The Dragons of Arbor
Chapter 16: The Arena
Copyright© 2011 by Sea-Life
"In accordance with the Laws of the Jessian Council and the Rules of the League or Runecasters, I challenge you. Wizard's duel at high noon tomorrow in the arena."
That was it. I'd officially stepped in it then. Resada was mortified that he had not thought to warn me.
"I assumed you were a Guild member." He said.
Captain Duvoro said the same thing. Everyone, outside of the six of us, had assumed I was in the Guild. It was illegal to challenge a member of the Wizard's Guild to a duel. If you were not in the Guild, however, you were fair game.
We didn't go sightseeing that day at all. Instead, I spent the night wondering about Wizard's duels and exchanging thoughts with Dad over what to do. Captain Duvoro called the crew back to their duty stations, promising to make sure the ship was ready to sail at a moments notice, and particularly starting midday tomorrow!
<First thing we need to do is get you accepted into the Wizard's Guild properly, so there can be no further challenges.> Dad sent when I first contacted him.
I spent an hour back at the tower with Dad, his friend Firetree and Skydrift Rambol. Firetree was my official sponsor, as he had been Dad's, and Skydrift acted as witness. A litany of things, large and small that I had done were recited, to see if any of them would qualify as a Great Work. It was finally decided that my raising of the cave and spring within it on the trade road in the Zadrain could qualify. I jumped us there, and after a brief examination, it was agreed. A flourish and a nod later, I was a member of the Wizard's Guild.
A little time was spent after that discussing dueling techniques and strategies.
"You are already as good with combat Magic as I am." Dad said. "Just remember that the gifts are an advantage that you should not forget to use, and the power provided by your Transformation is a part of your Magic, so is fair to bring to the arena."
"Your father's best weapon has always been his willingness to do the unpredictable." Firetree offered. "Don't think like a Wizard. Think like the trained warrior you are, and treat your gifts as the weapons a commander has to hand."
"Duels are usually series of planned out attacks, altered and adapted to meet the changing circumstances of the duel." Skydrift said. "It is fine to visualize and plan ahead, but remember that being able to adjust and adapt is the key to excellence in Wizard's combat, not strength or knowledge."
I returned to the Blue Sprite in time for evening meal. The finery was gone, and so were the pleasant attitudes. We were dressed for war, and wore it on our faces as much as we did in our clothes. I actually caught River sharpening one of her throwing knives between courses.
I picked at the food, eating only a little of each of the five courses the meal offered. If I'd had my mind anywhere but the arena, I might have enjoyed it.
There was entertainment after the meal, a juggler who was very skilled, and whose running commentary was even more impressive. Had the mood been lighter, we might have laughed a lot harder. He was followed by a trio of musicians playing a local instrument called an Auroco. This was a stringed instrument, like a harp, but large and containing multiple string boards. All three of them played it, in coordinated fashion, and the music they produced was impressive, an ethereal version of a grand piano was the impression I had. I made a mental note to ask Alianna later if it had the same impression on her. She would have heard a grand piano played somewhere before coming to Arbor.
Back in the suite, we meditated for a while as a group, but when we broke up, I continued to meditate alone, visualizing the sort of things I would try against the Runecaster I would face tomorrow. I didn't even know the man's name. When River broke into my thoughts to call me to bed, I had some idea of what I might do tomorrow. When I saw what River was wearing when I got to our room, I definitely knew what I would be doing tonight!
River wore the undergarments from her leathers, loosely tied and strategically draped. I was quickly out of my own clothes, the T shirt and jeans I had worn while we had been meditating earlier, and slid onto the bed at her feet. I worked my way up her with my lips, pausing here and there at sweet, favorite places, until I was in her arms and she in mine.
"Husband?" She whispered into my ear.
"Wife?" I asked in return.
"Tonight I will let you make a baby in me." Her words came as sweet puffs against my ear.
"No." I said, after a long, quiet pause.
"No." I repeated. "Tonight, we will make a baby together."
Together, we spent a good part of the night doing that very thing, and with our ability to move within the Light, we made very sure that we had indeed done so before we were through. Only then did we fall asleep, tangled together in each other's arms.
Sid was calm in the morning, I was calm. Everyone was calm. Trunk did not let us sleep in, despite some vocal evidence, I was certain, that we had not gone to sleep early or slept long the night before. We did our meditation, and then spent some time in the exercise yard, where the rest of us worked together while Trunk and Sid talked and sparred. I didn't try to intrude on this time. The two of them knew each other's minds in the martial sense too well. I only overheard one bit, and that was Trunk reminding Sid that his staff was a weapon in more than a few senses, and he should spend some time thinking of ways to use it that a typical Wizard wouldn't think to.
Morning meal was subdued, as the previous evening's meal had been. We sat, sipping our Cintosara when Sid suddenly stood.
"I need to see this arena, so I can understand what environment I'll be fighting in." Sid said.
A few quick inquiries with the staff made it clear that the arena was open to all, and that Sid, as a challenged party had a right to see the field of contest before the duel took place. We were about to ask for one of the staff to guide us when Resada showed up.
"I know you did not say you would need me today, but I came by in case their was anything I could do." He said. We enlisted him immediately as our guide, and we left, the seven of us, for the arena.
The arena reminded me of some of the larger stadiums I had seen along the Shadar, but those had been designed primarily for horse racing. This stadium was close to their size, but the oval at its center wasn't configured for racing. It did appear that it would be possible to configure a racing oval within it if it was needed.
"There is Magic worked into the arena to shield the crowds from the effects of any Magic worked, and there are wards that prevent the duelists from leaving the arena during the duel." Resada told us.
We watched Sid walked across the sandy floor of the arena, stopping to crouch down and touch the floor with a bare hand. There were two stone columns embedded in the floor at each end of the oval, with the two columns in each pair spaced a couple body lengths apart. Sid reached out and touched each column in turn as he paced out the floor of the arena. He turned and grinned in our direction after touching the first one. After completing a circuit around it, he returned to the center of the arena and stood, with his eyes closed, for quite a while.
"I'm in good shape here." Sid said as we walked back to the inn. "They're not blocking me from anything important."
He didn't say more. Who knew what ears might be listening? Well, come to think of it, Sid probably knew. Back at the inn, Sid meditated and the rest of us worked hard to leave him alone until it was time to go back to the arena. He sat with Dragon's Eye in his lap, eyes closed, and with my eyes tuned a little towards the Light, I could see an occasional flicker around him, and around the staff.
An escort arrived, three men in the red leathers of the Runecasters, and Sid walked away with them. We watched him go, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who's stomach fluttered at the thought of the upcoming duel, and the chance, however slim, that it could mean harm coming to Obsidian McKesson. I felt it yes, but I was calmer than I should have been. I knew my husband, and knew what he was capable of, more so than anyone else on Arbor.
We all made our way from the inn to the arena, entering through one of the many public entrances and up to the reserved seating the Blue Sprite had made available for us. Yet another expensive feature of the expensive suite we were staying in. We had chilled beverages and wine, fruits and a tray of battered ash beak, seasoned and fried in oil. Trunk excused himself for a moment, promising to return before things got going.
The crowd was large, and the stadium was close to full within thirty minutes of our arrival. I was amazed that such a crowd could be drawn on what seemed like such short notice. Our seats were high in one of the upper rings, yet despite this, the arena floor seemed much closer than it should have. The Magic the Runecasters employed did more than protect the audience from harm, I decided.
Another half hour passed, and just as Trunk was coming through the door there was a fanfare of horns and drums, rolling across the stadium in a hollow, fierce pattern. A group of men came walking onto the sands below us from one end, and Sid, with two escorts came walking out from the other end.
"He will have a second assigned." Resada told us. Under other circumstances, he would have been enjoying having access to these reserved seats, but given the situation, and what he saw as his part in it, he remained somewhat subdued and apprehensive.
"Resada, relax." I said. "None of us, including Sid, think you had anything to do with this. We should have learned more about the situation here before we even began this journey."
He nodded earnestly, but I knew there would be nothing to cure him of his feelings until he stood with a whole and safe Sid after the duel was done.
The Runecaster's Magic extended to the audible as well as the visual, it became apparent, when one of the men in the first group stepped to the center of the arena and began to speak. His voice came to us clearly, as if he were standing next to us.
"Good Ladies and Gentle Sirs!" He said in a deep, resonant voice.
"We have for you today a challenge duel featuring the current Jessian champion, Fangrol Runeblade, fourteenth level Runecaster, son of Aride and Tessen Nomot..."
He paused, giving the local crowd a chance to cheer for the man who had challenged Sid. Cheer they did, and loudly. As they cheered, the man who had poked Sid the day before walked forward, until he was standing a couple body lengths from the speaker.
" ... versus a rogue wizard fresh from the shores of Beletara." The announcer turned to Sid and spoke to him then. "Come forward and announce yourself."
Sid walked towards the announcer until he was an equal distance from him on the opposite side.
"I am Obsidian McKesson of Midhal. Son of Andy and Cor."
We had to laugh at his low-key self introduction, and I imagined what a kind of stir a little bit more information would have caused in the crowd.
The cheers we sent up from our reserved booth went unheard amidst the commotion. It took a good five minutes for the announcer to regain control of the crowd.
"The battle will begin when the gong sounds, you may each retire to your end of the arena to prepare."
With that the announcer made a hasty exit, and the crowd settled considerably.
"Truly, he is the son of the High Wizard and the Wind of Arbor?" Resada asked.
"Yes he is." Trunk answered. "Between those of us here, we do not expect him to have much trouble with this fang-fellow, whoever he is, mostly we're curious about how long Sid will drag it out."
Resada was agog over that news, but while we were all enjoying his reaction, the gong sounded, and everything but the arena was forgotten.
On the sands below us, both men now stood alone, each between the respective columns at their end of the arena. The scene seemed to stay frozen for far too long before Sid suddenly ran forward to the center of the arena and drove Dragon's Eye into the sand. Dragon's Eye began spitting out short streaks of blue light, and those streaks began moving away from the staff and, in some random way began turning, and moving faster and faster towards the Runecaster.
Sid had not stopped moving once his staff was planted, he ran, at a power-boosted pace, towards the side of the arena away from us and midway between the two ends. From there he threw what looked like a traditional ball of fire. The Runecaster returned fire with some sort of spray of metallic needles. Sid didn't even bother to duck, just slipped into his black, stone form and let the needles bounce harmlessly off. As he stood there, in his stone form, Fangrol was countering as many of the blue streaks heading his way as he could and dodging the rest. Sid slid silently back into his normal form and the dozens of needles that had fallen shattered to the ground around him rose and began to swirl around him, faster and faster, until they were almost a blur. A blast of noise, rolling in odd purple waves came towards Sid as he did this, and he flickered and disappeared, reappearing back between the two stone columns where he had begun the duel. He stood waiting, and Fangrol followed his last attack with incredibly fierce, arcing bolt of lightning from his own staff. The bolt hit the swirling cloud of metal that surrounded Sid and it began to dance among the bits of metal until the cloud itself was a blur of dancing blue energy.
There was a long pause then as Sid stood and Fangrol waited for a response. The wait was long enough for the crowd noise to die as they stopped yelling and cheering, waiting for the next move.
Sid finally made it, stamping his left foot to the ground with enough force that we could feel it in our seats, even with the protection.
The shaking had barely died out when the column to his left began to writhe and bulge and twist. Within seconds a pair of arms had grown from the sides of the column, and the entire thing began to bend towards the ground. Sid slammed his right foot to the ground in the same manner he had just done his left, and again as the vibrations faded, the column to his right began to writhe and move as well.
The first column was pulling itself out of the ground, revealing long, thin stone legs, when Sid drew his arms wide and then slammed them forward, clapping his hands before him. When he did, the blue sparking metal cloud around him suddenly threw itself towards the Runecaster. Fangrol drove his staff into the ground in front of him, raising a fist into the air above him and yelled something incomprehensible. A deep red field of flickering energy sprung up in front of him, like a shell, and the bits of metal smashed into it, flaring into brilliance before fading orange, then black, like dying embers, before finally falling to the ground in front of him.
Sid had begun walking towards the Runecaster during this, and the two columns, now fully formed with arms, legs, and thin, angled heads with gaping mouths walked with him, one on each side. The ground shook with their every stride, and as they walked, Sid slowly changed again, this time into his Dragonstone form. But he changed, and kept changing this time. Not in shape, but in size.
Larger and larger Sid grew as he walked. By the time they had reached the center of the arena, he was larger than either of the stone creatures that had once been columns. Two more steps took him as close to Fangrol as he could get. He was now large enough to look the people in the top row of seats square in the eye. A last, futile blast of clinging purple fire struck him, and washed across him in pretty, violet waves. Sid held up one massive hand, palm cupped, and the purple fire slowly ran into it. Her raised the hand high above him, and the flames roared higher, and while it drew every eye, including Fangrol's, Sid reached down with his other hand, and suddenly, Fangrol the Runecaster was held tightly in Sid's left hand.
The crowd burst into a mix of cheering and panicky noise. The noise cut of suddenly when Sid suddenly raised his left hand up, emulating the right, cupped, and holding Fangrol as the right held the Purple flame that the Runecaster had recently attacked him with. Sid paused for a long moment, both hands poised, and the crowd suddenly grew completely quiet as they realized what was about to happen. The moment the quiet had settled in, Sid slammed the two cupped hands together over his head, and the purple fire flared white, the glaring beams of it showing through the gaps in his massive fingers. He held that pose for a few long seconds while the fire died and the light faded before opening his hands and turning them out, palms down to show they were empty.
I walked out of the arena without a word to my second or anyone else. The crowd was screaming, either in enthusiastic support, or else for my head on a stick, I wasn't sure which. Maybe both.
River met me at the outer door along with everyone else, and she was shaking when she hugged me. I kissed her deeply.
"You weren't worried, were you?" I said with a smile.
"No, but its still good to be in your arms again." River said. "I wanted to be down there, by your side, doing something instead of sitting in the stands watching."
"I understand the view is pretty good for everyone. Almost as good as the view Fangrol had."
"Did you really kill him?" River asked, concern again showing on her face."
"Do you really care?" I asked. She punched me in the shoulder.
"For Fangrol specifically? Not particularly, but for the human being, yes, of course!"
"Okay, I didn't kill him." I said. "I jumped him to the square in front of the Wizard's Guild in Beletara, naked and with no memories of who he is or where he came from."
"That's not too bad, but you took his memories?"
"Just a temporary amnesia. He'll begin to get them back in six weeks."
Trunk turned up about then, and the husband/wife moment of privacy expired, as he came up and slapped me on the shoulder.
"Good work Sid!"
"Thanks. How did your mission go?" I asked, but it was drowned out by the sudden influx of spectators offering their congratulations. Trunk just grinned, letting me know it had gone well.
It began to look as if we would have to resort to some magic to extricate ourselves from the swarming crown when a group of men in uniforms formed up around us to escort us out of the arena.
Out and into the presence of their employer, as it turned out. A small, ugly man who introduced himself as 'Lord Grumis'.
"I want to hire you, my boy. Together we will make a killing in the combat arena."
"No." I said, and turned to walk away.
"I do not seldom hear the word no, boy. Those who say it to me often come to regret having done so."
"Get used to it." I said. "You will hear nothing else from me." I took my leave – our leave, expeditiously, jumping everyone, including Resada, to the Blue Sprite.
We had, in my opinion, overstayed our welcome, despite the care and concern shown by the staff of the Blue Sprite and our guide Resada. It was time to get back aboard the Pride of Beletara and be on our way.
We stormed through the Inn of the Blue Sprite, collected our things, paid our bill, and dashed for the dock. I left generous tips everywhere behind me, and I could see the harbor sails unfurling even as our procession was making its way onto the docks.
"Cast off as soon as we're aboard, Captain!" I called as I came to the bottom of the ramp.
"Resada, you've been a good guide, and we appreciate your service. We promised you, what was it? Ten Gold per day? And its been two days?"
"Yes sir, but..." Resada began but I cut him off.