Saetrum sat back in his chair, arms propped, his hands folded, and chin resting on them. The crowd was full of vitality. Their shouts and jeers throughout the day had rocked the coliseum. Through it all they periodically chanted two names: Uxalen and Eleesa.
Neither name was chanted simultaneously, but the demand was clear. In the past few months, the sauratian the Maker had risen in standing among the people. The crowd loved them and with them came a sea of gold crowns.
When Eleesa first brandished her thunderer, the crowd grew silent. The old war from a century and a half ago between Absion and Charnoe was far from forgotten. The impact of the Maker’s war machines had sent a firm message to the Senate and Emperor. Later it became known as Aurien’s War. Some even called it Aurien’s Folly.
Saetrum pushed the thoughts from his mind, focusing on the battle taking place below. Today was a celebratory day and marked the emperor’s thirtieth year on the throne. The capital was a bustle of activity and the city’s streets were rife with entertainers and craftsman.
He smiled as he watched the gladiators take to their roles. It was reenactment of the sacking of Aesden, by the shadow orc chief Makesh. This time, however, it was the orc chieftain who would be defeated.
The ‘orc’ gladiators wore tusked masks and painted their skin black. They wore shoddy armor and pranced about in confusion. The ‘centurions’ wore far better and were given quality weapons to defeat the orcs with.
The arena was set up to look like a town, but nothing too elaborate. It was enough to allow the crowd’s imagination to do the rest. As the centurions fought the orcs, the drama turned comedy ensued. No one would truly die, but accidents happened. So long as the crowd was happy, nothing else mattered.
When Makesh himself showed, storming through the western gate and grunting like a pig, the crowd booed and hissed. Some threw food, others wine. The gladiator stared them down defiantly and beat his chest. He waved his gigantic axe about, then turned to the centurions and charged.
A fierce fight ensued, the crowed booing as he defeated one group of centurions after another. But then, the eastern gate opened, and a lone centurion stepped out. The crowd grew silent, then broke into an uproar. They had seen the centurion’s tail, and the reptilian helm he wore. Only a moment passed before the crowd began chanting a singular name: Uxalen.
Saetrum’s smile widened. He felt the chill surge of their excitement surge through him. Everything was playing out as planned. He leaned forward, elbow propped on his knees, hands clasped.
“You fancy him too much, Arena master.”
Saetrum bit his lip, pursing it in irritation. Why must you always spoil the mood? The old Inquisitor seemed to have a talent for it like no other.
Saetrum sat up, looking over at him. “Did I ask for your insight, Garron?”
The Inquisitor averted his eyes. “No Arena Master.”
“Then unless I ask, don’t offer it. I swear, I found myself swept up in the festivities and you have to ruin it!”
Garron frowned, shifting his eyes to Uxalen.
Why do you hate him so?
Garron refused to speak on it, and the Inquisition was silent on the subject. All they had offered was that Uxalen was a slayer of children. Saetrum studied the Inquisitor. He was tense, his eyes focused.
You know something, don’t you? Is it his powers?
A surge of shocked cries from the crowd drew Saetrum’s attention. Uxalen was down, laying on his back. As the shadow orc chieftain stood over him, axe raised, Uxalen rolled out of the way and used his tail to knock the gladiator off balance.
A deadly clash of steel erupted between the two. The Sauratian showed he was stronger. The gladiator portraying the shadow orc chieftain was struggling. His axe was large and bulky compared to Uxalen’s gladius and shield. As the Sauration pushed the gladiator back, the crowd erupted, chanting the lizardman’s name.
With a heavy shield blow, ‘Makesh’ went down, his massive axe falling from his grasp. Uxalen stood over him, gladius pressed to the man’s throat and looked up toward the booth.
Saetrum stood, stepped out onto the landing in full view of the crowd. “Makesh is defeated!” The crowd shouted, cheers ringing out. “Shall we capture this monster and make him serve us for his crimes? Or do we execute him like the dog he is?”
He held his fist high as the crowd chanted. Garron curled his lip. It was a mockery. The Arena Master had promised none would die today. The Flame revealed no lie when he spoke the words, but it appeared the crowd had won him over.
As one, the crowd shouted the gladiator’s fate: Execution. Saetrum turned his fist, his thumb pointing down toward the stone. Uxalen glanced at the crowd and turned away, dropping his sword.
The look on the Arena Master’s face was priceless. His mouth fell open in outrage and the crowd grew silent. The gladiator Uxalen spared, removed his mask, shock written on his face.
No one had ever openly defied Saetrum before the crowd. At least, until today. Well played lizard. You cleverly cornered him.
Uxalen had spent months building his popularity among the people. They spoke of his ferocity in the arena in the streets. He understood his position well and used it to his advantage.
“He shows mercy!” someone shouted. Their voice was faint, but became a catalyst that spurred the crowd. With the silence broken, and they began chanting, “Uxalen the Merciful, Uxalen the Merciful.”
Garron clenched fist, locking eyes on the Sauratian as he stepped through the east gate. Merciful… No, there is no mercy from a creature who murders children.
The praise the lizardman was receiving ate at the Inquisitor. They were revering him as if he were one of the Immortals. “How can they?”
The Flame inside him sparked. Its heat filled him. This had gone on long enough. The sauratian had to die.
Saetrum held his hands out to silence the crowd. His face was a stoic mask. “So your verdict has changed?” he asked.
One after another, the members of the crowd held the hands out and thumbs up. Saetrum looked down at the bewildered gladiator, his gaze hard as iron. “Then, in honor of this day, and our beloved emperor, I will go further.” He proceeded from the landing down the stairs to its right and stepped toward the stone sill of the arena wall.
Saetrum gestured toward the guard by the western gate and they entered the arena, guiding the gladiator to stand below him. “Callum, son of Daminicus Diallum. You have fought in this coliseum for seven years. Your sentence was one of life with no hope of freedom. I herby on this day grant you that freedom and return the citizenship stripped away upon your imprisonment. You are free.”
The crowd exploded and Callum fell onto his knees, tears in his eyes. He bowed his head and prostrate himself in gratitude, then stood. “Master Saetrum, there aren’t words, but if I may make a request.”
“A request?” the Arena Master asked.
Callum nodded. “I wish to stay as a guard. My even as a citizen, my crime has robbed me of my honor and tarnished my family name. I wish to redeem that by serving you here and earning my keep. I cannot never become a centurion of Absion’s armies, but here I can at least serve my people.”
Garron narrowed his eyes, studying the man. The Flame gave no hints that Callum was lying. His intent was sincere.
“He speaks true.”
Saetrum smiled. “Your request is granted. But know this. I hear everything that happens in my coliseum. Do not take the gift you have been given lightly.”
“I will not, Arena Master,” Callum replied.
Saetrum turned away, the crowd cheering as the guards led Callum to the western gate and ascended the stairs. He cracked a smile upon reaching the landing. “It seems our sauratian is more clever than I gave him credit for, Garron,” he said, resuming his seat. “Tell me, what do you think of that pair? The lizardman and the Charnoan Maker?”
“Do you really want to know my opinion, this time?”
“Would I ask if I didn’t?”
Garron sighed. “I think this whimsical amusement you have for them will be your undoing. The sauratian belongs at Drashan Isle.”
The Arena Master’s smile faded. “And Eleesa?”
“Letting her keep that firestone gem to power her Iron Hand is beyond foolish. It belongs at the Arcanum.”
“Garron, you worry too much. These are your last years of service before you retire. Enjoy them. If Uxalen were planning something with her. I would know.”
“So you say, Arena Master. So you say.”
He hadn’t spoken, even after that had chained him down. Uxalen simply sat, eyes closed, back resting as comfortably as his bonds allowed against the wall. Eleesa leaned against the bars dividing their cells.
How can you be so calm! Do you not care? She gripped the bars with her Iron Hand. She felt it bend, thanks to the firestone gem powering it. You’re their prisoner, their slave!
She had fought her fair share of battles. The Armis Domin had been training her to use the sword and shield. With the part provided by the Arena Master, the shield had become unnecessary. With her Iron Hand reinforced, it was stronger than any shield they could provide.
The crowd had given her the many names. Thunderer, Gorefist, Iron Maiden, each was in response to the battles she had taken part in. Saetrum let her use anything in her arsenal and allowed her to fashion whatever she needed in the workshop he had provided.
The other gladiators avoided her, the Libertas especially. They weren’t bound through slavery, nor were they criminals. The Libertas came and went as they pleased from the coliseum. Men like them, and the few women allowed to compete, were after a greater prize. Honor.
They sought to leave a mark, so their children could lay claim to greater things in Absonian culture. It was their chance to rise above common status and give their family name meaning. Eleesa rested her head against the bars feeling a tingle in her temples.
“Your thoughts are restless. Louder than tribal war drums.”
“So, he speaks,” she thought back. Over the past few months, he had been teaching her how to meditate and focus her mind. It made communicated with him easier.
“I only say what’s necessary, when it is necessary to say,” he replied.
She sighed. “I’ll never understand you.”
A sense of amusement echoed through the link. “You humans, so brash and reckless.”
“Sauratians, patient and slow to act,” she replied. “You’re almost as bad as the Shaylin.” The sense of amusement returned, but only briefly. “How can you endure this, Uxalen? How can you be so patient and undeterred?”
He closed his eyes, chains rattling as he lay his head back and looked away.
Eleesa frowned, resting her head against the bars of the cell. Expecting an answer was hopeless. The tingling in her temples returned.
“Hope,” he replied. “The patient always have hope.”
“Hope?” she said. “Hope is your answer?”
“My people have a saying, ‘I would have lost hope, had I not seen the goodness of the Creator in the land of the living’.I have learned to know patience as I have learned to know when the right moment will present itself.”
Eleesa shifted her weight, pressing her back against the bars. “Creator, huh?” she said. “You sound like some orcs I met once.” Though hard to put in words, Eleesa felt a stillness reverberate through their connection. In its wake came a sense of urgency. “Uxalen?”
An emptiness followed. The connection had been severed. Uxalen was done talking. Eleesa turned, staring at him through the bars. His head was bowed, he was meditating.
What is it about the orcs that bothers you so?
She thought back, trying to remember them. It was a small band of six. Each was covering in tribal tattoos and red paint. The tattoos were rigid in pattern and made them appear to radiate a feeling of strength about them.
One differed from the others. He wore no armor, carrying only a spear. His markings were more detailed and fluid, especially around his face and eyes. The lines they formed carried a significance as if he were saying it were a mask covering his true self.
He spoke of strange things, like spirits and a world beyond. Sometimes, when he would look at you, it was like he was staring inside you. The other orcs were reverent toward him and when he spoke, they acted without question.
Eleesa heard a familiar click and turned toward the iron door leading into the chamber. The heavy door ground open and Callum stepped in. He was wearing a breastplate and leather armor. A spatha hung at his hip. He looked just like one of the other guards at the arena.
“I don’t know how he knew,” he said. “But his plan worked.”
Eleesa cracked a crooked smile. Patience eh, Uxalen? The longer I’m with you, the more I wonder how that mind of yours works.
Callum stepped toward her cell, keys in hand. “The Arena Master sent me to retrieve you. Your fight is next.”