Prologue – Smoldering Duel

Adrenaline surged through Yochta’s veins as the knife dragged across her collarbone. She felt the blood drip down her chest and breathed deeply, relishing the pain. This would be her third duel, her first with another Parish. Across the ceremonial dueling ring, a simple circle twenty paces wide and divided into four quarters, one for each of the Hallowed four, stood her opponent, a member of the Order of the Sea, an unseemly sneer slashed across his face. He had taunted her by cutting deeply at a vein in his wrist, gimping his hand and telling everyone present that he had no need for his hand to achieve victory in the fight. Were she more hot-headed, Yochta would have returned the gesture. She was no fool, and knew that doing so would have guaranteed her loss. So she withstood the insult and took solace in the fact that she would watch the color drain from his face as his blood painted the floor in honor of the Four.

Yochta ar Furez was under no illusion that she was the superior fighter. Her opponent was a veritable monster. Scars danced up and down his arms and across his chest. Not one touched his face. Under different circumstances, it’d be quite attractive. But no, he was a priest of a sect that was feuding with her own, and in her mind he was simply an obstacle to overcome. Yochta herself was a novice with only two duels under her belt, and those scars had hardly pinked. She had been chosen to represent the Parish on a whim of the Pastor, an attempt on his part to humble her. She had no intention to go along with his plan. She flicked her wrist and droplets of blood flew off the blade in her hand. Her mind raced as she planned for the duel ahead. She knew little of the styling of the man in front of her, but she had been thoroughly schooled on the patterns and weaknesses of the Order of the Sea. They fought with a slow, rhythmic Cadence, that of the waves eroding the face of a cliff. Their strength lay in persistence, but that same persistence led to a stubbornness that was easy to exploit.

Her own Cadence was that of the Flame. A slow, smoldering flame, but a flame nonetheless. She surely didn’t have the endurance to keep up for long with a man as veteran as her opponent. Among her sect, Yochta was known to favor an unpredictable style, fluctuating in rhythm to tear the opponent from their own Cadence and forcing them to match her own. It was a strategy that had granted her three easy victories, but who knew how it would fare against a priest of Water. There was no point in doubting herself now. Doubt was the enemy of Flame and would lead to a quick defeat. Intolerable. She was representing her sect.

“Dadrus er Mersum, scarred thirty-four times in the eyes of the Hallowed Four, with none showing the shame of defeat.” Her opponent called across the circle, offering challenge. Yochta winced. Thirty-four duels, and he had not lost once. Her own introduction sounded pathetic, even in her ears.

“Yochta ar Furez, scarred twice in the eyes of the Hallowed Four, with none showing the shame of defeat.” From around her, the onlookers snickered, and she felt a flush rising to her face. It was not her fault that she was young and inexperienced, but she felt shame all the same.

“Yes, I can see your face is quite fresh,” Dadrus called. Formal introduction over, he taunted her, hoping to provoke an enraged reaction. She was young, but not that young.

“I’d say the same for you,” She called back, “But I fear it will bear a scar after today.” This time, the snickers were targeted at Dadrus. The grin never left his face, though, and it was clear that he was as unaffected by provocation as she.

“Let us be done with talking, then,” Dadrus said, tucking his ceremonial knife into the sheath on his belt and readying his glaive for combat, “I stand as representative for the Order of the Sea, offering this duel to the Hallowed Four as resolution to the feud with The Order of the Smoldering Flame.”

Yochta’s excitement mounted as she responded to the call, sheathing her own dagger and drawing the twin swords she favored for duels, “I stand as representative for the Order of the Smoldering Flame, answering the call to duel, and offering its result to the Four as resolution to the feud with the Order of the Sea. Let our blood be spilled to save that of others.” With the conclusion of her statement, the duel had officially started, and she readied herself, planning her aggression.

From around her, the onlookers jeered and taunted, mainly towards Yochta, with words that in any other situation would have sent her running in embarrassment. She had no time to be embarrassed. She had a man to gut.

Suddenly, she felt his Might roll over her, and it was all she could do to contain the scream that tried to bubble out from her throat. His aura eclipsed anything she had felt in her first three duels, a mighty oak where her previous opponents had been saplings. Yochta took a deep breath, calming herself and releasing her own Might as an insulating bubble. Across the ring, Dadrus nodded approvingly, and the force of his aura diminished significantly. Yochta scowled furiously. He had the gall to test her mid-duel? She refused to be underestimated. Gripping the hilts of her short swords tightly, she leapt at him, striking aggressively towards the side he had gimped with his ceremonial cut. He easily repelled her blow and countered in stride. She managed to receive the blow, but was sent sprawling, surprised by the sheer force behind it. She winced as the shock from the blow rippled up her arms. She readied herself for his continued assault but was shocked to see him insult her again with a raised eyebrow, waiting for her next strike. Fury bloomed in her chest and she let it fuel her Might. A grin spread across Dadrus’s face as he felt the increased intensity of her aura, but Yochta was too enraged to notice. She lashed out with a series of rapid fire strikes, aiming to catch his fingers on the haft of his glaive, but her strikes were easily deflected. She sidestepped Dadrus’s counter and growled in frustration as he again gestured for her to strike at him. Yochta forced herself to calm down, racking her brain for some sort of plan of attack. After those exchanges, two things had been made quite clear to her. The first was that he was the superior duelist. The second was that he didn’t view her as a serious threat, toying with her rather than quickly ending the duel. There was nothing for her to do about a difference in skill aside from train more, something not feasible in the midst of a duel. She could, however, take advantage of the fact that he was not taking her seriously.

She struck out at him again, and this time, she failed to sidestep his counter attack. Immediately, she attacked again, and suffered for it, taking a wound on the shoulder. Apparently tired of toying with Yochta, Dadrus sneered at her and began his assault. Yochta blocked his strikes, but barely, taking small wounds for each of Dadrus’s strikes. He began to laugh at her struggles, and his persistent strikes started coming with more and more power. Good, let him think she had become trapped within his Cadence. Slowly but surely, he knocked her across the ring, leaving her bloodied and bruised from receiving his blows. After a seemingly endless onslaught, Yochta received an overhead strike, catching the blade of the glaive between her twin swords. The weight of the strike knocked her to one knee, and Dadrus drew his Glaive back, throwing his head back with laughter, clearly intending to end the duel with this strike. From around the ring, she heard peals of laughter. Yochta let out a chuckle of her own.

From her poised kneeling position, Yochta leapt inside his guard. She twisted in the air, driving her knee into the cut on his arm, causing him to lose grip with one hand. With her swords she severed the tendons in his other wrist, causing his hand to fall slack. The glaive clattered to the floor and Dadrus cried out in pain.

Not hesitating for a moment, Yochta pressed her advantage, striking incessantly, repaying him twice over for every wound she had received. Dadrus futilely tried to block, but with no weapon and a useless hand, there was nothing he could do. Yochta’s swords danced across his flesh, carving him open across his torso. Around the ring, the laughter was cut off by Dadrus’s screams. Finally, Dadrus, in an attempt to retreat, slipped on a pool of blood on the ground, falling flat on his back.

A grin spread across Yochta’s face as she leaned over Dadrus and dragged her dagger across his forehead. Tears flowed freely down his face. She rubbed her thumb across the ceremonial cut on her collarbone before smearing some of the blood from her finger into the fresh cut on Dadrus’s forehead.

“Scarred with defeat, let my blood breed strength in yours.” She stood up straight and let out a wordless scream in her victory. She looked around the room and met eyes with the Pastor of her Parish. He nodded approvingly before standing up.

“With the victory of Yochta ar Furez over Dadrus er Mersum, the feud between the Order of the Smoldering flame and the Order of the Sea has officially been concluded. Congratulations, young priestess.” He said, a hint of pride in his voice. Yochta smirked. If his intent had been for her to learn humility in defeat, The Pastor of the Smoldering Flame had severely underestimated her. They say the first scar of defeat burns more than a thousand scars of victory. Yochta planned to never find out if that was the case.

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