With a vicious looking spear strapped to his back, Fiscal of the Talon Clan breathed in deeply as he stepped out into the enormous arena located at the heart of the eastern peak of Sky City. Smiling broadly he took in the sights and smells of one of his favorite places – the Combat Abyss. He had been coming here since he was ten, and had started fighting in bouts only a couple of years later – he had mostly lost at first, naturally, but over time Fiscal had grown stronger, and more vicious, resulting in victory after victory.
By now the Abyss had almost become something like a second home for him; he knew every inch like the back of his hand and could describe every one of the nearly ten thousand shields that covered all the walls inside. He loved the Combat Abyss; here, his temperament was appreciated – here, he was someone.
Of course, ever since the Talon Clan took over the Nightingale Prefecture he was someone out there as well.
With large strides that caused the people around him to scurry out of his way, Fiscal walked over to the section restricted for the one hundred highest ranked mercenary contestants and took a seat on the metal bench marked ‘Top 40’. Looking around at the occupants of the other benches in this area, he counted roughly thirty contestants present – some sitting on the three benches in front of him, but most of them sitting on the six benches behind him.
His smile widened with pride. It had taken him twenty years to get into the top forty on the Combat Abyss’s mercenary ranking and he had only a year ago made the breakthrough – to high Spirit Adept – that made such an accomplishment possible. He was aware that this didn’t mean that he was even in the top hundred, or perhaps even top thousand, spiritualists of the nation as a whole – after all, most Spirit Champions preferred military employment over mercenary life – but he felt prideful about it anyway.
As the sound level in the arena was growing increasingly intense, a movement in the opposing restricted area caught his attention.
‘So the rumors are true,’ he thought with an odd look – halfway between awe and contempt – on his face, ‘Limpkin is back.’
Taking hit seat at the very first row of the section for assassin contestants was a man who, apart form their similar age, contrasted Fiscals appearance in every way. While Fiscal was muscular, dark haired, and covered in metal armor, Limpkin seemed tawny, had grey-blue hair and wore nothing even remotely close to armor.
Even their accomplishments were in stark contrast to each other, for whereas Fiscal had struggled for twenty years to make it to the top forty, Limpkin had only needed ten to break into the top ten, despite not yet having made the breakthrough to Spirit Champion. As such, Limpkin was one of the very few Adepts in Combat Abyss history who had managed to best low Champions in the assassin’s ranking.
The Abyss’s bell rang out in the hall bringing immediate silence from the audience. The gate beneath the exclusive section opened up and the eight Abyss Angels walked out in two neat lines. Already drooling, Fiscal ignored those so called angels and stared at the open gate behind them.
Moments later a true goddess walked out: her hair was like a golden veil that touched the ground behind her; her voluptuous but lithe and elegant body was draped in a white dress so thin it bordered on transparent; her clear, copper rimmed, eyes shone like embers in the torch light. Contrary to the cold expressions on the Angels, this woman smiled warmly. All the new visitors, whom had already been entranced by the eight Angels, nearly lost their minds at the sight of her.
“Damn, that woman drives me crazy,” groaned Fiscal and licked his lips. “One day, I’ll have my way with her . . .” Had niot the two guilds running the Combat Abyss been fiercely protective of the nine ladies currently on stage, Fiscal would have forcefully tried to bed them long ago.
“Spiritualists, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all to the Abyss this night.” the goddess spoke and several men, including Fiscal, started panting heavily with arousal. “We have twenty-three registered battles tonight, five of which are to be Slayings.” The parts of the audience who had retained their wits cheered. “As always, anyone is welcome to make a challenge at any time and contestants above the rank of fifty may not refuse such a challenge.”
Fiscal smirked. ‘What newcomer in their right mind would start of by challenging someone that highly ranked?’ This thought reminded him of his own battle tonight, causing him to turn his head around. With a smug smile, Fiscal’s eyes fell on a slightly older man sitting a few benches behind him.
‘Bill, you obstinate fool,’ Fiscals smile grew malicious as their eyes met, ‘had you accepted the Talons, like I did, then perhaps you would still be stronger than me! Tonight I will pay you back for how you’ve treated me. . . .’ Fiscal was just opening his mouth when the Abyss’s goddess spoke again, snapping his attention back to the stage.
“Remember that, in a bout, it is strictly forbidden to continue fighting once one party has forfeited.” The woman waved her hand and in perfect synchronization the eight Angels spread out along the rim of the fighting stage. As they took their places a soft hum filled the air as a pale membrane spread out between them, isolating the stage within.
“A request has been made,” continued the Goddess, “tonight we will start with the Slayings. First up: Fiscal of the Talon Clan, mercenary rank 39, versus Bill of the Talon Clan, mercenary rank 68.”
For a moment Fiscal was surprised – Slayings were usually saved for last – but it quickly turned to vicious glee as he looked up at the exclusive area.
‘The boss wants me to set an early example . . . ,’ he concluded, ‘count me in!’
As Fiscal and Bill made their way towards the stage, the thousands of people in the audience started discussing the upcoming match.
“This is a no-brainer, this one…”
“Bill’s only a borderline mid Adept, no way he’s gonna win.”
“Limpkin can defeat people of higher cultivation, perhaps Bill . . .”
“Are you an idiot? How could you even compare them?”
“I heard Bill’s the one who made the challenge though.”
Once the two fighters reached the middle of the stage, a huge steel cage was lowered down around them, sealing them within. This was done for every Slaying and indicated that only one would leave it alive.
Fiscal unhooked the spear on his back and let his spirit essence surge through it so everyone could tell that he was indeed a high Adept. Sneering he glared at his opponent “Do you regret it now, Bill, resisting the Talons? We both know you won’t leave this place alive. If you at least admit your mistake, I will make your death a painless one.”
Bill’s face was growing red with rage. “You traitor! I don’t care what that witch says – I will never be a Talon!”
Fiscal laughed mockingly. This was exactly the response he had been hoping for – a messy death was always more amusing. “You are calling me a traitor? How ironic.”
A slightly muffled bell rang out indicating the start of the match and with a roar Bill dashed towards Fiscal with his sword held high. Spirit essence swirled around the blade, instantly covering it in apple green flames causing the temperature in the hall to rise slightly.
“Oh, that’s Bill’s signature move, the level four Divine Skill Blade of Borax! That’s a Prefecture Clan for you – even the normal members have fairly high level skills,” exclaimed someone in the audience in awe, but Fiscal only snorted.
He flexed his spear arm and deflected the incoming blade with ease and then using the blunt end of the spear to strike back at the head of the still advancing Bill. There was not a lot of force behind the strike, barely enough to disrupt Bill’s balance, but enough for Fiscal to easily step out of Bill’s path. Practically no one noticed the blackish green shimmer that had covered his stick on impact only to fade seconds later.
“Impressive! He deflected a level four skill so easily! Can you tell what skill he used?” asked another in the audience, but he got no answers.
“Haha, you wield a blade like a girl – all show and no action!” Fiscal laughed and thrust his hips forward repeatedly in an obscene gesture. The few women in the audience booed, but the sound was drowned out by cheering men, the eight Angels around the stage remained stone faced, but the goddess – now seated in the exclusive section – narrowed her eyes noticeably.
Bill grunted and attacked once more. What followed could be explained by nothing else then a cat playing with his food; Bill would continue to charge at Fiscal, utilizing the Blade of Borax, but every time, Fiscal deflected it before giving Bill a light smack with his spear, finally following up with insults on Bill’s manhood. By now’ the right side of Bill’s face had swelled immensely, his eyes were blood-shot and his breathing was growing ever more ragged.
“It’s the level four Deflective Secret Spear!” The crowd finally realized what Divine Skill Fiscal was using to avoid the blows. “Unless Bill has a higher level skill, he won’t stand a chance. . . .”
Eventually, Fiscal got bored of only using the blunt end of his weapon and switched to lashing out with the spear head instead. It didn’t take long before Bill’s body was covered in cuts, slowly seeping blood. Interestingly enough, Bill did not change his tactic, and he seemed to rush at Fiscal with almost frenzied anger.
At this point, when Bill attacked for perhaps the hundredth time, Fiscal finally increased the amount of spirit essence he was deploying and instead of merely deflecting the blade, the entire sword was blasted out of Bill’s hand. Nonetheless, Bill kept going, and instead took a swing at Fiscal with his fist. Amused, Fiscal simply ducked under the arm and retaliated with a punch of his own.
Spitting out a mouth-full of blood, Bill flew across the stage and slammed into the cage. Barely conscious, Bill slumped on the ground.
Fiscal walked over and hoisted Bill up by the collar. “No, no, no,” he said, “you are not allowed to faint now, old fool. Don’t you remember the drills you forced me through as a kid?” Fiscal slapped the already swollen face, “no rest until you fight like a man! Remember?”
Another couple of slaps. The crowd grew silent; they could tell the match was about to come to an end and were excited to see how Fiscal would choose to end it.
“Come on! Stop being such a woman!” With a bloody hand Fiscal slapped Bill yet again before whispering in the latter’s ear “Is this the best a Nightingale-loving sissy can pull off?”
Suddenly a shiver ran through his body and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Instinctively he looked up in fear but he almost snorted at his idiocy as he did it. Turning his focus back to the bloody lump of a human in his grasp, he was about to deliver his seventh slap when a clear and icy voice pierced the air.
“I wonder, what gives you the right to insult me so?”
Everyone immediately turned looked around for the person who had spoken, but due to the construction of the arena, determining where the sound had originated was not easy.
“Who speaks?” yelled Fiscal. He had been quite pleased with his choice of final words to Bill, and now the moment had been ruined.
“Who am I?” this time people were prepared and thousands of gazes fell on a short black figure graciously moving down one of the stairways towards the stage. “Let’s just say I’m a representative of the so called lesser sex.”
The entire body of this figure was covered by the hooded robe worn on top, but observing the flowing, almost feline, way the person moved, no one doubted that this short person was, indeed, a woman.
“As such, Fiscal Talon, I challenge you, right now; let’s see if you are still so cocky after fighting a real woman!”
Fiscal stared at the black figure, whom had come to a halt right outside of the circle made by the eight Abyss Angels, in utter disbelief. A woman wanted to fight him? Was this a joke? Noticing that the woman seemed to be staring at him intensely, Fiscal burst out laughing!
“Haha, sure little girl, I’ll play around with you for a while! Just let me take care of this first.” Fiscal fished out a dagger and was about to sink it into Bill’s throat when the melodious voice of the Abyss Goddess boomed out into the arena.
“Stop! A challenge has been made by a newcomer. As per the rules of the Combat Abyss, ranked participants must accept such a challenge immediately. The Slaying will be put on hold until after the challenge has been answered.”
“What!?” Fiscal was noticeably shocked. What the Goddess said was not exactly false but interpreting the rule in this way so that it would lead to postponing an ongoing fight was unheard of. Then again, so was challenging someone while they were already fighting.
“Newcomer,” the Goddess ignored Fiscal’s outburst, “in accordance with the rules, you are welcome up on stage to partake in a bout against the man you’ve challenged. Likewise, it will only be a bout, if either of you call for a forfeit the fight will be over.”
The back figure curtsied deeply as the huge cage creaked and was slowly raised back up to hang above the stage. Two of the Abyss Angels moved forward to collect the now completely unconscious Bill from Fiscal, who tossed the former to the ground grudgingly. All this was getting on his nerves.
“Little girl,” he neglected to retrieve the spear from the ground and instead tossed his dagger from one hand to the other, “you should know better than to interrupt a man when he is fighting. You need a spanking!” He wasn’t the only man laughing at that. “But if you beg and plead, we can move this tumble to another arena.” Fiscal smiled wolfishly at the covered girl; although it was impossible to say much about the body beneath, her movements were enticing enough to have him interested.
There was a few heartbeats of silence, and for a moment Fiscal thought the girl was actually considering it – the girl was even shaking in fear – but suddenly an icy cold giggle bubbled out from under the fabrics covering the girl’s face. Slapping her knees, the short woman bent over herself, laughing. Although the laughter was filled with much amusement, most who heard it felt cold to the core.
“What’s so funny?” asked Fiscal angrily just as the muffled bell rang out to indicate the start of the bout.
The girl stilled and straightened up and Fiscal could have sworn he saw a flash of red under her hood.
“Why, it’s you, silly,” she said and disappeared.
Acting on reflex, Fiscal turned just in time to use his small dagger to intercept the black short sword aiming for his throat from behind.
“Bitch! How dare you sneak attack me?” He used his other hand to swing at the girl but she was long gone before his fist even came close.
“To say that you have the aim of a girl,” the girl stood over by his discarded spear, “would be an insult to my own sex.”
“Why you little wench!” A large vein was bulging on Fiscal’s forehead; the girl’s comment had clearly hit a sore spot. He started running towards her but she ignored his approach and instead bent down to pick up his spear, paying extra attention to the dull end.
“So it was poison,” her comment was absentminded but Fiscal turned cold; he had been given that poison by his boss, it should be nearly undetectable.
Fiscal hadn’t been the only one who heard the girl and suddenly the entire arena was buzzing with conversation.
“Fiscal used poison?”
“I thought Bill was acting a bit weird, attacking like crazy. . . .”
Fiscal felt his vein bulge even more; although poison wasn’t forbidden in the Combat Abyss it was generally frowned upon. This little girl’s revelation would ruin his reputation for years!
“Girl, don’t think that just because I was surprised a moment ago, I can’t crush your neck in a heartbeat.” Fiscal pumped his spirit essence out into his hands, causing swirls of wind to start surging around them. Every spiritualist present could feel that he was indeed a high Adept.
“That’s another level four skill,” muttered some in the audience.
“The girl is a goner. . . .” muttered others.
To everyone’s surprise the girl showed no reaction to his display of power. Instead, she calmly weighed the spear in her hand, feeling the balance of the weapon.
“Do you want to know what I live for?” she suddenly asked.
Fiscal blinked; he had not expected such a question and he couldn’t help but lose some of the focus on his anger.
“Well do you?” the girl asked again.
“To become the woman of a strong man?” he suggested mockingly but a shiver down his spine stopped him from laughing.
“I live to rid the world of people like you,” whispered the girl as oddly murderous spirit essence flowed to her limbs.