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Blood and Honor

by Zephir

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Chapter 2

A flick of her wrist and his neck snaps, his body falling to the ground limply. She steps back and raises one hand into the air, looking down at her latest victim as the crowd cheers for her.

"Ladies and gentlemen! Your victor: Rika Terral!"

The crowd erupts again at the sound of her name, and she tunes out the rest of what the announcer says in favor of the adoration, basking in its soothing warmth. She turns a full circle several times, bowing here and there to sections of her fans while her opponent rises and walks away, hanging his head dejectedly.

***

Back in the living areas, she walks through a hallway, finishing the last of a fruit. She idly tosses a lock of flame red hair from her shoulder with her free hand and then checks her clothing for wrinkles with that same hand, rehearsing a series of lines in her head. She takes a last bite from the fruit and tosses the core into a wastebasket nearby, then dusts her hands off and faces a large, ornate doorway at the end of the hall, composing herself one last time before knocking.

Inside, the old man swings his door open and finds himself looking at her, smiling wide and opening her arms out to him. "Cicero, my dear old friend!"

He laughs softly and takes her hands, leading her in. "Rika, one of my best fighters, come in, come in!"

He releases her hands and closes the door behind her, then goes over to a liquor cabinet. "Would you care for a drink?"

"Uh, no, thank you, I've had my fill for today," She replies, still holding her smile.

He smiles back and says, "Well... all the more for me!"

They both laugh as he pours himself a glass... only she inwardly grimaces at his little joke. He sets his bottle down and walks over, while she catches herself staring blankly off past him and glances back up to his eyes, widening her smile a bit. He takes a sip and asks her, "Now... what is it you came to see me about?"

She cocks her head at him and tries her best to act sweet and innocent. "Whatever makes you think I just don't want to visit?"

Seeing right through it, he answers, "Because you're all about business, Rika... and that's what I like about you."

He takes another sip while she hangs her head and chuckles once, then raises her head again and says with a shake of her head, "I can see there's no fooling you, Cicero."

She starts ambling closer and adds, "I've been thinking about the tournament..."

The hand with the glass slowly lowers to his side. "What about it, exactly?"

"...Mostly about the tiers and my opponents... but I've been thinking a lot about our prize at the end. What might we expect once we defeat all our enemies?" She asks while still coming closer, now moving around his side and behind him.

He looks down to his side, trying to keep an eye on her. "You'll be crowned champion, of course."

She lays a hand on his shoulder gently and leans her head closer to his face, speaking softly. "Just champion, nothing else?"

He places a hand on hers and lifts it, turning around to face her. "...Heh... you know as well as I, my dear, that all additional rewards are a secret to be revealed when a champion is crowned."

She steps back, taking his hand in hers and smiling at him sweetly again. "Certainly you can tell me, Cicero? I mean, how big a secret can it be?"

She pauses and cocks her head. "Unless... it's something so important..."

He smiles and walks forward, turning her around and placing a hand on her shoulder as he walks her to the door. "I think you're imagining things, my dear. Now, if you'll please... it's near my bedtime."

She steps out the door and turns around quickly, placing one hand on the frame to prevent him from closing it right away. "All right, Cicero... I'll see you tomorrow. Good night."

He nods and starts closing the door. "Good night. Until tomorrow."

She stands back and watches as the door closes in her face, then spins around and whispers through her teeth, "Blast!"

She storms off down the hallway, low heels clicking on the stone floor rapidly. I almost had it! What's it gonna take for me to get through to that man? And the nerve! Denying me the chance to find out what's waiting for us when this is over... me! Me!

She passes by one of the Colosseum's many employees, who looks at her strangely and asks, "Milady, what're you doing out so late--?"

"None of your business, go back to your work," She answers curtly.

Soon she moves out of earshot and out of sight, and he mutters, "Rude."

Finally she enters her room and half-slams the door behind her, then starts tearing her clothes off and tossing them on her dresser. Next come necklaces and earrings as she works their latches roughly, almost slamming them down on a metal tray, and finally she removes a set of metal rings from her hair and slams them down, letting her hair fall down on her shoulders. She sighs heavily and plants her hands on the edge of her dresser, leaning forward to look at herself in her mirror.

Unruly, straight, and spiny red hair falls down all around her head and torso, splaying out in many directions and generally looking like a mess. She signs again and watches her breath blow a few stray bangs away from her mouth, then stares back at her own light blue eyes, the color of a clear sky. Maybe there's something wrong with me...

She stands up suddenly and grabs a robe, throwing it over her undergarments and tying its sash quickly. She marches over to bed, a dozen things crashing through her mind at once, but most of them related to the tournament and that unknown prize at the end...

***

Night turned to day, light flowing out from the rising sun and its disc of fire to illuminate the lands below. Clouds rolled by beneath the dome of stars above and cast their shadows upon the soils below, and people slept and dreamt, resting for the day ahead. A new day is born today, and in it there are several thousand people sitting in a mammoth arena, impatiently stomping at the floors and calling forth the next challengers. In his cell, Vargas hangs his head low in meditation and waits for the call to come.

"Vargas!"

He lifts his head and walks forth into the blinding light of day, closing his eyes to shut it out. When he opens them again he finds himself in the center of the arena, facing a woman with flame red, spiky hair drawn into a high ponytail. She twirls her battle staff around and plants one end into the ground, standing defiantly and staring fiercely.

"Begin!" Calls the announcer, but this time, both react immediately. Vargas summons forth a great beam of white energy -- Aurabolt -- and sends it in her direction, while she quickly casts a huge ball of fire from the sky and sends it at him. "Fire Three!"

Both spells hit hard, catching them at vulnerable points. She's thrown backwards in the air and reverse somersaults a few times, while he falls on his back and writhes from the intense heat. She's the first to her feet, rolling backwards to one knee and glaring at him. She brings her staff to her front and casts another spell, staring through the great ball of jade energy swirling in front of her. He stands to his feet in time to see dirt swirl into a massive cloud around her, then leap towards him, tossing dust and debris about. She screams out above the wind, "Whirlwind!"

In seconds he finds himself enveloped in a powerful cyclone, tearing at his body like no other force he's seen before. His body lifts from the ground and is thrown into the air, spinning inside the massive belly of the tornado before being thrown like a rag doll to the ground -- ten meters below him.

He lands hard, rolling and planting his face into the sand. He coughs up a lungful of dust and pushes himself up in time to see her stalking towards him, placing her staff aside and removing another weapon from her belt. Acting on instinct alone, he hops to his feet and leaps aside just in time to avoid the shimmering metal shakram flying at him, then turns around and watches it follow its course back to her waiting hand. She catches it and stares him down for a moment, a superior smirk on her face and a serious, studious look on his.

Suddenly she spins around and throws the shakram back at him, then brings her staff around to cast another spell. He stands and waits for it to come within just centimeters of his face, then ducks down to one knee and disappears in a puff of black smoke.

She stares dumbfounded at the smoke and loses her concentration of her spell, the weave dissipating and then fizzling out completely, then gasps and steps back when another black puff appears before her and Vargas slashes at her with his claw. The first blow finds it mark, cutting her across her abdomen, but his second strike is parried by her staff, as is his third and fourth. Thinking quickly, she reaches into her belt and removes a short sword, not longer than forty centimeters, and uses that to parry the next blow while she casts a spell with her free hand, ignoring the sound and puff of dust that her shakram makes as it slices diagonally into the ground nearby. Her low-level lightning spell catches him off guard, giving her just enough time to bring her staff back around and cast a quick healing spell.

"Cure 2!" She calls, then draws a longer sword from its scabbard just beneath her shorter sword's. As the curing spell's energies dissipate around her, she charges forward and swings her two swords, meeting his claws in a furious exchange of parries and glancing hits. They both strike, repel, parry, lunge, spin, duck, and leap, their feet kicking dust into the air as they step, sidestep, and twirl in complex motions and rhythms... almost as if dancing. Cicero sits forward in his seat and watches carefully, feeling the intensity of the fight as he grips his seat's armrests.

She swings her sword and catches his claw, then brings her other sword around to stab at his chest. From the corner of his eye he spots a tiny flaw in her stance and slaps her short sword hard, throwing her off balance and tossing the weapon from her hand. She steps back and brings that hand in to her belly, gritting her teeth while he slings her other sword aside with his left hand and lunges with his right. Again she catches him unprepared and summons a wall of flame that rises from the earth and moves back into his face, basking his body in blinding flame.

He stumbles backwards and falls to one knee... any hit could finish him off now. Seeing this, she immediately charges forward with her sword, bringing it up across her shoulder to bear down on him and growling through her teeth. He casts his eyes to the ground and quickly summons his energies, then pulls back one hand and drives it down to the ground, against the wall of energy gathered there. An explosion of green blades comes from the earth, forming blades of air in the space between them and slashing at her unguarded body.

She screams and staggers back as several sickles of air cut her open, then looks up as he leaps into the air and spins, throwing another series of blades at her. Cicero flinches as she brings her sword up to guard against the storm, but all in vain, for they slice through her again and leave her a bloody mess. She collapses to one knee and pants, not seeing him summon another bolt of white energy and toss it at her full strength. It penetrates her chest and shines straight through, not cutting through her flesh but instead damaging her life energy.

She makes a gargled vowel sound and falls over backwards, lying spread out in the sand. The crowd breaks into a sudden round of applause and cheers, chanting his name loudly. He stares down at her and considers that this may have been the closest he's ever been to losing since his battle with Sabin, then turns and walks back to his cell, ignoring the sounds of a curing wind behind him.

She jolts up and sits with her arms at her sides, looking around in confusion. Upon realizing that she's actually lost a battle, she glances up at stares at Vargas' back as he leaves the arena, then scowls and scrambles to her feet, feeling humiliated and angry. Looking to her side, she sees her shakram and sword next to each other and grabs them up, then storms out the way she came. Cicero rises from his seat and half-smirks, but also half-frowns, feeling proud of Vargas' victory on the one hand, and a little sorry for her defeat as well. He excuses himself from his patrons and leaves out a small door adjacent to the skybox, never seeing the man sitting near to the balcony, leaning on his arms and staring into the arena.

He squints one eye and considers Vargas' victory, playing back over his style and method mentally, then rises from his own seat and leaves.

***

Men, women, and objects are thrown aside and bullied around as she returns to her room, ranting and screaming at nothing and nobody in particular. People soon learn to stay out of her way and dodge the random objects she throws at them, though one man simply walks past her, paying her no mind. She says nothing to him and he says nothing to her, so they pass in peace, and the man continues on until he finds Cicero also walking down the hall in the opposite direction. He takes his arm and stops him, then says, "You are the proprietor, Cicero, I presume?"

Cicero stops and looks him over, then faces him and relaxes. "Yes, I am Cicero, founder of the Colosseum."

"I wish to talk to you about the next bracket fight..."

***

A glass slams into her wall and shatters, throwing shards everywhere and adding to the mess. She screams at it and grabs another, throwing it into the wall and then grabbing a handful of clothes from her dresser and throwing them on the floor, too. She storms over to her bed then and yanks all the sheets from it, throwing them to the ground and screaming again. She stops and looks around at her room, panting heavily and clenching her fists, then sighs and collapses on the edge of her bed, burying her head in her hands.

She'd always thought about what it might mean to be defeated one day. She'd always figured it might mean the end of her life or her career, or at least that she wouldn't be able to fight anymore due to some injury. She'd always though during those times how she would lose, too... if she would make a fatal mistake, what mistakes she might make, how she might let her guard down or misinterpret her opponent's motives... and she thought she'd almost had it down to a point how she could lose a battle. And until this day, she'd never lost a fight... ever. Never during her training or military service had she lost a singles fight, fair or unfair.

The weight of her defeat crushes down on her shoulders and she finds herself stifling a sob. She chuckles grimly and sniffles at the thought of her, of all people, crying... and over something as simple as losing a fair fight to a better man. She stares at the floor through her fingers for a long moment, then stands up and removes the metal rings from her hair that hold her ponytail up, letting her hair fall down. She tosses her head once and stoops down, scooping up her sheets and starting to clean up her mess. Normally she would go get something to eat for dinner at this time, and celebrate with the high-class people that come through... but since she doesn't feel like celebrating and she has nothing better to do, she'll clean her room and then prepare for her tourney match later tonight.
Caves of Narshe: Final Fantasy VI
Version 6
©1997–2017 Josh Alvies (Rangers51)

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