Panting and sweating, Belenor ran laboriously through the streets of Fyre. It was early, he had slept badly and his body was aching. In short, he was in a bad mood. But why had he had the misfortune to qualify, he who hated to make the least physical effort? His honor as a Fyros, no doubt. Every year, the Fyros Empire held the Academy Games, a national event with a multitude of events open to every student between the ages of ten and eighteen. The age mix was an important part of the event, allowing each youngster to learn from the older ones, and each older to learn humility. After several days of qualifying, the long-awaited day of the finals had arrived. The quarter-coriolis was one of them. It consisted of a long distance race corresponding to a quarter of the distance between Coriolis and Fyre. Divided into five laps, the race went through the different districts of the city. This trial, one of the most recent ones, had been inaugurated thirty-five years earlier by the Emperor Abylus the Learned. It was a tribute to the Fyrossa Aporalion Deps, who undertook a twenty-four hour race between the two cities to warn the sharükos of the impending cataclysmic fire, and who died like a number of Fyros fighting the fire at the gates of Fyre. This was the first time that Belenor, now thirteen years old, had qualified to run in the quarter-coriolis. The previous three years he had narrowly failed to qualify. Today, feeling as bad as he had ever felt, he bitterly regretted his achievement. It is thus with relief that, crushed by the heat of the daystar and drowned under the cries of the crowd, he saw in the distance the famous saving tunnel. Several kilometers long, this ancient vein of sap ran under the city and through the poorest district of the capital. If, caught up in the effort, Belenor had already forgotten how many laps he was at, he had not forgotten the freshness and priceless calm of the depths of the Bark. And as he swallowed the last few strides, he dived into the only non-hostile segment of the course. Taking advantage of this moment of respite, the Fyros slowed his pace and infused his legs with Sap to ease his muscles and joints. While several runners passed him on this occasion, he had long ago put aside any idea of ranking. The last place suited him perfectly. He would distinguish himself otherwise at the end of the morning, during his preferred trial: military strategy. The past three years, Melkiar had won this event. If he had an advantage due to his age, and therefore his experience, Belenor still expected to succeed in defeating him sooner or later. Ah, how good it was to think of the calm and freshness of an amphitheater, the scratching of quills on paper, the rolling of dice on wood, the beauty of measuring instruments and topographical maps…. Lost in his thoughts, smiling, Belenor ran nonchalantly in the wide and cool dark tunnel, letting several of his competitors pass. Two silhouettes, in particular, passed him on his right and left. In the darkness, they looked absolutely identical: two huge rectangular blocks of bark mounted on two large wooden poles. Even before Belenor recognized the two Fyros, they joined hands and braked immediately. The dreamer's nose crashed into Varran's gnarled triceps, and the rest of his body, destabilised, slid onto the sawdust. The Decos twins burst out laughing and Belenor grabbed his face swearing. He was dripping with blood.
- "Gotta stay focused Belenut! I bet you were still thinking about your black Zoraï."
- "Yeah, it's all very well to know how to write, but that's not what will help you survive in the real world, huh?" added Garius.
Belenor made his nose crack and stood up like a fury.
- "Varran, Garius! Melkiar ordered you to stop bothering me!"
At his remark, Varran got a nasty look on his face. Approaching Belenor. He grabbed him by the collar of his tunic, and without any difficulty, lifted him with one arm. Around them, several runners informed of their displeasure. Between the three of them, they were partially obstructing the path.
- "And I, I told you to stop hiding behind Melkiar. I don't care you're on his good books. Besides, I'm sure that shoving you from time to time is more useful than coddling you like a nipper. One day you'll thank me. But for now, stay in your place."
Putting his money where his mouth was, the huge Fyros dropped him to the dusty floor. Without adding another word, he patted Garius on the shoulder and both resume their run.
Exasperated, Belenor leaned against a doorway adjoining the bark wall of the gallery and made Sap circulate his nose. He had never expected to win this race, so after all, he could use a little rest. On the opposite wall of the tunnel, large skylights offered a view of the working-class district of Fyre, whose makeshift dwellings, linked by a network of suspension bridges, were built on the bark walls of a gigantic abyssal shaft. Deprived of daylight, the neighborhood was lit with large torches, obviously combined with the handcrafted fire-fighting systems for which the Fyros were famous. Belenor had been inspired by the working-class district of Fyre to invent the village the hero of his fiction would live in, which he imagined would be built inside a gigantic jungle tree stump, lit largely by lamps containing fireflies. Soothed by this vision, the Fyros sat down and allowed himself to reverie. Unfortunately, the pause was short-lived, for no sooner had his mind escaped than a new runner stopped at his level. In spite of the half-light, Belenor recognized without difficulty his body: muscular buttocks, traced abdominal muscles, veiny forearms, massive shoulders and little developed breast. Xynala. Dressed of a wide panties and a simple bra, the warrior, whose blond hair was maintained by a broad band, put her hands on her chiseled obliques and sighed. From the top of her fifteen years, she fixed him with a severe air.
- "Is this a joke, Belenor? Do you think it's time to rest?"
- "But…. How about you all of you people stop bothering me for just five minutes? Varran and Garius just hit me. As if this race wasn't already pain enough…. I didn't ask for anything, you know. So now please leave me alone."
For all answer, the Fyrossa held out a hand to him. In her eyes, the severity had given way to compassion.
- "I see…. You know them, they're not mean. They're just… a little stupid?"
Belenor grabbed her classmate's hand and stood up.
- "No, they're not stupid, Xynala. And then stupidity wouldn't justify the harassment they've been putting me through for all these years. Because yes, it is harassment. I'll admit I was obnoxious for a long time, and I still get annoying sometimes, but I've changed a lot, I think. They haven't."
The Fyrossa smiled a compassionate smile.
- "Indeed, you're nothing like the real pain you once were. But you know, Varran and Garius are having a hard time at home because of their father's work in the mines your family owns. No matter what you do, you can never change that, Belenor. To them, you will always be the son of the one who exploits their father."
- "I know, I know…. That's why I try to be patient. But if they don't change at eighteen, when will they?Anyway, let's get back to this race. You're building up a backlog."
At these words, Xynala did some stretching.
- "Oh, you know, I'm not really interested in my position in the quarter-coriolis. I'm focused as ever on the trial of free fight this afternoon. I'm hoping to beat Garius, just like last year. But more importantly, I hope that I'll finally succeed in beating Melkiar…."
Belenor, whose anger was was on its way out, smiled at his female friend. If anyone could win a duel against Melkiar, it was definitely her. For, like all members of the Zeseus family, Xynala was an exceptional warrior. Her grandparents were already famous at the time, and their reputation was cemented when, in 2435, the Kingdom of Matia took advantage of the burning Amber Mines of Coriolis to take back the holy city of Karavia. His two forefathers had sacrificed themselves to allow the Fyros living in Karavia to flee the besieged city, thus avoiding the massacre. Xynala did not know her grandparents, but her mother, who was thirteen years old when they died, often recalled their memories for her. Memories that, combined with the romanticized national history, painted a very heroic picture of her grandparents.
- "I imagine that you too hope to beat Melkiar during the military strategy test, continued the Fyrossa. And anyway, we already know the winner of the race, don't we? Besides, I think I recognize his voice. Can you hear it? He's coming, this is probably his last lap."
The Fyrossa gave Belenor a friendly slap on the back and dashed after the runners.
- "See you later, Belenor, and take heart!"
After watching for a few seconds the beautiful acceleration of his comrade, he turned around. She was right. Her song could be heard echoing in the tunnel. Belenor smiled. He knew well this lugubrious rhyme, whose words gained in amplitude as the interpreter approached. He knew that voice well, which had recently begun to change in such a singular way:
In their flying ships,
Lonely and hungry,
Led by the song of the wind,
Found a star at feet.
In the endless night,
Pilgrims and orphans,
With their ineffable powers,
Made morning sprout.
In their mill of ideas,
Arrogant and impatient,
Forgetful of the past,
Paid the price of blood.
In their faltering boats,
Visionaries and torturers,
With their bloody hands,
Given birth to chimeras.
Belenor had caught himself closing his eyes during the song and accompanying the verses with his whispers. Definitely appeased, the Fyros opened his eyelids, all smiles. Not surprisingly, Brandille was now facing him, her large mauve eyes filled with malice. True to those of his people, the child had grown little. This was not the case with her multicolored braids, which were now floating at her buttocks.
- "Hi again, my Belenice! What are you doing here? Are you dallyin'? Are you daydreamin'? Is something bothering you?"
- "No, everything is fine. Thanks for your concern. And you, why did you stop running?"
- "Because I stopped singing." his friend answered immediately.
Belenor frowned. If he wanted to bounce back and ask her how singing was a prerequisite for running, he knew in advance that his answer would not suit him.
- "You know, you shouldn't stop, you run the risk of getting double-crossed over. You know the fable of the gubani and the arma, don't you?"
Brandille burst into a singular laugh.
- "Oh, come on, I'm more than a lap ahead of the runner in second place. By the way, Melkiar is well placed this year, he has improved again. But how far will the child prodigy go? I wonder. Anyway, do you want to come with me to the finish line so I can start singing again?"
Belenor nodded and the two friends set off again side by side. His friend was well ahead, but nothing in her behavior or in her body signals showed any fatigue. Brandille was not panting. Brandille was not sweating. In fact, Brandille was not running: Brandille was sliding. Minutes passed, and with them, the light at the end of the tunnel appeared. For Brandille, the finish line was approaching, and for Belenor, the beginning of a new and endless lap was preparing. And as the calm darkness of the dried out vein gave way to the exhilaration of the audience and the sweltering heat outside, true to her reputation, Brandille leapt. Without even asking for his consent, the acrobat jumped with both feet on Belenor's shoulders and propelled himself in the air. One quadruple salto later, Brandille was landing in the hot sawdust of Dyros Avenue under the acclamations of the crowd in jubilation, agglutinated at the doorsteps, at the windows, or on the many raised passages which made it possible to navigate between the various floors of the city. If Belenor was disconcerted by the maneuver made by his friend in the middle of a discussion, he was especially surprised to have felt almost no pressure on his shoulders. Definitely, the Sap that ran through Brandille was nothing like the one that ran through the other homins, Belenor was sure of it. The Fyros had asked himself many questions about this in the past. If his friend remained enigmatic about his early childhood, and had fun telling different stories to the different people who questioned her, one element seemed to come back regularly. Indeed, Brandille sometimes referred to the Storm Isles, that mysterious maritime land located west of the Great Puddle, and whose titanic and infinite storms that constantly rolled there prevented any exploration. Although exchanges between the Trykoth Federation and the Fyros Empire had been commonplace since the construction of the Aqueduct, and although he had occasionally come across Trykers in Fyre, Belenor had never heard of homins living in the Storm Isles. Finally, Brandille had never clearly explained the reason for his presence in Fyre. As long as he had known his friend, he had always seen her dwelling in the orphanage in the capital. So the mystery remained, even so many years after their meeting.
Drunk with praise, Brandille continued to flit theatrically as the finish line drew near. While Belenor tried to stay focused on his own race, his friend's pirouettes allowed him to forget the feelings of pain and fatigue that were running through him. Finally, he passed Brandille, who preferred to perform acrobatic tricks, and began his new lap. The crowd exploded when his friend also crossed the finish line. By reflex, Belenor turned around. He almost lost his balance when he saw Melkiar, located only a few meters behind him. He was accompanied by Tisse Apoan, a particularly slim Fyrossa with a generous chest and red hair. The two runners reached his level and Melkiar slowed down. Belenor stiffened.
- "So, Belenor, how are you enjoying your first quarter-coriolis?"
- "S… Strenuous and boring."
Although Belenor pretended to remain focused on his race, he couldn't help but glance at his comrade. Melkiar's body was comparable to Xynala's. He was simply larger and more hairy. It was simply larger and hairier. Watching the drops of sweat beading between the young adult's pectoral muscles, Belenor had the misfortune to detect the scent of his perspiration drowned among the spicy scents that the streets of Fyre exhaled. A flash of lightning passed through him, and instantly he turned scarlet. Fortunately, Melkiar didn't realize anything. He went on.
- "Running is not very interesting, I grant you. Nevertheless, knowing how to run a race over a long distance is important. It requires excellent management of one's endurance and precise and constant control of the Sap."
Belenor, applied to looking far ahead, nodded silently.
- "Well, I'll leave you. If I speed up, I may finish in the top fifteen. I'm looking forward to competing against you later, quill, dice and compass in hand. And congratulations on your first race, Belenor."
At these words, the warrior accelerated, buoyed by his thighs and powerful buttocks, and caught up with Tisse. Finally, laps passed, and the race came to an end. And against all odds, Belenor did not finish in last place.-–—o§O§o—–-
It was already late when Belenor arrived in front of the Coliseum of Fyre. A rare building at the top of the Dragon's Backbone, the colossal circular edifice had been carved out of the stump of a huge sky-tree. Because of the lack of sky-trees in the region, scholars assumed that this one dated back to a time when the desert was not yet a desert. While Fyre had stairs, the easiest way to reach the top of the city was by large freight elevators of Tryker design, the fruit of the age-old alliance between the two peoples. Belenor passed through the great arches of the building and reached the bleachers without any trouble, despite the density of the spectators gathered en masse to attend the last trial of the day. Finding his friends was another matter. But finally, after many minutes of scanning the tide of mugs and Fyros, he spotted the large arm movements of Tisse and Brandille. The Fyros slipped between the many onlookers, passed through the alcohol fumes, climbed a floor, and finally managed to reach the two aces. For if Brandille had beaten his best time in the quarter-coriolis, Tisse, for the first time, had won the sport shooting event. Despite her fourteen years, the teenager's accuracy had become legendary within the Academy. All around the trio, eyes were on them, and at times, one came to congratulate them. While Brandille, all smiles, accepted a free mug of shooki, Tisse hugged a little girl, who, taking her courage in both hands, had come to greet her new idol. Freed from the child's endless embrace, the Fyrossa turned to Belenor:
- "So Belenor, how are you living your coronation? Personally, I think I could get used to it very quickly."
- "What? Oh, me? Ah, yes. I don't know."
For Belenor had, a few hours earlier, beaten Melkiar in the final trial of military strategy. Something he still couldn't truly understand. This test consisted in the setting of army battles in the form of a game with precise rules. Partially hidden behind a folding screen, each player had troops, represented by various counters, and a palette of equipment, such as calculating tables, measuring instruments, and also dice to simulate the effect of luck. A referee checked each player's moves and kept track of time. This event, although among the oldest in the Academy, was far less popular than the others. The fault lay in its apparent complexity. As a result, Belenor was far less sought after by admirers, which, all in all, suited him quite well. And if he was proud to have won the title, it was his victory against Melkiar that had particularly moved him. He would never forget the look of admiration that this one had given him, as Belenor played the move that had compelled him to surrender. Later that day, Melkiar had also lost the athletic showdown to Varran, who had then found himself in the final against his brother Garius. The twins Decos twins had been unable to separate themselves and both won the title. Eliminated in their turn in the semi-finals by Melkiar and Xynala during the free fight trial, they awaited the grand finale from the private stand of the defeated.
When, with their so characteristic creaking, the two doors of the circular arena finally opened, the daylight had lost all its brilliance and the amber star was at its peak. In the light of the gigantic blaze hanging over the amphitheater, the forty thousand spectators gathered fell silent. As expected, Euriyaseus Icaron passed through one of the doors. The Fyrossa, who had won her spurs with Xynala's grandparents, was probably the most famous general in the Empire. In 2436, then aged twenty-nine, she had participated, alongside the future Emperor Pyto, Thesop's brother, in an attack aimed at re-establishing the Water Route and the operation of the Aqueduct, "via" the reconquest of the country of Trykoth, invaded by the Matis following the devastation caused by the burning of the Coriolis Amber Mines. Continuing her military career thereafter, despite the deaths of Emperors Abylus and Pyto, she eventually had been promoted to general. While rumors were rife of her enmity with Emperor Thesop, whom some notorious separatists accused of having murdered her father and brother thirty years earlier, this had never stopped her from giving her heart and soul to the Empire. In particular, she had been responsible for several strategic coups that helped push the rebellious Fyros tribes far to the west. Now sixty years old, she was also involved in the military training of the Academy's students.
Dressed in her armor, made of stiff leather and decked out with medals, the famous heroine with white hair and a face covered with scars walked to the center of the arena. Unhooking a hollow horn from her belt, she brought the object to her mouth and began her speech. Her hoarse, amplified voice echoed through the amphitheater.
- "Fyros people! Friends of the Empire! Like every year since the founding of our famous institute, this day has seen the final round of the Academy Games! As every year, we have been proud to see our young academicians at work in their feats! But more than ever this year, we have been astounded by the prowess of the new generation! The Generation of Miracles! Thanks to them, the Empire is securing a prosperous and glorious future!"
At these words, the crowd went wild: cheers erupted, mugs clinked and alcohol flew. Euriyaseus let the tumult subside and then resumed his speech.
- "Patriots, I understand the fervor that moves you! Tonight, a masterpiece of battle will be played out right here in the center of our ancient coliseum! Tonight, during the final of the free fighting event, Xynala Zeseus will take her revenge against the one who has held the title of champion since he was thirteen years old! The one against whom she failed in the final, last year, and who will try again tonight to keep his title! I named Melkiar of the Dragon Tears tribe!"
The crowd erupted, and at the same time, the horn sounded. Two figures appeared in the doorway of the Coliseum and walked towards their chief coach to the applause. Both were dressed in simple armors of supple leather, which, which, while providing little protection against the blades, gave the wearer a great deal of range of motion. Since homins have unusual regenerative abilities, warriors used to taking wounds generally preferred to improve their mobility. Nevertheless, each of the two silhouettes was topped with a large helmet. This one was composed of a rigid leather base covering the skull, lateral protections in chitin falling on the forehead, the ears and the nape of the neck, and a grid of rigid thorn acting as a visor. Indeed, although able to magically heal most of their wounds, too violent shocks to the head could disrupt the regeneration process of homins. As usual, Xynala was armed with her two fetish short clubs, the head of which consisted of four sharp discs. Melkiar had opted for a more classical paraphernalia, composed of a buckler and a hatchet. When they arrived at the level of the general, this one resumed the word.
- "Well! Before the duel begins, let me remind you of the rules of the free fight trial. Firstly, duelists are forbidden to pierce the rib cage or the skull of opponent. Second, except for healing, the use of magic is totally prohibited. Thirdly, blocking the regeneration of the opponent, for example by preventing him from removing a blade stuck in his body, is proscribed. Paralyzing or stunting the opponent remains allowed. The fight takes place in a winning round, and ends when one of the two duelists gives up, remains paralyzed on the ground for more than ten seconds, falls unconscious, or when a healer intervenes. Now, Xynala and Melkiar, take each other a bow!"
If the previously screaming crowd was now silent, the tension was all the more palpable: a heavy calm had descended on the Coliseum and heralded the coming storm. Xynala and Melkiar bowed and then took five steps back. Euriyaseus, who was going to referee the duel, slowly moved away from the center of the arena and joined the group of healers who had entered the pit earlier. Everyone spread out around the two duelists, magic amplifiers donned, ready to intervene at any moment. Long seconds passed and the long-awaited moment arrived: Euriyaseus brought his horn to his mouth one last time and gave the starting signal.
- "Xynala, Melkiar, fight!"
The first blows were delivered by the Fyrossa. No sooner had the fight begun than Xynala infused Sap into her legs and leapt four meters forward, clubs in the air. In a deafening crash, the two weapons hit Melkiar's roundel, whose boots sank into the sawdust under the power of the impact. Seizing her momentum, the Fyrossa carried a multitude of blows to her adversary, who nimbly parried them while retreating. And then, taking advantage of the ascendancy that he had granted to Xynala, Melkiar suddenly opened his guard: pushing back one of the clubs of a powerful movement of shield, he struck a precise blow of hatchet to his rival. This was not taking into account the skill of Xynala, who tilted her other weapon in such a way that the blade of the hatchet got stuck between two discs of her club. Then, with a powerful flick of her wrist, she swung her weapon, hoping to disarm or unbalance her opponent. Not intending to give up so quickly, Melkiar vigorously grabbed the handle of his hatchet and followed the rotating movement generated by Xynala. The Fyros pretended to tip over to the side and then performed a side cartwheel while leaning on the ground. He repeated the move a second time and dodged the blow that his rival tried to strike him using her second club. Having regained some distance, Melkiar finally spread his arms in provocation. In the stands, the crowd exploded, dazzled by this first spar.
- "Nice block, Xynala. Am I not the one who teached you that technique?"
Spreading her arms in turn, the Fyrossa answered tit for tat.
- "Nice spin, Melkiar. Did Brandille teach you that stunt?"
Melkiar let out a sincere laugh and closed his guard. And again, Xynala leapt, ready to bring down her clubs. It was only when she was in the air that she realized her stupidity, at the very moment when her rival picked her up with a devastating back kick: facing such an opponent, innovating was essential. The tip of the boot sank into her right kidney, and she was propelled several meters backwards. Advantaged, Melkiar rushed towards the Fyrossa, now lying in the sawdust. Infusing Sap into her broken ribs, Xynala got up as quickly as she could. Unfortunately, she didn't have time to anticipate Melkiar's rondache throw: the projectile hit her right arm hard and her club flew off. The warrior then arrived at hand-to-hand combat and a long sparring began, during which Melkiar gradually gained the upper hand. Several minutes passed, and finally, the warrior struck a crucial blow to his opponent: his hatchet went deep into Xynala's left thigh, whose leg collapsed instantly. Drawing a dagger from his belt, determined to slit his rival's throat to force a healer to intervene, Melkiar thought victory was within reach. But against all odds, the Fyrossa pushed on her valid leg and her club that had become a crutch to get up. If that did nothing but accentuate the gravity of its wound, it took advantage of the effect to strike a violent blow of head to its rival who missed to lose its balance. And even before the warrior could understand what had just happened, the club of Xynala crashed on the grid of his helmet, which sank deeply into his face.
Melkiar let out a scream and collapsed backwards, while Xynala, wobbly, tore off the hatchet stuck in her thigh while clenching her teeth. Without taking her eyes off Melkiar, who was trying to remove his distorted helmet, she chose to heal the gaping wound that was torturing her leg, rather than launch an uncertain assault. Once the Fyros had been decasked, he infused Sap into his skull and repaired the facial fracture that disfigured him. Admittedly, this wound had been inflicted by the visor of his helmet. But without this latter, the worst could have happened. When Melkiar was fully healed, Xynala stood up, her left leg untouched of any injury. Now armed with a club and a hatchet, she was also still equipped with her helmet. As for Melkiar, he was face uncovered and armed with a simple dagger. If Xynala clearly had the advantage, the determined look that Melkiar sent her reminded her not to underestimate him. For a short while, the two adversaries gauged each other. Apparently affected by the echoes of the mental duel, the crowd suddenly calmed down. The tension was palpable throughout the Coliseum. Long seconds passed, as if time was suspended. And then, finally, Melkiar swooped on his rival.
The Fyros was up to something, Xynala was convinced. Holding her weapons tightly, she spread her legs slightly and lowered her center of gravity, firming her bearings. Within two seconds, he would be in contact. Without a helmet. If she could hit him in the head with her club, her chances of winning would greatly increase. So why was he exposing himself? What trap was he trying to push her into? She was not to play his game. She should not attack him. She attacked him.
With a precise strike, she forced her opponent to dodge, the Fyros not being armed enough to parry such a blow. But against all odds, instead of shifting sideways, Melkiar dropped to his knees, back bent and arms spread, and slid down on the sawdust, under the hatchet. Alert, Xynala angrily swung her club horizontally, hoping to hit the Fyros she suspected of trying to cut off his hocks. If Melkiar managed to move back enough to avoid being hit full in the head, the club hit his shoulder hard. His arm cracked and his dagger fell. But unfortunately, that wasn't enough. Xynala saw a smile on Melkiar's face, despite the pain of his fracture inflicted him. With a precise movement, the warrior sent a handful of sawdust right into the grilled visor of her rival, now located a few centimeters from her hand. Blinded, the Fyrossa made several jumps backwards while striking strikes in the wind, persuaded that Melkiar counted to take advantage of his blindness to attack him. However, it was not the case. And when she took off her helmet filled with sawdust, she saw him simply pick up the club and the rondache left on the ground. Once this was done, the Fyros walked quietly towards her, then handed her the weapon.
- "Shall we swap, Xynala?"
The Fyrossa sighed and then returned the hatchet to Melkiar. Decidedly, this fight was going to be long. And indeed, the duel dragged on. Even more than the one that had opposed them the year before. If Melkiar always dominated his opponent technically and physically, Xynala showed a rage and an audacity to any test. A boldness that often gave rise to great moments of bravery, which the public loved. Thus, about ten minutes after the beginning of the fight, the Fyrosse succeeded in tearing off the left hand of his fallen rival. It must be said that both fighters gave the impression of being on the verge of death. Their armors had long since shattered and their wounds had barely closed. There was the limit of the homins: their incapacity to channel without slackening the Sap which irrigated them. If Xynala thought for a few seconds that this wound would signal the defeat of her rival, it was not knowing Melkiar's obduracy: flouting all pain, the warrior took advantage of his position to plant his valid hand in the gaping wound that scarred Xynala's abdomen. At the end of her strength, the Fyrossa could not prevent herself from pushing a cry and from dropping her club. Certain that his rival was about to fail, Melkiar then infused all the Sap he could into his legs and leapt in the air. Landing on his knees on her shoulders, struck violent blows with his elbow on her bleeding skull. If the Fyrossa staggered dangerously, she held on, and bit the sex of her opponent, who also let out a howl. However, he did not break off, and continued to smash her skull. Finally, feeling the Fyrossa letting go, the warrior struck a last elbow and rotated his pelvis with a sharp blow. A dull crack resounded in the Coliseum. And although he had fallen with Xynala, Melkiar was the only one of the duelists to get up. Half-conscious, he staggered toward the healers to push them to intervene. He had broken his opponent's neck: paralyzed or unconscious, she would lose this final in less than ten seconds, he was sure. Magic amplifiers donned, the healers came running. Melkiar smiled, and to the cheers of the crowd, raised his stump to the sky. At the same time, a bolt of lightning pierced his back. Transi of pain, the Fyros turned around and put his hands behind his back. On the ground, a few meters away from him, Xynala was still lying on her stomach. She was lying on her stomach, her arm stretched forward. She had thrown a dagger at his back. The same dagger he had drawn and lost at the beginning of the duel. Melkiar fell to his knees and tried to pull out the murderous blade. It was in vain. A black veil blurred his vision and the warrior fainted.-–—o§O§o—–-
Melkiar and Xynala were the last to arrive in the box of the champions' tribune. Completely healed, they were now dressed, like those latter, in a beautiful green linen tunic. As soon as he passed the doorway, Melkiar stopped. Massaging his left hand firmly, he took a long look at each of his comrades: Tisse, Garius, Varran, Brandille, Xynala, Belenor. Like all the Fyros present in this room, they had all won an event at the Academy Games. And except for Brandille, who held the warrior's gaze with a smile, no one seemed to be able to bear the intensity of it. The unease spread to those who were not part of the group of friends and soon an embarrassed silence settled in the room that lasted for many minutes. Then, like a savior, a costume designer loomed and broke the ice.
- "In line, please! Yes, here it is, stand up straight. Varran, take your tunic out of your braccae. But, Brandille, your hair!"
- "As usual, my braids are doing their own thing. And I don't think my head wants to be styled. You spent twenty minutes trying last year, with no success, do you remember?"
The costume designer displayed a dramatic grimace, then pulled himself together.
- "Well, never mind. We don't have time anyway. Don't forget to pack tight. There are more of you than last year because of the ties… Well, everything is in order. You can go!"
One by one, the winners exited the dressing room and took a staircase leading straight to the grandstand. With each step, the din of the crowd grew louder. Still silent, Belenor watched Melkiar. He wondered how he felt about sharing his title with Xynala. When the first winner reached the tribune, the force of the cheers shook the foundations of the Coliseum. While some were welcoming the ovations with enthusiasm, others, like Belenor and Xynala, seemed particularly ill-at-ease. The Fyros looked around at the huge tide of hominids and wondered if his parents had finally arrived. Both were busy with their respective jobs. But the Academy Games were a special time for the Fyros people to share and attract the farthest tribes of the Desert. So he could hope that his mother and father would be present tonight. But one thing was certain: his nurse Penala, who had come to support him several times today, was probably shedding a tear as she watched him. At the thought, his heart clenched with emotion. When the last of the winners stepped onto the podium and completed the line, Euriyaseus Icaron, still standing in the center of the arena, spoke to calm the crowd. Then, spontaneously, forty thousand pairs of eyes turned towards the immense balcony which, in front of the tribune of the champions, dominated the Colosseum. Accompanied by his herald, the emperor Thésop advances there. As usual, he is dressed in his imposing black combat armor, his majestic red coat and an astonishing helmet made of enormous horns of animals now disappeared. The herald, holding a leaflet in his hand, speaks.
Respectful, the victors began by listening to the long speech of their sharükos declaimed by the voice of his herald. Then, against the custom, which imposed the absolute silence during an imperial speech, Melkiar called out to his friends. Of course, no one could hear him. But such a breach of the code of conduct startled many of those present.
- "I am proud of you. You were all exceptional."
Belenor instantly blushed. Unable to resist, he glanced in Melkiar's direction. Then he met the discreet gazes of Xynala and Tisse, who also seemed captivated by their band leader. For a moment, Belenor imagined what his two friends were feeling for Melkiar, and instantly, a deep feeling of sadness came over him. Disturbed by this emotion, he lingered a few seconds on Melkiar. This one looked intensely in the direction of the herald, and his face showed a certain form of covetousness. Melkiar had already told him about the insane dream of becoming sharükos, and until then, he had never taken it seriously. After all, imperial power was hereditary. For all that, Belenor was convinced that his friend would one day become a great leader. Looking back at the imperial balcony, the Fyros turned pale. Despite the distance, the Emperor seemed to be watching Melkiar. He was sure of it. As always, the ruler exuded an aura that was both terrifying and attractive. A supernatural aura, on which the inflexible authority depended. Panicked, and wishing at all costs not to meet the Emperor's gaze, Belenor looked up and stared at the roof of the edifice. He calmed his breathing, and slowly his heart rate slowed. With all the rumors swirling about the man some called "Thesop the Fratricide", Belenor preferred to stay away from any contact with the Emperor. To take his mind off things, the young Fyros concentrated for a long time on two perfectly identical white stars, located just above the imperial balcony. For so long a lime that he thought he saw them move. To see them blink. When he realized that the two glittering spheres were not stars, his heart raced even more. Grabbing Brandille's hand by reflex, he stammered.
- "B... Brandille. On the roof of the imperial balcony. There… There's a black Kami."
- "Yes, I know," the child replied calmly.
Disconcerted, Belenor watched her friend playing with her colorful braids. A mischievous smile spread across her childish face as her purple eyes rested on him.
- "That Kami has been watching you all day. Hadn't you noticed?"
Interdicted, Belenor answered by the negative of a movement of head. And when he looked again for the two white stars above the imperial balcony, he did not find them.
Belenor Nebius, narrator