The end of the tournament.
Silverbolts friends were waiting for him at the gate. A couple of young warriors walked up to him, asking where he got his equipment.
"Follow me," He said.
As they approached, his attention snapped to Constance. The kiss had changed things between them. Before the kiss, he could be around her without ill effect. Now, his stomach felt weird, and her smile brought out the stupid in him. A touch of euphoria always gripped him tightly when she touched him. It was irritating nonsense, and he couldn't do anything about it. Worse still Bad Company's "Holy Water" would play in his head every time he saw her.
"Hey Jules, I got some aspiring adventurers looking for equipment," he said.
Jules shook his hand, "A most stunning victory. Good show."
"Do you know who I will be facing?" he asked seriously.
"The other semi-final match was scheduled after yours." He turned his attention to the young men, "Gentlemen, please follow me. I have no doubt you will find what you seek at the Hawks Nest Forge. Care to join me, beautiful?" Jules asked.
Patience whispered something to Constance, who nodded and smiled. Patience took her husband's hand, and the pair walked off towards the Hawks Nest.
Constance gently grabbed Silverbolts hand, "Are we going to talk about it?"
Silverbolt felt his heart start to race. All he could think about is touching his lips on hers. Didn't Constance ask him a question? "Talk about what?"
She put her arms around him and laid her head on his shoulder. "The kiss," she said.
"It has changed things between us. I feel strange all the time now, in your presence. Parts of me are acting on their own. It will take time to adjust. I am sorry..."
Constance laughed and looked up at him with wide eyes, "Don't worry Ethan. I know how you feel. Sooner or later you will give in."
At that moment, Silverbolt realized he couldn't put the genie back in the bottle. There was only one thing to do, change the subject. "I need to get a look at the competition, maybe have a conversation with my opponent."
Constance glared at him, "Are you serious?"
"Well, I could get hurt if I don't prepare. You didn't handle my first injury well as I recall."
Constance gave him a soft look, "I love how you know me so well. Let's go."
"Where do you think he or she went?"
Constance twisted a lock of her hair around her finger. "We could check the Proud Lion. Even if we don't find your mystery opponent, maybe we can get information from those who watched the fight."
Silverbolt kissed her after she finished talking. Constance blushed furiously when their lips parts, and she was trembling. "I'm sorry. I should have asked..."
Constance put two fingers to his lips, "Don't ruin it by being you. Now lets head to the Proud Lion."
Woods Outside Vexdale
Zinjo shook his head as he sharpened his cutlass, "You are out of your mind, Kludde. It will never work."
The fiery orb-like eyes were aglow with cruel joy, "What part will not work?"
Jinjin and Roust huddled near the fire together, teasing each other. Zinjo felt a sharp pang of longing, before stuffing it back down where it belonged. The kludde watched him enjoying the imps inner conflict.
"You are asking us to doom ourselves."
"Lady Clara has strong ties with the Ferri community. She will sympathize with your paramour and his lover. All you have to do is interrupt the finals and get caught. You will be boxed up and shipped to our base of operations. Even if Lady Clara doesn't go for it, she will let your companions go."
Zinjo sheathed his sword and checked over his bow and arrows looking for flaws or wear on the string. "Do you promise to help them escape if this goes south?"
The kludde shifted into the first lover Zinjo had. They met while hunting and shared an afternoon of passion by the river. Zinjo drew his sword and stuck the tip in the Kludde's nostrils, "I would have no problems leaving your body in a ditch somewhere."
"I love it when you sweet talk," Kludde said. "Killing me would only multiply your problems. I will save your paramour and his plaything. Its funny, Jinjin was in love..."
"As long as Jinjin lives, I don't need to know anything else."
The large, silhouetted figure smiled inside. Tomorrow would be the day of reckoning. Tomorrow he could finally begin to heal. He watched the bandits counting the minutes until he revealed himself.
Proud Lion Tavern
The tavern was alive buzzing with conversations, songs, and booming laughter. A patron saw them enter and shouted, "Hey, Silverbolt himself is here."
Everyone in the Tavern went silent at once.
"You should say something," Constance said.
Ten seconds passed as Silverbolt tried to figure out what to say, "So...Who is ready for the finals?" he asked.
The tavern erupted in cheers and jeers, "Silverbolt. Silverbolt," they chanted.
Constance wound up the crowd further by giving him a long passionate kiss, "Just in case anyone has ideas," she said.
The crowd responded with a high pitched, "Whoooh," fists pounded on wooden tables. An unkindness of envious stares flew at Constance.
"Silverbolt is going to crush..." A patron started to say.
"Whoah, you need to stop right there. I am proud to be in the finals, but this is not a time to get overconfident. My opponent made it to the finals fighting similar battles to mine. I refuse to downplay their earned victories."
"It is nice to know I will not be battling a fool," A gravelly voice said
A red-faced woman with a long nose bowed to him. Traditional samurai armored adorned the newcomer's body. On her side was a pair of katana, curve side down for faster drawing. "I am Koharu. I represent her majesty, Queen Boudicca V, leader of Albion."
Her accent made Silverbolt think of the orient, "Silverbolt, I represent the people." He said modestly, "This is my traveling companion Constance." They both bowed.
"You are impressive and creative, Silverbolt. Were your opponents inspired combatants?" Koharu asked.
"Lord Rick O'Shea took off before we even crossed blades, and Ocuil gave me a run for my money."
Koharu nodded solemnly, "Lord O'Shea shamed himself and his family. I met him before the tournament, a more spoiled man you couldn't find."
Constance blushed as she asked her next question, "What are you? I haven't seen someone like you before."
"I am a tengu, we hail from Japan. My people practice, Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu or the school of the strategy of two heavens as one sword style."
Constance looked up at Silverbolt, who was smiling, "I look forward to countering it," he said.
Koharu smiled as well, "Let our battle become the stuff of legend. I bid you both a good evening." She turned and left.
Silverbolt watched Koharu. She moved with ease and practically floated across the floor. "Everything okay?" Constance asked.
"I should turn in for the night. Koharu is not going to be easy."
"How do you know?"
"Koharu moves with forethought and purpose. It means she practices her moves until they become second nature. She is light on her feet, and she wears her swords professionally. That doesn't include any powers tengu have. Does Vexdale have a library? I need to know more about tengu."
Constance hooked her arm on his as they walked towards the door, "I am not sure if they do or not. Lets have a look around."
As it turned out, Vexdale did not have a library. Silverbolt and Constance headed back to the Hawk residence. He had trouble sleeping that night. He had to win or be some spoiled brats pet for the remainder of his life.
Arena Final Match
The town Crier stepped to the center of the ring, "Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to the final matchup of the Noble Invitational. Are you enjoying yourselves?"
The crowd shouted, "Yeah."
"Should I introduce the final contestants?" the crier put his hand to his ear.
"Yes," the crowd shouted in unison.
"I don't think I heard you right. Should I introduce the final combatants?"
"Yes," the crowd screamed.
"Our first Combatant hails from the mountains of Japan. She is the champion of her majesty Queen Boudicca. You know her as Heavens Graceful blade, Koharu."
The crowd was on their feet, cheering for the resplendent Tengu. Koharu walked with peace, waving to the crowd. She bowed to crier and patiently waited for her opponent.
"This next contestant may not be noble, but has proven he deserves to be here. Hailing from Rathmore city, The Peoples Paladin and Jukebox Hero, SILVERBOLT."
The crowd was already pumping their fists in the air shouting, "Go, go, Silverbolt. Go, go, Silverbolt."
The crier raised his voice, "Koharu are you ready?"
Koharu responded but dropping into a sword stance, with a hand on each blade.
"Silverbolt, are you ready."
Siverbolt formed the quicksilver into his favored meteor hammer. He held the chain tight between two hands, taking up a similar stance to Koharus.
The crier held his hand in the air for an eternity. Silverbolt didn't take his eyes off the tengu for a second. "Best of luck, Koharu."
Koharu smiled, "You too, my friend."
"Onward to victory," The crier shouted.
The pair began circling each other. Koharu's attention kept shifting to a spot behind him. "Is everything okay?" Silverbolt asked.
Koharu refocused herself, "I am fine. Shall we?" She asked. Her blade cleared her scabbard in a half-second and streaked towards Silverbolt.
Silverbolt attempted to bind the sword up with his chain, but Koharu expertly deflected it. The next few minutes was them feeling each other out as fighters. Koharu had a tell. She would tap her blade before drawing it.
They broke apart after trading blows. They stood across from one another. Koharu smiled at him. Silverbolt bound himself up in the meteor hammer only to unwind it from his body in a deadly assault. Koharu looked surprised, as she struggled to block.
The crowd was cheering for them both. People were so far on the edge of their seats they were almost on the ground.
Sparks danced off their weapons as they clashed together. Koharu pointed behind him as she lowered her blade. A banging sound was coming from the west wall. Meanwhile, a bizarre humanoid was riding a jet black mountain goat, it was running horizontally along the wall.
Behind the Humanoid was an amorphous black mass. The kludde had come up for air. He activated the snail shell. "Constance, please tell me you can get your hands on another witch trap bottle."
"I see it. I assume you are going to fight?" Constance said, her voice filled with worry.
"It will be a battle this town will never get..." A familiar horn-like call rang out, followed by a thundering boom. Ethan watched as Thunderhorn burst through the arena wall with the subtlety of a rock slide.
The ibex launched its rider at the bleachers before it turned its attention to Thunderhorn. It bleated at Thunderhorn. Thunderhorn took the center ring, and let out another haunting cry.
"Perhaps we should do something about the Yokai, and imp?" Koharu suggested.
Silverbolt nodded, "Who do you want?"
"I want the shadow yokai," Koharu said.
"I'll take the imp, and Thunderhorn has his mount covered."
"You know the ram?"
"If we survive this, I will tell you the story. Oh, don't kill the shadow creature, it will spawn seven more from its corpse," Silverbolt said.
Thunderhorn Vs Cracked Hoof
Thunderhorn looked at Cracked Hoof with undisguised hatred. The pooka goat was responsible for the death of his herd. He still remembered finding all of his friends and loved ones, dead on the canyon floor. The Pooka was a menace and had to be stopped.
The shaggy goat narrowed the blood-red eyes, pawing the ground lowering its head. Thunderhorn followed suit. Both the furry combatants cried havoc before unleashing the dogs of war. Their diamond-hard skulls crashed together, creating a sonic boom that shattered the champagne glasses of the wealthy.
The strength of the ibex was no joke. The fight had the potential to go on for hours. Thunderhorn was not interested in a prolonged conflict. He had a score to settle with the shiny hairless one too. He kept an eye out for anything useful. Thunderhorn saw a length of cord from where he burst through the wall. Inspired by the shiny hairless one, the bighorn came up with a plan.
Cracked hoof charged at his hated enemy. Thunderhorn turned and ran towards the cord, taunting the ibex. Cracked hoof gave chase. He bleated in anger, trying to catch his much faster opponent.
Thunderhorn stopped dead in his tracks, kicked Cracked Hoof in the head, and picked up the cord with his mouth. Cracked hoof fell to the ground with a thud kicking up a dust cloud. The bighorn ran around the ibex, who was sitting on the other end of the cord.
Cracked Hoof couldn't move no matter how hard he struggled. He bleated in despair. The hulking form of Thunderhorn raced at him, with deadly speed, letting out his horn-like call.
Koharu Vs Kludde
Koharu winced as Cracked Hoof was slammed into the arena wall. The kludde looked over at the dead pooka, "A most interesting turn of events wouldn't you say Koharu?"
"Silence demon," She said brandishing her tengu steel at the amorphous mass of darkness.
"Do you want to know a secret Tengu?" the kludde said, shifting into Koharu's former faster.
Koharu held her ground, her face a cool mask of determination. "No demon I am not interested in your secrets."
The kludde leveled its fiery orbs Koharus graceful form, "This is one is relevant."
Koharu growled, "Spit it out then."
The kludde laughed cruelly, "I am not alone."
Three more kludde surrounded the tengu, "Impossible."
"Oh it is quite possible thanks to our impish friend. I was going to reward him, but I shall reward you. We will help you find your true potential."
The Kludde converged on Koharu, she was swallowed by a deluge of shadows, muffling all sound and hope.
Silverbolt Vs Zinjo
Silverbolt watched in horror as the Kluddes and Koharu vanished. It was paramount to take the imp alive. The Imp had an arrow nocked and drawn back to his ear. Silverbolt needed a miracle to reach the noble's box in time.
Thunderous hooves were coming from behind him, "Oh no, not again," Silverbolt said. He knew who and what was behind. As it turned out, the ram wanted to help. Thunderhorn angled his head and launched Silverbolt into the stands.
"Thanks, Dude," Silverbolt said.
Zinjo had released his arrow at this point, it streaked towards Lady Clara who froze instantly. Silverbolt shot the meteor hammer out at lightning speed. The arrow shattered in two and the shiny hero now stood in front of Lady Clara.
Zinjo stared at him in stunned silence, the guards took him by the arm.
"Take him to the chamber, I want answers," Clara said in a voice born of steel. She turned to Silverbolt, "Get your frumpy fiance I need all the help I can get."
Silverbolt activated the snail shell, "Constance we have a job, you in?"