Chapter 126: Crash CourseAlexandra Erin on December 3, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 4: The Reinvention of Mackenzie Blaise, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Nae Takes A Seat
It probably said something about the way my luck had been improving that at no point during the nearly twenty-four hours between when I left the Arch and my fight with Nae in Coach Callahan’s class the next day had I said anything about hoping my choices didn’t come around to bite me in the ass, or something like that.
It wasn’t that my luck was improving by leaps and bounds… it was just being less pointedly ironic.
Or maybe instead of chalking it up to a change in fortune, I should have been taking credit for it myself. Maybe I was just getting smarter. After all, I’d managed to not say anything about something biting me in the ass within a day of my fight against a tiny, agile kobold with a mouth full of razor-sharp metal teeth.
Any way you look at it, my final bout of the week against Nae did not get off to a great start. Whether it was due to luck or intelligence, all of the above would fall under the heading labeled “the good news”. You can probably infer the bad news from it, too.
As I’d guessed, Nae did try bring her teeth into play almost right away during our final confrontation. Because I’d expected it, I mounted a tough defense and did what I could to keep her off my legs. I actually managed to be pretty successful at that… so successful that she ended up leaping onto my back, clinging on, and sinking her teeth into the largest target of opportunity available.
It was a clever move, really. It made me wonder if she’d been able to perceive my defensive air shield… the rough cone shape fully encircled my legs, but since it was emanating from my mouth the coverage was a lot spottier up on my back.
I think it’s possible that I’ve overused the word “excruciating” in the past. This was… extracruciating. It flew past the concept of mere earthly pain and discovered a vast elemental plane of true pain that mortals were not meant to suffer. It wasn’t the kind of pain that went on so long it shaded over into pleasure… just more pain.
I could feel the scream tearing out of my throat, but I wasn’t conscious of any sound. My whole body jerked and contracted in on itself. The staff, held in both my hands, snapped like a twig… a twig that had been enchanted into a magic staff and stuffed full of somewhat loosely bound spell charges.
There was a small explosion as the energy imbued within the staff expended itself right in my face. Being blasted with raw arcane energy was a new experience. It lacked the biting edge of divine power, but was otherwise similar… and this was just the illusionary semblance of it.
I lost my grip on whatever remained of my staff and barely heard the sounds the pieces made when they hit the padded floor. My eyes were full of a light that wouldn’t fade, even though they were squeezed shut. Opening them didn’t seem to be an option.
Aside from the part where it was still ongoing, it seemed like the fight was over.
As much they hurt, Nae’s teeth couldn’t harm me, and couldn’t knock me out of our bout… but I was blinded, unarmed, and distracted by my opponent who was still being a terminal pain in the ass.
Well, at least I knew where she was. The first time I fell on her, it wasn’t on purpose… I’d just doubled over, and the weight of all the metal in her bones pulled me backwards. The impact didn’t dislodge her. No surprise there… her girlfriend probably had thirty pounds on me, and was known to ride her like a tiny pony.
She couldn’t match me for strength, though.
It wasn’t the most dignified combat maneuver that’s ever been executed, but I slammed Nae’s head into the floor. Without anything to push against except another part of the floor, the angle stole a lot of the power behind it but I had no doubt it would have smashed a skull made of lesser stuff. I did it again. It wasn’t doing anything for my pain… okay, it was doing great things for my pain but terrible things for me… but I did it one more time, and on the third smash, Nae let go. I heard her nails scrabbling against the mats, and then she was gone.
I got up.
I couldn’t see, but I had other senses. I’d lost hold of my air shell… it took nothing more than background concentration to maintain, but even that had been beyond me. Still was, in fact… there was no way I could work anything resembling a spell anytime in the near future.
Passively connecting to the elements was easy enough to manage. I couldn’t get a sense of where Nae was, though. I hoped that meant she was standing still, not that I was too disoriented and befuddled to pinpoint her.
There was some rough intelligence behind the mock combat set-up… the spells had to be able to tell a person’s actual level of physical capability to know when they were rendered incapable. If I could change Nae’s status so that she was unable to fight due to actual physical damage, would that trigger the end of the bout? Or did it need a phantasmal injury to happen before it checked?
I didn’t know… and it seemed unlikely I’d find out, but it was better than just letting her win. If I tried to avoid Nae’s attacks, I’d only be postponing the inevitable… and thereby signaling that I thought it was inevitable. I’d have to be ready to strike. If I failed… and I probably would… I’d fail big. With Coach Callahan watching, it would still be far better to go down fighting than to just go down.
So I stood, and waited. I turned in place a bit and held out my hands, hoping that I looked like I had no clue what was going on around me. I was helped in this endeavor by the fact that I had no clue what was going on around me. I was hunched low, because straightening up seemed like a terrible idea.
The rest of the room had gone very quiet. On this day, we were fighting our final bouts one at a time, so they were all spectators. I knew their silence came more from anticipating my loss than anything else, but I appreciated it all the same. I perked up my ears… I could just about pin down where everyone else in the room was standing, but not Nae. Goblinoid respiration didn’t involve as much force as mammalian… it was more a gentle circulation of air than sucking in and pushing out.
I did smell something strange, though… something rich and metallic. It didn’t smell like blood, or at least, it didn’t smell like human blood, but there was something like a trail of it leading away from the spot where I’d rather emphatically taken a seat. I thought of the dark, ichorous goo that had resulted when Nae had bit her tongue the other day… maybe she’d done that again, or maybe I’d given her one hell of a split lip.
Or split bit-of-skin-around-the-mouth.
It was a clue, and once I had it, I did pick up a kind of wet, snuffly sound, low to the ground and a good ten or twelve or maybe fifteen feet away. I wasn’t great at distances, still… some distance away, anyway. I didn’t know if that was what Nae’s breathing normally sounded like, but it had to be what it sounded like at the moment.
She was actually behind me and a bit off to the side, which I hoped help to hide the fact that I’d located her. I was trying not to change my posture or give anything away. To help sell the idea that I had no concept of where she was, I tried to put on a blank look and turned in a slow circle, ending up facing more or less in the direction I’d started.
I felt really exposed with my back to her… or more particularly, my backside. Not only did it hurt like hell, but it felt like a considerable amount of the seat of my pants had been ripped away in the process of dislodging her. The pants were phantasmal, and would repair themselves when the rest of the illusionary damage
I tried to call to mind the layout of the room, to get an idea how close she or I was to a wall, and ended up with… nothing. I didn’t have a map of the room in my head and I certainly didn’t have a compass hidden behind my eyelids. I’d barely been paying attention to what direction I’d been facing before she got around behind me and jumped on me… the only direction that had mattered at the time was towards the opponent.
Still, if I kicked her hard enough, she was bound to hit a wall eventually. If another student was in the way, that could be bad news for them… my sensory census of the room was telling me that if I kicked her straight back in the direction she would be coming from, it would be clear sailing… but I’d be lucky to connect at all, much less have any control over where she went.
It was my hope that I could pull this off without hurting anyone but Nae… and she would be hurt, if it worked at all. Possibly quite badly. I felt a little bad about that, but she seemed happy to talk about how hard she was to kill, and she’d already taken advantage of my kind of toughness to bring her built-in weaponry into play in a way she wouldn’t with another opponent. I would just be returning the favor.
Or so I told myself. I also told myself that if she didn’t hate me after this was all over, I should make more of an effort to befriend her. After all, we did live on the same floor, and she was suitemates with one of my friends. It occurred to me that I’d made very little effort to get to know anybody in the dorm that I wasn’t already friends with…
It occurred to me, right as Nae made her move. She came on fast and hard. I tabled my latest resolution for personal growth and spun around in place, lashing out as hard as I could. My solid new footwear collided with her. The air fed me a sensation of a dense projectile volleying away even harder and faster, but the impact jarred me in the worst possible direction for me to fall at the moment: backwards. Landing on my still-searing ass was enough to make me lose my elemental focus.
There was a huge crashing, splintering sound, and the phantasmal injuries caused by the exploding phantasmal staff fizzled away… not in the normal way that signaled the end of a match. It seemed more like they’d just ran out of power. There was a weird tingling sensation, not just where I’d been burned but all over my skin
As my blindness faded, I saw why the enchantments had been canceled.
I’d sent Nae’s body right through the red cabinet. Well, it had been red, but that apparently had been an illusion it projected on itself. Now it was just varnished wood. It lay in shambles, and Nae lay in it, at an odd angle… like she was being propped up from behind by something.
There was a small protrusion in the center of her chest, like something was trapped under the skin… and then she began to slide backwards as the jagged, splintered end of a piece of wood slid out.
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