“Good people of Mirek, wait no longer! The gruesome champion of our arena, with currently ninety-one victories and ninety-two slain foes, is about to face death again. And once more, he faces two opponents.”
Each portcullis uprooted itself from the sand and let the three men approach, Headsplitter from Merrian’s side, and Kimora and Kaj from far across. Kimora’s armor shone upward from where he stood in the sand, even in the limited daylight.
“Today’s opponents are a rarity, not criminals, but free challengers! Kimora and Kaj, the Lost Hawk mercenaries. They have slewn far more men together than Headsplitter’s victim count in this arena. Will they be the first to succeed?”
Whether concerned or excited, Headsplitter’s devotees contributed to much of the noise. No one could deny that the average match had been far too short, and the clash against the disgraced guard captain had been the talk of Mirek.
“Good luck, gentlemen! Now, my King, we await your signal.”
Merrian could just barely see Kaj initiating the plan they had discussed. He hopped up onto the flat shoulders of Kimora’s armor in one amazing jump. He had his bow out, arrow nocked and waiting to be drawn and fired.
“Begin,” Sallith said.
Kaj had the arrow flying across the sand before the boom of the King’s words had died out, and Headsplitter rolled to the side in a flash before the long, thin spear smashed somewhere beyond the portcullis. Since Kaj had fired from atop Kimora’s shoulders, it should have traveled in a very minor arc that would stab the sand near his target. Instead, it moved straighter than expected.
Juxxa’s face felt cooler than usual during one of these fights. He was sweating. A shame. You could have been a fine tutor for Minah.
Archers were not that challenging for Juxxa, from a mildly close range. All one had to do was remain calm and watch the bow. But closing the distance would be difficult, if all of the shots were that quick.
Suddenly the hint of another arrow intruded upon Juxxa’s vision, and he rolled the opposite way he had before, only to feel a sharp sucking feeling as something indented his thigh. It was so quick that the pain arrived late.
I know this style, Juxxa thought, grunting under the surprised roar of the audience. Make me move, then fire a more accurate shot.
He took a wary step, and knew that the arrow wasn’t in his bone. Still, two supreme fighters against one would be a problem.
Juxxa made a straight, awkward march across the crimson sand. Another arrow came, and he dodged by twisting his body and taking a knee with his good leg. With the far less extreme method, he was in essentially the same spot, forcing the archer to aim in the same way twice.
Sure enough, the second arrow stabbed the sand, one wide pace to Juxxa’s left, disappearing completely, like shooting an arrow into a pond.
Juxxa grinned. No need to take a risk. I’ll cast a spell. No one should notice anyway.
“Torrach,” Juxxa whispered, focusing on every part of his skin that he felt within his leather armor. It was rank four, the highest he knew, and the magic of cutting, pushing away, and blocking. While stable shields could hold against repeated force, a mobile Torrach spell directed over his body would provide a perfect shield for a single blow. He’d have to re-cast it afterward.
Another two arrows came only a blink’s time between each other, and Juxxa ducked and twisted from the first, then stood up to stop the second from impaling his hand on the ground. He was a quarter ways to his opponents, then halfway, right in the middle of the circle after another two shots missed.
Then the hulking armored man began to move along the black wall, following the curve in a slow jog as the twiggy archer fired another two shots. The larger man was like a chariot horse, circumventing the arena to maintain distance. It also ensured that Juxxa was, in the archer’s perspective, a moving target even as he stayed in the center.
The archer fired two more shots. Juxxa jerked past one, but felt the other like a very hard jab from a finger as it bounced away, and a loose, windy sensation blew around him. The Torrach spell was down. He focused up another, controlling his breathing. Each cast felt like he had been holding his breath for just a little too long.
“An arrow bounced from his chest!” the announcer suddenly bellowed. “Could he have used a spell?”
“Watch your eyes and tongue!” Sallith’s voice doused the previous one. “My champion does not use magic.”
Juxxa couldn’t help but snicker at the conflict. He could avoid using any more spells for the sake of pride, or rely on it more openly and taunt the King. No, I mustn’t tempt the filth too hard. I have more matches before this ends.
The Ozarian duo fired two more whooshing arrows, and one cut the skin of Juxxa’s left shoulder, close to the neck. The sly cut was able to wound without setting off the Torrach shield.
You are starting to annoy me, but I will not give chase. Let your arrows fly. Whatever you have is not enough.
A free arrow thudded out of the sand and flew backwards, grains trailing off of it as it safely returned to the archer’s outstretched hand. He nocked it and drew again.
Where Juxxa’s fourth-rank Torrach spell repelled objects, the second rank, Vextrus, could draw objects together. That was when Juxxa understood the speed of the arrows. The archer had been casting Vextrus on them, creating a pulling force toward their target that increased their speed to something that would have otherwise snapped the bow. That same magic could be used to uproot the arrows from the sand, creating an infinite supply.
“That does it!” Juxxa shouted. “Magic it is! Leftivacus!” He shot his hand forward and a whirling orb of blue flames crashed into the wall just ahead of the armored Ozarian, making him stop briefly and throw off the archer’s aim. This arrow proved it, for even though it fired way past its target and broke against the distant wall, it made an awkward curve, like it was trying to reach Juxxa.
“Well, well, I stand corrected,” Sallith remarked. “It seems the opponents are also mages, or more likely Ozarians. I permit spells from both. Watch, good people, and see the havoc such power brings.”
So I’m free to let loose? Juxxa thought with a pained grin as the others looked annoyed by the King’s words.
The magic flew from both sides. Arrows sunk into the ground only to be drawn back with Vextrus bonding magic. Leftivacus spells, being first rank, were far less stressful than repeatedly casting a Torrach shield, but each of Juxxa’s white-blue fireballs only lit up the stone near the jogging opponent.
Another shot ripped its way through his left bicep and nearly pierced his ribs. Roaring, he broke it gruesomely with his right hand and pulled the headless shaft out.
“Vextrus,” Juxxa mumbled, focusing a light blue mist at his two fingers over the wound. The bones were still not hurt, and his flesh easily mended. As easily as recovering arrows from the sand, Vextrus could bring tissues together and blood into dry scabs. His thigh would take more work, though. He’d have to handle that after the battle.
Juxxa heard the mumbling of protest from the armored man, who took his helmet off, prompting the archer to stomp on one shoulder, ineffectually ordering him to keep up the rotation. But he was overheating. It was easy for Juxxa to at least hit the general area around the man with a constant barrage of sky-blue flame, warming his armor and destroying any runner’s momentum.
Finally the archer stepped down and let his ally rest, drawing a nearby arrow back to him. “Leftivacus!” the sneering little man shouted, directing a pure white flame over the tip of his arrow, so hot the steel wedge glowed and the shaft lit up in more natural, amber whips of flame. He was sprinting toward Juxxa as this happened. The shot couldn’t be dodged. “I’ll cook you on the inside, Headsplitter!”
The arrow flew. Juxxa acted without thought.
He pointed toward the arrow that was about to pierce his heart. “Vextrus!” He turned and directed his finger away, like pointing to the stars, and where he pointed, the flaming red dart soared past his hair and upward, so close that the audience fell back and screamed in a wave. Juxxa focused the arrow in a loop, using his spell of reunion to send it back around to its sender.
Before the archer could respond, the arrow fell nearly from straight above, piercing his right lung. Juxxa heard the faint sizzle inside him as the arrowhead seared into place.
“Kaj!” the armored one cried out and rushed, each step a rickety slam that kicked up a storm of red quartz. Juxxa split Kaj perfectly down the middle with one screaming drop of the halberd, all the way to the groin. One half fell forward, the other backward, and the sand all around caked together into a slightly darker crimson.
The one who was Kimora stood a few paces from his fallen friend, stanceless and facing Juxxa with the cold gaze of a jaguar. The crowd rained excitement upon them.
Kimora’s gauntlets closed into shaking fists, and Juxxa jumped back with his halberd reared to jab. Merrian said this one has ogre blood.
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