The crowd for the second trial was a little less than the first. It was clear that some of the Manticores thought Gorfanth had cheated in some way or that Teknar flaked out at the last second. Either way, the Manticores didn’t have much respect for Arsha’s team at that moment. Like the last time, Boltuk made his way to the center of the ring and addressed the crowd. “These outsiders have passed the first trial of strength!” he began. The crowd roared in anger. “However, there are other trials to consider! For physical strength is nothing without other kinds! Bring forth the Hunter, Nedola!” A female Manticore then strode towards the center of the ring. “As I have said earlier, since the Minotaur passed the first trial, a new challenger must take his place!”
“My turn!” declared Lardeth.
“What?!” protested Malnar. “I’m the second strongest of us! I should go!”
“Meaning that you’ll win too easily,” replied Lardeth. Malnar was confused.
“You sense it too, huh?” asked Arsha. Malnar then arched an eyebrow, wondering what her lovers were talking about. She then concentrated on her senses. It took a few seconds before she realized what they found.
“Hang on!” she called to Boltuk. “What kind of trial is this?! She’s far weaker than Teknar was! Heck, she’s weaker than you!”
“Like I said, strength is not strictly defined by physical fitness,” replied Boltuk.
“In that case, Lardeth, be as cautious as everyone says you are,” warned Malnar.
“That’s the idea,” answered Lardeth as he strode towards the ring.
“Same rules as last time,” called Boltuk. “The challenger must win either by killing her or by ring-out. Begin!” Nedola looked at Lardeth as he adopted a ready stance. Her gaze focused on his head.
“…How old are you?” she asked.
“…307, why?” replied Lardeth.
“That’s the hair of someone who’s 307 years old?”
“Not hair, clouds.”
“You’re a Zephyr?”
“Half Zephyr. The other half of my blood comes from my human father.”
“…A human father who failed to teach his son how to be masculine. Just like Zephyr fathers with their own sons.”
“I said your people don’t know a thing about what it takes to be a man. I know all about your race of trannies.” Foresna moved towards the ring.
“Why, that little…!” Arsha held Foresna back.
“This is Lardeth’s fight!” she hissed.
“He’s manly enough for us!” shouted Foresna.
“Foresna, stay out of this,” called Lardeth. “This is between me and her.”
“You think a delicate princess like you can take me?” mocked Nedola as she circled her opponent. “You, who spends so much time on your lipstick and your dresses and your nails and your eyes? Face it, Zephyr men are weak!” Lardeth, at this time, was examining his nails.
“…He’s not…bored, is he?” asked Delselii.
“Very bored,” remarked Foresna as he saw what the trial was about.
“Even now, you prove my point!” laughed Nedola as she pointed her paw at Lardeth. “So focused on something so unimportant! Blissfully unaware of the danger because it keeps you safe!”
“…Could someone get her to stop spewing cowardly rhetoric?” asked Lardeth in a bored tone.
“…Say that to my face!” hissed Nedola, her smile dropping.
“Oh, and someone tell her that she’s not worth the effort of me talking directly to? I don’t really associate with dull, unoriginal idiots who want to weaken men so badly.” That did it! Nedola pounced on Lardeth.
“I’M NOT GIVING YOU THE OPTION TO WALK OUT OF THIS, YOU FAILURE OF A MAN!” she roared. “I AM MAKING MEN STRONG BY GIVING THEM FOCUS!”
“WRONG!” shouted Lardeth as he kicked her over him. That was when she landed headfirst outside the ring! Nedola recovered, then saw where she was.
“Wh…wh-wha?! How?!” She couldn’t find an answer until Lardeth spoke.
“Do you have any idea how many times I heard such things in my life? Let me tell you. I lost count; it was that much. The reason we wear dresses is because we’re not afraid of being judged! The most arrogant of us Zephyr men laugh at the men of other races because, and I use THEIR words, ‘Other men are all concerned about their absurd muscles and their misplaced pride in looking tough’! They’ve done this while fanning themselves and laughing like the corrupt lords they are! We pride ourselves on how we bear these words and dress as we do despite their words. For they are just that, words! You use them too much…and that makes you the worst kind of coward of all. You’re too afraid of any change or outliers. …That’s why I said you weren’t worth the effort of talking directly to.” Lardeth then left the arena.
“…You…damn…outsider!” snarled Nedola. “DON’T THINK YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH THAT REBUKE!” She flew upwards, then dove down onto Lardeth. After pinning him, her stinger strikes his backside, flooding his insides with venom. The Manticores roared in outrage. Boltuk pounced onto Nedola and slashed her face with his claws.
“COWARD!” he roared. Manticore doctors then rushed to Lardeth’s aid and whipped up anti-venom. They injected it into Lardeth, and he stopped convulsing in pain.
“He’ll get better,” reported one of the doctors. “He’ll just be in an uneasy sleep. One of you needs to stand by him.”
“Will dream-weaving help or harm him?” asked Falnii.
“It will help. The more restful his sleep, the quicker the anti-venom will do its job.”
“Then I’ll stand by him.” Falnii then chanted.
Dream your dream with me.
Tell your woes to me.
Show your troubles to me.
Dream your dream with me.
As she chanted, Lardeth’s face became more at ease. Her chanting stopped and they were both in a deep sleep. Boltuk then turned towards Nedola. “You coward!” he snarled.
“What did I do to warrant that?!” protested Nedola.
“What did you do?! You let his words affect you, that’s what! You could have just let him leave with the grace that was due to him since he won, but thanks to you stinging him, you’ve ruined your chances of ever rejoining your sisters!”
“I can gain those chances back!”
“…No, you can’t.” Boltuk then leapt onto her and scratched a mark onto her forehead. “As the senior in this gathering, for displaying cowardice, I hereby strip you of your rights as a Hunter! Return to your parents and show them how much of a coward you really are!”
“You will regret this!” roared Nedola. “Mark my words, you will pay for this slander!” She fled from the arena.
“Sir, I…” began Arsha.
“She’s the one who broke the law,” interrupted Boltuk. “Justice has been served. Because of this, however, we need to conduct the third trial here. That will require fixing the ring up to accommodate it. Wait here while we do so.” A company of engineers and builders then set to work.