This scene takes place in Fhorvylda, the eastern island of Turesia. Here's where the f*%king scrappers live. The heathens.
*These posts have no determined lifespan. They could disappear whenever. They've not been before editors. They've not even been before beta readers. Consider yourself Alpha.5 readers. Yes, I abuse commas. No, I, won't, learn, how, to, stop. That's what editors are for.
You're reading Part 1 (~2,000 words)
Part 2 (~1,700 words)
Part 3 (~2,300 words)
I welcome any reaction, from any source.
You a writer? Hit me.
You a reader? Have at it.
You literate? Give it a puff.
You illiterate? hgrieauhi
Only thing I ask is that you're honest. I'll thank you for any response.
The ceiling of the Last Room trembles as the twenty thousand spectators above rumble, stamp, and yell. Dust snows down, hovering and swirling in the air between Irdessa and today’s convict warriors. Beside her, Torvald observes them, his midnight-colored hair bathed in the gold of oil lanterns.
The sand glass says there’s an hour until the fight.
There was a time when that scared Irdessa. She’d tremble and fight back tears. That was long ago. But she refuses to forget. The muffled roar from above turns Irdessa’s blood into lightning. Torvald’s presence keeps her energy static.
There are ten fighters total, including herself and Torvald. The other eight are new to Udiari’s Company. Three are proven, five wet; almost as shitty a way to start a day in Keswal as you can ask for. Wets are still searching through weapons, trying them, finding them unsatisfactory and dropping them, rubbing their sweaty hands on their trousers, casting glances at one another. They won’t find what they’re searching for. It’s not in that arsenal. The proven mostly stand out of the way, trusting the rusty steel and dry rotted leather that has kept them alive thus far, be it through one fight or several. Irdessa holds two javelins, as always. She wears layers of dirt-stained cotton and light, knee-high leather boots. But it’s no armament that keeps her heart still.
Torvald clears his throat. “We have an hour to devise a strategy.”
All rattle of weapons ceases and every eye turns to him. Wet and proven can all benefit from Torvald’s words. In fact, their lives depend on it.
“I am our lanista’s executor,” he says. “Some know me as the Tactician.”
The inevitable applause from the prisoners makes Irdessa smile.
“Please call me Torvald.”
He has refined his speech over these last two years. Irdessa finds herself mentally filling in unpleasantries he leaves out.
“This will be the first time fighting for many of you.”
And the last for some.
“If you are proven, there are many possible reasons you’ve survived thus far. But for those of you who intend to prey on a fellow combatant to survive…”
Then you won’t.
“… I do not offer my protection in the arena.”
The room is without response as Torvald somehow meets every eye, all at once.
“But then, I can’t guarantee my protection to any of you.”
A hollow, raspy chuckle from one of the fighters. “You think we need your protection?”
The crowd parts to expose a hulking, oily wet with a pitch-colored beard and a banged-up face. He has one hand on the low ceiling and the other grips an axe’s handle like it’s a cane.
A scowl takes Irdessa’s face. What an idiotic way to draw attention to yourself. Who could be stupid enough to act so haughty? This man is either supremely ignorant, mentally unfit, or doesn’t value his own life. There’s a stained bandage wrapped around his left knee. He favors his right foot. Injury is the first thing Torvald perceives while weighing his fighters. Besides fear, it is the most important detail. This ugly brute will die today, Lahuvot willing, and perhaps word will spread to any else who might interrupt Torvald.
“I’d recommend it.” Torvald matches the man’s gaze. “But it’s not up to me what you need.”
The man nods his shaggy face. “I’ll say.”
“We’re fighting orcanes,” Torvald says to the room as if reporting dinner will be late.
Mouths fall open. Some gasps escape. Irdessa’s pulse spikes. How long’s it been?
“Good,” the brute says. “Always wanted to kill one of those.”
Torvald continues. “These aren’t the cavalry striders making rounds, the ones that perhaps caught you. They’re retired. Possibly injured. But they aren’t much less of a threat for that. Perhaps more if they band together.
Irdessa smirks. They won’t. Luckily for fighters of Keswal, Beastmaster Grimmet beats the comradery out of orcanes at a young age.
A couple of people whimper, which in turn brings some chuckles. Irdessa has fought orcanes. There’s not much she hasn’t. And all fights have their similarities. Those who, in this moment, expect to die, probably will. They’ll manage to catch their trembling breath. Maybe even still their hands for a bit. They’ll absorb some encouraging words, be bolstered by the bloodlust of those who stand beside them. And then, the gates will ascend.
Before she realizes she’s done it, Irdessa has singled out three individuals who will die before the sun sets.
The warriors who have no intention of dying come in different forms. Those who’ve known violence are more likely to control themselves. Some will see the orcanes and fly into a fury. They have a better chance of surviving than wets who shit themselves, but not by much. Rarely can a man match the speed of an orcane, even a wounded one. Only collectively is victory assured.
“This will be a hard fight,” Torvald says.
Half of us will die. Irdessa is able to keep her face from showing it.
“There are three of them,” Torvald says. “So we’ll make three teams. Two will misdirect, distract. The other will strike. Those wearing steel will catch the orcanes’ attention, not unlike a fish lure.”
A convict backs away from the rusty helm he’s just discarded on the floor.
“Strikers will wear little armor. We must hit fast and avoid direct attack.”
Now the wet seems indecisive and his eyes range from the helm to Torvald. Throughout the room several convicts are visibly nervous now. But other faces have hardened. Those people press forward to ensure they miss nothing. Even the scruffy brute has shut his mouth and squared both feet toward Torvald, standing as if he’s forgotten his injury. Or was he faking?
What Torvald says is only partially true. One group will strike. One will run, maybe strike. The third will almost undoubtedly fill orcane bellies and provide an opportunity for the first two groups.
“While you studied your resources, I studied you. And in each of you I’ve witnessed strengths.”
And weaknesses. It takes effort for Irdessa not to mouth the words.
A few dark glances communicate displeasure at the comment. It’s well known that the Tactician can weigh a man in a glance. Wets and proven alike get downright uncomfortable when faced with the fact that Torvald knows who’ll die.
“Those who misdirect must be fast, like you,” Torvald points at a tall lanky boy with muddy straw hair and a purple bruise under his right eye. Irdessa noticed him earlier. While others hefted swords and axes, he examined the knives. They’d pried at armor and steel-reinforced boots and he’d quickly snatched the pliable leather shoes. His eye is not swollen shut. It’s not a debilitating injury.
“What’s your name?” Torvald asks.
The boy squares his shoulders. “Pinprae.”
The ugly one cackles. “Piss spray? Damn, boy. I see why you got your eye blacked.”
The boy’s chest deflates.
Torvald ignores the brute. “You were a thief on the outside. Better at escaping than you were fighting. That’s why your knuckles are so clean.”
The boy looks at his feet and tucks his hands away to hide the incriminating evidence. Maybe he was good at escaping. Not good enough, obviously.
“Keswal is about survival, and survival is not always about fighting. I need runners.” Torvald pauses long enough for Irdessa to notice him cut his eyes in her direction. She sighs and braces herself.
“Beside me stands Irdessa the Undying.”
Convicts hoot and applaud. Irdessa lifts a single hand in response. When they celebrate Torvald it’s because he’s earned it. He is the Tactician. When they cheer for her she feels like a fraud. She’s done nothing but follow his instruction. Any adoration aimed at her is misplaced. She fights the urge to hide behind Torvald.
He aims a smile at her. “If you’ve heard she is fast and cunning, you only know part of the truth. There’s a reason she’s called the Undying. She’ll long outlive me.”
Irdessa hates when he says that.
“Pinprae, you’ll be a runner. Team with Irdessa. She’ll put your speed to use. And get a new name.”
“If you’re gonna be prancing, how bout Prancer,” says the brute, rousing up some laughter. There’s no ill will in the look the boy gives the brute. He must like it. He turns hopeful eyes toward Irdessa. She looks at the far wall. You can’t let in wets. Not on fight day. Not until they’re proven. Not even then if you’re smart.
Torvald levels his gaze at the next convict. A wiry woman with frizzy black hair kneeling beside a vase full of used arrows. Her expression speaks of stale bitterness, the look of a mother who’s watched her children go to sleep hungry too many times.
“You’re a poacher. Any good with a bow?”
Of course she is. Even Irdessa spotted how expertly she vetted the bows.
She stands and clears her throat. “If I hadn’t run out of arrows, I’d not be here now.” It’s a strong voice coming from so thin a frame.
“Oh, I like her,” says a fellow with a closely shaved scalp.
She responds to him with a look that would curdle water.
“You’ll strike,” Torvald says. “With me.”
She nods once.
Torvald continues. The shaved man has scars all over his hands and a couple across his chin and cheek. Small eyes peer from under a notched, hairless brow. He's a proven, recently acquired by Lanista Udiari. The leather cuirass he wears sits comfortably on his shoulders and the spear is at home at his side. A soldier, probably convicted of some war crime.
“These are the best and the worst to stand beside you,” Torvald explained once. “Though their crimes might be particularly heinous, they usually acted so in consenting company. It’s likely they regret their actions, if they even acknowledge them. They’re trained and can follow orders. They’ve seen combat and won’t quickly lose their nerve.”
“And what makes them the worst?” Irdessa had asked.
“Ambition. If a man decides he can do my job better than me, there’s nothing stopping him from trying to supplant me. As it turns out, none so far have understood my job.”
“And what is that?” she’d asked.
“Keeping you alive.”
Irdessa realizes she’s smiling. She stops.
The soldier is to be a runner. He doesn’t seem happy about it, but happiness comes in scant portions in the Last Room.
Torvald comes to a thin fellow, the color of mahogany, with bright red tattoos over most of his exposed skin, including his face. He’s hunched in the shoulders, not unlike a vulture. The crescent moon tattooed on his cheek tells Irdessa he’s been initiated into a tribe from the southernmost bluffs. The tattoo is a reward for ritual murder. The man’s glistening eyes fall on Irdessa and he licks his lips. Two years prior this might have intimidated her. But far worse than him have threatened her in Keswal.
“Runner,” Torvald says crisply, “with him.” He points at the ex-soldier. Irdessa notices the finality in his voice no one else could have caught. He’ll feed the birds today. She puckers her lips at him and winks.
“And you,” Torvald says to the ugly bastard.
Finally, thank Lahuvot.
The man’s scrubby brow collapses under Torvald’s stare.
“And you…” Torvald says again. It sounds like a challenge. The room has gone quiet as the two lock eyes from across the room. Irdessa realizes she’s holding her breath.
continued in Part 2