Elder Cultivator 202

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Streaks of crimson and gold passed each other in the air as one physical arrow and one made purely of energy arced through the air. Alva was somewhat concerned about the blood on the tip of the arrow coming for her, but she avoided the shot and after it impaled in the ground it no longer had active energy surrounding it. It would certainly be extremely difficult to regain control of it at that point, so she only dedicated a small portion of her senses to watching it. There had to be some trick, but she sensed no danger from it with Instinct or otherwise.

Alva’s opponent, Marlene, was of course familiar with avoiding attacks by archers as well. Even with some redirection of Alva’s shot in flight it didn’t manage to find purchase. Both of them had been in the open away from the pillars dotting the arena, yet they were still quite able to avoid the attacks. Her first shot hardly mattered, it was just a probing shot. Alva’s next shot followed immediately behind, before Marlene could apply another vial of blood to an arrow. No matter how quick she was, it was impossible to draw two things in the time it took Alva to form a Spirit Arrow.

Yet Marlene hadn’t even reached for the vials at her belt but instead immediately nocked another arrow from her quiver. Alva saw no sign of blood on the tip of the metal point, but it flew disturbingly quickly, faster than the first arrow had. Alva had to fortify the energy on her left shoulder to prevent any damage. She wasn’t sure what sort of problems a blood user could create if she let herself get injured, and she really didn’t want to find out.

Arrows crossed the paths of each other, and Alva wondered whether her idea to waste her opponent’s blood was pointless, if she was going to shoot only a single arrow. It wasn’t even nearby anymore, just sitting pointlessly in the ground like the other ones. She was so used to the rapid exchange of arrows she almost missed when Marlene grabbed another vial and dipped her next arrow into it because she ducked behind a pillar.

Alva’s arrow was more than halfway to her already, aimed at her torso and circling around to the side. She decided not to veer off course to try to strike the arrow out of the sky, instead persisting with her attack. The act of dipping the arrow in the vial of blood appeared to require some stability, as Marlene didn’t dodge quite as quickly as she should have. Alva managed to scrape her side, just barely puncturing her flexible armor. Her arrow didn’t stick, but at least she knew her opponent would leave some openings if her own timing was right.

Marlene leaned out from behind the pillar for a good shot. There was a real sense of danger from the blood-tipped arrow as it flew through the air, but Alva had been dodging arrows much more difficult to avoid for months now. There were certain ways to make your movements unpredictable while being quick, and not just Swan Steps like her grandpa used. And the name was stupid anyway. Swans didn’t do a lot of walking. The technique was useful, though, and Anton had helped her enhance it to be more effective at avoiding ranged attacks. That would be her major concern as an archer, after all. It was entirely possible to defeat many people before they even got to her. That was the optimal method, anyway.

Even though the special arrow didn’t hit her, Alva felt pressured by the ones following it. They were shot at the same rate as before, but there was something… 

Instinct told her that it was dangerous to dodge to her right, but Intuition said that Marlene was forcing her around to her left. She wasn’t sure why, since there wasn’t even a particularly tricky arrangement of pillars in the area. 

The different parts of Alva’s defensive senses weren’t disagreeing, but instead part of the whole picture. Instead of dodging the arrow, she formed a quick shot of her own to shoot it out of the air. Though the chances of two small projectiles colliding was low, the arrow avoiding her attack would make it easier for Alva to dodge to the right. She just barely made it behind a pillar in time, and the arrow landed uselessly in the ground beyond.

She took a quick moment to take stock of what she’d semi-consciously recognized as a danger in the other direction. It was just the area where she’d started the match, and she had been dodging attacks just fine. There wasn’t anything there but the same pillars and spent arrows. But when she looked closer, she saw just a trace of something. A lingering crimson trail to each of the blood-tipped arrows. 

From her position behind the pillar, she was confident in her safety while she took two rapid shots at the stationary arrows. There was no difficulty in hitting a stationary target from less than a hundred meters away, and her arrows pierced into the blood tipped arrows stuck in the ground, splitting them from head to tail. Yet the crimson trails didn’t disappear. In that same moment, Marlene took advantage of her lack of focus to shoot another blood-tipped arrow to Alva’s side. 

Danger. The whole area was filled with danger. Even though Alva couldn’t detect anything special about the arrows Marlene fired, they were much more flexible in their flight paths and moved more quickly when there was one of the crimson trails in the area. 

But it still couldn’t compare to her grandpa’s attacks. The only difference was that if she failed to avoid critical shots she would actually get injured and lose the match instead of just continuing until she got a hit or couldn’t fight any longer. 

Alva moved from pillar to pillar, slipping out of the danger zone. Just in case it mattered she slipped another shot at the third blood-tipped arrow, but she had the feeling she needed to disrupt those before they landed if she wanted to negate their effect. Obviously the crimson trails would fade away eventually on their own, but that could be a matter of hours when this battle would be decided in minutes. 

She wished she had Fuzz to ride on, but she had to support herself. If she wasn’t strong enough on her own, how would she survive in this crazy world? Her grandpa would always come to save her, but that wouldn’t do any good if she died before he arrived. And she had to keep up with Annelie.

Alva managed several good shots as she moved out of the danger zone, keeping Marlene from reaching for another vial. She was feeling good about herself until one of the arrows Marlene nocked was suddenly blood-coated anyway

Alva’s current shot was too far to the side, curving around to attack from behind, and wouldn’t be able to intercept the arrow, which wasn’t even pretending to aim for Alva anymore. She let her half-finished shot continue as it would, where it would probably be easily dodged. She had to focus.

Grandpa Anton talked about becoming one with an arrow. That was what she needed if she was going to shoot this arrow out of the air. She formed her energy and some of herself into her shot, the snap of the sinew sending her rocketing forward. She knew that at some point in the future she would retain more awareness of her actual surroundings while doing this same thing, but for the moment she needed this tight focus. The blood-tipped arrow was flying to another spot on the battlefield, but she intercepted it halfway. It tried to twist and turn away, but she clipped it near the middle and split it in half, sending the two sections spinning wildly.

The crimson trail still existed, but only halfway through the shot of the arrow, and it was more tenuous. Disrupting it partway seemed to be as useful as Alva hoped it would be. It seemed Marlene had been as focused on that arrow as Alva herself had been, because she’d barely managed to dodge Alva’s other shot, and hadn’t had time to take advantage of Alva’s focus.

Alva kept on the move as she tried to figure out how Marlene had coated that arrow in blood. She definitely hadn’t reached for a vial, and her hand wasn’t injured… but it was coated in blood. How did that happen? She only hit her in the side… where she wasn’t bleeding. Or rather, the blood wasn’t coming out from under her armor. Alva’s eyes saw how a red line of blood slipped out from under Marlene’s glove at the wrist to cover her hand. Had she really drawn all of that blood along inside her armor for that? Then again, it should be easy to control a bit of blood, and if she was bleeding anyway…

Unfortunately Alva realized that Marlene could now cover the battlefield with danger zones. Marlene could now shoot blood-tipped arrows about as quickly as she could draw them. Maybe there wasn’t quite as much blood on some of them and they were weaker, but she began to coat the battlefield. Alva tried to counter a few of them, but she also had to attack properly and not just take a defensive stance.

Since she couldn’t get a decisive blow, she aimed for a solid strike on a limb. That still involved aiming mainly for the woman’s center of mass and expecting she would dodge away, but she managed to clip her shoulder and her thigh. Not enough to cause severe damage, and making her bleed more might be a mistake… but Alva couldn’t just do nothing.

Faint crimson trails began to web across the entire arena. Every time Alva came out from behind cover she found herself in a harrowing situation. Marlene’s arrows could twist and turn without the significant expenditures of energy Alva would expect the motions to require, and even remaining behind a pillar didn’t make her safe. 

She continued to take stock of the situation, trying to find an avenue to victory. 

An arrow struck her thigh, and she forced it back out immediately. Now she was bleeding, but fortunately nothing special happened. Maybe that was due to the restrictions of what techniques could be used in the arena. If that was the case, Alva just lost- had this been a real battle. But she would have also had Fuzz, so she could just accept restricted matches were never quite representative of the real world.

The web of crimson seemed to cover the entire battleground, but there was actually one area it didn’t cover. A rather significant one. Alva dodged one more arrow, leaping into the air over it. As she did so, she slung her bow over her shoulder. She needed to have both hands free to catch onto the pillar. They were about five meters high, too much for her to jump all at once. But she wrapped her arms on either side of one, creating friction to stop herself from falling. Then she pulled, throwing herself up high.

Marlene shot an arrow up at her, but as it raised above a certain point it wasn’t quite as swift nor was it able to easily track her. Alva took every advantage she could with her unexpected maneuver, shooting a barrage of arrows as she continued to run around the arena, hopping from pillar to pillar. 

She saw Marlene’s jaw clench and smiled inwardly. The crimson trails were lasting and extremely efficient for following shots, but there had to be some limit to them. Taking advantage of a whole second layer of the battlefield, Alva was able to force Marlene to choose between trying to cover the upper part of the arena as well or making actual attacks on Alva. Defending herself had to come into play as well, and Alva had a better shot on Marlene from almost every angle now. 

Golden arrows rained down, and Marlene had to spend more of her energy blocking attacks she couldn’t dodge than making her own shots. It seemed that her attacks were actually in a way weaker than they were if she had been wholly without the crimson trails, as she had trouble adjusting the speed after they left her domain down below. Alva continued running around, grinning and shooting. It was a fun match.

Then Alva got a good shot, wrapping it around a pillar to fly straight towards Marlene’s chest. But at the very last moment, Marlene ducked. That didn’t mean she avoided the attack- in fact, it made it worse as the arrow pierced into her neck. There was a moment of stillness as a golden arrow pierced one of the jugular veins. Alva almost dissolved her energy, but the attack had already struck. If the arrow suddenly disappeared…

Marlene croaked, obviously having difficulty speaking. “That’s my loss. You can… let it dissolve. I’ll handle the bleeding.”

Even though she said that, Alva waited for the match to be called and medics to rush into the arena before she let her Spirit Arrow dissolve away. She’d killed people before, but the tournament wasn’t supposed to be deadly. Alva had no intention to kill an opponent who wasn’t really an enemy, even if her techniques were a bit… disturbing. 

That disturbing nature continued as the spurting blood swirled around in the air, flowing in a sort of ring out and back into Marlene before it was fully contained. Then the medics were stitching her neck up and Alva couldn’t watch. Though she also couldn’t fully look away.

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