The audience cheered as Byron’s rapier spun end-over-end across the arena, before stabbing the sand a few metres from Dante’s hiding space. The poet had fallen, his last quip little more than stammering denial. With a splash, he tumbled back into the lake, humiliated, hat falling to his side to drift on the water’s surface.
“So much for that sharp wit, ey?” said the octopus. “Serves yer right fer trying to take on the big boys. Now, who’s next?”
Dante wanted to step out from behind his rock and claim Byron’s sword as his own, to challenge the vile beast and its sordid insinuations, to show up its smears on Emily’s character as the lies they were. That was what his mother would have done, or any other officer — hero — of Seelie. No doubt they were watching him now, waiting to see how he reacted. There was, after all, no better training than real life.
But it was Lance who made the first move. While Dante cowered, the lithe young man darted out of hiding to confront the beast unarmed. “Yo, Charlie!” he shouted. “Maybe you should try picking on someone your own size!”
It was a poor attack, but the creature took the bait. With a roar of “It ain’t Charlie, you little brat!”, it swung a tentacle in Lance’s direction, a low sweep with power enough to break a person’s legs.
But what Lance lacked in wit he made up for in gymnastics. He made dodging the beast’s blows look easy, dancing left and right, jumping from rock to rock, shelter to shadow, pulling his adversary further and further from the water’s edge. While Byron had thrown insults and retorts to no avail, Lance made the monster look sluggish and weak. It was enough to drive the mocking glee from its voice and draw out a snarling hint of frustration.
“Sit still while I beat you to a pulp!” it snapped, as its tentacle missed Lance and shattered the rock he’d been standing on seconds before.
“C’mon, Charlie, chillax already!”
But Lance, unlike Dante, had failed to notice the creature’s plan. While he was busy dodging its blows, it had burrowed one of its tentacles into the sand. Then, as Lance dodged another volley of attacks, the ground beneath him exploded and a purple blur jerked his legs from underneath him. As he tumbled backwards with a warbling cry of surprise, the beast reared up, tentacles quivering, desperate for a kill.
Don’t tease the octopus, kids.