Chapter Three

Somewhere, dark and cold, it resided. A massive construct born of magic and ancient, forgotten ores, the Golem Emperor stood alone amongst his (for it was male, one of the only golems in existence to acknowledge a gender) lesser ilk. Once, they were legion, enough to conquer the planet, to lay waste to the elves and the humans.

But then she appeared, the young woman whose power could destroy even the magic-immune golems. Though she was but one woman, her power was enough to destroy thousands of his ilk, forcing the survivors into hiding, into servitude to human sorcery via contracts.

But soon, so very soon, he would free his ilk from such bondage. Revenge against the flesh and blood dwellers of the world didn't matter, not to him. Only survival in a world that would change.

The Golem Emperor knew of a seer, and knew of the change that was coming. Change, however, was a good thing.

He placed a hand on the crystal in the center of the room. It pulsed, lighting up to reveal, for a brief instant, the smaller, human-shaped shadow within.

"You are our survival, child. I shall protect thee, daughter mine."

oOoOo

Sam just stared at his lover. Merlina had a smile on her face, the kind that Sam knew meant trouble. "You're taking your student to an underground fighting arena," he said slowly, "The most dangerous one in the country. Okay, I have to ask... why?"

Merlina folded her hands behind her head, that smile still on her face. "The Phoenix fights there, and I want Rebecca to see what internal magic can do."

"You haven't even started teaching her external magic. Isn't it a little early to show her such advanced tricks?" Sam shook his head. "You've never mentored before, Merlina. Take it slow and easy."

Merlina rolled her eyes. "It's going to be fine. I'm only showing her, I'm not going to teach it to her." The woman paused. "Mainly because I can't do it myself. Never have figured it out, despite being Avatar of Magic."

Sam shrugged. "Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, Merlina. Okay, take her...just be careful. That place is dangerous for a girl her age. Sorceress or not, she hasn't had any training."

Merlina waved off his concerns. "Becca'll be fine, she's going to be with me."

Sam sighed. "That's what worries me the most."

"Hey!"

oOoOo

The underground arena was literally built underground. Deep underneath the very park where Rebecca was first attacked, the entrance was the statue that stood in the middle of the park. Merlina ran her hand along the plaque, putting her magic into it and causing it to slide backwards, opening a pathway down.

"Come on, Becca, we're going down to see some fighting."

Rebecca sighed. "Is this necessary?" she asked. "I mean, an underground combat ring?"

"Yes." Merlina walked with her student. "You need to see how mages battle each other. In this underground arena, there are no rules, except one: don't hold back."

Rebecca frowned, but said nothing. They walked through a corridor, built with magic under the park, lit with ancient runes that bathed the area in soft yellow light. It was, Rebecca noticed, strangely warm, yet cool enough that it they wouldn't sweat.

The teen didn't know how long they walked for, how many kilometres they went, but eventually they emerged into a massive space, filled with people. A massive crowd, old and young, circled a caged ring, cheering as two men fought with magic. Rebecca just stood at the entrance, staring, as one mage fell and the other stood victorious over him.

"..is it to the death?" she asked.

"Sometimes," Merlina shrugged. "Death is allowed, but looked down upon. That mage is alive, magic wounds can kill, but that spell wasn't forceful enough to kill. Come on, let's find a place to sit. Or stand."

They moved through the crowd, finding seats near the middle of the rows. Rebecca sat down as the announcer spoke, the voice exploding over the arena. "And now for the second-to-last match for tonight! The winner of this match goes on to face the arena champion! Ladies and gentlemen! Introducing! Billy the Golem! Against! The newcomer! Dante!"

Rebecca was nearly startled out of her seat when a stone golem, not at all dissimilar to the one that tried to take her own life (minus a missing eye, she noticed. His left eye was gone, a deep crack in its place), stepped into the ring. At the other end of the ring, a man walked in, a claymore at his back. Black hair, messy, with a cigarette hanging from his lips, wearing a black jacket over a white shirt, and black pants and boots, Rebecca immediately disliked him for some reason.

Perhaps it was the cigarette, or the arrogant look on his face.

"Oh, that's cute. A golem. What, did your master not want to fight, you stupid rockass?"

Or maybe it was the insult he flung at his opponent. Rebecca was afraid of golems, because of her first encounter, but she just felt angry that this man insulted this one.

"Oh, that guy is so screwed," Merlina muttered. "Not all golems serve magi, and they aren't stupid. Not at all."

"BEGIN!"

The fight lasted mere seconds. Billy the golem allowed Dante to attack him, the claymore shattering against his rock body, before reaching down and wrapping his massive hand around his head. "I'm not stupid," he said flatly, and slammed Dante into the ring hard enough to make a crater.

Dante was out cold, his body broken. Merlina winced. "Oh, the healers are going to hate having to fix a broken body. At least he's out cold."

Billy stood back as healers rushed in and took Dante out, and the crowd burst into cheers. Rebecca remained silent, staring at the cage. This is wrong. They fight...for what? Money? For people's entertainment? Like the empires of old, using slaves to entertain.

"The next fight will commence once the ring has been repaired. Please be patient!"

Merlina turned to Rebecca. "Snacks? They have some good ones here."

Rebecca just stared at her teacher. "I don't want snacks. This is blood sport!"

Merlina rolled her eyes. "No. Deaths do happen, but it's a regulated sport. The only reason it's underground is because we can't let non-magical people know about it. I will admit that Billy was a bit hard on that mage, but he had it coming."

Rebecca frowned, turning back to the ring. Men and women in overalls were crouching, magic flowing from their hands as they repaired the ring. Rebecca stared, watching closely.

"Basic repair spell, but to repair the ring they have to work together since it's made of special material. Light as cardboard, strong as steel. Imagine how much force Billy used in order to crack it the way he did."

The thought of how much force was used on Dante's body made Rebecca wince. "He'll be okay?"

"Oh yes." Merlina nodded. "He'll be healed up. He'll probably walk with a limp for a while, but magic can fix spinal breaks too. Most of the time."

The stage was repaired, and the mages walked off. "Sorry for the wait, ladies and gentlemen! Now, for tonight's final match! Billy the golem versus the arena champion...The! Phoeeeeenniiix!"

Merlina sighed. "He's so loud."

Rebecca ignored her teacher, and the golem that stepped into the ring. No, her attention was on the other person that stepped into the ring. Two years older than Rebecca, with darker hair than hers. Brown hair so dark that it was easily mistaken for black, and a lovely face. Taller than Rebecca at five-foot-nine, she was wearing a dark blue leather duster, closed over her clothing, though her black boots were visible.

She was also focused entirely on the hand-held gaming system in her hands, face scrunched up as she focused on the game she was playing.

She also missed the door by several centimetres, walking into the fence and falling on her rear. The crowd went silent, and Rebecca palmed her face. "Oh, that's so like her."

Merlina blinked. "You know her?"

Rebecca nodded. "She was at the same orphanage. She was lucky, she got adopted. We were friends, but we haven't talked since she left."

The girl paused. "...wait, this is a magic fighting arena. She's the champion."

Merlina rolled her eyes. "Now you figure it out."

"My oldest friend is a sorceress?! She can't fight a golem! They're immune to magic! She'll be crushed!"

In the cage, the champion put her game away and sized up her opponent. She had a smile on her face, unconcerned, as though the impending fight was the furthest thing from her mind. Merlina put a hand on Rebecca's shoulder and gave her a comforting smile. Rebecca didn't feel very comforted by it, and turned to the fight.

The bell rang, and the golem was on its opponent, fist descending. The girl was examining her nails, peering intently at them and seemingly oblivious to the danger. The fist continued, and the champion reached up and caught the massive fist in her tiny palm.

"I think I'm going to start that game over with a different party. My current party build makes it way too easy, y'know?"

The golem blinked. "Uh..."

The champion pushed the fist aside as though it were made of air, pulling back her fist and slamming it into the golem's stomach. There was a resounding crack as her fist cracked the stone body of the golem, and it flew back, smashing through the cage surrounding the ring. The crowd in the front rows scattered seconds before the golem slammed into the seats, dazed.

"Ring out! The Champion WINS!"

Merlina reached over and closed Rebecca's gaping mouth.

oOoOo

Her full name was Halsey Court Young. The name among the supernatural community that she was most well known for was the Phoenix. She wasn't stupid, but she sometimes had trouble focusing, and hey her name was a little weird. When she was old, she'd still be Miss Young. Unless she married a guy named Old, then she'd be Halsey Young Old.

That was weird, she didn't want to think about that. "Hey, Missy?" she looked up at her personal assistant, "Do you think I should marry a guy with the name Old, and be Halsey Young Old?"

Missy continued her task of sorting out her boss's schedule. "No, Halsey, that would be silly." As ever, she was patient with Halsey's scatter-brained nature.

"You're right, I should probably stick to regular hot chocolate with marshmallows. The caramel flavour isn't as nice." Halsey picked up her game and turned it on. Missy didn't even sigh, she just carried on with her work. There was a knock at the door, and before Missy could stop her, Halsey was answering it.

"Hi Merlina! What are you doing here? You don't like watching the fights since you retired," Halsey let the woman in. "Oh...is that...hey, it's Rebecca!"

She pulled the girl into a hug. "It's been aaaaggeess," she said brightly. "Have you got a boyfriend yet? Or a girlfriend? Or both? No, you're always reading something. Why're you with Merlina? And why are you...ooh, wait a minute..."

She pulled back, staring at the confused girl, mouth working but no words coming out. "You grew your hair out! And your chest is getting bigger." She poked her friend's chest, and Rebecca yelped, going crimson and pushing her hand away. "Well, kinda. You're only fifteen after all."

Merlina grinned. "Halsey, Rebecca is here. In the magical arena. We saw your fight."

Halsey stepped back to let them in, sitting down and grabbing her game again. "Oh yeah? I kinda figured Becky here was a sorceress, I could kinda feel her latent power. I just figured Matron knew and wasn't saying anything."

She turned the game back on. "Okay, time for a new game with a new party! So, Becky, is Merlina your teacher? 'Cause if she is, you're lucky. She's awesome, and the previous Champion of this place too. She gave the title to me though."

Rebecca turned and stared at her teacher. "You fought here?"

"Only for a decade," Merlina said defensively. "Then I figured I'd become a history teacher."

Rebecca shook her head and turned to Halsey. "You beat that golem with a punch. How?"

Halsey looked up from her game, silent for a moment before smiling widely. "Internal magic. A lot of magic is external, projecting attacks outward. I could never do that properly, kept blowing up in my face, so I reversed the process. It was easy, plus it makes me really, really strong."

"Internal magic is extremely hard to do," Merlina said dryly. "Maybe one in one-thousand magi can pull it off, and never with such ridiculous ease."

Halsey stuck her tongue out. "External magic is harder. I don't get why you can do it so easily."

Merlina shrugged. "You broke your hand didn't you? I don't think you had enough time to focus enough power into your fist to enforce it enough to take the impact of hitting a golem."

Halsey held up the hand that she had punched Billy with. "Yeah, but my healing magic fixed it right up. It hurt, but I'm fine with a little pain."

Rebecca blinked, confused. "Healing magic hurts?" she asked. "Isn't that a contradiction?"

Merlina shook her head. "When using magic to fix broken bones, the magical energy forces the shattered bones and splinters together in order to reform. It's an extremely painful process, and healers always put their patients to sleep first. Halsey must have done it on the spot."

Halsey grinned. "Yep. I'd have used a numbing spell first, but I didn't want to wait too long. If I had a broken hand when I came back to my dressing room, I wouldn't have been able to play my game."

Rebecca found herself completely without words, and then she remembered Dante. "Wait, you said healing magic can repair spines. If it's so painful..."

Halsey frowned. "Oh yeah, Dante. He was lucky, his spine was only bruised, not broken, but he had so many other broken bones that he's still asleep from the magic used to put him in that state in the first place. Not sure when they'll bring him out of it, but he's the type to hold a grudge and do stupid things in his attempts at revenge."

There was a pause, broken only by the cheerful music coming from the game. "Great kisser though, if a little forceful about it."

Rebecca just stared. "...Anyway...I'm living with Miss Calibur now. She adopted me."

Halsey smiled. "Good for you. She's a great person, and her boytoy isn't that bad either."

Merlina laughed. "Sam is not my boytoy, he's my lover. Anyway, drop by my house sometime, I'll let you and Rebecca talk more then. Right now, we need to get home. Sam is cooking tonight, and she hasn't had one of his means yet."

Halsey stood up and hugged Rebecca again. "I'll see you around, Becky. Good luck in your training, I'm sure you'll do great."