"The rules for this match are simple. Fight until all three fighters on the other team are rendered unable to fight or unconscious. You cannot surrender unless your entire team agrees. If you do not find these rules acceptable then, by all means, forfeit and leave."
Nobody moved. It was clear from the way we were staring at each other that surrender wasn"t an option. The twin horn disciples opposite us looked like they were out for murder with the one in the center, a burly-looking teen with dark eyes, glaring at us like we"d personally offended him. His previous fight had been the most brutal so far, and it had taken my aunt a while to fully heal the steel heart disciple that had faced him. His face spoke of cruelty, and if I was being honest I couldn"t wait to bash it in. I was an arcanist and a fighter, but I did not enjoy inflicting pain for the sake of inflicting pain.
Rohdan of the twin horn did, and the two standing to either side of him weren"t much better. A tall, gangly girl with a blank face and long nails called Turla, and the short teen with a mocking smile and malicious eyes called Vin. It was starting to seem as though all the disciples of the twin horn were pieces of shit, although perhaps they didn"t start that way. Perhaps that"s just what became of them after time in the sect. It wouldn"t be a surprise, considering what I"d heard about them. Not that any of that mattered here.
"Remember the plan," I said, and I didn"t need to look to my allies to know that they nodded.
"On my mark, three, two, one, begin!"
I pushed off with all my strength, using the basic aether burst technique that Zirani had taught me to boost my speed. Rohdan charged to meet me while Turla rushed towards Lucas, who was moving aether to his feet in preparation. I took a moment to glance at Sandra who was moving her hands in an odd pattern while Vin walked up to her casually as though we weren"t in the middle of a three on three fight. I turned back to Rohdan, I had to focus on my own fight and hope that the others could do their part. This starting phase would be the most crucial as we needed to get them on the backfoot and off-balance, but that didn"t rely on me. I just had to match Rohdan and keep him occupied.
His fist struck out at my face when he was only a few feet away, but I ducked and sent a return uppercut at him. He took the blow on his forearm, grunting slightly before he moved forward and stamped the ground. I had been anticipating this. He has been moving aether to his feet while he"d been charging towards me. The ground rippled and bits of stone shot up towards me, but I was ready. I leaped to the side, forming a lashing vine and striking out at his face so he couldn"t attack me while I was in mid-air. He blocked and I landed, my bark armor forming around my fists and shins.
He scoffed when he saw my armor. "Stone armament!"
He began pulling aether from his core and stone began forming over his fists, but I didn"t wait around, dashing in close to take this chance. His eyes widened, apparently, he"d been expecting me to wait. Zirani was right, people who called out their techniques are really stupid. He managed to block my first strike but my second hit him cleanly in the jaw, sending him staggering back. I followed, sending my vine to wrap around his right bicep. I pulled, he staggered, and I jumped, planting a knee beneath his jaw.
"Bastard!" He shouted, and struck out with his now thick stone-covered fist. His attack was telegraphed and easy to dodge. He knew how to fight, but it was more of a brawler style and it seemed he got sloppy when he was angry.
As he glared at me and spit a gob of blood out onto the ground, I took the time to check on my teammates.
Sandra and Vin looked like they were playing a game of tag, which Sandra looked to be winning. Vin"s mocking smile was gone and one eye was shut and bruised, bleeding from a cut on his brow leaking down.
Lucas wasn"t having as good of a time. His robes were torn and his neck looked badly scratched. Her nails were no joke. He needed some help, but from the look on Rohdan"s face, it was clear he wasn"t about to let me, unless…
A plan formed in my head, a risky plan, a very risky plan, but life was full of risks, and while things were currently in our favor that could change. If Lucas fell and Turla moved to attack me or Sandra then this fight would become far harder.
I took a deep breath then turned and ran to Lucas. He glanced over and his eyes widened in confusion, but I just shook my head and made a waiting motion, hoping he"d understand. He didn"t move and Turla looked over at me and Rohdan who was no doubt charging after me. This would be the hard part. I pulled aether from my core, more than I ever had, and moved it down to my hands.
When I was close enough to Lucas, I formed four lashing vines, two on each hand, and sent two to wrap around Lucas while the other shot for Turla. She moved to slash them apart with her nails, but Lucas pushed a hand out and made an odd spiraling motion that ended in a sweeping gesture. Aether shot from his hand in a spirling drill of wind and Turla was forced to dodge, allowing my vines to grab onto her.
Now for the second part of the plan. I stopped and focused on my feet. Aether that I"d moved there shot out, and two bark spikes formed, digging into the ground to anchor me.
"Air jump when I pull!" I shouted to Lucas. When we"d been planning he"d told me about a technique he had that allowed him to jump high into the air.
He nodded, and with all my might, I pulled, using a burst of aether to boost my strength. Turla who had just been about to cut the vines staggered and was pulled, but didn"t move as quickly or strongly as I hoped.
I pulled more aether from my core, sending it into my arms and hands to increase my strength. This was generally a bad idea, as without a proper technique it would cause damage and not give as much of a boost, but I had no choice.
With a roar I pulled and swung Turla around, feeling a heavy impact on my back as I did. I cried out in my pain but didn"t stop. Turla let out a high-pitched scream as she was sent crashing into Rohdan, and at the same, Lucas who had jumped into the air was falling down, a simple air blade technique formed around his right hand. It was the most basic of his techniques, but very effective, especially at our low level. Rohdan and Turla, who had crashed into the ground, didn"t have time to react as his blade sliced down and into Rohdan"s chest. He screamed and was joined a moment later by Turla whose neck was now bleeding profusely.
I panted, my back burning in pain, but instead of falling, I moved forward, and pulled the two lashing vines that I"d attached to Lucas back to myself, and sent them forward to wrap around Rohdan and Turla"s throats. I pulled and squeezed. Their screams cut off but I didn"t stop squeezing until their faces had turned purple and their eyes were shutting closed. I dispersed the vines and toppled, holding back a scream of agony. The act of strengthening myself so crudely, pulling Turla, and the attack on my back had damaged me badly, and as I tried to get up, I felt a wave of vertigo hit me.
I heard voices but I couldn"t make them out and everything turned hazy. I was moments away from throwing up when a soothing wave of blissful energy swept through, dulling the pain and mending my body. The world came back into focus along with half a dozen voices.
I ignored all of it and spoke the most important words.
"Did we win?"
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