Valerian followed his uncle as they found their way to their seats. the arena was well stratified, allowing people to see over the heads of those in the row in front of them without much issue. They were headed to one of the upper-class booths in the eastern quadrant and once there they took seats near the very front with Richard wordlessly greeting a tall man decked out in an army uniform.
Being new to the arena, Valerian could not help but look around. The booth they were in had a nice roof to provide shade and a dozen servants stationed there to attend to their needs. Valerian caught the eye of a skinny gentleman talking numbers with his aid. The man’s eyebrow rose a bit in surprise at his staring but said nothing. There were many others in the booth, including a merchant Valerian recognised after having accompanied Jonas to purchase essence stones from his shop. That had been another eye-opener.
Speaking of eyes, many of the occupants had looking glasses which they held up to their eye level when watching at the stage. Checking his seat, Valerian found a pair at his side. He took it, examined it and even looked through it a few times but ultimately put it back. he could see the fighting platform just fine without it and his uncle wasn’t using one. They were probably there for non-cultivators and shortsighted people. His gawking done he settled back and waited anxiously. It seemed that the fighters were about to be introduced.
Marcus sat with his father on one of the stone benches about two dozen rows away from the stage. He had no idea that their seats would be so good. The platform was little more than a very long stone’s throw away. At first, he was bothered by the noise but now he could understand it. The mob was simply excited. He knew because he was too. He was getting pumped up just listening to them go at it. A fight even broke out between supporters of the two fighters not too far away but some of the guardsmen quickly broke it up.
On the platform, a referee was doing his best to work the crowd before the fighters were introduced. The man looked old but he was powerfully built with gnarled arms and a face of a grump. his voice was loud and clear, though. His father leant over and told him that the referees all carried talismans that allowed them to broadcast their voices. The guardsmen used similar ones sometimes.
“People of DalesGuard and its beautiful environs, welcome onto the stage your challenger”, the referee was saying. “He is possibly the only man alive not afraid of the Hammerfist. He has braved countless battles, defeated many opponents just so he could stand here today. He is not a man to be taken lightly. A man whose ambitions are matched only by his skill and bloodlust. Good people of DaleGuard, I give you… Anthony ‘Scatter Seed’!”
The last part came at a loud yell, one that was nearly drowned out by the crowd. Many stood cheering as the introduced fighter stepped onto the stage. He did not look like a brawler, a detail given away by his slight build and the many pouches that hung off his belts. Speaking of belts, he wore three. One across his chest and two around his waist with the second being loose enough to slant over his groin and hang at his side. Seemingly in his late twenties to early thirties, he carried a staff at his back, revealing himself to be an arcanist and wore simple leathers making him look far less underwhelming than his reputation would have people believe.
Once on the stage, he took his staff and slammed it into the sandy floor. Immediately, the dead wood of his staff turned green and lively with fresh sprouts adorning it. The crowd cheered even more and yelling at the top his lungs, he raised the staff in his hands to join them. It was nearly a minute before things calmed enough for the referee stroke announcer to continue.
“Our next fighter is a man who needs no introduction but still, I am required to do so”, the referee started anew. “He has fought no less than two hundred and fourteen battles in this very arena winning an incredible two hundred and two of them. One of our most decorated champions, he has seized the Kelheran more times than anyone else in its history. He is the undefeatable bulwark and the man with the battering ram for a right hand. You all know him as John HAMMER…”, intentionally leaving the end trailing, the referee watched with a smile as the crowd finished it for him.
“HAMMERFIST!” they screeched.
If Anthony’s entrance was loud then this one was booming. One could actually see the surge in the crowd as they cheered their champion. Unlike his challenger, Hammerfist walked slowly to the stage, his right hand held aloft, fist pointing at the sky. He was much older, possessing actual grey in his beard and temples but he had more muscles than most men a third his age. They were emphasised by the fact that he went bare-chested.
All he had was a leather vambrace on his left arm, leather breeches and boots, steel shin guards and his trademark armoured right hand. The armour in question was a bit bulky but covered everything from his fingers to his shoulder where it ended in a large ogre-faced pauldron. It looked even older than he did, being a lucky find from his days as a mercenary. Every few seconds, strange glyphs would light up on it, revealing it to be an essence artefact of some kind.
Climbing up onto the stage, he did not even acknowledge his challenger much to the man’s chagrin. All he did was bow to his audience. His first bow was made in the direction of the lord’s booth and his second and third to the people in the stands. They cheered in response, showering him with affection and adoration. Once he was done and the crowd began to quieten, he finally turned to face his opponent, slipping into a practised stance. The referee smiled in his direction, before backing out of the centre field for the fight to come.
“Who do you think will win Valerian?” Richard asked out of the blue.
“I can’t say”, the boy admitted. “I know nothing about them. However, listening to what the people around are saying, the Scatter Seed arcanist defeated a lot of strong fighters in quick succession just so he could face this guy. However, Hammerfist has a better and longstanding fight record. The fact that he is the eleven-time consecutive champion also speaks to his strength. However, he is old and has clearly stalled in his cultivation whereas Scatter Seed is far younger at the same level and therefore more talented. If I knew more about their moves or histories I would be able to give a better prediction”, he explained.
“Who do you think will win, Uncle Richard?” he asked curiously.
“I’m not telling you”, the man told him smiling slightly when he saw his nephew look miffed at his words.
“I brought you to the arena so you can watch an actual battle. we are lucky and you even get to see a tellurian battling it out with an arcanist. I’m not going to ruin the experience by telling you the winner”, he reasoned.
“You don’t know as well!” his nephew accused.
Richard let out an uncharacteristic grin. “Maybe”, he conceded. “The reason there are so many here to watch the fight is because no one truly knows. The two of them are pretty equally matched. Hammerfist has the experience as well as the battle record to match but like you said, he is old and doesn’t look like he’ll be making any breakthroughs anytime soon. However, Scatter Seed is younger, more active and clearly quite talented. He just doesn’t have the experience to match.
“The question is Valerian which of them has the edge. The two are near complete opposites. The veteran champion vs the unproven challenger The young versus the old. Experience versus novelty. Tellurian versus arcanist. The established fighter versus the upstart. Everyone wants to know who will win.”
“You do know!” Valerian realised.
Richard only smiled. “Let’s just say I have an idea.”
Dad! Dad!” Marcus called, trying to be heard over the crowd. “Who is going to win? Everyone is saying Hammerfist is past his prime but they are also saying that he is too good to lose. Which is it?” he asked.
“Hammerfist of course!” his father answered confidently. “There’s something about those old cultivators. No one gets to live as they have, doing what they do without reason. If Scatter Seed had a better cultivation then he’d win but they are equal so of course, Hammerfist will win. That poor boy lucked out. If he had waited a few more years, he could have taken the crown but he didn’t so he’ll lose. That’s just how it is.”
Soon, the referee was done with the rules and announcements. Everyone took their places and the arena became silent. All of them waiting for the words that will set everything off.
“John Hammerfist versus Anthony Scatter Seed, pre-emptive title match. Are the fighter’s ready?” the referee asked. Both fighters nodded.