World of Crystals > A Show for the Gathered Lords
A Show for the Gathered Lords
The appointed day of the gathering of the lords saw great extravagances befall the Imperial City. Entertainments and delights had been gathered by the Emperor and his court from the homes of all four of the winds, sufficient to delight all those who walked beneath the Heavens. And even those who walked beneath the Earth, for representatives of the Dwarven nation had been invited, as a sign of the Imperials' abiding committment to their alliance with those who lived without the sky.
As most lords had brought with them full retinues of guards, servants and others, there was plenty to amuse all who were guests in the Imperial City. But for the Lords themselves, a special treat had been prepared.
All the Lords gathered within the Imperial Palace, in a special amphitheater that had been built and used thus far mostly only for the entertainment of the Emperor himself, despite that it could easily seat a crowd of fifty thousand. Seated side by side, from the center of the amphitheater outward, were the most important and celebrated leaders and heroes of the Empire, the men (and even a few women!) on whose shoulders the fate of the dynasty rested. Those that were most immediately responsible for the day-to-day runnings and doings of the Empire.
Some were larger, by way of responsibility, than others. Figures like Zhang Ming Tong or Moriko Akuma, who oversaw large swaths of land in Lo-Xsia and Maho-Kuni, respectively, were seated alongside lords Wing Xu and Kao Meng De, who ruled much tinier (but no less significant) parcels in the Fa-Bul heartland. Also present by necessity were men who represented the Imperial Court: Ming Wu Jen, the Court Astrologer; and men of the army like Ren Cang and Zong Duo.
There were also men from the Damkia territories, from the isle of Agar and the Misty Valley. Representatives had come as well from the prestigious Liang and Xuang families -- whose patriarchs held the rank of Governor and were responsible, respectively, for the ongoing campaigns in Tro and Beorn.
Once they had all been seated, a barker at the amphitheater floor announced a welcome to all the Emperor's distinguished guests, and read a decree from the Emperor (who was present, but seated apart from his guests in a private box, screened from sight by hanging sheets of red silk):
"Welcome, my guests and friends," the decree read, "Welcome home to the Imperial City, the great heart of the Empire. We extend our thanks and well wishes to you, in return for your acceptance of our invitation. You may all consider that you have been given general sanction by the Imperial head to partake as you like of the Imperial City's bounties. We look forward to hearing you each speak and give me report on the state of our Empire. But for now, for today and seven days hence, we bid you divest yourself of your official responsibilities in favor of enjoying the reward of your visit to the Imperial CIty."
With the decree read, the barker stood aside, and another figure came to the center of the amphitheater. He was a full head taller than the tallest man among the assembled dignitaries, with armor that was black as night and gave off no shine at all. Atop his visorless helm sprouted a pair of long, trailing peacock feathers. His visage was frightful, his eyes beheld a gaze that could strike fear into the pit of a man's soul, his hands large enough to span across the faces of two.
Some knew this warrior's name before he was even introduced. Most knew him by reputation; a scant few knew him because they had once been his enemy. Though a mere Second Spear General in the Imperial Army, and not even a Samurai, he was widely regarded as the best warrior to ever stride across the field.
Alongside the man in black armor, a second official stepped forward, unfurled a second rolled-up decree, and read it aloud to the assembled lords, as drum and gong were beaten:
"Watch now, Lords and Ladies of the Empire," the official read, "As the greatest warrior of the Xsian Empire fights for your entertainment. This mighty warrior is named No Cha, styled Szu-Chih, Soldier of the Jet Banner, Second Spear General of the Imperial Army, Veteran of the Campaigns to Suppress the Oni in Lo-Xsia, Hero of the Wars in Beorn, Swordmaster Beyond Compare and Receiver of the Emperor's Seal and Cord. Watch now as he fights the bravest, most skilled and most powerful warriors of our enemies: the Amazons, the Spirit-Folk, and the Barbarians. Together, three warriors against one mighty Xsian soldier, not even of Samurai lineage, and we shall see who the Heavens shall favor with victory."
No Cha frowned as three prisoners in chains were lead into the amphitheater's center. There were muted collective gasps in the assembly of dignitaries as they first laid eyes upon the enemies of the Empire -- though the Lo-Xsian lords present noted with some disdain that there were no Oni among the captives (yet another slight at Lo-Xsia and its far-distant problems).
All three captives looked frightened, ill-kept, but with a barely disguised disdain beneath their masks of terror. The soldiers unfastened their shackles, handed each man a sword, and stepped aside. Crossbowmen, posted all around the arena, drew their sights on the prisoners -- just in case one of them attempted to strike a blow against the assembled lords.
No Cha stood calmly between the three captives. They understood quickly what was expected of them, and knew that they had little choice but to comply. None of these three spoke Hai Xsian, or any of the Empire's dialects or languages -- truly they were savages in every sense of the word. Worse for them, it looked as if the Elf and the Amazon knew some scant bits of each others' tongues, but the Beorn Barbarian was truly alone. He cast his glance quickly, furtively between both No Cha and the other captives. In his mind he wondered which he ought to attack first.
Beneath his black armor and stony expression, No Cha felt something of a mixture of shame and disgust. Is this what it has come to, for the world's greatest warrior? Fighting not soldiers, not samurai, but captives? Fighting not in battle, but in a blood sport for the entertainment of courtiers, scholars and nobles?
As the Amazon and the Elf took a trepid step toward No Cha, having worked out between them a plan of attack, the warrior drew his sword. The sword's blade was blacker still than his armor, seeming to suck in the light of the amphitheater along its surface. Small horns adorned the crossbars of the hilt, and a tiny skull capped the butt of the hilt. The weapon itself was almost as famous as No Cha: Deathbringer, the blade on whose edge whole armies are said to have perished.
No Cha could do nothing then but swallow his disappointment and laugh. "Come, savages. Let us see if you are a worthy challenge for me."
The Amazon barked something at No Cha in her foul tongue, and then spat on the ground. No Cha frowned. "You dare to spit on the earth that is blessed by the Heavens? I shall clean it with your blood!"
With a roar, No Cha surged forward, a blur of motion. The Amazon nimbly sidestepped the attack -- she was quicker than No Cha had expected, which means they had been feeding her more than he'd thought they would -- and gave a thrust with her own sword. No Cha caught the sword in his gauntleted hand, turned it round and thrust it up under the Elf's ribcage. The Elf screamed in shock, bringing his sword down ineffectually on No Cha's armored shoulder. Incredulous, No Cha took a step back and planted his armored fist, back-handed, into the side of the Elf's face. A loud crack resounded, and the Elf spun, sending out a fine spray of blood. The Elf was unmoving as he collapsed on the ground: No Cha's fist had snapped his neck clean.
The Amazon retrieved her sword, while the Barbarian rushed forward, seizing opportunity. No Cha entertained the delusion by engaging in a volley of parries with the warrior -- the sort of sword play that appears both genuine and pleasing to a crowd of onlookers, because of the artful way in which the swords "clang" and "clash" with each other. No Cha knew his job well: he was an entertainer today, despite the disgust and degradation he felt at the knowledge of that fact.
Thoroughly bored, and as the Barbarian began to tire, No Cha spun on his heel and planted a circle kick into the Barbarian's temple. He felt the crunch of bone and watched as a spray of blood issued out into the assembled lords. The Barbarian whirled, but regained his footing, standing woozily and staring down No Cha through the haze of pain and the curtain of blood that was running into his eyes. The Barbarian took a stab as No Cha stepped forward, but the Soldier of the Jet Banner swatted the blade aside with his bare hand. He dug Deathbringer into the Barbarian's chest, gruesomely, relishing the sick, sweet wet-crunching sound of his blade boring through soft ribs, organs and spine. The Barbarian screamed, his hand clutching No Cha's shoulder, but the scream quickly faded and he went limp in No Cha's arms.
That left the Amazon -- who, like clockwork, chose the moment of the Barbarian's death to launch her own attack. No Cha was ready. In a great feat of strength he hefted the Barbarian's corpse, swung it around and caught the Amazon's sword on it. Then, with a cry, he pushed forward. His arm sunk into the Barbarian up to the elbow, and he felt Deathbringer's blade sink into the Amazon's chest as it burst forth from the backside of the Barbarian. The Amazon shrieked, flailing angrily to pry herself from the blade, and then screamed as No Cha forcefully ripped his arm and the blade from his enemies.
A rain of gore sprayed across the arena floor, as first the Barbarian collapsed, and then the Amazon fell to her knees. No Cha grinned, looking up into the crowd to see the mounting disgust plainly evident on many of the Lords' faces, as he twirled his sword around him and sent small trails of blood everywhere.
He took measured steps toward the Amazon, who was supporting herself on one arm while her free hand was holding in the wound she'd been given from Deathbringer. She was breathing heavily; choking up small amounts of blood. She might live, if healing magics were applied soon.
"And so," No Cha chanted, as he stood over the Amazon, raising up his sword for the killing blow, "One more seeks death on my sword's edge. May the Heavens judge you more kindly than I have, savage."
With one great strike, he cleft the woman in two, down the vertical axis. One of the nobles vomitted from sheer disgust at No Cha's grizzly display; several of the officials were muttering behind him.
Perhaps this will be my last performance, No Cha mused. Perhaps they will actually send me to the field after this.
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