Shal’s spear was thin and frail compared to the hulking pole of iron that the Spearman removed from the ground. But Shal did not care. In fact, at the moment, he didn’t care about anything.
As the two spear-users squared off against each other, the specific details of the situation fell away, as it always did. All that remained was Shal’s determination. In front of him was a foe that he had to defeat. Other details were irrelevant. All that was left was to test the edge of his spear.
But at the back of his mind, Shal could feel that the typical fighting state didn’t descend as easily as it would normally. All of Tellus stood behind him, watching. Breathing out through his nose, Shal banished that feeling; this was just a fight.
A movement behind him brought Shal’s whipped his attention around. Slowly, Randidly picked up and moved his friend farther away from the two of them. Shal forced himself to relax and considered the space. The room was small, perhaps only ten meters across, but it would be enough. At their level, they could leverage even this size space to their advantage.
Shal eyed the large spear the Spearman held.
Almost half the entire distance… it will be difficult.
There was no announcement but the silence as Randidly finished the task of drawing Azriel across the room. Both combatants moved at the same time. The Spearman simply thrust forward with his large spear, while Shal sidestepped and thrust at a new angle to knock the Spearman’s strike aside and reach the other’s throat.
With a deft touch, the Spearman twisted his spear as the two weapons crossed. His spear buzzed like a disturbed hornet’s nest; it was a sharp defensive move. Shal’s strike was knocked up and away from the Spearman’s body. At the same time, the twist brought the Spearman’s strike back on target.
Shal rapidly withdrew his thrust and brought the butt of his spear up to smash the blow upward.
As if predicting the defense, the Spearman followed the momentum of the push and allowed his spear to be knocked up. Spinning sideways, the Spearman displayed an obscene amount of strength as he corralled the momentum and brought his huge spear around. After a split second, the spear slashed back toward Shal in a horizontal slash.
Shal took a step back. Then he immediately winced as his heel hit the wall; the earlier clash had already pushed him back.
Better to circle.
The humming horizontal sweep of the Spearman stopped as he twisted his spear once more, launching himself into a thrust toward Shal’s heart.
Shal’s eyes narrowed. No room to dodge. He would need to sidestep, but with enough oomph to escape the almost announced counter.
The side stepped he executed was at the last possible moment. He wanted until he saw the flash of shock in the Spearman’s eye that he didn’t dodge, and then dodged. After a quick sidestep, Shal moved past the spear point and thrust his own spear toward the Spearman’s arm. That split second of shock from the Spearman gave Shal a bit of room to breathe.
But that reprieve was gone just as quickly as it arrived.
Lightning quick, the Spearman released the grip on his spear with his left hand and struck with a cutting blow to deflect Shal’s spear attack that neared his arm. But Shal had seen that coming; with a flick of the wrist, the relatively thin and worn spear of Shal bent and curved under the sudden torque. The Spearman’s block missed.
Shal scored a jagged blow across the Spearman’s arm. Blood quickly welled up and began to trickle down toward his hand scarred.
The lines on the Spearman’s face deepened. Shal took several steps backward and spun his spear. All the while, his Isolating Fear continued to pound away at the Spearman.
“Are these childish tricks all you have?” The Spearman asked, sounding extremely tired.
Shal smiled slightly. But he wasn’t really facing the Spearman, he was lost in a memory.
A ten-year-old Pronto raised the long stick they were playing with wiggled it until it appeared to be more noodle than wooden shaft. Then he stopped and displayed it for Shal’s inspection.
Shal regarded it dubiously. “Why are you doing that? That’s not how you use a spear.”
“Why not?” Pronto asked, his usual wide grin plastered across his face.
“Because it isn’t. Using a spear isn’t a game. Father says-” Shal began, but Pronto shook his head sadly.
“Shal, we can’t be heroes like Father if we act like everyone else! We need something special! So a wiggly spear. Cool right?”
“We could act like Father,” Shal said sourly.
Pronto threw his hands up in the air. “Think about it! Imagine it! Wouldn’t it be cool to have a spear that was a snake? It could bite people instead of stabbing them. That would be a hero people would talk about. Right?”
Grunting at Shal’s lack of response, the Spearman rushed forward once more. This time when he moved, there was the distant sounds of battles and screaming that followed his steps. Instantly, Shal’s eyes sharpened. So he was finally going to use his images? Perfect. There would be no point if he did not.
The world seemed to agree with that notion. This time when the Spearman attacked, energies began to spin around their conflict. The world was watching, waiting for the image that would allow Tellus to Ascend.
The Spearman smashed downwards with his spear, treating it more like a hammer than a true spear. The ground cracked and buckled as Shal stepped to the side and out of the way. Roaring, the Spearman strode boldly forward after Shal.
All the while, Shal continued to spend his Mana on Isolating Fear.
How long will you be able to last, Spearman? You rage because of fate, but you brought yourself here. And now that losing will grant you your heart’s desire… will you be able to maintain the cutting edge that made you the Spearman?
This time the Spearman’s thrust was so fast that the air seemed to shudder with its passage. Gritting his teeth, Shal danced to the side and feinted toward the Spearman’s knee. Rather than responding normally to the feint, the Spearmen moved to meet Shal’s supposed strike with a brutal knee. It was the response of a confident aggressor.
Wincing, Shal flexed his spear and then let it bow beneath the brutal knee counter to disperse most of the force. Then Shal twisted the spear and smashed the Spearman in the belly. The man dully grunted but did not appear any the worse for wear.
And while Shal struck at the stomach, the Spearman had time to drop his huge spear downward like a guillotine.
Shal’s eyes flashed. The Spearman’s confidence made him predictable in a way. The haymaker style blow would be slow but effective. Still, in the Spearman’s mind, Shal had spent the force he could muster. All his options now appeared to be either continuing to circle or attempting to block the powerful blow.
Unfortunate, Auto Rach. Now, let us dance.
Coiling Momentum: Strike.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as Shal exploded into motion. Coiling Momentum was a Skill that passively took a little bit of speed off of every move Shal made. A minuscule amount, so little that none but he would notice. Slowly, that speed accumulated. Like an adder waiting to strike, Shal could tap into this momentum for a brief burst of speed. But such was the long cost of charging up sufficient speed that Shal had only used the Skill once before.
That was in a tryout for the position as Ophelia’s lieutenant, in order to impress her enough to accept him. Since then, he had endured a slight resistance in his movements for almost a year. At this point, he didn’t even notice it anymore. It was just part of the way he was.
So when time expanded around him into cavernous split seconds, Shal almost wasn’t sure what to do. Or rather, he wasn’t sure how to control his body, flooded as it was with the overwhelming sense of capability. As he activated the Skill, his heart pounded with such ferocity that it shook Shal’s own ribcage. The beats were far between in the heightened mode but had a force that was impossible to describe.
Shal raised his spear or attempted to. His arm blurred upward, and the spear that had just smacked the Spearman in the stomach ripped up through the Spearman’s nose, tearing through one of his nostrils and exposing cartilage to the air. Blood sprayed in a slow-motion arc upward.
The Spearman’s head slowly leaned back as the Spearman’s prodigious reflects kicked in, a little too late. Shal watched the individual drops of blood with wide eyes, then controlled his spear as he lowered it. Or at least tried to.
Instead, he brought his spear down and gored a hole into the thigh of the Spearman. The speed was so much that the spear bent as he brought it down into a crescent. Then, when the blade tip entered into the Spearman’s flesh, the bowed spear snapped straight, ripping the wound much wider than it would have been otherwise.
The spear pierced deeply into the Spearman’s leg. To swiftly dislodge it, Shal twisted the spear and ripped through a good portion of the muscle and flesh in the surrounding area. It brought Shal a flash of joy; the Spearman would not be able to rely on this leg for a while.
As Shal raised his spear one more time with the dwindling boost, he felt the rage and hate in the Spearman’s eyes. This time he didn’t try to control it. He simply let his body do what it had done almost one million times: raise the spear and thrust.
The Skill finished, and Shal hurriedly pulled his spear out of the Spearman’s midsection. Blood followed like a rush of desperate refugees from his body, spurting out to pool on the ground.
As quickly as possible, Shal stepped backward or at least tried to. What he actually did was lean and fall backward, because his body was wracked by muscle spasms. Shal grimaced.
Too much, too fast. My body-
But that thought was wiped off of the surface of his mind as the Spearman finally brought his brutal blow downward. Shal couldn’t help but notice that it began accelerating, as it rushed down to crush him in retaliation for his previous blows.
Angry, are we? Good. Then perhaps you will cease playing around.
Even as his limbs struggled to recover from the overexertion they just experienced, Shal gritted his teeth and brought up his spear to block the overhand blow from the Spearman. It was a close thing. A split second longer and Shal would have been cut in half. As it was, his spear was there in time and its flexible shaft bowed beneath the pressure.
But Shal’s expression tightened as the power of the violent image contained in the spear continued to press downward. Images of bodies breaking surrounded the two fighters. Space was already tight in the small room, and it seemed like Shal was surrounded by a sea of corpses. The weight of a thousand bodies’ dripping blood pounded down on Shal with the Spearman’s attack.
Gritting his teeth, Shal strained every muscle he could. He could hear the crack of breaking bones, the groans and sighs of the dying. It was a symphony of noises, rising higher and higher. Shouting, crying, screaming…
Shal’s spear trembled underneath the onslaught, then snapped.
The blow crashed into Shal’s shoulder, shattering his collarbone on the left side and biting deeply into the muscle of his upper body. But just as quickly, Shal lashed out with the bottom half of his old spear. With the splintered and broken end first, he shoved it into the deep gash he had made in the Spearman’s thigh. Then, both to propel himself away and make matters worse, Shal kicked the shattered piece of the shaft.
The head of the Spearman’s spear was ripped out of his torso, taking with it Shal’s breath. Grunting, Shal swayed then took a defensive stance.
The Spearman growled and took a step forward, but stumbled as the leg with a half meter of wood sticking out of it failed him. He righted himself, then glared at Shal. The two bleeding spear-users stared at each other, even as the runes in the air began to spin and glitter, faster and faster.