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“And so favor has been withdrawn from Sterling, Paragon of Ice.”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