A ball of light formed under Tellias’s grip, forcing him to let go of Daetor before it snapped his fingers. Daetor pushed away before Tellias could grab him again. Daetor turned his hands towards the ground. A beam of light sprung from Daetor’s hands and propelled himself upwards. Tellias followed, the tiny engines in his arcplate sending him hurtling after the Lumcaster. Neither of them had any ability to actually fly. It was more of a guided leap.
Tellias drew his arcblade. The weapon was far larger than the personal models utilized by ground troops, and he’d had to re-sheathe it to recharge the arcell. Daetor was lining up a shot on Tellias’ chest, and Tellias kicked his engines on again, pushing himself to side. Daetor’s own blast changed his trajectory.
It was a war of attrition. Daetor’s attacks could damage Tellias’s armor, but it took a great deal of force for him to really do serious injury. However, the Lumcaster could pull far more power than Tellias’ arcells could hold. Conversely, arcplate meant Tellias could fight without tiring for far longer than Daetor, and if Daetor tired before Tellias’s arcells ran out, a single blow would turn the battle in Tellias’s favor.
If he could land the blow. The Lumcaster was surprisingly slippery – Tellias had never seen a Lumcaster use their constructs and beams for propulsion the way Daetor did. It made keeping up with him a nightmare.
During the brief window where Daetor was above the illusion and Tellias below it, Tellias kicked the engines again, coming up at a different angle than Daetor was expecting. He swung his sword in a wild arc, but Daetor brought up a shield of light. Tellias’s arcbade clashed against the barrier, and then they were pushed apart and falling back to the ground. Tellias fired his arcwand and Daetor sent a stream of light streaking his way, but both missed as the tumbled back to the ground.
Daetor was the first to his feet, slowing his descent with his light. Tellias had to twist along the earth to avoid the blasts as they gouged out chunks of grass and dirt. He swung his arcblade, catching the beam along the edge and splitting it in half. The two beams flowed past him, cutting a swath through the nearby trees. The energy in the beams overloaded his armor’s readout and temporarily blinded him.
His vision returned just in time to see Catheon streaking towards him.
Flath! Tellias thought, trying to move the arcblade to intercept. Catheon ducked under the strike and drove a clawed hand into Tellias’s chest, sending him flying backwards. Numbers and words began to flash across Tellias’s visor, displaying concerning terms like “Hull integrity compromised” and “primary arcell damaged” and “Power: 49%”. Tellias barely could process the news as he tumbled across the ground, bouncing until he skidded to a start.
What happened to Tythel? Tellias swung his blade wildly, not even knowing if Catheon was coming. The half-Alohym didn’t appear.
With a single blow, Catheon had badly damaged his arcplate and effectively taken Tellias out of the fight for a few moments. He can’t be that strong, he already would have won. Tellias carefully forced himself to stand and took stock of himself and his surroundings. He had skidded to a halt near a lake, just a few spans away from falling into the water. The birds he’d heard when they’d first entered the valley had fallen silent. Tellias took a moment to orient himself to the valley map Tythel had drawn in the dirt. Catheon had tossed him only thirty spans – only thirty spans! This armor weighs close to forty stone! – but the underbrush he’d passed through hid the battle from him.
Tellias began to trundle back into the forest, assessing the damage done to his arcplate. There was some comfort in the assessment. Catheon’s strike hadn’t been random. He’d hit the exact spot Daetor had been hammering before, a spot in his arcplate that had already been worn thin from multiple blasts of light. Catheon wasn’t strong enough to rend the plate with a single strike – just strong enough to exploit a weakness.
It was a cold comfort. Had Catheon broken away because the fight with Tythel was won? If so, Eupheme and Tellias were already dead. It was just a matter of when the other three would pick them off. But if Tythel was dea- defeated, Tellias though, correcting himself with a furious determination – then Catheon would have stayed on Tellias.
He’d just broken away for a moment, and in doing so, reshaped the odds of his battle with Daetor.
Where are you, coward? Tellias thought, scanning the forest. There wasn’t any traces of active light constructs he could pick up. If Daetor was out there, he was laying in wait.
Or he’d taken advantage of his distraction to aid Leora or Catheon in their fights. Tellias was already pushing himself as fast as the armor would move, but he still tried to get some extra power out of the damaged suit.
Fear made him careless. Daetor’s strike came from above, a sweeping beam of light that crossed the center of Tellias’s chest and sent him staggering backwards. The warnings on his visor began to turn red, including words like “critical power levels” and “imminent catastrophic failure” and, most damningly, “Power: 33%.”
Tellias pushed those fears aside. Daetor was taking aim again.
Desperation fueled Tellias charge towards the Lumcaster, his sword angled to catch the beam on the edge of his blade again. It was like trying to hold the blade deep in a raging river, and Tellias’s advance was ground to a halt. Daetor’s face curled in a sneer. “You’re too late, little Arc Knight. At this point, it’s only a question of what breaks first. Your blade, your armor, your body, or your will. Surrender, and I’ll make it quick.”
Tellias ground his teeth together. It was so bright, he could barely see the Lumcaster, but Tellias didn’t need to see him to know he was right. Daetor was pouring an immense amount of power into the beam, and unlike before he wasn’t letting up. Tellias’s greaves began to slide back in the dirt, drawing deep furrows in the grass.
No. Tellias thought. Steeling himself, he forced the armor to take a step. It was like walking against a hurricane. “No,” he said again, the word coming aloud this time.
“I’m sorry, what was that? You choose a slow death? As you wish – Catheon will be happy with that.” Tellias could see Daetor’s face now. What he’d thought before was a sneer had been the shadows cast by the beam of light, or perhaps just Tellias’s imagination. Daetor didn’t look smug, he didn’t look arrogant. He looked almost sorrowful. “I still might make it quick, to be honest. I’m not a sadist.”
Tellias brought his foot up. The momentary unbalance almost toppled him, but he found it in him to bright the foot back down ahead of where the last step had been. He advanced. “Not…what…I meant.” Tellias said, grunting out the words.
“Oh?” Daetor said.
“My Armor…is holding.” Tellias took another slow, deliberate step. Daetor’s eyes widened as Tellias drew closer. “My blade…is holding.” The next step came faster than the one before it, and Tellias was able to raise his foot almost immediately again. Warning lights on his armor were flashing red now, demanding his attention, but Tellias didn’t care. “My body…is holding.” His steps were coming quicker now, and he had the most beautiful thing on his side all of a sudden – momentum. Daetor was the one clenching his teeth now, light pouring from both his hands. “And my will…will never…break!” The last words came out in a defiant roar, and Tellias was running across the forest floor, the little remaining power in his arcplate pushing with the strength in his legs, the energy of Daetor’s split beam cutting through more of the forest. Daetor’s eyes widened in sudden shock as Tellias closed the gap between them.
It was a beautiful moment. A moment of absolute clarity, the kind of things the bards sing songs about in taverns for centuries afterwards. Tellias had found the strength to cross the battlefield and close the gap between himself and his foe, and there was nothing Daetor could do.
Daetor didn’t need to do anything. When there were only ten spans between them, the power indicator lights on Tellias’s vision flashed “Power: 1%,” followed by all the indicators flashing out. All of a sudden, the armor was just forty stone of dead weight. Tellias would have stumbled forward, but the beam of light was still there, and it sent him tumbling backwards, rolling across the ground for the second time. This time, the armor’s systems that protected him from buffeting were powerless. Tellias was battered like he was in a rockslide, and once again his path nearly took him to the lake.
He could hear Daetor’s approach. “You fought well.” His breath was ragged, and he was panting from the effort. “I want you to know that. Aside from other Lumcasters, Alohym, and dragons, I’ve never fought anything that pushed me as hard as you did.”
Blood was getting into Tellias’s eye. He’d split his forehead. I hope it’s only the skin. Tellias had seen terrible injuries, and could imagine he was laying there with his skull partially split open, not yet aware he was already dead. Shock was settling in.
“I am going to be quick about it. For the fight, if nothing else.” Daetor stood over him, energy building his hand. “Well done, little Arc Knight. Goodbye.”
A frozen moment. A strike. Tellias howled in pain.
The effort of moving his arm against the weight of the dead armor and lifting the immense arcblade, had dislocated his shoulder. Probably his elbow too.
It had still been enough to split Daetor from stem to sternum. Death was near instant. Daetor had just enough time to look surprised.
Tellias knew he was supposed to say something clever here. “You should have split” or “You talk too much” or…something. Something that would establish how completely his victory had been. That’s what always happened when the bards recounted moments like this.
Instead, Tellias threw up from nausea. He was starting to feel cold. Was it from shock? Or was he dying?
He didn’t know.
He just wanted to close his eyes for a bit…