"Incoming." Aura swivels in her chair, facing the now-darkened glass in the meeting chamber where a projection pops up. "Hmph," she sighs. Somehow the Luminaries are almost always disappointed when messages from family arrive.
"Is that supposed to be a joke?" Solan inquires skeptically, somehow raising an eyebrow and narrowing her eyes at the same time.
Eosphoros shrugs. "For the dog's sake, I certainly hope so. Let's respond in kind." She waves a hand absent-mindedly and a golden tendril of light weaves its way into the Cloud.
Moments later, they realize it was not a joke at all, but a preamble to an explosion. The night sky blazes maroon as Crown's Cloud begins casually throwing out wave after wave of crimson energy. Aura frowns and then grits her teeth as the messages continue coming. "He was setting us up. All he needed was for us to respond to go off on a tirade."
Ignis stands next to the table, glowing red, fists clenched, and immediately armored from head to toe. The colors in her gradient-shaded hair seem to tremble and dance as flames do.
Solan bites her lip in disgust. "How? How does he still get to us? Why? Why do we sit and endure this? We should call it and be rid of him."
"He doesn't get to me anymore," Aura retorts in an off-hand manner. Her expression, contrary to her nature, is frigid and uncaring. "But to answer your question, we tolerate him because we don't want to place any additional undue financial responsibility on others." Solan gestures at Ignis in exasperation.
"I can see your hands, S," Ignis spits, not bothering to look at her.
"Well he gets to you." Solan crosses her arms, knowing it doesn't matter how much she pisses off Ignis, since all her anger is directed at the Cloud right now.
"You're damn right! What on earth did we do to deserve this? Not show up at his house bearing gifts? Why the hell would we want to when all he ever talks about is money and jobs and if we don't have either we're lazy, a disappointment, unproductive. On and on. Because that will certainly help. Because he's saying something new that we haven't already told ourselves. He's lucky we thought to send or make him anything at all." She stops her tirade, directing her attention to the newest message. "And now he curses us? Calls Phoenix a bitch? He's a sad, lonely, pathetic ass," she splutters in a rush. "His father was shit and he seeks to emulate him."
Aura sits patiently through Ignis' rant before addressing her. "Yes, dear. But you can't retaliate. You know that with him, more than anyone else, reacting or responding just makes it worse. If we show him where our buttons are, he'll press them mercilessly."
"Yes darling," she mimics Aura's sarcastic pet name, "That's why I'm standing here fuming instead of lighting up the sky."
"What now?" Nymphaea asks.
"Now we do exactly as he wants us to do. We don't speak to him at all. He doesn't deserve it. It's every individual's personal responsibility to surround themselves with people who uplift them, instead of making them feel bad," Esoterra says.
"I wonder how long that will last," Ignis muses. She is sitting again, but her skin is still steaming.
"As long as it lasts. We'll see if he makes good on his words…"
"Not likely," interrupts Ignis.
"And if he deigns to speak to us again, then we'll make it clear to him exactly which circumstances we're willing to communicate with him under."
Ignis gets a glint in her eye. "Now then, who's going to help me blow off some steam? Figuratively and literally, of course." She removes her black-rimmed glasses and holds them lazily with a smirk on her face. "Perhaps Aura, since you denied me my fun?"
Aura smiles but shakes her head. "You know wind and fire don't mix. Burning me won't do you any good."
"Well I can't do it with Nymphie. I actually want a chance of winning," she whines.
"I'll spar with you," Terra says, pushing her chair back from the table. "To the coliseum?"
"Of course. I'm of a mood to burn the hedge maze down now, and it would take you all night to regrow it."
The two ladies walk side-by-side in silence to the armory. The room is lined with glass cases containing replicas of their weapons and foci, even some currently unused, including Aura's bow, made of pale, swirling cyan wood with indigo silk ribbons tied on the limbs and around the grip.
They walk down a set of stairs and emerge on the ground floor of the coliseum. The tower rises seven stories into the air, one for each Luminary. Every story has a circular platform in the center, bolstered by four continuous columns and connected via stairs to an outer colonnade ring. Stairs also go from one colonnade level to the next, but these are for tactical rather than practical usage.
Ignis walks purposefully to the far end of the room and spins, a funnel of fire flashing up her body, leaving her close-fitting leather armor in its wake. She flourishes her wrists and flames erupt from her fingertips, slowly growing to consume her entire forearm. She tugs the hood off her head for dramatics, so Esoterra can see the pulsing colors in her hair.
Esoterra kneels and, with surgical precision, cuts a piece of serrated stone from the floor. It hangs in midair and she twists two fingers around it once, carving a smooth section for a grip. As she goes to grab it, a fireball comes hurtling at her. Terra responds by slamming her palm to the floor and etching out a piece of stone to serve as a shield. "That was rude," she says lazily, wielding her elongated dagger in one hand and controlling her shield with the other.
"Our enemies will give you no quarter and neither will I." Ignis sweeps her hand in a large circle, summoning several floating fireballs.
Terra jumps back, expecting what's coming. She raises her shield in time, but the fire comes in a barrage. She opens her wings and takes flight, carefully timing the flapping of her wings in the brief interludes when fire isn't rapidly approaching. Fanning the flames is the last thing she wants to do. She hides behind one of the waterfalls tumbling into the two pools on the floor. Esoterra ascends as quickly as possible, keeping herself tucked behind the water so Ignis' fireballs hiss into clouds of steam, but not too close, as the water would slowly erode her improvised weapons.
Ignis spreads her wings, intense heat flaring up around her. Fire spreads to the tips and with each flap, waves of flame erupt from the molten wings. She uses her special ability, moving as quickly as wildfire to place herself behind Terra, leaving only falling ashes in her wake.
Terra looks down a moment too late and fire leaps up around her ankles, superheating her greaves. She hisses in pain and flaps her wings powerfully. For a second the fire intensifies, but then she's safely away from it. Nevertheless, the burns make her realize Ignis is expending her energy quickly. With that in mind, she flies into the colonnade and dodges behind pillars. Nothing makes Ignis angrier than being toyed with, as she's usually the one doing the playing.
Esoterra stand at the top of a staircase, cutting out rocks and sharp stones no bigger than arrowheads from the architecture. Ignis appears at the bottom and Terra flings her not-so-serious weapons at Ignis.
Ignis moves adroitly and propels some rocks away with her flames. As she attempts to dodge one, a vine tangles itself around her feet. Thorns pierce the leather and bite into her flesh—payback for burns she inflicted earlier, she supposes. The rock hits her shoulder and clatters to the ground, likely leaving a bruise. Terra turns away and starts running along the colonnade. Ignis hisses at her retreating back and sets fire to the vines. As soon as she reaches the top and has Esoterra's bronze armor in her sights, she teleports in front of her again. A flaming whip erupts from her hand and she sends it lashing toward Terra.
Terra dives to the ground and rolls away, the only thing she can do to prevent being hit. She reaches the side of the colonnade, snakes her fingers around the edge and pulls herself off. Her wings open in midair and again she takes shelter on one of the platforms, directly behind a waterfall. She hears a crackle behind her and realizes Ignis has used her ability a third time. By now it must be taking a toll. Normally she'd be able to jump many times, well into the double digits, but that's assuming she doesn't exhaust her flames in battle.
Ignis pants once, but narrows her eyes and extracts her daggers. The two begin an evenly-matched dance. Esoterra has a shield, but her plate armors weighs her down, while Ignis has ample mobility and dexterity on her side. Eventually Ignis sinks her stiletto into Terra's shield and holds it there. Esoterra raises an eyebrow. "That's a new tactic," she says, holding the shield in place.
"It doesn't seem to be working well," Ignis responds with a shrug.
Terra's eyes narrow—Ignis may be fired up, but she isn't careless. She realizes what Ignis is doing a second before her plan comes to fruition. She tries to tug her arm back, but hears a loud crack. Lines spread along her shield, emanating from the embedded dagger. The earthen shield crumbles at her feet, leaving nothing but chunks of dry rock and dust. Ignis had been sending heat through her dagger and drying the shield, causing it to break apart.
Ignis wastes no time, withdrawing her arm and stabbing at Terra again. It hits her armor with a loud clink, denting it. Terra grimaces at the damage, but strikes back with her shank. Ignis ducks and back away, raising her hand to retaliate with a fireball… but nothing comes.
Esoterra smirks. "It looks like you've burned out." She jumps and Ignis falls underneath her weight.
Ignis huffs and pulls her arms up, palms facing Terra in a gesture of submission. Esoterra nods her acceptance, but Ignis manages to summon one more bout of fire from her reserve. She breathes a short jet of fire, aiming purposefully for the side of Terra's head. She is angry, but it is only training and she isn't trying to maim her fellow Luminary's face.
Terra immediately pushes herself up, scowling. "You could have singed my hair or my ear cuff." She pats the feathers standing upright against her hair just to make sure they're intact.
"Eh, you have so little hair as is," Ignis says, tossing her luminescent waves. They hit a few inches past her collarbone.
Terra glares at her. "All the more reason I need it not to be burned off," she says, tucking hair behind her ear protectively.
"I think we'll call it a draw," Ignis says. She changes back into her passive attire, walks to the edge of the platform and jumps off.
Esoterra follows. "You used yourself up far too quickly."
"Yeah. I was pissed. I didn't have time for that slowly building, sustained anger bullshit. I needed to get it out."
"Feel better?" Esottera asks, reaching the door to the armory and holding her arm out, bidding Ignis to go ahead.
"Yes, actually, I do," Ignis remarks primly. "And that, as they say, is that."