The Fox-kin were the last of the tribes to arrive at the Sacred Grounds and now that we had, the Grand Council would officially begin. There was still some preparation required before the competitions would take place and that meant that I had nothing to do until then. I wouldn’t be able to participate until the last part of the competition where the Khans, or their chosen warriors, would fight against each other.
I was simply idling about in my tent, but thankfully I didn’t need to wear the traditional robes of a Khan anymore. They were only necessary for the initial welcome and greetings. I could now relax in more comfortable clothing.
There was a stream of visitors coming and going from our tent throughout the day. Some of the more friendly Khans of the other tribes visited, although they weren’t really showing up to see me. They were curious about Allein and Nes, our two resident Dragon-kin.The Wolf-kin Khan, especially, visited for a long period of time. He listened to Allein’s stories about her father and the original Demi-human tribes.
Khan Rhaegnar had become an important ally and because of his influence, other Khans were willing to converse with me despite being a human. They were curious, but at the same time there was some concern. I did my best to alleviate some of their worries and they were friendly enough towards me.
Reia’s father also had many acquaintances and friends that he hadn’t seen in more than twenty years. Because of this, our area of the Sacred Grounds had many visitors and I was able to meet a variety of different members of the various tribes.
The Demi-humans were very similar to humans in many ways and I saw no reason why they couldn’t co-exist. If anything, the Demi-humans seemed to be very welcoming and sincere people no matter which tribe they belonged to. Yeah, they were different from humans in appearance, and their culture had some differences with humans, but the amount of discrimination they faced was unwarranted.
“Fayde are you paying attention?” I was forced out of my daydreaming by a shrieking Allein.
“Uh.. Yeah, of course!” She was not convinced and decided to throw a cushion at me.
With my level of evasion being high, it was easily avoidable. This only annoyed her further but it was difficult for me to remain interested. Without any electricity or technology, not even a single book to read, I was growing somewhat bored just sitting around.
“Enough Allein, and Fayde, try to pay attention. This is important.” Reia, always the voice of reason! I sighed and woke myself from my boredom.
“Sorry, I am just tired. Continue.” I wasn’t about to let them know I was bored, I valued my life too much.
“The first competition is a type of War Game, but only with training weapons. These will be large scale battles with each tribe participating. In the past, our tribe has never won this competition because magic is not allowed. It is full on melee and meant to test teamwork and physical prowess of the entire tribe.”
I interrupted her, “Well, that is stupid. Why forbid magic?”
She wasn’t annoyed by my interruption and explained, “some of the tribes are incapable of using magic and so this is meant to only test the physical strength of a tribe. You can only be successful through good teamwork and proper fighting technique. Ranged attacks are also forbidden, it is strictly close range martial skill.” Seems pointless to me, but okay.
“So no magic, no ranged attacks, only martial skill. What about numbers? Are there any limitations there? The Fox-kin only have around 350 warriors and some of the other tribes are much larger than ours.” (Fayde)
“Numbers are limited to 500 per tribe at most. Numbers are taken into account for the final rankings, though. There are tribes that intentionally send less than the maximum number in order to achieve a higher ranking. Also, we won’t be able to participate in this competition.” (Reia)
“What do you mean? Why not?” This was something I hadn’t heard yet.
“The Khan’s can’t compete in the War Game because you will be participating in the last round of the competition where you will have to fight the other Khans or their chosen warrior. Also, those competing in other competitions can’t participate in the War Game too. Allein, Nes, and I will be competing in the second round of the competition. Some of the other Fox-kin will be as well.”
“Okay, well, we trained up our warriors well. I think they will do just fine. The other tribes should be in for a shock this time around and we have a pretty good line up for the second round too. We shouldn’t fail in any of the magic competitions and I can’t see anyone beating you with a sword Reia. Nes should win with the spear and Allein will definitely take the magic duel competition. We have some good archers too, but I don’t know much about the other tribe’s skill with the bow or in some of the other martial skills, like the axe or hand to hand fighting.” (Fayde)
There were a number of challenges we would most likely not be able to win, but if we ranked decently in the War Game and took first place in some of the challenges, we should have a good chance. This put a lot of pressure on me, though. I would need to win against the other Khans to ensure our tribe’s victory.
I noticed Allein observing me as I was thinking about the competition, “Fayde, the biggest challenge to you will be the Demon-kin Khan. You must use all your strength, do not hold back. They are being underestimated by the other tribes, but I can tell that they will be the most difficult rival to overcome.”
I thought so too. The Shakiri, as he was called, was something like a Khan but not exactly. His clan contained members of many different tribes who left the Plains when the Shakiri’s father left long ago. They have since renounced their ties to their old tribes and as a collective group were all called Demon-kin. A good portion of the Demon-kin were their own unique tribe though.
“Allein, do you know what tribe the Shakiri and his sister are?” (Fayde)
“I.. don’t know. There were no Demi-humans like them in the past. They must be something similar to my kind. Most Demi-humans are categorized by the animal they share traits with. Dragons aren’t considered animals, but something else. The Demon-kin must be something like this, something not necessarily native to our world or some other exotic creature.” (Allein)
“Interesting… I wonder if there is something more to their name or did they just take it upon themselves as a way of scaring the humans they intended to fight?” (Fayde)
Our conversation continued for a while and I spent the rest of the day training with the sword. At one point I felt the eyes of someone upon me, but I couldn’t figure out who it was. There was no murderous intent, only curiosity, so I didn’t look too hard. Instead, I focused entirely on my training. When I was done, I was bathed by my servants and spent the evening resting while I waited for the next day to come, the start of the competitions.
There is something strange about that human but I can’t put my finger on it. The power I feel radiating off of him is…. familiar.
If one were to judge on appearance alone, then the bizarre human who somehow became a Khan would look weak and fragile. Well.. for a human he is okay I suppose.. This feeling I get from him is troublesome. I must speak with my brother about this.
When she had seen him for the first time in the Grand Council tent, she had been too shocked to truly discern his nature. Her brother had been in a rage and she needed to calm him down as quickly as possible. She had only a fleeting moment to truly scrutinize the man they called Fayde. With her ‘Demon Eye’ she could sense an immense pressure around him that materialized as a black mist.
This man will surely be a danger to my brother’s ambition but what to do about it…..
Unlike her brother, she had possession of an ability that allowed her to see the magical energies or properties that surrounded people, monsters or objects. She had never seen this type of magical energy before and had no words to identify it. It’s not one of the elements or any other type of magic I have seen.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to have my brother lose for once…. If this human wins and becomes Khan of all the Demi-humans… he might actually be worthy of me.
She was growing tired of all the weak men who tried to win her hand by dueling her brother. Not even one came close to defeating him. She was beginning to think she would never be wed and would grow old and alone, but she felt a sliver of hope as she watched Fayde practice with the sword. But a human….
She watched him for a time and then left to speak with her brother. The Demon-kin had set their camp up in the southern area of the Sacred Grounds and had one of the largest camps out of the tribes. They had lost many, too many, in their fight with the Empire. Their numbers were only a shadow of their former strength. In her father’s time they had been a horde of over 100,000 Demi-humans. Constant warfare with the Empire over dozens of years had whittled their numbers down to only 15,000. Even I have grown weary of the war, but my brother, his ambition will never fade.
She found her brother practicing with his halberd against ten opponents. These ten men were among the best warriors of the tribe but they still could not defeat him. He battered them away as if they were flies, spinning his massive halberd around his body and striking with accurate precision. Her brother truly was the greatest warrior she had ever known and she worried what would happen to his pride if he were to lose…..
After all ten of his opponents lay on the floor in defeat, she walked over to him with a cloth so that he could wipe his sweat. “Brother, are you well?”
“Ha! I am better than ever! That was an excellent workout. I will absolutely win this tournament!” His confidence was boundless which made her feel a tinge of remorse but she didn’t show it.
“You will brother, no one is your match.” She said that but her heart wasn’t in it.
“Hahaha, you flatter me sister. Is there something you wished to discuss?” He didn’t even notice her somber reply.
“I saw that human, Fayde.” Her brother snapped his head towards her when he heard what I said and his eyes were turning red with anger.
“And what did you see Laila?” He was unable to hide the anger in his voice and snapped at her.
“He has a strange power, one that I have never seen before. You must be careful. I am not sure what he is capable of. Brother, I have a grim feeling about him…” The Shakiri was clearly displeased by the implication of what she said.
“Are you saying that I will lose?” He said surprisingly calm.
Laila was careful in how she voiced her response, she didn’t want to upset him too much, “I am not saying that, I am just asking that you be mindful of it.”
He simply snorted, pausing for a moment, and then walked away without saying another word.
She watched him leave with complicated feelings in her heart. On the one hand, she hated the thought of her brother being defeated and on the other, she felt excitement at the prospect of him losing.
On the first day of the Grand Council competition, the War Game had already begun. The various tribes and their affiliated tribes were scattered about the designated battlefield. It was a veritable free for all with all the tribes hunting each other down. The designated battlefield was approximately 5 square miles so that there was enough room for the different tribes to maneuver.
There were several thousand Demi-humans involved in the War Game. It was a much larger event than I expected and it had been organized efficiently. They had illusion magic casters which were able to project images of what was going on across the whole area and it was almost like watching television or some kind of projection. I had no idea that illusion magic could even be used this way and my mind started spinning with all the ways I could apply this magic in future battles.
There were also judges spread out across the battlefield and some that were watching the images shown by the illusion magic. Their job was to ensure that the War Game was fought honorably and they kept score. I wasn’t sure how the battles were being evaluated but there seemed to be some sort of criteria for how the scoring was done. Wiping out an entire army would earn you the most amount of points, but there were other ways that one could earn points.
While the Demi-humans involved in the War Game fought, the Sacred Grounds were alive with activity. Many of them watched the fighting from the images projected by the Illusion magic casters and others were drinking and eating with abandon. It was an enormous festival-like atmosphere with Demi-humans of all kind delighting in merriment. I could feel the energy of the place and was growing more excited by the moment.
“How are we doing Reia?” Both Reia and Allein were by my side.
I had no idea where Nes was and Tris had been secluded away somewhere with Shar. I didn’t want Tris wandering around or contacting anyone but I also didn’t want her to know what was going on so I fabricated a reason for her to be confined. The reason wasn’t entirely a fabrication, either, though. The Demi-humans were very belligerent towards humans. They begrudgingly accepted me, but who knew how they would act towards other humans. Both Tris and Shar had accepted my explanation because there was truth in it.
“A few tribes have already been eliminated and we are scoring pretty well so far. We’ve lost about half our number. I can’t see us winning but I think our performance is better than anyone expected. Have you been enjoying yourself?” (Reia)
“Yeah, I have been trying to find something I could bring myself to eat…. Some of the food is questionable at best..” These Demi-humans seemed to eat anything and much of it was not too appealing to me.
“This is going to be a difficult fight….” Reia drew my attention to the image.
There were only four remaining tribes and the Fox-kin had been caught up by the Wolf-kin tribe. The Demon-kin and Tiger-kin tribes were also currently engaged. This would determine who the top three would be. The Wolf-kin numbers had also been cut down and the numbers were comparable.
The Wolf-kin seemed to lack any real formation and moved more along the lines of pack mentality. The Fox-kin were moving in formation as I had trained them and seemed to be holding their own against the scattered numbers of the Wolf-kin. They were trying to surround the Fox-kin formation but the Fox-kin formation was versatile and could sustain attacks from all directions without breaking. On the other hand, the Wolf-kin pack tactics were somewhat easier to deal with because they were mostly acting as small groups rather than a whole.
It wasn’t as if the Fox-kin were having an easy time holding back their adversary though. The Wolf-kin were physically stronger than the Fox-kin and were aggressively attacking the formation. The fight turned into a battle of attrition as both sides saw their numbers drop substantially. It was a brutal fight and I winced watching the participants beat each other into submission. There was eventually a tipping point in the battle as the Wolf-kin began to lose fighters at a higher rate than the Fox-kin due to the excellent teamwork I had drilled into them.
“Looks like we are going to win this battle!” I cheered as I watched the last Wolf-kin fall, however I knew that this was the end for us.
“Yes, but we won’t be able to fight anymore. There are only a handful of Fox-kin left. We have never made it this far. It’s all thanks to your training.” I smiled at Reia as I felt a bit of pride go straight to my head.
“How about the other battle? Who won?” I pointed at the other magic image showing the fight between the Demon-kin and Tiger-kin.
“It was close, but the Demon-kin won.” The battle over there was finished too and we were all waiting with bated breath to see what the official ranking would be.
It didn’t take long until the rankings were announced and the Fox-kin had ranked third which was the highest they had ever ranked in memory. The Demon-kin had ranked first in this competition with the Tiger-kin ranking second.
“Haha! I can’t believe we got third! Tonight we are going to treat all of our warriors to a feast!” I was ecstatically shaking Reia as she smiled.
Her smile was bright and beautiful and I hugged her without realizing it. I couldn’t see her face but I imagined she must be blushing. She wasn’t usually very affectionate in public and was easily embarrassed by my very public act of affection. I picked her up and swung her around which only made her turn a deeper shade of red.
“Make sure every one of them eats and drinks their fill!” I am definitely getting drunk tonight!
I wasn’t fighting in the next round of the competition and had no qualms with getting drunk with the warriors of my tribe.
I put Reia down and brought her close to me one more time in a deep embrace. She didn’t push me away surprisingly and I whispered in her ear, “and maybe tonight we can spend some time alone.”
She was blushing the entire evening.