Our town had never had a 'chosen one' before. Which made things all the stranger when we suddenly had two candidates that had a fighting chance. As far as towns go, ours was not significant by any stretch of the imagination. For as long as any of the elders can remember, our sleepy little village known on the edge of civilization had never made it in the Trials of the Arcstone. Often simply referred to as the Trials, this tournament tests those who compete through feats of strength, both athletic and arcane. Eventually, either through death or resignation, those who choose to participate are weeded out until only one remains. This champion becomes one of the Arcwardens, legendary defenders of the lands of Aebreon from those who would seek to destroy it.
In the town of my origin, the closest anyone had ever come to becoming an Arcwarden was qualifying to compete in the first place. To us, the Arcwardens were nothing but myth and legend, a comforting thought in dark times or a story to keep children in line. No one ever suspected that two would be born in the same generation, both within the same town. As a child, I was always mystified by the heroic tales of Arcwardens, and aspired to one day become one. Having no aptitude for the arcane, I instead focused on the art of war. By the time I had grown enough to hold a sword, I had already studied the strategic aspects of combat vigorously. I was able to defeat adult members of the town militia long before I matched their age or size. I did not stop there however, and continued training every day, besting any foe or test set by the elders to deem me worthy to represent our humble village. I was hailed as the one who might stand a chance at winning the Trials. That is, until he showed up.
The stories of his arrival were nigh impossible to avoid. Apparently, a young man, barely of age just as I am, had mastered the arcane arts and sought to represent the village as well. The day I met him is not something I will soon forget. “Baelin, come quick!” My older sister poked her head around the corner, interrupting my training. “What now?” My training regiment was very strict, and was only ever interrupted for matters of utmost importance. “A young mage has appeared, and it seems like he wishes to represent the village as well!” I could barely stifle the laughter. The thought of someone rivaling my claim to the chance was preposterous.
Begrudgingly following her outside, I saw the crowd long before I ever saw the young mage. As I made my way, the crowd parted around me, eager to see how the meeting would unfold. Finally reaching the center, I saw my foe. A scrawny boy, around my age, greeted me. “You must be the one I’ve heard so much about,” I said with a smirk. “Why yes, and you must be the legendary Baelin, destined to win the Trials for this town?” he retorted cooly. “The name’s Edrous, and I wish to duel you. The winner shall be the one to go on and qualify for the Trials.” I was dumbfounded. This whelp thought he could take me in one on one combat? He must be a fool, or have a deathwish. Duels in this town were to the death, and were not to be taken lightly. “I accept your challenge. That is, if you’re prepared to die by my blade.” Surprisingly, he wasn’t phased in the slightest. With a sly grin, he looked me dead in the eye. “Well then? Bring it on.”
The crowd spread out to give us ample room for the duel. Gripping the pommel of my bastard sword, I began circling the mage. I examined his stance, searching for an opening. Finally, I spotted an opportunity. With all the grace and swiftness of the wind I flew at him, seeking to end the battle in a single strike. Expecting the sound of steel against flesh, I was filled with surprise as my blade came into contact with a force of equal strength. A barrier shimmered around the mage, absorbing the entire blow with ease. Now, he returned the blow. A blinding light emerged from his hand, crackling with raw power as it traveled towards me. I barely managed to bring my blade up in time to absorb the blow before the force connected with me. The majority of the power was blocked, but it still shoved me backwards as I dug my heels into the dirt. Regaining my composure, I reassessed my opponent. The barrier surrounding him was going to give me trouble, and I needed to find its weakness. This time, I struck out at him with a flurry of blows. A satisfying cracking sound greeted my ears. Each time the shield absorbed a blow, it would weaken for a moment. By continually striking, it had no opportunity to regain its strength. The mage looked at me with slight surprise. “Not bad, for a barbarian like yourself.”
Now that I had a better grasp of the nature of the shield, I had full confidence in my ability to close out the battle. I did not, however, account for the brazen nature of the mage. He had also been studying my movements and tactics, just as I had studied his. I once more closed in on him, ready to end the battle then and there. As I swung, I was shocked to find that the shield had been fully dispersed. My blade sunk deep into his shoulder. Blood splattered out from the wound, and I didn’t have time to wrench it from his body before he unleashed a blast of magic point blank into my face. I barely had time to process what had happened before I was knocked unconscious.
With a jolt, I awoke to find myself in a bed. Next to me lay the mage. No, he was not just “the mage.” Edrous had defeated me. Gazing at his shoulder, blood-stained bandages covered the grizzly wound. I looked at the doctor with guilt. “Is he..?” “No, he’s alive. Unconscious, but alive nonetheless. He expended a lot of energy in that final spell.” Suddenly, the memory of what happened flooded my mind. “That crazy fool,” I muttered under my breath. Before the doctor had a chance to reply, the door burst forth. One of the head elders approached me. “It seems we will have a slight change of plans,” he stated. “You both shall attend the Trials.”