Faeirden bobbled along constantly as Sam led him up the next grassy hill. He could see a cluster of trees at the peak of the horizon, where the valley was cut by the river. From there he would follow the river until he reached the Eldar Forest, and hopefully find the assassin’s accomplice.
Ashley rode up beside him with Star underneath her, the mare was as white as the clouds, as always. Ash had long since changed out of her silver-black dress and she now wore her riding breeches with a dirty brown jacket and a pale orange silk scarf. Her eyes faced the river with a motivated look. She really wanted to beat Garn now, and Sam felt exactly the same way.
After escaping the Piae Tovuus the two of them managed to sneak onto one of the trains and take a leisurely ride all the way to Riftsire. They asked Juliet to come as well, but she said that she wanted to stay, and Sam expected as much. When they had arrived at Riftsire he recovered the horses and set out immediately for the river. He knew that Garn was planning something but he had no idea what it was, and that terrified him.
For the most part of the trip, Ashley had been a little edgy, and Sam knew exactly why. “You feel bad about leaving Arlandra behind, don’t you?”
“Well, don’t you? He helped us escape, didn’t he?”
Sam felt no regrets for leaving Arlandra in Taelliwey. He understood the type of person that the assassin was. But now that Arlandra was in custody, he wouldn’t have to worry about him getting between Garn and himself. Sam only wished that he could have been the one to arrest him.
“First of all,” Sam began, answering Ashley’s question, “Arlandra is the assassin of Taelliwey, so regardless of his actions he would have ended up in a prison cell one way or another.” The horses were now alongside the river. “And secondly,” he smiled, “someone like Arlandra always has a plan. Trust me, he can handle himself.”
After that they went on to discussing Garn and his powers. Ashley tried to figure out some kind of scientific basis for Garn’s abilities, and the existence of red energy. She explained to Sam the theory of fusing benezian crystals with a human body to enhance a person’s strength and endurance, much like when a weapon is fused with the crystals to increase its power. She told him that so far fusing crystals with human bodies has been physically impossible, and anyone who has ever tried it had died.
By the afternoon of that day they had arrived at an unknown village that was built over the Sandra River, and as the sun began its slow orange descent an eerie fog drifted over the place. As they drew nearer they began to hear cries and shouts coming from within the village.
Ashley cringed slightly. “How exactly is the guy we’re looking for supposed to help us again?”
Sam was actually quite uncertain. “He’s supposed to give us some kind of lead on Garn. You look frightened.”
Ash blushed a little. “No I don’t, it’s just… getting cold.”
“Then why don’t we head in and look for a nice warm place to rest.”
The village was anything but warm. Sam’s doubts about the place grew higher than Ashley’s with every step that he took. The streets were dirty and full of drunk people, and most the buildings were just taverns and brothels. No wonder he couldn’t find this place on a map. There appeared to be something going on as Sam made it further in. People were being drawn from their drunken chores towards the centre of the village. They formed a group, like they were trying to see something, and Sam had to find out what it was. He squeezed his way through the roaring crowd and surfaced on the edge of a ring formed out of people. It’s a fight club! He realised.
The dirt at his feet was spattered with blood and a man was being slowly dragged away, about as battered and bruised as an old plum. The other guy stood in the centre of the ring, soaked in sweat, but with nothing else other than a broken lip. He reminded Sam of one of the orcs of the Elder Forest, big and muscly.
The roaring crowd suddenly became silent as a man walked up on the veranda. He was dressed in a golden-yellow vest, with a finely made white shirt and trousers. He carried a cane in his left hand with a silver dragon’s head on the nob, and he held a glass of red wine in his right hand. His hair was also golden, and neatly look after, unlike anyone else who was here. This guy was far too rich for his crowd.
“Gentlemen, ladies, respected contestants…” The man glanced over to the bloodied corpse on the edge of the ring and his face cringed a little. His voice was eloquent and flowing. “Are any of you gallant young heroes brave enough to take on my undefeated champion, and win a place by your king’s side?”
The crowd remained nervously silent, and Sam didn’t blame them. This ‘champion’ looked like no easy opponent. Covered in someone else’s blood, he was the size of a mountain, with a face like a boulder, and arms and legs as thick as tree stumps. There wasn’t a whisper from anyone inside the crowd.
“No one?” The man – this king – said.
Then one man stepped forward into the ring. He wore black – a tight shirt with an old dark ragged vest. He was younger than Sam by only a little, and his blue eyes were as expressionless as his face. His hair was dark and fell over his eyes and down his neck, and on his cheek seemed to be a tattoo of a cross. “I will fight,” he muttered, as if he hadn’t slept for days.
The other man’s face lit up. “You, boy, what is your name?” the king asked.
The boy shrugged. “What does it matter?”
“I’d like to write something down in case you die.”
The boy faced his opponent – Sam decided to call it the boulder. The boy’s steps were slow and smooth, and his eyes did not falter. “My name is Saizo Vittori.”
As intriguing as the boy was, Sam did not think he’d know anything about Garn, but the man with the cane… this ‘king’ – he’d have to know something.
So Sam slowly moved back to the outside of the ring. He had to make his way around and speak to this man. When the man noticed him Sam made his approach, but was stopped by two bodyguards. “Nobody sees the boss without permission,” they grumbled.
The man called over to them. “Hey, it’s alright, I’ve been expecting him so let him through.”
He’s been expecting me?
“Name’s Jonathan Bernard,” he extended his hand, “and you are?”
“Ah, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I had a feeling Arlandra was too half-witted to come himself, you are Arlandra’s guy right?”
“I am a friend of Arlandra’s, yes, but how did you know I was coming?”
Bernard let out a smile of white teeth. “A man’s got to pay his debts sooner or later.”
The two guards took a step closer and Sam stopped. Debts… oh god dammit Arlandra! “Hold up,” he said quickly, “I was told that you had important information on Garn Pallerii.”
Barnard swirled his wine and watched over the fight that was going on below him. It seemed that Saizo hadn’t even taken a hit yet, and he stepped and dodged every time the boulder laid a swing.
“Garn Pallerii, aye?” he contemplated the name. “I can’t say I’ve heard of him. Of course, it’s hard to think clearly when people owe you money. He was still watching the fight closely.
With the same expressionless face, Saizo rolled away from an incoming fist, landing right by the boulder’s side. With the boulder slightly off balance Saizo struck the massive man in the side of the knee, and the boulder came tumbling down. With some unforseen burst of strength, Saizo hurled the boulder onto his back, the ground shook as he hit the dirt, and then the boy struck him between the eyes. He was unconscious immediately.
Sam heard Bernard curse. “Dammit! He was my best man. Then again, if he really was any good he wouldn’t have lost to a kid.”
He was getting impatient now. “If you don’t know where Garn is then I don’t need to be here.”
“Stop,” Bernard said, not loudly, “you still need to pay up your bet, and it appears I’m down a fighter.” He smiled his hideously charming smile. “You’re younger than most of my fighters, but you’ve got the build.”
“Wait, I’m not fighting for you,” Sam argued, and the guards took another step closer.
Bernard sipped at his wine. “Well the way I see it you have two options. You can refuse to fight – in which case I will personally kill you myself… or you can climb down into that ring and take on Saizo – in which case he might kill you, or he might not, we just never know in these situations.”
Sam gave Bernard a long and cold stare, before removing his jacket and tossing it to one of the guards. “Alright,” he said, “I’ll fight your fight.”
Before he knew it he was inside the ring, facing off against Saizo, the boy who defeated Bernard’s champion. Saizo clearly knew what he was doing, however he didn’t know anything about Sam’s training as an officer, and he planned to use that to his advantage. Saizo moved differently to other people – when he wasn’t fighting he was slouched, but in combat he was composed and fluid, as if he were a dancer. His expression showed no hint of emotion. He stood with his palms facing the ground and his fingertips pointing towards Sam, his elbows tucked close to his body.
They circled each other – Sam was trying to look for weaknesses and he assumed that based on Saizo’s previous fight, he was the defensive type of fighter. I need him to attack… I’ll have to bait him.
“Well?” Sam said, after a few moments of analysing each other. “Aren’t you going to hit me?”
It appeared that Saizo was actually capable of smiling less. “You’re a pathetic idiot if you think you can bait me like that,” he muttered harshly. “I don’t care how long this takes, I have all day, oh and your smile is depressing so stop it.”
Sam grimaced, well aren’t you lovely…
He sighed. “Best get this over with then.” He jumped forward, faking a jab at Saizo’s face and then swinging up and across his jaw. Saizo staggered back, touching the blood on his face from where his lip had just split. “You hit me.”
I think I actually made him mad. “Surprised?”
Sam struck at Saizo’s face again but this time Saizo managed to brush his fist aside, and jabbed him hard under his chest before he could react. The blow hurt immensely, and Sam lungs cried out for air, but he had to defend himself. He raised his arms as Saizo threw his opened palm his nose, after blocking the blow his swung his other fist, to which Saizo brushed aside, and finished by driving his leg towards Sam’s waist. Sam was forced to jump away and regather his breath.
“You fight like a Taellian,” Saizo gestured.
“That’s no small wonder,” Sam replied.
“You’d be surprised by how much you can learn about a man from just a few seconds of combat. But it’s also in these few defining moments, when you are balancing ambiguously over the terrible possibility of death, that you reveal to the world who you truly are.” Saizo continued to step around Sam. “Now that you have seen me for who I truly am, I cannot let you leave here alive.”
Saizo ducked under Sam’s next blow, leaping up behind him and driving an elbow into the back of neck. Sam staggered forward and spun around but Saizo was too quick, striking him again under the chest, then driving his palm into his nose before hitting his jaw, back-handing him with an iron fist, and then delivering one more blow to finish him off.
But Sam did not fall. His body cried out in pain and his face was smeared with blood, he hurt so bad that he could barely move, let alone continue to fight.
Saizo’s blank expression never faltered. “People always assume that the winner of a battle is determined after the finishing blow,” he began softly, “however this is wrong. The simple truth is that it only takes but a few moments for the victor to be decided. So you see,” Saizo stepped forward on his left foot, “you had lost this fight from the very beginning.”
He swung his leg around, and it sailed through the air until it struck Sam face with unimaginable force. Everything in Sam’s vision was a blissful white light as he fell to the ground. The fight was over.
Sam… Samuel… wake up… wake up Sam… Samuel…
Sam opened his eyes. He didn’t know where he was. He could feel a strong cold wind pushing against his face and he could smell the salty aroma of the sea. The sun was even brighter and stronger than before, it was no longer setting, and white clouds gathered around him. There was also the heavy crashing sound of waves bashing upon rocks, and Sam watched as the spray lifted up into the air.
There was a woman, dressed in black and grey robes. She had silky dark hair and she was smiling, but her lips seemed cold, and her eyes were grey. “My, my,” she said. “You can certainly take a beating.” Her voice was slow and lustful.
Sam realised that they were standing upon the roof of a very tall building. They were so high up, and yet the building was surrounded by ocean in every direction. “Am I dead?” Sam asked, reaching for an answer.
The woman smiled. “Saizo didn’t hit you that hard.”
“Then where am I?”
The woman began to walk forward, her robe swaying in the wind. “Look around you,” she said. “Look very closely.”
Sam spun around and suddenly the ocean was gone, replaced by a new sea of a city lights and grasslands beyond. Taelliwey… “This is the capital building,” he exclaimed. “But it isn’t real. What is this place? Who are you?”
“Come now, I know you’ve heard of me. You lost your old job because of a thief and a pretty picture of mine.”
Sam remembered. It can’t be…
It was like she had read his mind. “That’s right, I’m Ariana, goddess of fate, and I need your help Sam.”
The goddess of fate is asking me for help, Sam thought, how did this happen.
“Listen, I can’t keep you here for long. Just know that you’re the only person strong enough to lead an army against Garn…”
“Hold on, why do I need an army?”
The goddess paused for a moment. “So you don’t know either? Garn is planning something that involves the fate of everyone in Noveria, and your kind are on the brink of destroying themselves. We can’t let that happen, or else Garn will win.”
“What is Garn’s plan?”
Ariana shrugged. “I can’t say, for sure, but I know someone who can. Go to mount Khallem in the Morroak Desert. I have a friend there who will tell you everything. When you leave, I’m not sure how I’ll do it, but I will give you an army. Remember Sam, you’re the only one who can save Noveria.” Sam felt tired all of a sudden. “Now wake up Sam…”
Sam coughed as he sat up from the dirt. The orange sun was just touching the horizon now, and it seemed that no time had passed at all. He could feel a new found strength within his body, and he hoped that it was enough to defeat Saizo. As he rose to his feet his opponent turned around.
“Oh my, you’re still alive,” Saizo jested with melancholy.
Sam used his wrist to wipe the blood from his mouth. “Saizo, we don’t have to fight. All we are right now is Bernard’s entertainment.”
“A battle must have a victor.”
There was no time to talk Saizo out of fighting. “Very well, let’s finish this quickly then.”
Saizo was the first to strike, dashing forward and hurling a fist at Sam’s torso. Sam blocked a countered, striking Saizo’s jaw with fast and deadly force. Sam then dodged a kick and several punches, before catching Saizo’s fist and striking back. But Sam was too slow, and Saizo managed to hit him in the stomach.
Sam fell back and Saizo took his time. “Like I said, this battle was determined the moment you faced me.”
Sam threw his leg out, sweeping Saizo of his feet and catching him by the collar of his black vest. “Impossible!” he exclaimed.
Sam held his fist ready to finish his opponent off. “This battle was determined,” Sam said, “but not by you.” He threw Saizo to the ground. He had won.
The crowd had stopped cheering, and all Sam could hear now was Bernard’s slow and devious clap. “Very well done indeed Mr Ford. Consider Arlandra’s debt payed.”679Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡA0RmwDKhlo
“Go to hell,” Sam called, as the crowd began to part.
“Look around you,” Bernard pointed out, “this is my hell, and it just so happens that I’m sitting right up on the throne.”
As Sam left the river village with Ashley, he hoped to never see Jonathan Bernard again.
“So what did you find out?” Ashley asked as they rode away from the village.
“We’re heading to Mount Khallem,” Sam replied.ns 126.96.36.199da2