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The first five qualifying duels went by with little fanfare. Azrul, Dread Lord of the Tendulkar Clan, servant of Queen Alsafar from the Royal line of Ileum, was in the wings of the arena up until now. Apart from the duels, negotiations, trade deals, and alliances were brokered at the event. It was a time where the powers of the Myrkalfar Empire and a few from other elite races came together.
Normally, she would never meet with a Mistress from the House of Dhaz’Rul but here they would socialize in the same chambers situated in the arena’s wings. By meeting such a person, opportunities arose for both parties. Azrul had become quite popular as rumours of her sudden success and wealth had spread.
“I must be going,” Azrul begged her leave, “the sixth duel is about to start and that one I have a significant interest in.”
“Oh, is it the Gladiator you sold for a vast sum?” the Mistress D’talica enquired.
“Yes, and I placed a large wager on him before his talent became widely known,” Azrul said.
“Is this something I should look into?” the Mistress D’talica asked.
“It is unfortunate that his odds have tightened to the point where it is no longer a good wager. My apologies, I did not know you earlier, or I would have advised you to place a large wager,” Azrul said.
The Mistress sighed, “I need to follow you around and see if some of your good fortunes can rub off onto me,” she laughed lightly, although her words were heavy with innuendo.
“Come, come,” Azrul invited her, “let’s see how the Gladiator fares under the tutelage of the House of Val’Sharam.”
Mistress D’talica gave a shallow nod and accompanied Azrul to her box seats. An expensive box centred and low in the stands. Azrul had paid a daughterly sum to be close to the action.
A Daughterly sum instead of Princely sum due to Myrkalfar culture
Already situated in the box were her two apprentices, Phee and Gine, hiding in the back. Her esteemed guest, the Daughter of Ileum, had not shown up yet and probably would not during the qualifiers. Azrul had risen suddenly, even the Daughter paid her heed these days.
Azrul nodded to her apprentices and escorted the Mistress D’talica to the front of the box.
“Just in time, here they come,” Azrul declared.
Fury looked good wearing his leathers, equipped with his shield and spear. His sword was stowed in the rear of his shield for easy access. His white hair had grown, it was past his shoulders and tied into a neat ponytail at the rear of his head.
Azrul salivated. He was exuding power and was relaxed, tilting his head from side to side. The odds on him had shortened to the single digits, and after today perhaps they would shorten further. She did not care, she had gained the greatest odds when he was an unknown and hadn’t even gained entry to the Val’Tien.
He did compete and therefore win the House of Ileum event, so she had to pay the entire twenty-six qi kernels for the wager out of her own pocket. But that was fine with her, she had sold him for three thousand so what was a mere twenty-six to earn herself over a thousand more?
She had been looking forward to this day since he was sold. Although there were rumours, it was still unclear why the Daughter of Val’Sharam had paid so dearly for him. Yes, he looked talented and yes, he was an able Gladiator. But how could she possibly recoup that value? Azrul did not know, there must be something that she was missing.
The rumours were too wild to believe. Some said he was prophesied to conquer the Qizhu Empire, another said he was the second qi sage. All of these were equally unbelievable. There had been a powerful practitioner, the qi sage, who was the progenitor of qi to the master races. Why did there need to be a second?
“It begins,” she said needlessly.
“For a man, he does look good. Wait, are those pointy ears?” Mistress D’talica asked.
“Yes, he is part man and part wood-elf I think. I never did find out his parentage,” she answered.
“I can see why it needed to be three thousand to make you part with him,” the mistress drooled over Fury the Gladiator.
“I cannot believe how quick he is,” Mistress D’talica said, “did he just blink?”
“No, he did not. It is one of his fortes, his mobility. You need to have a strong defence or his will run rings around you,” Azrul said.
“Speaking from experience?” Mistress D’talica asked.
“You do know it was I who captured him,” Azrul responded.
“Of course, of course, I was just teasing,” Mistress D’talica said. “Oh dear, his opponent is in trouble already.”
Fury had circled his opponent, and as they turned to meet him, he stabbed his spear through their lower ankle and into the ground. Fury defended with his shield against the counterattack while drawing his sword in one fluid motion. Twisting back and forth, he brought the sword around to slice at his opponent’s throat.
“I don’t think this is going to last long,” Mistress D’talica said.
“He certainly is more efficient in his movements than when I last saw him, his attack speed is astonishing,” Azrul mentioned.
His opponent attempted to parry the sword but it was a feint, Fury continued to swing his fist in an arc while leaving the blade in place. His fist connected with his opponent’s head, knocking them flying across the arena floor, ripping their leg out of his spear, and causing a massive mortal wound.
Before his opponent hit the floor, a white cloth signifying surrender was thrown by the trainer in charge of the wounded gladiator. His leg was ripped apart, his foot still on the ground, attached to the lower ankle at Fury’s feet. The rest of him lay in a crumpled mess ten paces away.
“His tattoo qi defences did nothing against that assault, he might as well have had nothing,” Mistress D’talica observed.
“It was not the fastest bout ever, but he is fighting within himself, not wanting to show all his strengths to his future opponents,” Azrul said.
“It looks like you have a good chance of winning your wager Dread Lord. Thank you for inviting me,” Mistress D’talica suddenly noticed something and said, “what’s wrong?”
“Look, he is kneeling, something is wrong,” Azrul said with concern. If there was something wrong with Fury, she would not win her wager.
Fury kneeled in place for too long a time. It was enough that three attendants, who had finished taking away the injured combatant, came back to assist him to his feet and lead him from the arena. There were still ten more matches on this day.
Fury stood all of a sudden and roared. The shout was incredible, it felt like the entire stadium rocked from the noise alone.
“What was that, what is wrong?” Mistress D’talica asked.
“I don’t know,” Azrul said nervously.
Fury smashed the attendants away. He glowed, he actually glowed with power.
“That does not look good. I am fairly certain that one of those attendants is dead,” Mistress D’talica observed. “He won, he should be happy,” she said simply.
Another cry left Fury’s lips. He sounded like he was in pain.
The Mistress and the Dread Lord just looked at each other.
“I don’t know if you are going to win your wager anymore, he seems to have lost control,” Mistress D’talica said.
“Luckily, we are behind these shields, even if he did decide to come up here, we are protected by the powerful wards,” she said.
“Why would he decide to come up here?” Mistress D’talica asked.
“He seems disturbed, and if he saw me, I am worried he may decide to pay us a visit,” the Dread Lord Azrul informed Mistress D’talica.
“No one person can break these wards,” Mistress D’talica said.
The perimeter of the arena was embedded with barrier crystals supplied by qi kernels from below. The barrier was a hundred times stronger than a barrier any practitioner could make. It was only powered on during the Val’Tien as it cost a fortune in qi kernels to run.
One hundred and forty-four crystals created a dome qi barrier around the arena to stop any mishaps. There were times when battles went out of hand with projectiles, bodies, and elements flying through the air at high speed. The barrier stopped anything from entering the stands.
A third inhuman cry left the gladiator, it was gut-wrenching. The stands vibrated with the sound. An aura pulsed through the entire arena. It was an aura of abject Fury. Every person present shivered with fear at the sheer power and emotion on display.
“Something is wrong, something is very wrong,” Azrul said.
What I've felt
What I've known
Never shined through in what I've shown
So I dub thee Un-forgiven
Excerpt from Metallica The Unforgiven
For the full effect of this part of the story listen to this song before reading further.
The duel was over.
Gisael: the empath is going to send you back your memories now.
Fury: thanks honey, I knew I was missing something, but to think it was two gorgeous warrior women. Man.
Gisael: they want you to make your way to the tunnel, the portal master will open a portal for you to come through.
Reyas: the memories are coming now, start walking.
Fury: I can’t…it…fuck… What is this I am remembering?
Fury kneeled on the sandy arena floor. He could not move, memories were trickling back into his mind, a past he knew was his. It was confusing, it was disorientating. But it was true.
He had never felt such pain. He roared, releasing some of it.
It was not a physical pain. It was not a mental anguish. It was not torture. It was emotional pain. It was a loss, a great loss that was being returned but no, not all of it was being returned. What was this loss, where was it coming from?
“Something is wrong,” Dyrk said. He was in deep concentration, but managed to squeak out a few words in the form of a plea.
Benzhi/Fury cried in anguish from the arena sand floor and shook the stone itself.
Fain squirmed nervously, Fury knelt in the sand, he hadn’t moved forward. He needed to get to the tunnel. There was nothing she could do. She could not help him, nor Dyrk.
“Talk to him, get him to the passageway,” she pleaded with Gisael and Reyas.
Dyrk: he’s pulling me in.
Reyas: what? Benzhi, Benzhi stop. What are you doing? Get up.
Gisael: how did he pull you in?
Dyrk: I have no fucking idea. He is pulling the memories, all of them. I am not feeding them anymore. I was going to layer them on slowly but shit….slow down…Fury…slow down.
Fury/Benzhi: PAIN. LOSS. ANGER.
Reyas: Benzhi, I know, I know, calm down, you are hurting us. We are here for you.
Gisael: we can take it. Benzhi, hurt us if it helps. Just get up, walk, please. Aaarrrrr.
The pain through the link was overwhelming. None of them could communicate through the whitewash of pain. Everything was trampled underneath wave after wave of his emotions.
Reyas hugged Gisael, who grimaced in extreme pain.
Fain looked more worried, if that was possible.
Benzhi released an inhuman cry and pulsed an aura of Fury. It was intense, luckily it was only momentary, but at that moment they felt the pain, loss, and anger. An anger born from the depths of his soul.
The portal master cackled, “A Fury pulse like you’ve never seen before. Ouch, I am freaking out, and it's not even for me. Those bitches better be worried now.”
“Don’t forget Dyrk was the one to perform the wipe,” Fain was beside herself. That pulse probably covered the entire grotto; she had never seen its like. Not only were they losing control of the situation, the plan was plummeting into a black hole, and Fury basically called every warrior in the city out with his intention to wreak havoc.
Benzhi: Gisael, Reyas….I remember.
Reyas and Gisael in jubilation: he is back.
Benzhi: I remember Anastasia.
Pain ripped through the link again.
Benzhi cried out. It was overwhelming. To have his memories suddenly thrust back into him. His past met his present in a clash of titanic proportions. It was like living an entire life in a heartbeat, with all its joys, struggles, triumphs, and disasters.
All of his past had been dealt with emotionally at the time, this feeling accompanied the memory. Of when he was in an accident and lost the use of his legs. That loss almost broke him. It did break him. For weeks, he was in grief for a life lost.
But he had overcome that challenge, that pain and this feeling returned along with the memory.
There was one loss that he had not dealt with.
The loss of Anastasia in the defeat of Sandstone.
In that moment, he could feel her presence. The Aura of Anastasia returned to him.
He glowed with its power, her devotion. It pulsed through his very fibre, trying to heal his pain, but he would have none of it.
Benzhi: why? She was the best of us, the purest, and I let her die.
Gisael: no, you did not let her die, it was my fault.
He stood, filled with Anastasia’s aura; from whence it came was a mystery, but her devotion was with him.
He looked up into the crowd, drawn by something, drawn by instinct.
His eyes met her’s.
Benzhi walked calmly over to his spear and pulled it from the Arena floor.
And he flew, he literally flew over the sand and up the wall, headed directly towards her. He crashed into a barrier.
Boom. The shockwave of the crash shook the arena itself. Benzhi drew back his spear, never taking his off the Dread Lord. She stood frozen, staring back at him.
His spear smashed into the barrier, it was incredibly well made.
A ripple made its way from the impact point around the Arena. The impact caused a shockwave of sound and light as the qi strike of one fucking angry Benzhi met the warded barrier. A ward powered with one hundred and forty-four crystals. It was impossible to break. Except he did not know that.
The Arena shook. The crowds started to run for the exits. The Dread Lord stood, transfixed and staring at him.
Benzhi shook his head in anger and frustration. There was no way this barrier was going to stop him from getting to his destination. He would tunnel through the sand if he needed to. He would go around, but she was right there, he would try and close the gap with the most direct method. Running around seemed wrong. His target was right in front of him.
“I don’t think he will make it through the barrier, do you?” the Mistress asked.
Azrul never took her eyes off Fury, something had definitely happened, his memories must have returned somehow. He was now possessed with hunting her down. She had never felt fear like this before. But she had defeated him once, she would do so again.
“No, no one can break this barrier,” she said nervously. A small cry escaped Phee, her fear was palpable. Azrul could feel it emanating from her.
Another ripple, larger than the last, circled the Arena.
“I must say, that is one powerful qi strike, he does seem determined,” the Mistress announced. She began to leave herself.
Azrul looked around, the stands were emptying. And she saw them. Two women high up in the stands. They were with Fain! She knew those women, they were his women. Azrul could not believe they were here and with Fain. Her mind worked in overdrive, ‘it was them, they returned his memories!’
Gisael: you know, there is another way.
Fain screeched, “Tell him to go to the passageway now, before its too late. He has recovered! This is unnecessary!”
Benzhi: she is looking at you, and I am almost through.
Gisael: I got a tattoo yesterday.
Benzhi: that’s lovely, I have more important things on my mind right now. LIKE KILLING THAT BITCH.
Gisael: oh, I agree. This tattoo you see, it is an anchor, and you can portal to it. It has your signature.
Benzhi: well why didn’t you say so!!!!
Gisael: stupid. I just did.
Benzhi: I fucking love you.
Gisael: come my love, come and kill her. I am glad I am here for it.
Before Azrul could react to her discovery of Fury’s companions, he stopped attacking the barrier. She began to relax. She had no idea what to do and was frozen in indecision. Perhaps someone would take care of Fury. His new mistress should, and she would be free to deal with the traitorous Fain and his old companions.
Benzhi opened a portal to Gisael. He flew through, planted a kiss on her lips, before turning and flying down the stands towards the Dread Lord.
“What about me!” Reyas called as she followed him, drawing her picks.
Gisael looked at Fain and shrugged, “I tried to tell you that your plan would not survive one thing. It would not survive Benzhi.”
And she ran like the wind after her mate.
Benzhi closed in on the Dread Lord, he was using shunpo and qi body speed to their fullest effects. He still had Anastasia’s aura pulsing through his body like a performance-enhancing drug. If Benzhi was a rating of one hundred normally, Anastasia’s aura was pushing him past two fifty.
Azrul was panicking, she began to use a technique.
Benzhi closed in on her, but a familiar face in his path caught his eye.
“Why hello Phee, fancy meeting you here,” he said.
She opened her mouth to speak.
She lost her head.
As Phee’s head tumbled down the steps, Gine fell to her knees, quivering in fear. The Dread Lord Azrul opened a portal.
“Don’t,” Benzhi called with an outstretched hand as Azrul dove through the portal. It began to close immediately.