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    Invnarcel
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the Mini-Crusher-Tournie - 17. The Semi-Finals!

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.

Copyright © 2020 Invnarcel; All Rights Reserved.
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