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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 THREE: Balto v. Jamie
    2 attacking posts each, 1 final defensive post – 3 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.
    Balto posts first unless otherwise agreed upon.

    SETTING: Actively snowing with snow sticking to the ground. Dusk.

    Gender: Stallion
    Body Type and Height: Mustang hybrid, on the muscular side with a well defined and narrow chest, a shorter back. 15hh
    Abilities: Immortality


    Gender: Stallion
    Body Type & Height: Slim/lean, 16.2hh
    Abilities: Shadow Creature, Fog Manipulation, Ghost Whispering
    [Image: Leah.png]
    Dusk settles like an old friend; gripping tight across his muscles and squeezing him in remembrance - a feeling that nestles close to his breast, giving him an overwhelming sense of calm. The dust that had hung in the air of his previous battle now wears thin beneath the crystalline white of snow, patch-worked on the terrain and crunching beneath each solid hoofbeat.

    His eager trot staggers to a halt. He remembers the forest. He remembers their quiet conversation, spoken in hushed tones but so dim and dark. They spoke of resting and believing that each could be the answer to their fate. In the end, Balto was pushed far past his breaking point while Jamie was left to watch and be disappointed.

    Balto’s ears fall flat into his dark mane, his mouth opening to bare his teeth in warning to his contender. This battle would not be like the last - she had been a mere stranger, a blank face with the ability to bleed.

    Jamie, however, is another entity entirely.

    He had come to care for this shadow beast despite Jamie’s inability to put him out of his misery. But he has come too far, done and seen too much, to be unnerved at the sight of the one who could not kill him when he had the chance. Balto’s own voices crescendo, feeding him those empty and rage-filled thoughts.

    Look what he did to you. Look at what you’ve become.

    He could have stopped you.

    All of that anger, rage, and disappointment flood the cerulean of Balto’s venge-filled irises. He calls to the shadow creature, the embodiment of his own darkness, with pain and anger flooding his distorted voice.

    “I will not be the one left whimpering in the darkness this time.”

    If fog and shadow have started to swirl, Balto doesn’t notice. He keeps his icy gaze on the piercing, feverish yellow that even now, call him ever deeper into his own despair and darkness.

    The stallion jolts forward at a choppy trot, his neck curved so that his chin is near his chest. His muscles are tense and drawn taut beneath the black and blue of his skin, anticipating the cover of fog and shadow that would accompany his pressing forward towards his opponent.

    Balto is careful as he moves over the snow and ice. Much like his cavern home, he knows the landscape can be slick as stone if he isn’t careful. There are moments in his charge that a hoof loses a bit of traction but it is not enough to set him off his course. The Darkness (Jamie) that is before him is all he sees.

    Will he meet anything solid? Will blood flow from shadows? Balto does not expect Jamie to remain unmoving (though it is possible that the shock of seeing him face to face again renders him frozen) and adjusts his gait when needed to ensure that they would indeed meet.

    Balto hopes the solidness of his own muscular body could meet him with such force, that despite his advantage in height, Jamie would stumble. They will not meet perfectly chest to chest, but Balto aims his right shoulder towards the left shoulder of the black stallion. If their shoulders or chests meet, the driving force behind his movement now lessens. To gain some of that energy back, Balto puts just enough of his weight into his haunches so that he can quickly pull his forelegs barely a foot from the ground in a half rear. He hopes the first collision (if successful) is enough to allow him the time to do so. The motion is quick (quicker if Jamie hasn’t stumbled) so that the other will have less time to throw Balto off balance. The move is risky but the blue roan stallion wanted to make most of their closeness and it was needed to account for Jamie’s height. Balto’s head swings in a jerky motion, out to the right and then up (to gain momentum as he rises) and left towards Jamie’s head. He doesn’t care if such a collision also causes injury to himself - he needs to figure out quickly just how tangible the other stallion is. Balto snaps his teeth together a few times for good measure, knowing that a bite to the thin skin of the face is not likely to cause Jamie any issue; if anything, maybe the ferociousness of the gnashing teeth in his face will cause confusion, especially if he had made contact with the sweep of his head upwards, or if Jamie stumbled in the initial collision. Balto wonders if those yellow eyes would no longer haunt them if he can rip them out of their sockets, or if his teeth could grab an ear, would he be able to bring Jamie to his knees?

    Balto’s front hooves touch back to the ground almost immediately from his half-rear and with a solid thud from his weight. But he is at Jamie again in a single leap that brings them close together once again, unrelenting in the way he attempts to strike out with his forelegs, searching to damage any of the delicate bones in Jamie’s left front leg with his hooves. Each time his foreleg lands he brings it up again, striking forward as if attempting to tear the dark stallion into pieces as if he wears claws instead of hooves.

    There will be no pause in Balto’s press forward unless Jamie is able to restrain him on the folds of his shadows like he had done before, or some other defense. The blue stallion knows he is powerless in this fight, save for his brawn and mere hooves - but there is rage so deep-seated within his chest, one that fuels him from the inside out, that the notion doesn’t register to him.

    It doesn’t matter.

    Blood, the voices beg. Blood!

    His blue eyes roll white, searching for the splash of red - whether it be from himself or Jamie.
    i’m going to use my extension, please and thanks!
     (might not actually need it but i’m putting this here just in case)
    Darkness gathers on the horizon and the shadow thing comes with it, discernible only by the pale glow of those freakish, yellow eyes and the thin layer of snow that collects along the ridge of his spine. He makes no sound as he moves across the battlefield save for the death rattle of his breathing as he goes.

    He studies the terrain, considering the accumulating snow and the challenges it might present. Then, swimming out of the shadows, there is his opponent. He has been many places and seen many things, Jamie, but he would know that blue stallion anywhere.

    Balto,” he coos, the name dripping with adoration, accompanied by that same shark-tooth smile. The affection is not feigned. There is no rumor of a ruse here. He had belonged to this blue stallion once, if only for a moment in time. Jamie can still feel the grief that had consumed him that afternoon in the forest when they could not save each other.

    Neither of them, though, are what they had been then. Jamie had been crippled by pain then, desperate for relief, and Balto, too, had been desperate for something. Rest, Jamie remembers. Jamie had been freed by the shackles of his pain some years ago and Balto seems to have been freed from something, too.

    There is no softness here. There is no mercy.
    (It fills him with mourning still to think of what they could have been to each other. If only.
    If only Balto hadn’t lied.)

    The fog has already begun to curl around Jamie’s legs by the time Balto spurs himself back into motion. He has spent so long mastering the magic of the fog that it comes second nature to him now and takes precious little energy to manipulate. It is not thick enough yet to do anything but remind the blue stallion what it is capable of, though.

    Jamie is considerably more solid now than he had been the first time they’d met, as if the pain that had crippled him in his youth had fallen away to finally reveal something real. So, when Balto strikes, the shadow thing feels as if he is made of flesh and bone.

    Jamie makes no real effort to throw himself out of Balto’s reach, preferring to let the blue stallion get close so that he might gauge the ferocity of his attacks. The force with which Balto slams his right shoulder against Jamie’s left is enough to knock him off-balance and send him stumbling sideways a few steps so that his body is angled slightly away from Balto when he finally gets his footing back. The frozen terrain is only slightly more forgiving than the mud had been, but he is able to compensate for the thin layer of ice beneath the snow and regain his footing without too much of a struggle.

    Balto is unrelenting, though, and continues to attack even as Jamie finds his balance again. The force of Balto’s initial full-bodied blow had been enough to pivot Jamie’s body enough that his head is out of the range of Balto’s swinging head and gnashing teeth. Jamie has only enough time to think that Balto would have been better off striking out at his hindquarters, but he does not dwell on this because the blue stallion is steadily bearing down on him again.

    He can already feel a bruise beginning to bloom along the slope of his left shoulder but he can only hope that it will not hinder him too much as the battle progresses.

    Balto is still advancing on him, moving perpendicular to Jamie’s left side and striking out wildly with a foreleg. It will only be a matter of time before they collide and Jamie calls upon his fog, always at the ready, gathers it in a much denser cloud between them. It is not impenetrable and Jamie knows that Balto had emerged from a cavern the day he’d met him in the forest, he could smell it on his skin, so he will probably have an easier time making it through the thick cloud. Jamie does not want to stop him, only slow him down.

    Jamie hopes that the fog has slowed Balto down enough that he can pivot on his hindquarters, throw all of his weight onto his front hooves (which dip and dig into the snow underfoot), and kick out swiftly with his back legs. The left shoulder smarts slightly under the pressure of his weight, but he grits his teeth and does his best to power through it. When he’d last had him in his sights, Balto had been facing him and Jamie can only hope that he is facing him still when he lashes out. He hopes to strike him in the chest or, perhaps if he is lucky, his height will work to his advantage and he will strike him at the base of the neck where it blends seamlessly into the chest. If Balto has the presence of mind to pivot, there is still some hope of striking him in either shoulder and damaging the deltoid or pectoral muscles. Any significant damage to the shoulder muscles would perhaps be even more beneficial than a blow to the chest, he thinks. At the very least, if Balto is especially quick, he might strike the broad side of the blue stallion’s barrel and hopefully at least knock the wind out of him.

    The fog had begun to thin as soon as his hind feet had left the earth and is all but gone by the time tries to assess what damage, if any, he has done to his opponent friend.

    He does not want to hurt him. He had never wanted to hurt him. But death had taken his conscience once and he feels no remorse now, though he is not as hungry for blood as Balto appears to be.
    When he actually meets Jamie’s flesh and bone, there is something like disappointment in the blue stallion’s eyes. As if he had been hoping instead he would fall into shadow and fog, careen into nothingness and succumb to the fate he so desires. That he would find himself awakening to a gentle morning light spilling through a cavern’s entrance, the smell of mushroom and fresh sun against his skin, and her beside him.

    But those are just wishes; childish fantasies that a brute like him will never find.

    Not when the voices shout monstrosities in his head and certainly not when their silence is brought by the spilling of blood.

    It is a dream that will never be.

    Their initial collision had been solid as their shoulders met, the motion jarring. Balto feels the tendrils of Jamie’s fog beginning to unravel and twist, but there is no surprise on his rage-fueled face. He greets that cloud with no hesitation, despite that it causes his sight to dim in a way he has not felt since their last encounter in the forest. Too long has Balto emerged from the caverns he calls home; he takes a moment to allow his eyes to adjust - not even a breath of a pause - and has given Jamie time to position his attack. Balto notices this a moment too late, for when he whinnies sharply and attempts to pivot away on his hind legs and to his own right, Jamie’s hooves are already coming towards him swiftly.

    The sudden appearance of Jamie’s back end instead of meeting those fierce yellow eyes causes Balto’s eyes to roll white and his jaw to clench tightly to brace himself for an imminent attack. He attempts to follow through with his movement away from Jamie (though it is difficult on the icy terrain to turn as far as he would have liked), but he cannot protect himself further from the inevitable collision. A shriek leaves his lips (in a mixture of pain and anger) as contact is made at his left shoulder, nearer to where the thick muscle meets his ribcage. The scream dies in his mouth as the remaining air in his lungs is forced from him by Jamie’s kick. He grimaces and groans, immediately feeling the blood rushing beneath his skin where Jamie’s hooves connected, warmth and inflammation pooling to the area.

    Fueled by adrenaline and the familiar trickle of blood that begins to gently flow from his broken skin, Balto does not give pause. He knows their closeness within the heat of this battle will not last long; he needs to use each precious second given to him. He pushes himself forward with a powerful burst from his hindquarters as soon as Jamie’s back hooves have touched the snowy ground. Instead of continuing forward and away, the blue stallion pivots on his right hind leg so that his movement is back towards Jamie and just to the right of him. As Balto’s forelegs catch him in that first stride forward, he can feel the bone-deep bruising of his shoulder beneath the swelling. A slip in the ice and snow could be detrimental to either of them and Balto idly thinks about how if he were to fall, he would ensure he would not go down alone.

    Balto hopes the three strides he takes brings him nearly parallel to the now backward-facing stallion. Once Balto’s left shoulder (that causes a visible limp in his choppy strides) runs parallel to Jamie’s ribcage, the blue stallion believes he is within range of his right hindquarter and hind legs, assuming that the black stallion hasn’t leaped away from him.

    Knowing that the window for his own attack is slim, the blue stallion kicks out immediately. He bears most of his weight on his right side and is unable to fully bring himself forward enough to put all of his energy into the force of the movement. He seeks to feel the satisfying thud of his hooves against Jamie’s flank, but with the other stallion’s height and Balto’s favoring of his left shoulder and first few ribs, it is much more likely that he connects with the muscle of his back legs or even lower, such as the cannon or pastern. Maybe the sound of a fracture will bless his ears, as there is less muscle to protect those delicate bones if he were to successfully make contact. Balto would also settle for a solid connection to Jamie’s stomach or ribcage, especially if the lean stallion had moved to the left instead of forward when Balto came up beside him.

    When Balto’s back legs hit the ground, his shoulder trembles to keep him upright, protesting his movements and nearly giving out on him. He slides in the snow slightly, grinding to a staggering halt as he whips his head over his shoulder, nostrils flaring pink and eyes searching the familiar form of the shadow creature behind him. Balto wants to hurt him, just like Jamie had done to him.

    Perhaps then, if the blood flows, he will finally find the rest Jamie couldn’t give him.
    The battlefield feels as if it has been wrapped in cotton, insulated by the still-falling snow, and the sound of his hind hooves striking the meat of Balto’s shoulder echoes in the improbable stillness that surrounds them. Then, following closely on its heels, the howl that rips up out of Balto’s chest.

    The mournful guilt that had swelled up in the cavern of his chest on that fateful day in the forest, when his fog had wrapped itself so thick and tight around the blue stallion’s windpipe that it had almost crushed it, does not rise up in him now. He had not wanted to harm his friend, but he feels absolutely no remorse for having done so.

    As a prey animal, those freakish yellow eyes situated on either side of his broad forehead, he does not have to turn his head to see that Balto had pivoted to the right in an effort to dodge Jamie’s buck. He does not have to turn his head to see Balto throw himself back to the left in an effort to draw himself up parallel to Jamie. Even if he could not see him, Jamie could certainly feel him based on the heat rolling off his skin in waves (such a stark contrast to the frigid cold that envelopes them as the snow continues to fall).

    The thought occurs to him that he could do as he had done in the last two rounds and summon a portal of darkness to deliver him a safe distance away from his opponent so that he might concoct a decisive final attack. He suspects, though, that Balto does not have similar gifts (otherwise wouldn’t he have used them by now?) and it is not any sense of morality that stops him from summoning a portal but pride. He wants a fair fight.

    So, instead of disappearing into a long tunnel of absolute, crushing darkness, he will have to rely on his legs to carry him out of Balto’s reach. The left shoulder certainly smarts as he moves, but he had lived the first four years of his life crippled by pain far greater than this. It pales in comparison.

    Surely Balto had not expected him to remain stationary as he tried to scramble into position. This is a battle and Jamie is not as weak or wracked by exhaustion as he had once been. He might have begged for death once, as Balto had, but pride swells so dangerously in his chest now and he no longer yearns for it. At least, not in the same way he once did.

    Jamie had paused for the space of a breath when his hind feet had returned to the earth but he had not lingered long. Instead, he had tucked his hindquarters up under himself and pushed off the slick earth in an effort to put some distance between himself and Balto. He has not made it far but he is already in motion by the time Balto lurches back to the left and tries to overtake him.

    He takes one false step, a foreleg slipping on a layer of snow packed into ice, but it is enough to slow him down enough for Balto’s shoulder to draw parallel to Jamie’s heaving ribcage. Jamie does not turn his head to watch Balto’s movements, focusing instead on trying to scramble out of his reach, but he can feel the rush of displaced air as Balto (perhaps misjudging the difference in their sizes) strikes out with his hind legs as soon as his shoulder comes parallel with the swell of Jamie’s ribcage. The blue stallion is smaller, certainly, with a shorter back but there is nothing behind them but empty air. If Balto had pivoted just slightly before kicking out, perhaps he might have caught Jamie’s flank or the delicate bones of his lower leg or if he had expended the tremendous amount of effort it would have taken to tuck his left hind leg up under his barrel to strike out with it that way. Alas, as far as Jamie could tell, he had done neither of these things.

    Jamie slows, keen to capitalize on Balto’s brief moment of suspended animation. To his surprise, Balto comes to a shuddering stop, leaving his injured shoulder vulnerable. Jamie stops short, as well, swinging his hindquarters around to his left so that he is facing Balto. There is no guarantee that the blue stallion will remain stationary for long (or at all when he sees how Jamie comes to a sudden stop, as well), so Jamie must act quickly.

    The snow shifts beneath his feet as he tries to draw himself up as close to Balto as he can before the blue stallion inevitably spurs himself back into motion. Jamie sucks in a rattling breath as he pushes himself into a rear, aiming his front hooves at Balto’s injured left shoulder. He strikes out repeatedly, gritting his teeth against the way his own left shoulder protests the movement and stunts the range of motion of his left foreleg just slightly, hoping to make contact with Balto’s frame.

    If he is successful in striking the shoulder, perhaps the pain will be great enough to take Balto to his knees. If Balto leaps forward, Jamie hopes to strike the spine and its surrounding muscles or (less likely unless Balto is much swifter than he looks) the gluteal muscles of the hindquarters. If Balto scrambles backward, he will leave his head vulnerable to Jamie’s flailing hooves. If he lurches to the right, away from Jamie, he will likely avoid the attack altogether but Jamie can hope that the pressure put on the offended left shoulder to complete the maneuver will be painful enough on its own.

    Then, as the snow continues to fall, absolute stillness as his feet return to the slick terrain and he waits to see if Balto will fall, as well.
    The flaring of Balto’s nostrils intensifies as the realization of his missed attack comes to the forefront of his mind as all four of his hooves meet the icy ground solidly. His breath leaves him in white billows of steam, curling around the wildness of his face menacingly. The blue stallion has no time to mourn over a miscalculation or an aimed kick that succumbed to the myriad of probable outcomes. He halts in hopes that Jamie’s movement forward would follow the taller stallion’s own inertia, giving Balto some time to regain himself (his shoulder aches terribly, deciding that stopping might be the only way he could continue) before the stallion would turn back to him and begin the heated battle once again.

    The moment that Jamie matches Balto’s sudden movement, the older stallion grits his teeth and finds his ears falling flat against his thick neck once again. As Jamie pivots to face him, Balto reluctantly tenses his muscles to move again - already wincing at the thought of spurring himself back into motion.

    For a breath of a moment, both of them are staring at each other face to face.

    At another time, maybe their expressions would be softer, gentler, more forlorn.

    But years have etched darkness into their skin, something far less palpable than the familiar shadow that Balto remembers following Jamie like a cloak. There is maliciousness in the crystal blue of Balto’s sinister stare while the piercing yellow holds indifference - it is clear that Jamie is no longer held back by the weariness that once plagued him.

    As Jamie comes to meet him (to eventually gather the length of his forelegs beneath him and rear), Balto attempts to pull himself to the right and away from the attack.

    Had the pain in his left shoulder not been so intense, the blue stallion would have clamored towards Jamie and met him in the air, despite their height differences. And even now, the thought flits across his mind - will he sacrifice anything in hopes to leave Jamie with lasting damage? The whites around Balto’s eyes are wild and fiery, the stench of blood and sweat somehow permeating through the cold. At the last moment, it seems, he decides that it is not worth it (is it their friendship that sways him, even now?).

    Balto’s leap away is not graceful and nor it is quick; he is troubled by his bruised shoulder and the snow underfoot. Instead of missing Balto entirely in his attempt to lurch from his hooves, this causes Jamie to just scrape the left side of his middle ribcage, further down on his barrel from his already wounded shoulder. The force will easily leave bruises on the mottled blue of his skin as well as cause him to stagger and stumble forward. He catches himself with a slide of his right foreleg into the fresh snow, a frustrated and angry whinny leaving him. A single back leg kicks out at nothing in protest and frustration, but he is able to do little else with the injury to his shoulder.

    The stallion continues to move forward - slowly, sides heaving from exertion - visibly limping in the freshly fallen snow that he trudges through. Finally he stops (for what reason, any onlooker would not be able to guess) and even Balto himself could not admit as to why he turns over his shoulder to take a single, calculated sweep of his gaze across Jamie’s form, lingering on those yellow eyes.

    The same ones he knows will continue to haunt his dreams.
    Winner: Jamie

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