the rise of a Champion
The sun was blazing and heat seemed to emanate from the very stones of the tower. Even the shadows were a barely cooler refuge. Yet, hundreds of bodies were moving swiftly within the standing walls of the Dsarin tower. The still almost intact four floors were used as the arena for the Tournament. For three full days, warriors of all tribes would be testing their abilities in the open arena. Challenges were shouted and blades were clashing, the duels surrounded by spectators coming to cheer a friend or a brother.
Among the fighters was Nyssa. Out of the hundreds that had registered, she had been paired with young warriors for most of the first part. Pure luck. It had been easy to dispose of them as she was more talented them the average teenager. There were benefits to living a harsh life with the Flame Raiders, and a rigorous and unforgiving training was one of them.
The first day was meant to weed out the less talented, Nyssa knew that, but she couldn’t help feeling annoyed. She didn’t want to climb the ladder by fighting the weakest warriors; how was that supposed to prove she was the best? She wanted to cross swords with someone with experience or status, someone worth defeating.
The second day had been a bit more satisfying; she faced Kerrem in the first round of duels. He greeted her with mockery, as always.
“It seems like the Great Spirits wanted us to meet on the arena, cousin! Remember, I won’t take it easy on you just because you’re a girl!”
Nyssa looked at Kerrem and nodded, secretly delighted. She was happy she’d have a chance to fight him. She needed to win this. Both being the heir of a chief, there was pressure to do well not only for the honor of the family, but of the whole tribe. Plus, she was looking forward to beating this arrogant cousin of hers and put him back in his place.
It was over before he could even touch her. The teenager had rushed in and cornered her opponent with a flurry of attacks. Kerrem tried to push her back, but he didn’t know where to start. It was as if she was everywhere, attacking right and left with the swiftness of a leopard. Nyssa didn’t give him a chance to counterattack and forced him to surrender after a few blows. A humiliating defeat for him, a good warm-up for her.
The rest of the fights of the second day went smoothly. Opponents were getting fiercer, but none were as challenging as she thought they would be. She wondered how it was possible. How did the Fire Clan survive the desert if their best warriors were defeated by her? She knew she was good, but she couldn’t be that good, could she?
The third day was meant for the final rounds. Eight were left and only one would be crowned when the sun would set, during the closing ceremony of the Festival. Everyone was surprised to see Nyssa had made it to the finals. Herself had half-expected to be eliminated on the second day, but she had fought well and destroyed her opponents fairly. Today would be more tedious. Only the best were left. Two fights in the morning, then lunch. The last and decisive duel would be held after a bit of rest, two hours after the sun had reached the highest point in the sky.
She aced her morning duels. They underestimated her, she finally realized. All of them, from day one. So many duels were held at the same time, no one took the time to watch her. They thought she was just a girl and that she had been lucky. They had forgotten that her speed made up for her lack of strength. They let her surprise them with fast counterattacks and dodges. Idiots. They should know to take every challenge as if it was a matter of life and death. During the Tournament, it could be, but most surrendered before sustaining serious injury. Nyssa was a bit disappointed, but in the end, it cost them a place in the final round.
Finally came the last duel. Nyssa’s opponent was twice as large as she was, all muscles, and towered over her. The girl should have been scared, but she wasn’t. She started to think it would be the same dumb warrior taking a girl lightly. Another easy and predictable fight. Oh, how was she wrong.
Too fast. She had made a mistake; she knew it the second she saw his eyes glint with satisfaction. Her father always said that three mistakes in a fight meant a dead man. She couldn’t afford to lose, and the realization of her haste made her blade unsteady when it should have been sure.
The warrior had left his side open purposely, and she had pounced like a child, aggressively charging without thinking. It was too late now, there was no way to stop her sword, so she let it follow its course, knowing it would only meet metal. She would be left defenseless, her other blade still crossing with his.
No time to think, she needed space. She dropped to the ground and rolled, careful to not cut herself. She heard his weapon cut the air above her, where she had been a second earlier. Spinning around, Nyssa used her feet as pivot and her swords to attack his legs. He would jump back, she predicted; she needed a moment to gather her thoughts and get back in focus. She couldn’t let her mistake distract her, and she couldn’t allow another misstep like that.
He did jump back, as expected. Watching her rise, he laughed at her challenging gaze. He could hardly take her seriously. She was a kid fighting like one. How did she make it this far, he wondered?
“What’s going on, little girl? Tired of playing? Don’t worry, I am just getting started!”
He smirked, not worried at all. He was confident this duel was his to win, and so would be the title. Glaring at each other, they were moving under the sun like prowling beast. Sweat was visible on both their skin, but they seemed unfazed by the heat.
“Come on, let’s dance, shall we?”
He let her make the first move. His first mistake. Nyssa attacked lightly his defenses, trying to find an opening. He was fast, always meeting her blades flawlessly, but he was putting too much strength in his counters. She would simply bounce back without losing too much energy while he was tiring himself.
A dance, he wanted. Nyssa’s footwork was just as light as it had been on the stage, the first night of the Sun Festival. She seemed to be everywhere around him, shining blades clashing left and right. She was disappearing in the flow of her movements. He felt she was only growing faster and he, slower. As time passed, he found it was getting harder and harder to meet her blades.
Feeling he was falling behind, he tried to go on the offensive to compensate. His second mistake. He would only hit the air a split second after she had moved. Desperate to break her attacks, the warrior went blind and hoped to interrupt her flow. He almost did, but doing so, he lowered his guard. Not a feint this time, and Nyssa seized the opportunity to thrust her blade in the opening, slicing below his ribs. He groaned in pain and tried to counter attack, but she was gone already.
Another warrior would have played safe, waiting for an opportunity to counterattack. He went berserk instead. Roaring, he felt just as strong and fast as in the beginning of the fight. His attacks started to overpower Nyssa and she was falling back. One step at the time, she gave in more and more to him.
Until it was over. He was sure he could land this deciding blow, so he attacked. Too confident. His third and last mistake. Nyssa dodged and counterattacked, sliding her blade into his now unprotected stomach. She had thought it was over, she had won, and took out her weapon, looking him in the eyes. She should have known better, and consequence for her second mistake was a sword biting into her arm. Letting out a scream of pain, she backed away out of range; she had underestimated him the same way all those she fought had with her. Her father did say a fight wasn’t over until surrender or death.
People died in the Tournament. They died, or surrendered once they couldn’t fight anymore. He wouldn’t. Couldn’t. Surrender to a girl would be worse than death, he thought as he fell down on the ground, blood pouring from his wounds.
Medics rushed to help him and took him away after the referee came to confirm he was out of combat. He declared Nyssa the winner of the duel; she was to be name the Champion of the Sun Festival Tournament. The girl had beaten even her giant of a father, Arram di Marak, being now the youngest to have ever won the title, though not the first woman. She couldn’t believe it was true, despite the cheers of the spectators, witnesses of the legend she had today carved in the history of the Fire Clan.
Nyssa was mostly worried about her arm, still in so much pain. A medic was attending to her, trying to stop the bleeding, but she would have to be brought into the medical tent as soon as possible. Slightly light-headed from blood loss, she started following him unsteadily out of the arena.
A wave of whispers started echoing all around, interrupting the cheers. Soon, everyone was point up and looking towards the sun. It seemed to be shining brighter, wasn’t it? Suddenly, something flew across the sky. It was so fast; could it be a shooting star? During the day? No, impossible. What, then?
It was blazing and it was getting bigger as it approached. It seemed to be aiming straight for the tower. For her. People were already scattering around in panic. Nyssa couldn’t move somehow. She was staring at whatever was flying towards her at a dangerous speed, as if entranced by it. As it collided with her, everything went white and she felt like her whole body was on fire. She screamed, but she wasn’t sure if she could be heard. Her throat was burning, as if boiling lava was pouring down her body through her mouth.
Then, everything went black. Nyssa thought she fell, lost consciousness. However, in the darkness, she felt cool and she could hear a voice echoing, a man she didn’t know.
Come, he said. Come, we will need you. Let us meet your brothers and sister, let us join forces to beat this unknown enemy threatening the Four Clans.