OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Haiku Odsdottir Gustav Mahler Persia


7. Spyke

The fight opens up with Tomba, the big dog from the beast quarter. He fights and quickly kills a weasel in a brutal tooth and claw battle. Tira finds it difficult to communicate; the noise during a fight being to great to hear unless she shouts directly into someone's face. She places her bet immediately, betting all their accumulated gold on her friends. The bet-taker, a house girl wearing a black and gold torc and not much else, takes her money and gives her a house chit. If her friends win, they will receive three times the value of their bet. Tira is cautioned not to lose the chit under any circumstances.

During the next fight she slowly makes her way through the crowd to where the mysterious cloaked figure is standing. Basarin is horrified by the savagery of the pit fights, but Tira grew up with the Gators of Nunavut, where behavior like this was considered an appetizer. After the second fight, she speaks to the bizarre person whose spirit she cannot detect. He answers none of her questions, but tells her instead that she is unwise to be here. He says that she should remain by the exit where it is safer. His voice is a hoarse and echoing whisper. Tira accepts this and moves on around the circle.

Down in the holding chamber, the night's fighters look on with tension. Their cisrular room is lit only by the light coming down the long corridor from the death pit. The mood of the room is not helped any by one of the female fighters who is possessed by a perverse need to provide a loud and graphic play-by-play of each fight. She seems entranced by the whole experience, shouting out phrases like, “Oh Deus! He disemboweled the creep!” and “What an arterial spray! I bet that hit some of the audience!”

Mahler is particularly nervous. This is the place that his old master Quick had always warned him he would end up in. Whenever the odd keening cry sounds from across the pit, he visibly reacts, sweating and breathing shallowly. A veteran with a prosthetic iron hand notices and speaks to him. The man's name is Exon Ironhand, and he has watched Mahler fight many times. He engages Mahler in conversation, to relax him. When Mahler tells him that Scorch has scheduled them to fight a great beast, Exon looks at him sorrowfully and says the beast is a chimera called Spyke. He has only seen it once, through a battle dimmed haze, but he knows the creature is terrible. He offers Mahler his condolences.

Above in the pit, the first three fights have ended. Food vendors circulate, prostitutes do business, bets are taken and the musicians and dancer begin again. The pit is given a light clean-up. Tira approaches Gamina while working her way around to the seats near the entrance. She exchanges a few words, enough to verify that this is indeed Gamina, apparently healthy and restored. She quickly breaks off the conversation when it is apparent that Gamina's haughty and condescending attitude has returned.

The fourth fight of the evening is a horrible spectacle where an insect-like riven man is torn apart by rats. Gamina walks over to Tira and Basarin. She asks several nosy questions about Tira, including why she is in several second-year classes. This is news to Tira, who assumed her schedule was all entry-level instruction. Tira keeps her conversation polite but remote. Basarin is obviously in awe of Gamina's unmistakable wealth and beauty. Gamina claims that she has been cured of her terrible malady and would be happy to discuss it with Tira after the show. When the girls show no more interest in her, she leaves them and finds the company of a handsome young warrior.

In the holding chamber, the rest of the party watch Exon go into battle against two men. He is victorious, but barely manages to walk out of the pit. Instead of climbing the ladder to the surface he collapses among the fighters waiting their turn. Another fight immediately begins out in the pit, followed by a second intermission.

Tira is beginning to get anxious. She notices that the cloaked figure has moved closer to her and the entrance. After the sixth fight, in which two women fight in a weaponless martial arts display, the figure approaches to within speaking distance. Once again he admonishes her to leave. When she insists that she must stay to help her friends, he seems resigned. He does tell her to stand behind him if there is any trouble. He is very clear on this point.

The second-to-last fight is a three-on-three bout of which only one man survives.

Finally the time has come for the party to fight. The guard urges them to enter the death pit. After the darkness of the holding chamber, the pit itself is dazzling. The noise and smell of the crowd is disorienting. The odor of blood and death are everywhere. Across the pit in the far entrance, a shape slowly resolves itself. The crowd begins to chant, “Spyke! Spyke! Spyke!”

The fearsome chimera enters the pit. It is huge, taller than Mahler. Its hide is a network of overlapping bony plates covered with horns and spurs. It rears back and emits a high screeching roar. The party reacts defensively at first, but they realize that they cannot hold back when the creature shows superhumanly fast reflexes. Persia evades a vicious swipe by diving through its legs. Haiku is a whirlwind, delivering a series of sword cuts while dashing around the pit. It does little real damage to the monster but does protect her from counter attack. Hank stands his ground, using a pick to try piercing the armor of the massive thing. Mahler is the most effective, whirling his great club in a fantastic smash that would break a stone wall. The creature is wounded but unstunned and delivers Mahler a horrific series of gashes that nearly kill him. He still stands, though his life's blood is pouring out on the arena floor. Tira leans over the edge of the pit and yells advice. She has been practicing reading anima. She can anticipate the creature's movements and warns those who are about to be attacked.

Persia leaps upon the creatures back and drives her stiletto between its plates. Char stabs with his spear, bringing it back blooded. Spyke whirls on him. Tira warns Char just in time to keep his head on his shoulders, but he is still hit. He drops to the floor, apparently dead. The fight continues. The party shows great teamwork, covering each other's backs dodging and striking in frantic motion. Persia once again leaps to its back but this time she cuts her hands and feet on it's sharp protrusions. Nevertheless, the party is having a definite effect. Though to of them are mortally wounded, Spyke is staggering, barely alive.

Finally, after numerous strikes and counterstrikes, Mahler winds up for an all-out blow. Putting every last ounce of his rapidly fading strength into it, the club striks Spyke with such force that he chimera collapses in place with the sound of breaking dishes. It falls and does not rise again. The crowd goes mad, throwing things, chanting names, and beating weapons against armor. Harker grips his chair in some strong emotion as his champion creature is destroyed.

In the confusion, few people notice that Tira hands her chit to Basarin, leaps from the crowd and into the pit. She hurries over to the fallen body of Char, using her healing skills to stop his bleeding and keep him alive. Several guards enter the arena, but stand in confusion, unable to hear orders being screamed by Scorch. Persia helps Mahler walk out. The giant is in such bad shape, he is not even sure that the fight has been won.

The guards finally hear Scorch as he orders them to apprehend Tira. Hank interposes himself and Haiku calmly tells one of the guards that she will slay him if he interferes. As she makes a threatening move, however, crossbow bolts whistle out from the guards in the stands, delivering her a couple of light wounds. She is about to retaliate when a resounding crash interupts her concentration. The cloaked figure who had been talking to Tira has also leaped into the pit. Advancing toward her, he draws an odd crystalline sword and cuts down the guard engaged with Haiku. Haiku holds back, since Tira is not in immediate danger anymore. She does hear Harker shout the name “Crystalwind” as the cloaked one closes in on the guard that Hank had interfered with. The guard retreats, apparently recognizing the sword. The stranger does not let him retreat but follows him, dealing him a terrible cut. Harker tells the stranger to stop. A strange look passes between the two. Harker asks, “Is this that important?”. The stranger replies that Tira and her friends had been promised immunity. Harker briefly considers this and then agrees. The stranger nods. He looks down at the wounded guard at his feet and dispassionately kills him. Tira and Hanks have been carefully moving Char to the exit tunnel. The stranger follows, along with Haiku. He then tells Tira to leave. Tira protests that she cannot leave Char while he is in such critical condition. The cloaked figure raises his sword and makes to kill Char, this solving the problem. Tira interposes her body, causing the stranger to check his blow at the last moment. A tense moment passes as the hooded man appears to wrestle with some inner conflict. Then he relents, asking how long it will take to make Char moveable. She tells him ten minutes. He tells her to hurry, and he will make sure the exit is clear.

The exit ladder is crowded by Persia and Haiku who are assisting the wounded Mahler to climb the iron rungs. The stranger tells them that if they do not hurry, he will cut his way through them. Whether or not he heard this, Mahler redoubles his efforts.

At the top, Persia discovers Scorch with five guards. Mahler emerges, followed by Haiku. Haiku decides to keep Scorch's attention while the stranger comes up behind her. Scorch tells them not to draw a weapon or they will be slain. The hooded man tells Scorch to leave or be killed. Haiku draws her weapons and challenges Scorch. He beats against her long sword in a disarming maneuver, but she counters with her short sword, a surprise maneuver which he nevertheless parries with ease. She then decideds to set him up for the stranger and performs a legsweep, knocking him from his feet. The stranger draws his odd crystal sword and strike Scorch's head from his shoulders. The head lands in a corner bearing an expression of annoyance. The other guards, horrified by their commander's slaughter, flee the building. The stranger says that he will ensure no others give chase, but orders Haiku to retrieve Tira from the pit.

Down below, Hank has rigged a litter for Char with the help of a few of the surviving fighters. With Haiku's help they get Char out and everyone flees to the Kraken's head. The stranger is not seen again.

At the Kraken, Koda helps them clean up Mahler's and Char's wounds. Persia takes to the nearby rooftops to watch for any sign of an approaching armed party. Haiku goes to Persia's to see if Basarin has escaped. This is important, because Basarin should have their winnings.

As Haiku approaches the house, she sees a light from inside. It appears that Gamina has accompanied Basarin, since the half-breed was carrying so much money unescorted. Haiku is very suspicious, but relaxes once assured that no one else is in the building. Gamina appears almost charming and asks Haiku questions about herself. She says she is impressed by Haiku's battle skills. She notices that Haiku is suffering from several arrow wounds. She says that she is studying healing at the Hall of Art and can use her adept abilities to remove the wounds. Haiku is still suspicious, but is dying of curiosity to know more about the “magics” of Merikia. She allows Gamina to lay hands on her. Gamina runs her fingers over the blood, even going so far as to place her fingers inside the wound. There is no pain involved, but instead there is a strange pleasurable sensation. The pain from the wounds eases. Gamina tells her that the wounds she disappear by morning. She also says that Haiku has an unexpectedly strong spirit. She says that she was nearly overwhelmed by its power.

Haiku thanks her, though she is still suspicious. She tells Gamina that she will escort her back to the Hall of Art before returning with Basarin to Tira. She does not tell Gamina where Tira is waiting, though. Gamina tells Haiku that they should use some stealth and avoid all the street lamps. They successfully return Gamina through the hole in the Old Wall and then return to the Kraken.

When they compare notes, Tira tells Haiku that Gamina is only a student, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and not an adept at all. She is not sure what Gamina did to the Yzlonder.

Several of the party decide to stay at the Kraken, but Tira must return to the Hall.

The next day she asks Farralon about the stranger from the pits. When she describes the sword and says the name Crystalwind, Farralon becomes deeply troubled. He tells her that Crsytalwind a demon blade, the sword of Iron John. Iron John is a manikin, believed to be the creation of Kanukka. He cautions her that John is said to give his loyalty to the office of the Archon, but that he is in fact a homicidal killer. He warns her to stay away from him for her own safety.

Later that evening, Tira thinks of a few more questions for Farralon. She inquires about her schooling, and scheduling along with the cost of her education and is mortified to learn that the tuition for adept training is one hundred gold eagles per month. She ponders this while walking through the Hall Gardens by moonlight, but is interrupted by a strange movement out of the corner of her eye. Whirling about she briefly sees a strange, formless, yet feminine shape that appears to be pleading with her. The anguished form croaks out an unintelligible word and then collapses into dust.