Helen snorted, raising her blood covered spear. The large man, who was so lustily looking at her body minutes ago, had collapsed in a puddle of his own blood, the large wounds that Helen inflicted on him completely robbing him of his will to fight.
Unbeknownst to that man, Helen too was very close to her limit. She felt a creeping weakness in her limbs, likely an aftereffect from creating the new move for her Skillset. But even though standing without the support of her spear was difficult, she was filled with a manic excitement. To improve a Skill Set’s rarity was exceptionally rare. Usually an individual would create the Skill Set while they were young, train for years, and only once their body had a significant enough amount of pure Aether embedded in it would they enter an isolation chamber and cause their Skill Set to evolve. But of course, Helen hadn’t done that.
She had simply consumed that small ball of Aether that the Ghosthound had left inside of her. It made her surprisingly hot and cold at the same time. She was strangely turned on by the prospect of some fraction of him remaining inside of her, but cold because what it meant about the Ghosthound, and the purity of the Aether that he had inside of him already. Where did all that Aether come from…?
Not only had she increased the rarity of the Skill Set, but she had also added a move, which was more common, but the two combined made it that much more likely to be successful in the future. Hell, if people knew she possessed this level of Skill Set, and if she was a talented teacher, Helen could probably create her own Style with a nice amount of success, especially in an area like Qtal.
But that was for later. For now, Helen looked around. Teliph was wounded, but the wispy man was worse, and their attacks were growing increasingly sharp and desperate. The male spear attendant was still getting beat to shit by the two female twins, but it seemed that their attacks were getting shallower and shallower…
Or…. if it wasn’t just Helen’s imagination… his created skill was becoming increasingly powerful and sharp, the more he was abused. He seemed to thrive on it, to which Helen felt no small amount of disgust. But she supposed she shouldn’t complain that the fool was finally finding some measure of strength for himself. Less weight for Teliph and herself to carry.
Helen, almost unwillingly turned her attention to the fight that was centerstage: with Divveltian behind him, glaring over at the woman with long sleeves, the Ghosthound clashed against the man called Jacktat.
Although Divveltian had no trouble smashing Jacktat and his group to the ground, it seemed that the Artisan owned by the Merchant Association wasn’t a pushover. As Helen watched, the air around the man seemed to ripple, and Helen paled. This was it. The strength that could suppress others below the Artisan level. Why the categories had more meaning than just honor. It was a demarcation.
As Helen watched, bolts of lightning began to gather and spin around Jacktat’s spear, becoming increasingly dense and crystal clear, losing the ethereal quality of an image, and seeming to become reality.
“I have no quarrel with you, but… You do not know your own strength. Prepare to die to your own foolishness.” Jacktat intoned. Then he spun his spear lazily for a second, and then rushed forward, moving so quickly that he seemed to blur.
To her surprise, the Ghosthound simply stood there, then he glanced meaningfully side to side. The female twins were brutalizing the male spear attendant, but they were far away. Teliph and the wispy man were on the opposite side, near the stairway down to the cabins.
There was much space around them. The Ghosthound had nowhere to run to. Strangely, Helen became strangely relieved. Because that was not the face of a man who feared the future.
The Ghosthound smiled wickedly, raising the huge obsidian monstrosity that he so easily manipulated like a light spear. Roots sprung into existence around Jacktat, moving incredibly fast, whipping up and grasping his limbs, holding him still. But Jacktat just roared, ripping through them.
The Ghoshound accelerated forward, moving to meet Jacktat, who was still wreathed in lightning.
“Fool! Sky Breaker!” Storm clouds swirled above the two battling individuals, and a thick bolt smashed downward, hitting the tip of Jacktat’s spear, which began to crackle. Humming with power, Jacktat slashed forward towards the Ghosthound’s figure.
But the Ghosthound excelled at handling direct attacks. He surged forward in a burst of speed, then seemed to melt away like an ice sculpture on a hot beach, appearing on the other side of Jacktat’s spear.
Jacktat hissed, but the spear, still bursting with power, reversed direction and swept over towards the Ghosthound, who was now cutting down towards Jacktat’s forearm. Jacktat’s face contorted into a grin.
“Competing in speed? Hehe, well- huh!??”
And Helen gasped too, because the Ghosthound’s spear seemed to teleport forward a short distance, and then ripped downwards into Jacktat’s arm, cutting to the bone and dislodging that arm’s grip on the spear.
But by the time Jacktat had recovered, the Ghosthound faded backwards, creating some distance. Jacktat’s eyes bulged, but then now seemed to have heavy, dark bags under them, as if this long fight with the Ghosthound was exceptionally trying.
Helen felt a presence to her left, and turned to find a pale Teliph. Teliph just nodded to the side, and Helen looked to see the two female twins, on the ground exhausted, with the male spear attendant standing above them. Looking more like a disheveled pincushion than a person, but monologuing enthusiastically about his strength to the depleted women.
Rolling her eyes, Helen turned back to the Ghosthound and Jacktat. A win was a win, she supposed. It was still fucking cringy that he had the nerve to be so pompous about what was effectively an endurance contest. Even if he was shitty with a spear, his dedication to punishment was real.
Although the Ghosthound had inflicted a serious injury on Jacktat, the Artisan’s eyes were not those of a defeated man. Instead, they were now deathly serious. It seemed he was finally starting to realize how this would end if he allowed things to continue as they were right now.
“This… is the greatest outrage of my life.” Jacktat said quietly, and something about the way that he said it made it seem exactly the opposite of that. His voice was no longer wild and vicious, it was cold and calculating. The Ghosthound said nothing, simply adjusting his stance and waiting.
“Did you think…this would be enough? This level of skill, this level of playing?” Again, Jacktat spoke with an exaggerated casual tone. But still, the Ghosthound remained still, waiting. One thing Helen knew for sure, from overhearing Teliph talk about the Ghosthound during his time in the prison was that there was one thing that the Ghosthound exceeded all others; that was in recuperation time. He was inexhaustible. And although Jacktat’s attitude had become more serious…
There was something odd about him. About the increasingly dark bags under his eyes, and the way his face was growing pale. About the way all the small scratches on him had become red and inflamed, and some were producing thick yellow pus.
The Ghosthound just watched, his eyes cool. The energy continued to crackle around Jacktat, soft lightning jumping from arm to arm, skipping over the large chunk missing from his one hand. He kept adjusting his grip, but he simply wasn’t able manage it with that much of his tendons and muscle mass missing.
It would heal eventually, but he did not have that sorta time.
Growling, Jacktat produced a potion. Quick as a whip, a root ripped upward from the boat, expertly smashing the glass to pieces, dumping its contents on the ground, even as Jacktat saw and tried to move.
Slowly, a dozen or so more roots twisted up out of the deck, to look towards Jacktat in askance. The Ghosthound’s eyes were a vicious emerald. His face was still, but there was something about it. It was the look of recognition a wolf gives to a lost sheep.
“You fucking…. None of you fucking take me seriously…!” Jacktat raised his spear, glaring manically down at the deck.
“Shal cannot be disturbed below.” Divveltian said suddenly. The Ghosthound’s eyes narrowed. Again, the roots whipped forward, wrapping around Jacktat’s arms, but after a second of struggle, he ripped through with brute force and brought the spear, filled with a crackling energy downward.
The Ghosthound materialized before the blow and swung his hug obsidian spear to meet the attack. The explosion was accompanied by the crackle of electricity, and although most of the energy was dispersed, the Ghosthound’s body began to twitch and seize.
Gleefully, Jacktat jumped forward, swinging his spear again. To Helen’s surprise, she didn’t make it in time, but the male spear attendant did. That pincushion was there, his spear raised defensively.
He was summarily smashed into the ground, the planks beneath him splintering slightly. Not to be outdone a second time, before Jacktat could take advantage of the blow, Helen was there, trembling even as she attacked. The weakness was real and pressing, but if she could just…
And yes, as she hoped, Jacktat dodged to the side clumsily, grimacing. It seemed he was more wounded than she realized. Which was good, because even with her newfound confidence in her skill set… To fight an Artisan… while barely able to stand…
“Heh…. hehehe, to think that-”
The root spears ripped up from the planks and through Jacktat’s legs and torso, silencing him. He spat out a gulp of blood and swayed. He swung his spear, but it just sunk halfway into a root, not managing to sever it.
“Why…. I feel… so weak…” Jacktat mumbled, looking at the ground. He dropped his spear.
“It’s because you already decay. Just give in and rot. I do not like to take your life, but…” The Ghosthound stood, his face strangely pained. Then he shook his head, and his resolution returned. “It is necessary.”
Jacktat opened his mouth, then closed it. Several more roots ripped upwards, riddling him with holes. With a sigh, the rest of his life passed from him, leaving a body slowly draining of blood, standing on the deck like a grotesque scarecrow.