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.