Please understand this is an unedited version of a work in progress manuscript. What you are reading is raw material, not a finished product. While the content will generally remain the same, names, titles, spelling, grammer, usage, symantics and other aspects may change before being printed to book format. This book will be fully published and released January 19, 2013.
The gust of blustery wind picked up a strand of her red hair and dusted it across her forehead. The coldness stained her cheeks red. Her eyes, closed, fluttered as a second wind lifted her chest plate and crept across the silky Japanese material that lay beneath. The kimono, short on her body, left her thin, pale legs mostly bare. She sat with her legs crossed on a tiny ledge of her mountain. Her wrists lay on her knees with her palms facing the sky. Meditation was a necessity this day. With one last deep breath in and then out, she rolled her head in a circle and then slowly lifted her eyelids.
The fog that lingered in the sunrise lifted and she watched the sunlight taking hold of the city below. It burst through the open hallways and rippled over the cobblestone carriage-ways. She imagined its warmth as it absorbed into the bare skin of a lady, sweeping the dust from her entryway. The day markets would open soon and the streets would fill with people. It wasn’t the coming of the day she dreaded. It was the coming of the night, that night. She wished she could somehow skip it.
Her arsenal was light, too light for who she would face when night curled its gnarly, spindly fingers around the Earth. She felt the bulge of the Arctic Round Tool in her small purse. She pretended she smelled her Fulmeric Tonic, a right reserved only for the dead. She knew she possessed a half pound of Muhler Tea Sprouts and one-quarter of a Log Roller. These seemed like children’s weapons to her after having seen weapons like the Dark Hard Ball and Flaming Feathers. She wished she carried Demon Dust or Periwinkle Gouges. She did have one viable weapon, though. She carried one small Ball of Fury. In the past the Ball of Fury proved to be a failure as a weapon, but ancient tales of the orb’s true abilities existed, only no one yet figured out how to access them. But tonight’s fight would be a different kind of fight. Tonight she would have to kill her opponent. In these games the only way to gain more weapons is to dispel the opponent and take what he or she has left. She’d only been required to do this once before and the pain still lived in her veins. It was fortunate her opponent had been able to supply her with many weapons and she wasn’t forced to take a life again. Until tonight.
Number fifty-two, she thought to herself. The fifty-second fight. She survived to number fifty-two. She played with the number in her mind: fifty-two in half equals twenty-six. At the twenty-sixth she fought against Tanya’s Wharf. Tanya, an excellent sea-farer, possessed all the water element weapons and deep sea items. But her skills did not match Petrova’s Russian Frozen Tundra and her Ancient Rune spells. Tanya put up a fight though and the match lasted sixteen hours, one of the longest in history.
Fifty-two, she thought, the age of her father, wherever in the world he might be. Fifty-two: nearly in the last fights of her career and only at the age of nineteen. She would be a young Master. She remembered now her own master; an old man with a thick Japanese accent, even though nothing about his appearance indicated he was Japanese. In fact, her master was born Russian. When a master makes the binding agreement with a student he or she gives up the right to possess weapons and passes the right, along with their complete arsenal, to the student. From her master she received only twelve items, all Russian in nature. Eight of them were sets of eight Pummeler Rocks. The early use of the Pummeler Rocks etched her fame into the name of Petrova (Pet-rove-ah) the Pummeler. She hated the name, but it was not hers to choose, the right belonged to the spectators.
Looking down on the city again she could see the people begin to come out of their homes. They made their way to the day market streets, bathing in the fountains at the commons and greeting one another. She would make her way down to the city in a few moments, but not before her Morning Prayer. Normally she would recite her prayer aloud in English, but today she needed to feel connected to her Master and all the things he had taught her. Today’s Morning Prayer would be said in Russian and would consist of the proper dustings.
Rotating her body around she collected the small bowls and small pouches that had been sitting, waiting, behind her back. In front of her she placed the three bowls in a triangle. The pouches consisted of Basil, Miron, Cress and Convolvulus Minor.
Into the cold morning air she whispered her prayer. The words spilled out from her lips, followed by her white breath: “Bogi drugogo mira, gl’adite v rudniki v etot den’. YA predlagayu Bazilik dl’a korolej v vashem mire. Mozhet eto nravit’s'a ih chuvstvam i zazhigat’ ih interes vo mne.” (Gods of the other world, peer into mine this day. I offer Basil for the Kings of your world. May it please their senses and spark their interest in me).
Petrova crushed the basil and sprinkled it into the first bowl.
She continued her prayer inRussian, “I offer Miron oil for a gift in death. May it be given to the opponent upon entering your world.
Petrova dug deep into her pouch of the Mirron oil. Scooping up a generous amount she held it in front of her face, staring at it. The oil was almost solid, squishy, and gum-like. She used her left index finger to scrape it from her right palm and into the second bowl. She watched as it settled and became more liquid-like.
Then she opened her third pouch. Pinching a few dry leaves of the Cress plants, she squished them in her hands, turning them to a fine dust.
“I offer Cress so that you will see fit to squeeze from it the power it holds and allow it to rain upon me.”
Petrova allowed the dust to fall through her fingers before overturning her palm so that all the dust fell into the third bowl.
Now she fingered the lovely petals of the Convolvulus minor plant. The roots were still attached and she pinched them off. As she ripped each petal and rubbed them to release their scent she recited, “Finally I offer the minor form of Convolvulus to darken this night of full moon.”
She placed a bleeding petal into each of the bowls and began crushing each bowl’s contents together with her fingers until all bowls contained fragments and pieces and dustings of their former item. Now she said the Prayer of the Student, also in Russian.
“Fill me with the hope of the Chariot, Calm my heart and rest my mind. Bring me wit and power and heroism. Allow the clouds in my mind to disappear and all my focus come to the front. May the Gods be with me.”
“Fill me with the hope of the Chariot, Calm my heart and rest my mind. Bring me wit and power and heroism. Allow the clouds in my mind to disappear and all my focus come to the front. May the Gods be with me.”
Petrova took out a flask which had been filled the previous night by her Master with Holy Water from the Spring of the Living and the Dead. She poured one-fourth of the water out around her in a circle. Then she added the dust in the bowls to the water and swirled the flask in a circle three times. Leaning her head back she gulped down the water and herbs and plants in three big gulps.
Now she was ready.
“I got fifty lards on Petrova,” one lad said.
“I’ll put twenty-five on Eric,” another chimed in.
“Fifty-five for Eric,” said another.
They were gathered in the common area in the City of Carthusa, which sat at the bottom of the Mountain of Petrova. The crowd thickened as the betting began.
“The whole city is here,” Miteous (Mit-e-us) said to his friend. Miteous stood against the wall of a home across the way from the common area. His friend, Virtos (Ver-toes), stood beside him. Virtos was only twelve, Miteous was fifteen and nearly two feet taller than Virtos. Miteous was dressed in long, dark pants and a tunic with nothing underneath. On his head was a solid blue bandana that held back his unruly, thick, dark hair. Miteous’ hair was long. Though the bandana held it back from his eyes, it trailed down his back in one long stripe. It was his custom to wear his hair in a tail, like many of the travelling men did. Miteous wanted to be a traveller when he was old enough. He wanted to be a Long Trade Merchant, bringing foreign items and supplies to many different cities across the world.
“Of course they are! This is the biggest fight of the season!” Virtos exclaimed. Virtos was small for his age, with sandy blonde hair and stark blue eyes. He too wore pants, but of a light-brown color. He was also adorned by a tunic; his was many different shades of brown. Across his waist was strapped a rather nice weapon belt and it held a small, sharp dagger on his left side which told everyone his preference was his left hand.
“More like biggest fight ever. I’ve never seen so many people. The merchants are happy I expect,” Miteous said.
“I heard a ship is arriving later today on the coast, bringing in people from Pupler Island,” Virtos said.
Another boy, slightly shorter than Miteous had come upon them. “I’ve heard the Queen herself will be coming,” he said to them, taking a stand beside Miteous on the corner. Neither Miteous nor Virtos knew him.
“Is it true?” Miteous asked.
“I saw them setting up the box for her. Come with me and I’ll show you,” he said to them and began walking away not even caring if they followed him or not.
Miteous looked at Virtos and Virtos looked at Miteous, silently determining if they should follow this stranger. Miteous shrugged and then they both sprinted to catch up to the boy. The streets were crowded now, thick with talk about the fight to come that evening. The workers from the Night Mill were piling in now, joining the morning crowd. Normally they would be headed home to their families for a meal and sleep, but today they joined their comrades in the square, betting on and talking about the fight.
Miteous made his way through the crowd, following the bright red hair of the unknown boy. Virtos’ thin frame and small stature made it easy for him to slip between the people, but hard for to him to see over their heads. He kept an eye on Miteous’ feet as he shuffled through the square. Fortunately Miteous wore Finger Scale boots. Finger Scale boots were expensive and had been a gift to Miteous from his grandfather upon his grandfather’s death. They were perhaps the only Finger Scale boots in the town so keeping an eye on Miteous’ feet was not hard for Virtos.
A tall man bumped Virtos and Virtos fell off his feet and onto the cobblestones.
“Sorry there little fella,” the broad, beared man said, pulling Virtos up and into the air by his arm and then setting him down upright and on his feet. He handled Virtos like Virtos weighed nothing.
“No worries,” Virtos said, dusting his pants. The broad, bearded man stood there smiling at him, waiting for an introduction, but Virtos simply scurried away. He began looking for the Finger Scale boots and eventually found them. It was odd that they were walking away from the arena, but he followed them anyway. They were headed toward Dark Alley now and Virtos wondered if the seating box was being constructed in the least popular alley in the town to keep people away from it. It was a smart move in his mind and so he continued to follow the Finger Scale boots.
As the crowd thinned and they came near Dark Alley, Virtos could now see not only the feet of the person he’d been following, but also the back of his head and could tell it was not Miteous. Miteous was abnormally tall and had long, straight dark hair. This lad had dark hair, but it was curly and frizzy and he was average height.
Just as the lad turned around, Virtos ducked behind a statue. He watched as the man looked around as if to make sure he was not being followed. Virtos grew suspicious. What was this man into that made him decide he had to make sure no one was watching him? The man wore a solid black, hooded cape and before he slinked onto Dark Alley he lifted his hood over his head to conceal his face.
Virtos ran lightly to the side wall adjacent Dark Alley after the man had turned the corner. He sucked in his belly as he pressed himself into the wall. After a moment he peeked around the corner to see that the man had made his way well into Dark Alley. Dark Alley was a thin hallway with no market outlets. It was the result of two buildings having been built back to back, except their backs did not align. The narrow hallway had scattered doors on either side. These were back doors to shops whose outlets were on the other side on the busy market streets.
Up ahead there was an awning with two barrels and so Virtos crept up behind them. Peeking out over them he saw the man even further down the alley. Dark Alley went on for about a fourth mile.
About seven feet ahead there were two more barrels. Virtos kept low and made his way quietly to the barrels. Now the man was nearly halfway down Dark Alley. He watched as the man neared a door on the left and quickly ducked behind the barrels as the man looked up the alley to make sure no one had followed him. Virtos hoped he had not glimpsed the top of his head. When Virtos gained enough courage to look again he slowly rose his head over the barrels, just enough to see over their lids. He saw no one. The man must have gone into the door at which he had stopped.
Virtos’ shoulders relaxed as he realized he was not in danger of being seen anymore. He tried to judge what shop the door led to by imagining the market street on the other side. It would have to be a shop that was halfway down. The silver shop was near there, he knew. And the blacksmith sold some of his wares in a small side shop there. All the food shops were in the back and all the trinket shops were up front. There was an artist near the middle, he remembered. He began walking toward the door in the hopes there might be some kind of sign on it that would indicate what kind of shop for which it was the back door.
Virtos stood beside it and could see there was no indication. He turned, facing the other side of the dark hallway and tried to think again what shop it might be and he never heard the door behind him open.
A large hand clasped itself around Virtos’ mouth and nose. Virtos’ eyes grew wide with the unexpectedness. He could see the black arm draping of the figure and knew it was the man with the hooded cape that was pulling him inside the door. Virtos fought against the figure, trying to wiggle out of his grasp and run, but it was no use. Once the figure got his hand around Virtos’ face and the other around his waist, Virtos’ strength was not enough to pull free and so he was dragged into the door. The alley was empty as always and so no one saw the poor boy being kidnapped.
Miteous found it quite easy to keep up with the red-haired boy once he caught up to him. They both dodged the men grappling in the street, and the round, white-haired man selling his bread. They even had to jump over a few animals that chased each other. Miteous was on a row, dictating when to jump, when to run faster, when to go around something. It felt like a game and he was good at it.
Until SMACK! He ran right into the back of the red-haired boy. The red-haired boy fell forward to his knees and looked annoyed at Miteous.
“Oh, sorry there lad,” he said, helping the boy up.
The red-haired boy dusted himself off and huffed in annoyance.
“Up there,” he said to Miteous.
They were just outside the arena. Even though the fight was not for fourteen more hours, people were still crowding around the arena. They were hoping to get a glimpse of the venue and how it would be set up. They wanted to see what was happening.
Miteous’ gaze followed the boy’s pointing finger to a box set up on the mid-range level. The country’s flag waved in the wind out its window. A gust of wind lifted the fabric up and for a moment Miteous could see the sign of the Queen was etched in the wood above the window. Atop the box flew the flags of the stateships that combined to make their country: The westward Cardusa, the eastward Carthusa, the northern Ship Star City and the southern city of Citwell. There were also the islands of Pupler and Cartena. The biggest of these was the port city of Ship Star. Ship Star sat comfortably on the ocean and was the official trade city.
Each small flag popped up on the top of the box and Miteous knew that with the lighting of the torch that night, the large country flag would rise from the center of the Queen’s Box.
“Wow,” he said to the red-haired boy as he shielded his eyes from the sun. “This really is the biggest fight of the century.”
“Sure is,” he said, shielding his eyes as well.
After a few moments of looking at all the glory of the Queen’s Box, the red-haired boy turned to Miteous and said mischievously, “Hey, you want to get a closer look?”
Miteous smiled to himself and looked down at Virtos to get his agreement. But Virtos was not there. Miteous turned behind him to see if he could see Virtos in the crowd, but he did not see him.
“Where’d Virtos get off to?” he said.
The red-haired boy looked around too. He gazed over the crowd and then climbed up a few spots on the arena backside to see further into the crowd. After finding nothing, he jumped back down and said, “We must have lost him.”
Miteous shrugged and turned to the red-haired boy, giving him a ‘let’s go’ look. They sprinted around the side of the arena, almost knocking over a woman carrying a tray of hot cross buns. Not even the smell of the gooey, sweet bread slowed them down. Miteous wondered how the boy was planning to get a closer look at the Queen’s Box. He felt like sneaking into the Queen’s Box was a juvenile thing to do and perhaps he was too old, but he was actually quite curious to see the inner side of the box.
The red-haired boy led him to a part of the outside of the arena that was not crowded. A portion of the arena’s backside sat almost right up against the corner of a house that was shaped like a triangle. The red-haired boy stood at this meeting point and looked around to make sure no one was looking. Miteous did the same as the boy squeezed through the small opening. Miteous squeezed through it next. On the other side there were no people around. The red-haired boy had begun to climb up into the rafters of the arena and Miteous followed him, calculating his next foot hold more and more carefully the higher they climbed. Once they reached a certain height, he watched the red-haired boy begin to make his way into the underside of the arena and he followed.
The dust flew up from underneath his boot as he let his dangling self fall to the board just below. This part was easy; the boards extended the length of the entire circular arena. All they had to do was walk along them close enough to the underside of the arena that no one could see them from below. All was going well and they were moving quite fluidly, nearing the Queen’s Box. Below they could see the crowd. They were nearly twenty feet in the air, but heights never bothered Miteous, he rather enjoyed the thrill. As the wind picked up Miteous caught a whiff of basil in the air. Where could the smell of basil be coming from? Basil was a rare herb in Carthusa, so rare that he could only recall smelling it one other time before: at his grandfather’s funeral. He had smelled it thick and had asked an elder to identify the smell. The elder told him it was basil, an herb from overseas that was meant for kings. Miteous wondered if the Queen were near. If the basil was for Kings, it was for Queens too.
The boards began to get thinner as they neared the Queen’s Box. The boys stood with their backs against the criss-crossing of the boards and scooted sideways along them. Miteous’ toes and nearly half his feet hung over the board. Below they could see a few groups of people on the ground who had gathered in the lower parts of the arena’s rafters. Miteous grinned as his boots stirred up a small amount of dust that fell on the people below. Fortunately no one looked up. They were almost ten feet from the Queen’s Box now.
Miteous could see that directly below the Queen’s Box stood four Patrollers. These were the men and women that kept order in the streets. They carried Bangers in their weapon belts. Bangers were used to smash in anyone’s face that was disobeying the Queen’s Laws. Right now Miteous was sure they were disobeying quite of a few of the Queen’s Laws.
“Hey,” he loudly whispered to the red-haired boy. When he turned Miteous’ way, Miteous nodded down below. The red-haired boy looked and as he saw the Patrollers a grin spread across his face.
“We’ll get them on the way out,” the red-haired boy said as he leaned close to Miteous. Miteous was beginning to like his new friend quite a lot.
They continued edging their way across the boards. When they came upon the Queen’s Box they had to go further into the arena rafters to find a way inside of it. This meant they would have to jump from criss-cross to criss-cross and land perfectly in the V of the boards. The red-haired boy jumped first and planted one foot in the V, the other crowded on top of it and he balanced himself by holding onto the boards with his hands. Miteous would have to wait until the boy crossed over to the next criss-cross section before he could move forward. The boy made another perfect leap, landing one foot in the V and the second on top of it, gripping onto the hard wood.
Because he was so tall, Miteous only had to make an extra large step to get to the next criss-cross section. He did so with ease and held onto the boards as he waited for the boy to go one more forward. This time the boy slipped as he leaped forward, smacking his face on the boards that formed the V. He was able to grab onto the V with his right hand and Miteous watched as he dangled above the heads of the Patrollers. His heart raced as he watched the boy’s hand slipping.
As he dangled, the boy watched his blood fall from his nose onto the ground below, narrowly missing the Patrollers. As his grip slipped he knew he had to do something and so he swung his left arm around one of the boards and began pulling himself up onto it. He swung his leg around and found a support beam and worked his way into the V, positioning himself to make the next leap. It would be the last leap, to his relief. Once on the other side completely, he squeezed his nostrils between his thumb and forefinger while leaning his head back to stop the bleeding.
Miteous made his next two sections easily. He looked ahead at the boy who was now standing on a flat board. In front of him were the majestic purple curtains that covered the arena so that spectators couldn’t see in before it was time. Next to him was the Queen’s Box. If they could manage to go under the curtain without being seen, they could easily enter the front of the Queen’s Box.
Miteous made his last large step onto the board as the boy made way for him. Miteous stood closest to the Queen’s Box.
“Well go on then. Look in there, see if there are Patrollers,” the boy persuaded.
Miteous peeked through the curtains and there was no one in sight. He leaned further to make sure there were no Patrollers guarding the front of the Queen’s Box. It didn’t make sense to him, why would they leave it this unguarded? The Queen must not be due for hours then. After a few moments of not seeing a single Patroller, Miteous slinked in+dside the curtains and eased his way into the Queen’s Box.
What he saw amazed him. There was a large table seemingly made entirely of gold and chairs that looked like miniature thrones. There was a personal wash table made of porcelain. Two thick, bright purple throw blankets lay in the corner. He guessed they were there in case it turned cold in the night. Above was a royal chandelier that was invariably made of real crystal. The walls were adorned with plush purple draperies. Miteous went around the table and sat at the mini throne as the red-haired boy came into the box. He watched the boy’s face light up at all the extravagance.
Sitting in the mini throne, he imagined the silver plates and bowls in front of him overflowing with fruits and foreign foods. He wondered if the Queen would be having venison. He had heard that in faraway countries the folk ate venison, but here in Carthusa no such animal existed. He had seen sketches of the creatures and thought they were divine and wondered how anyone would want to eat the things.
The red-haired boy came around beside Miteous. “Let me try it out,” he whispered. Miteous let him have the mini thrown as he looked around. The boy began giving pretend orders to pretend people in a hushed whisper. Miteous was looking at the wash basin when he thought he heard voices.
“Shhh,” he said to the boy, rushing over to put his hand over the boy’s mouth. They could hear footsteps and voices making their way closer and closer to the box. Both boys quickly hid. Miteous hid behind the draperies and hoped none of them would notice his feet sticking out of the bottom. On the back wall there was a long bench with plush fabric draping over it, making a good hiding spot beneath it so the other boy squeezed himself beneath the bench and let the drapery cover him.
They listened intently as the voices and footsteps drew nigh. But instead of stopping at the Queen’s Box to check inside, they continued on, passing up the box and leaving the boys unfound. When they could no longer hear the people (Patrollers inevitably), Miteous peeked out from behind the wall drapery.
“Psst,” he called to the boy. The boy quickly pulled back the corner of the drapery that hid him.
“I think they’re gone now,” Miteous whispered to him.
Both boys scurried out of their hiding spots and the boy peeled back the curtain enough to see out of it to make sure they could make their way back to the rafters and climb down. Miteous watched as the boy’s head disappeared through the curtain, followed by his shoulders, his back, and his legs. Miteous climbed through the fabric that covered the Queen’s Box and then rustled through the curtain that enclosed the arena. They were back out on the narrow boards, inching their way across. This time they would go straight down and not across, so there would be no worry of landing perfectly in the V sections. Getting down was much easier than going up.
The red-haired boy let himself fall to the boards below and did so silently, but when Miteous tried, the noise was loud.
“As you land, bend your knees and crouch, that’s how you do it without making noise,” the boy told him
So Miteous stepped off the board they were on and fell onto the one below, letting his knees buckle when his feet hit the board. It worked; his landing had been nearly silent. They continued their way down.
As they stood side by side on the board above the Patrollers, Miteous turned to his new friend. The boy had a devious grin on his face that Miteous rather admired. The boy jammed his hand into his pocket and pulled out a fist full of something. The boy held his fist out in front of him and slowly opened it for Miteous to see what he held. It was a silver dust that Miteous had never seen before.
“What is it?” he whispered.
“Tear Dust,” the boy said. Miteous wondered what the substance was for and how to use it. He watched as the boy held his closed fist out over the heads of the Patrollers. Slowly he lifted his fingers one by one, letting the dust fall.
Some of the dust landed on the shoulder of a female Patroller. She put the tip of her finger in the small pile that had gathered on her shoulder and rubbed it between her finger and thumb. Then, to Miteous’ horror, she looked up at them, straight up at them.
The boys ran across the beam as the female Patroller blew her whistle. Miteous was nearly furious at the boy’s carelessness until he heard screams coming from where the Patrollers stood. As he looked back he could see nothing but a gray fog that had surrounded those beneath them. He could hear the boy laughing behind him as his plan took hold. Now they didn’t care if they made noise, they just wanted to get away, and fast. Their heavy boots clunked hard on the beams as they jumped down and their feet touched the earth. They bolted from the scene, leaving behind a mess inside a cloud of gray smoke.