“Alright switch.” Alana’s voice sounded out, and Thea fell to her knees, almost grateful.
The person opposite her, a short woman with extremely powerful legs, lowered the huge shield that she used as a weapon. Her gaze scrutinized Thea carefully, absorbing every detail. But as she was turning away, all the woman said was, “You… can improve very quickly. Good luck.”
Thea was too exhausted after their brief duel to respond, but her eyes locked onto the IX on the back of that woman’s leather armor. So, she was part of the 9th Squad. That made Thea feel… at least some swelling of pride, even though she had been absolutely embarrassed on every front.
But that was common, in this exercise: of the 19 duels Thea had participated in, there was only one that could be even considered a draw. The level in Donnyton… was so fucking high, it hurt.
The training had started with an hour of exhausting fitness exercises with weights, the 300 people moving with remarkable efficiency to make sure everyone did everything. Thea sorta ended up swept up in the momentum, and lost herself in the weight lifting. The exercises were many and varied, and pushed her body beyond what she thought was possible, earning Thea two Levels in Physical Fitness.
Then the duels began, in Alana’s words, to determine “the final groups”.
Thea really didn’t want to know what group she had ended up in. She had gained a dozen or so Skill Levels, however, and tried to focus on this, rather than her actual performance, which left her flushed with shame. If Chrysanthemum were participating…
But Thea knew that this was just an excuse; these people were relying on their own strength, just like she was right now. The fact that she lost to them all… simply meant that she wasn’t as strong as she thought. That… that was just life.
But another voice in her head whispered that Chrysanthemum was part of her strength too.
Shaking her head, Thea stood, took one of the free potions to restore her strength, and went to find her next duel partner. This one was a black teen who was scowling and swinging a huge iron ball around, like it was nothing.
It made Thea’s stomach plummet out of her chest. That sorta strength could destroy her, System or no. That ball must weigh over 300 lbs, and he was treating it like it was nothing…
But in more positive news, the guy was covered in bruises, clearly beaten up and injured. It seemed that some of the damage from the previous duels had been so extreme that he hadn’t been able to heal in the time between duels, something that Thea identified very strongly with. She too, was still quite sore.
“Alright girls and boys, this will be the last fight.” Alana called. “Make it count.”
Thea steeled herself. It had to be this, it had to be here. Of all of her opponents, only this one seemed to have a fraction of a chance of her winning. Then, although it might be considered cheating, Thea reached for her connection to Chrysanthemum. Not to call her, but to draw some of her strength and ferocity through their bond, and get one more edge.
One thing that her opponents here had made very clear was that Thea was way too hesitant when attacking another person. Which was perhaps true, and was likely just due to the fact that Thea really hadn’t ever raised her weapon to fight against another human. She had constantly been fighting monsters, which relied on Skills or their raw Statistics in order to battle, rather than any sort of momentum or disruption.
It was a sharp gap in her knowledge, that put her in an awkward situation.
But here and now, facing this giant metal ball… Thea felt part of Chrysanthemum flow through her, settling into her bones, setting her emotions on fire, raising her hackles. It was certainly easier to treat the user of such an oppressive weapon as a monster, able to withstand her full strength. And Thea promised herself that was exactly what she would use.
The man moved, exploding into motion, but very quickly Thea’s vision of him was completely eclipsed by the huge iron ball moving towards her. Growling, Thea dashed forward, spun around the ball, and leapt towards the man.
Without even blinking, he twisted the chain and pulled, using his monstrous strength to stop the ball’s advance and pull it back. Her face twisting into a grimace, the thrill of Chrysanthemum’s bloodlust singing in her veins, Thea reached out and grabbed the chain, allowing the man to pull her back towards him.
His eyebrows rose, but he twisted the chain again, stopping the momentum of the pull. Thea let go, and charged towards him. She could sense the ball still coming towards her from behind, but it had lost most of its oppressive momentum by her grip. Although he seemed annoyed, the man was not flustered. He raised the end of the chain he held, spinning it lightly. It was an open and raw challenge.
Bellowing, Thea attacked him with her hammer.
With an adroit movement that a more reflective Thea would have found to be extraordinarily impressive, the man looped his chain around the hammer, stepped to the side, and yanked, pulling the hammer out of Thea’s grasp.
Thea’s smile was wide, and the man’s eyebrows rose further. The hammer had been quick to leave her hand’s hands because Thea had let go of it. Taking advantage of the small moment of shock, she punched the man in the nose, feeling like she punched a brick wall.
Thea grimaced. Damnit, how high were this guy’s Stats…? How was he so badly beaten up if his body could take this much of a beating…?
Although it had probably hurt her as much as it hurt him, the man still stumbled backwards. It was probably just the strength she was syphoning from Chrysanthemum, but it was frankly quite satisfying to inflict pain on another human without regrets.
Plus, with the damage she had received just from punching, the last of Thea’s compunctions towards attacking another person faded away. Again and again she rained blows on his face and chest as he struggled to regain his footing, until finally she was forced to roll to the side as the ball came crashing back.
Again, he displayed his enourmous Strength by simply catching it with one hand and swinging it like a huge hammer, driving her farther back. Then he glared at her, his eyes narrowed into slits due to his fury. Thea responded in kind. There was no way… that she was going to end this duel marathon without a single win…!
But a part of her cooled down, and started furiously thinking about how to beat this opponent. He was the same type of fighter as she was, relying on his power to suppress even monsters. Whereas Chrysanthemum was the way she did that in person, it could be considered doing that here as well, as it was only due to the shared strength she managed it.
So it was something like fighting someone of the style of the Ghosthound. They had sparred together occasionally, and there were times that the Ghosthound chose to move slowly, to force Thea to come to terms with the fact that she won’t always be the strongest individual in a fight. Sometimes, she would need to be the smartest to win.
Joints then, or weak points. Aim for where he couldn’t defend from, the brittle areas of his stances… Thea’s eyes narrowed, still locked with the man’s gaze, as he seemed to struggle with something inwardly. Slowly, she sidestepped around him, until she arrived at her hammer, which she slowly bent and picked up. Was he waiting for an opening…?
The man snorted and threw his weapon to the ground, and began walking towards Thea. Thea’s grip on her hammer tightened. She hadn’t heard much from the Ghosthound, in regards to tactics, because even after his identity was revealed, he was a stoic guy. But she did remember one thing he had said once, not to her, but to Simon.
“Don’t think of a fight as a contest of strength; it’s a bidding war. Where two people bid on the game they want, and then afterwards they use their remaining resources to play it out.”
After that, he had just scratched his head when Simon asked him to explain, but Thea had a strange sense of clarity when she heard that. Fighting came in two phases, the arrangement and the action. And there was no need to buy into an arrangement chosen by the opponent, unless they forced you into it.
Thea stepped forward, raising her hammer.
The continued presence of the weapon seemed to infuriate the man, and he roared and charged forward, his arms spread wide. His physique was honestly intimidating to Thea, but she had faced down much worse; a human body was nothing to a bear.
In a display of rationality, the man stopped his mad charge short right in front of her, and threw a remarkably fast jab. All Thea had time for was to raise her hammer in the way, blocking the strike. He grimaced, and pulled back, twisting and aiming a roundhouse kick at her stomach.
Thea spun and dropped to the ground, swinging under the kick and aiming a hammer blow towards the side of the man’s knee. Grunting, he was forced to land awkwardly, stumbling a little. In that moment, Thea cleanly stood and simply thrust, using the broad top of her hammer to simply bash the front of his face.
This time, he stumbled back swearing, and something feral came alive in Thea’s chest, she raised her hammer and stepped forward, ready to capitalize on this opening. But she was interrupted.
“Alright that’s enough.” Alana said, clapping. “I think at this stage, I know what you all are capable of doing. Tykes, go sleep this off, you’re a mess. Doug, Cassie, and Alice, stay behind, let’s do a little bit more training in one on ones. Oh, and you too, bear girl. The rest of you…”