The Tournament 09: The Dangerbymadam_noe©
Copyright Nora Quick 2012.
As always, I welcomecomments and feedback!
Anger was his best weapon now. Tanaka climbed from the boat on the old oil platform seething. He'd traveled far northwest to reach it and awaiting him was Jace. They were two of the last three champions left, and whoever lived today would fight the Irish champion. The winner of the ultimate fight would open a portal to another dimension where their gods lived, and a pantheon would rise again to cleanse the earth.
Right at that moment he did not care about saving humanity from itself, saving the Earth from the poisonous radiation, or saving the three worlds tied together in the struggle for survival. He only cared to win.
By killing Jase he would face Keelin of Thorpe. Once a lover, always his enemy, twice she had cheated him from a fight. He had yet to face honest combat. Somehow her plain face and red hair had enthralled his god Hachiman. Hachiman's interference with a fight to save Keelin from the Aztec champion had him banished from this plane, a new god assigned to him. His next fight with the Roman champion had ended with interference by one of Keelin's lovers. To what end he did know, but somehow she was behind all his troubles.
"Tanaka. Thank you for obliging and letting me fight surrounded by ocean," Jase said, his voice deeply accented.
Around them the northern winds howled and their thick coats flapped in the wind. The ancient oil platform, abandoned for nearly a century, had thick icicles of seawater dangling from it. "No trouble at all. As water gives you power, metal grants me the same."
He withdrew his sword and charged. Jase's was naked in his gloved hand and he thrust it up to block. Tanaka was smaller but rage gave him strength and Jaese's eyes, the only visible part of his face showing through the ski-mask, widened.
He twisted and drove Tanaka's sword to the side, jumping back.
Madly Tanaka grinned. "En garde."
Things were quiet. Just four months ago it had been revealed that Neit had one of my lovers kill the Roman champion. I was the Irish champion and none of our camp were to know about the Tournament. Neit himself was only there to babysit my trainer the goddess Morrigan, but the snake had done more than spill the beans, he'd tried to derail the Tournament. She had intervened in my first challenge and was on probation.
Hugh was dead by Tanaka, and Sinead and Kelner had gone with Neit. It was just me, Fiona, and John now with Morrigan. Daily I trained with my fellow reincarnates, the only two people who knew what it was like to have their souls reborn and retain all knowledge of past lifetimes. It wasn't easy. John still believed in love, a concept I had long ago abandoned, and despite hurt feelings had returned to my bed. Fiona was feeling ignored and had gotten rough in her training.
Every day we had argued, why had Neit sent Hugh to kill the Roman champion? If Tanaka did not keep the secret the tournament was forfeit, the world would die, and the other two tied to it as well. There was no sense to it all.
"Heavy thoughts again?" John asked me.
I shook myself from reverie. We were driving back from the nearest "town" to our compound. We'd traded some of the vegetables we'd grown for grains, and and both fought in the cage of the main roadhouse for money to buy other supplies. He was driving and I was exhausted, not a good sign for a woman who would have to fight to the death to save the world.
"Morrigan said Jase and Tanaka are fighting. One will win and soon I will have to fight them." No one else was to know about the Tournament but John had overhead Neit's drunken bragging. The gods refused to play by the rules so I figured, fuck it.
"They're way up off the far north coast. The winner will want to rest than have to travel slowly. It took Tanaka four months to reach the coast, the winner will take that long to reach here. Stay here and you'll be fine."
We didn't speak again until we pulled in and the women came out to help. Luckily Morrigan was in her middle-aged mother form. Too often she was in her crone's form when heavy lifting came about. She helped us unload and then John went to use the shower first and Fiona was on cooking duty for our late dinner, leaving me alone with the goddess.
"Any news of Neit?"
Her blue eyes were sad. "Apparently Apollo ran into him. Neit is claiming Sinead should be champion."
I dropped my bags. "What?"
"Do you remember when you were Branna, your first self, and fought in the first combat to select the eight?"
"You don't need to narrate my lives, I've lived them all, and yes. Why?"
"When you were dying of the poison Neit, who was always jealous that I was the chosen war deity of our clan, argued with Jupiter that his chosen champion should take your place and we should let you die."
"I should have killed him when I had the chance. But Hachiman healed me, and here I stand."
Morrigan helped me pick up the spilled bags and we gathered them heading into the store house. "There's more. Just as I transgressed so did Hachiman. Only those of us who trained you eight know. He possessed Tanaka's body and saved you from the Aztec. So he and I have both interfered with the Tournament, for you.
"The others are making noises. Don't ask me how, but Neit found out. He's pressuring the others to allow Sinead to stand in your place."
I cursed in fifteen languages. The chorus of voices in my head of all my past selves was silent under this rage. I couldn't say why. For three millennia I had known about the Tournament and never once, I confess, cared. But now it was here, really happening, and the world depending on it. And the gods just kept fucking it up. "No, he's not! Tell me, Morrigan, why did you choose me all those years ago? What was it about my soul?" My temper was not just mine: strong emotions were ridden by my old selves, and most of them had loved anger. I worked hard not to loose it normally, but she saw the full force of my rage then.
"Keelin your soul...it's special."
"How!? How fucking special is it? What makes it more special than John or Fiona!?"
She took a deep breath and I knew I wasn't going to like this. Boy, did I not.
Jase was good. Tanaka was too, but Jase was older, his body a better build of muscle, and he had more experience. Tanaka's anger kept him going but after nearly an hour they agreed to take a break, neither having gained much ground. They sat now, legs hanging over the edge of the platform, and both drank from thermoses of coffee.
"One of us will die soon, let there be honesty about us. We two have arguably the best powers. You draw from Earth and I draw from water, the most abundant elements. I confess to you now, I do have one weakness. I cannot stay dry for too long." With that Jase reached down, broke off an icicle, and took a bite.
Tanaka stared into the endless night and rolling waves. This was one of the last areas free of radiation, and it was beautiful. Soon the gods of the winner would bring this beauty to all the world, and he hoped with all his heart he would live to see it. "I...sometimes I get overwhelmed when I'm too deep in the Earth for too long."
Jase nodded. "I fought the Egyptian, he could call on animals. But whatever he called he took on the nature of. I won by tricking him into calling many birds, he went mad, and I easily killed him. What about the Roman?"
Tanaka knew not to confess he had not killed him. "He could remember and master anything he read. In the end it was limiting. Apparently he didn't read many murder mysteries."
Jase chuckled. "I heard the Chinese champion could call on ghosts."
"The earth-bound spirits of his ancestors. He was killed by the Aztec when he was in the one place his ancestors could not follow."
"Between a whore's legs, I heard. And the Aztec...did you use his ability against him?"
Another fight Tanaka could not claim, for Hachiman had taken over his body for the fight and stolen any memory. "Carlos did himself in. His power rising from spilled blood...he became something too dark to win, a creature obsessed with killing the innocent."
Jase nodded and stretched. "And after us it's the Irish champion. Can you imagine living again and again retaining all that knowledge?"
"And all those faults." Tanaka rose and brought his sword up. "Enough talk, let us fight now."
Jase grinned and rose with equal menace.
"What we need is a spy."
Morrigan frowned at John's suggestion. "Keelin, why did you bring John in on this? Fiona will be unbearable now."
"He knows and he's helping. A spy, John?"
"Neit knows about Hachiman's interference, that means someone talked. My guess is the Aztecs. We need a god of the eight to find out."
"He's not wrong," I added. "Someone Neit fears, someone the Aztecs fear as well."
Her light eyes went wide and suddenly the goddess laughed. We sat around the table but suddenly she stood and spun, dancing. "I know just the god, and he's still here, wandering, spending time with other fallen gods. He can pass back and forth, when the gate closed he was at full power."
"Who?" John asked.
She grinned wider. "Mars."
The Japanese champion allowed himself a moment of fear. His first real battle was not going so well. He'd fought the Roman for only minutes before their shaft caved in and now was nearing almost two hours with the elder Greek. Jase's confidence never faltered, and that was the greatest threat.
"Tanaka, you must win!" The voice exploded in his head. He stumbled at Hachiman's voice.
Panicking he lowered his sword. "Break! I need a break! I am too cold!"
Jase's breathing was labored and he nodded, setting down his sword. "I brought supplies with me, I'll return with what we need for a fire. This is so far my greatest fight, well met my friend."
"I am not your friend."
Hachiman's voice was insistent in his head. "Tanaka, you must win. It must come down to you and Keelin."
"Oh, it will. Hachiman, why are you in my head?"
"I cannot tell you, but I can say this. You and Keelin are alike. You are special. What anchors me to you is what is in her soul. It has been you two, it must always be."
"Why did you interfere with Carlos!?"
"I told you. She had to remain."
"You shall see. But first, a gift."
Sudden heat burned through Tanaka's entire being. It was deep, deep inside, the strangest feeling. He doubled over in pain and fell crying out. Jase emerged from the old housing and ran to him. Reaching out Tanaka gasped, and then he realized what was happening.
"No," he whispered as horror gripped him.
He found himself in what was once Rome. He could remember when it was just a series of hills where farmers worshipped wolves. Then his clan had come, and they made arguably the best city to ever be. The society they built was the model for all the monkey grouping that came after. Now it was a hollow shell. Bombs had reduced so much of it to rubble and then had come the fires, the looters, the plagues, the dying. His city was empty but for small scavengers, some on four legs, fewer on two.
He felt the shimmer of power and turned, expecting Lucifer, the only one who would dare bother him in his grief over losing Francesco. Luke sure did make the rounds.
He faced Morrigan, in her form as a young woman barely of age. "Morrigan, if you're trying to seduce me, you know I prefer experience to youth."
The girl smiled. "I used too much power coming here and I'll need the rest to get home. I need to speak with you."
"Oh?" He folded his arms and enjoyed the way he loomed over her. In a way he had always preferred the war goddesses to the war gods. Amongst the women he was bigger, broader, and felt his true position as the apex god war. In this form Morrigan was nearly delicate.
"Neit knows about what we spoke of after my trial."
"So? Do you not remember the day we struck the accord? We all swore not to utter one word, not even to our own clans. I did not tell Neit of Hachiman's act but he knows. Someone spoke, and we think it's the Aztecs."
"Again I ask, so?" Casually he ran a finger down his dark lapel, picking off imaginary lint.
"You fucking arrogant brute, don't you get it!? We have to work together. Neit is threatening to expose Hachiman and if he does the Tournament is forfeit!"
Mars sighed. "I do rather hate repeating myself, but so what? He must want something, so give it to him."
"He wants what he's wanted since day one while my champion lay dying on the arena floor and Hachiman saved her: he wants his own champion to fight!"
"Don't make me say it again Morrigan. It doesn't matter who fights for the Irish. Whoever it is, if they lose another wins. If they win you and Neit and all your clan comes to full power."
"That's just it you big lunkhead! We have no great head, whoever's champion wins becomes the head god or goddess. Neit will warp and twist the world, he knows nothing of balance!"
"Lunkhead?" He smiled. "After thousands of years of the worst battles and cruelest deaths and that's your best insult?"
"I am right. You're an arrogant prick, always have been, always will be. But you're out now, Francesco is dead. You have nothing to protect save the Tournament."
He reached over to toy with a lock of her hair floating in the breeze. "And just what would you have me do, little girl?"
"Find out who talked. It's obvious that Neit's only endgame is to have his champion win. He'll join forces with someone and want to rule as the only war god, alone, but he's a pawn."
"If the Tournament fails we're all doomed, no one wins."
"No, there will always be chaos."
"So whoever he is working with thinks they have the power to make order out of chaos?"
"I never said you weren't intelligent, Mars, just arrogant. There you go. Of all those in our...cabal, which set of gods believe well and truly they rose from total darkness?"
Mars considered for a moment. "The Aztecs. All right, but if I can get them to confess then what? Neit can still tell every other clan what happened."
"That's why you need me," a new voice said.
They turned and there was Ares. Closely related to Mars they looked very similar, distinguishable only by Ares' long hair and his typically less-contained more-mischievous expression.
"Ares, why are you here?" Morrigan gasped out.
His head lowered. "Jase fell. Tanaka killed him. It was a long fight and I thought my champion would win but the rage in young Tanaka...it is down now to him and your Keelin. I came to find you and I heard some of your words. Lucifer warned me."
"Warned you? What does that imp know of the Tournament?" Mars asked, stepping to Morrigan and putting his hands on her shoulders protectively until she shrugged them off with a sneer.
"His world is as threatened as ours. What's important now is that you must get the Aztecs to confess, Mars. Get the others to contain them, they must be stopped, the Tournament cannot end. Morrigan, train your champion well, Tanaka is..." Ares sighed and looked off into the distant grayness of the ruined city. "Jase was a great man, older, experienced. He grew up knowing how to fight. If Tanaka killed him he is a force to be reckoned with. Keelin must train."
"And what will you do?" The goddess asked the forlorn Greek.
"I will stop Neit, at any cost. Go now, let us all see to our charges."
Morrigan hugged him. "Should we win I will not forget any kindness. You have my word."
Mars yawned, feigning boredom. "Sounds like you will need a new war god. Come, cousin, let us get to our work."
Morrigan watched them disappear, called up all her power, and returned to Keelin with the news.
Morrigan had been gone an hour. I didn't believe what she told me, not until I felt it. A missing piece of me, a part of my soul I had never known was missing so well covered as it was by the chorus of voices in my head, had returned.
It had returned and it was in Tanaka.
That was how I knew when he killed Jase. It was down to him and me, and he could feel me as much as I felt him.
Morrigan had chosen me because my soul had the strength to be split or to grow. Apollo had warned her to make her choice based on this, and that day when my first self lay dying and Hachiman had saved her, the price had been a piece of my soul.
Now when everything was at risk he gave it to Tanaka. Just why I could not say, I doubted even the great foreseeing Apollo, the one who had foretold of the Tournament and started this madness, could. But the mistake from then would be fixed now. We would meet, we would fight, and one of us would die first. The other was cursed to die soon after.
It would mean my true death, but this is not what scared me. What bothered me was this meant the winning champion would have no say in the new world. The price to open the gate was our lives, and our immortal souls.
No matter who won the gods would rule unchecked. That was the true danger.