Laerian sat on a crossbeam high in the rigging. The wind whipped his scarf out behind him, two ribbons of red trailing in the sky.
Tomas thought him thoroughly foolish.
The magician was a fop, a fool, and a murderer. He was too unreliable, too flighty, and far too easy-going. Paranoia was what was required to survive. And Laerian didn’t have it.
Tomas glared at his companion for another moment before turning back to the rail. The ships had made good progress in the past week.
Two changes of vessel, each time to one that would get them closer to Faron Rek, and the pirates.
This last one would be arriving in port tomorrow morning, and then they’d board, by Laerian’s count, the final ship.
“Sails on the horizon! Four of ‘em!”
At the cry Tomas turned and searched with his own eye, bad as his vision was. Glancing up he saw Laerian standing straight on the beam staring in all directions as well. He was wrapping his scarf back up into a coil around his neck.
The cry sent the boat into frantic movement, everyone running to the sails, to the lines, doing all they could to ready the boat for a fight should the flight fail.
Tomas was just glad he was already in the State, already had Sketched earlier, set himself ready.
“Captain, what’s the call?”
Hiros stood in the center of the chamber.
He’d been in the inner city of Faron Rek for just over a week now.
It was much as he remembered it; dim, dangerous, and dank, a hive of scum, and a den of evil, the lair of the depraved and the deprived where anything was legal, and nothing was safe.
He hated it as much as the other times he’d been here.
But, the time had been necessary. It has given him time to link the three body guards and the King to four prisoners.
Now he was here, standing before the first of them, a large man with a sword that was almost longer than Hiros was tall.
He hoped that the assassin would be able to keep him alive. He hoped that the prisoner was even able to lift the sword they had gotten to match the guards.
But then again, it was not the prisoner who would be doing the lifting. Because of the link, it would be the guard who was lifting both swords.
Hiros permitted himself a small grin. Hopefully it would work.
He couldn’t afford for it not to. He’d die.
His supporters were gathered behind him, the King’s loyal followers behind the guard. These ones were either his most devout, who fully believed that this body guard would triumph, or they were the most likely to switch sides, hoping to see a show of strength from Hiros before they backed him.
“Now, let us commence the opening ceremonies of this ancient ritual. Since Faron Rek was first founded…”
Hiros tuned out the mumblings of the official. He had more important things to do, like look around. The walls were hung with trophies from ages past, from the conquests of previous KIngs, and trophies taken from the bodies of those Kings who failed.
Lower down it became bare, giving the fighters a clear stretch of wall, ensuring that neither could grab trophies to use to their own advantage.
At either end of the room stadium seating had been carved into the cavern walls, which was where the spectators sat.
Above them, far above, was the ceiling. The cavern was roughly cylindrical, with a wood roof put in above. There were balconies just below the ceiling, with a storage room above for extra trophies.
That storage room had been cleared out by the assassins over the past few days, and set up as a mirror of the fighting space down here. That is where the taller assassin and the prisoners would act out Hiros’ fights.
Hiros pulled his attention back to the present as the speaker wound down. He quickly Sketched a few small Sigils on the back of his hand, activating the links between himself and the assassin, and the prisoner and the guard. The nice thing about the ceremony was that they had to stand in exact positions, and stay standing that way. It meant that both links would be synced, none of the bodies being made to do impossible things by the magic.
As the speaker finished Hiros completed the last Link and worked his jaw. That was still his own.
“Are we ready to start then?”
The prisoner lifted his hulking greatsword from the ground and began to spin it around his head. With each spin he took a step closer to Hiros, each step bringing the blade closer to Hiros’ face.
But he didn’t move. He couldn’t move. He felt the Link sinking into his skin, binding him to the assassin. And the assassin had not yet moved.
Had it all just been a plot to get him murdered here? Would the assassin let him die?
No, but they could have killed him at any time. He needed to trust the assassin, or the State would slip, and then he would truly be doomed.
The greatsword swung around again, this time perilously close. Hiros’ muscles moved without his accord, and he took the tiniest step back. The blade passed mere centimeters in front of his nose.
He had still not drawn his own blades.
“Fight back you coward!” The hulking guard roared in frustration and changed tact, swinging his greatsword down in a chopping cut.
The ringing crash of it hitting the ground echoed throughout the chamber as Hiros stepped a foot to the left.
Aa the greatsword changed direction with startling speed, coming across in a sweep to trip him, his legs seemed to simply fold up underneath him, and then land on the edge of the blade.
The crowd gasped as Hiros sprinted up the blade. The guard’s eyes went wide as the assassin smashed his knee into the prisoner’s face.
Like puppet, like master, and the guard's nose splattered equally well under the studs in Hiros’ leather armour.
A quick flip put Hiros behind the guard, and then a roll took him out of reach of that deadly sword.
After a moment the crowd burst into cheers. Coin changed hands as bets were lost and won, and new ones were made.
But Hiros didn’t notice. He was too busy dodging the strikes again. The guard was actually coming on now, fighting as well as he could.
It was no match for the assassin. Hiros was still only taking minimal motions, dodging just barely, which meant that the assassin could perfectly read the guard’s intentions and movements through the prisoner. Neither Hiros nor the assassin had broken a sweat.
As Hiros ducked under the greatsword for the third time he finally drew a weapon.
The dagger slid free of the sheath without a sound. The assassin kept Hiros’ hands curled, kept the dagger pressed up and back against his forearm, hidden from both the crowd and the guard. The next time the blade swung down at him, Hiros rolled ahead. As the guard tried to bring his leg around in a kick, Hiros rolled between the man’s legs, and then sprang back to his feet on the other side.
Hot blood dripped down the blade onto his wrist. He’d severed the femoral artery on the guard. He’d bleed out in a few minutes, less since he was fighting.
That wasn’t enough. As the guard swung the blade around again, Hiros darted in and grabbed onto the man’s hands, using that momentum to swing around onto his back. As he flipped up to stand on the man’s shoulders, his hands rose up to catch the falling greatsword. Slamming them together at just the right second, he caught it between his palms. His leather gloves skidded for a moment, then caught.
The next action was one Hiros himself wanted to take, so he was glad when the assassin did it.
The guard stared up at Hiros, his eyes slowly going wide with the realization of pain. Hiros stared back with a predator’s smile.
“If you surrender now we might be able to bind the wounds before you bleed out”
Eyes narrowing with rage, the guard began to force the greatsword down even harder, but he was at a bad angle. Hiros easily held it in place.
“No? No surrender? Are you sure?”
The crowd fell silent as first one, then all, noticed the red foam starting to bubble from the guard’s mouth.
“Yep. Drivalen Lotus oil. Will kill a man in just a few seconds. Also terribly painful I’m told”
As the pressure on the sword stopped, Hiros flipped out backwards, pulling the guard along with him as he did so.
With a thunderous crash the guard fell to the ground, and all the crowd could clearly see the dagger protruding from his chest, the dagger that Hiros had planted when he spun around to his back.
There was a moment of silence, and then cheers and boos broke out in equal measure as coin, once more, changed hands.
“And all without drawing my swords ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, thank you very much”
Hiros dropped out of the state and his limbs returned to his control.
Bowing deeply, he drew the dagger from the guard’s back and returned it to its sheath.
If this was what it was like to be a hero, a King, this acclaim and these accolades, then perhaps being Blood Red King would not be so bad after all.
A small secret smile decorated his face as he bowed once more to the roaring crowd.