With Skarch looming in front of her, Helen simply chuckled. “Get fucked.”
Skarch’s spear hit Helen’s stomach with enough force to crack a few ribs even as the long spearhead slid between them to inflict the most worrisome wound. Helen grunted, feeling the sharp flash of panic and the fiery waves of pain as though she was just an observer. But just as quickly as those feelings had arrived, the black flames of rage devoured them to grow larger and higher.
Twisting her wrists, Helen’s barely controlled spear ripped through Skarch’s bicep. Then she twitched her hands and sent the spear skittering up across Skarch’s face. The other woman was too shocked to react to the first attack, but she leaned back to avoid the worst of the second attempt. All that she received was a shallow gash across her cheekbone.
Step forward, damnit,
Helen urged her uncooperative, trembling legs. For all that her mind could endure such a wound, her body was much less resilient.
With a worried expression on her face, Skarch took a step backward. What was particularly infuriating was that she didn’t seem worried for herself. “Helen, your wound-”
After a hesitation that felt cavernous, Helen stepped forward after Skarch. Such was the other woman’s shock that the spear slid right back into the deep wound in Helen’s side. This time, however, it was accompanied by another burst of worrisome pain as Skarch twisted the spear to disentangle it. Some of Helen’s shattered ribs complained painfully.
. Helen whispered to herself. It was difficult to focus. Helen didn’t dare check her Health, lest she lose her nerve.
Whatever else it did, a few things were certain: Skarch’s Overdrive on her spear increased Skarch’s Agility and Strength much more than Helen’s Tides of Blood Domain improved her own. Continuing the fight normally wasn’t an option. Skarch was scrambling. It was perverse, but it seemed like Helen holding her own life hostage was giving the other woman pause.
It was a dirty trick. Almost cheating to win. Taking advantage of the other’s good intention to win, but…
I want to win. STRIKE!
Skarch was too close to properly get her form together, so the best Helen could manage was wielding her spear like a club and whacking Skarch upside the head. To her pleasure, this ripped open the small cut above Skarch’s eye and caused a cascade of blood to roll down. Very soon, Helen knew that a huge blind spot would open up in Skarch’s vision.
This time when Skarch stepped backward, Helen didn’t attempt to follow. Instead, her eyes were locked on the gush of blood from her own side. It wasn’t drops that fell out of the wound, but full handfuls of blood. The red globes fell and splattered in strange patterns. Steam wafted upward, a reminder of her own body’s vitality. Slowly, Helen raised her gaze and pressed her hand to her side. She needed to slow the bleeding.
But Helen still had the presence of mind to summon the Tides of Blood Domain. Somehow, it seemed easier to summon and more powerful than ever; the coloration of the Domain was much closer to true blood, as well.
In a somewhat amusing irony, Skarch seemed furious.
“You fool,” She whispered. “What have you done. You will die.”
“Haven’t yet,” Helen grunted. She felt the burning and freezing flow of energy from her connection to Randidly. It was rushing through her to fix the gash in her side. Blood oozed out between her fingers. Blinking rapidly, Helen did the best she could to focus her vision. Perhaps… perhaps this had been a very dumb decision.
Her wound began to ripple painfully as the energy arrived and did its work. Luckily, Skarch looked just as bloody with a would across her arm and head. But Helen understood such wounds were largely superficial; combined with Skarch’s still glowing spear…
From heat, suddenly the wound was cold. And with that chill came clarity once more to Helen. Suppressing a pang of fear, she took stock of herself. Her breath came in rattling gulps. Thank god she had held onto her spear through the onslaught of shock… fucking bodies. Trying to lose her the match.
“I will not ask again,” Skarch said. “Yield. Without treatment, you will die.”
Helen grinned. The coldness was such she could barely suppress a shiver. But she moved her hand away from her side and no further blood pumped out onto the stage.
Thanks, Randidly. Feeding Frenzy. Burst of Speed.
With the two buff Skills roaring through her veins, Helen rushed forward. Skarch’s right arm tightened on her spear and she raised it. Rather than waiting, Skarch advanced. In addition, her attack was still so fast that Helen could only throw herself to the side in order to be impaled on the spear.
Twisting around, Skarch angled the spear to point at Helen. It looked like the kid gloves had come off. With only one arm, Skarch wasn’t willing to take chances.
Panic set Helen’s heart to beat faster. Those reverberations filled the entire Tides of Blood Domain. Her control over the currents flowing through it trembled and fell to pieces. The red color darkened further. But Helen couldn’t focus on that. She leapt sideways, into the blind spot created as blood ran down Skarch’s face into her right eye in order to avoid another attack.
Skarch twisted to the right to find Helen, but her speed wasn’t as overwhelming as when she moved. Helen hoped Skarch would lose herself in this task for a bit, but only after a half second Skarch stopped and snorted. Skarch’s spear blurred and one-third of the Tides of Blood Domain was destroyed.
And yet… it didn’t fall.
Helen blinked. It was… heavier. Bloodier. Darker. And it simply oozed back to fill the empty space. The heartbeat continued, seeming to sink into some deeper part of the Domain.
Skarch also froze and blinked when she noticed the Domain didn’t scatter, and that was the chance Helen needed. “Maw of the Hellfin!”
The dangerous crimson specter appeared with a roar that instantly caught Skarch’s attention. It was, of course, subsequently ripped to pieces by a vicious thrust of the spear. Another chunk of the Tides of Blood Domain collapsed. But again, the whole didn’t even tremble.
But this time, Helen had strained herself to use a trick from Randidly’s playbook. As the loud Maw of the Hellfin attracted Skarch’s attention to the front, another struck at her silently from behind. And it sunk its spectral teeth into Skarch’s valuable right arm.
Roaring, Skarch produced a wave of force that shattered the maw and seemed to punch Helen in the gut. Windmilling her arms, Helen barely was able to stay on her feet. But her stomach wound opened back up. Thin fingers of blood ran down her shirt and into her pants.
Looking down, Helen could only grimace. Her front was a mess of gore, like some prepubescent girl’s nightmare. Already the burning of the healing energy had returned, but Helen could only glare at Skarch; better to let the healing complete. No matter how wide open Skarch’s flank was…
But she supposed Skarch didn’t know that. “Decimate!”
Skarch spun toward Helen’s voice and brought her spear up in slash so fast it was invisible that likely would have cut Helen in half, had she actually been attacking. When her spear met nothing, Skarch swayed side to side, searching for Helen. She finally found Helen and glared at her.
Helen did not miss the blood running out of Skarch’s wounded arm after the sudden strike. Around her, the Tides of Blood Domain grew heavier and heavier. The pounding of her heart became fainter. Yet there was a tingling along the back of Helen’s neck. What the hell… It was like…
“This is how you want this tournament to be decided? A test of endurance?” Skarch asked in a low voice. “Is your spear truly so shameless?”
“Just shut up. You had a leg to stand on earlier, but now you just sound like a sore loser. Save me the trouble and surrender.” Helen snapped. But her mind was elsewhere. The flames of rage sank low. Her strength was being summoned elsewhere.
Blood trickled out of the wound in Helen’s side and pooled on the ground. The audiences crazed yelling faded away. The haze of the bloody domain around them darkened from crimson to maroon. The pounding became faint and distant; another heartbeat, not her own. But it was growing closer.
Skarch chuckled. “Truly, I am surprised. I had never expected that you could push me to such a point without relying on the spear… truly, your strange image is wonderous. And growing stronger? But now I know you: You are a minor piranha, nothing deadly. And this spear can easily slay one such as you.”
That earned a wry smile from Helen, but it swiftly lost any true amusement as her attention was once more grabbed by that faint heartbeat. The Domain continued to darken. The beat slowed.
The reason she smiled was a conversation she had with Randidly during their training.
‘Fuck me,’ Helen had said.
Randidly grinned. Then he said, ‘Remember, your images can’t beat Skarch at her own game. In terms of small detail, her mastery over the Spear will destroy you if you are just a Hellfin Reaper.’
‘So I lose,’ Helen muttered. She lay on her back and looked toward the ceiling with Randidly standing over her.
But Randidly’s smile didn’t waver. ‘The one Hellfin Reaper won’t be enough… but what if you had the whole Blood Sea?’
Slow and constant, that heartbeat sounded like it was growing closer.