"How to Win a Contest Without Really Trying"
The Shadow Geyser, Part 2
by Edward Bolme
From an off-hand remark by Steve McLaughlin
Read Part 1 "The Clarion"

The most powerful Magi from each region had arrived at the appointed place, an open plain along the seashore to the west of Naroom, early on the second day. Under the direction of Poad, who was in charge of hospitality, several Naroom envoys had already arranged the dueling ground, and were prepared to adjudicate the event.

"Behold, we are here," said Barak as the Cald Magi arrived.

"There's... quite a lot of you."

"Of course," said Barak with a snort. "These are my finest Magi."

"Those... are all your Magi," said Poad.

"Of course. Orwin asked for the best from each region. Cald has no second-best warriors."

"Ooohhh-kaayyy," said Poad.

Barak looked about, the sun glistening off his bare muscled chest. "I hope you lot aren't our competition. We came looking for a good fight."

"No," replied Poad, "we're the tournament directors. Judges, aides, that sort of thing. Our Magi will be showing up shortly."

"Ah!" said Barak, with a smirk. "Then we are the first to arrive, as expected. Only a true warrior understands that punctuality--"

"Don't be too sure of yourself," said a cool voice. Barak turned to see several Magi from Orothe lounging in the surf by the edge of the tournament grounds. O'Qua, perched coyly on a rock, smiled and said, "We were here first."

"Over there, yes," admitted Barak. "But this," he added, gesturing about him, "is the tournament ground. A true warrior knows--"

"That's a mighty land-centric point of view," O'Qua chided.

"It's only sensible. Better than inconveniencing everyone just to appease some watery whiners."

"Oh, I see," giggled O'Qua. "You're afraid to face the Orotheans, so you want to duel us outside of the water, where you have the advantage."

"Take the field and get prepared to be smoked!" Barak bellowed.

"Come and get me," taunted O'Qua.

"People, please," said Orwin, his voice ringing with authority as he strode onto the dueling grounds, leading a contingent of Magi. Immediately the bickering ceased, and all eyes turned towards him. He stopped, placed his hands on his hips, and nodded in satisfaction. "All right then. Let's save the duels for when the judges are ready!"

A silvery voice drifted down from on high. "Are the elders themselves going to fight this day?" asked Shimmer, as she drifted down on the breeze. "Given that your people are also judging, why not just appoint yourself the winner?"

"I'm not competing," said Orwin. "Too impatient, too old, too set in my ways. Evu has the experience and the knowledge, he needs the assistance of someone young and energetic. No, this is not a contest for elders."

Barak glanced sideways at Orwin, then at Shimmer, feeling a trap being sprung. He wanted to go defeat the Shadow Geyser, but... "A general's place is to direct his troops," he said.

The Arderian contingent settled on the earth and looked around. "So where are the dirt-diggers?" asked Lasada.

The ground suddenly started rumbling and trembling, and six crystal digging claws suddenly thrust out of the earth. "Right here," said Gruk as she and her compatriots emerged from the ground. "We've been waiting for you."

"Yeah, right," muttered O'Qua. "We were here first."

"Prove it," replied Gruk flatly.

"Excellent!" said Orwin loudly, "I see that everyone is prepared for a duel! Let the contest begin!"

* * * * *

Many long hours later, the sun was gradually dropping down to the horizon. Tryn sat next to Evu under the shade of a large tree and watched the contest with detached interest as she buffed her nails. Evu muttered to himself with frustration. He rose, paced back and forth for a few seconds, and then sat back down with a grump.

"What's the matter, Evu?"

"It's that geyser. I should be going in; it's been troubling my dreams. And this," he gestured angrily out to the gathering, "this should have been finished long ago."

Tryn looked out at the dueling ground. Yaki and Pruitt had yet to be defeated, as were Ora and Grega. O'Qua was the only Orothean left, lounging in the water and rehydrating herself. From the Underneath, Fossik and Gogor both sat to one side, sharpening their claws.

"It should be over shortly, Evu," she said. "There's not many left."

"We can't just keep sitting around," grumbled the old historian.

Then Tryn counted the Magi. There were only seven of them left in the contest. Seven. Even as she realized that, she saw them start to argue with the tournament directors about how to decide the issue fairly with only seven contestants. Someone argued against letting a contestant sit out a round. Others argued that someone should have to fight twice - but then what if they won both times? Fossik and Gogor argued that matching them up against each other was a ploy to get rid of the contingent from the Underneath. Barak and Orwin got into a serious argument, then Ora flew up to Arderial to ask her elder to intervene.

Tryn sighed. "You're right, Evu," she said, "we can't just keep sitting around. But I have an idea."

"Oh?" asked Evu. "What is it?"

"Well, it's kind of convoluted, so it may take some time to explain."

"Oh, that's all right, I have plenty of time, it seems."

"Walk with me, will you?" asked Tryn with a smile.

"Oh dear, I can't keep up with your long legs," said Evu, "I just couldn't."

Tryn reach into her satchel and pulled out a bag of fresh jellybeans. A double batch. She shook the bag invitingly. "Would a little extra energy help?"

"Ooh, I think it might at that," said Evu, as he trotted after her. He took a small handful, munched several, and stashed the rest in his pockets. "So tell me, what's you're idea?"

"Wow, what a beautiful day it is, isn't it?" said Tryn pleasantly, pretending she hadn't heard the question. "Such a nice day for a walk."

She walked with Evu through the woods of Naroom, and soon the arguments of the Magi on the dueling field could no longer be heard. As they went, she slowly fed him more jellybeans, chattered cheerfully and aimlessly, and all the while led the two of them toward the Shadow Geyser.


Read Part 3 "Open Door, Closed Invitation"

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