306: Bye Bye Bye

on October 28, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Dobbs Is Unseated

Dobbs survived his first bout in the third round, though it was close.

I hadn’t actually scrutinized his listing in the program, but I was surprised to see him in the light division. I wasn’t sure how they decided that… some people with big swords went light and some went heavy. The heavy fighters all wore more armor, but I didn’t know if that was because they were in the heavy division or if it was the reason they’d been put there in the first place.

Dobbs didn’t show up for class in armor, but when I thought about his phony swagger, his in-your-face jerkiness, I pictured a big paladin wannabe, a real knight in less-than-shining armor. What had he said to Callahan that first day? Something about having trained to kill things like me.

Instead, he came out wearing leather breeches and shoulder pads, with his arms and chest bare. As protective gear went, it didn’t look that impressive. I wondered if the pads were enchanted to extend protection all over.

It would be an expensive enchantment, compared to just getting a whole leather tunic or whatever and building the same protections into that… even I could manage something like that, even if I couldn’t make it permanent yet… but I supposed it had its advantages for things like mobility.

Or maybe he just liked to think of himself as a big he-man barbarian type… that actually fit better than the image of him as a knight. He was a hero in his own mind, just looking for a book cover to grace.

That assumed he even knew what a book was.

His opponent was a young woman with long auburn hair in a ponytail that had been spelled to swirl around her when she moved and yet never seem to be in her way. On the close-up, she looked Chung, though I didn’t know how common red hair was among the Chung, and her last name was Summer. She wore a green shirt of what looked like silk, decorated with white flowers and fought with a pair of medium-length swords.

They were both very mobile fighters. They came together, clashed, and then fell back with nothing but sweat to show for it, twice.

“Watch her feet,” Steff whispered when they came together for a third pass. Other than the fact that they were moving fast, I couldn’t see what she was talking about exactly. “Okay, look at their heads,” Steff said when she saw my confusion.

I looked, but the angle was weird… it looked like she was about half a head taller than Dobbs all of a sudden.

Then the illusionists threw up a side view, and I saw that she was literally dancing on air… well, literally on air, figuratively dancing. She was leaping around Dobbs, slashing with her two blades and keeping him on the defensive. He stepped back and swung at her legs. She jumped backwards over it, landing on the ground.

She stayed planted for the next round of blows. Maybe she’d used up the enchantment, or her allotted use of it. Even without it, she was an agile and nimble fighter. She ducked, twisted, and dodged aside of Dobbs’s swings, then cut loose with a flurry from her own blades. His defenses seemed pretty solid, though. He didn’t match her acrobatics, but he kept moving, making her follow him. I felt like he was leading her into a trap, but I couldn’t see it.

Then it happened… her enchantment recharged or came back into play. She came at him hard and fast, her toes pounding against the air as she charged at him. He threw up his sword like he was going to try to fend off her attacks, but then he stepped aside.

The buzzer sounded immediately, and the illusionists went into replay mode, showing her air-skidding past him, right across the boundary line. Nobody had faulted out since the first match of the first round… I’d taken to thinking of the border around the ring as being inviolable, a physical barrier. Of course it wasn’t the latter, but according to the rules it was the former.

“Oh, that vicious bastard,” Steff said.

The crowd was angry… they’d clearly favored the agile young woman and didn’t think much of Dobbs’s tactics. But I don’t think the ruling was ever in contest. She had lost, and that meant he won. Some of the people in front of us actually got up out of their seats. I looked around and saw that people all over the arena were doing the same thing.

Was there going to be a walk-out? Did gladiator fans have walk-outs, or did they have riots?

” C’mon, hon, let’s go,” Steff said, getting up.

“But we haven’t seen Ian,” I said.

“That was the end of round three,” Steff said. “He isn’t going to be fighting during the break.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling stupid. I looked at the time up on the scoreboard.

Had I really been watching guys fight for almost two hours? That seemed so surreal… of course, it hadn’t all been fighting. There was also their gear to geek out over. I wondered if they just brought in general enchanted weapons and armor that they had, or if it was actually made especially for the ring. There had to be a market for that… if you were only allowed to make your sword burst into flames once a night, it would be cheaper to get one that only could do so once per night than one with unlimited uses.

“After this is round four, then about an hour of unarmed fighting, and then they come back for the final rounds,” Steff said. “There are never as many unarmed fighters… a lot less people are interested in doing it for real, even without weapons. They sandwich them in between the last two rounds to make sure people actually stay and watch them.”

“Well, we’ll be here at least until Ian fights,” I said.

“At least?” Steff asked. “Are you getting a taste for this, Mack?”

“I meant that we at least will be here, no matter what, until Ian fights,” I clarified.

“Sure you did.”

We went and joined Amaranth and her new friends at the bake sale, but there wasn’t much chance for more socializing. There was an even bigger crowd now, and we found ourselves put to work… even Steff, despite her repeated entreaties for somebody to put her out of her misery.

Two enjoyed the job a lot more, and when people started drifting back towards the seats, she asked us if we’d mind if she stayed with Amaranth to help out more.

“Of course not,” Steff said. “You have fun.”

“Okay, I will,” she said.

In the fourth round, there were fewer matches to be fought, and higher skill levels in play. A lot of what happened depended on the exact match-up. The light division had a lot of feinting and parrying, with footwork that had me watching the close-ups for signs of pointiness about the ears. Maybe Steff’s barely repressed elven chauvinism was rubbing off on me, but it seemed hard to believe that mere humans could learn to move so quickly and so accurately.

In the heavy division, it really wasn’t hard to believe that some of the fighters had dwarven or ogrish blood. Some of the guys were relatively compact… relatively being the key word… but a lot of them were stacked either tall or wide or both.

This time, it was DOBBS vs. SCHMIDT. Schmidt was a guy who definitely looked like he would have been at home in the heavy division… he could have been half dwarf, or more. He was outfitted in a vest of shining mail and some pretty heavy-duty-looking boots, but that was it for armor. He had a blue-black cloth tied around the top of his head and matching gloves, and he was fighting with a rapier and dagger.

“Did this guy get a bye?” I asked Steff, thinking I would have noticed him before.

“Only one in the fourth round,” she said. “I’ve never seen him fight yet, but Jilly said something about him.”

“What did she say?”

“Nothing much at all,” Steff said. “It wasn’t what she said so much as the fact that she said it at all.”

Watching the squat, muscular little man dart and dance around like an elven fencer was as much a spectacle in its own way as seeing Ms. Summer running and jumping on air had been. Seeing him issue many stinging hits to Dobbs’s legs, leaving slashes in the sides of his leather pants, was doubly satisfying after the way he’d played Summer. If the shoulder pads were protecting Dobbs’s torso, they weren’t any help against this opponent, and there was no way he was going to outmaneuver him the way he had his last challenger.

Schmidt was able to keep him on the defensive, though it was hard to say that Dobbs was mounting a great defense. Still, there were no fight-ending hits landed… as much as it was clear that he was the superior fighter, it was also clear that Schmidt was simply taking what he could get. Any attempt at a stab or a swing at anywhere more substantial was swiftly deflected. When Dobbs tried an attack, Schmidt was there to intercept it with the dagger.

Then Dobbs thought he saw an opening after knocking the rapier out wide, and took a swing, stepping into it. Schmidt ducked to the side and turned about in place, his blade flashing as Dobbs stumbled past him. The replay images faltered briefly, and then it sharpened… the stout duelist had slashed a rune into the seat of his pants. A second later, a whole ragged circle of material fell away, leaving his ass exposed though the lines of the letter were still visible as red lines scored by the tip of the blade.

Steff was laughing her ass off.

“What’s that mean?” I asked her.

“Do you see a beard on this chin?” she asked. “I have no idea… but it’s hilarious all the same, isn’t it?”

Down in the ring, Schmidt made an elaborate flourish with his weapons and then bowed.

“The fight isn’t even over yet,” I said, but even as I said it Dobbs was stomping towards the edge of the ring. The buzzer sounded when he stepped out of it, and he made a hand gesture to the marshal… the illusionists were all over Schmidt, but I could easily imagine what sort of a gesture it was.

“Man, Jilly’s going to have his hide,” Steff said. “He could have clobbered the guy while he was doing his Dee impression and won the match while teaching all the kiddies at home a valuable lesson about turning your back before the fight is over.”

“He probably knew the crowd wouldn’t love him for that, especially after last match,” I said.

“Yeah, and that would really hurt him when it came time to vote for the winner,” Steff said. “Seriously… maybe itty bitty Smitty had half an eye out for something like that and was planning on finishing the fight off in style, but at least then Dobbs would have gone down fighting instead of getting a technical loss.”

“Yeah, I suppose ‘Jilly’ won’t approve of that.”

“Careful, Mack,” Steff said, grinning devilishly. “What do you suppose she’d do if I told her you called her Jilly? And do you suppose she’d let me watch?”

You call her Jilly,” I said.

“Yeah, but I do it because I want to provoke a reaction,” Steff said. “If you’re not interested in doing the same, you should probably stick to Coach Callahan.”

“Honestly, Steff, I wish you would, too,” I said. “This whole fixation with her has got to be the… among the… one of the more creepy things you do.”

“What can I say? She trips all my traps,” Steff said. “She’s cute, she’s violent, and all her clothes are made out of dead things. It’s a shame she’s only a quarter ogre.”

“Assuming she’s even that.”

“She said she is,” Steff said.

“But why would an ogre and an el… you know, never mind,” I said.

“Remembered who you’re talking to just in time, didn’t you?” Steff said.

“But Viktor doesn’t exactly seem to be a normal half-ogre, and you’re certainly an unusual half-elf,” I said. “And when we start talking about a full elf and a full ogre, you get… logistical… issues. And questions of structural integrity.”

“That’s half the fun,” Steff said.

A growing commotion from the crowd reminded me that the gladiatorial events were still ongoing even as we were talking. My eye caught on the names on the board even as I looked down to see Puddy taking to the field in her gleaming armor.

“Ah, shit… I forgot,” I said, getting to my feet.

Steff grabbed my arm.

“No sense remembering now,” she said.

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