Chapter 323: Standstill
The world had suddenly turned white. Stryg’s body felt numb. The grit of sand filled his mouth. He was on the ground, lying on his back. He couldn’t move. His ears rang with a painful screech.
The sensation of pain was the first feeling that returned to him and it stretched all over his body. Votum’s final strike had destroyed all of his durability scales into nothing but yellow dust. He could feel warm blood flowing over his chest, but he couldn’t tell from where.
He slowly glanced at his right hand. His fingers were covered in blood, still clenched around Nameless’ hilt. The sword’s blade extended out from the hilt a mere 4 inches in a jagged broken line. The remnants of Nameless were scattered in a slew of silver shards over the bloodied sand.
A painful cry escaped his lips.
Gian had gifted him Nameless, he had entrusted him with a forged sword of Gale, as was the custom for a child of Gale who had come of age. Gian had accepted him, despite his failures. Stryg couldn’t save Clypeus, but Gian had accepted him as one of their own. And now the symbol of that acceptance lay broken in the sand.
His eyes burned, tears pooled at the corners.
“...ger!! Use the dagger!!” Sylvie’s voice echoed from the stands.
Dagger? Oh… right…
Stryg looked down at his leg. A short dagger was strapped to his thigh. Up to two weapons were allowed for each duelist. Sylvie had picked out the dagger, she thought it the best choice among the weapon racks. She had been upset when he had opted to not even draw it during his last duel.
With stiff fingers, Stryg drew the dagger from its sheath and stared at the plain steel. He had to admit, it had a clean, sharp edge. The blacksmith had done a quality job.
“Now stand up and fight!” Sylvie shouted. “Don’t give up! Fight!”
Stryg laughed bitterly to himself, his ribs hurting with each breath he took. What could a simple dagger do against that…
Votum shook with searing power, Unalla’s hand burned just from holding it. She let go of the hilt, but it was too late. Painful spasms wracked her body. She dropped to her knees and she coughed up a mouthful of blood.
Her vision faded at the edges, she struggled to stay conscious. The wave of pain gradually swept over her until all she was left with was a dull ache reverberating through her body.
Breathe, just breathe… she thought to herself as she gulped down ragged breaths.
She had pushed herself too hard. Votum had allowed her to be its current wielder, but she was well aware she was not the sword’s true owner. It took all of her energy and focus to draw out a fragment of Votum’s power. This time she had drawn too much.
I didn’t have a choice…
Unalla rubbed her neck. Five bloody scratches curled around her throat. If she had been one second too slow the goblin would have torn out her throat with those unnervingly sharp claws.
Unalla stared grimly at the goblin lying on the sand in the distance. His swordsmanship was lacking, but the Gale Style was not. And his strength… his innate strength coupled with the vigor magic was frightening.
She hated to admit but for a brief moment, he had overwhelmed her in close combat.
The blue goblin suddenly moaned in anguish. He dragged himself with his arms towards the remnants of his shattered sword.
Unalla felt a pang of guilt. She knew how much a sword meant to a swordsman. He was her enemy, but she sympathized with his loss.
Unalla sighed tiredly, reached out, and grabbed Votum’s hilt. A sharp pain shot up her hand the moment her fingers brushed the hilt. She winced with clenched teeth and grasped the hilt tight. With a shaky stance, she stood up slowly and turned to her fallen foe.
“This didn’t have to be this way…” Unalla said softly.
The goblin didn’t respond. She wasn’t even sure he heard her, or if he could hear at all. He had taken a direct hit from Votum’s jade slash. Even his Yellow scales couldn’t protect him from such power.
The goblin drew a small dagger from a sheath strapped to his leg and looked toward her.
You still want to fight!? Unalla frowned. “Why…? Just give up already! You can’t even stand, let alone evade Votum’s attacks!”
The goblin leaned on his elbows and sat up with a painful grimace. His breath was shallow, but his lilac eyes were clear.
“You know what Votum is, right!?” Unalla yelled in exasperation. “You know I’m a swordmaster! Why keep fighting!? You’ve already lost! I don’t want to kill you! Just tell me what I want to know!”
“...You’re right,” Stryg mumbled and tossed the dagger aside.
Unalla sighed with relief and lowered her blade, “Then tell me, what does the Monster want with House Noir? What are they planning together?”
Stryg didn’t answer. He shifted his legs and crouched low, as if ready to sprint.
Unalla frowned, “Again with that stance? Do you think you can dodge Votum’s wind eruptions? You can’t even stand, you fool! Let go of your pride already! The fight is over!”
Stryg silently stared at her with determination.
“Fine, so be it…” she sighed frustratedly.
“No, Stryg, run!” Feli screamed desperately from the stands.
“Even your lover sees reason, why can’t you?” Unalla shook her head and raised Votum, its black blade pointed at the goblin, “You brought this upon yourse–!”
Unalla’s voice was cut short as her throat suddenly tightened. She clutched at her neck, gasping for breath. Grey curse sigils steadily bloomed over her collarbones and crept across her neck until they formed a collar.
How did he…!? When did he…!? Unalla’s eyes widened in panic, When he grabbed my neck earlier!?
No, that couldn’t be! It had only been for a moment. He was trying to tear out her throat!
“You’re right, Unalla…” Stryg said calmly.
I need to get this off me! Unalla scratched at the fragile grey sigils, tearing them apart one by one.
“...You are a swordmaster and I am not,” Stryg dug his fingers into the sand, “I am just a goblin, the runt of the tribe who spent his childhood writing in the dirt.”
Stryg pulled a large ring of sigils out from the white sand. The ring wrapped around his wrist like a manacle, ethereal grey chain links hanging at its end.
“But even a tribal runt can rise above the expectations of others,” Stryg snapped the chains taut.
A multitude of ethereal chains exploded from the sand all around the arena and shot out towards its target, the grey collar around Unalla’s neck. In the blink of an eye the chains wrapped around the drow’s limbs. Her body stiffened to a halt and Votum slipped out of her fingers and dropped onto the ground with a heavy thud.
Stryg pushed himself to his feet and walked towards her, the ethereal manacle in one hand and the hilt of Nameless in the other.
Unalla desperately tried to move, but she couldn’t twitch a finger. She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t even call out to Votum. She tried summoning forth her Orange mana to burn through the chains, but her mana lay dormant in her heart, unresponsive.
“The Standstill Curse takes a while to cast, I admit,” Stryg said. “It requires several casting locations, each building around the other until they have completely surrounded the primary target. However, once the focal sigil has been etched onto the primary target, then the cursed individual can do nothing to stop it.”
He wasn’t just running away…!? Unalla thought, shocked.
Panic rose deep within her as she watched Stryg walk closer and closer until he was right in front of her.
“I told you, didn't I?” Stryg stared at her with cold lilac eyes. “I hate the Noirs. I don’t see why you’re any different.”
He flipped Nameless’ hilt into a reverse grip and stabbed the broken blade into her left shoulder. She moaned in agony. Tears streamed down her blue-grey cheeks, but her face stayed still, bereft of emotion.
“I’m not working with the Noirs or the Monster in the Dark,” Stryg pulled out the sword.
Blood seeped out from her left shoulder and dripped over her frozen arm.
“That doesn’t mean a Noir gets to accuse me of what happened at Widow's Crag,” Stryg snarled and stabbed Nameless into her right shoulder.
A sound like a wounded animal crying leaked out of Unalla’s lips. The veins around her face and neck bulged with pain, but still, her body did not move.
Stryg pulled Nameless out from her shoulder and pointed its broken bloodied edge over Unalla’s throat. He narrowed his eyes and leaned forward until she could feel his breath on her face.
“You broke my sword, you deserve to die,” he hissed.
Unalla’s heartbeat thrummed in her ears. She wanted to scream, she wanted to run, but all she could do was stare into the eyes of her death.
Stryg abruptly pulled the blade back. He slowly stepped back, turned around, and walked away. He snapped his fingers and released the curse. The ethereal chains cracked and broke apart into grey light before fading away. Unalla collapsed on the ground, breathlessly. She gasped for air as blood pooled around her body.
“...W-why…?” she mumbled weakly and confused.
Stryg paused in his steps, though he did not look back. “...Loh has lost enough family, she doesn’t need to lose anymore.”
“I thought… you… hated… the Noirs…?” she mumbled through panted breaths.
Stryg ignored her and kept walking.
“NALLA OF FROST RIM IS UNABLE TO CONTINUE THE FIGHT!” Janne Stemme shouted.
“STRYG OF HOLLOW SHADE IS THE UNDISPUTED VICTOR!!” Mark Stemme announced happily.