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The Tale of Vylias Felon

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The Tale of Vylias Felon

Post  Vic Vegas on Sat Nov 02, 2013 11:06 am

Posted by ILNEVAL on 07-14-2009:

As originally posted by Icarus Falling

Vylias fell against cold, stonewall of his cell. His weariness was etched in his slumped shoulders and the black circles that rimmed his blue-gray eyes. He looked about the cavernous room that served as a near prison for his cellmates. And there they were; his new comrades, his fellow gladiators. Gladiator. The word smacked Vylias with pitiful irony. How could this have happened?

Thinking on it Vylias knew it wasn’t really his fault. Well, he should have left Keldarn City a month ago, when the local Thieves Guild first took an interest in his activities. But, he listened to jingle of gold that graced his pouch since his arrival and followed greed rather than discretion. Looking at the collection of rabble about him, Vylias feared now that his greed was going to get him killed. Certainly, Vylias had always worked in the shadow side of life. There was always a fat merchant or scheming noble who would pay him for what they hadn’t the courage, wit, or stomach to do themselves. And sure, he was no sparkling citizen; he had stolen, extorted, bribed, and even killed in his time in the shadows. But, he was no warrior. Across the hall, a mountain of a creature idly smashed skulls with a war hammer. Standing the creature must reach over seven feet and the thing had to weight three times what Vylias did. How could he fight that? Next to the creature, a warrior sharpened his broadsword. His muscles were sculpted from the rigor of combat and his skin was accented with long jagged scars. Under the tangled, curly crop of brown hair, the warrior’s eyes were as dead and cold as the steel he sharpened. Vylias shuttered at the thought of facing him, or someone like him, in combat.


***


Vylias recalled the meeting that brought him to his current circumstance. A half-elf sat across from him in Gelloc’s Tavern. The tattoo of a small black dagger on the back of the half elf’s hand identified him as a guild enforcer. His ‘suggestions’ carried the full weight of the guild.

“A simple job,” the enforcer’s voice was quiet and just a little too steady. “Do it and we let you live to operate another day. In another city,” he added. “Refuse, and die,” after a quick pause, he continued, “Die, now,” the half-elf’s lips curled into the slightest of smiles.

Vylias decided that, despite the half-elf’s stature; he was remarkably good at intimidation. “I think I have time for one last job before my interests take me elsewhere. I understand Teniethia is lovely in the fall.”

Looking the slightest bit disappointed, the enforcer continued, “Fine. Meet me at the market fountain come nightfall. Come ready for anything.”

And so, Vylias met the half-elf by the fountain at nightfall. There, the now black clad enforcer waited with two other guild members. The taller of the two was a gruff looking human male. A two-foot long blade was sheathed to his thigh and grappling hook and rope was slung over his shoulder. The other guild member was a female elf. She carried no identifiable weapons, but the look in her eye told Vylias that she meant business.

“Let’s go,” the half-elf was clearly in command, “We’re hitting Lord Jatonick’s mansion in the eastern quarter. To insure we are not seen in transit, it will take us a half hour to get there.” He looked at each of the others in turn, “I don’t want hear a sound out of any of you till then.”

Lord Jatonick’s mansion was typical of the excessive style of the Keldarn wealthy. Three stories of arched windows, extravagant balconies, and macabre gargoyles met the thieves as they quietly approached their target. The house was surrounded by intricate gardens that held all manner of topiary, statues, fountains, and vegetation. Containing the gardens, a twelve-foot high black iron gate marked the extent of Jatonick’s land.

The enforcer stopped and spoke in a low whisper, “Vylias, you go with Legorn to the southwest room on the third floor. There, Jatonick keeps his art collection. In particular, we want Stigian’s Portrait of a Warrior. Anything else is gravy. Sharlia and I will tackle the northern vault and see what of his jewelry we can acquire.”

Vylias followed Legorn as he picked his way over the fence and up the outside of the mansion’s walls. The two thieves sunk into the shadows and darkness of the third floor balcony. They had made it to within twenty feet of their destination without being discovered. Legorn manifested a set of lock picks and set to work picking the lock of the balcony door. Vylias put his back to the mansion and kept an eye out for unwelcome company. A click at the balcony door told Vylias that Legorn had gained entry to the mansion and the two thieves entered the building.

The room indeed contained an array of paintings, statues, and delicate vases. Legorn moved to a large painting of proud barbarian of days past, a fanciful image of conquering savage captured in the strokes of Stigian’s brush. Vylias moved toward another painting, this one of Icesheet Falls, a waterfall two days ride north of Keldarn. Within minutes the painting was cut from it frame and Vylias turned toward his conspirator to check his progress. It was at this moment that Vylias felt a pinprick on his right arm and saw Legorn tucking a small blowgun into his left boot.

As the heaviness of poison swept over Vylias, he heard Legorn say, “Thanks for taking the fall. They hunt for thieves in this city relentlessly. We leave a few for them to find every now and then…”

When Vylias awoke he found himself in custody of the City Guard. A bearded brute of a half-orc, who the concept of cleanliness was lost on, was kicking Vylias in the side.

“Wake up.” Kick. “Nap time’s over.” Kick.

“Ugh,” Vylias managed to say.

“The criminal is awake, sergeant,” the brute announced.

“Excellent, you do that so well, Klard” a woman dressed immaculately in the garb of a City Guard officer walked up to Vylias, who lay sprawled on the ground. “Now, what is your name,” the officer asked.

“Vylias.”

“Now, Vylias, it seems you have done a very naughty thing,” she smiled. “Neither, Lord Jatonick nor Keldarn tolerates thieves. We have ways of punishing bad folk in this town.”

Vylias wasn’t sweating. Since he had arrived in Keldarn he had greased the palms of various influential people, the city jailer was no exception. Freedom was on its way.

“You can forget the lecture, just go on with your duty and take me to jail.”

The officer smiled, this time almost sweetly. “Vylias, my naughty boy, you’re not going to the jail. We have too much to deal with as it is. No, you lucky sot, you’re going to the Pit.” Vylias was really beginning to hate the officer’s smile. “That way, Klard and I make some money and Keldarn doesn’t have to do anything with you except watch you die.”

Now, Vylias was sweating.


***


Holding his side, and remembering the circumstances that led him to this cell, Vylias realized that it really was his fault. Why had he stayed in Keldarn? He had had a chance to leave the city after the conversation with the Guild enforcer. He could have, should have, but he had not. Only a fool would have stayed. Vylias leaned his head back, sighed, and unequivocally knew that he was a fool...

“You there,” a large man beat at Vylias’ cell. “What’s your name, you’ll be fighting in the Pit tomorrow.”

“My name is Vylias del Felocion, third son of the second Duke of Teniethia.”

“Ha,” the ugly man spat, “You’re name, boy, is Vylias Felon. You came in here in leg irons, and you’ll leave in a long pine box!”

PART TWO:

“Felon!”

Vylias was dreaming. He was dreaming of the blue flowers that blanketed the meadows between Keldarn and Teniethia. They swayed gently in the cool breeze brought in by the crisp Northern Wind. The swaying of the flowers brought Vylias back to his childhood, back to the gentle lilt of his mother’s skirts. The soft rustling of his mother’s skirts had always mesmerized him as a child. And still, that rhythmic swaying motion with the subtle murmur of skirts was Vylias’ notion of peace. And freedom. This was dream of freedom, something of which he had short supply.

“Felon! Wake up you sot. It’s time we see what kind of fighter you are,” the large ugly man who had christened him earlier bellowed. He threw a suit of leather armor and a small shield at Vylias’ feet. “I’d get that armor on, criminal, you’re going into that training pit, whether your dressed or not!”

After briefly considering resisting, Vylias strapped on the leather armor. Gladiators. It was a show right? They didn’t really fight, did they? I mean it was better to have a warrior live and fight another day. Vylias kept up a constant internal dialogue to quell his growing nervousness. It fell silent as the bronze man who had been sharpening his sword last night was brought in on a stretcher. Several cuts ravaged his left side and a large purple bruise swelled on his right thigh. He spit blood and teeth.

“His training partner, Razor, got carried away,” one of the attendants carrying the stretcher assured him. “It’s usually not this bad.”

“It don’t matter, anyway,” the battered man muttered.

“Shut up, Zero, concentrate on not dying,” the attendant scolded the wounded man.

A bronzed and muscled warrior similar in size and stature to the bleeding gladiator strode over to examine the wounds, “I kill her,” he pulled a bastard sword from a sheath on his back. “Damn those Half-elves, always trying to prove something.”

“Relax, Arsenal, keep it for the pit. Accidents happen.”

Accidents? Vylias wondered, but said nothing.

At that point, the fattest dwarf Vylias had ever seen waddled over and looked down at the carnage that once was a confident, vital warrior. “I’m hungry,” he said, and walked away.

The large ugly man, the Pit Master, yelled from several yards away, “Let’s go Felon, I want you to meet Infidel.” Vylias shuffled toward the Pit Master and the door to the training grounds.

As Vylias left the cavernous room, he was blinded by daylight. The Pit Master pushed him further into a small arena. His stumbling feet kicked a spray of sand. Vylias put the shield up against the glare of the sun just in time to stop a blow to his head. As pain laced down his arm, he saw the first glimpse of his enemy. An average man; bigger and heavier than Vylias. He held a staff in two hands out in front of him, ready to ward off any attack. He was also dressed in leather armor, and a steel cap adorned his head. Under that cap, Vylias saw that the man was a foreigner. How he came to Keldarn is anyone’s guess, but he came from a long way, further even than Port Wydelon – City of Canals, the western most port known to Vylias.

A short sword was tossed into the arena near Vylias’ feet. He knelt, picked it up, never letting his eyes leave the foreign man who stood ready for battle. Now or never, Vylias thought.

He lunged. Bringing his shield to protect his chest and head, he rushed the man across from him. At the last instant, his short sword fired out in front of him, a needle of metal. The foreigner was no fool, he side-stepped quickly and lanced his staff toward Vylias’ legs. Vylias sprawled face first into the sand. Realizing his vulnerability, he immediately rolled to his right and narrowly avoided the foreigner’s downward strike. Sand exploded where the quarter staff hit the ground. Rather than spring to his feet, Vylias cut outward with his blade, taking quick advantage of his enemy’s over-extension. A ribbon of crimson unfolded across the man’s right thigh. The quarter staff twirled in a quick arc, effectively shielding him from further attack. Vylias leapt back and up from the sand. He adjusted his grip on the sword, a steeled himself for more.

“Cue ta tae. See ‘men phor,” the foreigner hissed in his own tongue. Vylias didn’t know what the man had said, nor did he care, as his enemy launched a new attack against him.

A parry. A dodge. A strike. Vylias found himself nursing a bruise high on his shield arm. A kick. A punch. More parries. More dodges. A strike rebounded off the steel cap. A flurry of attacks from the staff. A rapid retreat and a battered shield. A quick thrust, narrowly parried, followed by a shield bash to the chest. His enemy falls, staggers to his feet, and curses again.

Vylias’ mind was a buzz. Attack and defend. Strike and parry. Time had no meaning, soon he was lost in the hypnotism of combat. A gritty removal from reality. A game, played with one’s blood.

“Enough,” a voice rung out from the small training arena. The battle stopped. The authority in the voice could not be ignored. Vylias struggled to keep his knees from giving. The foreigner swayed, a dazed expression, replacing his combat grimace. Who had won?

A figure stood up from a shaded seat. “Pit Master!”

The ugly Pit Master took his shield and sword and led him back to the cavernous room.

“You did OK, Felon. Infidel has three fights to your none,” he said. “Don’t let it get to your head.” Then he shoved Vylias back to his corner room. “Tomorrow, you’ll fight again, but this time, you’ll fight in the Pit!”

Vylias collapsed and slept.


***


Again Vylias dreamt. He was back in Teniethia, back in his father’s house. The brightness his mother had brought to the house has long since faded. Forgotten, along with her death. Had only his father died as well. His father, the duke. His trepidation evident, Vylias steps quietly through the mansion, careful not to attract attention. Careful to avoid his father’s attention. He looks through the house for one item. One treasure, his to reclaim. With that he would happily leave his father to his new wives, his harem. But the shadows don’t cloak him. His father’s voice rings out. The enmity thick on his voice, sounding just as it did when Vylias was a child. “You’ve returned Vy, I didn’t think you had the guts…”


***


He was brought food and allowed a bath. The warm waters almost fooled Vylias into believing that he hadn’t been battered only yesterday. Welcome though it was, it wasn’t enough. He ached horribly. He cleaned the cuts as well as he could and stretched until he could walk without hunching in pain. Was he really supposed to fight today? Madness.

With that a tremendous laughter erupted from beyond the door. And in that laugh no small amount of madness was present. A knock resounded on the door.

“You done in there, boy,” a loud gruff voice laden with the chuckle of a recent laugh. “A girl’s got to have her bath before the fight!”

Vylias opened the door to reveal a massively muscled female Half-orc. She had knocked on the door with a maul that she easily swung around. She smiled around her protruding fangs.

“Pande! Don’t scare the newbies, huh?” A sweet voice, almost musical. If Vylias didn’t know better he’d sworn that it was Elven. An Elven gladiator? Madness.

“What’s to be scared off, Topaz? It’s just little old Pandemonium, a delight to chat with, and even greater delight to dance with,” the Half-orc called over her shoulder. “Do you want to dance, boy,” she grinned at Vylias and her arm barred the doorway.

Vylias shook his head, “No thanks.” He quickly ducked under her arm and out of her way. She laughed loudly and shut the door behind her. Vylias glanced toward the Elvish voice and his jaw dropped absurdly open. An Elven woman was stretching by kicking her leg over her head. Vylias was, well, immediately enchanted…

Reclaiming his lost jaw, Vylias smiled and winked, “I’d like to dance with you though. What was your name, Topaz, was it?”

The Elf smiled with a sweetness that surpassed the beauty of her voice. And then, after a blink of the eye, she was miraculously behind him, and although he couldn’t see them, he felt her arms slowly, sensuously encircle him. “Are you sure you want to dance, boy,” her voice like honey. Then he felt a disturbing sharpness at his groin. He looked down. Yes, her arms were around him, but they ended in fists closed around two daggers that were now cutting through his towel.

“I’m not sure you want to go there. I know you don’t want me to go here.” The sharp pressure increased ever so slightly at his groin. And then, she was gone, cart-wheeling away and back into her stretches.

Madness, Vylias decided. Madness.

PART THREE:

Vylias’ nerves were shot. His whole body shook as looked down on the battered corpse of a fallen gladiator. Ghastly tears covered the now stripped body. His right arm dangled awkwardly off the table where he lay. It was clearly dislocated, a mass of purple-black flesh swelled where his shoulder should have been. An imprint of a war hammer’s head was clearly identifiable on the left side of the warrior’s skull. Looking closer the white of bone peeked where the gore of blood red was lacking. Vylias gagged. He was going die, he was sure of it.

“His name was Talon, as if that matters,” the bronzed, well-muscled gladiator called Zero Sum stood at Vylias’ side. “He was killed by Ken, favored of The Warlord.”

Silence loomed, a dire third entity that seemed to stand shoulder to shoulder with the two gladiators.

Shouting came from the long passageway where the gladiators left one at a time to do battle in the Pit. Not long ago, the half-orc female, Pandemonium, who had jested with Vylias earlier that day at the baths, had grabbed her maul and strode confidently down that passageway to the Pit. Vylias’ attention was torn from the visage of death to the assistants who were calling for help. It was clear that Pandemonium was not going to make it back out of the Pit under her own power. Several of the gladiators rushed to help and soon on a table near the fallen Talon, Pandemonium lay battered - but alive.

“Covenant,” she muttered, “he’s not half the orc I am! I, I…his maul, I…”

Topaz was by her side. “Shush, now, Pande. Rest, you need to rest,” the elf’s liquid voice lulled the half-orc’s eyes to close. Topaz glanced at the nearby corpse, “You’re alive, that’s all that matters.”

From the passageway a voice called, “Topaz faces Wild Bill!”

“I have to go, Pande, you rest,” her delicate, pale hand was dwarfed on the half-orc’s craggy, large, blood-soaked hand. Then the Topaz was walking down the passageway with only the calls of encouragement from her fellow gladiators following her.

Vylias looked at the two figures on the tables; the beaten half-orc and the dead Talon. He couldn’t quell the shakes that racked his body. The longer he waited for his turn, the worse it got. Tense. Nervous. Fearful. These words fell short. Petrified, scared to death was closer to the truth. The waiting was killing him.

The voice from the passageway announced, “Topaz beats Wild Bill!”

A cheer erupted from the gladiators and the elf limped into the room. She was holding her chest as blood seeped through her fingers, down her arm, and dripped onto the ground. The cheer subsided and a third table was pushed into the light. The assistants placed the elf on the table and examined her wound.

“Hmm, looks bad,” the assistant muttered, “Might need a healer.” Topaz groaned and gasped as the assistants poked and prodded at the wound. In time, a middle-aged woman wearing a long, dull crimson robe entered the waiting room. She walked with a gnarled oak staff that was topped with a large clear crystal. Around her neck, a silver pendant in the shape of a ten-pointed star swung in rhythm with the woman’s stride. She moved to the table where the elf lay groaning.

“Priestess,” the assistant bowed his head and quickly stepped aside.

Nodding slightly, the woman simply gazed for a few minutes at Topaz and her wounds. “Has she walked the Path with sincerity and passion,” the healer’s hands gently touched the wound at the elf’s chest.

“She has, Priestess.” The assistant kept his head bowed.

The healer tapped her staff on the ground twice and closed her eyes. A warm glow erupted from the crystal on her staff and she brought the crystal to rest gently on the wound. “Held in comfort and light, we walk under the gaze of Shetela the Wise, Shetela the All-Knowing, Shetela of the Healing Touch,” beads of sweat formed and rolled off the healer’s brow. But as she spoke, the crystal’s glow grew brighter and the torn skin of the wound slowly mended. The blood that seeped from the wound seemed to freeze, then reversed its flow back into the body. As the blood returned inward, broken and cracked ribs were exposed. Vylias watched as the broken bones straightened and the cracks closed. Then torn muscle roped around the bone and once mangled flesh healed, and grew back into place.

“Walk with Shetela, child,” the crystal’s glow faded as the healer brought the staff off the wound and back to her side.

The voice from the passageway announced, “Vylias Felon against Trackanon!”

Vylias broke his stare from the healed wound, to the passageway, and back to the healer, “Um, Priestess, would you mind waiting here until I get back?”

“Let’s go Felon,” the Pit Master called.

Vylias stole a quick glance at the corpse, straightened his back, and made the long walk down the passage to the Pit. Calls of encouragement echoed down the passage as he walked.

“Good luck.”

“Break his leg!”

“Make us proud, boy.”

The ugly Pit Master walked with Vylias for a few steps. “Alright Felon, good luck. Oh, and one more thing, the Ref’s a golem. Just didn’t want you to panic and do something stupid.”

“Like?”

“I’ve seen a few youngsters panic and attack the Ref. It’s not a pretty thing. You think fighting the Monsters is bad,” the Pit Master stopped walking and shook his head.

“Monsters?”

The Pit Master just smiled as he pushed Vylias forward.

And then, he was in the Pit.

In contrast to the training pit that Vylias had fought in earlier, the stands surrounding the ten-foot arena walls were filled with cheering and jeering spectators. A tangle of races mingled together as they awaited the next fight. Some sat quietly - munching on a roasted turkey leg or sprayed popcorn toward their mouths. Others stood and yelled into the pit, sending all sorts of insults his way while brandishing rotten vegetables in their throwing arms.

A golem waited patiently in middle of the arena. As it shifted its bulk the rumble of grinding rocks grated over the roar of the crowd. It seemed particularly interested with a small pebble it cradled in its hand. Ever so delicately it brushed sand off the pebble.

Across the sand stood a large figure wearing bright scale mail that glinting in the sun. Under a camail, Vylias could make out the face of a male half-orc, his protruding tusks identifying his race. In his opponent’s right hand a war hammer swung lazily. The remainder of the half-orc’s body was shielded behind a huge tower shield. Vylias’ study of his enemy was interrupted by a tomato that exploded near his feet, staining his left leg with a spray of juice and seeds. A fan had marked who he felt should lose this match.

Under a pavilion raised above the stands, a large, dark figure stood from a throne and the crowd grew quiet.

“And now, two warriors new to the Pit face each other,” the dark figure’s sonorous voice oozed confidence and command. “Wielding the war hammer, Trackanon, managed by Lord Hurglemeyer,” the dark figures hand pointed to the figure across from Vylias. With that the half-orc raised his weapon and shield and spun slowly so that the all the crowd could get a look at him.

“His opponent, wielding the short sword, Vylias Felon, managed by Icarus Falling,” the figure’s hand directed the crowd’s attention to Vylias. Vylias raised his sword in a salute to the commanding figure. The figure nodded and sat back in his throne.

The golem shifted its attention away from the pebble and spoke, “Begin.” The voice thundered like an avalanche.

The crowd erupted back into a riot of noise.

“Shine my shoes, Vylias!”

“Got enough armor, Orc?”

“Two sheckles that the human dies!”

Vylias didn’t hear them. His attention was on the brute that slowly advanced on him. He looked at his short sword and then at the armor and shield of his opponent. With a long sigh, he let the half-orc move to about two paces of him, then he ducked his shoulders and sprinted away from the war hammer and toward the half-orc’s shield side. Trackanon was too slow to pivot in response. Vylias stooped low and under the tower shield and cut at the exposed left leg. His sword skidded harmlessly across the metal armor. Twisting further around his enemy’s back, Vylias hacked at the half-orc’s weapons shoulder, hoping to weaken his grip. Again, the sword failed to break through the armor. Still at his opponent’s back, Vylias thrust with all his might toward the unshielded back. A few pieces of scale armor fell away and the slightest hint of blood welled under his sword’s point.

Finally, the half-orc turned to face Vylias’ attacks, just in time for his shield to fend off a downward slash. The war hammer whistled past Vylias’ ear and slammed into his right shoulder blade. The muscles across his shoulders absorbed the blow with a soft squish. Trying to ignore the blinding pain that shot across arm and up his neck, Vylias thrust out his blade into Trackanon’s chest. Again little damage resulted. Stumbling back Vylias tried to regroup and find another strategy to survive this nightmare, but he was met by the war hammer as it smashed into his chest. He heard, more than felt, his ribs crack. Lashing out blindly, Vylias’ hand slapped weakly against the half-orc’s leg armor.

Then the world went blank. Something smashed into his left shoulder. A wrenching noise reverberated in Vylias’ inner ear. He felt as if he were spinning. Where was the Ref? Where was his sword? What’s happening?

When his vision cleared he was looking right at the half-orc. Under the heavy armor, he was panting and sweating like a dog. Vylias couldn’t really feel his body, but willed himself to lash out once more. His enemy didn’t move to defend himself. Blood dripped out of a new wound on his left arm. Trackanon’s target shield hung at his side – out of position. Under the mailed helmet, a grunt erupted, and with maximum effort the war hammer swung out. Vylias didn’t even have to move to avoid it. He punched Trackanon’s chest and the half-orc panted all the more.

Still in a daze, Vylias continued his assault on the half-orc. Methodically he moved to his enemy’s right side and rained a few blows. Seeing a strained attack coming, Vylias stepped back and caught his breath. The battle was over. It was just a matter of time before his opponent would fall. Shortly, the war hammer slipped out of Trackanon’s hand and fell harmlessly into the sand. Then, the half-orc’s eyes rolled back and his body collapsed. Vylias had survived.

Exhausted, Vylias felt his arm being raised in victory by the golem and then he joined Trackanon in unconsciousness.

PART FOUR:

“Ouch! Get off my foot! You humans are so clumsy,” Topaz cried.

“There’s barely enough room for a halfling in here,” Vylias complained. He strained to remove his boot from the elf’s foot, avoid scraping his head on the ceiling, and peer through the barred ventilation windows that looked out into the arena. Despite the cramped quarters, Topaz and Vylias looked out on the arena as Sal Streetsweeper cleaned away the carnage of the last fight.

“If you wouldn’t mind, remove your elbow from my armpit,” Vylias looked down on the elf. In response she flashed her winning smile and struck out with her elbow into his rib cage. Vylias grunted and rolled his eyes, “What are we doing here?”

“There, look,” Topaz pointed. A scrawny gladiator was pushed into the arena. He stumbled, caught his balance, then looked up at the crowd. The crowd screamed as one and pelted the pitiful warrior with an assortment of vegetables. The warrior’s loose fitting leather armor was scarred from numerous blows. His mace and buckler swung feebly at the vegetable missiles that hurled toward him.

“He’s Monster Bait,” when Topaz saw the look of confusion on Vylias’ brow she continued, “ He couldn’t compete in the fights – lost every one. Just doesn’t have the warrior’s spirit.”

“Then why is he here?”

“Another criminal sent to satisfy the bloodlust of the crowd – rather than rot in prison,” she searched his facial expression and added, “That could have been you.”

A shudder ran down Vylias’ back. His attention was focused on the gladiator who clumsily dodged the crowd’s assault, all thoughts of cramped discomfort were lost. “What’s his name?”

“What is it with you and names? You always have to know everyone’s name, what does it matter? You don’t think my name is really Topaz do you?”

Vylias chuckled and tore his gaze away from the doomed gladiator. “Nah, you’re an elf. It’s probably something like Silvia MorningDew or Miriam Greenleaf.”

Topaz’s lethal elbow flung out connecting with his ribcage. Satisfied with his grunt she murmured, “Closer than you think.”

The crowd erupted and the two returned their attention to the arena. From a large portcullis that Vylias had not seen used a massive figure ambled. Still in the shadows beneath the portcullis, Vylias could see that the giant was over seven feet tall and very solidly built. Mammoth, in fact. Upon entering the arena the crowd began chanting, “Big Ben. Big Ben.”

Something horrible emerged from that portcullis. Something monstrous. The massive figure wore brigandine armor and a helm. It’s gnarled hands cradled a Pole Axe. Vylias’ attention was drawn to those hands. They were not quite right. It’s skin was dead white, no blood was evident. Patches of skin tore away exposing rotting meat. Vylias looked into the eyes that glowed under the helmet. Those eyes didn’t move, the pupils seemed frozen forward, but they glowed with dull red light. The monster stopped its slow, disjointed walk as it reached the center of the arena. There it opened it mouth in the mockery of a roar, but no sound emerged. The crowd erupted; its cadence tumultuous, “Ben! Ben! Ben!”

The pile of rocks that served the pit as the referee, grumbled and signaled the beginning of the match. The condemned man screamed and charged the massive undead thing that now turned to face his opponent. The sharp cry of metal grinding rang out and bounced off the walls of the pit as Big Ben swiftly brought his Pole Axe to meet the mace of the charging criminal. The zombie pivoted and the criminal fell away, his attack thwarted. The monstrous figure took a quick step forward, but seemed to hesitate. The condemned man took advantage and flailed an attack toward the beast. Again, moving faster than Vylias expected, Big Ben easily parried the mace. This time, however, the monster did not hesitate, and in a massive sweeping attack the Pole Axe arched down toward his enemy’s right leg. A splash of crimson exploded from the man’s right thigh bathing Ben, the ref, and a portion of the audience in the grimy slick of blood.

The crowd roared its approval. The wounded man collapsed to ground clutching at the open wound on his leg. Big Ben hefted his axe to a ready position and waited. Vylias and Topaz were silent, mesmerized by the fight in front of them.

Amazingly the man struggled to his feet. His shield hand held his crippled leg. He swung his mace once again at the massive figure who waited unmoving. The mace clanged harmlessly off the blade of the readied axe. The man seemed to give in, as the mace fell to his side. As if on queue Ben swung his axe in a deadly arch toward the man’s left leg. As the axe connected, the man let out a horrible scream and fell awkwardly to the sands of the pit. The crowd went silent and watched in grim satisfaction as the sand around the gladiator was dyed blood red. The criminal screamed toward the ref, begging to be spared.

The ref shook his head impassively.

Then, Ben brought his Pole Axe around and leveled it toward the man’s head. Desperately, the criminal brought his buckler up to meet the blow, but to no avail, as the blade severed his forearm and lodged a foot deep into the crook of his neck. The spray of blood coated Ben in a wave of blood. As he wrenched his axe from the dead man’s neck, another wash of blood fell from the ruined body adding to the gory red of the pit’s sands. He hefted his axe into the air and accepted the cheers of the fans. The blood soaked the sickly pale skin of the zombie, and in that moment of death his eyes glowed brighter – a grisly specter of death.

Sal Streetsweeper was chagrined.

“I wonder what his name was,” Vylias asked no one.

Topaz tore her gaze away from the arena and looked at Vylias. His eyes were unfocused and he seemed far away.

“Come on,” she said gently, “let’s go before the Pit Master finds us here.”

***

Words, images flash through to Vylias in vivid detail surrounded by a cloud of pain.

“Darkwolf really beat him good.”

“Shetela the Wise…”

…a cry of pain as his shield is shattered and the bones in his arm, in jagged rips, tear through his skin…

“Might not pull through.”

“Shetela the All-Knowing…”

…panic – eyes wide, spittle a mortar of sand and blood, feet numb shuffling ever backward…

“Can’t believe he’s alive, really.”

“Shetela of the Healing Touch…”

…crying for salvation now, dread thick in the air as Darkwolf levels his final blow…

A voice, sweet, musical, “Stay with me, Vylias, stay awake.”

“Walk with Shetela…”

***

More than the ceaseless fighting of the pit, dreams haunted Vylias. Again and again he found himself in the halls of his fathers mansion looking for the treasure that his mother had meant for him. Each time his father would stalk him through the halls, sneering words of derision. And each time, Vylias would wake sweating and shaking.

***

“Wake up.”

“Ug. Huh?” Vylias struggled to wake from his dreams. “What’s going on?”

It was still night, the gladiators’ quarters were pitch black. Only the snores and groans of the warriors broke the cold night air.

“Shut up, let’s go,” Topaz whispered. Vylias could just make out her lithe form crouched near his bedroll.

Vylias grunted as he struggled to rise. His muscles screamed. His joints ached. Three days ago he was severely beaten in a battle with a warrior named Darkwolf. The first two days after the fight were lost to him in a cloud of pain. Only today could he get move around as the healers had worked their magic to repair the worst of the injuries.

“Topaz?”

“Shhh. Let’s go.”

“I can’t see a thing. Go where?”

“Shhh,” Topaz took his hand and moved quietly through the gladiators’ common room. Vylias, nearly blind in the darkness, let the elf lead him through the massive building of the arena. In very little time Vylias had no idea where he was or where he was going. He concentrated on moving carefully and lightly as he had as a thief not so long ago. They came to a door and upon opening it came to a lantern lit quarter. Reluctantly, Vylias let go of Topaz’s hand and followed as she sped down the quarter. As they turned a corner they approached a guard who stood by a rather innocuous door. Upon seeing the two approaching gladiators the guard straightened to attention, then seeing Topaz, relaxed. The guard took a key from his belt and unlocked the door. After exchanging a quick glance with the guard, Topaz led Vylias through the door. The door shut behind them.

Waiting for them was a horse drawn carriage. Topaz vaulted into the passenger seat and helped Vylias struggle aboard. The driver urged the horse forward taking no cue from Topaz.

“Where are we going,” Vylias asked again his voice still a whisper.

Topaz shook her hair, breathed in the fresh night air, and leaned back against the carriage’s seat.

“You’ll know soon enough,” she smiled secretively.

Vylias couldn’t decide whether he was annoyed, intrigued, or just exhausted.
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Vic Vegas
Pitt Lord
Pitt Lord

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