307: Twilight Of The Broads

on October 29, 2008 in Book 11

In Which The Ring Cycle Draws Near The End

“Steff,” I said. “You know I promised…”

“You didn’t promise to leave every single time she fights,” Steff said. “Anyway, she won one match with you in the audience and then won one with you gone, so obviously it doesn’t make any difference…”

She was cut off by a buzzing sound and a sudden wind that scattered our programs and food wrappers, and prompted protests from the people around us. Mariel was standing in front of the seats Two and Amaranth had vacated.

“Hi, can we help you?” Steff asked, with mock-cheeriness.

“Puddy says it’s really, really, really, really, really important that you leave,” Mariel said to me, ignoring Steff.

“That’s a whole mess of reallies, Mack,” Steff said in a carrying whisper… and nobody could make a whisper carry like an elf. “You’d better do what she said.”

“I’m really serious,” Mariel said. “She’s super pissed that you didn’t leave for the last fight.”

“Yes, I did,” I said.

“Puddy says you didn’t,” Mariel said.

“Yeah, I did… I went out in the hall until it was over.”

Puddy says you didn’t,” Mariel repeated. I looked at Steff, helplessly… how was I supposed to argue with that?

“Yeah, hon… but, you see… by an amazing bit of coincidence, these stands here aren’t part of the universe that Puddy controls,” Steff said to Mariel. “So, if she says something happened, that doesn’t actually mean that it did.”

Mariel stomped her foot, and the hem of her insubstantially thin dress flipped briefly up past her navel.

“Look, you,” she said. “If you don’t go, Puddy is going to be really ticked, and it’s going to be your…”

“Hold on… I don’t control Puddy, Mariel,” I said. “I only went along in the first place because I didn’t feel like being a bitch, but if this is the thanks I get, you can forget about it.”

ButwhatamIsupposedtotellPuddy?” Mariel buzzed frantically.

“That’s your problem,” Steff said. “And, hon, if you have to worry about what you tell her, then…”

This prompted a tirade from Mariel, the only part of which that was slow enough to be understood was the first four words: “You don’t even know…” The rest was lost in the rush, and then she was gone.

“Is it my imagination, or does she move a lot faster since she cut her hair?” Steff asked.

“I think she does,” I said.

Puddy hadn’t yet stepped into the ring in the time we’d spent talking to Mariel. Down in the pit, she was looking around. The illusionists weren’t doing close-ups, but from the way her head was whipping around, I imagined she was trying to scan the crowd.

“Should we wave?” Steff said. “I think we should.”

“Be good,” I said.

Hiiiiii, Puddy!” Steff yelled, waving her hand up over her head. Puddy wasn’t looking, and though Puddy jumped like she’d been slapped, it was doubtful she could pinpoint the source of the shout over the crowd.

“Anyway… good on you,” Steff said. “Standing up that four-armed stick insect. Second time’s the charm, I guess.”

“I told you I was being nice the first time,” I said.

“You were being a doormat,” Steff said.

“Maybe the world needs doormats,” I said. “Anyway, I don’t see why I have to choose between always giving in and never giving in. There have to be more options than ‘doormat’ and ‘raging bitch’.”

“I’m not saying there aren’t,” Steff said. “But you shouldn’t be nice to people who would just as soon stab you as look at you. Especially when there are people like me who’d rather do both.”

“You know, I don’t think this is an argument that’s going to get us anywhere,” I said. “Our opinions are just too different…”

“Hold on,” Steff said. She got to her feet. “Wait right here.”

“What?” I asked.

“I’m going to get my doppelganger detector,” she said. “The real Mack wouldn’t pass up the choice to run an intractable difference of opinion into the ground.”

“Come on, Steff… I’m eighteen years old, I’m allegedly an adult… and I just want to start making some better choices,” I said.

“What exactly prompted this soul-searching?” Steff asked. “Assuming that word applies.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “The thing with Sooni. The tsunami. Having a major divinity mention me on the news. The… what happened on Thursday. All of the above.” I sighed, as much to give myself a chance to pull my thoughts together. “It’s not exactly a sudden thing. I’ve been coming out of my shell since I got here, and finding out who I am… I’m just trying to put all that together now, I guess.”

“So… you’re turning into the person you think Amy wants you to be,” Steff said.

“No,” I said. “I mean, not exactly… I don’t think I could ever live up to her ideals. But I can try living up to my own.”

It was getting harder to talk, as the audience was growing restless as Puddy continued to balk at the line. Finally, a pair of marshals approached her, and after a brief exchange, she stepped into the ring.

“Wonder what the little wart’s afraid of?” Steff asked. “Is her super secret undetectable buff about to wear off?”

“You’d think that would make her less likely to stall,” I said.

Puddy was clearly trying to show more restraint than she had in her first fight, but it was just as clear that she still had way more strength than her body needed to move. Her opponent was a tall woman, built like Rocky without the interesting complexion, and wearing metal armor with a wolf’s head stamped or molded or something into the breastplate. She had a spear with a stone tip and a shield.

Watching Puddy bouncing around as she shuffled in place, I was forcibly reminded of the agile Schmidt and the way he’d danced around Dobbs, but the resemblance was ultimately superficial… Schmidt had been using his own strength to its fullest advantage. Seeing Puddy trying very hard to not make the sort of big showy leaps and smashing swings she’d done in her first match made it very clear how unfamiliar she was with the power she was displaying.

Her opponent, who seemed to be cursed with the name ASGEIRSDOTTIR, stood impassive… still as a statue. Gradually, Puddy stopped fidgeting. The illusionists caught a profile view of her face, then rotated around to the front. There was a look of resignation on it, which turned to determination. The giant image of her blipped away just a flash of gold below caught my eye… Puddy had quite literally leapt into action, and the illusionists had lost their focus.

They re-established the image as Puddy the mostly-human projectile was coming down from a high arc, her axe upraised. Asgeirsdottir raised her shield arm, and the shield took the blow. The axe stuck in the shield, and for a moment of time, the tall warrior woman was actually holding Puddy off the ground. This was the first good frame of reference I had for how tall she was… and that was about four feet taller than Puddy. Then she punched out with the fist clutching her spear and Puddy went flying halfway across the ring. The axe had gouged out a gash in the shield’s leather covering, but a close-up showed the “wound” healing.

“Whoa,” Steff said. “Why is this woman not in Harlowe, and why haven’t I met her?”

“Are you sure she’s not?” I asked.

“Do you think we could have missed her somehow?” Steff asked.

Having let Puddy make the first move, Ms. Asgeirsdottir strode forward towards her. Puddy’s grip tightened on her axe and she pitched herself forward and up onto her feet. Puddy charged, only to be hit with the butt end of the spear, which was capped off with a stone cylinder covered in runes. The blow lifted her up and pitched her back. She landed just inside the circular boundary.

“Puddy lucked out there,” I said.

“Nuh uh,” Steff said. “That wasn’t luck… she was aiming.”

“No way.”

“Did you watch her? She was holding back… that wasn’t a full hit, she basically scooped Puddy up and tossed her.”

“It looked like a hit to me,” I said.

“Yeah, well… human eyes,” Steff said.

Puddy was pissed. Her face was turning the color of her hair. Her next charge was less reckless, but she was swinging wildly before she was in reach. Asgeirsdottir stuck her spear shaft down inside the arc of Puddy’s swing, and the weapons hummed like lute strings as they reverberated away from each other. Puddy got a face full of spear handle and fell back.

I wouldn’t have laid odds that Asgeirsdottir could match her current strength, but it was close enough that Puddy’s advantage there wasn’t overwhelming. They clashed several more times. Puddy got a thump in the chest with the blunt end of the spear that left her breathing funny, and the first time her opponent brought the blade in play, it cut open a line in the shoulder of Puddy’s gold armor.

Puddy had been growing less and less aggressive with each exchange of blows, but her opponent was matching her retreat by stepping up, and her steps were pretty big. Her immense size and the length of the spear gave her a huge advantage in reach.

Puddy took a couple careful steps backwards, until she was almost to the edge of the ring. She raised her axe up in the air. I expected her to pull a spell out of it, but instead she knelt down and set it on the ground.

“What the hell is she doing?” I asked. “She’s going to get creamed.”

“She’s already being creamed,” Steff said. “So she’s changing the game… she’s figured out that Aggie’s one of those ‘honorable’ types. I don’t think it will make a difference for her, but it should make for a good show.”

Instead of rushing forward and finishing Puddy off, the enormous woman retreated to the far side of the circle. She cast off her shield and then threw her stone spear almost perfectly straight up. It soared ceilingward, then tipped over and fell back down to earth, landing upright and vibrating in the center of the ring.

The hall had fallen completely silent. Puddy let out an angry grunt that echoed throughout the pit. Asgeirsdottir took a deep breath and then let out a long, ululating battle cry. She took a giant step forward as Puddy launched herself through the air, and they crashed together before the second step was completed.

The clash was titanic. The clatter of metal on metal resounded throughout the arena. The illusionists caught it all: Puddy’s metal-clad feet striking Asgeirsdottir in the chest, the big woman reaching a bare hand for Puddy’s shoulder or throat and getting bit. Puddy hung onto her arm with one hand and pounded her with the other. Asgeirsdottir whipped her around, then finally succeed in knocking her loose. She stomped down hard, but Puddy rolled to the side. She wasn’t quick enough to avoid a kick in the side that sent her spiraling through the air. She hit the ground bouncing and rolling, tumbling right into the shaft planted in the center of the ring.

Her fine armor was dusty and dented. She’d completely lost one sleeve in the tumbling roll.

Asgeirsdottir stalked forward. Puddy pushed herself up off the ground and got to her feet with visible effort. She spat out a mouthful of blood.

“How do they decide a winner if they aren’t using weapons?” I asked. “This is supposed to be a fight to the not-death.”

“Incapacitation or submission counts, too,” Steff said. “Here’s hoping Puddy has the brains to submit.”

I shook my head, though of course Steff wasn’t watching me. Only the second day I’d known her, Puddy had made one thing very clear: she would never submit. She would die first. Instead of hoping for Puddy to get brains, I hoped for Asgeirsdottir to have mercy.

Puddy wrenched her helmet off, and I saw that one side was bent and broken and had cut a line down her cheek. She looked like she was on the verge of collapse. Asgeirsdottir made no move towards her. Again she was doing her statue impression. I thought… I hoped… that she was simply waiting for Puddy to fall down, and I hoped that Puddy would. A little dwarven toughness only went so far, and Puddy only had a very little dwarven toughness. I doubted women with their strength would have been allowed to compete in the unarmed division, whatever its source might ultimately be.

Puddy reached out a hand to steady herself on the pole… then her grip tightened. The look on her face changed to one of wicked triumph. A shocked “ooh” rippled through the crowd.

“Oh, you treacherous little shit,” Steff whispered. The illusionary face scowled. Puddy shook her head like she was shaking off flies.

For the first time since the match had begun, Asgeirsdottir’s face betrayed an emotion. Her eyes were wide with shock or fear. Her mouth framed an imploration and she shook her head frantically.

The muscles stood out on Puddy’s arm as she went to pull the spear from the ground.

Time seemed to stand still.

The world held its breath.

Then, it exploded.

A great big finger of lightning shot down from the center of the roof, splitting the air with a deafening crash. Puddy went flying, this time, to my profound relief, clear out of the ring… it didn’t matter if she spectral-survived the blast or not, it didn’t matter if she passed out from her real injuries or not, the fight was over.

The applause was… oddly muted and warbly. It took me a moment to put that together with the “deafening” crash. Down in the ring, Ms. Asgeirsdottir shook her head sadly and went to retrieve her spectral weapon, then walked to where Puddy had landed. Healers were already on the ground. The tall warrior knelt down and extended a hand to the recovering Puddy. The illusionists weren’t covering the action anymore… in fact, one of them wasn’t standing anymore and was being tended by another healer… but it was clear as day that Puddy brushed off the gesture angrily. She was on her feet a few seconds later, stomping towards the exit.

Puddy was out. Asgeirsdottir had won.


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9 Responses to “307: Twilight Of The Broads”

  1. […] from it… the last person I’d seen come into contact with the spear aside from Pala was Puddy, and she’d taken a pretty vicious smite-down for […]

    Current score: 0
  2. HollowGolem says:

    Don’t touch a Paladin’s lance. Just… don’t.

    Current score: 0
    • Adam Barnes says:

      I need to know which god to thank for smiting the psycho midget

      Current score: 1
      • Erm says:

        The god of the mock-box, probably. It would be somewhat implausible (and insanely dangerous) for the illusory version to have actual divine protection, just like any other enchantment.

        Current score: 1
  3. pedestrian says:

    well, i had asked if a smitten deity would smite!

    Current score: 1
  4. Grimm says:

    More. More. More more more more more. More Asgeirsdottir.

    I think I have a new favorite “background” character!

    Current score: 0
  5. MentalBlank says:

    Errr… why do you assume that the weapon was in fact divine? Perhaps it simply has elemental properties. Storm lance, thunder spear…
    It might just call lightning upon a wrong wielder or someone not attuned to it. Hell, Puddy could have simply accidentally triggered it’s magical property.

    Current score: 3
    • zeel says:

      For all we know, Pala might have trigered the lightning.

      Current score: 0
      • undertheteacup says:

        Unlikely, given this bit: “Her eyes were wide with shock or fear. Her mouth framed an imploration and she shook her head frantically.”

        It seems more like the spear can only be wielded by Pala herself or another storm giant like her, and she was trying to warn Puddy.

        Current score: 1