How we think the fight will go
Sixteen Battles for great heroes under the sky
Eight more for gods and mages known
Four for blooded brutes doomed to die,
Two for dragons, Golds and sons of stone
And One for those Last Standing,
in the Land of Unbound Worlds where heroes die
One Battle to decide them all, One Battle to judge them
One Battle to bring them all and in the Cage Match grind them
In the Land of Unbound Worlds where heroes die
Though the red sun had fled and the curtain of darkness descended, the night was not yet old. But it was silent, terribly so, and the wood sat like a great empty house. In this night on the lone path through the thick bramble, an odd pair was moving with great haste. The tall one, Legolas Greenleaf, doing so in silence. The shorter, Gimli son of Gloin clicking and clanking along as he made to keep pace with his lithe friend.
Finding a slain horse in the middle of the road, Legolas paused to examine the wounds on the beast’s neck. “Teeth” he says. ”And fresh.”
“Perhaps.” Legolas said, turning to carry on. “Come Master Sluggard, hurry your feet. I feel a strange spirit in the wind.”
“Hurry my feet? Hurry my feet?” Gimli asked, heedless of the shadows about.
“They’ve been hurried since I buried my axe in that merry little nobleman and his kin! I’ve got two on you now. And we’ve neither rested, nor slept, nor eaten in three days. Three! Am I mule to be beaten along the path? Nay!”
“Dwarves make such a racket. Lower your voice, Gimli. Lest foul company find us before we find them.”
“Perhaps you would like to carry the cooking pans, princeling.“ He gave a shake of the pack upon his back, rattling the pans inside. “And no more foul company could there be than a pointy ear like you! I don’t trust a man I can’t hear breathe!”
Customarily upset, as dwarves often are, and flushed in face as an upset dwarf is wont to be, Gimli hurled down his pack and sat squarely on the dead horse, knees creaking all the while. “Ah,” he sighed. “Nothing like a hide chair”. He doffed his green cloak and stretched his aching limbs before setting into his pack, searching for sausages he purloined from the body of the fallen Tiste Andii.
“We haven’t time to rest,” Legolas said..
“Nay. Of course we haven’t the time to rest. But we do have time to eat before we find more war.”
Legolas stood before his friend and turned his bright eyes away north and east to the road where a bridge stretched over the swift-moving river. He was troubled. “War often comes of its own accord.”
Gimli looked up from his vittles and followed his friend’s gaze. Not to the road or the bridge or even the trees, but to the night sky where a terrible black shape descended. It was wingless and the air trembled beneath it as it landed upon the soil, revealing its shape to be that of a man.
“What foul evil…” Legolas murmured.
Taller even than any Dunedain, the man was fair and gallant as an Elven-lord and carried himself with coiled wrath. His face was as bereft of hair as a babe’s, marred only by a single scar. His flashing eyes called to mind the molten metal of the forges of the Khazad-dûm, before the coming of that ancient evil; the Balrog of Morgoth. There was something terrible and sad about his countenance, as if a great weight pressed upon him.
Nonplussed, Gimli popped a sausage into his mouth, but remained seated as Legolas drew his bow. The elf hesitated briefly before he notched an arrow. “I am Legolas, son of Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm. Proclaim yourself, friend. Or do you bar our passage like the rest?”
The tall man smiled. “My name is Darrow. Do you want to hear a riddle?”
Legolas searched the trees around. “Fear the man who tells riddles when the road darkens. We’ve no time for games. Move, my friend, lest we have more than words.”
“I fear I cannot.”
“He’ll be easy enough to move when we part his head from his body.”
The stranger laughed. “My head! I daresay you won’t be able to reach it from down there, plump one. Perhaps if you stood on your friend’s shoulders?” The dashing stranger unfurled a long tongue of metal from arm. It uncoiled like a great serpent before hardening into a curved blade. “My riddle: A box without hinges, key or lid, yet inside ugly golden treasure is hid. What am I?”
Legolas laughed merrily, for he knew this one. A dear companion, now departed and for whom he carried his burden, once told it to him by the fireside. It was an heirloom of a riddle. “Easy. You’re an egg.”
“Wrong. I’m a dead horse. Sevro?”
Before elf or dwarf could move a finger, a blade slick and black with dwarf and horse blood rose through Gimli’s thigh and the palm of the hand resting upon it. Gimli shouted in pain and bounded up, tearing himself free of the blade. He stumbled away, cursing. And behind him, from the belly of the dead horse slithered a nightmare creature. It has the body of a man, but the head of a wolf. Blood and viscera sloughs from his body, which was sheathed in strange, angular armor.
“Goblin!” Legolas cried, and notched an arrow. He let it fly, aim ever true, but it bounced from the creature’s gore-slick armor as if it were no more than a twig.
“So you’ve heard of me?” The wolf-helm asked.
Gimli pulled his broad axe. Blood sluiced from his wound and he limped with terrible pain to his elven friend’s side. “Foul creature. You were inside the whole time?”
Sevro cackled. “That’s what your father said. Gloin, was it?”
“Give us what is in your pocket, elf,” Darrow said from the other side of the road. “That is all we want.”
“No,” Legolas replied. “It does not belong to you, bandit.”
“How many lie in your wake? Ageless as you are, have you not stopped to wonder why this horror? Why this carnage? It what you carry that summons here. It is what you carry that has pitted man against man. What you took from the Halfling. Give it to me.”
“So you can keep it?” Legolas asked. “I know the weakness of men.”
“And I know the pride of immortals. If you will not give it freely, I will take it.”
Swift as a winter breeze, Legolas loosed an arrow at Darrow’s eye. The tall man twitched to the side, letting the arrow pass harmlessly. The elf fired three more. They skittered from Darrow’s armor. Behind Legolas, Gimli charged Sevro, his famed axe held high, bellowing with the fury of a thousand Longbeards of old. Sevro yawned, scratched his testicles and raised his left hand. A metal pulseFist bloomed there on his gauntlet like a flower bud, and rippling air screamed from the strange aperture, slamming dreadfully into the dwarf. Armor melted. Flesh bubbled and boiled. Bones shattered and Gimli fell, a smoldering mess upon the ground. Sevro walked past him, bent, and warmed his hands in the fire that sizzled along the dwarf’s long beard. “Bye, Gimli.”
Then, taking the sausage from his foe’s charred hand, he sat on his haunches to watch his best friend in all the worlds twirl with the pointy ear. Their blades flashed like shards of the moon. The night’s shadow cloaked both in darkness, but the sparks danced through the evening as elven metal met polyenne razor. The White Knives opened two slashes along Darrow’s side. A third on his right thigh. But elven grace was matched by the dexterity of a man born to mine the deep places of Mars, and overpowered by the mad science of a Carver with eyes the eyes the color of lilac.
Inexorably, like a lion closing its jaws around the throat of a lissome antelope, Darrow overwhelmed the prince of the woods. And as he did, Sevro pulled a knife from his boot, eyed the small of the elf’s back where the leather jerkin was laced together, and threw the knife end over end. The blade found its target and slid deep. Legolas’ eyes opened wide in fear. He reached for the knife, but there was no respite from the onslaught of the wrathful Martian. With a resounding bellow of rage, Darrow hacked off his left arm.
There, the elf of Mirkwood fell to the ground, gripped by the sorrow of seeing his dead companion. His heart despaired as his enemies stood over him. He would never again see the sun set through mighty boughs of his glade. He would never glimpse the distant green shores over the sea. Darkness found a home in his heart. And from his pocket, whispers did slither. They beseeched him to give in to the Shadow. To give himself to the darkness hidden in his own heart.
Under the blood moon, Darrow lifted high his curved blade over Legolas’ head. “I will meet you in the Vale,” he says. “Farewell.”
And he swung down his mighty slingBlade to cleave Legolas’ neck from his body. But the blade met only air and soil. Legolas was suddenly gone! He vanished into thin air, leaving only strange whispers in his wake.
Sevro jumped to his feet. “Shit! Shit! Shit!” Together they backed away from where the elf kneeled. “I told you not to let him put it on.”
Darrow ignored his friend and fired his pulseFist into the grass. Sevro joined him, lighting the ground around them on fire, peering into the smoke to chance a glimpse of the elf. But there was no sign of him. “Up,” Darrow said. He boosted away from the ground with his gravBoots to put distance between him and his invisible prey.
But as he rose, a cold dark pressure entered his throat. He looked down to see blood, a foul torrent of it, gushing out from a long smile of a wound. He felt his body falling. He heard the crackle of the fire all around him, and he felt the dread thumping of his heart as his body spilled its lifeblood to the earth.
Through the smoke he glimpsed Sevro stabbing at the air, rolling, tumbling. But his sight was fading. In his last moment he saw his friend grinning, teeth stained with blood. A finger bearing a slim golden ring stuck out from the corner of his mouth, and beneath him, Legolas, lay bloody and horrifying to behold.
I jolt out of my chair. A sallow man with green eyes and slithering dragon tattoos stares down at me. The room is cold. The man’s pupils dilated from gutter smack. “How was the ride to Osgiliath?” the man gibbers. “Everything you hoped and dreamed?”
I taste blood. “Bit my tongue.”
“Happens, happens. Shit gets real, right?” the Green pulls the electrodes of the experiential simulator from my temples. I rub my eyes and look over at Sevro. He twitches in his chair and then bolts upright, ripped out of the experiential.
“Holy shitballs! That was bloodydamn terrifying,” Sevro gasps. He sits quietly for a moment. “Shit.”
“Did you get him?”
“No. Bloodydamn pixie put a knife through my eye.” Then Sevro coughs. Lightly at first. Then great heaving hacks as he clutches his throat. I rush to help him, but by the time I reach Sevro, the fit has passed. My friend’s eyes are wide.
“Are you prime?” I ask.
Sevro opens his mouth and spits out a small gold ring. Faint whispers play in the back of my mind, and I can see from the confusion on his face that Sevro hears them too. His eyes meet mine, “How close is the nearest volcano?”
Predicted Winner: Sevro & Darrow
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON Friday, April 8, 2016, AT 11:59 AM, EST
Cage Match fans: We’re 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!”)