“Who do you think will win?” Skarch asked, yawning widely.
Helen drummed her fingers against the wood of the seats. Although they were in the participant’s box, no one had bothered to spend the money to make sure the fighters would live in comfort. The C Corp only provided the higher end amenities to those willing to pay money. “I don’t know. But you two spent time with him during the preliminaries, how strong was Silo? How would you describe him?”
“Huh…” Azriel seemed genuinely surprised by the question. She frowned. She frowned harder. She reached up and scratched her chin. “I guess… passable?”
“Passable compared to you two and Randidly is still pretty good,” Helen said. Then immediately she felt the flash of fear and annoyance that always followed mentioning Randidly. He had been gone for almost thirty days without a word. Part of her wanted to worry, but the other part of her knew that as soon as she bothered to express worry that idiot would swagger back into her life.
And the worst part was he would probably reveal that he had, in a single month, leaped up to Level 50 and now had enough power to fight a Master.
Helen’s increasingly furious daydream got distracted by Skarch. “The level of this tournament is above passable at this point. But from the fact that he finished his previous two matches in under a minute… he certainly is good.”
“Speak for your own bracket,” Azriel said with an aggrieved look. “My opponents will be two nobodies, no matter who wins.”
“Only you would complain about having an easy path to the finals,” Helen said sourly, casting Skarch a glance.
The other woman, her opponent in three days, grinned at her. “I will crush you. Prepare for it.”
“How charming,” Helen said darkly. But before she could follow up with a retort, Skarch twisted and peered toward the stands below them. The other woman leaned forward, her hands tightening on the wooden frame of their viewing booth.
“Something wrong?” Helen asked.
Through gritted teeth, Skarch spat out a single word. “Family.”
“Ah,” Helen understood immediately. Her mother was still staying in the Northern Expedition’s campsite a little way out of the city while the powers that be discussed where to house them all, but she knew her mother and cousin would try and claw their way in to see her match. And undoubtedly, they would gloat knowingly if she won and disappointed in her if she lost.
Both options were infuriating in different ways. But still, it made Helen empathetic to Skarch’s rather uncharacteristic reaction.
“Should we not great family? Is it an elder?” Azriel said, clearly missing the cues in Skarch’s voice.
Skarch smiled viciously. “Not an elder… technically, we are the same age. But it is fine. We will likely… no, I am sure our paths will cross soon. It has that feel in the air.”
As if to demonstrate her point, Skarch stuck out her tongue and wiggled it. But before Helen could respond, the crowd began to roar.
“Looks like it is about to begin,” Azriel said. “About time.”
From opposite ends of the arena, the two fighters walked out while the crowd shouted their approval. Both seemed to small, although Helen’s Perception was high enough that she could pick out every detail on their person. No, their size was perhaps related to the sense of showmanship that Helen sensed from their deliberate walking speed.
This is why Randidly wanted to move on. He understood that his growth would be slow if he had to slog through this.
After almost a minute, the two fighters finally arrived at the stage. There, they calmly faced off. Althumber was tall and possessed tan skin, with a bright smile as he spoke to Silo.
Helen’s gaze turned to Silo just as Skarch voiced almost exactly her gut response. “Is that boy eating? He looks like a withered old man.”
Silo’s golden hair hung limp and pale like old straw. He walked with a hunch, his spear clutched to his chest. It seemed like the kid hadn’t spent any time in the sun these last few weeks, because even from this distance, his blue veins clearly stood out against his paper-thin skin. His face seemed more like a mask that a true face one was born into, and there were deep and dark circles around his eyes.
While Althumber clearly taunted him, Silo ignored his. But Helen’s eyes narrowed. For all that he appeared weak, the fragile looking gaze was dangerously sharp.
“Interesting,” Azriel said with relish. “Perhaps it will end up not being a waste to attend, after all.”
Helen rolled her eyes. Ever since Azriel’s master had arrived in the city, the young woman had almost been obsessively training every second of the day. It took quite a lot for Helen to drag her out here.
In a way, Helen could understand Azriel’s plight. Her goal was to prove her master to be a powerful spear user and not a crystal bug the size of a cart, and yet her matches had all been absurdly easy. Meanwhile.
“Veir! Veir! Veir! Veir!” The crowd chanted ceaselessly, clearly demonstrating who the home favorite was. With great relish, Althumber raised his hand and made a fist. Instantly, the crowd went silent. For all that it was meaningless, it was a cool show of influence.
With the crowd finally allowing the fighters to take center stage, it was possible to make out their voices as they spoke back and forth.
“I have waited many months to finally put you to rest, Rune. This is the culmination of a lifetime. And after beating you-”
“Ever wonder what it feels like to be one of the people you kill?”
“Keh-! Arrogant curr. For interrupting me, I’ll break your legs as punishment.”
“I bet they find themselves detestable. To be so weak.”
Then the referee’s voice, interrupting the strange exchange. “Begin!”
Althumber’s spear was overly long with a thick blade at each end. It was in sharp contrast to Silo, who held a thin spear with only a few spiked spines for adornment. But when Silo rushed toward Althumber, that large spear was barely brought around in time to block Silo’s thrust.
But as Silo pulled back his spear, he twisted the weapon and one the spines ripped across Althumber’s forearm. A flash of red hit the pale tiles of the arena.
“HOW DARE YOU-” Althumber began to bellow, but his explosion of rage was cut short as Silo’s spear swept outward and absolutely smashed him to the side. Helen’s expression was grim as she watched. There was an image there, but it was a bit… hard to grasp from this angle. But what she could see were that those spines she had noticed earlier were in fact hooked. So they could be used creatively to throw the opponent off guard.
Which was exactly what Silo did when he looped the end of the hook under Althumbers shoulder guard and yanked the man sideways. He stumbled, and Silo drove his spear into Althumber’s foot.
Instantly Althumber howled again, but the rage was edged with something close to panic. As quickly as he could, he stumbled backward. His spear stabbed outward in blows that were powerful enough to create small sonic booms. Perhaps in some cruel, twisted pride, Althumber didn’t manifest any of his images in the face of SIlo’s assault.
Which was a mistake.
That hooked spear snaked sideways and ripped a deep gash in Althumber’s calf. When he tried to spin to protect the weakness, Silo pounced like a beast and physically slammed himself against Althumber. Although he was much larger and heavier, the surprise was enough to knock Althumber backward.
Instead of relying on the spear, Silo scratched with his hand. Although the movement was quick, Helen could have sworn-
“MY EYEEEEEE!!” Althumber screeched. This time, he dispensed with the pride and an explosion of flames forced Silo to leap backward or be charred.
His chest heaving, Althumber held one hand to his left eye and glared at Silo.
“Concede,” The skeletal Silo said softly. “Otherwise…”
“I will grind you to dust.” Althumber roared. “This spear has been tempered in a thousand flames! The heat of its core could melt the coldest ice! Lakes evaporate from my single thrust! You are nothing but-”
“A spear,” Silo said as the sky darkened overhead in an overwhelming display of image potency. “Is just a tool to kill. To pretty it up… is foolish. Power is found in the killing.”
Above Silo, a huge image of a spear as large as a mountain rushed downward. Crimson streams of blood ran across it, so thick they resembled rivers. And as it descended, the fires around Althumber were just… snuffed out. On the ground, Silo ran Althumber through.
Silo pulled the hooked spear out, pulling out several dozen meters of entrails out with it. With his one good eye, Althumber goggled at the mess of his own gore for several seconds, even as a deep boom echoed out arena. The ground cracked as Althumber’s father arrived between the two, his eyes bloodshot. If looks could kill, Silo would have been roadkill at that moment. But he pulled his gaze away and produced a glittering potion for his son to drink.
“If you have confidence in your violence, I am prepared whenever.” Silo said. He didn’t smile, but there was a manic glee in his gaze. “Otherwise…”
Then Silo turned and walked off the stage. The tip of his spear dragged across the ground, leaving a thin line of blood to mark his passage.