A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Hello everybody! So remember when I said there'd be a surprise?


Boom! New cover everyone! I wanted to do something for the new year. :) I am love with it.

Khalik strode to his side of the arena with Najyah perched on his arm. He moved with confidence, waving to the crowd like he was stepping out for a coronation. Even Najyah looked poised today, like a symbol atop a kingdom’s banner with all traces of her usual mischievousness gone.

The crowd’s reaction was mixed.

Some seemed to take an interest in the new match, but others were already leaving, likely for other events.

But if Khalik minded, he didn’t show it at all.

Across the arena, his opponent—Mad Stan—bent beside the smallest of his bear-mammoths, whispered something, then nodded.

“Representing Khalik Behr-Medr, we have Najyah! A beautiful Harpax Eagle and familiar. Weighing in at thirty-three pounds with talons that would shame most claws, she’s a dangerous combatant and one to be watched!”

He gestured toward Mad Stan.

“Opposing her we have Yo-boo! A young Middendorfi Brown Bear-Mammoth: at forty eight pounds, he juuuuust squeaks in under the division’s weight limit! When fully grown, he could weigh more than fifteen hundred pounds! He’s a young one, but he’s mature in his training, and he’s also a familiar of one of the Games' past champions, the great Mad Stan Ernesto! So, which one will come out on top? Let’s-”

“Wait, wait!” Mad Stan cried, waving his hands frantically, the colour drained from his face. His voice carried up to the stands without any help from magic. “Hol’ on now! Yo-boo here’s a Dwarf Middendorfi Brown Bear-Mammoth! He’s fully grown right now!”

The announcer gave Mad Stan a look. “Er, yes…a Dwarf Middendorfi Brown Bear-mammoth. Well, folks, as you can see, Stan loooves his bear-mammoths!”

The crowd snickered.

“That’s right!” Mad Stan shouted. “Which’s why I wouldn’t have no child-bear-mammoths in no Duel by Proxy! Babies is for wrasslin’ kids, not hard fights like this! Yo-boo’s an adult! Nine years old last month! Fully grown, I tell ya! Fully grown!”

“Yes…” the announcer said through a forced smile. “Fully grown.”

“Wait,” Mr. Lu said. “Did he just say he has bear-whatevers that wrestle children? …in the same place where your giant shark friend wrestled that big bear?”

“Bear-mammoth, but, yeeeep,” Thundar said.

“…he doesn’t see how that might also be inappropriate?”

“I guess he doesn’t call himself ‘Mad’ Stan for no reason.”

“I think it’s sweet,” Theresa said, patting Brutus. “He makes sure kids can have fun with other kids and not get hurt fighting something dangerous.”

The group—as one—slowly turned to look at Theresa.

“…what?” she asked.

“Some of those ‘kids’ are baby bear-creatures. Which grow up to be large, dangerous beasts,” Mrs. Lu pointed out.

“Yes, and?” Theresa asked innocently, continuing to pat one of the heads of the large, dangerous beast known as Brutus.


“Hrm. Wait, familiar,” Theresa muttered, looking back down at the arena floor. “You can have more than one of those?”

“Oh yeah,” Alex said. “It gets harder and harder to create a bond with a new creature each time you try it, but there was a wizard named Jericho who had hundreds of crows as familiars. They think he made a deal with this Earl of one of the Hells—Raum, the Raven Legions’ master—in order to pull it off, but it is possible.”

“Huh,” she paused, looking down at Brutus who was curled up at her feet. “Is there a way to have something be your familiar without mana?”

“…kinda?” Alex said. “Like the process is done by wizards, and it links the wizard’s mana to a familiar as well as to their life force…I haven’t heard of a wizard linking someone without mana to a beast or monster. But, blood magic kinda breaks down the barrier between life and mana anyway…”

Alex looked at Isolde. “Have you ever heard of anyone who’s done it? Adapted the familiar ritual to link a non-wizard with a creature using just lifeforce?”

“There are a few historical cases, though it is not common,” she said.

Theresa looked at Alex hopefully.

He smiled. “I’ll look into it. Oop, it’s about to begin.”

The two combatants had been brought through the brass cage and into the arena. Yo-boo paced back and forth, while Najyah preened herself for a moment, then went still, fixing him with her fierce eyes.

Mad Stan, meanwhile, was watching Khalik and pacing alongside Yo-boo: the two of them were mirrors of each other.

Khalik watched his opponent, as still as a statue.

“Begin!” the announcer shouted.

The prince roared out in Tekish: “Take flight, Najyah! Strafe him!”

Najyah’s wings snapped out and she soared through the air, circling the top of the cage.

Stan meanwhile, had stopped moving, watching Najyah intently.

Alex nodded. Khalik switching to Tekish meant that Stan would have no idea what he was commanding Najyah to do. But why was Stan so silent?

Suddenly, he began muttering in low tones, just as Khalik was doing. Both were spellcasting.

Abruptly, Yo-boo turned and jumped toward the edge of the arena, turning in mid-air with surprising agility. His paws hit the cage…and he stuck to them, hanging there like a spider on a wall.

He started charging up the side.

Najyah swooped forward, strafing Yo-boo as he climbed the cage; a glob of clay materialised in front of her chest, and shot at the bear-mammoth’s feet.

Yo-boo dodged out of the way with surprising speed. A sickly green ray blasted from the bear-mammoth’s back and Najyah just barely dived below the beam.

Mana spread out around Najyah, then seeped back into her. Suddenly, the agile eagle sped up, ducking and dodging spells like a hummingbird on the wing.

It must have been a spell of body enhancement: one that focused on agility.

Najyah ducked and evaded Yo-boo’s beams.

Then two rays shot out, and the air crackled around their orange light.

Alex gasped, for a split second they looked like Claygon’s fire-beams.

But these spells were fire spells, and far weaker than Claygon’s fire-beams. As Najyah soared past, they struck the bars of the cage and burst into balls of flame no bigger than plums.

Clay globules kept firing from Najyah, but Mad Stan’s familiar ducked and dodged every last one.

Stan kept his focus on the eagle. He hadn’t given Yo-boo a single verbal command since the battle began: no doubt he was communicating with him magically, like Khalik did with Najyah.

Mana shot out around the bear-mammoth and his speed suddenly doubled.

“Oh shit, that’s a haste spell,” Alex murmured.

The bear-mammoth seemed to glide along the bars of the cage now, and in a blur, he leapt at Najyah with his jaws spread and paws out. She ducked, barely avoiding the bite, but the paw swipe caught her while she swooped past.

“No!” Selina screamed as Najyah screeched, trying to regain her balance.

She fought hard to right herself, but dropped to the ground.

“Oh crap!” Alex shouted.

The bear-mammoth rushed down the bars for the pin, and Mad Stan grinned, tasting victory.

“Najyah, get out of ther-“ Thundar paused. “Wait a minute…doesn’t that look familiar?”

Alex’s eyes widened. He was right. It looked just like the position the xyrthak was in when they’d brought it to the ground.

It was a trap.

Yo-boo skidded to a halt at a distance from Najyah—Stan was clearly being cautious—then reared up on his hind legs as another beam flashed in front of him.

Without warning, Najyah screamed.

And it was loud.

It was like Khalik’s Sound Clap spell, but far louder, and linked with Najyah’s cry. Alex could see something shimmer through the air in waves. The bear-mammoth roared, stumbling back from the explosion of magic-infused sound.

The eagle rose, shooting forward—more body enhancement magic materialising and seeping into her—then she grabbed Yo-boo by his back.

With a few strong wing beats, she lifted the struggling creature off the ground and soared through the air, with the bear-mammoth firmly gripped in her talons. His struggle was being accelerated by Mad Stan’s spell, but her own magic enhanced strength gave her an unyielding grasp of his back.

A flurry of pointed stones suddenly materialised around Yo-boo, aimed and ready to strike him from all directions. The magic from the column would stop them from doing lethal damage. But, they would still hurt.

A lot.

“Hol’ on, I yield!” Stan shouted. “Damn you.”

Khalik nodded from across the arena. “Let him down Najyah.” His deep voice cut through the air.

With a low cry, Najyah lowered Yo-boo to the stones. But, before she left her perch on his back, she spread her wings wide and let loose a fierce cry of victory from atop her opponent’s back. Yo-boo flinched.

Mad Stan shook his head.

Even from this distance, Alex could see Khalik wince.

“I…try to be a good sportsman,” he said apologetically while glaring at Najyah. “…but she is not!”

Khalik’s fights continued to go well. Najyah was the largest flyer in her weight class, which gave her a major advantage over other creatures. Her coordination with Khalik was smooth, and his communication in Tekish meant that most opponents couldn’t understand, or counter his commands. After his first fight, the prince paced his spellcasting to conserve his mana.

Other wizards who’d entered their familiars kept casting through them in every battle they were in. As the day wore on, it became clear which strategy was the best as those wizards ran out of mana for the later rounds.

It looked like Khalik was going to carry the day. Of course, Alex and his friends—and especially Sinope, he noted—were cheering for the prince louder than anyone in the stadium.

There were only a few opponents that gave Khalik any real challenge after he’d beaten Stan and Yo-boo, and only a handful of competitors looked like they’d be dangerous in the later rounds.

But, there was one dangerous contender that had Alex feeling a bit conflicted.

“That’s it!” Kybas hopped in the air as Harmless won another round by decision. “Good job, Harmless! Good job!”

It looked like the goblin’s coordination with Harmless was nothing to dismiss, and apparently, the mushrooms he’d been feeding his familiar were not only making him grow quicker, but also stronger for his size. The croc tossed around each opponent with ease, including a massive long-eared hound that looked like she weighed more than the fifty pound weight limit.

It was exciting for Alex to see the goblin-wizard crushing his opponents, but he knew that would mean he’d eventually have to face Khalik.

Both of his friends swept round after round.

Watching them in their matches left him hoping that they’d both make it to the final: he was a lot closer with Khalik, but Kybas needed the prize money.

Unfortunately, one look at the tournament matchup board erased that hope. They had reached the semi-finals, and the board showed that Harmless and Najyah would face each other to decide who would go on to the final. The one who lost would either be third or fourth, depending on the number of points they earned in their match. And there was no prize for fourth place.

When the match was finally announced, Alex was a mess of mixed feelings.

He watched as Khalik and Najyah emerged from one end of the arena, as regal as ever. From the other side came Kybas and Harmless, looking stoked and determined. The little crocodile was snapping his jaws in the air, while Kybas was letting out a war cry and pumping his arms.

The announcer cleared his throat. “And now gentlefolk, we have the second semifinal round of the lightweight division of the Duel by Proxy! Quite the show, and we have two newcomers who’ve done well for themselves in the field today! Great fighters-” He gestured to Harmless and Najyah. “And great masters both!” He gestured to Khalik and Kybas.

“Despite never having stepped into the Duel by Proxy in the Games of Roal before, these two have shown great experience in combat, and great coordination between master and fighter! But only one will walk away with a prize today! One will reach the epilogue of their journey!”

He spread his arms as though fireworks were exploding around him. “While the other will achieve a perfect run! Representing Khalik Behr-Medr, we have Najyah! A beautiful Harpax Eagle and familiar. Winner of three fights! Weighing in at thirty-three pounds, she’s regal, and she’s mean! Let’s hear it!”

The audience clapped and cheered. Now that they were reaching the exciting final rounds, the audience was becoming much more enthusiastic.

“Representing Kybas of the Clan Chulu, we have Harmless! A young Deinos crocodile—some specimens have been known to be nearly thirty-nine feet long—with a not-so-young attitude! Weighing in at forty-seven pounds, he is ready to rumble! And so we ask our question once more! Who. Will. Come. Out. On. Top?”

A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Croc vs. Eagle! Let's goooooo! I'll see you tomorrow!

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