Chapter 2: To the Tournament

Chapter 2: To the Tournament

A Chapter by Trivn
"

Azael heads to Landow to sign up for the tournament. She learns that participants in the tournament are treated differently.

"

Light from the midday sun flowed into the room as the bustling street roused Azael from her slumber. The down mattress seemed to draw her back to sleep as she recalled the tournament two days from now. It would be impossible to make it to Landow by sundown, but waiting until tomorrow may mean missing the deadline altogether.

She groaned as she stepped down from the bed and stretched, mentally preparing for the long walk ahead of her. Pack over her shoulder, she grabbed the key and went down the stairs. With any luck, she could leave without Peggie noticing. After dropping the key on the unattended desk, she breathed a sigh of relief, before running into Monty on his way back from the shop.

"G'morning, Azael… Or is it afternoon?" He glanced to the sky as if someone was going to shout it down to him. "Bah, anyway. Off already? Have you seen Abigail yet?"

"No, I haven't. I meant to leave early this morning, so I thought it best to head out as soon as possible."
"Oh, surely you have time for a quick meal?" The offer was tempting as she carried no food with her. Knowing the likelihood of getting dragged into a lengthy conversation she would rather not have, Azael elected to turn him down.

"Sorry, not now. I'd like to get to Landow before dark," she said.

Monty caught the hint of desperation in her voice, understanding her intention. "Ah, sorry to hear that. Abigail means well, but she can be a chatterbox. I'll let you off this time, but promise you'll stop by if you pass this way again.”

"Of course. I'll be heading back this way after the tournament, I'll stop by then." Unsure where her travels would take her after the tournament, she felt somewhat guilty making this promise.

“Alright, good luck in the tournament." He gave a knowing wink then went inside.

It was odd that he was alright with her joining the tournament when Peggie seemed terrified of the thought. How could those to be so happy together when the disagreed so often. She grinned to herself and adjusted the pack over her shoulder. It did not matter, as long as they were happy.

As she made her way past the stables, a large mare whinnied and backed away from her. The stable boy ran to the horse to calm it, looking questioningly at Azael. Horses were one of the few creatures that could sense magic and, for a reason none could understand, tended to avoid it. Azael did not have the typical appearance of a strong mage. He would have expected bare arms, an easily accessible weapon or token pouch, and the quick pace of a person with somewhere to be. Instead, all he saw was the half cloaked figure of a young woman with short hair wearing modest clothes.

She took pride in confusing the young man. Appearance meant little to her. It was more important to let skill speak for itself.

The horse calmed down as Azael’s influence moved away. Wondering what it would be like to ride a horse, she pondered their mysterious nature; one of the many mysteries of the world. Not one that she was particularly worried about as she made her way out of the town.

***

The strong winds in the fields between the small town and Landow were refreshing in the hot sun. They brought back memories of trips with her father when she was small. The smell of the endless fields of wheat brought her to the days of running alongside the cart as they pulled their harvest to the city to trade. Every turn in the road was a fond memory of the past.

Most of the land was owned by farmers and cow herders. Some had started their harvest early, trying to get better deals on their produce. Others would wait until peak season when their harvest would be the most bountiful. Her father had told her of the many decisions a farmer needed to make during the year.

If she were still in the business, she would have sided with the early harvesters, too. Getting the crops to the market early was tough, but could pull extra profit if timed right. Azael fondly remembered her father teaching her all the tricks of the trade, even before she could help with the harvest. Her mother thought it was ridiculous to try and teach such a young child the intricacies of the marketplace. That was, until they took her to the market for the first time and she negotiated a deal for their entire cart practically on her own.

The tradition in this area was to pass the family business on to the eldest child. In the case of a farm, it was a family’s pride to keep the land under the same name for many generations. Doing so allowed them to maintain ownership and decide for themselves how to tend to the fields. The decision to stay with their family or marry into another was left to the rest of the children; a choice that was taken from Sten, her brother, on the day of the fire.

Her thoughts wandered to the life she could be living now. Her parents would have signed the farm over to her. They would help with a few more harvests before heading out on a well deserved vacation. Sten would have been fifteen this harvest. He might have stuck around to help Azael long after she inherited the farm before he made his choice. He might have met someone in these years, he could have fallen in love and moved on.

He deserved that chance, Azael thought to herself, He deserved to live a full life.

Her fury at God renewed, she stopped walking and took a deep breath of the fresh air. Throwing her arms out to either she formed the channeling signs for the wind spirits and thrust her arms forwards.

For a moment, it seemed as though nothing happened, then a gust of wind struck her back. Expecting it, she allowed herself to tip forwards, then placed her foot firmly into the ground and leapt. Step after step, she allowed the winds to carry her effortlessly. Clearing a dozen feet in each bound, she challenged herself to reach the city before sundown.

How can I expect to reach God in a lifetime if I can't even cross these fields in a day?

***

The sun hung low in the sky as Azael dug her heels into the ground in front of the arch marking the entrance to the city. Breathing heavily, but hardly worn out, she made her way through the city. Carts full of produce and goods of all kinds lined the streets, trying to trade with all that passed them by. The aromas of the fresh harvest filled the air, mixing with the foul odor of the countless droppings left by the horses. The locals and farmers from nearby fields were lightly clothed, used to the cool air that flowed through the city from the sea a short way off. Others wore cloaks to shield themselves from the breeze, savoring the final moments of the warming sunlight.

The familiar air filled her lungs as she wove her way through the crowded streets. Though it had been years since she saw these roads, every twist and turn was burned into her memory. She ducked into an alley between two short buildings to avoid the heaviest traffic on her way to the arena.

When she emerged on the streets again, an enormous statue of a man in armor towered over her. She had passed by this statue countless times with her father, but never entered the arena behind it. In front of the stone walls of the arena were several small, wooden structures. A small medical hut to treat the wounded that would assuredly come of the tournament bore the universal sign of medicine, a red and white X made of a scar and a bandage.

On the hut beside it, the same illustration as the flyer was crudely plastered above the door. A smug looking man in gilded armor pushed past Azael when she opened the door. His gaze was unwelcome, and on a worse day, would have been met with a flame threatening to steal his sight altogether. Azael was not fond of men, especially not those who looked at women with such lust.

The inside of the hut was as paltry as the outside. Two men waited impatiently while a woman paid the entrance fee and signed a waiver. One would think it was implied that entering such a contest may entail grave injuries, but the city guard insisted on having these proceedings take place nonetheless.

When she finished, one of the men shoved his way to the desk, threw down a small pouch and scribbled on the sheet of paper in front of him. A guard stopped his attempt to leave while the short, bald old man quietly counted the coins behind the desk. When he was satisfied that there were exactly fifty coins, he flicked his wrist towards the guard who let the man leave.

By the time the second man finished paying and signing his name, a few more mages lined up behind Azael. She stepped up to the counter and picked up the form to read before she signed it. All who entered the tournament were given no guarantee of their life or limb. She chuckled to herself as she signed the ridiculous form. Opening a pouch tied to her hip, she counted out all but a small handful of the gold coins. The bald man swept them from the counter and waved her off.

As she passed the guard, she thought to herself, How ridiculous, do they really think a man in a tin suit would stop any but the most inexperienced mage? Almost wishing to prove a point, she started forming a channeling sign, but thought better of it and simply walked away.

Twenty signatures before hers, another three or four after. That made around twenty-five plus the stragglers that would sign up tomorrow. Azael had never participated in one of these tournaments, but had watched several during her training. The individual fights would last no longer than fifteen minutes each. The flyer advertised five days of fighting; they would draw it out any way they could.

Azael tried to figure out how many fights she would be participating in over the next few days as she made her way to a nearby inn. At least one a day if she made it to the end, then possibly two or three consecutive fights for the finale. One side of the event was the wagers taking place behind the scenes. Gambling was encouraged at these events. More fights meant more bets placed and money lost. If they wanted everyone to have a fair chance to lose all of their money, the competition would be drawn out longer than it would need to be.

She had sparred before with mages of all kinds before; casters, token users, enchanters, summoners. The next day would be spent planning her strategy for whatever she would be up against.

Azael walked to the front desk of the inn, feeling as though everyone in the room was watching her. "I need a room for seven nights."

"You here for the tournament?" asked the gruff man behind the counter. He eyed her up and down while she replied.

"Yes, is that going to be a problem?" She glanced around the room at the other guests. A few were indeed watching her as she spoke to the man.

"Only if you'll be participating. We don't want anyone blowin' the place up again trying to kill off the competition while they sleep."

“I see.” Azael turned around and walked away. She could hardly blame the man for trying to keep his business in one piece.

The innkeeper called after her, "Try the place down the road, they'll take you."

"Thanks." She waved with the back of her hand. Halfway to the door, she felt a hand placed firmly on her rear.

"We'll be cheerin' you on sweetheart!" His obvious drunkenness was not enough to stop Azael from scorching the shirt off half his torso. The drunken man fell from his chair, putting out the fire spreading across his chest with what was left of his drink. "Why you!" He stood up and sloppily formed a channeling sign with his free hand.

"HEY!" The innkeeper slammed a large hand on the desk. "NO MAGECRAFT IN MY INN. Get yourself someplace else, lady. And you, yer payin' for that chair."

The drunken man pointed a thick finger at Azael. "She's the one that burnt it, I haven't even cast-"

"You think I'm not watching my inn? I saw what happened and I'm telling you to pay for the damages. Now either pay up, or go sleep in the alley."

Azael listened to the argument as she left. On the opposite end of the road she found another inn. Figuring the man meant that one; she walked towards it, weaving between the carts that still congested the road.

The last place was nothing compared to this one. The main room had almost no furniture, the walls had countless dents, scrapes, and scorch marks.

A tall, skinny man with shoulder length, gray hair stood at the back wall with his arms crossed. She could see the runes carved into his skin; telltale signs of a powerful enchanter. He watched two men in the corner argue over the price of a bag of tokens. Azael figured he was waiting to step in if things got out of hand. Amused by the bickering, Azael was oblivious when the rune covered man spoke to her.

"It's five gold. Your room's the last down the hall to the left."

She looked at him. "Excuse me?"

Never looking away from the corner, he replied, “It's five gold for the duration of the tournament.”

"Five? It's seven days, not ten," Azael said, approaching him.

"Three and a half for the stay, the rest for the damages." He put his hand out expectantly.

"What damages? I've just gotten here."

"It's too much work to figure out which one of you lit whose sheets on fire, so I charge you all beforehand. You don't like it, go somewhere else. Though something tells me you've already been turned away." He glanced at her hand and went back to watching the now shouting men. If he could see the remnants of the spell on her hands, he was definitely not to be messed with.

Azael took all but a single gold coin out of her bag and dropped it in the man's hand. He placed them into a pocket on his tunic and tossed her a key. She looked back at the two in the corner.

"There's barely ten gold's worth in that bag, but he'll take it for twenty. He won't last the first day," said the gray haired man.

"Token magic is a cheap trick either way. It takes no skill, and one can never tell whether they’ll even work." Azael glanced at the man then back to the trade in time to see a pouch of gold swap hands.

She recognized the man that was scammed out of twenty gold pieces even without his gilded armor. He shoved his way past Azael and the innkeeper and into his room.

"They'll work; they just weren't worth half what he paid,” the gray haired man smiled.

"How can you know that? You couldn’t possibly tell what was in that bag from here."

In answer to her question, the grimy man who sold the tokens walked over, took five gold coins out of the bag, and gave the rest to the smug innkeeper. He scowled at Azael, making her wonder why anyone would buy something from him, and made his way towards the exit.

"Because I'm the one that made them,” said the innkeeper, dangling the bag from its drawstring. “Name's Nowell, that was Grenar, my business partner of sorts. You seem smart enough to know not to trade with people like him. Can't say that for everyone though." He pocketed the bag, reaching his free hand out and made a pulling motion, Azael looked back in time to see the door pull itself shut behind Grenar. "That key'll get you in the door after dark, make sure you close it behind yourself." He turned and started up the stairs. Stopping partway up, he turned around again. "I didn't get your name?"

"Azael." Studying his features, she could get no read on his distant gaze. She was still uncertain how to feel about the strange enchanter.

"Azael. Good luck in the tournament, Azael." He nodded and made his way up the stairs and through a door that swung open in front of him.

The room was silent. Azael walked through the passage under the stairs to her room.



© 2016 Trivn


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Added on May 9, 2016
Last Updated on May 9, 2016
Tags: magic, fantasy


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Trivn
Trivn

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"Jack of all trades, master of none, but better than a master of one." I have skills across the board, but I'm not anywhere close to a professional at anything. I like to read and write, play games a.. more..

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