Chapter 121: Mortal Kombat
Bruce launches himself forward with a flash of yellow.
He didn’t use Increase Momentum the last time we fought, but it’s a Skill I assumed he would take, so this doesn’t faze me.
Still, his timing is excellent, so my response is mostly reflex, honed by countless attempts of Jacob to catch me off-guard while sparring.
I unleash a brief pulse of Negative Inertial Energy, just long enough for me to kick off. Any longer and I open myself up to the potentially devastating effects of Increase Momentum used in tandem with Negative Inertial Energy, which I can only hope Bruce doesn’t know about.
The meathead shoots by beneath me. I spin in the Aether to continue facing him as I flip a textbook Barani over his head.
He wheels around and raises his sword, his muscles twitching. He radiates tension, like a coiled spring.
Adrenaline surges through my veins—if that’s still how it works in this Realm—as we once again begin to circle. I glance at the dagger attached to the stump of his right hand.
Last time, my hesitation to kill him allowed him to get away and make it all the way here. The idea of killing another human being... well, I still don’t like it, but I’m a lot less queasy about it. This time, I’m determined to finish the job.
Not that I’m deluding myself into thinking I’m doing something moral or ethical here. This isn’t about it being the ‘right’ thing to do. Dave and I simply came to the conclusion that, at some point, the only sure-fire way to secure a sixth would be to eliminate another participant.
Bruce was the obvious choice. Honestly, I’d kill him a hundred times over if that’s what it took to guarantee our survival.
I feint a sweep with my spear to distract him, while I direct the cape of breaths I had on my back to float up and towards him. He hardly flinches at my feint, but it doesn’t matter. He never spots my cape and it settles around him quietly.
I go in to stab his chest, and as he attempts to deflect the blow, my breaths constrict. For a moment, his movement slows, and I think I have him, but then he powers through to deflect my blow at the last instant. My spear grazes his side, cutting through his leather armour, but then scraping along something hard beneath.
I frown. I expected him to be strong, but this seems excessive.
Also, what’s up with his armour? Did he pack something beneath it?
I can see a faint colour beneath the cut my spear left. It’s an off-white, hinting at a shell-like material.
Before I get a chance to think it over, Bruce goes on the offensive. Judging by the furious way he swings his sword one-handed, he doesn’t have any qualms about killing me either.
I use quick jabs of varied length to try and keep him at a distance, wary of the dagger-like fixture on the stump of his right arm and the unknown energy-type he tempered with. However, with how aggressively he tries to close in, I’m still forced to almost continually retreat. Thankfully, the beach is very flat, and I can do so safely.
I hope he didn’t temper Vibration, that’s probably what I’m least capable of countering.
The heavy impacts of our weapons confirm that he’s very, very strong. I have Boost Physical’s second mode active of course, but I feel like he—
His attack falters for a moment, and I notice a small wince before he leaps forward again.
That son-of-a-copycat-bitch is using the first mode of Boost Physical!
That explains a lot. Jacob told us Bruce’s base Strength in Hub Two was 14, but that was when he was level 1. He’s levelled twice since, combined with the +3 bonus from Boost Physical’s first mode, that puts him at a minimum Strength of 21!
However, if he thinks he’s stronger than me, I can use that against him!
Boost Physical’s first mode only lasts six seconds, so I wait for the next time he needs to take a step back, then leap forward. Instead of jabbing I bring my spear around and swing it at him in a wide arc.
Predictably, he brings his sword up to intercept.
When it comes to using Inertia Manipulation in combat, there are three important things to take into account.
Timing, timing, and timing.
With a thought of molasses, I unleash a spiral of Positive Inertial Energy that envelops me and part of my spear. My spear—being One—is affected in its entirety. It crashes into Bruce’s weapon and keeps going. The look on his face as my spear shoves his sword aside is priceless.
The blade at the tip of my spear bites through his pauldron, crushes the hard material beneath it, and cuts into his right shoulder. Unfortunately, he adapts quickly and shoves himself off the shaft of my spear before it can do any real damage, dropping beneath its arc in a backwards roll.
I immediately release my Skill, but the effect still takes a moment to wink out.
Bruce seems to smell this opportunity like a finely trained bloodhound, as he’s barely on his feet when he launches himself forward with another flash of yellow.
It’s these kinds of moments where I’m glad I merged my Skills into Inertia Manipulation.
At the first hint of yellow light, I think of bouncy clouds and produce another burst of Negative Inertial Energy. At a cost of 4 Onkh of Qi per use of Inertia Manipulation, I can keep this up for quite a while by now. However, I don’t jump this time.
That was one of the first things sparring with Jacob taught me; mix it up, because being predictable will get you killed.
Instead, I unleash a short burst of Aether from my mouth, aimed down and to the side, which propels me in the opposite direction.
If Bruce is confused by me suddenly floating aside like a leaf on the breeze, he doesn’t show it.
He does seem to recognize that he’s missed his opportunity, and our slow circling begins anew.
My eyes flick to the cut I left on his right shoulder. It doesn’t seem all too deep, so I doubt it will slow him down much. Still, it’s a start.
As I consider my next move, Bruce retakes the initiative. He leaps forward and attempts to duck under my guard again. I nimbly step back and answer with another barrage of jabs.
Except this time, I slowly exhale as I retreat, leaving behind a trace of lilac coloured energy in the Aether, that drifts in Bruce’s general direction.
It takes a bit more of the stuff than I expected, but soon enough my Dreamcloud Energy turns Bruce’s eye a little glassy and his moves sluggish.
I jump forward to strike before he catches on to what’s happening to him.
However, when my spear extends towards his chest, a cunning glint appears in his eye, before yellow light bursts out of his Focus Crystal and envelops my weapon.
Shit, was he faking that? Also, no fair; this looks like Decrease Momentum level 2 and Jacob doesn’t have that!
Next, Bruce unexpectedly drops his sword and grabs my spear behind the blade.
Time seems to slow to a crawl as his dagger-arm appears from behind his back, the blade glowing orange with Heat.
There’s no time to think as he gears up to pull on my spear while extending his dagger-arm towards me, but I don’t need to. It’s clear Bruce means to force me to either let go of my spear or get pulled into his blade.
Unfortunately for him, I’m known to be rather stubborn, so I do neither.
Instead, I dig my heels into the sand and unleash an outward spiral of Positive Inertial Energy, which once again makes myself and my spear much harder to decelerate or accelerate.
His eyes widen as, instead of pulling me towards him, he finds he’s pulling himself forward on my spear. Naturally, this alone won’t stop his dangerously glowing blade from plunging into my heart, so I resort to one of the first moves I’ve ever used against Bruce.
I unleash a powerful jet of Aether from my mouth, straight at his chest. It hits him dead centre, and two grooves form in the sand as he is pushed backwards by the force. He grunts with the effort, but manages to hold on to the shaft of my spear.
Which is—to put it mildly—not his brightest idea.
Just because my spear isn’t giving off an ominous glow, doesn’t mean there isn’t any energy inside of it. Cycling my stores of Toxic Energy through my spear has become so habitual that I now do it pretty much unconsciously whenever I hold it. The way it flows in a loop through the metal before re-entering my body ensures that I never lose control over it, and can keep recycling it. Doing this makes it harder for other energies to travel through the weapon, and allows me to Infuse whatever it touches at a moment’s notice.
I didn’t have enough time to do much damage when I cut into his shoulder, but ever since he grabbed onto my spear with his bare hand, my Toxic Energy has been flowing in like crazy.
He tries to yank on the spear again, but his fingers—now home to a very high concentration of Toxic Energy—slip right off, purple and powerless.
Having suddenly lost his grip, he stumbles backwards. With Bruce disarmed and on his back foot, I immediately pounce.
I’ve experimented with using short bursts of Negative Inertial Energy to facilitate a kind of charge attack like what Increase Momentum can accomplish, but it doesn’t quite have the same level of accuracy. The problem is that I inevitably end up launching myself upwards a bit as I kick off, so instead of a charge it becomes more of a quick, short leap.
Still, it serves its purpose. My aim this time is pretty good, and I end up descending towards Bruce with my spear angled down towards the centre of his chest.
He raises his glowing dagger in response, and the Aether around it suddenly surges and expands, shooting forward like a lance.
I twist my body so that it hits my side instead of my stomach. The force behind it is enough to push me back a bit and move me off-target, but not enough to fully deter me. I ignore the searing pain coming from my side as the Heat burns through my armour, and manage to sink my spear into his left thigh. With a cry of pain, he sinks to one knee. I land deftly on my feet and unleash a flood of Toxic Energy into his body through my spear.
He grabs the spear with his left hand, but his fingers are still purplish, and too weak to pull it out. He lifts up his dagger-arm, and fires off another point-blank shot.
This time, I have no room to dodge. His beam hits my stomach dead-centre, feeling much like a punch to the gut from a searing hot fist. I let out a grunt as I’m pushed back several feet, automatically pulling my spear out as I go, but I remain on my feet.
Son of a bitch, that hurts!
Still, it was worth it. That was more than enough Toxic Energy to kill. Now it’s just a question of waiting for it to do its job.
The purple glow from his wound and fingers slowly diminishes as the Toxic Energy spreads throughout his body.
He attempts to get back onto his feet but his injured leg gives out and he lands onto his back.
I hear a wail from somewhere behind me—Samuel, I think?—but I don’t let it distract me, trusting my friends to keep him from interfering.
I study Bruce like I would an injured, dangerous animal, keeping a wary eye on his Focus Crystal. His breathing is turning increasingly laboured as he attempts but fails to say something. Looks like his Strength has dropped so far that that he can hardly bring out a word with the effort of breathing. Guess he doesn’t have a very evolved breathing Skill, if he has one at all. Instead he mouths something, lacing it with objective meaning.
Real classy, Bruce.
He manages to turn onto his side just in time to chuck up the contents of his stomach. Another anguished wail comes from behind me, which trails off into sobbing.
I shift uncomfortably in the sand. I’m happy to have won, but I’m not enjoying this any more than Samuel. Killing Luke in the heat of the moment was one thing, watching a human slowly die in front of me from the wounds I’ve inflicted...
Still, I can’t look away. Though by this point I’m confident he’s dying, he could still use his Qi somehow, maybe launch his sword at me with Increase Momentum.
But maybe I can kill two birds with one stone.
I fill my lungs with a good dose of stored Toxic Energy, and turn it into Dreamcloud, then breath it out and send it over to Bruce.
He inhales the full dose. His eye rolls back and he slumps down, his breathing evening out.
I finally relax a little, but then there’s a commotion behind me.
“Please, let me at least say goodbye!” Samuel exhorts.
I frown, still kinda caught off-guard by the level of emotion Samuel’s displaying towards Bruce. He was oddly defensive of him earlier as well. Not for the first time either, if I recall the events of Hub Two correctly.
“Can’t let you do that, Samuel,” Dave answers calmly. “Not until—”
“Come on, man,” Steve pleads. “Can’t you see the fight is over? Have some decency here.”
I listen with half an ear as I try to see if Bruce’s Lavi Flows are slowing down yet. It’s hard to tell with all the armour covering his body, but I feel like they’ve grown weaker in his face, at least. Well, considering the fact that he’s Level Three, his Lavi Pool should be big enough to sustain him for minutes before he actually passes.
Samuel is Yin, so there’s no way he has the Radiate Skill... he could be carrying a Detoxifier, but it’s not like Bruce is in any condition to eat. Also, we do need him to cooperate with us after this, so a little goodwill might go a long way.
I bite my lip for a second, then look back at them and raise my voice. “It’s okay, Dave. You can let Samuel—”
Suddenly, the world tilts. The previously flat beach becomes a steep slope, and I stumble down towards Bruce, the sand shifting with each step as I try to halt my sudden movement.
Right before I manage to regain my balance, Bruce’s eyes snap open and he turns into a blur of motion. His left hand, powerless and limp half a minute ago, firmly grasps my spear and pulls. Only now do I notice that his previously inert Focus Crystal is pulsing with a warm white glow.
My eyes go wide as his glowing dagger arm approaches my chest for the second time.
Off-balance and caught off-guard by an opponent I had sincerely classified as done for, I react instinctively, releasing my spear to try and block his dagger-arm two-handed.
I manage to angle it down, but can’t stop my own forward momentum.
“Gotcha, bitch!” Bruce bites out, as his searing hot blade burns a hole through my armour and plunges into my already overheated stomach.
I'm happy to announce that I am beholden to Amazon no longer. ^^
I got fed up with Amazon's tactics—like enabling Digital Rights Management on my book even though I'd opted out, probably because I was using their proprietary format—so I've re-built the e-book as an EPUB and re-published it.
This means the Amazon version now comes in the MOBI format, without DRM. Also, I'm using aggregator services to branch out to different stores. Unnatural Laws is now available as an EPUB on Kobo, Apple Books, Nook, and more, with more stores coming.
Now, there are some cosmetic changes with the conversion—I personally think it looks nicer—but the main content is exactly the same, with perhaps the exception of a corrected typo or two that slipped through earlier. ;)
Anyway, you can find all the various stores where it's sold via this handy Universal Book Link: https://www.books2read.com/whisperingcrystals1
Feel very free to send that link to a friend, or post it somewhere interested people might gather ^^