The Beastmen may have had experience, physical structure, and savagery on their side, but we four had tactical experience, relying on one another as we stared down all number of foes, human and otherwise, in our travels together. The Beastmen hooted and howled their battle calls as we took position and drew our weapons.

With three opponents, Barik would try to get the attention of two of them, his imposing armour likely already marking him a competent fighter in their eyes. I would work to distract and harass the other, while Eb and Verse focused their ranged shots against a single target. The goal was for Barik and I to survive long enough for the women to force the furred monsters to retreat or relent.

Things don’t always go as planned – the three Beastmen rushed me, completely ignoring Barik. Perhaps they saw me as a greater offensive threat, or were tipped off to the fact that I was the leader of our small band, but their focus left my companions scrambling. Verse eschewed her bow for trusty daggers, sinking them deeply into the legs and backs, aiming for crippling wounds rather than killing strikes. Eb traded her usually offensive gravelight spells for boons of protection and healing, and Barik worked to shield-bash at least one of the monsters off of me.

I hadn’t been the subject of such an unbalanced assault since my youth, and though I almost held my own back then, I now had the benefit of years of active military campaigning, Tunon’s education, and the power of the Spires within me. I’d never say it was a fair fight, but I know that even a year prior, I wouldn’t have survived the opening swipes.

Verse’s blades must have struck home because one of the Beastmen – I think it was Corpse-Eater though in the fray of battle it was hard to tell them apart – spun and slashed savagely at her face, sending her reeling. He pressed the attack, blood matting his silver and grey fur, which alleviated some of the pressure on me. I ordered Barik to help defend her, something I’m sure her pride didn’t appreciate, but I knew his shield was sturdy enough to protect the two of them.

That left me fending off raking claws and fierce bites from Dark-Foot and Crimson-Stone, Eb trying to offer what help she could. I don’t mean to downplay her contributions, but I was a little too busy dodging and parrying the blows raining down on me to take an accurate measure of her exertions.

Ducking low beneath my shield, I stabbed forward and caught Dark-Foot across the thigh with my glowing blade, causing her to howl in pain. Corpse-Eater must have fallen because Barik brought the pommel of his sword down heavily on the pained Beastman, dropping her to the ground, breathing but unconscious. It was now four on one, and we advanced on Crimson-Stone as a team, blades slick with the blood of his tribemates, eyes afire with purpose. Defending ourselves from bandits and other undesirables upon the road was one thing, entering a public bloodsport arena to pacify some Beastmen’s pride was quite different.

He wisely knelt in surrender.

Blood dripping from our own wounds, we turned toward Blood-Rock, the challenge master. “Proclaim us the winner,” I demanded. “Honor requires it.”

Somehow keeping his anger in check, looking to his fallen pack-mates, he nodded. “Speak with Red-Fang. Human is as strong as kin.” He almost spat out the words, but the important thing was that he had said them. We turned our backs on the bloodied circle and marched back to the Spire, determination to see this foolish errand done quieting any discomfort our wounds caused.

Wisely, no Beastman barred our path.