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    Svedka -- Year 212


    “He only knows home in his dreams and even those dreams do not mimic large, centuries-old redwoods. Lio doesn't remember the last time he laid his head down and truly felt comfortable.” --Elio, written by Phaetra

    ROUND TWO: Kensley v. Gale
    2 attacking posts each, 1 final defensive post – 5 days between posts.
    One 2-day extension per person if needed
    Attacks can be multiple things, i.e. Albert attempts to bite Rose's neck and then kicks at her knee. Counter-attacks and attacks are all counted as attacks.
    Complete dodges are allowed, but for the sake of realism, be careful when using these.
    Traits allowed.
    No editing posts.
    1,000 word limit.
    Kensley posts first unless otherwise agreed upon.

    SETTING: Actively raining, muddy. Early morning, still mostly dark.

    Gender: Stallion
    Height: 16hh, anglo-arab build
    Abilities: Undead, Shattering


    Gender: Male
    Body Type & Height: 16hh; medium/medium-heavy build - like a Welsh Cob
    Abilities: wings, spinal mane, self-healing, vision manipulation, faun horns, companion animal (Osprey)
    [Image: Leah.png]
    The plains are not as friendly this time around (though it would have been a stretch to call them friendly to begin with). The rain falls in sheets and whatever early morning sun that might have struggled up over the horizon is mostly obscured by clouds. From what he can see, the terrain is mostly mud punctuated by the same rocks that had dotted the plain during the last round. It will make footing tricky, but he is grateful that he will not have to worry about the pain of a strained muscle. This is perhaps the only upside to being undead (the only one he’s found anyway): his inability to feel pain. It had certainly paid off in the last round. 

    His attention does not linger on the terrain long, though. He shifts his focus abruptly to his opponent, though he can barely make him out through the sheets of steady rain. If not for the stark white wings, he might not have been able to make out the shape of his opponent at all. From this distance, the most he can ascertain is that the stallion is winged and roughly Kensley’s height, though a little heavier in build. 

    There is a thick knot of tension in the cavern of his chest as he hesitates on the edge of the battlefield just long enough to decide on a course of action. He’d waited for his opponent to come to him the last time, but he is on the offensive now. Standing there in the rain, he forces himself to drag in a breath just for the comfort the gesture brings. He has never been a particularly aggressive creature and, despite the anger that had roiled in his gut through the last round, he is not especially thrilled to have to make the first move this time. It makes him nervous, hesitant, but he tries to force the feeling back beneath the surface where it cannot hinder him. 

    He springs suddenly into action, hoping that his rapidly darkening coat will make him harder to spot through the heavy rain and relative darkness. It only half-matters, though, because he has a plan to distract the winged stallion. He knows that his opponent likely will not merely stand in one place and wait for him to come to him, regardless of whether or not he can see Kensley clearly through the rain, and he will have to pull the stallion’s attention away from him in order to increase his chances for a successful attack. 

    He canters toward the winged stallion, mindful of his footing, which is not great but he thinks it’ll be alright until he has to start dodging or feinting. He scopes out a fairly clear path across the muddy, rocky terrain and tries to stick to it as he approaches. When he is only a few feet away, he swings his gaze over to a boulder off to his left and concentrates hard on it the same way he’d concentrated on his last opponent’s horns. The boulder shatters, which he hopes will distract the winged stallion enough that his attention will be elsewhere when Kensley strikes.

    He knows that he will need to keep his opponent grounded in order to have any chance at beating him, so he’ll have to attack the wings first. His nerves have not dissipated by the time he reaches his opponent but they’re easier to ignore with the heady surge of adrenaline that comes as he makes the necessary adjustments to bring himself perpendicular to Gale’s left shoulder (facing him and hoping that Gale’s attention has been drawn to his right by the shattering boulder). 

    He slows instead of stopping abruptly, acutely aware that a sudden stop would almost certainly result in him losing his footing and collapsing in the mud. He comes to the quickest gradual stop he can manage before pushing himself into a rear, striking out in hopes of hitting his opponent’s wing joint. He wants to keep the stallion on the ground, certain that aerial attacks would be harder to defend. If Gale leaps out of the way, he hopes to at least strike his deltoid or tricep muscles. Striking his shoulder would likely do little to keep Gale on the ground but it might at least slow him down some. Or perhaps he will strike another part of the wing, in which case he can only hope to strike a bone that will render the wing useless. 

    He knows he is leaving his own side vulnerable to the winged stallion’s teeth with the way he positions himself, but the fact that he is impervious to pain helps quell whatever worry he might have felt about leaving himself exposed when he strikes.
    At first the brindle stallions thinks the smell in the air is something like the acrid scent of ozone after a lightning strike. Except…there has been no lightning, only this constant grey drizzle, and the smell grows stronger as the other horse approaches. Gale tilts his head, the wet flop of his spinal mane falling now to the left, and his navy nostrils flare as he takes deep breath. There is something off about the gray horse, something that sets the back of the pegasus’ neck to tingling.

    The last stallion Gale battled had seemed a normal horse. This one though, with his wingless sides and hornless brow, smells most decidedly not. Gale keeps one brilliant eye on the dappled horse as he approaches at a canter. Gale is less eager to run in the mud, remembering too well the bloody scrapes he’d gotten from this same earth in his previous battle. Instead, he remains still, wary, his wings half flared, the wrist of them pulled up level with his flicking ears in an instinctive effort to appear larger. It has worked on predators these last six years protecting Islandres, and he means to use it to earn his home the magical immunity that the Alliance grants. With that, they will be safe from what has happened in Loess, Taiga, Nerine, and Pangea this last year.

    It is hard to hear the other’s feet over the rain, but the heavy splashes of a canter are easier than the soft steps of a walk. Gale is focused on his hearing when the explosion comes, and winces as the boulder to Kensley’s left shatters. The sound startles him, and his wings fall to his sides just as Kensley begins to slow from his canter.  His monocular vision makes keeping both the boulder (or the place where the boulder had once been) and his opponent in his line of sight a simple task, but his attention is split. Further divided, even, as Erne gives a disgruntled shrill from the wet sky overhead, startled from his own rocky perch and now headed upward and away from the pitched battle.

    So when Kensley rears to strike, Gale is just a moment slow to react. The brief time it takes to refocus his attention allows his foe to get the upper hand. The other horse’s hooves slam down, landing on Gale’s wing-covered shoulder. There are few bones in the wing, and due to the hanging position those are out of the way of Kensley’s strike. The feathers are not though, and Gale feels the pop of several of the secondaries being plucked from the tender skin of his left wing’s forearm. Most of the brunt of the blow is taken by the thick muscle of Gale’s shoulder. The blow shoves him off balance, forced to brace more of his weight on his right side, and his head ducks to counter-balance and keep from falling.

    The forced motion makes it suddenly clear that he will not be attacking in this battle the way he had his fight with Ashhal. No, this will be a more rapid-fire confrontation, with his offensive strikes made quickly and without much consideration. ‘Like fighting the hyenas that live in the dry parts of Islandres’, Gale is thinking, ‘No mercy, for they’ll show you none in return’. 

    Gale shoves himself to the left with the momentum that comes from rocking his weight back again, and he swings his horned head up and to the left as quickly as he can. He means to catch the extended right side of Kensley’s body, lifted to a higher target by the grey’s rear. A swing like that can knock a ninety-pound hyena nose over stubby flag tail and scored their spotted flesh with twin ivory points. He doesn’t have an exact target in mind – the lower chest, the armpit, even higher on the neck if Kensley has started to drop from his rear. The momentum of that swing brings his hind end skittering round to the left, pivoting on his mud-planted left foreleg

    The leg he pivots on protests this treatment, for Kensley’s heavy hooves had bruised the flesh of the shoulder. There is stiffness and a throbbing ache that has lessened only a fraction from what it had been at impact. The magic that reknits his rent skin and mends his shattered bones is not quick to heal injuries that are so far from a death sentence. (Gale is inclined to think that the magic is trying to teach him to avoid blows entirely, though he is not yet so skilled as that.)

    His expertise is other areas, such as the firm press of a manufactured illusion into Kensley’s mind. If Gale is successful, the other horse will see a thick wall of flame shoot up a few yards ahead, a realistic inferno that reaches nearly ten feet tall and stretches twice as wide in a semi-circle ahead of Kensley. Gale hopes fear of fire would keep Kensley from it, and force the battle into close quarters and a quick (if vicious) ending. There are a number of ways even this well-practiced manipulation of a burning image might fail, not the least of which being the lack of sound or heat radiating from it as it would from a true fire, nor the unfamiliar pathways of his grey opponent’s brain. Gale does not linger long in there, for the pathways he can feel around the other’s eyes are somehow already empty, much too still for a living mind.

    He folds both wet wings to his sides and backs away from Kensley, abandoning his casting of the fire vision after only a few seconds. If he has done well enough, that’s all it will take to force Kensley back to face him directly. Remembering the shattered rock, Gale wonders how long it will be before the other horse will attempt to turn some or all of his body into gravel-sized bits of equine.
    Kensley longs so dreadfully for a pulse. How he wishes for a heart to beat hard and fast at the base of his throat, frantic with adrenaline. He longs, too, for the pattern of rapid breathing that would have come along with it. Alas, there is nothing but a murky stillness in his ribcage. There is no heartbeat and no breathing and no amount of wishing will change that. 

    He feels nothing break beneath his hooves but his opponent does not immediately take to the skies, so he feels some glimmer of victory as Gale stumbles and struggles to regain his balance. He has no time to skitter out of the way before the winged stallion throws his bulk back at Kensley, swinging his horned head upward as he does. He has only half-fallen out of his rear by the time Gale’s head collides with the broad side of his ribcage just behind his armpit, knocking him off-balance. He feels something give in the cage of his rib where he takes the brunt of one of Gale’s blunt-edged horns. Without the pain of the break, though, it feels like something that has happened to someone else. Without the impulse to draw breath, the pain in the broken rib is something of a phantom. 

    His center of gravity is lower than it would have been if he’d remained in his full rear, but the force of the blow still kicks him off-balance enough to send him scrambling. His back hooves slip in the mud and he skitters and twists, trying desperately to regain his footing. The force of the blow knocking him off-balance and the desperate way he twists as he tries to secure his feet beneath him combine in a way that leaves him half-facing away from Gale when he hits his knees in the mud, finally surrendering to gravity and the slick terrain beneath him, narrowly avoiding a large boulder. Mud splashes up onto his chest as he turns his head quickly to gauge where his opponent has ended up. 

    Gale seems momentarily distracted and Kensley surges to his feet, using the momentum of his hind end to throw all of his weight onto his forelegs, planting his feet the best he can given the mud so he can kick out with his hind legs. The way their bodies had responded to the initial scuffle (Kensley’s body twisting and scrambling in an effort to keep his footing and Gale’s body swinging around with the force of his head swinging up toward Kensley’s side) leaves them perpendicular again, Kensley’s hindquarters lined up with Gale’s left shoulder. It is as he bucks as forcefully as he can in the direction of Gale’s shoulder, hoping to compound whatever damage he’d initially done to it and disable it altogether, that he sees the fire. 

    He balks at it, but it is not enough to convince him to swing around to face his opponent. His eyes roll with the sharp twinge of fear that spirals through him. His hind feet hit the muddy ground and, rather than turn himself around to face Gale, he scrambles backward away from the fire. He wonders if it had been the fire that had distracted Gale and why it had taken him so long to notice it himself. It does not occur to him to think that the fire is something his opponent has manufactured.

    He scrambles backward only a few paces before he plants his front feet and kicks out with his back feet again. He has no way of knowing if Gale has moved when he kicks out the second time, distracted as he is by the fire, but he hopes that the winged stallion has not gone far if he has. With any luck, his opponent will still be within reach of his back feet, or perhaps even closer with the few paces Kensley has skittered backward away from the flames, and he’ll be able to strike out at Gale’s shoulder again. Or, if Gale has also moved backward, he can hope for a strike to the winged stallion’s chest that might knock the air out of him. He kicks out wildly, blindly, truly hoping to catch whatever flesh he can. The strike of his opponent’s horn had awoken something in him, certainly, but it had not done the same damage as his last opponent’s and it is because of this alone that he feels no murderous intent. It is because of this alone that he had not wheeled around on his hindquarters and tried everything in his power to reduce the winged stallion to rubble. 

    The fire winks out as suddenly as it had appeared and Kensley tucks his hind end up under himself as soon as his back hooves return to the rain-slick earth. Without the flames keeping him in close quarters, he lurches forward in an effort to protect the muscles bunching up along his hindquarters in case Gale rears up and strikes out with his front feet. Even if he would not feel the pain of it, he knows that the muscles can still be damaged enough to hinder his movement. He’d learned that the hard way in the last round. 

    He slips slightly in the mud as he wheels around in an effort to bring himself face to face with his opponent, hoping to take the next attack head-on.
    The flesh that gives beneath Gale's blow is strangely cool, and the crack of a well-insulated rib does not sound quite as crisp as such a break should. Gale cannot put a name to what it is about the grey stallion that so unnerves him. It has never occurred to him that there are creatures who live but are not alive, who move without taking breath. The pegasus’ tongue traces the lips of his dark mouth, gone dry with concentration and the assault of adrenaline, and is grateful that this battle will not be dragged out much longer.

    The swinging left of his horned head had counteracted his pivot, leaving the brindle facing Kensley as the other stallion is spun crooked by the blow and falls to his knees. Gale had been certain that the force of the blow on his opponent’s upper body would have shoved Kensley to the right, yet the other horse manages to fling himself to the left instead so that their bodies are perpendicular once more. Gale, moving backward through the mud and around the sharp stones and sawgrass, is far from hasty with his movements. As a result, the edge of one of Kensley’s hooves stretches back just far enough to clip the flesh at the edge of his left shoulder. It’s a minor wound, a few square inches of bruised flesh resulting from the last momentum of the buck; easy to ignore in battle-rush even if it will be agonizingly slow to heal.

    But now Kensley is moving several paces backward and closer to him, allowing the striped vision manipulator to remain in the equine’s natural blind spot. Not knowing when Kensley intends to stop moving, Gale leaves a vision of himself (immobile and two dimensional, the easiest kind to make and hopefully believable on this drizzling, dreary day) as a striped target. That vision spreads its wings, just as the real Gale does.

    The tickle of his magic then runs along the edge of his eyes as he begins to keep the vision of himself to himself, an effort to hide his true physical body from Kensley as Gale adjusts himself so that the two of them are parallel, and so that Kensley’s backward scrambling will bring him closer to Gale but not risk a full collision. It is as close to being invisible as Gale can manage with his gift, but it's a use of it that he has honed since youth and he feels sure if will not fail him now.

    Gale is not quite positioned where he wants to be when Kensley finally slows and bucks, but he will take what he can get.

    His flared right wing is directly behind the grey, and Gale hopes that the confusion of having kicked something will slow the other’s reaction to the brunt of Gale’s attack. Gale’s nose is even with the point of Kensley’s left hip, and when he kicks out, Gale lunges in for the exposed side.

    Leading with his uninjured right shoulder and his horned head, Gale means to shove the other horse to the right, bruising and perhaps toppling him. He’ll run him over if he can then, using gravity and the sharp stones of the Plains against his opponent. If his sudden weight is not enough to topple Kensley though, Gale pulls away to the left after a parting bite at Kensley’s cold sides, anywhere his teeth might scrape against something long enough to clamp down and pinch. Gale is not eager to taste this strange creature though, not even in a bite, and he releases anything he manages to grasp in his hurry to get away.

    He catalogs his wounds as he takes to the sky, cognizant of the ache in his right wing where Kensley’s final buck had pulled at the tendons and ligaments when they’d struck, and of the plucked feathers of his left wing and the bruising along that shoulder. Nothing terrible, but it does hurt, and Gale knows the rain and wind will quickly exhaust at him if he were to remain airborne long. He must strike quickly then, this last round of the match. The soft touch at the back of his mind reminds him of the osprey, and Gale nods his agreement with the raptor’s proposal. Then he dives.

    Straight down toward the grey horse, heedless of anything but speed. Such an impact will crush him, it seems, and anything below him. But then, just before impact seems inevitable, he flaps his wings and pulls out of the dive.

    If Kensley can feel relief in his undead heart, he might have just long enough to recognize it before Erne, coming from as much behind the dapple as he can manage, tries to dig his four-taloned claws into Kensley’s eyes and fly off with them the way he might a ten-pound seabass. Futile, given the hawk’s small size, but with plenty of potential for serious damage to his target.  Even damage to Erne, which the osprey had accepted in his silent communication with his partner. Gale is here for Islandres, after all, and surely Erne has as much a right to fight for his home as his equine companion.

    Gale’s effort to stop his dive and ascend again is strenuous on his body, only years of practicing such dives alongside his hunting hawk companion having made such a sudden stop possible at all. It was still a near thing, and Gale feels his heart racing as he climbs back into the sky to wait for the end of the battle and the return of Erne to his side. This is a battle he is eager to finish.
    He feels the broken rib like a rumor, some distant nagging feeling when he moves. He wonders (quite quickly) if spending so many years undead has made the bones more brittle, more fragile. He seems to come apart so easily now. Whatever pain he feels is a memory, not enough to slow him down but enough to remind him that he’d been alive once and he’d known what it meant to ache.

    The thought does little to slow him down as he unleashes his onslaught of bucks. He feels a hoof connect with the striped stallion’s flesh but does not stop to see where he has struck him. He feels no personal vendetta against his opponent, despite the phantom ache in his ribcage, and will almost certainly feel some glimmer of remorse when all of this is over. Alas, the knowledge that he will eventually feel guilty for this does very little to quell his impulse to attack.

    Perhaps it is because he is technically dead that he does not detect the magic. It does not even occur to him to think that his vision is being manipulated as he cranes his neck only briefly and sees (or thinks he sees) the striped stallion behind him still. The driving rain and the sparse light help to make the illusion seem more realistic. It should have struck him as odd that his opponent had not moved away after the first strike and, instead, chose to remain stationary but it all happens so fast that he does not have time to dwell on it. He is driven by primal impulse and adrenaline and it is only seconds after his hooves collide with the stallion’s wing that his opponent’s counter-attack comes.

    It catches him thoroughly off-guard and he feels some sharp twinge of fear deep in the cavern of his chest. It’s an emotion he hasn’t felt in years, but it’s there all the same. Fear that his opponent has somehow duplicated himself or used some other form of magic to trick him. It is short-lived, though, replaced abruptly by that same primal thirst for violence as the striped stallion slams into him. His footing in the mud had been tenuous at best to begin with, especially with how frenzied his own attack had been. It had taken a great deal of concentration to ensure that his front hooves had been planted in the mud as he’d kicked out with his hind hooves. He curses the mud now as he scrambles to remain upright, his hooves splashing through the sopping wetness. He knows he will not remain upright if he stays where he is, so he lurches and leaps away from Gale instead. He still struggles to find his footing in the mud and the stone, but it is marginally easier to regain his balance without the striped stallion crowding his space. It is as he lurches and leaps, though, that Gale sinks his teeth into the flesh near Kensley’s stifle. The skin there gives way easily, sloughing from the bone with little resistance like something left to rot. When he comes to rest several feet away, there is a mouth-shaped patch of skin missing from his left stifle. He hardly notices, though. The skin seems no more part of him than the sheets of rain pouring out of the sky. It is likely more unpleasant for Gale than it is for Kensley himself.

    For the moment, he thinks it’s over and he is on the verge of opening his mouth to thank his opponent for not taking to the sky when Gale does just that. Kensley watches through the half-light as Gale gains altitude and then dives. It is exactly what he’d been worried about when he’d tried to ground the striped stallion with his first attack. He has no defense against it. To rear up and try to strike the stallion’s underbelly would leave his head exposed and, though it would not be painful, he suspects that a blow to the head might actually kill him for good. There is no way he could try to buck and strike the stallion’s underbelly that way either. Never mind that trying to attack with his back legs would leave his back exposed and any damage to his spine would certainly paralyze him. So, in that moment, he realizes that the most he can do is brace himself against it and hope that the collision does not dismantle him completely.

    He steels himself in preparation, his eyes squeezed tightly closed, his knees locked and head ducked and tilted away from his fast-approaching opponent. He would have held his breath if the lungs worked. Alas, the impact never comes. There is a great whoosh of air as Gale abruptly pulls out of his dive, but Kensley does not see this. He does not lift his head to investigate, convinced this must be some kind of ploy to get him to look up and expose his head.

    There is a long moment of stillness before the osprey (a creature he had not even noticed in the frenzy of battle) attacks. The bird approaches from behind and Kensley’s head is still mostly ducked, so the bird’s talons scrape greedily across his poll instead of his eyes. He flinches, spooked by this, jerking his head down and away from the feeling of the bird’s claws. The flesh between his ears is just as eager to separate from the bone as the flesh at his stifle had been, so there are bits of flesh and forelock in the bird’s talons when Kensley finally lifts his head and watches the winged pair ascend.
    Winner: Gale

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