Chapter 6: Animated Discussion
Thorn glared at his sire. "I will not be your pet lapdog."
"I want you to rule in my name, not be my lackey." The God rose from his throne.
"I rule for myself." He hadn't fought for anyone but himself: Thorn would be cursed before he'd permit anyone to claim his victories.
His sire stepped forward until he stood directly in front of Thorn. "You will rule in my name if I have to break you to it." His eyes glowed with fierce power.
Despite his body urging him to submit, Thorn returned the glare, the fury. "Just try." The air between them no more than six inches crackled with power. "I'm no use to you dead."
For a long, long moment there was no response, only the hard white glare from the God's eyes. When he spoke, his voice was calmer. "Perhaps we should settle this in the traditional manner. You and me, in the Dungeon training ground, first to submit loses."
"You lose if you call on anything but what you had as Overlord," Thorn retorted.
There should have been hesitation. Thorn wondered what he'd missed. "And if you can't keep fighting, you lose."
"Reasonable," the God said. "If you call your minions or I my wraiths we lose."
Thorn nodded slowly. "They watch. No healing magic until the bout ends."
That earned him a short, harsh laugh. "Agreed. Now?"
"Now." The sooner this was done, the better.
Rose shook her head. "Men! At least you're not trying to kill each other, although beating each other into submission is almost as silly."
The God laughed. "I have a hard head, Lady."
Thorn chose to ignore Gnarl's muttered comment. He didn't need to know about that.
The Dungeon training ground was a large arena, with high stands now crowded by minions on one side and wraiths on the other. The sandy earth floor had a few tussocks of sturdy grass, but nothing more than that. Presumably it was easier to clean: all that was needed was to rake the floor over and maybe replace the most bloodstained soil with fresher material.
Thorn had heard enough complaints from his cleaning-minions about scrubbing blood from stone, especially old bloodstains.
Minions cheered, and the wraiths bashed their weapons against their shields.
Thorn readied his mace, and waited.
Perhaps six feet away, his sire did the same. He, too, carried a mace.
I remember when he forged that mace," Gnarl said. "Quite the beast: it deals fire damage as well as a powerful strike."
Thorn didn't acknowledge the old Minion Master. He didn't want Gnarl's assistance, and he didn't entirely trust the old minion in any case.
Rose stood. She'd taken a position between the minions and the wraiths. "Are you both set on this fight?" Her voice rose above the hubbub.
Thorn nodded: a mirror of his sire's gesture.
"Very well. May the best warrior win."
Thorn didn't move at first: he studied his sire, waiting to see if the deity would attack first.
Apparently not. Thorn received the same steady scrutiny.
He stepped closer, angling right to bring him closer to the deity's relatively unprotected left side.
His sire mirrored his movements, and they circled each other slowly, drawing closer with each step.
Thorn was sure he could hear bets being exchanged among the minions.
He stepped in close, feinting low.
His sire turned to the side, evading the obvious strike, and bringing his mace down as Thorn struck upwards.
The weapons met in a shower of magic.
Fast, and clever. Thorn found himself grinning. It had been a while since he'd been challenged by a single opponent.
He sidestepped his sire's strike, swinging towards the man's side.
The deity twisted to evade it, even as Thorn shifted his weight to his right leg and swept his left in and awkward kick. It connected behind the God's knee, forcing him down.
Thorn let his momentum carry him around in a tight spin, bringing the mace down on the God's left shoulder.
His sire's speed allowed him to evade the worst of the strike, the mace glancing down his arm instead of delivering the crushing blow Thorn intended.
Instead of trying to rise, his sire rolled forward, out of Thorn's immediate reach. He was back on his feet in the time it took Thorn to close the distance.
Flame erupted around him, a firestorm that seared his lungs in the moment before he dropped and rolled aside. His sire's mace crashed into the dirt behind him. The furred mantle he'd worn since taking the helm and gauntlet smoldered, but at least he wasn't on fire.
Thorn ripped the mantle from his shoulders with his left hand, and scrambled upright, taking his sire's mace strike on his right shoulder to give himself time to shove the smoldering, reeking bundle into his sire's face, and push it into the narrow eyeslit, wrap it roughly over the helm, pulling it down so the horns would keep it there.
No-one fought well when they were choking and trying to breathe.
He had to hold the mace with both hands, but Thorn got a solid blow on his sire's chest plate and another to the side of the helm before the pale glow of a shield sprang up around him and he started fumbling with the cloth wrapping.
Rather than try to penetrate the shield, Thorn aimed his oldest and least draining spell at the soil beneath his sire's feet. It might not be fire, but the lightning whip would melt things with enough power. The sandy soil started to glow.
His sire dropped the shield spell, still fighting with the mantle, and stumbled aside.
Thorn struck again, holding nothing back.
His vision went white, and the urge to kneel, to submit, almost drove him to his knees. Almost. He caught himself with a snarl as he went to one knee and swung at his sire with a strength born of rage.
The blow to his head sent him staggering back, dazed.
By the time his vision cleared, his sire had stopped fighting the helm and its furred attachment. He pulled the helm off, tossed it aside.
Thorn charged him. His sire's unprotected head was too enticing a target. He shifted the mace to his right hand, though his shoulder still hurt too much for close to a full-strength blow, and used his body to aid the strike, knowing it would be stopped.
Taking his sire's mace on his forearm cursed near broke it.
His gauntleted fist drew blood, bringing with it the satisfying crunch of broken bone and cartilage. His sire would need magic to straighten his nose.
The deity stumbled back several paces, giving Thorn time to reclaim his mace. He'd be fighting left handed now. If his right arm wasn't broken it was as good as.
Fire again, this time aimed directly at him. Moving didn't take him out of the path of the flames.
Thorn snarled and charged, letting his mace fall in favor of wrapping both hands around his sire's neck. He had enough strength in his right arm for that.
He focused all his strength to tightening that grip, to choking his sire before his armor melted. He'd die before submitting to anyone.
His skin blistered, his armor glowing if not red hot then close enough.
Thorn's vision darkened as his knees buckled, but the last thing he saw was his sire trying desperately to pry his hands free.
Silence settled over the Dungeon arena. Minions and wraiths stared helplessly at the two fallen figures, one with armor glowing from heat, the other battered and bloodied.
Rose gripped the stone railing so tightly her knuckles showed white against her skin. Both men might have fallen, but by their own agreement the battle between them hadn't ended yet. Not until one of them submitted, or couldn't continue.
She bit her lip so hard she tasted blood. Of course they'd fight to the end. Impossibly stubborn, proud fools, both of them!
She had to blink several times to clear her eyes.
Thorn stifled his groan. His skin burned, and he had blisters in places he'd need to heal if he wanted to keep his mistresses happy.
He hadn't been healed: that meant that he hadn't lost to his sire.
He rolled to one side, blinking, and grinned when he saw his sire beside him. He'd brought the bastard down with him. All he had to do was be first on his feet, and stay upright long enough. Maybe add a kick or two to be sure.
The way his hands burned he wouldn't be holding his mace until he'd been healed.
Every movement hurt: by the time Thorn had struggled first to his knees, then to his feet, he felt as though he'd been running for miles. And been on fire the whole time.
He turned none-too-steadily to where his sire lay, discovering only then that the deity had also regained an unsteady footing.
Thorn breathed in and tried not to wince as the air sent waves of pain through scorched lungs.
His sire grinned despite his broken nose and split lips. "A draw. Goddess's tits, you fought me to a draw."
Thorn blinked, fighting his own smile. It hurt to move his face. "Yes. And I'll do it again."
Cheers erupted from the minions and the wraiths, cheers and not a few variations on "You owe me six beetles." Thorn made a mental note to remind Gnarl to hide the barrels of black powder. It was too valuable to have reds light it whenever they got too drunk to remember they weren't supposed to go near it.
leave you and your worshipers be while you leave me to rule as I see fit." Thorn wasn't keen to repeat this experience quite yet. It could wait until he'd healed.
"Deal." The deity extended his right hand.
Thorn took it, and managed not to wince when the deity's firm grip sent a new wave of pain through his body.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Rose's voice drifted down. "Get down there and heal them both." She clicked her tongue against her teeth.
Thorn managed a weary chuckle. "That
Yes." His father's eyes shone with delight. "We must
do this again
I can think of something."
Later, after accepting his father's offer of a bathing pool and clean clothing, Thorn leaned back in a chair in what he supposed had been the Tower's private quarters. His helm sat with the rest of his armor, piled up near the door.
The clothes were an improvement on the ragged, worn out old shirt and pants he'd been wearing. He'd spent so much of his time in his armor he hadn't bothered with acquiring better regular clothing.
His father sat across from him, a goblet of dark red wine in one hand. The man's grin hadn't faded despite needing to have his armor cut off him before the blues could heal the damage Thorn had done.
For that matter, Thorn's armor was just as useless right now. Giblet would need to reforge it before it was fit to wear.
"Just between you and me," his father said, "Your mother will likely never understand this." He gestured vaguely around the room. "She's grumbling about men who can't work anything out without beating the stuffing out of each other."
Thorn laughed. "I'll be facing a similar argument when I get back." It wouldn't be the same: Juno would berate him for taking unnecessary risks, while Fay and Kelda demanded they be allowed to fight with him.
His father chuckled. "There are times when I think the punishment for taking multiple mistresses is having multiple mistresses." He shook his head. "I don't envy you, trying to keep those three happy."
Thorn blinked. His face burned, but he couldn't stop the silly grin that made his cheeks ache.
"Oh." His father looked contrite. "Apologies. If you ever feel the need for some
father to son discussion about women, I'd recommend leaving your helm at home and stopping by."
There was no way Thorn could have stopped himself casting a worried look at his helm in response to that comment.
The overly vigorous slap on his back made him cough. "Don't worry. You'll have Gnarl fussing at you when you get back, too, but that helm isn't going to show him anything until it's been remade. I
may have been a little too enthusiastic with the firestorm spell."
Thorn coughed again, and shook his head. "Gnarl will be having fits. He's worse than a mother seal."
"Better you than me, son."