The Challenge

A part two of a fanfiction by Velkyn Karma

Note: My sincerest apologies for the delay on the updates for this one. I keep forgetting I have it up, strangely enough.

Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, the Fire Emblem game series or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. The only thing here that's mine is the idea for the story.


Colm's first stop in his money-making challenge was his room at the inn. Five hundred gold was a decent start, he supposed, but he'd obviously need far more than that in order to get Neimi her new horse. He had a little money stashed up that belonged entirely to him—legitimately, he thought with a grimace—that he'd earned by working for the Renais twins. Any financial additions would be welcome by this point.

As he entered his room and trotted to his bags, he puzzled over his dilemma. Even with his own gold added to the cache, he still only had a little over a thousand pieces to work with. It was more than he had bargained for, but still far from enough.

How on earth did people make money without stealing it?

Jobs, he supposed dully. People all over the not-quite-city were working for others, and earning cash out of it. Merchants had assistants; farmers had aides; the stables and inns all over Salix were full of attendants and servers. Perhaps he could find somebody who needed an odd job or two done, and was willing to pay a little cash for it.

He grimaced at the thought. Getting hired for a job required having the skills necessary to perform it. He used to help his family out with gardening and hunting, but his real calling had always been theft, and the only good skill he had was barred to him. What was he supposed to do?

He scavenged his pack almost greedily, searching for an extra coin or two that had fallen out of his pockets or gold pouch. His search was disappointing. All his gold was exactly where he had placed it last, perfectly safe inside his small leather money bag. Strike.

But just as Colm was beginning to despair over obtaining the money, he spotted something glittering at the bottom of his satchel. Curious, he plunged his hand in, removing a beautifully ornamented dagger from the bottom of the pack. The small sheath and the dagger's handle were both a firm, strong leather dyed forest-green and delicately stamped in light golden designs of spirits and trees, while the blade was a shining steel, polished to a sheen.

He had completely forgotten it was in his pack, but now he regarded it curiously. He had earned the dagger weeks, perhaps months, ago, shortly after joining Eirika's party. While trying to mount a rescue mission for the missing Prince of Renais, the then-small troop had been trapped in the massive fortress of Renvall. In an effort to find another escape route, Colm's abilities had been enlisted. He had probably picked half the locks in the place to keep their company moving quickly away from enemy pursuit, and without his help many of them would have died. As a reward, Eirika had offered him one of the daggers of their fallen enemies, knowing his preference for a small weapon.

Colm had never actually planned to use the dagger in combat. It could no doubt withstand a battle, but he preferred the weight and familiarity of his old curved dagger much more. At best, it served as nothing more than proof of bragging rights, and insurance that his theft skills really were useful. His expert thief's eye told him the decorated weapon was worth quite a bit, however, and he was sure he could pawn it for a decent amount of gold if he approached the right vendor.

He'd have to be sure to make the sale to a more…legitimate…merchant, of course, instead of approaching his usual back-alley pawn shops, in order to keep with the spirit of the deal. Even if Neimi would never know, it would make him feel ill to think he could disappoint her so terribly if she somehow found out. He was sure he could manage, though.

At least the dagger is legitimate, he thought with a wry grimace. He never usually came across such a valuable piece of work unless he had stolen it first, and then he wouldn't have been willing to use it. But while it had been earned with a little bit of lockpicking—courtesy of his less-than-acceptable profession—Eirika had given him the weapon willingly. If royalty said it was all right, he was sure it counted in this little deal as perfectly fine.

Colm searched through his pack again, but he had little else of any value. The dagger would have to suffice, and he would see where it left him afterward. Scooping up the weapon and his own pouch of gold, he tucked them safely into his ragged cloak, hidden from view, and strode out the door to get started on his end of the bargain.


Hours later, Colm was beginning to wonder if this deal had really been for the best.

The young thief was exhausted, irritable, and discouraged. He was also hungry; it was mid-afternoon now, several hours past lunch, and he hadn't paused to get himself a bite to eat. Normally it wouldn't trouble him. If he was hungry, it would be easy to slip an apple from a merchant's stand, or snatch a loaf of bread from a passing hawker. But he was stubbornly determined to stick to his promise to Neimi, and that meant no stealing at all while he tried to earn her that stupid horse.

He was seriously wondering if earning the gold for the damn thing would even be possible now. He had managed to sell the decorated dagger for a reasonable price, earning himself fifteen hundred gold once he managed to track down a reputable weapons merchant. That left him a little over halfway to his goal, and at first he had been encouraged by his success. Five thousand gold would be a breeze if he could keep this up.

But he couldn't keep it up, and his success ground to a halt. The thief had no more objects of value to sell, bringing is income of quick cash to a sudden end. Determined, Colm had roamed around the entirety of Salix, asking each and every vendor, innkeeper and stablemaster for odd jobs to earn a little gold. The people had been suspicious of his tattered clothing and nimble hands, many of them turning him away on the spot. Those that were more agreeable balked when he informed them he could only work for a single day; his company would be leaving the next morning.

Frustrated, the thief had nevertheless kept up with his search, until he finally flopped, exhausted, in an alleyway for a short rest. He was beginning to grow anxious—there were only a few hours left, and he still had to miraculously produce twenty-five hundred gold. The task was beginning to look impossible.

His mind whirled, looking for possibilities. There had to be other ways to earn gold, fast. He was in the middle of Salix, practically a city, for crying out loud. There had to be dozens of options!

But none came to mind, and Colm was beginning to despair once again. It didn't seem worth it, to run himself ragged over a stupid horse, and with such a stupid deal. He didn't even really understand why he was keeping to the no stealing rule so meticulously…except that when he pictured Neimi's face, saddened and horrified when she learned the horse had been earned by theft, he couldn't bring himself to break the rules. He hated seeing her cry, and worse still, he hated when he was the one that caused it.

So he steeled himself grimly against the instinct to slip his hand into somebody's purse and end their troubles there, instead working to think up an alternative. He supposed if he became really desperate, he could borrow the gold from one of the other members of the troop…though he really didn't like he thought of that. He was loathe to put himself in the debt of some of the other escort members. And at any rate, this entire thing was personal now. He wanted to earn this by himself, entirely for Neimi, and he would.

Not they couldn't be of some help, in a completely different way. How on earth did the rest of the troop earn money? Most of them simply served the Renais twins faithfully and were paid for their service, but a few of them had money outside of that. Innes never seemed to have a shortage of cash. Although, Colm supposed glumly, that was probably because he was a prince, a status that Colm did not and would never have without forgery, clearly outside of the rules. And one never saw Joshua without that gold coin that always seemed to dance on his fingers as he flipped it and asked for a friendly wager.

Wager!

Colm sat up straighter, his heart skipping a beat in excitement. Remembering the odd red-haired mercenary had reminded him, too, of the unusual conversation he had overheard weeks ago, while passing in another city…

"Joshua!" Artur had yelped in surprise, spotting the nasty, bloodstained sleeve and hasty bandage wrapped around the mercenary's arm.

The young monk was already moving to mend it with his newly acquired healing knowledge when Joshua cocked his hat a little higher on his head and smirked. "Colosseum," he answered casually. "I fought one of their more experienced members."

"But why would you do something so reckless?" he more gentle friend had asked in exasperation.

"I wasn't doing it for nothing!" the mercenary had responded, almost cheerfully. "He was tough, but luck was on my side. I beat him. Doubled my wager, take a look." And he'd held out a clinking sack of gold coins, still smirking at his success.

The colosseum…

Colm had never been to a colosseum before, not even to watch a match, though he had always wanted to. There'd just never been enough time, with their duties as escort, to really stop into the massive circular halls and enjoy the places.

That did not mean he was completely ignorant of the proceedings, however. There were colosseums everywhere, dotted about major cities and towns in just about any place that possessed large amounts of people and plenty of adventurers—including Salix. Anyone with fighting skill could apply, and those in similar fighting brackets would be pitted against each other. Those who played their gold right and paid attention to the odds carefully could earn fantastic amounts of money.

Colm liked the sound of earning money fast, and it sounded like the colosseum would be the only way to manage it now. He was a decent enough fighter, he knew, reliable in many of the defensive battles the escort troop found themselves in. Quick and clever, fast with a dagger and difficult to hit, Colm was often a match for many of their opponents.

He wouldn't fool himself in this, though, he thought grimly as he heaved himself to his feet and started drifting towards the northern end of town. Colosseum matches were dangerous, and the fighters that entered it were very experienced. He could get hurt pretty badly if he went through with this plan, he knew…perhaps even die. Matches were never fought to the death, only until first blood or sometimes until an opponent was down for a certain amount of time, but in rare instances participants had been known to be killed.

But the sight of Neimi's longing face as she gazed at that mare floated into his mind whenever he began to second-guess himself, and every time that image managed to steel Colm's nerve. Setting himself in determination, he slipped through the crowds of Salix until he reached the towering stone colosseum, took a deep breath, and entered the main gates.

The room he entered was massive, and, he realized after bare seconds, absolutely packed. Civilians filtered in from the outside through the same gate Colm had taken, filing off through side passages excitedly as they traveled to the interior of the Ring and the high seats that allowed for spectacular views of the fights. Those not moving immediately to view, were standing in exceptionally long lines at crowded barriers in one corner to check odds and place bets. The chatter of excited humans and the clink of gold was everywhere, until it became almost deafening.

Colm glanced around, and his observant eyes spotted the carefully lettered signs and arrows pointing to the leftmost corridor nearly instantly. Moving without hesitation now, he weaved through the crowded room with the grace of a natural thief and slid down the indicated hallway into another, slightly smaller room.

This one was not nearly so crowded, but the young thief had to admit it seemed much more ominous. Men and women vying for entry—mostly mercenaries from the look of it—waited expectantly around the room, gleaming weapons slung carefully on hips, backs, and even non-threateningly in hands. Many of them were large brutes, muscles bulging from long years of swinging weapons, and Colm could tell almost instantly that they had far more experience than him.

He grimaced and began to wonder, once again, if this was such a good idea.

But he absolutely refused to give up on Neimi's horse now, and this was the only chance he'd have left to help her. His time was almost up, and there was no other way to produce twenty-five hundred gold in a scant few hours. And so, setting his shoulders in determination, and wrapping his ragged cloak around him more tightly to conceal his weapon, he marched up to the table in the center of the room.

The large, burly man there eyed him skeptically as he approached. He was obviously in charge of taking entries—and their fees. "Whatcha need, kid?" he growled slowly, narrowing his eyes a little.

Colm flashed a confident smirk. "I'm entering, of course," he answered calmly. "I need a match."

The man looked him up and down, still looking doubtful. "Scrawny little thing," he commented, looking bored. "They'll break yer in half without tryin'."

Colm scowled; if there was one thing he hated, it was being told he wasn't capable of completing a task. "There's more to me than just size," he snapped, gritting his teeth.

The entry man sneered at him. "Prove it."

Now it was Colm's turn to sneer back. "Make me. I don't have to show my moves to you—especially in front of potential competitors."

The man snorted, unimpressed. "You'll get killed out there, kid."

"Stop calling me kid."

"I bet yer don't even have the entry fee."

Another smirk graced the young thief's face as he slipped a hand inside his tattered cloak, withdrawing the large bag of gold he had accumulated. "I've got that and more. I'm wagering all of it on my one match."

The entry man gave the bag a look of disbelief, holding out his hand to take it. Colm handed it over reluctantly, and he weighed it in an experienced hand.

"Must be two and a half grand," he grunted, a faint trace of approval in his voice.

"Two-thousand, five hundred and sixty-eight, to be exact," Colm corrected, still smirking. "And I'm worth every damn copper of it. All I need you to do is enter me in one match. Just one."

The man still looked doubtful. "The odds'll be stacked," he said, voice flat. "The crowds'll be disappointed by such a scrawny opponent."

Colm shrugged. "It'll look like that. But people won't be disappointed by this fight. I'll swear by it."

The man sneered again. "Awful confident, ain'tcha?"

"For good reason."

The man burst into abrupt laughter. "Alright, kid," he agreed, drawing the bag of gold towards him. "You got yerself a deal. Just don't say I didn't warn ya when you're out there bleedin' to yer death."

Colm grinned. "You're wrong. I'll be taking home my winnings in minutes."

The man took down Colm's name, counted his wager, and noted it all on a worn sheaf of parchment in front of him on the table. His match was the third one from now, he was informed; he was to wait in the wings (the entry man pointed at yet another corridor off to the side) until his name was called and the match was to begin.

Nodding, and still hoping to look confident, the thief strode casually to the corridor and waited.


Next chapter should finish it up, but no promises on when I update it. This is more or less a 'write when I feel like it' fic.

As always, give me real feedback if you review! Don't just tell me you like it; tell me why. Tell me what you don't like and why. What can I improve? What was done well? All this is very helpful stuff!

~VelkynKarma