Fates Intertwined (Part 7)
The droning, tedious nature of the bureaucracy was a like a cancer. Dozens of Advocates followed by their Servitors bustled about the granite building with his high vaulted ceiling and support pillars. In main lobby of the Advocacy building stood a statue Karien, the Immortal of War. Those among the Advocacy also attributed her to the aspects of justice and wisdom.
The statue stood strong and defiant, amid the throng of passersby. In one hand, Karien’s statue wielded a gladius while holding a set of scales in the other. Instead of chiseling armor onto her lithe frame, the artisan had opted to clothe her properly, starting with a blue tunic that cut off just above the knees.
For armor, they chose an older style of breastplate with pauldrons to match and greaves. As humans went, the craftsmanship wasn’t terrible. The details placed on Karien’s features and frame were impressive.
Pressing through the throng, Shaboh bit his lip, squinting his eyes at the sea of white tunics worn by the Servitors around him. Most had a matching band tattooed onto their right arms, signifying they were the lowest ranked among the Advocacy’s hierarchy.
These poor souls did most of the grunt work, filing motions, delivering documents and whatever else the Advocates they served deemed necessary. With each new appointment, another band was added. Those serving the Solars received a red band while blue meant they served the Senate directly. Like the military, a chevron was added to the tattoos marking a Servitor’s years of service.
With scrolls in hand, Shaboh waded through the throng. A few among the crowd, after taking notice of him, stepped aside before going about their business. At least they noticed, he mused.
Once clear of the lobby, navigating the building became easier. Shaboh took two flights of stairs before finally reaching the nearest registrar's office. He stopped to catch his breath, adjusting the bundle of scrolls he carried.
Honestly, I should have learned travel spells. But no, I had to decide that burning my enemies to ash was preferable.
Shaboh stepped through the doorway of the registrar’s office and into the foyer. As expected, the clerks were swamped with Servitors and Civis. He stared at the lines, shaking his head, and glanced at the pathway snaking its way past the clerk’s desks toward the Head Advocate’s chamber.
Gliding past the lines, Shaboh began navigating his way to the Advocate’s chamber, when the pair of centurions standing by the doorway moved to stop him. Both placed their hands on their swords threateningly.
“Sir, the lines are over their,” One said. “Please choose one.”
“I have,” Shabeh replied. “I chose this line here,” he added, pointing at the pathway. “Now step aside. My business is beyond a mere Centurion.”
Shaboh moved his right arm, revealing the tattoo marking him as a Sorceire. The Centurions tensed, eyed one another, then stepped back.
Shaboh smirked, then brushed past them. Upon entering the Head Advocate’s chamber, Shaboh was reminded of how austere the man lived. The furnishings, tapestries, and decorative nuances adorning the room were nothing more than flamboyant egotism. The statue of the man sitting in the room's corner was a testament to that.
Cyrus was busy at his desk, buried behind a mountain of scrolls and parchment. He looked so old, but then Shaboh recalled the last time he had been here to see the human. Cyrus' once full crown of hair had thinned, turning a few shades gray. He was leaner, with lines around his seemingly tired eyes.
A Servitor stood with him. She busied herself sorting the scrolls on the stack to Cyrus’ left as he reviewed the document in front of him. For a human, she was rather attractive with auburn hair hinting she claimed heritage from the Highland Tribes of the Arshain mountains. Her a pale skin tone was another clue and the tattoo on her right hand showing she had just won her citizenship.
Cyrus looked up from the document, a scowl forming on his cheeks. “You,” he commented.
Shaboh grinned. “Yes, Cyrus, me.”
“I had hoped I would have died before having to see you again, Sorciere Nelshay.”
Shaboh tensed. Cyrus had purposely mispronounced his last name. “I can arrange that if you have tired of your short, feeble life, Advocate. But we have business first before that happens.”
Cyrus cocked an eyebrow, then turned to the Highland female. “Breanna, leave us. I dare not sully your sensitivities with this elf.”
Breanna gave a slight bow, placing the rolled up stack scrolls she held on the desk and rushed past Shaboh. Shaboh grinned, turning to watch her leave. “You have exquisite taste, Cyrus. Where did you find that one? The slave markets, perhaps? I get the feeling her new status was your doing.”
Cyrus rolled his eyes. “Did you need something, Shaboh, or did you come actually come here to kill me?”
“Yes and sadly no,” Shaboh replied, moving up to the desk and placing the scrolls in front of him. “I was going to have a clerk do this, but then I thought, why not you, my dear friend, Cyrus?”
Cyrus opened the scrolls, scanning each of them in turn. “These are improper and out of order. I can’t sign these.”
“No, no, no, Advocate Cyrus, you are clearly mistaken. These documents are in perfect order.”
“Shaboh, if I sign these, the Ignum will have my head on a splatter by morning,” he replied. “I can tell these documents are forged just by looking at them. The Arcanum will know too once they’ve been processed and sent to them.”
Shaboh reached into the pouch hanging from his belt and tossed a small gold insignia on top of the documents. Cyrus’ face went pale. The man looked as if he might piss himself.
“The documents are in order Advocate,” Shaboh, repeated.
Still in shock, Cyrus nodded, reaching for his quill. Once he signed each of the scrolls, Shaboh leaned forward, placing lips to the Advocate’s ear. “Speak of this to anyone and I will kill you. But not just you. I will also kill that Highlander girl carrying your child.”
When Cyrus tensed, Shaboh let a slight grin slip. Her recent liberation was no coincidence or act of mercy. Looks like I guessed correctly.
Shaboh leaned back, put the gold insignia away and gathered up the scrolls. “A pleasure as always, Cyrus,” he said.
Cyrus half smiled, seemingly paralyzed. But as Shaboh reached the doorway, he spoke up. “Never come to my chambers again, Sorceire.”
“Oh, don’t worry, Cyrus,” Shaboh replied. “You’ll be rotting in a grave before I find myself here again. You humans are mere mayflies compared to me.”
Once he reached the lobby, Shaboh cast a glance at Karien’s statue. Oh dear lady, I pray you favor me in the war to come.
The cells reeked of the overpowering smell of urine and feces, Vahti tried covering his nose to dampen the assault on his senses, but it didn’t help. He eyed the men and women in the cells. Misery’s lash had left its scars.
The hopelessness and defeated expressions each of them wore bit at him. A chill followed as guilt cut at Vahti for being Libertas. These people were in no condition to fight anyone. They were just lambs being sent to the slaughter.
“Don’t mourn them, Monk,” the guard leading him said. “They all deserve to be here. Be thankful you can come and go as you please.”
“It just seems unfair, forcing them to fight. They won’t live past the first match.”
“They’ll be trained,” the guard replied. “Besides, even at an early age, young Absonians are taught how to use the sword. An Absonian who can’t use the sword is no Absonian at all.”
“And if they aren’t?”
“Then they will learn,” the guard replied. “I’m willing to bet one of these rats is Feraldiath, we catch those pirates off the coast often enough.”
“Why are you showing me all this?” Vahti asked.
“Because this is a reminder of your fate should you defy the Arena Master. Obey the rules of the Colosseum and remain Libertas. Violate them and end up a slave.”
Reaching the end of the corridor, Vahti paused, taking one last look at the prisoners. I shouldn’t be here.
“Getting cold feet?” the guard asked. “I don’t blame you. You need skin as tough as a dragon’s surviving this place. Just follow the rules and if you decide not to come back, no one would blame you.”
“Is the Colosseum the only place to fight in Serindeth?”
“No, there are smaller circuits, but none offer the accolades fighting here does. They don’t pay as well either. You must have some good backers. Not anyone can just walk in expecting to get matches.”
Vahti opened his mouth to comment when a bestial roar echoed further up the hall. The guard froze, his hand falling to his gladius. “Oh, Scriv! They let him fight!”
Screams, followed by the sound of rattling chains, carried through the corridor. “Keep behind me, kid, unless you want to die on your first day.”
The guard rushed ahead, and Vahti followed. The shouting became more pronounced as the guards ahead of them screamed, “Hold him! Get him locked down!”
When they reached the cross section of the corridor, Vahti’s eyes widened after setting his eyes on an orc bound in chains with scars covering his face and arms. Six guards were fighting to contain him.
The orc roared, jerking violently against his captors. Two of the guards lost their footing, crashing into the stonework of the cross section. They lay sprawled on the stone floor, blood running down the sides of their faces.
The remaining guards repositioned, pulled opposite of the other, hindering the orc’s movements. Vahti could tell they were straining to keep their footing. Bound as he was and with his incredible strength, his captors may as well have been straw dolls fighting to bring him down.
The guards tugged on the chains, trying to whip the orc around and throw him off balance, but he held his ground. Fighting back, the orc twisting his body, and knocking one of the four off balance. He used the slack to charge another, and the two collided, the orc proving his skull was thicker after slamming it into the guard’s face. The guard stumbled, and the orc turned his attention to the other two still holding on for dear life.
The guard Vahti followed joined the fray, grabbing one of the loose chains laying on the ground and whipping it around the orc’s legs. The orc stumbled, but kept his footing, turning to face his new attacker. The guard backed away, his eyes shifting to another chain.
“Gmork, calm down!” he shouted. “You know how angry the Arena Master gets when we go through this.”
Vahti eyed Gmork. He was foaming at the mouth as if mad with rage. The guard dashed past him, tumbling to get to the length of chain behind the orc, but Gmork turned, pulling from his grasp before he could get a grip. He then shifted his weight,, knocking another guard off balance, charging him with his head lowered.
Vahti stepped in, bracing the guard before he could get within the orc’s reach. Gmork rushed past, his head hitting the sidewall of the cross section. He stumbled in a daze, tripping over the chains dragging at feet.
Vahti quickly moved in, binding Gmork’s legs before he could come to his senses. The guards followed suit, putting tension on the other chains. Moments later, Gmork roared, spittle flying from his mouth.
The guards fought to keep him restrained while Vahti finished coiling the heavy chain around his legs. He paused, his heart nearly stopping after realizing they were using blacksteel to keep Gmork under control.
To think they would go so far…
One guard stepped closer, lifting his boot and kicking Gmork in the face. The orc went limp, falling unconscious. Gmork’s breathing seemed labored, but he appeared alive.
“Hey boy,” the guard he followed shouted. “What your name again?”
“Vahti. Vahti Laidan.”
“Well, Vahti, you can call me, Aurelus. Welcome to the Colosseum.”
“Who is he?”
Aurelus sneered. “They call him the Butcher of Men. He’s been with us for three years. No matter how much we throw at him, his curse keeps him going.”
“Curse?” Vahti asked.
Cautiously, Aurelus moved closer, parting the chains wrapped around Gmork’s torso to reveal an odd mark on his forearm. Vahti reached out, running his fingers across it. While the skin looked cracked as if blistered, it was smooth to the touch.
“Sometimes orcs are born with such birthmarks. They display odd abilities deemed dangerous by the Empire. So we locked them up for the safety of our people.”
“So you never try an understand what these abilities are?”
“We don’t need to,” Aurelus replied. “Gmork is a prime example of how dangerous The Cursed are.”
Vahti closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He placed his hand over Gmork’s chest, pouring some of his spiritual energy into him. He felt a chill run through him when something pushed back.
“How many has he killed, Aurelus?” Vahti asked, opening his eyes.
“In three years? More than a hundred men,” Aurelus replied. “Oddly, he won’t kill women, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t beaten some of our female gladiators to a pulp.”
“What’s the bounty on the boards for fighting him?”
Aurelus’ mouth fell open. “Vahti… No… you--”
“What’s the bounty?” Vahti repeated more sternly.
“Five hundred golden Seps…” Aurelus replied. “But no one is going to let you fight him. There isn’t a way. The odds are against you are two hundred to one.”
“Two months, Aurelus. I want to fight him in two months.”
“Vahti, they won’t let you. Arent you listening? This is suicide, we let prisoners fight him!”
“Two months,” Vahti repeated. “Tell your Arena Master, ‘Sorceire N’Shay sends his regards’.”