Firelight blazed all around the arena, throwing flickering shadows across the sand. Smoke from the fires curled up into the sky in twisting clouds, and burning pinewood and pine needles filled the air with the rich smell of campfires. The snap explosions of scorched pinecones echoed off the stone walls of the arena. Flames guttered in the rapt eyes of the audience.
Chains creaked as the hunter’s gate rose to allow the Avyh hunters to take their position on the field. Their diminutive bodies forced Alden to squint to make out details. “They look like children,” he muttered to himself. “Can they really handle giant beasts? What if they’re badly injured?”
“Every hunter knows the risks,” Braden responded. “Tribes who aren’t willing to lay everything on the line don’t deserve the chance to rule our nation.”
Alden’s mouth firmed into a hard line, but he said nothing. Firelight flickered in his hazel eyes as he leaned forward to watch.
Ahken spoke into his conch shell. “That’s Miilii up front, the fiery redhead leader of the Kash tribe. She’s led the Kash hunting band for forty winters but has yet to achieve glory for her tribe in the trials.”
“How frustrating to always come in second place to Kilna!” huffed Moxi.
“Forty winters?” Alden asked, his eyes wide.
Jincra nodded. “Several races live considerably longer than humans do. That is why she still looks like a teenager.”
Down in the pit, Miilii was arranging her band into formation. The redheaded huntress stood just over three feet tall and was covered in a flowing, yellow silk dress which hung to her slender calves. Cutaways exposed the sides of her thighs. Her long red hair was braided in a single thick rope which hung down to the sand, with a large bone ring braided in the end for weight. From between the huntress’ shoulder blades grew two large wings, each made of cascading triangles of vivid emerald light. The energy wings shimmered in the night as she flexed them and pointed out positions in the sand. Emerald light spilled from glowing freckle spots on each side of her forehead by her temples, on her bare shoulders, on the backs of her hands, on the outsides of her bare thighs, and on her bare feet through her sandals. Her hunter’s tattoo was visible under her right eye.
Strapped to Miilii’s back was a massive lance which stood six feet tall, towering over top of her in ridiculous proportions. The long, tapered lance blade sheathed on her back was at least two feet long.
The Avyh tribe scattered across the sands into the formation their leader indicated. Each of them stood approximately three feet tall, though Miilii was the tallest. There was a blond male Avyh with blue wings and light freckles who carried a long, weighted braid of rope. Another Avyh woman had black hair and red wings and freckles, and she carried a heavy pouch of javelins on her back in a quiver. Alden recognized her as the woman who had winked at him in the arena on their first day. A blonde woman with purple wings and freckles carried a large, weighted net. Last was a male Avyh with brown hair and fuchsia wings and freckles with two shields strapped to his back. Each shield’s diameter was equal to the height of the winged man.
Only the shield-bearer wore a breastplate, vambraces, and greaves. All the rest, even the men, wore colorful silk robes or dresses with billowing skirts which looked more suited to a night of dancing than fighting.
“What a sight this team makes!” Moxi declared. “I just love their outfits. Such daring, in both color scheme and danger!”
“I can’t get used to the sight of no armor,” Ahken said. “I’ve hunted alongside Avyh before, and their style sure took some getting used to. They rely on nimble movements and clever wit to avoid being injured. Hopefully that holds for them tonight. And there goes the beast gate!”
The chains holding the beast gate rattled as they ground on stone. The enormous gate lifted and exposed the passageway for the creature to emerge. In the darkness of night, the black of the tunnel mouth looked more sinister than ever before.
Glinting light sparkled on golden scales as the beast emerged. Its quivering nostril slits and fang-filled maw poked out into the firelight. The full triangular head emerged, with two long horns jutting from the brow ridge. The monster’s glowing red eyes with black sclera flicked back and forth across the arena before fastening on the redheaded huntress at the head of her band’s formation.
Wicked claws sliced through the sand as the huge lizard waddled out into the arena. The beast’s body was covered in an armored hide of golden brown scales which curled outward into sharp points. A long tail dragged through the sand, and a sickle blade on the end gouged a deep groove in the earth.
“A karvat!” Ahken called out. “We haven’t seen one of those yet in this competition.”
Miilii rose a dozen feet into the air. Her wings did not flap so much as flex and ripple with movement. The impression was of the energy wings pulling the woman through the air and anchoring her in space more than holding her aloft through wind currents. The hunter leader made a lifting motion with her right hand, and her band rose into the air behind her. All drew their weapons.
The Karvat rushed across the arena, skirting most of the larger campfires. Smaller fires crackled as the beast’s feet scattered their burning logs across the sand. The armored lizard reached the Avyh team and snapped its fang-filled maw at Miilii, trying to snatch her from midair.
With a flash of emerald light, Miilii dodged the beast’s bite attack. She dashed sideways, spiraled through the air, and darted in along the side of the Karvat’s neck.
The beast turned sharply to follow her. Its clawed feet sprayed the stone walls with sand.
As the crowd cheered, Miilii ran down the length of the lizard’s back at a ninety-degree angle to the ground and leaped into the air again. She flew back toward the beast gate, which was now closed.
Moxi squealed into her conch shell, “There goes Miilii with her usual feats of daring! I just love watching her work!”
Ahken sounded uncertain. “Should they be flying around wearing dresses and robes? Sounds like a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen. Our audience loves a good show, but—”
“No need to worry!” Moxi said. “They’ve got long shorts on underneath. All good huntresses layer their outfits with shorts underneath to preserve modesty while showing off good fashion sense. If you can’t be fashionable while you hunt, then what’s the point?”
“Hunting is the point, I would think,” grumbled Ahken.
“Men have no sense for aesthetics,” Moxi pouted.
“Is that true?” Braden asked Lalaine.
“It’s true,” the blonde huntress sighed. “Men have no sense for aesthetics.”
“No, I meant— Ouch! Don’t stomp on my foot!”
“Don’t ask what I wear under my dress!”
The lizard barreled after the red-haired huntress. Chasing after her in a hungry frenzy left the Karvat’s back exposed to the Avyh team.
The black-haired Avyh woman with red wings darted forward and peppered the beast’s back with javelins. All bounced away harmlessly from its armored hide. The crimson huntress backed off, then swooped down to recover her javelins once the Karvat had moved past them.
“That armor is thick,” Ahken said. “The best hunting armor is made from Karvat hide. No known weapons are able to pierce the scales and hardened flesh underneath. The Kash tribe will have to find a creative solution.”
Glowing red eyes reflected the firelight as the beast glanced over one shoulder at the flying creatures bouncing objects off its back. Its long tail lashed, the sickle on the end glinting menacingly in the firelight.
Fuchsia wings flashed as the Avyh man with two shields intercepted the barbed tail. There was a resounding thud which vibrated through the air as the tail met the bone shield. The hunter darted back and forth, letting the tail pass harmlessly when it appeared to be off course. Whenever the sickle was on an intercept course with one of the band, the shield-bearer darted in and deflected the natural blade. This left the other hunters free to position themselves for their attack runs.
The Karvat continued to chase Miilii, who was swooping along closely to the curved wall of the arena. The lizard beast followed her, snapping its massive jaws only an arm’s length shy of the redhead’s sandaled feet.
A blaze of blue light left after-trails in the audience’s vision. The blonde Avyh man with the weighted rope darted between the lizard’s legs. He swooped behind the beast and lashed both ends of rope together to bind the lizard’s hind legs. The tattoo under his eye burned with purple light as he held the rope firm against the lizard’s advance.
The Karvat tripped and fell flat. Its triangular head pounded into the sand with a boom, and its red eyes clenched shut in sudden pain.
The blond male Avyh Trickster flew up into the air at a hard angle to the left. As the lizard scrabbled around for balance, the rope cinched tight and dragged the Karvat over onto its side. The hunter let go of one end of his rope and, with a deft hand motion and a flash of purple from his Trickster’s tattoo, drew the rope back into coils around one shoulder.
The black-haired Avyh woman with red wings darted in and lined up several shots with her javelins. Her hunter’s tattoo glowed purple in the dark night. Four long javelins bounced off the white belly scales with pinging sounds, but two more plunged halfway into the beast’s soft underbelly.
The Karvat screamed and writhed on the sand, then flipped back onto its belly, which drove the javelins the rest of the way inside the beast’s flesh.
“What a great display of teamwork!” Ahken shouted.
“Those Tricksters know what they’re doing!” Moxi squeaked.
The blond Avyh man swooped in to try the rope trick again, but the Karvat was wise to his antics this time. Wicked claws tore the air as the hunter approached. Blue light flashed as the diminutive man dodged and wove frantically to avoid the attacks.
One attack came in too fast to dodge. The back of the lizard’s paw batted the blond Avyh to the sand. The downed hunter bounced and tumbled, narrowly avoiding rolling into a fire.
Screams erupted across the stadium as the lizard lunged at the fallen Avyh with its maw opened wide.
Purple light blazed as the final member of the team, the blonde Avyh woman with purple wings, leaped onto the creature’s neck. Her weighted net unfurled across the lizard’s face and, with another flash of purple light from her Trickster’s tattoo, the net constricted as if alive. The woven mesh formed a sack around the lizard’s face which allowed for breathing, but which forced the jaw to clamp shut.
The Karvat flailed its head around in a frenzy. Logs exploded as the beast stampeded through fires and flung its head back and forth to dislodge the purple huntress. The Avyh woman held tight to the ends of the net and kept them clamped shut.
The lizard’s long tail swooped through a fire and hurled burning logs into the air. One of the logs bashed into the stomach of the black-haired javelin user, and her black dress threatened to ignite. The red huntress darted back and forth through the air as she batted at her stomach.
The beast struck at the Avyh hunters. Each strike thumped against the bone shield of the Avyh Guardian as he flew around intercepting attacks.
Emerald light left sparkling trails in the air as Miilii darted underneath the Karvat around its hindquarters. Her long bone blade flashed and gouged into the creature’s rump and lower belly.
The Karvat let out a hissing scream and lunged forward into a run.
The Avyh woman with purple wings standing on the creature’s neck yanked her net to the right. The Karvat stumbled and landed in the massive bonfire at the center of the arena. Flames whooshed up into the sky, and the lizard let loose a gurgling hiss.
Alden smelled cooking meat. Cheers and the echoing stamping of feet demonstrated the crowd’s approval of the Avyh’s antics.
The Karvat shrieked as its underbelly burned.
The purple Avyh huntress flicked her net to release the Karvat’s head and rose up into the air above the beast to get clear.
Sand crunched and logs shattered as the Karvat rolled back and forth in agony. Guttering flames all over the scaly hide hissed as sand extinguished them. The Karvat was not only smoking and screaming; thick purple foam was spilling from the corners of the beast’s mouth.
Miilii took advantage of the confusion to help the red huntress put out the flames on her dress. After the red huntress was extinguished, Miilii healed a broken arm on the blond rope-user.
“Looks like their javelin user Kaaga managed to poison the Karvat with her earlier strikes,” Ahken shouted.
Alden looked curiously at Braden. “I didn’t know Tricksters can use poison magic.”
Braden looked grumpy and shifted in his seat. “Poison magic takes a while to learn. Give me some time.”
As the lizard thrashed, the blue-winged hunter with the rope wove figure-eights back and forth through the Karvat’s legs. The beast rolled onto its back to snuff more flames, and the rope-bearer adjusted his flight. His purple Trickster’s tattoo flashed in the night, and the ropes grew taught. The lizard was caught fast with all four legs bound tight and its belly exposed.
“This is over,” Ahken said.
“Here it comes!” squealed Moxi.
Miilii rose up into the air to the top of the arena. Light from the three moons gleamed along the blade of her lance as she lined up her strike. Emerald light flashed and left a sparkling afterimage as the red-haired huntress hurtled down toward the Karvat’s exposed belly.
Bone lance met thin, scaly flesh. The Karvat’s chest caved in from the force of Miilii’s strike, and her lance pierced the lizard’s heart. A fountain of blood erupted around her and passed straight through the cascading triangles of her upraised emerald wings. The huntress planted her sandaled feet firmly on the lizard’s belly and twisted the lance, causing more damage.
The Karvat shuddered and fell still.
And the battle was over.
The crowd erupted into cheers and thunderous foot stamping.
“A nearly perfect score,” Ahken shouted.
“That’s what I love to see!” Moxi squeaked. “Those Avyh know how to put on a good show! It’s going to be hard to top that display of precision!”
“Yes, it will,” muttered Braden.
Alden elbowed his friend. “It’s better that no one got badly injured. We need to win, but I don’t want us to benefit from the pain of others. We can win this on technique and skill.”
Ahken swept his hand across the arena. “Folks, give us just a few minutes to arrange the arena fires again and we'll get right back into the action. Up next: Kilna tribe!”
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Author, ghostwriter, author coach, retired psychotherapist, husband, and father. I've written 25 books, both fiction and non-fiction, and scored a couple #1 Amazon bestsellers in my various categories.
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