“Public attention is always a double-edged sword.”
“I still haven’t seen the centre of the island,” Nova muses as we watch the retreating backs of the orks. She handled them more carefully than the other political powers.
Her careful and respectful treatment of them surprised me. Should I consider that as a sign that they play a role in her schemes, or does she simply want to avoid creating yet another enemy? Her words slowly reach the frontal lobe of my brain, but by that point, she is already pulling me towards the neutral part of the island. “W- Wait! Don’t you remember what happened the last time you went on a trip? Let’s just stay here. Only three more days and the event is over.”
“That’s exactly why I have to see it. Time is running out.” She huffs and continues onwards. “I’ve sent Janice a telepathic message. She will join us shortly, so stop being a fuss and man up!”
Man up!? “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I have been testing your morals and ideals ever since we met. But instead of breaking, you just bend like a wet twig. You complain and preach, instead of facing the realities of life. It’s annoying. Either accept that the world is different than you want it to be, or change it.”
“Change it?” I ask dumbfounded.
“Yes! Change it! Say no to whatever or whomever you dislike and change the world. That’s what your power is for. If you are too weak, then become strong enough to do as you please. If someone spits in your face, then crush them.” Nova forms a fist and shakes it, then she touches her cheek in a contemplative pose. “Or feed them to your cat.”
I cough. Only an idiot wouldn’t have realized that Nova is responsible for Hesh’s disappearance. So far, I didn’t dare to ask her about it. I quickly glance at Lucifer who is looking out of her pocket. She wouldn’t, she couldn’t… but she has fairies who can… oh, gods. I feel sick at the thought. This person really needs a voice of reason!
“What are you up to now!?”
I sigh in relief when I hear Janice’s voice. The Sovereign is jogging in order to catch up to us. She will surely be able to talk some sense into Nova. After all, she is the one who managed to make her accept her given name. Accepting her name isn’t much of an inconvenience, but it shows that Janice has at least a little influence on her.
“I’ll take a look at the neutral area,” Nova answers.
Janice scratches her chin. “Can’t we do that at a time when the political situation is less… complicated?”
Nova shrugs. “It would be a shame to never see it.”
“Wait. Why would you never be able to see it?” the Sovereign asks.
Nova hesitates, but just for a moment. “Who can guarantee that there will a World Assembly after this one? The various nations are clearly drifting towards a world-wide war. Someone would have to be stupid to not see it coming.
The Sovereign and I glance at each other. We already had that discussion a while ago. Did Nova just slip up? Do her plans go far enough to doubt that there will ever be a World Assembly in the future?
Nova keeps walking and we follow her until she arrives at the neutral area. She stops and crosses her arms in front of her chest as if she is displeased. “It’s just the guilds?”
I try to discover why Nova is so disappointed. It’s common knowledge that the neutral area in the centre of the island belongs to the guilds. They are neutral organisations which operate in every country. Isn’t it natural that they are represented at the World Assembly?
It’s also somewhat unimpressive. Most of the guilds just put up a table and are handing out flyers in order to advertise their association. It looks like the new year’s market of a small village. Not surprising, since it isn’t cheap to transport anything to this little island. Only the political powers are allowed to approach and they are the ones who dictate what’s allowed on the island. The only noticeable construct is the duelling league’s arena.
“What did you expect?” the Sovereign asks. “The guilds are important to every nation, most important are the adventurer’s guild, the merchant’s guild, and the duelling league.”
Nova narrows her eyes. “What’s a duelling league?”
Janice’s answer is quick and chipped. “A bunch of idiots who like it to compare sizes.”
When it’s clear that the Sovereign doesn’t intend to elaborate, Nova turns her attention to me. I sigh, already predicting what’s coming next, and point at the large and round building in the centre of the island. “The duelling league is renowned throughout all the nations. They have their fighting pits in every large village and are keeping very strict track of everyone who joins.”
I clear my throat and lower my hand. “The best fighters get an invitation to the World Assembly in order to show off their skills. They battle for the glory of being the best. Besides, just by coming here, they will get recognized by the political powers. Eventually, they will be hired as mercenaries or employed in positions which require violence. But most of them are already affiliated with one power or the other by the point at which they come here.”
Nova hums and nods. “I want to see it.” In her typical manner, she simply starts towards the arena without waiting for us. She is acting like a little kid who never got denied anything… or a very powerful person who only very few dare to object to.
I quickly glance at Janice, who carries a displeased expression and follow Nova. It seems like Janice has some sort of history with the duelling league.
We enter the large and round building through an old, wooden doorway. The shouts and yells of cheering spectators greet us. They fill the rows of benches which were placed on several huge stairs, elevating the spectators who are sitting farther away. The arena is built like a coliseum with a pit in the centre. The battleground is littered with little craters. In some areas, it’s possible to see that it was once paved with stones, but that was long ago.
Nova walks forward until she is at the fence which keeps visitors out of the arena. Down in the dirt, two men are battling each other. Both are casting spells while not moving an inch. It’s a rapid exchange of attack and counter magic.
“Why are they standing still?” Nova asks, wearing a befuddled expression on her face.
I take a short glance into the pit. “I am not that well informed about the duelling league, but I heard that the two duellists have to agree to a certain set of rules before they start the duel. The rules serve the purpose of limiting the damage to their surroundings. Otherwise, it would be impossible for spectators to watch a battle between people who can cause massive destruction. I assume that they agreed to exchange attack spells until one of them fails to defend himself.”
Janice points at a wooden board on the wall. “Those are the rules of their duel.”
I squint my eyes at the board. She is right. Apparently, they are allowed to use magic and ranged abilities until one side accomplishes a clean hit. They also aren’t allowed to move. Moving would result in a loss by default. “That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“Unless the hit is lethal,” Janice grumbles.
Apparently, Janice lost someone important to her in one of those duels. I nod and turn to Nova. “She is right. Depending on the rules, the duels can end with fatal injuries. Nobody would say a word about a death inside the arena. By entering a duel, you accept the risk of death.”
One of the duellists makes a gesture, creating a large icicle. He hurls the projectile at his opponent, who answers with a ball of fire, destroying the icicle in mid flight. Having cancelled his opponent’s spell, he summons a strong gust of wind.
The other man’s robes flutter and are almost ripped off of his body. The fluttering robes reveal that the man froze his own feet to the ground, therefore avoiding being carried away.
Again, the pressured man summons a shield of pure ice in front of him, protecting himself from the wind. With another gesture, he creates a large cube of ice above his opponent’s head.
By that point, I am fairly sure that the first duellist is an ability user who was blessed with a very flexible form of ice magic. Or he is a mage who developed an unhealthy preference for ice magic.
His opponent looks up just in time to realize that something is afoot. He throws himself to the side, barely avoiding being crushed by the oversized ice cube.
A man in blue and black clothes jumps into the arena, shouting that the duel is over. The judge’s intervention stops the ability user from following up with yet another attack.
“Gohal, from the Consortium, is the winner and gets fifty points for his ladder ranking! Mer, from the Empire loses fifty points! Are there any other challengers!?”
Before I can stop her, Nova raises her hand and jumps up and down on the spot. “Uh! I want to! Please let me!”