A Tale by Michael DeAngelo
A glimmer of morning sunlight shone to the man’s side, and he turned to regard it. The clouds parted, allowing the light to pass down over the tops of the buildings toward the east—even the large one that he would soon be visiting. But in that moment, the sun reflected on the show window in front of a weapon and armor shop that was known for more ornate wares, and replications of the equipment of the city’s champions.
He had seen the glimmer there for a second, but with his focus on the items up for display, he spotted the armor sitting atop the stand inside instead. That armor had once been donned by one of Atalatha’s mighty champions.
The man shook his head. It was likely just a replica. There was a chance the man had been buried with the original to honor him.
As he considered the stunning armor before him, the man brought his focus back. Instead, he spotted his reflection. Rynathor Chatwick grinned at the sight of himself. He had chosen his attire with great care that day—even started the process of thinking it through weeks before. Though he was a noble from Viscosa, there was enough present in his outfit to suggest that he was ready for combat if need be. And if that need did arise, Rynathor would be sure to show anyone that he wasn’t just a pretty face.
For the day’s events, he needed to show that he was a man of many talents. He hummed to himself. He needed to demonstrate that he had an eye for the future.
Rynathor turned again, that time to face his destination once more: the great coliseum of Atalatha.
* * *
The morning light couldn’t pierce through the layers of stone and the marble façade of the room within the coliseum. Though there was an exquisite appearance to the famous knight’s chamber, it was hidden from the world above.
Allan Mayheyre had once enjoyed his solace and solitude. After saving Blacklehn from the rise of an unforgiving evil, folks would swarm him to give their thanks. After Viscosa had authorized the construction of the city of Atalatha, and Eltan Mane, the city’s duke and his good friend, had given his blessing to create the coliseum, Allan’s fame grew, sometimes out of control. His chamber, hidden in the depths of the coliseum, had separated him from the people that he had chose to hide from in the early days of its ascent. But recent times had reminded him that he needed to be seen, and that he needed to witness all the glory that was his arena.
The old knight shifted in his seat, ensuring that the torchlight shone on his plate. Somehow, just being able to better see his food enhanced its aroma, the smell of the bacon leaving him salivating. There was no sour mood that a good meal couldn’t fix, he mused, unconsciously tapping on his stomach as he smashed a soft biscuit into a pile of gravy.
Across the desk from him, his closest confidant reclined in his chair, a little less bothered by his surroundings—truly, just content to be there with the man he loved. Miller lifted his leg and almost draped it across the desk. Allan would have been cross with him, but only for a moment. Still, he knew better than to sour the coliseum owner’s mood. He hummed, and took a bite out of his apple, the crisp sound nearly echoing off the walls.
Allan looked up from his breakfast and arched an eyebrow. “Is that your ‘I have something to say,’ chomp, or was that just a regular bite?”
Miller grinned and wiped his lips with his thumb. “You know me too well, dear. Although it wasn’t going to be something you haven’t heard me say before, so I was just going to keep it in here,” he said, poking his temple with his index finger.
“No, no,” Allan said, ripping a piece of bacon in half with his teeth. “Out with it. One way or another I’ll hear of it,” he said with a smirk as he chewed on his breakfast.
A playful shrug shook Miller’s shoulders. “It’s just that, well, you’re happy now, but once this meal is done, this room is going to lose its luster yet again.”
“This again?” Allan asked.
“You need to be out there in the stands, among your people. We’ll construct a new section for you that’s closer to the action. Nine hells, we’ll pick up this room and move it if we must, and instead of a door, you’ll have a lovely window,” he said, casting his arm behind him as though he imagined it all before.”
“We haven’t the money to do any of that,” the coliseum owner muttered, returning his attention to his food.
“That’s rubbish, and you know it,” Miller argued. “Even if the arena had grown out of favor—and I assure you that it has not—you’ve amassed enough wealth of your own over the years that you could build a second coliseum out in the woods and still be buried in a jewel-encrusted casket when you’re gone. And that is to say nothing of the support you would receive from Eltan.” He paused then, allowing his words to permeate the air. His beloved said nothing, the man’s attention still on his food, though he knew it was just to avoid eye contact. Miller leaned forward and placed his hand on Allan’s forearm. “What happened wasn’t your fault, and you shouldn’t allow yourself to be at odds with the sight of this place. Those golden sands are a part of you and have been for years. You mustn’t let one accident break your—”
A knock on the door interrupted Miller’s train of thought. Allan was quick to react, calling the visitor to come into the room. Miller furrowed his brow, knowing that his beloved had used the opportunity to flee from the conversation. He grinned though, knowing that they would return to it in time.
When the door swung open, one of Allan’s other assistants took a bow. He stepped to his side then, sweeping his hands wide, and presenting their visitor.
“Lord Rynathor Chatwick,” the aide proclaimed. As Rynathor stepped into the room, the assistant closed the door behind him.
The visitor felt the pull from every wall, where the weapons and armor of previous champions hung from frames or sat draped upon stands. Rynathor instead kept his gaze fixed on Allan, who tilted his head and arched an eyebrow.
“Your name strikes me as familiar, but I cannot say just why,” the coliseum owner said.
“We have business scheduled for this day,” Rynathor insisted. “I made an appointment with one of your assistants nearly three months ago.”
Miller rose from his seat and pushed out the chair. “I should get going. I don’t want to impose on any business meetings.”
Before Allan could say anything, Rynathor lifted his hand to stay the other man. “You should remain here with us. Everything is about to change here in Atalatha. There are not many people who get to stand on the precipice of greatness and watch it rise before them.”
The coliseum owner chortled as Miller sank back into his seat. “My, well you do have a knack for overselling whatever ideas you may have in that head of yours.” He hummed to himself. “You mentioned that you made this appointment three months ago. As much as I like to swell up my own ego, I know that my calendar is not that busy. So, you either chose this date hoping that I would forget about it long before I needed to indefinitely postpone it, or…”
As he let his words linger, Rynathor tilted his head and arched an eyebrow. “Or?”
“Or you needed this much time to prepare for something.”
“Perhaps I was the one who was busy,” Rynathor ribbed.
Allan chortled again and waved his hands. “In any case, you’re here now. And I can’t help but admit that I’m a little intrigued. Out with it.”
Rynathor offered a subtle bow, crossing his dominant arm over his abdomen. “Let me begin by praising you on all that you’ve accomplished, Sir Allan,” the nobleman said, referencing the honorary title the storied warrior had received for his part in the downfall of King Roark of Blacklehn. “Even before Atalatha was a concept fluttered out from the mind of you and your fellow heroes, you had earned much praise and renown, and since then you’ve only seen it extend beyond that what most could dream. The coliseum is perhaps the most impressive arena in the world, and in many ways is what people think of when they think of Atalatha.”
He turned then, walking to one of the walls where he had wanted to glance at before. So much closer to the treasures of old contestants who had earned their celebrity in the sands of Allan’s battlefield, he couldn’t help but smile. He forced that smile to steady into a more solemn look then as he turned to regard his host once more.
“You’ve created champions here. They may have been soldiers, even heroes before, but the coliseum made them champions.” He paused, allowing the compliment to land before he took a step forward. “If most of those champions hadn’t been injured due to the battles here in the coliseum, it’s possible that Blacklehn’s invasion, minor though it was, wouldn’t have occurred. Or, at the very least, perhaps it would have been culled quicker. Eager, foolish troops would have thought better than to assault the city, and your companion Randall would not have been hurt. He would not be learning how to walk again after having his soul walking the bridge into the Nexus before it was pulled back.”
“That’s enough,” Allan said, slamming his fists to his desk as he rose from his seat. “Did you come here just to spit in my face while you placed blame on me for my friend’s grievous injuries? Do you think a day goes by when I don’t wish that I might have wished for any other outcome than what happened? I can’t even bear to look into the eyes of Randall or his children after what occurred.”
Rynathor steadied himself, fighting against every instinct to cower before the powerful old knight. Instead, he swept his hands behind his back, and clasped them together, lending himself more poise. “No, sir, I did not come here to have you burdened by an unfortunate past. I’ve come here today to help you look to your future. I’m here to aid you in ensuring that Atalatha’s champions are forever safe and sound, and ready to do battle against invading forces, or to be called upon by the king himself, if need be. Word has spread that you have grown quiet in the months since the assault. I believe you, Allan Mayheyre, have every right to be loud and boisterous. If you’ll allow me, I’ll help you make your coliseum more popular than ever, with a new event the likes of which no one has ever seen.”
Allan still stood with eyebrows furrowed, his hands fixed on his desk. “You come here before me today with no ledger, no book, nothing except the outfit on your back, and you claim to be able to show me a new future. How do you expect me to believe such a thing?”
“If I may?” Rynathor replied, turning about and gesturing toward the door. “The arena awaits.”
When the trio emerged into the hallway once more, the guest took some time to appreciate Allan’s office. As he had arrived, he committed to the powerful image he wished to evoke, and with that partly behind him, he wanted to consider all the things that made the famed knight the envy of Atalatha.
The walls outside of his office were made of a brown, tan, and white marble, which faded into a sandstone as it went off in either direction. A rhomboid space of the floor in front of the office was made of marble as well, and as Rynathor followed Miller away from the room, he listened to the difference in his footsteps. It was almost like a reminder that if you were to go to speak with Allan, you would be faced with greatness.
Rynathor blew out an anxious sigh through thinly pursed lips, trying to reign in his awe. He also tried to manage his gait and stride, not to race out ahead of Allan, behind him, but not to hold him up too long either.
As the made their way through the tunnel, curving along toward the western side of the massive building, Rynathor spotted a companion whose presence left him feeling a little more at ease.
Allan knew him as well and hummed when he noticed his presence.
“Andrakidus,” the knight and coliseum owner said. “What is one of Atalatha’s great wizards doing here in the arena? It’s not often we find someone of your…stature, here.”
The wizard, who likened himself a dracosage—one who researched the magic of those fantastic beasts and all manner of enchantments with those sort of flourishes—nodded to the trio but met Rynathor’s gaze a little firmer than the rest. “It’s not often that my talents are needed, so to speak, but our mutual friend here is persuasive to say the least.”
“Have all the necessary arrangements been made?” Rynathor asked the wizard in a quiet, soft voice.
Andrakidus nodded again. “Everything is in position, including my fellow magi.”
“Good,” Rynathor said, reaching out to squeeze his companion’s shoulder. “We shouldn’t dawdle. There’s a spectacle to behold.”
Once more, Miller drew to the front of the group, leading the group up the sandstone steps that led to the open air up above. The scent of the city in that area was intoxicating, with all sorts of shops surrounding the arena coalescing into a mixing pot of different delights and delectable foodstuffs.
Miller took a sharp turn at the top of the steps, leading the other three men along the back wall of the section. A gentle incline had the group rising, but not higher than the stadium-style seats that were situated before them. An awning of sorts shaded their approach until they reached another set of steps, that one a bit narrower and steeper than their last. As they climbed them, with Allan struggling a bit more than he cared to admit, they reached the marble cube that sat atop the section—arguably one of the best views in the coliseum.
But when Allan caught his breath, and stepped forth, his eyebrows knitted together as his eyes went wide.
“You ruined my arena!” he shouted, throwing his arm forth to point down at the coliseum floor. There, on the battlefield, jutting up from the sand, was a sextet of towers, with three on each side. The towers stood roughly fifteen feet high, and Allan was surprised that he hadn’t heard their construction. He grew angrier still when he considered that one of his many employees must have seen such a thing and thought better of it, but none had cared to come find him.
When he turned about, he was surprised to see Rynathor still standing firm, emphatically shaking his head while he lifted his hands to placate the irate coliseum owner.
“Sir Allan, I assure you, what you’re seeing is only temporary—they’re structures that Andrakidus was able to conjure for us. His magic alone is what keeps them stable and present in your arena. But, at a whim,” he said, snapping his fingers, “he could have them removed. While they may be temporary, I believe you will find that we will have changed everything about entertainment forever.”
Hearing the lad speak with such confidence, Allan settled just a bit. He realized he’d let his guard down, and when he heard music play out from the area nearby, he couldn’t hide his surprise. Rynathor walked forth, urging the coliseum owner to the edge of the box. Together, they looked down at the bottom of the section, where a band seemed to make merry, playing lutes and drums and shawms. Their music seemed more powerful and energetic than Allan was used to in his arena, and it somehow left him feeling more intrigued and excited than he would usually dare to admit.
When one of the bards below turned about, Allan’s eyes went wide again. There, gazing up at him, was Anson Fysis, one of Atalatha’s newer generation of heroes, a bard that was present during the rediscovery of the Ruins of Kathka—a friend to the duke’s own daughter. To be graced with his presence was not to be expected, and yet, there he was, sweeping low with his arm as he bowed to the lord of the arena.
They played on, and Allan felt himself swell with emotion, tears making their way to his eyes. He nearly lost himself, then, when Miller was there beside him, taking his hand in his own.
The music rolled over into a different flurry of notes and drumbeats, and Allan watched as the two sets of doors on the east and west sides of the arena flung open, a trio of fights on each end marching forth toward the sets of towers.
It took some time for Allan to realize just how much Rynathor had set in place. He was surprised to see the man’s familiarity with Andrakidus, a wizard that had just as much renown in the great city. But to see Anson who, of late had been almost as reclusive as the old knight—well now that was a sight to see.
And Allan Mayheyre was still not done with surprises that day. Miller squeezed his hand and pointed, for the contestants approaching the center of the arena on both sides were familiar to them. They had, each of them, been contenders in some of the coliseum’s greatest matches, and Allan knew them to be great heroes.
From the east side, David Garus, the mighty paladin of Atalatha, and perhaps one of the city’s most popular heroes, led the march, his tremendous shield and sword in hand. He lifted both high as he met the coliseum owner’s distant gaze. Behind David, though, were two more champions that Allan knew well. Luca Kreegan and Dirk Camdy had earned their fame as well. Kreegan was acknowledged as the man who had found Kathka in recent years, with the werewolf Dirk by his side. Indeed, it was David and Anson, and several other heroes who came to be known as “the Nine” who had scoured the depths of the ancient citadel, unlocking many of its secrets.
On the opposite side of the field were yet more of the combatants that Allan had come to know. They were a little more obscure, but after searching his thoughts for a moment, Allan recognized two of them. A husband and wife, Peter, and Calypso, they had never been champions of the arena, but they had come close on countless attempts. He didn’t recognize the fellow behind them, a tall gnoll who wielded a taller halberd. But a treaty—not quite an alliance—with the tribes of Warus meant that things were changing in Atalatha. That he stood beside the two human fighters was interesting indeed, and Allan had to admit to himself that he was beyond intrigued.
As he looked to the battlefield below, finally wrenching himself from the talented combatants bringing their weapons to bear, he wondered what the point was of the towers.
“Are they just set pieces?” Allan muttered. “Are we playing at some act instead of a real battle?”
Miller, beside him, looked his way. “Did you say something, dear?”
Allan waved him off, too rapt by the thought of the heroes doing battle below. But if what Rynathor said was true, then a battle of that caliber could not be quite what was in mind…
The nobleman looked to the dracosage, indicating that they were ready for the next phase of their presentation. Andrakidus nodded and thrust his hand up toward the canopy and then down, until it was just perpendicular to his shoulder.
At once, the quartet in the box heard a screech enter the air. Allan gasped and hopped back when he saw the dragon soar out from above before it dove toward the center of the arena.
Those below seemed not to care for its presence, and at once, the coliseum owner realized his folly. The dragon had been summoned by Andrakidus, and all the contestants below had been prepared for its appearance. Allan felt a little foolish, but he was too swept up by the pageantry of the event to care.
Below, Anson and the rest of the musicians played a quicker version of the song they had already played, the tempo increasing and the pitch rising as the dragon drew closer to the arena floor.
As it struck the sand, it dissipated with a flash, but there, centered perfectly between the east and west, was an orb that seemed to be about the size of a smaller crystal ball, perhaps just under eight inches in diameter. It shone as though an unnatural light struck it from the heavens, but Allan could see the clouds in the sky. Moreover, the light that reflected out from it was a bold purple.
Allan noticed, too, that magical flags seemed to appear atop the towers on both sides of the arena. On the side which David, Luca, and Dirk represented, those flags were blue. On the opposite side, it seemed as though Peter, Calypso, and the gnoll guarded towers that were topped with red flags. A closer inspection of those flags had Allan realized that they were conjured just as the dragon had been, and they flickered as though they were made of flames.
The old knight stepped closer to the railing of the box, and gripped his hands against it, too excited to try and reign in his sense of wonder.
Below, the music hit a crescendo, and at once, the slow march of the two teams turned into a sprint toward the sphere.
“Gone are the gladiator fights of the past,” Rynathor assured as he pointed toward the arena. “In our event, defeating your opponents is still possible, but not by traditional means. Well, I shouldn’t quite say that.” He waved his hand and shook his head. “I’ll get to that. The thing that you should know is that there are two important parts of this new game: the towers and the spheres. But the more important thing is this: they only work together.”
On the topic of working together, down below, the two teams converged on one another. David, with his immense gear, was quickly outpaced by his two allies, with Dirk’s innate gifts giving him the upper hand. It certainly looked as though he was even holding back and pacing himself to allow Luca to near their foes at the same time.
The other team moved quickly as well. That trio wore mostly leather armor, and were not burdened by such large weapons, except for the gnoll’s mighty halberd. Still, it didn’t seem to slow the fellow. Peter and Calypso sprinted forth, their swords not even leaving their scabbards. Before long they reached the center line.
Up above, Allan watched with eager eyes, interested in what part the sphere would play in the match. Peter, who arrived there first, hopped right over the small purple globe, and he pulled his twin rapiers from their sheathes, daring anyone from the other team to come close.
Before the coliseum owner could express any disappointment in the sphere being ignored, his wife dropped to a knee beside it, scooping it up and seeming to bounce back into a sprint at once. Allan was impressed by her agility, but his attention was drawn to the orb in her possession instead.
“Once one of the teams takes control of the sphere, it changes color to reflect its ownership,” Rynathor said. “Since Calypso now holds it, it’s turned red, just like the colors of her tower flags.”
As the nobleman narrated the actions below, Allan watched as the woman broke off to the side, avoiding a fight with Dirk as best she could. The werewolf charged forth, his shield leading, yet Calypso still had her weapons sheathed. Doubling back, the warrior woman seemed ready to avoid her foe at all costs.
Allan was equally surprised when Luca and David seemed ready to put distance between themselves and Peter, instead attempting to box the man’s wife into a corner of the arena.
“Why aren’t they fighting?” the coliseum owner asked. “If you present something like this to the crowds of Atalathans who yearn for the song of steel on steel, you’ll lose them before long.”
“A melee is inevitable,” Rynathor said, understanding the arena master’s concerns. “But that isn’t how this game is won.”
As though the combatants below heard the nobleman’s explanation, a towering halberd slammed into the sand, cutting Dirk off from the woman with the sphere. The gnoll growled at the werewolf, who thought better of keeping up his pursuit, especially when the fellow’s muzzle scrunched up, displayed rows of sharp teeth.
“Thanks, Griz,” Calypso said, spinning about around the gnoll to put some distance between her and the diligent werewolf.
Dirk would not relent though, it seemed. He only adjusted his focus. If he couldn’t reach the woman without going through the gnoll, then that was what he intended to do.
With another sweep of Griz’s halberd, the werewolf could feel his fur waver in the gust it created. The gnoll’s weapon was just out of reach, but it was a feigned attack anyway, and both combatants knew it.
Dirk had studied the other fighter enough to know what was coming next, and he brought his shield to bear. Just as he expected, Griz kept his arm rotating, sending the mighty halberd twirling around. With a lunge, he cut the distance down between the two warriors, and the hefty metal head of the gnoll’s weapon crashed against Dirk’s shield.
Gnashing his teeth together, the werewolf steadied himself. Though he had turned into the attack, expecting his arm to feel as though he had just shoulder-charged a sturdy tree, he was surprised to find himself holding strong. Still, the reverberations coursed through him.
Instead of allowing the pain to linger, Dirk channeled it into momentum. As though it spun him about, the werewolf twisted on his heel, swinging out with his own weapon in retaliation.
Griz lifted his halberd again, but it was too late. Dirk had anticipated the motion and danced under the polearm. With his pirouette completing, he struck out with a powerful slash, his sword catching the gnoll under his lifted arms, straight across his unguarded abdomen.
Up above, Allan’s eyes went wide. Griz, a strong and steady contestant, fell to his back, a brief flash of light seeming to announce his fall. The coliseum owner looked to Rynathor, who lifted his hand to stay any emotions that might have been swirling in the host.
“A defeated gladiator without an audience?” the nobleman suspected Allan was thinking. “Why, I couldn’t think of anything worse. But fret not, Sir Allan. As you’ll see, our friend from Warus is unharmed—well, uninjured, we’ll say.” He pointed out a row of clerics, on the other side of the arena, some who looked on from combatant to combatant, and others who quietly channeled with their eyes closed. “We’ve worked with some powerful clerics to ensure that weapons are dulled, and other magic is muted to some extent. With their enchantments in play, not one of your contestants will be maimed or killed in the arena again. None of Atalatha’s champions need to die for this spectacle, although it will still be a sight to see.”
He pointed to Griz again, who gasped to catch his breath, even as Dirk charged past him and toward the gnoll’s ally. “There’s still a bit of pain involved. Griz isn’t going to welcome a blow like that any time soon, but he can rise up and get back into the action once he shakes off the blow. We’re still fine-tuning the rules: do we allow five combatants on each team at a time, or stick with three? Are there alternates waiting in line to take their ally’s place when they fall? There are certain things still to consider, but the foundation of the game is set.”
That foundation was put to the test, it seemed, for all three combatants on the other team looked to one person on the battlefield. Calypso still held fast to the glowing red sphere, exerting herself as she charged across the sand.
Her beloved, Peter, stood faced against two of Atalatha’s most illustrious heroes, knowing that it was only he that could protect her against the risk of defeat. He held fast against both as they began moving in. But he only held onto that bravery for a moment. David’s massive shield was as tall as Peter, and the lone warrior felt safer backing away from him, especially considering the paladin clung to a greatsword that was just as large.
His other would-be foe, Luca Kreegan, was eager to show him that he chose the wrong opponent then. The other fellow wore a bit less armor than either of his companions, and only wielded a single sword, with no shield to speak of. While both Peter and Calypso moved quickly upon the battlefield, Luca matched their speed. It was his pace that brought him against Peter in a moment, one sword meeting another pair then.
The three blades sang out, a chorus of steel upon steel. While Luca’s weapons were outnumbered, he kept to the dance, avoiding any wayward stabs or slashes. And when he watched Peter glance to his side, wary of the burly paladin, Luca made his move.
The adventurer stepped forward, slicing out with his sword, hard enough that the spectators in the box above were not certain that the strike would not cleave off the other man’s head, even with the clerics channeling their magic on the sideline.
It wasn’t anything that Peter had to worry about, however. Distracted as he was, he would not be caught off guard, and he ducked underneath the slash.
Luca anticipated it and slapped the broad side of his blade against the man’s rump as he skittered forward.
Peter was never the target. Luca’s only concern was the sphere.
“Battle is inevitable, but it isn’t the most important part of the game,” Rynathor said as those beside him watched on. “You’ll see Kreegan making his way toward Calypso, because if he gets his hands on the sphere, his team has the advantage.”
“What sort of advantage?” Allan wondered aloud.
As Luca ran forth, he locked eyes with the woman who held the sphere. She stopped in her tracks and jerked upright, knowing that all three of the other team’s combatants rushed in toward her.
Calypso’s eyes were wide for a second, but she couldn’t keep up the ruse for long. A smile crossed her face as she lifted the sphere and reared back her shoulder. A whistle was the only warning she gave her foes before she cast her arm forward, tossing the sphere across the battlefield.
Luca’s eyes were the ones flashing then. He turned about to see that Peter had not doubled back to protect his wife. Instead, he had put distance between himself and every other fighter on the battlefield. The attack that he had dodged earlier had been carefully planned, a brilliant strategy enacted in an instant.
Allan and the other spectators watched as the sphere flew across the battlefield, still retaining the red color. A collective gasp rang out as David leapt as high as his hefty armor and equipment would allow, swinging his greatsword overhead. He missed striking the sphere, however, and it passed by him, landing in the waiting hands of Calypso’s husband.
“What would have happened if he struck the sphere?” Allan asked.
Rynathor flashed a smile, pleased that the coliseum owner had such an interest in the game. “Well, first and foremost, the same magic that protects our players protects the sphere. That thing is well-protected and can certainly stand the strikes of even a powerful warrior like David Garus. It would have changed color, of course, reflecting the other team, as they would have been the last to touch it. Though, you’ll see that color only matters for one thing.”
As he spoke, Peter, down below, spun about and ran from the fight. As he was safely behind enemy lines, he was free to turn his attention toward the trio of towers that stood on the opposing side of the battlefield. He sprinted toward the center tower, even as his foes gave chase toward him once more.
Though Peter could hear David barking orders at his companions, the warrior with the sphere never ceased his sprint. Before long, Peter neared the tower, and bowed his head, running through the aperture that led to the other side.
Rynathor nodded with enthusiasm, for above the tower, the flag that wavered magically changed color, showing the crimson of Peter’s team, rather than the blue of his opponents.
“And there you have the real goal of the game,” Rynathor explained to Allan and the other spectators then. “The carrier of the sphere changes the color of the tower flags. Once all the flags display the same color, the team that represents that color wins the match.”
Allan nodded then as well, not just in agreement, but as if it made too much sense for the explanation to mean anything else. “Interesting,” was all that Allan could find himself saying, for his attention was still drawn to the battlefield. With the tower colors uneven, it looked like the match was in full swing.
Peter circled around the tower again, only to see his trio of opponents charging forth like angry bulls. David was closest, despite all his heft, and Peter gasped, spinning back around the tower. None could see him show on the other side, and Miller, up above, speculated that he had taken up respite inside the tower instead to collect his thoughts once more.
David stepped to the side, thinking he was heading in that direction. Luca, on the other hand, sheathed his sword.
“What’s he doing?” Allan wondered. The coliseum owner’s enthusiasm was palpable, and he grew even more excited when he watched as Luca pulled the grappling hook from his hip. Allan had learned long ago that it was no mundane thing, the magic implement called Sky Talon. Even if there were no towers upon the field, Luca would have been able to steady the hook into the air and launch himself forward or higher up as needed.
Allan looked to the man who devised the game.
Rynathor knew that there were questions about in the coliseum owner’s mind. “We’re considering multiple leagues,” the nobleman said. “In one, things would be a bit more mundane. No artifacts or treasures to speak of. But in the premiere league? That’s where anything goes.”
Luca looked to take advantage of that freedom. While his opponent was distracted by the incoming rush of David and Dirk, the other adventurer threw his grappling hook toward the sky. Sure enough, the Sky Talon steadied itself in the air, and Luca swung upon it with all his strength. At the end of his arc, he was still far from northernmost tower on his team’s side. The spectators above looked on in awe as he pulled the grappling hook from its rooted spot, and swung it again, even as he began falling back toward the battlefield.
He’d grown used to the Sky Talon over the years, using it to great effect, and impressing anyone into believing it had become an extension of him throughout his adventures. Those closest to him considered it a foregone conclusion that he could, in effect, fly across the battlefield, but those folks watching from above couldn’t hide their surprise as the grappling hook delivered the man right to the top of the tower, Luca landing atop two merlons there with ease.
Once there, he crouched down, understanding that reaching that point was only the start of his plan. He needed Peter to play his part as well.
While he waited, David cut across the battlefield, drawing near to where he had last spotted the opponent who held fast to the sphere. Before he could peer into the shadow within the tower though, he heard a companion call out his name.
David spun about, just in time to see Calypso arrive there behind him. She no longer appeared unarmed, at that point wielding her two thin scimitars. Against the mighty mountain of a man, it didn’t appear that her twin blades would amount to much, but those who knew Calypso knew her weapons were well-forged, and that a pair of deft hands brandished them.
At first, her swords merely landed a beat atop David’s towering shield. The sound played a tempo to the battle, as though it called out the thump of the contestants’ hearts in unison. But that melody hit a crescendo when David swept out his shield, casting the woman’s weapons to the side as though they were nothing. He came down with his greatsword as though he intended to split her in half.
He may have been powerful, but she was quick, and as the sword smashed into the sand, she was already at his exposed side, poking through with her small blades. David grunted and groaned, certainly feeling something against those strikes, but no lasting wounds had been made.
Sure enough, Allan saw some sort of glowing enchantments taking shape on the opposite side of the arena.
“Those clerics are talented, indeed,” the coliseum owner said.
“Well, between the spells they had prepared ahead of time, and the ones they cast on the fly, we should have everything covered,” Rynathor speculated. “With all that said, talent may be an understatement. I believe you may even know one of them.”
Allan looked to the nobleman with some curiosity before he felt an object prod him in his side. When he turned his attention the other way, he saw that Miller held a spyglass out to him.
The coliseum owner hummed as he considered the timing of the offering, but he wasted no time lifting the spyglass to his face, to witness the talents of the clerics in action. He assumed that many of them had been sourced from the temple district of the city—a place he didn’t venture to that often. But he was caught between a gasp and a sound of curiosity when he spotted a familiar face among the group.
“Is that Robert Lener?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.
Rynathor shrugged, playing off the question as though he did not truly know. “I believe it may be. Oh yes, he would be the son of one of your good friends, right? Robert, son of Richard, one of the other Knights of Virtue, as you lot are known.” He let a confident smile show then before he looked back to the battle unfolding below.
Allan, as interested as he was in the match, turned to Miller for a moment. “Who is this man who makes such inroads with wizards and clerics and the most well-known adventures of the land?”
The question went unanswered, for Miller insisted his beloved continue to watch as everything unfolded below.
Despite being prodded by Calypso’s blades and feeling some sort of stunted pain, thanks to the work of the clerics on the sideline, David caught himself, balanced on his sword and his shield. With a mighty war cry, he lifted a boot and shoved the woman away.
Just as before though, David found himself concerned with the wrong target. Distracted as he was, he didn’t realize as Peter snuck away from the back of the tower, toward the northernmost tower.
The huge paladin didn’t need to have eyes on him, however, for his ally had everything under control.
“David,” Dirk called out, lifting his shield up so that it was parallel to the ground. He didn’t wait to see if his companion understood the request. As he sprinted forth, the werewolf could feel his leg muscles twitching, aching with every stomp into the sand.
As Dirk leapt into the air, David brought his shield overhead. Despite the werewolf’s heft, David kept steady, giving his friend a platform to bounce from.
Even though he knew better, the paladin looked to his side, watching as Dirk plummeted from the sky. A whistle caught Peter’s attention—but not soon enough to stop the attack.
With his shield leading, Dirk pounced upon the man with the sphere, striking him in the chest. A bright light pulsed from the blow, indicating to the spectators just how deadly it would have been in a real fight.
Peter survived the attack, but sprawled out on the ground as he was, everyone— onlookers and combatants alike—could see that pain had been inflicted. The fallen warrior clutched his chest and writhed on the ground, grimacing through his agony.
Dirk scooped up the sphere, and for the first time in the match, the onlookers watched as the glow changed from crimson to cobalt. Holding the sphere and the shield close to his chest, the werewolf bounded back toward the tower, slipping through the turret, and coming out the other side, just in front of David. The flag at the top changed color again as well, returning to the blue tint that it had presented as before.
Once more it was three towers on each side flying the colors of the respective teams, but Dirk meant to gain some momentum. He sprinted toward the eastern tower, but could not travel far, for Griz had found his way back into the fray.
The gnoll slowed and lifted his halberd then.
Dirk knew better than to believe he was safe, but he still didn’t know what to expect as the Griz reached for his hip instead, and grasped at a small silver disc. With a mighty thump, the gnoll stuck his halberd in the sand, and switched the disc to his dominant hand. Dirk switched directions, crossing back the other way in the hopes that he would confuse his foe.
Griz didn’t hesitate in the slightest. With a sweeping motion, he tossed the disc across the battlefield then. It was well-aimed and soared in toward Dirk.
The werewolf refused to take the strike, and he lifted his shield to block it. As the silver object collided with his shield, the device activated, its cover receding, and a net bursting out of it.
All at once, the werewolf had been caught in the gnoll’s trap, losing the momentum he once hoped to score for his team. The sphere rolled away from him, coming to a stop in the sand once more.
“Go, Calypso,” Griz snarled as he took her place before David. With a hop, the gnoll struck down with his hefty halberd, thumping it against the paladin’s massive shield.
His ally did as her companion instructed then, skittering past the bout between the two massive warriors. Calypso scooped up the glowing orb then but kept one sword at the ready that time. She flashed a smile at Dirk and then went on her way, back toward the tower that her husband had gained and lost for her team.
In the meantime, David and Griz traded blows back and forth, with the gnoll’s halberd to unwieldy to pass beyond the paladin’s broad defenses. Instead, Griz grew increasingly violent, slamming his weapon harder and harder. If it hadn’t been magically reinforced, there would have been a good chance it would have already shattered into pieces.
Eventually, even with the burly man’s shield in place, David began stumbling back, a step here, another there.
And then, he fell to his knee beneath the onslaught of the attacks, balancing on the lower end of his shield to keep from falling.
Griz saw his opening and charged forth.
But David was not as weak and weary as he feigned to be.
The stoic paladin rose to his feet and darted forward. Before Griz could react, David lifted his shield, carrying the tall gnoll up and over, flipping him unceremoniously. Griz landed with a thud, even with sand beneath him. But David wasn’t content to just leave him catching his breath on his back then. The hulking fellow followed up with his sword, cleaving it overhead.
If the blow that Dirk had landed upon Peter had stolen away the vision from the onlookers, then the massive strike that David inflicted could only be described as a supernova.
As the bright flash faded, Rynathor blinked and shook his head. Once he felt comfortable describing the action once more, he pointed toward the battlefield.
“Here you go,” the nobleman said. “You’ll see that Calypso is once again trying to take the sphere through the middle tower. She could have tried for the northern or southern towers, but I suppose she’s trying to win back some favor for her husband and regain the tower he lost.”
As David moved into position though, everyone could see that he was moving toward the center tower as well.
“Now here’s an important distinction to the rules,” Rynathor said. “It isn’t enough to simply enter the tower and leave the same way you entered. You need to pass through it, on both sides. That’s challenging for Calypso in this case because you can see that—”
Before he could finish his thought, the group of spectators heard the woman’s sword bang against David’s shield. The paladin kept his towering shield locked in place, refusing to let the woman push through to the other side.
David looked over his shoulder then, spotting the woman’s allies, both on his left. Both struggled to climb to their feet, with Peter finding a little bit more luck in doing so.
It was only then that David realized that the melody that played against his shield had ceased. He took a step back and understood that Calypso had given up on trying to make her way through the center tower. Instead, she passed by her husband, offering him some words of support as he went.
David passed beyond Griz, but there was no possibility of him cutting the distance between himself and Calypso.
“As you can see, the momentum changes back and forth throughout the match,” Rynathor said. “It’s very rare for a combatant to be taken out completely—it’s illegal in the rules of this game to go on attacking someone after they’ve been downed. In David’s case, a single strike to the fallen opponent was all that was acceptable.”
He turned his attention to Calypso again, a grin appearing on his face. “The lone standing member of her team, she thinks that the northern tower is free of danger. But she either missed what we had seen earlier, or she has forgotten it completely.” He pointed to Luca atop the tower, who once again had the Sky Talon in his hands.
The man peered over the tower’s edge, noting where Calypso was. Then, counting down silently, he tossed his magically enchanted grappling hook into the air just west of the tower.
Then, he leapt off his parapet, careening toward the ground.
Calypso didn’t know any better. With excitement and enthusiasm fueling her, she charged through the tower, once again gaining an advantage for her team as the flag above turned red.
But as she stood upon the sand on the opposite side of the tower, she realized that she had been deceived.
Luca swung on the end of the grappling hook, his feet leading. Perfectly angled, he collided with the woman, sending her flying back through the tower, and spilling her to her back. In a moment, Luca was there before her, quickly looping the rope of the Sky Talon around his hand before hooking it upon his belt once more. Then, wasting no further time, he reached down and plucked the sphere away from the woman.
Once more, the towers were even, for Luca sped back the way he came, ensuring the towers on his side were all displaying the blue flags they had started with. The warrior didn’t slow either, keeping up his sprint even after he passed through the northern tower that flew his flag.
In moments, he was on the opposite side of the battlefield, for the first time, carrying possession of the cobalt-hued sphere on his opponents’ end of the arena.
Rynathor once again turned back to his captivated audience. “I would like to host a tournament heralding the arrival of this new game,” he said, sounding more insistent than speculative. He stood up a bit straighter then and cleared his throat. “That is, if you should allow it. Any proceeds made from its induction into these fine walls would go straight into your pocket. But, if you like you see after that event, I will receive fair compensation from all events in the future—in perpetuity.”
Allan said nothing for a time, his sight still drawn to the match carrying out below. It didn’t seem as though anything could stop the team represented by the blue flags. Luca had not been struck a single time, and David had weathered any attacks that had come his way. Even Dirk worked his way out from under the net and headed west to reinforce his ally.
The paladin, meanwhile, worked against his typical mindset. While he would be the first to pick someone up and dust them off, he treated the match like a war, waiting for any opportunity to exploit the rules. He stomped about, daring any of his three opponents to climb to their feet. For once they were there, he would be quick to knock them down again.
Though they were battered and beaten, the trio were still able to work together. Calypso, Peter, and Griz traded glances to one another, nodding as they pushed past their weariness.
Peter was the first to make the ascent, blowing out a huge sigh as he backpedaled a few steps. He couldn’t outpace the paladin, who charged forth at him like a raging bull. Instead, he braced himself for the attack.
To David’s credit, he didn’t strike out with his sword. Almost as if sensing his foe was beyond recovery for the duration of the match, he opted to smash into him with his shield instead. Peter flew out toward the eastern wall of the arena, and after the flash of light wore off, David could see that he didn’t intend on climbing to his feet again any time soon after.
David soon learned that the man had already played his role. As the paladin turned about, he spotted Peter’s allies rushing to their feet. They didn’t plan on avenging their fallen companion though, knowing that a loss or a victory would be carved out on the opposite side of the battlefield. Calypso and Griz sprinted in that direction.
They watched as the tide turned, for their northernmost tower’s flag changed from red to blue as Luca passed through the entryways.
Up above, Allan began to nod. “There are still a few items to talk about in order to see that you have what it takes,” the old knight said. He didn’t bother to look at Rynathor, instead keeping his focus on Luca, who made his way toward the central tower. “You certainly have an interesting setup here. But just as important as an bringing entertainment to the masses is bringing the masses to your new entertainment. Tell me, what are you going to call your new game?”
“It’s called Wicket,” Rynathor insisted then.
It grew silent again, for Allan brought his attention back toward the playing field.
Luca spotted his opponents on their quick approach, and he reached for the pouch fashioned onto his belt. He pulled out another sphere altogether, that one only noticeably different because of the swirls of black in its coloring. He pitched it forward, until it smacked against the side of the tower. A moment later, it landed upon the sand, and began emitting a cloud of dark smoke.
Calypso and Griz sprinted forth as fast as they could, but they knew that they wouldn’t be able to stop their opponent from making their way into the tower. The best they could hope to accomplish was to make him regret entering it.
Still, Luca didn’t hesitate, passing through into the growing plume of smoke that surrounded the fortification.
“Wicket,” Allan said. “That’s a play on your last name, isn’t it? Chatwick?”
“It is,” Rynathor said.
Allan hummed, but his focus was drawn yet again to the battlefield, for he spotted Luca’s grappling hook rise out of the smoke in the shadow of the tower’s western side. As the adventurer scaled the tower, the spectators could see that the game sphere glowed from inside the pouch that his smoke marble once sat.
Calypso entered the dark mist on the eastern side of the tower, but Luca watched as Griz practically dove into the plume on the western side, the gnoll completely unaware of the man’s presence above him.
“Though I understand the desire to name something so bold after oneself, you mustn’t allow a name to hold back something that can grow bigger yet. What do you think of TowerSphere?” Allan suggested, glancing at the nobleman out of the corner of his eye.
For a flash of a second, Rynathor was dejected. But as the name echoed in his mind, he could see the possibilities there.
Below, Luca watched as his ally reached the southern tower. Dirk cast his sword into the ground and raised his arm high.
From his perch, Luca heaved the sphere forward.
It landed in the werewolf’s waiting hand, and Dirk quickly brought it against his chest before he grabbed it in his other hand, protected from sight by his shield. Grabbing up his sword again, he spun about, and raced into the southern tower, changing the color of the flag above.
Free to use both hands again, Luca tossed the Sky Talon up a few more feet and scrambled up the side of the tower, coming into view of the last red flag upon the battlefield. When he looked past it, he spotted David coming to reinforce their side of the skirmish as well.
Luca looked to his side then, watching as Dirk came out of the other tower. He still protected the sphere with his shield, not allowing his foes to cast a glance toward it. As Luca looked on, he could hear the telltale sound of the smoke withdrawing back into the magic marble, and he knew that Calypso and Griz would realize that he was not in the tower.
It took a moment more for them to realize that the flag of a different tower had changed color, though. Their confusion was cleared when Dirk smiled, swinging his shield out wide, and displaying the sphere in his possession.
When the werewolf thrust his sword into the sand once more, Calypso pointed to David, and encouraged Griz to head off the paladin while she rushed toward the werewolf. It seemed like a sound bit of advice, especially as Dirk brought back his hand to toss the sphere.
Across the battlefield, one more voice rang out, as Peter hollered as loud as he could.
Calypso realized too late that she had steered her team wrong, and as she looked behind her, she could see the Sky Talon once again locking into the air. Luca brought two fingers to the edge of his eyebrow, saluting his opponents as he leapt off the tower.
As though she was punishing herself for her loss, Calypso turned just in time to see Dirk toss the sphere forward. His friend caught the sparkling orb as he descended, and the arc from the magical grappling hook had him once again landing upon the ground just in front of the tower.
Luca jogged into the last turret, and a series of explosions rang out from the center of the arena, announcing his team’s victory. As he returned from the shadows of the tower, he raised his hand in cheer.
All pretenses of anger or violence were gone from the contenders, as Luca’s allies and his opponents alike gave an extended applause, excited by the prospect of the new and exciting event. They looked to the premium seats then, where Allan and Rynathor watched on with contentment.
The applause, then, was for the game master, who had come up with the concept.
Allan offered a small ovation as well, demonstrating some light clapping before he turned toward Rynathor to present a bow. “You said everything was about to change in Atalatha,” the coliseum owner said. “I think things are about to change for the world.” He extended his hand to the nobleman, no longer willing to hide his enthusiasm. “Let’s see what you can do.”
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