The impact of Bassan and I colliding shakes the arena, or at least it feels like it. I can feel my armour buckling and sundering under the blades of the Lizzara’s axes, even as my arm quivers at the collision of my swordspear. The whole thing is obscured by a cloud of sand and dust, and, when it settles, it sticks to a growing pool of dark, freshly-spilled blood. Bassan and I are locked together. The roided-out mini-Godzilla smiles, his teeth bared in a fierce grin.
“Victory… is yours… Kettrin. I fear your…. Blow was mightier than mine….”
He coughs, and my swordspear grates against his ribs. I pull it free as he extricates his axes from my sides. I can feel the edges of my crushed armour digging into me as I lean on my weapon, resting the butt of the haft against the sandy floor. I think I’m about to topple over. Bassan slowly keels over, his tail kicking up another puff of dust as he lands on his back, the grin still on his face as the light fades from his eyes. I sigh as I’m warped back to my private booth in preparation for the next bout, my armour reverting back to perfectly undamaged plates and chainmail.
Only a few remaining matches, and the competition is really heating up. Now that the grand prizes are actually within reach, everyone still standing is giving no quarter and fighting with everything they have. I can feel my body starting to tremble with anxious excitement. I’ve never really been big into PvP, but this has been a blast! Getting to see all these people and their skills and magic, and even getting to fight some of them, has been one of the most intense experiences of my life as a woman… and now, finally, I’m one of the top ten competitors of this tournament! True, there’s players I KNOW would crush me in a second, but none of them are in this battle, so I can focus on enjoying myself to the fullest!
At long last… the arena beckons. Instead of a basic round one, the new one is a massive rectangle, like a sports field, split into different zones where each has different, self-contained terrain. One’s a mountainous, rocky incline, another is a jungle, and a third is a lake, and so on. Appearing in the centre of this composite field of battle… are nine others.
The announcer roars out over the screams and cheers of the crowd. “ALRIGHT, FIGHT FANS! THIS… IS THE GRAND FINALE! THE LAST COMBATANTS! EACH OF THEM HAS STOOD FIRM AGAINST EVERY CHALLENGE SET BEFORE THEM, AND NOW… WE HAVE OUR TEN FINALISTS!”
“THE VOLTAIC ANGEL, SKY-QUEEN KETTRIN!” I step forth, flaring my wings and slamming the flat of my swordspear against my greatshield.
“GRANDARTS, THE ARCANE LEGIONARY!” a burly, moustachioed man in an excellently-cut suit bows, a grimoire floating beside him.
“BONEY, THE SKELETAL SORCEROR!” the bucket-helmed undead clatters his jaw, rattling his phalanges up and down his ribcage like a xylophone.
“KAFKA, THE SWARM EMPRESS!” a slender, burgundy-haired woman in an elegant dress gestures, and a loud buzzing sound rings out around her, a cloud of large, ferocious wasps encircling her.
“LEON, THE BLADE ENCHANT!” a dark, scruffy boy around my age twirls a broadsword in each hand, flames erupting from one and the other coated in ice.
“AXEL, THE CHAKRAM DANCER!” A tall young man with a massive, spiky plume of scarlet hair, an aquamarine mark shaped like a teardrop under each eye, wearing a dark robe with plenty of zippers and straps, thrusts his hands out to each sides. A large disk, with spikes jutting out at even intervals, appears next to each grasping hand with a swirling gust of flame.
“MARX, THE WALL OF STONE!” A hulking Andromal roars, his barrel chest puffed-out as he slams a huge flail down, sending chips of stone flying, his wings and tail shifting with barely-contained anticipation.
“ARGUS, THE MOLTEN GIANT!” A bulky humanoid creature that looks like it was carved from the heart of an active volcano, ruddy light glowing through the cracks and gaps in the dark, glassy rock, pulls its head off, revealing it to be an Alv wearing a suit of armour. He salutes the crowd, grinning lazily.
“OLD DARIAN!” An elderly man, whose relaxed nature makes it clear that he’s actually as old as his avatar looks, wrinkles and all, leans on a cane, smiling bemusedly at the looks a few of the other competitors are shooting him.
AND NIGHTSHADE, THE DEADLY BLOOM!” Another Andromal, a small, horned girl twirling a wicked dagger, her face marked with a masquerade-style ‘mask’ tattoo, lashes her arrowhead tail, her short, dark hair ruffling in a light wind.
“NOW, WE COULD GET INTO MORE DETAILS ABOUT EACH OF OUR FINALISTS, OR DESCRIBE A FEW OF THE PRIZES AVAILABLE, BUT… WE ALL KNOW WHAT YOU’VE COME TO SEE! LET THERE BE BLOOOOOD! FIGHT!”
I take off, heading straight for the mountainous section of the arena, hoping not to be the first to fall. Making my flight as swift as I can, I descend and get behind a rock, reaching into my pack and drawing out a quartet of throwing knives, tucking them into position behind my shield, before poking my head out, keeping my wings low to prevent myself from losing my biggest advantage so soon in this free-for-all.
Almost as soon as I stick my head up, a bolt of dark blue energy flies past, eating into the rock behind me like acid. “Whoops. Well, you’ve gotta come out now, li’l lady!”
Grandarts, the besuited mage, bows slightly, keeping his eyes on me. I stand, keeping my shield up as I feel the loose scree and gravel crunch like snow under my clawed sabatons. “Nice try. Too bad for you that you won’t get another shot that easy.”
“We’ll see, li’l lady. We’ll see. I’ve seen a bit o’ your handiwork. I reckon I know what I’m in fer. Now… shall we dispense with the formalities?”
I shrug. “If you insist. Hup!” I hurl my swordspear, the gleaming bronze-coloured metal flashing in the stadium light as it drills through the air. Grandarts dodges, his over-the-shoulder jacket cloak losing a fair amount of fabric as my throw tears the hem to shreds.
As he begins chanting, I use Recall, and he barely avoids the brunt of the returning weapon, a deep cut opening on his ribcage. He waves his hand, and a series of little orbs of darkness flicker into existence, shooting towards me and scoring furrows in the rock and in my shield’s surface. Spell after spell, incantations flowing from one straight into the next with nary a breath, Grandarts’ magic displays his mastery of the arcane.
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I’m utterly stuck, barely sustaining myself with a cast of Strength of the Ancient Ones, the regeneration just about able to keep my health in the green. Even Dana might have trouble with this guy!
I draw two of the throwing knives, and throw myself forwards, flinging my shield like a deadly metal Frisbee. It crashes into the boulder behind the wizard. The first dagger pierces the cover of his grimoire, but he bats the second away with a wave of force. However, the wave isn’t enough to prevent me from crashing into him like a winged cannonball. There’s a nasty crunching noise as my armoured weight sends him into the edge of my shield, the metal almost cutting him in twain as he slumps, then vanishes.
Panting, I reclaim what’s left of my greatshield, the slab of metal pitted and scarred almost beyond viability from the mystic assault it’s endured. Damn…
I quickly check the menu, seeing who’s still standing. My name’s still lit up, as is Old Darian’s, Boney’s, Axel’s, Nightshade’s, and Kafka’s. I watch as Marx’s name darkens, followed by Argus. That means we’re down to six. Four down already?! Crap, I’m in for it now-
I bolt upright, gasping. A loud cheer goes up, and I find myself in a huge room, with several altars, like the one I suddenly realise I’m lying on, lining one wall. The crowds arrayed throughout the massive chamber are drinking, eating, and watching the match on enormous screens. I hop off the altar, wobbling a little, and a figure steadies me with a hand on my elbow. Harvenhaight.
“Well done, you! I wasn’t expecting you to make it so far! I see you’ve still got a love of gaming, Ky!”
I smile, and he hands me a bottle of something dark and fruity. “You were almost in the top five, girl! Just after you fell to her, Nightshade got demolished by Axel. He and Kafka went down simultaneously. Boney’s still fighting Old Darian. It’s kinda hilarious that a senior citizen and a literal skeleton are the final two, but somehow, it’s kinda fitting!”
Taking a small gulp from the bottle, I ask, “So… how did I get killed, exactly?”
Jeffrey grins. “She used some kind of buff that tripled her damage for a single hit, and then went for a sneak attack. Those are always critical hits, which applied bonus damage on top of the multiplier, which meant that, since you weren’t at full health and hadn’t seen her coming…”
I wince. “Seriously? She ONE-SHOT me?! Ow… I feel embarrassed just thinking about it!”
Harvenhaight elbows me playfully. “Anyway, don’t you wanna pick your prize? Go on; take a look at some of the stuff you could pick from!”
He hands me a tablet made of dark blue slate or glass. It glows with arcane sigils, and I begin perusing the treasures I couldn’t even have dreamed of. Weapons, armour, unique spells, skills, the sort of stuff that would have any true gamer drooling at the mere thought of claiming for themselves. Suddenly, I stop, and break into a huge grin. “Ohhh, I want that…”
Jeffrey looks over my shoulder, and whistles. “Oh damn, I didn’t know THAT was the sort of gear you’d want. Looks awesome, too. I can’t wait to see how you use it! The possibilities are wild! Go ahead, take it! Take it, take it, take it, take it!”
Jamming my thumb against the confirmation rune at the bottom of the slate, I see the item I’d selected wink out, disappearing from the catalogue of goodies. “Hmmm. Looks like I’m the only one in the game that owns this particular article… cool!”
Jeffrey nods. “Yeah, like I said, each prize is unique. That way, you really can’t say that you got the same thing as anyone else. It makes the loot more special, y’know?”
On the screen, Old Darian and Boney are still fighting. Now that I’m out of the tournament, I can sit back and watch the pair of finalist duke it out for first place. Boney’s throwing fireballs and summoning skeletal arms to lash out, even hurling exploding skulls and spraying chips of bone like shotgun shells, but Old Darian seems to be in just the right place to avoid the worst of it. Jeffrey muses, “Beware an old man in a profession where men usually die young…”
I look at him, and he shrugs. “Gramps is kinda inspiring, is all. You don’t see many proper OLD people who’re this good at gaming. He’s the one who laid Leon and Marx out in the dirt. They got cocky because of his age. Heheheheh!”
The final blows land, and the winner… is Boney. The skeleton dances his way to the centre of the arena as he bursts into a glowing lightshow, appearing in the same room as the rest of the competitors. Once everyone claims their rewards and titles, the party starts, but I decide to head back to Vassim, in a more roundabout way. I want to enjoy the afternoon.
Once I can see the city beneath me, I check if Dana’s online. She is, so I message her:
‘Hi, Dana! I’ve got something awesome to show you. Are you outside?’
I giggle, and send, ‘Look up!’
Immediately, I get a call from Dana via the in-game voice-chat. Even the ringtone sounds frantic. I pick up. “Helloooooo?”
“Kettrin?! Is that you up there?!” Dana’s accent is thicker than she usually uses on-stream, so I guess she’s just been doing her own thing.
“It is! Do you like it?”
“Like it?! Yes, but… WHERE DID YOU GET A GODS-DAMNED AIRSHIP?!”