Maq’tesh and our nascent trading organization are under fire due to a supposed theft by the half-orc Rexxar. In order to defend our honor, we are now in the Zahedan arena by an armed contingent of Imperial guards. It is simple: if we defeat our foes in gladiatorial combat, then the claims of theft are illegitimate. If we die, then… well, it would hardly matter, would it?

Standing at the gates, awaiting the coming battle, I feel the familiar quickening of my pulse. It never ceases to amaze me, the blood coursing through my veins, the gauze-like shroud that descends over my brain. The visceral threat of violence has always given me this thrill, and I have grown to welcome it.

We are announced and our gate opens. I casually walk out into the open arena and look around.

The audience is massive. It has been long since I was in Zahedan, and longer still (I think) since I have stood in the coliseum, but never before have I seen so many gathered. I draw Jafredar and raise it in the air. The cheer of the crowd brings a grin to my face. Ahead, past columns, chains, a large grate in the stone floor, and a closed gate are our enemies. I point the falchion at them and beckon for their release.

My companions approach behind me. Siku, of the frigid southern wastes, mutters to herself as she walks, and the wind begins to whip at my cloak. A blast of arctic air blasts the ground near another gate and the ground is suddenly rimed with frost. As always, I have found myself with powerful allies.

When the gates open, our foes charge out. First, battle-hardened gladiators, then chained behind, unarmed slaves. My lip curls in disgust.

I walk toward the first, a bare-chested human with a mace in hand. I hold my sword against my arm. He doesn’t see the blade coming. When his head hits the dusty stone floor, it is still grinning.

Behind me, Maq’tesh dispatches another of the armed foes, and Siku takes out a third. Rexxar is engaged with the final one, a massive goliath with a greatsword.

Rather than waiting for Rexxar to finish off his quarry, I calmly approach the goliath from behind. I am frustrated with the half-orc, Yun forgive me, and I let my frustration show by taking his kill. I grab the goliath’s ear and jerk his head back. The huge fighter twists to face me, but has to dodge one of Rexxar’s daggers. Jafredar slides out, slicing away at the side of the goliath’s neck. Then, pulling it back as if sawing through a sapling, I pull up and remove the gladiator’s head. For a moment, the body stands, blood pumping upward and outward, and then it collapses. I hold the severed head by the ear, staring at it quizzically, before hoisting it above me for all the attendees to see. It is, after all, what they came here to see.

I know that life is precious, Yun’seria. But, as I have discovered in my countless lifetimes upon this world, my life and the lives of my allies are precious above all else. I hold no enmity toward the unarmed slaves. After tossing the goliath’s head away, I see that two of the innocents have been killed already. The remaining two ran to opposite ends of the arena, trying in vain to hide. “Leave them be,” I yell.

One of them, a goblin, begins screaming and we see the chariot arrive. It is led by galloping warhorses and manned by an ogre with a mace and an armored figure firing a bow. The vehicle’s bladed wheels tear the goblin in half. Running with all my might, I close my eyes and utter a prayer, to you and your all-knowing child Ioun. The strategic position would be on the horse, and that is where I am when my eyes open. I grab the bowman and my eyes flash radiant fire. Again, time slows and we blink away, now behind the chariot. The look of confusion on his face does not last long. These gladiators are of a much higher quality than the ones we have just slain.

It seems Maq’tesh followed my lead, because he has also climbed aboard the chariot. He knocks the mace-wielding ogre off and reaches for the reins. Both gladiators retreat from me and my blade and catch the chariot, hopping back aboard.

I shrug. Maq’tesh can handle them. Neither enemy stoked my ire the way the chain-wielders had. I glance back toward the rest of the party just in time to see the grates in the middle of the arena shudder. They open and the columns surrounding the now-gaping hole begin to rotate, slowly at first and then faster.

Then a loud, animal noise. Something emerges from the pit, borne by the chains. It moos. A brown heifer. I pause, dumbstruck. This seems humorous. I want to ask Cullin if it is indeed funny.

The next noise from within is certainly now cow-like. A screech, like a dragon, and then a long reptilian neck darts out, razor-sharp teeth piercing into the cow. Another reptile head appears and attacks the cow from another angle. The two heads quarrel over their meal, which results in the heifer being pulled apart like a child’s pop-cracker. The simile makes me smile. I begin to jog toward the hydra, just as yet another head emerges from below.

I only hope they don’t have anything else bigger than the hydra.


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