Some of the arenas were made for the sake of those watching to make things more exciting, but the particular setup Ursel found herself in wasn’t something that most people could observe. It was a series of tunnels fully contained in the arena floor, one step further than what Melanthina had been fighting in. That meant mostly the referee and people as strong as Ursel’s parents could actually sense what was happening.
In a way that was comforting, she wouldn’t have to concern herself with what her siblings might see. They would ultimately know if she won or lost, but if she lost horribly it wouldn’t be as obvious. And going up against a fire element cultivator in an arena with strong air element affinity- the tunnels were full of rushing wind- she was not confident in her chances of victory. Sure, the two allied elements of fire and air actually meant that she was resistant to the arena’s tricks, but she was weak against the actual cultivator she was fighting.
Ursel had only seen her briefly as they entered the arena, but Lileas looked to be twice her age… which was fairly normal for Foundation Phase cultivators, but still intimidating. Tirto won and Melanthina lost, but unfortunately that increased the pressure Ursel felt. She had to win, so their family could have a better record. Besides, if she couldn’t fight, what was the point of having her around? Every cultivator had to contribute, and since she wasn’t an heir…
Fortunately her thoughts were drawn away from the topic when she rounded a corner and a pinecone exploded next to her. She’d been walking with the wind because it was easier, but apparently that was a mistake because she hadn’t sensed the bundle of fire energy. The good news was the wind carried some of the heat away from her, allowing her to stabilize herself. If she’d gone down immediately, it would be terrible.
She expected to have her opponent jump out at her, but Ursel didn’t sense Lileas anywhere. She might be just around a corner, or somewhere further away. Still feeling the lingering heat of the explosion, Ursel decided to head back upwind, hoping something similar would throw off her opponent. It was harder to move in the other direction- she imagined without spiritual energy a person would be thrown about with no control- but earth overcame air and she put one foot solidly in front of the other.
When a swirling vortex of flame came from the corridor in front of her, Ursel slammed the ground to raise a wall directly in front of her. The fire riding the wind had to go around the barrier- but a good portion of it simply swirled around the sides and still struck Ursel. It was certainly not as bad as directly taking the attack, but it ate away at her spiritual energy. At least the area wasn’t fire dominant so she could easily dissipate the excess heat from the attack and not let it build up.
The question she had now was how her opponent sensed her. Did she stand out among the wind element? She supposed the traces of earth wouldn’t blow away so easily, and fire might sense better through an allied element. Yet she hadn’t even been close enough to sense the fire cultivators in the direction that should have been advantageous. Maybe it was a lucky guess, but the attack seemed like a stronger commitment than that should allow for.
Maybe she could set up a defensive stronghold… but that would only allow her opponent to prepare to overcome it. If only she could control the air element, but she’d tried. Earth was the only thing she could manage. In that case, she should at least do a better job of countering that swirling flame attack. The way it moved through the air, maybe angling the stone barrier differently would make it miss her entirely?
She managed to sense the attack coming slightly earlier the next time, flames riding the wind towards her. She slammed up a defensive wall, angling it and- she took half of the attack directly in her face. She split it in two, but one half slid right around the edges of her earthen barrier.
There was no follow up attack to bring her down, but it ate through another chunk of her personal defenses. Diamond Defense also did little to help her skin from getting burned. It was something, but the heat still sunk through her skin.
Ursel’s nostrils flared and her feet stomped the ground. With a forceful shove, she pushed all of the lingering heat out from her into the ground all at once. It wasn’t efficient or pleasant, but she wasn’t interested in that at the moment. She slung her club over her shoulder and began to run. Between two branching paths she followed the one that had the strongest flow of air and maybe a lingering feeling of fire.
When she rounded a corner to see Lileas forming a ball of fire energy- another exploding pinecone- both sides were surprised for a moment. Ursel’s momentum carried her forward, and both hands grasped her club, swinging it forward and down. Lileas didn’t even try to directly block, instead forming a wall of fire in front of her and stepping back. Her reaction was unfortunate, but she had to drop her formation of the exploding pinecone so it dispersed into nothing, the energy wasted.
As for the wall of flames, Ursel’s club smashed through it, heating up but leaving a gap for her to slip through. She wasn’t that big, after all. She was growing, but still closer to a kid. The flames still beat against her on either side, but Lileas was running… and not that quickly. At the very least, it seemed like pushing against the wind was harder for her. They were allied elements, but she was not in control of the wind- and earth overcame wind. Ursel got a couple good swings in, clipping Lileas’ back as she wreathed herself in flames. She also tried for a sweep of the woman’s legs, but didn’t quite get it- and then the tunnels came to another split.
Lileas leaped to the side downwind in one of the tunnels, and a few moments later she was out of Ursel’s reach. Ursel stopped, dropping her stone club and pressing her hands to the wall. She grit her teeth, pushing the heat out of them. The club could contain a lot of heat before it reached her, but it had its limits.
Based on their few exchanges, Ursel thought she was going to lose. It wasn’t really unreasonable to lose to a cultivator of similar cultivation with a dominant element, but it bothered Ursel. Her father’s cycle of elements allowed him to overcome such things, but there were other exceptions as well. Yustina Milanovic apparently overcame water element cultivators with great regularity, despite being a pure fire cultivator. The thing was, she had a good understanding of the element.
Ursel didn’t get air. Or fire or water or darkness. Light wasn’t any better. Ursel considered her situation as she gave her weapon a moment to cool off. The powerful wind was helping with that, at least. She kept her senses open for Lileas, but the woman wasn’t interested in direct confrontations, it seemed. Though as a fire cultivator she didn’t really lose out on them either.
Earth overcame air. That let Ursel move against it fairly well, but it didn’t really support her speed. Was it supposed to? In the other direction, air bolstered earth. That was normally demonstrated with air and plant life, an aspect of earth she didn’t really work with. Perhaps she should, but she couldn’t spontaneously learn it at this moment.
The problem was even if air empowered earth, it took some sort of will to make that happen, and Ursel had no control over it. Except her breathing, but that didn’t really count. Or did it? She focused on her breath for a few moments, drawing in deep. Was that really control over air, and if so did it matter?
Actually, she did a better job of controlling air with earth more directly. Her first two times had been failures, but if she shaped a quick wall of earth more like a wedge the fire shouldn’t really be able to swirl back towards her. She had to watch out for more exploding pinecones of fire though. Go too fast and she opened herself up to those, go too slow and the bombardment of swirling fire would continue forever.
And here Ursel was, spending a good thirty seconds or more in one place. She forced the last bits of lingering heat out of her club and marched back upwind. Not too fast, but not too slow. That was the plan, and it more or less worked out. She noticed one of the fiery pinecones before she could run headlong into it. She wasn’t quite sure what triggered them but… she chucked a rock around the corner. It was pretty easy to get it to bounce off the walls at the angle she wanted with a bit of earth energy.
Then fire rushed down the corridor towards her. Ursel dropped to the ground, and was glad that the explosion only released uncontrolled fire. Not being immediately next to it would have made it bearable, but she already had enough burns to deal with on her hands and sides. Her face might be blistering too. At least it mostly went over her.
Ugh, and her hair. She was going to look like a boy for a while, with her hair burned down to basically nothing. The only option was to cut it short so it didn’t show. Ursel took a deep breath. She was going to smash this woman.
Determined feet carried her through the tunnels. She was getting used to the places they crossed each other- there were only so many intersections. Restricting herself to traveling in one direction was annoying, but at least she was able to sense upcoming threats. When another fire-swirl came, she managed her wedge formation. It worked but… it was too much. Too inefficient. Fire pinecones popped up occasionally, and Ursel realized that they didn’t make a perfect sphere of fire, but instead the little segments shot out like knives. That didn’t change the way she had to react to them, but she found more efficient defensive methods. It wasn’t elegant, but lying down on the floor with a little overhang of earth angling off a wall covered her well. Then bouncing a little rock- or a chunk of wall if there weren’t any loose ones- and the fire was triggered.
The last couple times Ursel was fairly certain she was pulling ahead, but she couldn’t defeat Lileas if she couldn’t find her… and the other woman could most likely recover some spiritual energy by converting the allied air element. Ursel could only breathe it in, which… maybe let her replenish the tiniest amount of her own spiritual energy. But it wasn’t enough. She’d have to find her. But how? That was the question. She found another pinecone and prepared to blow it up but instead…
Given that she was basically the same cultivation and had a dominant element, Lileas thought this should have been an easy win. Sure, the kid was from a clan but the Firepine Palace wasn’t a tiny sect. Lileas wasn’t one of the most prominent disciples there at the moment, but she was still advancing at a reasonable pace. Most of the others just started first.
She was still confident in her victory, but she hadn’t found Ursel in a while. No pinecones exploding, no sensing her dissipating the heat from an attack, and she hadn’t even broken any little threads of flame. Which meant she should be somewhere around this area. If she was turtling up this was the perfect time for Lileas to finish her off and be done with this.
She pushed her way against the winds, preparing to pass one of her own traps. Then the ceiling fell on her head. If only it had been just the ceiling collapsing she might have been fine, but the girl and the stone club that was just as tall as her were the more relevant part of what fell.
The most embarrassing part was getting knocked to the side into her own pinecone and used as a shield. That stunned her enough to prevent her from doing more than shifting her defenses towards Ursel- no wall of fire to keep her back. And then that stone club caught her in the ribs and sent her into the wall where she slumped unconscious.