A Story of Infinity Wars
The Elementalist did not blame anyone for his present predicament. Laying blame is a pointless distraction from solving a problem, and besides, the only one to blame was himself. The Verorian raid had been swift and brutal, and he had not expected to have been taken alive.
Yet here he was, standing in the midst of an arena while the crowds jeered. A gladiator for common entertainment.
The Elementalist knew that he would probably die in this arena, but he did not let that fact bother him. He would stand until such a time as he fell. The Jinhai way.
Across the sands was his first opponent: a brutish, twisted being wielding a bladed club. Once human, this corrupted creature was now more demon than man. The Elementalist did not stop to think of how depraved and twisted the Verorians must be to do this to each other; he knew that he was their superior and no further thought was required. He focused his mind as the brute lumbered forward, first slowly then speeding up into a run.
I am as stone, he thought. Immovable, solid, and strong.
The brute swung with its club, a blow that could level a small building. His eyes glowing green, the Elementalist held up his arm and blocked the blow. The force of the strike reverberated through him, but he did not move or show any sign of injury even as the crowd's jeers turned into silence.
The brute stumbled forward, and with a single well-placed punch to its chest the Elementalist threw it across the arena and into the far wall. Dead. Even as attendants hurriedly disposed of the body, gates opened and more opponents entered. Cracking his knuckles, the Elementalist prepared to face them.
After the cultists tired of throwing thralls and brutes at him, they began to send in the demons. This particular opponent was a difficult foe. Flying about on bat-like wings, the demon refused to close into range of the Elementalist's fists. It struck out at him with a coiled, burning whip, searing his skin.
I am as water, he thought. Graceful and fluid. Gentle yet destructive.
The whip lashed out again, cracking in the air. His eyes glowing, the Elementalist leaned back, avoiding the strike. Yet before the demon could draw back the weapon for another blow, he grabbed onto the flaming weapon and wrenched, dragging it to the ground. Stunning the foul creature with a quick blow to the face, the Elementalist wrestled it down and coiled the still burning whip around its neck. With a sickening crack, the demon's neck broke and it died. Rising, the Elementalist discarded the weapon and dusted off his charred hands. In the stands, the crowd cheered.
Some part in the back of his awareness understood just how momentous it was when the cultists stopped sending demons in to die and began to enter the arena themselves, but it did not matter. Only the battles, the brief struggles for survival, mattered. Everything else was extraneous to the Elementalist, a waste of effort, of energy better spent fighting the enemies of Jinhai.
Before him on the bloody sands of the arena stood an unexceptional cultist: purple robes, long hair, a faint smell of magic gone wrong. This one seemed confident, which was typical for the Verorians, but more than that she seemed eager, ready to prove her worth by killing him.
If the Elementalist could feel pity, then he would have pitied her. But pity is not action, and therefore it was a trap. When the Elementalist saw someone in pain or in need of assistance, he did not pity them; he helped them. He acted, rather than wasting time on pity.
I am as wind, he thought. Swift and striking. Uncatchable.
She threw a bolt of lightning at him, but he was not there. Already he was dashing forward, racing closer to the death mage. Panicking, she cast a death spell, a curse that would destroy any living thing, yet once again the Elementalist was gone. She spun around wildly, trying to see him, when he suddenly kicked her in the back.
Flailing forward, the cultist hit the ground. She barely had time to look up before he snapped her neck. The Elementalist let the body fall and nodded to himself. Swift and as painless as he could make it. A merciful death. The closest thing to pity any such cultist would receive.
He shifted his attention to the stands, where the crowd was reacting with a mixture of glee and outrage. Another cultist was already climbing over the walls and into the arena when he heard fingers snap.
The entire arena went silent in an instant.
Pivoting on his ankles, the Elementalist examined the woman who had brought the gladiatorial show to a standstill with such a simple action. The tall woman was lounging on a throne, long purple robes carelessly covered in dust and old bloodstains. A mask covered her eyes, but her smile was clear to see. She mouthed something and a thrall nodded, running to the guards.
The Elementalist could barely make out what she had said, but the fact that he was removed to his cell gave him a good idea: "That's enough for one day. Tomorrow, however..."
The next day did not bring brutes, or thralls, or demons, or cultists. A twinge of worry made the Elementalist suspect that he was to fight his fellow prisoners, but that too did not happen. Instead, something far more interesting occurred.
The stands were full, overflowing with spectators. Cultists cheered and jeered, thralls rushed to and fro carrying wagers and refreshments. The tall cultist with a mask over her eyes was back on her throne, smiling sinisterly. And opposite the Elementalist was another man.
He wasn't another prisoner, though at first it seemed like he may have been. He was wearing rags, but they were Verorian rags, not those of a Descendant of the Dragon. He couldn't have been an Exile either, because he was clearly and completely human. Part of the Elementalist's mind curiously toyed with the idea of a powerful male within the Cult, wondering just who he was facing.
Then he saw his opponent's eyes. They were empty, hollow; not as if nothing were there, but as if something more should have been there and was missing. In those eyes the Elementalist saw a hunger and desperation. Something was driving this man.
His opponent drew his sword, a blade of twisted purple metal, and charged.
I am as stone, the Elementalist thought, and he deflected the blow before striking back. His opponent barely avoided meeting the same fate as that first brute, swiftly blocking the blow and being thrown back several feet. Growling, the man charged.
The Elementalist blocked another blow from the man's sword, the blade barely scratching his skin. Then he swept the other man's legs out from under him, moving for another quick kill while the crowd roared. The man stumbled, but he did not fall. Instead of killing his foe, the Elementalist merely knocked him back once again.
There was another charge, but this time instead of swinging with the sword the desperate man focused all of his energy onto his shoulder and sought to bowl over the Elementalist. Stone, the Elementalist thought, and they collided with a crash.
The Elementalist was shocked for a moment when he was forced to take a step back, but he quickly discarded the distraction to strike back at his foe with a powerful punch at the ribcage, a blow that would shatter most men's bones and render their organs to jelly.
The mysterious man stood firm.
The Elementalist frowned as the two men began to trade blows, slugging back and forth with their bare hands, the sword forgotten. Each strike the other man threw contained the force of one of his own; each strike the Elementalist landed was met with the same fortitude that he himself displayed.
He's copying my technique, the Elementalist realized. He took a moment to concentrate and center himself. I am as water, he thought, and his eyes flared open glowing a bright blue.
Every punch that the mysterious man threw was met with thin air as the Elementalist seemed to flow around the blows. Several jabs disoriented his foe, causing him to stagger back. The Elementalist pressed his advantage, weaving between his opponent's strikes even as he landed more and more of his own.
Until he stopped.
His opponent began to move with the same fluidity as he did, leaning out of the way of blows and throwing quick jabs. The crowd went silent with suspense as the two men faced off, neither able to land a blow on the other.
I am as wind, the Elementalist thought, suddenly dashing around his foe and knocking him off balance. The desperate man was able to dodge many blows, but the Elementalist was too fast. He darted around his foe, harrying him down. Wearing him out.
The mysterious man fell to his knees, breathing heavily, but before the Elementalist could finish him off he picked up his sword and began to fight back, moving just as quickly as the Elementalist had mere moments before. Suddenly on the defensive, the Elementalist struggled to evade the blade.
I am as fire, he thought. Consuming, aggressive, powerful.
Channeling the pent-up fury of a lifetime's meditation, the Elementalist renewed his assault with vigor. Blow after blow rained down on the desperate man, cracking bones and dislocating his shoulder. But then the man's own eyes were alight with fury and he fought his way back to his feet and began to trade blows with the Elementalist.
Water, he thought, flowing out of the way of a swing of his foe's blade. Fire, he continued, striking back as rage leant him strength. Wind, he went on, dashing around the other man's back and landing a blow behind the knees that should have dropped him. Earth, he thought as he blocked a blow he saw too late to dodge.
Faster and faster the two men fought, switching between techniques as interchangeably as a master craftsman might alternate between tools. Each was the perfect match for the other, doppelgangers facing off on the bloody sands of the Verorian arena. Three more blows the Elementalist landed, and three more times his mysterious opponent grimaced in pain.
But the fourth time the desperate man moved faster than even the Elementalist could follow, swinging his blade abruptly and cutting off the monk's right hand. The Elementalist stared at the stump in disbelief even as his foe roundhouse kicked him in the chest, sending him staggering backwards.
The other man spat onto the sands and the crowd began to roar. "A good fight," he said. "Sorry as I am, I have more important battles ahead of me. I can't let it end here. I didn't sell my soul to die in this arena."
Agent Coyle swung his blade and the Elementalist's head was parted from his shoulders. The last thing he saw was the tall, masked cultist with her bright, sinister smile.
I had the idea for this story a few days back and decided to take a break from Into the Fray to write it. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I felt that the Verorian arena would be the perfect setting to show off the Elementalist's skills, and that Agent Coyle would be the perfect foil: ever-changing techniques versus a man who can absorb/learn the powers of his enemies.
As always, I would love to hear your feedback!