I was looking through my reading copy of Warlock, when I came across a note I had left for myself a few years back. Basically, it identified a two and a half page section, that at the time, I considering using as a writing example for my Wizard’s Blog. It is supposed to demonstrate how to combine action with a character’s sensual inputs to paint a scene with words. Well, better late than never – here it is.
As the cheers of the crowd began to wane, another man walked out into the centre of the field. From the way he was dressed, he appeared to be one of their spell-casters. “Now,” he said, in a booming voice that could only have been achieved through the use of magic, “we have something very special in store for you today. Some may have already heard the rumour that visitors have recently arrived from a faraway land, and I am here to tell you now, that not only is this rumour true, but you will be meeting one of them very shortly.”
The crowd went suddenly silent, waiting to hear more. The spell-caster paused for a while, as he slowly turned to face another section of the arena’s spectators, no doubt a ploy to keep them all on the edge of their seats.
“Today you will all bear witness to a historic match between your favourite Salenese champion, Zubo-Kan,” the spell-caster finally announced, pausing again for effect as he turned back around to point a finger directly at Shaun, ”and this foreign gladiator from the wild lands far to the north across the sea. Come forward, Shaun Finn of Icarus, and show us all what the men of your land are made of!”
The sound of a thousand whispers rippled through the stands like a strong breeze, but otherwise the spectators remained relatively quiet as Shaun began to walk towards the spell-caster. Along the way he passed within twenty feet of Zubo-Kan. Still smiling, the gladiator stood in silence; his swords held low by his sides, he was watching the three burly men who had just begun to drag his last opponent’s headless body off the field.
In his black leather and chain armour, Zubo-Kan appeared to be even larger than Shaun remembered. It made his own leather armour suddenly seem inadequate. In order to fight such a man he would need to rely on speed, yet the brass breastplate strapped to his chest was both heavy and uncomfortable; it also restricted the movement of his arms and forced the rounded metal pieces rivetted onto the shoulders of his leather armour to bite down into his flesh with every step he took. With his desperate situation only exacerbating his aching head, Shaun finally came to a stop six feet away from the spell-caster, who immediately motioned for Zubo-Kan to approach.
“I expect you both to put on a good show,” the spell-caster said in his normal voice, which no one other than Shaun and Zubo-Kan could hear. “Neither I nor the High Council wishes to see this match end quickly, Zubo-Kan, so do try to make it at least look like your opponent presents you with somewhat of a challenge this time.”
Zubo-Kan smiled and turned to Shaun. “Come on, meat,” he said, crossing his swords before him in a salute of some kind, as the spell-caster quickly backed away. “Let’s have some fun.”
Shaun raised his own swords in a similar fashion, attempting to duplicate Zubo-Kan’s gesture, but when he did the gladiator raised his foot and put his boot to Shaun’s chest, pushing him back off his feet. Zubo-Kan put his head back and laughed. It was a sound that echoed throughout the stands as it was mimicked by all of his supporters.
“If you are the best that your land has to offer,” Zubo-Kan said, “then I truly pity them.”
Shaun did not really know why, because what these people thought of him did not matter, but as he was getting back up, their laughter combined with Zubo-Kan’s insult struck a nerve deep down in a dark place that was not entirely his own. With a roar in his throat, born from the sudden release of that knot in his belly, Shaun leapt at Zubo-Kan with the sharp tips of both his swords aimed directly at the gladiator’s unprotected throat.
Zubo-Kan not only deflected both of Shaun’s swords with one of his own, but also sidestepped Shaun’s assault with apparent ease and sliced one of Shaun’s exposed forearms in the process. The cut wasn’t deep enough to do any real damage, but it was first blood and the crowd roared their approval.
Shaun could feel the beast within him stir at the smell of his own blood. Overcoming a powerful urge to just let it take over, Shaun remembered Nubi-Kan’s advice and took a step back, just beyond the reach of his opponent’s swords. As Zubo-Kan moved in, Shaun moved back. When he saw an opening, he moved in to take advantage of it. Twice he managed to draw blood, though the wounds he inflicted were superficial at best. Wet with sweat, Shaun was just beginning to believe that he could actually defeat Zubo-Kan when he noticed that his opponent’s brow was dry. Suddenly the satisfied smile that had slowly curled upon Zubo-Kan’s lips made sense. The gladiator was not only stronger than Shaun, and a much better swordsman, he also possessed superior stamina. He had just been baiting Shaun while waiting for him to become fatigued. The gladiator’s smile said it all. Zubo-Kan had been toying with him all along for the amusement of the crowd.
When Shaun stepped back and refused to take advantage of an opening, Zubo-Kan must have realized that his opponent had finally figured things out. “Time to die, meat,” the gladiator said, his smile suddenly replaced by the dark look of a predator about to pounce upon its prey.
Zubo-Kan attacked with a flurry of slashes and jabs that Shaun did his best to parry, but within moments one of those jabs made it through Shaun’s defences and found its mark. The tip of Zubo-Kan’s sword entered Shaun’s chest in the small gap between the edge of his breastplate and the metal plate rivetted to the left shoulder of his leather armour. Shaun could feel the blade going in deep, nearly all the way through to his back. As Zubo-Kan moved in, still gripping the handle of his sword, his face came close enough to fill Shaun’s nostrils with his fetid breath. “Now I will have you for my supper,” he said.
Shaun could barely make out Zubo-Kan’s words over the roar of the crowd, but it no longer mattered since that dark thing inside of him had already broken free. His swords fell to the ground as his fingers grew shorter and thicker, while long curved claws forced themselves to extend out from his fingertips. Short blue-black hairs erupted from all of his pores, covering his skin in fur. His jaw extended outward, to accommodate canines that had grown to three finger widths in length. His vison turned crimson as his mind focussed on just one thing, killing the man who had just caused him such pain.