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  1. The two elementals stood in a familiar shared laboratory. The young white-robed man scratched a hand through his untidy brown hair and gave a sigh of relief. "The Mini-Character-Tournie is over. And Godrid won!" "I know," the black-robed hooded figure had a smug grin on his wrinkled face. "It is so satisfying." "And unexpected." "What was that Zac?" "Nothing Chris!" Zac fearfully turned away, pretending to busy himself with the scientific apparatus. At that moment the sliding doors opened and a disgruntled Blake strode in, his white robes fluttering by his staff, itching his long snowy beard with agitation. Chris's shrewd gaze returned to one of satisfaction. "Oh shut it you." Blake said before Chris had even spoken. "What is that you said before the tournament began?" Chris taunted with a mock-innocent sway. "'No Godrid wanker is going to win'." "You got lucky." He turned away to peruse the folders containing information on his crushers. "So what happens now?" Zac began curiously, looking between his mentors. "What happens now Zac…" Chris put his arms behind his back and stuck his nose in the air. "Our crushers will be moving on to more exciting things. They will all be living together until we can organize our next idea." "Living together?" Zac blinked in alarm. "Are you sure that's such a good idea?" "They will be supervised and have enough room to avoid those they don't get along with," Blake waved a dismissive hand, now looking at other documents. A blueprint for something. "As always, fighting outside of tournaments is forbidden, especially in areas where they can damage our property." "Either way the crushers have deserved a break. For however long that may be. They can relax, but we will be quite busy." Chris informed. "Me as well?" Zac tilted his head, he seemed to be implying the three of them. "Yes." Blake typed in some buttons and stared at the screen. "Me, you, Chris… also Lysander, Jamie and a few others." "The other elementals…" Zac paused in wonder. "What are you both planning?" "While the crushers spend some time in a homely facility base in the suburbs, we will be organizing this!" As Chris waved to the screen Blake pressed another button. "It is a space station. Satellite Academy. With the goal of attaining new information on crusher-making and methods, we will unite with many elementals off-world on this mobile station. A facility where crushers will learn and train, a school if you will." "No way… that's incredible." "You'll be invited to contribute your own crushers to the student body too Zac, this time." Chris announced. "…I don't have as much experience making crushers as you both do though. You guys are thousands of years older than me." "But you are a prodigy elemental, remember Zac. Your Anjelo crushers may very well outshine our Godrid and Zorgon ones when it comes to academic and skill achievements." "Not likely." Blake grumbled as he continued to bring up new information on the screen. "We will seek out as many elementals as we can. We are hoping for ten members on our united elemental board. Ten members with a first academy year of ten crushers each, meaning a total of one-hundred students when we commence lift-off on Satellite Academy." "This has got to be the most ambitious project I've ever seen you both make." Zac admitted. "It is probably our most ambitious project since the galactic war five-thousand years ago." Chris admitted. The staffed elementals gazed off to the screen in thought. Zac clenched his fists, feeling a deep excitement brewing inside him. He'd inherited his passion for creating artificial humans with superpowers from the other two elementals. To make creations like projects, and improve his own skill. All that he could learn from being surrounded by other elementals older than himself by many millennia… Yes, it would take time to prepare, but it looked like an exciting adventure indeed.
  2. The audience had lost none of its exuberance as the final contenders marched to the field. Both Jane and Lyle were wearing fitted suits of some thin material. Jane could only guess the purpose was for effect… what more could the suits do? If they made them resistive to fire or getting electrocuted… well, that was point of their powers anyway so it didn't make sense. Jane's suit was red and black, while Lyle's was yellow and white. Those were the national colours of Zorgon and Godrid. So maybe the suits weren't just about the spectators but also for the dramatic investment the elementals had in this final victory. The suits could be magical, Jane supposed, but they felt ordinary to her. In the middle of the colosseum was a metal perimeter – a flat, shiny disc. It must've been unearthed during the intermission. Its diameter was an easy twenty metres. Jane's suited shoes changed from muffled steps atop dirt to tamping against the metal, Silas mirroring her approach from the other side of the field. Their expressions were also identical, serious and wary beneath the black fringe of Jane's hair and Lyle's blonde spikes. They stopped ten feet from each other at the centre. A hovering droid whizzed to float between them, its head visor interface lighting up. "Prepare to ascend, combatants." Its mechanical voice announced. The audience roared as the metal detached and rose steadily upwards. The stands lowering out of view, the clouds getting closer, and then they were surrounded by nothing but blue and flying robots that was filming them for live TV. Jane managed to crane her neck for a final look at the big screen, just as it cut to the two elementals. Chris and Blake in white and black, arms crossed and looking up. She wondered if they'd made any bets. "On the Godrid side we have Lyle Zappos." The robot continued. "And on the Zorgon we have Jane Flame. Take your positions and begin at the countdown. May the best crusher win." It levitated itself out of harm's way before its screen began a countdown. Jane and Lyle both took ready positions. 3…2…1… the siren sounded. Lyle's hair jolted in an instant, a quick flicker of sparks around his body. But he didn't charge up for a bolt, only enough to launch himself quickly at Jane. Her forearm countered his as she held strong, deflecting his first strike away from her body. Lyle's body flickered again. His next punch came quickly, Jane forced it aside. She stepped back against another hit and then lifted her arm to block a kick, Lyle's leg blurred, connecting three times before he jumped into a punch that Jane caught with two hands and threw aside. It was obvious from up close. Lyle's body was brimming with electricity, but he dared not take the time to charge up for a proper attack. He was making himself faster by speeding up his muscles and reflexes. The electric pathways of his nervous system – the Godrid lighting users style of physical fighting that Chris had spoken of. He blurred and Jane was forced to step back, but she deflected every attack. She felt calm and focussed. She knew Lyle wouldn't actually kill her. This was a fight she could methodically do her best in. Not for her elemental, not for meagre prize money… but for her. To test her own skill against a strong opponent. Lyle's moves were only getting faster. Him blurring and their fists connecting. Jane aiming punches and kicks that Lyle avoided, them kicking each other with both legs, jumping apart to separate and Lyle moving in again with determination. His quickening hits started to connect, a knock to the shoulder, a hit to the side. Jane grit her teeth and tried to keep her balance. Her hand ignited in red flame and she arced her arm, Lyle leaned away. Jane punched and kicked, that flaming hand vshhing close to his body. Now he was on the retreat. Jane forced him back toward the centre of the dais and beyond. Her second hand ignited and red light blurred as Lyle swerved and blocked by hitting her elbow. Suddenly he ducked with a blinding twist and swept her legs out from under her. Jane's fire leapt from her hand and hit Lyle when he pounced. He flew back with a grunt and rolled until the fire went out, getting up on one knee with a scorched mark at his shoulder. Jane got into a crouch as well. Close-up isn't an option… it'd be too dangerous for both of us. The understanding crossed both of their faces. Jane spawned a fireball between her hands, she launched it quickly but Lyle raced aside and ran in an arc. He was faster than all the other crushers. The fire exploded harmlessly behind him. Jane got to her feet and turned to keep her eyes on Lyle. Jumping into her strikes she fired red flamethrowers at him, scarlet streams that Lyle outpaced or skidded under. His hand began sparking with yellow electricity. Jane fired another stream of red as Lyle skidded to a stop, firing two fingers at her. His yellow bolt zig-zagged beside the tongues of red. Jane fell aside to dodge his attack, the hairs on the left side of her body raising even from under the suit. After the lightning hit the metal behind her it left a hissing puff of smoke and then vanished. The air felt charged. Jane whipped her head back and started running. Lyle ran too. Red fire blazed, streaking past loudly. Yellow lighting zapped, arrowing across the area. Red and yellow shooting paths while the two fighters weaved and dodged each other. Jane slid on her knees across metal, shooting fire from her hand. Lyle skidded away and at her side, firing lightning that Jane had to throw herself forward to avoid. She rolled away and got back to her feet, and they were moving again. Jane stumbled, took a misstep. Yellow blazed dangerously close, she leapt backward and realised she was nearing the edge. They must be over fifty feet above the ground. Lyle was also near the edge, they launched their attacks at each other, embers and sparks raining down below. Jane took a step back toward the centre and that's when Lyle's attack got her. A full bolt of yellow lightning to the chest. It was painful. Like a taser from all directions. The yellow lightning branched off her body like a tree, sparking against the metal ground. Her body froze up from the shock and she felt unable to move, only twitches… but she managed to keep herself from toppling over. Lyle raced in close and all Jane could do was wait for the immobility to pass. The ringing in her ears and flash in her eyes. Lyle could see her resistance and fired another bolt straight at her. Jane gathered the last of her strength, and managed to shift her body away. She fell and the lightning zapped by above her. On the ground she kicked her feet and flexed her fingers. I can move again. Lyle readied for another shot but Jane pushed herself up and away. She scrambled off but was back on her feet. Dishevelled, hair frayed, but still moving. "I'm not out yet." Her hands caught red fire at her sides. Lyle gave a brief smirk at her determination before jumping into a series of strikes that fired multiple bolts toward her. Jane side-stepped and rolled away from them, still facing her opponent. I should try that signature move again… She put the fire from both hands together and began condensing her fireball. Lyle narrowed his eyes and began condensing his lightning as well, crouching as it went haywire, hitting the ground around him, intensifying in frequency as it began to change hue. Jane forced more energy into her explosive attack. The two stood powering up before launching at each other with their most powerful moves. Jane gave a heroic growl as she thrust the attack forward, her red fireball colliding with Lyle's blue-lightning jab. For a moment Evan crossed her mind, but she dared not falter now. Her battle-cry became louder and she felt her hand burning. A strange explosion of invisible energy. The two of them separated with blinding speed. A flash and bang between them, but their bodies flew and skid across the smooth metal, quickly approaching the edge on both sides. Jane flailed in panic, working her hands against slippery metal. They squealed against her speed, she huffed and grabbed in desperation. Her feet, then legs, then waist hanging over the drop before she finally stopped herself. Jane froze for a moment, her hair in her face, before releasing a sigh of relief. She quickly struggled and got herself back up. Lyle was also getting back to his feet. This felt like the real decisive moment – not their strongest attacks, but the one that would follow. Jane forced her body to race toward Lyle. He didn't have time to generate yellow lightning. He used electricity to blast off to meet her, aiming a kick instead. Jane crossed her arms into an X and Lyle's foot collided against it. He leaned in then backflipped away from her. Jane staggered aside then moved in with a flaming fist. Lyle turned and kicked the side of her head. Jane saw stars and went down. Her body went unresponsive again, still exhausted from the bolt of lightning that'd hit her previously. Lyle's hand stopped by her face but he didn't shoot. Jane blinked blurrily, and it took a moment for her to realise she'd lost. Lyle was crouched near her, heaving from exhaustion. "The winner is Lyle Zappos." The resounding applause from below could be heard after the robot's announcement. Floating droids came in close now that it was safe to do so, wanting to catch the reactions of the combatants for live television. Lyle's hand switched from an attacking posture to a helping aid. Jane took his hand and he helped pull her to her feet. The dais was already moving, lowering back to its place in the middle of the colosseum. Jane was still in shock, evidently. Each new happenstance surprising her as she stood by Lyle's side like a zombie. "Good job, Jane." Lyle gave a genuine smile, achievement and relief on his face. Jane felt a smile forming on her face as well. It was over. She felt relief and pride. The dais grinded to a stop and she could see her two friends, Marine and Leaf rushing over. "Yeah. Congratulations, Lyle." She raised a hand overhead to wave at her friends, and then to the cheering audience as well.
  3. The medical room gleamed silver as droids whizzed around with their supplies. Jane sat with her head back, dark eyes on the white tiles overhead. She hadn't sustained any serious injuries in her fight, but the radiation buzzing into her muscles was relaxing and strengthening them. In forty-five minutes she would be fighting Lyle for the championship title. A smile made its way to her face as she realised that neither of them gave the slightest crap about winning. Of all the douchebags and psychopaths this tournament had hosted, it was the two of them who would be the remaining finalists. The idea was surreal, like a dream. Jane remembered the first time Lyle had introduced himself to her – the blonde guy leaning over her plastic chair and saying how Zorgon and Godrid crushers might be friends when the fighting was over. She wondered what was going through Lyle's head right now. Her smile wavered. While Jane was glad to not be fighting anyone bad, she felt dread at the thought of hurting a nice guy like Lyle. He was fast, but not immune to her fire either. She was still way too scared of fighting after Evan, and she didn't know if she could fight properly. But Lyle would also be a strong opponent, and his blue lightning would be just as dangerous to her. "She did it! She did it ~ !" came the singsong voice of Marine. Her light-brown hair bounced with her steps as she entered the med room, exuberant at her friend's victory. Following behind Leaf was grinning too, his face still pale with purplish eyes. "You guys…" the Flame girl let out a sigh of relief. "Man, am I glad to see you two. Have I gone crazy… or am I seriously a finalist?" "You're not crazy." The brown-haired Sprout guy told her. He seemed somewhat bemused, both Leaf and Jane were on the same page when it came to not being eager about being in the tournament. "I hope you were satisfied with me beating Ophelia." "Very much so." Leaf answered, and then his eyes narrowed – a personal contemplation. Things were still a bit weird after Evan, which was to be expected. A shade of wariness in their eyes, but otherwise Jane truly was glad to have her friends with her. Marine and Leaf pulled up seats beside her while the medical droids worked. Leaf lowered himself sorely while Marine buzzed with enthusiasm. They eagerly discussed the fights for several minutes before the elementals arrived. "Congratulations, Jane!" Zac, the younger and kinder elemental said as he walked into the room with his staff. "Now you're representing Zorgons as a whole in this upcoming fight! Tensions sure are thick." "Indeed." The old Blake stood as rigid as Chris, both white and black elementals had their arms behind their backs. The bearded man stopped side-eying to regard his crusher "Superb work Jane. Now I expect you to give it your best. As incentive for your victory I feel it's time we tell you about the prize for this tournament. If you're ready?" Jane looked at her two friends and back again. From behind the three elementals, the other crushers sidled into view. The Godrids: white-haired Zane, tall and black-haired Victor, both looking sullen. Dark-haired Samson and wavy-haired Helias were open-faced. Dark-skinned Ganymede was neutral while albino-white Shiro had an emptiness to his red-eyed stare. The Zorgons: clothed up Dan had his arms crossed, tiny Joy was focused and purple-haired Lorac gave a timid smile. All of the original teenagers were here except for the other semi-finalists and the deceased Evan. Jane took a stab in the dark "Is the ultimate prize a deep pan pizza?" "Don't be silly." The hooded Chris reprimanded. "The winner of the Mini-Character-Tournie will be awarded the prize of nine-thousand and six-hundred Cubids." "That's ten-thousand Bronzes, in Zorgon money. Or dollars." Blake chipped in to explain. "Wow ten-thousand Bronzes." Leaf murmured. "You could buy a jet with that!" Marine gaped. "A run-down one." Jane rolled her eyes. "You could buy a hoverboard!" "Yeah, maybe…" Her white-robed elemental stepped forward "Just think of it as incentive to do your best… This final fight will not only conclude this tournament, but it will finally settle this competitive feud between me and Chris. At least until the next tournament." "Jane, in thirty minutes you are to proceed to the top level." Chris explained with his finger in the air. "An elevation disc in the colosseum will raise several hundred feet into the air for dramatic effect. We have to end this with a bang after all." "It will be quite snazzy, if I do say so myself." Blake agreed. "Now clear away you lot. Jane can't afford to be distracted before the biggest fight of her life." Marine and Leaf started to protest and Jane wiggled in her chair "Hey, can't my friends stay? I need them here… for emotional support." "Hmmm…" Zac scratched his chin. "Don't they remind you of John, Crystine and Jamie?" "Sort of." Chris responded in a voice that wasn't much of an agreement. "Oh have it your way." Blake waved like they were being silly, he turned and his robes swept after him as he left. Chris also went to go and the teens parted for them and followed after. Lorac gave a little wave to Leaf as he left. "That Lorac guy is nice." Jane murmured thoughtfully, then eyed the back of Leaf's head. "Maybe he should've stayed too." "Eh, suppose he is." Leaf grumbled. The three friends spent the remaining time talking together and forgetting about the fight that was to come. Even though this would be the final fight, Jane was much less nervous about it than when she had to fight Ophelia. Originally she would've assumed Lyle and her were equally strong, now she wasn't sure. Lyle had skill, but his regular attacks could only stun and not for long. Jane's regular attacks were dangerous. Who knew what was going to come of the final fight. It was sure to be dramatic either way. Fire versus lightning.
  4. Jane could hear the audience chanting as she paced by herself in the locker room. She hated having to wait for her fights. Half an hour intermission and all she could do was pace and wait. Even with what Blake said, Jane had a case of nerves in her gut. A hollow feeling of anticipation and fear. I can do this. I can do this, she kept reassuring herself. Part of her wanted this – to face the monster who almost killed her friend and dish out some justice of her own. Ophelia was bad, there could be no denying. At the same time however, Jane felt she had no right to fight ever again because of Evan. As bad as Ophelia may be, she hadn't killed anyone. Jane could not pass judgement. And she didn't want to be a killer, regardless of the dangerous situation she was in. "Jane… it's time." Blake appeared by the doorway. "Be sure to win. The reputation of Zorgon is in your hands. No other Zorgon crusher has made it this far. Only you." He gave her the thumbs up. "Thanks Blake." She didn't give a crap about his pride as an elemental, but she smiled anyway and set out. The light of outside was bright. Jane's heart was beating in her chest. A wave of outdoor air hit her along with the raucous shouting of the viewers. It was something else to be surrounded by so many people, all eyes on her. She forced her gaze forward, to Ophelia who was walking from the other entrance. Those yellow eyes were hateful. This fight was going to be all-out, the winner had a shot at the championship after all. Lyle might not be able to beat Ophelia. Yellow lightning would only annoy her. It'd have to be blue lightning, but Ophelia could fly. It was up to Jane to stop this monster. "It is time for the second fight!" Chris was announcing this battle, his voice reverberating through the stands. "Jane Flame versus Ophelia Langdon. Begin at the siren!" "Ready to end up just like your friend?" Ophelia taunted with her usual bloodlust "Except this time, you're going to die." "Bring it on." The countdown began. Flashing red numbers: three, two, one… go-time. Jane punched a burst of red fire and Ophelia leapt from her podium and into a crouch. Her body convulsed and there was a sound of tearing material. From behind Ophelia a long black devil-tail swished out. "Wha…" Jane hesitated. She thought for sure she'd have time to hit Ophelia before she could change. She's learnt how to partially transform! That means she can stay conscious! Ophelia raced side-on, arcing toward Jane instead of moving in a straight line. A strategy; Jane felt herself minutely panic before regaining composure. She stepped forward with a punch, a flamethrower of scarlet streaming toward the Shedim girl. Ophelia ducked away. She was unnaturally agile, flipping back and away. When she stopped to crouch before changing direction Jane noticed the black veins on her face. She was gritting her teeth as if in pain – perhaps fighting off a total change? Jane stepped forward and streamed more fire. Ophelia ran in her arch and Jane turned her arm, the fire moving to follow but also obstructing Jane's vision. When she lowered her arm the scarlet blaze scattered into embers – and suddenly Ophelia lunged close. Panic. Jane leaned away from a clawed swipe. Ophelia grunting as she twisted into a kick, slashing her hands like vipers. Jane ignited both hands and went to attack, Ophelia blocked by deflecting her upper arms, though still cringing from the heat. Jane punched fire forward, Ophelia falling onto her tail to dodge, kicking Jane in the chest with both feet. She oofed and flew. Landing on her back but streaming twin bursts of fire as she went down. Ophelia ducked back from the blaze, red light setting the area aglow. The sounds of the audience were muffled throughout the dangerous scuffle and hissing fire. While still on her back Jane waited for it to dissipate. Ophelia was a good distance away, she was still human but she'd grown her wings. More veins riddling her body. She opened her mouth and snarled, no longer capable of human speech. Jane could tell that despite the physical pain in her eyes, there was still human intelligence there. Jane scrambled back to her feet, flicking her black ponytail over her shoulder. "It's not just that you don't want to transform cause you'll be unable to move for a few seconds." Jane realised. "If you give in and transform… your Shedim brain won't be able to remember the strategies you prepared to beat my red fire. You'll attack head-on and run straight into it." Ophelia gave a horrific squeal of anger, her leather wings stretching outward. She was impressive and terrifying. Jane inwardly corrected herself – Ophelia wasn't completely herself, she was influenced by the animal instincts, but still together enough to fight with her head. A single wing-beat shot Ophelia off the ground, she whipped up several metres and started flapping to keep herself airborne. Jane clenched her fists and ran forward. She punched blasts of fire and Ophelia weaved to dodge them all. She blasted off into the air, Jane turned as she ran and cursed to herself. The cube-room of the initial rounds and the dojo of the tertiary rounds didn't compare to here. Ophelia flew far and wide, circling from one end of the colosseum to the other, so high up she was a thumb-print. If Jane could use blue fire she could fly up after her, as it was she only had her current skill level. Red fire ignited and condensed into a ball. Jane focussed on compressing the fireball further. A smaller explosive could knock Ophelia off-balance without killing her. The Shedim turned and finally flew closer toward her. Jane sprinted with the fireball, she waited for Ophelia to get closer then she drop-kicked her attack mid-stride. Ophelia easily swept aside in the open sky. When the fireball exploded into a swell of red her wings swerved and she was forced into a downward course. Jane didn't slow for a moment, she hurled several fireballs, Ophelia barely swerving to dodge. She finally arced around and Jane chased her with a flamethrower of red. Ophelia escaped, gliding to the ground and landing on her hands and knees. She was too far for Jane's range. Ophelia seemed to shudder and change. Was she far enough to transform to full power before Jane could get there? The Flame girl sprinted as if her survival depended on it. But she had a sinking feeling when Ophelia's wings rose. Jane skidded to a stop with exasperation when that long monster-head turned to her, the eyes of her sclera black. She's transformed. The monster roared at her like it was the first time it'd noticed her there. Now awake the demon turned to face her and spread its wings. Jane held her ground and put a hand behind her back, her hand igniting. She would wait for the opportune moment… Another metal-tear screech. Ophelia dived directly toward her, tail whipping behind. Jane crouched, a primal fear filling her like a solid. Taking a chance meant you could die, but freezing up was certain death. When Jane revealed her hand the monster's eyes widened at the fire. The demon swerved, Jane ran and jumped. A putrid squeal as Jane send a flaming karate-chop through Ophelia's wing, almost severing it. Black monster blood hit the dirt and trailed to where the Shedim crashed. Jane's flaming hand burned through the flesh as if it were butter, but Ophelia didn't combust. The demon writhed and screamed, loud enough to hurt Jane's ears. She spun and splayed her palm. Her hand ignited, Jane stared through her fire at the injured girl who almost killed her. Thoughts started rushing through her head. She thought of Leaf, lying with his insides sliced out. She thought of Evan, burnt to death. She thought of what Chris had said, about the intrinsic difficulty of Ophelia's brain. Her hindered humanity. The Shedim continued to suffer and Jane extinguished her fire, she lowered her arm. "The winner is Jane Flame." The medical drones flew fast to the injured combatant. She swiped at a robot out of mindless rage and pain. Before the machines could help her they had to shoot her with another tranquiliser dart. Ophelia's screams quieting as she slowed. Jane turned away at that moment and made her exeunt under the chorus of viewers.
  5. Jane darted out and into the crowd of people. Countless people moving to find their seats or line up for a meat pie at the food windows. She raced between audience members who barely gave her a second look, not noticing that she was one of the contestants they'd come here to see. She was at the top of the stands, shadowed from overhead concrete, the fancy viewer boxes. Jane skidded to a stop when she saw her friends. Marine elated, her blue eyes sparkling. Leaf gave a weak smile – he looked pale, purplish bruises around his eyes, but he was alive. She rushed over and Marine stood. "I'm so glad to see you guys." Jane said sincerely as she hugged the Finn girl. "Break a leg Jane! Well, not literally… I'm one to talk after my first fight." "How're you holding up, Leaf?" She'd went to hug him, but Jane stopped when she noticed the way he was clenching his side and the grimace on his face. "I've been better. I only woke up a few hours ago. Bit of pain, but alright." "So long as you're here. That's what counts." she smiled. "…how're you, Jane?" Leaf asked seriously and it made her smile waver. "I'm okay." "Do you think you're ready for her?" he asked, just as serious. Marine suddenly looked worried. "I am. I can take her." "Even the elementals said that if it were any of the other crushers in my situation, they probably wouldn't have made it." "I know… but I'm not going to let Ophelia kill me. Or beat me, for that matter. I'm going to win, don't worry about it." She smiled encouragingly. "Didn't happen to learn any blue fire this past fortnight, did ya?" Marine chanced. "Nope. But I'm still going to beat her." "We'll be cheering for you." Leaf grinned. At that moment Chris's voice could be heard through the announcer. A few of the surrounding people raised their heads to listen. It was call-time. Jane and the other three semi-finalists would need to head to the underground lodges in preparation for their fight. Jane took a deep breath. Out toward the field she could see hovering drones sporting cameras, whizzing around and up-down to film the audience and action. This fight had been advertised. Jane had seen herself on TV – she couldn't believe it! And there on a big screen were the four fighters. Jane saw flashes of her previous fights amongst the others. She saw her profile panned out beside the other three. Ophelia's black hair, greyish skin and the malice in her amber eyes. She stood out when compared to Claire's lank light-brown ponytail and Lyle's spiky blonde hair. Jane's black ponytail and dark eyes, she was the shortest and seemed most plain. "Okay, I have to go. See you guys!" Jane darted away. After a while she slowed, the nerves in her stomach wriggling. Each step felt so significant. It was one step closer to the end of this tournament, and her fate. * "The first match is going to be Lyle versus Claire." The black-hooded Chris explained. "No random selection?" Lyle asked. The four teens stood side-by-side in a locker room. The bearded Blake stood at the doorway while the shadow elemental addressed them. "No. I want the viewers to have a good first impression, and due to our analysis the battle between Lyle and Claire will be the most exciting." Ophelia narrowed her eyes and sneered. Jane was too angry about Leaf to be intimidated, she glared right back. "I'll step up and address the audience." Blake began. "Jane and Ophelia, you two can watch from the sponsor boxes upstairs. Chris will take you there." "Yes, chop chop." Chris straightened. "Claire and Lyle, follow the corridor to the arena. Ophelia and Jane, come with me." The audience was a cascading rhythm of cheers as the first combatants entered the ring. Camera drones whizzed around in circles. Claire's superior yet hateful gaze was displayed on the big screen monitors before flashing to Lyle's resigned yet determined look. They took their marks on circular podiums. "Without further ado let us begin with the first fight!" Blake's voice echoed about the crowded colosseum. All those screaming people were making Jane nervous. There was such an atmosphere of exuberance. "Lyle Zappos versus Claire Anvil! Begin at the siren!" The screen flashed with nifty red effects – flickering down from three, two, one… The siren sounded and Lyle was engulfed in yellow electricity. His blonde hair spiked, he put one foot forward and two fingers ready. Claire swished her arms and took a stance of her own, the air around her rippling green. Lyle fired a bolt of electricity that zapped across the field and struck in an instant. "Wow." Jane murmured from beside Chris. She had a great view from up here, and she could see how much Lyle had improved from even last round. That bolt looked bigger and his aim was on point. Dust cleared to reveal Claire standing in a full-body suit of ghostly green armour. Everyone was shocked. Claire swished and pointed her sword, smirking. She resembled a knight. "So that's how you beat Marine." Lyle said as random sparks went off around his body. "You may not have noticed," Claire began pompously. "But I'm quite the competitive person. Since the beginning of this contest I was playing with strategy. Using a portion of this armour to save myself from the Finn girl, but making sure nobody saw me do it. I've hidden my full power… until today." She angled her katana. "Today the finals will be played and I'll win that too." "We don't even know if there's gonna be a prize for winning this contest." Lyle retorted "You were that focused for what, another can of coke?" "I'm a winner, Lyle. I train to win." She sprang and blurred to meet him. Lyle jumped and shot another bolt of lightning. It hit with a zig-zagging flash of yellow and Claire stumbled but kept pace. "That spirit armour keeps her safe from physical attacks… and lightning too." Chris murmured. "You're going down, you Godrid loser!" Claire sprang far and sliced. The armour was making her stronger and faster, but Lyle was sparking all over with electricity that sped up his reflexes too. The way his body twitched in response to every shift made him look like he was in fast-forward, even when he was standing still. Lyle dodged in a flash, appearing behind her and aiming a kick at her head. Claire's armour cracked like glass against his lightning, but didn't break. It repaired itself quickly. She stabbed back and Lyle moved away. She swept the blade and he flashed several metres back. Claire sprung that distance easily and a chase began. The two of them moved like flying insects, covering distances easily, flashes of yellow and green as they moved about the space. The zap of lightning and plink whenever Claire's armour was chipped and began fixing itself. The audience was in amazement and so were the witnessing crushers. "Yellow lightning has no effect on her. She's made herself immune." Jane couldn't help blurting. "He'll have to use… blue lightning." Lyle ducked back from several mad sword-swipes. Then jumped by and took several bounds so he'd be far enough away, skidding in the dirt. His eyes widened and he looked down to see Claire's ghostly chain wrapped around his leg. She pulled and he was yanked toward her, skidding along the ground. Claire dived up and fell from the sky, slashing her sword in a lethal attack. Lyle barely rolled away, the earth cracking as green light beamed out from within. Claire prized her weapon out and Lyle zig-zagged to her back before grabbing her in a bear hug. His whole body lit up with yellow lightning. The same move he used against Dan! Both of them vanished in the glare of yellow. Claire grit her teeth from inside, the electricity burning her as the armour became riddled with cracks, even breaking apart in several places. After several seconds the current died down; she forced his arms apart and leapt away, skidding and panting. Lyle looked similarly exhausted. "…you're a master at yellow lightning." Claire admitted. "At point-blank range, holding onto me like that, you almost had enough power to destroy my armour. Almost." She raised her semi-transparent sword, which was broken in half. Her energy was drained, evident by how slowly her armour was working to repair itself. A snail's pace. "I didn't want to hurt you, Claire." Lyle answered coolly. "But if yellow lightning won't work… I'll have to use blue." Her eyes widened in urgency before narrowing. Immediately she sprang into action, diving and covering the distance between them. Slicing the broken blade through air. Lyle ducked and pranced back. He dodged all of her ninja strikes, holding his right arm back in preparation. "Lyle didn't try to get away, so he still can't shoot blue lightning can he Chris?" Jane asked. "No." His red-tinted eyes were on the battle. "Lyle must be the only one of us with the speed to match Claire." Jane's eyes zeroed back on the fight. "These are the semi-finals after all. They're bound to be more impressive than the fights we've seen thus far." Lyle's foot skidded him to a halt, he was done retreating. His hand was all charged up with sky-blue electricity. Claire's eyes bugged while she was in mid-swing. Lyle's palm met her damaged weapon and it shattered into pieces. Claire fell into a roll, she pushed off with both feet to dodge Lyle's blue-lightning swipe. She turned and leapt back further, this time being the one to take evasive measures. She stood clutching the handle of her weapon. With a grimace, she let it and her armour mist away and vanish. "It takes too much energy to maintain the armour." Lyle observed. "It wouldn't shield you from this anyway, you already know that." The madness was settling in on Claire's features. She was furious and trapped, but nothing about her posture made anyone think she wanted to run away. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she struggled to manifest another sword. "Let this be our final parry!" She roared heroically before charging, angling the blade gracefully behind her. Lank ponytail flowing back as she ran. Lyle flashed out to meet her, they both whipped their arms and skidded through. Blood spurted. Claire fell. There was a gaping wound in her side, away from a vital point but still a serious injury. Claire turned and rolled on her back, bleeding freely but managing a sneery grin. "Good… you were willing to risk killing me just to win… that's the win-at-all-costs attitude I can accept defeat against…" The blue-lightning went out. Lyle straightened and his knees buckled, drained of power. "I would've run out of energy completely if I'd kept that up for a few seconds longer." He turned his head. "Claire… your final gamble… was to use my mercy against me. You thought I'd switch back to yellow lightning for your own safety, but you rebuilt the torso-section of your armour at the last moment… If I had switched back to yellow lightning you would've counter-attacked and probably killed me. That was your gamble." She twitched and gagged in her blood. That grin slipping as she lost consciousness, head falling back. Lyle lowered his face and spoke bitterly "…win-at-all-costs…" "The winner is Lyle Zappos." Blake's megaphoned voice didn't hide his chagrin. Chris smiled beside Jane as the audience cheered and applauded. "Wow," Jane said again, honestly amazed. I take back everything I thought before. It wasn't a fluke that Lyle beat Shiro and Dan. It certainly wasn't a fluke that he beat Claire. Now if I defeat Ophelia I'll be in the finals against him. She clenched her fists, it's time to do this.
  6. A week later Jane was strolling along the perimeter of the training stadium. Surrounding her were rows upon rows of seats, inclining all the way up to the viewing boxes for the sponsors. It was strange to see it so empty, like she was trespassing. Occasionally she'd see the other three semi-finalists, but not today. With its flat circle of dirt in the middle, this structure looked like a futuristic colosseum. Jane paused and reached out, resting her palm against the barrier. Every night she'd cried herself to sleep thinking of Evan. The boy she'd… killed. It was an accident. A horrible, horrible accident. She didn't want to fight ever again, but the elementals weren't giving her a choice. There were complaints about the fights in the newspaper, nothing front-page. The photo of Evan in a hospital bed and giving the thumbs-up was released to save the elementals from legal jeopardy, as they'd said. The sight of it had made her stomach churn. Jane had barely been practicing for the semi-finals, unlike the other combatants. In another week this stadium would be full up. A crowd number in the thousands. Two fights, and then after an hour the final match would be played, broadcasted on live television no less. The Mini-Character-Tournie would reach its conclusion next week. At most, fifteen of the original youths would make it out. Claire, Lyle, Ophelia and Jane herself might not. Killing was still against the rules, but it was apparent that deaths could still occur. They already knew who they'd be fighting. It had been randomly selected, and Jane was to fight Ophelia in the next round. Lyle was not the type of guy to want to kill, but Claire… Jane recalled how after she'd bested Marine the spirit-weapon user had been so tempted to finish her off. That murderous hesitation. Claire might have it in her to kill Lyle. He was strong, but Jane had a feeling there was more to Claire's power than she'd showed any of them in the previous rounds. Of course Ophelia would want to kill Jane. She'd almost killed Leaf. Jane and Marine were both distraught by the condition of their friend. Leaf's entire body had been rebuilt, he was out of the cryotank. He wasn't yet awake but he would be in time for the next round, that's what Chris had said. They were being careful with his recovery. Jane could kill Ophelia if she slipped up again. The idea of getting payback for her friend was tempting, but it still didn't give Jane the drive to train as hard as she had before. If any of them had deserved to die, surely it would've been the sadistic Shedim girl that wanted to kill? But then Jane flashed back to after the Tertiary Rounds. Ophelia's elemental Chris explaining that it was part of her nature, something that was difficult for her to overcome. But was she even trying? No doubt that if Jane was in a life-or-death situation she'd feel differently about stopping Ophelia. The girl who'd hospitalised Leaf. "Hello Jane." Blake was standing in his white robes, hands behind his back. Wispy white hair and beard. Jane's head whipped to where he stood in the stands and she blinked. He spoke in his usual pleasant tone, as if they were discussing the weather. "Blake…?" Jane hadn't seen him enter. With a comical poof he disappeared in a cloud of smoke, only to reappear at Jane's side with an identical poof. The black-haired girl jumped back in shock. "Oh, was that the first time you've seen me teleport? So sorry." "What are you doing here?" "Just come to check in on my favourite Flame crusher." He leaned in to examine her. "You do remind me of John, though not in personality." "Who's John?" "Oh never mind. Now Jane, why haven't you been training? You come here often, but I rarely see you train." "Well… what's the point?" she answered hopelessly, her dark eyes lowering. "Still moping I see." "Of course I am!" she fired up "I killed Evan!" "Pish posh." Blake waved a hand, his staff in the other one. "I know where Zorgon crushers go after they die. Evan's soul is fine." Jane blinked and didn't know what to say. Blake continued "What's of more pressing concern to me now is to make sure you don't give up. You need to do more training." "You're only trying to make me train now? What have you been doing this past week?" "I've been focussing on Claire, like a responsible elemental." He bounced on the balls of his feet. "She has the greater challenge. You see, that dastardly Chris must have planned for this. Of the eight crushers who passed the Initial Rounds, six of them were mine! But those two Godrid crushers who won managed to pass the Tertiary Rounds as well. And now the score is even, two Godrids and two Zorgons! I bet Chris spent his time training those two instead of all of them equally, and that's how this happened…" he scratched his beard in thought. "Wait." Jane tried to gather her thoughts. "Did you say Claire has the greater challenge? Are you kidding? I mean, Lyle is strong don't get me wrong… but Ophelia is a monster! She almost killed Leaf. She's going to try to kill me!" "I wondered if that was part of the reason why you were demoralised, so I came to let you know…" Blake patted a hand on Jane's shoulder. "…let me know what?" "It is almost certain that you are going to win the next fight. There is very little chance you will lose, even if you don't train at all." "How can you say that?" Jane felt stressed and confused. Blake lowered his arm. In her mind she was recalling Ophelia's speed in her rabid state. "It's good news. Just like how Dan was weak against lightning, Shedim are weak against fire. Ophelia doesn't have impressive bone armour like that Shiro. The black muscle is soft, and as creatures of the night and undead, it sizzles easily when exposed to fire." "Really?" "Aside from that lava crusher, Victor, you've had some pretty lucky matchups." Jane was thoughtful for a minute. She imagined the terrifying bat-demon Ophelia, imagined her quickly catching alight and turning to cinders after a small fireball. Would it go like that? "You think I'll win?" "Most likely. However, Chris knows this too. So if there is a way for Ophelia to win, some kind of strategy, they will be working towards that. Which is why you shouldn't take this too lightly. You should still be on your guard and at least do some training so you won't walk in there out-of-practice. Often it's the ones who are backed into a corner that become the most dangerous." "…thanks Blake." "You're welcome, Jane. And do try to cheer up. The audience will want a show!" He turned to go but before he could leave Jane stopped him. "Blake! Ah…" she lowered her head and he eyed her. "If it is going to be easier… I'm going to do what I can to keep from killing Ophelia. I don't want to be a killer." He gave her a brief smile "Well I'm sure Ophelia will appreciate that. Cheerio." With another poof and smoke he was gone.
  7. Jane's anaesthetic was re-applied. Her teeth were looked at. Healing radiation was being burned into her flesh, bones and skin by one of the medical droids. It was forty agonizing minutes before the elementals could address the majority of the crushers. To Jane it felt like an eternity. She was numb and underneath… petrified. She sat on the edge of her hospital bed. The treatment room was all white and smelt of disinfectant. Sectioned curtains and shiny metal cabinets on wheels. The two rival elementals stood, hands on hips and arms crossed respectively. The younger elemental Zac stood off to the side, looking dismayed. Around them were fourteen of the crushers that'd been made for the tournament – Evan and Leaf were missing. "Just tell us Blake!" Marine's voice was watery. "Is Leaf alive?" "And what about Evan?" Claire inquired with narrowed brows. "Listen up you whiny children. Leaf Sprout is in a very serious condition… but he's not dead." "What?" Ophelia sounded angry from the edge of the group. She stood near Shiro, who although just as monstrous, appeared emotionless and indifferent to her. While she'd seemed chastened before, now in a medical gown like Jane, she was clearly annoyed. "She wanted him dead, Chris!" Marine pointed with outrage. "Shouldn't she be punished for that!" "I don't understand…" Jane murmured. "I saw… we all saw him get ripped apart. How could Leaf not be dead?" "He was ripped apart, Jane." The hooded Chris explained. "Ophelia slashed apart all organs in his lower torso, as we saw. She didn't shred his chest or brain however, and this is what saved him. Leaf and his bits were put in a preservation cryotank. Although he was pulled apart like that, he was only left lying there without super-advanced medical agents for under twenty seconds. With the brain and heart preserved, he's floating in super-advanced amniotic healing fluid, which will keep him alive and in tact enough for us to recreate his body." "Thank god…" Jane felt relief cascading through her. "Even with all this medical equipment, we'd have a real fight keeping him alive were it not for the regeneration his cells already have from his power. His regeneration is nothing special compared to other Sprout clan members, but believe me it's making a world of difference in keeping him alive and assisting with the regrowth, alongside the healing chemicals." "Wow." Lorac murmured. "You guys really can heal anything…" Marine stared and then sighed in relief "My friend's alive." "I mauled that plant freak!" Ophelia snapped. "The hell you mean he isn't dead!" The other crushers stopped gazing in wonderment and they all gave the grey-tinged girl averse looks. The quiet ruse of hers was just that, she was actually angry she hadn't killed Leaf. What a horrible girl, Jane's fists clenched. "You were barely conscious in that state, right?" Victor spoke up. "Why do you care?" Like Jane had suspected, the black-haired Victor had been grinning arrogantly before at the sight of her beat up. "Ophelia." Chris's voice was reprimanding. "We both made it explicitly clear that deaths weren't allowed in this tournament. I know you can't control your actions in that state, but intentionally meaning to kill is a serious violation." "This is ridiculous!" The girl spat, she whipped around and stormed away from the group. A few seconds passed and Chris turned back to the other crushers. "I must implore you all to forgive her." "No way, she's nuts." Lyle stated angrily. "Shedim is an experimental species of mine. Over the millennia, I've indulged in many crusher experiments. What my research and feedback has shown me is that although Shedim have much darker and malevolent natures than humans, they do possess the faculty to keep that part of themselves in check. However, it's harder than it is with humans. There's a portion of my human crushers that are bad, but proportionately Shedim as a species need extra strength to overcome their nature. Which means that if Ophelia had been a human crusher she may not be the way she is now. They possess more anger and darkness in their hybrid brains, and it's extra work for them to overcome that. A personal challenge. So keep that in mind." "But she really is awful." Blake pointed out with a hand stroking his beard. "Yes." Chris agreed. The crushers were thoughtful as they processed. Jane's face was turned away, imagining her friend Leaf floating in that viscous fluid while his inner organs were stitched back together. "Now onto Evan." Blake began, him and Chris both had stern expressions. "Evan Powers is dead." The crushers all stared. Jane felt something heavy and thick settle into the air around them. Her thoughts had been completely elsewhere, she hadn't even been thinking of her opponent at that moment. And then Blake said something that surely he'd misspoken. "Evan's dead?" Claire repeated. Several of the eyes flickered to Jane's blank face. "He died immediately when Jane's condensed fireball exploded." The words were like distant echoes. "That much concentrated fire at such a short distance, the impact and temperature was enough to burn well into his body and organs. All of them." "And so we must have a talk. Jane." Chris and Blake were both zeroing on her. She looked down at her lap and fat tears fell onto her medical gown. "Jane…" Marine was aghast. "I… killed Evan…" She couldn't process it. All she could feel was the enormous wave of confusion and guilt. "Yes." Chris continued with a reprimanding tone. "So we need to go through what happened as well as your motives and what you were thinking at the time." When there was no answer Chris continued with the proficiency of a prosecutor, arms behind his back "When your fight commenced Evan quickly had the upper hand. He caused you a lot of physical damage, but you were still coherent enough to use your power to the best of your ability, as evidenced when you separated from each other. When the two of you were no longer in close quarters, that was when you prepared for your final attack. Jane?" She felt herself minutely nod, in her mind's eye she was replaying her fight as well. "As this was the second round of this tournament, you were aware enough of Evan's abilities to know that he didn't have the capacity to protect himself from fire. Instead of shooting fire you opted to use your talent for an explosive burst – which is fine. However…" the black-robed figure closed his eyes as he paced in thought "You spent a goodly amount of time powering up your attack, you seemed to make it as strong as you physically could before you unleashed it, at close range to your opponent." "Chris…" Jane felt like she was going faint. "My first question is this, Jane." He stopped and turned to her. "What motivated you at that moment? As you charged your attack, was it anger? Retribution for the pain and injuries he'd caused you in his attempt to win?" Jane shook her head as she cried. Chris's eyes were like a hawk "Were you angry, Jane?" "No." she blinked her wet eyes and tried to remember. At that moment in time she'd only thought of winning. Thought of the most effective method of keeping Evan from hurting or possibly killing her. She couldn't remember feeling anger at Evan at that point, or any point of her fight, only the regular type of obstinate anger she used to create red fire. "No." she said again, more confidently, eyes on the wall as she replayed the fight in her head. "The way I see it, you either intended to kill him or you were overcome by a murderous emotion, which is malice aforethought. Even in a circumstantial instance. Us having full knowledge of your biology and the extent of your powers." "No!" Her voice was louder and panicked as she continued to cry. "I was scared. The reason I went all out was because of fear. He was hurting me and I wanted to end the fight. I wasn't thinking logically, I was just thinking of me and my fear… in that instance." "Maybe so, Jane." Chris turned a fraction, red-tinted eyes still on her. "But the fact of the matter is, an attack a fraction of the one you used would've effectively beaten Evan without injuring him to a point we couldn't heal. Evan knew he wasn't immune to your fire, which is why his urgent and vicious physical attacks are completely understandable. It was his only way to win. You had your distance and Evan couldn't approach you while you had that fire, yet you took a good portion of a minute to condense that explosive to be as strong as you could. Strong enough to kill." Jane felt detached from her body, she looked around at the teens watching her. The Godrids who didn't know her so well, even the Zorgons… Lorac, basically everyone except Marine was looking at her as if she was like the bad ones. Creepy Joy, silently murderous Shiro, narcissistic Victor, enraged Ophelia. They looked at her as if part of her wanted to kill. That was when Jane was overcome, she put her face in her hands and started sobbing loudly. "Stop it!" Marine yelled, fear in her voice. "Jane was scared, that's why she did it! She wasn't thinking straight! So what? You're the ones who forced us to fight in the first place! She's not a killer!" As Jane continued to be inconsolable, Chris sighed "Very well." This talk was over for the moment. "All things considered," Blake began, sounding relatively chipper "We will have to recap and talk about the semi-finals at another time. So clear away you lot."
  8. As Marine was carted off Jane felt herself grimacing for another reason. It'd been an hour since her fight, and the anaesthetic was beginning to wear off. If she said anything she'd have to leave for treatment, but she was going to stick it out as long as she could. Leaf was to fight Ophelia, and this fight would probably be the most dangerous of them all. From across the dojo Leaf was frowning with his green eyes lowered. Lorac watched on uncomfortably beside him. At least Leaf wasn't by himself, Jane didn't trust her ability to walk on her own. How would she get to the treatment room after? She'd figure that out later. "Jane." She couldn't turn her head fast, she turned in her seat to see Lyle. "Oh… hey." His face was a little weary, purplish marks under his eyes. Apart from that he looked fine. Lyle took a seat beside Jane and she felt the slightest bit uncomfortable. Jane decided to say something before he noticed how much pain she was in. "Chris must be happy you won." "I bet." Lyle faced forward. "…I hope your friend wins. And not just cause I think he'd be better for me to fight against." "Thanks." Jane glanced at the waiting Ophelia, her yellow eyes were back on Leaf. "I thought you might've been cheering for the other Godrid." "No way. She's awful." Jane gave a short laugh and regretted it. She looked at the brooding boy beside her "Congratulations with your fight by the way. I didn't expect Dan to lose… no offense." "I didn't expect Shiro to lose." Lyle looked at her and shrugged. "Congratulations to you, as well." There was something toneless about the way he said it, and Jane remembered Evan. Lyle had just come from the treatment room, so he'd know what Evan's condition was. Jane didn't want to ask. She wanted to focus on Leaf's fight first, then afterwards she'd get her body looked at. Jane narrowed her eyes at the ground. "Yeah… we're both semi-finalists." "Same with Claire." They spent the rest of the intermission in their thoughts. Jane was becoming aware of a strange throb behind her left eye, keeping time with a growing headache. Soon the elementals turned back to face the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, we can now begin the final fight! Hold onto your seats, this one's sure to be a doozie!" Blake announced. Leaf gulped and Ophelia cackled. Some of the older patrons had left since the last fight. As impressive as it was to watch magical fights, it seemed some of the audience changed their mind after the violence. The school kids were still just as eager, some kneeling on their seats to get a better view in the stands. Leaf Sprout vs Ophelia Langdon. The screen flashed and the two contenders finally stood. Lorac wished Leaf luck. The grey-tinged girl was giving her opponent a sadistic grin. They entered the square and the pillars flashed. "You ready to die?" Ophelia mocked. Leaf narrowed his eyes and said nothing. From outside the border Chris was watching seriously with his arms behind his back. The countdown began and the airhorn sounded. Jane could feel her heartbeat accelerating. Biting snarls, narrowed fangs – Ophelia immediately began her terrifying change. Her pupils expanded over her entire eyes as she lost her sanity, black veins worming across her skin. As soon as she'd begun to change Leaf lashed out a hand and a vine wrapped itself several times around her neck. He was still ten feet away, the green tendril growing from his palm. The vine constricted and Ophelia glared at him, all sentience seemingly gone. With a taloned hand she gripped the vine and yanked. Leaf was pulled off his feet as if he were weightless, flying over Ophelia and skidding across the floorboards with a grunt. The vine was severed and Ophelia yanked off the loops around her neck, curling over with her elongated limbs. It'd been several dramatic seconds, but now her transformation was complete. Leaf looked up from the floor with dismay. The demon took a moment to assess its downed prey, long head tilting, before charging with an inhuman hiss. From the stands even the teenagers looked scared – Ophelia was nightmare material. Without getting up Leaf forced his vine to regrow. It arced out and around, quickly moving to the charging Ophelia's foot and taking hold. The monster overbalanced and fell. It's just like with Shiro! Jane thought. Fast and strong in that rabid state, but she's too single-minded on killing. Leaf hopped up and ran around the square. Ophelia straightened and glared at the audience. Jane's face became shocked when she saw the monster get up… and charge at them. Ophelia leapt and the patrons screamed. The air between the pillars rippled and she bounced back, growling and snarling. No one was laughing now. The elementals scowled. Leaf observed with caution. It seemed like his vine, which had tripped her from the side had confused her. Ophelia wasn't in her right mind at all. He brought himself back to focus and sprouted a second vine from his other palm, it snaked out as it grew into the air. Long range is probably the way to go, Jane thought. She saw from across the room, Marine standing by the entryway to the treatment room, pale but still watching her friend. Leaf whipped an arm and his vine covered the distance to Ophelia, wrapping around her middle. She stopped scratching at the forcefield and turned to glare at her opponent. She took a prowling step toward him, and then gripped the vine like an intelligent predator. She yanked him off his feet again and Leaf flew. She darted forward, talons ready to shred through him. A third vine sprouted from under Leaf's shirt, the green fading out from the flesh colour of his skin. The tip of this vine was a pointed thorn. It shot itself and speared Ophelia's side. The monster squealed and Leaf used his other vine to bind her forearm and spin himself around her. The two of them moving mid-air amidst flowing ropes of green. They spun around each other but Ophelia was heavier, soon Leaf was dragging around her in a circle. Ophelia extracted the thorn and black blood oozed from her side. Leaf tried to snap out of his daze, weaving his hands so his stabbing vine would raise up and re-orient itself. As Ophelia turned he made it tie around her leg, she pulled against it and with a quick turn of Leaf's wrist, it pierced again into the soft skin of her abdomen. The demon's scream was one of fury, her batwings exploding out her back and hooked in a threatening pose. The audience was even more panicked to see she could fly. Ophelia ripped the vine out and stalked at Leaf. His other two vines bound her limbs uselessly and when she got closer he pulled himself through her legs and slid out behind her, missing a savage swipe. Ophelia beat her wings and shot up into the air, toward the roof of the dojo; her long demon tail growing out. Jane's mouth dropped open as she watched them rise. Leaf hanging off her by his vines with a startled expression. Ophelia curving around and slashing the bindings, and the Sprout boy falling several metres, hitting the floorboards and rolling. Is he unconscious? No. Though better if he had been. Leaf's regeneration kept him from taking much damage, but he was barely able to move himself. Ophelia looped around the air in what free space she had, Jane praying fiercely that Leaf would get up and move. Just not be a sitting target for her. Ophelia swooped and Leaf's eyes widened – she slashed with her claw and most of his innards spewed across the floor beside him. Some plant green, but mostly red. The wet shiny tubes and sacs of his innards. The spray went metres across from him. Leaf's expression turned funny, comically goofy amidst his gore. Ophelia went for another slash, and another. The children screamed and Jane heard herself scream. Ophelia was hit with a tranquiliser dart. She got in another lazy swipe, claws dragging through red before she slumped over and collapsed. Several med drones buzzed onto the field and sectioned off the space around Leaf, one of them dragging Ophelia out of the way. Jane and Lyle, Marine from the doorway, Lorac, the audience were all horrified. "Nothing to worry about folks!" Blake stepped over to control the situation. Hands up to placate the people who were getting to their feet or shielding the eyes of their children. "He'll be sorted out in a jiffy. Thanks for coming and we hope to see you all next time!"
  9. The victor grit his teeth, but after a few passing seconds he was unable to endure the agony silently. Lyle screeched and clenched his bleeding shoulder, a med drone came and sprayed his injury with something to numb it. While the unconscious Dan had some on-the-spot treatment applied, he was then carted away. Lyle managed to walk, the droid hovering beside him as he left. Jane watched him go before her worries returned to her friends. She felt physically numb at that point. Bruises colouring her arms, but she couldn't feel her body, a shiny sheen of the medical agents applied to her skin. They had some more time before the next fight started, everyone in the stands seemed to be sharing their opinions excitedly. The teenage school kids were especially raucous. They infuriated Jane the most, acting cool and laughing while the crushers hurt each other for their entertainment. After some patrons had a toilet break and came back, it was time for the next fight. Marine seemed glum, Leaf looked sick. Ophelia and Claire were both ready for their fights. "And now dearest audience, brace yourselves for the third fight!" Blake waved an arm toward the screen and two names appeared. Marine Finn vs Claire Anvil. The tall and lithe girl stood with her usual confidence and grace, striding onto the field. Marine got up with a mix of trepidation and determination. She'd been confident in her first fight against Zane, but perhaps the worry and preparation time had gotten to her. They both entered the square and the corner pillars flickered to life, their blue symbols glowing. Jane narrowed her eyes when something caught her eye. Marine. The back of her shirt. At first she'd thought it was just sweat, but if so she was sweating quite a lot. And… her hair. Jane thought Marine hadn't dried it for whatever reason after showering, but it should've dried by now. It was still a bit damp. It wasn't from nerves, it was something else. When the two girls faced each other from ten feet away, Claire's eyes became shrewd for the first time. "Ready yourselves!" Chris shouted as the audience joined in the countdown. The airhorn sounded and Jane's eyes widened at what she saw. A puddle flowed out from Marine's feet, spreading wider and wider. Claire stepped back when the water spread toward her. When it stopped at an easy four metre radius Marine let out a sigh of relief. "Phew! It sure was difficult holding all of that in." "You realise you're gonna lose, right?" Claire looked at her as if she were stupid. It really did look like Claire saw no way she could fail. "Don't underestimate the Finn clan." Marine took a ready stance. Her confidence is back! Jane couldn't help smiling in amazement. Claire held her hands out and her ghostly green sword materialised. She narrowed her eyes and sprang, charging at the other girl with the blade angled artfully at her side. She jumped and slashed. Marine splayed her palm: a torrent of water with the force of a tidal wave blasted into Claire, the sheer force of it propelling her backward and away. Claire fell onto her back and gasped, her sword vanished and she quickly rolled onto all fours. Marine remained where she stood, grinning. "It's always interesting to see how the crushers overcome their own limitations." Chris mused to his apprentice. "Finn clan members can spontaneously create enormous volumes of water." Zac agreed. "The strong ones anyway. Marine can't do that yet… but it looks like she liquified herself in a big body of water, then when she became human again she concentrated the mass inside her. She prepared well." Claire stood and flicked her wet ponytail over her shoulder. She was dripping. "You didn't try to capitalise on the situation after knocking me down. You can't move quick enough with all that extra water you're keeping inside you. But you can't beat me with just defence!" Claire held her hands out and green wisps appeared, materialising into a ghostly chain. I haven't seen her do that before! Jane blinked. Claire swung one end of the chain, spinning it in fast circles before darting forward. Marine readied herself as Claire sprang forward, the chain arced at the other girl's side, intending to bind her. The ghostly chain hit and went to wrap around, but Marine liquified and the weapon passed through harmlessly. The long chain dragged across the floor. Claire gave a grimacing smirk "Alright, impressive." She let the weapon fizzle out. "Let's try this again." Her sword reappeared and she dove. Panic crossed Marine's features at the other girl's speed. She fired another jet of water from her hand, a forceful spray that Claire side-stepped in her advance. Leaping into the air and kicking Marine's shoulder, it opened in a waterbomb burst, Claire spinning in the air and slicing into another burst of water. Claire landed and slashed, Marine stepping back as her opponent advanced. Her arms were tendrils of water, bursting water outward every time she used them to shield her body. Their ankles sloshed through water as they circled. Marine shooting more pressured bursts as Claire ducked and turned, not letting any distance come between them. Gritting her teeth as that sword cut through propelling water again and again. Marine was grunting and Claire shouting like this was a tennis match, weaving and slicing. The square arena was now full of ankle-deep water, the pillars keeping it contained with magic. Claire attacked with blinding speed. Marine jumped back and her arms became normal. Then she shot forward and Claire slashed straight down. Jane gasped as Marine barely turned in time, her body reforming. What Claire had been aiming for was the second strike – she knew Marine couldn't liquify entirely, so she aimed to stab backward as soon as the Finn girl went past her. When Marine ducked, Claire whipped around and arced the blade in a decapitating motion. Marine leaned away, back on one knee and fired all the water she was holding inside herself. It hit Claire in the torso, the volume like an exploding storm pipe. The swordswoman was wedged high into the corner pillar, and Jane realised it was what Marine had been aiming for. Not just retreating, but drawing Claire into the corner so she could unleash all the remaining extra water in one shot. As the torrent weakened Marine sank down to her knees in exhaustion. Claire slid down into a slump. That was all her water gone. The sheer quantity around them made Jane realise her friend must have absorbed most of a swimming pool. Marine's eyes widened when Claire's leg twitched. Then she drew her knee up and bent forward. "How are you not unconscious?" Marine panted before leaning over again. "You've not seen everything I can do… unfortunately…" Claire struggled to her feet. She stepped slowly toward Marine, who's blue eyes were wide and frightened. Raising her arm overhead, the green samurai sword reappeared. "Can you liquify now?!" A slash across her chest that sprayed water. Marine fell back and Claire stepped over with a stab. Marine instinctively held her hand out to the blade and it pierced through. Her hand liquified, but the sword cut through it and into her shoulder. Blood mixed with the water and Marine screamed. Claire's teeth were gritted as she pressed into the hilt. Blake appeared outside the ring "Claire, stop!" The tall girl composed herself and her weapon vanished. "We should call the match now." Zac began worriedly. "Even though she's a Finn she could still drown in all that water if she gets unconscious first." Blake nodded and the pillars flashed before fading to normal. Water spilled outwards, past the feet of the elementals and to the ends of the stands. Marine's head fell back against wood with a pained expression. Claire was also soaked and continued to hover above her opponent with enough malice to make Jane think she wanted to finish the job. "Well… we have half an hour to clean all this water up." Chris stated. The audience watched on with keen interest. "The winner is Claire Anvil!" Blake announced, receiving a brief round of applause. Claire gave an ugly look over her shoulder before storming away to dry herself up. Jane struggled to her feet but even with her pain numbed, her body was too stiff to move. A med drone was at Marine's side and soon her hissing breaths were alleviated. She was able to sit up and gave both of her friends the thumbs up. A few of the audience members cheered again. She was out of the contest, but she'd given it her best. Jane and Leaf were both proud of their friend.
  10. The children started to scream while the older patrons put a hand to their chest in dismay. Some of the teens made obnoxious 'O' sounds. Someone ran to Jane's side while Chris stepped up and spread his arms. A med drone hovered by, past Jane, toward the more injured combatant. While Chris started calming the audience down and assuring them of the unparalleled healing skills of their machinery, Jane could hear it was Marine crouched beside her. "Jane! Jane, are you okay?" she sounded teary. "Ugh." She pushed herself up onto all fours, groaning before sitting back. Marine's hand was on her shoulder. Jane was still a bit fuzzy in the head after all those hits. Bruising and swelling in multiple places. Evan had got so close to winning. In her last battle Victor had barely hurt her, now she was feeling it. Someone was standing beside her, she looked up to see her white-robed elemental. Blake raised an eyebrow and looked stern. "Are you going to be okay to walk to the med room, Jane?" "No." she fought to her feet, would've swayed dangerously if it weren't for Marine still holding on. "I want to stay and watch the rest of the fights." "You're in no condition to." Blake answered. "Jane, you need to get looked at…" Marine said. "Have one of the med drones check me out in the stands then." Jane insisted, trying to stand still. "Fine." Blake turned with his staff and swept away. Jane walked with Marine, though she was sure her friend wouldn't be allowed to sit with her. They got to the stands before Jane asked the question nagging at her mind. The stretcher carrying Evan away disappeared from the room. "Marine… is Evan alive?" she felt like the answer was obvious to everyone, but she couldn't process it. "It doesn't look good." Her friend answered, sounding sad. "We'll have to see." A uniformed worker could be seen whispering into Chris's ear, his mouth was a tight line and he gave a grim nod. Surely not…? Marine went away, back to her seat at a look from Blake. Workers used pressurised water backpacks to clean away Jane's blood and the remnants of her teeth. While they waited for it to dry Jane was picked and prodded by the robotic droid beside her. There were scans, it flashed a little torch in her eye, wiped antiseptic over her wounds. Picked and prodded with tiny metal fingers, Jane started to feel numb. Leaf gave her a sympathetic smile from across the room. The audience excitedly discussed the fight during the intermission, and in no time it was ready for the next one. "And without further delay we can move on to the second match!" Blake announced. The four-sided screen flickered and revealed the names. Lyle Zappos vs Dan. That blonde guy was the second fight in the initial rounds too, if memory served. Dan tromped over in his boots, gloves and overcoat. The audience was quietly curious by his bizarre appearance. Lyle got up, despite the fact he seemed to be facing dire odds yet again. He stepped into the square and the pillars lit up once the two of them were in. They stood ten feet away, Dan smiled and Lyle gulped. The countdown pulled the audience back in. When the airhorn sounded Lyle tensed. The indestructible Dan remained unfazed, then he charged. His moves were awkward and slow in his get-up, Lyle had time to prepare before darting aside. He was nimble and swift, shooting away and skidding so there was a good distance between them. "Hmph." Dan looked over his shoulder, likening Lyle's evasion to cowardice. The audience inhaled when yellow electricity began crackling over Lyle's body. He readied two fingers as Dan turned and ran toward him, his boots thudding heavily. Looking like he was ready to dodge. Lyle pointed and fired a bolt of lightning. It hit Dan and he gasped, falling forward with enough weight to shake the room. Everyone was shocked. Dan looked shocked, bent over on all fours and grimacing as sparks raced across his body. Lyle looked shocked, blinking. Jane felt the shock on her face as well. "Lysander was careful." Chris could be heard murmuring from close-by. "Cloud Dragons were a species of dragon that were quite enormous, powerful… and weak against the lightning element. He knew making a crusher that powerful would be dangerous to him, unless they were weak against his own element. Blake recreated Lysander's idea, so although the version's different they still have the same weakness." Lyle could win! The words blared in Jane's mind. Nobody else, not her, Leaf, Marine, Claire, Ophelia… none of the other contestants had a way to get through his invulnerable skin, or beat his super-strength. But Lyle could do it. And clear the way so the rest of them had a chance to win the tournament. She could sense that the others were mentally cheering for Lyle as well. "Heh." He smirked. Where once was fear, now he was elated. "Don't laugh at me!" Dan raised a gloved fist and punched the floorboards. The magic reinforcement kept them from breaking, but it reverberated to the stands. The audience gasped. The elemental referees were unsteady and Lyle stumbled. Such strength! It seemed Dan knew he'd need to shed his clothes to move faster. His clunky gloves fell, he whipped off the long trench coat, even kicking off the boots. Dan squatted on all fours, with his elongated nails and toenails, that free-flowing waist-length hair, he looked like a Wildman who'd spent his life away from civilisation. It was weird to see him without all those coverings. The way he perched like an animal to pounce, he looked more nimble already. Jane had a bad feeling – Dan really was strong. "Here I come!" Dan called. Lyle's nerves returned. He began charging up yellow electricity for another shot, his hair going spikier. Dan used his strength to kick off the ground, and he flew like a bullet toward Lyle. Those nails moving to slash through him, hair trailing behind. Lyle ducked and dodged. Dan skidded to a stop before leaving the zone, he whipped back around. He's not so much fast, but he can use his strength for speed. Lyle ducked mad swipes from those claws, moving back to the centre of the square. Dan grunting, jumping with his strikes. That hair flowing after him like a mane. He dropped and kicked Lyle's stomach with the heel of his foot, the long toenails thankfully not connecting. Dan reached for Lyle's shirt before he could fall; it looked like he was going to headbutt him. The sparks around Lyle's body suddenly surged and he glowed with yellow light, lightning raced across his body and Dan went taut as the current rocked through him. Lyle was like a human-sized birthday sparkler. After a few seconds the light went away and Dan's fingers slipped, numb. "He can emit lightning from his whole body at once!" Blake observed, forgetting the little microphone was back at his mouth. Lyle whipped around the paralysed Dan, an arm around his neck in a chokehold. Pulling back, gritting his teeth in preparation. Jane knew what was next: he was going to make his whole body electric again and zap Dan into unconsciousness, like Shiro. Before he could unleash his power, Dan wriggled and reached back, leaning forward and throwing Lyle off him. The blonde guy hit the ground and slid to the centre. The audience ahhhed with anticipation and enjoyment. The two guys were separated, Lyle getting up on one knee, wincing and sore. Dan panting as the sparks dotted his figure. A brief pause amidst their impressive fight. "Lyle is quite a skilled boy, as you'll all see." Chris smirked to his apprentice, Zac looked over curiously. "With only two crushers in these tertiary rounds it was easier to focus my time. Ophelia is an experimental crusher, so it's unknown how her power could expand. Lyle can manipulate the flow of his electricity, he even learnt how to use it to augment his reflexes, which is a skill Godrid Lightning users can master. And another thing…" The fight resumed. Dan launched off his feet and began zig-zagging toward his opponent. He practiced for this fight as well, just in case. Dan must've known there was a chance he could be vulnerable to Lyle's lightning. Lyle readied two fingers to aim with, yellow lightning racing along his body. He focussed and his electricity condensed, zapping more wildly and changing hue. "Is that…?" Jane couldn't believe it. Lightning was hitting the ground around him, and it was blue. Blue lightning! Did he learn how to do it in a week? Despite all her practice, Jane hadn't been able to learn the colour above regular fire. Lyle learnt the colour above regular lightning, even though that was supposed to be rare. He really is a skilled boy. The blue lightning glowed bright from the palm of his right hand. By the way Lyle fought to stand it seemed to sap a lot of energy. Dan darted and then whipped toward him, Lyle shot to meet him like a bolt of lightning himself. They both stabbed with their hands. Blue light flashed and then vanished. Lyle withdrew his fingers from Dan's sternum, they were bloodied. A hole in Dan's shirt, the material and skin burned. Dan's strike had been deflected, the nails piercing through Lyle's shoulder instead of a vital spot. Dan leaned away, his eyes lolling back. He fell backward, his nails withdrawing from Lyle who fell to his knees, gripping his shoulder and twitching as the blood quickly stained the material of his shirt. The med droids went into action. Lyle had managed his second win, though once again not unscathed.
  11. On the day of the tertiary rounds Jane Flame entered the building with as much purpose as she could muster. Blake had arranged separate transports for the crushers who'd be fighting each other. Jane got to take a transport jet with her friends Marine and Leaf, that comforted her somewhat. The dojo was full of talkative people in the stands, several squeezing through and finding seats. A food vendor in a striped shirt getting flagged down with money. The crowd gave Jane her first wave of nervousness since she'd resolved herself that morning. She came to a stop by the stand, her friends stopping on either side of her. They looked around, nobody seemed to recognize them as contenders. "This is actually smaller than the cube room." Marine pointed out. "Yeah, but we got all these people watching now." Leaf replied. Jane examined the fighting space: ten by ten metres of polished wood floorboards. No doubt the floor was strengthened by magic seals to keep it safe from their powers. In the four corners of the arena were stone pillars, Jane was sure there was a spell on them to keep the audience safe from errant projectiles. These fights would be very contained. They spotted Chris, the shadow elemental waving the three of them over grandly. After the three of them crossed over he beamed proudly. "Righto. The front row is reserved for you crushers. Make sure you sit away from the other contenders. I trust you all remember the rules and regulations we went over in last week's briefing? The order of your matches was picked randomly before you got here, you'll be announced one-by-one. Take a seat! First match starts in five minutes!" Before they could even say a word they were ushered off. Blake's voice could be heard through a speaker, reverberating through the room while the audience laughed and chatted. Reminding everyone of the emergency exits, encouraging the patrons to order snacks, and even identifying the number plate of someone who'd double-parked their jet. Jane nervously separated from her friends. She could see Lorac and Joy, the former waving over Leaf and the latter by herself, bored. The Godrid losers were here too. The white-haired Zane was sitting with lava douche Victor – he'd just love to see her fail. Helias, Samson and Shaddi were together. White-skinned and red-eyed Shiro was by himself, motionless and getting worried looks from nearby parents who had toddlers clambering over their laps. Jane took a seat by herself, tried steadying her breathing. She was equidistant from Lyle, who gave a smile. He looked scared. Ophelia never took her eyes off Leaf. They were all seated when Blake's voice reverberated through the dojo, asking for quiet. The latecomers hurriedly found their seats, some school kids started heckling. "Welcome all to the latest in crusher entertainment. I do hope you enjoy these fights." Blake was visible standing beside Chris, a little microphone piece by his mouth. "Without further ado let's get to it. The first of four matches will begin now!" He spread his arms wide, clutching his staff. A four-sided screen flashed to life and the audience cheered. It flickered and presented the first two names. Jane jolted in her seat. She'd been last to fight in the initial rounds, but now it seemed she'd be first. Evan Powers vs Jane Flame. She couldn't stand being last again, it seems now she'd got her wish. Knowing she may never get the chance to see how her friends' battles go, she silently prayed they'd be successful as she stood and walked to the middle of the square. The pillars glowed with blue symbols once the fighters entered. The audience cheered. Evan came from her left and he gave his usual winning smile, today it looked arrogant. "All the best, Jane." "…You don't mean that." She responded seriously, to which he pleasantly shrugged and said no more. They stood ten feet away. A countdown started on the screens above, the audience chanting the numbers down. Voices echoing loudly in the dojo. When it hit zero an airhorn blasted. Evan blurred. Jane had gone to take a ready stance, but as soon as that horn sounded he'd went at her like an arrow from a bow. Jane didn't even finish spacing her feet before his fist connected with her cheek, specks blinding her vision. Another punch to the jaw, and a spin-kick to the chest. Jane flew back, only feeling his attacks at that point. Hitting the wooden floor, spitting blood and half a tooth. She looked up wearily, and when he saw her head move he darted again. That kick could've broken her neck, but she rolled away on instinct. He chased her. Jane raised an arm to block a kick going for the side of her head. It damn near fractured her forearm. She'd practiced some blocks and evasion techniques, just in case he got in close. She wasn't supposed to fight Evan like this. His plan was clear – get in close and fast, knock her out as violently as was effective. She couldn't use her power. Jane blocked an overhead kick that still got her shoulder. She could barely register the audience at that point, but she did notice the cheers were replaced by silence and murmurs. People not as comfortable watching a guy beat bloody a girl almost half his size. She crawled back, hurt her hand blocking a kick aimed for her gut. Blocked a strike aimed for her neck. Then she was on her feet, biting her bottom lip while blood dribbled down her chin. She could feel her broken tooth. Evan's strikes were fast and strong, he was as lethal as he'd been in her nightmares. Jane stepped back while he advanced. She moved her head away from blinding fists. Deflected attacks at her torso, getting bruised each time they touched. Her right hand caught red fire that went out the second she had to block with her arm. Jane ducked and jumped back, reignited her hand. She didn't have time to shoot fire, he was too fast and close, and she was disoriented. She lashed with her fiery hand, a scarlet blur. The audience ooohed but Evan smacked her elbow away and she unbalanced, the fire going out again. They were both still moving backward, him stepping on her feet, he landed another punch that was sure to give her a black eye and she flew back. Jane fought to keep herself conscious, even when the room blurred. She turned, fell back and tensed against his kick. Then she backrolled, pushing off his leg, using the momentum to create space. A moment of the most heightened urgency. Jane fell around and back onto her feet, Evan almost thrust himself into her attack, but he was able to stop himself just in time. A brilliant stream of red fire filled the space between them, the tongues of flame licking air before dispersing. A vshhh and suddenly they were far enough apart. The audience watched with wide eyes. Evan stood crouched with his legs apart, ready to duck or dive as necessary. Jane was beaten and bloody, one arm clutching her side, the other aimed out with a ball of red fire at the end. The room swayed. Jane finally had her distance, but she was so incapacitated that she couldn't use it. She feared losing, another punch to the head from Evan felt like it could kill her. But apart from her teeth, no broken bones as far as she could tell. She knew what Evan was waiting for. If she were to stream her fire he was going to dodge forward and close the distance between them again. It made her hold back. When Evan saw she wasn't going to attack, he turned side-on and started to goad her by bouncing on the balls of his feet, edging closer. Jane turned to face him, her fire wavering with her fear. She had to attack. It was time for her training. It was true that Jane couldn't use blue fire. She'd tried to master it at first. If she could do one attack with blue fire it'd be that much stronger. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't do more than the random spark. Not yet. However, Blake had studied her last fight and noticed she had a particular skill. Like many powers, there are differences between Zorgon Fire users and variables to the power itself, he'd said in his office one day. That 'signature move' of yours made it clear, the fireball you kicked like a soccer ball. You don't excel in range when it comes to a typical flamethrower attack. But you're talented at pressurizing fire. You can condense it so it's stronger, and even explosive. It's one of the ways Zorgon Fire can be manipulated by those who master it. You've even learnt how to hurl, or kick it away from you, Jane dear. She couldn't use blue fire, she couldn't turn red fire into animals or weapons, but she could pressurize it. Jane grit her teeth as the fire by her hand burned brighter. It swirled into a red sun, recognition crossed Evan's face. He'd seen her use this attack against Victor. Evan tensed. Jane felt her energy sapping as she pumped more of it into the fireball. It expanded and she worked to condense it further. Heat pulsed away from her, Evan could feel it. He sweated from nerves. Still waiting for her to throw it. Jane lifted her hand above her head and her attack was now the size of a beachball, red light colouring the area. She clenched and it shrank down to a basketball, almost perfectly smooth. She couldn't throw this, or kick it. Evan's eyes were wide, he was bathed in red. Jane pushed off and ran forward, slowed down by the weight of the fire floating over her hand. She couldn't get burned by red fire, even though the explosion would hurt her too. It was a price she was willing to pay. Evan didn't expect her to run with it. He jumped back and she jumped forward, arm extended. The fireball was between them when she released it. The bang shook the ground, made the audience gasp. In an instant the scarlet fire exploded, throwing the two contenders apart. The heat rolled over Jane's skin without harming her, but the impact was like a floodgate at breakneck volume. Her clothes seared and tore. She tumbled back, feet flying over her head multiple times before she collapsed on her stomach. The air between the stone pillars rippled, a protective barrier. Some of the audience members were scared to their feet. There was a painful kink in her neck, but Jane raised her chin. Evan Powers lay on his back at the edge of the perimeter, much of his body blackened. He was crispier than a barbecue pork dinner. Jane had won.
  12. This room was specifically designed for someone with Jane's power. She knelt down, panting with exhaustion. Physically, mentally and energetically drained. The matts and padded walls were alight in several places with scarlet fire. Blake had told her that the materials in this room were fire retardant. Although he'd said 'fire retarded' and she didn't know why. She wiped sweat from her forehead and flicked her lank ponytail over her shoulder. Panting. It was the fifth day of their preparation week, and finally Jane was starting to see results. Blue fire training, the colour above red fire, had been Jane's first idea. But expecting to improve it after only a week was a lot, and despite working hard the first two days she'd got no results with it. So after talking one-on-one with her elemental he'd come up with another idea for her. So she'd been training in something else instead. Jane slowly got to her feet and walked to the corner of the room. A few scrolls sat safely away from her fire training, one of them open and showing descriptions of her current training. These came from the Zorgon Fire Temple. Someone appeared in the doorway and gently knocked. "Ah, hey Jane." "Lorac?" she turned and saw the small purple-haired boy, giving her a nervous smile. "You guys sure have been training hard." "We don't have much of a choice. We're all up against really strong fighters." Jane closed the scroll and started putting them away in her backpack. "Yeah… I've been hanging out with Leaf." "Really?" Jane was surprised. Leaf wasn't a trusting person – he was only comfortable with her and Marine. "He's also fighting Ophelia, so…" "Right." Jane recalled the fight between Lorac and Ophelia, the one before hers. "It was lucky she fought you. With your power she couldn't leave a scratch." "I still lost." The meek boy lightly kicked his toes against the ground. "I can turn completely into smoke, but it drains my energy the longer I'm in that state. So I get exhausted if I can't stay solid for long enough." "Well you're better at transformation than Marine or Leaf. Marine can't fully turn into water, part of her has to remain solid. And Leaf's plant-healing can't regenerate from serious injuries." Jane stopped to think. As bad as she might have it, her friends probably had it worse. Claire's sword-strikes were quick and expertly graceful. She could slash Marine's torso, head and limbs in a three-second sequence. Ophelia was a monster, and if she ever got close to Leaf she'd tear him apart. As terrifying as that was to imagine, Jane couldn't stop thinking of Evan. His frightening proficiency. In her mind he was becoming an ominous inevitability. "Leaf and Marine want to talk. He just went to find her in the outdoor training area, and he asked me to get you." Lorac's voice snapped her out of her bleak thoughts. "Right. Let's go then." Lorac walked comfortably beside Jane, despite his awkwardness. He was unburdened now that he was out of the Mini-Character-Tournie, or whatever ridiculous name the elementals decided to call it. The only other Zorgon loser, the small unkept girl, Joy had been sitting by herself the other day. Just sitting on a bench, undisturbed. Lip twitching as if she were talking with the animal spirits sealed inside her. The rest of them had the tertiary rounds to worry about. Between the warehouse-sized training buildings, eventually the outdoor areas came into view. Tennis-court sized fighting spaces. Marine could be seen crouching, Leaf standing beside her. A vast puddle of water reflecting off the ground. "Hey guys." Jane greeted on approach while Lorac smiled. "Jane!" Marine chirped. "You look just as exhausted as us." Leaf pointed out with his arms crossed. They did all look dishevelled and weary. These past few days they'd spent almost every waking minute on improving the skills they'd need. "Blake's been giving all of us pointers." "I quote, 'that rigmarole Chris is surely doing everything he can to make sure his Godrid crushers win'." Leaf even pretended to stroke an imaginary beard before his arm dropped from tiredness. They all turned at the sound of someone else. "Training hard I hope!" Claire, with her wheat-coloured hair in a usual ponytail, standing cool and confident on the upper balcony of the nearest building. Her smirk widened as she added "Marine." The Finn girl narrowed her eyes. Claire gave a superior stare as she leant on the railing before straightening up and strolling away. "You don't think she's been spying on you...?" Leaf wondered. "Like it matters." Marine sank, her body beginning to droop with her water power. "I'm doomed." "It's not like you to be negative." Jane pointed out worriedly. "I've seen Claire in training..." "If she's been training too that must mean she thinks you're a threat." Lorac pointed out, trying to be helpful. "No. She's always training." Marine moped. "Even before the tournament. That's why she's so skilled." Jane frowned. Evan's agility was part of his vague 'to be awesome' power. Claire's power was creating that spirit sword, yet she was so dedicated to combat training that she was a threat even without an extravagant power. She was the perfect crusher - designed to be a fighter. "We don't know how these fights are going to go until we do them." Jane began. "All three of us have decided what we need to do to beat our opponents. And these past five days we've been training harder than ever to do it. We still have two more days to get it right. We can do this." She was thinking positive. She had to. Leaf and Marine were surprised, but nodded in agreement. However unlikely it was, they all had a shot at victory. They needed to imagine what their victory looked like, and try to make that happen. Jane smiled at her friends "How about a sparring match? It'll prepare us for next round."
  13. "Well, we all survived." Leaf crashed back onto the sofa and gave a sigh of relief. Jane sat with one leg bent beneath her, frowning with concern as she pondered their predicament. Marine was seated with her legs crossed, smiling like she didn't have a care in the world. "I'm so bummed out about not getting to see the other fights!" Marine hit her knees with her fists, light-brown hair falling over her shoulders "You guys have to tell me what I missed!" The Zorgon crushers had their own living quarters, a series of large living rooms within a three-story building in their elemental's city. It was like a motel, luxurious only in size - filled with drab furniture and uniform materials. The three friends were sitting around and processing their victories. Leaf turned his head, still moulded to the sofa "Yeah, you dislocated your knee and missed all the other fights even though you won." "Feels good as new." Marine flexed her leg. "Those medical drones can heal anything." "All the crushers did survive, didn't they?" Jane murmured, noticeably more pensive than her friends. "Yeah?" Leaf looked over curiously. "Don't you think it would've been better if we'd lost? We might've got more hurt, but at least we'd be out of this stupid competition. We all have to fight next round… we might die…" "Cheer up, Jane." Marine said softly. "Remember that if we win, Blake will give us more attention. We'll get stronger, and then we'll be able to do whatever we want. Retire at thirty and live on some paradise planet filled with beach hotels." Leaf marvelled at the idea while some of Jane's scepticism remained. "We just have to make sure we live that long." The black-haired girl replied, her ponytail hanging loosely over her shoulder. Leaf remained as slack as a deflated balloon, his green eyes moved to the ceiling in thought. All three of them were thoughtful. Marine gazed about dreamily while Jane considered the other victors. The two Godrids, the maybe-nice blonde guy with electric powers – Lyle, the demon psychopath girl who had it in for them – Ophelia. The other Zorgons, the two acrobatically-skilled fighters Evan and swordswoman Claire, and the super-strong guy with impenetrable skin – Dan. These people were her potential opponents. "So spill it already!" Marine suddenly snapped to. "Tell me about the other fights!" Leaf sighed and began giving his recounts. Jane joined in and helped describe the fights after Leaf's, including her own. When the teens were tired they said their goodnights and went to sleep in one of the shared rumpus rooms. Despite her worry Jane felt exhausted, she quickly fell into a heavy slumber. * "Well, they all survived." Chris, the shadow elemental took a seat in a shared research laboratory. "Just as well." Blake commented, dumping a stack of folders on the counter and stroking his wispy beard. His elemental staff remained perfectly upright beside the white-robed man as he started combing through the documents. "So what happens now?" Zac, the youngest elemental observed his seniors. "Well first of all," the hooded black-robed man sat forward, clutching his own bejewelled staff. "We have a lot of information to process. Camera footage to go over. Progress notes and assessments of the crushers' skills and capabilities. This is for longstanding research, relating to our own crusher-making and potentially for the crushers' own improvement. Not to do with the tournament." "And then afterwards," Blake mused "we can pair the crushers up for the tertiary rounds." "How exciting!" Zac grinned. "I should pick which crusher I'm going to root for!" "As my own elemental apprentice, and seeing as you were once my own crusher Zac, I think you'd be cheering for my crushers." Chris stuck his nose in the air stubbornly. "Yeah, but when I was a crusher I was friends with Blake's crushers too, remember. And a lot of their powers are in these new crushers. Jane is like John, Marine is like Aqua, Leaf is like Crystine. My old friends might have died a thousand years ago, but seeing these new crushers is like seeing them, sort of… reincarnated, you know?" "Well their genetics are very similar to their predecessors, so they're technically family." Blake conceded. "I can't wait to see how they do in the tertiary rounds! Where are they going to be held?" the brown-haired Elemental inquired. "That, my dear apprentice, shall be revealed in tomorrow's meeting with the remaining contenders." Chris gave an evil smile of anticipation. * It was the next day when all eight crushers were gathered in one of the elementals' many technical facilities. This one was close to the border of the Half-World, Jane and the other Zorgon winners were flown out on a roomy jet after breakfast. Uniformed workers helped escort the teens out of the docking bay and through the glass doors and gleaming corridors, to the meeting room where the Elementals were expecting them. As the metal doors swished open Jane could see a long conference table with rounded spin chairs. The three elementals stood, Chris and Blake looking important with their arms behind their backs, Zac giving a friendly smile and wave. In a separate area Lyle and Ophelia stood together, the grey-tinged girl shot competitive glares at the Zorgons, while the blond guy was grimacing next to her. "Welcome champions." Chris began. Their escort left with a respectful bow, the sliding doors sealing behind them. The shadow elemental stepped forward "Welcome to the tertiary round!" "We're fighting already?" Evan Powers remarked. He'd been very talkative throughout the trip, at ease with absolutely everyone. Jane didn't mind him, but didn't consider him a friend. He seemed to lack any real substance to him. "No." Chris stated curtly, annoyed by the interruption. Leaf visibly relaxed from beside Jane. "The tertiary round itself begins in one week, so you have time to prepare. This meeting is just about explaining what will happen, as well as assigning your new numbers based on the order of your victories." The creepy figure lowered his head "And so: Marine Finn is number one. Lyle Zappos is number two. Dan is number three. Claire Anvil is number four. Leaf Sprout is number five. Evan Powers is number six. Ophelia Langdon is number seven. Jane Flame is number eight." "Woo! I'm number one!" Marine raised both arms overhead. "Suck it, Leaf!" "Marine…" He hissed with embarrassed anger. "Oh shut it, you two." Blake scolded in his posh accent. He stepped forward with his staff. "Unlike the initial rounds, these fights won't be so private. They also won't be happening immediately after each other. They will be taking place in an intra-city arena, we have charged attendance fees and have a hundred seats all up." "People are going to be watching us?" Lyle asked from across the room. "Yes. The semi-finals and finals will have a proper audience. The tertiary rounds is a way for you all to get used to that. The arena we'll be using is in a local, townsy part of the city. So we'll most likely just get a bunch of bored schoolkids and parents watching. Let's be sure to give them a jolly good show." "Four matches with half-hour intervals." Chris continued. "With the audience enjoying soda and greasy food vendors. If any of you happen to die, for legal reasons we'll have to put out a statement saying you survived and made a full recovery. Can't have any young children in the audience getting traumatised." "That means we may need to take photos of you all giving the thumbs up while lying in a hospital stretcher. Just to sell it." Blake explained. The teens looked at each other dubiously. "And so!" Chris clapped his hands importantly. "The main reason we are giving you a week to prepare, not only so that we can get organised, but so you all can too! What I mean by that is: you won't be finding out who your opponent is just before you fight. You're going to find out right now. So you can plan and adjust your fighting style." Jane felt her eyes widen in surprise. I'm going to find out who my next opponent is… right now? One week before I actually have to fight them? Chris stepped toward the table and picked up a small remote. "Are you ready?" He scanned the faces in the room. Before anyone could muster a form of reply he turned and pressed a button at the wall. A compartment slid up, revealing a meeting board with the names scrawled upon it. "These matches were also picked at random, while the three of us were present. Good luck." Jane's opponent was to be… Evan Powers. She turned to the tall boy a few feet from her left with a blank expression. He turned and gave another winning smile. That look in his eyes as he registered her, only lasting a quick moment… did he believe he was going to win? …he believed he stood a good chance at winning. Evan had been in the audience when Jane fought Victor. He'd seen what she was capable of. And Jane had seen his skill against that fireworks-shooting guy. Samson? That Samson guy could shoot his power much faster than Jane, at greater distances, with greater precision and in rapid succession. Evan had been able to dodge every shot. And then all he'd needed was to get close and his fight was over quickly. Did Jane stand a chance? She didn't know… Her two friends were equally distraught. Marine was to fight the lethally proficient Claire, who'd severed her opponent's fingers and stabbed them through the shoulder in her last fight. Leaf was to fight Ophelia, the rabid monster who wanted to mutilate. That left Lyle against the invincible Dan. Ophelia chuckled. Dan looked shrewd. Lyle was disappointed. The tertiary rounds… they had one week to prepare. Jane couldn't help feeling like her and her friends were all the underdogs.
  14. Trapped in her rabid state, Ophelia thrashed against the net but was unable to free herself. Lorac came to, but barely, as he was helped onto the stretcher and carted away. A second drone carefully carried the net, Chris waved a hand dismissively after his crusher. "She should return to being human again soon." Then he faced the handful of teens in the audience. "Last fight! Step up, step up. You know who you are." Jane cringed before getting to her feet. Ignoring the pit in her stomach and the fear in her veins. Victor was grimacing as they walked, but didn't look so much frightened. He gave her a sneery grin when they stopped and faced each other, ten feet away in the middle of the field. "Ready for this?" "Are you?" The anger kept Jane's voice level. "On the Godrid side!" The black-robed elemental waved his arm. "We have number eight, Victor Magma! Who is fighting number four, Jane Flame! Begin at the siren!" The three elementals were watching with arms crossed. Jane's heartbeat sped up. Abruptly the fear vanished… and there was only adrenaline. She heard the siren, and then she gasped. A wave of lava was suddenly above her. Burning brightly orange, the heatwaves radiating from it were unbelievable. Jane spun back and away. It hit the ground with a heavy slosh, searing and sizzling, the grass immediately igniting at the edges and burning outwards. She looked up at Victor just as he flayed his hands again, the tips of his fingers were burning white. A jet of lava spurted toward her and she darted back, prancing away. Then moving further, deciding she needed to keep her distance. More sizzling and fires. The lava was glowing orange, luminescence so strong it reminded her of radiation. The heat itself would burn her skin if she weren't already fire-proof. Yes, Zorgon fire-users were immune to normal fire, fire on the red spectrum. That lava however? It'd burn through her as easily as acid. Victor tilted his head, he walked around the orange pond like the heat didn't bother him either. She waited for his clothes to ignite. "The lava I create is over two-thousand degrees Celsius." He began arrogantly, stepping toward her. "Big deal!" Jane raised her hand, a ball of scarlet fire blazed into existence. She punched a stream of fire toward her enemy and it hit him square in the chest. Victor fell back and thrashed as the red tongues devoured him. After rolling around for a moment he straightened, unburned, though there were holes and black marks in his clothes. He got on one knee and glared at her. "Victor is immune to red fire…" the white-robed Blake observed from the sidelines. "The colour spectrum of Zorgon Fire is different to Godrid Lightning. Most Godrid lightning-users never advance to the second level, blue lightning. But plenty of Zorgon fire-users advance once they're good enough." Chris mused before turning his head. "Blake…?" "Blue fire is the next colour. While primarily used for flying, it is hotter than red fire. It can burn Zorgon fire-users. Whether it can burn Victor… we'll have to see." Jane was grimacing at their talk. She couldn't fly with blue fire, in fact she could barely use it at all. It'd come out sporadically during training, and quite rarely too. Only sparks. She knew the theory of it, she knew which emotion summoned it… but if she was trusting her victory on whether or not she could pull it out at the right moment to stop Victor, she might not have a chance. Obstinate anger was the emotion that summoned red fire. She leapt with a growl, punching another stream of scarlet that Victor rolled away from. Another punch flame-thrower. Then she jumped and spun-kicked, a line of fire curving outwards. Victor dodged, jumped and ducked again. He was running; he shot another torrent of lava. Several kilograms that Jane swerved away from, running the other way round, jumping and punch-shooting more fire in his direction. Victor leapt back, he started throwing his hands out, hurling smaller pockets of lava that burned dangerously into the grass. His aim was on point. Jane was pretty sure she had a longer range than him, but if she didn't get in close he'd just keep dodging her. She'd have to rely on her signature move. Skidding in the grass Jane outstretched her hand, a burning blaze of red began to turn as she concentrated, condensing and burning brighter. Like a red sun. Victor flung his arm back, a splash of lava whipped out and she dropped to her side. The searing orange went over her, Jane tossed the fireball upward. Her torso hit the ground and she kicked out with a grunt. Her opponent and the watching elementals all looked stunned. The fireball banged, hurtling through space like a soccer ball, connecting with Victor's chest and exploding into a nebula of red. Victor flew back, engulfed again by the fire. He was scrambling to get up as Jane sprinted over. Amusement. The evil mirth that comes from the suffering of others, it was the strain of emotion that awakened blue fire. Jane tried to laugh at Victor's panic in her mind, she got close enough and thrusted her palm. She might've seen a speck of blue. But it was so quick it could've been her imagination. Jane's hand padded against Victor's side but did nothing. Fear returned, she couldn't hold the right emotion. And even though he was still covered in the red fire, now he knew where she was. Victor stuck his hand out to her face, the fingers glowing hot. She got her knee to his forearm, pinning it down while lava spewed out beside them. The force of it sizzled a path through the earth and it was so hot that Jane felt pain in her side just from being near it. Burning pain. Her eyelids were glowing orange when she scrunched them. Victor turned and gripped her, and Jane realised he was trying to shove her into the lava. She elbowed his face, tried to shoot away but he caught her leg. Swirls of red and orange as she turned and fell. Jane kicked at his face. Once free she scrambled away. Victor got up, his nose bleeding. He looked furious, his shirt now barely attached for all its holes. A little red fire was still going at his pant leg. "You're… going… down." He heaved. Not good. Jane raised both hands, summoning twin bursts of flame. Victor stormed over, shouting furiously as he fired streams of high-flying lava. The molten rock rained down, Jane extinguishing her fire and fleeing back as he advanced. More shouts of anger and more lava squirting forth and raining down. Taking a chance meant you could die, but freezing up was certain death. Jane waited for him to hurl more lava, then she ran forwards instead of backwards. Those dark eyes zeroed in on her. Jane dived as Victor stopped, his other arm going up, the lava raining down behind her. She slammed into him, hands burning with red fire as they wrapped around his neck. Victor's eyes bulged and he shot lava directly upwards as he fell back. Jane felt herself freeze for a fraction of a second before scrambling off him. The lava rained down in heavy splotches. Most of it landed to his right, but several droplets burned into Victor's arms and legs when he tried to shield his body and face. An anguished scream. Jane wasn't immune to direct contact with that lava… but Victor wasn't either. He screamed and thrashed. Jane was panting, sliding on her butt to get away from him. Moving with all-fours. "Yep, that looks like serious damage." Chris leaned over from where he stood. He waved the medical droid over and it whizzed into action. Jane stayed where she was, breathing hurriedly several paces from Victor's head. Two people approached and she jerked in their direction. "Don't worry, Jane. It's over now." Zac spoke soothingly as he crouched beside her. "The winner of the final battle of the initial rounds is Jane Flame!" Blake sang merrily. Victor was still screaming painfully in the background. The old man ducked down as well "Dadadada~!" He was holding out a can of coke for her. Jane was still in too much shock to feel relief. She took the can absently and pressed it against her face. Her skin was hot. "Let's get you out of here, dear." Blake was proud as he helped her up. After Victor was whizzed out, still thrashing, Chris waved off the three witnesses. The teens got up to go. They were the uninjured winners. Was Jane an uninjured winner? She wasn't at all sure she'd escaped without injury. She walked dazed, clutching the can of coke while Blake walked with his arm around her shoulder. They were the last to leave. Jane turned her head to study the white cube-room one last time. The fighting area was demolished. Body-sized dirt holes throughout, grass uprooted, patches burned, trees busted in half, pools of lava bathing the area in orange light and fire. "The winners of the initial rounds, those who will be advancing into the tertiary…" Chris could be heard talking from ahead "Marine Finn, Lyle Zappos, Dan, Claire Anvil, Leaf Sprout, Evan Powers, Ophelia Langdon… and Jane Flame." Cheering could be heard from the teens walking ahead.
  15. "And then there were four." Chris looked stern, his hands behind his back. Those red-tinted eyes gleamed at the remaining combatants in turn. The audience was seven, the four who hadn't yet fought were serious and still. The shadow elemental raised his chin "This next selection will determine who is fighting who in the last two matches. Good luck." He spun away. Jane felt the dread descending upon her. A sense of doom. It absolutely was best to get these fights over and done with. The black-haired girl combed a strand of hair behind her ear, fingers numb with nerves. There was a fifty-percent chance she'd be called next. But no, Jane was sure she'd be called next. She was about to find out who her opponent would be. Blake pointed his staff at the screen "Come on! Show us the money!" The audience watched as the final combatants were selected. While Victor and Ophelia had been chummy Godrids before, they weren't so close now that they reckoned they could be fighting each other. "Number nine!" Chris declared. "Lorac Belle!" The purple-haired boy took a deep breath and made his way uncertainly toward the field. Jane watched him go, he looked like the least threatening of the opponents left. But looks could be deceiving. "And his opponent is…" Chris waited until the final screen stopped with a glowing flash. "Number fourteen! Ophelia Langdon!" The demonic girl cracked a sinister grin. "About time…" she murmured as she rose and tromped toward the field, her black ponytail swishing as she went. Jane immediately eyed Victor whose dark eyes glared right back. So her opponent was going to be the guy who pissed her off from the very beginning. Of course. Jane felt glad that a few of the victors had decided to come back and watch. She felt uncomfortable sitting with her eyes off her soon-to-be enemy. After this fight ends, hers would start. Her life would be on the line. She'd either make it out (unscathed or not) or it would be the last thing she remembered before waking up in the hospital after getting knocked out. If she wasn't killed. Victor's power was lava, after all. The grey-tinged girl exposed her teeth in a bestial grin. The purple-haired boy looked very nervous. "Don't forget to give it your best!" Blake encouraged them merrily. "And don't lose Ophelia," Chris muttered. "I couldn't stand to see another Godrid get eliminated by the hands of a Zorgon…" "Don't worry, I'm going to maul this freak!" She snarled. "That's the spirit." Chris raised his arm in preparation. Lorac gulped but managed to keep still. The siren buzzed and Jane did a double-take when she noticed Ophelia's eyes. The pupils had expanded so they were entirely black, she could tell even from their distance. Black veins riddled her body. Her pallid skin became even more alien, biting snarls ripping from her chest. Yep, she was another monster. Her fingers grew long, the nails lengthening. The bones of her limbs appeared to be stretching as she ducked into a crouch. Teeth stretching into narrow fangs, meant to tear muscle from bone. Lorac stood stock-still, wide eyes on her frightening change. "You might as well fill me in on what her deal is…" Blake spoke conversationally from the sidelines. "Ophi-whatever." "Ophelia is a sub-race of creature I created called Shedim. They're hybrids, part-human and part-demon. Remember those fiendish gargoyles that infested the old cemetery in Zorgon Main city? She's implanted with their DNA. Shedim have to take injections once a day to hold off the bloodthirst, but if they do they can change back-and-forth between their monster form at will. Of course, they have little sentience and control over themselves after changing." Chris informed. A pair of devil bat-wings tore out the back of Ophelia's shirt, hooked and curling. The same alabaster-colour of her skin, they swatted the air. Ophelia lurched forward with a squeal, those wings propelling her toward Lorac who still hadn't moved. She went to tear through him with her speed, and that's when he vanished in a cloud of smoke. Lorac didn't quite vanish because he didn't reappear anywhere else. And the purple cloud didn't fade away either. Ophelia whipped straight through it, turning and skidding while wisps trailed off her body and vanished. The purple cloud swirled before condensing, a figure began to appear in its centre. With a roar Ophelia launched herself, ripping through that cloud again. Her claws met nothing and she skidded out the side of it once more. The cloud drifted away like mist, swirling and shrinking before Lorac was visible. He was still wearing his clothes, they'd been carried by the strange gas that seemed to be a part of him. "Of course…" Chris murmured while Zac was awestruck from beside him. "Lorac… Lora… why didn't I see it before." "Lora?" Zac turned to look at the two older elementals. "You probably wouldn't remember Zac." Chris began. "The Finn, Sprout and Flame clans started out as three individual crushers. But there were actually four. Tommy, Vine, Jason and Lora. Not every power is a winner though. Like the Finn and Sprout clan, Lora could turn her entire body into her power. A pinkish smoke. But compared to the others it's a failed power. It provides an excellent defence, making oneself immune to physical attack, but it's a barely offensive power. There's also no effects to the gas, it can't poison or make you fall asleep. Nothing like that." "If the power was a failure, why'd you recreate it?" Zac looked past his mentor to ask Blake. "Every crusher is different, even if they have the same power. There's always anomalies. So I took the chance. We don't know for sure that Lorac won't be able to do more with his power than Lora or Lorer ever managed before…" he stroked his beard, eyes on the fight. "The only thing I could think of…" Chris narrowed his eyes in thought. "What is it?" Zac prompted. "The gas could push and shove, but that wouldn't hurt Ophelia the way she is now. Unless he could use his own body as some form of asphyxiant… he might have a chance." The demon girl gave a furious roar after a moment of silent staring. She had speed, strength, enhanced senses and claws. She was a killing machine… up against an opponent who couldn't be touched. She stalked around on long legs, Lorac was almost completely visible again, a light haze of purple around him. Running on all fours Ophelia sprinted toward him. Lorac ducked and dived, shooting away as a column of smoke. Ophelia landed where he'd stood, wisps slipping through her fingers as they clawed the ground. Lorac gathered himself (literally) before shooting back. A rush of purple gas spearing toward Ophelia's head. The demon spread her wings, they stretched like huge nets. They beat fiercely at the air and Jane was astounded to see the gas disperse, collecting itself again and reforming a few metres away. So Lorac couldn't move freely in that gas state. Not against wind. That was a flaw, never being able to use your power on a windy day. At least until you'd mastered that control. For a moment there Jane thought Lorac might've stood a chance at suffocating Ophelia somehow… but it looked like even though Ophelia couldn't touch him, she could move him by beating her wings in a certain direction. Lorac could move pretty fast in smoke-state, but certainly not as fast as Ophelia. She'd likely escape him, seeing as there was no way for him to latch on. It wasn't likely he would be able to pull out a win. Ophelia sprang. Lorac held his ground, expanding suddenly into a swirling storm of purple. Ophelia landed in the middle, for a second it looked like she was trapped. Then she leapt upwards, a skinny tail now trailing behind. Tendrils of mist climbed after her. She beat her wings at the ground and Lorac scattered. It took the better half of a minute for the thin wisps to gather back together, he'd been so properly dispersed, when they did Lorac reappeared looking tired and sick. "Whatever she tried it sure worked…" Dan observed. Evan was licking his thumb, trying to wipe the blood smears off his knuckles. There were big bruises on his face from the last fight. Ophelia sprang, turning and whipping Lorac with her tail. He stumbled back and his arm detached from the swipe. Lorac straightened and the wisps reconnected. Each transformation seemed to drain the tiredly panicked boy further. All it took was a few more swipes, Lorac failing to dodge, barely managing to gas-ify. She turned and her tail whipped, connecting this time. The purple-haired boy fell back in a sprawl. Exhausted, unconscious. It wasn't enough for the rabid creature he was fighting. Ophelia lunged with claws extended to take his life, only to be blasted back with a bang, trapped in a net fired by one of the elementals. On the sidelines Blake could be seen with a smoking cannon he seemed to have materialised from thin-air. He lowered the gun with a satisfied sigh. "It'd be a shame if a crusher died in one of these nothing rounds. Anyhoo, Ophelia is the winner."
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