An overcast day with light drizzle, the third day of the tournament wasn’t as glorious as it should be. Despite the weather, the throngs of people were no less excited about another day of heroic and dangerous fights. The day started off with an exhibition in the Grand Pavilion as usual. Archery was the skill being tested. Each team selected one participant and they 64 men and women readied their bows. They were given sanctioned arrows, ten each, and were allowed to shoot at their choice of three targets at different distances with the further targets awarding more points. Contestants took their shots one at a time, and for the group’s team, Daniel was chosen. He was an able marksman and took his first shot, sinking it cleanly into the second ring on the first target. With this confidence he shot at the second target. His eye and aim were right, but his shot missed the target entirely. He looked at the target again. It was as if some sort of visual trick made it appear like it wasn’t where it actually was. He shot at the third target, but again, missed entirely. The third was even more askew than the second. Daniel was trying to figure out the optical illusion. He managed to make another two successful shots, but the rest missed their mark. He had a lot on his mind and the pressure was getting to him. He felt like he’d really let his team down, but that wasn’t why he was there. The winner of the tournament was a blond-haired man who took all of his shots at the third target and managed to hit five out of the ten attempts. The crowd loved it.
Later in the day the team, now known as “Clown Baby”, went to their arena for their match. The opposing team’s name was Crush, and they hailed from Makhor. Keaton had gotten some information about the team when he had found his connections to make his usual bets. The team was a singular man and his gorilla, Betty. Apparently the gorilla was quite well-trained and incredibly dangerous. Well that seemed obvious… The team was assigned to the forest arena on the eastern part of the island. When they entered the stadium they finally could see the arena itself. It was a series of platforms comprising two levels. One level was twenty feet high while the other was forty. The platforms were all wooden and rope ladders were used to connect the two levels. The ruling was that if a contestant fell off, or in the case of Kaedo flew off, the platforms he or she was disqualified. The coin toss was made, with Crush winning and start on one end of the upper level while Clown Baby started on the other end of the lower.
As soon as the match officially started, Keaton and Daniel rushed to the other side of the platform directly under the opposing team. Kaedo turned invisible, a trick he had learned from their opponents the previous day. Kovak just stood there, quite confused and waited where he was. The large man started barking orders in a strange language, although a word that sounded like “Betty” could be heard, clearly explaining why others had thought the gorilla had that name. Such an animal was extremely rare and could only be seen at great cost when a traveling circus came through a major city. The armored beast ran and jumped from the upper level onto the lower, and seeing only Kovak, swung a large arm. Unable to get out of the way in time, Kovak was knocked to the ground and disqualified. Hearing his cries, the rest of the team responded. Daniel sunk a few arrows in weak spots around the beast’s armpit, while Keaton ran behind and stabbed at its kidneys. Kaedo became visible and threw a concussive bomb, deafening the creature and sending it into a rage. The handler above waved his arms and yelled some incantation as the clouds above them swirled. A large burst of lightning came down from the sky in a magnificent display. The sheer amount of power arced off the spot Kaedo had been standing and jolts hit both Daniel and Keaton. Although shocked and in pain from the power, they were able to shrug it off and continue their assault.
Betty, close to Kaedo, stepped and easily knocked him off the platform. The handler was trying to control Betty, but it couldn’t hear an was swinging blindly from the pain. With another few well-placed arrows and dagger strikes, the gorilla began to back away and lost balance, falling off the platform and lying still on the ground below.
Although they couldn’t understand the man, it was clear that he was yelling some sort of curses at them. In a rage, he began another incantation and fire sprung up under Keaton and covered half of the platform. Sustaining some burns he had to retreat to the other side. Both Daniel and Keaton went to different rope ladders to move up to the next level, but a fierce wind kicked up. It picked up with some much speed that tree branches were being broken and parts of the stadium and arena were coming apart. This made it very difficult to climb the rope ladders, but slowly and steadily they managed. Once up top the three men exchanged a few blows before Daniel tried to push the man off, but he was too big and stood his ground. Keaton moved up behind and sunk his prized dagger deep into the man’s back. Bloodied and worn out, the man conceded and the winds began to die down. Clown Baby had won, but the fight had been more than they’d bargained for.
- * * * *
The team had spent the rest of the afternoon watching other fights and trying to get a handle on what other teams they might be up against. Marythsan won his match against three crazed females with large axes. They also got to watch the team Flair win with their dance-like swordplay, flipping, tripping, disarming, and fencing with skill and speed.
The banquet that evening was quite calm compared to the previous nights. Most of the competitors were worn out and tired and ate voraciously, cuts and bruises abounding. A bracket was placed and the team could see that they faced the Boulton Boys in the following match, which happened to be Donovan’s team. Kaedo, looking for any way to get an advantage, tried to slide some poison into one of Donovan’s drinks, but couldn’t find the right opportunity without getting caught. He let it slide. Later in the evening Marythsan came to congratulate the team, clearly making with way around to the winning teams as a courtesy. He was able to watch their fight and was really impressed with Keaton’s knifework and Kaedo’s impressive bombs. Elysia also made her way to the table to flirt with Kaedo some, although she ignored the others. Keaton had had about enough of her. Later than evening he snuck, alone, to her tent to give her a present. With no one around and quite sure she was asleep, he undid the buttons on her tent and stepped inside. As soon as his foot crossed the threshold, a loud bell began to ring from inside, and he fled without hesitation. There would be more opportunities…
The weather had cleared up some, although the day was still quite cloudy. Competitors went through their morning routines, having breakfast, fixing armor and weapons, sharpening blades, preparing spells… The team was able to recover from their wounds for the most part. They still had some cuts and scratches, but all in all, they came out of the last two fights pretty well. Large crowds of spectators moved to the Grand Pavilion early in the hopes of getting a good seat while a number of vendors tried to sell their wares. Kovak was able to find a few spell scrolls, which were quite rare, although only one of the spells was useful in itself. He sated himself on turnip mash for breakfast, but made a face as the standard of turnips in these parts was quite low. Oh well, a turnip is still a turnip, he thought to himself. Apparently the exhibition this morning was going to be quite difficult, not something Kovak wanted. He was enjoying his freedom, and in his old age, this tournament was taking quite a toll on him. His teammates had abandoned him to the pleasure of that great ape yesterday and he hadn’t even been able to get a spell off. Keaton should know better…
He made his way into the arena as the exhibition was getting set up. It was called the Iron Body test. There were five stations set up for five different “idols”. The first was the Drowning Idol where contestants had to hold their breath for four minutes, then there was the Fiery Idol where they laid on a pyre for 10 minutes, then the Pain Idol where they were pierced with a number of pins, then the Poison Idol where they had to survive a poisonous gas chamber, and finally the Winter Idol where they stayed in an ice bath for 10 minutes. One contest from each team had to perform all five of these Idol challenges back to back without any aid once they’d started. With little option, the team chose Kaedo to participate.
Kovak watched as he made his preparations. Their team wildcard drank some strange potion and said that he felt his body become more resilient or something. He could already be more resilient if he’d eat a turnip once in a while, Kovak thought condescendingly. Other teams were doing similar things, choosing their strongest to take the test while enhancing them with any spells that might help. Kaedo’s turn was here. Kovak watched as the ‘gentleman’ went under the surface and held his breath. Four minutes was a long time to watch and wait. He could see Kaedo begin to struggle in the last fifteen seconds, the look on his face betraying his need for air. Right as the timer finished, Kaedo’s body limply floated to the surface. A few officials dragged him out. He was okay, but had passed out from lack of air. They revived him and he stumbled over to the next challenge. He managed to handle the next three challenges quite well, just gritting his teeth and enduring the heat, the pain, and the poison. The final challenge lay in front of him and looked quite worn out. He sat in the ice bath and the minutes ticked away. Kaedo turned blue and looked like all the energy had been sapped from his body. In the sixth minute, he waved a hand, unable to speak, and the officials helped him out. He was freezing. With his performance, he had placed second in this exhibition and the team was rewarded with a number of potions as a prize. Kovak continued to watch, casually munching on a turnip and less than impressed by these youth.
- * * * *
Daniel was worried about Kaedo. He’d done well in the exhibition, but nearly killed himself and would be less effective for the upcoming fight. His heart simultaneously was relieved and worried when he heard the rumors about the conditions of their next fight. It was the infamous “Boar & Tiger” fight. The tournament had a number of bizarre fights they used to change up the format from a traditional fight. For this bout, each team would select one member. That member would then be tethered to an animal and the two would be placed in the arena. The first person to defeats his opponent’s animal would be the winner. The others had agreed that he would be their best option for this since he had more experience hunting wild animals than any of them. He was pretty worried about it. He wasn’t used to this sort of pressure, nor was he used to being tied to the animals he’d hunted. He didn’t see much of a choice. His target was still in the tournament, so he’d have to try to win this for the team if he’d have a chance of completing his job.
Daniel won the toss and chose the boar, while Donovan ended up with tiger. The arena was full and the crowd was cheering wildly. The match started and Daniel sent a few arrows into the tiger from across the arena. The boar next to him, now clearly released from whatever spell was holding it, attacked him in turn. Likewise, the tiger attacked Donovan, who, with a perfectly-placed strike, crippled one of the tiger’s legs, making it limp. He then began to move across the arena slowly as the angrily tiger limped after him. Daniel continued to shoot arrows at the tiger, although some missed their mark. It was difficult to get a proper aim with the large boar trying to gore him, and at one point he even dropped his bow to avoid the boar biting his arm. Donovan covered the distance and began to rain quickly blows on the boar. The tiger and boar both attacked each other wildly. Daniel continued to shoot at the bloodied and beaten tiger, but Donovan was making quick work of the boar. With one last carefully-aimed shot, Daniel hit the tiger in the neck and the beast slumped to the ground, dead. Only seconds later the boar did the same. The match had been incredibly close and Daniel’s heart was pounding. He knew that Keaton had money riding on this match and he didn’t want to be responsible for their loss.
Donovan approached him, both of them panting from the short, but intense match. “Aye, that’s a goodin’! Ye did well!” He said with his usual smile and friendly demeanor. Daniel was breathless. Somehow, by the skin of his teeth, he’d managed to win it for his team.
- * * * *
The banquet was even more quiet than before. Only the top 16 teams that had participated were there, and over half of them didn’t show up. Everyone was tired and beaten down, desperately getting whatever rest they could before another difficult match in the morning. Elysia was there in her finest, tightest evening-wear as usual. Keaton had no idea how she continued to progress in the tournament, and he knew she couldn’t be trusted. Slipping out of the area early, he headed to her tent and waited inside for her to return. After some time, she came in and began her nightly rituals before she stopped suddenly.
“Who’s there sweetie?” She said in a sickeningly-sweet voice. Keaton didn’t move. “I know you’re there, don’t be shy.” He sighed and stepped out.
“Oh, to what do I owe this pleasure…?” She clearly forgot his name.
“I, uh… just wanted a better… look if you know what I mean,” Keaton said, trying to cover any hint of his real motive. She blushed, although he didn’t believe it to be sincere.
“I’m flattered sweetie, but I’m just pooped from this tournament. Sorry. Maybe when its over we can… take a better look at each other,” she said with a wink and a smile. She made him sick. He left and hid, waiting for her to go to sleep. He was determined to take her out. After another hour when most others were asleep, he snuck around to the back of her tent and carefully made a slit with his dagger. He could see her on her bed in the middle of the tent. He quietly placed a foot inside the tent… and the same bell went off. She jumped up, clearly only pretending to be asleep, and looked at the front flap, giving Keaton the seconds he needed to slip away again. She was crafty, he’d grant her that, but her time would come…