In the arena, the fight had shifted, in the viewing booth where Anna sat the battle had only just begun though.
“Your concerns about the High One and our other enemies are quite reasonable,” she said, taking another sip of the light, sparkling beverage that accompanied the lastest course in their meal.
“And yet you elected to come here anyways,” Careema said. “For reasons I will wager that have nothing to do with providing an entertaining fight against one of our most talented warriors?”
“The event tonight proved to be fortuitously timed,” Anna said. “But our reasons for coming here are simply what we claimed them to be. I plan to enlist Castorvell’s aid and cooperation in ending the threat posed to my world.”
“I don’t see how we can afford to offer that aid,” Careema said. “The problems of other world aren’t ones we can shoulder lightly, and certainly not when there’s so much risk connected to them. The other delegates will speak with their own voices, but I believe there will consensus that our own peoples must come first.”
“That will be useful,” Anna said, picking up a skewer that held slices of various fruits. “Convincing a group of people who have all reached a reasonable conclusion to see things in a new light is significantly easier than dealing with the those who cling to their positions due to unthinking hate or bigotry.”
“And what new light would you have us see things in?” Careema asked.
“Keep an eye on the entertainment,” Anna said as Val deployed her first stratagem.
Val had been blasted into the lava, but it was Jen who rose in her place. Kinslayer wasn’t displeased by the change though. Val had warned her that she had a few unusual gambits to try out and this one looked to be an exciting turn around that was sure to keep the crowd invested in the fight.
“Hi, I’m Jen. Nice to meet you,” the new comer said. “Mind if I hit you really hard?”
“Oh, bring it on!” Kinslayer said, deploying a pair of shields from the gauntlets she was wearing.
Jen brought it on and then some. With her hands of steel, she picked up globs of lava that splattered off Kinslayer’s shields with the force of cannonballs. Jen’s spinning tornado kick hit significantly harder than that.
Kinslayer didn’t rest though. The instant she stopped tumbling backwards she was on her feet again, surging back to batter Jen with blows that cracked the sound barrier with each swing.
Jen dodged one swing after another, her movements as fluid as an ocean wave and just a little bit faster than Kinslayer’s fists, until they weren’t quite fast enough.
Kinslayer caught her with an unexpected kick that lifted Jen thirty feet into the air. The crowd gasped as the fight went aerial with Kinslayer leaping after the stunned and ascending form of the woman she’d been fighting.
Jen was just starting to recover as Kinslayer’s huge form flew up beside her, matching the speed at the top of Jen’s arc.
“This is gonna look great!” Kinslayer said, winding up for a haymaker to send Jen plummeting back down to the fiery stage like a comet.
“You’re not wrong,” Jen said and grinned.
Kinslayer unleashed her blow only to have it pass through the cloud Jen left behind as she teleported away.
It wasn’t an instant later when Kinslayer heard an echoing bamf of a teleportation portal opening above her but as she twisted around she saw that it wasn’t Jen who’d teleported in but a new woman.
“Hi,” Nike said and then slammed Kinslayer with a fist that carried the weight of a freight train behind it.
Kinslayer crashed into the lava, shattering the ground and dropping to the lightning level below it. As she rose to her feet, electrified chunks of bright orange stone dripped down all around her.
Nike wasn’t far behind but Kinslayer was ready for the assault. With a yell, she met her new foe, meeting her in mid-air again. Rather than meeting an attack with an attack though, Kinslayer showed her crafty side.
The net that she shot from her wrist band did more than grapple Nike. It wrapped her up like a mummy, leaving her to plummet into the raging storm at the center of lightning level.
When Kinslayer landed back on the ruined lip of the ring which was all that was left of the lava stage, she expected the cheering of the crowd that greeted her. She also expected the bamf which announced another teleportation effect.
“Nice shot with the net,” Val said. “You had to know it wasn’t going to be that easy though right?”
“I would have cried if it was,” Kinslayer said, rolling her shoulders.
Val smiled and dropped into a ready stance, the mystic writing on her arms and shoulders blazing with renewed energy.
In the viewing box, Careema’s smile matched Kinslayers.
“That was unusual to see in a Grand Arena match,” she said. “I’m not sure that it helps your case though, even all three of your champions aren’t going to be enough to stand against our Kinslayer.”
“That’s clear already?” Anna said. “Good. It was an important point we needed to drive home.”
Careema narrowed her eyes in mild confusion.
“I must confess, I’m not certain how showing us that you are weak aids your case that we should help you?” she said. “We’ve been able to evaluate the strength of your enemies on our own, so I can’t imagine you’re trying to fool us into thinking a difficult war for you will be an easy battle for us.”
“Not in the slightest,” Anna said. “Perhaps you would like to place a wager on the outcome of this battle though?”
“Is that really fair?” Tam asked.
“She didn’t say which side our new friend would be betting on,” JB said.
“You expect your champions will still win?” Careema asked, watching as Kinslayer punched Val through a concrete wall and then caught Jen in a crushing bearhug as Val tapped out and Jen teleported in to replace her.
“It certainly doesn’t look like they will does it?” Anna asked. “So overmatched, despite their advantages.”
“Yes. They appear to be fighting against an overwhelming force,” Careema said, suspicion creeping around underneath every word.
“It’s more than just an appearance,” Anna said. “Your champion has unplummed depths of strength to draw on. She’s not even fighting at close to her full strength yet.”
Careema turned away from the spectacle of the battle to regard Anna with the same suspicious, searching look she’d been evaluating the fight with.
“How would you know that?” she asked. “I’ve watched Kinslayer fight a number of times, and this is easily the most impressive output I’ve ever witnessed from her. Far weaker opponents have gotten her on the ropes before, though never quite as well or as often as your champions have.”
“I’m going to guess she was playing to the crowds there,” Tam said. “Not faking it, but self-handicapping to keep the fight interesting. It’s Showmanship 101.”
“But you’re suggesting she has power to spare even beyond this?”
As if to punctuate Careema’s words, Kinslayer missed Nike with a punch and demolished half of the remaining area of the lava stage.
“Yeah,” Tam said. “Quite a bit I believe. Though she’s probably not used to tapping into it so her control may be a little wobbly if she tries to draw on it.”
“How would know that?” Careema asked.
“Tam is something of a wizard when it comes to data,” JB said. “And magic too I suppose.”
“Even if we can’t match our foes, I like to know as much about them as possible,” Tam said. “You asked what was going to happen when we ran out tricks to defeat our enemies with, but that was the wrong question.”
“What was the correct one?” Careema asked.
“What is going to happen when they run out of secrets,” Anna said.
“So you’re going to beat our champion because you’ve learned her secrets?” Careema asked.
“Not alone we’re not,” Tam said and gestured back to the Arena.
Val wiped a smear of blood from lips. Kinslayer’s last punch had been a little wild but it packed as much force as her last three put together.
“Probably about time to step things up, right?” she asked.
“Yeah, if you’ve got any surprises left, now’s the time to use them,” Kinslayer said.
“It has been an honor and delight fighting you,” Val said.
“Same. I can’t remember the last time I had this good a match,” Kinslayer said. “After we’re done you’ve got to bring your friends around for the Champions meal.”
“We’ll be sure to save you a seat at the table,” Val said with a teasing smile as two teleportation portals opened side her.
It wasn’t Jen or Nike who stepped out of them though.
In place of the humans Kinslayer and the crowds had expected, a giantess and a refugee from the Pure Ones realm emerged.
“Kinslayer, please meet Duinella and Pynni,” Val said. “Duinella, Pynni, meet the strongest fighter I have ever met.”
“Nice to meet you,” the giantess and the Pure One said in unexpected unison. They turned to each other and nodded before the three of them crashed in Kinslayer like a wave of fists and feet.
Val parried an attack, opening Kinslayer up to a devastating blow from Duinella’s massive fist. Kinslayer’s armor glowed with power from absorbing the hit and released the glow instantly back at the giantess.
Before the return strike could land though, Pynni was there, guiding the force away with here glyphs that decorated her hands.
Kinslayer blocked Duinella’s hit the old fashioned way, absorbing the blow with her arm shields but that let Val duck underneath the left shield’s guard and sneak in a punch that sent Kinslayer flying off her feet.
As if on queue, there was a commotion from the side of the arena that distracted the trio of fighters while Kinslayer struggled to rise.
“Hey! If you get help, so does she!” a fighter who looked like a praying mantis said.
And with that, the rest of the fighters in the Grand Arena came pouring onto the stage.
The victory dinner was the grandest the Grand Arena had ever seen. To unfamiliar eyes, differentiating it from a full riot was only possible by noticing that the various groups weren’t actually destroying anything that the melee hadn’t already trashed as it spilled out off the central stage. Also food and drinks were still being served which was typical for most riots.
“You have to come back next year!” Kinslayer said. Her armor showed what looked like century of battle damage, but her wound had long since been patched up. The Castorvell fight medics were every bit as good as their reputation made them out to be.
“Putting on another show like that is going to be hard,” Val said, raising a bottle of a green beverage to offer Kinslayer a refill.
“Particularly if our world gets wiped out,” Nike said.
“You had five fighters who beat every single one of ours,” Careema said. “I’m not thinking that’s actually a concern for you anymore is it?”
“Yeah, I may have to move to Earth after this just to train,” Kinslayer said.
“It worked for me,” Duinella said. “Their doors are open, and some of them are so damn friendly.”
“Not all of them,” Pynni put in, “but yeah, my people have run into some really good folks too.”
“You’re not from Earth?” Careema asked.
“Nah,” Kinslayer said. “They’re offworlders. I could tell that right away when my counters started getting scrambled up.”
“Your counters?” Careema asked.
“Counterspells,” Tam said. “I noticed the fighters use a lot of counter-magics to mitigate the worst of what their opponents can do to them. Val, Nike, and Jen had to carry Earth style enchantments, but Duinella and Pynni were suited to ones from their home realms which work under a very different set of laws than ours do.”
“Do they now?” Careema asked, slowing glancing over at Anna.
“I see you’ve worked out the lesson we were trying to convey,” Anna said. “Do you think the other diplomats will have caught it?”
“You don’t need us to battle the High One do you?” Careema said. “You’re not asking us to send you an army, you’re showing us how to make our own forces even stronger.”
“We need allies because so many people need a second chance,” Anna said. “We would take them all in, but our world is too far for some of them to reach, and the more safe harbors there are the better it is for those who need a new start and for those who are willing to offer one.”