Zeke stepped quickly on the slab of stone and with one mighty leap he jumped and lunged at Renite. Anticipating the attack, Renite rolled and managed to avoid the otherwise devastating blow that would have been dealt. No sooner had he stood back on his feet than he found himself again under assault from his opponents swords, which raced towards his head at a phenomenal speed. It was just in time that he managed to bring his right hand, holding only a feeble kiteshield, in the face of the incoming weapon. As the sword became embedded in the shield's framework, it gave Renite a brief respite from the seemingly incessant attacks he had been under from the very beginning.
He wasted no time in securing this advantage and with a vigorous kick succeeded in pushing Zeke away. The kick had not been strong enough to knock the opponent off his balance so he was still positioned firmly on his feet. It did, however, manage to earn him vital seconds of respite, and the two warriors were once again in deadlock. Both pondering their next moves carefully, breathing heavily from the effort they had undergone.
Neither detracted their attention from the other nor did they even dare to blink, as even a split second of heedlessness would cause this uneasy balance to shift. The weather-beaten face Zeke displayed showed great experience, only possessed by those with years of training and hard-won battles in the arena. Despite this he showed some uneasiness through the tremble present in the way he held both swords in his hands.
As if out of nowhere Zeke gave a cry and charged at his opponent. When he was within striking distance he wasted no time and swung the sword in his right hand at the opponent, then his left, repeatedly alternating between them in quick succession; only to see his opponent dodge them one by one, falling back slightly each time. He became increasingly frustrated by the failure of his attempts, and the apparent ease with which they were avoided, and pivoted to deliver a decisive blow with his right longsword, only to be stopped but a few inches from the head by Renite's scimitar. They stood deadlocked for a few brief moments, swords crossed, neither of them finding the strength to push their adversary back.
The failure of this latest attack to bring Zeke the upper hand led his left side to become exposed and Renite wasted no time in delivering a powerful blow to his opponent with the kiteshield from his right arm, a strike repeated several times, pushing his opponent back with every hit. He then assumed full attack and lashed at his opponent with his sword as well. It only took a few well placed thrusts to get Zeke off the ground and on his back, in the sand of the arena, amidst the scorching heat bestowed upon them by the blazing sun.
Renite leaped off the ground towards his opponent, with scimitar aimed at dealing the final blow. Instinctively Zeke rolled across the arena sand and evaded the hit that would have brought an end to the duel;
'I wouldn't mind losing the money placed on Zeke if only he put up a better spectacle', said Polonius as he leaned across the wall of the arena.
'He has performed admirably thus far in the tournament. I see no reason to let yourself pray to disappointment and such other uncanny emotions', replied Horacio. 'That's one of the reasons we come here - to disperse the anxiety and dismay from our normal lives. Besides, the fight isn't quite over yet.'
Renite repeatedly jabbed his scimitar into the dry sands in an attempt to subdue his enemy, who had so far managed to avoid the oncoming attacks by rolling across the ground. In what seemed only a split second Renite jumped over his opponent, landing where he anticipated Zeke to roll next and planted his shield in the ground, blocking him from advancing any further.With both his hands free he thrust his sword at his adversary, who lay on the ground, aiming it at his torso. Although Zeke used both his longswords and halted the attack, Renite kicked him with his right foot in the head, leaving the fighter laying on his back, unconscious.
'And now it apparently is over', said Polonius in a lower voice, as if more to himself. He shrugged and went on 'How much does that leave me owing you?'
Horacio sipped from his sq'irk juice and after several moments of pause replied 'Well, the exact figure remains to be decided upon. We shall have to see the amount Renite will be receiving from the arena authorities and whatever that amount is we simply double it; and that's the amount you shall owe me.'
Polonius cringed at the mere thought of these words, although he tried to hide this and blame his lousy mood on the heat.
'I must go tend to my associate presently. My advisor, Vant, will contact you on the matter when the times comes. In the meantime i strongly advise you to try one of these Kharidian drinks.'
Horacio patted him once on the shoulder and went down the stairs of the arena walls, eventually entering the compounds of the recovery area where he saw Renite being treated by Tafani.
'You ...', he said in a stringent voice as he walked closer to Renite. 'That was bloody genius! You played your role to perfection and we will be sparing no expense tonight in celebrating!'
'Gratitude well received. As well I think I managed a performance that will not soon be forgotten by the crowds', he replied, giving out a large smile.
'Come, walk with me, Renite; we have matters of great importance to discuss. That is if Tafani has nothing to object.'
'It's all the same to me, as long you don't overwhelm him', she said in a low voice. 'He nearly had his head parted from his torso only a few minutes ago and now you wish to fill it with your small talk.'
'Important bussiness matters can hardly be regarded as small talk', Horacio replied while stirring his arms in the air. 'Not that I'd expect you to understand any of it; all you've ever used that head of yours for during your duelling days was as a cushion for the incoming blows.'
Tafani couldn't help at letting out a slight laugh and calmly went to tend to the other injured fighters.
'Come', Renite added with a smile on his face. 'I fear if we linger on with this conversation my head will indeed be at risk of exploding.'
They walked alongside the walls of the arena for some time with neither of them speaking. Both had their attention drawn towards the shouting from the crowds watching duellers engage in fierce battle. The sounds of the warriors' weapons hitting against one another could barely be heard as it was covered by the incessant roaring of the spectators.
'Have you taken me away from the comforting arms of Tafani only to try and convince me not to bring down Al Kharid tonight after 10 beers?', smiled Renite.
'I wish that were the case. You can't even obtain beer in this forsaken town; it's as barren as the desert that lays in front of it. No, Renite, your triumph today in the arena demands only the best wines, brought all the way from the woods near Seers and ...'
'Such a delight ... ', interrupted Renite, 'I am afraid it won't last long once my fellow companions in the tournament get a taste of it. Zeke especially has his way of quickly making such things disappear.'
'Yes ... well, he deserves it. After all if he had not lost today at the hand of your sword we would not be here pondering of such matters and even less so about the sum of money Polonius now owes us ', Horacio laughed out loudly. 'Which, by the way ...', he resumed, 'is how we are paying for all these expenses you are so lucky to lavish in.'
'Expenses and benefits which I never asked for, Horacio, I ...'
The outcry of the victor in an ongoing duel had distracted him. He had pinned his opponent down in the sands of the arena with a spear inches from his neck. Under the impulse brought about by the shouts of encouragement from the masses that gazed at him, he dealt the final blow, parting his adversary with his former life. Kaleb ... Kaleb... Kaleb..., the masses acclaimed.
Horacio resumed after a few moments: 'You are the only fighter who did not find the need to resort to such bloodshed in any of his victories , Renite.' He paused for some time to focus his attention on the lifeless body that was being hauled out of the arena by guards. 'Yet you need not continue in this manner. Losing ones life in a duel is perfectly normal, an honour even.' He turned his full attention towards Renite, displaying a confident look on his face, and continued: 'The arena has had its sands stained with the blood of countless great warriors and it demands that more blood be shed; the masses enjoy such displays. No one would spare your life had they the chance to bring you in such a situation. You should not return any favours and show no mercy to theirs.'
Renite moved his attention away from the arena and replied with some reluctance 'Make no mistake, I will do whatever i must to triumph... but if spilling blood can be avoided then I see no need to do so.'
'Win tomorrow's match against Kaleb and find your way into the final 8 of this tournament. The last eight great warriors standing, drawn upon from all corners of the human territory. Among them sits the champion. If that isn't enough, then think about the vast debts you have acquired and that we barely managed to postpone them until after the end of the tournament. Do whatever it takes to win.'
After one last pat on the back from Horacio, the two men parted ways for the day and Renite returned to the house he had rented in Al Kharid for the length of the tournament. Despite the treatment he had received from Tafani, the knee wound from his last fight prevented him from sleeping most of the night. Morning came and Renite woke up, only to find that his knee had reopened and he found difficulty in trying to step on the injured leg. Renite wrapped a binding cloth around the wound and went as best he could back to the arena to seek advice from Tafani.
'Seems like that talk you had with Horacio yesterday did hurt you after all, although not in the head', the surgeon smirked.
'I honestly don't know what's going on between you two, Tafani', he said said cringing as the surgeon sewed through the flesh of the wound.
'Nothing a few sq'irks juices can't mend', she replied. 'Put this blamish oil around the knee every couple of hours and the pain will diminish.' Tafani looked away for a brief moment then turned her head back to Renite with a slightly worried expression. 'The medicine will alleviate most of the pain. You will not feel anything for the most part during the fight, but if you put exaggerated pressure on it, it's very possible that you become very aware of the wound. Try to avoid kicking.'
'I can at least try to do that', Renite replied. He stood up on the wounded right leg and walked a bit, cringing with every step. 'Then again maybe not.'
One hour passed. The pain had indeed gone away for the most part and it was time to prepare for the upcoming fight. Renite put on his helmet and spun his longsword in the air a few times. The final piece of the equipment - a square shield - was all that was to stand between his torso and whatever the enemy threw at him. He walked into the arena amidst ovations. He raised his hands in the air as if to greet the crowd that had come to view the bloody spectacle. His attention shifted to the other end of the arena. Kaleb, his opponent, entered. Wielding only a scimitar and a square shield, the man was a familiar figure in Al Kharid.The two warriors walked to the center of the arena and turned to the crowds. The announcer gave his usual bombastic speech about the skills of each of the two contenders, reminding the crowds of the stakes the fight held - the winner would be among the final eight warriors remaining in the tournament.
Renite and Kaleb took positions facing each other, weapons menacingly pointing towards the adversary. Several moments that seemed like minutes passed; the announcer's words echoed through the two men's ears - 'START'. They lunged at each other furiously amidst the background of a roaring crowd, thirsty for a bloodbath...