pogrom, on the other hand, looks agitated, presumably ashamed that his signature move turned out to be so useless in front of such a broad audience.
A more considerable qi fluctuation than before explodes from within his body, and another, larger swarm appears, this time gradually fading into view in the sky above the platform, rather than spewed out of his mouth – that was probably deliberate grandstanding to impress the public. The swarm doesn’t fall upon Akasha immediately, though. Instead, the insects forming the swarm cluster together in half a dozen dark shapes and fuse with each other, gradually turning into human-sized insectoid creatures, halfway between wasp and mantis.
Akasha only watches the transformation from below, not casting any spells to interrupt the process.
When those six strange creatures dive down toward Akasha, Pogrom also goes on the attack, his skin gaining a shiny, metallic luster.
“Steel Skin, huh?” Sif mutters. “How unoriginal…”
I agree. Steel Skin is one of the most popular spells in the world – a vast number of humans learn it as a matter of course during their education as children – to the point where it ended up receiving a name separate from its actual rune. Its common name, however, is neither descriptive nor accurate. Repeated experiments have proven that the spell doesn’t turn the caster’s skin into actual steel, and the spell doesn’t merely reinforce the caster’s skin, but also his muscles, joining effects from both ‘reinforcement’ and ‘strengthening’.
The point is that, since it’s so popular, it’s been studied extensively, and nobody’s going to be particularly impressed with someone who uses it. It’s essentially a beginner’s spell.
Admittedly, Pogrom’s mastery of it seems decent enough; his agility isn’t impacted too much by the reinforcement, and the tint of his skin is the right shade of silver. He definitely looks like he’d be mostly immune to physical attacks. Added to the assistance of his summoned insectoids, he could be considered an adequate front-line soldier.
But Steel Skin is a poor match against Akasha’s ‘ice’.
Which she herself should know, judging by her unruffled appearance.
I watch with bated breath and on the edge of my seat, waiting for the moment my little sister proudly demonstrates her powerful magic and freezes her opponent in his tracks.
But… I misjudged.
Akasha doesn’t use magic at all.
When the insectoids and Pogrom himself converge on her position, she moves.
Even with my whole attention focused on her, my eyes have trouble catching her movements. From immobility, Akasha’s leg suddenly bursts into motion, leaving afterimages and a corona of exploding air in its wake. I watch dumbfounded as the whole solid-rock platform shatters into pieces under Akasha’s other leg as her kick shears right through one of the insectoids, cutting it in half at the waist, and slams into the boxing guard Pogrom had raised in front of his face. The arm that receives the blow isn’t so much ripped off as ground into meat paste, the metallic reinforcement covering it radically useless. Without slowing down in the least, Akasha’s foot slams into Pogrom’s head.
The sound of impact is deafening.
Pogrom’s head disintegrates.
The leftover force of Akasha’s kick continues behind Pogrom and crashes into the security barrier separating the audience from the contestants. The normally transparent and invisible barrier flashes brightly, and great ripples centered on the point of impact distort its surface, eliciting screams of shock and fear from the spectators sitting right beyond.
When the ripples fade and Pogrom’s lifeless, headless body drops to the floor, the summoned insects all fade away into nothing, the flow of qi giving them substance gone.
A hushed silence falls upon the arena. It’s not to the point where you’d hear the fall of a needle, but compared to the loud cheers from earlier, the difference is striking.
I too can’t help but take a slow breath through my teeth as I digest what I just saw.
What kind of body can produce such overwhelming force? This goes far beyond anything I’ve ever seen. It’s not inconceivable for a powerful god to reach that kind of power with a mastered strengthening magic, I suppose, but… there was no magic in that blow. Only pure brute strength. Could this truly just be the result of body strengthening?
What happened, for that sickly, weak little girl to become such a superlative powerhouse? What kind of hardships did she experience in that prison that she would become so strong?
I grit my teeth against the outrage and pain burning inside me, pushing me to stand up and scream and slaughter, and watch Akasha closely. She ignores the stunned spectators and the gawking referees and turns away from Pogrom’s corpse, making to leave the arena.
“Let’s go,” I mutter for Sif’s benefit as I get up from my seat.
I want to meet Akasha before her next match. I don’t want to wait until the end of the Competition.
However, before I can take even a single step toward the descending stairs cutting at regular intervals through the spectator stands, something happens to derail all my plans.
Down in the arena, Akasha’s head whips toward the private compartment of the human emperor, where Gareth Adkins and his retinue are sitting. She freezes mid-step. For a second, she stays unmoving, halfway off the platform where she just won her first match.
Then, without any warning signs, her form blurs, only a fuzzy afterimage left where she just stood an instant ago.
What is she planning on doing?!
A giant, lightning-fast leap lets Akasha cross the entire span of the arena, heading for Adkins’s compartment. Her body twists in midair, and her left and right fists snap forward in rapid succession, two sonic booms ringing out to accompany them.
Even from this distance, I can feel the desperate, crushing weight behind both of these blows. The air in front of Akasha visibly distorts, and when the first shockwave – that from her left fist – impacts the security barrier, a blinding flash of light and the sound of shattering crystal herald its destruction.
Leaving the way clear for Akasha’s second punch.
Her nonsensical strength impacts the spectator stands straight on. I stare in disbelief as the emperor’s private compartment is instantly crushed into kindling and stone dust. Her attack was so sudden and unexpected and vicious that no one could react to it, but I’m fairly certain I could sense another, more powerful protective barrier automatically spring up to shield the people inside the compartment just as the strike reached them.
This new barrier, however, doesn’t prevent the whole structure from collapsing and burying its occupants beneath tons of debris. Neither do the nearest spectators on both sides of the private compartment enjoy its benefits. With people packed so closely together, I enjoy an unobstructed view of several hundred human practitioners simultaneously being flattened into red, bloody smears, while those a bit further are flung through the air like rag dolls by the explosive impact. A dust cloud mushrooms up several hundred meters high into the sky, and the earth shakes and buckles wildly, some of the walls of the arena collapsing.
Then, just as people finally start to process what they just witnessed, a forest of ice spears suddenly appears in the sky, pointing toward the ruins of the private compartment. They rain down like deadly hail.
And I can see Akasha readying another punch already, entirely free from hesitation, doubt, or mercy.
I’m too shocked at the sheer, absurd violence of Akasha’s outburst – it’s just… so at odds with my memory of that little scaredy-cat, sweet and gentle and intellectual and playful – to make any response, until Sif’s harried voice rings out next to me.
“Isn’t this pretty bad?” she asks, scrambling up after the earthquake from Akasha’s punch threw her off her feet. “Aren’t there gods protecting the emperor? Isn’t Akasha in danger? What are we going to do? Or are they already all dead? Is it fine?”
No, it’s not fine. They’re not dead.
That last barrier was too strong. It won’t hold up for long against more of Akasha’s ridiculous strikes, but it definitely protected Adkins and his subordinates from the last one.
Akasha is in danger!
I take a deep, steadying breath –
– and shoot up into the sky, the pressure of my magic flaring up all around me.
No one will ever touch my sister again!