Friends and Enemies

 

Niander Salutes the judges, his father and Lord Lanker before joining the other winners. Gad walks over to the red pot and calls out, “Galel and Victor.” The two boys walk onto the stage as Vol is carted away, her eyes staring blankly at the sky.

Victor waists no time, attacking Galel and grazing his shoulder before being smacked with the flat side of his opponent’s blade. Galel pulls a face indicating it wasn’t supposed to be the flat side that hit, but composes himself and attacks. His form is terrible, his swings ugly. If this was his strategy, its working. Victor, try as he might, can not get into rhythm and loses his footing. Falling hard on his hip he drops his sword. Galel touches the tip of his blade to his opponent’s neck and looks up at the judges. “I don’t have to kill him do I?”

Ryker raises an eyebrow and shakes his head. Galel salutes and walks over to the group of winners. Gad gives Victor a swift kick in the behind as he walks off the stage. Cackling the Draco Ferian takes the last two names from the golden pot. “Michael and William.”

Michael makes his way to the stage and finds himself alone. William, a small boy like his opponent, stands rooted to the ground. His eyes are red and streaming. He shrivels at everyone’s gaze. He explodes and runs crying to his parents. His mother clutches him and tries to sooth him while his father looks away in shame.

“Well Michael you win.” Gad says tossing the crumpled papers at him, “be a dear and collect all of those that have the winners name on them, I really shouldn’t have thrown them about as we’ll need them.”

Michael smiles meekly and scurries around trying to get the scraps that have by now been blown all over the garden. As he does this Ryker walks to the middle of the stage and addresses the seated audience. “Our semi finalists will take a small break and will return in a short while. They will be left alone during this time to properly think on whether or not they want to continue. They have already proved their honor,” He gives William a dark stare. “in the next round they will be fighting in the style opposite of what they chose in the first. We want to teach well rounded pupils, Gad and I.”

He walks over to Gad and Nurse Agatha and they start a very animated conversation. Gad claps and makes rude gestures. Gad Smacks his elbow and flashes his left ankle. Nurse Agatha and Ryker stare at him half amused half confused.

“What the hell is going on?” Malcolm says watching the mad Ferian. “I don’t think I want to be taught by him anymore.”

“I could have that happen you know.” Galel says with a large smile. “I could knock you out of the running if you like.”

“Why is this creature speaking to us Niander?” Malcolm asks.

“He seems to think we are kin of the same kind.” Niander says moving to block Galel from view. “If we ignore it, it might leave us be.”

Galel scowls at the two young men and makes his way towards Goon only to have a another cold shoulder meet him. He removes himself from the group and busies himself with a bush of multicolored leaves. Michael walks over to Niander and Malcolm, giving the lonely blond boy a curious look. His kind heart wants nothing more than to congratulate him on making it this far, but he knows better.

“What did he want?” Michael asks with a nonchalant gesture towards Galel.

“I couldn’t make heads or tails, with that beastly peasant tongue.” Malcolm says.

“Did you see his terrible blade work? I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had dropped it and attacked with his teeth.” Niander says.

“I thought he was alright, I mean it got the work done.” Michael says with a smile.

“He killed. How hard is it to do that?” Niander says looking over at Victoria and her family. His lips curl slightly as she and her mother hug, both sloppy with tears. He moves his gaze to his father and the other Fell Worriers. The largest of them motions towards Niander and Aaron turns. Without his the helm his father looks like a young man on the verge of old age. But the smile he flashes wipes all age away, for a moment Aaron Badok looks young, then just as it came it falls away. The shadow of experience lines his face and ages him again. A glimpse of a memory flashes in the air between them causing Aaron’s smile to look darker and crazed.

“Hey, are you alright?” Malcolm puts a hand on Niander, making it all to obvious how close he was to falling.

Wiping the cold sweat out of his eyes Niander straightens his tunic “I must have used more focus than I should have when I went up against Vol. I’m fine now.”

“Do you want me to get some water?” Michael says looking around for a glass and pitcher.

“No, I said I was fine.” Niander says hotly, “but thank you.”

“What are you talking about Ryker, Moranish the Terrible was a wonderful singer. Yes his thick Orcish accent may have turned a few away,” Gad yells as he climbs back up on the stage, “but how can you deny the beauty of Ashdautas Vrasubatlat, honestly do you know what wonder is?”

He looks around at the audience, a confused look on his face, “is it time to start again? It must be I’m up here and you all are down,” he furrows his brow and points a finger at the crowd and yells at the top of his voice, “Are you ready for some blood shed!”

Silence.

“I cant hear you!” he drops to his knees, “Ryker help me I’ve gone Deaf again!”

“No, you have not.”

“Oh,” Gad stands up and brushes off his robes, “then all these people are mean spirited Migder spots. Have it your way. May I, Gad Lorn son of Grette Lorn, Draco Ferian and High Priest First Command, introduce the first of the finalist,” he bows deeply and flourishes his arms pompously, “In this Corner Goon! And in this other corner Ned!”

The two young men walk up on to the stage timidly as Gad, still in a deep bow, makes his way off. Ned, the winner of the second strength match, is as tall as Goon but much less oafish. His well defined jaw and broad shoulders, dark hair and pale blue eyes would make him handsome even if he wasn’t standing so close to Goon.

Even though they are using Feruh, both young men stand as if they are about to lunge at one another. A purple vein bulges on Goon’s bald head, Ned’s fists are balled so tightly his knuckles are white. Neither seems to know what he is doing. After four minutes Goon falls to one knee, but only because he had been holding his breath the whole time. Ned, his face red, pounds his fist on his chest willing his meager Feruh to have some sort of effect. After minute seven Gad throws a tomato at both boys and boos. He climbs the front of the stage, flashing more than leg, and shoos them away with more fruit.

“You both sicken me. Not a drop of blood between you.” Gad looks out into the audience, “I apologize, I will never let that happen again. Who’s next.” He looks over at Michael and motions for him to join him on stage, “do you have the names boy? Come on, come on, I haven’t got all day. No take those two out I’ve just run them off. Here you take those, I’ll take these. No, I don’t like this one give me that one. On second thought, I’ll trade you this one for for those two. I know the card isn’t mint but hey what are you going to do.”

“Mater gad, what are you talking about?” Michael asks politely.

“I’m sorry I thought we were trading collectibles, my mistake. Here ill take these.” Gad clears his throat and calls out, “ Amanda and Bill.”

Really the only difference Niander could see comparing these two to the last was that they were trying to destroy each other ineffectively with physical weapons. Bill, a fat young man with a face like the bottom of a plum, had trouble lifting a borrowed mace. When he finally had a good hold he hesitated at the thought of bashing the young girls face in. She on the other hand, could not lift her mace at all, leaving only his ankles at any risk. When she finally collapsed from fatigue Gad made his way onto the stage bent over laughing.

“Did you see when she screamed and ran away, Baktu be praised that was funny.” Wiping his eyes on his sleeve he cleared his throat and waved them off the stage. “The both of you lose the competition but win my heart. Not since the Mistrals of Maulfice have I laughed so hard.”

He called Michael forward and they had another trade. “Michael and Niander. Oh, is that you?” he took the other names from him, “these are no good to you seeing as you might die.”

Niander walks onto the stage and nods at Michael. Unsheathing his new sword he waits while his friend and opponent does the same. Getting into position Michael smiles weakly at his friend. The conversation in the caravan still fresh in his mind.

Niander blocks the attack just before the blade sinks into him. The force of the strike tweaks his wrist slightly. He feels the blades slide against each other and knows exactly where Michael will strike next. It comes from the left and is parried, from the right and it is glanced away. For a small boy, Michael fights with the will of a true Fell offspring. His battle cry resonates as he attempts to impale Niander. But he is not fast enough.

Niander Parries and uses the momentum to simultaneously drop to one knee and spin. His blade makes contact with the wooden stage and gets stuck. Michael raises his blade high only to be kicked in the stomach. Huffing, he steps back two paces. Short of breath he tries again, this time attempting to stab Niander through the skull. Abandoning his sword, Niander uses his bare hand to slap the blade away. Blood trickles steadily onto the stage. Michael lifts his sword straight up, hitting Niander in the jaw with the beveled edge.

“Good one.” Niander says rubbing his face.

“Thanks, I think you taught me that one.”

“I can be stupid sometimes.”

Michael adjusts himself and lunges at his unarmed opponent. The blade passes inches from Niander’s chest, who takes hold of Michael’s lead wrist and pummels him in the face with his bloodied hand. Thrusting his leg behind him, Niander pushes with all his might at topples Michael head over heels. In desperation, Michael manages to slice Niander’s shoulder as he falls. While the other tries to stand, Niander hurries over to his stuck blade and only just manages to touch the handle before he has to move to avoid another vicious attack.

“Here, take this.” Michael pulls a dagger from his waist and tosses it to Niander. He catches it and flashes a look of utter loathing.

“I don’t need your help.” He says dropping it.

In a rage he takes hold of Michael’s blade and tries to yank it away, when Michael pulls back Niander does not resist. This forces Michael to stumble back and allows Niander and opening to enter deep inside his guard. With less than three strikes Michael is unarmed and the two trade blows like animals fighting for territory. Niander didn’t take into consideration that with Michael’s short reach close combat would play to his advantage. His attempt to grapple his small friend fails miserably when Michael drops low, grabs him around the knees, lifts and rams him hip first into the stage. From there Michael squirms and locks Niander’s elbow under his arm. An ominous crack forces Niander to leave his neck exposed as he tries to wriggle out of the hold.

Michael wraps his legs around Niander from behind and digs his own elbow into the side of his opponent’s face. Somehow, maybe through sheer luck, Niander is able to extricate himself from Michael and get to his feet. He runs for his sword and manages to pull it away from the stage, but not before Michael cuts deep into his already wounded shoulder with the discarded dagger. Out of reflex Niander turns on his heal cuts him across the belly.

Blood stains the front of Michael’s brand new shirt, bought by a mother who hasn’t seen her son in sixteen years. Michael drops the dagger and places his hands palm down over the wound. His eyes grow wide as he stares into the dark orbs of his lifelong friend. His face twitched as though it cant decide whether it wants to be a frown or a smile.

“Remember when we stole sweets from the Nurses?” Niander swings his sword as a smile crosses Michael’s face. The smile is sustained even as his head rolls on the stage.

Niander drops his sword and picks up the dagger, jumps off the stage and makes his way to a quietly weeping woman and a stone faced man. Michael’s father shares his son’s boyish face, even with a beard. He holds out the dagger in one hand and rips his tunic with, exposing his chest. “As penance I offer you my blood. Your son was a wonderful friend and had the circumstances been different he would have made a powerful addition to the Fell.” Knowing that regretting a kill is looked down upon in with the Warriors, he adds, “this is my payment to you.”

Michael’s father takes the dagger and cuts a shallow line in Niander’s Chest. Both mother and father salute him and leave the garden as another body is carted away by scribes.

Niander returns to side of the stage in time to see Malcolm and Galel bow to each other. He allows himself a moment to think about his fallen friend, only to have it cut short by the immense power spilling from the stage. Through the howling of wind Niander can hear a long sustained cry emanating from Galel. At first Niander assumed he was pushing the wind but from its pattern he could only surmise that Galel was in fact taking it in.

Malcolm, caught by surprise, could only stare as he was slowly being sucked into the vortex. How stupid could Niander have been to assume this peasants strength came from his fists. Why would Gad, a Draco Ferian, be interested in a fighter? Now his interest in the blond boy made sense.

Taking a short breath and throwing his arms out, Galel called forth a bright fire from the center of his chest. It engulfed Malcolm, whose screams could be heard from the lowers. When the fire disappeared he was left a distraught pile on the floor, though physically unharmed. Niander and Galel lock eyes for a moment, before Gad jumps on stage and raises the blond boys arm yelling, “what did I tell you, he’s pretty good isn’t he?”

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