[War of the Seasons][Part 8]

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Susanda was on the verge of arguing with Tracede but Caranne raised a hand to silence them both so she could speak, “the pair of you are speaking too quickly and are obviously privy to more knowledge than myself. Firstly, what blade and what etchings are you referring to? Secondly, the chemists are already testing everything that came out of the arena with you on my orders, and finally, Aeron is…?”

A short paused followed her question and Tracede looked at her, mystified, “the mortal’s name is Aeron. You didn’t ask what his name was, especially considering his victory?”

Caranne was speechless at first but regained her composure in moments, and countering added, “I did not because he was unconscious when he reached the healers. You were also incapacitated by your own injuries and I was more concerned about both your survival than discovering the mortal’s name.”

“’Aeron’, dear lady, ‘the mortal’ is named Aeron,” Tracede reminded her, “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind you or any of us, using his name. Actually, by now the entire Isle would be using his name because of what happened.” During the thoughtful silence that followed, he thought about what seemed an odd action for Caranne, her referring to Aeron as only a mortal. He then realized her behavour wasn’t all that out of place anymore, for he has been noticing Caranne becoming more detached from this world, as though she wasn’t here anymore.

When Tracede had first arrived at the Coliseum, he had noticed that Caranne walked beyond the walls among the mortals on a daily basis. She spoke to them, she listened to them, and more importantly, she enjoyed their company and understood them for what they were. She understood their mortality and their hope and excitement in being able to just catch a glance of her, let alone be honoured to have words with her as though they were equals. He could not pinpoint the day or even the week that Caranne ceased to walk the roads that labyrinthed throughout the Floating Isle, but in time she never left the Coliseum walls. The Coliseum was no longer her home, it somehow became her prison. The degree to which she was now detached became obviously evident and was now beyond any hope of disguising.

Maybe this will be good for her. Maybe Aeron can help her reconnect with the world again, and maybe then she’ll…

Tracede swallowed the remaining food that was on his platter, “as for your other question, the blade is over there. Nothing seemed overly strange about it during the fight or at least I didn’t notice anything. Mind you, I wasn’t exactly in the position to notice anything beyond protecting myself and being on the offensive when allowed. As for the man, Aeron was very skilled and had an excellent technique with the blade he used that simply came from hard work and practice. Unless you’d like to ask something more specific, I’m not sure what else to tell you two lovely ladies.”

Caranne walked to where the ancient sword was set and examined it in her hands, “neither of you were able to read the etchings?” The other pair in the room shook their heads, both only knew that the markings where pristine in condition and of no language they had ever seen. “And if I remember correctly, no outside weapons are allowed to enter the Coliseum and those provided are checked daily, yet this ancient piece was among them. Perhaps there is someone else better suited to answering questions about this sword’s previous location, and I have a good mind as to whom. However, that will need to wait until later. Tracede is there anything else you need to let me know before I check on… Aeron?”

Tracede paused again, a somewhat thoughtful look growing on his face because he was considering the words he had spoken to Aeron as they leaned on the other while leaving the arena. Caranne became impatient, “Tracede please, if there is something tell me now. I need to speak with quite a few people today and I need to do so before nightfall.”

“I told him he was the mortals hope, that he couldn’t waiver in strength as we dragged ourselves out of the arena. It’s important, if he’s awake when you see him, that you ask if he remembers what I said to him. He walked in to that arena with honour and with unselfish motives and we need to make sure he still thinks that way.” Tracede’s breath had become laboured in growing anxiety over Aeron’s potential state of mind now that he was victorious in his first pursuit. He had never spoken aloud about his own hopes and concerns for the mortals that they fought and watched as spectators. He was unsure if even Susanda was prepared for a potential life beyond the Coliseum in a world where mortals could live without the watchful eye of the gods.

“I do not think I am entirely sure I understand why you would say something like that to him, but alright. Both of you were exhausted and suffering from blood loss and pain… perhaps when you are of a sounder mind, you can explain to Susanda and myself what you meant, if it still means anything to you by that point.” Caranne said reassuringly if only a little skeptically due to Tracede’s condition and his usual flare for the emotionally dramatic. She moved to leave the room, “I will come check on you later, but please send for me sooner if there is anything you need or remember further.”

Tracede and Susanda shared a look after Caranne left, knowing her last response to them was to be expected. They had both noticed the slow downward progression of Caranne’s grasp on the mortal realm, and as a result she had become less and less understanding of their plight. Spending less time among them devoided her of compassion and accepting of their mortality. What Tracede had told her he said to Aeron, she could not even begin to understand why he would need that sort of encouragement from an opponent whom he had just defeated. Caranne saw mortals as desire driven for wants that consisted of material wealth and the right to boast and not for honour or prestige. They were slowly becoming a breed of animal that thought no more in to the future than beyond their next immediate satisfaction.

Tracede silently kept the hope that Aeron may change that view for the better and reunite Caranne with how the world was becoming. The gods were a fading people among the explosion of mortal settlements that where becoming villages, that were becoming cities, becoming landmarks. Even the Floating Isle was becoming less and less a location of exotic uniqueness as the mortals created their own monuments of grandeur. They craved the need to appear just as powerful as the gods and just as capable of being their own masters. Their negative desires, their selfish distain for the lives of those they trampled and used for their own advancement only caused Caranne to further doubt their ability to behave rationally towards what they should be striving for. Aeron strove to the same degree as these other mortals but he did it for the right reasons and through a means that would only burden himself.

“What you are expecting of her is improbable, I hope you realize that. The rest of us have already, Tracede,” Susanda said quietly but with a matter of fact tone.

“Improbable but not impossible. Until that woman is too far gone and becomes impossible, I’m going to keep on trying.”

~

A foggy haze had begun to cover the grounds, the sky that had been clear darkened with the threat of rain and thunder. The weather seemed to reflect the disbelief of the earlier crowd as they shared what they had witnessed within the Coliseum. It was impossible, a mortal had never defeated a god before; they had never heard of such a thing ever happening. They were unsure what to think of this development and that such a thing could happen, especially in their own lifetime. What did this mean for them? What could this mean for them? If the gods were no longer invincible, who would protect them from the things they could not protect themselves from? Who could they turn to, to rely on, if not the gods? If one mortal could defeat a god, could another accomplish the same?

Perhaps the most debated question that had spread through the streets like wildlife was why the mortal did not kill the god. It was a fight to the death, after all. They had both been injured in the last blow and maybe Aeron didn’t have the strength to finish Tracede. What other reason could Aeron have to leave the god alive to heal and return to the Coliseum arena to take more lives? Whose side was this ‘hero’ on? This Mortal Champion may have won but how did he do it? Did he cheat or bribe the god into falling to his sword? Who were they supposed to have faith in now that a god had bled and a mortal was victorious in the Coliseum?

Aeron’s victory had tipped the balance of the Floating Isle and the citizens sought answers. The notice had been formally given at the time of Aeron and Tracede’s departure from the arena grounds that Aeron had collapsed in to unconsciousness and had remained so until the evening. The answers that they and Caranne sought would be gotten once he awoke and was deemed fit enough to discuss what had occurred during the battle. The uncertainty of what may come from Aeron’s success shook even the most confident, especially if everything changed or worse, if nothing did. Would change of any sort be beneficial at this point? The mortals seemed to be having a difficult life already without needing to rely further on themselves where they already relied on the gods.

Caranne had walked half the length of the Coliseum to where the unconscious victor was placed to recover. She had taken her time in doing so in order to consider what Tracede had said to her. It was a simple enough statement he had said, but she was aware of the connotations of what it would mean if she informed the mortal of his words. She knew what the others thought of her attitude towards the mortals and their incapability to care for their own wellbeing. They were wrong though, about having absolutely no faith left in them, it was because she did that she no longer spent her time among them beyond the walls of the Coliseum. If the mortals felt her constant presence in the streets, in their homes, there would be no means to urge them to rely on themselves. Yes, they relied on the Coliseum to run their small economy on the Floating Isle and gave them dreams of fame through the battles, but they chose what to do with the attention.

Caranne believed her absence was working quite well because although she missed seeing those kind citizens, it caused the lazy and the incompetent to push themselves in to making a living. Before, simply hearing that a god walked among mortals brought many from hundreds of kilometers away to spend their time and money on the Floating Isle. She inadvertently brought easy money to her mortals, causing them to lower their standards and coast on the income they knew would come willingly. So she stopped her walks through the marketplace, she ceased accepting dinner invitations, and she refused to attend festivals that were held for her and the gods. She created a dark period for them and many did chose to leave the Isle, many of the ones remaining being the persistent and hard working. They created lives that they could call their own and be proud of and she was happy for them. That happiness did not prevent her missing them though.

Beyond the door she stood in front of laid a mortal that could solidify the mortals hope and faith in their own abilities. However, if Tracede had been wrong and this young man had been changed by his first victory, then anything beyond that door would be tainted.

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[War of the Seasons][Part 7]

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The battles for the day had ended and the suspension of any further battle was announced soon after the defeat of Tracede. It was the only logical step once the length of Aeron’s match caused those that had been in line behind him to abandon their positions to watch the historic fight. No one wanted to fight after what they saw. The shock of what has occurred was still sinking in as the audience took their time vacating the stands of the Coliseum.

Soon after leaving the arena, Tracede was taken to the infirmary and had the ancient sword removed from his old injury. His new wound had been stitched and dressed as Susanda stood silently by, watching, making sure Tracede was receiving the best care possible. They may have been immortal but that did not mean they could not experience great pain. Now removed to his own chamber, he laid upright in bed, leg elevated, still under the watchful cool eyes of Susanda. Tracede was fighting sleep, having been told by the healers to remain awake at least until nightfall.

“Was a darn good plunge, I’ll give him that,” Tracede mumbled under his breath. “Right in the sweet spot, very good aim. I don’t think I’ll even have a fresh scar, the new one landed right over the old.”

Susanda because slightly livid, “’a good plunge?’ ‘Right in the sweet spot’? He could have killed you. He was trying to kill you, after all that was entirely the point of what we do here.”

A little groggy but no longer sleepy from Susanda’s outburst, Tracede smiled his goofy smile at her, trying to melt that icy exterior of hers. “But he didn’t. He could have easily aimed straight and plunged the blade in to my chest or could have pulled the blade out and cause me to bleed out. But he didn’t. He willingly did what he did, with the intention of preserving my life, and then aided me back for aid. You can be angry that he injured me, that he defeated me if you like, but don’t think h did it because he wanted to, sweetheart.”

Susanda’s posture stiffened slightly at something he said and knew he meant what he said, “perhaps, but do not feel the need to call me that again, ever.”

Tracede laughed, ending abruptly due to wincing in pain but looked back at his sultry friend anyways, lovingly, “we’ll chalk it up to the pain. But Susanda, not ever?”

To the untrained eye, her facial expression did not move a fraction of an inch, but Tracede could tell she smiled, if only on the most minimal scale. He decided to change the subject in case she changed her mind in keeping him company. “Did you bring the blade with you here? I’d be very interested in having a look at the weapon that nearly killed me.”

Susanda made no motion to move or speak, but simply gave him the look of all looks and remained silent. She had brought the blade with her and had already examined it during a short period of time that Tracede was unconscious. Her eyes moved to where she had place it but still made no motion towards it. He was about to ask again when she raised her hand to silence him, “there is nothing about it that cannot wait until you are rested, which you should be doing now. Besides, Caranne mentioned wanting to speak with you when you were up to it. To check on you, I supposed and probably ask what happened out there.” There was momentary quiet as the overwhelming obviousness of what Susanda wanted to know herself lingered in her previous statement.

“You’re adorable when you’re curious, you know that? You want to know what happened too, don’t you? I can tell you, if you like, but you have to allow me to call you ‘sweetheart’ from now on.” Tracede teased her, knowing she would either concede in order to learn what happened or simply leave, and he did not imagine her doing the latter in his current condition.

Susanda turned to Tracede and gave him a legitimate smile, “or I could wait until Caranne arrives and she asks you. Would you give her the same ultimatum as well? Do you want to call her ‘sweetheart’?”

Tracede laughed through his pain, relinquishing to her sunning revelation and enjoying seeing her smile. “Oh no Susanda, you’re the only soul I’d ever wish to call that, even though you don’t want me to.”

The silence that preceded was not awkward but comfortable. Each knowing the other, nothing else needed to be said at that point. The timing was perfect though because only a few minutes passed before a knock came at the door. Caranne entered in all her mild glory carrying a platter of food, drink, and fresh dressings. Tracede and Susanda nodded in her direction in quiet respect for the woman who was essentially their employer, but most certainly their superior. Regardless of her elevated position, she was also their friend and did in fact hold an enormous degree of care for them. However, she may have been considerate in bringing in fresh dressings for his wounds, but nothing would compel her to change them for him. “I was told you look as though you will live to fight again Tracede, but how are you feeling? It’s not every day we see a defeat occur of one of our own, let alone experience it personally.”

“Well, as long as I don’t laugh or move or breathe too much, I’m right as rain,” Tracede jested, wanting to show his worried friend that he was still in good spirits. He knew she came in to the room as a worried friend first and a concerned employer second because she had asked after him first and not about what happened immediately. That was the largest misconception the mortals had about them; that they were immovable forces that had not a care about anyone or anything that did not improve their personal will. Just because they were gods and had the potential to live forever did not mean they had no knowledge of what it was like to be human, after all many of them were one at some point. “Have you seen him yet? He hasn’t passed because of his chest wound had he? I couldn’t imagine having accomplished all that he did only to…”

“Be calm, I have not received news of any decline of his current condition. I have not gone to see the mortal in person yet because he had remained unconscious at this time. I knew you were awake so I came here first, and knowing you, you would be hungry of all things.”

Tracede propped himself higher on his pillows and reached a hand out towards Caranne to accept the platter she had carried into the room, “right as always, wonderful lady. The only thing that could hurt more than my leg is the insatiable pain of my empty stomach.” Accepting the platter on to his lap he began devouring its contents, but not before giving Caranne a look so she would understand he knew her other motive for visiting his so soon.

A mortal challenger had won, and not only that but had spared the life of his opponent even though in changed positions Tracede would have taken his. Tracede’s mouth was full and Susanda was unlikely to say much while she knew Caranne had questions to ask, so Caranne broke the silence, “certainly something none of us have experience before. Every seasons when the weather, temperatures, and conditions change and the first Champion that these mortals face is refreshed, all come with the certainty that they must kill to achieve victory. This mortal’s actions completely contradict what mortals know and expect, so it leave me to wonder if this young mortal…for lack of a better work, has perhaps found a means of cheating. Maybe we should have the chemists have a look at you Tracede and his blade for any signs of poisoning.” Slightly anxious due to the situation, Caranne had begun slowly walking the length of the room.

“Maybe that’s why he won though,” Tracede managed to voice, mouth full of fresh bread.

“Do you feel more poorly? Do you think you have been poisoned? Do you feel feverish or chilled? Are you having any chest pains or pain in your arm?” Susanda began to panic at the notion that Tracede could have been poisoned and sat untreated while all he did was continue eating. “It was probably that old blade and those etchings; maybe they were made with something laced with poisoned, with or without the mortal’s knowledge. But then, who would have willingly used an aged blade among so many finer, newer blades…”

Tracede quickly cleared this throat, “no, no, sweetheart, I don’t mean the poison part. Maybe Aeron won because he didn’t come ready to kill his opponent but because he came prepared to win or die but not to kill. You said yourself Caranne, he’s acted completely contrary to what every pervious combatant has acted. Unlike them, unlike all others, literally all others, he was victorious.”