CHAPTER NINE

I Think We Should Dance

Part Four

Nadier locked Atro in his sights. Without another word, the dark elf sprinted forward with daggers drawn. If he could kill the man before he could use any of his powers, the assassin could end the battle before it even began. He loaded the anti-magic vials into his dagger and images of Arbor's attempt at cutting Atro's throat flashed into his mind. He would need to target immediately fatal parts. The heart. The brain. The spine.

His dagger's path was true as he dashed through the crowded room, darting between bodies as Atro struggled to refocus himself from the explosion.

As Nadier leapt with weapons raised, the glint of a blade from the corner of his eyes instinctively caused him to twist his body in the air.

Langsley's spear of shining white slid just past Nadier's chest, the tip nicking off the edge of his coat. The moment Nadier's feet touched the ground again, the second spear, darkness enveloped, arched up towards his face. The elf raised his daggers in a desperate attempt to block despite its futility. Expecting the piercing attack to puncture his face, Nadier even closed his eyes, awaiting death.

"What are you doing?!" Ierba exclaimed.

The dark elf looked up to see his cellmate standing between the attacker and victim. The knight had managed to take back his spear of light and was holding it at guard.

"Leave me to myself," Ierba quipped. "Atro's getting away!"

Nadier looked past the two and sure enough, the arena master was slipping out the door as guards rushed in.

"Damn it!" Nadier cursed.

He got to his feet and dashed after his target. A guard came at him with a sword, but he dodged it with a sidestep and sliced across the guard's abdomen with an inverted edge. Once the knife passed through the body, he quickly stabbed backwards into the guard's thigh and the soldier dropped to their knees as their nerves were severed. Without a look back, Nadier dashed out of the room, blending into the other escaping occupants through the dusty chaos.

At the end of the corridor, the assassin caught sight of Atro darting up the stairs towards the surface. As quickly as he could, Nadier slipped past the mess and chased his prey into the stairwell, just in time to witness the arriving breakout of gladiators from the lower floor skewer a guard with spears.

The escapees looked to Nadier, confused. He was not dressed as a guard, but held none of the kept swagger of guests.

A warrior woman called out his epitaph, "Wanderer!"

From the shadow, the armoured maiden rose, and he struggled to remember her name.

"Visalle Thurner. You tried to save my husband." 'Tried' was the operative word. And when Nadier noticed the man was not with her, he prodded no further.

He quickly informed, "I'm hunting down At-Tro-Pos."

The anger in her eyes were palpable, and she wasted no time turning to the gladiators. "The Wanderer's going after At-Tro-Pos! We'll clear the way for him. To the surface!"

With a vengeful roar, the two dozen gladiators charged upwards, sweeping Nadier up in their wave as they quickly ascended. Three guards attempted to block their path, only to be quickly overwhelmed, dragged down to the ground, and violently murdered by their once prisoners.

Without fanfare nor announcers, the gladiators ruptured out of the stairwell doors and spewed into the lobby. Guests screamed and ran as the escapees dashed around. Some charging forward to hold back guards. Others made beelines to exits for their freedom. But as Visalle promised, ten of them surrounded Nadier as they spot Atro in the distance. The group rushed for him, with every incoming guard and mercenary intercepted by one of their own. More stairwells burst opened with gladiators pouring. Nadier glimpsed an eager Ratface, claws for hands, leading the charge of the eastern group.

As Atro ran into the north arena, Nadier felt a surge of energy flow through his body. He turned to see one of the Juneberg triplets, the lightning mage to be exact, channelling a boost of magic into his body. Her siblings were nowhere to be found.

Without eye contact, the girl said, "Make it count."

No more words needed to be said. It was no longer an assassination attempt or a prison break. That moment, the battle turned into a war.

Boosted by electrical stimulus, Nadier burst past his entourage and chased after Atro. He loaded a vial of fire into his main dagger, and an anti-magic one into the offhand weapon. He ran through the corridors of the northern arena, where bodies of gladiators sat dead in their cells, blasts of shotgun pellets having ripped apart their defenceless chests. A mercenary stepped in front of Nadier, hammer and shield raised.

The blunt weapon swung at his head and he ducked. Using his main weapon to hook onto his opponent's handle, he rode the momentum of the attack and kicked off the war, jumping and twisting behind his enemy, the heavy shield and mallet's weight working against their wielder. With a drop, Nadier slammed the mercenary back first into the ground, finishing off the downed warrior with a knife to the heart.

Around the corner, a wall flat with light was squashed by darkness as the door to the battleground closed. It was Atro, escaping into the stands, and Nadier was not far. With speed, the assassin resumed his chase, turning the corner and to the giant doors. He leaned in and pushed the exit opened with heavy heaves. Eventually, the gap was large enough that he could slip through.

The moment he stepped out onto the field, he saw the barrel of the blunderbuss, Wygahn, pointed at him. Desperate, he jumped aside just as a round of pellets smashed into the door behind, splattering blood of wood splinters where he once stood.

"You couldn't leave it well alone, could you!" Atro roared. The glow in his gun had faded, but was quickly regaining its shade at a new magic bullet was charged into it. "After all I've done!"

Nadier was not in a talking mood. He took the opening and charged, setting his dagger on fire. Atro clenched his fist in the air, gathering a small boulder of a snowfall and threw in into Nadier. The dark elf melted the projectile with a flaming slash, only to be immediately hit by a second snowball slamming into his side. It was as if he had been kicked by a donkey, his ribs screaming on the edge of breaking as he was knocked off his feet.

As quickly as he could, Nadier recovered, but was only stunned at the blunderbuss trigger being pulled, with the barrel on his chest. The bullets knocked into him, his leather armour ripping on impact. The only thing that prevented his death - but not the pain of a hundred blunt arrows smashed into his chest - was the magic reinforcement Juneberg have given him. Though the wind was nonetheless knocked out of the dark elf. This time, his ribs did crack.

Nadier somehow landed on his knees, the taste of iron from red liquid licked his lips. He then felt the deep cold barrel on his forehead.

He's a showman. Talk! Arbor screamed.

Through a possibly collapsed lung, Nadier coughed, "What... have you done?"

The barrel touched his chin and lifted his head to look up to Atro, casting Nadier's face in rays of light, the brightness burning through the gaps in his aeronium protection and searing his natural skin beneath.

"This place," Atro began. "All of it was for the good of all living things! To curb the violence and put an end to mortals' beastly instincts, I made myself beastmaster! A place where the degenerates of society are safely trapped. Where the powerful can come to satisfy their libido for blood! I gave that to the world!"

"Really, father?" Trini spoke. The two men looked behind Atro, where the woman walked over with sword at the ready. "Or did you just want to flaunt yourself and all your trophies? Like how you've displayed me?"

Atro looked disappointed, but not surprised. "Daughter. Have you finally decided to betray me?"

"Can't call it a betrayal when I was never on your side."

A monotone reply from the man. "You break my heart."

"You broke me first."

"No, I didn't. I wanted you to become my legacy. You would have inherited everything!"

She raised her sword to him and a whirl of wind surrounded her body in defence. "I'm nobody's legacy."

The villain's jaws tensed and Atro swung his gun towards his own flesh and blood.

Nadier felt a tug on his heart, an aching familiarity calling out to him. Not knowing why or how he knew, he simply shouted aloud, "ZEN!"

Dog House.

"DOG HOUSE!"

Black.


Author's Note: Hey, thanks for reading. I've got a Patreon (aden_ng) where you get to read my chapters earlier while supporting me. Cool, right?