Battle Royale 1.2
Location: Stark Castle, Challenge Arena
Timeline: November 28, 2011 - 1000 am local
Oriel gestured to the arena and Desinora stepped forward and held out her hand, palm out as if resting it against an invisible barrier. Indeed, as her hand rested against something, a faint distortion pressed and rippled in the air. A diagram of complex gold and white characters seemed carved from solidified light and floating in a complex orbiting pattern appeared around her hand for a moment before she pulled back and a small octagon of light appeared with small octagonal panels on it with symbols on them. She tapped out a entry onto it and the field rippled and the pad disappeared as she drew back her hand.
"Excellent," Jericho thanked her and peered upward at the sky, the field bending the light so that Jericho and the others standing there could see a much magnified field of the clouded sky and the glint of metal diving towards the center of the arena. Desinora nodded and smiled slightly before heading back with the rest of the observers.
A strangely and fantastically plumed metallic bird flew into the center of the arena and circled three times, before spiraling down in three more circles and landed. It deposited a silver egg and then sat on it for a moment before the entire thing exploded into fire and smoke which almost immediately got sucked back into the center to resolve and solidify into a humanoid shape.
The being standing in the center of the sooty black blast mark was clothed in metallic feathered layers that looked like robes and wore a deep cowl in the shape of an elaborate crested long-beaked bird skull. Glowing green coals burned in the silver skull eye sockets of the cowl-helm with copper, silver and golden metallic feathers that covered it chimed softly in the slight breeze.
It was deadly silent in the arena one could clearly hear these sounds even so many yards away as they were.
“Mercury has hidden his face behind Sol and the Ur-Season has ended for now!” the being called out in a high-pitched semi-masculine voice. “Thus, at the cusp of the New Year, it is tradition that the Academies come together to begin the Ares Games, to compete for the honor of being named Strongest and leading the others in the coming year.”
Now the crowds erupted into a roar of applause and cheering and the figure remained standing, looking up and turning slowly but waiting patiently as everyone voiced their enthusiasm. Students and faculty around the Academy group and the Princess erupted into cheers and calls, whistles and inhuman cries as they represented their Academy and the Demesne in general.
Meanwhile, vendors moved through the crowd dispensing flags and devices for coin as well as snacks and beverages. Popcorn, it seemed, was universal as were hot sausages inside rolls.
Eventually the speaker held out a hand straight in front of itself and lowered its head. Between one eyeblink and the next a staff appeared, one which seemed made of gold and hung with emeralds on chains of various lengths wound around the shaft. It slapped into his hand as if he had summoned it from some other place and it had been in motion before it appeared. As soon as it manifested, the crowd fell silent and the staff tapped the stone of the arena three times, one-second apart each time.
“Defending and Host Academy Stark, winner of six of the last ten Games and the only Academy to put seventeen heroes into the Overworld in a hundred years, Holder of the Granite Horn and Keeper of the Oaken Arch,” the speaker gestured sideways with it’s right sleeve, producing a long black arm with inhumanly long fingers tipped with bird-like talons, “I give you Princess Jericho and her Season Champion, the Lady-Black Sapphire!”
As Jericho stood and raised a hand, Sapphire stepped forward and waved happily to all the cheering fans, still going in her pastel rainbow shift and barefoot. The applause and accolades went on for several minutes before the staff struck the stones three times again, by the third strike it was dead silent and people were now tensely watching the announcer.
Jericho chose to sit and cross her legs demurely, folding her hands in her lap and watch.
The central figure turned away from the Stark contingent and faced the rest of those sitting across from them in the arena and raised one hand towards them in an inviting gesture. “Who amongst the other Academies chooses to offer Challenge to the Defending Host?!”
The silence reigned in the arena for several heartbeats and then slowly, the man in the seat opposite that of Stark’s rose and stood. Damocle’s Cross in his blackened and burnt-looking golden armor wore a shredded black cloak, his longish rough-hacked hair fell down to his shoulders and seemed to merge with the once-fine ermine cloak he wore.
There was a lot of applause and a lot of hissing mixed in and though his students and underlings reacted to both clapping and hisses in their own ways, he ignored both and stared across at Summer.
“You know this is personal for him Summer,” Jericho murmured, leaning slightly towards her Champion.
“I know Milady but then its always personal with him,” she chuckled. I guess he’ll never forgive me,” she paused and then giggled, “but then, I don’t want him to either.”
“Can you take him?” Jericho asked.
Summer snorted by way of response. “Odate will avenge me if I fail,” Summer commented.
“He’ll get what I leave him,” Jericho growled and there was a flicker of a crimson haze around her, for just an instant and the stone she was standing on steamed where it had sudden cracked all around her.
Summer blinked at Jericho, “May I go defend your honor Milady or must you pee on me more?”
Jericho snorted and gestured into the arena with peremptory dismissal with one hand as she returned to her seat. “Wish him luck,” Summer called to the Residentials and the Advisors and turned back, with a tiny hop she was at the top of the edge above the arena some ten-meters drop below. The Advisors, though concerned, grinned at her quip.
Raising her right foot, Summer pointed her right toe towards the Arbiter with her arms loose at her sides. She was still barefoot and she balanced this way effortlessly for just a moment, before bringing the legs down and popping off a little highland jig with ankle-breaking skill before hopping off of the wall to drop to the arena below.
The viewer, focusing on her because everyone up on the stand wanted it, saw her spread her arms at the last moment and her drop slowed to nearly a hover, touching down on her tip-toes on the stone below.
"I wanna learn how to do that..." Brann breathed with wonder.
"Spell," Daygon said simply.
Crowds on most all sides roared in approval with her little show and even Jericho smiled a bit, relaxing slightly.
The Advisors began to quietly pass coins back and forth amongst themselves, Erris had a small frame floating in the air before him which seemed to have a standard keyboard-like interface and a open-display screen above it. Little tags began to appear to the sides and on the screen and he began to enter. Tiny coin sounds, as if people were dropping coins onto other coins began to chime from the frame as his fingers flew across the keys and logged bets. According to the tiny icons next to the bets and the quick scrolls of symbols, it looked like other Academies were placing bets as well and other book-makers were adjusting the odds based on environmental factors as well as the response of the crowds and those placing bets.
“Erris,” Jericho called over her shoulder, without looking around, “call it.”
“Yes ma’am,” the Efrit acknowledged with a grin and raised his hands, whipping out a necklace of prayer beads in each hand he clasped them between the thumb and palm of each hand and then slapped his palms together. “Koshu!” he shouted and a tiny glowing woman covered in black ink tattoos, just like his, appeared spinning pirouettes in the air to the right shoulder and wearing even less clothing. She wore a dress, of sorts, but what it hid (barely) it might as well have revealed. “Madam of chance and the making of bets, madam of the gamble, the luck and the hidden choice, we wish for official odds. I invoke you with the sacrifice rite of making books and the collecting of ten-thousand maer and Lady Summer’s Hidden Choice,” he intoned as she began to glow, tiny flames licking all around the ten-inch woman who floated to his right shoulder, “I beseech thee to give us odds!”
He clapped his palms again and she did so at the same time, her tiny palms sounding louder and echoing all over the arena. “Three to one against Summer, favoring Damocles before the field is struck,” she intoned, her voice clear and seemed to be echoing all around them from the dozens of similar boards other students and faculty had open and had been using. She giggled and winked at Erris and then turned into formless flame and disappeared. He tapped a few symbols into his interface and sent it to those fulfilling the same roles elsewhere and slowly responses came in. He entered something quick and grinned full of mischief and then his board went crazy as it seemed dozens of people began to change their bets and amounts quickly.
"What are all these coins clinking and calling for odds?" Brann looked around with interest. "It sounds like you're betting on the fight."
"We are," Erris confirmed as he worked.
Brann tilted his head, "So, we're trying to profit off Summer's skill at killing someone who is supposed to be our ally against the Ur?"
"Only it's not Ur Season, so he's fair game, and from what I've gathered he's rather a pompous git that needs to at the very least have the arena's floor mopped up with." Cat grinned, for some reason this place seemed to bring out her bloodthirsty side. "I have no doubt that Summer will win." She kept her voice low enough that the only people likely to hear it were those sitting right around her.
"What if it was me down there or Drake?" Brann gave her a pointed look. "Because it can be. Like Maus said, he's one of us and one day we're all taking our turn down there. Will 'it's not Ur Season' satisfy you then?"
"No, when that happens, if that happens, then only blood will do." Cat said. "No matter who in my family it is." The words were odd because Cat was almost violently pacifistic. The matter of fact her tone didn't seem to really fit her until you really thought about it, she would bleed for her siblings but the gods had better take pity on anyone who truly harmed a member of her family, because Cat sure as hell wouldn't.
Brann looked between Maus, Angel, and Desinora before turned back to Cat. "Are you feeling alright?"
"It's probably the lust," Eriss waved around them generally as the money continued to change hands. "There's battle lust, profit lust, a good bit of sexual lust coming from the Fire-Enclave," he waved his hand off in the direction of the flickering orange glow in the stands to his right, all without looking away from his tasks. "When mortals get inspired, we draw in that power. When other primals gets inspired, you kind of have to brace against it or be really good as channeling or it can influence and overwhelm you."
"The battle lust maybe affecting me slightly but it isn't making me behave out of character." Cat said with a wicked grin. "Remember Brann the time I wanted your help to put ground glass in Mike's jockstrap because he gave Bishop a black eye? No one hurts my family, without having to deal with me." Her eyes flashed a hint of fire and the steel that she was so fond of working with. "However, we're here to enjoy watching Summer trounce that over inflated ego bag."
"Obviously it's affecting you because you missed my point," Brann took a pointed tone. "You can't take our places down there. You can't throw your body in front of Angel, or Maus, me, or Drake and protect us. You have to sit up here and watch, helpless, while other people bet on whether we live or die. What, are you gonna go down there and make every one of our killers pay? What's the point when you're alone."
"No I didn't miss your point Brann." Cat said patiently. "You seemed to have missed mine." She gave him a gentle smile. "If I cannot protect you then I will avenge you, or die trying. That's not battle lust. That's me, that's who I am. I will always try to protect those I love, and if I fail, well then I'll make damned sure that the person who harmed any of you won't get the chance again."
"I understand but the point of a good military system is to never reach that point, Cat," Brann countered. "War is about the systemic accumulation of resources and the capture or disabling of hostile assets until they no longer pose a threat. The point of an effective military system is to catch a discipline issue before it gets out of hand," He gestured to the spectacle. "Keep the focus on the shared enemy until the war is won and then settle differences. We're eroding our assets. The only ones who benefit are the Ur.
"The problem with that outlook is that there are always people who are more concerned with their family’s honor rather than the fate of the world. There are also those who will say that the loss of one life wouldn't really affect the outcome or even those who would say, oh well they'll die in the battle anyway what does it matter if I kill them during the battle." She tilted her head slightly and looked down at Summer. "That belief allows the enemy to get a foothold into your army."
"This is a circular argument," Brann pointed out. "An effective military system directs all assets toward the goal. Personal ambition becomes part of overall success. In your example family honor benefits from victory. As for dropping a life here or there," Brann shrugged, "Some attrition of assets is unavoidable but any successful strategist understands there is a limit. Summer is to my understanding one of our best assets and while I agree 'Trailer-Park Sauron' out looks like he could use recycling he seems like her peer. Losing either of them to friendly fire is unacceptable."
"And therein lies the rub brother." Cat said giving Brann another small smile. "She's not an acceptable loss and so he would likely jeopardize all by driving a knife into her at the most inopportune moment. When her attention is focused on the battle at hand and not the enemies at her back."
"So celebrate the failure of discipline, cut our losses, and move on? Do you know how much sense that does NOT make?" Brann shook his head. "Wait, who made you a student instructor? You know shit more about this place than I do!"
Cat let out a small sigh. "I might know shit more about this place than you do but I understand human nature. There comes a point when there is only blood left, when only blood will do." Her smile turned slightly feral. "When all you love is gone, vengeance is what you have left. Feuds are easily started in those instances not so easily stopped. And really if you think of it when a feud is that deep, then can you really trust that person at your back in the confusion of battle?"
"How can we understand human nature when we're not human and never were?" Brann seemed more lost than ever. He looked hopefully to Desinora.
"Because you had no idea you weren't human until a week ago?" Desinora asked him brightly. Too brightly. Like Barbie was saying "duh" but added 'bless your heart' on it to take the sting out.
Zach made a very small smile to himself at hearing that comment.
Meanwhile, on the arena, Summer had heard the voice of the Goddess and smirked, those viewing her face saw her smirk right after the Goddess had made her odds. Those watching her approach Damocles saw that her pace of steps never changed but the space of her stride shortened; making him who had already arrived at the Arbiter, wait for her arrival.
As it was, her foot drew up and she faced the Guardian before her as the final bets were placed and finalized, she smiled extremely wide as she cocked her head slightly and let it tilt back slightly as if she were lazy, or drunk.
All those watching could see as if she were a few feet away and could clearly see the contempt in her posture.
::Classic baiting move,:: Brann signed surreptitiously to Maus. He allowed Desinora and Oriel to read too. ::She's dangling the red cape in front of the bull. Is he that stupid?::
"No but he lets his rage control him sometimes and she's trying to get him to get stupid," Desinora observed intently. "Her strategy is going to be to try to enrage him so she can kill him; since she's been systematically wiping out his line for a century or more. Rule number two-fifteen: 'Never earn the undying revenge of a War-Master when you have vulnerable liabilities and assets lying around.'."
Daygon stepped up beside her and watched the fighters intently, eyes shifting back and forth between them with minute movements.
"It looks like both to me. If he is stupid then he will be insulted by her attitude. If he is smart then he will be insulted by the obvious ploy to make him angry. Either way he is annoyed and on the path to anger. Even further is the fact that she is still in her..." Zach paused looking for the correct word "fun clothes? Civilian clothes?" Zach was riveted, he took in every detail not just of sound and light but every sensation he tried to record and store.
"Rule 215...?" Brann arched an inquiring eyebrow. "How many rules are there?"
"At least 215." Cat said with a cheeky grin.
Brann gave her a level look for a long moment before he breathed a long, much put-upon sigh, "duh."
"Who cares," Erris chuckled, "she makes them up as she goes along."
The Arbiter struck his staff on the arena ground slowly, three measures. By the time the third one hit, it was silent again and Erris had slapped his palm on the interface, his palm-print leaving a red silhouette on it and an "x" of symbols that wrapped around it indicating it was clearly locked. "The bets are in," he proclaimed and banished the interface with a sweep of his hand, making it fly around behind his head to hover there while with another gesture, he opened a smaller one and with a fingertip moved it to one side. Tiny faces with symbols appears with strings of characters and shifted up as more of them appeared, some of them appearing repeatedly.
It looked like a chat window on a multi-channel device.
The bird-skull raised the staff which the hanging feathers rose and seemed to extend to the sides like wings, though they didn't move. It gestured towards Damocles and said in a voice that carried through the entire arena clearly, "The Challenger shall be blocked from Judgements and Proclamations, Seals and Primary Banishments." Then it gestured towards Summer and proclaimed, "The Champion shall be blocked from Necromancy, Necrothaumy, Macro-Entropy, Seals and Primary Banishments."
Daygon spoke almost silently, "She's casting and he's preparing."
"Layman's terms?" Cat asked briefly even as she watched the scene before her intently.
"They're using really advanced spells and techniques, completely beyond what most of us can do yet," Desinora explained, watching them intently. "Summer is casting without Gesture, Incantation or Focus but she's channeling Will in some way we can't quite see."
"I'm sure that will make more sense when I've studied more, maybe she's using the Will and Word." Cat said with a small shrug, she had been reading the Belgariad and the Mallorean recently and so it was stuck in her head.
"No," Erris corrected her gently, "that'd be incantation, but good call anyway," he added as he kept watching them, seconds ticking by. "Internal Conjurations?" Erris looked on with great interest and paused and grew thoughtful.
"A curse," the dark figure that had yet to be introduced spoke, his lower jaw was pale and his upper face inside a storm-cloud gray cloak. "She's going to get him with a curse right off the mark," he confirmed.
Desinora grunted softly, her eyes glinting with a white light as she watched them. "He's preparing a Mighty Stroke but I can't tell what form he's going to employ."
"If you could it would be a feint," Daygon snorted at her without looking away. "This fight will go Exarch immediately."
The other Advisors grunted agreement.
"Exarch?" Cat asked curiously. "Sorry I'm not sure if I'm familiar with that term, I can't pull it up immediately though."
"Imagine we're Japanese people in a Godzilla movie and the monsters are cute little immature version and they're squaring off and being all cute and fuzzy and man-sized at the moment," Erris explained again, "then imagine as soon as the cute little display is over, they instantly change into their adult forms and begin doing MMA crossed with Bleach, third-season, on Tokyo. That's Exarch," he clarified succinctly.
"The forge," was all Zach said to Cat.
"Sweet." Cat said with a grin. "Who has the popcorn?"
The cloaked figure traded coins for several more bags with a vendor and handed them around.
The Arbiter spread hands in both directions and stated firmly, "The field is set. The Condition..?" it turned it head slightly to indicate the Challenger, Damocles.
"Death-Waiver for defeat," he replied with haughty arrogance.
The Arbiter turned to Summer to see if she was in agreement.
Summer smiled and her face, in a blink, became completely inhuman. Her mouth was entirely too wide to be real, her teeth narrow and needle-like, her lips too red to be real and the blue of her eyes swelled to fill in the whites. With the long pinky-nail of her right hand she made a tiny "x" over her heart, actually cutting through her own skin and drawing a tiny bit of her own black blood and said with a clotted chuckle, "Cross my heart, hope you die."
And then she turned her back on Damocles.
"Holy Phnaebrus," the cloaked figure breathed in amazement, closely echoing a collective gasp that went up even as the Arbiter spoke softly...