Chapter 8: Desert Warrior

All eyes were now on the newcomers. Whispers and gasps floated through the crowd and nearly everyone was pointing as The Fist of Heaven and her two contractors stepped into the crowd.

"Well, if it isn't Haru and Hana." A female stepped forward from the crowd. She was european in appearance and had silky brown hair with streaks of red highlights.

The two asians accompanying The Fist of Heaven looked at her at almost exactly the same time.

"Ember?" asked the female asian, Hana.

"What are the odds of running into you two here!" The silky haired woman, Ember, broke into a smile.

"It is good to see you again." The male asian, Haru, responded. He gave a short bow toward Ember. "I hear that you've acquired your first immortal."

"That's right." Ember turned around. "Firefall! Come and meet Haru and Hana."

Through the crowd, an immortal emerged by Ember's side. Who should it be, but the fiery haired man that Mace had seen practicing with daggers only a few minutes before!

Firefall, the fiery haired man, stayed close to Ember. He kept his eyes on the ground even as he spoke. "It's a pleasure to meet you both." His voice was barely a shaky whisper.

"And just what is so distracting?!" A new voice yelled into the crowd. It came from the mats.

The crowd's attention was suddenly jarred back to the sparing area. Standing in the middle of the mats was a young male with straight blonde hair. His chin held the start of a beard and around his neck he wore a silver amulet with a ruby setting. On his wrists he wore two silver bands and there were bands of silver on both his legs as well.

"I came here to fight Mukatham, blast it!" The man stomped his foot into the padded mats. "Now where is he?!"

"Marshall!" a gruff voice echoed from the crowd. Soon a rather chubby englishman had found his way onto the mats as well. He was scowling at the impudent man with the silver amulet. "Mind your tongue! He'll be here, but you will be patient until then."

The one with the amulet, Marshall, crossed his arms and grit his teeth. The chubby man was probably his contractor.

"He's rather brash." Hana leaned over and whispered to her counterpart.

"Yes. It'll be interesting to see if he'll be a threat or not." Haru replied.

Just then, the gym doors swung wide. In stepped two new people. Both of them were middle eastern in appearance. One was above average in height, and it was plain to see that he was well built. On his head rested a white turban and on his face was a full beard. The other man also wore a turban, but his was black. He was much skinnier and almost looked sickly by comparison.

"Finally!" Marshall blurted out.

Both of the middle eastern men looked up at the brazen immortal.

"Is this to be my competitor?" The one in the white turban pointed at Marshall.

"I believe it is." The one with the black turban replied.

The man with the white turban placed a hand upon his chest. "I am Mukatham, Four-bladed Warrior of the Desert, how do you call yourself?" He pointed an accusatory finger at the brash immortal.

"Hahaha!" Marshall chuckled cockily. He flipped his hair around and placed a hand upon his chest. "I am Marshall the Knight of Destruction and soon you will bow before me, Warrior of the Desert!"

The two immortal locked eyes with each other, both daring the other to make the first move.

"Marshall!" The chubby man stomped his feet into the mats. "You are not here to spout hot air! Now, you will shut up or I will shut you up! Understood?" He glared into Marshall's eyes with the intensity of the sun.

For the first time, Mace thought that he saw the briefest look of fear cross Marshall's face. It reminded him of when Rose got upset. He could see Rose's pointing finger in the chubby man's eyes. This was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, Marshall's contractor.

"You talk a big game." Mukatham calmly stepped onto the mats. "But we shall see who walks away victorious, Knight."

Marshall cracked his knuckles and moved his neck from side to side. He couldn't keep an arrogant smile off his face. "I've been looking forward to this."

"I can see that," Mukatham replied without wavering. He then turned his head toward his contractor. "May we begin?"

The one in the black turban sniffled and wiped his nose. "Marshall's contractor must leave the arena first."

All eyes in the crowd jumped to the chubby man. He blushed ever so slightly and quickly stepped off the mats. "Now Marshall, be careful. Do not take Mukatham lightly."

Marshall licked his lips. "Whatever." He couldn't keep his eager eyes off of Mukatham.

"Now you may begin," Mukatham's contractor said. "But at least let him make his weapon first. It wouldn't be fun if you destroyed him right away."

"As you wish." Mukatham held out both hands and brown, overlapping, diamond shaped squares appeared. The brown diamonds stretched up and into two curved objects. Soon, Mukatham was holding two sharp scimitars in either hand.

Marshall snorted arrogantly. He held both his hands upward and a silver light glowed out from his amulet, arm bands, and foot cuffs. Slowly, armor began to fold out from these objects. It came out in interlocking plates until his entire body was covered from head to toe in shiny metal! Then, upon his back a sword began to unfold from his armor. Even his blade was made from interlocking plates of metal. He lifted the sword off his back and held it with both hands. It was a good distance longer than either of Mukatham's curved scimitars. "Bring it on," Marshall whispered aggressively.

"Shall we fight by the normal rules?" Mukatham twirled his swords around.

"Yeah." Marshall smiled. "First one to cry like a little baby loses."

Mukatham pointed the tip of one of his blades at Marshall's chest. "Or I could just beat you to a pulp."

"That's what I'm going to do to you!" Marshall swung his blade in a cross pattern.

Suddenly, everything became very quiet. Mukatham took in a long breath through his nostrils and Marshall pulled his sword into a defensive position. Both competitors looked into each other's eyes. They stared for only the briefest of moments, but it was enough to size the other up. Neither of them would budge easily. The moment ended and Marshall switched from a defensive stance into a full blown charge!

"Yaaaaa!" Marshall brought his heavy blade to bear down upon Mukatham's shoulder.

Mukatham parried the blade, but he had misjudged the power behind Marshall's swing. Marshall's sword glanced across Mukatham's neck and a tiny brown diamond trickled out of him.

Mukatham grunted in anger and stepped to the side of Marshall.

"Ha ha ha!" Marshall gloated. "How did that feel?"

Mukatham was not amused. He snorted angrily and prepared to counter attack. But before he could launch into action, Marshall's sword was already in motion! The longsword sliced ferociously toward Mukatham's chest! However, Mukatham saw the move and instinctively blocked. This time though, he didn't underestimate Marshall's power and so he used both his swords to catch the longsword between them.

Mukatham pressed his heels into the soft mats as he held back Marshall's blow. But despite Marshall's best efforts, he could not press Mukatham any further. He withdrew his blade and the two competitors began to circle each other, looking for weak spots.

"I'm surprised you stopped that one," Marshall taunted.

Mukatham didn't respond, instead his eyes were intent on studying his opponent. Marshall's overlapping armor left him defended from nearly every angle. It would be impossible to cut between the plates because they were pressed too close together. The only spot on his body without the protection was his neck. Then there was Marshall's sword. It was made of the same interlocking plates as his armor and it extended a good distance longer than Mukatham's swords. Not only that, but if Mukatham swung a blade wrong, it could easily get caught in the chinks in Marshall's sword.

"What's the matter, oh great Desert Warrior?" Marshall teased. "Have I stunned you into silence? Are you even afraid to attack me?"

Mukatham remained silent.

"Hmph," snorted Marshall. "Very well, if you refuse to strike, then I will simply have to end this!"

Marshall slashed down at Mukatham's head. Again, Mukatham lifted his twin swords to block and he easily caught the long blade and held his ground. However, Marshall was not done. He lifted his sword and came down again and again and again, wailing upon Mukatham's defenses in an unceasing torrent of blows!

"Hragh! Yaaa! Hrrraaa!" Marshall refused to allow Mukatham a moment to rest. Slowly, Mukatham's blades began to slide apart.

Knowing that he was at his limits, Mukatham leaped backward. But Marshall's sword finally slid through the scimitars and his longsword's tip sliced down Mukatham's chest. Brown colored diamonds flowed out of the shallow wound until it sealed itself up. Even so, Marshall was not done. He hurled himself at Mukatham and sliced for the Desert Warrior's neck!

Mukatham pulled both his blades up and used them to shove Marshall's longsword into the ground. Marshall had not been expecting this, nor was he expecting the fury that Mukatham was about to unleash upon him! With Marshall now in range of his scimitars and with his blade pushed down, Mukatham seized his chance and leaped into action!

The Desert Warrior aimed one blade at Marshall's neck and his other targeted Marshall's sword arm. Suddenly, Marshall's eyes began to glow silver! Marshall let himself fall and he brought his feet upward. He planted them into Mukatham's chest and the Desert Warrior collapsed without any of his blades striking their targets!

Both opponents were now down and they quickly struggled to their feet. However, Marshall's armor slowed his movements and Mukatham was the first to rise. By the time that Marshall had arisen, Mukatham was back upon him with more fury than ever before!

"Hiyaaa!" Mukatham went into a whirling dance of blades. Both his scimitars were like flashes of lightning, one blade striking milliseconds after the other!

It was all Marshall could do to keep his balance as the twin blades bore down upon him! Marshall's eyes still glowed silver and despite Mukatham's swiftest strokes, he couldn't seem to do much more than graze Marshall's armor. Marshall's longsword was able to parry the deadliest of Mukatham's blows and his body moved so closely in step with Mukatham's blades that it was as if he could see into the future!

But Mukatham was relentless as he pressed his attack. His twin blades were a sight to see, if anyone could see them! They moved so fast that they were like blurs of flashing silver chained together in the most beautiful and deadly of dances. No wonder Malcom had said it was like he was fighting with four swords!

This deadly waltz continued on for a few more seconds, but to the competitors it seemed much longer than that. Scimitar clashed against longsword and armor, yet Marshall still had yet to be struck by anything more than glancing blows which couldn't penetrate his thick defense. Finally, Marshall had decided that he was done with this dance of death.

"You're far too slow, Mukatham!" Marshall shouted through his helmet. "I can see everything! And you're wide open!"

Marshall leaned his shoulder down and stepped forward. His shoulder planted firmly into Mukatham's chest. The Desert Warrior grunted as the heavy steel crashed into him. His scimitars were halted mid swing and he was forced to back off. But Marshall would not allow Mukatham a chance to rest. Only a second later, his longsword came careening toward Mukatham's head!

"Enough of this!" Mukatham finally shouted. His dual blades pushed Marshall's longsword away and he deftly dodged backward.

Mukatham and Marshall stared each other down and drew in long breaths. Neither had made so much as a dent on the other. "It would seem I underestimated you, Knight." Mukatham slowly admitted. He looked into Marshall's now silvery eyes and frowned. "I was hoping to take you on without using my powers, but I can see how futile that thinking is."

"So you've been fighting me with a handicap, eh?" Marshall growled. "Then let's see what you're truly capable of, Mukatham! It doesn't matter either way, though! I'll beat you into submission and show the world what I'm capable of!" Marshall pointed the tip of his sword at Mukatham's chest.

This would turn out to be a foolhardy move on Marshall's part, because that was just the kind of opening that Mukatham needed. The Desert Warrior dashed into action and swiped at Marshall's outstretched arm. However, just as before, it was as if Marshall knew exactly what Mukatham was up to because no sooner had Mukatham began to move than Marshall twisted his sword into a defensive position and blocked Mukatham's attack.

"Come now!" Marshall chuckled. "Are we to go back to this pointless attack?"

But Mukatham paid him no mind, just as before his twin blades fell into a rhythm of deadly beauty. Marshall began to defend himself as before, but then something different happened. Something struck Marshall's chest dead on!

"Ugh!" Marshall grunted. The blow hadn't made it through his armor, but it did make him hesitate just long enough for Mukatham to land a glancing blow across his unprotected neck! A thin line of silver light flashed out of Marshall's neck as the Knight of Destruction nimbly rolled into Mukatham's legs and forced the attack to an end.

Marshall picked himself up and glared at Mukatham. The two warriors pulled in long breaths and Marshall felt along his neck.

"You'll pay for that, Mukatham!" Marshall vaulted toward Mukatham and brought his sword down on the Desert Warrior's skull.

However, Mukatham saw the attack coming and he slashed his swords at Marshall's longsword. But his attack was far too early! Both of Mukatham's blades slashed through the air without making contact with Marshall's blade!

"Ha ha! You lose Mukatham!" Marshall screamed as he put all weight into his finishing blow.

Then, something strange happened. Suddenly, two brown, but transparent, scimitars with diamond designs appeared mid air! They slashed in the exact same manner that Mukatham had just attacked! Instead of landing a solid blow on Mukatham's head, Marshall's longsword was abruptly stopped by these two ghost blades!

In that instant, Marshall's sword was caught and his body was left wide open. Mukatham dashed forward and stabbed a sword into Marshall's chest. The scimitar was stopped by Marshall's armor, however, another ghost blade appeared behind the first one and shot into the exact same spot as the first scimitar! Marshall's armor couldn't handle the pressure of both the real sword and ghost one and it suddenly gave way! A small crack allowed Mukatham's scimitar a clean blow into Marshall's gut.

"Guh!" Marshall's grunted in pain. The ghost blades holding his longsword in place suddenly disappeared and he lost his footing. Marshall tumbled to the ground.

"Now fall, Knight of Destruction!" Mukatham brought both his blades down at Marshall's neck.

Miraculously, Marshall saw the move coming and he deflected the blow with his sword. But Mukatham wasn't done with him yet. He stabbed with both his scimitars at Marshall's chest, but Marshall deflected this attack too. What he didn't block was the phantom swords that attacked his neck while he was busy defending his chest! Both of the ghostly scimitars pierced through his unprotected neck and a powerful burst of silver light erupted throughout the gym.

Then, his longsword dispersed in a flash of silver light, allowing Mukatham's swords to jab into his stomach. His armor was somehow still holding, but when another set of phantom swords joined with Mukatham's first blades two more cracks appeared on Marshall's armor!

"Aaaugh!" Marshall shrieked in pain as two more blades sliced into his gut.

Another bright flash of silver light shone in the gym. When it was finally over, Marshall's armor was dissolved and his eyes were closed shut.

"Well fought, Knight." Mukatham held his hands out and his scimitars turned into phantom versions of themselves before disappearing. "But you are still no match for me."

Marshall lay gasping on the training mats. His brazen tongue was finally silenced. A roar of applause erupted from the small crowd.

"Yeah! Way to trample him, Mukatham!"

"Take that! You mouthy upstart!"

"Boo! You're the worst Mukatham!"

But a gruff voice also called out from the crowd, "Marshall!" It was his contractor and his face was glowing red as he stormed onto the practice mats. "Now can you see why you shouldn't spout your mouth off like that?" His eyes bore holes into Marhshall's defeated body. "You arrogant little twerp!"

Directly opposed to this action, Mukatham was very calm. He simply exited the practice area and made his way to his contractor's side. "I would like to stay and practice a little more, if I may."

The one in the black turban sniffled again. "Very well. You know where I'll be when you're done." With just those words, he turned and walked out of the gym while Mukatham found his way over to the training dummies.

"Hm…" Haru tilted his head toward his female counterpart. "Marshall certainly has some strong attacks."

"And his reflexes are nearly perfect," Hana replied. "I've never seen a swordsman deflect Mukatham's attacks that well."

"What do you think?" Haru turned to the Fist of Heaven. "Will he be a threat to you?"

The Fist of Heaven crossed her arms. "His reflexes will be annoying to deal with, but I don't think I should have much difficulty defeating him."

"Very good." Hana nodded.

"Is there anything else you'd like to see here before we leave?" Haru asked.

The Fist of Heaven shook her head. "No. I've seen everything I needed to see. I'm ready to go."

Just as the Fist of Heaven and her asian contractors turned to leave, Hana turned back. "Oh! Ember, would you like to join us? It's been such a long time."

Ember, the woman with the red streaks in her hair, stepped forward. "Yes, I think I will." However, she then looked at her immortal. "Firefall, what will you do?"

The fiery haired man looked over at the training dummies where Mukatham was practicing. "I think I'd like to practice some more," he said softly.

"Very well! I'll come back later." Ember smiled and turned back to Hana.

As the Fist of Heaven and her entourage left, the crowd began to disperse.

Mace rifled his fingers through his hair and let out a whistle. "Both of those guys looked tough! I don't know how I'd beat either of them."

"Well you've got about four days to get a plan together," Thorn replied. "In the meantime, why don't you get some use out of our three day trial?" He turned to Nightshade. "You too Nightshade."

Nightshade nodded and silently strode off. She headed for the targets, but Mace decided to go over to the training dummies where Mukatham and Firefall were now practicing.