The smell of oil and metal was calming. The sound of the hexitool clicking as she tightened the bolts soothing. Eleesa looked around the chamber. It was growing cramped from the sorted pile of parts and mechanisms she had created at Saetrum’s request. No, not request, order was a better word.
Nine months… Has it really been nine months? Eleesa rubbed her eyes, fatigue setting in. She began mentally inventorying everything. From the first thing she had built, to the assortment of parts and weapons on the table. It seems it has.
She stepped back from the granite table, eyeing the dozen Thunderers she had completed. Saetrum wanted them added to his armory. Eleesa smirked while imagining the other gladiators trying to use them. Some of them were likely to get themselves killed wielding them. The dragon’s breath powder in the ammo had to be mixed just right. Knowing Saetrum, when her usefulness was at an end, he’d probably cut corners, increasing the chance of a misfire.
Either way, he was frightening man. Saying he knew everything that happened within the coliseum was no mere boast. The other gladiators often whispered about conversations they had with each other, only to have Saetrum punish them for their words.
Garron was another puzzle. He never spoke, except to the guards and centurions, and always out of earshot. But his gaze gave her chills. Like a raptor from its perch on high. Some gladiators he appeared to hold in great disdain, Uxalen being one of them. The Inquisitor tensed each time he looked at the Sauratian.
She shook her head and began looking over her Iron Hand. With the constant battles were taking its toll, the prosthetic needed always maintanence. Eleesa touched the line at her elbow where metal and flesh melded together. The asinium rod serving as the Iron Hand’s core had been grafted to her humerus by a necromancer. From there, it was a matter of building the prosthetic around the rod.
A knock came from the door behind her. “Eleesa?” Saetrum called out.
“Yes, Arena Master, I’m here.” The door opened, and he stepped in, a wide grin on his face. He wants something.
He scanned the table, hands clasped, his delight showing at the sight of the thunderers. “I see you’ve finished them. How many shells, isn’t that what you call them, have you made?”
“Two hundred, but I warn you, thunderers are dangerous. If one misfires, I cannot be held responsible.”
“Yours seems to function just fine.”
Eleesa held up her left arm. “It only takes one mishap.”
Saetrum frowned, pursing his lip in concern. “Well, If it does, I suppose you can always make more. I won’t be letting the Libertas use them, I can’t have that on my reputation.”
Eleesa tightened her lip. No, we can’t have that, now can we?
“As it stands, well done,” he said. “I’ll send some of my guard to retrieve what you have crafted.” He started toward the door, then stopped. “Oh, there is something else, well two things actually.”
Eleesa narrowed her eyes. “What might that be?”
“I am having a gathering. Some important people, some from the Senate, will be in attendance. You and Uxalen have been requested. There are people in power who want to meet with you.”
“It will be hard for Uxalen to meet anyone in chains,” she replied wryly.
“Oh, he won’t be. Several Inquisitors will be in attendance and he has his warning.”
“What warning is that?”
The Arena Master expression grew more sinister. “That if he misbehaves, you will be killed on the spot. Garron seems to think he is fond of you.”
Through the magic of the firestone gem, Eleesa felt cracks forming in the granite table as she gripped it with her Iron Hand. “What is the second thing, Arena Master?”
“I want golems,” he said. “Make it happen.”
Eleesa’s mouth fell open as he shut the door. Golems! Is he delusional? Golems require firestone gems!
She leaned against the table, crossing her arms. A golem wasn’t something you simply forged. It takes weeks, even months to construct. Steam power was a shortcut, but too unreliable and someone would have to pilot it. It was something only asked of someone who was a master of artifice.
Uxalen, we’re running out of time.
Their smiles, their adoration, their worship. Saetrum drank it in. It was ambrosia, a sweet delicacy that only a few were entitled to enjoy. He surveyed the room, noting those in attendance. Each was powerful and well known. Most weren’t regular patrons of the coliseum, but they came occasionally.
The harp stringer’s cords danced their melodic tune in his ears. Their tones accented and amplified by the chamber itself. Silk curtains hung between the support pillars, creating partitions with recliners placed behind. It granted the illusion of privacy should the guests wish to speak apart from the central chamber.
Gladiators and Libertas tended and served the food arrayed around the marble statue of Karien, the Immortal of war and storms. Assorted fruits and cheeses, along with roasted boar and ham arrayed strategically around the table. The aged wine that appeared to be a delight among the senators who were bantering on about politics and various intrigues.
Both Libertas and Gladiator were dressed according to station. The Libertas wore long knee length tunics with gold-embroidered edges. Their sandals were white, signifying they were free men and women.
The gladiators wore red tunics with a gold cord tied around their waists. Their sandals were plain and ruddy to show ownership, but also for sale at the right price. A few of the guests were already making bids.
Oh, Father. If you could see how we’ve prospered.
He turned to the dais where Eleesa and Uxalen sat. The Sauratian was like a statue, stiff and stoic. He sat, leaning forward, arms propped on his knees and staring off into the distance. Interestingly enough, the guests seemed unbothered by his unresponsive demeanor. To them the lizardman was a spectacle all his own.
He was armored, wearing more than a simple breastplate. Plated leggings were added to his attire. Uxalen wore a spatha at his hip. Not that he needed it. The strange magic he wielded was devastating enough.
Eleesa was different. She was very apt at handling the guests, the politicians and military officers. Some would coax her from the dais, and she would mingle with them for a time, then resume her place. Many wanted to touch her Iron Fist, which was a buzz of gossip among party goers.
Do your job well and you may yet find a reward worthy of you, girl.
Saetrum paused from wading through the crowd and turned. His heart quickened upon seeing who was addressing him. “Sen… Senator Flaous! I’m humbled you would even acknowledge me.”
“Oh, come now, Arena Master,” the senator replied. “How could I not speak to our most gracious host?” He said with a wide smile. His stance showed he had imbibed more wine than a few of the other guests.
Saetrum placed his hand over his heart, giving a slight bow. “I’m honored nonetheless, Senator.”
“That beast you have is truly fascinating,” he said. “We need more like him, don’t you think?”
“While I cannot argue, I think keeping him unique spices up the arena. Too much flavor spoils the pot, as they say.”
The plump man smiled. “Clever and shrewd,” he replied, wagging his finger. “Your father did well with you,” he replied.
“You knew my father?”
The senator nodded. “I did, he was an intractable man, but like you he knew how the please the crowd,” he replied. “Which is why I am making you an offer, well two in fact.” He took another drink emptying his goblet. “Five thousand seps, for Uxalen or one of his kind.”
Saetrum fought to keep his mouth from hanging open and his face stoic. “What is the second, Senator?”
“Find me a female sauratian or a mated pair. As I understand they mate for life and I want such fierce beasts as my personal guard. If you can do this, I will owe you a favor.”
“If you graciously allow me the time to prepare such a venture, I will see what I can do.”
“Take the time you need, Arena Master, but know this, I will not wait forever, and neither will my favor.”
The plump senator adjusted his toga and began wading through the other guests. He was heading toward the dais. Toward Uxalen. Flaous stood before the sauratian, staring him down. Uxalen looked down at him, eyes narrow.
Flaous appeared to be speaking with the lizardman, who promptly stood, catching the attention of everyone. It was easy to forget how large Uxalen was when he stood to his full height when compared to a human.
Garron stepped away from the wall behind the dais, his hand on his gladius. Uxalen stepped down from the dais standing a full foot and a half taller than the senator. Eleesa looked nervous. She knew her life was on the line should Uxalen misbehave.
From his vantage, Saetrum caught a slip of a smile on the senator’s face. The plump politician pointed at Garron and waved him off. The Inquisitor hesitated, but only for a moment, removing his hand from his sword and resuming his post against the wall behind the dais.
Flaous turned his back to the sauratian, beckoning him to follow. Saetrum quickly handed off his goblet to the nearest Libertas and waded through the crowd toward them.
“Senator,” he said, once he was close enough.
The plump politician turned, his smile fading. “Yes, Arena Master?”
“Might I inquire where you are taking Uxalen?” Inwardly, Saetrum cringed as the words left his lips. He had tried to keep his tone polite, but to his ears, it had been anything but polite.
“I am taking your dog for a walk. He has been sitting in that same position for long enough and I wish to speak with him.”
Saetrum clamped his mouth shut. The edge in the Senator’s tone was clear. Flaous was the third highest seat within the ruling body. Next to the emperor he was the fourth most powerful man in Absion.
Saetrum smiled instead, placing his hand over his heart and respectfully stepped away. Flaous returned his smile as if satisfied and began walking away with Uxalen in tow. They were heading toward the exit leading into the gardens.
Remember your place Saetrum, he told himself. Men like Flaous, expect things and do as they please.
Eleesa exhaled, a wave of relief washing over her. From everything this evening showed, the man with Uxalen was powerful. Saetrum tried to hide it, but he was terrified. It was subtle, but the man was shaking.
She smiled, relishing in the satisfaction of watching him squirm. You’re not so big a fish anymore, are you, Saetrum? No, you never were, you belong in a pond, not an ocean.
“Something delights you, Lady Eleesa?”
She turned to the throng of men around her and smiled wider. “Just the company, I have the honor of sharing the same air with.”
Their faces lit up. A few were senators, others were merchants or guildsmen. Undoubtedly bids for her had been placed. The guildsmen were the most annoying. They begged for insights into her craft as a Maker.
Saetrum was a clever man, while on the surface this gathering served to elevate his station, it was also a private auction. Those who could afford to attend had the right to browse his champions of the arena for purchase.
She cast a glance at Garron, his steely gaze fixed on the doorway Uxalen had exited with the plump man. You hate him, yet your reasons are so misguided.
“Gentlemen, In my homeland, we have a dance, would you like me to teach it to you?” The dozen men gathered around her grinned, each nodding. “Then, shall we find somewhere that affords us more spacious accommodations?”
Please don’t do anything rash, Uxalen, she thought. Tonight, I plan to learn what I can to benefit us both.
(To start our story from the beginning click here)