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There’s more description of injury than average in this chapter. If you read The Immortal Berserker by me, it’s not more than some of that, but if you dislike gore you might just prefer to skim the first section.
The sand beneath Devon’s boots was depressing. Not because it was too hot or too cold, but just because it was there. Sand didn’t belong in the middle of a city. Dirt was easier to get. But sand was preferred for some reason. Maybe it was the clean color, or maybe it was how it absorbed blood. He had the feeling it was the latter.
It was possible for Devon to get behind the idea of fighting or dying for a cause. Sometimes, you had to fight and kill others. He’d had to do so. He’d been forced to do so. That or die, and since somebody would be dying, he preferred it to be the other guy. It was nothing personal. But now he was in the worst sort of situation. He wasn’t fighting for something. He didn’t have the choice to do so, nor did he even have the option to kill his opponent. Not really.
He held the unfamiliar fencing sword in what he hoped was a reasonable stance, looking at the too-small buckler held in his left hand. It was probably a perfectly reasonable setup for someone who trained that way. The weight of his armor rested on him. It was the same as all the rest of the armor. Inadequate. The helmet and breastplate were fine, but the arms and legs didn’t cover everything. So that there would be more blood. People liked blood.
If those sorts that liked to watch humans die were people. Maybe they were just monsters in human skin. Devon looked up at them, the bright sun making it difficult to make out their faces. They were just a mass. He only saw one face he recognized, and that was more a matter of remembering her energy. Tonina Potenza. The person most responsible for his current situation. He’d like to live today, just to spite her.
But that wasn’t possible. He knew that, as he turned his eyes towards Moreno. There was more than just a single step of cultivation between them. In fact, though he was concealing it, Devon felt that Moreno had more than just stepped into Spirit Building, but completed the first stage of his cultivation technique there. Maybe that was even the reason he’d been away, to complete his advancement. Devon noted how his armor covered his knees and elbows and how the long chain he was dragging along behind him sparkled in the sun.
He never consciously heard the call to begin fighting anymore. When it was time, it was time. His legs moved, pushing off of the sand as it flew up into great clouds behind him. He didn’t have the stamina to draw out the fight. He probably didn’t have the power to finish the battle early, but he had to try for something.
The chain writhed on the surface of the sand, Moreno’s powerful arms manipulating it to flick towards him. Devon slid underneath it, taking advantage of the sand’s malleability to sink low. He carried as much of his momentum forward as he could, thrusting with the sword straight towards Moreno’s eyes. A slight turn of his head and the man’s defensive energy absorbed most of the blow- with the helmet deflecting the rest.
Pain. Chunks of flesh were pulled out of his back as the spike laden chain raked along his back like he knew it would. It tore through energy, breastplate, and skin before slicing into muscle and bone unevenly. He shoved the buckler into it to divert its momentum as he shifted around Moreno’s side. He wasn’t sure how much of his success was his own, and how much was the man playing with him.
A series of thrusts with his unfamiliar weapon allowed him to get used to its motion. If he’d chosen it, it wouldn’t have been a bad weapon. Beyond just relying on his armor and energy, Moreno was forced to dodge and even tried to grab the sword with his weapon, twisting the chain around it. However, before it could bind the sword Devon pulled away.
The rest of the length of chain was not idle during that exchange. It twisted and snaked around, savaging the rear of Devon’s left thigh before coiling around his left arm, pulling away parts of him as it left. The pain was sharp yet lasting. Some of the finer sand was already finding its way into his wounds, clumping together with the blood. It was the sort of pain that should make him cry out to the heavens for relief.
Instead, he grit his teeth. If his jaw clenched any harder he was certain he would crack it or his teeth or both, but he wasn’t willing to give anyone the satisfaction. If he’d been faced with a real weapon he would just be dead now, his torso sliced in two or at least his arm on the ground. Since they wanted to cause him pain, he wouldn’t show it.
His energy surged inside of him. He had not held back one iota since the beginning of the match, but he began to exceed the maximum output he thought he could control. Maybe he couldn’t. It felt more like the energy was controlling him, leading his attacks and twisting his body. Then again, wasn’t it all him? He didn’t know. He just fought, oblivious to anything but himself and his opponent.
Thrust after thrust failed to pierce Moreno’s defenses, but he wouldn’t give up. He pushed his body beyond its limits, since it was the last time he’d have the chance to use it. He even stopped using energy for defense- if Moreno could break through anyway, why bother?
Blood trickled down his back, his arm, both legs. He continued to attack. His helmet was torn off, and with the same motion the spiked chain twisted around his head and neck. It traced a line along his scalp, across his right eye, tearing through his right ear, and circling around the back of his neck to his left shoulder.
For a moment Devon thought his eye had been destroyed, but he used his energy to clear the blood and he could still sort of see out of it. Just damage to the white, but not superficial. He hadn’t even managed anything to Moreno yet.
He continued to press the attack, making use of all his training with his usual weapon and skill and the bit of practice the older gladiator had allowed him fighting against the spiked chain. He was almost starting to feel comfortable with the foil in his hand, and tried a series of feints and attacks.
At a critical moment he stepped forward, thrusting with all of his power. He was too far forward, his shoulder nearly touching Moreno’s belly as he stepped toward Devon and to the side of his attack. A mistake… was what Devon wanted it to look like. His left hand was already coming up, clutching the buckler. Since it was useless against the twisting chain, it was just another weapon. There was no chance it could break through Moreno’s armor, but there was one place that it could just barely work. As Moreno stepped forward, the edge of the buckler slid into the partly open face of his helmet. There was a crunch, and Moreno took a step back.
Devon shook his head. Not enough power. His lower rank of cultivation was to blame, and the blood loss didn’t help. He barely stood on his feet, unable to make a proper follow up attack as Moreno snapped his broken nose back into place, blood dripping down his front. All around him Devon felt the chain filling with energy. It would constrict him, tearing him apart once and for all. It was over… but he allowed himself a slight smile.
Then Moreno twitched, taking a half step forward to catch his balance. Devon didn’t even try to guess if it was some sort of feint, he just used his remaining energy to thrust his sword forward. It hadn’t even been necessary, because Moreno’s weight carried him forward into it- and the energy just allowed it to pierce through his eye and come out the back of his head, clanking into his helmet.
Devon looked down at the body on the ground in front of him. Moreno ultimately fell awkwardly onto his side, and Devon could see something. A hole in the bottom of his right armpit. The hole went through the armor, and though blood blocked him from actually seeing Devon was certain it went all the way through widthwise to come out to the sand below.
Then the pain reasserted its presence along with his awareness of the rest of the world. He quietly grunted as waves of energy poured over him. Four people at Spirit Building. Not only that, but actively engaged in combat. He recognized three of them- and the third was both the most unexpected and yet the most natural. That was the energy of his grandfather Anton, and the same energy that he hadn’t really comprehended that made the hole through Moreno. Devon slowly turned his head to see what was happening, and realized that the stands were mostly empty- the only watchers remaining fleeing for the exits at top speed.
Anton wasn’t sure if he was a hypocrite, or if the word even had any meaning with the way that humans acted. Sometimes, you just did what you did with no prior intention of deceiving others or oneself.
As soon as Elder Varela had given his full support, he had burst into action. Any cultivator would instantly be able to tell his intentions with the way his energy surged, and as he shouted at the top of his lungs everyone who wasn’t deaf would be informed. “I have declarations that Devon Gardner was illegally enslaved! Anyone who stands between me and my grandson dies!”
Of course, that immediately resulted in guards rushing his position. The first one to round the corner got a spirit arrow through his head. And the second. Normally it might have taken two or three shots even if they were below his level, because they weren’t unaware of his presence. However, if there was ever a time to use forbidden techniques it was when storming an enemy fortress.
Candle Wax flared as Anton burned years off of his life. His legs carried him forward, arrows piercing into anyone who showed their face. When several came at once, he restrained himself slightly and let Elder Varela tear into some of them, snapping their necks with his knee-length white hair or simply piercing their heart with a dagger.
The corridors entering the arena were twisted and maze-like on purpose, in case anyone thought to escape past the guards. That meant they ran into many squads of guards, from mid to late Body Tempering as well as a handful in Spirit Building. They killed them all.
When they came to the arena floor, barred gates stood in their way. Elder Varela moved forward as if to lift the gate, but before that Anton took his shot. The bloody figure of Devon in front of him was clear to his eyes, and Anton didn’t hesitate to throw himself along with a full bundle of years into his attack. He was a streak of energy, one moment outside the arena, the next piercing through the formation on the gate, the next meeting armor, ribs, lung, heart, lung, and finally one last piece of armor before putting a hole the diameter of a finger in the arena wall behind the man.
A cloud of black smoke came out of Anton’s mouth as he felt himself burn on the inside, but it didn’t matter. Each rank of cultivation was at least a year. Burning his lifespan felt truly awful, but as long as he continued cultivating at a rate that outpace his growth in lifespan, he only needed a year as a buffer zone. He didn’t care how overconfident that made him, because while revenge was his ultimate goal it would be empty without friends and family.
White hair extended, growing even longer than its actual length as Elder Varela took advantage of the momentarily broken formation to grab the metal bars and twist them. They snapped apart, leaving room for a man to walk through upright. He was first into the arena, but Anton was only a step behind.
Elder Varela spoke before Anton could. “Members of the audience, I am here to inform you that you have been witnessing the Potenza Arena in the midst of a committing a crime. As you must have already heard, this man should have never been enslaved. I provided proof of this to the young lady there, but instead of following her legal obligation she arranged for a spiteful death match. Now… stay out of our way.”
There was just enough patience within Anton to let him finish speaking. It was a nice reprieve to let him clear up his energy as the immediate side effects of Candle Wax were very disruptive. Tonina stood up in the stands and opened her mouth, but by that point a Spirit Arrow was already flying towards her.
It was a disappointment when he merely managed to pierce through her defensive energy, the flexible armor she had on, and a couple centimeters of flesh and bone. The arrow was supposed to have gone all the way through her heart. She was the equivalent of the twelfth star, having continued her cultivation but ultimately having been surpassed by Anton, but that one step wasn’t quite enough for him to kill her instantly. The second arrow was blocked by Masozi, who was in mid Sprit Building. The man had not been immediately by her side, but now he stood in front of her.
Then he charged towards Anton, leaping directly along the path Anton had shot, his body completely concealing Tonina. Anton prepared another Spirit Arrow. One last use of Candle Wax should leave him no closer to his death than when he had first begun cultivating. Maybe even with a handful of spare years. The arrow shot straight towards the mid Spirit Building man… but of course Anton had no hope to kill him in a single shot. As he rode with the arrow, it spiralled around the guardian out of his reach, once more flying towards Tonina behind the man. Masozi reached out, stretching his energy to grab the tail of the arrow. He reduced half of its power before Anton was able to break apart and continue forward. He was the arrow, and he once more struck towards the heart of Tonina. Her energy was fully committed to block, but she was slow to parry with her sword and he pierced through her defenses with some small amount of momentum left. He was precisely on target for the same spot, but barely had the energy to pierce another half centimeter, merely scratching her heart and not puncturing through it as intended.
Tonina’s guardian immediately reversed course once he hit the ground, blocking the next dozen arrows Anton shot. He knew that would happen, and didn’t commit himself to anything extreme. “Young mistress, we must retreat!”
“But he’s- you should kill him!”
“You’d die.” The man didn’t let her give any more argument and yanked her along with him.
Anton’s ears were barely able to pick out her words, even with his enhanced senses. “…but I beat him…”
With that, they were almost out of sight and moving into the structure of the arena. He considered trying one more shot… but resisted the urge. A waste of energy, or lifespan and energy. There were multiple ways into the arena, all full of cultivators. While he might be able to fight through them, he would not have the power left to combat her and her guardian. Elder Varela could no doubt match the guardian, but they weren’t here to kill. All of the guards along the way died simply because it was easier than sparing them, and their chosen profession gave them no sympathy from Anton.
Anton looked to Devon, smiling. Devon smiled back, then began to fall off his feet. Elder Varela was already there, gently catching him and picking him up. “While I am certain you would like to seek further revenge, now is not the time. We should leave the way we came. I sense Elder Rocha is there waiting. She cannot shield us if we move away from her.”
Anton nodded. “I understand. Is he-”
Elder Varela’s hands and hair were moving, plying Devon with all sorts of medicines both on his wounds and internally. Even as he ran towards Anton and performed so many actions, Devon remained perfectly level as if he were simply floating. “Do not worry. His breath continues.”
Author’s note 2:
Well this one got long. But splitting it up wouldn’t feel right, so have almost two chapters together.