Ally walked back to friends she felt indescribably close to and yet could barely remember and felt a clarity settle over her thoughts.
She was going to fight.
She’d always liked fighting. As Aloka, at least. In her current life, violence hadn’t come along quite as often, but she’d had to punch a few people in the face. It was never as fun as she remembered it being as Aloka, but then it also involved a lot fewer lightning bolts.
Inside her, Ally could feel a thunderstorm brewing. She wore the sacramental robes of an Elite but she held the surge of her power in check. The battle with Daranth was going to be the first time she’d used her old abilities in earnest and she wanted as much time to remember the feel of them as possible.
“Is your champion prepared?” Daranth asked.
Ally couldn’t say that she felt at ease with the notion of battling for her friends lives, but she did feel prepared. In a sense, it felt like her whole life was preparation for the moment that lay before her. She’d fought so many battles as Ally, for recognition, for respect, for safety. To finally be able to be the warrior she’d always needed to be felt liberating in a way she’d never experienced before.
“Remember what we talked about,” Mava said, squeezing Ally’s arm as either support or a threat, it was difficult to tell which given the force Mava used.
Ally nodded. She remembered but she wasn’t going to cheat like Mava had commanded her to. In part, because she didn’t think she needed to, but also because she was reasonably sure that cheating would void the terms of the duel and get her new found ancient friends killed.
In the worst case, she reasoned, she should be able to delay the fight long enough that it would be clear she was going to lose and the others would be able to escape while she held the stone armored warriors back.
“The terms of this battle shall we clear,” Daranth said. “One champion to represent each side, one to fall and one to hold in forfeiture the lives of all on the opposing side.”
“We accept the terms,” Mava said. “Send out your champion, ours stands before you.”
From the mass of warriors, a woman clad in the same stone grey armor stepped forward. Ally could only see her eyes inside the thin slit in the solid helmet she wore. They didn’t look like human eyes, and they didn’t look friendly.
Meeting the woman’s gaze, a shock of fear flickered down to Ally’s toes.
Daranth had seemed oddly friendly with Mava. A part of Ally’s mind had clung to that, thinking the duel could be like an exhibition match. Hard fought, but ultimately a showcase for the fighters best moves.
But of course Daranth couldn’t fight in the duel for the same reason that Mava was barred from the contest. The leaders had to remain apart from the fray so that they could honor the terms that were being fought for.
Instead of Daranth, Ally was going to fight one of Daranth’s warriors. A woman who looked to be the same height but much more heavily muscled than Ally was. The armored woman wasn’t going to fight for show either. Her gaze was solid and unflinching. This was going to be a serious battle.
Ally reached back into Aloka’s memories, seeking the thrill that she recalled feeling in her past life. Instead she found a memory of shattering a man’s skull with lightning. It was gross and disturbing and not at all what she needed before a fight to the death.
“Champions, signal when you are ready and let the duel then begin,” Daranth said.
Ally stepped back and felt the weight of her power within her. There was so much she had never touched, never knew she could draw on. She wondered how much it would take to shatter the woman’s head like she’d shattered the man’s in an age gone by.
Mava, Gwen and Renata stepped back, waiting on the edge of an invisible circle to give Ally and her opponent room to maneuver.
The woman in the stone armor took a broad double bladed axe from one of her companions and stepped into the circle. Without taking her eyes off of Ally, she nodded that she was ready to begin.
Ally didn’t have a weapon, not a physical one at any rate, but she didn’t need one. Sinking into a basic fighting stance, she nodded as well.
The fight began before she could blink.
Two bladed battle axes were not designed to be thrown. That didn’t stop the stone warrior from doing so though.
Lightning flared down Ally’s veins and a higher power surged through her mind.
The axe slowed in its flight. Not to a standstill, but just enough that Ally was able to grasp it in flight and hurl it back at the stone warrior.
The blade spun even faster on the reverse trip, carving a path through the air that would have taken the warrior’s head off her shoulders if she hadn’t caught the axe herself and swung it in a series of wide arcs to bring it under control.
Still dancing on the edge of the lightning, Ally cast a ball of it towards her foe but the woman blocked it easily with the battle axe.
Which proved the axe was enchanted. Normal metal weapons tend to be terrific conductors for electricity. With enchanted ones though all bets were off.
That the stone warrior had blocked the lightning ball revealed an important bit of information to Ally. Her foe was concerned about her attacks. Ally hadn’t been sure that would be the case since stone wasn’t normally too worried about lightning strikes.
With the initial volleys over, the two combatants stalked each other around the impromptu ring, each drifting clockwise to maintain a set distance from the other as they searched for openings or weaknesses.
Ally tried to recall another of Aloka’s memories. Something to help with evaluating foes, or an instant sure-kill attack that she might have at her disposal.
Instead she saw a flash of herself electrocuting a dozen warriors. They writhed on the ground until they started to smolder and smoke, their armor no protection from the wrath Aloka called down on them.
A fresh wave of nausea roiled through Ally’s stomach as she cast the memory aside.
Lightning shot through her again and she barely managed to sidestep the stone warrior’s attack. A moment of distraction was all Ally had given her foe but that was enough.
They exchanged a series of quick blows, the armored warrior opting for blunt strikes with the battle axe’s haft to setup a pair of chopping slices with the blade, while Ally relied on lightning fueled strength to block the blows and knock the axe blade off course.
Ally saw an opportunity to cheat arise as the armored warrior fell back towards Mava and Renata. It would have been easy for Ally to position herself close enough to her foe that the other armored warriors wouldn’t be able to see Mava or Renata join in the fight for a single telling blow. If she did it faster enough, the armored woman herself might not even know who it was that dealt her the fatal wound and corpses are hard to question.
Ally scowled at the thought. She didn’t know how Aloka fought and she didn’t want to anymore. All she knew was how she wanted to fight, and backstabbing murder was not a part of that.
Hopping back a pair of steps, she drew in a breath and returned to her basic combat stance. On the sidelines, Mava growled loud enough for Ally to hear.
The armored woman charged her again and Ally was too slow to dodge. Lightning filled her veins like before, but the woman found a reserve of speed that Ally couldn’t match.
The woman buried a shoulder in Ally’s gut, cinched her arms around Ally’s waist and then hurled her to the rocky ground they were fighting on.
As Ally fell, she saw the double bladed battle axe, discarded and rotting away into smoke.
Aloka’s memories surfaced again, this time showing Ally how the enemy could drain the magic out of the tools and gain the power for themselves. It wasn’t a disgusting memory, but it did seem poorly timed nonetheless.
The impact with the ground was only made worse for Ally by the impact of her foe’s armored elbow into her face.
The sacramental robes of the Elite didn’t provide any visible armor for the Elite’s head but their protections didn’t lie in what was visible. Only enchanted attacks were able to touch the skin of an Elite, and only powerful enchantments could do them any real harm.
In absorbing her weapon, the armored warrior had become an enchanted weapon though, and Ally felt pain spread across every part of her body that she was aware of.
Her power moved through her in response to the pain, still subject to Ally’s will, but through paths of its own choosing.
The armored woman was hurled a hundred feet into the air as Ally rose in a cloud of lightning bolts, her mortality barely connected to her physical form any longer.
In less that a blink, she was by her fallen foe’s side, hoisting the woman up by her gorget.
Memories were far more open to Ally in her fully transformed state and she knew precisely how to destroy someone with a fist of lightning or burn them to a cinder with a localized thunderstorm.
“Yield,” she said. Pushing her power down and fighting back to herself.
“I cannot yield,” the woman said, her voice weakened by pain but still firm.
“You’ve lost,” Ally said. “Yield, you can’t fight anymore.”
“I am not capable,” the woman said. “Duty binds me.”
Aloka remembered that clearly. The chains of duty, the pledges sworn and vows made.
“Then fall,” Ally said and sent electricity surging through the woman’s body. Not too much, but enough to incapacitate her.
And then she let her go.
The armored warrior crashed to the ground, and Ally released her power, changing back to her fully mortal state.
“Your Champion has fallen,” she said, turning to see Daranth’s reaction.
“She is not dead,” Daranth called back.
“Her life is mine to take,” Ally said. “And so I’m taking it. Do you presume to tell me what I can do with it?”
“Bear in mind that your lives are now forfeit to her too,” Mava said.
“So let it be,” Daranth said. “On this day, we fall and shall be as among the dead. Our obligations to throne and queen ended by our passing.”
“Is that enough of an out as far as the Throne of the Night is concerned?” Mava asked, walking forward to put herself between Daranth’s warriors and the rest of the Elites.
“It will have to be,” Daranth said. “We will raise no more arms against you. Honor precludes it, for we are among the dead now.”
“I suppose that means you won’t be able to help us either?” Mava said.
“We can die for you, or more precisely for her,” Daranth said. “But if it is all the same, we would prefer not to.”
“I don’t know how the Throne of Night ever lost with clever things like you on it’s side,” Mava said.
“It doesn’t appear that it has yet,” Daranth said. “And it doesn’t appear that you have either.”
He walked forward, gesturing for his warriors to remain in position. When he got to the fallen warrior, he helped her back to her feet.
“I…what happened?” she asked.
“You lost,” Daranth said.
“Am I dead?”
“Yes, we all are. Now bow to your opponent and thank her for the honorable duel and the mercy she showed.”
“You fought well,” Ally said. “I am glad to hold your life.”
“I am glad it is held by one as fitting and solid as you,” the woman said, bowing deeply.
A more pleasant memory surface from Aloka’s time. For the stone warriors, solidity was synonymous with beauty. She smiled at her former foe and saw a twinkle in the warrior’s eyes that didn’t seem quite so unfriendly anymore.