Trying something: an Arena.
I introduce two characters, and you choose which of them will win a sporting contest of power.
The setting is the universe of the Portal, on the Front, more description of which will be revealed in the Arena and hopefully elsewhere as well. Next week the votes will be tallied and the battle described.
A wide hand and wide brow, grim mouth and unexpected force of power. Few have met any of his family, but have heard much of his honor in their name of “Fearus”. His hair and clothes are dark and rather ragged when studying or fighting and not socializing.
He is shown in the image summoning a defense of tortoise shell.
– Imagined and depicted by Patrick Lauser
A thing of night shadow, though friendly and humorous. His physical body consists of a smoke-like darkness, and he has a casual command of obscure powers. He is a first generation visitant of the Front. His preferred summoning is a claw gauntlet and helmet of hard and silent aerial crustacean shell into which he flows like the tide into a coastal cave.
He is shown shattering a sorcerer’s blade on his gauntlet.
– Imagined and depicted by Nathaniel Lauser
Andrew Fearus and Harshade
The arena they had agreed on (with very little debate, both willing to show their readiness in any situation) was a high moraine in Nova Austa. It was a relatively flat ground of dust and small stones with a few trees, and very cold. The spectators would view from an opposite mountainside. Since the affair of AD 1702b such contests were viewed by telescope only.
The limitations on pre-bout preparations were complex; suffice it to say that they both began outside the arena in a location unknown to the other contestant, with very little summoned. Andrew had summoned temporary redundancies in bone, muscle, and organs, as many soldiers did according to their ability. It was hard to tell whether Harshade ever did this, and he was always quite secretive about his bodily “composition”. Andrew had a sword of living bone at his back. Harshade often entered a contest with nothing, and hid himself in unexpected places.
The red signal flare went up from across the mountain valley, flickering like a remote firework, and went off in a piercing, pale green explosion. But according to law the bout did not begin until the sound reached the contestants.
Before Andrew went more than three steps into the arena he sent a bolt of the portal crystals into the earth, which cast a spout of powder and flipping stones into the air where it entered. But it was not the force of its flight but the continuous materialization that opened a path for it even through stone. When it came to rest it produced an ear that read the vibrations of the shock, and the packaged report, like a grain of flesh with gnat’s wings, detached from the end of the bolt’s thin tail and flew to a receptor Andrew had summoned in the side of his own head. He learned that Harshade was not underground (he had cut one contest very short by that trick), but could be in any one of multiple trees. It seemed he had summoned decoys of himself (an easy thing for him to do) so that Andrew would have to divide his initial attack. He could not spend the time to go to each tree individually, letting Harshade set up attacks and traps meanwhile.
He moved toward a central location, the portal crystal shooting along the ground in threads from every footstep and springing up around him in broad, low clusters. The facets and points of the crystals switched rapidly in eerie, tremulous patterns before the clusters broke into clouds of glistening fragments, and the summoned bodies appeared. They were winged and large, but hollow bodied as some statues are made: they were swift decoys of Andrew’s own, flying so that their actual lack of mass was harder to detect by vibration. Also Andrew felt it appropriate to fight Harshade with flying things, though Harshade was as earthbound as any more solid warrior.
Meanwhile the branches around Harshade’s hiding place were bristling with thin wings. They were of almost paper-thin pearlescent shell, supported by a veinous network of a leather-like substance. At the final moment as Andrew’s approaching beast bore down on the tree, Harshade’s flock erupted through the leaves. The attacker shrieked and banked in a way that revealed its lack of inertia, and Harshade realized he could have hidden his true location somewhat longer. He slid down the shaded side of the tree, and began sending threads of crystal along the surface to summon more extensive fighting bodies. He summoned swift, flat, low-flying, wingless arthropods with complex, many-segmented bodies. Andrew summoned leaping, dog-likes bodies with dense, matted hair.
Somewhat experimentally Andrew brought out a pistol to support his fighting constructs. To keep his eyes and one hand free he summoned an alteration of the shape and composition of his gun hand to solidify his grip, and summoned an eye in his arm to sight with. Harshade noted his move before a single shot was fired, and before two shots were fired Andrew noticed an attack of minute swarming creatures that looked like barnacles and seemed to come from nowhere. It was well he had involved fine sensing organs to detect possible gun jams, or the swarm may have been able to cause an explosion before he could stop them. He summoned jets of hardening liquid that immobilised the creatures, but of course made the gun useless, and he swiftly freed his hand of it. He instead sent flying bolts of streaming crystal as he had done to plant the listener in the ground.
Harshade’s fliers carried materializing crystal and cast warping, frost-like sheets of it, the glistening patterns still pouring and shifting, down before Andrew’s less couth bolts. The materializing action of these sheets melded with that of the bolts, and all harmlessly flew apart in fanning showers like rain in a wild, winding dance. Andrew next threw out bolts summoning a flaming heat, and Harshade could not withdraw certain sheets already cast before they scattered this deadly, fiery energy throughout his flock. This balanced the numbers, but Andrew’s beasts were already weakening, and as this part of the fight came to a close Harshade was able to send beasts with long, sickle-like weapons to attack Andrew directly.
The skin of Andrew’s arms rippled, swelled, and burst like a hatching brood of leathery serpents eggs, spilling grains of crystal as with a silky sound long bodies darted up. They were like legless millipedes of black, flexible leather armor, and they fell upon Harshade’s beasts with polygonal, cutting mouths. This fight was soon to be over, but before it had ended another of Harshade’s plans came to light.
Since the beginning of the contest Harshade had been extending lines of crystal down the roots of the tree and forming a pattern underground. Now hundreds of curving walls rose through the dust and, bending inward, joined along their tops with an imperative sound of sealing. They formed a intricate maze of narrow passages, in a few moments making Andrew both in darkness and lost.
Even before he destroyed the last of his assailants Andrew scattered clusters of crystal summoning bio-luminescent matter, knowing that Harshade could cling to darkness with every part of his form, moving through it with dangerous speed. The light as it glimmered into full radiance revealed a beautiful place: the walls were of convoluted stacks of scalloping and enfolded shell in mother-of-pearl colours, some parts almost lacy like interlocking lettuce leaves, and even the elegant inward sweep of the walls to the seam overhead where they dovetailed showed the hand of an artist. Andrew smiled, which looked queer on his face, and queerer still in that outlandish illumination. A smile was not part of his official demeanor, but in his work he was more relaxed in expression.
Harshade could watch him through minute eyestalks in the multitudinous lines of the walls, and prepared a well scripted game for Andrew to play. As he expected Andrew sent out small flying bodies to find out the pattern of the maze, and even detected the almost invisibly small fliers left to keep track of the walls unless they moved. Andrew began to move, after summoning bio-luminescence on himself. But Harshade could move swiftly to any point of the maze at any time using the darkness. Very soon he would have Andrew trapped among powerful obstacles. Walls could hide any number of enemies camouflaged against its irregularities, or simply pinch closed on the prey themselves.
Andrew cast a branch of crystal from his hand to the wall at a certain place, and the threads seemed half materializing and half carried or guided by a thinking, summoned flesh seeking and filling every crevice like a sudden plant. All at once that part of the wall was no longer in Harshade’s power, and it separated and unfolded like an Asian puzzle unraveled. Animated by some branching, swelling body like an unthinkably complicated mollusk the disassembled section of wall moved straight across to the next wall and unraveled a section of it with even greater ease. And so it went gaining speed and size translating more and more of the construct into Andrew’s power till the labyrinth was ruled by a indescribable creature as long as a dragon and as complex as a salad’s nightmare. Harshade slipped away from the diminishing confines of his construction to prepare a new attack while Andrew was at least distracted, but found Andrew waiting outside for him, with his sword of living bone in his hand.
Harshade summoned hard wings of shell, with jetting vents along the trailing edges that launched him high in the air. Andrew rose with him with his heel on the end of a lengthening branch of crystal which remained fixed in the air – the portal crystal did not need to rely on structure to remain in place, and so Andrew had a solid foundation for a heavy blow.
Harshade parried the blow, but was apparently unused to his wide wings, and the blade shore through the light shell substance of one of them. The sudden imbalance sent Harshade spinning like a stricken crane fly. Not to be left behind Andrew lengthened his crystal branch downward, as if sliding on curiously textured ice, and followed Harshade’s descent for a final blow.
Before Harshade reached the ground his helmet skipped suddenly to one side, and his wings shattered, leaping back at Andrew in razor shards. He summoned tortoise-shell armor and swung his sword. The sword stuck, his mask split apart, he fell backwards out of the air, and even as he swept his hand across to summon a defense the trail of crystals was scattered before anything was produced. Andrew found himself lying on his back with Harshade’s gauntleted hand hovering inches from his unprotected face, and he burst out laughing.
What had happened was this: Harshade had before summoned a curving slab of organic stone, transparent and of the same impedance index as the air, making it invisible. This particular substance Harshade was able to pass his body through as though it was not there. He had allowed Andrew to cut his wing, and made as if he had lost control, while in fact he was flying towards this stone. He threw himself through, leaving his helmet and wings behind. But he closed his fist, and thus gripped the inside of his gauntlet which stood up on the other side of the stone, and thus stopped himself from falling. He knew Andrew would have summoned a mask to protect his face, and this was broken against Harshade’s gauntlet when he hurtled bodily against the stone. Harshade pulled himself back through using his gauntlet, and followed Andrew to the ground, breaking his defensive summoning before it was fully made.
And so he had won the bout.