How we think the fight will go
How Paula Brandon, creator of Aureste, thinks the match will go:
It was well that his brother Innesq had warned him, else the Magnifico Aureste Belandor would have been taken wholly by surprise—snatched up in an instant by forces beyond comprehension, set down brusquely in an unknown place, obliged to kill or be killed without hope of personal profit. As it was, however, his gifted brother’s arcane powers had served him handsomely. There had been a little time to prepare, to arm himself with weapons both mundane and supranormal. An alien title pronounced by Innesq still rang through his memory.
That was the name of this place, and its local gods would determine his fate. Accordingly, he raised his voice.
“Gods of Unbound Worlds,” Aureste intoned, with the air of a reasonable being addressing others of similar ilk. “Hear my offer. Grant me victory in this contest, and I will build you a house of worship in the city of Vitrisi. It will be a spacious structure, no less than two stories in height, with a cupola, and appropriate embellishment worth no less than a thousand diostres. I will hire a cadre of acolytes to perform rites in your honor, and I will support their necessary expenses for the term of five years, during which time your worship will take hold in the city. All of these obligations I will fulfill faithfully, in exchange for victory. What is your answer?” He paused for reply, of which there was none in words. His senses strained, and he thought to catch the distant echo of cosmic laughter.
Then his attention returned to his immediate surroundings, and he beheld his adversary—a lean, red-haired, youthful figure, shabbily clad in breeches of some faded blue material, worn sandals, and a skimpy shirt revealing arms adorned with elaborate tattoos. Meager jewelry of no value—a necklace that appeared to be made of nothing better than iron. Scarcely more than a boy, and a peasant at that; a menial lad of no consequence. Aureste’s confidence soared. For this, he had no need of assistance from the mute and mischievous gods of Unbound Worlds. Still, Innesq had warned him that the amiable-looking Atticus O’Sullivan was certain to possess formidable resources. And the whippersnapper did carry a serviceable-looking sword slung across his back.
No matter. He himself possessed a better weapon, the last word in dazzling modernity: a hackbut. Who but Aureste Belandor could have laid hands upon a piece of personal artillery whose thunder and lightning were certain to shock and awe his sword-wielding foe into a state of terrified paralysis? Swiftly sinking the support into the sand of the arena, Aureste positioned his hackbut and applied the match to the touchhole. The weapon fired with a satisfying roar, and clouds of smoke obscured his vision. When the smoke cleared, Aureste’s searching gaze swept vacant space. Atticus O’Sullivan had vanished.
When Atticus first glimpsed his opponent, he was taken aback. Aureste Belandor was tall, strong-featured, fit and active, but grey of hair. He had to be at least fifty years old, an age that struck the Druid as grandfatherly, despite his own millennia of existence. His surprise turned to pleased bemusement as he observed the grey-haired dude readying a hackbut for use. He had not confronted such a weapon outside of a museum since the fifteenth century. Ludicrous though it was, however, the ancient handgun did possess a certain destructive potential, and therefore Atticus cast a swift camouflage over himself. Once cloaked from view, he donned his faery specs and took the opportunity to scrutinize his foe. He saw that Aureste Belandor carried certain magical wards and weapons. He saw too that the energy source powering those appurtenances was mighty in its own plane, but indifferently effective here in this one. And he perceived, with the certainty born of immeasurable experience, that Aureste was not the author of the magic. It must have been given, or stolen, or bought, for the old boy possessed no sorcerous skill of his own. What malevolent gods had brought him here, to such an unequal contest?
“Gods Below, will the meddling never cease?” Atticus complained.
Aureste Belandor started at the sound of the disembodied voice, then grimly resumed his elaborate reloading procedure.
Atticus sighed, and drew the peerless blade Fragarach the Answerer from its scabbard. Much as he regretted the destruction of an amusing antique, it had to be done. A single effortless stroke of his sword cleft the hackbut in two. A second stroke would have destroyed another amusing antique, severing Aureste Belandor’s head from his trunk, but Atticus could not bring himself to deliver the blow. It was just too easy.
Instead, he abandoned his camouflage.
His hackbut broke in pieces. Almost at the same instant, the red-polled peasant boy was back again, sword in hand. Astounded, Aureste stumbled backward a few paces, then halted and drew his own blade—a very fine and costly weapon, perfectly balanced and beautifully designed, wrought by the best craftsman in Vitrisi.
“Take a deep breath,” Atticus advised affably.
The advice was good, but Aureste scarcely heard it. Fear and fury boiled along his veins, and he lunged. His blade met Fragarach the Answerer…and shattered. Steel fragments flew in all directions. He clutched a useless hilt. A painful thrill jolted through the hilt, and he dropped it with an oath, then stood empty-handed, chest heaving.
He did not remain empty-handed for long. Innesq’s most potent arcane gift reposed in a pocket of his robe: a bottled Fume, capable of subverting and controlling an opponent’s magic. His brother had cautioned him against using the Fume as anything other than a last resort, but the necessity had surely arisen. In one quick movement, he drew forth the flask, pulled the stopper, and flung the vessel to the ground at Atticus’ feet.
At once, dark tendrils of oily vapor snaked from the flask, to coil themselves about the Druid’s legs. The whisper of a carrion stench reached Atticus’ nostrils, and he stood looking down in pleased interest as the coils ascended to lap him in a sullen and stinking shroud. The effect was picturesque, but sadly, it did not last long. Within seconds, the iron amulet that he wore at his neck neutralized the magical attack, and the vapor faded out of existence.
Aureste blinked. It had happened so quickly and unexpectedly that he doubted his own vision. One moment, his opponent had hovered upon the verge of extinction, and the next—impossibly, inexplicably—the Fume had fizzled.
“Sad. Really sad.” Atticus shook his head. “This entire sorry match is like Master Yoda versus Dudley Dursley.”
“Who versus who?”
“Dudley is Harry’s annoying Muggle cousin, who—”
“Never mind.” Aureste took a deep breath, and brought forth the most powerful weapon of them all. “Listen to me—I can make you a rich man. Only allow me victory, here and now, and I will pay you fifty thousand diostres. I swear it. Think of it. That is a great fortune, and it will be yours.”
“I might be impressed, if I had any idea what a diostre is worth. I’m not from your plane, you understand. Anyway, you seem to overlook a small but telling detail. If I allow you victory, then I’m dead. I won’t be having a lot of fun with those diostres.”
“Ah, but they will go to your family—your wife and children if you have them. Your elderly parents. Your kin will be comfortable and secure for life, thanks to you. Prove your manhood and your affection—think of them.”
“My nearest and dearest are already provided for. Thanks all the same.”
“Kill me, then,” Aureste snarled, confused and frustrated that the mighty magic of money had failed him. “Let us conclude this farce.” His sense of defeat was real, but his capitulation was not. At his belt he wore the last of his weapons—an ordinary dagger of unremarkable steel. Such a mundane blade was no match for Atticus’ appalling magical sword, and he expected death. Still, should the opportunity arise, he would venture a final attack, for he meant to fight on so long as breath remained in him.
“I’ve no wish to kill you, Magnifico Belandor,” declared Atticus O’Sullivan.
“But you have no choice. Yes, I understand. Now, make an end.”
“No choice? Funny, I don’t see it that way.”
“Only one of us leaves this place alive. That is our reality. It is the will of the gods, omnipotent and immortal.”
“The ‘omnipotent and immortal’ stuff—it doesn’t always work that way. Oh, I grant you, the Olympians may be undying, but most of the other ones—not so much. Take it from me, the majority of these gods have got their weaknesses.”
“Indeed. These Unbound Worlds entities, for example. I don’t know exactly who or what they are, but it’s good odds that Fragarach will take them out, divinity and all, if I can find my way to their plane.”
“Why should you dare so much? It is more to your immediate profit to slay me here and now, and then you will be free of this place.”
“More likely, I’ll remain to fight the next challenger, for the pleasure of the invisible, popcorn-munching audience. Sorry, I don’t want to play. I’ve had a bellyful of bored gods, with their vicious games, and their casual murders, and their perversion of human free will. Time for a little aversion therapy, and I’ll start with the one or ones who set up this arena, as soon as I track them down.”
“You will truly challenge the gods?”
“I truly intend to end these cage matches, once and for all.”
“I salute you, Atticus O’Sullivan. You have astonished and inspired me. You have given me new hope—something I never expected. We shall join forces to hunt down and kill the Unbound Worlds gods together.”
“I thank you for the kindness, Magnifico, but that might be a problem. You’ve not the ability, I think, to walk among the planes.”
“It is true. I’m an ordinary man, devoid of arcane power, and I would only hinder you in your quest. Please you, then, to take what I can offer freely—my friendship.” Aureste extended his hand, and Atticus grasped it. Drawing the other near, Aureste whipped the dagger from his belt and drove it expertly between Atticus O’Sullivan’s ribs.
Instantly bathed in blood, Atticus dropped to the ground. His forearm twisted, seeking to bring the tattoos into contact with the earth.
Fragarach the Answerer lay where its master had let it fall. Aureste took up the magical blade, and felt its power singing along his nerves. Without pausing to savor the sensation, he raised the sword and smote off Atticus’ head, then watched in amazement as the body, released of the magics that had maintained its youth for twenty one centuries, crumbled to dust.
Atticus O’Sullivan was a hero willing to battle the gods themselves in defense of human freedom. Aureste Belandor was not.
Predicted Winner: Aureste
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON THURSDAY, MARCH 8th, 2012, AT 5 PM, EST
Atticus image courtesy of *CodyVrosh. Aureste image courtesy of Spectra Books
Cage Match fans: We are looking forward to hearing your responses! If possible, please abstain from including potential spoilers about the books in your comments (and if you need spoilers to make your case, start your comments with: “SPOILER ALERT!”