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Alsantset’s heartrending scream fills me with remorse as I weightlessly fall through the air, the world drifting by in slow motion as the last few minutes flash before my eyes, every action taken leading me to one simple conclusion.
I done fucked up.
Things were going so well, Other me was awake and after sparring with Gerel, I was confident in our chances of victory. It’s a little ridiculous, the guy sleeps for weeks and wakes up with a power-up. Why do I even bother practicing? Then again, he isn’t perfect, he can’t Hone, or Amplify, or Guide, or really do anything that requires manipulating chi. He’s nothing but a stronger, faster, and better all around fighter than I am, so I’d say we’re about even. Okay, so I suck, whatever. I’m still useful, I can Hone while he fights, which is kind of a big deal. Besides, he’s never really fought before, except against the Demon, and that was just a massive beat down.
My first real mistake was giving him control for the morning so we could get used to our respective roles. At the trial, the idiot didn’t wait for Akanai’s permission before climbing on stage, too eager to fight to follow simple instructions. To make matters worse, after he killed our first opponent so fucking brutally, the moment someone said ‘bristleboar’, my anger took over, both figuratively and literally. God, I was like a retarded monkey, flailing away at my opponent while Other me pleaded for me to back away, but by the time I calmed down enough to pass control over to him, I’d already exhausted our stamina reserves. There’s a big difference in fighting in a controlled manner and going full-out, my fury leaving nothing in the tank.
So here I am, landing heavily on the stone floor as I tuck my chin in and roll with the impact, Other me firmly in control. Things aren’t too bad, I think we can still turn this around. It isn’t too serious, a clean cut below the knee. I can still hop around on the other foot, right? Plus, I can just reattach it, so long as big piggy leaves me alone for a few minutes.
Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.
Other me seems to differ in opinion, the pain flooding through me as he retreats into my mind.“I told you brother, you should have let me fight from the beginning. Your ineffective flailing left me with almost no energy; I saw the feint, but couldn’t move fast enough to avoid it.”
“Shut up, I don’t want to hear ‘I told you so’.” Wrenching myself up into a seated position, I watch the greatsword come lancing towards me and my shield leaps into place, the impact sending me sliding across the stage with a resounding clang. Almost blacking out from the pain, I take notice of the long red streak on the stage, blood spilling from my amputated calf. Without thinking, I circulate my chi to cut off the bleeding, keeping myself alive for a little longer so long as I don’t take a sword to the vitals. “Hey, don’t leave me hanging here, take over again and kill this piggy.”
His fatalistic sigh sounds loudly in my head, already giving up. “Why? We lost brother, accept death with dignity.”
Throwing myself to one side, the greatsword crashes into the stage as I roll away, quickly scrambling to my hands and knees to crawl away on all fours. “Don’t be such a little bitch, it’s one foot, suck it up. We can still win this! I refuse to die at the hands of a piggy, understand? If you don’t think you can kill him, then keep us alive until I figure something out.”
Grumbling about the pain as he takes over, we scramble away in a three-limbed gait, almost elegant in our movements. The bristleboar stomps forward for yet another thrust, the weapon whistling through the air towards me. Balancing on the edge of my shield, we flip forward to avoid the strike, following through with the momentum in a series of somersaults. The crowd bursts into laughter and jeering at the sight of our acrobatics, but I tell him to ignore it as he mentally grumbles about the indignity of it all.
“So now what brother? I do not think we can win with one foot, we are near exhaustion.” It’s an odd feeling to be detached from my sense, and it takes a moment of concentration to percieve the burning in my chest as I pant and gasp for air.
“Stay alive and stall for time. Lemme try something.” While we flips and tumble about the stage, repeatedly dodging death by mere millimeters at a time, I open myself to the Energy of the Heavens, feeling it gather around me in a massive torrent. C’mon Awakening, do your thing, blast this piggy with fire or lightning, split apart the stage and crush him, explode his head, something, anything at all. Mother take the wheel, smite my foe with the power of a thousand suns!
Somewhere, a cosmic cricket chirps away in the silence as the universe ignores my plea, shitting on me one last time before I die again.
Why can’t I ever get a break?
Almost resigning myself to death, I watch helplessly, unable to come up with a magical solution for this mess. Other me pivots and flips about the stage as the bristleboar attempts to run us down, much to the amusement of the Society. Thankfully, I broke one of his feet in our earlier exchange and he’s having trouble keeping pace, but it’s only a matter of time now. With no other options coming to mind, I take one last look at my loved ones as we tumble past, burning the image into my mind, praying that if I reincarnate once again, I keep my memories of them all. Off to one side, Fung stands stoically, his hands held behind his back, the very picture of confidence. Akanai’s neutral expression watches intently, her body stiff and alert while Husolt hugs her with one arm, a grim expression pasted on his face. Huu stands proud and tall, watching the battle intently with Ghurda, his eyes eerily focused on the match, almost in a trance. Alsantset stands limply in Baatar’s embrace, her eyes closed, his stare pained and determined. Little Lin’s smiles as she looks me right in the eyes and Mila’s face is buried in her hands, while Yan glares murderously at my opponent, restrained by Du Min Gyu with a single hand on her shoulder.
These are the people who rescued me, healed me, gave me food and shelter, love and friendship without asking for anything in return. If I die here, they will be forced to fight their way out, surrounded by hostile forces. Who knows how many of them will die in their retreat. At the very least, I need to kill my opponent before I fall, winning the match and giving them a chance to win the next three.
I owe them that much at least.
Reminded of the stakes at risk, my panic fades and my mind calms as I return to the moment, focusing on the task at hand. Continuing to circulate the Energy of the Heavens around me, I no longer hope for a miracle, taking solace in its warm embrace, healing minor bruises and cuts. The bristleboar limps after me as we deftly avoid strike after strike, our opponent’s greatsword moving in large circles, carving through the air and stage, but nothing else, unable to land a killing blow. It’s unfair how easily he cuts through stone, such a feat beyond me. I can cut through a metal post, but it takes chi, muscle and momentum to pull off, while he drags his big fucking sword through solid rock like it’s butter.
Another thrust hits us directly, Other me catching the full blow on my shield and leaping with the impact, sailing backwards into a roll. Without pausing, I leap aside and hear the crash of iron and stone, the bristleboar following through and reading my pattern, but I escape unscathed. The minutes continue to pass and the laughter dies down, the crowd turning to insults and heckling, furious at my refusal to die quickly. A few calls of encouragement reach my ears, a familiar, sweet voice cheering me on, Lin unwilling to give up hope, but her words are soon drowned out in a sea of angry voices.
A flash of lightning illuminates the gloomy atmosphere, a single moment of brilliance before the world is covered in darkness once again.
…Bitch, the piggy is over here, you fucking missed.
The skies echo with thunder as the heavens burst open in a sudden downpour, a heavy curtain of rain falling down with little preamble. In seconds, the stage grows slick with water, Other me unable to move about as nimbly, but neither can my opponent, his footing less stable on the broken and slippery, stone stage. The cold water comes down in steady, pelting waves, obscuring my vision of the crowds as they scurry about to set up awnings as shelter from the storm.
“How are you doing this brother?” His voice is filled with wonder as he speaks, a fiendish grin stretching across my face. “This rain is invigorating, my fatigue washing away, my body light. Even my senses are sharpened, able to make out individual raindrops, hear his breath beneath his helmet. Well done brother, you were right, we can win this.”
Keeping my confusion to myself, I remain silent as Other me turns to attack the bristleboar, pivoting on my knee to swipe at his feet. Immediately slipping on the wet stage, we crash into the stones with a thud, the fumble costing us dearly we desperately block a series of attacks. Tumbling end over end from a jarring blow, I heal the bruises and minor fracturing as quickly as I can, trusting in other me to keep us alive while I ponder the mystery of our restored energy. I haven’t been doing anything really, besides circulating Heavenly Energy around me. Is that helping, or is it something else? Can I do anything else with it?
Quickly realizing our opponent is still too strong, Other me returns to stalling for time, alternating between crawling and sliding around the stage, acclimating to the terrain. Energy bursts from within me as time goes on, the bristleboar slowing as he continues to chase me about ineffectively. At the start of the fight, his sword was held high, his hands raised above his shoulders, but now, the signs of weariness are showing, his shoulders dropping and gait slowing, his chest heaving and steps heavy as he follows me around the stage, every swing of his weapon costing him greatly, while we continue to regain our strength.
Swing and chop, thrust and stomp, he moves ponderously, Other me taking every chance he can to make distance between us, diving and rolling about in the quickly growing puddles. My soaking clothes chill me to the bone, but a smile forms on my face, my cheeks aching from the strain of the engagement, ready to retaliate at a moments notice.
With a guttural roar, the bristleboar goes all out, his blade slashing diagonally through the rain and spraying water about, but Other me is ready to receive it, deflecting the weapon into the ground before retreating once more, bounding several meters in a one-footed leap. Turning to face our opponent while down on one knee, we stare him down with my shield raised and sword held high. His sword held low, my opponent charges me once more, moving a single step before he jolts to a stop, his beady eyes blinking rapidly in confusion. His chest heaves as he glances down at his greatsword, a quarter of it stuck fast into the stage. Pulling with all his might, the weapon remains fixed in place despite all his laborious efforts, a comical display as he tries to jiggle his sword out of the stone.
He’s out of chi.
A snarl rips out from between my lips and we leap forward from our kneeling position with arm extended. My shield’s blade cleaves through armor, flesh, and bone, cutting cleanly through his knee as we sail past, avoiding any counterattack. A throaty scream rips out from his chest as he struggles to remain upright, leaning heavily on his greatsword.
Laughing loudly in the pouring rain, Other me smiles creepily at the little piggy, his eyes filled with fear as he stares back at me, his strength spent, his core empty, his life’s blood flowing from his leg stump. We move forward to end the fight, but I speak up, erring on the side of caution. “Ignore the piggy, he’ll die on his own or pass out soon, no need to take unnecessary risks. He’s still like three times my weight, no point getting in close while he can still crush us. Find our foot before it gets washed away, I can reattach it while we wait.”
Other me crawls around the stage, keeping one eye on our opponent while searching for my lost foot, bubbling with excitement at the turn of events. “Incredible brother, I’m sorry to have doubted you. I see now why you thrived where I would have faded, because you are unyielding! When did you learn to revitalize yourself like that?”
Uncomfortable with the undeserved praise, I come clean to him about my ignorance and ask, “What do your ancestors have to say about it?”
Shame flushes through me, his emotions so strong that they are passed onto me as he sheepishly shakes my head. “Er, about that… Since waking, the ancestor’s have yet to speak. I didn’t want to bring it up because I know how you worry, but I did well, right brother?I still retain the knowledge of their skills and there is more flowing into me as we continue to battle.”
Lacking control over my lungs, I can’t even take deep breaths to calm myself, a phantom twitch twinging at my cheek. This fucking guy… Well, it worked out, sort of, and our current predicament is mostly my fault, so really, he’s the hero and I’m just the disembodied voice in his head. God dammit, I’ve been demoted. I’m a healer, battery pack, and buff bot.
I’m a fucking support.
After a few more minutes of searching, we fish my foot out of a puddle while the bristleboar looks on, still ineffectively trying to free his weapon, now kneeling, his stump tied off with his belt to stop the bleeding. With no options but to wait and see, he stares venomously at me while I crawl out towards my corner. Alsantset beams at me, relief and confusion warring on her face, while Lin smiles and waves as I approach, bouncing adorably in place as she strives to catch my attention. Other me waves back, a shy smile on my face while I inwardly groan at his actions. “Please don’t wave at people with my severed foot. It’s in poor taste.”
“Ah, sorry brother, I’m unused to … well everything aside from fighting.”
“Yea… we’ll work on that another time. Don’t make eye contact with Akanai and sit down facing the bristleboar.” I think I’ll let him deal with her ire this time, I can’t handle being on her bad side anymore. See how he likes digging latrines with a spoon.
Reattaching my foot is a simple process and thanks to the division of labour, I can focus on healing while Other me keeps an eye on my opponent. A short, 15 minute break passes in the blink of an eye, my leg cramping in pain but able to bear my weight. I survived, now all that’s left is to kill the piggy, get off the stage, give Alsantset a big hug, and survive my punishment. “Hey, give me control, I’ll kill the piggy with a throw.”
“No need brother. I’ll handle this.” The devilish grin breaks out across my face once more as I stalk carefully towards the downed bristleboar, my weapons held up at the ready. God, I don’t want to struggle for control of my body, not at such an important time, so he better not fuck this up. My opponent leans feebly against his embedded sword, his head hanging low and body slumped, and I silently pray that he is unconscious, making this a simple kill. Looking at him now, his heavy armour battered and shredded, one foot pulped and the other dismembered, I feel a twinge of sympathy for the bristleboar. In the end, he’s only a slave, with no ties to my tormentors, and it isn’t right to hate him because he’s a bristleboar. Unfortunately, knowing that changes nothing, as irrational hatred can’t exactly be reasoned with.
The battle ends anticlimactically, the bristleboar truly unconscious from blood loss. A simple thrust through the heart of my helpless opponent ends the match, my second victory. Holding my bloody sword up high, Other me celebrates the hard-won fight, earning a smattering of cheers from the Sentinels. I can’t really blame them for not being overly enthusiastic, that entire fight was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, making my first victory seem like pure luck. At least now I can wrap myself in something waterproof and watch the rest of the matches.
Distracted by my thoughts of warm clothes and hot food, I’m too slow to stop Other me spinning to face Jia Yang, my sword pointed in challenge at the imposing warrior. “Two victories I have claimed, but I am not satisfied with my disgraceful display. Send me another slave to kill, so that I can regain my honour.”
“What the fuck are you doing?!” My mental voice turns into an unmanly screech, unable to believe his stupidity. “We barely fucking survived, and you want to fight again?” Seizing control from him, I struggle to keep the panic off my face, seriously considering just exiting the stage and pretending I didn’t say anything.
“Hmph.” I can almost see the pout on his face, his nose raised high in defiance. “We share wealth and hardship, glory and shame. I refuse to be known as the one-legged fool who rolled around in puddles and won through luck. I promise you brother, we can win at least once more, especially if you continue your efforts. It will be easy, I have a plan.”
Well, Other me is kind of OP and the challenge has already been given. Knowing Akanai, I can’t just step off the stage after offering challenge like that, but she also won’t be too happy that I opened my fat mouth in the first place. On the left we have hammer, and on the right is anvil. Resigning myself to my fate, I return control to other me, trying to not think too much about the punishments in store for me. “Alright, let’s hear your plan.”
All I need to do is be the big hero, and Akanai won’t want to punish me.
Easy enough, right?
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