“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special treat for you,” the announcer sang out. “One of our agents found a most delicious piece of information.”
Alf clenched and unclenched his fists as he waited nervously in the archway. The sound of the crowd overhead quieted and the announcer continued.
“Zaphaniea, our grand champion, has been secretly training her childhood sweetheart to fight in the arena.”
“What?.. I never,” Alf started, but Hervey slapped him on the back. “I saw how she wrapped her arm around you. Didn’t think I’d notice did ya?”
“No. But real-”
“I know,” the announcer continued as the crowd stirred in excitement, “scandalous isn’t it, but we can’t possibly let someone as powerful as our champion give out private lessons, so we snatched him from the jaws of the dragon and drug him here. Sooo,” the announcer paused dramatically, “here he is. The strongest man in the world; the most handsome brute you’ve ever laid eyes on, and the half-trained, half-baked warrior… Alf!”
Hervey pushed him forward and Alf stumbled out onto the field.
Magic lights shined on him, and giant scryings floating high in the sky zoomed in on his face then his biceps and muscular form. A large group of muscular, half-naked men with Zaphaniea’s name painted in red all over their bodies booed at his appearance, and popcorn, with various pieces of trash, rained down at him.
I guess they don’t like the idea I’m Zephaniea’s sweetheart, Alf thought. Not that actually am, though.
The scrying zoomed back in on the announcer, a skinny fellow with large sunglasses and a crazy-looking hat. “And just who will this untested combatant be fighting? The mysterious… drum roll please… viiice champioooon!”
The people erupted in ear-deafening shouts and the stands trembled as the vice champion suddenly appeared on the other side of the arena. Still clad in the same metallic facemask and green armor he had worn earlier, the warrior bowed towards the stands with an easy confidence and jauntily saluted Alf.
“Will a new hero be born or will our vice champion crush the half-trained warrior? Keep your eyes peeled and your face forward folks or you might miss the fight. And trust me, this is one you don’t want to miss. Without further ado, and before your anticipation crushes me to death, let the fight begin!!”
A giant gong rung out, and Alf whipped out his sword as the warrior in green leaned forward and shot towards him.
Alf leveled his blade, trying to gauge at what angle the attack would come from, but right before the masked warrior reached him, he veered to his left, and flashed past him.
Alf spun around in alarm, just-in-time to see the vice champion pivot, sending up plumes of dirt. With deadly precision, the warrior swung his whole body to face him and drew his sword in the same fluid arc he had used earlier.
Gripping his decorative weapon with both hands, Alf interposed it between himself and the oncoming attack.
A high pitched scream of metal on metal echoed throughout the arena as the green warrior’s sword sprung from its sheath and smashed into his, sending a nasty shock all the way through Alf’s arms and down to his feet. A hairline crack etched its way into the blade of his sword. If it hadn’t been for the Stone of Kay’s resonating frequencies enhancing the blade, the force of the vice champion’s attack would have snapped it clean in half.
For a moment, the warrior and Alf stood face to face, and through the slits in his mask, Alf could see the champion’s greenish-brown eyes widen in surprise.
But as the sound of a sword clicking back into its sheath sounded in the air, Alf’s heart jumped. He had mere milliseconds to act. His thoughts flicked to the pre-prepared ice spike hovering by his left calf, and with a crunching hiss, it shot away into the ground.
The vice champion pivoted once again and started to shoot away just as the mixed magic spell exploded. Glistening water and dusty earth combined in a clash of blues and browns as the earth exploded into dust and flooded with water.
Alf’s chest pounded with excitement as the vice champion’s foot slipped and he tumbled to one knee. Immediately, his second pre-charged spell shot into the ground, freezing it solid and locking the vice champion in place.
He had won!
Or not! Alf’s mind screamed as the green warrior’s sword sprung from its sheath once more. He had trapped his foe while he was still in range to strike, he realized in panic as he threw up his sword to deflect the oncoming attack.
The backside of his damaged weapon smacked into the side of his face, the long curved blade of the champion’s sword hovering only centimeters away from his neck.
Again, the warrior’s sword shot away only to swing back around, this time headed straight for his legs.
Alf tried to step back, but his own feet were frozen solid in the mud. Gripping his hilt with both hands, he thrust the blade down, barely deflecting the third attack, but again the warrior’s sword rebounded into another attack, and it was all Alf could do to block it.
Time blurred, and an eternity seemed to pass as Alf’s every thought and motion focused intently on protecting himself as the vice champion rained down blow after lighting fast blow.
The attacks didn’t have much force behind them, thanks to his opponent’s awkward position, but the sheer number of them became too much for Alf to handle, and the attacks started to score small nicks and scratches. Slowly, Alf’s arena shield drained away.
Just when it looked like he was doomed to lose the fight, the Stone of Kay said in a weird female voice, “Skill extracted. New skill obtained. Name of skill is,” there was a slight pause, “Defender.”
From his link with the Stone of Kay, new information flooded into Alf’s mind, and as he watched the vice champion’s sword swing towards him, he instantly knew how to position his blade to deflect the attack.
As if seeing a scrying in slow motion, Alf watched his arm effortlessly move his weapon into position, sending the green warrior’s sword in a wide swing and forcing him to regain control over it before he could attack again. This time, as the blade came back around, Alf’s sword was already in place to send it flying wide once again.
“What in the world?” the vice champion muttered.
“I think I have a new skill,” Alf exclaimed. And with that, he knocked the warrior’s blade wide one last time. Taking advantage of the moment of respite, he used his left hand to charge the ground around his feet with earth magic.
With a muddy slurp, his feet broke loose, and he back flipped away from the vice champion. Standing on solid ground, Alf sheathed his sword, raised both of his arms, and the small ice crystal hovering above his right shoulder sprang to life.
Tiny, razor-sharp ice daggers shot towards the ensnared vice champion.
The crowd gasped then sighed in relief as the green warrior effortlessly batted each ice spike out of the air with his sword.
“You will have to do better than that,” the vice champion shouted.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Alf admitted. “But let’s see you stop this.” Alf dropped to a crouching position and held his hands off to his right as he started charging a fireball. As the flames grew in size, he fully expected the warrior to use the opening to try and break free of the ice ,but instead, the vice champion leaned his head back and began to sing.
At first, it was one long melodious note; then his voice seemed to be joined by a second voice, then a third.
Alf’s eyes widened in amazement. He had heard polyphonic overtone singing before but nothing like this. As one, the voices climbed into both higher and lower octaves at the same time… It was mesmerizing. Then two of the voices climbed into inaudible frequencies.
Alf’s eyes began to twitch and his ears rung.
A sudden, nasty burning sensation bloomed in the back of his head. Without warning, something broke, and Alf’s energy flowed like a tidal wave into his fireball.
The warrior in green cut his song short with a harsh ‘saffieer’ screeching sound, and Alf’s fireball exploded in his hands, sending him flying across the arena and tumbling towards the wall.
With a loud SMACK!, Alf struck the stone wall and slowly slid to the ground. His arena shield flickered but held due to his immense strength, and Alf hung onto consciousness despite the ringing in his ears.
He struggled to stand, but the world swirled around him, and he fell back to the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the explosion had set the vice champion free and he was crawling to his feet. His hands trembling, Alf raised his right arm and cast his final pre-prepared spell, a backup spell combining earth and water.
A wall of dirt and ice shot up between him and the oncoming warrior.
If I was smart enough to think of preparing this, why wasn’t I smart enough to think of preparing an iced fire ball? Alf thought to himself. Drake was right. I lack experience.
The vice champion skidded to a halt in front of his newly erected wall. “Good fight. First time I’ve had a real challenge in a long time.”
“This fight isn’t over yet,” Alf tried to say, but his tongue felt like a piece of rubber in his mouth and it came out more like, “Tos fi is t ovelret.”
The warrior in green laughed and started to sing again. His mesmerizing voice echoed across the arena, bouncing off the walls and entrancing the ears of its listeners.
As if on command, Alf’s ice wall cracked. Like a spider web weaving its way throughout the crystallized surface, the lines raced to the edge with abandon. A small pop sounded within its murky depths. Then the wall shattered, crumbling to the ground in thousands of tiny, broken splinters.
Alf feebly raised his hand and discharged a stream of lighting towards the warrior. The thunder roared as it raced towards its target with a flashing blue arc and plowed into the vice champion’s chest. Lighting crackled and hissed around the plated metal as it traveled down his chest and legs, only to discharge harmlessly into the ground.
The vice champion stepped forward, unfazed, his voice rising to a crescendo over the sound of the lightning and his sword raised for the final strike.
Alf’s ears rang and his whole body felt as if he were the one being electrocuted, but even through the pain, with the last of his strength, he managed to bring his other arm to bear when a white mass slammed into the side of his face.
Olivia found herself yelling at the top of her lungs, screaming for Alf to move, when she saw the frequencies for a wind spell converge in Alf’s palm. That’s it! she thought to herself. There’s no way the vice champion can doge one of Alf’s wind spells at such a close range.
Olivia leaned far over the railing in anticipation as the wind spell’s frequencies coalesced, but just as Alf’s counter attack started blooming to life, the water storage crystal floating above his right shoulder exploded.
With a sound akin to shattering glass, the opposite side of the stadium shook, and a shower of ice and snow shot high into the air as Alf went flying and bouncing around the side of the arena like a spinning top. Over and over, his body slammed into the walls, and Olivia’s heart seized within her.
The sound of armor smacking the shield broke through Olivia’s stupor, and she stared in front of her.
Just inches away from Olivia’s face, the vice champion hung suspended, momentarily squished against the shimmering shield.
“Ooh, that has to hurt,” someone muttered in the crowd.
On the other side, Alf’s body slid to a halt and the vice champion fell face forward into the sod far below.
As the two bodies tumbled into the dirt, the audience faded into an unearthly silence, and Olivia shook with fear as she stared down at Alf’s unmoving form. No one could have survived such an explosion.
“He’s fine dear,” the eldest sister said patting her hand. “And it seems both have lost.”
“I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it!” the announcer cried. “Ladies and gentlemen, the impossible has happened. We have a dr—”
He cut himself off as something stirred on the battlefield.
“Wait folks. It looks like we actually have a winner. There is still a man standing. I repeat, there is still a man standing. After two massive explosions, the likes of which this arena very rarely sees, there is still someone standing. You ask, who is that man? who is the winner of this amazing fight?”
“It is … the amazing, singing, mysterious vice champion!!”
The stands exploded into a thunderous roar and roses pelted the ground around the vice champion as he stood to his feet and bowed.
Before the results could appear on the viewing screens, Olivia spun around, vaulted over her seat, and dashed out of the VIP box.
“That was some fight folks. Our vice champion, on the edge of complete defeat, used the most amazing and unique ability I’ve ever seen,” the announcer continued as she shot into the undercroft and pushed open the door Hervey had shown them.
Seconds later, she emerged out onto the beta field and headed for Alf’s prone form as the announcer said, “Our next fight shows great promise. A group of seventy-five people that call themselves the ‘Shielded Sword’ have challenged our grand champion Zaphaniea. They claim to have watched her every move and know her weakness, and they plan on exploiting that in this next fight, which will take place in fifteen minutes. So place your bets, buy your snacks, and get ready for another epic battle.”