20th trial, Vhalar, 719
Things changed. That was always the way. Not just the what and when, but how one digested those events. What was once green and new, embarked upon with excitement tinged with fear, became... ordinary? No, that wasn't the word he'd use. He doubted if any of what he could do here would be "ordinary". But routine? Familiar? Yes, these were better words. More accurate. It wasn't so long ago, in the great span of things, that crafting his dream as he wished, where he wished, populating it with constructs and memories he willed into being... he'd have shaken his head at the impossibility of it. And now?
Kasoria went skidding back along the dry, dead dirt as the abomination swung a massive limb at him. Vicious and relentless as he remembered from the forgotten catacomb under Etzos, he'd denied it none of the speed that had made it truly dangerous. Not as fast as him, smaller and lither, but still faster than something so huge had any right to be. Clad in breeches and boots alone, the Raggedy Man kicked up a short trail of dust as his feet dug into the ground, steadying and slowing his backpedaling. The ax in his hand was held out at his side, weight balancing him as his other arm did likewise. But through the brief flight and briefer slide, he did not take his eyes off his enemy.
When they're dead, you look away. Before that, they're still a threat.
The beast bellowed a challenge and the sounded echoed across the Stormwastes. He remembered this place, too. He'd walked thus lifeless landscape four, no five seasons past. A bounty hunter. Bearing a false name and trusted steel and the heads of his quarry. Moving slow and straight as an ant across a plain that didn't even boast scavengers, save for hordes of flies. He'd come to the Dreamscape in his home, the modest little house in the Oh'Pee. But he didn't want that for his practicing that night. So he imagined somewhere different.
He'd closed his eyes and dragged the memory from mere recollection, to blossoming rebirth. He felt the air and ground around his twist and shudder and morph. He heard stones crumble and vanish, replaced by a vastness, open and empty. When he opened them, his mind had made it so. Blasted the Free City of Etzos away and replaced it with this eerie land south of Andaris. He wanted room to move, and no distractions. Just a target. An enemy.
Kasoria spat to the side and gripped the ax. He was strong enough to wield it with just the one, now. But still lacked the skill to do so properly. Which was why he was there. Bearing nothing but his clothes and the weapon. With a grunt he darted forwards, feet flitting over the ground and Lissira's insectile monster charged to meet him, swinging a barbed, hideous front limb-
-that sailed over the Raggedy Man as his charge shifted into a dive, a roll, spinning under the swinging limb-
-coming up at the creature's side and heaving his ax sideways as he went-
-drawing an arc of blood and a shriek of pain as it chopped through the thing's skinnier kind leg. Dark green blood sprayed across the dirt and Kasoria kept moving. Keeping distance was crucial with these things. He was a good ten feet away before he turned around, ax coming up defensively. The monster hissed and hooted like a wounded dog, swaying and tripping over itself. One leg now attached only by a useless strand of stringy muscle. Still it came on to him, jaws snapping, six beady eyes as filled with mindless malice as he remembered.
Kasoria rolled his shoulders and came on again. Swinging the ax high over his head, a vertical chop-
-that the monster swayed away from, heaving its body to the side as it tried to get away, blade crashing through thin air and into the dirt-
-Kasoria already yanking it and the rest of him back as the inevitable retaliation came for him. Not quite mindless, as it turned out. He remembered to put that into the construct, too. The monster stabbed out at him with one of its front legs, curled single claw straightened out and making to impale him-
-forcing the little man to lean back, so hard and so fast he felt every bone in his back scream in protest. His leg muscles burned and strained under him at the same moment, staying upright even as his torso went parallel to the ground. Grey sky was replaced by thick, sinewy, unholy muscle as the front limb arced over his head, barely missing him.
Should have gone for the gut, not the heart. Wouldn't have been able to dodge that.
Lesson learned, Kasoria let himself fall back and started to roll as fast as he could, ax held up and away from him so he didn't roll his dumb arse over it. The monster tried to limp after him, front legs poised and itching to pay him back for the crippling wound. He came up on one knee and the monster hurled itself at him, both front limbs raised high and he exploded upwards-
-ax arcing up in both hands, Kasoria's leap straight up into the beast's maw surprising it, not giving it that precious spare trill to close its limbs and protect its head before-
The ax slammed into the bottom of the Plague-Beast's face. Upward swing met downward mass. Physics was an unlikely ally in sparring, but Kasoria knew well it played quite the part. The curved ax head ripped the monster's mandibles in half, continuing to bite through fangs and teeth and chitin until it nearly bisected its face. Man and monster landed roughly, unevenly, ax buried so deep that when it toppled back, the fall ripped the weapon from Kasoria's hand. But the damage was done. The immense insect twitched and spasmed on its back, ax piercing its brain along with the rest of its skull.
The Raggedy Man watched it die, just like he had seasons before. Black beady eyes terrified, knowing fear for the first and last time. Then, before its animal mind could comprehend the concept, it died. Whatever light and life powered it drained away and hollow dark orbs were all that was left. Even as Kasoria watched, the body started to harden, crumble, like marble turning to dust and then...
The wind blew through his hair, worrying it about his head. The monster fell apart under the breeze, chunks of it falling and fracturing and blowing away.
Kasoria inhaled, and reclaimed the weapon from the pile of dirt. The wind was different. That smelled of Etzos. Of home. Then something else made his nostrils quiver and his brow furrow. A smell, a sense, a sound, a feeling, a taste... all his senses at once heightened and sparkled into life.