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=EC 2017= Grand Arena

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8/14/2017 0:01:07   

Gryffin Warrior of DF & RP

The first, the oldest, the largest and most famous challenge of the Elemental Championships lay behind the walls to the Grand Arena. For decades it had stood, gathering more and more glory to its name, and more and more names of those now buried far beneath the blood-stained sands. A single year of slumber had passed, without a fight to quench its bloodthirst, and now it gave off a strong yearning for hunger and sense of anticipation as people once more filled its shadows.

It was nearly time for it to feast once more.

No sigils led the way along its halls, but those wandering the complex felt themselves pulled towards it all the same. Smooth, stone floors, worn down by years of passing feet, trembled as all those watching the prior battles suddenly flocked to its deathly embrace. Spiraling staircases, groaning under the sudden weight, creaked as the people ascended to the stands above, set back from the battle itself for the spectators' own protection. All paths seemed to lead to the stands alone. No one truly knew how the Chosen found their way to the gates; only that they would arrive to the Arena in time.

The sun slowly crept higher overhead as the stands filled, hundreds upon hundreds of spectators from all corners of the globe, all pushing and shoving and jostling for better seats. Excited babbling came from every corner as anticipation mounted. People looked impatiently from the bright sky, to the closed gates behind the dormant pillars, to the group of watchers in simple, flowing silk robes that stood in the rows of stands closest to the arena. As the sun reached its zenith, they turned to the crowds, and silence fell.

"It is time!" They called out as one, voices melding together in a strong harmony that commanded the attention of all present. "We have witnessed those worthy to fight the first challenge. Now, we stand to welcome the chosen Paragons!"

The air around them grew unbearably hot. What started as the warmth of a cozy family fire grew to the wrath of an inferno as tempers sparked and flared. With a hiss, flames leapt throughout the crowds, dancing as they raced among them and filling people with passion. Then they condensed, dancing and swaying and charring the sands beneath them slightly. The Pillar of Fire spiraled high in its courage.

"He desires a true challenge. Sky robbed him of his breath, but not his power. The flames under his command yearn for battle. Inigo walks as Paragon."

Despite the brilliant sun, it felt as if a cloud now passed over the crowds. Colors dimmed and blurred as, from the crevices and cracks between the sands, shadows reached out and snaked their way across the sands. The ebony blackness spread, filling the stands and covering everyone with the deepest of shades. Then with a whirl, it plunged into the arena sands, forming a great maw. The Pillar of Darkness yawned widely with cunning.

"He came determined. His sword ripped through the mirages in Fountain to pierce the truth. Despite foolishness, his gamble has paid off. Cyril walks as Paragon."

A sense of unease rushed through the crowd, hair prickling as if in anticipation of an oncoming storm. People muttered with a sudden rush of impatience as a slight crackling began among them, growing quickly until it burst with a crash into countless flashes of lighting, arching forwards to meet in the center of the arena with a shower of sparks. Burnt ozone wafted through the arena as the bolt streaked about the sands before ceasing its journey. The Pillar of Energy flickered and crackled in its intensity.

"He came out of duty. The fires of the Forge were well fed by the blood he shed. His wit sharp, his blades even sharper. Teras walks as Paragon."

A breath of air rippled its way through the crowd, snatching playfully at hats and the corners of clothing. It caught at the loose ground, tossing it at the faces of those nearest as it spun minute dust devils across the sands. With a rush, they combined, a great whirling tornado spinning across to find its place. The Pillar of Wind billowed, ever changing and adapting to those around it.

"His path is strange, his machine stranger, his music odder still. Forge's heat could do nothing to silence his passion. The BoomerSuit stands unbroken, unhampered. Ee-nuk walks as Paragon."

A silent chill pierced through the desert sands, causing people to shiver as they reached for their discarded scarves and cloaks. Frost formed along the stands, forming graceful patterns and blossoms as flakes of snow drifted off to sting at exposed skin. It grew colder as the brilliant white crystals scattered across the sands, coalescing into a great, unmelting shard of jagged spikes. The Pillar of Ice stood stationary, its strength unwavering.

"He seeks redemption. In Sky's embrace, he filled the atmosphere with song. His chant continues, intact, with the power of the mountains themselves. Ayiso walks as Paragon."

Overhead, the sky poured forth a searing radiance. Shadows were seared away as the air throughout the arena shone brighter and brighter. Glimmers and sparkles were caught by the corners of eyes, but whichever way people turned they couldn't find the source of the outpouring of gleaming color. With a last pulse, the brilliance formed itself into a single authority. The Pillar of Light illuminated all in its wisdom.

"She fights for freedom. The darkened Sky did little to damper her luminosity. Her patience tested, she soldiers onward. Irina walks as Paragon."

The scent of brine drifted over the crowd as a soothing coolness ebbed and flowed amidst the spectators. Like the tide, it rolled among them before solidifying into droplets of condensation, dripping and bubbling until streams were pouring between the seats and into the sands below. The crashing rivers pooled, swirling in a coalition of blues. The Pillar of Water sprung forth, creating ripples and bubbles in its wake.

"She searches for answers. At Sky's pinnacle, she rained destruction from above. Her journey has led her far from her seas, but still she presses forward. Molly walks as Paragon."

A soft rumbling shook the ground underfoot, then ceased as suddenly as it began. The air felt unnaturally still. Then, the sands convulsed, causing the stands to shudder and sway as the ground trembled violently, the harsh sounds of rocks grinding against each other grating against the eardrums of the spectators. Stones shot upwards from the stands, mixed browns and grays standing out against pale red. The Pillar of Earth rose tall, determined and immovable .

"He came for bloodshed. Hunting prey in the Sky, high overhead his desert home. A mystery to all. The Willow Man walks as Paragon."

The callers turned, robes swirling about them as they faced the pale sands below them. Hands raised, and gates opened. "It is time again to bear witness to the trials of the desert sands. Paragons! You stand now at the battle of the Arena Sands themselves, as we stand to bear witness to its glory once more. We watch, in order to live to tell the legends that shall be seen before us on this day. So, fight or die, Paragons, but let the fight for Champion begin!

< Message edited by Starflame13 -- 8/14/2017 0:19:26 >
AQ DF MQ AQW  Post #: 1
8/16/2017 12:16:12   

It all stopped. All motion, all sound, even the thudding of his heart. He tried to blink - his eyes didn’t move. They were stuck on the face before him, distorted by the barely visible blast of air his Boomer had unleashed. What was this? An attack? Was there a contestant who could freeze the world so effectively?

There was blue, moving blue, then red, green, yellow, purple, and an increasingly ridiculous number of colors, zipping here, there, and everywhere. He couldn’t track them, only see them past the humie’s face and from the corner of his eye as they seemed to get closer and closer. He should be panicking, probably. Seemed that was hard to do when his body couldn’t hyperventilate or sweat.

They swarmed him, then, and the world went colored, splashing painfully against his eyes. He felt motion, then, a sudden lurch, and the Forge was gone. He gasped, lungs heaving needlessly and hands tight around the grips of his weapon. What had happened? Where ha-

He blinked, now, looking about him. A great big room, this, with workbenches and cots and various tools organized all neat and tidy along the walls. Armory, then - and ah, there was the symbol of Wind above the rather large gate at one end. He cracked a grin. Made it through, had he?

His feet hit the stone floor just as a door burst open, and his crew swarmed him, shouting, hooting, hollering, and pounding on his back until he grabbed two random ears and smashed the unlucky gobs’ heads together. “‘Nuff o’ this!” he bellowed, and tossed his examples to their fellows, bowling another three over and roundly silencing the mob. “Get your tools and get to work, ya lackwits! Got no time for celebratin’, the thing ain’t won yet!”

A slap to another gob’s skull and they scattered, pulling tools, cloths, and various cans and bottles of colorful liquids from sacks and pockets. Ee-nuk snorted, and turned back to the door, where a humie in the uniform of the arena workers stood. He squinted as he walked up to the … yeah, man. Females didn’t have the beards, generally. The man bowed as Ee-nuk approached, though didn’t bother to hide the frown on his face.

“As requested, your crew has been delivered, Paragon, at no small effort,” the man said.

Ee-nuk sighed. “What’d they set afire?”

The man blinked, then shook his head. “Er, nothing.”

Ee-nuk wrinkled his nose, eyes squinting again. “Really? Nothing broken, painted, stolen, or eaten?”

“Ah … no. Not to my knowledge.” The man frowned. “This was expected?”

Ee-nuk snorted, and closed one eye. “Ever know gobs to have much sense of propriety?”

“‘Course we don’t,” said another voice, soft and musical. “Life’s much too short for that, na, Ee-nuk?”

She stepped out from behind the man, grinning her cheeky grin at him and wiggling her blonde-furred ears. He scowled at her, brow furrowing into deepset lines, and the man at the door took a step away and walked off, perhaps sensing an impending headache.

“What ya doing’ here, Silkav?” he growled, stepping up to her face and resisting the urge to grab her by the claw and walk her all the way back to the clan.

“What ya think, fool?” she said, narrowing her amber eyes at him and poking his nose with her claw. “Like I’m gonna just let ya hare off ta this without me. Not my way, e’en I can’t help you myself. Swear you keep your suit one-seated just to spite me.”

He grunted, and turned on his heel, back to the suit and the mob working on it. “E’en I had a two-seater it’s a no go for the tourney, Sil.

“I know, it’s solo fights only. Shoulda brought me anyway,” she said, right in step with him already. “Woulda saved me trouble.”

“Long journey,” he grunted, dragging Nakler from under a workbench and pushing him, oil can in hand, toward Stomper. The both of them stopped, heads tilted, as the gob failed to stop and ran face-first into the meksuit’s leg. “Too risky.”

“Ah-huh,” she said, looking at Nakler sprawled out on the floor. “Didn’t care then either.”


It all froze again. The whole of the world, caught in a single, silent moment - save for the breeze that touched at his ears and ruffled through his mustache, eddying through the whole of the room and tugging at clothes and hair the whole way. His eyes tracked its traces, the only part of him that moved, though he managed to furrow his brow.

“Ee-nuk,” it breathed, flittering at his ear-curls, his name echoed a thousand times over in that single whisper. “Paragon. Chosen.” He felt it grasp his face, turning him in place, to face the gob at his side. It rushed over her, her fur rippling with its touch. “You fight for her? For them?”

Ah. Wind itself? Nay, more like to be a servant. He nodded, once, and the zephyr flowed back over him, twisting around his head to tug at his lips. “Eight to choose from. Eight to follow. Clan swears to none,” he heard, the voice leaping from one ear to the other with each word. “Why Wind, in suit born of earth bearing heart full of lightning?”

He grunted. His own voice was his at least. “Air bursts and sound,” he murmured. “Your domain.”

It brushed at his eyes, and he squinted in annoyance. “Could build it different. Fuels for flame, harness the heart for the sparks, shine the lights or spread the acid. Why Wind? Why Wind why Wind why Wind why wind?”

He snorted. Persistent little nuisance. “Wind brings change,” he said. “More’n aught else, ‘s what we need.”

“Change,” the voice said, and the air rushed around, and around, and around, swirling and roaring through the room. “Change change change change for the gobs, change for the clan, wrought by red in a tin tin suit,” the wind sang, its thousand voices laughing merrily all the way out through the bars at the top of the gate.

He stared after it, as the world began to move again. “Fight well, Paragon,” the last voice whispered, and then it was gone, whisked away into sands outside.

“Well an’ I plan on it,” he muttered, and turned back to the mob. Silkav was giving him a suspicious look; she’d not heard it, but she suspected oddities more’n like. Smart gob like her, he’d have to say the story at some point. Not now, though.

“Well you’re here, I guess, so come on,” he said, pressing a rag into her hand. “Let’s make sure I enter all sparkle-like, aye?”

There was no clang as he walked this time, just the soft thud of metal feet stomping into the reddened grit below. He took his stance outside the gate, watching as the pillars of the Elemental Lords brought themselves into being, and rolled his eyes at his own introduction. Ain’t a one of these humies with good taste in music.

No matter. He’d show ‘em all a good time. A flick of a switch, and the fiddle kicked in, drums, cymbals, and the rest of the strings following not long behind it. “I don’t eat I just devour,” he sang, claws tapping to the beat as he walked the suit forward, shining in the light of the midday sun.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 2
8/17/2017 19:39:40   

The floating arena, once a chaotic blur of steel and magic, was suddenly silent. The warriors, the crowd, all fell quiet with bated breath in anticipation of this new development. The ominous sound of the mage’s hum filled the skies as a soothing force in that moment, the fear of loss and death replaced with awe and wonder at the ritual. They all knew what this was, what the sounding of the gong meant for the contestants. It was time for the Chosen to ascend.

A hand fell from Inigo’s weapon, a lone palm gripped around the handle as the tip bounced off of the platform. The sharp sound of metal hitting stone breaking the silence for just a beat, before being replaced by something much louder. A sudden burst of bright colour and a violent crash as the orbiting asteroids all exploded in unison. The pyromancer flinched away from it all for a moment, before gazing at the newly released swarm of sprites, vivid sparks against the bland backdrop of the heavens.

He raised his weapon as the mob scattered, a group of those tiny creatures rushing towards Inigo at breakneck speeds. He staggered back as it hit him, a rainbow cloud that obscured the world beyond. His free hand instinctively rose to his face, his forearm covering his brow as he made a quick effort to break free, to no avail. It was hopeless, the horde was too thick for him to move through, but that’s not to say he stopped moving entirely. Far from it in fact. He felt himself rising up through the air, his body glowing as a bright light along with the other Chosen; the flock dissipated enough for him to see that the arena floor was sinking away beneath him. He took in a deep breath of thin air, the last he’d be taking in this arena, his eyes falling shut as a smirk danced on his lips. He’d done it.

By the time he’d opened his eyes once more, his feet were on solid ground; he was standing on a dark red carpet trimmed with gold over wooden floorboards. He turned to take in his strange new surroundings, focus falling on the great door that lay at the end of the room and the man who stood before it, adorned in robes of white, black, and crimson.

“Good, you’re uninjured. That will make things easier,” the man slowly said, removing his hood to look Inigo up and down, nodding slowly after taking in the sight of the warrior.

“Who are you?” Inigo’s response came out as a harsh snap, raising his blade to point the tip at the robed man’s chest, pressing the point just hard enough to slice through the thin cloth and leave an indent on the skin.

“I am not your enemy,” he laughed, firmly pressing his hand against the flat of the metallic blade and pushing it around to point to the floor once more. “I am your friend, here to prepare you for the coming battle. Though, clearly I had nothing to worry about.” He then produced a light blue potion from within his robes, insistently pushing it into Inigo’s hand. The fighter eyed the vial up, taking a long pause to inspect it before downing the contents in one go. Within an instant, he felt his magical power returning to him, having been just slightly depleted in the previous round of the Championship.

“You still haven’t told me who you are,” Inigo responded, wiping his mouth with his forearm as he stepped away from the elderly man, looking across to him with fierce gaze

“My name is of no import, nor is where I come from. I’m simply here to ready Fire’s Paragon for the fight ahead on behalf of our Elemental Lord.” He spoke slowly, but with a distinct sense of harshness to their words, a certain air of confidence or a sense of authority. What struck Inigo the most was his lack of reaction, lack of feeling, towards the mention he had made it as the Paragon of Fire. Here he was, the champion of his element, and yet there was something holding him back. What was it?

“The Elemental Lords…” Inigo mused to himself, eyes trained up on the symbol of flame above the great doorway that would lead to the finals. “They are the height of power, the strongest in the world, are they not?” His palm reached out to obscure the sight of the etching, fingers slowly curling down into a tight fist over it. His head turned back to the man, who easily Inigo’s burning gaze and matched it with his own smoldering glare. “When I am done with the other Paragons, when I’ve defeated the strongest heroes and villains of this world, they will be my next opponents.”

There was a beat, before the priest slowly began to smile, breaking into a chuckle as he produced a flask of water from his robes. He walked across the room, handing the container to Inigo, who snatched it away after turning to face him. “In that case, I will leave you to it, Paragon. You don’t have long until the Finals begin. I would take the time to ready yourself however you deem fit, ” he said, an excited spark appearing in his eyes for just a moment. “If you survive, I’m sure we'll meet again, Inigo Arias.”

Small embers ignited across his body, before he was engulfed in long flames that covered his entire body before dissipating into nothingness. By the end, it was as if he’d never been there at all. And so, the warrior was left on his own to ready himself for the final bout. To the side of the room, a pair of cloth training dummies hung on wooden poles, bulging at the seams with straw innards that stuck out where the squares of cloth met. The champion smiled to himself and twirled his blade in his hands, taking a swig of water as he advanced on the pair.

By the time he was through with them, nothing remained of the dummies save for a few scattered pieces of straw, along with two smoking piles of ash. That smoke followed the competitor along the long, dark corridor, filtering the bright sunlight that shone through the gate that barred him from entering the arena pit itself. He stood there in silence, the bustle of the crowd beyond blotting out all other sounds, all other thoughts, until suddenly they were as quiet as he was. He smirked, fingers flexing against the grip of his longsword, glowering ahead as the Pillar of Fire burst into life and his name was called. Time to end things.

His gate swung open and his boot crunched against the sand below, looking up and around to take in the awe inspiring sight that surrounded him. The most beautiful of all arenas in the world, there was no doubt about it, and now he was there as one of the Chosen champions. But there was no pride in being second best, and he wasn’t there to admire the view. No, he was there to win, and he was going to crush anyone who got in his way. He twirled his blade in his hand, pacing back and forth as he watched the other competitors make their grand appearances. This was going to be fun...

AQ DF AQW Epic  Post #: 3
8/17/2017 23:23:19   
Eternal Wanderer

His blade made contact with the joint of Loudmouth’s metal monstrosity, scraping along the limb’s interlocking plates. The needle of pain sank deeper, grating along the orbit of his eye. Teras gritted his teeth and pulled, drawing the cut as Loudmouth thundered by. A moment later an electric tingle flashed up the bounty hunter’s spine. Archer, of course…

Cursing, the Basilli twisted, hunched down, and turned his left secondary arm up and behind his back in a blind effort to block the incoming attack. As it turned out, Archer did not live up to his name. The man’s dagger flickered in, slamming point-first into Teras’ left shoulder. Thankfully, the sellsword’s natural armor meant it did not sink in so deep as it might have. Of course, that did not mean there was no pain.

A foul word sallied from the Basilli Phas’ lips, even as a heavy stroke slammed into his shield. Growling, the mercenary threw himself forward with the momentum imparted by the strike, rolling clear of his opponent. The motion jarred the blade in Teras’ shoulder, wrenching another expletive from him as he pivoted and came up square to Archer.

But the Basilli’s riposte was forestalled by a bone-vibratingly deep note resounding through the Forge. The central pillar flared to life, the smokey ceiling parted, and a veritable horde of scintillant sprites descended in a liquid wave of colored light. A tendril rippled out of that mass, and a deluge of yellow-hued forms cascaded over Teras.

Twitching reflexively, the bounty hunter strangled a cry as his vision was reduced to a swirling wall: xanthous, citrine, amber, tawny, lemon, a myriad of colors for which there were no names he knew. But the bounty hunter found his composure as he rose into the air, electricity racing over his body in tingling arcs as he called out, “see you on the other side, Archer!” And then reality fractured, shattering like glass into shards that burst into dust that was swept away on an ionized wind.

Teras had heard a number of stories about what happened between the end of the elimination phase of the Elemental Championships and the beginning of the Finals. Those tales ranged from the fanciful to the out and out farcical: visions of the future, visitations with acquaintances who had passed on, even the chance to chat with a divine patron. It struck the Iron Mantis as a load of bard-fueled claptrap. To be certain there was magic involved, and from what the sellsword had seen that entailed no small amount of oddity. But if he knew anything, it was that angelic messengers and prophecies from beyond the veil were the stuff of bedtime stories for hatchlings.

So the Basilli Phas could not have said exactly what it was that he was expecting. But it was not coming to his senses laying face-down in a forest glade next to a swift-flowing river. Or with a mouth that tasted like he had been chewing iron filings. Or with a splitting headache.

Pushing himself up to his knees, Teras groaned, lifted a hand to his aching head, and winced. Archer’s dagger was still sticking out of the mercenary’s shoulder. Clasping the wrist of his left primary arm with the hand of his left secondary, the Basilli Phas reached across his body with his upper-right hand, gripped the dagger, took a breath, and then ripped it out. “Swarm take it!” he shouted into the otherwise silent glade, dropping the blade to the turf. There was no answer to his outcry but the sound of rushing water.

Turning, the bounty hunter leaned out over the stream, bracing himself with three arms as he cupped water with his right primary and raised it to his lips, gargling and spitting to clear the unpleasant taste from his mouth. He raised a second handful to his left shoulder, cascading the cool liquid over his wound as a faint tingle rippled across his skin. Teras dipped both primaries into the stream and drew a double handful up as he considered the feeling. Splashing water on his face, he massaged his temples as the electric buzz of presence grew stronger. Come on then, he thought in resignation, a little closer… The Iron Mantis reached back and ran his wet fingers over his ankle, lightly tracing the first scratch Archer had gifted him with. Now. The Basilli blurred into motion, swords scraping out of their scabbards as he whirled around.

Dark eyes narrowed as Teras considered the man standing upstream from him. Kissa Pa, from the alternating pattern of orange and black stripes on his hide. He was big too, broad across the shoulders with a powerful build that was easy to see due to his lack of shirt. That was to be expected, really. Kissa Pa trended large, though the sellsword overtopped the stranger. There was no evidence of aggression in the Kissa’s stance, and no sign that he had any weapons beyond the claws at the end of his fingers. Nonetheless, there was something dangerous in the man’s tawny eyes.

“This is where it started, you know.” The Kissa Pa lifted a hand, making a vague motion to encompass the clearing.

“Uh huh…” Teras glanced around. He could not feel anyone else nearby. Whatever this was, the mercenary was not overly discomfited by a lone Kissa, even if he was a large fellow. “What, exactly, are we talking about?” The Iron Mantis lowered his blades, but made no move to return them to their sheathes.

“She was never running from you. She still isn’t.” That gave the bounty hunter pause, and had him raising his swords into a ready position again. The Kissa lifted a hand to forestall Teras as he continued. “Peace. I have no quarrel with you, Rukoli.”

“Who in the Swarm are you?” the sellsword retorted, stepping closer menacingly. “I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

“You’re not seeing me in life now,” rejoined the Kissa Pa wryly, making no move in response to Teras’ advance.

Not frightened. Either he’s stupid, or someone is still in the forest covering him. But Teras could feel no one else nearby. “So I’m dead then? You’ll pardon me if I don’t believe you.”

“Dead? No, nothing so... dramatic.” He shrugged. “You’re just here with me, in between.”

Teras sheathed his blades. “You’re barking mad. Next you’ll be telling me you’re some kind of god.” He knelt and picked up Archer’s dagger, slowly turning it over in his primary hands.

The Kissa Pa grinned. “Nah, just a lost soul. Not unlike her, or you. And to answer your question: I don’t know you either. I simply have some help from your patron.”

“Patron,” the bounty hunter spat as he rose, “that’s rich. You Kissa go in for Danae. You trying to tell me Benu woke up just for a tete-a-tete with you?” Teras waved a hand dismissively.

“It’s a long way from here to home. This land has its own ways, and its own gods.”

“Some gods,” the Iron Mantis snorted, sliding the dagger carefully into his belt. “Lords and Ladies in pretty robes.” He had never had much use for gods beyond half-hearted prayers muttered in desperate moments, though he had always watched his mouth around Lord Telan. One reason among many, but the man was a fanatic for Montal and Lyth. “The Swarm is welcome to them all.”

“Ah yes, the Eternal Swarm,” the Kissa returned dryly. “Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten.”

“If I have to listen to theology, give it some teeth.” Teras waved the argument aside. “You still have not told me who you are. Or what this is about.”

“Kedron Gris, or what is left of him, at your service.” The Kissa Pa cut the mercenary a surprisingly graceful bow. When he straightened, his gaze was softer. “She called me Ked though.” For a moment the man seemed to shiver, and his chest was a red ruin of deep puncture wounds. They were spaced such that it almost seemed a pattern, blood leaking into fur and staining it crimson. The vision passed in an instant, so swiftly that Teras doubted he had actually seen it, and it took him a second to realize Kedron was still speaking. “We were close... a long time ago.”

“She’s Enkeli.” The Iron Mantis was not quite certain why that occurred to him, until something else clicked into place. “Some of them see spirits, or so the stories say. It was you. She was running from you.”

“So she was.” Kedron seemed to deflate slightly at the admission. “Though the fault belongs to both of us. I was too late to say what needed to be said, and she was unable to let me go.”

“Wait, she is the reason you’re stuck here? How is that even possible?”

The Kissa Pa shrugged eloquently. “It hardly matters in the end. You, of all people, should know that. You’ve been on her trail… near five years now? Across continents, over oceans, ever further and further behind. But you never stopped, never stop. You tell me: How is that possible? No one would have blamed you for giving up long ago.”

“I would have.” The retort sprang from his lips without hesitation.

“Why?” Kedron approached, voice mild as he moved by Teras to stand at the river’s bank. “That is your patron’s question: Why this drive?” He glanced down into the water. “What makes a man who fancies himself a sellsword, though he has only ever signed two contracts, cross half a world in search of a single woman? A woman that Lord Telan says is a threat, but who shows no desire to return to where she could pose any danger to his plans?”

The Basilli Phas turned towards the water himself, crossing both sets of arms over his chest. “If I answer, will this ‘patron’ of mine give me what I want?”

Kedron snorted. “You have to earn that, Iron Mantis.”

“Well then,” the bounty hunter smiled, “if I have to work for it, why should I make it easy on this patron I never asked for?”

“You signed the papers.”

“I read the papers. There was naught in there about spilling my dearest or darkest secrets to some nebulous entity in exchange for its favor. As I recall, that was what the fighting was for.”

Kedron laughed. “You know, you almost remind me of her.”

“Wiedii?” Teras blinked. “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t worry about it.” He slapped the Basilli on the back hard enough to stagger him. “You really should tell your patron the reasons though.”

The Iron Mantis grunted, casting a sidelong glance at Kedron. “What is it the Hirii like to say? ‘Everything comes out in the end.’ If this patron is so interested, tell it to keep watching.”

“Oh, it will, my friend.” Sudden lightning flashed in the Kissa Pa’s amber eyes, filling the glade with dazzling light and the stench of burnt ozone. But no, it was not reflecting in his eyes, it was from his eyes. “It will be watching very closely indeed.”

The bolt smote Teras in the chest, hurling him away from Kedron and ripping a scream of pain from the mercenary. It should have only been a short distance to fall, to lay out his full measure on the bank of the river, but the Basilli Phas fell and fell, thunder echoing and reechoing as the world peeled away around him.

Teras opened his eyes slowly and groaned. He was laying face down on a hard stone floor. Great. Just great. Hopefully this was not going to become a recurring theme in his life. Pushing himself up to his feet, the bounty hunter paused suddenly, glancing at his arm and frowning.

There was no wound. In fact, where Archer’s knife had struck him, there was a thin line of scar tissue. It was as though the wound was months old instead of minutes. “Huh…” The Iron Mantis checked his ankle, finding the same to be true of the scratch that had been below the edge of his greaves.

That strangeness was continued, perhaps even enhanced, by his surroundings. Teras found himself in a small room, a dome of stone pierced only by a single gate. No wounds, no idea where I was, no idea how I got here. What a day. The sellsword checked his possessions over, noting he had all of his gear, even Archer’s dagger. He sighed and shook his head.

“Patron, he says.” Kedron had also mentioned reasons. That brought a scowl to Teras’ face. “Some things are better left buried,” he commented to no one in particular.

As though the words were magic, the gate yawned open to reveal an expanse of roseate sand, and the singular sight of… Well, the Iron Mantis was not quite sure what he was looking at as he stepped out into the Arena proper. It was like a tube of lighting, a writhing stream of coruscating bolts. The sand beneath it was a glassy fulgurite disc, all the more impressive for the fact that the apparently constant stream of lightning was nearly silent.

If the bizarrely energetic pillar was quiet, its lack of noise was more than made up for by the noise of the crowd. Teras squinted up at the stands for a moment, noting that whatever insulation had protected him in the Forge must have been at work here as well. The gentle tingles along the Basilli Phas’ skin told him there were others here, but he could not feel the mass of the audience.

The bounty hunter walked towards the pillar, double checking the straps binding his shields to his secondary arms as he listened to the voices of the criers mingling with the shouts and catcalls of the crowd. Finding the bindings acceptable, Teras nodded to no one in particular as he strolled over the sand in a desultory fashion.

Dark eyes gave the lightning pillar a dark glance as the Iron Mantis drew his blades. This time, however, he held the blades in traditional forehand style, rather than back along his forearms. “I’ll give you a show.” Teras grimaced and repeated himself. “But some things are better left buried.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 4
8/17/2017 23:28:04   
Ryu Viranesh

The first punch was wide, its stunning strength actually able to damage the stone to Cyril’s right. The second he dodged, twitching his head just barely out of the way as the half-orc’s fist flew past, sending another hairline fracture shivering through the Arena floor. Throughout this entire exchange, Cyril’s eyes remained fixed on the creature’s face, frozen as much out of fear as resolve. He wasn’t ready to die here. Yet if he was going to survive, then he would need a chance. An opportunity. Something.

Fortune smiled on the foreigner as the orc’s third strike plowed directly into the metal plate atop his right shoulder. The sound of groaning steel filled Cyril’s ears as he winced in agony, but painful as it was, it probably saved his arm. More than that, it enraged his opponent. The half-orc let out a howl as it took that same shoulder in hand, head cocking back before its whole body came crashing towards him.

Now! Do it now! For that single second, it was as though everything around him ceased to exist. Everything but the orc, its head on a collision course with his own, and himself, left arm lifting into the air as it moved to intercept. There was a crack as the scarf, charged with the force from his fall, connected, his mark’s jaw twisting at an unnatural angle. Reality came rushing back, and the half-orc was sent tumbling to the stones.

Cyril gasped in a breath, pain and exertion muddling together as the adrenaline slowly bled out of his system. Every part of him ached. He couldn’t afford to rest yet, though; there was still the finale to come. With a grunt, the former musician forced himself upright, eyes casting about in the murk until he caught sight of the beast’s blurred silhouette. Long walk… Cyril clenched his right hand into a fist, ignoring the ensuing anguish as he bent down to retrieve his shashka. Best get started then.

Somewhere in the distance he could hear another battle being waged; maybe the two intruders from earlier had gotten into a duel of their own? Perhaps it was a clash between combatants he had yet to even come in contact with. Amid this multi-hued mist it was impossible to tell. Still, the sounds urged Cyril onward, each stumbling step bringing him closer to the conclusion of this affair.

Closer to the moment that he was going to kill someone.

The foreigner slowed as he neared the half-orc’s prone form, taking the time to examine the damage that had been done to the creature. Blood oozed from a number of the cuts on its hide, not to mention the stab wound in the small of its back. Its head, however, had taken the brunt of the beating. The two slaps from his scarf appeared to have broken the half-orc’s jaw, its mouth lolling open like that of a corpse. In spite of its abysmal condition, he could still see the faint rise and fall of its chest; evidence that for now, at least, the orc still lived.

It would almost be a mercy… Cyril shook the thought from his head, kneeling beside the fallen warrior and regarding him with a grim determination. It needs to be done. That didn’t mean he had to justify it. Murder, after all, was murder.

One of the half-orc’s eyes was watching him as he reached out a hand - his left - and pressed the glove against the skin of its throat. The effect was instantaneous: the flesh beneath the fabric withered and weakened as though he was leaching the very life out of the creature. Who knows, maybe I am? Cyril thought he saw a shiver run through the beast’s body, and his hand jerked back as though he’d been struck.

“I’m… I’m sorry for this. For all of it, but especially this.” His accent was even more pronounced than usual, the lisp from his split lip adding an unexpected thickness to his words. To Cyril’s surprise, the half-orc gave him a nod, holding his gaze as it awaited its inevitable end. He lifted his shashka, pausing and swallowing as he took one last look at his mark’s throat. Though the effort obviously pained it, the creature gave a guttural grunt, its lips twitching upward into a smile as it stared him down.

A lone bell rang out, bathing both of them in a supernal gold light.

Cyril steadied his hand, exhaling one last time. “Be at peace.” He made it quick; that was the least that he could do for the creature - no, the man that had fought him with such ferocity. The half-orc was still smiling as he bled out. Strangely, that perfect serenity was unmarred by the gaping wound across his windpipe.

The Red Hand remained still, standing vigil over the body until he was certain that the warrior was gone. The very next moment, the fog lifted. Cyril’s eyes shot upward, but before he could get a good look at his surroundings he was mobbed by a swarm of sprites. The tiny, dazzling orbs flashed with more colors than had been hidden in the mist, more colors than he even knew existed. They clung to him relentlessly, resisting his batting hands and flailing limbs as he tried to shake free. Then a pair took Cyril in the eyes, and all of those brilliant colors went dark.


Cyril awoke from his slumber alone, body hunched over the side of an armchair as though he’d merely drifted off after a long day’s work. He blinked the sleep from his eyes, staring heedlessly out into the blackness that bordered him on every side. Where…? The foreigner froze, eyes flicking to every corner of the darkened space as his awareness finally returned. Winston hadn’t mentioned anything about a second preliminary Arena, but it was obvious that he had left Fountain behind.

He took care as he rose unsteadily to his feet, still sore from his exploits inside the mirage. Wood creaked underfoot, the sound echoing audibly amidst the silence. Though all Cyril could see were shadowed shapes off in the distance, there was something familiar about...

All at once, it came to him. A stage. He was in the wings of a stage. As his eyes adjusted to the unnatural gloom, Cyril was able to make out more details: the harps and double basses that lined the wall to his left; the sets stacked high atop each other off to his right; the paints, ladders, and chairs which were a key part of any proper theatre production. It was eerily reminiscent of the rostrum he’d performed upon back at the conservatory, down to the deep red curtain which cut him off from the stage itself.

As though in direct response to his thoughts, the sound of music suddenly shattered the stillness. Cyril had known a number of pianists, all of whom he would call accomplished, yet none of them could hold a candle to the skill he heard here. It was classical, yet dynamic, and possessed an undertone of emotion which could make even the most stoic of critics weep. Despite that, it was not the playing which sent a shiver down Cyril’s spine; it was the piece being performed: His piece.

Cyril shot past the curtain before he could stop himself, moving through the darkness in search of the music’s source. Yet the closer he drew, the farther away it seemed. Soon he’d lost all sense of direction, the piano leading him onward like a siren luring sailors onto a waiting reef. Then, just as swiftly as it started, the playing ceased, leaving him stranded in the midst of that endless black expanse. Knew it. The foreigner’s hands dropped to his weapons as he spun in a hasty circle, waiting for the attack that he was sure would come. Instead, the lights came on.

The radiance was blinding, far worse than the glare that had accompanied his entry into Fountain. Cyril felt as though minutes had passed before he could make use of his eyes once more, the last of the spots still fading as he took his first look around. Much of the stage remained beyond the reach of the lightbeam which encapsulated him, but a second spotlight served to reveal what he had been searching for. Cyril swallowed and began a slow approach, the cage of light keeping pace as he carefully assessed the man that lay ahead.

The pianist was tall and spare of frame, his youthful pallor at odds with the lines worn into his face. He kept his jet black hair combed fashionably to the side, the beginnings of a beard dotting his chin. Like most musicians, he’d opted to wear a simple, dark-colored suit, a pair of tails draped over the back of his bench. The man’s long-fingered hands hovered just above the piano’s keys, his sorrel eyes focused on the score before him.

As Cyril drew close, those same orbs turned to consider him, the man’s lips turning upward in a slight smile. “It’s a beautiful piece, you know.” His voice was lightly accented, the imperfections serving only to enhance its character. “I can’t fathom why you’d want to wish it away.”

“You can’t possibly understand..!” Cyril started to retort, trailing off as the implications of the pianist’s words hit him. “How do you know about that? Who are you?”

His counterpart waved a dismissive hand. “Just an old man that’s been around far too long. I suppose you could call me your final test. Though Temno would also serve.” Temno twisted to face him, folding his hands in his lap. “Now then, you didn’t answer my question. Why erase the suite?”

The foreigner looked away, grimacing as he involuntarily clenched his fists. “Because it shouldn’t have been written. I wasn’t capable of creating something of that caliber, so I used magic to do so during a moment of weakness.”

“So your solution is to use yet more magic to clean up your mistake?” There was a sharpness to the pianist’s words, all of the mirth which had suffused his earlier speech gone. “Tell me, Cyril, does that make much sense to you?”

“It’s not ideal, no, but how else would you expect me to get rid of that blight on the composing world?”

“I wouldn’t.” Temno met Cyril’s shocked look with a shark-like smile, mockingly wagging a finger in the warrior’s direction. “This might be news to you, Mr. Kovac, but most mortals have to suffer the consequences of their actions. You’re no different.”

“But that piece… I profit from it.” The foreigner sighed, exasperated but unable to meet the other man’s eyes.

Temno gave him a blank stare. “Cyril,” he said dryly, “before you came to Bren you were begging on the streets. Explain to me how in the world you were profiting from what you’d done?”

Cyril was silent, head turned to the side as he stared off into the abyss. The pianist huffed a sigh. “It’s ironic, you know? You came here because you wanted to stop running away, and you’re still running even now.” The man rose from his seat, crossing his arms behind his back as he approached. “I have a proposition for you.”

Proposition? The former musician glanced over at Temno, lips curving into a frown. “I thought this was supposed to be a test?”

“I’ve… changed my mind.” Temno smirked, amusement dancing behind his eyes. “You came here for a reason, Mr. Kovac, so why not let you use your own two hands to figure it out? That is my proposition. Go forth and win the tournament in my name. And just maybe find yourself in the process.”

“Find my- wait, in your name?” Cyril watched as the man spun on his heel, striding almost all of the way back to the piano before he glanced over his shoulder.

“Darkness comes in many forms, Cyril.” Temno gave him a sad smile. “Most tend to forget that it also resides within themselves.”

The pianist clapped his hands and the room was returned to the dark, the shadow seeming to swallow him whole. As his consciousness started to fade, Cyril heard Temno speak a final time, his words echoing as though from far away.

“I pray that you’ve the courage to accept yours.”


The umbra which clutched at him so closely suddenly split apart, and the Paragon of Darkness was left to fall to the sands below. Though momentarily disoriented, Cyril still managed to tuck into a roll, coming to his feet behind the Darkness Pillar’s leering grin. Thanks, Temno.

He rose as he heard his name announced to the crowd, using the time to take stock of himself. The ills he’d accrued in the preliminary round appeared to have vanished; a small collection of scars was all that remained from his brush with death. The foreigner frowned as thoughts of the half-orc surfaced in his mind, and instead turned his attention to the Pillars at his sides.

He’d missed the entrance of Fire’s champion, a human younger than him that was idly toying with his weapon, but was right on time to catch the Paragon of Energy - Teras Rukoli. For a flash, Cyril was back in Yarosburg, peeking around a window frame for a look at Eugen’s corpse. After the initial shock had passed, his eyes had sought out the killer, catching a glimpse of the towering, insectoid monstrosity as it dragged Marek into the next room. The very same monstrosity that now strode out from behind the Energy Pillar.

It was only later that he’d learned the bounty hunter’s full name. A last little tidbit acquired before he departed the city; one which he never expected he would put to use. Cyril came to his senses several steps away from his own Pillar, shashka in hand, hilt gripped so hard that his fingers were white. That dastard was going to pay. He would dash him to the sands and then slit his throat just like-


Cyril didn’t know how he’d picked her out from among the hordes of people that had crowded into the Grand Arena, yet there she was, staring at him in a way that tied his insides in knots. She’s… scared of me. He could see it in her eyes, in the way that she covered her mouth with a hand and leaned back in her seat. What was he doing?

The Red Hand slowed to a stop, taking a deep breath as his eyes shifted between the beauty and the beast. Ultimately, he nodded to Ayla, resuming his approach towards Energy’s Paragon at a more measured pace. That isn’t me. He wasn’t sure that he bought into Temno’s assurance that he’d ‘find himself’, but at the very least he wasn’t going to be something that he wasn’t. However, that didn’t mean he would let the so-called ‘Iron Mantis’ walk away from this engagement unscathed.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 5
8/18/2017 0:06:04   

One step, then another. As Ayiso approached the end of his platform, he kept his mind on the swarm of ice, keeping the shards spinning around the running woman. Even as he felt his legs tire, knees aching from the constant running, he prepared to make the leap across the wide gap. Picking up speed, he grunted loudly as he pushed himself from the stone.

Not even a second passed before his opponent had turned, magic exploding from her hand. Too late, he realized his mistake, desperately twisting his body to avoid the beam of light. Losing his concentration on the shards, he flailed helplessly as the attack collided with his shoulder.


Had Ayiso been given time to assess his situation, he would have recognized the sound of his shoulder being forced out of place. Unfortunately, there was no room for thoughts to surface above the pain and dizziness that consumed his head. Spinning rapidly through the air, he lost his grip on his staff, desperately trying to grab anything in reach. But he was moving too fast, unable to see anything beyond the blurring images of Sky.

And the colors. More colors than should have been possible….

Ayiso’s eyes fluttered open, the biting cold of the winter wind refreshing his mind and body. He was lying in snow, seemingly unharmed with the unmistakable chill of mountain air blowing around him. He rose, carefully examining his surroundings. The snowy peaks were new to him, but familiar nonetheless. He realized that his staff had miraculously returned to his hand, though he had no memory of holding it a moment ago.

“I hadn’t thought I’d be allowed to enter the Sacred Mountains.” Ayiso spoke quietly to himself, his lungs filled with the air that had been missing in Sky.

“You are not,” a familiar voice floated from behind. “Such a luxury is only for the dead, after all.”

Ayiso turned quickly, facing the source of the unknown voice. He gasped when he saw the cloaked man standing a few yards away. Though the snow threatened to distort his vision, he knew that he saw the face of his father.

Immediately, he collapsed to his knees, tears forming in his eyes. He bowed his head, not daring to look up as he heard the man’s feet shuffle through the snow. Moments later, he felt the man stop walking, only feet from his kneeling position.

“Stand up, son. No one’s ever had to bow to me, least of all you.”

Ayiso stood, looking up to ensure his eyes had not deceived him. The brown eyes of his father looked back at him, just as they had decades before. The kindness that radiated from the man’s face was unmistakable, and Ayiso’s resilience melted away as the tears streamed down his cheek.

“I….. I failed you. I failed the tribe. I…. abandoned…..” His voice trailed off as his father’s face remained expressionless.

“Yes, you did. And I forgive you.”

“I’ve done nothing to earn forgiveness.”

“That may be true.” Damere reached out, placing a hand on his son’s shoulder. “But the forgiveness of a dead man shouldn’t be what you desire.”

“Why are you here, Father?” Ayiso wiped his face, the impossibility of his surroundings finally dawning on him.

“For him, of course.” His father chuckled, and a sense of warm familiarity rushed though Ayiso’s bones as the laugh reached his ears. “He thought it would be best if I greeted you before you began.”

“Began….” Ayiso’s thoughts became clearer. “So… I’m not dead. And I’m not done.”


Ayiso looked around, his eyes lingering on the snowy hills that surrounded them. His cloak billowed in the wind, the brown fabric contrasting with the white landscape. He gazed at the movements of the snow as he reflected on the new information. For some reason, he had been chosen as the representative of Winter.

“There’s one more thing before you go, son.”

Ayiso looked back at his father, noticing for the first time the pride on Damere’s face. The long-dead chieftain seemed to hesitate, then opened his mouth to speak again.

“I said that my forgiveness is given freely. But you still must earn it from some.”

“Aaya…” Images of Ayiso’s daughter flashed through his mind, memories of her crawling and giggling with the children of the tribe. “She was so young when I left. I couldn’t bear to bring her with me, to force that shame upon her.”

“Word of a Haquer tribesman wandering around Bren found their way to the mountains. Aaya, High Lyer of the greatest Frost Tribe the mountains have ever known, is watching the Championships with great interest. Find her.”

“I will, Father. Thank you.” Tears welled in Ayiso’s eyes again as the wind picked up speed, the snow falling faster and faster. In moments, his sight was completely obscured by white.

And then the flurry of colors returned to his vision.

Red sands and cheering crowds greeted him as he took his place just outside the Arena. The chanting of the mystical announcers combined with the sight of awakening pillars raised the excitement of the crowds, but Ayiso payed them no mind. Ignoring the noise coming from beyond the gate, he bowed his head, praying sincerely for the first time in many years. The words echoed slowly in his mind, and he reflected on their meaning as the announcers revealed the competitors.

“Now, we stand to welcome the chosen Paragons!”

I give thanks for the cold that sharpens my mind.

“Inigo walks as Paragon…..”

“Cyril walks as Paragon…..”

I give thanks for the frost that destroys my weakness.

“Teras walks as Paragon.....”

“Ee-nuk walks as Paragon.....”

I give thanks for the snow that blinds my enemies.

“Ayiso walks as Paragon.....”

“Irina walks as Paragon.....”

I give thanks for the ice that protects my body.

“Molly walks as Paragon.....”

“The Willow Man walks as Paragon.....”

I give thanks for the Winter that will never die.

The gates opened, and Ayiso stepped out onto the sands, only briefly marveling at the creation of Ice before him. Then he turned his attention to the Arena, and the Paragons who had been selected alongside him.

Aaya. I hope you are watching. And that you can forgive.
Post #: 6
8/18/2017 0:50:56   
Ronin Of Dreams
Still Watching...

His position was...poor. A hand made fragile by burns, crouched low beneath his opposition. But his foes were surprisingly wary. They did not follow-up with their advantage of ranged warfare. The Willow Man tilted his head, regarding the pair upon the central platform with equal wariness. They were giving him a chance to close to his preferred range, to bring both tooth and claw - fist and feet - to bare. It was an opportunity to capitalize upon, but the way of Man would be foolish. Charging headstrong and direct was the domain of tundra bears or grass lions, and the Willow Man had no desire to give the pair maximum possible advantage.

Before he could make a cut to his left and air the ruse of a resumed chase of his other Prey, the deep reverberations of a gong rooted him in place. The shattering detonation of asteroids exploding sent him into a deep crouch. His head whipped back and forth in alarm at the sudden betrayal of the arena into action, and he swatted at the incoming sprites in outright panic, ineffectual as the effort happened to be. They ignored his attempts to bat them aside and absorbed into his skin, lifting him up and away from the comforting embrace of solid stone. Eldritch light emanated from him as he kicked and scratched incomprehensibly, simply wanting this unforeseen magic to stop. Then, all at once, his mind vanished into a comforting oblivion. His body, however…

The body of the Willow Man vanished from Sky’s tender embrace simply to reappear in the Grand Arena not a moment later. Robbed of its mind, the body collapsed upon the sands like a marionette whose strings had been cut away, and fell into a lifeless mound that shocked those few spectators who had skipped the preliminary affairs. This was no normal arrival, no grandiose appearance after the Pillars had awakened. Nor the seemingly more typical rearmament behind the gates that had become en vogue in recent years. This was an absence of life and presence, made all the more horrifying as many-legged insects pried the corpse-like jaws apart with an audible pop.

Scarab beetles poured from the Willow Man’s maw, scrabbled from beneath his kilt and scurried from every avenue of his silken shirt. They crawled along the apparent corpse in ever-growing numbers that filled the pregnant air with sibilant softness. An echoing drone grew with the swarm’s numbers until the Willow Man was hidden from sight beneath their iridescent carapaces. The dome of insects pulsed and shivered, marching to the war drums of a still beating heart.

The Willow Man’s eyes opened to a sea of mercury, an ocean of truth. Before his gaze was a triangular snout and tufted ears, tawny fur and amber eyes that held a piercing gaze. A reflection of a jackal’s head staring back at him, undistorted by the liquid nature of their surroundings. It was patient, peering back at him for the longest time as his mind vainly grasped at comprehension of this place and this visage. Yet the first question to be voiced by breathless lips was not that of where or who or how, but simply, “Why?”

You fight yourself.” The voice was soft yet insistent. Just as the voice within his head had been. “Stop.

The Willow Man’s eyes narrowed at the Jackal’s. “To stop is to die.” The Jackal’s jaws opened, tongue lolling to one side in silent beastial laughter.

Willow’s tricks! Jackal’s games. Fight thine enemy more fully.” Pressure built from within the Willow Man’s mind as the headaches from his journey raced forward. Their strength doubled and redoubled until something red and wet burst behind the Willow Man’s eyes. He rode the pain this time, let it wash through him like fire and lightning, and breathed in the quicksilver all around him. Truths of the world returned to his head on wings of thought, flown higher and broader than any raven’s wings. Truths of the oasis, of the willow...and of himself.

As his eyes opened anew, they peered into clouded jade orbs sunk into the ragged face of a wild man. “To stop is to remember.” No question, just a mere statement of fact. His addled mind, afflicted for an untold passing of time by a poor blow, had righted itself. His snout wrinkled and sniffed at the man. “You were the skin I wore.” Ivory teeth flashed as the Jackal’s head darted forward and tore the Willow Man’s throat out in a simple, economical fashion. “Never again.”

There was no blood, no delectable copper taste of a sanguine feast between his jaws, just a ripple of the mirrors of this mind place. He felt aggravated, tainted by the humanity he had worn for ever so long. Taunted by the Willow Man’s smile at his actions, the laughter at his quandary. “Very well. This was simply a skin. One of many.” The ripples settled, and the ocean smoothly formed into a whole host of mirrors. In each a different visage born of flesh consumed. Men. Women. Children. Humans and elves and sentients of all shapes and sizes. A litany of Life consumed by the Beast That Walks.

The Jackal’s head flicked back and forth, eyes darting at the full range of options as a deeper anger blossomed inside his mind. This was more taunting by the flesh of humanity. A growl rose from deep within his chest as the Jackal brushed aside all of the visages before him. These were skins, not the self! And only one true answer would do. “I. Am.

The visage of the Willow Man faded backwards, joining the rest of the skins amidst the hall of mirrors. “Then so be it. Rise anew, Devil of the Sands.” Then more voices joined his, countless harmonies reverberating through the Jackal’s skull. Approval dripping like honey from their words, fervor rising in their tones. Chanting in the Devil’s own tongue; inciting the mind to war.

The Pillars began to stir to life, yet still the swarm remained curled around the body as a chitinous living blanket. Fire’s arrival scorched away iridescent markings, but the scarabs were well accustomed to the raging heats of the deserts themselves. Darkness descended, but the compound eyes glittered with inner fire as the swarm shifted more vehemently. But with the crackling of Energy, the swarm suddenly stood still atop the body of the former Willow Man. Even among the chatter of the crowd and the dancing breeze of Wind, new sounds could be heard beneath their droning cadence.

Tendons snapped in a staccato barrage of agonizing noise. Ligaments and joints crackled as the shuddering body sent the swarm airborne. The cloud of scarabs displaced the sudden snow that filled the air around him with Ice’s arrival, and as Light brightened the sky they too shone with a cavalcade of colour. They were Thousand-Year Fireflies, parasites of the Devils of the Sands, freed by Earth prior to this final fight. And with their own blinking lights they still kept the body out of sight.

So too did their droning flight drown out the soft rupture of flesh, as skin split and grew to accommodate a new frame of bone and fur. Carmine sands fed on the fresh spill of scarlet lifeblood beneath the swarm as bone splintered with explosive reports, heard clearly despite the siren’s cry of the scarab fireflies in flight. The deluge of water washed both insect and fur clean of the gore of the Change, hidden as it was.

Then, finally, came the tremors of shifting earth. As the spires of stone erupted from the ground the body of the Willow Man was thrown into the air. The cloud of insects vanished, their role finished, but it was no Man that flipped through the air. Long limbs of tawny fur speckled with chocolate browns turned a lazy flip in the air. Digitigrade feet and shorter, paw-like hands landed upon the very crests of the tiny natural dunes of the arena sands. A long tail whose tip was dipped in midnight black had torn through the kilt to sway behind the therianthrope. Leather straps of attached baldrics wound around the waist of the kilt, as his curious blades had returned to him as well. The shirt, meanwhile, had ripped and torn away in the transformation, exposing a ruff of white fur from throat to belly.

Yet the head demanded the most attention. Tufted ears swiveled to and fro, living radar that picked up the most minute of sounds, then lay back against the skull at the riot of noise from Wind’s own chosen. Jaws were parted, showing the promise of slick ivory teeth as its snout feasted on the buffet of scents within the arena. And amber eyes, piercing and bright, narrowed as he glanced from foe to foe. More than Man were about to die...

The Jackalwere reared back its head to howl. It was not the deep, sonorous bellow of a proud wolf - lycanthrope or otherwise - as had visited the arena in the past. This was shrill. A short and shrieking challenge by a Jackal Risen. By a true Devil of the Sands. And still, in his mind, the chanting…

Sprängskallar och splittringspinnar,
Gör mannen betala för jägers brott,
Bränn fälten och bryta själen,
Avsluta dem för tiden som de har stalit,
Stiga! Jäkel! Stiga!

AQ  Post #: 7
8/18/2017 11:08:07   
Constructively Discussional!

The seasoned sailor had expected the arena to develop into a storm, but what she’d received instead was much more bizarre: Bubbles. Bubbles surrounded her, twirling, swirling, more dizzying than the most turbulent of swells; each was a thousand colours, but all colours she’d seen at sea - ranging from the deepest of greens to the lightest of blues. Even more strange was their transparency; their surface was thin enough to see straight through, but…”straight through” was not of Sky’s Nebula. Molly peered more closely into the spinning bubbles, attempting to make out just what the strange little windows opened to, but, just as she felt as though a word to describe the place could escape her lips, she was there.

The air of Sky’s Nebula had been thin, too sparse for comfortable breathing, but the taste could be adapted to. Where Molly found herself now could not. There was no air. There was only water. She had thought herself a creature of the sea, but now, entirely enveloped by cold, churning, roiling water, her ears booming with the sound of crashing waves, her mind lashed out, seeking to justify this confusing, inhospitable, unfamiliar environment. But…was it in fact unfamiliar? Molly’s mind was swept back to that fateful day her beloved Adelita and crew were lost forever beneath the waves. She’d survived, but only through luck and strong instincts, managing to kick herself to the surface and hold for dear life onto a broken timber board.

She steeled her mind and her lungs. Unable to determine exactly which way “up” was, she picked a direction and kicked hard, hoping to find breath before all that was hers ran out. But after a matter of seconds, she became aware of the futility of her actions. Confident a swimmer as she was, Molly had seen enough of the ocean to respect its power - and this water was powerful.

Tossed about like a juvenile gull in a typhoon, she closed her eyes and took in a deep breath of water. The first thing she felt was panic; what entered her lips was too thick, too coarse to be air. The biting taste of salt stung her gums and throat and filled her lungs, but as her lungs filled with more than nothingness, the panic of breathlessness faded away and all she could feel was relief. She’d heard stories of men and women who had survived drowning, and most claimed that the experience had been comforting; peaceful. Molly surrendered herself to the water - to the currents, to the salt, to the crashing sound. Finally she understood. This was how they’d felt that night. That night they’d all been lost forever.

From amidst the currents and the salt and the crashing sounds came something else. It was a presence the like she’d never known, and it spoke, each word seeming to vibrate the entire world. “Tiny child, why have you come here?”, it asked. The voice sounded vaguely feminine, but at its core it felt like Water.

Molly knew who, or what, the voice belonged to. And, having just drowned, she was a tad annoyed at it. Especially given that the memories of her lost crew had come flooding to the forefront of her mind. So she replied defiantly, challengingly, “I thought you were supposed to be a ‘Lord’, so how come you sound like a lass, you inconsiderate puddle?”

A moment after the words escaped her lips she regretted them. If ever there was a time to show respect and seriousness, this was it. But, to her relief, the vibrating water communicated what sounded like an amused chuckle. “Never fear, Molly, I know why you’re here. You seek answers - and more, though you need prove yourself further before more may be given. For now, I will set your mind at ease, so listen and ask and interject as you please; we have limited time, but all of it you’ve earned, well and truly.

“Firstly, I sound a woman to you? And this comes as a surprise? Why, young grain of sand, do you think all ships are given the names of women, if not to honour me? ‘Lord’ is just a title, nothing more. Truthfully I have no gender, as such things have no meaning here. But women like yourself embody my nature more truly than any man could hope to - you are funny, hardworking, caring, selfless, capricious, and totally unforgiving of any who harm those they love. I could have chosen any number of water wizards far more powerful, or creatures far more attuned to Water than yourself to represent me. But I chose you because your”, the voice seemed to smile, ”truly salty heart has allowed men and women to become closer to me.”

Having been listening silently and intently, Molly suddenly lost patience. “Look, lass, I appreciate the fun explanation - and the flattery, it does my old bones good, drowned as they now are, - but if you really think anything you just said is enough to set my mind at ease, you’re a bigger fool than I was to think you’d be of any use. So, please, either get to the point or leave me here to be eaten by the fish. Why allow so many good folk, folk who have served out their entire lives in honour of the Water, to die in such unnecessary, oft cruel ways, when you could with nary a thought grant them power to command the seas? And”, now Molly’s voice dropped to a whisper, “why allow so many vile, powerful things to inhabit your domain?” Memories rushed violently, uncontrollably from the sailor’s mind to fill the water surrounding her until she seemed to be back there once more. Back to the real reason she’d come to the Championships.

Surviving the wreckage of her ship and loss of her crew, Molly was left with nothing but her life and a respectable wealth. Angry, confused, and feeling betrayed, she charged an old colleague with the distribution of her valuables amongst the families of her former crew, and paid him for a whaleboat. She then stocked the small vessel with enough supplies to last a few weeks, fitted it with a sail and departed for the middle of the ocean - the perfect place, she believed, to finally gain an audience with Neso or the Water Lord, or to die trying.

After near a month sailing Molly had only depleted half of her supplies. She’d been fortunate with fishing attempts along her way, and had skirted close enough around the edges of larger storm systems to replenish used water supplies, but she was a long way from shore, and knew all too well how quickly situations could change for the worse on open water. And change they did, in the worst kind.

It came unexpectedly. Or, more accurately, it left. The wind, all traces of it. As far as the eye could see, the sea was glass. Though the whaleboat wasn’t large by any standard of ship, it was much too cumbersome for a single sailor to row, so Molly’s only option was to acknowledge this perfect opportunity to attract the attention of the higher powers of Water.

For eight days her voice echoed out over the silent, still sea, singing songs of stories she’d heard over many years of oceanic wonders seen by sailors. But no reply came. Not even a single ripple was seen, other than those caused by the tossing and reeling of her fishing line. Her supplies diminished at the same rate as her hope, until only the barest scraps of either remained.

Around midday on her ninth day becalmed, Molly’s sharp gaze flickered to a point close by; a mere fifty feet out, and a handful fathoms beneath the surface, something stirred. Somehow without disturbing the smooth surface of the ocean, the sharp-eyed sailor observed a single, massive, green-striped tentacle pass beneath her boat. Then all of a sudden the world was plunged into screaming chaos.

The sea seemed to tilt, the sound of hungry seabirds filling her ears; the sky turned red, then gold, then royal purple, then fractured into countless sections like a broken mirror, each fluctuating between the entire visible spectrum. Her worst fears bubbled to the surface of her mind, as if someone was rifling through the pages of her past; all her hopes and joys were nothing. The world flipped, her voice seemed stolen away from her, as was her ability to flee - not that she’d get far, she was in the middle of nowhere, after all. She was completely alone, but seemed to be drowning in the nightmares of thousands of others all at once. And through this cacophony of horrors came a voice. “YOU CANNOT RESIST”.

Molly called out, asking questions she knew this being had already torn from her mind; seeking answers she knew it would only use to use or destroy her. It was right; she could not resist. Not on her own. So she prayed for help from the Lord of Water she’d so long served, through the Avatar to whom she’d so long made sacrifices and given thanks.
Storms raged overhead, the sea remained silent and glassy, but no help came. For five days she lay convulsing in agony aboard the small longboat, her thoughts being inexorably devoured, irreparably twisted. In moments of brief respite she implored the Sea send her away, or drown her in a maelstrom - anything to free her from this anguished invasion.

Until eventually, finally, the sea rippled, bubbling into larger waves as the corrupting presence finally receded. How or why she’d never truly know, though she’d heard incredible rumours of a dragon fighting a corrupted sea god.

Whatever the case, the wind had returned, and she made her way to the nearest coastal town, finding that all the talk was centred around the upcoming Elemental Championships. Reminded of those games she’d watched in her youth, and the fabled prize……

“Molly!” The name rippled through her body. Recognising it as her own, she sharply gasped back to reality, only to suck in another lungful of briny water. “Be at peace, little one, no harm may befall you here in my presence.”

Squirting salt water out from her nose, Molly doubted that claim, but remained silent, allowing the Lord to continue and she herself to regain control of her thoughts. “I know why you came here, Molly. You seek victory, that you may wield the power to choose between Powers. Who deserves dominion over the sea: Madness, or Me? A weapon to slay either an Neso or the entity sometimes called Kathool would be a mighty one indeed, but a dangerous one in the hands of one with as many questions as yourself. So, let me finally give you the answer you’ve sought all these years.

“The reason my Avatar permits terrors to inhabit my Waters, the reason people die tragically at sea, is one that you should surely already know. You’ve been so blinded by your desire for things to be perfect that you’ve failed to see precisely why it is you’ve spent so many years on the water, and why those under your care and command revelled in both the good times and the bad. Yes, water is life-sustaining and restorative and cool; it’s beautiful and musical and fun. But it’s also dangerous and unpredictable and exciting. Precisely the attributes for which I name you my Paragon, Molly. It allows those who love the water to grow strong, grow brave, and to LIVE! All life ends, but who could say that a life on the sea wasn’t a life worth living? And when they do fall, as they must, all hose precious children sink down slowly through my depths, that I may embrace them as they become one with the Sea; forever at peace, and forever with me. Do you understand now, you stubborn old bird?”

Knowing all of Molly’s thoughts since she entered the domain, the Lord of Water accepted her Paragon’s silence, drawing the water from her lungs, restoring the weapons she’d entered with, then depositing her softly onto the russet sands of the Grand Arena.

Cheers echoed about Molly as she knelt, dripping wet, on the sands. Tears streamed down her cheeks, though only a perceptive gaze would be able to distinguish them from the water dripping down from her hair. Finally she understood the Sea - the fine balance between life and death which makes both so much more memorable, so much more meaningful. And finally she could die reassured that her crew is safely, eternally in the embrace of Water.

Suddenly a familiar voice pierced through the crowd, halting her tears. “Carn y’old bat! Y’ain’t beaten nobody yet. Hop to it or I’ll become a better sailor ’n you in no time!” That cheeky lad, Bassy. Laughing, she slowly stretched to her feet. Across her back rested two harpoons, and another lay in her right hand, already prepared for use. The weapon looked exactly the same as the one’s she’d used earlier, but to Molly it felt different. It thrummed with the rush of the tide, vibrated like immense waves against the side of a ship. The blades at her side, too, felt different; steadier and more frightening than a becalmed vessel in the middle of the ocean, they felt like inevitable death.

Whether she lived or died was of no huge concern to Molly Halfcrow; she’d already got what she came for. But she still had plenty to prove to herself and the nattering gnat with the name of a fish in the stands behind her, and her intent to represent the Water Lord with pride was absolute.

Additionally, she could use a new ship…
AQ DF  Post #: 8
8/18/2017 11:37:08   

Without magic to sustain them, the shards of ice around Irina's head dropped. Her beam of light streamed towards her target, striking him in the shoulder and spinning him around. A poorly aimed shot, but no matter. Even the smallest of bolts would be able to finish him off, assuming she didn't miss a stationary target.

And then the gong sounded, reverberating throughout the Arena. It was louder than the one at the start of the battle, its sonorous booming causing Irina to pause, and look up. Her natural instincts told her to ignore the sound and finish off the chanter, though by then she had already looked away. Everything in the Arena seemed to still; from the competitors, to the once-deadly belt of asteroids, and almost her breathing, it seemed. Was that it then? The tolling of a gong to start the battle, and another to signal its finish? So what happened n-

Then the asteroids around the Arena exploded, blinding and glittering lights bursting forth from within. Irina raised her arms and her blade defensively, knowing very well that such an action would be ineffective should a large enough rock actually fly at her head. An umbrella would be better. A massive steel umbrella, maybe, capable of withstanding a storm of rocks.

No asteroid remnants flew towards her, or any of the other competitors, for that matter. The motes of light rushed at her, zipping and looping around before finally swarming her. The lights were blinding, impossible to see through. Which shouldn't have been possible, yet she couldn't see anything. Irina felt herself moving, being lifted airborne.

And then there was a shark crack, a sharp pain like an electric shock, and then-


"... Wait, that's it?"

"Yes. She's passed. Somewhat quickly, but an interesting chain of events, wouldn't you say?" The grey haired man stood, and turned to leave. "Come on, let's head our other seats."

"But, but. But she didn't DO anything! She stood around in the same pose a lot, and then she ran around a bit." The dark-haired girl huffed. She stood and followed the man out of the exit, pushing roughly past a group of spectators excitedly discussing how all the Sky competitors had disappeared. "If I had known it was Derby Day I would've worn an appropriate outfit!"

"Irina's never been one for starting fights if she could help it. That was unusually assertive plan by her, though. Shame about the timer. And what did you expect, anyway?"

"Well for one thing, I expected her to be dead already, and she's not. Maybe knocked into the belt and crushed against those asteroids, or diced into itty bitty pieces by that old guy's swords. Even a shard of ice through the head would've been something. Or roasted. Or a harpooned, like a whale." The girl said, looking up in thought. "What noise does a whale make?"

"And why do you think she would've died so easily?"

"Well Auros didn't let her bring any decent equipment. She's wearing her dress uniform, for The Gods' sake. Only thing she has that's notable is Auros' super flashlight, and who knows if she can even use it?"

The man looked at her briefly before continuing on, squeezing through the seething mass of spectators. The girl followed in his wake, chewing a nail and staring dreamily at ceiling in thought. They moved on in silence until they reached the entrance to the Final Arena, which was when he spoke again. "Why do you want Irina to die so badly, Lieutenant?"

The girl snapped out of her dreamy staring, her glowing eyes regaining their focus and her face darkening in a scowl. "I just hate her guts. Or where her guts would be, if she wasn't such a big coward." she said, spitting the last word. "Honestly."

"Really. You hate her?"


"Who would've thought?"

The girl redirected her glower to him. "Humor doesn't become you, sir."

"Death isn't funny, Lieutenant."

"No, it is. Trust me, life is just The Gods' longest and worse comedy skit. Wanna guess my favorite part?"

He sighed, and pulled out a pair of tickets as they moved through the entrance, giving them a brief skim before walking to the left and down a flight of steps. They reached the bottom and took a right, pushing past more spectators until they were at their seats. The Grand Arena lay before them, its pink sand winking at them in the morning rays. They sat in silence for a moment, the man taking in the view while the girl muttered about the sun. He glanced around the Arena, and then nodded at a lump on the sands. Something was under there, covered in a mass of insects. A body.

The girl stopped grumbling and watched, as beetles picked and tore at the mass, their numbers growing as the noon sun rose. She stared, concentrating for a few moments before slouching back in her seat, shading her face with a black sleeve. "He's not dead yet. Still alive."

"It's alive?"

"He. Jumpy monk guy from the Arena earlier. Looked better before. Hard not to." She answered, the response muffled through a faceful of jacket.

The man watched the mound for a few more minutes before speaking again. "I suppose your dispute with Irina isn't of any concern to me. So tell me, why do you want her to die in the arena, Lieutenant?"

The girl sat up and frowned, the expression deepening as a creature resembling an eldritch horror squeezed past them. "I'm sorry, am I supposed to care where she dies? I honestly don't. Where do you think I'd prefer? In a dark, lonely alleyway? In a smelly, damp cave? In a public loo?"

"That's the worse lie this morning."

"The lavatory?

"Lack of preference."

"A contender, but probably not the worse. In all honesty, sir, I'd much prefer she died begging at my feet. A shame, that she's going to end up like that," she grinned, nodding at the swarming mound. "Are we done with the small talk yet?"

"If that's the case, wouldn't it be better if she survived? What do you get if Irina dies fighting? " he asked, watching spectators flow from into the stand entrances.

The grin shifted into a smile, showing far too many teeth. "I made a bet with General Nightlight. If she dies, I give her some company. Lots of company. A literal Company. Her Company, to give her company and accompany her in the afterlife." A pause. "Say that five times quickly... No, wait. Not tongue-twisty enough."

The man looked at her, the placid air around him vanishing. He stared at her, like a teacher about to scold a student for breaking the classroom's windows. If the girl was concerned she didn't show it, her smile somehow growing wider. The man spoke again, his voice cold.
"And he agreed to the slaughter of his own troops if his former Lieutenant is slain?"

"Pfft, yes. These guys followed Irina over from the other side when she 'joined' all those years back, like sheep. They aren't especially loyalty to the Army or dear Auros." she replied cheerily. "Honestly, who cares? If they follow like cattle then I'll treat them like cattle."

"What you're proposing is beyond inhumane."

The girl yawned, and stretched, her joints giving off some unnatural, metallic cracks. "You're the only human involved here, sir. And if you think that's bad then-, hmm. Probably shouldn't say any more."

"And should Irina survive?"

"Then I guess Auros' original deal with her stands, whatever that is. Fate worse than death, yada yada. Sounded boring, but I'm biased. Always loved me a good murder."

The man continued to stare at her, his face expressionless but his blue eyes hard. The girl winked, popped a pair of black plugs in her ears and started whistling. He glared at her for another moment more before turning back to the Arena and pulling something out of his pocket. He fiddled with it, then held it to his ear and waited.

Irina was dumped unceremoniously on the floor of a dark and empty room. Or what she guessed was a dark, and hopefully empty room. She lit up her skin, though the light it provided failed to penetrate the gloom beyond her feet. She would've had better luck trying to lighting a path through a fog-filled forest at midnight. And from experience, she could say that it was not an enjoyable experience.

She stood, and walked forward, watching out for anything of interest. Anything. A door, a wall. But as she continued to walk nothing happened and the darkness hugged her, oppressing her radiance and staying at her side. It was an uncomfortable feeling, like having a stranger constantly breathe down your neck. But as long as it wasn't a murderous stranger she didn't mind it so much. A moment to relax and calm her nerves maybe? What had happened, anyway? She blinded and then shot the ice chanter, and then... what? Lights? From behind? What had been behind her? The boulders? Or the Arena wall? Then did that mean....?

There was something glowing in the distance. She sheathed her blade as she approached, recognizing it only when it was several paces away. A glowing crystal panel, affixed to the top of a dome. A magical projector. Normally found in tactical rooms or airship bridges. She reached it, and looked at the display. It showed a map, depicting their current location over a city. That seemed about right, she guessed? Although the name wasn't correct. Karrés...

Irina started, jumping back and almost falling over. It wasn't possible. Karrés was gone. Karrés had been destroyed. This had to be a trick.

The darkness in the room was slowly dissipating, and Irina could slowly see what was around her. Bronze, metal walls. Wooden floor. A table decked with tactical notes, maps and books sat next to the projector. A set of seats next to an instrument panel at the far wall. Two large, heavy steel doors were on each corner of the wall behind her. And in front of her, a large window showing-

The window burst into sunlight as she noticed it. Its brilliance was magnificent, especially when contrasted with the consuming darkness that had been around her moments earlier. So brilliant that Irina couldn't see beyond it. Or perhaps there wasn't anything to see at all. She gazed around the room. An airship command bridge.

A voice came from behind her. A familiar voice. Calm, and carefully weighted, it spoke slowly, as though reading from a book.

"Day five, month of flame, 1158 A.R, Army calendar. After two weeks of siege, the order was given to lay waste to the capital city of Karrés and its surrounding regions. A magical strike was released on entire area, leaving little behind but rubble and bodies. There were no enemy nor civilian survivors."

The voice stopped, giving Irina time to respond. She tried to speak, to say something. She couldn't, and kept staring down at the floor.
It spoke again, its tone hard. Cold. Angry. "How many people died that day?"

"I don't..." she croaked, her voice failing at the end. The light bathing the room changed to a deep red, matching the voice that controlled the illusion.

"No one knows how many you killed with that one command, Irina. Maybe your Lords know, but that I cannot say. What you know, what is very clear, is that you killed an entire civilization that day."

She spun to argue, her voice stalling once more when she saw who had spoken. Another Irina stood before her, the duplicate's face twisted with fury and hatred. The crimson dress uniform that it wore was a relic of centuries past, its color almost matching the glow suffusing the room. At its hip sat a glowing sabre, larger and more ornate looking than her own, simplistic blade. With neck-length hair, glowing blue eyes and a brilliant aura radiating from her, the double in front of her was the splitting image of an Irina from a bygone era.

They stood in silence for a minute, before the Light's Avatar spoke again. "Tell me, Irina. For what do you fight? What could possibly be worth the slaughter of over a million innocents and allies alike?"

At last, she found her voice. "I never had a choice."

"You were the one who gave the order."

"Auros ordered me to call down the strike."

"You could have refused." the Avatar pressed, raising its hand and resting it on the pommel of its sword.

"If I had refused..." she began, but was then stopped with a motion.

The Avatar stared at her, then it closed its eyes and inhaled. When it exhaled, the room shifted. They were still in the bridge, but the room was now littered with the dead. Corpses lay across consoles and on the floor, some slashed to ribbons while others were barely marked. The room itself bore many signs of a battle, with scorch marks and great, smoldering gashes in the walls and wooden floor. Combined with the bloody, red light in the room, the whole room looked like it had been plucked straight from a nightmare.

Again, silence. Irina stared at the Avatar as it looked around the room, and then down as a soft crackling filled the air. It raised its hand to its chest, where a blackened, cauterized gash wound formed. Seemingly unbothered by the hole in its chest, the Avatar looked up at Irina. It's expression lightened, replaced with disappointment and sorrow. "The lives of millions for the lives of a few. What poor judgement. How cowardly. How shameful."

"I... I made a mistake. I-," she began, though the Avatar held a hand up, cutting her off.

The room began fading slowly, the equipment, bodies and walls melting away into the shadows. And then the darkness slowly vanished, revealing the empty room she had been in, with a large gate on the far wall. A rune glowed faintly above the gate, the symbol of the Light in this realm. The Avatar walked to the gate, its wound slowly closing with each step. It paused a few steps from the gate, and turned to Irina once more.

"After all that you have done, I am unsure if I should give you my blessing. So I ask once more, why do you fight, Irina von Ra?" It gestured towards the heavy doors with a hand. "Regardless of your answer, know that you will fight on this grand stage in my name."

Irina stood in contemplating silence for a moment, and opened her mouth to try to give an answer as the Avatar held up a hand again. There was a pause, and then yet another question.

"Such an answer might not be so simple, I understand. So answer me this instead. Knowing very well that the lives of your comrades hangs on your survival, what lengths would you be willing to ensure their survival?" And with that, it pointed at Irina's right hip. Her right...?

Auros' greatsword.

The weight of the golden hilt seemed to grow even heavier as she looked at it. She had tried to ignore the presence of the sword completely, its very presence a blight on her very existence. Though given the sword as a 'gift' for the tournament, there were... terms and conditions on its use, as the entire competition would be far easier if it were completely available. However, the terms were... costly to say the least. To the point that Irina would rather have died than consider using the sword.

Of course, that was before that monster had shown up at her room that morning, with her promise of murdering everything she held dear if she fell. The few that remained with her, that still held loyalty to her. And the many that would die soon after, the many that she still loved. Was that worth Auros' price? A price worse than death?

She closed her eyes and two images flashed before her. One, of Auros, standing tall before her. Another, the dark-haired girl that reeked of death, cackling at her back.

Irina opened her eyes, and found the Avatar's blue eyes. Her blue eyes. She answered, and watched as her own face gave her a small smile.

The gates burst open, and the crowd roared. Irina strode forward into the afternoon sun, basking in its rays and the light of the Pillar before her. Her skin's illumination grew as she walked, until it was at its normal intensity. After keeping it low since arriving in Bren and fighting in the Arena of the Sky, it was a relief to allow it to shine once more. Along with the healing and rejuvenation that the Avatar had granted her at the last moment, she was as prepared as she was going to be.
Irina glanced at right, and then looked to her left. The frost chanter, representing Ice. And the wizened seafarer, Water. The immediate threats.

She drew her sabre, its polished edge catching light from all directions. A short flourish of the blade to loosen her wrist, and she settled into her familiar stance with her blade held out. Something instinctual made her look up, and so she did. And then she saw them, at the foremost and priciest row of seats. A silver haired man, and the dark-haired girl. The girl winked at her, and the man gave a small nod. Who the hell was he?

Regardless, Irina gave the slightest of nods in reply.
Do, or die. Or worse.
AQW Epic  Post #: 9
8/18/2017 23:11:43   

Fingers tapping to the rhythm, he cased the Arena, eyeing each of the pillars and looking for signs of his adversaries. For all the arena was large, it was not hard to pick them out; there was no cover in these sands. Most were humies, of course, though as varied in height and color as you could ask for. Across from Ee-nuk, though, was a curious sight: a great beast-man, colored to match the desert sands and bearing particularly pointy features, baying a piercing challenge he could hear even through the music.

Ee-nuk slid a hand over Bearpuncher’s controls, eyes narrowing. A beast could use a good punching, and Earth was Wind’s own rival to hear the stories tell it. Never could understand why. He’d never seen the wind and earth rail against each other. Seemed they preferred to rail against the creatures that lived within them.

He turned the suit’s torso to his right, and grinned. There was a familiar form - dodgy bug-man, Paragon of Energy. Neighbors, were they? And how delightful would the giant find it to have an adversary he knew? “Not very.” Ee-nuk chuckled, working the pedals to turn the suit and bring it up to speed.

No charging assault this time, not with how the grasshopper had leaped so easily out of the way in Forge. A flick of a switch and the vents opened, wind rushing in through the rear ports and out through the front. He aimed the spike, and punched the button, center circle flashing as Pukkroy boomed a greeting. No waiting to see what happened; his right hand shifted a lever forward, tilting the cockpit down a touch even as he moved from walk to run.

Air blasted at the sands, and drove it before him, an approaching wave of pink grit followed by fiddle and drums. “I’ll never understand,” he sang in a surprisingly sonorous baritone, eyes locked to his opponent, “why I’m such a selfish man!”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 10
8/19/2017 2:46:54   
Eternal Wanderer

Her name had been Kunnia. She had deserved better.

He did not want to be thinking about this, remembering these things. If Teras ever saw Kedron again, as unlikely as that seemed, he would push the Kissa Pa’s teeth in. The same went for that mysterious patron Kedron had spoken of. It was their fault for stirring up the memory, prying into personal matters better left in the past. Coming to a stop before his pillar, the sellsword sighed.

She had deserved better.

Back then, he really had been a mercenary, new-minted and naive. The Basilli Phas had traveled south and west, leaving the monastery of his birth behind and trekking to the Colony lands of the Basilli For.

The Colonies bordered the dominion ruled by the Flights of the Kotka. A state of open hostility had existed between the two Rotu since well before Teras had been born. It was an on-again, off-again affair, a low-intensity conflict of ambushes and patrol skirmishes that occasionally flared into full-fledged war. The Iron Mantis had seen five long cycles when a Kotka raiding force burned an outlying border steading. They’d led the local defenders on a merry chase, straight into the waiting arms of an ambushing army that had slaughtered them to the last soldier.

So Teras had made his way into the Colonies and signed his blade into the service of Queen Telias. Of course, he had not actually been part of the Basilli For’s fighting force. Colony armies were made up of citizens: female soldiers trained from birth for the battlefield. The young mercenary had been mildly disappointed to learn this, but Queen Telias, or her bursars, were paying for sword-arms to take over patrols and guard postings to free up more soldiers for the front lines. At the end of the day a mercenary’s loyalty was to his coin purse, no matter what dreams of glory the self-styled Iron Mantis may have had at the time.

It was those dreams that had gotten him in trouble, the Basilli Phas reflected bitterly. It made him wonder at the ways he had changed since then. What would Kunnia have said, could she see him today? Probably that he had been a fool then, and was still a fool now.

Like he had told Eugen, nothing personal, kid. Teras’ lips twitched in a sour smile. Telan had told him something similar, after the mercenary had finally come to understand just what it was that he had signed. “It was nothing personal, Rukoli. It was simply business. Good business.” The Basilli had never forgotten that slight, or the others. He tallied them up in his heart, taking his small, petty revenges wherever he could.

On the matter of slights, however… Teras’ expression smoothed to a neutral facade, dark eyes narrowing. Ee-nuk, Loudmouth, had advanced along with the Basilli Phas, but the sellsword did not recognize any of the others from the Forge. The metal monstrosity was committing further atrocities to the word “music” nearby, but the cretin was not the cause of the bounty hunter’s consternation.

No, the reason for that lay with the man walking away from the dark maw and towards the Basilli. Teras recognized that gait. Not because he had seen the man before, but because the sellsword had seen the walk: stiff at first, relaxing ever so slightly on the approach. This was a man who had seen something unexpected. Something that he did not like. Something he intended to do something about.

This Paragon was slender, short - They really should institute a height requirement. - and there was something about his bearing that clashed with the fine clothes that hung off his frame. He seemed almost uncomfortable, out of place in a way Teras could not quite define.

In one hand the man, human so far as the mercenary could see, bore a curving sword. A length of red cloth was wound about the dark champion’s left arm, a tail of fabric loose and almost trailing over the sand. That was a common technique for duelists lacking a swordbreaker or off-hand weapon, a way to block strikes with some degree of defense while keeping their blade free. This one knows a thing or two.

But what truly bothered Teras was the glove. Wrapped about the hilt of the blade was a hand encased in crimson fabric. Perhaps it was thoughts of Kunnia that had distracted him, but it took him longer than he liked to put the pieces together.

When he did, the sellsword smiled. The expression was neither cruel nor mocking; in fact, it frankly invited the approaching Paragon to share in his amusement. A man in red gloves, filled with determination, seeking Teras out in the middle of all other possible opponents. “Cyril Red Hand, as I live and breathe.” The Basilli Phas swept all four arms out and away from his torso, dipping into a short, swift bow in the former ringleader’s direction. “You know,” he straightened, falling casually into a ready defensive posture, “I was thinking about you earlier today.”

The Iron Mantis paused, his voice losing what small bit of mirth it had contained. “The world runs on irony and desperation, after all. I know you won’t believe me, but I’m sorry about Eugen.”

Across the Arena sands the Willow Man - No ‘Man’ there. A Koira if I’ve ever seen one. - lifted his snout in a throaty, yelping ululation. Teras ignored the inherent challenge. There were matters much closer to hand requiring his attention. “I make no apologies for Marek. I beg your forbearance, however. Pardon me a moment.”

The last comment was surprisingly polite, given the fact he and Cyril were probably about to cut each other to ribbons. It would seem that the pleasantry threw the thief off, because the Basilli had time to react to the warning tingle racing along his side, pivoting and locking both shields together to catch an incoming blast from Loudmouth. The boisterous Paragon was following up his ranged assault with a heavy charge, approach heralded not just by his horrific “music”, but also a rising cloud of fine sand.

“Red Hand,” Teras called out, taking what felt like the safest available risk, “this is personal for you. Believe me, I understand. Lend me a hand with Loudmouth here, and I’ll give you your duel.”
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 11
8/19/2017 16:52:24   
Constructively Discussional!

Realising it would be wise to survey her surroundings, Molly reached her unoccupied hand up to clear her eyes of salt deposited by Water and tears alike. Focusing her gaze upon her fingers, she was suddenly overcome by an overwhelming, petty sense of annoyance - the kohl patterns she maintained around the edges of her eyes and across her cheeks had all been washed away, leaving her old, wrinkly face bare. With nothing on her persons to remedy this lack of cosmetic decadence, she shifted her sights to her immediate competition. Surprisingly - and perhaps fortunately - both nearest Paragons had fought Sky’s Nebula.

To her left, the glowing lass, Irina, who had demonstrated, if nothing else, her defensive abilities, via running, dodging and blinding; and to her right…yes, there was little doubt. A strange creature crouched on all fours, though distinctly unique visually, it matched perfectly with the faint, unsettling aura she’d sensed emanating from the animalistic Willow Man who had so frustratingly dodged every one of her harpoons in Sky. Though he’d been impressive there, he looked far more comfortable in his new skin, which was little incentive for Molly to initiate an engagement.

Preferring to allow the younger and more fit competitors the opportunity to beat their feet across the sand, the sailor intended to stay nearby the Pillar of her Lord unless moving became absolutely necessary. Sentimental as it may seem, she’d had little enough water for company since beginning her trek towards Bren, and the rushing and gurgling of the geyser provided comfort. But given that she had no desire to approach either Irina or the Willow Beast, Molly put her sharp tongue to use. Addressing Irina, she called out “Ho, lass! Aye, you, the one lit up like a lamp. Like a lamprey, in fact. I hope you don’t intend to run about this arena, you slippery fish. A spry target is such a pain, as this ugly dog proved earlier.” She gestured towards the Jackalwere with the explosive tip of her harpoon. “Mind you, he’d probably find great pleasure chasing after a conspicuous meal, after his poor luck at finding one in Sky’s Nebula.”

Grinning past the canine in question, Molly’s eyes settled upon yet another familiar competitor, one she’d formed a comfortable alliance with in the previous arena, but whose prowess with explosive ranged attacks put her own to shame. The young fire-breather, Inigo, was an opponent she’d marked as extremely threatening. Much as she’d like to dispatch of him quickly and immediately, he was, unfortunately, too far away. Perhaps their alliance could be rekindled, or another competitor dispense of him, either path saving her the effort of determining just how to bring the lad down.

As any opponents farther would likely not be of immediate consequence, Molly focused all her attention on those nearest. Invoking the ire of two Paragons may be a foolish gambit, but there was no telling whether either would take her bait and approach the sand she’d set her mind to defending. At the very least, she had every desire to continue her success with entering arenas with a bang, and she stood a decent chance against these two, already familiar with their talents as she was - unless the Willow Beast’s abilities had changed as much as its appearance.

Molly breathed deeply in through her nose, the familiar scent of brine filling her nostrils and making her eyes water. However, the skin beneath her eyes felt bare and dry, a consequence of being without her standard “warpaint”…but as far as she could tell there was an equally suitable dark, sticky fluid pulsing beneath the surface of each opponent in this arena with which she could adorn her face and paint the pink sands red.
AQ DF  Post #: 12
8/19/2017 18:07:50   

The other Paragons stood there, watching, waiting in delicious anticipation for the call; the announcement which would mark the beginning of the end. Inigo stopped both his pacing and the spinning of his blade, while his eyes flicked between each and every one of the competitors. They were all fine warriors in their own right, he could tell that much at a glance, but how would they fare once the fighting began? His desire to prove himself against them burned brightly within him in that moment, his one true goal that of finding a challenge worthy of his own skills. He had made it this far now, there was no turning back.

His gaze fell on the soaked fighter as she was called forth as the Paragon of Water. Molly Halfcrow, his companion in the Sky Arena would be joining them in the final round. An interesting development indeed. Whilst having an ally would be beneficial, he’d been robbed of the opportunity to see her truly exert herself in the earlier round, and what better way to witness that than to face her himself? The mere idea of trading blows with her coaxed his heart a few beats faster, but he had to think carefully about these things. She was the best chance for an alliance in this arena, after all, and a hasty decision would most likely cost him the match.

He next turned to the beast that separated him from his former companion, the Earth’s Chosen. The Willow Man had returned to the fray in a most spectacular fashion. Physically, he was almost unrecognisable, a beast in no uncertain terms. Power itself seemed to emanate from his new form, casting an image of unwavering strength indeed. Despite the beast warrior’s terrifying presence, the flame wielder watched him with a steely gaze. He would not be swayed by the transformation. He’d spent his adventuring days slaying much bigger creatures, and that was ultimately what the man before him was; a wild animal.

“We watch, in order to live to tell the legends that shall be seen before us on this day. So, fight or die, Paragons, but let the fight for Champion begin!”

Inigo’s attention quickly snapped back to reality after being lost in his thoughts on strategy to the chorus of mages calling out for the last time. The grand finale was about to begin. The world seemed to freeze in that moment, a brief second of calm before inevitable chaos. He had a precious handful of seconds to make a decision, but there were so many factors at play. His old ally, a returning foe, five other warriors all of the highest calibre. Each and every one of them had to be taken into consideration of his next move. To ignore any of them, or to think of them as non-threats, would be a deadly mistake.

The fighter rolled his head back as he took a step towards the centre of the arena, blade held firm in one hand by his side. His eyes were a fiery blaze that struck fear into the hearts of men, flicking back and forth as he chose a target. He wouldn’t face someone without seeing what they were capable of, which drastically cut down his potential targets. He let out a smirk as his head turned as he walked, his boots kicking up sand as his attention was focused on the dripping Paragon of Water.

“Halfcrow!” he yelled, flicking his attention back and forth between her and the creature that held the ground between them. He couldn't afford to be caught off guard by the beast this early in the battle. She’d already called out the two warriors standing to her left and right as he walked, a bold move by any standard, but perhaps a reckless one. “I believe we have some unfinished business. Question is then, are you stood to my front, or my side?”
AQ DF AQW Epic  Post #: 13
8/19/2017 20:51:53   

In the tavern that morning, Ayiso had paid little attention to the wild speculations of the patrons sitting behind him. At the time, he had considered their exaggerated tales nothing more than elated bragging. Looking at those who had joined him in the Arena, however, he realized that the oddities the men had described were not too far outside the realities of the Grand Arena. As Ayiso examined those close to him, he recalled the names the announcers had given them.

To Ayiso’s right was Ee-nuk, a great monstrosity of metal fighting for Wind, and Ayiso quickly realized his ice would be nearly ineffective in fighting such a creature. Further across the sands, an insect-like creature called Teras stood for Energy. To his left was Irina, his opponent from Sky, her sword already drawn in the same defensive position he knew all too well. Just past her was the elder from Sky, Molly. In fact, it seemed nearly everyone he had seen in Sky had been called as Paragon, though the apparent transformation of the Willow Man proved to Ayiso how little he truly knew about his opponents.

Moving his staff in front of his body with his right hand, Ayiso considered his options. He could risk fighting Ee-nuk, though he doubted how successful he could be against such a threat. He also had the option of waiting, or walking forward in the Arena, allowing an opponent to make the first strike.

And then there was Irina. Fighting an opponent he had already faced had its advantages, to be sure. His knowledge of her abilities and style, limited as it may be, could prove useful. His mind made up, he raised his left hand up to his right arm and rolled back his sleeve. Closing his hand around his arm, he began to sing.

The ancient lyrics of Frozen Fortitude filled the surrounding air. Though his voice could not fully drown out the shouts of the crowd, the only noise Ayiso heard was the quick chant of his song. Ice began to spread over his arm, spreading from his wrist to his elbow. The freezing cold would be enough to render a normal person numb, but the blood of a High Lyer would protect him for now.

As he sang, he moved his hand in a circular motion around his arm. The ice formed outwardly from his arm, layer by layer. After a few moments, he had what resembled a shield on his arm, just over a foot in diameter and almost half an inch in width.

He continued singing, adding more layers as the shield grew heavier. The base of the ice had reached completely around his arm, holding the ice in place as he turned to his left and began walking slowly toward Irina. He watched her as he began his slow approach, hoping her patient nature would continue into this new Arena. He shifted his staff around in his hand, ensuring he could still move his wrist as the ice continued to grow.

By the time the woman reacted, he hoped, his ice would be sufficiently thick to serve whatever purpose necessary.

You are making your Lord proud, lady of Light. But I must do the same for my daughter. Our fight must continue.
Post #: 14
8/19/2017 23:18:16   
Ronin Of Dreams
Still Watching...

There is much to be said of the world and of the body, but none greater than Truth. Truths learned not by raw intellect or some complicated interaction of sentient thought, but rather those learned by adaptation and instinct. Many such Truths had been discovered by the Devils; some were even capable of being shared back to their lesser, unelevated kith. So it was with the Grass Lions, who learned the truth of Blending with the World after refining the art of camouflage. Amidst the savannah grasses, they were truly invisible to all senses, keeping them the apex predator despite the swatch of criminals and poachers out for their pelts.

That was all well and good for Grass Lions. Jackals, with their fertile and flexible minds, sought out Truths that could endlessly entertain them, rather than solely maintain the dominance of being an apex predator. Innovation and cunning was their trade, and this particular Devil of the Sands knew quite a few such Truths from the lifetimes spent prior to the mental malady of concussion and amnesia. One of these Truths had been so thoroughly ingrained within his very fabric that even the husk of the Willow Man had been able to capitalize upon it, at least in a debased and lesser fashion.

While others might have caught the flex of paws on sand as an act of stretching, the Jackalwere was luxuriating in this fuller Truth. Each micrometric movement wasn’t to limber paws, but to balance himself on lesser and lesser amounts of sand - not perfectly to the point of balancing on a single grain per paw, but enough for a personal satisfaction. Other humanoids had developed techniques and magicks that emulated this greater Truth, but these inventions, these machinations were a force of will. Wasteful and diminished from the Truth. A Truth which the Devils of the Sands simply Knew, and instilled in the very essence of their being.

This momentary luxury also detracted from the other, more mundane truths that plagued his mind. The feeling of being a stranger in his own hide. The tainting of humanity, and how off-putting it was to have blues and greens washed away into grays, while reds, browns, and yellows all widened into a greater tapestry. How his perception of contrast was so much sharper, predatorial in picking up even the faintest signs of movement. It was a simpler portrait of the world, but oh so familiar all the same.

His ears swiveled this way and that, picking up snippets of conversation both among the competitors and amidst the crowd. It was a marvelous sharpening of the sense, but thankfully one that was instinctual rather than a cognizant irritant. Save, of course, for the racket pounding out from the Jackalwere’s elemental opposite. That annoyance had already attracted the attention of... he sniffed the air carefully. No doubts about it, the human had the aroma of One Who Walks with Death. A worrisome prospect, not that the four-armed insectile warrior would be much lesser of a threat when it came down to it.

The Jackalwere trotted forward with a springing, wary stride, paying the same attention to the slung insults from Halfcrow that he would a gnat by his ear. None whatsoever. That degree of taunting was a foolish, human thing. He would not rise to it, but he did keep notice of how the other warriors seemed to be moving into distinct knots of impending brutality. Sky’s former denizens seemed content to resume hostilities, while the new blood had their own apparent feud already beginning. This was something he could take advantage of, as it would be little different than consuming the carrion from another predator’s kill. Patience would be rewarded, a chance to evaluate the new dangers while assuming a position more central upon the sands. A better position to spring and strike from a poorly protected flank while they assumed him some mere, unthinking animal.

All along the way, not a paw print was left in his wake. Another point of pride.
AQ  Post #: 15
8/19/2017 23:38:36   
Ryu Viranesh

Cyril was 15 when he was sent off to the conservatory. Though 'sent off' was perhaps the wrong way to put it - he had gone willingly, believing it to be the best place to hone his talents. Talents which, in the end, had not been enough.

His study of music started over a decade earlier when, at the tender age of four, he’d stumbled across his babushka’s violin. At that size Cyril could scarcely hold, much less play the instrument, but his parents had taken note of his interest. The way his father told the story, they’d retained a tutor the very next week; that was how Vitaliy Mikhailov became part of the Kovac household.

Vitaliy was an eminently skilled violinist, his work well-regarded by both critics and musicians alike. By this point, he was probably well on his way to becoming a crucial part of the canon, one whose influence would be felt for years to come. To Cyril, however, he would always be the exacting instructor that insisted he hold his instrument in place for hours at a time, until his posture was absolutely perfect. Vitaliy expected excellence from his students, and during those early days Cyril seemed to be anything but.

That was, until he started playing. What the young noble lacked in discipline or his scholarly capacities, he more than made up for with purely instinctive talent. Still, it wasn’t aptitude alone that impressed his instructor; rather, it was the emotion which Cyril was able to draw out in each and every performance. He had a unique sensibility for such things, an ability to express those feelings with an innocence untainted by worldly experience.

Cyril had spent the next six years studying beneath Vitaliy’s watchful eye, and his tutor’s stringent teaching methods instilled in him a similar set of high standards. After the musician’s departure, the eager pupil had been apprenticed to a number of local performers; though they lacked the technical expertise which a man like Vitaliy brought to bear, their lessons on concert etiquette proved to be almost as vital. It was during those days that Cyril first developed the affable stage persona which would serve him so well later in life.

Throughout the years, his parents remained staunchly supportive of his ambitions. Despite their differences, his father had only desired that Cyril be able to support himself. It made no difference if that was through the arts rather than the sword. Cyril’s mother, when she was around, was far more enthusiastic about the matter, always eager to hear about each new technique that he’d mastered. It was those moments that he remembered best; the times she let him skip out on his etiquette lessons so she could hear him play.

Speaking of manners, Cyril thought as he observed the Basilli’s bow, it looks like someone had a similar upbringing. Truthfully, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of the bounty hunter. If he judged him solely upon this interaction, then the Paragon of Energy was easily the most polite combatant he’d encountered. Teras almost seemed happy to see him, the smile flashed his way more akin to a friendly greeting than an invitation to tear him limb from limb… from limb from limb.

But he couldn’t forget what he’d seen that day. The hulking shadow that stood over Eugen’s body; the casual disdain with which the insect-man had gutted Marek. Teras hadn’t changed a bit in the years since, still clothed in the very same black tunic that he’d worn when he murdered Cyril’s men. The foreigner eyed the Basilli’s blades, noting that no blood yet coated the well-worn steel.

None will, if I’ve anything to say about it. No matter what superficial apologies Energy’s Paragon saw fit to fling at him, he wouldn’t allow himself to be dissuaded from that. Not this time.

A sharp, yowling cry cut across the Arena, a stark reminder that they were far from alone in this death match. The sound distracted him from the insect-man’s words, making his sudden about face perhaps more of a surprise than it should have been. Cyril’s eyes followed the motion; he saw Teras block something with his shields, tracking the unseen missile back to some sort of metal monstrosity zooming across the sands.

Cyril couldn’t say how he’d missed the cacophony that accompanied the suit’s approach, but in that instant he wished that his luck had continued. Is that… supposed to be music? There was no rhyme or reason to the collection of sounds; none of the underlying beauty which accompanied the progression of a proper piece. It was just noise, plain and simple noise.

The sound of Teras’ voice was a welcome reprieve from the racket, though he frowned at the bug-man’s use of his old title. An alliance… it was a distasteful prospect, but in this case it might be the best option that he had. If he wanted to settle things with the Basilli, then the noisemaker needed to go. A service I’m sure the rest of the Arena will appreciate.

The Paragon of Darkness nodded to his counterpart, gesturing towards the Energy Pillar. “I’ll circle around the outside; you handle the inside. With luck, we can trap him between us.” Cyril set off before the bounty hunter could respond, putting some distance between them as he attempted to skirt the cloud of sand which preceded the metal monstrosity. If he wanted to do damage to the thing, then he’d need to get in close. Which meant that its ‘music’ was only going to get louder.

AQ DF MQ  Post #: 16
8/19/2017 23:52:48   

There were noises coming from the other side of the Arena. That was the best way to describe what Irina could hear. They were noises, noises of the most awful kind. Not the horrible sounds that she had somewhat grown accustom to on the battlefield; the cries of the dying, the sobs of pain, or the even cries that were cut-off midway, when a soldier was killed through a most explosive manner while on local frequencies. These were just... noises. With something resembling a rhythm, though. As though a deaf person had tried his hand at being a musician, after receiving the vaguest and the worst description of the term 'music'. She could imagine it now, the entry in the worse dictionary across the realms.

noun. noises but with feeling. And a maybe a beat.

Or maybe not quite the worse dictionary, but close.

Another sound, this time from her left. A savage, beastly howling noise. Were... Were there wolves in the Arena? Did someone bring in a wolf? It didn't sound like any wolf that she had heard before, though, so maybe just a lupine creature. A werewolf maybe. At high noon? Who knew the laws of each world? Where had it come from? There, by the Earth Pillar, past the old Water Paragon. A somewhat, humanoid wolf. With blades at its hips. That would be an interesting duel. Not that she would welcome it. Irina had spent a decade on one of the Outer Realms fighting hordes of barbaric, disease-ridden beast people before, and that had been plenty for even an entire lifetime. A Lightbringer's lifetime.

And then words, goads from the Water Paragon. Maybe the old crone had seen Irina glance her way? Taunts held little meaning in a fight, though, used to provoke the weak of mind and lead them to an easy death. The old lady could probably use the help, though. What, with her appearance, she didn't look especially far from the Reaper's Door herself. Humans and other similar folk with limited lifespans tended to shrivel and wither as they drew nearer to the Door. What was that she had said, anyway? Something about not running? Sure, catching a harpoon would end this fight a lot faster for everyone. Would you prefer I catch your throw with my head, or my chest?

Regardless of what she heard, none of that mattered to her right now. The sounds from the other side of the Arena nor the provocations from someone that looked like they struggled to rise from bed in the morn were not Irina's main problem. At least, not when the Ice Hurler was marching towards her, forming a frozen shield on his arm. Barbaric. Primitive. Persistent.

She almost let loose a sigh. This again. The possibility of having to fight two foes at once was disadvantageous, to put it lightly. The tribesman looked as though he was ready to fight Irina in a melee, an offer which Irina would almost have gladly taken him up on, had it not been for the nautical veteran waving a harpoon around behind her back. Of course, she could fight him anyway, and just be ridiculously careful about a harpoon or three being thrown her way. A foolish plan, for sure. There were a few other options, but only one choice really stood out to her. Irina would have to take the initiative. Again. Maybe she would take the old lady's advice after all?

Irina turned towards the crone, a hint of a smile playing on the impassive mask she wore. She gripped her blade tightly and leant forward slightly before bursting forth, sand flying from her heels. After the first few steps, she turned, almost pivoting fully, until she was running back towards the forefront of her Pillar. The werelupe had made a similar action, though bounding across the field towards the far side instead of where she was headed, towards her shield-toting foe.

Now would be the ideal time and position for a harpoon from behind. Irina glanced back briefly, warily watching for a projectile that would end her fight early. An all-too-familiar motion for her liking. Her light dimmed a fraction, and she clenched her hand, preparing her magic for the combat about to ensue.

There was a irritated noise from the man's side. He looked over, watching as his companion leant forward, rubbing the bridge of her nose with two slender, pale fingers. She glanced at him, catching his eye, before replying in a most sarcastic impersonation of what he presumed was a farmer. Or maybe a racehorse owner.

"'Gee whiz, sir. Ain't she a beaut? Which stable did you pick up this fine mare at?'" she sighed, throwing herself back into her seat in exasperation. "Although honestly, more like a pony instead of some majestic Thoroughbred or something. Maybe a mule. Looks, smells and handles like one, doncha think?"

He looked back at the Arena below, and didn't answer.
AQW Epic  Post #: 17
8/20/2017 19:06:39   

As Ayiso neared his target, he stopped his song. The shield was not quite as thick as he had wanted it, but he knew better than to push his luck with the Light warrior. If he focused on his song for too long, he risked allowing her to trap him as she had before. Holding his arm in front of him, he prepared for whatever attack Irina would bring.

But then she was gone, running from him once again. He blinked, and wondered what trick she was playing. Did she really not wish to fight him again? He looked around the Arena, and for the first time, the noise and movements seemed nearly overwhelming.

And then he felt it. The strength that had filled him in his vision of the mountains fled, and he was tired again. He felt the weight of the day’s action bearing down on him, and he knew the fierceness of Winter had abandoned him.

So soon, then? I’m sorry, Father, Aaya. I thought I could do better.

He looked down at the ice covering his arm, and with a shake of his head it crumbled down to the sands below. Bringing his staff down to his side, he turned and began the slow, long walk to his Pillar’s gate.

In some of the more barbaric mountain tribes, it was considered a mark of shame to leave a battle without suffering an injury, without drawing the blood of an opponent. But Ayiso knew he had no choice. Fighting without the favor of Winter could lead to nothing but defeat. Leaving was necessary, as unsatisfying as it may be.

As he approached the gate, he heard the voices of the announcers cut through the Arena. "As winter must give way to spring, so too does Ice now withdraw its might. By the Will of the Arena, the chant of the mountains shall echo no more within its halls this year. We now bear witness to Ayiso's choice, as the bards will carry on songs of his prowess in the years to come.”

I doubt they will.

Walking away from the Arena, Ayiso refused to look back. Even as the cheers of the crowd continued to reach his ears, he kept walking. Suddenly, a sharp voice cut through his thoughts.

“You could have died in there.”

Ayiso turned quickly. Even though the voice was unfamiliar to him, he knew the name of the one who spoke. A few feet from him was a bold-looking woman, a stern look on her face. Long, curled hair crowned her dark brown head, and the eyes staring back at him brought tears into his own.

“I should have stayed.” Ayiso managed to speak, his voice cracking weakly.

“Then you’d certainly have died in there.”

“I wasn’t talking about the Arena.” Ayiso stepped forward, hesitating to reach out. Before he could decide what to do, the woman’s composure broke, and she leapt forward into a tearful hug. Struggling to find words, Ayiso finally managed to speak.

“Hello, Aaya.”
Post #: 18
8/21/2017 19:50:23   

“Walk around me, not before me,” he sang, his opponent taking Pukkroy’s blast on his shields. That was twice the man had blocked it; a chance was that he’d heard it coming, but more likely there was something else at play. Grasshopper’d yet to display anything overtly sparky. Ee-nuk frowned, slowing his charge; Darkness had come rather close, a run at first then a cautious approach. A gesture at the pillar, and he was moving to Ee-nuk’s left, the grasshopper moving to the right. Teaming up, eh? Best chances for ‘em to survive, sure.

Wouldn’t make a lick of difference; a good brawl always had more’n one to punch. His claws flicked at the dials on Pukkroy’s lever, swinging the spike to bear on … Cyril, the voice had said. The cannon roared, and he swung the torso to the right, aiming just in front of Teras’ path and upping the speed on the vent fans. Sand blasted higher and farther, fountaining towards the silent storm of the Energy pillar in a pink cascade. “I’m ugly and you know it,” he sang, turning the suit’s legs to the left and bringing the charge back up to speed, spike still trained on Cyril. Either run him over or run him through; no mercy to spare in this arena. For … Teras, as announced, Bearpuncher was ready, swung slightly out and waiting for proximity.

Ee-nuk had the rhythm. If nothing else, it would be an excellent dance.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 19
8/22/2017 0:00:13   
Eternal Wanderer

Luck, Cyril said. Well, luck was always welcome in a bounty hunter’s life. Dismantling Loudmouth’s creation was not going to be easy, but Teras remembered Vadim’s words. The Yarosburg guard captain had described the… damage done to the prison by the Red Hand.

At the end of the day, luck was always a product of skill and a little ingenuity. There was a reason the Basilli’s mother had told him to “make his own luck” after all.

His mother... there was another old memory. It had been a no small amount of time since the Iron Mantis had taken leave of his mother and father. They were both long dead, but even still those recollections were stirring, dislodged from their resting places by Kedron’s damnable questions.

Guard duty, as Teras soon found out, was incredibly tedious work. He had joined up to fight in battles. Standing around and checking papers was purse-filling work, but it was boring. And it was not that the Iron Mantis had anything against his fellow mercenaries, a motley assortment of sellswords drawn in from the four corners by the scent of carnage and coin, but there was only so much dicing, drinking, and dagger-throwing he could stomach. As a result, the Basilli Phas had taken to wandering the Colony while he was off duty, marveling at the complex delvings and intricate patterning of the Basilli For architecture. It was a far cry from the simple lines and unadorned surfaces of the monastic community he had grown up in.

Teras’ father had once told him that their people lived simple lives to atone for past transgressions. It had meant little to the bounty hunter then, perhaps more later. But those thoughts were far from his mind the day he had met Kunnia Daysmu.

The mercenary had been idling in the lower market, indifferently browsing the stalls when a pair of Basilli For soldiers entered the square. Soldiers were easy to identify. They were taller and broader across the shoulder than common Basilli For; they also tended to keep the vestigial mandibles generally removed from other Basilli at a young age. Teras paused to watch the pair curiously. It was not unusual to see soldiers about the city. Though most had been dispatched with the army to meet the Kotka aggressors, there were still enough remaining to defend the Colony from attack - with the augmentation of the sellswords to the garrison, of course.

Still, the soldiers left in the city were concentrated mainly about the palace complex, or could be found drilling on the training grounds. It was also rare for them to travel in groups of less than four, which made these two an unusual sight. Leaning against a nearby pillar, the Iron Mantis surveilled the pair as they had some conversation lost amid the background chatter and noise of the market. And then one of them turned and walked back down a nearby alley while her companion kept watch.

That was enough to make the Basilli Phas straighten up and take notice. As a rule soldiers were never alone. They operated in eight-woman squadrons, or four-soldier half-squads. Seeing two was odd, but seeing them split up…

A moment later the soldier returned; she was accompanied by a tall, slender Basilli For, and Teras frowned and stared. There was something familiar about the woman; it took him a second to make the connection. He had seen her before, or at least, the woman’s mother. The Princess had her mother’s eyes, as well as her elegantly curved mandibles. It was her skin patterning, however, that clinched the identification. Basilli For, like the Iron Mantis’ people, were possessed of patterned hides, though their variation was based on coloration, rather than physical grooving.

The Basilli For of the Daysmu colony were ebony of skin, with crimson accents. Commoners tended to have muddier reds, while soldiers were often more incarnadine than black, but the Queen’s only daughter was a unique specimen indeed. Teras had heard the stories, and now saw that they were true. The Princess’ forehead bore a delicate crimson pattern of lines that made it look as though she was wearing a slender diadem. It had apparently been the subject of no small amount of speculation at the time of the her birth. A sign from the gods, a mark of destiny, the usual superstition.

It was too bad that none of it meant anything, in the end.

Cutting towards the Arena wall as the Red Hand angled centerward, the Basilli Phas traveled a curving path to Loudmouth's right side. The jocular cretin aimed, loosing a blast in Cyril’s direction. Pivoting at the hips, Ee-nuk panned his blaster swiftly back to Teras and then… beyond.

“Swarm take it!” The Iron Mantis felt the tingling warning across his legs and tried to stop… too late. Sand rutched beneath his feet as he slid, and Teras failed to halt his forward momentum. To compensate, his shields slammed together before his torso, angled slightly down.

The blast came in low and fast, crashing into the sand with a hollow boom in echo of Loudmouth’s weapon. Predictably, the result was a veritable explosion of sand, a profusion of rosy grains scattering skyward in a pink curtain that folded about the sellsword and momentarily concealed the Arena from his sight.

Sand stung his eyes, and the Basilli fumbled his right-hand sword into its sheath more by reflex than by sight. Spitting granules of grit, the Iron Mantis drew Archer’s dagger, spinning it about and taking a firm grip on the weapon’s tip. “Right, so it’s going to be like that.”

Flashing into motion, the bounty hunter reversed his path, bursting from the fine veil of silt. He emerged, slightly ahead of his initial position, in time to see the noisy Paragon charging Cyril. Teras’ right primary arm rose smoothly, drawing back and cocking slightly.

Throwing daggers had never been foremost on the mercenary’s list of skills. He dabbled here and there, mostly to kill time while off duty or for the occasional wager. So it would not be unfair to say he was out of practice. On the bright side, Loudmouth made for a large target. The Iron Mantis whipped his arm forward, releasing and pointing along the line of the throw. Archer’s dagger twirled end over end, whistling through the air and seeking a path through the bars separating Ee-nuk from his opponents.

Just a little luck…
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 20
8/22/2017 4:55:29   
Constructively Discussional!

With evident disappointment, Molly watched with her back to her Lord’s Pillar as both Irina and the Willow Beast seemingly paid her issued challenges no heed, instead turning tail to find different opponents. Had they been closer she’d have considered hurling a harpoon their way purely out of spite, but she had no hope of reaching their distance from her position, and chasing after one to reprimand them for their poor manners would not only put her at serious risk from another competitor, it would be…a decidedly less mature reaction than should be expected of one her age.

Not willing to allow them the final “word” - or lack thereof - she attempted to conclude her insults with a threat. “Yellow-bellied chum buckets! Just you wait…”, she shouted, attempting to raise her voice above whatever that horrific din emanating from across the arena was, but she found herself interrupted before she’d entirely finished. Molly’s eyes flashed, settling once again upon her former ally from Sky who was sauntering slowly towards her. Did nobody in this accursed arena have any respect for the words of an old gal? A snarky tongue would often point out that she should aim to save her breath, for she no doubt had little enough left.

The still-sopping old cormorant sighed, nodding approval for the fire-eyed lad to continue speaking. It was clear from his posture that he was out for blood, his gaze bright, body taught, blade at the ready. Molly allowed herself a wry smile. It seemed they both had the same immediate goal in mind, and she had just lost two opponents, after all. However, it was his last question that set her mind whirring, transforming her face into the wrinkled mess of sparkling eyes and a cheeky grin. “Are you stood to my front, or my side?”, he’d asked. The opportunity was far too tempting, so without hesitation she made her loud reply.

“As long as you can’t shoot fire out your ears, lad, I’ll stand beside you. After all, the accord we struck was to last until it remained just you and I, as I recall. And these noisy, slippery landlubbers resemble the pair of us about as well as an oak seed does a mighty ship. The alliance stands, should you choose to honour it.” With a wistful glance towards the rushing, crashing pillar dancing behind her, Molly cautiously turned her back on Irina and quickly paced towards Inigo, eyes locked on his, half hoping for an excuse to lighten her load and loose the projectile resting in her hand.

From across the arena came a truly frightful din. First Molly had found herself irritated by the distinctly delicate chirping of terrestrial birds, then in Sky’s Nebula the chanter, Ayiso, had filled the air with his unique melodies; but now…whatever strange form of combat was underway, Molly hoped sincerely that someone ended it, and ended it fast. The smooth rhythm of waves pounding against the sides of a ship followed by the rolling of loose objects on deck, the rare toll of a bell or screech of hungry terns…that was all the music Molly enjoyed. She had a dreadful singing voice herself, and whilst they visibly increased the morale of crew members, she’d never been overly fond of the ill-timed monotonous drawl of a sea shanty.

With any luck she wouldn’t be forced to smear the lad’s blood across her face, though fighting him may have the added benefit of drying off her clothing. But until they could share a quick word on tactics, Molly attempted to concoct several convincing arguments with which to present to Inigo, detailing the benefits of removing that ungodly din from the arena. Or, at the very least, capitalising on the chaos it was no doubt stirring up.
AQ DF  Post #: 21
8/22/2017 13:53:29   

A couple of moments went by without any noticeable threat from behind. A new and welcome sensation today. A full two free moments.
Soon, she'd probably be beyond a harpoon's range. At least a regular, hand-thrown harpoon. If they were magical, though, then she could end up like a giant sea mammal at any moment; a dead piece of glowing piece of meat, splattered along the sands and adding to their wonderful color.

A quick glimpse behind before she rounded the Pillar completely, and still nothing, save her own footprints in the pink sand. So either they were regular harpoons, or the aged sailor had found another target. Hopefully the latter. What was around the Pillar of Water, anyway? Earth, and... Fire? Had the old seafarer gone for the Fire competitor, or would Irina see a sodden senior citizen chasing her if she stopped and waited? One thing about mortal folk was that when they aged and withered they generally lost their strength and speed. Maybe one thing to test, if another competitor didn't get the old woman first.

The Lightbringer fixed her gaze forward, her sights set on her familiar, tenacious enemy. She had almost no doubt that her foe would follow her if she tried a different play, perhaps to try and lead him into the path of another combatant. Unless he kept up that slow approach that he had led with, in which case she could just run and he'd be left in her dust. Or sand, in this case. But right now she had an opportunity, an opportunity to end this little bout of theirs. There was no High ground or Low ground to interfere with their fight, and it seemed that no other competitors would be interrupting for the moment. There was ample opportunity to finish this charade if she played it well. So now we end it, she thought grimly, raising her blade in preparation for a ranged assault that that ice charmer may have prepared.

An assault... that never came.

... What.

She dug her heels into the grit, spraying the rose-colored sand around her as she slowed, watching in confusion as her opponent turned and slowly walked away. This had to be a trick of some sort. A ploy, maybe. To weaken her defenses. By making himself completely vulnerable, he was expecting Irina to... what, abide from a non-existent code of honor and refuse to blast a fool in the back? What was this? A mockery?

Her left fist burst into light, such was the power that she had prepared and gathered to the surface. Her target was clear, the actions required simple. One bolt straight into the back; to cripple, possibly paralyze. Not that it would matter soon. A dead man didn't need full motor control, after all. Irina raised her arm, taking aim and preparing to end their prolonged fight. So be it, tribesman. Now you l-

Then the mages spoke, their proclamation echoing and reverberating throughout the Arena. Irina stopped her attack and lowered her hands, the power and light in her left fading as she recalled it.

A moment passed as she regarded the lone figure, watching him as he marched through his gate. He might not have been her most dangerous or deadly encounter, but he had definitely been a trying and persistent opponent. As a soldier, she could appreciate that attitude he had carried; the refusal to give in, an undying determination. Irina knew many allies and superiors that would've turned and taken their chances with a different opponent rather than keep up that exhausting chase back in the Sky Arena. That had been an impressive display of perseverance, though maybe not magical power. A thought flashed into her head, the possibility that the two would cross paths once more.

Next time, I'm bringing my gun with me.
And then the moment passed.

Irina spun on her heel, striding back towards the front her Pillar. The light from the construct was amazing, as though the Sun of this world had been focused into a singular entity. She bathed in its Light as she ran, glancing over to the other side of the Arena and watching with thinly veiled interest as she considered her choices. The other side of the battle field had by far the more interesting competitors compared to the half of the Arena that Irina currently occupied. What appeared to be an insectoid, the werelupe and a decently-dressed man were squaring off against the monstrous, battlesuit-esque abomination that was belting out the horrible noises bouncing around the Arena. It was like a degenerate had designed a jukebox, and then had decided that they wanted to be the jukebox or barring that, at least wear it. She had half a mind to head over and help silence the menace, though not before she checked on where the crone and the Fire Paragon were at.

She looked ahead as she reached the front and froze, raising her blade once more. There stood the inveterate seafarer, and next to her was her ally from the Sky Arena. The young swordsman. And once again, they weren't attempting to murder each other. Hell.
Once again, a numbers disadvantage. No issue of being at a height disadvantage this time, but sometimes numbers were enough. The warrior had a sword, but he was dressed fairly ordinarily, with naught but braces being the only armor visible. He might've had armor underneath his clothes, or maybe the clothes themselves were enchanted. It was fairly common in the Army, though not a luxury that Auros had allowed her in this singular instance. He was certainly the larger and more formidable of the pair, making up for his partner's lack of stature.

While the warrior was tall, young and fit, the elderly sailor next to him was anything but. Irina wouldn't have been surprised if the poor woman collapsed from exertion if they were to fight. Her armament was impressive, however, with the total sum of three heavy-topped harpoons and twin, hook-like blades at her hips. The large, bulky appearance at the tips of the spears couldn't just be for weight, surely. Perhaps a they held a payload, or some other secret, meaning that a barrier was out of the question. The fact that they were held by the wizened old warrior also meant that she probably knew how to use them. This was going to be.... complex.

A sigh escaped her lips. She must've been blind to not see this as a possibility. Perhaps she'd been deaf too, though she could easily have blamed that on the menacing sound that kept gracing their ears.
Irina shifted her position, the weight on her hip reminding her of her promise. A familiar voice echoed back at her, a voice that echoed power and filled her with dread. A fate worse than death.
Banishing the thoughts to the back of her head, she stood, squaring her shoulders, starting forward once more. She dimmed her skin, imagining that some form of cover would be necessary.

A single step forward, crunching into the pink silt below followed by another.
One more step, kicking a spray of sand. Then an image came to mind, something that she had glanced on her first run around the Pillar. Irina almost grinned. Maybe that battlesuit had it's uses. She would have to thank its occupant if she survived.
What do you call a person in a battlesuit, anyway? Pilot? Driver?

Power gathered in her hand once more as she walked. And then she sprung, charging at her foes, and rapidly closing the distance between them.
A few more steps and Irina flicked her left wrist, throwing a bolt of light squarely at the feet of her opponents. The ground erupted, a large plume of sand bursting from the ground Not enough to bury, let alone harm. But enough to cover and shroud her movements, and thus, ample opportunity.

She dug her right heel in the sand, shifted her weight and lunged to the left, avoiding most of the descending veil of sand. And then forward again, blade raised as the Lieutenant lunged into the conflict that would inevitably follow.
AQW Epic  Post #: 22
8/22/2017 15:52:24   

Molly’s outburst sparked a small chuckle from Inigo, watching on with an amused smirk. The targets of her taunt totally ignoring her had provoked quite the response indeed. He watched with keen eyes as both the The Willow Man and the Champion of Light began to move away, fingers flexing against the hilt of his blade in a white-knuckled grip. The tension in the air was palpable, even within the calm air of the arena. He could hear the beginnings of battle at his back, but he would not have his focus drawn away from the matter at hand. Either his former ally would join with him, or she would be eliminated from the tournament.

“As long as you can’t shoot fire out your ears, lad, I’ll stand beside you. After all, the accord we struck was to last until it remained just you and I, as I recall. And these noisy, slippery landlubbers resemble the pair of us about as well as an oak seed does a mighty ship. The alliance stands, should you choose to honour it.”

His response to her was a simple nod, more than happy to stack the odds in his favour by maintaining the truce. Stepping across the dark sand, he moved to stand alongside Molly, turning his back on the pillars and facing the other Paragons once more. Together, the duo stood shoulder to shoulder, a rare tag team of fire and water ready to crush any and all competition.

Much like the Earth Paragon, he had become a predator. His breath calm and steady,his blazing irises flickered back and forth between every competitor. The awful racket spewing from the other side of the arena was a distraction to say the least. The warrior found that his attention was constantly brought back to the mech piloting Champion across the arena, despite his best efforts. How was anyone supposed to focus with such an annoying, infuriating, grating sound distracting them?

“Someone ought to shut him up,” he muttered through gritted teeth, casting a sideways glance to his companion before locking his gaze on the source of that incessant noise. It was clear to the pyromancer, even after only looking to his ally for a split second, that she wasn’t a fan of the constant drone either. Running across the arena, wasting stamina and getting involved in a physically taxing melee wasn’t the best plan in the world, and even though the pair had shown in the Sky’s Nebula that they could do more than enough damage at range it seemed they had a much more immediate threat to deal with.

Irina, the Paragon of Light, now free of an opponent as the Ice Champion was called from the arena, stood before her pillar and soon began to make a slow advance towards the duo. A glowing, slender woman, she easily rivalled him in height. Irina didn’t seem to be wearing much in the way of protection, unless it was hidden beneath her clothing, but to reach this stage of the tournament meant she wasn’t going to be as vulnerable as she first appeared. His elbow flicked to gently catch Molly, nodding towards the woman as an unspoken order to ready for battle.

The swordsman raised his weapon into a guard, his foot sliding back in the coral sand to fall into a fighting stance as he focused his terrifying gaze onto Irina. He’d come to win, to prove he was the greatest in the world, and he’d been starved of the chance to do so ever since he arrived. In the previous round the closest thing he’d had to a battle was keeping an opponent at bay with a barrage of magical attacks, and now even the slightest hint of danger sent a flood of adrenaline into his body. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. This was the moment his prey started to fight back.

He was ready to react long before she moved, her wrist flicking to release a bolt of bright energy in a sudden attack. “Move!” he yelled, and he leapt back from the blast, mere moments before it exploded into the floor. In its wake, a great burst of sand billowed out, filling the air of the surrounding area. Irina was trying to obscure her movements, using the dust as a veil to hide her attack. Thankfully for the warrior, he wasn’t rendered entirely helpless by her move, having spent more than his fair share of time growing accustomed to smoke, and this wasn’t much different from that sensation.

Inigo raised his arm up over his brow, trying to keep as much of the sand away from his face as possible, while his eyes darted back and forth to pinpoint his opponent’s whereabouts. All he needed was a glimpse, one sign to tell him where she was going to strike.

There. He managed to bark out a quick warning to Molly, mere moments before Irina launched herself into the fray with her blade raised, having darted around the plume of dust and coming in fast on the duo’s right. The pyromancer quickly rushed to his companion’s aid in a burst of speed, stepping in behind her and spinning right. As he did, he raised his weapon in a wide, arcing strike aimed towards the neck of their attacker, while his open hand acted both for balance and as a ward for counterattack. Finally, some real combat!
AQ DF AQW Epic  Post #: 23
8/22/2017 23:08:32   
Ronin Of Dreams
Still Watching...

It felt…foreboding that the center of the Arena was not, in fact, the center of the action. There was a dim brush against the Jackal’s mind as the words of the chanters filtered through the erratic music coming from the mechanical monstrosity. One had already been Culled from this herd of combatants, the Ice man, whose tactics had been debatable at best back within Sky’s Nebula. But his mind paid that information no heed, twas but a grain in a sandstorm compared to the ferocity building around the cacophonous goblin.

The insectile warrior had already deflected one ranged volley from the mecha, but the Jackal could not see the projectile at all. Which meant they were either exceptionally fast or perhaps not physical projectiles at all - perhaps both, given the thrumming basso booms that accompanied each attack. A factoid that might have made much, much greater sense if he only knew the language spoken in the area, and therefore the name of the mecha as a ‘Boomersuit’. No matter. It was something of steel and it had reach beyond itself to be a danger. Teras and Cyril may not be Devils, but taking down an insultingly noisy, dangerous, and resilient opponent alongside them? Sounded like a Jackal’s game to him.

Not that they might fully see him as aiding them, mind.

The Jackalwere began to trot towards the fray, arcing his path just enough to place Cyril between himself and Ee-nuk to better disguise his intentions. Let the goblin think he would be cutting Cyril down from behind. A Willow’s trick - veiling one threat within a false promise. She had done that to him, once, when he had sought succor. The unbidden memory sprang to his mind as the four-legged stride ate up the distance...

The memories of what led to him becoming the Willow Man were hazy. Not from Time, which his mind had held in abeyance while stuck as an addled, amnesiac simpleton, but from a directly related influence to how he became trapped in that skin. Fighting among the various clans, tribes, and families of Devils was a pastime, one with certain rules to protect their strength in case Mankind or another race encroached on their domain. The Hyenas, as one large pack family, had been polluting the river Fästning as an insult to one of the Crocodile clan-holds for some time. That clanhold had reached out to the Jackals to join them in the fight for territorial claims, offering free hunting passage to any that aided them. Never one to pass up snubbing the Hyenas as a rule, he had joined the fight.

The fight was held on one of the borderlands, as was custom, and it had been a brutal affair. A knockdown, drawn out sort of conflict with Devil grappling Devil. A fight the Crocodiles much preferred, inviting the braver female Hyenas to pile on in a great maul of bodies, only to drag them down and pummel them into unconsciousness. Off on the flanks, Jackals in twos and threes isolated the weak and cowardly. In theory. But the cowardice of the lesser males on the flanks made them far more dangerous. Emotions usurping rationality.

The Jackal and one of his siblings had cornered one such male. They had taken turns to cut and bleed the Hyena, weakening it without threatening its Life as was the proper Way, but the Hyena had turned desperate. Perhaps it was a suitor of one of the bigger female warriors and needed to save face, or perhaps it was merely scared that the Jackals would Cull it despite honoring the Way. In either case, it had lashed out suddenly, clubbing the Jackal in the head with a bone club hard enough to fracture his skull and buckle his legs. The blow which might have killed him had the Jackal not moved to lessen its force, but he was staggered all the same.

His sibling acted in accordance to the Way, severing the Hyena’s spine, then taking the Hyena’s head for the transgression. The manner of the kill was a clear message: this was an execution, but one whose method was sanctioned for it bespoke the crime committed. The sibling then guarded the Jackal as he quit the field of battle, stumbling away to Withdraw and heal…

But he staggered for hours, long after his kin had returned to the battle. The Jackal’s head throbbed with obvious concussion, and he fought to stay awake. For how long? That was beyond his recollection. It had been important to find safety, but his mind was already confused and compromised. He had kept walking, and walking, until the spirit of a Willow Tree reached out and stopped him from walking into water and drowning. She had felt like safety, at the time. The Jackal had bargained, or at least thought he did, for protection regardless of whose territory he was within. Then he Changed into a familiar Skin. Slept. Forgot.

The building pitch of a turbine’s whine niggled at his attention, but it was the solid blast of a shot from the Boomersuit which snapped the Jackal’s mind to the Present. The former, it seemed, had been aimed away at Teras, kicking up a wall of sand. The Jackal could have used that, were the targets reversed, but the actual shot struck at Cyril. The Death Walker tumbled backwards, and the Jackal saw opportunity writ large as Cyril recovered and faced Ee-nuk head-on in a counter-charge. Small tufts of sand were sent skyward by the Jackal’s claws as he sped up with nigh-effortless traction thanks to the known Truth. On two legs, he was only quicker by a whisker over the Willow Man skin, and that was due to the longer stride in this form. But on four? The distance was devoured swiftly, making it easy to capitalize on the timing of the approaching clash.

The Devil of the Sands rose to two legs, cupping a handful of sand in one forepaw, before leaping up and against Cyril’s upper back. He used the Death Walker as a springboard, pushing off again to gain altitude and flip up and over the impact of Man and Machine. The motions were smooth, almost as graceful as a feline’s, as he threw the sand down into the open cockpit while twisting his body around. Drew the first harpe into his right forepaw. Using the momentum alongside gravity to throw a wicked slash against the Boomersuit’s left shoulder. But the mecha was an unpredictable opponent, and it would simply be steel against steel, unlikely to do any real damage if it connected.

More annoyingly, the close-up glimpse betrayed the fact that the goblin was wearing goggles. Making the sand-trick likely to be just as ineffective. This felt like fighting a hippo, with a thick hide that was hard to bleed and a bite that could carve any other Devil in twain. Aggravation bubbled at the thought, another remnant taint of human emotion within. Landing on a single paw he sprang backwards a half-step, readied in case the goblin attempted an immediate retaliation.

Amusingly, however, he had thought the mechanical suit would be larger...
AQ  Post #: 24
8/22/2017 23:14:07   
Ryu Viranesh

One of the more common questions he’d been asked by other aspiring musicians was how he felt in those moments before he stepped out on stage. Cyril’s stock response had been that he had no worries; that when he walked out into the lights and flashed that winsome smile, he was just as relaxed as he seemed. In truth, the Red Hand had always felt some anxiety as he waited in the wings. On more than one occasion he had noticed his hands trembling as he clutched his instrument, the tremors only stilling as he strode out to face the crowd.

The same feeling had assaulted him as he stood before Fountain’s gates, and he’d been forced to rid himself of those regrets in the same fashion: bury them down deep, and lose himself in what followed. After all, once you crossed that threshold the audience expected the performer, not the person.

Maybe Temno had a point, Cyril thought as he stalked around to the suit’s left, roseate grit compressing beneath his feet. Maybe I am still running away. The foreigner’s eyes squinted as he cast a quick look at the remainder of the Arena, unwilling to be caught off-guard as he closed with the ‘entertainer.’ Ee-nuk, the announcing chorus had called him. Amateur, more like.

Far off in the distance, he saw a trio of figures converging on each other. Or rather, one figure that seemed intent on bringing the fight to the other two. The Light Pillar’s illumination prevented Cyril from seeing more details, but it was unlikely that any of the three would intrude on this engagement any time soon.

Of more immediate concern was the creature that had occupied the Arena’s center; the announcers had labeled it the ‘Willow Man,’ but this beast bore barely any resemblance to humanity as he knew it. Yet it was not its visage that unnerved him, but rather the way its eyes observed the battlefield. Cyril had seen that look before, the way thieves on Yarosburg’s streets had eyed their prey. Feral as it may appear, there was something… unnatural about this one.

A shift in his target’s tempo drew the Red Hand’s attention back to the meksuit, the change punctuated by an echoic bang. Is this really what passes for music in this country? If Ayla was to be believed, few people here appreciated the proper ways. Still, how could things have gotten this bad? It wasn’t as though it was so difficult to-

The unseen burst of air took Cyril square in the chest, driving him from his feet as the momentum surged past him. For a moment he was falling, struggling to draw in a breath as his mind tried in vain to settle on a course of action. Instinct took over; the Paragon threw his shoulders back, transforming the fall into a roll. He came down hard on his left arm before he flipped upright, eyes wide with shock.

Yes it is, you fool.

Ee-nuk was racing towards him now, the massive spike which adorned the suit’s left arm ready to finish what the blast had started. In that same second, Cyril saw Teras emerge from the cloud of sand that had blanketed his corner of the Arena, the Basilli now positioned off to the monstrosity’s right. Left with little else to do, the foreigner rushed forward to meet the mecha, scarf-shrouded arm leading. He'd have to trust that the Paragon of Energy would give him an opening to exploit, lest he become yet another part of the goblin's demented music. Teras has been honest with me so far...

If he was going to be honest with himself, then maybe it would be best to start small. While Cyril’s first few years at the conservatory had gone well, things had gradually grown more difficult as time went on. His talent plateaued, and his ability to play whatever piece was set before him was no more. Worse than that, he could no longer grasp the emotion that had made so many of his earliest performances so memorable.

Were that all, it might have been possible for him to move beyond it; his friends had been nothing if not supportive, and even the instructors expected him to pull out of the funk eventually. Instead…

Instead he had smacked into a wall.

A moment before Cyril sought to slip away from the suit’s charge, a weight came down on him just below his shoulders. He felt whatever it was push off less than an instant later, the resultant force shoving his body forward. The Red Hand caught a brief glimpse of the ‘Willow Man’ sailing overhead, the creature lost to him as he crashed scarf-first into the Boomersuit.

The garment, and some luck, likely saved him from further harm. The spike that Ee-nuk had wanted to impale him on had blessedly been turned aside, and the Red Hand’s body was thrown directly against the suit’s torso. Cyril’s scarf, still charged with the force from his fall, had knocked him back from the behemoth, sending him several stumbling steps away. That… could have gone better.
AQ DF MQ  Post #: 25
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