The stage was littered with broken pieces of the mannequins and various weapons that had been dropped as students were whisked away. She walked over to an axe and picked it up. It was heavy in her hands, but she was used to this. Maybe she didn’t have the strongest Attribute, but she knew how to use what she had.
“My name is Ya Nu Amaryllis,” she said conversationally as she circled him with the axe in hand.
Lucas was prematurely taken aback by her calm, but he quickly readjusted himself. He smiled indulgently although it did not reach his eyes. “Greetings. I’m Lucas Lobelia, but you already know that.” He glanced down at the axe and noted that she carried it easily in one hand.
That moment his eyes flickered downwards was the opening she needed. She effortlessly threw the axe in his direction and dived for her next weapon. Lucas saw it coming and he easily ducked as it passed overhead. “Bo!” Ya Nu called. At once, all the veins in her body blazed a deep red, eerily illuminating through her skin as her Attribute flared - the physical signs of her STAND-ard in use, a fire magician. Right behind Lucas, the passing axe burst into flames and exploded. Lucas was caught off guard and he was thrust forward by the force.
Ya Nu did not wait to see the outcome. She had to throw everything at him while she had the upper hand. She pivoted on the heels of her feet and flung the long sword that she’d recovered from the ground. It flew straight at a bowed Lucas, who just had a moment to raise his arm in an attempt to block, but Ya Nu again called for her Spirit Bo and the sword ignited. The small vial she’d attached to its grip burst in an explosion, as had happened with the axe.
During the first half of the ongoing battles, coincidentally she learned that anything the students carried on themselves upon entering the arena was free to use. This exam had not been set up to be a fair fight. It never was. Unlike the Marigolds and Lobelias of the world, she did not have an easy upbringing. Awake or sleeping, she made sure to carry useful materials on her body. Back when she was 10 years-old, Ya Nu had realized that with her abilities, combustible and flammable materials was useful to always have around.
Ya Nu successively exploded two more weapons in Lucas’ direction before saving her last vial, waiting for the dust to settle and assess his condition. The instructors hadn’t jumped in yet, and she took it as a sign that this wasn’t over. She attached her last vial to a dagger and watched the air clear.
She’d managed to stop the crowd’s chants with her continuous explosions. There was a stillness in the audience as a result, surprised at her firepower and containing their excitement. She could feel the tension. The spectators watched with bated breaths. Now everyone was waiting to see how Lucas would counter, if he was still in one piece to do it.
From the dust cloud and rubble, Lucas crawled out on his hands and knees. He was covered in scarlet armor, the deep red accentuated by his white hair. Armor made of his own blood, Ya Nu realized. And she also understood it wasn’t just his rare Attribute that made him special; with that level of control over his Attribute, he was admirably strong for his age. But she also wasn’t the one bleeding profusely between them.
Sweat had soaked her brow and dripped down her chin. The inside of her jumpsuit was a bath. Her mind raced in calculating the next move as her adversary climbed to his feet, a little unsteadily. She wondered, how much blood did a BLOOD-Y have to lose to be taken down? Blood may be their weapon, but they were only human. If long range wasn’t working, then she had to get up close. She had seen what he’d done with the two students before, but with the right movements she had a chance to out maneuver him. Judging by how exhausted he appeared, she had a good chance.
She forced confidence into her voice and said, “You look like a ghost.”
He didn’t humor her this time and instead asked softly, “Are you done yet?”
This unnerved her. She gritted her teeth and raised her dagger. Without any more preamble, she rushed towards him. As expected, all the attacks he’d endured had worn him down. He didn’t try dodging. He was much slower in parrying her dagger with his scarlet armored arms. She made sure no part of her body touched him for long where he could pin her with those monstrous spikes. The pointed blade of her weapon chipped away pieces of his hardened armor, and she guessed it was because of his weakening consciousness.
Ya Nu lunged with her dagger – he parried. Back and forth. They shuffled across the stage until he suddenly flung out his defensive arms. He’d challenged her continuous onslaught with that one move and she questioned her next attack. She pulled back to catch her breath.
Likewise, Lucas was panting. Yet, he remained unfazed meeting her eyes with his bloodshot, red ones. He asked again, “Done?”
Annoying. He was so annoying and she’d had enough. Unlike a Lobelia, she didn’t have any honor on the line. It didn’t matter to her whether she was the last or second to last one standing in this exam. She’d been in many life and death situations, and this wasn’t the latter. So be it. Heaving a large breath, she tucked the dagger and her vial into the belt of her jumpsuit. He didn’t know she had a last vial and that she wasn’t going to use it. That fact was important to her.
Taking several steps back to create some distance between them, she said, “What will you do? Chase me? You can’t outrun me now. And I will dodge anything you throw. You’re more tired than I am. If I drag out this fight, I will win.” But that was not a winner’s victory. If he was capable of ending this battle on his terms, then she was prepared to see what he could do. But she wasn’t going to make it easy.
They had been standing motionless for too long. The audience booed.
Lucas took a step into the puddle she was standing in. He was too confident. “You’re not the only one with an advantage. My teammate. He set up the field for me.” He gestured at their feet. “As long as my blood is mixed in fluid, I can control it.”
Ya Nu looked down at the ground, at her feet soaked in the muddied bloody water, and she understood. She gasped and reacted later, scrambling to remove herself from the puddle but it was already over. The bloodied water rose to coil around her body, masked the bottom half of her face and over her mouth, and it solidified. It tightened until her chest was restricted and she fought to just breathe. Lucas closed the distance between them and his scarlet armor melted off him combining into a lance in his left hand. He pointed the sharp tip at her heart. “I caught you,” he said.
The instructors were not coming to Ya Nu’s rescue. Not until she was down. She stared back at Lucas’ calculating red eyes and willed him to just do it and get it over. But he wasn’t intent on cutting into her chest. He raised his lance, then pressed it to her skull between the eyes. For the first time since the exam began, Ya Nu felt fear. Her muscles tensed. How far was he going to push this? There were other saner options to take her out.
He started drilling in his lance, breaking her skin. Her mouth had been secured by his binding, and she couldn’t scream.
It was too real, too much. Like her own nightmare. Extreme shock and fear overwhelmed her until she saw red and black. Her rigid body went limp. A white glow encompassed her form to enforce a shield and halt Lucas’ intended torture. The instructors’ intervention.
Finally, an instructor moved in and Lucas readily let his adversary go, allowing Ya Nu to be removed. His color returned to its natural state as he released his BLOOD-Y. Muddy water and his blood lance liquefied into a pool at his feet.
The excited crowd jumped up with fists pumped in the air, thumping with their feet and shouting with all their might. Their chant started up again. LOBELIA. BLOODY. LOBELIA. BLOODY. The announcer screamed into her mic, “OUR WINNER! LUCAS LOBELIA! 100 points for defeating Ms. Amaryllis! 500 additional points as the last man standing! Here, we conclude the Newcomer Rankings Entry Exam of Class of 1120 NE! Ladies and gentlemen, give your applause for the efforts our new students!” Receiving their claps of approval, the stage was empty except for the one final student with his back turned to them.
Unbeknownst to everyone, Lucas was catching his breath with a trembling hand pressed to his chest, feeling for his wildly pounding heart and understanding his own fearful actions. He’d broken out in cold sweat. He could’ve killed the girl or disabled her for life. And this was what his had friend wanted him to do. He realized how crazy it was.
Earlier while the others students scattered for the scavenger hunt, Lucas stepped out of the hall and waited for his roommate just inside the doors to the outside. Za joined him later. “An exam can’t be this simple,” Lucas said as Za stepped out into the pouring rain and moved to stand complacently under the wet onslaught. Lucas reluctantly followed when Za undid the front of his jumpsuit and bared his naked torso in the open.
“It’s a battle royale,” Za muttered.
“I see. Then I should be fine,” Lucas said, confident in his fighting abilities.
Then he stared in disbelief when Za pulled out a pocket knife and began carving into his chest and down his stomach. Lucas winced although his friend’s expression showed no change. While his BLOOD-Y required wounds to draw blood, he still couldn’t imagine the pain of i-VORYs. Somehow, it looked worse. “What are you doing?”
“Collecting rainwater,” Za said. Each cut into his skin was immediately sealed as the heavy rain pelted onto it, ivory tendrils marking where the cuts had been. No movement was wasted. The process was too skillful and smooth.
“For what?” Lucas asked, intrigued.
“For you. I’ll set the field for you,” Za said.
Lucas was taken aback. “What about you?”
Lucas sighed and guessed his roommate’s intent. “I’m part of your experiment? What do you need to know?”
A curiosity shone in Za’s eyes and Lucas unknowingly shuddered. “How far students can push the boundaries,” Za said. “For now, you’re the perpetrator.”
Therefore, the puddles scattered throughout the stage were arranged. In consequence, Za carried enough serious cuts on his body to be removed from the exam once all of his self-inflicted wounds were open.
He was crazy. And Lucas couldn’t believe he’d taken up that bargain. ‘Why me?’ was the question Lucas should’ve asked out there in the rain, but it was an answer he could certainly guess. Lucas would subconsciously stop himself from killing the other students.