A man offered to buy us drinks at the inn's incredibly large bar. There were six or seven bartenders, each serving multiple patrons. The inn itself was rather large as well. Alon the bard took the man up on his offer, but Falric and I declined, bound by our respective codes and paranoia. Fenrir and Zalan hadn't joined us yet. Alon took a drink and soon fell unconscious. Before Falric and I could react, the man had shivved us both with the same poison he'd slipped into Alon's drink.
When we awoke, our hands and feet were shackled, our weapons and armor were gone, and we were in a cell of some kind. In a panic, I reached for my amulet, and relaxed as I found it was strapped to my arm. Perhaps they were too frightened of the thing to remove it from its owner.
Once having ascertained the safety of the amulet, I bristled with fury. Our mission was too important to be stopped here. As I reflected on it, however, I realized that our patron was a student of the manipulation of time itself, and thus so long as our quest continued, we need not fear for running out of time. Evil had already won in this land, which meant that Good could bide its time, waiting to strike, the total reverse of the situation in my own home town, and home time.
After some time, a nobleman with a pair of guards entered and led us to a small arena with four rings and no crowd. It must've been some kind of proving ground. Fenrir was already in one of the proving rings when we arrived, but he didn't seem to be fighting anyone just yet. Falric was sent by the nobleman to fight with him, grappling with him and quickly pummeling him senseless. I breathed a sigh of relief. Fenrir's sword would have led to a far messier victory.
While the two fought, the nobleman placed an enchantment on our weapons and armor and then returned them to us. Then Alon and myself were moved into one of the rings. "Come, let's see which of you is better!" the nobleman said as crossbows were levelled at us. I looked at my full chain mail and the massive great sword slung over my shoulder. Then I looked to Alon's frail form. "You're joking, right?" I said.
"Looks can be deceiving," the nobleman said, gesturing to us to get started.
I considered the situation. I'm not fond of Alon. He's impatient, greedy, and bloodthirsty. I had no doubt he was considering how best to slaughter me at the moment. But I was considering something more noble.
slay the bard
I could feel temptation stinging at the edge of my mind. But could I really sacrifice one of my allies now? It may start with the likes of Alon and Zalan, but what if I were asked to fight with Falric and Fenrir? They were not just my allies, they were my friends.
kill or be killed
"Come on, I haven't got all day," the nobleman said.
"Neither have we, we're trying to save the world," I said dryly. The nobleman just laughed.
the quest must not fail
I shut my eyes a moment, grabbed my sword, charged towards Alon, and thrust my blade deep into the ground in front of him. "No!" I said, "I will not kill for sport."
"Did you think I wanted you to kill him?" the nobleman said, laughing some more, "These weapons have been enchanted with dullness."
My eyes widened for a moment and I grabbed my sword, yanking it out of the ground as Alon pounced on me, sticking his rapier in the gaps in my armor and leaving small pinpricks of blood. The blades may be too dull to penetrate very far, but they could still break the skin. I swung my great sword once towards Alon's middle, bowling him over, and then moved to finish him off, but he rolled out of the way and slashed at my legs. The blade did nothing but irritate me through my armor, and I brought my sword down on his shoulder, leaving a small cut, a large bruise, and Alon defeated.
The nobleman laughed and clapped his hands, saying "See? The bard's got some fight in him!" The guards stepped in, retrieving Alon and thrusting in Fenrir. We both drew our swords and readied for battle. I don't think Heironeous was with me in this fight. It was a prelude to a blood sport, in the depths of a land ruled by death. I'm not sure if he could even see me in that place, let alone aid me. But someone was with me in that fight as I wove out from underneath Fenrir's blade, smacking him with my sword again and again in spite of his remarkable evasive abilities.
When Fenrir was defeated, Falric was thrust in to replace him. A duel of champions, but I knew how it would go. I needed to defeat Falric before she could begin to grapple with me, or else I'd be unlikely to ever break free. Unfortunately, she was faster than I, and soon had me pinned to the ground, slowly smacking me senseless with my own blade. I was able to break free at one point and landed a solid blow on her, but she pinned me again and soon had me defeated.
"Pretty good, monk, but that'll never work in the arena!" the nobleman said. I didn't know if this was because the arena matches were free-for-alls or just because the crowd wouldn't want to see a monk maul someone to death with their own weapon. Maybe they'd rather see a noble paladin killing for sport. Either way, the guards took me from the smaller ring and thrust me into a larger one with a seven-foot tall brute with brass knuckles.
It was my fourth fight in a row, and I'd just lost one to a monk, leaving me punch-drunk and weak. I landed a single hit on the man's head, which dazed him, and if I'd managed to land one more like that, I think I'd have beaten him entirely, but I never did. He beat me nearly unconscious before the match was stopped. "I never expected you to defeat him," the nobleman said, laughing. He has a most irritating laugh. "He's been our champion for three years running."
He clapped his hands and the guards grabbed the four of us and began moving us down another corridor, further away from our cells. Eventually, we came to some stairs and were walked up, where we found a hooded man tied to a chair, Zalan (bound and gagged to prevent spell casting) and several more guards. "Kill him," the nobleman instructed us, pointing at the hooded man.
Alon immediately drew his rapier and moved towards the man, raising his sword to strike. Then he stopped, considering who the man might be.
I was afraid of the same thing as the rest of the group at this point. What if this guy is actually a potential ally, and by killing him we're shooting ourselves in the foot? I wasn't eager to see the tables turned on me after the Kobold massacre stunt I'd pulled in Phoenix Rising.
If we didn't kill the man, the guards had it more than in their power to kill him themselves. It wasn't a question of if he would die, but rather who would do it. I couldn't fathom why Alon was hesitating. Did he think we could escape somehow?
"Who is he?" Alon asked.
"It doesn't matter," the nobleman said, "Kill him."
"What's in it for us?" I asked.
"If you don't kill him, we'll kill you. Is his one life worth all five of yours?" the nobleman said. He made a good point, on top of which we would accomplish nothing by sparing him. Nonetheless...I swore an oath.
kill them all
Alon still hesitated. I swept him aside in agitation and brought my sword down on the hooded man's head. He was killed instantly. The guards threw back his hood to reveal a boy about seventeen years old, while the nobleman laughed (again) and said "That's the kind of thing we need in the arena!" I'd done the best I could under the circumstances, I think...But it still felt impulsive and cruel to me. Then I felt a pinprick in my back and fell unconscious again.