Zack stood in the center of a white stone ground in the middle of a huge arena designed similarly to the Roman gladiator arenas.
Much of Gladiators' landscape in the virtual reality world was inspired by Greek and Roman architecture and mythology, like this arena where he was about to do battle against Weston, with tall walls and open bleachers. But despite that, everything was modernized.
Like how the floor was shiny and marble like, while those old, worn-out arenas in Greece and Rome were down to crumbling rock.
Like the fact that an announcer was chatting up a storm with a microphone instead of yelling at loud decibels with his raw voice.
Like the fact that the weapons about to be used were actually in key forms unless summoned into weapons at a Gladiator's command. Including being in an ensemble that turned you from a normal human into your avatar.
Zack was in Galadhar's outfit: gray jacket, blue shirt, black trousers, hiking boots, his sword sheathed at his waist in a belt. He frowned as Weston appeared in front of him, in a pale gold jacket with black hems and brown trousers, and less-heavier shoes than Zack's. The coat's sleeves were short, just until elbow length, and the entire outfit seemed tight on Weston. Two knives were sheathed on Weston's forearms.
"Just so you know, my full name is Weston Ingram," said Weston.
"Zack Kagan," said Zack. "Since you know my weapon's name, you mind telling me yours?"
"My avatar?" Weston frowned, but seemed amused. "I'm pretty well-known in Redwall. It's Specter."
"Ghosts?" Zack asked. "Okay, got it."
He glanced up at a large screen that hung over the audience, showing a view of the two of them and their levels. His eyes nearly fell out at the difference: Weston was a Level 50. Zack was a Level 49.
Sure, Weston was powerful by one level, but still, it meant that this guy was a higher rank.
At a signal from the announcer, Zack startled Weston by attacking first, charging towards him like a rocket.
"He's fast!" Mikey gasped, as he stared at a screen that showed the battles between Gladiators. He stared as Zack came close to cutting Weston's hand. The sword passed through Weston's fingers, as Weston winced in surprise.
"Why didn't you move your fingers from that?" Zack asked, startled.
"We're in a virtual reality world," said Weston, as though that obvious. "Here, only your nerves feel the pain, but I won't lose my fingers."
Zack grimaced. "Yeah, that's right."
Weston smiled slyly. "My turn." Then he drew out both his knives and attacked Zack with a stab with one of them, which Zack blocked.
"Not done yet," said Weston as Zack tried to steady himself and attacked again, with a flurry of kicks, strikes, and slashes that Zack found almost hard to keep up with.
Furthermore, he recognized it as an agile pattern of fighting.
"This is - some kind of martial arts, right?" he called to Weston.
"You're right, it is." Weston smiled as Zack blocked a kick from him. "I'll be frank. I am a ninja."
“What?!” Zack blocked Weston's knife, shielding himself with his sword's blade, despite its thinness. “A ninja? Do those still exist? Japanese spies? Really?”
“That's what I'm trained as. Was that surprising?”
“Yeah, since there are no martial arts schools where I grew up, and my brother learned some skills from his peers. All I've got as my fighting skills are . . . sword fighting and street fighting.”
“Is that so?” said Weston, jumping backwards with a sharp recoil. “Then a street fighter . . . shouldn't have enough skills to beat a martial arts expert! Too bad!” He waved his knife upwards, then pointed it towards Zack.
There was a flash, and Zack gasped as he saw a bolt of bright yellow lightning.
“Whoa!” he yelled, skidding away, barely able to dodge it. His leg, though, smoked from being narrowly struck by it. Anymore, and he'd have gotten a proper shock. There was probably a thin gash there.
He staggered to his feet, then forced himself to lean on his sword.
“Don't pretend that you can't stand,” said Weston. “That lightning should have just hit your nerves, but it can't harm you.”
“Actually, it did,” said Zack, leaning on his sword, and straightening his leg. “Okay, that felt a little better.” Now he stood on both feet. Normally, when Gladiators got hit by an attack by the opponent's power, or was cut by the opponent's weapon, the game usually created illusions of the wounds that appeared, so to Weston, that slice over his fingers that would have chopped them all off was just a sensation that would pass, but, like said, he'd never lose his fingers.
Zack stood. That wound on his leg can't bother him, or he'd look like he was pretending to be weak, especially in an arena with cheering Gladiators watching the fight.
His struggling to get back to his feet was slow; enough time for Weston to attack him from behind and kick him to the ground.
Zack landed flat against the ground, but was relieved his sword didn't slip from his hand. If he was disarmed, the win went to the person who still had his weapon.
“You're weak,” said Weston, and Zack grit his teeth. How many times have heard people say that to him when he was back home in the Meteor Hole's city that he grew up in? Among ruins?
That is, before they realized that they had underestimated him.
Which was also the same, in this case.
“Sorry for always being slow to adapt, Galadhar,” he mumbled, getting back to his feet. “Well, I didn't have enough time to warm up. Aid me.” He gripped his sword.
“Who were you talking to?” asked Weston, startled.
“My sword,” said Zack. “I was talking to my sword, Galadhar.”
Weston stared at him. “You name your sword after your avatar?”
“Uh – if you thought that the avatar was a character played by you – that's only in the online game's way,” said Zack. “The avatar . . . has always been your weapon.” He twirled his sword and pointed it towards Weston. “This sword is Galadhar. My companion, as a Gladiator.” Zack grinned. “You know how samurais also name their swords, right? Since you're a ninja?”
A flash of red as an aura surrounded Zack, and Weston gasped, stunned by the sight. The aura created wings that appeared against Zack's back.
They boosted him from where he stood, and suddenly, Zack was the faster one. With one swipe of Galadhar, the sword, a burning shock wave struck Weston and sent him flying backwards and outside the edge of the arena.
The arena was filled gasps of shock at the sight.
The newcomer had won. Furthermore, a Level 49 Gladiator to a Level 50 Gladiator.