Gloom of the Coward
by R. Hyperion

"They say when you gaze upon the lights of Guara Bobelo from a distance, you suddenly feel like taking part in the Arena. Is it the power of the demon king that sleeps beneath the Arena? Is it subliminal messages in the flickering lights? No one knows for sure, but if you go to Guara Bobelo, it's best to keep your wits about you."
— Armengard


"Come on, step up! Test your mettle!" A mouthy, blond-haired woman with short, messy hair was shouting into a microphone at the rivers of blind, deaf passers-by. There was dust on her blue boots, her eyes were blue, and she wore an obnoxiously red overcoat. Arnaud knew this already. Arnaud had been drifting along these rivers for the past hour. And though he didn't mind the constant noise that came with city life...her voice in particular was beginning to grate on his nerves. He hoped she wouldn't see him, looking like some lost country bumpkin on his fourth pass in front of the Arena.

Speaking of which. (He looked down.)

"Maybe it's...over this way?" Jude pointed out a slightly different direction through the throng of people, and sped up his walk a step. Oblivious. Arnaud rolled his eyes, heaving a sigh. This kid was hopeless. Okay, so she didn't like 'sordid' places like Guara Bobelo. Fine! But why couldn't Raquel have at least played babysitter for tonight?!

The boy stopped, biting his lip. "No—wait. We've been this way already, haven't we?"

Arnaud wrote it off as a rhetorical question. You know, Yulie may have still been a kid—and a scared one, to boot—but at least she wasn't so dang conspicuous...

The hawker's eyes swung over, and her gaze was so pointed he felt a pinch. Damn!

"You! You there!" she shouted, pointing her microphone like a spotlight. "How about you challenge the Arena!"

His stomach tied a knot in itself at being put on the spot. A few of those passers-by stopped flowing, eyes turning on him. Jude's did too, uncomprehendingly.

Before the situation got out of hand, he came to a conclusion. "Come on, Jude," Arnaud said, hastily. "I think the weapons shop was this way."

Not content to let go, she hurled words at his back.

"Oh, so you're a coward?"

...Broadcasted for all of Guara Bobelo to hear.

That word ran a buzzsaw up the length of his spine, trailing all the horrible memories that went with it, and without thinking he'd tightened his shoulders to block the discomfort. Less than a split-second later, he'd re-composed himself. Keep your mind sharp, Arnaud, he told himself. She was just some stupid heckler who'd been shouting all day; if he left now everyone would just—

"Arnaud is not a coward!"

—Correction.

Much to his dread, Jude was staring her down, pale with indignation. She pursed her lips ostentatiously and leered at him. "Awwww. Well you may be right, but I'd love to hear that from the man himself. Little boy."

Now the river had metamorphosed into a ring of people, thumbing and laughing at the spectacle. Arnaud felt his cheeks grow hot, but—

I...am not...a coward (...anymore)

—set his chin into a look he desperately hoped was 'determined' instead of 'obviously shaking and trying to save face'. Storming his way over, he gave her his best glare and shook a fistful of gella at her.

"Fine, then!" he bit out. "I'll show you people what a duelist with real intellect can do!" She stepped aside with a flourish, directing him toward the wide entrances. And Arnaud disappeared into the darkness, out of sight.

A withered old man with scraggly hair howled with laughter. "Ten to one on that guy!" he cackled, snapping Jude out of impressed awe.

He didn't know what that meant, but realized that he was standing all alone now that Arnaud had gone, and still not quite sure where he was. Shrugging his shoulders, he remembered that Raquel hadn't wanted him wandering around alone for some reason, and figured he'd just stay with Arnaud. After all, he actually knew where that was...and Arnaud would definitely beat anyone he came up to, smart as he was. Grinning at the thought, he started down the same path.

"Whoa, whoa!" A hand caught the collar of his jacket, and he stared up into the face of that tall woman. "You can't just go in there!"

Caught by surprise, all he could do was stammer in protest. "But—! He's—"

"Friend or no, you gotta pay to enter the Arena," she said, cutting him off. "You gotta pay to watch the Arena, too. And if ya can't do that, then stand outside and look at the monitors like everybody else," she finished, shoving him roughly away into the crowd.

Jude caught himself mid-stumble and frowned, fixing his jacket. It was true—Arnaud had been carrying all the money for supplies. All he had was pocket change. Definitely not enough. Disappointed, he turned on his heel...and his shoulder hit another body.

"Oh, excuse me!" he exclaimed, the politeness Ciel had drilled into him returning. "I wasn't—"

"Jude!?"

Yulie, of all the faces. Worried, as usual, but also quite flushed and scattered. "Oh, where have you two been! We were so worried, we thought something might have happened!" She looked around from side to side, still apparently agitated. "Wait...where is..."

He beamed and grasped her wrists, half from excitement and half to calm her down. "Yulie, you should have seen it! Arnaud was amazing!"

There were stars in his eyes, while she felt more and more confused. "But Jude, where is he!?"

Jude pointed to the huge coliseum behind himself, and she raised her hands to her mouth in shock.

"Um, listen, Yulie. This is gonna sound strange, but...do you have any gella on hand?" She nodded silently, rummaging in the folds of her dress. Much to his surprise, she pulled out a number of dull coins and obligingly dumped them in his palm.

"Thank you! I'll pay you back!" he said, breathlessly, bowing and then taking off like a shot.

Yulie's eyes widened, though she was a little too delicate to dash through the wall of people. "Wait! Jude! Where're you going?"

"Inside!" he called back, voice and figure slipping in and out of the noise and its crowd. "Raquel...said to stay with Arnaud so neither of us was...running around alone! Don't worry! We'll come back to the inn soon! ...promise!" With that, he was swallowed up entirely.

She frowned, helplessly. He hadn't given her the chance to say that she and Raquel had come out to bring them back, whether they'd gotten Arnaud's new knives or not, because it was entirely too late and they needed to rest before going on to the station and... No, she should calm down. Nothing had happened to him or Jude, and that was really all that was important. Raquel could get them to come back. Yulie nodded to herself, resolutely. All she had to do was tell Raquel the good news.

...However, before that—she needed to find Raquel. Oh, why did everyone have to be so very tall in this mess!


Inside, the air was hot and heady with desperate ambition and the thrill of a thousand onlookers. The noise wasn't deafening, but his ears would ring when he left. All of Jude's nerves tingled; he'd never been in a place like this before.

A hand on his shoulder; a pretty-looking girl in shorts and a wide-brimmed hat was leaning down at him. She peered at the ticket in his hand, then grinned and pointed high in the seats. "Row twelve!" she half-shouted over the noise. "You see those empty seats up there? Pick one of 'em!" He nodded, shouting a thank you in return.

The man so many rows below—Arnaud's opponent—was twice his size, with great spiked manacles around his arms. A monster, roaring obscenities and hurling his great fists everywhere. The entire arena was cheering, it seemed.

Arnaud was dancing circles around him. Effortlessly, as if this fight was no more dangerous than playing with a dog.

Occasionally he'd hurl a knife at the behemoth's feet, renewing his frenzy—and then, in a show of impossible agility, draw close enough to snatch it back without harm.

He drew away, moving his arms into a familiar position. Jude mouthed the words along with him; though the crowd was too noisy for him to hear, he knew what was about to happen.

Set up Formula!

A torrent of water crashed down from nowhere, knocking the giant flat. A cry of suprise from the crowd—they hadn't known he could do that. Jude beamed. It was like watching the world uncover a secret he aready knew.

"It seems we have a formula-user with us tonight, folks! Rare indeed!" The announcer's voice echoed from all corners as his friend saluted the crowd. Jude stood and leaned on the railing, calling and waving in hopes that Arnaud might see him, but he was lost within the other thousand-strong who did the same. Only mildly disappointed, he leaned back into his seat.

Arnaud hadn't seen him waving, but someone had. Yulie skidded to a halt on his right, calling his name. He blinked in surprise.

"Jude!"

"Hey, kid, you wanna get out my way?" the man she'd stopped in front of growled.

"S-sorry!" She switched sides, to the remaining empty seats on Jude's left, but did not sit down.

"What's going on?"

"Raquel says we have to go back to the inn right now." (That had been easier than she'd thought.)

Jude gaped at her, as if she'd knocked a cone of ice cream from his hand. "But Arnaud's not done yet! Look, his next fight's starting!" And he pointed down to the center of the Arena.


Arnaud cringed in horror.

It took all his willpower to swallow the shriek of a terrified little girl. She must've seen it on his face, that fear, because she was smiling. Reveling in it, he thought.

Standing in front of him was a beautiful young woman...named Raquel Applegate.

"Good evening, Mr. Vasquez." Oh, this was gonna be nothing but trouble. The cyanide laced in her cordial tone had gone and poisoned his last shred of hope...even if she hadn't been approaching with that enormous sword in hand.

"You...you're k-kidding, right? Eheh..." He felt himself dissolve into nervous laughter. Raquel was closing the distance between them faster than ever, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to take more than one trembling step back. "Y-You're not gonna use that on me...right?"

"No, Arnaud," she responded, brightly. "I'm not." And true to her word, she cast the blade to the ground.

In order to throw all her weight and the rest of her momentum into a devastating right cross. Which connected somewhere in the vicinity of his left eye.

Arnaud dropped like a rock.

The entire audience gasped and fell silent, save for a few hushed murmurs. Jude and Yulie stared in shock.

Raquel, entirely unfazed, reached for her sword—sheathed it—then gripped the back of Arnaud's collar and started back towards the doors she'd come from. Serenely dragging his body behind her, through the dirt.

Then cheering and laughter and thunderous applause erupted from the crowd, all at once. Somewhere in the midst of all that chaos, a boy and a girl felt shock deepen to horror as their eyes met.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" The announcer paused, partially to compose himself, and partially because he wasn't sure just what to say next.

"...We have a winner! Raquel Applegate!"

Raquel raised her right arm in acknowledgement for only a moment, then opened the door she'd come from and strode into the darkness behind it.

"Um. Y-you were right. We should go." Yulie's eyes were still round as marbles as she nodded in agreement. She showed no resistance when he took her hand and began gently pulling her through the rowdy audience.

"This has been an interesting night indeed at the Arena!"


Wild Arms 4 © SCEI 2005.


notes: Wild Arms the 4th Detonator OST (Disc 2) - 12 - Masato Kouda - Gloom of the Duelist. And Sur Blue - Katteni-Shiyagare - 03 - Black Mary.

I know you don't fight other humans in the Arena. I just wanted to give Arnaud a swift kick in the bravado.

My apologies if Yulie or Jude isn't properly characterized. I don't own WA4; I haven't seen it played in over a year, and even back then those two didn't leave much of an impression on me. If you have any complaints or suggestions for improvement, feel free to drop me a PM or review.

ciao. :]