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Challenges of the Deeps: Chapter Ten

       Last updated: Saturday, October 22, 2016 22:01 EDT



    Wu Kung landed in a crouch-and roll, came to his feet in the precise center of the platform, saw the figures — one Dujuin rhino-like creature, two Daalasan like armored frog-men, and one spidery Milluk in the silvery Arena armor — appear from nothing around him. Adjudicators! The Arena’s own peacekeepers!

    Then he heard Orphan’s quiet despair, and rose to his feet, grinning savagely, baring his fangs to the Adjudicators as they raised their own weapons. “I gave my word to Tunuvun and Ariane that I would win this,” he said, and his own speech echoed across the chamber and was repeated throughout the great amphitheater beyond, its murmurs resonating back to his own ears. “And Sun Wu Kung has never broken his word!”

    He leapt towards the Milluk, and suddenly felt as though the air itself had condensed, become a mud-thick sludge that dragged at his limbs. A trap, like the hidden swamp of Numachi no O, the Kappa King!

    This would make it a challenge!

    Now he dug deep into his reserves, feeling strength and speed flooding into him as he unleashed everything. DuQuesne said I didn’t have to hold back! With a lunge he sped towards the Milluk, ducking under a bolt of energy from the Duijin and outdistancing the two Daaalasan. Two of the Milluk’s legs crossed, blocking his strike, but the creature was driven back almost a full meter, approaching the edge of the suspended floor.

    But the others were closing now, their weapons shimmering with energies he was sure were meant to stun and disable their foes on contact. But I still have Ruyi Jingu Bang!

    He spun about, whirling the great red-enameled, gold-ended staff in a blur that made the speed of the Adjudicators sluggish, parrying strikes of three of the four. The fourth, a narrow-pointed trident, slid past his guard and hammered directly into his chest.

    The impact was startling, a strength he hadn’t felt in years except sparring with DuQuesne. These Adjudicators are good.

    The field did not seem to impede him skidding across the floor, tumbling towards the opposite side, yet it did slow his arms as they extended out, as his feet’s claws reached out and dug, and he saw drops of blood trailing in the air, slowly falling to his perceptions as he sought to stop his swift career towards the precipice. It works against me, and only against me.

    Claws struck and gripped the platform surface, sending a shrill, ear-piercing shriek like a thousand nails drawn across a thousand blackboards, slowing his progress just enough. He rebounded from his crouch, met the two froglike Adjudicators halfway across the platform, moving through the impeding field as though it were thin air, and heard the gasps finally echoing from the unseen audience, the rustle of them slowly, slowly rising to their feet, leaning against the spectator rails, as they realized something extraordinary was playing out before them.

    In the distance he could hear feet running, closing in, and knew that he didn’t have long before Tunuvun arrived.

    Ruyi Jingu Bang ducked down and then up, clotheslining both Daalasan beneath their armored chins. Wu Kung pressed forward, the impact and Wu’s strength tearing the two Adjudicators from their feet, dragging them forward with the Hyperion Monkey King and forcing both the Milluk and the Dujuin to brace for collision. Wu braked, flipped up, and came down, aiming a blow for a precise point on the Milluk’s armor. If I guess its anatomy right…

    The creature tried to turn, even as it fended off the momentarily incapacitated Daalasan, but it was just one hair too slow. The golden ball on the end of the Monkey King’s staff crashed into its armored carapace with enough force to dent both the armor and the golden ball — a ball made of ring-carbon composite. The creature spasmed, legs clenching inward like a stunned spider, and fell, rolling back and plummeting into the unguessable void below.

    Now Wu Kung faced the three remaining Adjudicators and matched staff and feet and fists with their weapons, limbs, and armor. A blaze of blue energy from a silver bludgeon made his limbs momentarily seize up, and the Duijin took the opening, grabbed him, slammed him with ground shaking force into the shining platform, then lifted him to hurl him into space.

    But Wu Kung’s tail seized the rhinoceros-like head about the neck, used the power of its own throw to jerk it savagely forward, then Wu flipped around and used a double-heel kick to send it spinning helplessly into the void.

    Two left, and these worked as a team, taking him deadly seriously; he could smell they knew these victories were no flukes, no lucky accidents; disbelief rose high, almost as high as determination in their scents, disbelief that he could move as he did in their field of solidified air. Tunuvun’s footsteps were closer now, approaching the entrance and the final path to victory.

    The Daalasan pursued him relentlessly, pushing their own speed and strength — obviously boosted by the Arena — to match his own. But strength and speed were only as good as the skill to use them, and was he not Sun Wu Kung, the Great Sage Equal of Heaven? Wu laughed, laughed at the sheer joy of finally, finally finding an opponent in this world to test him to the limits, even as the two at last passed his guard with sheer determination and strength to momentarily match his skill and guile, striking his head with force enough to snap it around, blood spraying from his mouth, pain shocking, hot and urgent as the footsteps that were approaching above.

    But he tumbled away, a fall turned into a handspring, a lightning-fast succession of somersaulting leaps that sent him springing into space, rebounding off the far wall, and diving back, bouncing from the floor to sweep one froglike creature’s feet from beneath it and then grappling with the other, gritting his teeth and ignoring the shocking pain as he grasped the energy-charged staff and tore it from the Adjudicator’s shocked grasp, hurled it away, and then sent the third Adjudicator plummeting after his weapon.

    Above, Tunuvun’s feet were on the final path, sprinting at full speed across the gap, as Wu faced the last Adjudicator. With none of his allies to concern him, the Daalasan unleashed a torrent of electrical bolts, a network of destruction and shock that should be impassable, invincible.

    But Wu could see the writhing of the bolts, follow the Daalasan’s intent, his weaving of his tapestry of thunderbolts, and duck under one, leapt through a hole, brushed off the cramping shock of one bolt, and brought down Ruyi Jingu Bang to be parried at the last second by the wide-eyed Adjudicator. The roar of the crowd, distant though it was, was still nigh-deafening, and Wu strained to hear the final footsteps above, charging hopelessly towards the goal that honor demanded Tunuvun reach and his people prayed he would not.

    Five seconds, he thought as a machine-gun fast exchange of staves ringing against each other sent both of them staggering back for an instant. Four seconds, and the Adjudicator fired a wide-bore blast of force that would have sent Wu hurtling away into space had he not read that motion at the last possible moment, tumbled to the side. Three, and he retaliated, knocked the Adjudicator’s staff aside and rammed his elbow home at a point just below the throat that stunned the creature. Two seconds, and the Adjudicator tumbled limply away and slid over the edge as Wu Kung turned, judging distances, seeing Tunuvun only a scant few meters from the far doorway and the finish line.

    One second, and the crowd had gone silent, breaths and movements, even thoughts being held as the final moment of the race had come; Wu shouted the command, and Ruyi Jingu Bang extended, doubling its length in the blink of an eye, catapulting him up to the doorway at the very instant Tunuvun reached his, and past it, over, though, breaking the white-sparkling line of victory.

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