Zero Challenge

Winter: 16 years at the Monastery, five months after first flight; Day after Coronation

Sunar made his way, without any apparent hurry, through the halls of the monastery. He took a (reasonably) direct route, the sound of his antagonist growing ever louder. Seben was the first to find him, coming around a corner so fast he had to take several steps on a wall to change direction. The dwarf took in his calm countenance and lack of haste with a baffled look. Sunar flashed his best conspiratorial grin, and a matching grin shone through his friend’s beard as he matched stride. Gorshun found him next. All they had to do was exchange looks and the halfling fell in step. Lenar found them then, and the last of the Titans fell in step with a small nod.

As they strode through the halls, a young novice came up to them at a run. She spoke between labored breaths, “Sunar, Sunar! Master Ikthan says you are needed at the front gate, and has asked why you are taking so long to arrive!” She grabbed his hand and tried to pull him along with all the might her six years could muster. She looked back at him, confused, when he did not change pace.

He smiled to her and pulled his hand away before he spoke, “Tell Master Ikthan that a prancing baboon is softer than a screaming cat. Also, tell him I will need…,” he bent forward and spoke softly into her ear.

Her look of confusion deepened, but she nodded and took off at a run.

Outside, the dark elf continuing to rant and rave, words growing hotter and louder, then the cursing began. Then came a few moments of quiet, and the screaming started again, with a slight undertone of fear and desperation, but without the vulgarities.

#

After several minutes, they reached the steps to the Entrance Court and Sunar stopped. Most of the monastery’s inhabitants had gathered just inside, but they’d done as he’d asked and stood on either side, leaving a wide aisle which lead from the steps to the front gate.

The young dark elf paced outside the gates. Sunar could see fury in the man’s steps, but also some fatigue. His steady stream of taunts had been reduced to the occasional demand.

Master Ikthan stood at the edge of the crowd farthest from the gate, and Sunar locked eyes with his teacher. They spoke across the distance without words.

Ikthan stood straight, hood up, with his hands clasped before him. A single raised finger, a half smile, and a hint of a nod told Sunar, “You have done well, my young student. The noviete Sunar would have rushed through the halls eager to meet the challenge.”

Sunar cast his eyes down in a moment of chagrin, then looked his teacher in the eye and gave a half-smile “There are many challenges to meet in life, and how we approach them is often half the battle.

Ikthan nodded slightly, made a slight motion with one hand, tilted his head slightly, favored him with the ghost of a smile, then a slightly hardened look “You have learned this well, and your message was a nice touch … but now, kindly get this fool off of our doorstep.

Sunar looked directly at the born zero, and advanced at a slow, deliberate pace. Behind him the rest of the Titans, along with his sister and Tabitha, had formed a wedge. He allowed himself a small grin once he was close enough that his foe could see it.

The grin had a remarkable effect on the man. He stopped prancing, stopped using his bullhorn, his face changed to a dark black-red color, and his whole body appeared to vibrate. He raised his bullhorn as Sunar reached the gate, apparently with the intent of using it to shout directly in his face. The half-dragon raised an eyebrow in warning, and was met with a smirk. The man opened his mouth and began to shout into the device, and Sunar opened his mouth to shout back.

Sunar won.

He kept his sonic blast contained, just enough to overwhelm the speaker in the bullhorn, and with low enough power that he didn’t destroy the eardrums of the idiot on the other side. Or anyone else.

The man staggered, his hands falling to his side, but he recovered quickly, features again tightening in rage. The bullhorn came back up, then dropped as the elf realized it no longer functioned. He gestured, then shouted, his voice magically amplified. “M’lord Sunar Dawnsflight! I am Vorgar Ratharin of the house of Elal. You have assaulted my person, and insulted my honor in front of many witnesses. I demand satisfaction! You will meet me on the field of honor this evening, an hour before dusk. We will duel with blaster pistols at forty paces, no magic to be allowed! You will meet me… What do you think you are doing! Do not turn your back to me!

Sunar stopped, then turned. “You wish to challenge me to a duel? Very well. However, what you have issued is not a proper challenge. You have stomped around on the doorstep of my home, then demanded I meet you at a time and place of your choosing, with weapons of your choosing. Your behavior is like that of a schoolyard bully, not a noble issuing a challenge.”

The man opened his mouth but Sunar drew in a deep breath and locked eyes with him. The elf visibly deflated. Once he was certain he wouldn’t be interrupted, Sunar continued. “Don’t start shouting again. You know good and well how challenges work: you issue the challenge, I accept or decline. If I accept, then I choose the weapons, and I choose the field of battle, not you. I will, however, accept your challenge, if only to prevent myself the indignity of having to teach you further how to issue one properly.”

He raised his hand, and several people stepped forward carrying two tables. They set them down in front of the gate. “The fact that I am accepting your challenge does not mean I will allow you to bulldoze over my privileges as the one challenged, however. Our duel will not be fought with blaster pistols, nor with firearms of any kind. At the same time, I will not have you making further spectacle of yourself claiming I have taken unfair advantage of protocol, as you tried to do.” He gestured at the tables. “Since I don’t know what weapons you may be familiar with…,” He glanced down, then nodded. The tables contained exactly the weapons he’d asked for: several swords, a mace-and-chain, a spear, a heavy-weight longbow, and a pair of hand crossbows resting on a pillow. “You may have your choice of any of these weapons.”

Vorgar attempted to sound snide, but his fear shone loud in his voice, “Oh, of course! You would go and select a bunch of primitive weapons! I am a civilized man from a civilized house, we fight with…”

Sunar narrowed his eyes and stared Vorgar down while subtly signaling Sierra. As soon as he heard her start to move, he spoke, “If you are so very afraid to face me with any of the weapons here, Mi’Lord, I will be happy to make a concession for you. You will notice my sister has removed the crossbows from their pillows. If you are afraid to use a weapon of honor, like the sword, or a ranged weapon which requires enough accuracy to hit the first time, like a bow or a crossbow, you are welcome to choose the pillows. I will be happy to beat the stuffing out of you and those pillow casings until you choose to yield.”

Laughter rippled through the crowd.

Vorgar’s face took on that reddish-black hue again for a few moments. He glared around at his friends, who quickly stifled their own mirth, then turned eyes filled with impotent rage on Sunar. “Very well, you worthless false noble!” his voice cracked. “Stand on outdated ceremony if you want. In civilized circles within the empire, challenges are hardly done this way, but I would not expect some backwater bumpkin with delusions of adequacy to understand the nuances of a modern challenge.” He waved a dismissive hand, “It makes no matter, I will kill you regardless. I assume you want to hold the duel here, in this primitive, cobblestone courtyard of yours? Is an hour before dusk acceptable?” Sunar nodded his assent, “Very well, then, we will meet here. As the challenger, I have the right to set the terms of satisfaction for this duel, and they are simple: Brinsonian duel to the death! Since you are, no doubt, unfamiliar with modern terms of dueling, this means… .”

Sunar waved a hand at the man. “I know what it means. Very well, if you wish to risk your life on my mercy, you are welcome to do so.” He signaled his friends to be ready and not to react.

Vorgar leapt at the gate, grasping a bar in each hand. The gate rattled in response, and all of his own friends gave a slight start.

Sunar, and his party, stood as statues.

Vorgar nearly spat his words. “Your mercy!? Ha! I will cut you to ribbons slowly, before your friends and that peasant so-called sister of yours! You will die screaming for mercy, begging me to let you yield, but I will not. My second and I will then stand over your body and make sure you are dead, and that the satisfaction of the challenge has been met before we leave. And, don’t have any illusions about how your peasant friends will be able… Don’t Turn Your Back On Me Sunar! I am not finished with you yet! You will… Un-hand me!”

As the Titans strode away, Master Ikthan spoke, “Thank you for coming officer Kerchev. I am glad you happened to be vacationing at the lodge, it can be hard for us to find nobility out here to make arrests. Can you please… .

Sunar tuned out the scene at the gate. He motioned to Tabitha as he passed her, and she fell into step beside him. “I assume that you have learned something?”

She gave a small nod of her head, fleeting expressions flashing over her face. “I wouldn’t have known the finer points of how a challenge is made, and would have ended up facing that imbi…,” she cut off at a slight gesture of Sunar’s head, “…him… with a blaster, putting myself at greater risk, and making it far more difficult to end the duel without killing or permanently injuring him in the process So… if we must deal with the world outside it pays to know what is expected of us, and what the standards of behavior are. But…,

Sunar gave her a hard look, and whatever protest she intended to make died under his gaze. He continued to stare at her until her features lost their rebellious cast, then nodded for her to continue.

She sighed. “Yes, I can also see how understanding how their world works, and how it relates to ours, can lead to other understandings and continued enlightenment.” A slightly defiant glint appeared in her eye for a brief moment, “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Sunar allowed the edges of a smile to form at the corners of his lips. “The path towards enlightenment is often difficult, and the universe is what it is. One must learn to accept what is, regardless of one’s feelings about it. Once you have done this, it gives you the choice of adjusting your emotional reaction, or finding a way to adjust the world around you.”

She gave a small laugh at that. “Adjusting one’s own reaction is what we strive for, is it not? It seems the far easier path much of the time.”

Sunar nodded. “Easier, yes. Best? Often, but not always. Our emotions are a stream, which we can redirect, or work through. The world around us can be a mountain and sometimes,” he tossed a look back at the dark elf stalking away from the gate, and Master Ikthan chatting with the officer, “the mountain needs to be moved. But, to do so, one must know how.”

Leave a Reply