Seera takes the slaves down into the depths of the Arena. The floor below where they entered is full of cages and large training grounds for animals. Brawny men are training a variety of strange beasts. Meah gasps as the animals try to swipe at the passing group. The next floor down is where the slaves prepare for their fights. Armor and weapons line the walls. Heat permeates this level where the Arena blacksmiths work at their forges. At the center are more training grounds, for the slaves. Seating surrounds the training grounds. Providing a place for slaves and workers to sit and watch those fighting. A large, divided room has rows of beds, on which healers attend to slaves injured, but still alive.
Many long hallways greet Meah’s group, as they head further into the depths. Barely visible around one corner is a cell. They head through a set of doors and split into two groups, men and women.
The slaves are prepared for life in the Arena. They are cleaned, fed, and checked over by healers. Once they are pronounced clean and healthy, the Arena workers provide them new clothes that mark them as slaves of the Arena. The light clothing provides little protection and hangs loosely on their thinned bodies. They are gathered together on the largest of the training grounds.
Seera waits for them with her whip tied to her belt. More men stand behind her wearing the clothes of the Arena workers with light armor on their chests. They have blades on their hips and masks covering their faces, which leave only their eyes visible.
The slaves stand in disarray facing Seera. The weakest cower behind others while the strong face the Arena workers with defiant looks. Meah stands at the front and watches Seera with guarded eyes.
Seera smiles. “You are now part of the Arena. You will be placed into the games and be expected to entertain those above. The only way out is death. No one leaves the life of the Arena alive. We will feed you and clean you. If you are popular enough or provide ample entertainment, we will heal you to fight again. If you are not popular or provide entertainment, you will die from infection or at the hands of the other slaves. Most of you will die on the floor of the Arena. Come.” She leads them through the catacombs. Two men move behind the group, while the others stay at Seera’s side. They climb the stairs to the floor with the Arena animals.
“We are directly under the fighting arena,” Seera glances up.
As if to clarify, a loud thunderous noise shakes the Arena and the ceiling trembles. The thunderous roar of the crowd is heard even through the layers of earth above.
Seera ignores the disturbance and continues, “You see the animals kept here? This is one of locations from which they may enter the arena.” She points to the ceiling and several rectangular cuts in the ceiling can be seen. “Since no animals are to be used in the games today, the mechanisms that would raise them up are not in loading position. Be aware of these mechanisms while you are moving into position for your fights. The beasts will be chained, but they can still reach out and kill you with their claws. There are also entrances above where they may be released, but for the more entertaining games we like to release them from below your feet.”
She leads them to a different entrance from the one they came in and heads up a long ramp. Light grows brighter and the sounds of fighting can be heard. The slaves grow anxious and whisper amongst each other. They fear they will be sent out to fight.
Seera nods at the men at her sides and they move ahead of the group. They turn a corner and two large wooden doors appear. The men open the doors and Seera takes the slaves into a long tunnel. At the opposite end is a large gate. Through it they can see sunlight and the fear of fighting changes to a kind of excitement. Will they be allowed to watch the games from the viewing area?
They move closer and two shadows flash across the gate. They are two men swinging large, heavy blades at each other. Several of the slaves cringe back, but the men behind shove them forward. They are level with the arena floor. The gate is one of the many entrances into the fighting area.
The slaves gather at the gate and peer out into the sunlit Arena. Fighters are already in the Arena, fighting one another as well as heavily armored men who are clearly not slaves. Blood soaks into the sand. Suddenly, the crowd cheers as a man in armor beheads a slave.
Meah gasps, reminded of elder Mircien.
“Professional fighters,” one slave whispers to another. “They train to fight in the Arena. They receive payment based on how many slaves they kill. They earn even more if they kill a magic user.”
Meah turns away from the violence, but Seera forces her to look, grabbing her by the hair. “Take it all in, Life Healer.” She releases Meah and turns to the group, leaving her back to the Arena. “Starting tomorrow you, fresh flesh, will be sent out to die. Though if you are lucky—”
A fighter in the Arena runs towards the gate with a spear. He is aiming for Seera. The spear goes through the gate, but Seera dodges and grabs the wood of the spear. She unsheathes a dagger from her back and pulls the spear forward, slamming the slave into the gate. She thrusts her blade into the slave’s throat. He gurgles and blood pours from his mouth to the ground. Seera pulls her dagger free and allows him to fall to the ground dead. She throws the spear back through the gate into the Arena.
The armored man who beheaded the earlier slave notices the small attack and grabs the spear from the ground. He waves the spear at the fresh flesh, laughing.
The earth shakes and rises, surrounding the man. His eyes widen and he freezes in shock. The earth slams together, crushing the man. The raised ground returns to the earth, dragging the man with it. The magic user responsible appears behind the lowered earth. He raises his fist and the earth spits the man’s mangled body into the air. It lands with a sickening thump and the crowd’s cheers explode at the display of power. The magic user’s eyes look up at the crowd with intense rage.
Seera smiles and moves to the side so the slaves can get a better look at the magic user. “As I started to say, if you are lucky you will survive and bring this Arena something exciting to watch. Use your skills to try and defeat those who wish to kill you.” She faces the magic user.
A heavily armored man runs up behind the magic user with an axe. He swings it and the slaves move closer to the gate in fear for the man. The magic user raises his hands to his sides and claps them together. Wind rushes behind him and traps the man in armor. The magic user raises his clasped hands and the man in armor rises with it. The magic user keeps one hand clenched in a fist and uses the other to pull water from a nearby trough. He pulls the water to him and it freezes into a spike. He throws the man with his clenched fist and then throws the spike. The man manages to land on his feet, but the spike penetrates his chest, killing him instantly.
The magic user turns his attention to Seera and walks towards the gate. He stops and looks at the new prisoners. His hair is dark brown. But his eyes are a startling, light grey. Those vivid eyes pause on Meah for a moment longer than the others.
“If the crowd likes you, you will be spared. But only until the inevitable day arrives when you can no longer win. And for our magic users, play well. The people truly come for you. You are the main event,” Seera says, aiming the last part to the man in the Arena.
A deep bell rings out and the crowd’s cheers increase. The magic user avoids Seera’s eyes before disappearing into a tunnel next to the one the slaves are standing in.
Meah releases a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. That magic user had been able to use three elements. She had heard stories of magic users who could move air and water, but never both at the same time. A chill runs over her skin and her eyes look towards the far left end of the Arena. A strange seating box is separate from the rest of the spectators. Although the box appears empty at the moment, she can’t help feeling that someone has been staring at her from that box.
She shakes her head and looks out at the damage done during the Arena’s game. Bodies are strewn about the arena. Some of the victors are still making their way off the arena floor, as Arena workers rush out and collect bodies and body parts. They use rakes to clear as much of the blood as possible for the next event. An announcer speaks, but he is hard to understand from where they stand.
Seera and her men lead the slaves back down into the catacombs. They move past the animal cages, blacksmith’s forges, training areas, Healer’s room, and body collector’s quarters.
Many slaves break down into loud wailing tears. Seera’s men beat those who do until they stop or collapse to the floor. They are left behind and any who try to help them are beaten as well.
“If they are not strong enough for the underbelly of the Arena they are better off left to die than to face what waits for them above,” Seera says, never once looking back at those who fall.
They return to the lowest level where they were cleaned and fed. This time they head down one of the many hallways where the holding cells await. The walls are damp, with rats running freely everywhere and stealing food from the feeding area. The cells are full of slaves that watch the fresh flesh in silence.
As they reach the end of one hallway, Seera turns to the group. A man with parchment appears next to her. “These are your new homes. You will be sharing cells with others who have survived their fights. Don’t get too comfortable and don’t worry about claiming a bed. Most of you will die tomorrow. For those who believe you have a fighting chance, rest up. Gather all of your strength and pray to your gods. They are the only ones who will show you mercy now.”
The man with the parchment begins distributing the slaves into different cells, writing the names of the slaves as he goes. He asks each if they are magic users. Meah recognizes Rava, the woman she had healed weeks ago. She requests to be kept with her sister, Mava. The man with parchments waves his hand at her. Not saying yes, but not saying no either.
Meah waits patiently for him to turn his attention to her. Once all of the slaves, except her, are placed in cells, he merely asks her name and leaves. She watches him go, confused.
Seera walks up behind her and grabs her arm, tightly. “You will be placed with the other Rare Kinds we have collected.”
She leads Meah to a slightly larger cell and opens the door. Inside are two men, twin brothers. They stare at Meah with surprise, not expecting a new cellmate. There are three beds, two on the left side of the cell and one on the right against the back wall.
“Be nice to her, boys. She is fresh flesh for the games tomorrow,” Seera says, standing in the doorway.
Low cheering is heard from the end of the hallway. The bars of holding cells are shaken or banged on with metal as the slaves cheer for the one walking back to his cell.
Seera smiles and looks down the hall. “Sounds like he’s on his way back. I didn’t think he had any other games today.”
Meah moves to the back of the cell, away from the brothers, sits against the wall, and stares at Seera.
“Here comes your third cell mate, fresh flesh,” Seera says, moving away from the door to allow the man room.
Meah’s heart jumps into her throat and she pulls her knees up to her chest. The magic user from the arena appears in the doorway to the cell and glares at Seera before entering. He notices Meah sitting at the back and freezes. Their eyes meet and Meah wants to look away, but something keeps her vision locked on his silvery eyes.
“I’ve already told the brothers, but this message is especially for you. This is your new cellmate. She is a Rare Kind like you so treat her…kindly. She may not be here long,” Seera says with a chuckle, closing the door and locking it.
She leaves the four alone, disappearing from view. Silence fills the cell. Seera’s and her men’s footsteps are heard moving down the hall, as men from other cells hiss or make rude comments. Crying erupts from other cells, but they’re muffled, seemigly unable to penetrate the dense air in the cells.
The magic user tears his gaze from Meah and sits at the farthest corner from her and the brothers. He crosses his arms, leans his head back against the damp wall of the cell, closes his eyes, and releases a long, calming breath.
Meah lowers her eyes to the ground and takes a deep breath, unsure of what to do or say. She can feel two pairs of eyes on her, but she refuses to look up. She hears movement and the two brothers sit on either side of her. She tries to shrink herself and lowers her head onto her knees. The brothers only move closer, making a sandwich of her. The silence that follows is more awkward then before. Meah is afraid of what these strangers may want from her.
“Who are you?” The one to her left asks, the curiosity in his voice tinged with excitement. It reminded Meah of a child discovering a new toy.
She stays silent, debating whether to answer. She swallows, but raises her head a fraction so her voice isn’t muffled. “Meah Flandine.”
The one on her right leans forward, trying to see her face. “Where are you from, Meah Flandine?”
“Foula Valley,” she says turning her head away from his staring, golden eyes.
The one on her left is leaning forward to see her face as well with his pale blue eyes. Meah finds it strange that they are twins yet have different eye colors. He smiles. “You are a long way from home, Meah Flandine.”
The one on her right holds out his hand. “My name is Kylii Lakeen.”
The one on her left holds out his hand. “My name is Daniil Lakeen.”
Meah raises her head. She hesitates staring at each brother’s hand before placing her hands in theirs. They smile and move to sit in front of her so she doesn’t have to turn her head back and forth.
“What kind of mage are you?” Daniil asks.
Meah looks at him confused. “I’m not a mage.”
“Of course you are. They wouldn’t put you in here with us if you were anything less,” Kylii says.
Daniil slaps his brother on the shoulder. “Maybe they aren’t called mages in Foula Valley. What did they call you when you arrived?”
The brothers whistle, impressed. “Haven’t seen one of those before. Heard stories though,” Daniil says.
Kylii leans his head to the side. “Unlucky for you, though. Healers are usually the first to die.”
Meah’s heart drops. She hadn’t expected to have a fighting chance. Hearing the brothers’ talk makes her evn more nervous about tomorrow.
Sensing her fear the brothers move back to either side of her. They each grab one of her hands.
“You’ll be fine. We’ll take care of you. We Rare Kinds need to stick together,” Daniil says.
Meah smiles, sadly. “How long have you been fighting here?”
Kylii raises an eyebrow and leans his head to the side in thought. “Well, we’ve been in the Arena since we were ten ages old.”
Meah stares at him in shock. “Ten? How?”
Daniil shrugs his shoulders. “Our mother died when we were young, our father was missing most of our lives, and Arena slave traders picked us up. We were brought here to die, but we learned how to survive.”
“Our magic is unique. Daniil is an ice mage.”
“Kylii is a fire mage. We are opposing mages who, unlike others, gains from the other instead of lose power. When we are apart, we are weak.”
“When we are together, we are strong.”
Meah looks from one to the other. “Thank you, for being so kind to me.”
Kylii snorts. “Did you expect us to attack you?”
Daniil gives his brother a look, before smiling at Meah and patting her head, comfortingly. “Like we said, us Rare Kinds have got to stick together.”
Meah smiles. A wave of relief flows through her, but now she feels other eyes on her. She looks across the cell at the magic user with silver eyes. He is watching the three in silence. But she can’t make out the expression on his face.
The brothers move back to their beds and fall asleep, snoring lightly. Meah stays sitting against the wall and slowly drifts off to sleep.