Episode 16: Challenges
Traversing the Nightmare Warp was no easy task. Creatures of darkness hounded both their bodies and their minds. Laurel and Lumos had some difficulty moving forward. On the other hand Thistle was effectively protecting them with her magic. A few hours after their initial arrival they finally found the world portal. The spell master greeted them and ushered them into Zanathas. He seemed really enthusiastic and murmured how the city would be vibrant with energy. On the other side the city of Dahlnavar greeted the group. Immediately after their arrival Laurel and Lumos were escorted to the largest structure at the center of the city. Thistle flew off but kept close to Lumos who was moved to another place in that same building. When Laurel realized what was happening it was too late. The place they were moved to was the arena. An enormous audience chanted and shouted. Right at the center of the viewing area was the Queen of Zanathas who quickly commanded the silence of the audience to make her speech. The arena fell eerily quiet.
Parania – “Greetings one and all! I, Queen Parania of Zanathas, welcome you to the annual contest of might. This year we have some special challengers.”
Before she continued, Laurel noticed Lumos was sat down by the guards beside the queen.
Parania – “A man who proclaims himself to be a priest of chaos has challenged the arena in hopes of gaining possession of the great artifact that will be this year’s prize. On the other hand we have the would-be champion of the seven worlds, although she does not seem to recognize such a title, her name is Laurel, holder of great artifacts herself.”
Laurel was perplexed as to how the queen had so much insight into her.
Parania – “Of course, there are a lot of our own great fighters ready to see some action. So without further delay, let this trial of combat commence!”
Guards took Laurel away to a room while a fight started between two of the contestants. Inside this room a man waited for Laurel.
Percival – “My lady, I am sure you have a great many questions and I am here to answer a few of them before your fight. My name is Percival and I am one of the queen’s retainers.”
Laurel – “What is going on? And why am I a participant here?”
Percival – “Our spies have been tracking Gerthran’s movements for months. They know that our soldiers are some of the most well prepared in all the seven worlds. Gerthran sent some of his warriors to steal one of our artifacts. So the queen, in her wisdom, decided to give away one of them in the contest here.”
Laurel – “She knew that Garan would participate.”
Percival – “Yes, we also know very well of your own exploits. You are, basically, their antithesis. It is your balance that will outweigh their chaos. To do so, you must win this challenge.”
Laurel – “Not like I had any choice.”
Percival – “I am sorry that you were put into this situation, but the queen has gambled on your ability to succeed here. You will face difficult opponents, but most likely your toughest foe will be Garan himself.”
Laurel – “Lumos fought him before, this time it’ll be my turn to face him.”
Percival – “We trust you Laurel. If you succeed here we will be able to better support Entralia.”
Laurel – “Entralia? Did you contact…?”
Laurel was cut off when she was called into the arena. Her first match was up. Warriors from all over Zanathas came to the arena to test their skill and endurance. Many of them were chosen to enlist in the army, especially those who fought impressively well. This was what gave the forces of Zanathas their strength. They continually tried to improve further and further. Now Laurel faced off one such foe. A warrior who had been mastering the battle scythe. To counter she would have to use much of the dark magic she had learned previously when honing her skills to master balance magic. Despite knowing the stakes, Laurel refused to rely too much on the artifacts. That is something she was reserving for Garan.
Fight after fight Laurel was able to win against some of the best Zanathas had to offer. On the other hand Garan was moving ahead as well, which was worrying, but not entirely unexpected. The priest of chaos had an odd combination of spells that changed from fire magic, to dark and sometimes even light magic. Laurel observed his battles with intense focus. She knew that, much like Mikayla, the fight would be unpredictable. Garan and Mikayla both had an aversion for physical weapons. They both rely heavily on spells and magic to attack.
Finally it was their turn. The big showdown between Laurel and Garan had arrived. The people were ecstatic. Chants could be heard across the arena. The queen announced the contenders and the audience watched in awe as they entered. They met at the center.
Garan – “There is no future for you child. Your defeat here will be swift and painful.”
Laurel – “Make all the threats that you want Garan. I won’t let you or Gerthran get away with your plan.”
Garan – “Oh? You presume to know everything. Whatever you believe is our plan, know that it cannot be stopped, not by you, nor anyone who stands against us.”
Laurel – “We’ll see about that.”
A loud gong sounded and the match began. Spikes of dark energy erupted from the ground towards Laurel. These spikes remained and she had to navigate around to avoid them. To counter, she launched a wave of light energy that destroyed the spikes and hit Garan at the same time.
Garan – “Light magic eh? We’ll see how you handle that soon.”
Next Garan used a fire spell to cast hot embers throughout the area. Laurel crafted a shield of winds to protect herself. Then, she stomped on the ground causing pillars of stone to rise and hit Garan once again, sending him flying backwards.
Garan – “You’ll pay for that!”
They continued exchanging blows but Laurel kept the upper hand showing how much she had grown over the course of the battles. Garan was all but exhausted when the judges of the match were ready to call for its end. Before they did so, the priest of chaos had one last resort to pull off. He had been gathering energy for a powerful blast of light magic that he was now ready to unleash. Garan raised his hand and a large orb of light appeared and began to grow and grow. The queen saw this as an insult to the contest and to the power of dark magic. She used a staff she was holding to drain the orb and render it inert. The spell ceased and Laurel used this chance to cast a binding spell. This time she used dark magic. Mysterious shadowy hands grabbed and held Garan in place. Laurel was declared victorious.
Queen Parania – “Congratulations Lady Laurel, I knew you would not…”
Before the queen could finish an image of Gerthran appeared in the skies.
Gerthran – “I see you have failed Garan. I will no longer tolerate such things.”
A loud rumble echoed through Zanathas. Blasts of light magic pierced the clouds and hit the ground in numerous areas. The queen jumped from her throne and into the arena, helped by clouds of darkness. She ran to protect Laurel and created a shield with her magic. Meanwhile Garan received the full force of one of the light beams. He collapsed, his skin smoking as if burnt. Parania’s shield held but only for a short while. Warriors of chaos poured into the arena. The audience fled while the soldiers of Zanathas rallied to protect their queen.
Queen Parania – “Laurel, take this! Go and meet up with your father!”
Laurel – “What about you?!”
Queen Parania – “I will be fine, this staff will protect me. They need you in Entralia.”
Lumos and Thistle rejoined with Laurel.
Thistle – “That turned bad pretty quickly. How is Gerthran doing this?”
Lumos – “It could be the power of his own artifacts.”
Explosions continued to tear at the ground. Parts of the arena had been broken.
Lumos – “We must hurry out, the queen informed us of what our next moves should be.”
Thistle – “I’ll carve a path, you two run behind me!”
Thistle used a ray of fire that pushed away a swath of enemy warriors. She flew forward, Laurel and Lumos ran behind her. They had to battle many of the warriors of chaos but slowly made it to the world portal. Behind them Percival caught up.
Percival – “Laurel! You should have great care when facing Gerthran. His warriors apparently wanted one thing more than anything, the queen’s staff. The artifact is called the Staff of Zanathas. We don’t know what he’s planning with it.”
Thistle – “Aren’t you the best informed here? What happened to your spies and all that?”
Percival – “That is precisely why the queen sent me to warn you. This is something new. We originally thought he was after the item the queen gave you, but we were mistaken.”
Laurel – “Alright, I’ll be careful.”
Laurel had newfound dark magic flowing through her. The artifact that the queen gave her is called the Belt of Darkgate. With it she was able to activate the world portal and navigate the Nightmare Warp with ease. Lumos and Thistle were impressed. Now that Laurel possessed all the joint artifacts of the worlds, mana and magic became as natural as breathing.
Now back at Entralia, elemental storms raged across the sky. With the power she had mustered she was able to create a small portal to Balancor. From there they would try to find out more about the current situation and then begin the hunt for Gerthran.