Authors: R.M. Prioleau
The crowd was in an uproar.
Aidan gasped and rushed to the
fallen man. “Aidan is sorry! Are you all right?”
But Hugo remained out cold.
Aidan knelt down beside Hugo
and shook him, attempting to rouse him.
Nester broke through the crowd
and ran over to Aidan. One of his belt pouches was fatter, nearly sagging off
his hip. “That was amazin’, Aidan! You beat ’im without even liftin’ a finger!”
He gasped. “That means we win the 300 gold, aye?” He smiled broadly and slapped
Aidan on the back. “Good on ya!”
Aidan scowled at the brownie.
“This man is hurt, and all you can think about is money?”
“Ah, ’e’s not ’urt. ’E’s just
... ah ... takin’ a nap, that’s all.” Nester climbed atop Hugo’s broad chest
and slapped him across the face a few times. Nester seemed to be enjoying
by the way his lips crept into a smile despite his
“See?” Nester pointed. “Good
Aidan opened his mouth to
winced as the announcer’s blaring voice
resounded over the crowd.
“And there you have it, ladies
and gentlemen! Hugo has fallen in less than a minute’s time! Aidan has won the
three hundred gold
A mixed reaction of cheers and
boos swept through the crowd.
The announcer approached
Aidan, smiling. “Now that you’ve defeated the champion, why not make things a
little more interesting, hm? What say you increase your earnings to four
Nester’s eyes bulged.
Four ’undred gold?!
Aidan stood up and waved his
hand to the announcer. “No! Aidan does not want to fight anymore. Aidan does
not want anyone else hurt!”
The announcer leaned over and
muttered, “You’re doing great, Aidan. Keep it up.”
“Aidan agrees!” Nester
exclaimed, getting the announcer’s attention. “Didn’t you ’ear ’im?”
The announcer looked confused.
“He—he did?” His attention locked on Nester, who smiled and gave a few quick
nods in agreement. “Oh! Yes! He did! He
Aidan glared at Nester and
then turned to the announcer. “No! Aidan did not—”
“Ladies and gentlemen!” the
announcer continued. “Aidan has agreed to put forth his earnings into an even
Four hundred gold
is the new prize! Who will be
the first contender to challenge him?”
Another man stepped into the
ring and said, “I will accept the challenge. My name is Caiyn.” He ripped off his
tunic and tossed it into the crowd. The rippling muscles in his bare chest and
arms were more toned than Hugo’s, and he was taller and leaner. However,
Caiyn’s height barely reached the middle of Aidan’s chest. After observing
Aidan carefully, Caiyn stepped back into a fighting stance.
Aidan’s head tilted to the
side, studying his opponent’s movements.
That stance is familiar.
weight on the front foot, hands open, body angled ninety degrees ... He will
most likely favor his feet.
He briefly reviewed his training as a youth,
when his master had introduced him to the many arts of fighting.
“Caiyn has agreed to challenge
the reigning champion, Aidan!” The announcer bellowed. “Place your bets,
Cheers of anticipation surged
through the crowd, and people began scrambling to the betting booth. A few
people patted themselves in
, realizing their
money pouches were gone.
“I’ve been robbed!” One of the
spectators cried. But the man’s voice was soon drowned out by the crowd’s
murmurings. Aidan watched as the man joined a small group of spectators who had
also apparently been robbed and scoured the sea of people in search of the
Frowning, Aidan scanned the
crowd for Nester, but the brownie was nowhere to be found.
When the last bet was taken,
the announcer addressed everyone again. “And now, without further ado, may the
best man win!” He quickly shuffled out of the ring.
Aidan bowed and extended his
fist, hoping Caiyn, whom he sensed was more of a seasoned fighter than Hugo,
would return the honorable gesture. “It is an honor, sir. Aidan will be careful
this time and make sure no one gets hurt.”
To Aidan’s relief, Caiyn
understood his gesture and bumped his fist. “Never underestimate your opponent,
Aidan,” he said, then returned to his stance. The fight commenced. Caiyn
shifted the weight on his foot and sprang forward through the air, aiming a
side-kick toward Aidan’s lower ribs.
Aidan sidestepped before
Caiyn’s foot made contact.
Appearing surprised, Caiyn
tumbled to the ground,
rolled back toward Aidan
to recover his attack. Aidan peered over his shoulder at Caiyn, who attempted
to drop him with a back-sweep. Caiyn’s leg impacted the back of Aidan’s, and a
loud snap was heard.
Caiyn let out an earsplitting
cry of pain. A hush drew over the spectators as he collapsed to the ground,
holding his ankle.
Aidan gasped. He spun around
and knelt down to tend to the injured man. “Aidan is sorry! Aidan is sorry!
Stay still! Aidan will get you to healer!” Picking Caiyn up, Aidan looked
around frantically for the nearest aurorium.
“Put him down,” a gruff voice
ordered, breaking the shocked silence of the crowd.
Startled, Aidan looked toward
the voice. It was the armored man he had seen earlier. He approached Aidan.
Like everyone else, Aidan easily towered over the armored man, but Aidan’s size
didn’t appear to intimidate him.
The man crossed his arms and
looked at Aidan expectantly. “I said, ‘Put him down.’”
A bitter taste came to Aidan’s
mouth. Something about the armored man bothered him. He carefully set Caiyn
down and backed away.
The armored man smiled and
then nodded toward an unseen person within the crowd. Moments later, another
armored man emerged. He approached, hefted Caiyn’s body, and carried him off.
After his comrade left, the man
turned back to Aidan. “My name is Gaston, and I will gladly take up the
Aidan gaped. He tried to
protest, but no sound came. He felt small nudging on his side.
“Did you ’ear that, mate? This
bloke wants to challenge you! Give ’im a good one, an’ we’ll be soddin rich
Aidan glared at Nester. “No!
No more fighting! No more violence! Too many people got hurt today! Aidan is
Gaston stroked his thin black
beard in thought and then smirked at Aidan. “Entertain me, creature. Entertain
us all. It’s amazing that someone like you has been spared from death.”
Aidan met Gaston’s gaze.
“Aidan does not cause trouble, so people do not bother him.”
They know better than to wrestle with a
He paused and scrutinized Aidan more closely. “That
what you are, I
Soft mutterings swept over the
crowd. Even the announcer looked stunned.
You’re gonna just
stand there an’ let ’im insult you like that?”
Aidan shook his head at
Nester. “Aidan does not know what this man is talking about.” He faced Gaston
and then sighed heavily. “If it means Aidan can get some food and warm bed
afterwards, then fine—Aidan will entertain.”
“That’s it, mate! Knock th’
sense outta ’im!” Nester quickly scrambled out of the ring and disappeared in
“Wonderful.” Gaston grinned
and stepped backwards, beckoning Aidan to make the first advance.
Anticipatory cheers erupted
from the crowd, and people started placing bets.
Aidan regarded the man,
attempting to assess his movements, but Gaston’s cool demeanor was difficult to
What is it about him that’s unnerving me?
armor, perhaps, or ...
He paused and sniffed at him. Gaston reeked of
blood, though Aidan saw none on his attire. Though it made him feel awkward,
Aidan didn’t bother attempting to bow formally to him; Gaston seemed ready to
prove a point.
Gaston circled him slowly, the
smirk remaining fixed on his weathered face. “Come, Aidan. Your audience
Aidan sighed. He reluctantly
threw himself toward Gaston, to grapple with him.
Gaston stood as still as a
statue as Aidan approached. When Aidan was mere footsteps away, Gaston turned
his body slightly and braced for impact. Aidan’s mass moved Gaston a few steps,
but Gaston’s armored body otherwise stayed firm. Aidan prepared to bear-hug
Gaston, but Gaston surprised him with a gauntleted fist to the solar plexus.
Aidan grunted, and his body
folded. Gaston came at him again, aiming another punch at Aidan’s lowered head,
but Aidan leaned back just as the punch brushed past his chin. Aidan countered
by grabbing Gaston’s arm and attempted to sweep him off his feet. Gaston, his
arm still locked in Aidan’s grip, spun backwards and elbowed Aidan hard in his
side. Aidan gasped, feeling one of his ribs crack, and collapsed.
He landed on his back with a
loud thump. The ground trembled.
The crowd roared.
Nester’s jaw dropped. “That’s
not fair! ’E cheated, ’e did!”
Gaston stood over Aidan,
planting his scale-armored boot upon Aidan’s chest. He glowered down. “You
disappoint me, Aidan. I was hoping to make this a worthwhile fight.” Gaston
pressed his foot harder into Aidan’s chest.
Aidan stared up at the man and
then coughed briefly. He eyed the scales on the man’s foot. The armor appeared
rough—like actual scales—despite their metallic shine. He stared at his own
arm, similarly scaled—only the ones on Gaston’s armor were much larger.
“What’s wrong, Aidan?” Gaston
jeered, smiling with amusement. “You look rather confused about something.”
Aidan snorted. The scent of
blood, underlined by
, grew stronger.
Strength rekindled in his body. Sadness and rage welled in his mind. Aidan
somehow recognized the scent from long ago, but could not recall where. He
wrinkled his nose.
In a single motion, Aidan
heaved up, tossing Gaston onto his back, knocking the wind out of the man.
Pinning Gaston to the ground, Aidan stared into his eyes. All around them, the
Gaston stared back at Aidan,
smiling weakly and huffing, out of breath. “What ... are you waiting for?
Finish me ... off.”
“No,” Aidan said promptly. “No
Gaston scoffed, “What does
your kind know about pacifism? Look at you. You’re a savage. Born with power
you know nothing about.
And bred to destroy.”
A low growl rumbled in Aidan’s
throat. He glared at Gaston, baring his fangs slightly. “No. Aidan is done with
All of this.
There is no need for violence.
Someone always gets hurt.”
Unfazed, Gaston continued
looking at him. “Sometimes violence is needed.”
“Now is not time. Aidan is
“Then go. Run like the scared
little boy that you are. It sounds like the crowd has been entertained enough
by our little scuffle, anyway.” The announcer returned to the ring, and Gaston
turned his head.
“Aidan has successfully pinned
Gaston in submission!” the announcer declared to the cheering crowd. “Ladies
and gentlemen, Aidan prevails once again!”
Another deafening cheer arose,
and the crowd began chanting Aidan’s name.
Aidan pushed himself off Gaston
and stood back, frowning and watching him a moment. Ignoring the chants, Aidan
turned and hastily left the ring. The crowd made a path for him as he walked.
The announcer suddenly ran in
front of him, holding out a filled pouch heavy with coin and yelling, “Wait!
Wait! Wait! You forgot to claim your prize!”
Aidan shook his head and
brushed past the man. “Aidan does not want.”
“But—but this money is
rightfully yours! You won the competition!
Four hundred gold
was the prize!”
Aidan stopped and looked back
over his shoulder. “Then donate it to orphanage. The children will eat
for long time.”
The announcer gawked at him.
“Ah ... o
guess we will donate it to—”
Nester tugged at the
announcer’s tunic, and the man looked down. “I’m Aidan’s manager, y’know,”
Nester continued. “I look after ’im an’ all that. Aidan obviously got bumped in
th’ ’ead that last round, so ’is judgment’s a little off. I’ll just go ahead
’ prize money for you, if you don’t
The announcer shooed Nester
away. “Off with you! The money will be donated to the orphanage as per the
winner’s wishes, and that’s final!”