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Challenge

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At the sides of the throne room were tables of decorative trinkets--vases and sculptures as well as a sheath that may or may not have a sword within it, no doubt of great value--and the walls were ornamented with a long mirror on either side that reflected most of the light coming from the windows at the far end. Shadows were nowhere to be found and the sunlight illuminated the large throne at the end of the hall, where a bored king sat, only mildly amused by the purposeful wandering that had led the Nomad of Nowhere into his throne room.

“So, Nomad,” El Rey said, crossing one leg over the other as he watched the Nomad approach. “I see you’ve come to turn yourself in to me directly. Very smart of you.”

The Nomad stopped before the steps up to the throne, shaking his head firmly.

“No?” El Rey asked. He raised his eyebrow, sitting up straighter and donning a small smile. “Then, what have you come for?”

The Nomad pointed to El Rey and to himself, balling his fists and lowering his stance.

“I suppose you’re saying you’d like to… challenge me, then,” El Rey chuckled patronizingly. “To a fight?” He assumed he was correct when the Nomad made no more gestures. “A challenge to a fight, then. What do I get when I win?”

The Nomad’s eyes remained narrowed in determination, placing a palm on his chest without breaking eye contact.

“And what would you get if you win?” El Rey asked, amused and intrigued now. The Nomad stayed quiet, and El Rey started to laugh deep within his throat, growing until it was practically a cackle. He stood from his throne, “I suppose it doesn’t matter, then, seeing as this match has a clear winner. Very well, Nomad, I’ll accept your challenge.”

As El Rey began to descend the stairs, the Nomad held up a finger. El rey stopped, tilting his head to the side. “...On one condition? What is it?”

The Nomad crossed his arms in an X over his chest, then moved his hands in a circle, starting at the top of his head and ending at his hips, fingers moving in opposite directions. “No magic?”

The Nomad nodded. El Rey smirked. “This is going to be too easy,” he said, descending the steps until he stood right in front of the Nomad. He towered over the wanderer by several inches, but the Nomad didn’t back down. “You understand that magic is all you have going for you, right?”

The Nomad shook his head, and pointed to El Rey. His face fell from amused to angry quicker than should have been possible, grinding his foot into the floor wordlessly.

The Nomad held his hand out, but when El Rey reached to shake it, the Nomad retracted his hand with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes, I promise, I will win without the use of magic,” El Rey narrowed his eyes, “or so help me God.” The Nomad reached out again and El Rey shook his hand.

The Nomad’s stance widened and he bent his knees, kicking El Rey square in the chest and using his grip on his opponent’s hand to flip him over.

El Rey hit the ground behind the nomad with a thud and a groan, hearing the sounds of El Rey scrambling to his feet.

The Nomad turned over his shoulder swiftly, sprinting at El Rey, who prepared his arm for a punch. The Nomad ducked as El Rey’s fist flew, landing a hit at the king’s gut. He grabbed the king’s shoulder and punched at his nose, crouching down, sweeping El Rey’s legs out from beneath him.

When the Nomad stood back up, El Rey had hit the floor chin-first. He looked up at the Nomad with a spiteful glare, spitting a glob of blood from his mouth before his lips curled to bare his teeth.

“So that’s how we’re gonna play this,” El Rey’s arms were shaky as he breathed uneven, trying to push himself up.

The Nomad made eye contact with El Rey and his eyes narrowed, first pointing at El Rey then lowering his flat palms and tilting his chin up.

“You want me to stay down ?” El Rey asked incredulously. He laughed, propping his foot underneath himself and standing back up. His neck rolled to the side with a crack . “I’m just getting started.”

The Nomad charged again, but when El Rey caught his fist and countered with a punch to the face, he stumbled backwards and shook his head.

“You didn’t give me proper warning before we started; how ungentlemanly of you,” El Rey mocked. “Of course, I wouldn’t expect much in the way of manners and etiquette from a scarecrow .”

The Nomad ground his feet into the limestone flooring, balling his fists to show he was ready. El Rey maintained eye contact as he walked to the wall, retrieving the sword that had been hung there and unsheathing it. “Alright, Nomad, have it your way--the gloves are coming off.”

El Rey lunged at the Nomad, slicing the blade down. The scarecrow rolled out of the way with speed, landing on his back and giving a hefty kick at the hilt of the sword, sending it flying. El Rey followed it with his eyes as the Nomad pressed his palms into the floor, jumping to his feet in another battle stance. El Rey retreated towards the sword and, without thinking, the Nomad grabbed a vase, but the moments following that were a blur.

The Nomad dropped the remains of the vase to the floor, watching as a small pool of blood began to ooze from El Rey’s head.

El Rey planted his shaky hands to the floor and pushed his weight into it, but he couldn’t find the strength to stand again, collapsing back down with a resigned groan. He rolled his head to the side, looking up at the Nomad who approached calmly.

The Nomad stood next to El Rey, disdain evident in his gaze. When it became obvious the king wouldn’t rise in retaliation, the Nomad knelt down, placing his gloved hands on either side of the golden crown adorning El Rey’s head.

El Rey’s hands moved up to clutch the Nomad’s, looking at him with eyes of fear. “No, n-- you don’t know what you’re doing! Stop!”

The Nomad moved to stand and El Rey desperately shifted to keep the crown on his head. A boot pressed down on El Rey’s chest and the Nomad applied firm pressure, detaching the king from his crown. As he fell to the floor, his body aged in front of the Nomad; his hair grayed, his skin wrinkled, and he began to rapidly decompose on the floor until he was a pile of bone and ash.

The Nomad looked at the pile, then up at the mirrors on the wall, staring at his reflection. He reached one hand up, gripping the top of his hat and removing it, letting it fall to the floor. Without breaking eye contact he lifted the crown up, positioned it over his head, and lowered it to rest against the cloth of his head.

“Once silenced by fear of another’s making, you are now free to speak,” the crown whispered to him. “What is it you desire?”

The Nomad took a deep breath in, exhaling. His eyes moved to the skeleton on the floor and back to his reflection, balling his fists. “Show me who killed Melinda.”