There was no greater glory than to be surrounded by the roars of men, locking in battle against a worthy opponent. Glory was not found in victory or in loss, merely the contest. All men fail, and all men may find success; there was shame in neither, and honor in both. These were the ideals of the Grand Arena of Nohia, the most ancient and venerable of men’s battlegrounds. Thousands across history have partaken in the contest of sweat and bronze, and some have forever enshrined themselves in the sacred halls of battle as warriors deserving of eternal praise.
Koblai had no such ambitions.
An Ornn, Koblai was an oddity in the isles, and a greater anomaly still in being found in the arena; Ornns historically found no joy in conflict, and looked down upon battle and warfare as barbaric pursuits. And yet, Koblai showed more passion for the contest than most men to have entered into the pit. Like most men to enter the arena, he had something to prove; acceptance from the people, respect from his peers, perhaps even support from the nobility.
The difference was that Koblai did not fight for his own sake. He had nothing worth proving, no recognition he wished to gain; not from any of the jeering crowds, atleast. No, Koblai sought something greater, beyond the acceptance of mere men; Koblai wished to impress the great Hero himself, and the gods overhead and underfoot that upheld him.
The Ornns, for hundreds of years have lived in exile from their true home, having been driven out by the Naga hordes long ago. Ever since, the Ornnish people have lived under the gracious hospitality of the Oozan, deep within Mazria. A fine home, perhaps; but it is not the home of his ancestors, of his people. Now, the great works of his grandfathers lay within the hands of sickening, twisted barbarians, used for dark purposes few understood.
Koblai wanted nothing more than to take back the land of his ancestors, to free his people.
But Koblai was young, deemed impulsive by the wisened of his clan. The wise ones, they claimed that in time, the world would right itself, and their lands will return to them. But Koblai, and many of the younger Ornns of his age, had no patience to watch the men who still remember the look of their home slowly die on foreign land, unable to be buried within the earth alongside their forefathers before them. Men like Koblai all claimed that without action, the world would not move, and no lands would ever be reclaimed through inaction.
And so Koblai acted, like many of his peers, seeking to gain the favor of a power far older and greater than any Ornn, to finally see the birthright of his people. And today, he intended to win it.
“Tonight is a test of honor, unlike any other to grace us in some time. Look upon our combatants; know their names, and learn them forever, for their souls deserve immortality, for stepping into this holy place of contest! Look upon them, and know that they are champions.”
The priest spoke with a particular commanding reverence, demanding attention and respect from all who heard him. He was a decorated man, garbed in a myriad of colors, representing him as a high-priest of the horizon gods, devoted to each and every one in equal measure.
He swept his hand outward, gesturing to each side of the arena. To his left was an Ornn, taller than most men, standing at nearly two stones above your average man. His body was like that of an upright bull, carved with a subtle musculature that was hard to pinpoint around his mane of fluff. His tail was long and slender, nearly prehensile in it’s flexibility- and tipped with another tuft of soft fur.
His head was almost akin to a dog, with a long snout and large, almost lizardlike mouth. His face was without eyes, having merely empty skin where you would expect such a thing. He was, after all, blind- though you would not expect it from the way Ornns carried themselves, seemingly able to sense their surroundings through various means.
“Here is Koblai, our challenger! Know him, for he has fought countless battles for the honor of standing here! Know him, for his efforts are valorous!”
And then the priest swept to his right, gesturing to a man twice as tall as Koblai, and nearly twice as thick; a giant, a human of abnormal size and strength. They were said to be the children of Adoman himself, able to trace their blood back to the first of the giants.
His skin was dark as ink, and was marbled with all manner of scars, long since healed. His limbs were as thick as tree trunks, and his weapon- a thick metal club- was as long as Koblai was tall. The man looked as if he could bend steel with his gaze alone, what with those piercing, muddy-brown eyes. He radiated power and intensity. A difficult opponent, indeed.
“And here stands our champion, Maiarn! Know him, for he is mighty without equal! Know him, for he has proven the glory he holds!”
The two combatants walked toward eachother, at the priest’s beckoning. They took a moment to examine one another, and with a grunt the giant spoke;
“You. I offer you a challenge, given to all whom face me; make my back meet the ground below, and I shall forfeit this battle, and recognize your strength. Is this acceptable?”
Koblai sniffed the air, taking note of his surroundings; he could sense the man was large, and powerful beyond his own capability- though he could not see the man in any exacting detail. Eventually, he looked up and replied.
“Very well. I will agree to this test of strength, and will find glory in it.”
Maiarn nodded, and kneeled to bow before Koblai- of which Koblai offered the same, going to his knees to bow his head to his opponent. The crowd of the arena hushed in silent prayer for both combatants, as was custom; and as both opponents rose to meet one another, the priest raised his hand to signal the beginning of the match.
And the crowd cheered in celebration.
The Ornns were a people of patience, and their way of battle reflected this; the Ornns, they struggled to go onto the offensive, due to their inherent lack of sight- and so their way of combat became reactionary, waiting for the opponent to come to them, and acting the moment an attack was detected.
And so Koblai restrained himself, waiting for the giant to approach him, before he made any movements. He focused, washing away the roaring of the crowd until he heard nothing; he became an urn of water, still and peaceful.
And then he felt the ground shake beneath him, thunderous stomping as if a drum of war. The water of the urn rippled, disturbed. He could feel the size of his opponent from his impacts on the ground, could sense the shape of his body and the strength of his muscle. He could feel the man rushing toward him, arms tensed to swing his great club.
Koblai could feel the shock ripple through his snout, and across his whole body, as he detected the giant enter his immediate proximity; it was the great strength of the Ornns, their ability to ‘sense’ their surroundings, despite their lack of eyes.
Koblai’s body reacted before his mind did, relying on his instinct and training as he lunged forward, ducking underneath the giant’s powerful swing, before raising his own hand and striking into the giant’s side. The small balls of clay on Koblai’s knuckles shattered, causing a thunderous clap to ring out, as Koblai and Maiarn were both thrown backward by the blow.
The giant managed to retain his footing, slamming his great club into the ground to right himself. He looked to Koblai, and nodded.
“Sunder Clay. A mighty weapon, indeed. But you will need more than just tools to defeat me, Ornn. If you have no wit nor will to back up such a mighty weapon, it will mean nothing. Come! Show me your essence.”
Koblai was simply silent, as he flexed the fingers of his gauntlet; such blasts were reckless, so much clay in one attack could have broken his wrist if he wasn’t careful. He refrained from loading more clay into the gauntlet, and merely re-took his stance, beckoning Maiarn forward.
The two clashed for minutes, the crowd roaring and swelling with each blow; Maiarn was powerful, and skilled- his attacks commanded space and attention both, and one slip-up and Koblai knew he would be defeated after only a handful of blows.
But Koblai was nimble for his size, able to weave between Maiarn’s wide, sweeping attacks- though he was caught unawares by swift strikes from the giant’s fists, Koblai prided himself in never being touched by the man’s weapon. Koblai struck swiftly, though his power was lacking compared to the strength of a true giant; Koblai could only hope to whittle him down.
Koblai was beginning to get exhausted, and was breathing heavily as the battle wore on. His reactions were slower, his ability to sense Maiarn muddled and unfocused. For a moment, he lost all sense of Maiarn’s presence, before he felt a tingling in his nose, and felt the powerful metal club slam into his face not even a second later.
The blow sent Koblai sprawling, flung across the sands. He jumped, Koblai realized. Even without his feet on the ground, he’s able to send me soaring. I will never doubt a giant again.
Blood splattered from Koblai’s mouth, and dribbled from his nostrils; that blow had left him weary, and weakened. He wobbled to his feet, slowly regaining his footing; he could hardly smell much of anything beyond his own blood and sweat, and knew that this fight would come to an end quickly.
And so he devised a way to end it.
Koblai went onto the offensive, shouting with the crowd as he ran toward Maiarn; first, he placed the capsules of sunder clay he required into the notches on his knuckles- an excessive amount, perhaps, but if it left his hands broken when the fight was over, so be it. Next, when he met Maiarn, he focused entirely upon putting pressure upon the giant- quick jabs with his palms, swipes with his claws, even kicks with his hooves.
He did not relent, never giving the giant a chance to bring his wide club to bare; Koblai took several hits from the giant’s great fists for his effort, but he remained steadfast, keeping Maiarn exactly where he wanted until the exact perfect moment.
And then the moment came.
There was a CLAP underneath Maiarn’s foot, a large capsule of Sunder-Clay that had gone unnoticed, swept there by Koblai’s dexterous tail; the blast set the giant off-balance, his stance unsteady. Maiarn showed true surprise, as Koblai reared both his arms back, and with a shout slammed his fists into the giant’s side, sending a deafening, thunderous crack across the arena.
A blast of dust swept across the battleground, and there was a great moment of tense silence as the dust cleared, revealing the giant flat on his back, several yards away- and Koblai, fallen onto his knees, breathing hard as his arms fell limp at his sides.
There was a quiet gasp from the crowd, a stunned silence that even Koblai could not escape; but the moment was broken when the giant broke into bellowing laughter.
And then the crowd roared .
Cheering and chanting enveloped the arena, though Koblai could hear nothing except his own beating heart. He didn’t feel much beyond adrenaline, unable to truly revel in his victory until it passed.
When he finally regained a level of composure over himself, Koblai felt a tingling in his snout, before he realized it was the giant, hoisting him to his feet, and keeping him standing. Koblai gave a vague, appreciative nod, but was too stunned to speak to the man.
As Maiarn began to escort Koblai out of the arena’s battleground, he heard jeering from the crowd, curses and other slander from disgruntled betters, no doubt. As soon as he heard it, Maiarn snapped his head toward them, face full of rage.
“Be silent! Should you wish to see this warrior defeated, step into this arena, and see him defeated yourself! We seek victory in this sacred place, and should you not have the will to take it yourself, only seeking to find the defeat of others, then simply stay silent! Men like you, you dishonor this place.”
Koblai was stunned, and so were the men in the crowd. They bowed their heads in shame, hiding from Maiarn’s stern gaze, before the giant continued on his way. He set Koblai upon a cushioned bench within the arena prep-area, before clasping his arm.
“Whatever you hoped to find in defeating me, I hope you have found, warrior. If not, I offer it to you, should it be within my means.”
Koblai wiped the blood from his nose, before he did speak up. “Your gods. I seek favor from your gods; their might, their bravery, their guidance. I wish to have it bestowed upon me, to free my people.”
Maiarn was silent for a time, and Koblai wondered if perhaps the man had left his side, before he heard the giant speak gently, with a softness he’d not expect of a man so large.
“You have earned more valor than many men I have met, and are deserving of them, I think. I will take you to meet them, and should such an idea as gifting power to a non-man would offend them so greatly, I will take the blame for it upon myself. I promise you this, I will see this task done.”
“I do not understand.” Koblai replied. “What do you intend to do?”
“I intend to take you up the mountain, to Olyianos. There, we shall petition the hero himself, and through him, the gods who uphold his strength. Mankind, our greatest heroes were forged destroying oppressors; surely they would not shy away from breaking another.”
“I…. I thank you. I know not what to say.”
“Then say nothing, and let us get moving. Your people, they have waited long enough for a hero to be born. You’d best not leave them waiting.”