Tournament of Champions 4 (The game has begun!)

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  • Everyone can be at the beach episode, right? Even if they're not with the main group?
  • by "not with the main group" do you mean people who were killed or people who never made it in the first place?
    people who were killed/eliminated can be there if that's what you're asking.
  • I'd also guess that any side characters could potentially be there as well
  • edited July 2021
    Alright, then we're doing this!

    Beach of Champions!

    The Soundweaver - @AxNoodle
    Noah, the Lonely - @CassZero
    Tika, Dry Outrider - @FourEyesIsAFish
    Sturgar, Alloyed Blademaster - @theirintheattic
    Lyuben, the Bittersweet - @shadow123
    Conscience Reveera - @ChoyBoi
    Arha, Knight of the Basilisk - @SpellPiper2213
    Iseabel Rathais - @Jonteman93
    Arn, the Ageless Prankster - @Tonysparks
    Kaigan of Kher Keep - @DrakeGladis
    Dr. Cypherous, Aether Mage - @WarriorCatInAhat
    Damien the Stoic - @Lujikul
    Hadid, Portal Master - @DomriKade
    Ytsix, Lost Chronologist - @Tommia
    Imilia, Witch Consul - @Usaername
    Nilfi, Blood Alchemist - @Red_Tower

    Everyone will be spending a hot and sunny day at a sandy seaside! All players and side characters are welcome, even those who died or didn't make it to Round 2! No fighting, no scheming, just a relaxing day full of laughter and sunshine!

    You can all write a short story where your character(s) spends their day on the beach by swimming, sunbathing, building sandcastles, collecting seashells, and/or playing volleyball!

    The event is active whole weekend, and the deadline is Sunday 1st of August 23:59 Central Standard Time!

    As this is an unofficial event, no extra points will be distributed to participants. When the deadline arrives, I'll post my own short story!

    After this event, I'll continue the actual game as planned, and begin the side event which will include the group that's traveling to the Tournament City and some new ugly faces!
  • Wheeeeeeeee!
  • Rules on alcoholic beverages mentioned in the story?
  • @DrakeGladis I think a small mention of Pina Coladas is okay
  • BEACH OF CHAMPIONS AAAAAA
  • edited August 2021
    beach post coming later today feat. Sturgar and Kaigan 

    edit: ran out of time so Sturgar only as a cameo
  • Approximately 8 hours left until the beach event ends!
  • oh crap I haven't even started writing yet
  • edited August 2021

    Beach Interlude

    Imilia couldn't help but admire herself a bit in the mirror as she walked past. She had elected to wear a white two-piece swimsuit with a wide brimmed straw hat to keep the sun out of her eyes. She had tied her hair back into a low and elaborate bun, kept in place with a pin in the form of a Black Dahlia. She had moisturized her skin to protect from burns, and thus it had a slight glowing quality to it. 

    Looking away from the mirror, she grabbed two raven skeletons from where they stood on her shelf, and placed them lightly into a bag sitting on a nearby chair, right on top of her book, towel, and travel bartending kit. The ravens had been a one year anniversary gift from Han, so she didn't use them much, but there was something to be said for the flare of avian skeletons. Lastly, she grabbed Sim, placing him on top of the ravens before putting on her beach robe, slipping on her sandals, and slinging the bag over her shoulder. Picking up her parasol in her other hand, she looked around, satisfied she had remembered everything.

    She opened the door to her room and stepped out onto the terrace of Chateau Soleil. She looked out over the beach down below, and, further out, the ocean itself. A warm breeze blew past her and threatened to take her hat with it, but she held onto it. Imilia turned to head toward the stairs, only to see Kaigan standing in the way. Imilia tilted her head in a quizzical gesture.

    "Can I help you?" She asked.

    "Yeah! Well, I mean, you're heading down to the beach, right?" the Kobold responded, looking down toward the beach as he spoke. Imilia smiled.

    "I certainly am. It's a beautiful day for a beach day, although I assume you already noticed that."

    "Sure did!" Kaigan said. "I was wondering if I could come with you to the beach? I've actually never had a beach day before, but I heard you come from a place with a lot of beaches, so you probably know how to do it quite well!" Imilia laughed, before looking out over the horizon.

    "I know how to do it quite well... I suppose you could say that. Sure, how about it then, just get a towel and put on your swimsuit and meet me down there-" Imilia trailed off as she looked back at Kaigan. "Say, it's an awfully hot day to be wearing robes like that... best change into your swimsuit before you boil alive." Kaigan looked down at his clothes, seemingly having noticed them for the first time.

    "Oh, well, it's not that hot. And they're super comfortable! But I think you're right, swimming in them would be bad." Kaigan looked back up at Imilia. "But what's a swimsuit? Normally I just take off all my clothes when I go swimming in the rivers back home? Should I do that?" Kaigan started taking off his robes, but Imilia stopped him.

    "No, no, no, that won't do. Do you have a pair of short pants of some kind?" Kaigan rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

    "I think so, I'll go look!" Kaigan started to run off back to his room, and Imilia called after him. 

    "I'll be down at the beach!"

    She didn't get a response, but she had assumed the little Kobold had heard her, and so, she descended the stairs down to the beach. She kept her sandals on for the short walk through gently waving grass, but took them off as soon as she reached the beach proper. The feeling of sand between her toes brought back too many memories to count...



    Waves roll in the distance...

    The sun casts long rays from its perch just on the horizon

    A young man and a young woman sit under a parasol

    "Hey, hey, hey, Imilia."

    The young woman looks up from the book she's reading and smiles

    "Yes Han?"

    Suddenly, the young man has snatched the book from her hands, running off across the sand.

    "Han! Ugh! Get back here!"

    The young woman gets up to chase after him, and the pair laugh

    The young man trips over a rock and rolls to the ground, the young woman kneeling next to him and retaking the book before standing up. The young man folds his hands behind his head and smiles up at her

    "You look beautiful when you laugh"

    "I'd kiss you, but you're covered in sand"

    "Oh come onnnnnnn"

    "Alright, I suppose"

    The young woman kneels down again, and the two share a kiss...



    "Han..." Imilia whispered.
  • Beach Interlude 2

    "Who's that?" said a voice from beside her. "Anyways, check out this cool thing I found!" Shaken from her memories, Imilia looked down to see Kaigan standing next to her, now more appropriately dressed for the beach, holding a volleyball and a net.

    "Oh, a volleyball net, how fun. Here, let me put my stuff down and we can get it set up"

    Imilia walked out onto the beach, and, satisfied she had found a good spot, unpacked her bag, laying out her towel and burying the tip of her parasol in the sand. She mentioned for Kaigan to lay down his towel on the other side of the parasol before picking up the volleyball net, and gesturing for Kaigan to follow.

    "So, have you ever played volleyball before?"

    "Nope! How does it work?"

    "Well, see over there?" Imilia pointed a little ways down the beach, towards where another net was already set up, only to see Sturgar trying to free his sword from one of the balls as others looked on in amusement. "Okay, well, maybe that's not the best example, but it's a game where you use your hands and forearms to propel this ball through the air and over the net, like this."

    Imilia picked up the ball and served it straight up, before setting it to herself, hitting it straight up again, and spiking it straight down, where she caught it with her foot, kicking it back up to herself.

    "Wow!" Kaigan said "That was awesome!" Imilia smirked, doing a dramatic half spin. 

    "For your information, I was the best player on my team back home. But it takes a lot of practice. Best hope more people join us or you're in for a hard loss." Imilia laughed, imagining what a match between them would look like.

    "But first," she continued, "You have to set up the net. See how theirs is set up over there? See if you can get this one set up like it. I'll get us something to drink." Kaigan looked very seriously down at the net.

    "Right! I'll make sure to set it up perfectly!"

    Imilia walked back to her towel, taking out her bar kit and grabbing Sim and the ravens. Using the ravens for extra control, she emptied the shakers and glasses from the kit, as well as the ingredients for some piña coladas. She poured and shook by hand, finishing by expertly cutting a lemon into slices, which she used the ravens to affix to the rims of the glasses.

    Soon after she had finished, Kaigan returned, having surprisingly made good on his word, the net standing as perfect as a beach game net could be.

    "Say, Kaigan," Imilia mused, "I forgot to ask, but, do you drink?" Kaigan looked confused.

    "Of course! Kobolds have to drink water to stay alive, I thought humans did too?" Imilia laughed.

    "Yes, yes, of course we do. I meant more along the lines of wine and champagne and vodka and such." Kaigan nodded slowly.

    "Well, I haven't before, but I think I'd like to try some."

    "Lovely! Here, I've made up some nice beach drinks for us." Imilia turned around to get the drinks, turning back around to see Kaigan looking rather confusedly at the bottle he had just drank from. 

    "You know, people say this stuff is good, but I didn't really like it, if I'm being honest" Kaigan looked back up at Imilia and shrugged.

    "No! No no, you don't drink it straight from the bottle!" Imilia said, taking the bottle back and corking it. "You have to mix it with things that improve the taste, like I've done here"

    She handed Kaigan his glass, and his eyes lit up.

    "Awesome, a lemon slice!" Before she could stop him, Kaigan ate the lemon slice whole, before taking a sip of his drink. "Woah, you were right, this is way better!" Imilia raised her eyebrows and took a sip herself. She set it down again as she heard a voice calling out in the distance.
  • edited August 2021

    Beach Interlude 3

    "Hey Imilia!" Imilia looked over to see Lyuben coming her way, another young man about his age being dragged along behind him.

    "Oh! Hello Lyuben. Who's this you have with you?" She nodded to the young man, reaching to shake his hand.

    "This is my, uh, friend Ayden. He's a messenger from Malterra." Imilia shook Ayden's hand and introduced herself, flashing him a smile as she did so, but she wasn't paying any mind to it. Instead, the gears of her were turning at full speed. Your 'friend', huh Lyuben? Rather suspicious there, I saw you dragging him by the hand. Lyuben you player...

    "Care to join us for a game of volleyball?" Imilia asked. "I promise it'll be fun!"

    "Well, I don't know how to play, but if it's anything like what Sturgar was doing, it seems a little dangerous!" Lyuben glanced over his shoulder, to where Sturgar was swinging at the ball wildly with his sword.

    "Oh, no, it's not like that. You play with your hands, see?" Imilia gave them the same demonstration as she did Kaigan, and much to her satisfaction, they looked similarly impressed.

    "Ah, I see. Sounds like a lot of fun, I'm in!" Lyuben said, looking to Ayden, who nodded his agreement.

    "I suppose you two will be a team, so Kaigan and I will be on the other. Here, let me explain the rules."

    Imilia and the others walked to the net, and Imilia gave an explanation of the rules. After tossing the ball over the net to Lyuben and Ayden so they could serve, Imilia leaned down to whisper in Kaigan's ear.

    "Hit it up to me if I get close to the net, and I'll spike it. My teammates back in Loenmeira nicknamed me Belitza, because they said I could spike as fast as lightning strikes. It'll win us the game for sure!"

    "You got it! I'll make sure it gets to you!" Kaigan whispered back. Imilia nodded and turned towards her opponents on the other side of the net.

    "This means war, boys! You ready to die in the sand?" She called to them.

    "I wouldn't be so sure, Imilia!" Lyuben called back "We may not be as fast as you, but we're probably stronger!" Imilia grinned.

    "Serve it then!" She said.

    Lyuben served the ball in a perfect arc over the net, and Kaigan ran for it, hitting it straight as an arrow up to Imilia, who handily spiked it right down the other side of the net.

    "One to zero, boys!" She called, before giving Kaigan a high five.

    Imilia inhaled deeply, and the faint smell of salt on the air with the warmth of the sun on her skin evoked a feeling of comfort that a student and witch with a life as rigorous as hers almost never experiences. She drank in all of it, trying to get as much as possible.

    In this moment, life was at its best.

    Author's Note: Although the events of this story aren't canon, the ravens and memory are. Also wow this is the longest thing I've written so far lmao ;-;

    @shadow123 hopefully you don't mind the use of your characters here, I can change it if you need me to though 
  • Works fine for me!  He doesn't really have armor, just clothes.  He's more monk than fighter. Drinks part is perfect tho; he's had a sip of wine before, but only ceremonially.
  • edited August 2021
    The bonus event is now over, but if some of you are still finishing your stories, then feel free to post them once they are ready! My own chapter will be published in a couple of moments, and when it's out, the main game will continue and I will announce the date of the side event!

    Edit: Actually, since I got some errands to run today and I have no idea how long they'll take, I'll push the deadline of the beach event to Monday 23:59 CST, so my own chapter would be ready on time! 
  • thank you for the deadline extension I really needed that
  • Aaaaaaand the event is over for real now! If your story is almost finished though, then feel free to post it once it's ready. I'll publish my own beach chapter soon!
  • Bonus

    Sunny Beach

    When I was waking up from night's sleep, the sound of ocean waves and seagulls echoed all around me. I could feel how my body bathed in the midday sun's warm and blinding light even when I hadn't opened my eyes. The pleasant feeling urged me to lay on sand for a little while longer before I shook the sensation away from my head and sat up. My eyes got used to the bright scenery in a moment, and I was both amazed and bewildered by the deep blue ocean horizon.
        "What is this place?" I asked myself in a whisper while brushing sand away from my head. "This is not where we set camp last night... Am I still dreaming?" Then I noticed I was wearing dark red swimming shorts instead of my usual clothing. I looked at various scars on my body, then at my rough hands, blackened by the Abyssal sickness. Without my armor covering those marks, the harsh memories surrounding them appeared into my mind one at a time until someone nearby called my name.
        "Killian! You're awake!" Hestia yelled while walking along the beach towards me, waving her right hand. She was wearing a black two-piece swimsuit instead of her Ashen Knight armor and carrying a straw basket with her left hand, its contents covered by a checkered yellow and white cloth. "I brought you a little present. Had some of it myself, and thought you might like it too," she said as she bent over and placed the basket right next to me. I just stared at her like a mule: Long brown hair which was tied into a half ponytail waved with the breeze, and she kept swiping it away from her gray eyes as she looked at me. She expected me to say something, but I couldn't move my eyes away from old burn scars on several places of her body. "Well, I'll rejoin the others and try to make Sturgar understand the rules of volleyball, even if I have to hammer them into his head, word by word! Hehe..." Hestia smirked and waved a little before walking back to where the loudest commotion was coming from.
        "Uh, thanks for the gift," I said as she left, but I wasn't sure if she heard me. After sighing at my own speechlessness, I flipped the cloth on the basket, and revealed its contents: Two amber colored bottles filled with liquid and surrounded by little ice cubes. On closer inspections, each bottle contained its own type of beverage that was slightly different from the other. I grabbed and opened the bottle with darker looking liquid, and washed my dry mouth with its sour content while staring at the ocean.
        "Oi! So here you are, already drinking yourself to a stupor, eh?" Rodolf's amused voice suddenly pierced the silence from somewhere behind me, and I turned to look at the fellow: The usually cloaked Assassin was only wearing black trunks with red flame-like patterns. Warm breeze waved his semi-long chestnut hair, and the black marks around his eyes and right hand clearly stood out in the sunlight. He walked towards me while carrying two huge colorful wooden boards. Both of them were longer than either of us and had some kinds of ropes attached to them: The one on his left hand had different shades of blue that turned lighter towards the tip. Orange patterns which resembled feathers were highlighted by the darker shades. The other one had a light orange tip which faded into red in the middle and then into dark purple--
        "Agh!" I yelped as Rodolf dropped the blue board from his left hand onto me, then quickly grabbed one of the bottles from the basket. He took a long swig while I lifted the board to my side and rescued my own bottle before it dripped all of its contents onto the dry sand.
        "Ahh," he exhaled with satisfaction and put the empty bottle into the basket. "That was a fine refreshment." Then he looked at me and scoffed. "Well don't just sit there! Finish yours so we can go and ride the waves!"
        "What, with these things?" I asked and nodded towards the board next to me. Rodolf's usual smirk shined on his face as I was finishing my drink.
        "Aye! The old man who lend me these boards also explained how to use them... 'Surfing' he called it." I almost spat out my drink, but coughed a few times instead.
        "Surfing? Who told you that?"
        "An old man with a long white beard and sunglasses," Rodolf said as he started walking towards the water. I furrowed my brow: With each answer, more questions popped into my mind.
        "Hey!" I yelled while standing up. "Where even are we? Why aren't we traveling to the tournament city? And what in the Gods' names are sunglasses!?"

    * * * *

  • edited September 2021
    Time went by, and higher waves crashed onto the beach. I was laying prone on the blue surfboard, using my hands to propel it towards the deep blue horizon. As a wave was rising in front of me, I quickly stood up on the wobbling board. While holding onto my balance with a low stance, the board went along the wave's wall. Bright blue tunnel of water formed around me, and I stroked its sparkling surface with my left hand. The moment of excitement quickly ended as the tunnel collapsed and the wave threw me overboard. Splash! Holding my breath, I whirled underwater, not realizing which way was up until after a couple of seconds, thanks to the surfboard's leg rope which was tied to my ankle. I swam to the board, climbed onto it, then wiped seawater from my eyes.

       "Come on," Rodolf began with his silly tone as he propelled his board nearby mine. "If all Hunter Knights ride to battle like you do, then it's no wonder their death tolls are so high!" I only groaned in response, and after a few laughs, the Assassin propelled towards another wave, a smaller one. "Watch this!" he shouted and stood up. Rodolf's surfboard quickly went over the small wave, and it flipped horizontally in the air two times with a trail of sparkling water before falling behind the wave. He somehow kept his balance even after landing. I propelled myself to him while he was celebrating his trick by dancing on his board. "Hahahaa! Woo!" Splash! After losing his balance and greeting the fishes, Rodolf climbed back onto his board and spluttered water out of his mouth. "You saw that, right?"
        "Yes..." I started with my arms crossed. "The wave did not make you fall. Overconfidence, however..."
        "Oh, spare me your lectures, Sir Longword," the Assassin sighed and laid supine on his board. "Just admit that I'm better than you."
        "Better at being reckless at least. Ha ha!" Rodolf sat up, pointed at me with his left hand's finger, and was about to say something in return. But instead we both shut our mouths and listened to the great rumbling sound that approached us. Turning our heads, we saw a mighty wave which was as tall as a castle wall: Large enough to drown the whole beach, and more. I wondered if the others would notice it and run to safety in time.
        "This is it!" Rodolf shouted and clenched his hands into fists. "Let's see who can ride this wave the longest! Then we know who is the better surfer here!" The Assassin hurriedly propelled towards the roaring wave, and I did the same. The dark blue wave's shadow fell over us when it blocked out the bright sun. We stood up on our surfboards and prepared to ride the largest wave of the day. I shouted a warcry, and Rodolf threw his right fist into the air. Crashing exhilaration surrounded us.

    * * * *

    Night was falling. White clouds filled the sky and the sea slumbered. People had left the once golden beach and were having a feast nearby. Red sun was slowly descending behind the horizon and its final glorious rays reflected from the water surface.

    Art: Alena Aenami
        I decided to gaze at the scenery for a little while longer, so I sat down onto the soft and cool sand. While recalling the day's events in my mind, I suddenly realized something: I was free. No pressing matters weighed on my soul. It was just us and the seaside. None of us wanted to leave: We were in a paradise where the problems of the outside world didn't matter. I took a deep breath, and told myself "I could get used to this view."
        "Me too," Hestia's tired yet content voice said behind me, then she quietly sat down beside me. "The sun... It's like a blazing champion that watches over all of us, until its eye grows tired and it has to leave us in the night. But we'll manage through the long hours by remembering its light. And when the night is at its darkest, the sun rises up again." She smiled, sunset's red light shining in her gray eyes.
        "Why is the sunset so beautiful then?"
        "Because that's when the sun has finally earned its rest," Hestia answered with a whisper, and I smiled back. Then we both quietly watched as the horizon grew dimmer. Cold wind swept over us, and Hestia shivered while hugging herself. "Cold..." She slowly turned her head to look straight into my eyes. "Wake up."
        "What?"
        "I said wake up!"

    * * * *

    Instinctively, I sat up and opened my eyes only to close them immediately as the morning sun's blinding light came through my tent's open door. Hestia was kneeling right next to me, donned in her dark plate armor and helmet.
        "Wake up, Sir!" she shouted and clapped her hands a few times. "Everyone is packing their tents, it's time to continue our journey!"
        "Right... I'll be ready in a moment," I said while yawning, and the Ashen Knight marched out of the tent while yelling something to our guide. I slowly stood up and looked at my body: I was wearing my black gambeson and the precious sheathed shortsword hanged from its belt. My trusty greatsword was lying on groundsheet right beside bed blanket. I remember how I had to keep watch during the cold night and how I went to sleep only a couple of hours before sunrise, when it was Rodolf's turn to keep watch.
        After stretching, I walked outside to the misty forest opening and watched at the commotion around me: Horses neighed, things were being packed, and the morning birds sang on trees.
        My mission is not over.
    #toc4_bonus

    Beach of Champions Sunset
  • Well well well, if it ain't the invisible... me.

    Once again I had abandoned you all. More time wasted waiting. But I am here again. Yet I might disappear again? No, I won't allow it this time. No matter what.

    I know the frustration of working on something real hard only to get no results whatsoever. I have experienced that many times here, when I had created hundreds of cards for hundreds of contest, but many of those contests never got judged because of reasons unknown, and that's just life. Maybe the hosts forgot about their contests or maybe more important matters unfolded in their lives. But I never forgot this amazing contest. My absence was caused by the latter.

    I spent many weeks applying to various schools, pressured by family because, for months, I didn't have a job or a place where I could study something. I had interviews and many rejections, until miraculously few weeks ago, I was accepted to a school very close to our apartment, where I'm studying network installation! It was very surprising, and so far the place has been pretty great! Rhythm has returned to my days, my sleep schedule is fixed, and I now have something to look forward to.

    So much effort has already been put into this competition, by me and by the players, and I would hate to leave this unfinished. I have many things planned: Chapters, artworks, and cards awaiting for their moments. It would be sad to just delete them all, so sad that I would never be able to log in here again. Maybe even start a new life with a new name?

    Anyways, that's why I wish to revive this contest for one last time, and this time actually bring this journey to an end in a consistent rhythm. I wish you'll all be here until we have the one winner. Schools are starting, but I still hope you'll be able to check in whenever it suits you.

    I'll continue this competition as planned unless you aren't interested anymore. And if most of you really don't want this to go on anymore, I'll close this and that's that. But if you want this to start again, I'll happily host this all the way to Round 2, Semifinals, Bronze Match, and Finals.

    One last chance. Let's finish this?
  • Congrats on your acceptance @TenebrisNemo! glad to have you back
  • Yes! I don't really care if I win or not at this point, but I'll be glad to continue this.
  • I echo @Usaername 's sentiments. I'm super excited to continue!!
  • I'm excited too... but nervous.
  • Thanks for the positive responses!

    I'm working on the event which I had promised you on earlier posts. It's going to be pretty lengthy post, and I have to prepare things for the part where it's your turn to shine. But I think I'll have it finished by the weekend, on Friday at earliest. Stay tuned!
  • edited September 2021
    ToC is resuming, so I guess the conclusion to Lyuben's fight on page 22 is in order:

    Ch. 19, part 3

    Lyuben took a few deep breaths to comfort himself. He surveyed the room. Expensive decorations laid in pieces strewn across the ruined hall. Cracks spread throughout the marble floor in complex patterns like a secret underground railroad map. Across from Lyuben, a red wooden bookshelf laid in splinters with colorful books scattered around it. Everything was a mess. He looked at his right hand. It was wounded badly and his face had small cuts from the shattered glass on it.

    Lyuben dropped his sword. The moment his hand left it, the color returned from black to its shiny silver. Blood pounded in his head.

    W̸̨̛̞͕͛ë̷̡̜̥́ḷ̷̛͜l̸̡͐́̏ ̴̧͑̀͠ḍ̶̡͌̓ò̴͉̣͚́͠n̷̡̰̻͐̈́e̵̝͖̕̕,̸̢̻̙̏̚ ̴̡̿̾̔͜L̸̹̝̳̉y̴̙̹̣̏́̊ȗ̵̢b̸̳̼̒̍͑e̸̩͐̾̒n̷̨̢͚͂͑.̵͍̎̇ ̶̰̑͂͘I̷̻̔̃͗t̷̙̝̗̔'̸͉̾͐s̵̲̼̫͂̔ ̵͖̈́t̸̯̏͑ǐ̸̧̬̬͆̔ṁ̷͔̩̭̓̕ẽ̸̞̠ͅ ̶̰̍̇f̶̦͕̝̾̀͊ö̶̩́̂r̴̤̋̆ ̷̖̳̖̆̈̽ȳ̸̧̛̘͖͋ó̵̲̞̻͋̔ṷ̵͋̓̚ ̴̞̏t̴͍̪͆ȯ̶͔̌͝ ̶͇͉͐̃̈́͜ț̷̈́͑͌a̸̬͊̔̀k̵̻͐̒͛e̸͕̋͐ ̶̨̿t̸̘̺̙̾́͝h̶̞͆̈́͐e̵̲̒́͂ ̵̪͕̂̈͜ṫ̴̢̺̲̒ẖ̷̞̲̎̅r̵̛̜̚͜o̷͓̟͚͐ň̶̼̤̈́̊e̸͖̖̐͋.̴̭̀

    He looked at the rose in his hand as though he could see his lost boyfriend.

    Wh-what’s happening to me?

    The prince strode grimly through the castle’s long halls as one would at a funeral. He ascended up a flight of stairs and slowly pushed open two grand doors. Lyuben walked regally across a purple velvet carpet with long golden stripes down the sides towards the two thrones.

    Lyuben touched his father’s crown. His hand trembled as he lifted it gently into the air. Lyuben examined the silver crown studded with brilliant jewels. A particular gem stood out to Lyuben: a black pearl shaped in a rose.

    “How peculiar…” Lyuben murmured.

    Then, as though under a spell, he placed the silver crown on his head. A brilliant rush of power swirled around him. Black and silver light collided in the air before vanishing into sparkling red dust.

    Lyuben left the throne room, still wearing the silver crown and hurried up to his room. To his surprise, his window was shattered. There were two letters on his unmade bed. One was in a black envelope with a silver rose seal. The other was in a golden envelope with a red, circular seal. There was a note on top of the two letters. Lyuben read the brief note:

    “If you’re ever lost, think of me.”

    There was no signature. Lyuben looked at the envelopes quizzically. He placed them neatly on his bedside table and opened his grand closet. There were shelves of rare objects and racks of colorful clothes across the closet. Lyuben smiled a little bit at his luxuries before choosing a perfect outfit for himself.

    “I’m Lyuben. Lyuben, Prince of Malterra. Nothing more, nothing less. I will not fall to the abyss like my mother said. I cannot.”

    Ď̸̢o̵̰̅n̷̹͌'̶̥̅t̴̬͂ ̸̙̇y̷̼̒o̷̜͠u̸͎̐ ̸̠̓w̵̹̽ḁ̸͛ǹ̴͍t̶̟̍ ̶͓̅t̶͚͒ȍ̴͙ ̷̜͠p̵̢͘r̸͇̒ȯ̶̟t̵̪͂e̷̱͊c̶̲̒t̸̠̏ ̵̪̄Â̴̩ỷ̴̲d̶̯̓ẹ̷̌n̴͎̽?̴̯͘ ̵͔̽O̷͍̔h̴̢̕,̶̩́ ̵͕͑i̷̳̔ṱ̶͝ ̷̭̏w̴̮͊o̴͈̾ų̴̅l̶͉̐ď̷̮ ̶͍̒ḅ̴̇e̵͇̋ ̶̫͝a̸̤͂ ̶̒ͅś̷̝h̵̏ͅa̶̡̅m̵̘͝ĕ̶̟ ̵̦͌i̵͕͘f̶͙̏ ̵̹̀h̵̪͐e̷̗̊ ̷̳̃d̵̜́i̴̧̾e̶̳̚ḋ̸ͅ ̵͇́ĺ̶̫i̸̲͋k̴̠̀e̸̱̓-̵̭̂

    Of course I want to! I- I love him!

    G̵͈̓o̶͚͠ö̷͙ḓ̸́,̵̡̀ ̶̗̌t̸̗͆h̸̝͒e̶͇͝n̶̤̂ ̸̱̅l̵̲͠ĩ̷͉s̸͔̅t̵̓ͅẽ̵̳n̴̦̾ ̵̹̐ṭ̶̀o̶͌͜ ̴̳̀t̸̻̾h̸̳͝e̴̠̔ ̴͈̉å̸̟b̸̻̿y̴̬̆s̴͙̽s̵͚̊.̸̠̂ ̵͔̒I̸͕͝t̶̙͛ ̴̘͒w̴͉̍ỉ̸͔l̸̞̔l̴̨̎ ̵̰̓h̴̩͌ę̸́ĺ̶̠p̵͉̚ ̶̞̈y̸̳̅o̶̧͋u

    Yes. Of course.

    Then, Lyuben stuffed clothes, money, and the letters into a small bag. Then he grabbed some spare clothes for Ayden and headed toward his room door. He paused. Lyuben opened his closet again, reaching to the highest shelf for a long shining object encased by glass walls: a dagger. Lyuben opened the casing and placed the dagger carefully in the bag.

    Just in case.

    Then Lyuben ran out the doors. He raced down the expensive carpeted stairs and through the winding corridors. Then he darted through the trashed halls from his duel with his mother and finally flung open the castle’s back doors. Ayden was lying on the marble steps and Ryan was in the center of the majestic garden.

    Some onlookers at the scene cheered upon Lyuben’s arrival. Others continued screaming insults.

    Lyuben ignored them. He kneeled down and put two fingers on Ayden’s wrist to feel a pulse.

    “Thank goodness! He’s alive!”

    Ayden regained his consciousness. He was disoriented and weak. “Lyuben. Is that you?”

    The prince smiled. “Yes, of course it is.” Lyuben helped Ayden to his feet.

    “Wh-where’s the queen? Are you okay?”

    “She’s gone, and yes. I’m fine.”

    Ayden wiped some of the blood off Lyuben’s face.

    “What will we do now?” Ayden asked, leaning on Lyuben’s shoulder for support.

    “I- I don’t know. I’d rather be anywhere but here.”

    “Wait. Your mother’s gone. What about you father?”

    “There’s no trace of him in the castle.”

    “So that means you’re…”

    “Yes. I’m the prince of malterra. With my mother and father gone, I have control of the kingdom.”

    F̴͓̌i̸̺̍ń̷͍d̶͔̒ ̷̦̚ḥ̸̈́ḙ̵̽r̷͍͆.̶̭̓

    “But I have no reason to stay.”

    K̷̯̇ȉ̴̙l̴̫̐ĺ̵̪ ̵̮̊h̶̛̬e̴̜̐r̴͎̕.̴̙͌

    “All I remember in this castle is the pain I felt. The pain my parents caused me.”

    M̵̧͝a̶̐ͅk̸̲̅e̴̙̓ ̶͎́h̵͕͌ẻ̶͍r̶̖̐ ̵͊͜p̶̗͗a̶̧̍y̷͙̏ ̷̧̈́f̴̛̱ò̵̩ŗ̶͂ ̶̞͠w̴̥̿h̴̦̀ḁ̵͌t̶̨̉ ̶͔͂ş̵̔h̴̭͒e̵̛̖ ̸͔̈́d̶͚͝ḯ̷̩d̵̙͒.̷͍͛

    “I’ll train. I’ll work harder. I’ll-”

    Ȗ̶̲s̵̟͘e̵̪͂ ̸̼́t̶͍͠ḩ̴̀e̸̩̒ ̵̟̂ă̸͜b̵̢͋y̶̙͠ŝ̷͇s̵̩̑.̶̠͛

    “-prove my worth.”

    H̴̻̀e̷͍͠ ̷̥͘w̶̛̟i̵͍̎l̸̖̒ḻ̸́ ̷̬̓n̷͈͌o̸͎͆ẗ̷̫́ ̸̬̓h̸̪͛a̴̗͆v̶̰̒é̸̡ ̴̨̓d̶͉͝i̸̙͠e̷̜̒d̵͍̏ ̴̲̃i̷͔̓n̴͔͂ ̸̫̓v̶̭͐ȃ̵̜i̵̦͘n̴̹͘.̷̨͗

    I will not lose sight of my loved ones. And I will exact my revenge on those who threaten them. I am Lyuben, the Prince of Malterra.

    Ayden nodded. “Well, the best way to train is in the Tournament you left. You want to prove your worth? Let’s win it.”

    Lyuben nodded, his eyes fixated upon the horizon. There were gray storm clouds lingering beyond the great kingdom of Malterra.

    “How long have I been away?”

    “The journey here was at least a few days. Maybe four days?”

    Lyuben nodded.

    “I don’t think any of us are fit to travel right now,” Ayden stated, “Should we stay the night in your-”

    “No, we should get going. I can’t bear to spend another day here.”

    “I understand. I think I know my way back to the tournament city. If everything goes according to plan we should return to the tournament in ten days.”

    Lyuben drew himself closer to Ayden, then paused like he wanted to say or do something important. Lyuben shook his head and gestured to Ayden to follow him. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

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