Invisible Paint Brushes rock Circulation: 98,662,396 Issue: 167 | 19th day of Storing, Y6
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Freedom and Glory: Part Three


by laurelinden

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"Great memories," murmured Raife, smiling, as he gazed at the massive Battledome walls. "Just last year at around this time, I was winning the silver." He gave his friend a mischievous glance. "You're entering the tournament, right?"

     "What?" asked Jairen, taken aback. "You think I should enter? Why?"

     The Shadow Lupe grinned. "You need to beat my record, of course. I know you could get gold if you wanted it. Besides, I'm not entering this year, so you'll have no competition!"

     Jairen couldn't help but smile back. His friend was trying to find a way that they could compete without being directly against one another. If he could get the gold in this tournament, he would have a permanent one-up on his silver-winning friend. "Fine," he replied. "I'm in."

     With paw and claw, they shook on it.

***

     Aloriel's mouth was dry as she stared nervously out onto the waiting stadium. Dust was swirling in the air in thick, slow motes, hovering briefly in those last few minutes of calm. The crowds gathered were louder than she could have imagined, and it made her stomach turn to think that all of those eyes would be fixed on her in mere moments.

     She took a deep breath, concentrating on what Terou had told her right before she went in. Think clearly, and be steady. Do not act rashly. Save your energy, save your strength, and win by endurance. Outlast your enemy. She just hoped that her muscles would allow her to take his advice.

     BOOM. BOOM. The masses of Neopets and owners were thudding their hands and legs and feet and claws upon the armrests and floor in excitement, causing the timbers of the ceiling to creak and groan, and more dust to fill the air. They were yelling and shouting, eagerly awaiting the beginning of the tournament. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

     The Uni paced nervously, swallowing hard. Was this really worth it? Should she leave, and forsake the competition?

     But she couldn't leave, not now. If ever she wanted an owner and a home, she would have to do this. Not just /participate/ in the tournament, but win it.

     Far too soon for her liking, the gates swung open. Aloriel trotted slowly into the ring, and the eruption of cheers at her coming almost deafened her. Tossing her mane and pawing in place nervously, she trembled as her opponent's gate opened.

     Out stepped another Uni, cantering with a confident, high-kneed step. His coat was pearly white, and shone where it had been carefully brushed and tended. The hairs of his mane and tail were braided and adorned with tiny silver beads, and his magnificent hooves shone with gloss and polish. He had an owner who loved him.

     Aloriel's resolve faltered. She felt ugly and dull against this creature, far unworthy to be facing him. How could she hope to be victorious against a Uni such as this one?

     "Go, Aloriel! You can do it!" The single cry rang out above the roaring of the crowd, sailing to the Uni's ear. Terou, at least, believed in her. When she reminded herself that the Zafara's eyes were two of those thousands watching, the crowd didn't seem so menacing or cruel. Why, some of them might even be rooting for her! Steeling herself, she decided to give this match her all: for them, and for herself.

     Her opponent gave her a leering look from a handful of yards away. "From which beggar's street did you stumble?" he asked, smirking.

     Aloriel tried to think of something witty to say in return so that his horrible, confident grin would disappear, but she could think of nothing. Instead, she put her head down and charged him.

     The white stallion's eyes widened momentarily at her sudden approach, but he soon overcame the surprise and stepped lightly aside, causing her to fly headlong past him and slide in the dust to a stop.

     The audience began to laugh as she charged again, amused by the tiny, dust-covered Uni trying so hard to ram the gorgeous stallion. He made a show of dodging away at the last minute, laughing and flicking his bell-entwined tail. "What's the matter, too slow?" he mocked, and Aloriel began to despise the smirking flash of white teeth and the arrogant light in his eyes that accompanied each hideous smile.

     Panting with rage and exhaustion she paused to regain herself. She would never win this way; attacking with blind rage. "Aloriel, remember what I told you!" cried out the familiar voice of Terou from the masses.

     She closed her eyes and concentrated, calling back the Zafara's words. She could see his form in her mind, standing outside the stadium doors, and hear him speaking in a soft and solemn voice. Think clearly, and be steady. Do not act rashly. Save your energy, save your strength, and win by endurance. Outlast your enemy.

     Taking a deep, calming breath, Aloriel stood her ground. The next move would be his, she decided. Let him be the one running in circles.

     He took his time to attack, glancing up at the audience with his smirk, waiting for them to urge him on. They did, stomping their feet and cheering in excitement. Pausing for the suspense to build, her opponent waited until the crowd was almost hoarse before rearing up and galloping at her with all of his speed, head lowered in a full charge.

     The blue Uni's knees almost buckled beneath her as she fought to hold her ground. Every fiber of her being was screaming at her to run from the charging stallion before he got too close. But she couldn't obey… not without losing her only hope of victory.

     She gulped hard as he neared, wincing despite herself. Each pounding of his hoof on the dust was like thunder, and his white coat gleamed so that it seemed that his body was the accompanying bolt of lightning, aimed straight for her. With her heart palpitating frenziedly in her chest, Aloriel controlled herself until he was only mere feet away.

     With speed born of dire necessity, she whirled and kicked out her back leg at the last possible second. The white Uni had no chance to react before the hoof was before him, and his own foreleg caught upon it, tripping him. He flew through the air propelled by his own momentum, landing painfully on the stadium's hard and dusty floor.

     Aloriel's back leg was throbbing where her opponent's sharp hoof had hit her, but she bit her lip and turned to face him, limping slightly. He rose slowly to his feet, as filthy as she was, and glowered at her. "That was a dirty trick," he said in a haggard voice. "But it will be your last against me." With a frightening rage burning in his eyes, he charged a second time.

     The audience's screams were deafening. The young blue Uni stumbled back, panic arising within her. She could not pull the same trick again; he would be expecting it. It had been her hope that one attack would be enough, but it seemed that all she had done was make her opponent angrier.

     Think clearly, and be steady. Do not act rashly. She doubted that her opponent was doing that. His furious charge had been born of his anger, and was rash. Could she use that against him, as he had been using her own actions against her before?

     As he approached, she held her ground again. This time he kept his head up, focusing upon her form, watching her tiny hooves so that he would not stumble over them again. She felt as if she were shrinking by the moment as he sprinted toward her, but she did not break and run.

     When he was right before her, and the look of concentration on his face transformed back into his old smirk of triumph, she dove out of the way a split second before contact. It was so close that she felt the whoosh of air stirred by his charge. He skidded to a stop amid a cloud of dust, roared in anger, and came at her again.

     She was too quick for him, though. Every time that he came near, she slid aside, just as he had done to her before. Eventually his coat was soaking with sweat and caked with dust, and his mouth was foaming in exhaustion. The next time that he came at her, she rushed toward him, throwing him to the ground with her horn. Panting where he'd fallen, he did not get up until well after the time had passed for her to win.

     The young Uni gazed blearily up at the scoreboard and saw her name appear. Aloriel, the victor. She had done it! She had won!

     Above the roaring of the audience as they barked their cheers, she could hear a single voice call out, "Great job, Aloriel!"

  ***

     Raife laughed as he read through the listings. "You lucky Shoyru!" he exclaimed to his friend. "Did you see this?"

     "What is it?" asked Jairen, peering over his shoulder.

     "It's your battle order in the tournament," replied the Lupe. "Your first opponent is a no-show, and your second pulled. That means you only have one match to win to advance to the final round! Is that luck, or what?"

     "Yeah," Jairen agreed. It wouldn't be so difficult after all! If he participated in the next match, he'd be guaranteed a bronze, and if he won it, he could compete for the gold! "Say, who's my next opponent, anyway?"

     Raife laughed even harder. "You have all the luck, man. It's a little Uni. Her name is Aloriel."

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Freedom and Glory: Part One
» Freedom and Glory: Part Two
» Freedom and Glory: Part Four



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