Chapter 1: Competition
The sun shone just beyond the horizon, blazing rays casting a golden glow over everything it touched. The air began to warm, dew starting to evaporate from where it had settled that night.
Within the arena it was dark, the high coliseum-like walls blocking the morning sun from reaching inside. A lone Harpia could be seen perched on the outer walls of the pit itself, looking in at the now-disheveled sand pit, messed up from the previous night’s event. Dahlia had claimed victory over an opponent earlier that night, and it had been one of her closest fights yet, she nearly tripped up her strategy multiple times throughout. Her opponent had been a Corva, one she’d admittedly underestimated at first, but her smaller size proved to be very troublesome for Dahlia to keep her in one place long enough to land a blow hard enough to end the fight. The Corva’s weakness had been the third eye in the center of her forehead and the pair under her wings, making it very easy to be blinded by all the sand and dust that was kicked up during the fight. Dahlia merely had to rustle up enough of the irritating particles to slow her opponent down, allowing her to strike. It hadn’t been a fatal blow, her fights were never personal, but it had been enough to knock the Corva down and keep her there, deeming Dahlia the winner. A dirty strategy, both metaphorically and literally, but it worked, and there weren’t many rules as to how to organize a fighting strategy in these fights.
Dahlia hadn’t come out of it unscathed though. She now had a nasty cut on one of her smaller wings, one right near her second shoulder on the left side, as well as a handful of bruises across her body.
A sudden flash caught her eye to her right. Dahlia considered just ignoring it for the time being, but her curiosity wouldn’t back down until she investigated. Reluctantly she shook out her feathers, wincing at the pain in her secondary left shoulder as she spread her wings and took off. The arena wouldn’t be having her for another headline fight until later in the week, so she could afford to miss a few hours of training today.
Dahlia glided up to the very top of the arena’s outer walls, perching there and scanning the horizon for any signs of life. Nothing except the occasional morning critter alerted her to any presence nearby.
The sun shone brightly as it seeped over the mountaintops, making Dahlia squint in its light. She’d have no luck spotting another flash of movement while being blinded like this. She quickly leapt off the wall’s edge, touching down on the soft, wet grass below. At least she had trees here to shield herself from the rising sun.
Looking around provided no further information, that is, until something nearby began to move. The bushes to her right rustled loudly, forcing Dahlia into a defensive stance.
Before she could comprehend what happened next, something leapt out at her, barreling into her head-on and toppling her over, the assailant going down as well.
Dahlia screeched, preparing to dig her talons hard into the side of her attacker, until a familiar voice spoke to her.
“Ha! Gotcha! You really should learn to be less obvious when you’re looking for threats.”
It was Kindle. Kindle was a young Harpia, just like Dahlia, but much more lanky and frail-looking. Dahlia was much more built from all her time training in the arena, as well as her past experiences forcing her to bulk up in order to survive. Dahlia was also bigger by a good amount, but that didn’t mean Kindle was weak, oh no. Kindle had more than once managed to knock Dahlia on her ass, just now included. Kindle was strong, both in body and spirit. That’s what Dahlia liked so much about her.
“Uh, hello? Earth to Dahlia, you there?” Kindle was giving her a puzzled expression, making her realize she’d gotten lost in thought.
Dahlia quickly nudged the other Harpia off of her, pushing herself to her feet and shaking her feathers out again. Kindle was looking at her excitedly, it made Dahlia’s heart flutter unexpectedly for a moment.
“Yeah? Well maybe said threat shouldn’t be making the sounds equivalent to a herd of elephants in a hurry.” Dahlia sarcastically snipped back in reply to Kindle’s earlier quip. Kindle merely scoffed and rolled her eyes. Dahlia watched as the smaller Harpia’s chest hitched as she did so. Dahlia quickly averted her gaze once Kindle’s dramatic eye roll was over.
“So, what’s on the agenda for today?” Kindle asked after a bout of silence from both sides.
“The usual. A bit of training, some event preparations, helping the newbies with their skills, y’know.” Dahlia explained, suddenly very interested in the grass between her toes.
“Do you think you’d have any time off in the next week or so?” Kindle asked. She suddenly realized how her sentence sounded and began to stutter an explanation.
“I-it’s just that, well, I have some time off from my own training myself, y’know, the whole flying thing, and was looking for something to do!” It was Kindle’s turn to look away and pretend to be infatuated with anything but Dahlia.
Dahlia tried her best to formulate a string of words that wouldn’t make Kindle feel rejected in her offer. Dahlia would be very busy for the next handful of days, prepping the arena and training for the next big battle, helping the newer additions to the program train themselves, and just doing basic things anyone would do on a regular basis.
“Kindle, I’d really love to hang with you, truly, but–” Dahlia suddenly stopped. Maybe, just maybe…
“Actually, y’know what? How about you come with me and spend some time in the arena for a few days? Helping prepare with me, interacting with everyone, all the good stuff. Hey, maybe you’ll even be allowed to share some of our mealtime, the food here’s excellent you know.” Dahlia offered. She could feel her face begin to warm as Kindle’s expression lit up.
“I mean, yeah, yeah I’d really like that! When does everything start for the day?” Kindle asked excitedly.
“Right about now I’d say.” Dahlia replied, looking up at the sky to see that it had begun to change its color, going from a darker purple color to an almost blue. The stars had begun to fade, only the brightest being able to persist until they too became overpowered by the sun.
Dahlia turned back towards the arena, motioning for Kindle to follow her.
The two walked the short distance to the entrance in silence, Kindle obviously excited to be allowed to help behind the scenes, and Dahlia trying to keep her emotions in check.
This is just a one-time thing, she’s just going to help out for a little while this week and then she’ll probably find it all too boring for her tastes and slowly drift away.
Dahlia scowled at her own mind, trying to ignore its constant rambling about Kindle.
Once the two were inside the arena and the door was securely shut behind them, Dahlia heard her name being called.
“Hey Dahlia! Over here!”
Looking around for the voice rewarded her with a pleasant surprise. It was the Corva she’d battled the night before, now all patched up and ready to help out. One thing about fighting in the arena was that any battlers were given a small grace period to rest and recover, allowing them to be in tip-top shape for their next battle. This was the main reason why battles for a single stryx were usually days, if not weeks apart.
“Oh, hey! I see you’re doing well! Hopefully I didn’t hit you too hard, been trying to work on controlling my blows better, haha.” Dahlia smiled sheepishly.
The Corva chuckled back, but didn’t reply. Dahlia could tell she was thinking something about Dahlia. She could just feel that third eye boring into her. She looked away and tried to ignore the feeling.
“And who’s this? I don’t think we’ve had any new recruits for a while now.” The Corva broke the silence, gesturing to Kindle, who was still staring wide-eyed around the coliseum.
“Oh, this is Kindle, she’s my…friend. She wanted to tag along and help out for a few days, it should be fine.” Dahlia explained, still avoiding eye contact with the Corva.
Suddenly, a shout that came from the center of the arena called for everyone’s attention.
“Alright, we’re going to spend the day training our newer fighters! The cleanup crew will help prepare the arena for its next event, and our recent battlers are free to use their time as they wish. Please take it easy though! Don’t want our battlers getting even more injured now.” One of the arena chiefs shouted through a megaphone.
After the announcement the newer trainees began to assemble to await their instructors, while the cleanup crew went around and helped begin the preparations.
Dahlia turned her attention back to the two she was standing with. An idea suddenly popped into her head.
“Hey Kindle, why don’t you try and test your skills? We can see how good of a fighter you’d be.” Dahlia gave Kindle a cocky grin, tipping her head towards an empty corner of the pit. She could see Kindle’s mind struggling to form a response.
“Aren’t you supposed to be resting today?” The Corva, who Dahlia now remembered was named Seraphae, chimed in. Dahlia shot her a glare.
“Are you sure I’m cut out for this? You’re a professional fighter, and I’m barely able to fly really. Plus you’re like, totally bigger and smarter than me, so you’d probably win before the match even starts.” Kindle remarked.
Dahlia felt her heart sink at Kindle’s negative self-talk, but quickly regained her internal composure.
“Well, I am only Bloodborn rank, and I’m technically supposed to be resting right now so I’m certain you’ll have a good chance.” Dahlia smiled at Kindle.
Kindle thought it over for a moment before deciding to give in.
“Alright, where should we begin then?”
Kindle and Dahlia got themselves situated in their vacant corner of the pit, Seraphae helping them get into position and going over some ground rules, mostly to inform Kindle.
“Alright, as you know, this is just a sparring match. For practice. If anyone fights unfairly, or with the intent to hurt, the match will be called off immediately.”
Kindle nodded as Seraphae continued.
“Second, I will act as your mentor for this match. I will critique your form, technique, and overall performance. I may sound a bit harsh, but there’s no bite behind any of it.” Dahlia saw Seraphae’s third eye narrow slightly as she said that.
“And lastly, once a mock-knockout blow is dealt, the battle is over. Do not use force!”
Dahlia lowered herself into her battle position, while Kindle copied her movements.
“Kindle, you’d be better off in a more solid stance. Your legs are too far apart as-is, makes it easier to slip up on the launch.” Seraphae corrected Kindle with a few swift touches of her wings.
“Begin!” Seraphae ordered.
Kindle wasted no time in launching herself at Dahlia, who swiftly dodged the incoming attack with ease. Kindle fell face-first into the sand, spluttering as she quickly stood back up.
“It’s best to take care in assessing your opponent’s movements first, otherwise you’ll end up alerting them to your plan too early.” Seraphae informed. Kindle turned back to Dahlia with a friendly ferocity in her eyes.
The pair circled each other for a second, minds working a mile a minute. Finally, Dahlia saw an opportunity and lunged, swiping her closed-fist foot at Kindle. To Dahlia’s surprise, Kindle leapt back just in time to cause Dahlia to miss her attack. Dahlia left no openings for Kindle to retaliate however, swiftly regaining her defensive stance. Kindle didn’t retaliate, however. Instead, she stamped her feet into the sand, lanky legs seeming surprisingly powerful. Confused, Dahlia lost her composure a slight bit. Kindle took this as an opportunity to strike.
The smaller Harpia leapt up, outstretching her legs and landing straight onto Dahlia’s chest, knocking the larger Harpia flat onto her back. Dahlia let out an indignant “Oof!” as the breath was knocked from her lungs.
“Good, Kindle! Dahlia, watch yourself.” Seraphae’s voice sounded almost proud.
Dahlia, with a new fire invigorated inside her, used her spiked tail to wrap around Kindle’s left leg, yanking her back. Kindle fell sideways off of Dahlia trying to keep her balance, and Dahlia used the opportunity to stand up and place a foot firmly onto Kindle’s chest, her weight pressing lightly into the other.
Kindle squirmed beneath Dahlia’s grasp, but the larger didn’t let up.
“Aaaand that’s it! Dahlia’s our match winner!” Seraphae declared. Dahlia smirked at Kindle, who was panting heavily beneath her talons. Dahlia felt…strange at the sight, immediately lifting her weight off of the other so she could get up.
Kindle pushed herself to her feet, still breathless.
“That was amazing, Dahlia! See? I told you you’d win.” Kindle scoffed.
“I don’t know though, that was pretty good for a newbie.” Dahlia bumped her body into Kindle’s. The two shared a laugh for a moment.
“Well, I’m willing to try again!” Kindle lowered into her defensive stance once again, Dahlia feeling ecstatic that she was able to hook Kindle on the wonders of the arena.
“If you insist. I won’t go easy this time!” Dahlia remarked, watching as Seraphae corrected Kindle once again, although just minor things this time.
Dahlia and Kindle duked it out for a little while longer, just up until the two were getting a bit winded from all the thrashing around and strategizing. Dahlia had to admit, Kindle was a fast learner.
“Hey, let’s head over to the shade and rest, the sun’s getting a bit higher up now, so it’ll only keep getting hotter from now on.” Dahlia suggested. Kindle stood up from where she’d been sprawled out in the sand after the last match.
“That sounds wonderful, I’m super thirsty too.” Kindle remarked.
“We’ve got plenty of water inside, plus it’s almost time to eat. Let’s go inside, the underground area is much cooler anyway.” Dahlia led the other two into the nearest underground entrance, giggling a bit as Kindle bolted for the nearest water station.
Total= 48 AP
Total= 58 AP
Total= 29 AP