• hcmills

Chapter 169: Parry this, you filthy casual

I’m not sure what An’s idea is, coming at me bare-handed like this, but I’m not complaining.


I flood my spear with Dreamcloud Energy and take a quick swipe at her as soon as she gets in range.


To my surprise, she actually risks meeting the shaft of my spear with her hand, allowing my energies to flow in through the unprotected skin. However, my heart skips a beat when she proceeds to quickly hop over my spear and duck in close.


Shit, has she had actual martial arts training?!


Her fists crackle with lightning as she hits my midriff with a series of rapid blows. Despite my high tolerance for Electric Energy, my diaphragm locks up under the assault. Thankfully, however, Breath Control doesn’t rely on muscles.


I open my mouth and forcibly push out the compressed Aether in my lungs, willing it to wrap around her limbs and the branch we’re on.


Her eyes widen as she finds herself locked in place while I jump back and take another swipe.


Her spine bends back farther than the human body should be capable of. If she’d been any faster, she would’ve dodged the blade of my spear entirely, as it is, it at least cuts through the leather covering her stomach.


A burst of Electric Energy across her limbs fries the Lavi nuclei holding my breaths together, thus breaking my hold on her. She jumps back with a grimace, clutching her stomach, a thin, angry-purple line visible beneath.


Too shallow, and it doesn’t seem like the Dreamcloud Energy is affecting her yet, but it’s a start. First time I landed a hit, too.


We size each other up for a split second, then both burst forward. I launch into a series of jabs, which she expertly ducks with minimal movement.


She seems to be biding her time, looking for an opening I don’t intend to give her.


Step by step, I force her back along the branch. The cut in her stomach doesn’t seem to be slowing her down in the slightest, but it also isn’t healing. No Regeneration. Good.


Not that I was expecting her to have it. Considering you need Meditation level 3 just to learn about the Skill’s existence, I doubt many people even know about it.


I try to use some simple Breath Control tricks to throw her off-balance, like putting a bubble behind her, shooting a breath bomb at close range, but she’s wise to my ways now.


Electric Energy consistently crackles along her skin, burning away my Lavi wherever it approaches and she dodged my breath bomb like she saw the attempt coming from a mile away.


Frustrated, I jab for her face, hoping to get her to flinch back. However, the opposite happens.


She ducks right under the jab, as if she was waiting for it, and darts in close. In a series of practised movements I can barely follow, she grabs one of my wrists, forcibly spins me around by it, climbs onto my back and puts me in a headlock.


Okay, she’s definitely had martial arts—aack!


I was expecting—and prepared for—Electric Energy to flood my body. Instead, I feel Lavi rapidly flowing out of me where her hand clutches my neck, faster than I can produce and force Dreamcloud Energy through the interference of the Electric Energy crackling through her skin.


Shit!


“You’d better forfeit fast,” she huffs in my ear, “because I can’t promise I’ll manage to stop in time.”


“Forfeit?” I manage to force out through gritted teeth. “I’m just... getting started!”


My spatial boundary snaps into place, and I immediately shrink down.


My tiny head slips right through her arms and out her grip. The moment my size two shoes hit the wood, I bound away to another branch.


I’ve lost a good chunk of my Lavi, but thankfully the only thing that’s sore is my ego.


All right, she’s clearly my superior in terms of physical combat. Well, if I’m going to be forced to reveal my Skills anyway, I might as well start using them.


I land on another branch, already back to my regular size, and turn around. She stares at me with a complicated look in her eyes.


“You are a... difficult opponent, Emma.”


I grin. “Ditto.”


She nods. “Perhaps we should both stop holding back, then.”


I raise a brow at her, curious, as she follows up the words by raising her hands above her.


Lightning flickers into being above her hand and I drop into a ready stance, but it doesn’t come at me.


Instead, a bolt of lightning leaves each of her hands, only to curve back and touch back upon itself, forming a closed ring.


I blink at the sight in confusion. That’s not how that works!


Of course, this being the Realm of Crystals, the laws of physics aren’t here to hear me, so my protests go ignored.


My eyes widen as An grunts in effort and the rings begin to shrink down, shining brighter the smaller they get.


[Be careful, Emma,] Suri chimes. [At such concentrations, Electric Energy will far exceed your Tolerance Limit and cut right through your flesh.]


“Noted,” I mutter.


Guess it’s time to try out my new defensive techniques in actual combat.


My lack of defences was one of the first things I decided to fix when I started my twenty-four days of training. The challenge was that I wanted to improve my ability to take a blow without sacrificing the manoeuvrability I’d been relying on for so long.


The answer I came up with was actually inspired by Kaitlynn’s protective cloak of Astreum.


I mean, Astreum is pretty cool stuff, but it’s really much more suited for offence than defence.


So I started to wonder how much better the combination of Boreum Manipulation and Breath Control would be in terms of defence.


Turns out, a lot.


I leap from branch to branch, getting some more distance even as the Focus Crystal at my throat lights up blue.


Vapour-like Boreum flows from my mouth and starts to take shape around me.


About a hundred feet away from An, I turn around, and—through the narrow slit in my helmet—catch sight of An clutching two small but very bright rings of lightning.


If she’s surprised to see me wearing a full set of armour made of solid, practically weightless Boreum, it’s hard to tell from this distance.


I spent a lot of time on this, trying to get it to cover me as well as it can while limiting my mobility as little as possible. In the end, I went with a kind of scale-mail, that, over hours and hours of practice in front of the mirror-wall, I’ve managed to get to look quite awesome and dragon-like. Nowadays, I even give the helmet detail like eyes and teeth, and have it incorporate and envelop my horns.


I can only hope that, somewhere, Alec is proud of me right now.


An and I take each other in for a solid ten seconds, then we both burst into movement.


With the armour formed, it takes very little concentration to maintain its existence. Mostly, I’m just constantly cycling in new cool breaths to pad the interior and Toughen the Boreum.


It’s a good thing too, because I’m now simultaneously wielding Inertial and Spatial Energy, in preparation for the coming clash.


And what a clash it is.


We each touch down on a big branch only a little closer to my starting place than hers, and An immediately whips one of her arms down towards me.


The ring in her hand extends, swinging at me like a crackling sawblade.


I compress the spatial boundary enveloping my armour, thinning myself, and the angry loop of lightning strikes the branch instead, leaving behind a clear groove as it retracts.


Meanwhile, I fill my spear with so much Dreamcloud Energy that it starts spilling out, lilac tendrils waving around the shaft and blade and leaking into the Aether.


I’m glad I did so only a split second later, as An catches the swing of my spear with her second ring, and enough Electric Energy to make my arms tremble manages to squeeze past the energy in my spear.


Her ring maintains its integrity even as she pushes back and follows up with a horizontal swipe of the other one.


I jump back, but the swing is too fast, too close to dodge entirely.


The ring strikes my Boreum armour. Some Electric Energy flickers through to my stomach, but not enough to break past my Tolerance Limit. It also floods my armour, killing off some of the Lavi inside my breaths, but otherwise seems incapable of harming it.


Excellent. With a grin, I go on the offensive.


An’s face pinches at my lack of reaction to her hit, and after a few more failed attempts to strike me, she jumps back and tosses one of her rings at me.


The projectile quickly expands upon leaving her hand, but just as quickly, I exhale and grow a Boreum kite shield on my left arm. I prepare for the Electric Energy of the ring to attempt to push through, but without An’s hand guiding it, the flow is weak and the ring quickly bounces away and cuts into a nearby trunk.


It was a distraction! I realise, spotting An’s retreat.


With a few more quick leaps, she reaches her staff, and yanks it from the wood.


I land on her branch and she faces me, wielding her staff in one hand and the ring in the other, while I still wield my Dreamcloud-Infused spear in one hand, and now have a Boreum shield attached to the other.


We square off again. An is a force of nature in close combat, but between my Spatial Boundary and Boreum defences, she’s hard-pressed to hurt me.


Getting her heavy staff wasn’t a bad idea in principle, but my Boreum is pretty darn Tough, and with the cushioning breaths beneath it, I barely feel it when she lands a hit.


When she finally gets a proper strike in that shatters the Boreum covering my side, I almost bruise a rib. I can practically taste her frustration in the Aether when I jump back and my armour reforms in seconds, even thicker than before.


“I understand why Dominique warned me, now. Fighting you is...” she trails off and shakes her head.


“I get that a lot,” I quip. “Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon.”


Her jaw clenches, but then she nods, and takes a stance I haven’t seen before, with her ring of lightning in front, and her staff behind her.


I guess she took that seriously. Well, it does seem like a good idea to try and end this.


I’d hoped to simply wear her down with a bunch of wounds, but she’s too fast for that. My defences are working admirably, my Qi reserves are holding up just fine, but this is still a very tiring fight, mentally.


And I cannot afford to slip up and lose here.


So I prepare to use one of my finishing moves.


I leap forward, leading with my shield, my spear trailing behind low.


An extends her ring, trying to push me back, but I shrink down and slip under it.


She whips her arm down, catching my shrunken form in her ring and pulling me forward as she brings her staff overhead with the other arm.


My stomach clenches, but I simply swing my shield up, and continue my plan.


Allowing my boundary to relax, I pop back up to full size, but I maintain the shrunken nature of my second boundary.


My spear swings forward, still about the size of a dagger, until it’s between us, its butt firmly in my hand. Then, I allow the boundary around it to pop.


Around the same time that An’s staff hammers down on my shield, shattering it, the butt of my spear kicks against my hand as it expands forward.


I strain, but manage to hold on as its blade grows forward into An’s leather armour. For a split-second, there’s a stalemate, and I think it’s going to push her back. Then it pierces through, instead.


An freezes, then glances down to where the shaft of my crystal spear enters her body, and back to where the blade exits.


“Oh,” she sighs.


I gently lower her, even as I pump in a major dose of Dreamcloud Energy.


Her eyes flutter and she goes limp, but after I pull out my spear, I’m surprised to find her still awake.


She holds my gaze for a moment, her eye droopy, and manages a nod. “I forfeit.”


I relax at last, and allow my Boreum armour to begin to dissipate. “Thanks for the match; it’s been a while since I got pushed to my limits like that.”


She smiles wanly. “Then why do I feel like—hrng—like you were still holding back?”


My helmet dissolves into thin Aether and I sheepishly scratch my head. “Ehm, no comment. I should get going, let you get patched up.”


She nods, her eyes fluttering closed. “Till we... meet again.”


Spatial Energy envelops me, and I’m pulled out of the jungle before I can respond.


Hope she’ll be all right...


Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^

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