- Age: 40+
- Species: Stained (Obsidian)
- Weapons: IonBlade
- Special Attack: Being bigger and badder than you
- Enormous & physically powerful
- Stoic and wise
- Skilled with his blades
- Devotion to his sister
- Age: 21
- Species: Antari
- Weapons: Blood magic, some very tricky outerwear
- Special Attack: Traveling between universes
- Able to communicate with blood, where magic resides
- Can travel between parallel worlds
- Can exercise some degree of control over blood
- Can be stubborn and overprotective
- Exhibits some occasional poor judgment
By Elizabeth Bonesteel
Kell’s feet hit solid ground. He took a breath: no pain. He stood on earth and stone, and all around him grew trees, gray and black in a deep, diffuse mist. Strange place. He closed his eyes and listened to his own heartbeat: slow, steady, strong. His blood tingled: magic. There was magic here. The relief was overwhelming.
A shadow fell over him, and he opened his eyes. He looked up. And up. And up some more.
Oh, Kell thought. Oh, dear.
Ragnar frowns. This man is small, but they have all been small. This one is also pale, slight, strange. No Color Ragnar has ever seen. “What are you?” he asks.
The small man fixes him with one tranquil blue eye. The other, Ragnar notes, is black. Perhaps not a lowColor, despite his stature. “I am Antari,” he says. No Color at all, then; perhaps a new category. The Antari’s strange eyes survey Ragnar head to toe, and linger on the ionBlades extending from his arms. “And what are you?”
Ragnar straightens. “I represent Allmother Death.”
“Of course you do.” The Antari sounds tired. “Are you going to stab me?”
“It would be quicker,” Ragnar suggests helpfully, “if I were to crush your skull.”
“Can you do that?”
“What if I run?”
“Then I will have to catch you. But the end will be the same.”
The Antari runs.
Kell weaved through the trees, wondering how fast the giant was. Behind him he heard the mechanical hum of those odd, electronic blades, and the sound of severed branches hitting the ground. Apparently the giant was clear-cutting the forest.
He worked to focus, to quiet his thoughts, but a part of him kept interrupting with the reminder that the moment the giant got within grabbing distance, Kell was finished.
Sliding the knife from his sleeve, he nicked his palm, and reached out through the ground to the trees.
Behind him, he heard the giant stumble, and then a great tearing sound as a tree was wrenched, roots intact, from the ground.
Ragnar adds magic to his developing definition of Antari. He wonders, briefly, if it is the will of Allmother Death that he see her sooner than he has expected; but She will either guide his hand or take his life, and all will be as it should be.
A tree branch lifts him, and he slices it away effortlessly. But as he hits the ground something snakes up from beneath the soil: roots, tangling themselves around his ankles. He pulls one leg free, only to have two roots emerge from the ground where one had held him before. Ragnar is strong. The trees are stronger. He slices with his ionBlades, but for each root he severs two rise up in its place.
Kell listened. The giant had stopped slashing; the roots were stable, holding him. A trick, Kell thought, and took his time walking back, moving with stealth, keeping himself out of sight. When he arrived, he saw the great man entangled in roots and branches up to his waist, his arms bound to his sides. But the blades were still active, still hot; and for all Kell nudged the branches as far away as he could, he could still smell burning wood.
He reached out with his mind, trying to feel the metal; but the substance in the blades shifted and feinted, and he could not take control. Part this world, part another. So many strange things Kell was encountering in this odd tournament.
Kell palmed his dagger, and the giant frowned. “Why don’t you run me through with one of your tree branches?”
I need them all to hold you still, Kell thought, but he was not going to inform the giant of his limits. “I prefer the dagger,” he said simply, and the giant nodded as if that made perfect sense. He did not seem bothered at all. He had done his best to win, and his impending defeat was simply incidental. Kell felt a pang of envy for that steady moral structure.
“You have fought well,” the giant said.
Gracious, too. “Thank you.”
But the giant shook his head. “There is no thanks. Whether it is your death or mine is for the Allmother to decree, not for us.”
“It doesn’t bother you, dying at the hands of one so much smaller?”
“We all die. But what we leave behind… that is what matters.”
There was, Kell reflected, more depth to that philosophy than he had time to examine. He stepped forward, readying his blade. One thrust, up under the ribcage. He could not make it painless, but he could make it quick.
He stepped close enough to the giant to feel the heat coming from his trapped form.
And a blade shot out of the tangle of branches.
Ragnar finds his arms frozen, one after the other, as the ionBlades cut clear of the roots. He cannot reach his opponent, no matter what his will. He sees the strain on the Antari’s face, and another talent is catalogued. Ragnar smiles grimly, and nods at his executioner.
“What is it you leave behind, giant?” the Antari asks.
“No regrets,” Ragnar tells him, and it is the truth.
The magician strikes, and Ragnar’s ionBlades remain paralyzed. He keeps his eyes open to greet Allmother Death, and it is glorious.