“Let him win? Where’s the fun in that?”
They had left Amadeus to ‘admire his sword’, or whatever it was that he wanted to stay up for, and Lynn had stopped her in the hall to tell her… to lose the competition to Amadeus on purpose.
“It’s only for fun anyway, why not?”
Lauren scoffed in reply. “For fun? Hell no, I’m going to win. That idiot’s ego is already so huge, he doesn’t need to lead all of us and our group. Plus, if I let him win, he’ll think he’s the strongest. Can you even imagine?”
“I… don’t think he cares about that.”
“Whatever, why don’t you want to be the leader? Ready to throw in the towel before giving it a shot?”
“Me? Lead? I don’t want to.” Lynn's eyes changed as she said it: a flicker of sadness.
Lauren gave her a sharp look. Did Lynn think she was stupid? “Yeah you do. Don’t be that way. Tell me the truth.”
Lynn sighed, looking at her feet. “I want to lead… so badly.”
“See? Then what the fuck is all this about?”
“I…” Lynn trailed off, failing to continue despite being given ample opportunity. Eventually, in frustration, Lauren cajoled her. “You what? What’s wrong with you?”
“If I lead, I’ll be just… just like Nate.” She basically spit the words.
Lynn looked really broken up about what she’d said, but Lauren couldn’t make any sense of it. “What the fresh fuck are you talking about? Why would you be like Nate? Why would you care? Nate was… well you know, it was different! You don’t have those abilities, right? So how could you possibly-”
“I want to be like that. I want people to bend to my will, and do as I want. I don’t know why... I don’t, and I don’t care either. As long as I don’t put myself in that position, I’ll have to prioritize other things, and the system won’t offer me any Skills that I absolutely cannot be allowed to have!”
Lauren just gaped for a moment. Jesus christ, why was everyone here such a basket case…
“Look, Lynn, you’re fine. No, don’t even start with your ‘oh poor me, I can’t be trusted with myself’ bullshit. Maybe that would work on other people, but I’ve been there. Remember when nobody wanted to talk to me? Remember when you were too afraid to even look at me? Everyone was too afraid of pissing me off and ending up poisoned or worse. And they were right to be afraid! I couldn’t be trusted with myself, but nobody could stop me… and I stopped anyway.”
Amadeus. That fucking asshole. Him and his stubborn pride and arrogance, the way he had senselessly believed in her and helped her… “It was a bit of Amadeus, and a lot of me coming to terms with that side of me. Running from it? Training until I couldn’t think? That only made it worse. That dark part of me grew stronger the more I looked away, and Nate encouraged that. That was his biggest problem for me: he used people, and molded them into what he wanted, not what was best for them. A leader builds people up. A leader chooses the best path, and others follow because it’s the best path. Not because they have to, or because the leader says so. You need to face that side of you. You need to have the power in your hands, so you can conquer it. Prove it to yourself.” Lauren heaved a large breath, having accidentally spoken way too much, way too forcefully.
Lynn didn’t respond, instead turning away and walking down the hall. Lauren spoke after her, confident she would hear.
“Fight yourself, Lynn, and win. You’ll never survive otherwise.”
Lynn only shook her head, and walked back towards the forge.
Lauren huffed, and turned back to the dark sleeping chamber. Lynn, you idiot… if only she could use Energy and show her…
For the hundredth time, she tried to visualize that barrier around her, but she knew nothing would happen. For the hundredth time, she longed to just have Amadeus fix it… but she knew that would be a hollow victory. Every day, she felt better. More herself. Today was no different, and tomorrow would be the same... and one day, she would command her own Energy.
Good, Lynn had lost. It had been a good fight, and the fact that she had resisted using Overdraw to knock him around had ensured he would win eventually. Arrows could never stand up to a high Strength, close-combat warrior in an arena style fight without the archer having the ability to displace her opponent. He chose... strangely, to harry her around the arena until he caught her. Like he was playing it safe. She supposed he could afford to, due to his high defensive capabilities and healing rate, but, given the imbalance in advantage, the fight could and should have been much quicker. Maybe it would have with real weapons... But, she also could have knocked him out several times, but then she would have won. She almost did there at the end... if she'd Overdrawn it...
No, things were as they should be, and all Lynn had to do was beat Lauren and that would conclude this senseless competition… so why did it hurt so much? Staring up at Amadeus, clearly exhausted from chasing her around, it had taken every fibre of her willpower to resist fighting to the bitter end. It had been her idea to throw the match! So why…?
He stretched out a hand. Shaming her more? No, to help her up, obviously. He was trying to be nice.
She took his hand, pulling herself to her feet. He held her hand a second longer than he needed to, and suddenly pulled it away, cursing quietly. “Ow fuck! Ugh… I guess I should have asked first. Do... you want some healing to get you back up to pace for your next fight?”
Shit, she’d fought him off when he was trying to help… again. Stupid, hide your feelings better! The distrust is unwarranted anyway! He’s done nothing but help.
So did Na- HE’S DEAD… Dead. He won’t hurt anyone ever again. Forget him. She needed the healing to be able to beat Lauren in the next match, so she just had to let her guard down… there, that was it. She kept taking deep breaths until she finally cleared her mind enough to apologize and ask him to try again. He was a friend. He had saved her from a monstrous tree. He had killed Nate even though Nate couldn’t affect him… He had kept himself from being affected. He was the leader they needed. She couldn’t be the one… what if she was… compromised again? She couldn’t fight back, she didn’t know how. She would be a liability to everyone if she commanded two powers such as Lauren and Amadeus, but was unable to guarantee her orders were her own. But... maybe he could teach her?
She put the thoughts out of her head. She had decided, and there was no point to debating it any longer. The soothing feeling of Amadeus’ healing filled her body, washing away the aches and pains from their extended combat. Lynn was a little jealous of that trick. Healing at the rate he was able to meant that he could trade hits and still come out on top, or lay in wait when an opponent thought he was critically wounded, and surprise them when their back was turned. The options afforded by such an ability were almost endless… but she didn’t want to ask him. They barely knew each other, and he seemed cagey about a lot of things, so it stood to reason that his strange healing ability would be near the top of ‘things not to talk about’.
Lauren walked into the ring, giving Amadeus a smirk as they passed each other, but her eyes gained a new intensity when they panned to Lynn. “You ready to lose?”
Of course, she starts off with her abrasive goading. Lauren was nothing if not predictable. “Thank you, I already got my fill.” Lynn stretched quickly, feeling her body limber up nicely even with just that small effort. She walked with her head held high to the opposite side of the arena from Lauren, and stood ready.
“Whenever you are sufficiently prepared, we can begin.”
Lauren returned a feral grin. “Ready. Amadeus, do the honors?”
“Hmm? Sure. Go.” What fanfare… oh well. Lynn turned her head back to Lauren… or where Lauren was supposed to be. She looked around, but the other girl was entirely gone.
“You… you tricked me! You just wanted me to look away!” If that was how she wanted to play it, Lynn would teach her the hard way how sharp an archer’s senses were.
The wind blew over the arena, hiding all the sounds in a blanket of rustling grass, but Lynn’s Archery Proficiency let her read the winds as easily as written word… which was exactly what she needed to find an eddy that shouldn’t be forming.
She fired the shot, from drawing to loosing, in almost half a second, striking Lauren out of her hiding skill and knocking her off her feet.
“Fuck! What kind of bullshit is that?!” She yelled, even as she casually rolled out of the unexpected blow. She grabbed a fistfull of grass and sprinted towards Lynn, who was lining up another shot that would surely knock Lauren out of the circle. As Lynn drew, Lauren threw out the grass, which seemed to occlude far more than it had any right to, considering how little it was. Lynn took the shot, hitting Lauren straight in the head again… but the arrow just passed through. Cursing quietly, Lynn realized Lauren’s head had been just slightly lower than what she had thought. Lauren used the opening to close the gap and rush her with a flurry of swipes with her wooden dagger. Lynn activated her Mobility skill, which momentarily reduced her mass and raised her Dexterity, and jumped away, firing off two more arrows. Lauren threw a blunted knife from her belt, intercepting one of the arrows, but failing to deal with the second. “FUCK! Let’s see how you like it!”
Five knives appeared in Lauren’s hands, seemingly from nowhere, and she rocketed them off with impressive precision considering her speed. Lynn fired off one shot before activating her movement skill again, but Lauren guessed which way she was going to dodge, and struck her with three of the five, almost managing to shove her out of bounds with her reduced weight.
Lynn activated her Overdraw skill, which was highly fatiguing, but made her shots travel more than twice as fast. But, in the extra beat it took to execute, Lauren threw a final throwing knife, striking Lynn’s bow directly and knocking her aim off. The plume of dirt and grass that the arrow evoked then served to screen Lauren and let her disappear again.
This time there was no helpful plume of wind to help Lynn sense the rogue, so she launched a few scattered shots at the part of the arena Lauren had disappeared in, but nothing landed. A sudden, searing pain radiated from her lower back as Lauren appeared behind her and slammed the hilt of her wood dagger into Lynn’s kidney. She staggered, and Lauren, who now stood in the tiny space between Lynn and the edge of the circle, grabbed Lynn around the waist and started to roll back with her. If she was allowed to execute the roll like she wanted, Lynn would be thrown from the circle and lose. Again.
Lynn overdrew a shot, but flipped her bow so it was aiming back, the way Lauren was trying to throw her. The shot missed Lauren, but the intent hadn’t been to hit her, but to use the tremendous recoil of the shot combined with her Mobility skill making the shot affect her more. Usually, she tried to avoid this combination because it sent her tumbling end over end through the air, but here, that was exactly what she wanted. The sudden direction and weight change allowed her to slip from Lauren’s grasp, instead landing hard on the grass a few feet away.
She forced her exhausted arms to overdraw one last time, which was made all the more awkward by her being on the ground, and let the arrow fly. Lauren was still somewhat confused as to how Lynn had escaped her certain victory, and was unable to react in time to the attack, which planted itself firmly in her sternum. Lauren staggered back several steps, swearing. “You rotten fuck, I’m going to-” But Lynn just smiled and pointed at her feet. “What? W-WHAT?!” The swearing became even louder and more colorful at the realization that she had staggered right over the boundary line.