“Amazing, they’re pretty good.” mused Taha, tone dripping with mockery. His eyes stayed focused on a screen as they sparkled with amusement and excitement.
Out of the group inhabiting the amorphous confines of the Domain, he was the most interested.
“Look.” he exclaimed as he excitedly nudged ‘Ekolu. “They move so fluidly, like they’re connected.” His smile, if it could be called that, was exceptionally predatory and appeared to grow with each passing moment. His excitement and anticipation was reaching a boiling point as the group he was most interested in emerged victorious.
“Please, let me take care of this one?” The excitement made him speak faster as he fell into old speech habits that he’d spent a long time hiding. “Is only a small group and I ain’t been out in so damned long!” A snakelike hiss seemed to follow his words. He wanted this one because one of them appealed to his insatiable hunger. More than anything, he wanted it because he was greedy.
His expectant smile, stretching from one side of his misshapen face to the other, was now firmly aimed at Nima. His small figure made him seem even more childlike in his excitement as he hopped back and forth, from one foot to the other.
Nima gave off the quiet air of someone who was comfortable at all times. He always seemed to be in deep thought. They all deferred to him and rarely went against his decisions. Nothing about him was remarkable. It’s not that he was bland, it’s just that he barely stood out in comparison to the rest of the Tu’i. Of all the gathered Tu’i he was the most unassuming and unremarkable.
Contrary to his plainness, he had a wealth of experience. As the reigning leader of the Tu’i he had held the position the longest and all the others that had been gathered all swore vows to him. Every being present knew exactly how terrifying Nima was.
Before Nima could answer a hiss came from Rua. “Shut up boy, you talk too much.” She clicked her tongue at Taha as she shifted her form dangerously. Rua had very little patience for Taha’s constant chatter and even less patience for anyone addressing Nima in any way but respectfully.
To head off the budding argument Nima quietly gave his answer “‘Ekolu.”
Taha’s mood soured immediately as his chest dropped, cresfallen. He muttered a quiet curse as he leaned back and pouted, keeping as much of a lid on his emotions as he could. He knew better than to openly object to Nima’s decisions but he had the emotional maturity of a prepubescent child.
Without a word ‘Ekolu stood and accepted the challengers.
The small group had made it this far. They had won the right to challenge the Tu’i after advancing through the tournament. They were experienced and acclaimed across the seas for their feats of heroism. Like a torrential sea storm, they ran roughshod through the little bit of the tournament they had been involved in.
Now, before them, was the arena of the reigning Tu’i. The enigmatic power that had held sway for so long would fall to their hands. What made beating the Tu’i hardest was the fact that you could never prepare for who or what was going to appear.
Rumors were abundant about who the Tu’i was and how they fought. Some rumors believed the Tu’i to be a small, menacing thing that dealt in trickery. Others claimed the Tu’i to be an average man of average height who carried a pōvai the size of a fully grown tree. Still others claimed it was a dark skinned woman who wasted no time at all in decimating her foes. Regardless of the rumors, this group was confident they would win.
The group was special, they were prepared for whatever would step out of the deep darkness at the other end of the enclosed arena. Their Leader was an acclaimed brawler who had entered the Deep after hearing of the Tu’i and the tournament surrounding them. She was well built and well-versed in the art of hand to hand combat. Years of travel and hardship had shaped her into a finely tuned machine.
The Tank was a native of the Deep and a respected figure. He had cut his teeth as a mainstay of a warband that famous throughout the Seas and had joined the Leader when she announced her intentions to join the tournament. He carried his large pōvai reverently, tracing the various marks from all the hard fought battles they had endured together.
Along the way they had picked up a palangi Marksman. He had been captured by a warband and was bought by the Leader when she recognized him from wanted posters. She had provided him with a rifle and was aware of his knowledge as a tinkerer. As they approached the arena he was busy fiddling with his rifle, double and triple checking. He was a consummate worrier.
Lastly was the sinewy Shaman who shored up their need for a skilled practitioner. Hailing from the Drylands, the Shaman had encountered the group during a pilgrimage and became intrigued with the idea of challenging the current Tu’i. His leathery skin bore the marks of his land as well as the etchings of his sect's brand of mana control. The markings lightly glowed as he moved, mana running up and down the symbols.
All four of the fighters were aggressive and well known throughout the Seas. Before entering the tournament they had gone on some well known adventures and garnered acclaim. The Faifekau who had approached them had given them special placement in the tournament due to how well known they were. They were given a special seed in the tournament that gave them the easiest route to facing the Tu’i
They believed they were prepared to challenge the Tu’i. They, and those backing them, believed that the rise of a new Tu’i was imminent.
They were wrong.
Out of the miasma of the shadowy corner stepped a huge figure.
‘Ekolu was a hulking man before he had challenged the Tu’i but his joining the Conglomerate had resulted in him getting bigger.
He wore nothing but a malo, a traditional loincloth, and the rest of his body was adorned by various familial and earned tatau. From head to toe ‘Ekolu was covered in mana etchings, the extensive amount announced him as a revered warrior.
After emerging from the corner he slowly made his way to the center of the arena, keenly aware of the stares of the challengers. With a bored expression he slowly began to stretch and warm up, running his hands over all of his various tatau and activating the effects of his mana. He began a slow, deliberate routine that was a holdover from before he had joined.
To the challengers, it appeared as if he had begun a dance. The Leader and the Marksman were perplexed, no matter how long they had been in the Deep they still came across oddities like a huge man doing a dance before a fight. Being foreigners there was no way they could be aware of all the traditions of every single culture that had spread throughout the Seas. Still, they couldn’t help but feel slightly awed by the grace of the large man.
“What is he doing?” she asked the Shaman quietly, who was a couple steps behind her. Due to his position behind her she couldn’t see the look of sheer fright that was plastered on his face.
The Shaman had never seen a warrior who could handle so many markings loaded with so much mana. He was only able to handle his upper body being fully marked, and even then he rarely activated all of them at the same time. And yet, before his eyes stood a behemoth who was casually releasing and dissipating hundreds of markings in what looked like a warm up routine. As soon as that man had stepped out of the shadows the Shaman’s stomach had leapt into his throat. He had felt the sheer power the man possessed on an instinctual level. He had never felt this before but he now knew how prey felt when they made eye contact with an apex predator.
To his right the Tank was also frozen stiff. He too had felt the oppressive force that was this man who was leisurely warming up before them. He had grown up on tales of monsters who had been so powerful that nations sprung up around them. He had thought them to be fairy tales meant to inspire young warriors as they grew. He had been wrong.
“I-I think he’s warming up.” was the Shaman’s meek reply. Sensing an odd shift in his tone, the Leader turned to look her companion in the eyes.
As she turned she came face to face with the Tank. With a slight shudder in his voice, he quietly said “We should leave.”
What she saw in the large man’s eyes was enough to convince her. She had never seen such fear in her companions eyes and she wasn’t one to disregard the instincts that they had developed over their careers. Nodding, she looked past the two men and was shocked to find that the entrance that they’d walked through was nowhere to be found.
“Looks like we won’t be getting out so easy.” She said to the group as she pointed in the direction she was looking with a quick nod of her head. All three men turned and saw what she had seen.
The Marksman took a quick breath, anxiety building in his chest. He actively fought the fear that was creeping up his back, those familiar spider legs tantalizing him. ”So, we fight?”
As they were busy looking at the entrance, ‘Ekolu called out to them. He had a surprisingly soft and soothing voice for someone so magnificently built.
“Welcome, Challengers.” He said, voice calm and regal. “I am ‘Ekolu, one of the Tu’i. Please step into the designated area so that we may commence the challenge.”
The group's anxiety shot up as they were addressed by the Tu’i. Every single one of them was unnerved by how calm he was. He showed no signs of being worried that he was facing greater numbers. His voice carried a reserved power that unnerved all of the candidates.
The Leader took the initiative and approached, trying to cut a reassuring figure for her crew. One by one they entered the marked area and stood shoulder to shoulder. The Shaman stood to the left of the Leader, who was flanked to her right by the Tank and then the Marksman. As they entered the clearly marked middle of the arena, a chime rang.
“Thank you for allowing me to observe my preparation ritual.” ‘Ekolu said, giving them a slight bow of his head. “Let us begin.”
Without delay the huge man announced the beginning of the fight by dashing directly at the group, who were caught off guard by the sudden violence of his movements.
The man was frighteningly fast, both in the speed of his movements and the speed of his activating his tatau. He targeted the Shaman first, approaching and shoulder tackling the unsuspecting man away from the rest of the group.
The Shaman barely had any time to activate any of his own etchings and was launched backwards, colliding with the invisible barrier that marked the enclosure of the arena. The force of the impact knocked the Shaman out.
“One.” ‘Ekolu said quietly as he lashed out with a ferocious left backhand aimed at the head of the Leader, who had been right next to the Shaman.
The challengers were a step too slow in responding. The Tank tried to step forward but he had reacted too slow as the large, mana enhanced fist sent their Leader sprawling.
In two attacks the Tu’i had disabled their healer and most likely took out their Leader. Being the furthest away from the beginning of the melee the Marksman hopped back and now had his rifle trained on ‘Ekolu’s head. As soon as he saw the Leader get sent flying he took his shoot.
Using the momentum from the backhand ‘Ekolu swung his mana enhanced right fist in the direction of the shot and bounced the projectile back at the Marksman.
The bullet missed by inches as the Marksman rolled away, quickly reloading his rifle with trained and experienced efficiency.
Seeing an opening, the Tank dove at ‘Ekolu’s legs and attempted to take him down. The Tank was famed for his overwhelming strength and he knew he could fall back on it in a pinch. With both arms firmly wrapped around ‘Ekolu’s thighs the Tank knew he had the leverage and began driving his shoulders into the larger man.
As the Tank attempted to topple ‘Ekolu the Marksman took aim yet again and fired off another shot. This time the Tu’i slapped it away as if he were swatting an annoying fly.
This surprised the Marksman but the adrenaline coursing through his body kept him going. He was prepared, or so he believed. He made the next decision based on the belief that the Tank would be able to subdue the large man momentarily. Spotting the Leader he quickly rushed over, believing that rousing her would help turn the tide.
What the Tank hadn’t expected was ‘Ekolu’s quick response to getting tackled. The Tu’i took the takedown attempt and deftly flipped it so that he would end up on top of the other man.
The Tank had no clue how he had been upended. Looking up at the huge man he was quickly subdued after eating vicious elbows. The attacks were efficient, not a single wasted motion or unnecessary expenditure of energy.
“Two.” ‘Ekolu said under his breath as he dismounted and turned, looking for the remaining two challengers.
He quickly spotted the Marksman attempting to rouse the Leader. Without hesitation he dashed at the two, scooping the Marksman up and savagely throwing him at the perimeter. With a sickening thud the Marksman was incapacitated as his head bounced off the invisible boundary.
Without a pause the Tu’i then stomped down on the limp Leader lying next to him.
“Four.” He muttered as he walked back towards the dark corner he had emerged from. The darkness eagerly embraced him.
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