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147. Trial of the Scales

The Trial of the Scales. It was an ancient Kobold tradition where two Kobolds from opposing factions dueled each other to resolve a dispute. To the death, of course.

Daniel called it barbaric, but I thought that it was a pretty neat idea. It would prevent unnecessary bloodshed from either side— excluding one of the two in the Trial who would die! Still, one death is better than a lot more.

Not that I cared too much about that whole Human morality debate. It was simple for me: if you attacked me, I would defend myself and kill you. Not unless I didn’t want to kill you.

It wasn’t codified, enumerated in some long body of text; there was no point in trying to justify something that was senseless. Especially when wild Demons and monsters were involved. Mortals too, were not excluded from this. While most Humans seemed to be entirely ‘sane’, you never knew what was truly going on in their minds.

Many of them acted just as wild Demons did.

The same applied to Kobolds.

Zix was overcome with wrath. He had stormed the Shrine of the Risen Dragons with a mob at his back. They came with the fury of a storm. Xidra couldn’t just ignore the fire and brimstone brewing outside of the barrier. She approached him, and he took that as his chance.

In front of the entire city of Unarith, he challenged Xidra to the Trial of the Scales. She was a [Herbalist]. A non-combatant. So, obviously, she refused. Instead, a champion would fight in her stead.

There were a few [Warriors] she considered. But some of them were… apprehensive about it.

“Tiss the [Warrior], why will you not represent the Risen Dragons in battle?”

She wasn’t angry, just curious more than anything. The Kobold man was Level 102. Certainly not on the same level as Zix. However, he apparently had a good evolution— one which let him stand a chance against the High Zealot.

He shook his head, turning his back to her.

“Apologies, First Dragonling. I do not agree with our faction’s stance to destroy the Totem of Incense. It is a sacred treasure that should be guarded, even if not used to war with the Humans.”

There was a moment of hesitation as he glanced back at Xidra for a moment.

“...perhaps that is the reason why others within the Risen Dragons chose to speak out when they heard of your decision.”

Xidra narrowed her eyes.

“What does this mean, Tiss the [Warrior]? Explain yourself.”

He winced as she fixed him with a glare.

“I have... made no such actions myself, First Dragonling, but there are others who were unhappy. They were the ones who told the Scale Sentinels of Salvos the [Mage]’s return. That is how they knew where to find her.”

“Traitors, within the Risen Dragons?”

A dark look came over her face. She gritted her teeth before waving a hand off.

“Begone, Tiss the [Warrior]. We shall discuss this another time. This is not something that can be allowed to continue.”

“Yes, First Dragonling.”

With that, the Kobold man left. He stalked through the open doorway, passing me by, his gaze averted towards the ground. I remained poise, even after he left, waiting for Xidra to call my name before entering the room.

“Come in, Salvos the [Mage].”

I greeted her with a light bow of the head, stopping in the middle of a colorful, circular carpet. This was not Xidra’s room, but another place in the shrine. An office, as Daniel would call it.

“What is it that you wished to see me for?”

She fixed me with an inquiring gaze. I nodded, gesturing behind me and vaguely in the direction of Tiss.

“Xidra the [Herbalist], I was simply concerned about the current circumstance you have found yourself in. Tell me: are you truly going to be dueling Zix the [Warrior] in battle?”

“I do not wish to battle him myself, for if I do, I would surely lose. Unfortunately, no other [Warrior] in our faction wishes to step up and face him. Not for the stakes that have been set.”

“Not even Nav the [Warrior]? Or Hoxle the [Diviner]?”

Sighing, Xidra took a seat as I remained standing before her. She rested a hand on her head. She was tired. Weary. The suddenness of the past two days was too much for her; especially now that she learned of the traitors within the Risen Dragons.

“Nav the [Warrior] is keen— eager to fight at my behest. But his level is too low. He would surely be slaughtered by Zix the [Warrior]. Only Hoxle the [Diviner] stands a chance, but he is not a combatant. Even with his evolution, he likely will lose his life and our efforts will go to waste. Alas, I do not believe there is much choice. It is either my nephew fights, or no one does.”

I tilted my head back, in thought.

“What happens if you refuse his challenge?”

“Refuse the Trial of the Scales?”

“Yes. What happens if you just… don’t show up?”

Xidra frowned, the face she made making it clear that that was not a possibility.

“It would mean humiliation for the Risen Dragons. Perhaps if I had not confronted Zix the [Warrior], this could have been avoided. An open challenge is not the same as one made in-person. I foolishly chose to face him, rather than letting his incendiary words die down with time. Now, all that is left is for me to deal with the consequences myself: I have to give an answer by sundown.”

“Huh.”

Tapping a clawed finger on my chin, I paused to consider anything that could help her, any idea or suggestion that would possibly be useful. But it all boiled down to a simple thing: one which I had only known since I was born.

“Why don’t I fight for you?”

She blinked.

“Pardon, Salvos the [Mage], but could you repeat yourself?”

“I said: why don’t I fight Zix in this Trial of the Scales?”

“You’re… you’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Why wouldn’t I be serious?”

I cocked my head.

“Zix the [Warrior] has tried to kill my friends. He has tried to kill me. And now, he’s trying to kill you. I’m not going to let it happen, even if it means I’ll have to face him in this Trial of Scales.”

“But you are almost 10 levels below him, Salvos the [Mage]. And unlike you, he has an evolution. A high leveled one at that. This will not be an easy fight— not for you.”

Xidra was worried. Rightly so. I saw what Zix did to Daniel not too long ago; the Human man was incredibly sturdy, and he barely got out of that fight alive. I was outmatched. At least, in my Mortal Form.

“I know it won’t be easy. Even with all my artifacts— even if I borrow my companions’ artifacts— I still stand a chance of dying. My Greaves of the Wanderer haven’t even recovered their effects yet! However, I want to do this. I believe I can do this.”

I meet her eyes, determined. She wanted to argue. Protest. There were things she wanted to say. But eventually, she just acquiesced.

“Very well, Salvos the [Mage]. If you honestly wish to fight for the Rise Dragons, then I will gratefully accept your help. However—”

She raised a hand, drawing my attention.

“Just know that for the Trial of the Scales, no artifacts will be allowed from either of those participating in the duel.”

I stared at her in shock. My mouth hung open as she waited for me to respond. I felt my lips quivering. And I smiled.

“Good. That’s even better for me.”

—--

“Are you sure you want to do this, Salvos?”

My companions were concerned. I expected this. They would protest— try to convince me not to go and fight. That was why I chose not to tell them about it until after Xidra already agreed to let me represent the Risen Dragons.

There was not much time for arguing; the Trial of the Scales dictated that the duel would happen tonight, after the sun sets. Each side would bring their own champion to fight. Zix, of course, brought himself. He was dressed in the traditional dueling garments. A pair of white robes. Ones that would be stained in the blood of the combatants.

“Yep. I’m certain.”

I gave my companions a reassuring smile as I patted down my robes. It was a bit of a tight fit, but that was how these robes were supposed to be. My companions exchanged a glance, a bit unnerved by how I stuck my tongue out. But that was just how Kobolds smiled; they had to get used to it.

Edithe bit her lower lip.

“I know I said I wanted to help Xidra, but this is… going a bit far. Zix is strong, Salvos. You remember what he did in Ghostlight, right?”

“He beat up Daniel, yes.”

I gave her a sage nod. The Human man rolled his eyes.

“He also burnt that town to the ground. He’s a cruel, merciless bastard.”

“But Humans do that all the time. And Demons too! I don’t see why that matters.”

“It matters because you know he’ll use underhanded and dirty tricks— anything he can to win.”

The red-haired woman glanced out of our tent. We were in the center of Unarith, at a large field barren of any plants or vegetation. The ground was rocky, and there was an arena set up out of stone just ahead. Surrounding it was a large crowd of Kobolds— possibly half the city itself came to watch this spectacle.

The sky was tinted a burning orange. The sun was beginning its descent, and the Trial of the Scales would start soon. I had to be ready. But my companions were still worried.

I should be the one worrying over them! There was a group of guards from the Risen Dragons surrounding our tent. And that was not for my safety. It was for the safety of the two Humans. The fact that they were even here— even if they were not visible to the public eye— had drawn a lot of ire from those who followed the Cult of the Old Gods.

Most of the city was unsettled at worst. But Kobolds were not currently at war with Humans. They didn’t just slaughter Humans at first sight. At least, not the majority of them. There was an extreme minority which were ready to act. I spotted them inciting unrest and spreading hushed whispers about how Humans were here to corrupt the land.

“It’s fine.”

I shook my head.

“I also have a few tricks up my sleeves.”

Raising a hand, I created a kusarigama made of white fire. It was a Medium Grade Weapon— a Refined Sickle Grenade.

“I can’t bring any artifacts, but I can make my own!”

“It’s still not enough to level the playing field. Salvos, I—”

I placed a clawed hand on Edithe’s shoulder, cutting her off. I was relaxed, and she could see it. I wasn’t a Kobold. I never planned on fighting fair either.

“You’re right. I can’t just go into this fight unprepared. That’s why both of you are here, rather than waiting up in the Shrine of the Risen Dragons.”

She blinked. Then her eyes lit up.

“That’s right!”

She hurriedly spoke, excitement clear in her voice.

“I can lend you one of my Skills— probably [Restore Skill]. But that’d be very useful, especially in a duel! And Daniel can give his [The Will of the Hero] to you too, before the fight!”

“That’s right. Although, I’d probably have to give it to you now, just to remain discreet.”

The Human man rubbed at his chin. I glanced between the two of them; they seemed more agreeable now. I clapped my hands together, grinning.

“So, is it settled then?”

They were still nervous. Why wouldn’t they be? I could hear a tiny voice in my head, warning me of the dangers that came from doing this. After all, I had no reason to do this. This didn’t matter to me. It brought me no benefits.

But I cared about Xidra. And I wanted to do this. If I only ever did things for my own gain, then I would be no different from a wild Demon, mindlessly killing everything I came across. My companions nodded. They met my gaze, and spoke the same words.

“Just don’t die, Salvos.”

—--

Stats:

[Available Stat Points: 0]

[Vitality]: 100 (+5) (+10%)

[Strength]: 80 (+5) (+10%) (-4)

[Endurance]: 88 (+5) (+10%) (-4)

[Wisdom]: 142 (+5) (+6) (+10%) (-4)

[Agility]: 201 (+5) (+10%) (-4)

Skills:

[Available Skill Points: 0]

[Advanced Fire Creation] - Lvl. 30 (Maxed)

[Barrage of Cinders] - Lvl. 20 (Maxed)

[Ember Core] - Lvl. 20 (Maxed)

[Flame Burst] - Lvl. 15 (Maxed)

[Flaming Breath] - Lvl. 10 (Maxed)

[Intimidation] - Lvl. 10 (Maxed)

[Radiant Slash] - Lvl. 15 (Maxed)

[Self Haste] - Lvl. 10 (Maxed)

[Passive - A Hunter’s Sense] - Lvl. 9

[Passive - Blue Flames] - Lvl. 20 (Maxed)

[Passive - Weapon Mastery] - Lvl. 20 (Maxed)

[Borrowed Skill - Restore Skill] - Lvl. 1 (Maxed)

“Are you ready?”

I looked up at Xidra as she approached my tent. My companions were no longer by my side. They left me on my own after giving me whatever boons they could. I was simply waiting for the duel to begin.

“I am.”

“Very well. Follow me.”

The First Dragonling led me through the thin flaps, out into the area. I stepped up the delicately chiseled stone stairway, following behind her as jeers came from the watching crowd. My companions were girdled by a group of Kobold guards from the Risen Dragons, out of view from most of the audience, only visible through the gaps between the metallic shoulder armor.

I took a few quick breaths, readying myself for the battle that was to come. Daniel’s buff would not last forever. Although, the borrowed Skill may not dissipate for a while. I had to end this quickly. I was not looking for a protracted, drawn out battle.

“When the bell chimes a third time, the Trial of the Scales shall begin. Salvos the [Mage]...”

Xidra faced me pensively. I nodded, reassuring.

“Do not worry about me, Xidra the [Herbalist]. Just ensure that my companions are safe.”

“I shall join them and make sure their safety is absolutely certain.”

She nodded, glancing back in the direction of Edithe and Daniel. There was something else she wanted to say. She opened her mouth— but shook her head.

“Thank you.”

Those were the last words she said before she left. And then it was just myself and Zix. The High Zealot had been in the arena since the sun was still in the sky. He sat, legs crossed, waiting, silent.

I took my place across from him. We were separated by fifty paces. I could cross that distance in an instant. All I needed was to get one good strike in, and finish the fight.

A gong resounded in the background. It was the first bell. It drowned out all the chattering of the crowd gathered. Most of them were in support of Zix. Of course they were.

The High Zealot slowly got to his feet as the bell was struck a second time.

“You, [Mage], why do you serve Xidra? Do you not realize how foolish her ideals are? They will surely lead us to our doom.”

“Maybe.”

I shrugged as I unfurled my tail from around my waist. It wasn’t very Kobold-like of me. But I had to prioritize winning the Trial of the Scales over pretending to be a Kobold.

“But I’m helping Xidra because I want to. And because I don’t like you.”

His eyes narrowed.

“You sound… familiar.”

“What about you?”

I looked over at the bell-ringer. He reeled back to strike the third gong. I bared my teeth.

“Why are you doing this? Why do you insist on waging war with the Humans?”

“Isn’t it obvious? It’s because—”

The third bell rang. I leapt forward with a [Flame Burst], activating [Self Haste]. I came forth like a speeding arrow. There was no stopping me. I would hit my target no matter what.

Zix’s eyes grew wide. He took a step to his side, but I growled.

“No you don’t!”

For a brief moment, Zix froze. And that was enough for me. I raised a clawed hand as it was engulfed in brilliant black flames. It shone with its sable light so bright that those watching went blind.

Just for a split-second.

“[Radiant Slash]!”

I dug my claws into the High Zealot’s chest. He was the leader of the Scale Sentinels. One of the leading factions that were a part of the Cult of the Old Gods. I knew what killing him meant. The implications behind it all— I was ready to embrace it.

It was one of my greatest Skills. I could shred through a Ghoul with it. The same thing should have happened with Zix, right?

Wrong.

The black light faded as the Skill’s effects came to an end. I stared in shock as my claws only barely pierced through the Kobold’s skin. It drew blood, yes. He was bleeding, but not profusely. It wasn’t just a minor wound. And yet, Zix was unfazed.

It didn’t even come close to killing him.

“Was that it? How pathetic.”

Zix the [Warrior] grabbed me by the arm and flung me to the side. I crashed into the earth, tumbling and breaking through the stone ground as the fire around the arena ignited. It formed a patterned wall, boxing us in this small space.

I stumbled back up, wincing as blood dripped from the cuts all over my scales. The High Zealot walked forward leisurely. His bleeding had already stopped. A savage grin was spread across his face.

“[Passive - Weaker Regeneration]. [Passive - Obsidian Scales]. [Passive - Enhanced Vitality]. Did you think that was enough to kill me?”

He shook his head, the disappointment clear in his voice. A familiar image seemed to coalesce behind him. It looked like a Kobold— but no, I saw it somewhere else. Was it… the murals in Shrine of the Risen Dragons?

“You ask me why I am doing this? It’s because the Apocalypse is coming. The world shall end. Not unless I put an end to all the scourges that plagues the Nexeus… starting with heathens like you.”

Zix raised his claw, and the image struck down after him. It tore the ground open. It ripped apart the earth, bearing down on me with the fury of a Dragon.

 

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