In Which Mackenzie Tries Pala On For Size

Pala didn’t seem to be in a hurry to start the match and Coach Callahan wasn’t looking over our shoulders to judge my gumption so I decided to take my time… not to stall, because no amount of dragging my feet was going to change the fact that I had to fight a highly skilled warrior who had almost five feet of height on me.

But given that I had to fight her no matter what, I was going to make sure that I was good and ready. There were serious questions of strategy that needed to be considered. Coach Callahan didn’t reward people for going through the motions. I wasn’t going to get an A because she was making me fight her most uberpowered gladiator. I wouldn’t get any points for going through with it. I didn’t imagine she expected me to win from the very first bout, but I knew she expected me to fight.

I took off my jacket and set it down off to the side, then drew some power out of my belt and used it to enhance my mocked staff. I figured the main thing I would need it to do was move faster… I didn’t want to try to parry Pala and there was no way I could blow through her parries, so the name of the game would be getting around her weapon. It would be like the exact opposite of the stage fights where the whole goal is just to bang swords together.

That was why I didn’t undo the negative size enhancement I’d put on it… at full length, she would still easily beat me on reach. Trying to move fast with a full-length quarterstaff would only make me more likely to trip up. After some consideration of that point, I also took off my boots. The soles were thicker than I was used to. They might give me some advantage in moving around on uneven terrain, but indoors it just seemed like I’d catch them on the matts and fall on my face.

Pala watched my preparations and nodded. I thought she might go retrieve her fallen spear, but instead she reached sideways and pulled a long copper sword out of a bright, jagged tear that appeared in space.

“Is that mocked?” I asked.

“It is a phantom to begin with,” Pala said. “I tried putting it into a mockbox to see if I would get a real sword back, but the copy was… impervious to touch? Or extra pervious. My hand went through it.”

I noticed that she was wearing a beaten copper bracelet that had a very similar pattern to the sword’s hilt.

I considered changing my plan, but decided to keep the staff short. It would be slightly quicker and less distracting to just cancel the size-change spell and let it pop back to its normal size than it would be to activate the next charge if I decided to change things up mid-battle.

Pala frowned and the copper sword became a double-headed copper axe. She frowned again and it disappeared, then she smiled and made the reaching motion again. This time she produced a halberd with copper hardware.

So she was back on more familiar territory, and I was back to avoiding a great big stick.

“There, that is more like it,” she said.

“Does it not do spears?” I asked her.

“I am to expand my… repertoire?” she said. I nodded. “I love my spear, but it does not truly belong to me and there are places that I cannot take it.”

I knew that her spear was some kind of family relic and that on at least one memorable occasion it had displayed bolt-from-the-blue disapproval about how it was handled, so I didn’t question this.

“You could still take other spears, though,” I pointed out. “Or make them.”

“This bracer is not mine, either,” she said. “I only have it for the semester. I must grow accustomed to using what weapons are available, where I can find them.” She said it like it was something she had memorized… and also in a slightly lower voice like she’d memorized a man saying it. “But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with growing accustomed to using similar weapons first, do you?”

From someone else, that dangling question on the end of the sentence might have just been a bit of verbal punctuation… but Pala looked and sounded like a child trying to reason her way around a parental injunction. She was looking for approval.

What if I didn’t give it?

The focus of the class as Coach Callahan taught it was to seize every advantage possible to end a fight as quickly as possible… surely that extended to this? I mean, if I went around trying to talk all the other fighters into using inferior weapons or otherwise needlessly encumbering themselves I had a feeling I’d get a talking-to about relying on tactics that wouldn’t translate well outside the classroom setting… but this was right in front of me.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It doesn’t seem like it would be doing you much good… why don’t you trust our first instinct and go with the sword.”

“If you think so,” Pala said, and she formed the phantom weapon back into its original shape.

“With a big sword like that you’ll probably want to use a two-handed grip,” I said.

“No, I’m strong enough to handle it one-handed,” she said, making a few sweeping passes through the air.

I had been reaching, but it would have been worth it if it’d worked… keeping both hands on the hilt would have limited her reach and her ability to change directions or sweep low with the blade. In theory it would have let her put more power behind her swings, but she wasn’t going to have any problems in that department any way that she held it.

“Alrighty,” Pala said. “Your goal in this exercise is to defeat me three times.”

“What’s yours?” I asked. The coach had told me I’d be outclassed in my fights, but my opponents would not necessarily have the same goals that I did.

“I am to practice defending,” she said. “In the first bout I am to parry your attacks. In the second bout I may counter when you attack. After you have defeated me twice I may fight as I will.”

That was good to know. It meant I had time to figure out what I was doing, trying to bring down a larger opponent… and then time to figure out how to deal with her attacks at my own pace before having to fight her for real. It was not the kind of thing that would actually happen on the battlefield, but I suppose even Coach Callahan had to admit that the whole point of having a class on fighting was to learn these things before you had to know them.

“What’s everyone else going to be doing while we’re fighting?” I asked.

“Watching,” Pala said. “Everybody here is going to fight someone smaller than themselves… except for Nae… and everybody here is going to fight someone larger than themselves, except for me. Coach Callahan says that you pay better attention fighting than watching, so you are part of the demonstration.”

Effort to change or not, I couldn’t argue with the past accuracy of that statement.

“Are you ready to start?” I said.

“I have already started defending,” she said. “You need to start attacking.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

She hadn’t gone into anything that I’d consider a combat stance, unless you count “being a giant with a sword taller than most people” to be one… but she easily slipped into a defensive posture the instant I took a step towards her.

Knowing that she wasn’t going to be taking a swing at me and that this bout was the time to try things that would get me killed in an actual fight, I basically just ran at her full-tilt. Her sword came down in a motion that probably could have scored a kill on me if I’d ran into it, but I kind of dove to the side and lashed out with my short staff.

It hit her kneecap with a bone-jarring crack… unfortunately, it was my bones that were jarred. I barely managed to hold onto my stick, reflecting only a second later that it probably would have hurt less if I’d let go.

The illusionary injuries from the redboxed weapons would last until the bout ended… but Pala’s weapon wasn’t from the red box. And the injury in this case had been inflicted by my own weapon. I hoped that taking her down with it would trigger the reset on me, because otherwise I’d be stuck fighting her with a shoulder that felt like it was giving serious thought to a change in scenery.

How did I take down a giant? The kneecap was clearly out. I had to hope that the rest of her wasn’t similarly impervious to impact, because I hadn’t been holding anything back.

I had to assume that I’d just picked a bad spot, because the alternative was that I had an unwinnable fight in front of me. There was a precedent for hope, though.

I’d fought enough dwarves in last year’s Mixed Melee class to know that a lot of the traditional weak spot on most mortal bodies were basically armored by a dwarven skeleton, including the chest, head, and knees. Dwarves were usually ordered with the rest of the mortal races and elves in the taxonomy of creation, but there were some mysteries about their genesis and they did have some historical ties to giants.

Head shots were out of the running anyway. I’d seen more agile fighters take a dwarf out by going for the back of the knee, which was just as unprotected as it was on anybody else. If I’d had that kind of agility, I would have faked another run to the side, rolled between her legs, stuck my staff out sideways and extended it before slamming it back and making her fold like a lawn chair. I didn’t, though, and I couldn’t see getting behind her and getting my feet planted and turning around for an accurate strike quickly enough.

I did have an idea for a softer target on the front, but I kind of wanted to save it for an actual fight: if I could get inside the arc of her swing and pop her in the throat with the end of my staff, I was pretty sure that would count as a win.

It was the sort of absolutely vicious move that allowed for no hesitation, which was part of why I was sure it could work. It was exactly the sort of solution that Coach Callahan wanted to force me into.

It would also take a fair amount of surprise, and while I wasn’t sure that Pala couldn’t be surprised the same way three times in one day, I didn’t want to bank on it. Plus, I’d actually have an easier time getting in close when she was allowed to take swings of her own.

But it was only because she couldn’t fight back at the moment that I had the luxury of planning for the future. I focused on the present, where I needed a way to bring her down when she was completely focused on defense. I made a couple of passes, swinging my staff at her legs and her side. Some of them thunked against her flesh… which seemed to be firmer than it looked all around… and some were intercepted by her sword.

Fewer of my blows were parried than I’d expected, though. Whoever had decided she was too dependent on familiarity with her spear had been right. She seemed to know what she was doing with it in the “can perform a drill” sense, but she wasn’t used to handling it.

Thinking I needed more of an increase in power than maneuverability, I canceled the enhancement on my staff and shifted that energy into boosting its potential impact. It was a sort of hard to describe quality of blunt instruments that I liked to call “the wham factor”. It didn’t make me any stronger, but it made the weapon in my hands hit harder.

After having had time to assess my strength, Pala was caught off guard by my next assault. I clubbed her foot first… not a match-winning target, but an easy and potentially debilitating one. She howled in pain, throwing her sword wide in a reflexive action that was only not an attack by the technicality of her not meaning it and me getting out of the way of it.

That might have been the end of the exchange if I’d been slightly less on the ball, but I stepped forward and shoved the end of my rapidly expanding staff into her sternum. I didn’t expect to do a lot of damage, but if I’d aimed lower it would have been harder to knock her over.

Down she went. It wasn’t anything like a fatal blow, so what followed next was neither technically interesting or pretty… just what happens when a tough opponent is on the ground and you have a bludgeon in your hands. Every impact was setting another swarm of moss-eating giant tree ants loose on my shoulder, but when Pala went red the pain went away.

“That was… surprising,” she said, reaching a hand up to me. “But good! You did very well.”

I wasn’t sure about the logistics of helping to her feet, but she was a nice person and I had just bludgeoned her to phantasmal death so I gave her my hand and was tossed over her head for my pains… by which I mean the actual ones I experienced when I hit the wall.

Though, being magically invulnerable, at least it wasn’t more than pain.

“Sorry! Sorry!” Pala said, running to my side and very gingerly offering me her hand, which I just as gingerly took. “I’m sorry! You just seemed so strong!”

“Part of that was the weapon,” I said. “You’re still actually stronger than me.”

“It is just so hard to tell sometimes,” she said. “I’m not used to being the strongest one around. Second strongest. Well, third strongest. Well, it depends on who is in the room with whom, but in all combinations except for two I am the strongest one on campus. At least, among people who have been rated for skirmish or arena fighting and other known quantities.”

Pala’s speech had a slow and breezy quality to it that nevertheless conveyed the impression she was giving a lot of thought to everything she said. That didn’t necessarily make it easier for me to puzzle out what she meant

“Are you ready for round two? Do you need healing?” Pala asked.

“No, I’m fine,” I said. “You could throw me through the wall and it wouldn’t do any permanent damage. To me.”

The second bout went a lot like the first one had, though we were both a lot more careful… and Pala did get some hits in. She had a tendency to swing the sword like she would a spear, in the clinch. A spear is equally blunt on all sides so it doesn’t matter which one hits. With a sword giant’s strength behind it, the flat of a sword was not exactly a gentle autumn breeze but she also had a tendency to realize she was doing it wrong and pull back a bit.

It made me glad that I’d pulled the sword trick on her… I was sure it wouldn’t work again, because if Callahan wanted her to fight me with a disadvantage she would have given her one.

Even with the awkward weapon choice, Pala did bring me down twice before I managed to take her out again. That made it feel like an accomplishment, like a real victory.

Of course, in this case the prize was that I got to fight her for real. I’d figured out how to bring Pala down. Now I just had to figure out how to stop her from doing the same to me.

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38 Responses to “Chapter 103: Two Out Of Three”

  1. Shugs says:

    Great stuff as always AE. Looking forward to if Mack eventually gets a third win.

    Current score: 0
  2. pedestrian says:

    Interesting in my mind, how I visualize Alexandra’s rich description of these first two bouts. The third bout should be mind-boggling.

    I must add that I do not agree with Our Mack’s decision to take off her boots. Yes, in a certain sense the new footwear could be a handicap but one she needs to learn to deal with or she should never wear the boots at all.

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    • Zukira Phaera says:

      True, she’s gotta learn to use them but it is like wearing high heels for the first time. You have to learn to walk before you run.

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    • TheTurnipKing says:

      Actually, taking off the boots is a pretty good sign. She considered them a disadvantage *at the time* and divested herself of them.

      That doesn’t mean they’re a permanent disadvantage. But it’s better to have protection and lose it when it becomes an encumbrance than need it but never have it.

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    • Ducky says:

      I have never fought in shoes. In martial arts classes, we fight barefoot. Shoes tend to muck things up for me, in the sense that they can stick or slide at times when a foot wouldn’t. You know your feet innately, even if you normally wear shoes, so it’s easier to fight barefoot in a protected place like the Salle.

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      • pedestrian says:

        I understand the necessity of training barefoot in self-defense classes but how often are you going to be barefoot in a survival fight?

        Having been on both the receiving and gifting side of this debate, I can assure you boots are a vicious weapons.

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        • Kitch says:

          Vibram 5 Fingers FTW!

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        • Colm says:

          You fight barefoot in class so you dont any perminate damage to each other. Its roughly the same idea as using tape on your hands and feet when you use target dummies; the tape lets you practice hits and kicks that would normally leave you bloodied after the first or second hit.

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    • Brenda says:

      Well, she is currently learning to deal with Pala. Once she learns to deal with Pala, she can learn to deal with Pala and her boots at the same time.

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  3. Gruhl says:

    Learn one thing at the time, can be good wisdom. Her next lesson against Pala will probably be with her boots on.

    As usual, an excellent chapter.

    Current score: 0
  4. Jennifer says:

    Extra confirmation on Puddy’s 2nd gift from the Fae – I assume the two combinations are Embries, and Puddy+Embries.

    I have a suspicion that while Callahan will APPRECIATE Mack’s trick with the sword, she’s not going to allow it twice.

    Good chapter, worth the wait. But don’t want to wait another 4 for the next, sadly… not that I ever do.

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    • Markas says:

      U don’t think Callahan, aka Gottmörder, is stronger than Pala?

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      • Oni says:

        There’s also the fact that she specifies that these are people rated for skirmish, of which I highly doubt Embries fits the bill.

        One of them is obviously Puddy. The other one is possibly Embries, but I’d only say that with 50% certainty.

        But no, I don’t think that Callahan is anywhere near as physically strong as Pala. Not even close, I would think. Higher challenge rating; so to speak; but not close in ability scores.

        Current score: 1
        • Jennifer says:

          Embries was specifically confirmed to be in the house the night of the gladiator matched. Callahan is threat because she’s ruthless and knows what she is doing – she’s the higher challenge level due to SKILL, not strength. I’m sure she’s strong as well, but not as strong as a giant or a dragon.

          Current score: 1
  5. anon y mouse says:

    “why don’t you trust our first instinct and go with the sword” – your first instinct?

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    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      “It doesn’t seem like it would be doing you much good… why don’t you trust our first instinct and go with the sword.”

      As anon y mouse points out, “our” should be “your”. Also I don’t see a reason why you’ve got two sentences basically joined together by an ellipsis. I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong, but it seems unnecessary. I’d personally just make it two distinct sentences.

      I’d fought enough dwarves in last year’s Mixed Melee class to know that a lot of the traditional weak spot on most mortal bodies were basically armored by a dwarven skeleton, including the chest, head, and knees.

      That “spot” should be “spots”.

      With a sword giant’s strength behind it, the flat of a sword was not exactly a gentle autumn breeze but she also had a tendency to realize she was doing it wrong and pull back a bit.

      I seem to recall that Pala is a “storm” giant, not a “sword” giant.

      Current score: 0
      • Dani says:

        > why you’ve got two sentences basically joined
        > together by an ellipsis

        That’s a conventional way of representing a flow of speech in which the first sentence doesn’t come to a complete stop, but runs out of steam before a segue into the second.

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  6. Zestere says:

    Not sure that Embries is rated for skirmish or arena fighting. Coach Callahan might be, though.

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  7. Belaf says:

    I suspect Embries would qualify as ‘other know quantities’, but then, I’d also assume Callahan would. And she’s been convicted of Diecide.

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    • Cernael says:

      Yes, but we’re talking raw strength here. Jill’s deadlier by far than Pala, but I do think Pala’s stronger.

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      • Lyssa says:

        Yeah, I tend to think that too many people on here are mixing up “strength” with “fighting capabilities.”

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    • Rin says:

      The only problem with that theory being that Embries’s true nature is a pretty closely guarded secret, if I recall correctly, while Callahan’s history is even more so. I don’t think either one of them truly qualifies as a “known quantity”. Embries probably not at all, and Callahan only insofar that people know she’s a very capable fighter, without actually knowing just how capable.

      Current score: 0
    • Readaholic says:

      Ok, I tried to refrain from posting this, but clearly failed.
      Warning – bad pun alert

      I know Callahan has committed Deicide, and I can imagine her trying to kill Death, but I didn’t realise she also had it in for dice (diecide). Or is that what happens when confusion about the correct plural for dice becomes lethal?

      Current score: 0
    • fka_luddite says:

      Although successful, the charge was “attempted deicide”.

      Current score: 1
  8. Erm says:

    “I have already started defending,” she said. “You need to start attacking.”

    Pala <3

    Current score: 1
  9. Erm says:

    It was a sort of hard to describe quality of blunt instruments that I liked to call “the wham factor”. It didn’t make me any stronger, but it made the weapon in my hands hit harder.

    Illusory Quarterstaff of +5 Wham.

    “It is just so hard to tell sometimes,” she said. “I’m not used to being the strongest one around. Second strongest. Well, third strongest. Well, it depends on who is in the room with whom, but in all combinations except for two I am the strongest one on campus. At least, among people who have been rated for skirmish or arena fighting and other known quantities.”

    Puddy and…? Callahan’s ability doesn’t seem to be centered on brute strength, and she couldn’t possibly know about Embries…

    Current score: 0
    • Kitch says:

      Oh, I’m pretty sure she does. Read back to her “hiring interview” Where she blackmails a greater dragon, and lives to teach.

      Where she out-right calls him a Greater Silver Dragon, yup.

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      • Lyssa says:

        I think the “she” Erm mentioned referred to Pala.

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        • Christy says:

          Pala might know about Embries if the other storm giants warned her about him.

          Current score: 0
        • fka_luddite says:

          When she asks Pala enter combat early so as to remove Puddy, Callahan refers to Embries being in the audience as an indication of Puddy’s strength. This strongly suggests Pala is aware of his nature.

          Current score: 0
  10. Zathras IX says:

    First bout: happenstance
    Second bout: coincidence
    Third bout: shit gets real

    Current score: 1
  11. Trystia Indraea Olyphis Farrower says:

    Another wonderful chapter, and I’m always happy to find more, but please don’t feel it was such a wait, AE. A ‘wait’ would be how long I’ve patiently anticipated the next chapter of a Bellamione fic I’ve been reading. Thank you for sharing more of your story and the world it’s set in. Much love.

    Current score: 0
    • Lyssa says:

      Yeah. I’m waiting for the sixth Song of Ice and Fire. This isn’t near so bad.

      Current score: 0
  12. Dan says:

    If Puddy’s gift does make her “the strongest in the room”, then one of the two combinations is Pala & Puddy in the same room.

    Combining “it depends on who is with whom” and “among people who have been rated for skirmish…” could she mean that Mack is actually stronger than Pala, such that Puddy & Mack in the same room results in Puddy >> Mack >> Pala?

    Current score: 0
    • Erm says:

      This chapter seems to show that Pala is actually a lot stronger than Mack, since Mack flies across the room just by helping her get up. (Of course, in real-world physics, that’d be a question of mass, not strength.)

      Current score: 0
      • Oni says:

        Mack’s got Demon Strength ™, but hasn’t shown anything more than what a professional weightlifter could do (but is also able to exert that force in ways a human body couldn’t). I’m sure she could easily lift a few hundred pounds, but Pala could probably juggle the same weight due to having similar proportional strength and several times the proportion.

        Current score: 0
        • AylaSophia says:

          I wonder how much weight Mackenzie actually could lift. We know she’s strong enough to punch a hole in a cinderblock wall, and that she can lift dorm furniture without a problem– well, without the weight being a problem, anyway; the size-and-shape related awkwardness of picking up a bunk bed would still be there. Anyway, I know that she grew up basically trying to ignore every demonic aspect of herself, so she probably never was too curious about it. But now that she’s beginning to feel more comfortable with who she is, maybe one day she could wander into a weight room and test out just how much she can comfortably pick up and wield.

          On a similar note, I wonder if she’s stopped being in denial about her dark vision? 😛

          Current score: 0
      • Maahes0 says:

        Also leverage.
        Go find a Kindergartner and have them help up a 6′ tall man from the ground. Pala’s sheer size makes it hard for Mack to help her if she doesn’t stand correctly.

        Current score: 0