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RE: =EC 2023= Grand Arena

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9/11/2023 21:56:28   

As the dart left the servant’s grasp, so did the warmth in her fingers. She could feel the frozen kiss of the void on her palm, and her whole body shook in revolt.

<I. Said. No.>

Like a shooting star, the servant had placed all her hopes on the quill, and her eyes traced its path. The giantkin, draped in murderous feathers, pulled its cloak over the shoulder, barely pulling it in front of the dart in time. For an instant, Elodie felt her heart skip. If the paragon could deflect it, then the servant would be at her mercy. But much to her surprise, the dart had struck well enough. It bounced off of the feathers, striking the giant-kin’s shoulder and pushing her to a knee.

Elodie let out a sigh of relief, utterly exhausted. Her act of defiance had bought the servant precious time. But while the crow-draped paragon had been stalled, the magical girl still stood.

As if to answer her thoughts, the arena beckoned and interceded:

“... favor been withdrawn from Parralia Anita, Paragon of Darkness–”

A solemn quiet fell across the sands. Even the crowds held its peace as Elodie and the other paragons took in the situation. At first, her eyes fell on the giant-kin. The servant had little time prior to take in their details. The crow-draped paragon remained kneeling on the ground. She took note of their missing arm, replaced with a prosthetic that seemed just as functional as the original. Perhaps they sought to pay respects for the now dismissed combatant, or maybe something else lingered on their mind. In either case, the giantkin paused and the servant would take advantage of it. Though her fingers felt frozen to the touch, her shoulder burned hot as blood poured from the wound. Slowly, Elodie moved her hand to cover the opening and focused her breathing.

<In. Out. In, and out–>

The servant could not undo the damage and make her flesh whole; that was far beyond her by this point. But she could stop it from worsening. With each measured breath, she could feel the blood hardening into place.

Elodie turned her sight towards Parralia. She didn’t need to peer into her mind; the look of disappointment on her face was immeasurable. Eyes wet with tears, the magical girl turned to face her and Vosta.

“Thank you. Thank you both for a wonderful experience.”

With one last shout to the heavens, the magical girl disappeared, replaced by the meek girl from before.

As the maiden left the battlefield, the thought crossed her mind.

<... Who is left?>

The servant had been so caught up that she hadn’t noticed some of the dismissals. She turned her head to glance around the arena, her body aching in protest. Several of the pillars had fallen, their unsightly remains now adorning the blood-stained sands. By her count only four paragons remained, herself included. Just a short distance away, Elodie could make out the remaining pair– and she let out an audible sigh.

The troublemaker and the headhunter. Her two previous combatants were locked in a deadly dance against each other. It seemed that their mutual cooperation had come to an end.

<Of course it's you two. How poetic. I believe I told you so–>

Before the servant could dwell on the moment any longer, the crow-draped woman broke their peace and called out to her with a heavy voice.

“Krodittir... ”

Elodie pulled herself up, stumbling for a moment before gaining her footing. Though she had stemmed the tide, the servant had already lost so much blood. Her body swayed back and forth as though the earth was rolling beneath her. She gauged her chances, and there was no use in denying it.

<I... I don’t have much longer.>

Though blooded and battered, the giantkin still appeared in a far better shape than the servant. Even if she managed to put down the goliath, there was still the issue of Sterling and Chiyi.

As the servant considered her precious few options, she watched in awe and horror as the paragon clutched their prosthetic arm and tossed it to the side along with her spear. She rose to her feet and cried out to all who could listen, speaking in a tongue Elodie couldn’t understand.

The goliath howled as black feathers sprouted, replacing their missing arm with a monstrous mockery of feathers and talons. Elodie could see the smile on her face as the giantkin gave herself over to the transformation.

<How terrible... >

As the servant readied herself, she tossed her brass knuckles to the side. With no strength behind them, they were useless. Instead, Elodie’s hands fixed to her side, hovering over one of her false pockets.

<Well then... Come on.>

The giantkin’s gaze met the servant’s. With their transformation complete, a maddened smile swept across her face. It was then that Elodie saw it. A trail of dried blood from their right eye– it was missing.

As Vosta leapt towards the servant, everything fell into place. The monstrous paragon reached out with their sharp claws to pierce the servant’s flesh–

“... Forgive me, my lord.”

–and found nothing. The servant leapt to the side, channeling all her remaining will and forcing her body to move. She threw herself into Vosta’s blindspot, so close to the giantkin and her arm, but she was unable to properly adjust. As Elodie moved, she pulled the steel from her pocket, grasping the hidden blade before tossing it at the paragon’s missing eye.

<If the odds are not in my favor, then I shall make my own fate!>

The servant did not hesitate; she couldn’t afford to. Like a candle burning at both ends, Elodie’s time grew short. She had to end this as soon as possible, and to do that, Elodie had to gather all of them in one place.

As she dashed away from the giantkin and towards the other two paragons, she could feel every fiber of her being screaming out. If she made one wrong move, lost her focus for one instant, then she would fall apart. And this time, there was no one to rescue her.

As Elodie looked ahead, the entire world flickered around her. Red sand gave way to black and white static. With each second, she could feel the void eroding away her very essence. But the servant was undeterred. It only sharpened her focus, cutting away the unnecessary until there was only her purest desire remaining.

<I will not fail you, my lord, for I am your servant!>

As she closed in on the huntress and the troublemaker, their forms faded to silhouettes, warped by the chaos that surrounded her. Everyone around her had gone mad. The Parralia and her demon, Vosta and the feathers. Perhaps it too had finally claimed her.

Elodie danced across the void, blood dripping from her eyes. She leapt around the dark silhouettes as she aimed to place them between her and the giantkin.

<I’ve come to settle the score, you two, and I brought someone!>
AQ DF AQW  Post #: 51
9/12/2023 0:12:30   

Crisp and sharp, the scent of mountain pine swept through the Arena as the temperature plummeted. A chilled curtain of trembling mist followed, pricking at the eyes like snowflakes in a wintry storm. Flowers of frost bloomed across the sands as a shudder ran through the Pilar of Ice, the bear upon it tilting its armored head back to let lose a deafening, furious roar. The foundation beneath it trembled, quaked, then - with a thunderous crack - split entirely in two. Shards crashed downwards in a shower of icicles to plunge deep into the crimson waste below. The debris dwindled swiftly, as if crystal itself melted beneath the return of the blazing sun overhead. Alone intact, the iron torc struck the ground with a heavy thud - icing over upon contact to leave single circlet of rhyme upon the sands.

"And so has favor been withdrawn from Sterling, Paragon of Ice." Voices howled outwards, carrying the cold voracity of a blizzard echoing forth from the highest of peaks. "The Pillar of Ice has fallen - and we now bear witness to his choice, and to his Lord's bitterness." Delicate tendrils of frost spun outwards from where the bear once stood, their curves reminiscent of claws still ready to rip and tear.

AQ DF MQ AQW  Post #: 52
9/13/2023 22:38:57   
Ronin Of Dreams
Still Watching...

The fetid reek of blood and bile clung to Sterling's mouth even as he let his jaw grow slack. It was both a brief easement of the agony still blossoming to greater extremes along the left of his skull and served to let the copious spittle and scarlet stream freely. Less risk of choking, more room to breathe, even if he had to fight the urge to gag or retch.

Chiyi did him no favors in palming a snack. It explained that wretched payload that had shredded his inner mouth nicely. How she could stand to eat, however, was beyond him. Though…her furtive glances suggested it might be just as much a nervous tic as it was a bizarre reloading.

Sterling curled over his cane, leaning into his grotesque visage as he readied to launch himself back and away on icy trails. The opportunity to play against the psychology of the remaining field was just too delicious to pass up. Two Dolls, a Normie, and a Normie-pretender. There was something poetic about the field in that, a tantalizing allure for that bonus benefit he'd admitted to Bella earlier that morning.

He slicked his tongue, preparing to speak when it happened.

Four Became Three

Yet Sterling was not of their number. His breath seized in his chest. 'Timothy will forever have to fish from only the most gentle of shores.' Warmth flooded his frame, stoking fresh the fires of pain. 'Cassandra never again shall feel the kiss of sunshine on her skin. Be shackled to transfusion bags and Durgan's…questionable source of supply.' Ephemeral ice beneath his feet melted to the sands. 'So many spratlings to grow up with lives fraught with pain, and death, and misery.'

Sterling was not the only one denied by the fickle whims of the Arena. His mind reeled at the connotations, the collateral. 'And Bella?' Sterling's spirit was gutted as the dream died in his heart. 'Sweet Bella? Will never be able to dance again. Her Entire World bound to that loathsome chair.'

The Chorus cried overhead, the Arena sundered Ice's ursine statue, and all in attendance felt the passing of bitter, cold defeat. Unheeded by Sterling, as Four Became Three.

A tweak of memory: Three. Three lines of scorching heat. Blazing in the shadows of Twilight, snapping abright to intercept daggers of mundane steel. The same flames he had just passed through moments before. A shield.

Bitterness compounded. Chiyi had been defensive, and in doing so, shamed him with mercy during their exchange.

Sterling's head tilted. Dead weight leaned against his cane, bending the blade buried in the sand — an annoyance for later. He stared at his former competitor with watery eyes that lacked all spark, all life. Words tumbled from numb jaws, terribly monotonous despite the horrific slur of his open, broken gape. "'Tiyi…"

"Dun be selthush." They were all selfish, though. Even, arguably, Sterling himself. Though he entered in truth for selfless reasons of the Boon, at least a small part of him likely had wanted to be the hero. But the rest? No, Sterling was confident the Three whose favor remained were being incorrigibly selfish, and his flagging spirit clung to that spark. Rubbed it towards anger, bringing a touch of defiance back to simmer. If he had to lose to the selfish, it would at least be to another Doll. Tears threatened to spill from the corners of his eyes, but the surge of defiance gave his last words some measure of conviction behind them.

"Stah'. Holdin'. Dack."

Chiyi's eyes darkened, and her lips moved alongside the briefest nod of understanding. Urging him to go in the purest silence. It struck Sterling dimly that, between the momentary paralysis of crushed spirits and the urge to speak, he had not yet made any move to quit the field. Open as a collateral target even if everyone knew favor had been withdrawn — and who was he to deny others the potential thought that he was after secretive Spite? He hurled himself backwards. Stumbling on feet that could not skate in panicked motion that…he couldn't quite feel in his mind. As autonomous a response as his body was capable of, jerked around like a puppet to someone else's strings. A purely ingrained, reflexive response to dangers his awareness had declined to consult his higher intellect about.

It wouldn't stop him, in a hazy future some time hence when telling his tale, from blaming the Arena itself for cajoling him into motion.

Tripping over his own heels as his mind caught on to what his body was doing, it was the lack of skating or gliding that condemned him back to the sands. The fickle deal struck with the visage — whether they had been a Lord, some mischievous Ice-aligned patron, the Arena itself, or even just a spiritual projection of the big bloody bear statue — was only empowered whilst Favor was in place. But the restrictions had been clear: his native gifts were suppressed until he either won or was quit of the Sands. That prohibition had not mysteriously been lifted.

Sterling pushed himself up, slowly, with a casual disregard to the resumption of combat nearby. Turned his back to it, in fact, as he dragged his frame upright. Taking each step with an unceremonious lack of haste as he crossed the breadth of the Arena back towards the gate he had entered. Heedless of the angry gazes that bore into him, few though they were, for his blasphemous heresy in taking his time. Sterling let the tears flow freely as he walked, and dripped, and bled unbowed.

Only one pair of eyes mattered, and he would make her proud. Well, proud and possibly piqued to no end for one last defiant flair. Striding as tall and head held as high as his battered frame and swollen jaw would allow, making the long trek across the arena back to where the bear of Ice had once stood. Though, had the gate not closed behind Parallia, he even had considered striding out the same way he had entered the entire grand affair — for in the end, the traitor skater was still an aberration born to Darkness.
AQ  Post #: 53
9/15/2023 20:15:03   

Vicious talons ripped through empty air. Vosta snarled and trailed her gaze after the lithe form of the shackled savior pirouetting out of her reach. Her heart pounded with a warhammer’s wrath. “Run, run, little bird,” the warclad called out in her people’s tongue. She slammed her foot down in a cloud of crimson, halting her momentum. She pivoted on her heel towards the chosen of Crumbling Titan. “You can’t outfly the wind-GAAH!”

A luster of silver ushered in roots of agony burrowing their way through her empty socket. Vosta reeled back and bellowed, her voice breaking beneath the strain. Lilac ichor stung her eye and stained her vision. By his word, I breathe. Her chest swelled with every breath, the pain ebbing away with each passing exhalation. She lifted a hand to the fresh laceration splitting her forehead. The wound prickled at her touch but did not erupt with malice. As I breathe, I live. Eye of amber tracked the fleeting figure of Elodie across the snowscape with renewed vigor.

As I live, I conquer.

Vosta tore across the scarlet sea in pursuit of her foe. Each step teetered beneath her, the noonday sun toothless against the cold creeping beneath her skin. One more. Each breath fell harsher than the last. The last warclad of the Crowcallers had shirked her duties for far too long - collecting a debt worth years of devotion. She would deliver a mountain of corpses unto Grandfather Crow should he demand it. The scalps of these precious three would be but the first of many tributes. For Ba’jorn, Crowspeaker Junral, and Jarl Vostadt. The fire burning in her legs turned to ice. Unto you, I offer one more!

The scent of pine and kiss of winter gifted Vosta a taste of home. The warclad shivered against its sudden caress. All around her rang the proclamation denouncing the chosen of the tundra. Vosta spied the scant figure of Sterling scampering away from his duel . She sneered. Loyalties as fragile as silence. The warclad wrenched her attention back to Elodie as she flitted in her path to place inferno’s chosen between them. And faith as frail as glass.

Frail faith…

Vosta pushed herself forward even harder, boots driving deep into the scorched snow to propel herself further with every step. Her mind grew cloudy, a fog dragging it down into sunken depths. No, not yet! Fingers of flesh found the hilt of the Jarlman and clasped down tight. Vosta pulled the knife free, droplets of her own blood strewn in a baptismal ceremony. I wield the spear, the blade, the birthright! She brought the Jarlman back, a viper coiling to strike. By accepting Grandfather Crow and his faith, she had accepted only half her legacy. Through the fog and haze burned the words in the low tongue for which she sought. She seared them in her mind, bound them to her being to dispel the entrancing vertigo.


Vosta, Jarl of the Crowcallers, slashed the hunting knife forward in a sweeping stroke. Sterling’s dueling partner, a lioness grim of face and white of hair, stumbled back but the blade cut through the air itself to hunt her down. It bit into the woman’s shoulder and pried a faint gasp from her lips. Their blood is yours. Jarl Vosta pitched forward from the attack of opportunity, her gait winding back and forth beneath her in search of its balance. The Jarlman’s hilt grew slick in her clammy grasp. The Jotnari righted herself in her charge and turned her gaze back to the shackled savior. One more, Grandfather Crow!

A sunburst of agony ruptured in the small of her back and drove the air from her lungs. Vosta arched backwards and sprung the lioness’ trap. Twin branding irons clamped around her neck, their seething heat scorching her skin. The Jotnari anticipated pain. She braced for suffering. Its absence preached far greater peril than any torment. She gasped and failed to muster any breath. The Jarlman slipped from her bloody grasp as Vosta reached to pry the flaming fury’s fingers from her blistering skin.

In her moment of vulnerability, the shackled savior struck. Grunting like a wounded boar, Elodie slammed into her and the three chosen crashed to the hateful snow of the colosseum. Vosta felt rather than heard the crack accompanying the white-hot pain flaring in her side. Her cry died in her throat, bloody fingers scratching vainly at the hand choking her. Pale skin charred black and bubbled beneath the white-haired lioness’s infernal grip.

Two gods pitted themselves against Grandfather Crow.

Vosta gurgled, salt and iron coating her tongue in her final laugh. Each sound erupted a new flare of agony in her side - every moment drove the suffering in her back deeper. Vosta flicked her gaze to the skies above.

Elodie shifted, still clinging to life. The Krodottir lashed out, grasping the skull of the shackled savior and lifting her into the air. The hunted can never win. The girl remained deathly quiet as a talon plunged itself into one of her ever-shifting eyes and rained scarlet down onto the Jotnari. Only delay their fate. Blood and bile frothed between Vosta’s clenched teeth. She could hear her searing flesh, smell its foul odor - yet her grip held firm. Three final sacrifices to please the gods who beckoned them here.

From the skies…

A glint of steel flashed in Elodie’s grip. In an ugly maneuver ill-fitting of her appearance, the shackled savior stabbed the small blade into Vosta’s neck. A spout of crimson blood, not violet, rewarded her efforts.

A wicked smile slashed itself across the jarl’s face.

...we reign.

Vosta squeezed tighter, all the torment inflicted upon the jarl reflected in the iron grip of her talons. Elodie’s dying throes grew weaker and weaker. Beyond her, the colosseum and all its skies and pillars drifted up and away from the jarl. Her violet blood soaked the snow, a lilac bloom in a crimson tundra. The savior’s final breaths, the violent hissing of lioness’ flames, and the ever-present din of the thronging masses quieted themselves with each passing heartbeat. Her own slowed to a crawl, her mind miles away. Vosta unclenched her jaw. Grandfather Crow-

The last jarl of the Crowcallers bore through the pain to offer one last prayer.

AQ DF MQ  Post #: 54
9/15/2023 23:33:55   

"And so has favor been withdrawn from Sterling, Paragon of Ice.”

Though the servant could not feel the deathly chill that swept across the arena, she could hear its howling voice calling to her. It cut through the chaos, the words like music to her ears.

<One troublemaker down. Only two more remain.>

Elodie glanced over her shoulder towards the remaining two paragons, to the apparitions that took their places. Vosta became one with her beast, wreathed and consumed by black feathers until not an inch of flesh remained. How much of that was hallucination was irrelevant. The beast sprinted towards the servant with black talons bared. Between them stood the headhuntress. Her pale silhouette deepened as it drew in smoke, forming a frame of solid ash. As the servant skirted back, the beast lashed out with a sword and pushed Chiyi to the side. Thisravenous crow would stop at nothing to claim her prey.

The servant did not have time to consider her options. The beast moved with an unnatural swiftness. Running seemed useless. A few extra feet would do nothing but stall the inevitable, and Elodie was out of time as well. In that instant, only one choice remained.

Elodie chose to face the nightmare head-on.

The servant dug her feet into the ground as she braced herself for a final stand. Her right hand moved up to sweep through her hair, lifting her hairband off and into her grasp. Elodie unsheathed the concealed blade as she stood in watch as the beast closed in, lifting her foul arm to swipe at something on her shoulder.


She could make out a glimpse of her distorted form clinging to the monster’s back. Whatever the headhuntress had planned, the monster reeled in pain, its assault temporarily slowed. That could be only to Elodie's benefit.

<We shall take down this goliath once and for all!>

The air rattled as the meteorite shuddered around the servant’s neck. By all measures, the goliath outclassed the servant in every physical attribute, and that was before she started falling apart. But Elodie’s might extended beyond the physical. She tapped into her inner strength, unshackling the restraints that kept her body from tearing itself to shreds.

The servant cried out as she slammed her frame against the paragon’s form. Elodie gasped in pain as her left arm shattered on impact. Her bones broken and muscles torn, her whole body flushed in red and purple hues as she bled from within– A heavy price to pay, but it was worth it as the servant staggered the goliath and toppled her over.

Elodie collapsed, falling on top of the giant. As the world seemed to end around her, everything grew numb and quiet. The servant clung to her thoughts, desperately trying to see it to the end.

<Is... Is it over?>

The battered servant tried to tilt her head and lift her gaze. She barely managed to move an inch before her neck stiffened in protest. Before she could muster the strength to try again, a set of black talons clawed out from the abyss.

She uttered not a sound as one talon pierced her right eye, casting it into darkness. The rest clutched her skull and held the servant in place. She was far past the ability to feel pain by this point, stoic to any looker. But deep inside, she was fuming.

Still on the ground, the beast pulled on the servant’s frame. The two paragons stared at each other through their remaining eyes. The beast reveled with gurgling laughter, seemingly savoring its kill. Everything felt so distant, as if Elodie was controlling her body like a puppet on strings. The nerve-cord to her left arm was severed, the flesh hanging limp and useless. A symbol of her weakness. But her right arm remained; it still clutched her hairband's hidden blade.

Without grace or mercy, she lashed out, plunging the small edge down into the goliath’s neck. Red smoke poured from the wound as purple blood trickled from underneath. It was then that Elodie saw the headhuntress. She was clutching the giant’s throat, her flame-touched hand now pinned by the servant’s blade. Unfortunately for the servant, her strike seemed to do more harm to the huntress than to the goliath. Only the tip managed to pierce Vosta's skin, the act serving only to further excite the beast.

<Why won't you die?!>

Vosta pushed in with her talons, threatening to collapse Elodie’s skull. The hum of her necklace began to fade as Elodie drew her last breath. She felt so helpless.[/I]

She despised the feeling. To be so close to victory only for everything to fall apart in the end. But more than that, she despised herself for letting it turn out like this. Somewhere in the masses Elodie knew that her master was watching her pitiful display. All the servant wanted was to make him proud. Lord Durando saw the potential in her and took her into his home when no one else would.

Elodie would never tell him, but contrary to her earlier bravado in the twilight halls, she really was afraid. In deepest nightmares, Lord was gone, Through her negligence, he had died or abandoned her. Now moments from the end, the nightmare became reality, except it was Elodie who stood at death's door.

To be forever separated from him... The thought was unbearable. Without him, what purpose did Elodie have? Without him, what would she be other than the crying little girl at the orphanage?

<I’m sorry, my lord–>

It was all too much. Elodie couldn't hold on any longer. As her consciousness fell into oblivion, the servant's last glimpse was of Chiyi. The headhuntress took a deep breath, smoke swirling around her distorted form.

<Finish it... >
AQ DF AQW  Post #: 55
9/16/2023 8:17:20   
How We Roll Winner

It is currently the dead of night, but it might as well be any other time. The doors to her small, dimly lit home are locked. The neighbors, their children, her parents, some others have tried to knock, to call her to come out, but she has shut herself away from the world, refusing to respond if the barriers of her house could shield her from the haunting thoughts that persistently creep in. Or perhaps she does not hear them either.

Her heart weighs heavily, burdened by the memory of happier times. It's as if the walls themselves echo with the sound of his laughter, his voice warm and soothing.

Chiyi reaches out, desperate to touch him, to feel his presence once more. But as her fingers graze empty air, he vanishes like smoke dissolving into the night. She sees him in every corner, his silhouette etched in the shadows that dance upon the walls. But he was never there, and the painful truth pierces her soul - he will never be again.

In the suffocating silence of her home, Chiyi breaks down. Her tears flow freely, a torrent of grief and despair. She clutches her chest, as if trying to contain the ache that threatens to consume her.

Through tear-blurred vision, she whispers.

“I will bring you back.”

Chiyi's head was swimming, the past few minutes of relentless combat combined with the constriction on her arm perhaps finally taking its toll. Submerged in a whirlpool of chaos and violence, unable to find her bearings.

But claw out of this maelstrom of pain and exhaustion she did, and she became acutely aware that there were only four combatants left.

Fire and ice, earth and wind.

Two pairs of opposing forces left to clash in the sandy arena. A precarious situation, Chiyi realized. If she continued to fight with Sterling, they would become easy pickings for whomever was left alive among the other two.

Before she could voice her concerns, the next announcement came, a voice echoing across the arena, carrying with it the judgment of the powers that be.

“And so favor has been withdrawn from Sterling, Paragon of Ice.”

Chiyi's eyes widened in disbelief as she looked wildly back and forth between him and the other two combatants. Dismissed? Yes, they were enemies at the moment, but—

Sterling's expression changed. Anger? Disappointment?

Sterling’s lips moved and he slurred through broken teeth. “Tiyi.”

Dismissal meant he would be given a choice, to withdraw, or to—

The words slurred wetly against bloody gums, but Chiyi cocked her head to listen.
“Dun be selthush.”

Was it really selfish to want back what she had lost? Who she had lost?

A terrible bestial cry tore through the air, a primal sound that echoed across the vast expanse of the sandy arena—she might have only seconds—

Three final words. “Stah’. Holdin’. Dack.”

Stop holding back.

If I fall now, I have nothing.

A cruel and unforgiving truth would be followed by another, such was life.

And where one wins, another loses, Chiyi …

Chiyi silently mouthed, “Go.”

Another roar, closer, although this one formed words.

“I stand as Jarl!”

Chiyi's instincts kicked in, and she whirled around, but it was already too late. Their—her—opponents were upon her, moving with a swiftness and ferocity that left her momentarily stunned.

In a blur of black and white, the maid Elodie sprinted past Chiyi, her figure a fleeting shadow in the chaos. Behind her, Vosta, the chosen of Wind, but not the same Vosta that Chiyi vaguely recalled when they had all entered the arena. This Vosta was a monster against which even a Hunter of the Arielan Church would take pause. Most notably, the giantess’s right arm was a colossal black mass of muscle and rippling feathers.

Vosta attacked first. With uncanny speed, she lashed out, wielding a gleaming dagger—or at least one a giantess would probably consider a dagger—that seemed to split the very air itself.

Chiyi tried to rise to her feet, but she had overestimated her own capabilities at the moment. Still feeling woozy from the blood loss earlier, her legs gave way and she stumbled, narrowly avoiding the wind-cutting dagger that zoomed past her ear. The massive razor-sharp blade left a fresh gash in her already wounded left shoulder.

So this was the Paragon of Wind.

Her moment of clumsiness had inadvertently saved her life; the wound was not fatal, but if she still had her left arm, it would have been completely crippled from the blow. The force of the gust generated by the dagger was so powerful that it blew off the already-straining cords and pins that held her disheveled bun in place.

Her long white hair was freed, descending with haunting, elegant grace down her waist and shoulders, a stark contrast against the dark blood that stained her once white robes.

White and red, blood was everywhere …

A chill coursed through Chiyi's body as her vision suddenly rippled. The wound in her shoulder wasn't that deep, was it? Yet the sharp pain it sent through her was akin to the memory of the time she had accidentally slammed her finger between a heavy door hinge - not entirely inconsequential, yet nauseating in its intensity.

No, not now! Not when we're so close.

Just a little longer.

That was what she had told herself at the beginning of this brutal contest, and even before that. A contest against the world and everything she had lost to it … or it had taken from her. Belief did not help her. Lies did not protect her.

Hope had turned its back on her.

Her cloak, a source of Comfort, was gone.

Her meticulously crafted hairdo, as vain as it may have seemed, offered a semblance of stability, now reduced to mere vestiges.

Her arm, her other half …

Even now, Torment, she wasn’t sure if she had the strength left to lift it.

In this harsh and unforgiving arena, stripped of everything she once held dear, she found herself left with only one thing to embrace.


It was a relentless, seething force that tore through her like a tempest. RAGE was her constant companion, her unwavering ally that could not be wrested from her. It had dwelled within her all along, waiting to be unleashed. It simmered when she laid shut the lid, and it boiled when she let it loose in fury. When everything else had faltered, when her hope had dwindled, RAGE had surged forth, granting her the strength to persevere, to rise again when she believed she had none left to give.

And hell hath no fury …

As she stood there, on the brink of immolation from soul-scorching heat, it was RAGE that would propel her forward. It would be RAGE that carried her through to the bitter end.

So Chiyi surged upward, her red eyes ablaze like twin crimson stars in the night sky. The colossal giantess with the arm of a demon crow had already sped past her, her focus fixed solely on Elodie, the maid seemingly defenseless against the onslaught of such a beast.

It was a grave miscalculation.

With RAGE coursing through her veins, Chiyi lashed out, kicking the dangling edge of the Headhuntress’s Torment with her right foot. The weapon swung on its harness, describing a clockwise arc. Chiyi twisted her body in tandem, her arm reaching out to grasp the handle in a reverse grip.

Bending low, she charged forward, her every fiber straining to overcome the physical limitations imposed by her injuries—her forearm quivered, fingers twitching as they tried to obey her mental commands, hampered by the rebellion of her injuries. Yet, fueled by sheer willpower and an overwhelming surge of RAGE, she managed to draw her Torment.

Chiyi watched as Vosta closed in on Elodie, a bestial behemoth with clawed arm raised to rip the girl apart.


In a swift and decisive motion, she lunged forward, Torment in hand, wielding it as an assassin may wield a dagger, albeit a very unconventional one given the size of her weapon.

One last task for you, Torment.

The blade’s edge gleamed in response, blood from its previous victim dried and glistening on its flat metal.

The massive weapon cleaved the air, finding its mark in Vosta's back. The giantess stiffened and straightened up in an eerie, deadly silence.

Chiyi didn't attempt to drive the blade further into her opponent; it would have been an insurmountable task anyway. The giantess loomed, her towering frame dwarfing Chiyi by a head or possibly even three.

Refusing to be deterred, Chiyi released Torment allowing it to remain embedded in place, and scrambled up Vosta's colossal back. It felt like wrestling with a tornado, trying to rein in this unstoppable force. Vosta was slowing down and stumbling, Torment’s wounding taking its toll, but not enough, not quite—

Adrenaline surged through Chiyi’s veins, but she was already in trouble; the rage had nearly burned itself out, and even with the memory of rage to fuel her limbs, they were already starting to tremble again.

Just a little longer.

Summoning one last burst of strength, Chiyi fought her way up to Vosta's neck. There was no time to think.


Within the storm of crow feathers and moving mountain of muscle, the Two Fingers latched onto Vosta’s throat, two fiery trails streaking the air, ending with two fiery fangs eagerly ripping at meat and vocal cords.

Vosta’s vocalizations cut off at once. The harsh, disgusting smell of burning flesh filled the air already heavy with blood and battle. She reached up with her other, more humanoid hand futilely to try to pry apart the Two Fingers.

The next instant, a force slammed into the giantess with incredible power, toppling her over like a felled tree.


With seemingly superhuman strength—or perhaps supernatural as she had proven herself capable of previously--- the maid had charged headlong into Vosta's massive chest, throwing the giantess off her feet.

Chiyi clung on for dear life as the world swerved off-kilter, the sand rushing up to strike the giantess—

And I with her, Chiyi realized as they tumbled down together.

The mountain that was the giantess collapsed, crashing into the unforgiving sands with a resounding thud. Unfortunately, that meant she fell directly on top of Chiyi.

The immense weight of the giantess, who knows how many pounds of bone and muscle, bore down upon her abdomen like a relentless vice. Something lurched deep within her gut, and Chiyi couldn't stop herself from letting out a hacking cough.

The taste of iron flooded her mouth, and the realization hit her.


A sense of dread washed over her as her vision blurred and the world around her seemed to spin.

Oh no, Chiyi thought hazily.

She had endured such an injury before; twice in fact. Both times had put her out of commission for months and she had only survived each due to a third party’s intervention.

There would be no such recourse this time. She was trapped beneath the colossal weight of Vosta; trying to worm her way out would be a task more monumental than the Monkey King trying to shrug off Mount Wuxing.

Yet despite the dire circumstances, her Two Fingers continued to burn relentlessly, fastened firmly to Vosta’s throat. Rage had not abandoned her just yet.

A horrific gurgle escaped the giantess’s throat, perhaps involuntarily, perhaps not, and then even that was silenced.

Elodie, the assassin maid, lay sprawled atop Vosta’s massive chest, her diminutive figure emphasizing the staggering size difference between the two combatants. The colossal giantess had ceased her roaring or even gurgling, and now a deadly silence enveloped the three warriors locked in a struggle of death.

Unfortunately, neither Elodie’s full-body collision, a stab from Torment, nor the continued burning of the Two Fingers were enough to stop Vosta. The giantess’s monstrous crow arm snaked out, clamping down on Elodie's skull and squeezed with merciless force. A talon from the nightmarish limb pierced the maid's eye. The latter shrieked, a bone-chilling sound that reminded Chiyi, darkly, that for all her skill and power, she was, after all, just a girl …

Yet eerily, the maid still reached up to pull out her hairband—another concealed knife, Chiyi saw hazily— and brought her arm back to stab Vosta in the neck.

A sharp and searing pain suddenly tore through Chiyi's palm.

My hand …

The maid yanked her arm back, blood of two dripping, trying to stab again. But her movements were somehow jerky now, like a puppet with tangled strings. Evidently that hadn’t been enough to do anything to Vosta, as even with her throat torn out, the giantess continued to tighten her grip, that monstrous crow arm squeezing Elodie’s skull as a child may try to pop a mandarin.

The death struggle continued unabated. Chiyi grasped desperately at the inner flames of her remembered rage, but they were already dwindling, mere cinders and dying embers in the dark.

Chiyi blinked, her vision clouded by the chaos of the battle, and she shook her head frantically. Creeping through the red haze were black stains, the tendrils of impending unconsciousness. She couldn't succumb to the darkness; she had to survive.

Just a little longer.

The Two Fingers continued to burn, but their fiery light was dimming with each passing moment. The giantess held Elodie's head in her grasp, and the maid, whom her master had called his “hope”—

How does it feel to take one last breath?

Her red eyes blazed between the strands of tangled white hair, a reflection of the turmoil within her.

The maid who had carried the weight of hope now faced her darkest hour.

And where one's hope succeeded, then did another—

The thought rose unbidden, the same words but not the same voice.

Don't be selfish.

Shut up! Chiyi screamed in the depths of her mind.

She bit down hard on the seed of the wrathberry, unleashing the power of the One Breath.


A wave of fire billowed forward, consuming everything in its path. The corresponding splash of bitter wrathberry seed coating her tongue and the roof of her mouth but Chiyi was past the point of caring. Her power was spent, her body broken, but she held on, determined to survive.

Just a little longer.

In that suspended moment, time seemed to hang motionless. The fierce combat had transformed into a desperate struggle for survival, and there was no longer a battle, just three women clinging to life.

All roads had led to this moment, Chiyi thought, her mind wandering in the haze of pain and exhaustion. She couldn't tell if the sun was still up, for there was some warmth on her skin and clothes, but she couldn't feel it. Only the coldness remained. The Two Fingers had died out, but Chiyi kept squeezing. Or at least she thought she was; her mind commanded her hand but she couldn’t feel it.

As she lay there, battered and broken, memories flooded her mind. All the battles she had fought, the countless journeys she had undertaken. Memories of battles with the Locust assassins, deadly dances with a Vessel Bearer, and even tangling with the Disciples of Crizox, to those more mundane such as discovering the wrathberry blooms and buying a horse from the Guild and struggling to learn to ride one-handed. Each memory carried its own share of pain, some fresh and some scabbed over, but one memory rose above all the rest.

It is probably not my place to say it. But just remember, in the Arena, it can get intense. You've probably already been through so much. Take care of yourself out there. It's not just about winning, you know. Your life ... it's valuable.”

Take care of yourself …

And how can I take care of myself, when I couldn't even take care of you? Of us?

That is life. Sometimes there is nothing you can do, but go with the flow.

But Chiyi was resolute. There is still something I can do.

At what cost?

Anything,” she whispered. Out loud? Or in her head?

Don't be selfish.

The words returned to her, their sting cutting through the pain in her impaled palm. Or perhaps it was her eyes that were stinging. She wondered why.

But it didn't matter anymore. Chiyi closed her eyes, finding solace in the darkness that enveloped her. The memories, the most painful of them all made all the more so by how sweet they once were, surfaced, and for a moment she saw herself in simpler times, with hair as black as the midnight and both arms with which to welcome the dusk and the dawn.

Either way, Fujun, I will see you soon.
AQ DF MQ AQW Epic  Post #: 56
9/23/2023 13:07:41   

A single quake, a screech to shatter glass, and the Pillar of Earth crumbled, eroding in mere moments to leave naught but a whisper of dust upon the sands.

A searing heat, a gut-wrenching roar, and the Pillar of Fire erupted, curtains of flame leaping upwards to consume it before falling away to scant flakes of ash.


A whisper, a zephyr, a gale roared in triumph as the air itself twisted into life in the center of the blood-soaked stands. The currents whistled and laughed and screamed, stretching outwards from the tornado to pull the entire arena into its grasp. The Pillar of Wind burst outwards, it's broad smile clear and proud before it too became consumed by the growing cyclone. Higher and higher it swelled, as if to stretch all the way to the heavens themselves and sending all around staggering, clinging to the stands to avoid getting dragged away. Alone untouched, their robes still and unmoving, the criers raised their arms skyward, and declared the Lord's verdict for all to hear.

"And so has favor been given to Vosta ver Vostadteir, Champion of Wind! By the Will of the Arena, and the Judgement of the Lords, she has claimed Victory! We now bear witness to her final decision: the Boon of the Elemental Lords!"
AQ DF MQ AQW  Post #: 57
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