Candlemass, 6105 RTR (22 Mar 2001) Envoy plays a game of Blakatball.
(Ashdod) (Babel) (Envoy) (A Dream of Seven Sisters) (Ur)
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Bashek Coliseum
An old and forgotten arena has been given new life as the site for a new sport: Blakatball. Stone benches rise in concentric rings around a central lower arena, in the middle of which is a raised playing field surrounded by tall barriers of netting, with a large and wickedly sharp spike at each end. Thick columns and buttresses rise from odd places in the coliseum, as parts of it have become a foundation for the higher towers that rise all around it, making the sky a small and irregular patch that peeks through the architecture. Some sections of stands have collapsed or are so cracked as to provide dubious support, and piles of refuse – including broken pieces of weaponry, armor and chariots – have been moved to the sides. Torches and hanging braziers light the gloom and illuminate long banners hanging on the outer wall, looking to have been liberated from the sails of old airships.

Shadows dance eerily upon the sides of the towers that crowd in this long-forgotten and nearly buried arena that some enterprising Yodhblakat acquired for the glory of her goddess. Even after many days, it is still only considered practice, perhaps, but pinpricks of reflected light in the recesses of windows, cracks and balconies betray that thereis a considerable audience watching the goings-on – They keep quiet, for any squeaks draw the attentions of Yodhblakat eager to collect for the temple.

Interspersed between bouts of brawling and infighting, the Yodhblakat and their "acquisitions" have been undertaking the first complete games of Blakatball. On the second day, the High Priestess of Yodhblakat originally announced that it pleased Blakat to have a yiffle serve as the ball. To say that the result was chaotic and messy was an understatement, and the supply of yiffles soon ran out, with only a couple of them ever making it to a spike.

After a short-lived and vain attempt to procure more yiffles, the High Priestess informed the faithful that Blakat was bored of Yiffles, and wanted Eeps instead, and the Yodhblakat dispersed to acquire some.

The next day, this produced the perhaps briefly amusing but ultimately undesirable effect of each team trying to keep away from the ball. While the stunned eeps would be too shocked while being tossed about to actually combust, thus encouraging both sides to keep the eep in play, it would sometimes just finally blow up for no apparent reason (other than the fact that there could be few things more agitating to an eep than being tossed about by Yodhblakat) and then there was an accident with the eeps, which, while spectacular, once again depleted the ball supply.

Despite some very creative suggestions for what to use for a ball, the problem was for a time solved when a grocer pleaded with the Yodhblakat not to rob him of a large collection of melons in his store. Of course, they promptly grabbed every one. The fact that all of the melons were overly ripe dissuaded hungry Yodhblakat from eating them rather than playing with them, and had thebenefit of making certain that an impaling was an especially gruesome affair.

Today, the supply of ripe melons has yet to run out, so they still provide the ball of choice. As usual, the roster of players seems to change from day to day, and according to the whim of Blakat, there has been some experimenting with the number of teams playing at any given time, rather than just keeping it to two.

At present, there is a four-way challenge going on, and even with the innovation of having all the players wear colored tabards and bands to identify them (and prohibiting any players from stealing or otherwise defacing these identifying uniforms) it's pretty hard to make out how the game is going. Several acquired Savanite slaves and Fnerf servants dash about as "Maces", while the Wings are exclusively Eeee, though not all of them are priestesses.

So far, the Acolytes, if Yodhblakat, have indeed been exclusively acolytes … After all, no self-respecting priestess would want to be called an "acolyte". Given that it is still winter, there are no Nagai in the mix, as they would be too sluggish to be interesting. That may change once summer comes about.

(The roster invariably changes, not only due to injuries, but because the Yodhblakat can't care enough to take their "acquisitions" back to the temple for safekeeping, so they just let them run loose when the game ends. The conscripts generally learn well from the experience, and make themselves scarce the next time the Yodhblakat go calling for players. Although the game so far has amazingly failed to produce any fatalities, it's certainly only a matter of time.)

As the latest game unfolds, Envoy is seated on a stone box seat cushioned by pillows and cloths of many colors and patterns, along with several Yodhblakat and their temporary servants for the day. A few acolytes were over-enthusiastic and misguided in the acquisition of a garter Naga, who presently emits tinny snores from underneath a pile of coats that he's "guarding" for the priestesses.

The High Priestess, Razardela, is decked out in grandiose robes and trappings that are so carefully acquired that they actually match, and a Savanite cub attendant holds her staff, while another fans her. (Never mind that it's plenty cold as it is, without a breeze. Razardela has it in her head that the epitome of class is to have a slave fanning you.)

In addition to her usual trappings and a bundle of blankets, Envoy has a tiara that Razardela has blessed as the Tiara of the Honorary Yodhblakat, which Envoy was then forced to "steal" from an acolyte. What with all the confusing and frustrating conventions of Yodhblakat etiquette, Razardela came up with this innovation: Whenever Envoy wears the tiara, she is an honorary Yodhblakat. When she takes it off, she is not.

Thus, when she wears it, she can dispense with all the careful wording of things, and freely ask things of Yodhblakat without staged faux thefts to satisfy honor. ("Blakat does not steal from Blakat", it is said, though the Yodhblakat have their fair share of internal squabbling regardless.) So that Envoy is freed from having to "steal" things from non-Yodhblakat, she can simply tip the tiara and temporarily step down from her honorary status if need be. Regardless of the "Blakat does not steal from Blakat" rule, Razardela still makes certain to swipe back the tiara at the end of every day, when it's time to return Envoy to the Guild Hall.

"A fire mage," squeaks Tievas, one of Razardela's subordinates. When none of the other Yodhblakat seem inclined to respond to her out-of-the-blue squeak, she elaborates, "We should get a fire mage. Or two. Or four. Or a mage of each element, one for each team."

Razardela wrinkles her nose. "Useless. A held spell, and then they get ground into the stones when they try making a magic circle. How utterly dull."

"Fire balls are never dull," Tievas insists.

"Charred corpses are," Undara puts in, joining Razardela's side, as she always does. "All you'll do is make us run through players more quickly."

Tievas raises her eyebrows. "And your problem with this is … ?"

Undara, lacking the creativity to come up with a proper retort, just shrugs.

Just then, there's a great outcry and many whoops and shouts and loud squeaks, as a melon is messily impaled upon a spike by the Scarlet Team. (The teams are presently Scarlet, Crimson, Rouge and Red, minimizing the utility of the uniforms.) Tievas pulls out a spyglass to watch the commotion.

With the distraction, Undara surreptitiously dips her hand into Razardela's bowl of squirming grubs. She fills her mouth, then begins to chew … and then her eyes go wide. She rushes forward, and spews the contents of her mouth (and a bit more) onto the cheerleaders below.

Razardela is expressionless as this goes on, and, without even looking at what she's doing, she calmly tucks away a small bottle of a foul-looking liquid, and then pulls out a small wooden case. (Although the bowl of grubs has been getting progressively smaller, Envoy hasn't seen Razardela eat any for the past several minutes.)

Razardela holds the case over Undara's seat, then, in the same movement, snaps it open, depositing a few tiny de-winged bull chigas – nasty biting bugs that squirm about, snapping at the air with their pointy mandibles. The High Priestess then calmly snaps the case shut and slips it back into her robes, her timing impeccable, as Undara finishes her business, to the accompaniment of howls of protest from the "pretty-boy" bats below.

"This isn't what I had in mind," Envoy tells Razardela. "There should just be two teams, and the Maces are supposed to be Eeee. Staying on the ground is part of the challenge, after all. With so many players out there, no one will be able to figure out the odds, so nobody will wager. Remember, part of the reason for all of this is to elevate Blakat's status, and more people will come if there's money to be won. The teams also need to work a lot better if they're going to beat the ones fielded by the Yodhrephaths or Yodhbaradas."

Tievas and Undara are still distracted, each in their own way, and Razardela shows little reaction to Envoy, not even looking her way, but then her nose wrinkles in disfavor. "If the Yodhrephath and Yodhbarada join … The Yodhbarada are far more wealthy. It just wouldn't do."

Undara at last stumbles back toward her seat, and promptly sits down roughly. There's a crunching noise, and, as Undara doesn't immediately start shrieking or squeaking in anguish, Razardela looks faintly disappointed.

"Ah, but that's their weakness," Envoy points out, grinning. "The Yodhbarada can buy things like uniforms. But that's not as good as advertising, which only the Yodhblakat can offer."

Razardela raises an eyebrow at this. "Do explain?" Undara, meanwhile, squirms in her seat, looking uncomfortable. Tievas stops crowing, and returns to her seat in turn, as the excitement dies down in this quarter, though given the amount of confusion, a great many of the Yodhblakat may well have no idea just what they're cheering for.

Envoy taps her lip with a finger, and explains, "Suppose a clothier wants to drum up more business. So he makes a lot of Blakatball uniforms, enough for the entire team, and he announces when they'll be out on display. A lot of people will show up, because the whole team will show up to take the uniforms. Sports players are very popular, and looked up to, you see. People who look up to them and watch them play are called fans, which is a sort of madness. They will come in the hopes that their favorite team members will take something from them, because it's a big honor. Plus, the clothier will have lots of special fan uniforms to sell, so he will make a lot of money from that, because that's what fans buy. And certainly there will be lots of hopeful candidates for your Order as well. The Yodhbarada are secretive by nature, and the Yodhrephath are stoic, so they wouldn't be out in public like this."

Razardela takes on a serious expression, mulling this over. "'Fan'," she repeats, using the alien word (not directly translated into Babelite, but rather said in one of the languages Envoy picked up before her journey to Sinai). "Intriguing. I think that Blakat would like 'fans'."

Envoy nods. "The Yodhblakat will be more in the public awareness than the other Orders, because they'll be the ones that spend time with the people. This will make the others look … snootier. And that's why it is important to play against teams that they set up, you see. That way, all of their followers will pay to watch the game as well as yours, and when you beat them, Blakat's status will rise up and that of the other team's Goddess will sink down, so some of their followers will start following Blakat instead."

Razardela smiles. "I shall convey this suggestion to Blakat. I am certain She will be pleased."

"And of course the more popular the team becomes, the better the loot that people will want to be taken by them, because then they can say, 'Look! The head Acolyte of Blakat's team wears my scarf, because it is the very best kind of scarf.'

Razardela looks to be quite smug at the thought of this, and perhaps even more when Undara squirms in a bizarre dance in her seat, biting her lip and refusing to make a squeak of annoyance at her predicament. Just then, Envoy feels a heavy hand on her shoulder, and before she has a chance to react, she's shoved forward and out of her seat! "Mine!" a surprisingly hefty female Eeee voice declares from behind Envoy, followed by a deranged cackle as Envoy spills.

"Ooof," goes the Aeolun, and then picks herself up and turns to glare at whomever shoved her, making sure her honorary-Yodhblakat tiara is in place.

The owner of the voice is a red-furred, red-haired female bat, dressed in a mishmash of armor and pieces of cloth who, for a moment, looks like the very image of Blakat herself. After a moment to collect her senses … it still looks like Blakat. The bat plops herself down into Envoy's vacated seat, and looks out at the game. "Who's winning?"

"Blakat?!" Envoy blurts out in surprise, then realizes it can't be the Goddess herself, just another Yodhblakat.

Razardela looks to the newcomer. "And just what do you think you are doing?" She doesn't lift so much as a finger to assist Envoy, however.

The Yodhblakat sticks her hand into the bowl of writhing grubs. "Enjoying myself! You should see just how many candles I got!" With her other hand, she spills a bag full of Candlemass candles over the stone floor.

Dancing out of the way of the candles, Envoy approaches the newcomer. "Who are you, anyway?"

The bat gives Envoy this "Duh!" look, and grabs Razardela's staff, and in a swift motion, pops Envoy on the top of the head with it. "The Queen of Hearts!"

Razardela starts to rise from her seat. "Now … just one … " She stops in mid-sentence, jaw slowly dropping.

"Ow!" Envoy yelps, ducking down and rubbing her head where the staff struck. "How can you be, though? And you aren't really going to go out with a candle on Candlemass, are you?"

The "Queen of Hearts" tosses the staff aside. "I'm sure I can find a much better date than that!" She then guffaws boisterously, leaning back and kicking her feet. Razardela, meanwhile, gets out of her seat and drops to her knees, lowering her head. Undara and Tievas just look confused.

Envoy steps up and pokes the laughing bat to make sure she's real.

The bat seems quite real, and she swats at Envoy's hand. Then, she leans toward Envoy, conspiratorially whispering as she points to Razardela's momentarily vacated seat, "That one's available!"

Blinking, Envoy sits in the High Priestess' vacated spot. "How are you here though? We aren't all delusional, are we?"

Razardela looks up, and then has the presence of mind to be annoyed that Envoy has taken her seat. "Now see here!" she squeaks … then promptly gets up and boots Undara out of her seat. Undara squeaks in protest, and Razardela almost sits down … but then she walks over and boots Tievas out as well. Blakat, meanwhile, brings a handful of squirming grubs to her mouth, and chews thoughtfully, then frowns. She spits them out to the side. "I was fairly certain they didn't taste like that."

"Oh no!" the Aeolun says, sounding worried. "You didn't get yourself an Avatar somehow, did you? Please say you're just here to go one-on-one with Sandhya finally… "

Blakat pshahs. "I already did that. It was hardly even a contest!"

Envoy blinks again. "Still … how are you here? If Inala can't walk around incarnate, I have a hard time believing that you can."

Blakat raises an eyebrow. "Who says she can't?" Razardela seats herself in Tievas's chair. Tievas takes Undara's, looking smug at having moved herself up in the hierarchy of chairs. Undara shakes her robes, causing small snapping bugs (and a few crushed ones) to fall to the floor.

Frowning, Envoy reaches out to try and pinch Blakat's ear.If the red Eeee can feel pain, she figures, then this probably isn't another mass delusion like the one the Goddess cast during the raid on Inala's Temple.

"Hey!" Blakat squeaks, sounding very annoyed. She pinches Envoy in the tender spot between her nostrils.

"Ow!" Envoy yelps again, and grabs her nose. "I was just checking! You can't expect me to actually trust you, after all. So why are you here? Come to play ball?"

Blakat's eyes widen. "Splendid idea!" She grabs Envoy's wrist, and yanks on her with strength far beyond what an Eeee has any right to have, snapping out her wings and taking flight out of the box. "STOP THE GAME!" she bellows with an amplified voice. "I WISH TO PLAY!"

Envoy cries out as her shoulder gets yanked, but doesn't try to break free of Blakat's grip since she can't fly under her own power yet. "No miracles, though! That's cheating!"

Blakat looks over her shoulder. "But it's in the rules! One mage per side!" She cackles gleefully. "Magic, miracles … it's all the same to me!" Meanwhile, there's quite a stir amongst the Yodhblakat, as they seem uncertain how to react.

Razardela rushes to the front of the box seat and calls out, "Behold! It is Blakat manifest! Do as She bids! It is Her game!"

"But where's the challenge if you can't lose?" Envoy asks, trying to reason with the crazy Goddess.

Blakat just cackles in response to Envoy's question, then takes Envoy soaring down to the arena, and roughly dumps the Aeolun on the stone tiles. She stomps over to one of the extra players – from the Scarlet team, it seems – and grabs her, and yanks off her "uniform". "I'll take this! Envoy, you get yourself a team!"

Envoy blinks and stands up, surveying the other players to see how they're reacting to the presence of their Goddess … and also looking past the netting to see how the captured Children of Inala are reacting as well.

Several of the "Children" seem far more concerned with having Undara spew on them from the box seats than any of the commotion going on about them. The others just continue waving little banners around, seemingly uncompelled by any declarations of Blakat Herself being present, whatever the High Priestess says. The Yodhblakat are in a state of confusion – not unusual for them – though some seem quicker to accept the news than others. A few shriek and fly off in a panic. Others throw themselves to the ground in supplication. Others just stand around as if in a daze. A few others are busy pounding on each other.

Envoy makes her way to the netting, and whistles to get the cheerleaders' attention. "Hey! Want a chance to get back at the bimbos that trashed your Temple?"

A couple of the Inala-ite bats look curiously in Envoy's direction. Blakat, meanwhile, is shouting orders left and right. Most of the players file out of the court. It looks like she might be following Envoy's advice after all, and reducing the number of teams in play.

"Well?" Envoy asks the slaves. "If you want to show them up, this is probably your only chance. I need a team to challenge Blakat's over there." She gestures to the where the red-furred Eeee is imposing some order. "How about it? Do it for Inala, okay?"

It looks like there is considerable difference of opinion amongst the cheerleaders. Several of them shrink at the notion of joining in on this brutal game. One of the more hardy-looking ones, a male tinted a tawny gold in color with hair of crimson (actually, it looks like the Yodhblakat dyed it for fashion), flings his banners to the ground, and strides over toward Envoy. A few others follow suit.

Envoy's hopes go up, since she figures Blakat's influence won't affect non-Yodhblakats, and does a count to see if she has the requisite nine players, including herself.

Yes, it looks like she's got a team, and one spare. She definitely doesn't have a pool of them, though. Blakat surely has an advantage there, having the pick of all of those present she cares for. "What? No YIFFLES?!" she shrieks, and slaps one of the bats silly. Another bat hands her a melon, and she crushes it in her hands, smiling at the resultant mess and disgusting odor and sound. "Oooo! This will do!"

Envoy leads her players in through the opening in the net behind the goal spike, and first asks them, "Does anyone here not know the rules of play?"

The golden-tan bat looks around at the cheerleaders-turned-Blakatball-players, then says, "I think you should give them a refresher, just in case."

It looks like the Inala team has managed to procure itself a number of white towels and other cloths, making itself the "white team", while Blakat is going with scarlet. She orders several priestesses around, organizing them on the opposing side. It's an all-bat team this time around, as she's not bothering with any of the "acquisitions".

Nodding, Envoy crouches down and starts drawing in the dirt. "Okay, here's the field. These end parts are the Temples, and the big spike is the Altar. Our Temple is the one that's behind the other team when we start, and that's the one we need to get the ball to, to score points. The biggest three of you will be Maces, and you have to stay on the ground at all times. The best flyers after that will be the Wings, and you have to stay airborne, or cling to the nets. The remaining ones are the Acolytes, and they are the only ones that can handle the ball or score points."

The golden-tan bat seems to have some authority over the others present, as hinted at earlier, and takes it upon himself to start picking out bats for the different roles, designating himself a "Mace".

Envoy goes to explain that only Acolytes can fly or run as needed, and that they can pass the ball to another Acolyte that's on the ground if they are in the air, or vice versa. "The first goal of play is to control the ball, whether or not we are on offense or defense. If you get a hold of the ball while we're on defense, get to the ground and curl up around it. If it's not in play for thirty seconds, the round ends and we get to be on offense next. The same goes for getting it into the Temple; we just want to hold it there until we get offense."

The bats nod. One of them holds up a slender hand. "Who gets the ball first?"

Envoy says, "We'll toss a coin to determine that."

Turning to the chosen Wings, Envoy says, "You need to try and get any ball-carrying Acolytes onto the ground without landing yourself. They'll probably be stronger than you, so try to tickle them instead of tackling. I also want you to try and confuse the other team's ground players with your sonar if you can, and call out any movements they make to try and get behind our Acolytes."

Several head nods. Envoy has been fortunate to get a bunch of bats very interested in the outcome here.

"If we're on defense, our Maces need to keep close to the Temple zone. The Yodhblakats will probably always try to score on the Spike, rather than make a Conversion by holding the ball in the Temple until the play times out, so focus our defense there. Same for the Acolytes, we need to defend the Temple and the Spike," Envoy coaches. "I'll be one of the Acolytes, so one of you will be able to sit out until we need a replacement."

"What about the referees?" squeaks one of the bats. "What if they count slowly for the seconds?"

Going back to the dirt drawing, the Aeolun says, "For our offense, the Maces and Acolytes can surround the ball carrier in a moving wedge like this," and she draws aconfiguration with one Mace at point, two next to each other behind him, and then the three Acolytes making up the final row with the carrier in the middle. "The Wings will need to let us know when we're vulnerable from behind. Hmmm. Maybe we can get some neutral referees then? There are still the abductees from this morning. I'll go ask about it."

Envoy gets up and trots over to Blakat. "Hey! Can we use those bystanders for referees? Just to be fair and all, since Yodhblakat might be a bit biased."

Blakat grins. "Certainly!" She claps her hands together. "GO FIND ME A REFEREE FROM AMONGST OUR AUDIENCE!" she commands those listening. Several Yodhblakat take to the air, and there are several shrieks as those bats lurking in the shadows scatter this way and that.

"I don't suppose you want to get the coin toss over with now?" Envoy asks the Goddess. "So we can see who goes on offense or defense first."

"Certainly!" Blakat says, then frowns, patting herself down. Several candles fall out, a few candies, a couple of squashed bugs, a golden filling, a baby's rattle, a pair of boxers, a scroll with a map on it, and a few cheap chitin rings.

Envoy produces a shekel from her own robes. "Allow me," she says, then asks, "Heads, or Anchor?"

Blakat reaches out as if to swipe the shekel, and then her eyes alight upon the tiara perched on Envoy's head. "Both!" she squeaks.

Envoy blinks, then reaches up and removes her tiara. "It can't land on both," she explains.

Blakat, distracted from Envoy's explanation, reaches out and snatches the coin as soon as she removes the tiara. "Aha!" she squeaks triumphantly, then flips the coin into the air.

Envoy stuffs the tiara into her robes, and calls out, "Anchor!"

The coin falls … and Blakat grabs it out of the air, and hunches over it. Envoy can catch a glimpse of an anchor on the coin's face. Blakat squeaks, "It came up … both!" Her Yodhblakat cheer.

Envoy glares. "No it didn't; it came up Anchor!" she argues.

Blakat clasps her hands over the coin, holding her hands away from Envoy. "Prove it!" she insists.

Envoy crosses her arms across her chest, and says,"Never mind. So, do you want to carry the ball, or try to take the ball from my team?"

Blakat seems positively perplexed at this. "Well … what would you do, if you got to choose?"

After a moment of thought, Envoy says, "I'd try to take the ball, because that would be more fun than trying to protect it."

"Well, then I will take the ball! Ha!" Blakat announces, pointing at Envoy with one finger, and surreptitiously pocketing the coin with the other hand.

Envoy smiles. "Okay, so you want defense then?"

A few Yodhblakat flutter back, holding a squirming little bat amongst them. "We have a referee!" Oddly enough, it's a little Yodhbarada. It's the same one that visited Envoy earlier – Tania.

"Yes!" Blakat shouts out, without thinking. "Ha ha! Defense is mine!"

Not quite surprised at this, given the girl's curiosity, Envoy waves to Tania. "Okay, we'll be offense then," she says, and goes to pick up one of the remaining melon-balls before Blakat can change her mind.

Blakat still basks in having acquired defense – and a shekel. She sticks it in her palm, ogling it as if it were a special treasure, then skips merrily toward the "temple", her Yodhblakat looking crestfallen at their leader's concession to the Avatar-of-Inala-turned-captain-of-her-Blakatball-team.

Tania, meanwhile, gives Envoy a meek little wave, and then struggles as several Yodhblakat force a white and black striped tunic on her, over her Yodhbarada robes and fluttering wings. After a bit of a struggle, the little bat timidly flaps up to a raised pedestal, under the watchful gaze of Yodhblakat that make sure she doesn't make a break for it.

Envoy quickly distributes her remaining coins to the members of her team when she returns with the ball. "You might be able to use these to distract the other players with, if you throw them."

The "ball", as it turns out, is a very ripe melon, though it has a thick rind, promising that it should be able to handle some abuse before bursting, but it already smells pretty ripe as it is. Those with acute senses of smell might be able to pick out the melon by scent if they can't see it … except that the field has already been littered with the gore of several other "balls", adding to the aromatic confusion.

"Uhm … places!" the timid referee squeaks. "Please?"

Blakat's three "Wings" flap up and off the ground, and go to holding positions on the netting barricading in the field. Envoy's own Wings take their positions on netting as well.

Holding the melon to her chest with her right arm, Envoy pulls the tiara out of her robes and holds it with her left hand, hoping it can be a useful distraction later, then gets her team into its wedge behind the center line of the field.

Meanwhile, enough time has passed for some interest to grow … and for a few observers to return, now that the Yodhblakat aren't looking for a referee. The audience has grown in size.

The referee looks to both teams. If Blakat is going to win, it looks like it'll be through sheer brute force, not through grand strategy. She doesn't seem to have any particular organization of her team in mind at all.

The referee holds one hand up. "Ready … ?" She forces herself to meet Blakat's gaze, and gets an enthusiastic rapid head-nodding from the goddess of conflict. She then looks over to Envoy.

Envoy gives a quick nod to Tania.

Tania brings her hand quickly down. "Take victory!" she squeaks out! Blakat's bats snap into action, most of them seemingly intent to play as if they were offense, rather than defense, though two of the Maces and one of the Acolytes stays near the spike. Blakat, it seems, as appointed herself, ironically enough, an Acolyte.

"Forward!" Envoy calls, and runs behind her Maces, while flanked on either side by Acolytes.

The sides rush forward, and in the middle, there is the first encounter. Two of the Maces are bowled over by Yodhblakat, leaving just Envoy's golden-tan Mace still standing at the moment. Blakat herself looks intent upon going for Envoy, but one of Envoy's Acolytes flies to intercept, actually knocking the goddess off course, seemingly to her surprise.

Envoy shifts the ball to her left arm, since that side is still guarded, and holds the tiara in her right. "Coins!" she calls out to the rest of her team, hoping the Yodhblakat will be distracted. If it works, she decides to call it the "Vartan Gambit".

The Inala players – three Wings and one Acolyte unoccupied at the moment – follow the cue, tossing four coins out. Sure enough, the acquisition-minded Yodhblakat either go for the prizes, or else are at the very least momentarily distracted by the curious move. Envoy manages to make it to the three-quarters mark down the field. Blakat has wrestled herself free of an Acolyte, and flies full-speed toward Envoy's back. "Guard the Temple!" she shouts to the two Maces and Acolyte defending the spike.

Hearing the familiar voice behind her, Envoy holds the tiara over her head and spreads her wings out straight behind her, intending to drop the jewelry if she feels Blakat touch her wings. "Wings, sonar!" she calls out, hoping her flying guards are in a position to try and confuse the defending Maces or pursuing Acolytes.

Loud shrieks echo through the air, and, sure enough, Envoy feels Blakat's weight slam into her from behind! "AHA!" shrieks Blakat.

Envoy tosses the tiara behind her, and tries to dodge to the right away from Blakat.

Blakat's cry of triumph is suddenly broken off and muffled. She manages to slip away just then, to the right, as two Wings – one hers, one Blakat's – collide and fall to the ground, narrowly missing Envoy. For a moment, it seems like the ball will slip from Envoy's grasp, but though it slips and she has to do a comical fumbling over it to keep from dropping it, she manages to get a tight and solid grip on it once more, without mishap. One of the Maces meets with a collision (and it's not clear just with whom), and Envoy manages to make it into the boundary of the temple!

Envoy drops and rolls, clutching the ball and hoping it won't burst, and gets up facing back down the field, looking to either side to see where the spike is in relation to her.

Envoy feels the melon flex a little too much, and there's a wet sensation as some of its foul innards leak out … but the melon is for the moment still intact. A bat dives overhead, and she can see the spike down the way, though it looks like Blakat's forces are prepared to intercept her should she make a run for it. Blakat herself struggles with a tiara that has somehow become wedged in her mouth, and finally spits it out. "PTAH!" Face red with rage (well, it was red anyway), she wings her way toward Envoy.

Envoy turns and runs towards the spike, straight at the defenders! As she gets close, she lets out a horrific roar!

The defenders seem hardly impressed by Envoy's roar, and one of the Maces moves to intercept Envoy, while an Acolyte flies over the spike itself, also on an intercept course. It seems as if the whole field is converging upon Envoy's position now. Blakat's position is easily picked out, by her distinctive raging cry as she bolts toward Envoy.

Envoy stops dead in her tracks, and turns towards Blakat's charge. "Think fast!" she calls, and makes as if to the throw the melon at the Goddess … but does her best not to actually let go of the squelchy fruit.

Blakat's eyes go wide, and she suddenly averts her head-on charge to try to intercept the imaginary toss that never actually comes. A Wing whizzes by Envoy, and another one appears to be about to smash into her.

Envoy tries to drop under the wing before it hits, pulling the ball back against her chest!

WHOOSH! A Wing and an angry cry shoot over Envoy, as the player zips past her … and collides midair with the errant Blakat. That's got to hurt.

Scrambling back to her feet, Envoy tries to dodge around the remaining Mace.

Fortune is with Envoy, as the Mace gawks at the violent spectacle of Blakat colliding with a Wing. Envoy manages to slip past the remaining defense, as her players manage to hold off the defenders (since Blakat herself has been so kind as to occupy one of her own Wings).

Envoy runs up to the spike, and holds the melon overhead to drive down onto it … then tosses it back over her shoulder and walks out through the gap in the net behind the Altar.

"I quit!" she declares.

There are several collisions and many angry cries, and then a sudden hush as it dawns on the players just what has happened. The melon splattering against the floor seems hardly to compare with the rest of the ruckus going on. The audience quiets down, and Blakat struggles, extracting herself from three of Envoy's teammates that have piled on her. "HOLD IT!" she shrieks. "COME BACK HERE!"

Envoy pauses outside the field and looks back through the net at Blakat, then points to her own chest with a "who me?" expression.

Blakat snarls and nods several times with a "yes YOU!" expression, shoving a couple of bats aside as she stomps out of the net. Tania takes advantage of the confusion to escape her role as referee, flapping upward and away from the coliseum.

The Aeolun backpedals until she's up against the stadium wall, below the seats. "I can't, I quit! I could have scored if I wanted to; I had you beat."

"Then why DIDN'T you?" Blakat squeaks. "WHY?!"

Envoy blinks at the enraged bat. "Because I would have lost then! I know there's no way to win against you except by quitting when I'm ahead. I learned that watching Zakaro's challenge, and by winning Inala's."

Blakat pouts. "You thought this was the final challenge, didn't you? You were planning on pulling some sort of trick, weren't you? Here and we already agreed upon the train and the ticklers! It's not fair! Just when I was having fun! You are such a party-pooper!" she cries, petulantly.

Envoy smiles apologetically. "Inala took the Child out of me, what can I say? At least the Yodhblakat might be able to turn this game into something big, like I suggested to them."

*clink* A coin falls to the ground, rolling away from Blakat. A couple of candles fall, too. Blakat's eyes remain fixed on Envoy.

"Cheer up!" Envoy says. "After this, people will be talking about your visit for years."

Blakat gives Envoy a dubious sidelong glance as she turns away, walking toward the doorway leading to the locker rooms. It is just then that Envoy notices that Blakat doesn't seem to be casting a shadow, and she can dimly make out the light of a torch that is flickering behind Blakat, through her form.

Sighing, Envoy slides down the wall until she's sitting on the ground, and hugs her knees up against her chest. "Oh great … I'm surrounded by dozens of Yodhblakat who just saw what happened, and I can't fly."

Blakat suddenly stops, mid-stride, with a wicked smirk on her face. She starts striding back toward Envoy. Her steps make no sound, and she seems a bit less solid, becoming more apparition than real, but she seems no less determined. She stoops down and whispers into Envoy's ear. She points at the tiara that is lying on the ground, along with several other items that fell from Blakat's pockets when she started losing her substance. She points at Envoy's head.

Envoy eeps, and scrabbles forward to grab the tiara and put it back on her head, making her an honorary Yodhblakat again. "Thanks," she whispers to the apparition.

Blakat grins toothily, then points at the referee's podium, and winks in exaggerated fashion.

Envoy quickly looks back towards the podium, remembering that Tania had escaped earlier.

Blakat's grin fades, and she gives Envoy a frustrated look, then waves her hand in a "come ON!" gesture, points at Envoy, then points several times at the podium.

At present, the podium is quite unoccupied, and the former players are milling about aimlessly. Even a few of the cheerleaders seem to have slipped off while nobody was paying attention.

Envoy blinks again … and wanders over to the podium.

Once she gets to the base, Envoy climbs the steep steps to the seat, and clears her throat. "Since both team captains have abandoned the field," she says, "they are disqualified. This game is a draw, at zero to zero."

Blakat shrugs and strides on off to the locker room. One of the younger Yodhblakat looks up at Envoy and squeaks, "So … are we going to have another game?"

Envoy looks down to the girl, and then looks up into the stands. "Sure!" she says. "Form up new teams. Do the Whites want to take the field again?" she calls down to the gold-furred male.

The male laughs and punches a fist into the air. "For the glory of Inala!" This draws several boos and hisses and catcalls from the Yodhblakat.

"You bet!" Envoy calls down. To the crowd, she says, "I recommend two-to-one odds for the Whites! They're outnumbered, but they've got spirit!"

---

GMed by Greywolf

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Today is 12 days before Landing Day, Year 24 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6123)