Rarely did I ever encounter someone of equal height with me. Stepping out into the arena, I was certain I’d have to look up at Maksim Fedor Menshikov. Alma had told me that Maksim shouldn’t be a difficult challenge for me, but she also warned not to underestimate him either. Unlike me, he had spent his entire life practicing physical and magical combat.
Another twist on this occasion were weapons, scattered along the walls of the arena. Each of them would bear enchantments to make them lethal, possibly even against me. I had been advised not to let Maksim near those, since Alma felt I was still inept with quite a few weapons. I found myself wishing Aaliyah would have told me a little more about this opponent. I didn’t have a clue how I was going to subdue him.
The chime rang and Maksim rushed me, casting spells as he moved. I quickly tore apart the spells meant to grab weapons, but I wasn’t sure what the other one was until Maksim was engulfed by it, covered in fire. Was he wanting to burn me?
He was very fast, and I didn’t need to hold back very much as I dodged to the side. I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t plunge into the door from whence I came, instead using his speed to run up and flip off of it. I used the moment to step closer to him again, sweeping his feet as he landed, but Maksim flipped over my sweep, made a quick burst of air to keep him hovering a fraction of a second, and tried to kick me in the head with both of his feet as he spun them back toward me.
I blocked. The blow was gentle compared with what Alma typically threw at me. I found myself on the defensive, and Maksim was still trying more spells, keeping me divided between keeping my face intact and stopping his spells. I created a blast of force like I once had used against Luke, the werelion from my school. Maksim slammed against the far wall, but was on his feet again ― smiling as he looked at me ― in under a second.
He dashed to the side, and I knew I couldn’t beat him to the nearest sword without “cheating”. I quickly created spells to grab all of the weapons from the area, pulling them to me. Maksim stopped and looked around the room before sprinting toward a different wall. Fine. I created spells to pull all of the weapons to me. To my surprise, several of them failed. I glanced at Alma, who was rolling her eyes.
Knowing I couldn’t stop Maksim from reaching the flail near him, I considered what I might use from around me, but I then realized they might well be inferior, considering how I could pull them to me with magic. I ran to the large sword behind me. I could at least have greater reach using it.
When I turned around, Maksim casually kicked a sword up to his hand from my pile. Was abandoning the pile to him wise? The sword flew at me from Maksim’s hand, and I recognized that he was attempting to create a spell to boost its speed. I swatted the sword to the side with a spell as I took apart Maksim’s spell.
He suddenly moved faster, dropping the flail to hurl weapons from the pile at me and quickly attempting more spells to do the same. He had been holding back!? I charged at him while deflecting his attempts to injure me with spells of my own. I swung at his neck upon reach him, planning to stop just short, but he rolled away, picking up the flail as he did and immediately swing it toward me.
I blocked, but he was stronger than I had thought. I nearly lost my grip when the flail wrapped around my sword. I quickly kicked at his chest, surprised that he tried blocking my foot with a spell. He could have released the flail and dodged easily. The spell was absorbed as my foot touched it, and I pushed off his chest, pulling the flail out of his hand.
Had he not seen me fight? I had assumed he had at least heard of my previous matches with how he hadn’t directed a single spell at me. I threw him against the wall with another spell. When he stood, I threw him again.
Speaking in Russian, he yelled “FIGHT ME WITH YOUR FISTS!”
I shrugged, dropped the sword, and charged him. He was strong, but I was accustomed to being hit by Alma. He was fast, but I fought faster daily. Using spells to block, seemed reflexive to him. There was often a brief moment of shock when he was still hit.
I felt him forming a spell behind me and quickly redirected it at him. Fire scorched his arm, and I felt a touch of guilt. I didn’t mean to burn him. I had simply reacted. My moment of guilt gave him an opening to kick me in the leg, which was quickly followed by several other blows. Then I was too late interrupting another of his spells. Weapons were flying at me from the pile. I created a wall to block them as I fought Maksim off.
Foolish. Some of the weapons penetrated my spell, stabbing my back and arms. Luckily, their enchantments were dispelled as they struck me. Getting shot had been worse. Maksim was caught off guard this time, giving me the chance to trip him and slam his head against the wall. He sank to the ground, sitting and laughing.
“You fight good, James.” he told me, speaking in English now. “Finish me if you can!”
He jumped at me, aiming a punch at my face. I flipped him and threw him to the ground. Rolling, he grabbed a sword and attacked me again. I grabbed the blade and bent it. Another kick came at me, but I was able to duck, rolling backwards under it. He jumped at me, kicking again, so I moved to the side and punched him.
On and on we fought, but he wasn’t tiring any faster than I was. I didn’t know what to do to stop him. Everything froze around me as Aaliyah seemed to walk out of a wall.
“I can show you a spell to end this in seconds, but you’re not going to like it.” she told me.
“Have any options that I would like?” I asked.
“Not really. I could tell you ways to end this that would leave you feeling better for today, but there would be worse consequences later.” she replied with a cute smile. “Would you like some pie? I was going to bring cake, but I ate it. I stole this off Carl’s counter.”
“Sure. Why not. Smells like blueberry.” I told her.
Times like this with Aaliyah were always strange to me. With the world frozen in place, she could alter things dramatically with no one else having a clue that she did a thing. I imagined her putting clown makeup on Adelmar as he sat there, looking imperious.
“You can if you feel like it.” she told me.
“I have a feeling that wouldn’t end well.” I replied.
Nodding, she said, “You’d get to see something amazing, but the timing really isn’t right.”
Sweet and sour battled in my mouth as I bit into the pie. “This is peculiar. What is it?” I asked.
“Those aren’t blueberries! If you traveled roughly thirteen point three billion light years that way, you’d find some children munching on one similar to this.” she told me as she pointed.
“And this is safe?” I asked.
“You’d mildly poison some folk if you shared with the wrong ones, but the pie won’t hurt you!” she giddily exclaimed.
A spell came unbidden to my mind. “No.” I stated.
“Hmm?” asked Aaliyah.
“I do not want to do that to him.” I replied.
“He’ll get over it in a couple days.” she informed me.
“Still…” I started without having a good argument. There was never a good argument against Aaliyah.
“I know, but you will use it. You won’t like it. The others will see you won’t like it. They’ll consider your sorrow a weakness, but many will also be afraid of pushing you. This is for the best, boss-man, sir.” she insisted.
“I don’t want to be feared.” I protested.
Nodding, she said, “You will be. You’ll also be loved, even by some who are afraid of you.”
“Can’t you do something?” I begged.
“I can do many things! Ask me, and I’ll take you to a distant planet where you’ll have nothing but happiness for the rest of your life.” she replied.
“A distant planet without Alma?” I asked.
“Oh, I can take her too. Pick anyone you like, and I’ll take you all.” she replied, staring up at me with her big, blue eyes.
“At what cost?” I questioned.
Aaliyah tapped her lip as if in thought and then said, “I’ll rip apart time and space to defy a spell that’s forcing events. This planet will suffer and the greatest person I know will never come to exist. She wants you to do this for her, and you wouldn’t want to upset her. You enjoy her company too much to ever distress her.”
“If she is so magnificent, why would you defy her for me?” I asked.
“I love you, boss-man, sir. If you asked, I’d kill Maksim there any way you want. If you really want, I can tidy all of this up nicely and create something that would cause another friend of mine to vomit.” she told me with another cute smile.
“Huh? I don’t follow.” I admitted.
“I’d enforce a paradox to ensure events unfold properly. He’d sense it, come investigating, and vomit after examining it too long.” she explained.
I didn’t really understand what precisely she’d be doing, but I had the feeling I wouldn’t want it. My heart sank in my chest as I stood. I did not want this, but I was doing it.
“Thank you for the pie.” I told her.
There was no reply. Maksim was charging me again.
“I’m so sorry.” I told him.
There was a look of confusion on his face as I casted the spell. His arms and legs shattered. His thunderous scream echoed throughout the arena.
I looked around, and the crowd looked expectant. Wasn’t this enough?
“Please, submit. There’s no reason to die.” I told Maksim. Tears were coming. I didn’t want this.
Wondering if he couldn’t hear me, I put a spell over his mouth to silence the continued scream. Then I asked him to submit again.
Seconds continued ticking along, and his mouth continued screaming.
Adelmar stood and clapped as he said, “James Michael Somerset III is the victor. Congratulations.”
Others joined him in clapping.
“Is Alma allowed to set his bones quickly before permanent damage is done?” I asked.
Adelmar laughed and said, “If she’s willing.”
Alma was by Maksim in full haste. I knew Aaliyah had said he would heal, but she often expected us to take action as well. I feared this day would haunt me for years to come. What was I becoming?