By now, I’m starting to fall in love with Jadie Rivers, and I hope you are too! Aaron did an excellent job of crafting this wonderful new hero for Tellest, and I hope that’s he’s given plenty of opportunities to return to her in the future.
But I digress. I’m jumping the gun a little bit. We still have her current adventure to complete. After a failed attempt to sneak into the gnoll gladiator’s room, Jadie realized that there was only one place to properly attack her foe: the coliseum.
Read on to experience the penultimate part of Jadie’s inaugural adventure!
A Most Unusual Patriot
“And now, a warrior who needs no introduction!” roared the announcer. “He’s won his last seven matches and is considered to be one of the strongest rookies we’ve had in months! I present to you—Hwarl, of Warus!”
Peeking out from her archway, Jadie watched as Hwarl strode onto the arena floor. Despite the general apprehension Atalathans felt towards gnolls, the crowd seemed to love him. The cheering and clapping was deafening as Hwarl twirled a long halberd in front of him and flexed.
“And challenging him, a newcomer from Viscosa! Please, give a big welcome to—Lady Thorn of Raleigh!”
Jadie smiled. Lady Thorn might not be the most inventive name for someone with her powers, but she liked it. Maybe, she thought, she might find a need to keep this secret identity longer. Having a persona that fought in duels could certainly be a useful cover in particular situations…
The crowd’s cheering ushered her out into the sunlight, and Jadie took a moment to absorb the scene around her. She stood on a field of sand. Around her were marble walls, carved in intricate detail at what had to be exorbitant expense, and above them sat thousands of cheering and clapping people. Tourists and locals, commoners and merchants, soldiers, mercenaries, and even some nobles were packed into the stands. A great crowd, she thought, for what she hoped would be a great victory. Jadie gripped the dagger shoved haphazardly into her belt and strode towards Hwarl.
She had already, she thought, set everything in place. She had forged the paperwork declaring herself to be ‘Lady Thorn,’ inexperienced-but-skilled warrior from Viscosa, and had filed it with the Coliseum. She had broken into the Coliseum offices and reordered the matches to make sure she would be dueling Hwarl. She had come up with her costume. And, of course, she had bet all the money she’d stolen at the party on herself. If she lost the duel, it wouldn’t matter, and if she won, she’d get a nice windfall. Since it’s money I’m sort of earning and not stealing, I wonder if the guild will let me keep my winnings? She chuckled. I hope so.
Hwarl laughed at her as she approached him. “What are you wearing?” he barked. “This isn’t the theatre, girl. Maybe you should run along home.”
Jadie made a show of looking over herself. She was dressed in bright greens and dark browns, looking more like a jester than a trained warrior, and wore a mask over most of her face so he wouldn’t recognize her. Flowers, bright daisies and chrysanthemums, were woven into the shoulders and arms of her shirt, and vines were wrapped around her wrists. She knew she looked ridiculous, but she squared her shoulders and called, “Run home? I’m a trained graduate of the Dueling Academy of Viscosa. When I’m done with you, you’ll be running all the way back to Warus!”
The crowd roared its approval, but Hwarl’s smirk just grew, and when she saw it, Jadie smiled behind her mask as well. There were many fine venues for learning the art of combat in Viscosa; the Dueling Academy was not one of them. A school for the children of merchants and nobles, it taught how to ‘duel’ with style and panache. The students learned flashy moves to show off at balls and parties, they felt like they were becoming mighty warriors, and since nobody would ever be so foolish as to attack the heir of a feudal lord in a dark alley, they would never know how useless their sword-dancing was in a real fight. But Jadie knew—and so did gladiators like Hwarl. He’d never take a graduate of that school seriously, and that was just what she wanted.
A cannon blast started the match. Hwarl swung his halberd at Jadie in a few lazy arcs, forcing her back as she parried with her dagger, and his blade clanged off of hers with no real weight behind it. He was testing her, Jadie thought, or maybe just toying with her for the benefit of his fans. She let him swing a few more times, then ducked under a blow and dashed up close to him. When she reached him, she slashed at his arm.
He shifted to one side and kicked her legs out from under her before the blow connected, sending her sprawling in the sand. She managed to roll out of the way before he struck his halberd down where her neck had been a moment ago. She climbed to her feet and managed to get her blade up in time to deflect another swing, but she found herself forced back again, overpowered by his superior strength. Hwarl trotted after her, probing at her defenses with his halberd, a wicked gleam in his eye.
Jadie dodged and retreated halfway across the coliseum floor before attacking again. She deflected his blade, using all her strength to push it up, and then ran at him. This time, she didn’t strike at him directly, but grabbed at his arms as if trying to grapple. The vines wrapped around her wrist began to writhe as she mentally prodded them, but before they could do anything, he swung his halberd around and struck her with its shaft. She stumbled, and by the time she recovered, he had twisted the blade straight up and was stabbing it down at her.
Jadie instead jumped towards Hwarl, allowing him to push her down so she fell directly in front of him and inside the range of his halberd. She leapt to her feet faster than he seemed to be expecting and grabbed at his hands again. At the same time, she called to the vines around her wrists, Grab his halberd! Come on, let’s do it!
The vines twisted and writhed, seeming to relish a chance to release some of their energy. Hwarl shifted his halberd to one hand and curled the other into a fist to attack the enemy four inches from his face. Jadie made a show of grabbing at him as the vines snapped at the weapon, and suddenly his blade was flying clear across the Coliseum.
She grinned to herself, and then Hwarl decked her.
Jadie’s vision flashed red for a moment, and she felt her dagger slipping out of her hands. She managed to stay conscious, however—she had learned how to take hits as part of her training—and instead grabbed at his arms. He pulled out of her grasp, then moved in close—like she wanted—and seized her around the neck with one large hand.
Spray him! she urged her flowers, but seconds ticked by and nothing happened. There was an inertia in them; she had picked the flowers hours ago and they had already started to fade. She cursed in her mind as she gave it everything she had. Come on!
“Victory number eight!” Hwarl roared to the crowd as he began choking Jadie. Even though she strained, she couldn’t break away from his grasp. He grinned and hefted her into the air by her neck. “Just like I said!”
Jadie continued pushing at the flowers. She could feel them sluggishly moving and starting to open, but her vision was starting to turn red again. She struggled, fixing wonderful images in her head—of saving the nation, of returning to Westwick a hero, of the pile of gold she stood to win in the match—and used them to motivate her as she forced all her magical power into the flowers on her shoulders.
The chrysanthemums opened all the way and sprayed Hwarl with pollen.
He began coughing immediately, and his grip slackened enough for Jadie to wriggle out. She grabbed her other knife, the one hidden in a fold of her clothes, and moved in close to the hacking gnoll. Before he could do anything, she stepped behind him and slit his throat.
Just like she was trained.
As Hwarl collapsed, she realized what had happened. She had won. She, a member of the Thieves Guild for about two weeks, had taken on a trained gladiator and defeated him in combat.
She was amazing.
Jadie raised her dagger up to the crowd and joined in their cheers. This is the best mission ever, she told herself. And once I loot his room and get proof of this conspiracy? It’ll be even better.