Suriax
thought perverse, but it was the basis for all Suriaxian
society, and they believed in him completely.
    The crowds were particularly thick near the
stadium. Everyone was excited about the opening of the Tournament
of Fire. Younger, rookie competitors bragged about previous
victories. Veteran contestants, especially previous finalists, were
surrounded by fans. People screamed just to be heard. In the
distance, a band played, adding to the cacophony of sounds. You
couldn’t actually make out what they were playing until they played
a trio of notes everyone from Suriax recognized. As one the crowd
began singing the Suriaxian anthem, “The Blue Flame of Purity.”
Blue fire was nearly the hottest fire there was. It was also the
color of Venerith’s flame, for only the hottest fire could burn to
the truth. They sang of being reborn in the blue flame, set free
from the morality of others’ laws. They thanked Venerith for their
blessings and prayed for Suriax to remain strong and true. When the
song ended there was a reverent moment of silence, deafening after
the loudness that preceded it. Someone cheered and the crowd
followed.
    Horns blared from the top of the stadium
tree, announcing the start of the tournament. Contestants buzzed
with excitement, leading their respective entourages inside.
Banners flew through the air. The inside of the stadium tree was
even more heavily decorated than the rest of the festival.
Performers danced and did acrobatic flips along rafter like tree
branches running through the main stadium room. The walls swirled
around in an impossible design, curving to allow seating, both
common and special reserved balconies. The sky was visible through
a canopy of limbs and leaves, moonlight casting a magical glow on
the room and everyone in it. The competitors took to the floor,
beginning their warm ups and demonstrations of their skill, while
the audience filed in and took their seats. Roaming food vendors
sold Vaxtamil ale and various snacks. The horns blared again,
signaling the start of the exhibition fights. The previous
tournament’s winner and runner up took to the stage. The audience
cheered. Ten years earlier, Zanden, A rookie contestant in his
first tournament, blew everyone away by making it to the final
round. In the end, he was defeated by the previous champion, Sardon
Barief. Their match went on for three days with only brief breaks
for food to carry them through. Their rematch was one of the most
highly anticipated of the tournament. Even though this was
technically just an exhibition fight, everyone knew it was so much
more than that. As a three time champion, Sardon could not
participate in the full tournament this year. After three wins,
contestants were forced to retire from competing to allow other
competitors to rise to the top. In rare cases a former retired
champ was asked to return for a special match up, but that was only
ever against another three time champion. This was Zanden’s last
shot for the foreseeable future to fight Sardon and prove who was
superior. Both men had much to lose and gain through victory.
    Without preamble, they began to fight. For
several long minutes the only sounds to be heard in the stadium
were grunts at well placed punches, feet slapping against the
ground, fists hitting flesh and the even sounds of their breathing.
Even the vendors fell silent. Everyone sat in anticipation of who
would draw first blood.
    Maerishka heard a knock at the door of her
balcony and motioned for her attendants to answer it. They looked
at each other uncertainly, neither wanting to miss a moment of this
fight. At the second knock, a young female attendant lost the
battle of wills and begrudgingly answered the door, admitting King
Alvexton. Maerishka bowed slightly and gestured for him to join
her.
    “Your Highness, you look lov …. ly.”
Alvexton’s eyes widened as he caught sight of the flame markings
going up the right of Maerishka’s neck and face. Purposefully,

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