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Posted by
Mar 21, 2006

"Hey! Someone stop that man!"

The thief manuevered swiftly through the ambling crowd of peasants, his prize twinkling all too radiantly. Cursing to himself, he stashed it in a dull, olive pocket of his garments, praying that no one spied it, and began to slow his pace. With an inconspicuous stride, the fighter turned down a narrow path.

Apparently he had turned onto the slums of the town, for shabby and collapsing huts flanked his sides. The thief walked down the slums for a minute, and started casually whistling. He blew a most deliberate tune, random at no means at all and embedded in the thief's mind.

He had looped though the ditty three times over when he heard a lower harmony accompany him at the refrain. Upon the last note, the thief stopped whistling and walking sharply, and he was met by silence. Suddenly a blur of black leapt from a clay rooptop, directly in front of the thief!

"There you are," he addressed the black-robed figure in front of him. "I just swiped this baby off a rich lady." Eagerly he whipped out from his pocket the exquisite golden chain, with its cobweb-like patten of diamonds dangling downward.

The other man paused for a moment to pull the hood off his head; long, dark blonde framed his gaunt face and gray, cold eyes. His slender fingers caressed the centerpiece of the necklace. "Fair cut," he stated dismissively, and, yanking the chain away from the other thief, held the diamonds up against the sun.

Dots of rainbows covered the two young men as they stared at the glittering gems. "It's genuine, right?" impatiently asked the jewel robber.

"Absolutely." The black one offered the prize back to his partner. "However, the diamonds are scratched in a few places, and that'll cost us around 45 Gold."

"Scratches?! Aww, geez..." Moodily the thief grabbed the necklace and stuffed it back in his pocket. "Well, that's not my fault. Stupid lady..."

The assassin paced quietly beside his companion; he had to look down to speak to the thief, being nearly a foot taller. "Will you attend the match tomorrow?"

A grin stole across the shorter man's features. "I'll find a way," replied he, insinuating evil intentions. "Man, why didn't you want to sign up in the first place? You've nailed me so many times..."

The unhooded one didn't reply; he only lowered his head and walked toward the busy marketplace. "Just be there. I'll be sneaking in tonight.

Posted by
Mar 25, 2006

Edited on
Mar 26, 2006

The clouds devoured the sky and seemed to thrive and grow from all the sunlight they blocked. Shadows played along the edges of the arena. The gates had opened long ago and no one had yet caught a look of the two combatants.

From the roof of the coliseum, the thief walked up to the assassin and offered him a drumstick, which was declined with a wave of his hand as he said "you realize that they've been laying traps and casting incantations upon themselves since you got bored and left. It really is quite marvelous."

"Ya know, I wouldn't wanna miss this for the world but I'm not going to waste my time doing nothing until the viewing enchantment is up." grumbled the thief in between mouthfuls "Not everyone has eyes like yours."

"Warriors it is time to show yourself briefly, before the viewing enchantment is cast for the audience to witness your battle. Step forward." Spoke the Emperor from his box.

The heavens opened up and shown upon a figure in silhouette. The shadows seeped into the X-shaped blade of the figure donned in complete white, not an inch of skin, not even part of the face was visible. Upon its back, six radiant wings full of alabaster feathers slowly moved to an unseen wind. The entire form seemed to glow, save the blade, which seemed to be forged from the night's air.

A blast went off and stopped just short of the angelic form. From the cloud a large black leather boot slammed down without a sound. Following up the large hairy mass of a leg a pelt and vest made from the fur of a black panther, which stopped short of the grisly arms covered with kanji and scars alike and each held an item. One: a double sided dagger that would have been an unbearable set of conjoined swords for any other man; and the other held a flask up to the behemoth's red beard as he drank from it, his eyes closed casually below the large horned cap that rested upon his flowing crison hair.

"Whaddya suppose that is that he's drinking?" posed the thief, "A beserk potion, adrenaline, some exotic venom?"

"Mead." answered the assassin, who was shot a glare, but never questioned.

The emperor sat down. "Task mages, bring forth the viewing enchantment," dozens of mages stationed around the stadium started chanting and audience's eyes flickered white, now able to see through the darkest tunnel or brightest sky; the fighters turned to the emperor and bowed, and again to one another "Let the battle commence!"

The clouds closed again a the viking leapt forward, his legs twin pistons, but the angel's own feet and six wings propelled it backwards to the wall to push off and rebound, back inches from the ground as it went under the colossus and snatching the alcoholic container and playfully shook it as if to mock the owner, who, as he was flipping off the wall, snapped.

The sack exploded as the angel pulled back, then slammed the combusting package back at the raider, who volleyed it into the ground and stomped on it, sending a burning fissure towards his opponent. The winged figure shot up into the air to easily avoid the attack, but the horned warrior stomped his foot sending a pillar of fire to engulf the rival, who hid safely covered with its wings.

Meanwhile the only one able to move among the crowd was the assassin. The sight enhancement was easier to control if combined with a stasis spell to keep the mass in place. Quite obviously this was tied in with only those with enhanced site, since the guards and mages still had their duties. Thus by shunning the aided viewing, the killer went to complete his mission.

The blades sent sparks across the field turn patches into glass as the two attacked each other. Finally their blades locked. Each went for a punch and connected fist to fist with the sound of a cannon. The pillager then went for a kick, but the holy one blocked with his shin and bowled the titan over. The Xsword came down open the foe's head just as the sea gladiator raised up. The resounding noise of the edge upon the helmet seemed to freeze the battle as the viking smiled. The uppercut was imbedded into the angel's face sending it skyward.

"Well well well...who do we have here other than 'Little Ms. Youth Stealer?'" The assassin now stood behind the young mage, who could only widen her eyes. "I could have told you that you couldn't stop. Yet after causing us grief for years, you ran off with one of our insiders to the empire and started a family. The perfect husband and baby girl." He stroked her hair as she could not even shudder. "Then she had powers of her own, didn't she? Great powers of a mage! Your husband was so proud. You were so jealous." A single tear fell from her eye. "She was going to grow up be such a powerful woman and you were again past your prime and growing old." The rogue bent down and whispered in her ear. "So you killed her, your own daughter, just so you would have that youth and power to yourself." He gleefully moved to look her in the face. "But it doesn't end there. Your husband who you left is indeed the man that you," he touched her nose, "you blasted your first match!" He didn't have enough to worry about after you ran off and then came back in front of him with his dead daughter's face. But that just how love goes, isn't it?" He pulled out his dagger with a sly smile. "I think I might even stab you twice."

Redness fell from the Angel as it spiraled upward, but it was not blood, but wisps of fire from its eyes. High over the stadium it crossed its arms to grab its open wings. Streams of its own feathers were thrown down at the viking, as deadly as darts and constantly replenishing. The raider blocked his face as the white daggers stuck in his arms, fur and the ground around him. Quite abruptly the white being let forth a single clear and angry note and his feathers exploded, his wings ablaze with holy fire. Dripping with blood the black coated barbarian's kanji glowed and absorbed the fire. With a roar that shook the stands he shot forth black fire. The angel's eyes flashed and shot twin beams of holy flame and the two energies met in the middle.

The assassin dropped to the floor, three arrows stuck through his back. Turning around, coughing up blood, he saw across the stands the hunter standing holding his bow, monk behind him with a hand on his shoulder. The sniper's sight had been restored by the enchantment...but how were they able to move? It didn't make sense. He looked up at the girl with hated in his eyes. She turned her head down to him and smiled a wicked smile

Posted by
Mar 26, 2006

Edited on
Mar 31, 2006

The battle between the angel and the Viking champion raged on. Back and forth they went across the arena. The people loved every second of it. No one saw the assassin fall to the ground. No one saw his body being dragged away by a mysterious monk. Still the fight continued. The angelic warrior grabbed his opponent around the waist in a bear-hug. With the Norse warrior in his grasp the angel flew straight up into the air and let his captive go. As he fell, the Viking took a stone trowing ax out of his belt and hurled at his enemy. The ax made its mark, plunging its self deep inside the holy guardians chest. The color drained from his face and his wings went limp. Together the challengers fell, the angel already dead and the Viking awaiting his death. Suddenly the ancient fighter had an idea. He grabbed the angel and put his feet on his back. Just as the were about to hit the ground the Viking kicked off of the angel as hard as he could and jumped backwards. He landed safely on his feet a few yards away from the dead fighter. The angels body was massacred from the fall and from the force of the old fighters kick. He had won. After the spell was lifted the crowed departed back to the city to wait for the next fight. The thief looked for his friend but he didn't see him. After he scoured the arena high and low, still with no luck , he found the blood stains. They were hard to find since they were mostly cleaned up. He followed the trail, with a knot in his stomach, until he found his friends body. It was in an alley, covered by a brown, tattered blanket. Alone he mourned his friends death. He searched the body to see if his friend had anything of use for him. He couldn't let anything go to waste. He didn't find anything until he looked in the front pocket of his robes. In it the thief found a letter with a instructions on the envelope:

Step 1: Kill evil mage girl without any mercy

Step 2: After cleaning up give letter to the solider from the first fight.

The thief, even though he hated the solider, vowed to give the letter to him. He also vowed to kill the mage in the most painful way he could think of. The thief took the letter and put it in his pocket. He reached down and picked up the body of his best friend. On the out skirts of the town the depressed thief dug deep into the ground for many hours. Finally he lowered the body into it and covered it. Placing a tomb stone at the head of the grave his task was complete. As a last goodbye he knelt on the grave and said a prayer for his friend. After his words of good bye he took a dagger out of his belt. With it he carved His friends name into the stone. Below it he scribbled a message for all to see; "Dying is brief, but death is forever.

Posted by
Apr 1, 2006

Horns blared on the mighty arena walls. Crowds of people marched back into the stadium seating, packing it full to witness this last battle in the tournament's first round. It would be some time before they would see another as the fighters were given a brief pause to recuperate to their full potential. The prior combatants, save the dead, whether walking or not, were invited up to the Emperor's platform for the last qualifying match. His highness seemed preoccupied, barely acknowledging his guests as he feuded with a servant, shouting quietly at him. The mage girl, the archer, and the monk were seated to the Emperor's right while the three remaining seats were reserved for the soldier, the Viking, and the thief, who was running late to the event. The bruised warrior looked over the northern powerhouse, paling in comparison to his girth and might. He could not speak with the little girl, not now, so he decided to make conversation.

"I saw your battle," he spoke to the larger man. "It was very impressive. I hope that we will get the chance to face each other in the third round." He flashed an uneasy smile as the bearded brute only breathed out deeply as a response. Taking a swig of his flask, he let out a thundering belch and left the conversation at that. He was one for battle, not words, and the soldier could tell. Patiently, he waited for the match to begin.

"What do you mean, 'replacements'?" shouted the Emperor as quietly as he could.

"The enlistments," sputtered the underling, "they... they have been removing themselves from the tournament. They're... scared."

"Scared? Brave and mighty gladiators?" questioned the sovereign, rubbing his temples. "What could shake their bones?"

"Well, sir, that last match," the attendant answered. "Either one was deemed far too formidable, and, before that, there was the... graveyard horror... No one wants to meet the fate of that things opponent."

"Then, what are we doing for the last bout?" the king demanded to know even though the battle was already commencing.

"Since the brave and great refused to partake," explained the servant, swallowing hard, "we took what we could find." His majesty stared on in dread. The first of the contenders was of a fragile frame and dark skin, like the bark of a tree. His hair was stiff and rigid, branching out and ending in leaves. A simple tunic woven from grass was all that he wore, and that much he seemed unaccustomed to. "He is like a nymph," continued the attendant, "but only a dude. He asked to participate so that he could not fight. By this, he hopes to show that violence does not solve anything. I am just glad we got him to agree to battle clothed." The second door had been open for some time but the challenger did not show. The dryad boldly took a seat, cross legged on the sandy floor, in deep meditation. He would not even appear to be in the act of combat. The roar of the crowd died down little by little as nothing happened. One fighter was sitting, and the other was no where in sight. A few jeers and chants of "boring" sprouted from various sections until it arrived.

"It" was the only word fit for the oddity. Short, gaunt, and covered in wart-like bumps, the hideous mutant bound out from the dark hallway with a haunting laughter that cut into the audience's ears. Its skin looked like diseased flesh, blighted with every aliment known to man. Its knobby, gnarled fingers and toes were bare and ended in grimy, sharp nails. A rusted pot was placed upon its crown to serve as a makeshift helmet, or that is what everyone assumed it to be there for. About its body, it wore a dusty, formless shape that looked a sack potatoes would be stored in. This assumption was confirmed as some of the tubers spilled out of its garment while jumping about the coliseum.

"Tell me," begged the Emperor, "where did you find this... this lunatic?"

"We did not, sir," apologized the steward. "The gate was left open to anyone brave enough to enter." He looked out again at the fool who was juggling potatoes off of his pan hat. "Or stupid enough." Knowing the battle was doomed to be a disaster, his highness ordered that not one but several of the hazards be unleashed. As the pits opened, the crowd cheered loudly, praying that one of the contestants met their end. The parting floors revealed ramps, unleashing hordes of starving, exotic animals into the stadium. Several traps were activated as spikes were lowered from the walls and trenches of fire carved dangerous paths. All of this still did little to enhance the battle as the leaping madman ignored its opponent, bouncing around and over most of the hazards unharmed. Meanwhile, the proclaimed pacifist mere sat still, calming any wild beasts that approached him.

"This is a disaster!" groaned the Emperor. "Do any of you wish to be entered?" No one spoke up. They did not wish to be humiliated with even the association to this joke. After seeing the refusal to assist the failing conflict, when he turned back to behold the fight, he witnessed the freakish oddity biting down on the rump of a zebra as it galloped about arena, trying to shake off the nuisance. The scent of blood had caught the attention of a starving lion, however, who rescued the striped steed. After mauling the bizarre being for a bit, the beast gagged and spat, leaving the kill uneaten. The spectators went wild. The end was well deserved.

As the king rose to finally call a victor, he saw that the he-nymph had also caught the attention of an animal, a hungry giraffe. Both contenders were slain, much to everyone's delight, and the match was ruled no contest. He went on to decree the lay of the rest of the tourney. Since the traditional format had been upset by the sixth place being vacated, the third round's three-man-elimination would be moved into the second round. The soldier would face the walking corpse, as previously scheduled, in a week, and then, the little wizard, the woman monk, and the martially dominate barbarian would square off for entry into the final round before facing the champion. The victor would be immortalized in fame, legend, and stone, earning a place along side last year's statue. All eyes turned to behold the wondrous work. The massive work of art stood high at the top of the arena, perfectly capturing the intimidating presence in ten feet of marble. The Emperor frowned a bit as all eyes laid upon it and motioned with his hand. The sculpture turned, walking to the right, to reveal the actual, ten foot statue of himself that he had eclipsed. The king wished everyone luck in the second round and reminded everyone that those matches would start in one week. The people filed out, eager for the fights as the contenders stayed behind, looking up at the challenge that awaited one of them. They, too, left eventually, all but the soldier, who stayed long after the champion departed.

"Do you want to speak with me?" the man asked the darkness. The thief emerged from the shadows.

"It is the last thing I would ever want to do. Trust me," grunted the rogue, "but I made a promise to my friend." He held up the letter and held it forward. "I hope it doesn't make you upset...

Posted by
Apr 3, 2006

Edited on
Apr 3, 2006

A motley crew was gathered about, half of whom stood silently and awkwardly in the unaccustomed, splendid presence. The emperor held the fights for the people, but it was these victory banquets he held for his own amusement. A relative peace had been kept across the countryside for some time, at least between the surrounding nations. Without any way or need for war, commanding these competitors was the only way he could feign any martial power in his people's eyes, and consorting with the competitors, he could even fool himself.

All who participated in this year's tournament were invited, and to fill out the fallen ranks, previous fighters that escaped with life were also in attendance. The rounded ruler was full of himself in such company, absorbing the praises of the local noblemen as much as he did the served, fine cheeses.

The small sorceress's tongue shot out in disgust. The foul yellow lumps smelled as bad as they tasted to her. She knew better than to pain her youthful stomach with the culinary catastrophes again. Whereas her attendance was required by the emperor, bearing his long-winded ramblings was not. Her time at the party was spent dodging about the other goers, always sure to keep a plump somebody between her short stature and the emperor's eyes.

"Hey kid," a smooth voice called out the distracted child. She turned to find the hunter, leaning nonchalant against a gilded pillar. "You okay?" The girl nodded her green head. "Y'know, I haven't seen you around since... well, you were attacked. Usually, savin' a life is something worth a 'thank you, sir.'" The golden archer stood, waiting, with an eager grin to the wide-eyed expression that gazed up to him.

"Ah, there you are, my dear!" a familiar and unfortunate voice rang from behind. The emperor waddled up to the mage, taking her hand and her from the conversation. She sent back a less than thankful stare to the slender one responsible for her capture.

"There is somebody I want you to meet," the hapless ruler went on. "I do believe you have a common acquaintance, a family member or some such thing." Harshly, the sorceress was brought face to knee with a gargantuan. A mask peered down to the little one, darkened more so by the chandelier light shining behind the golem's head. "Now, what was that story you were telling me, young ma... thing?"

"She shoot brother with fire," it simply grunted.

"Oh my," the witless emperor exclaimed. The rainbow mage sneered, growing tired with the antics of the fat man. "Well, I hope that's all in the past. Why don't you two talk? I think a saw a plate that still had food on it somewhere around here." The holder of the throne chased after yet another meal he could blame on any of the other attendants rather than his own expanding waistline, abandoning the fragile juvenile with the undead monster. Its body rocked back and forth, mimicking deep breaths it once possessed but now nothing more than habit. A few maggots and bits of dirt fell to the floor, which all of the less crude crowd noticed but dared not make any mention of. The walking graveyard parted its dried lips and finally let out a wretched breath to break the ice.

"Do you like ponies?" it heaved in a baritone stutter, much to the confusion of the girl.

"I'm not getting her out of this one if she's not goin' to say thanks," the archer muttered to himself at a distance, still at the same vantage point as before.

"It would be wise not to," an ominous tone crept from the shadows, followed by its cloaked speaker. "You have no idea what that young lady is capable of, and you probably wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"How'd you get in 'ere?" scoffed the hunter, more than ready to remove his concealed short bow to make shorter work of the intruder.

"Why, I was invited," the thief told with a smile. "I was once a competitor, after all, and eliminated, just like you," he went on, "although I was not nearly as pleasant about it as you. What is it? Some sort of enchantment she put on you?" A defiant grimace covered the golden archer's face, but before he could make a retort, the rogue realized the truth. "Ah, so you're just into bald chicks, huh? To each his own, I guess." The filcher was now met with anger and a little embarrassment. The hunter tried to hide his ruddy face, but he turned right into an awful stench, returning his pale complexion many-fold.

"Brother, is this woman problem?" the graveyard golem droned.

"No, brother. This little lady," the thief said belittling of the golden-haired archer, "and I are just talking. What happened to your new friend."

"My nose, brother," it growled. "She took it; won't give back," the undead monster explained in its own limited way. "You fix it, brother, can you?" The pilferer smirked and reached out a loose arm to the thing's mask, touching it lightly where a nose would be found on a normal person. It brought up its bony claws, caressing the empty with much delight. "Thank, brother," it hissed and began to lurch over.

"Now remember, real warriors don't hug," the cloaked one was quick to defend, halting the rotting giant. "Hey," he added lightly, "it looks like there is a roast over there that's almost picked clean." The freak stumbled off quickly to the carcass, giving the two little more acknowledgement. The hunter knew not how to react.

"What... was... that?"

"Don't be fooled; the poor thing is quite ancient," the thief spoke, wiping his filthied finger on a nearby tablecloth, "but whatever happened to it, happened when it was but a child. I was told that its mind just sorta stuck that way."

"So why does a thieves guild need to keep somethin' like that around?" posed the archer. "It hardly seems useful in any of your activity."

"Ah, the problem with keeping such a thing in our midst, too," the rogue chuckled. "There is no way to keep a brotherhood secret when a member doesn't understand what a secret is. As to why it is kept, it wasn't my idea," he told, switching to a darker tone. "It was my brother's, whom you acquainted with the tips of you arrows. Both of those monsters were of special interest to him, as was this tournament, as was that girl. Don't ask why; I follow orders, not question them, and they are the only thing keeping me from slitting your throat were you stand." The archer already had a witty retort knocked and ready to launch, but only managed a gulp when cold iron could be felt jabbing his back.

"Listen well: the young mage is not as young as she appears. She is old, quite old. Old enough to be my abominable brother's grandmother," the hunter unloaded. "Well, mother, at least. Do you wish to know how that cute little monster manages to keep her looks and vitality?" He stopped, as though goading an answer from his hostage. "She takes it. But not from anyone, no. She can only feed on the life that she's created." The shining eyes of the hunter widened white.

"Are you saying that innocent little girl kills her own children by... sucking the life from them?"

"I never said draining them is what killed them," the rogue said, pulling his blade away from the archer's back. "From what I've been told, that is a wickedness she adds all on her own. My brother told me it's 'cause she can't stand looking at them, after what she'd done."

"Why tell me all of this?" the archer finally breathed easily. "What use could it be to you or me?"

On the opposite end of the hall, the tall, heavy doors swung open at surprising speed. There stood the soldier, crumpled parchment in hand, a glare in his eyes.

"Because when the war breaks out," the rogue answered while drifting back into the darkness, "you should be on the right side.

** There is still more to this story. Continue to the next page. **

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