How we think the fight will go
How Ari Marmell, creator of Mellorin, thinks the match will go:
Steel screeched against steel, one blade dulling itself against the second. Too late, the sorcerer Kaleb felt his opponent twisting inside his reach, her squat and ugly dagger shoving his falchion aside. Her elbow dug into his ribs, a heel came around against the back of his knee, and he found himself splayed flat in the spongy grass.
“That was a stupid risk,” he said, squinting against the sun overhead. “Turning into that parry? I’m stronger than you are! If you’d given me even another half-second—”
“I didn’t,” Mellorin told him, voice rough with exertion (and, just perhaps, something else, something Kaleb had cultivated for weeks, now). “And it seems like you’re the one on the ground.”
He couldn’t help but grin. “It does, at that.”
Kaleb sat up, gazing idly for a moment at the ebon-haired young woman—barely more than a girl, really—standing triumphantly over him. His grin slowly faded, quirking into a thoughtful scowl.
“Sit,” he said. He crossed his legs before him and sank his falchion point-first into the soil beside him.
“What? I thought we were training…?”
“We are. We’ve still got some time before your oh-so-beloved uncle returns from his latest scouting expedition. I think perhaps he wanders off so much because he’s hunting desperately for his sense of humor.”
Mellorin chuckled, sheathed her knife, and sat. “So we’re practicing what, exactly?”
“Corvis Rebaine,” Kaleb began, ignoring her sudden frown at the mention of her father, “is more than a soldier, more than a half-baked sorcerer. The man’s led armies in more battles than you’ve ever heard of.”
“I’m actually aware of all this, Kaleb.”
“My point, Mistress of Patience, is that combat training isn’t enough. If you’re going to have any chance of taking the old man, you need to outthink him. Be a general, an assassin, an engineer, and a lunatic. All at once.
“Testing your reflexes is all well and good—and, may I say,” he added with a deliberate glance at her sweat-soaked tunic, “rather a joy to behold.” Ignoring her sudden flush, he continued, “But it’s not enough. Let’s see if you can think tactically.”
“Hmm. All right. The first thing we know he’s capable of—”
“No. Not against your father, not for this exercise.”
“I want to see how you plan against the unexpected. An opponent you don’t know, have no preconceptions of.”
“All right. Who?”
Kaleb’s eyes grew distant. “There are worlds beyond this one; lands across the abyss of stars, as surely as across the ocean.
“From one of them, sailing across gulfs unfathomable, something impossible appears in the skies over Imphallion. A mountain, floating amidst the clouds, shedding bits of rock as it soars.”
“Wait a minute, Kaleb…”
“This is Moon’s Spawn, fortress of a people called the Tiste Andii. The man who leads them is Anomander Rake, the son of Darkness itself. He has witnessed the turning of three thousand centuries and stands as one of the greatest swordsmen his world has ever known.”
Mellorin snorted. “Now you’re just playing with—”
“His powers of wizardry are no less than his skills at combat; entire armies have fallen to his magics. He can assume, at will, the form of a great dragon, as large and as black as the coming night.
“Oh, and he wields Dragnipur, a great sword whose magics are easily the equal of the Kholben Shiar, such as your father and your uncle carry. It is a weapon that feeds on the strength of those whom it slays.
“This,” Kaleb said, smiling in Mellorin’s paling face, “is your enemy.”
“Are you insane? Why not challenge me to defeat Kassek Warbringer, or one of the other gods? It’d be just as—”
The disappointment—the contempt—in his tone brought her up shorter than any reprimand might have done. She found that she’d begun to stand, sighed, and settled once more.
“All right. What are my resources?”
“Within reason, anything you require.”
“All right,” she repeated. A moment of silence, then, “Soldiers?”
“A small force. Certainly not enough to siege Moon’s Spawn.”
“Do I know why this Anomander Rake has come?”
The sorcerer smiled. “Let’s say… He’s after Pekatherosh.”
Mellorin chewed her lip. The demon Pekatherosh, bound in an amulet, was a source of enormous mystical power.
“Can I get there first?”
Mellorin gasped as the world vanished around her, to be replaced by whipping, snow-choked winds. She stood upon a ledge at the peak of some great mountain, her back to the rock face and a gaping cave.
“Illusion, silly girl. Calm down.”
“I’m calm,” she insisted, though her ragged breathing might have suggested otherwise.
Around her, she could hear the shuffling boots and mutters of assembled soldiers. Above, slowly appearing through the blizzard, a second mountain began to blot out the sun.
“I don’t suppose I’ve managed to retrieve Pekatherosh myself, yet?” she asked.
Faint laughter echoed from all sides. “I’m not going to make it that easy on you.”
“Fine. Have I got you?”
She could actually hear the smirk in his response. “Sure, why not?”
“What can you do about his magics?”
She shivered, waiting for his answer. Illusory or not, it felt real enough.
“The sorceries of the Tiste Andii draw on the power of Warrens—extradimensional realms that exist far closer to Rake’s world than our own. I can’t prevent him from casting, but I can interfere with the process. Slow it down sufficiently that he likely can’t make use of his spells in battle.”
“Temporarily, Mellorin. Eventually, he’s going to break whatever wards I’ve set up, if he’s not dead already.”
“Oh, good. I’d hate for it to be simple. Do I have Talon?” She referred, of course, to her uncle’s Kholben Shiar, a demon-forged blade that altered its form to match its user’s soul.
“If you’re going up against Dragnipur, I suppose you’d better.”
She nodded and began to look around her, searching for any good positions for her men. The mountainside didn’t seem to offer much.
And then she turned to look at the cave.
“Pekatherosh is in there?”
“Then Anomander has to go in there. I assume I’d have examined the caves as soon as I arrived?”
The snow faded away, as did the open sky. She found herself standing in a rocky, ice-strewn passage, her breath echoing in the confined reaches.
Mellorin smiled a nasty smile. “If we’ve had time to learn these caves, and if you’ve been with me, we’ve had time for you to alter them.”
“I… Well, yes, I suppose so. Not dramatically; even my magics aren’t that potent. But somewhat. What did you have in mind?”
“They’re too wide,” she told him. “Melt and refreeze the ice, blast down some rock, I don’t care. But I want them smaller. Narrow as we can make them and still allow passage.”
Again the world twisted around her, the walls of the tunnel squeezing in close, the ceiling dropping claustrophobically low.
“Your soldiers?” Kaleb asked.
“Ambush points throughout the tunnels. I assume Anomander Rake’s not going to try to bring his whole army in here, but let’s strip away whatever forces he has.”
The sounds of battle, weapons on armor, steel on flesh, the war cries and agonized screams, reverberated through the complex. Mellorin cringed with every cry, found herself backpedaling as they drew nearer and forced herself to hold fast.
When he appeared before her, looming from the darkness like the god to which she’d earlier compared him, her will almost broke entirely.
Rake towered almost two feet taller than her, with a physique that looked powerful enough to snap her in half. Slitted eyes gazed unblinkingly from skin as dark as Mellorin’s hair, offset by the shimmering silver of his own flowing tresses.
And before him, held in a casual two-handed grip, a blade that seemed to have been carved from night and hate made manifest.
“Is this what I am to Kaleb now?” His voice was deep, nearly a physical presence buffeting her as fiercely as the winds outside. “An exercise? I’ll have to have words with him, should we ever truly meet again.”
Mellorin blinked once in confusion, then dropped into a streetfighter’s stance. Talon, having taken the form of a heavy, serrated knife, jutted from her fist in an underhand grip.
“You would be wise to simply give me the amulet, girl.”
“Come take it.”
“How cute. Your voice only shook a little bit.” Rake frowned around disturbingly long canines. “I have you to thank for my sorcerous difficulties, I assume?”
She couldn’t help but grin.
“I see.” He drew breath to speak, then glanced around him as though seeing the passage for the first time.
“Nope,” Mellorin told him, growing ever more confident with every word. “No dragons in here. You’d never fit, and I can’t imagine the effort would be comfortable.”
“No, it would not.” Rake hefted Dragnipur, then winced at the sudden squeal and the faint shower of ice.
Just as Mellorin had intended, the ceiling and the walls allowed him no room to swing a weapon the size of that sword.
A moment’s pause, and the Tiste Andii began to laugh. “Good, girl, very good! I’m truly impressed. You’ve really accounted for almost everything. Alas, ‘almost’ won’t suffice.”
Rake twisted sideways, taking a stance more appropriate to a duelist. He held Dragnipur in his back hand, placing the palm of his other against the side of the blade.
“I’m the greatest swordsman of my people, little girl. And I’ve had the lifespan of nations to learn how to face any environment.”
Again blades met. Perhaps it was simply Mellorin’s imagination, but the clatter of Talon on Dragnipur never seemed to echo; their footsteps drifted unheard across the rock. She and her opponent came together in sudden, impossible silence.
That he was her superior in every skill of combat was clear from the outset, but the tunnel favored her shorter blade and stature. His thrusts, though surprisingly swift and accurate for a weapon never meant to be wielded thus, remained awkward enough that he was never able to land a blow.
Not that he tried all that often. For the most part, Rake seemed content to fight on the defensive, using his hand on Dragnipur’s flat to maneuver the tip of the blade in tight circles. Mellorin found herself frustrated and growing ever more tired, no more able to slip inside his reach and deliver a telling wound than he had been.
It was only after long minutes, when the sweat had beaded and then frozen on her skin and her breathing came in sharp puffs of condensation, that she realized her opponent had been whispering under his breath for the past few moments.
“Temporarily, Mellorin,” Kaleb had told her. “Eventually, he’s going to break whatever wards I’ve set up, if he’s not dead already.”
Mellorin’s eyes went wide, though not so wide as Anomander Rake’s smile, and the world went black around her.
Her lips clenched tight around a scream she refused to utter, Mellorin once more gazed upon Kaleb, sitting cross-legged in the grass before her.
“You knew!” she accused him, her voice shrill. “You knew I could never win against someone like that, no matter what preparations I made!”
“Yes, I knew. But honestly, Mellorin, you did far better than I expected. I’m impressed.”
“Well, isn’t that just dandy?” Despite her tone, however, she couldn’t quite keep the ghost of a smile from her face at the sorcerer’s praise.
“Now,” Kaleb continued, “let’s go over what you did right and what you did wrong. I want to make damned sure you’re ready to take Daddy on, so my next test is going to be really tough…”
Predicted Winner: Anomander Rake
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON THURSDAY, MARCH 8th, 2012, AT 5 PM, EST
Anomander Rake is a character from the The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson; Mellorin Rebaine is a character from the Corvis Rebaine series (which begins with The Conqueror’s Shadow) by Ari Marmell
Cage Match fans: We are looking forward to hearing your responses! If possible, please abstain from including potential spoilers about the books in your comments (and if you need spoilers to make your case, start your comments with: “SPOILER ALERT!”