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The Shadow Proves the Sunshine

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The Shadow Proves the Sunshine


Sunshine, won't you be my motherSunshine, come and help me singMy heart is darker than these oceansMy heart is frozen underneath

     The sun looked down upon the desert, and the desert huddled beneath its gaze.

     Its gaze was merciless, the white armored figure felt as he trudged beneath it. It was not benevolent: even the occasional sun-worshiping fool saw it as a demon, not a savior. No one in the desert would hold such an absurd notion.

     Year upon year and century after century it had blazed down, and Gelu had never found it a friend even in the beginning.

     Millennium upon millennium had blown over the Glatorian, leaving him even more quiet and somber than in his youth. But as he journeyed, his spirits felt at an all time low.

     It was Exsidian again; that precious metal used far and wide by Glatorian to harden their weaponry and armor, and more coveted than water it seemed sometimes. The tale was that Vulcanus claimed that Iconox had paid a guide to lead a caravan containing Exsidian for Vulcanus right into the hands of the Skrall—neither the driver, guide or guards had ever been seen again, not to mention the metal. Despite the childishness of the accusation the village leader Herzus had been unable to dissuade them, and so the matter was taken to the arena.

     Iconox did not have good fortune in the arena, especially with their first Glatorian down with a heavy injury to the leg: no Glatorian worth his salt would give up a fight due to an injury unless it was crippling. But with Strakk as First Glatorian, things weren’t so rigid. Gelu could never tell if he was really unable to fight or just looking for a relaxing break from the arena.

     I would have challenged him long ago for his place, Gelu thought fiercely. But I am not a match for him in skill, and I don’t care for his position myself.

     Vulcanus evidently did not share Gelu’s apathy about the coming fight—it was not the brutal yet vulnerable Malum that he would be facing but Ackar, the oldest Glatorian on the field and one of the most feared.

     Aside from the Skrall of course.

     Victory and defeat weren’t the things that bogged down Gelu’s mind though. It was the whole pointlessness of the deal that weighed down his heart. He knew Ackar very well: he had talked with him, even trained with him for the National Tournament once or twice. The Fire Glatorian was a noble being whom he would have yielded to out of sheer respect in a real fight.

     But the arena was not real fighting at all. In the arena all you were was the pride and arrogance of whatever village you came from. That was not living, let alone warring.

We are crooked souls trying to stay up straight,Dry eyes in the pouring rainThe shadow proves the sunshineThe shadow proves the sunshine

     The dark rocks of Vulcanus were stark against the brilliant afternoon sky. Many said that the village was almost as disparaging as Roxtus, and Gelu had to agree that there were striking similarities, even though he normally preferred Vulcanus. But as he approached the Fire village he wondered whether he’d rather be in the dreaded city of the Skrall.

     This wasn’t the first time he had gotten cold feet and this wasn’t the first outrageous dispute he had taken arms to settle. But as he reined his Sand Stalker in he felt like it would be his worst.


     The inn where he was staying was cooler than the outdoors, but not by much, and Gelu wished he could take off at least some of his armor: but no Glatorian made themselves vulnerable outside of home. It was an old rule that annoyed Gelu at times like these, but it was a rule that must be followed. He drank deeply from a glass of water the friendly innkeeper handed him, grunting his thanks. He took a seat at an old table, resting his hands on the aged wood. Then he stared dully across at the wall that faced him, mentally and physically tired.

     The sound of the door opening broke him out of his reverie and he looked up to see a familiar Glatorian in red and orange armor, faded and scarred by the years. His eyebrows shot up a little in surprise.

     ”Greetings, Gelu,” the weathered Glatorian said warmly. Gelu rose to his feet, surveying the veteran.

     ”Ackar,” he said, a little surprised but calm. “I did not expect to see you outside of the arena.”

     The older Glatorian gave a little smile. “I thought I’d be a little better host than that,” he commented.

     ”What do you think of the issue?” Gelu asked after Ackar had taken a seat.

     ”’The Glatorian does not concern himself with issues: his duty is to his village and his role is to fight for their honor,’” Ackar quoted flatly. Gelu rolled his eyes.

     ”You don’t really believe that, do you?” he asked.

     ”It’s the Glatorian code, Gelu. Don’t you?”

     ”No,” Gelu answered firmly. “I can’t beat someone to a bloody pulp without knowing why.”

     Ackar laughed. “Nor can I, but it’s not my place to decide the morality of a claim. If we did that we wouldn’t be here. The arena decides who is right; I just try not to kill anyone in the process.”

Two scared little runawaysHold fast to the break of day light, whereThe shadow proves the sunshine

     ”Sometimes I hate being a Glatorian,” Gelu commented after a while. Ackar shrugged.

     ”I can’t say many of us enjoy it,” he agreed. “But it’s a job as needed as any other.” Then he smiled.

     ”A little risky of you, Gelu, confiding your mental state to your opponent before a battle.”

     Gelu snorted. “I doubt that matters to my fighting,” he said, a little sharply.

     ”Your emotions don’t get in the way of your fighting? Another handy piece of information about your skills. Anything else?”

     Gelu observed the senior Glatorian for a moment, unable to tell if he was serious or not. He decided that he probably was and lapsed into silence.

     As the night drew near Ackar got to his feet.

     ”Tomorrow, Gelu,” he said affably as he turned to leave. The Glatorian nodded somberly, watching the armored back of the Fire warrior as he exited. Then he stared dully at the last few inches in his cup. The journey had wearied him, but hours of tossing and turning awaited him in this state and he did not relish them.

     At length he rose and walked slowly away to where a room awaited him.

Oh Lord, why did you forsake me?Oh Lord, don't be far away awayStorm clouds gathering beside mePlease Lord, don't look the other way

     The heartless sun glared down once more upon the morning world. Gelu could not escape it, even indoors. He squinted at the unshuttered window through which the light poured in. It was time to get up. He heaved himself up and began strapping his armor back on. No Glatorian slept completely unarmored: the breastplate was almost required nightwear at the least. Over the thousands of years you got used to the discomfort.


     That out of the way he got up, stretching. His Ice Slicer leaned against one wall; a double-bladed tool with a foot-long handle connecting the two blades. At one time—perhaps thirty thousand years ago—it had been able to split into two swords, but the mechanism for that had long since ceased to exist. Next to that was his Thornax launcher with a pouch holding three Thornax fruit, the maximum number allowed. He strapped it on hurriedly. With the blade in hand and launcher at his hip he strode out of the room.

Crooked souls trying to stay up straightDry eyes in the pouring rainThe shadow proves the sunshineThe shadow proves the sunshine

     The road to the arena was broad: the arena itself seemed small and insignificant as one approached. Gelu hated the effect and strode swiftly towards his goal. He was alone, not having allowed any Agori to accompany him. The arena was empty save for Raanu the Fire Tribe Leader.


     As he entered the arena the crowd broke into cheers. They probably liked him a little because of his honorable history in the arena, Gelu supposed, but their cheers were mostly simple courtesy to a Glatorian and a visitor to their village. He stopped before Raanu, waiting.

     A door to the left moved aside and the red and orange armored form of the village’s First Glatorian was visible. The crowd’s welcome was almost deafening. Ackar stopped next to him and they saluted, touching their weapon-tips to the other’s. Then they turned and walked away from each other as Raanu began his welcome. After about ten yards they stopped, turning ceremoniously to face the Agori. Raanu gave a brief—and remarkably unbiased—sketch of the conflict, and then backed away. When he was almost at an exit from the arena he gave the signal for the beginning of the match: it did not pay to do so while in the line of fire.

Two scared little runawaysHold fast to the break of day light wereThe shadow proves the sunshineThe shadow proves the sunshine

     Neither Glatorian moved for a moment: it was almost tradition for the first step to be a contest in who could draw and fire their launcher the fastest. Ackar feinted a grab to where his launcher hung. As he expected Gelu moved as well, drawing his weapon with uncanny swiftness. Even as he did so the Fire Glatorian leaped to one side, landing in a neat roll that would bring him well out of the way of his opponent’s shot.


     He had counted without Gelu’s swiftness. Even as he had gone to fire he had seen Ackar’s dodge and waited. Timing it just as the other Glatorian ended his roll he fired. It was a well-placed shot, hitting Ackar in the side and turning his roll into an ungainly sprawl. His well-made cuirass protected him from the brunt of the hardened fruit but he was still winded. Gelu steeled his nerves, charging to take the Fire Warrion unawares.

     But Ackar too had his own quirks, and a loaded Thornax launcher. As Gelu came closer he gave a half flop half roll, drawing his launcher and bringing it into position. Gelu had barely any time to react, turning his charge into a desperate dive as Ackar fired. The Thornax grazed him, but he landed, scrambling to his feet at the same time as his opponent.

Yeah Yeah, shine on meYeah Yeah, shine on meYeah Yeah, shine on meYeah Yeah, shine on me

     They faced each other for a moment, and Gelu was a little surprised by the calm in his foe’s face: at this point in the fight he was usually tense and concentrated, but Akcar seemed as relaxed as ever. Hurriedly Gelu restored his launcher to its place at his side.


     It was an old opportunity in any fight, and Ackar took it, bringing his sword down in an overhand cut. Gelu’s arm moved like lightning and the bottom blade deflected the sword off to the side. Then the fight began in earnest.

     To the onlooker there was little skill and still less sense involved. The blades flashed as they wielded them, sometimes with one hand and sometimes with two. Occasionally a strike would get past their blade: sometimes they would twist, maybe even do a backflip to avoid taking a hit.

     The fight was painful to Gelu, but not physically. He had lied to Ackar about his ability to overcome emotions: every time his sword got past the senior Glatorian’s guard he winced, hoping insanely that it would not connect. That was no way to win a fight. He increased his attack, raining blows from either blade upon Ackar. It was beginning to tell on the older Glatorian as the onslaught forced him back more and more.

     But there was more to a duel than this stage, and the audience waited for Ackar’s response. It came rather unexpectedly. The Fire Glatorian knocked an overhand cut of Gelu’s to one side and before the other Glatorian could follow up he dropped down, wrapping one arm around Gelu’s legs and heaving. The Ice Warrior gave a gasp of surprise as he was sent to the ground, rolling over to face his opponent. Ackar had not advanced, instead loading his Thornax launcher and aiming it at the fallen Glatorian.

     ”Yield, Gelu,” he said, out of breath but otherwise calm.


Crooked souls trying to stay up straightDry eyes in the pouring rainThe shadow proves the sunshineThe shadow proves the sunshine

     The silence was incredibly tense: no Glatorian could be expected to yield, especially not under threat. Gelu lay there, arms tensed. A bluff would definitely not work against the elder Glatorian but what else could he do? The Thornax was aimed at his head: his helmet might save his life, but it would be the end of the match.


     There was exactly one tactic Gelu could possibly think of, and he used it. He threw himself to his feet and into a desperate backflip. The Thornax slammed into the rock somewhere beneath him and he landed, safe but unarmed save for his empty Thornax launcher which he hurriedly drew and loaded. Ackar moved forward to put himself between Gelu and his blade. The younger Glatorian’s eyes narrows as he analyzed the situation.

     Ten feet between him and Ackar, five more to his blade. Another crazy move was the last thing Gelu wanted, but there was no other choice: a Glatorian without his weapon was helpless in the arena. Even Skrall could be defeated that way.

     He raised his launcher, aiming it at Ackar’s chest. At this close quarters dodging would be next to impossible. Without giving the other Glatorian time to formulate a plan he fired.

     Even as the Thornax was released Ackar moved ducking under the shot and charging. But even as he moved to straighten up Gelu charged, placing both hands on Ackar’s shoulders and leaping, purposefully landing square on the elder Glatorian’s back, sending his cushion to the ground as he ran for his blade.

Two scared little runawaysHold fast to the break of day light whereThe shadow proves the sunshineThe shadow proves the sunshine

     Ackar was slower in rising and Gelu was armed once more by the time the Fire Glatorian was on his feet. The initial enthusiasm of the crowd had faded: so far their favored Glatorian had been put on the defensive: Gelu’s last move hadn’t helped.


     They faced each other a yard apart, but neither made the first move. They had holstered their launchers: the last shot was not to be wasted.

     It was that point of the fight that Gelu disliked the most: the initial stage wasn’t too bad, nor was the following melee. But that moment when you faced your opponent after a round or two of dueling, both tired and with little ammo. That was the moment when he just wanted to stop the fight, have a drink and sleep. Twice that inertia had cost him a match. It would not be thrice.

     There were many reasons why the aging Ackar was still the First Glatorian of Vulcanus: He had faced stronger opponents many a time, but he had bested many of them with the keen sense for the fight: a tactician as much as a fighter he instinctively felt Gelu’s hesitance and pressed his attack. The shouts of the crowd redoubled as he pushed the other warrior back with a series of brilliantly executed blows.

     Gelu felt almost as fit as when he had entered, but still he gave ground before the vicious attack. He deflected blow after blow, countering here and there. He fought fiercely once more, and if he gave ground now it was because his style demanded it. His last Thornax was in his launcher, but he had not the time to draw it: besides, he was hesitant to use it.

Yeah Yeah, shine on meYeah Yeah, shine on meYeah Yeah, shine on me

     The morning sun over Vulcanus was never a welcome spectator. It cut through the armor of the warriors and the crowds, and sweat emerged in a futile resistance.


     Ackar was beginning to tire. Used as he was to the burning sun he could not match the vigor of the younger and faster warrior. He gave ground now, beaten back and still back. The crowd waited: the old Glatorian was notorious for his outrageously unexpected moves to unbalance a superior warrior.

     It happened suddenly: Ackar gave a series of furious blows, driving back Gelu for the single second he needed to leap into a backflip, drawing his launcher. Gelu instinctively leaped to the left.

     But no Thornax flew: Ackar landed easily, firing for real now. And this time the Ice Glatorian was not so quick to dodge. The fruit struck him solidly in the chest and he fell backwards, stunned at the sudden force.

     Still Ackar did not advance: he had thrown down his sword in mid-flight and used his free hand to reload. This time he did not threaten, and as Gelu struggled shakily to his feet the Thornax struck him squarely in the side of his head.

     This time when he fell he was not so quick to rise. Ackar moved swiftly, kicking his weapon out of reach before snatching it up.

     Gelu looked up groggily, seeing the blurry form of his friend and foe holding his blade up for the thunderously cheering crowds.

     Then the Glatorian’s head slumped as he gave up the fight at last.

     Still the sun looked down upon the desert, and the desert huddled beneath its gaze once more.

Shine on me,Let my shadows prove the sunshine


Not sure if anyone remembers the first version of this I wrote, way back when about Gelu fighting a Skrall. Here it is, changed and improved.

Edited by Grantaire

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