Carpathia III: Episode 116: Red Match
Jaze: Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Hot! Hot! Hot!
Adell and Artemis glanced at each other knowingly before Artemis rolled his eyes and stared at the ground. Since the previous evening, this was not a first for Jaze and both guessed it wouldn't be the last.
Adell: You might as well go. You know what he's going to do.
Artemis: He's going to have to learn his lesson eventually.
As expected, the next thing they heard was Jaze calling for Artemis again.
Again, Artemis rolled his eyes.
Artemis: Okay, okay, I'm coming.
Reluctantly, Artemis rose and approached Jaze, who was holding out his hands expectantly. The little burn marks weren't as bad as last time, so perhaps Jaze was improving. Artemis touched Jaze's palms and, as usual, a green light emanated from his fingertips, rapidly healing the burns.
Artemis: You need to stop this until you find a better way to practice with your fire ability. I can heal you, but you'll still have scars. Keep this up and you won't leave fingerprints anymore.
Artemis finished with Jaze's hands and Jaze turned them over several times, checking the damage. There was still light scarring there and the other places he'd burned earlier, just as Artemis said.
Jaze: Maybe the village has something fireproof I can put on my hands so that I can practice.
Jaze couldn't argue; Artemis was right. He couldn't keep going like this. Just as he started to wonder what he was going to do next, he felt the gentle arms of Toma wrap around him from behind. Jaze suddenly felt comforted as Toma slowly reached up and touched Jaze's arms.
Toma: I've been practicing too. Let's try this.
Suddenly, Jaze felt a soothing breeze slowly begin to flow all around his body, though nothing else around him was being disturbed. The gentle air flowed all around him, and only him.
Toma: Okay, try it now.
Jaze held out his hands and began to concentrate. Slowly, a small, wavering flame began to build just over his palm and any part of it that touched the wind shield simply vanished. Toma then held up his hands and encircled the flame with wind, protecting Jaze's hands and body from its burning touch. Jaze allowed the flame to grow little by little.
Jaze now shrank the flame until it finally disappeared entirely. With that, Toma ceased the wind around his hands.
Jaze: That really worked well! Thanks!
Not realizing that everyone else had been watching, Jaze turned in surprise when they all began to applaud, though somewhat quietly. They had not, after all, arrived at the village yet. Jaze rubbed his neck and grinned with embarrassment.
Kaoru: That's pretty good! Now you can get our fires going from now on. For now, the food's done, so let's eat.
Jaze was in a much cheerful mood as he and Toma took a seat near the fire and helped himself to some meat and Toma some fruit. Knowing that Toma would soon begin his story again, Jaze decided to offer a suggestion.
Jaze: Toma, do you remember when we first met Ryuu and he read my mind so that he could speak English?
Toma paused for a moment with a mouthfull of berries.
Toma: Yeah, I think so.
Jaze: He can read your memories and share them with everyone else if you'd rather do that instead of tell your story.
Ryuu: I could do that.
Toma chewed slowly as his eyes darted across the ground. Finally, he swallowed and gave his response.
Toma: Thanks, but I'd rather do it this way.
Soon after, Toma continued his story.
Volcano, Yseri, Volcanic Colosseum
Nervously awaiting his first match, Toma waited outside the main arena with Brutus standing on one side of him and Hanif on the other. Hanif kept a reassuring hand on Toma's shoulder while Brutus eyeballed Hanif apprehensively the entire time.
Toma: I... don't want to do this.
Hanif gave Toma's shoulder a squeeze.
Hanif: Don't worry. Just remember what I taught you. Do well and you might even face me someday!
Brutus: You better do good. I got a lot riding on you.
From inside, they could hear Ringmaster announcing Toma's opponent and the name "Zig the Mutilator" did not make him feel any better. When Ringmaster completed the introduction, the crowd cheered. Before Toma could attempt to steel himself for his own introduction, Brutus suddenly shoved the end of a little blue bottle into his mouth.
Brutus: Drink this. It'll make you fight better.
Too surprised to spit out the sweet liquid, Toma gagged as it slithered down his throat. When Brutus finally pulled the bottle away, Toma coughed and gagged more. From inside, he could hear his own introduction. "Toma the Killer Rabbit," Ringmaster called him.
Toma didn't have time to ask who gave him such a horrible name, for Brutus suddenly gave him a shove and Toma stumbled inside the arena.
The arena itself was a circle with a floor of dirt covered with a thin layer of sand. Ringmaster stood in the middle, addressing the crowd arranged in high grandstands that encircled the arena. On the other side of the arena was a large, green creature with a thick tail and scaley skin dancing back and forth on the balls of his feet while punching at the air. Toma remembered that Hanif told him that this was a komodo and that he should watch out for his claws. Toma stood still on his side of the arena, observing the komodo and the crowd surrounding him.
Ringmaster: Betting is now closed! May fortune smile upon you!
Casually, Ringmaster strolled to a set of stairs in one part of the arena which contained what appeared to be a private box. Once he was seated, the shrill clang of a bell echoed throughout the crowd. The komodo ceased prancing on his feet and now slowly approached with his fists up and knees bent. Doing his best to remember what little training he'd had with Hanif so far, Toma widened his stance and bent his knees, but remained where he was.
The komodo came closer and closer, yet Toma still did not move. Suddenly, the komodo lunged forward with tremendous speed and swiped at Toma with his claws. Toma sidestepped the attack to the Komodo's left, but he was undeterred, immediately following up with a kick, which Toma narrowly dodged by stumbling backward.
The komodo paused momentarily, as a wide, confident grin spread across his face. He charged at Toma again before he could regain his balance. Swiping again at Toma's face with his claws this time, Toma could only fall to the ground to avoid the attack. Toma landed on his back and the komodo stopped directly in front of him. Sensing an opportunity, Toma coiled his legs like a spring while the komodo turned to face him again. Toma thrust his legs forward, mindful not to use his full power, and kicked the komodo in the chest.
The komodo tumbled backward several feet before finally coming to rest by the arena wall, just below the grandstands. As Toma staggered to his feet, the komodo attempted to do the same, but quickly gave up, flopping down on the ground. Cheers, and a smattering of boos, erupted throughout the crowd. Toma was pleased, not for the cheering, but that he made it through his fight without being injured or accidentally killing anyone. Just as he started wondering what he should do next, he felt a hand grab his wrist and hold it high in the air.
Ringmaster: We have a winner! Our rookie, Toma the Killer Rabbit!
Toma: That was basically my life until a few days ago. I'd eat, sleep, train, fight, and work. That was it. At first, they put me to work in the forge, hammering and shaping metal for whatever they asked for. Later, I was assigned to clean the blood from the obstacles from the Death Races. As I moved from Blue matches to Green and Yellow, I was able to choose the work that I did. Hanif was a good teacher. For a long time, I didn't understand why he was so nice to me. Then, I found out that I was scheduled for a Red match.
Toma: A Red match?!? But I'm only a low Yellow right now!
Hanif nodded gravely.
Hanif: Once in awhile, they schedule Red matches at random. You won't know your opponent until you're in the arena, so we need to prepare for anything.
Toma pulled on one of his ears and began wringing it nervously.
Toma: I don't want to kill anyone.
Hanif reached into his pocket and tossed a blue bottle to Toma, who immediately opened it and drank the contents. Hanif then folded his arms across his chest and gazed upon Toma sternly.
Hanif: It's kill or be killed and I'm going to make sure my protégé is on the winning side.
Fierce was the training from that day until the Red match. Hanif worked Toma hard every day to ensure that all of Toma's attacks and defences were built into his very muscles. Even Brutus, who normally had no problem putting Toma to work after a difficult day of training gave him time off from his usual manual labor tasks so that he could prepare. Of course, Toma knew that this had nothing to do with altruism and was all about making sure Toma got through the match alive.
Several days later, the day of the Red match arrived. Toma stood apprehensively outside the entrance to the arena and chugged the contents of yet another blue bottle. The floor at his feet was now littered with several empty ones. Inside, the Ringmaster welcomed the spectators and introduced the match, calling Toma's name first, this time with extra flourish.
Ringmaster: Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls! Behind these two doors await the participants of the signature event of the night! One will leave the arena alive and the other will not leave at all! To my left, behind the first door is everyone's favorite fighting rabbit, whose powerful legs have torn through scores of opponents! Now, we shall see what happens when his very life is on the line for the first time! Our first gladiator, Toma the Killer Rabbit!
By now, Toma was used to the matches and usually bounded through the doors in a display of confidence, but this time, he was far more sullen as he shuffled through the doors. Every seat in the arena was full this time and the crowd cheered deliriously when he entered.
Toma wasn't interested in the lead-up to the introduction of his opponent. He only wanted to know his name. With dread, he waited and waited, until he heard something entirely unexpected.
Ringmaster: And now, behind the door to my right, the towering stalwart of the arena! One who has proven victorious time and time again in many Red Matches! This time, it's youth versus experience! I give you Hanif the Destroyer!
Toma's eyes widened. Surely he must have heard wrong. His disbelief faded into shock as the doors on the other side of the arena opened and, sure enough, Hanif entered to another deafening round of cheers from the crowd.
Ringmaster: Betting is now closed! May fortune smile upon you!
All city pictures from SimCity 4