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Helping Hand [post announcement, pre-dinner]
Ozge carefully padded up the steps toward the housing wing. It was only a few hours after acceptance had been announced and she was already exhausted from the sheer amount of interaction this tournament required. She had excused herself as quickly as she could after the formal introductions from the Prince - correctly, she had faded into the shadows as years of training had taught her to do - and whisked away toward the northeast side of the Grand Plaza. There were too many people and there was too much sound. She craved the quiet and the solitude.
As she rounded the corner, she glanced up to see the dog - Kumo, she recalled - sitting in front of a closed room door. He sat pondering the door with what she could only assume was a puzzled expression. He turned his head toward her as she approached. His eyes sparkled with an intelligent flame. Ozge involuntarily paused, eyes flashing to the key that jangled around his neck, then to the door, then back to the dog.
She cleared her throat. “Are… Do you need help?”
Kumo nodded and pawed at the door excitedly. Ozge blinked once, twice. Did the dog just…? No, she shook her head. Her expression softened as she paced toward Kumo. He lowered his head as she reached down to retrieve the key from the braided cord around his neck. She watched him from the corner of her eye as she turned the brass key in the tumbler. A heavy thunk signified her success and the door swung open.
The room was furnished as she imagined most would be, though the bed had a conspicuously placed crate to act as a step up to the mattress. Short lengths of rope were affixed to the various drawers and the inside of the doorknob to allow for pulling teeth to fill in for lack of opposable thumbs.
Ozge leaned against the door jamb and watched as the peculiar dog set about unpacking his parcel of belongings. His armored harness was worn but well-cared for, clearly used. His blade similarly looked more practical than ornate, though its quality was apparent. Kumo’s equipment, or rather his entire demeanor implied some type of practiced diligence. He carried himself like… a soldier maybe? It was hard to be sure.
Ozge reached up and wiped a tear away from her left eye. Why am I crying? she mused before the memory kicked in - Ari was allergic to dogs. She quickly rubbed her face in her sleeve, embarrassed that she had forgotten. There were elements of each of them that seemed to ebb and flow through her perception and it was difficult to hold onto each of their tendencies.
She started as Kumo nudged her leg and barked inquiringly. She continued furiously swiping at her irritated eye as she attempted to stammer out an explanation. “Sorry, it’s not you. Well, it is you but it’s not your fault. It’s not my fault either or really fault at all. It’s mostly Ari, she was… is allergic to you. But that’s not a problem, it’s mild and she… er, I don’t mind dogs. I think.”
Kumo tilted his head quizzically. Ozge wrung her hands and avoided eye contact as she hastily continued. “What I mean to say is that we were never allowed pets so it hasn’t come up. Because of the potential attachment and the risk it would pose I think. So being here with you now is bringing up things that I just haven’t considered in… a long time…”
Her voice trailed off. Silence hung in the air for a brief moment as the dog watched the strange transformation. It was first apparent in her shoulders as they began bobbing in rhythm. The sensation was deep and guttural, blossoming up from her core. The cadence of her laugh favored Lucine’s. It was heavy and throaty, a raspy monotone. It escalated in intensity and volume as tears now streamed from both of her eyes. She steadied herself against the wall as she howled with unbidden humor.
This was the most she had talked with anyone in years, and it was to a dog.
Kumo barked softly with a tone somewhere between concern and amusement. Ozge continued to chuckle as she found her composure. “My apologies, master hound. I’m not normally a conversationalist. Thank you for letting me gush for a brief moment.”
Ozge saw the hair stand up on the scruff of the dog’s neck before she heard the board creak. She took in a sharp breath, all mirth immediately forgotten. She pivoted in place with terrifying speed, her right hand wreathed in a deep blue energy and already tightly wrapped around the hilt of her blade.
Through the doorway, Roshk the viashino stood frozen mid-stride, a half-eaten turkey leg hanging from his jaw. He looked back at Ozge and Kumo for a tense beat then held up his hands dismissively and continued down the hallway, chewing as he went.
Arrival at the Castle
Chapter Four - Abyssal Sighting
It was nighttime. Normally, the night skies were lit up by a net of brilliant stars, but now, all one could see were the ominous gray clouds that gobbled up any light that tried to push through to the ground. The king and queen were walking across an endless spring meadow, wearing uncharacteristically plain robes with large hoods that cast even more shadow on their faces. The queen held a dim candle in front of them as they continued to walk.
“Whatever Nyrine saw has some people on edge. She’s been covering her tracks everywhere she goes,” the king said.
“Why? Who would want to find her?” the queen asked.
“I don’t know.”
Without warning, cracks in the mud started to open up in the ground. Violet purple energy erupted from the dangerous fissures. The queen halted and held her arm out in front of the king cautiously as the spectacle of light unfolded in front of them.
“What is this?” the king whispered frantically.
More cracks slithered through the grass below their feet. Wherever the cracks went, the plants around it shriveled up and died.
“The abyss,” the queen responded sharply. The queen lowered her hand to her waist and nodded to the king.
The purple light trapped them in a cage of light where multiple beams connected to form an abyssal scourge. A horrific abomination nearly ten feet tall towered over the couple.
“Now!” the man shouted. Both figures pulled out a silver sword quickly. The monster lashed out at them with its clawed hand. The king swung his blade upwards, causing the monster’s black arm to turn to ash and dissolve into the wind.
The queen struck the beams at focal points with impressive speed. Once the silver blade contacted the beams, they flickered and disappeared. The monster lashed out once more, this time with its long, spiked tail, but the king tapped a button on his ring, where it expanded into a silver shield. The king was knocked forcefully into the ground, but remained unharmed.
“Ha!” The queen shouted as she jumped over the king, who was defending himself with his shield. She grabbed a shiny silver dagger out of her belt and threw it as fast as she could.
The blade pierced the monster’s chest. Dazzling silver rays of light burst through the monster’s skin and it let out an awful roar before the monster collapsed inwards on itself. Moments later, the leftover purple aura faded.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, fine.” The king brushed off some of the residue mud still stuck on his robes. “Let’s go find some place to rest. We will continue searching for Nyrine tomorrow. We must find her prophecy. The fate of our kingdom relies on us completing this puzzle. And Nyrine is our last puzzle piece.”
A twig snapped from behind the royals.
“What was that?”
“I don’t know. Are we being watched?”
“Shhh,” the queen hissed, “Listen.”
Silence. After a few more tense moments, the king and queen continued forward on their path.
A cloaked figure in the distance with hands glowing ever so slightly purple dissolved into the shadows of the night. “We must find Nyrine.”
The snakes were a surprise. While the zombies seemed a little off, Audhild hadn’t expected any champion to bring snakes along as companions. Maybe a trained- The duelist caught herself before she finished the sentence. Kumo (she believed that was his name) was a champion in his own right, and she should respect him as such. Besides, there was more to the dog than met the eye.
There’s more to all the contestants than meets the eye, a voice whispered in Audhild’s ear. It sounded almost exactly like Kalthor’s. Including yourself. The duelist chose to not react to the voice, instead looking around at the other contestants.
She’d never seen lizard-people, so the two sitting at the table intrigued her. Both of them looked like capable fighters, although one obviously preferred strength and the other subtlety. Even if she didn’t fight them, it would be interesting to watch them. Noticing one looking around the room, she nodded politely to him when he looked at her.
The two women sitting next to Audhild seemed close. One of them, the taller one, was carrying a long, sticklike object wrapped in cloth that Audhild had never seen. Across from the pair, the man with crystals in his armor, Raeza, was unique. He almost reminded Audhild of Kalthor, if only in demeanor. Audhild was more interested in the sword of the monk next to him, though. It was well-kept, and seemed to be of a good make. Whatever the monk’s intentions, Audhild has to admit she was a little jealous of that sword.
The ninja next to Audhild was quiet. She was interested by his mask, since very few people in Attya wore masks as an everyday custom. Perhaps there was a deeper meaning in it. As he noticed her looking at his mask, he smiled and talked with Audhild for a little bit about it.
Nimbu, the priestess across from him, didn’t strike Audhild as odd, despite the two zombies by her. Maybe talking to Kalthor helped me with that, the duelist thought. Sitting next to the ninja, the squire seemed a little nervous and out-of-place. They were carrying an interesting helmet, but otherwise was a little plain. Still, they might have something up their sleeve. The woman with the thin sword interested Audhild more, since she seemed like she’d be a good-
Audhild was distracted by the hydromancer Claire pulling wine from inside a bottle carried by an aide. She chuckled as Claire managed to get the wine inside her own cup, despite her own apparent inebriation. She seemed nice enough, if a little untempered. Still, Audhild was worried about her skill set. Audhild was a duelist, not a rival magic-user. Magic was not her strong suit.
Later that night, after the feast, Audhild looked around her assigned room. It was her home, at least for a little bit, until her duel against Oritira decided her fate.
The duelist felt a surge of homesickness. Sitting on her bed, she drew a picture of her family into her mind’s eye. She smiled wistfully at the thought. This tournament would bring honor to their family name, and hopefully propel her into the next stage of her life.
Audhild pulled Kalthor into her mind. He seemed almost knowing about the tournament. Ridiculous, yes, but also curious.
But that was a question for another day. Slowly, Audhild prepared for her first night in tournament housing.
Chapter Five - Rising Tensions
Byrre was pacing around his quarters. The curtains were closed, obscuring the golden sun’s rays. He had a small lantern lit on the bedside table, providing just enough light to make sure Byrre didn’t crash into anything.
“Sir,” a guard said, “There was news of an outbreak of abyssal monsters in the northeast. We’ve also traced the king and queen’s whereabouts to the sites of one of the attacks.”
Byrre continued to pace as he talked. “Are they okay?”
“They disappeared, leaving no traces of anything behind,” the guard responded.
The advisor didn’t respond. Instead, he sped up his pacing until he was almost jogging around the bedroom.
“Get out!” Byrre yelled. He realized his tone and corrected himself. “I’m sorry. I just- we don’t know much about this situation. Would you please fetch Aki for me? I have someone I must call to the tournament.”
The guard scurried out of the room and sped up the stairs towards Aki’s luxurious room. His room took up an entire floor of the castle, close to the very top. Aki was at his table with shards of a crystal chalice broken by Claire. He was trying to piece it together with glue, to no avail.
“My parents are gonna be so mad,” the prince scolded himself, “This was their most expensive set of chalices.”
Aki jumped a little. “Yes?”
“Byrre would like to speak with you.”
“Tell him I’m perfectly capable of running the tournament myself.”
The guard just waited there.
“Fine, fine! I’ll go down and see him. But fix this for me, won’t you?”
Aki shoved a tangled mess of strings of glue and crystal shards into the guards hands and stormed down the marble staircase. Aki entered the room to Byrre whispering something to another guard.
“Yes sir. I will deliver it.”
Then the guard walked out of the room.
“What was that?” Aki probed, “What are you delivering?”
“A message,” Byrre said, “We’re getting another host for the tournament.”
“Why? I’m a perfectly capable host!”
“It has nothing to do with that. Times are getting dangerous. She is one of the most capable healers and warriors this plane has seen.”
“Byrre, what are you not telling me?”
Byrre looked away. He opened the scarlet curtains, allowing sunlight to pour into the dim room.
“We must prepare for the first match. Which stadium have you chosen to use?”
Aki was clearly frustrated. “Fine. Let’s choose the city stadium. The buildings will be interesting for the ninja to employ his tactics.”
“Then it’s decided.”
A few hours later Aki found himself in the city plaza.
“ATTENTION ALL CITIZENS!” he shouted through an enhanced megaphone, “THE MATCH BETWEEN MIYAN AND ROSHK WILL TAKE PLACE TOMORROW AT DAWN IN THE CITY STADIUM.”
Miyan was lurking in an alley between two of the buildings at the outer rim of the plaza. Upon hearing the news, he quietly unsheathed Naku Tsuki. “I know you won’t fail me,” Miyan whispered, “Tomorrow at dawn we will draw the first blood.”
Roshk, on the other hand, was buying fruits from a vendor in the center of the plaza. He glanced at Prince Aki, who was standing fifty feet away from him, then his hand immediately went to his belt where his scimitar and throwing knives rested.
“Miyan won’t be difficult to defeat, I know. But it must be done.”
A woman approached Aki after he finished. “Well done, Aki. Are we ready to go back to the castle?”
“Who are you?” Aki asked annoyedly.
“It seems Byrre hasn’t told you about me.” The woman’s eyes lit up with a majestic golden light. “I am Rehela. Rehela Fayneri. Master healer and war veteran from the Vosanovan war.”
“That was over a hundred years ago,” Aki noted.
“Let’s just say my kind doesn’t age nearly as fast as you,” Rehela laughed, “Enough with the chatter. Let’s go see Byrre, shall we? We have plenty of preparations needed before we begin with our first match.”
@Usaername and @WarriorCatInAhat :
Your match will begin tomorrow morning, so for any other story you want to be considered, please post it today! Good luck to the both of you.
I am planning to try and get the second match done tomorrow as well.