The slaves return to their cellblock deep below the Arena floor. Slaves requiring additional treatment are taken to the Arena Healers, but beg to be healed by Meah’s Healers. Meah convinces them to follow the orders of the workers.
Those not requiring healing are taken to the dining hall where a large meal awaits. The slaves stuff a cornucopia of meats and vegetables into their hungry mouths, limiting conversation. Arena workers, unable to witness the fight, ask for details as they liberally pass out drinks.
After the first wave of gorging passes, for the first time many can remember, the cellblocks fill with jovial conversations. The slaves who didn’t “volunteer” to fight cheer as Meah and the others walk to their cells. The veterans of the Arena treat the surviving fresh flesh as friends and pray with those who lost close friends in the fight. Many stories are told about past games and great fighters. Guvie, the oldest surviving Arena slave, tells a particularly funny story including an embarrassing moment for the Blood King’s personal favorite fighters. The slaves’ laughter fills the dark underground caverns.
Word spreads quickly about Meah’s healing magic and thanks are yelled across the halls from multiple cells.
“You’re becoming very popular,” Kylii says, lying on his bed.
Daniil nods agreement from the floor in front of Kylii. “You’ll be getting a lot of attention after today.”
Meah frowns. “Really? All I did was help. There were other Healers, why do I get all the attention?”
“For one, you healed injured folk who would have been left to die otherwise,” Kylii says.
“Two, you rallied the slaves together. That never happens,” Daniil adds.
“You mean, it’s usually a giant free for all?” Meah asks, crossing her legs underneath her on the bed. “The slaves never fight together?”
“We just go until the bell tells us to stop.”
Ime stares at Meah from his normal spot at the back of the cell. “You never had a proper teacher, did you?”
Meah turns, confused.
“For your healing magic,” he clarifies.
She nods. “I was the only magic user in my village. I taught myself.”
“You demonstrated advanced healing techniques on some of the wounded. That’s impressive,” Daniil says.
Ime nods in agreement. “Natural talent in magic is hard to find.”
Meah blushes and looks away. “I only know that if I can help someone I always do everything I can.”
“Stories say Life Healers are able to bring the dead back to life and more powerful ones can grant immortality.”
“I don’t know anything about that.”
Meah notices the joviality that filled the air just moments before is rapidly fading. She sees Seera walk to the center of the cellblock.
“Very good fighting today, but don’t be fooled by any kind words or extra food. You are all still slaves of the Arena and tomorrow you will once again fight for your lives.”
Walking over to the door of Meah, Ime, Daniil, and Kylii’s cell, she continues, “Oh, and we have a special surprise for the stars of the fight. You have a visitor.”
Seera opens the cell door and steps back. The cellblock fills with silence as heavily armored men from the private box approach, invade the cell, and force the four occupants to the center. They surround them, leaving an opening towards the door for the visitor.
The silence of the cellblock amplifies the next set of footsteps, which echo down the hall towards the cell. Calmness gone, Meah moves behind Daniil and Kylii, who close ranks to block her from view. Ime tenses.
The man with the black sash walks into the cell holding an ornate helmet under his right arm. Moving beside the entrance to the cell, he tenses. The men in armor draw swords and touch the blade tips to the ground.
Next The Blood King enters the cell, his strange eyes moving from the brothers to Ime. He smiles, while Meah cringes behind the brothers.
“I wanted to personally congratulate the stars of today’s fight. I see one here, a very familiar face,” he says looking at Ime. “But what about the other? The girl?”
The king raises an eyebrow towards Daniil and Kylii, who eye each other, but refuse to move. The king’s eyes turn to the man with the black sash who immediately steps forward and shoves Daniil and Kylii apart. He yanks Meah forward, directly in front of the Blood King. Ime tries to intercede, but the man shoves him away before returning to his position by the door.
Meah raises her head to stare the Blood King in the eyes.
“And what is your name, Rare Kind?”
She answers with silence.
“Your king asked you a question, slave!” Black Sash yells, suddenly. Meah flinches at the raised voice, but remains silent.
With the raise of a hand the Blood King takes charge. “I apologize for Teron’s rudeness. Perhaps I should properly introduce myself first. I am Klaeon Vacuda, Blood King if you prefer. Now what is your name?”
Klaeon moves the hand to Meah’s cheek. She wants to flinch, but manages to stay as still as possible. Their eyes meet again in silence for a moment, before the king continues. “An Eastern name. You were performing interesting magic during the fight. May I ask what you are?”
“Yes, but what are you?”
Meah swallows. “I’ve been told I am a Life Healer.”
Those thick eyebrows rise as his smile widens. “Ah, a Rare Kind indeed. I have heard many stories about Life Healers, but I have never met one in person. Tell me, Meah, have you ever brought anyone back from the dead?”
Meah shakes her head.
“Have you ever used your magic to give immortality?”
Another shake. “Those are just stories, my lord.”
Hands behind his back, Klaeon nods. “I suppose, but all stories stem from something. What a shame. If you could give immortality to just one person I would’ve been inclined to spare your life.”
Ime pulls Meah away from Klaeon. “You will not touch her.”
Klaeon turns to look at Ime with surprise. “Nice to see you caring for another life instead of taking one. But Rare Kinds are filth that must be eliminated. Your powers are too dangerous to be allowed to go unchecked. I’ve had enough of your victories. Tomorrow will be a unique game. All magic users will fight not only my best fighters,” he looks around at the cells of the other slaves, “but also those slaves who do not use magic. Any who refuse to fight will be killed.”
Meah gasps and strains against Ime’s arms. “You can’t!”
“Oh, but I can.”
The Blood King addresses the other cells. “All of you have Meah to thank for my decision. Her actions today convinced me that it’s high time we cleansed these cells of troublesome vermin.”
“What are you talking about?” Kylii demands.
“I saw how Meah coerced you into working together. The audience wants bloodshed, not teamwork.”
“I didn’t coerce anyone! Even if I had, you can’t punish these people for something you believe I did!” Meah pleads.
Klaeon turns to leave, but stops at the door to the cell. “Tomorrow’s fight will be your last, Life Healer. No magic user will survive. And I’ll make certain the greatest prize goes to the one who brings me your head.” He leaves. Teron bows as Klaeon passes, then follows. The soldiers sheath swords and file out of the small cell.
Seera locks the cell door and leans against the bars. “A shame, really. We’ll have to start collecting magic users all over again after tomorrow.”
Seera laughs with honest glee as she walks away.
Ime curses, moving away from Meah, and stares at the now empty hallway, as if The Blood King and his minions are still present.
Meah collapses onto the nearest bed. “Everyone is being punished because of me. Why? I can’t help having this power! None of us can!” Head in her hands, she sobs openly.
“Klaeon’s been looking for an excuse to wipe us out for a while,” Kylii says.
Ime faces the brothers. “We must escape. The time has come.”
Daniil shakes his head. “We can’t escape now. The Blood King’s men are too close.”
“We’ll escape after the fight tomorrow.”
Kylii scoffs. “If we survive.”
“We’ll survive. The key is to use the slaves with no magic. We have to unite and show Klaeon we won’t fight against each other.”
“How?” the brothers say in unison.
“I think we’ve already got that covered,” Ime says looking at Meah.
The brothers look, too, and nod.
Meah looks up in confusion. “Why are you staring at me like that?”
“The slaves that fought today already pledged you their protection, especially those you healed. If we can use that to our advantage and rally everyone together, all we have to worry about are Klaeon’s best fighters?”
“And who are they?”
“Don’t know really. He’s only sent them to fight in the Arena once before,” Daniil says.
“But, beating them tomorrow will give us the perfect opportunity to escape. Klaeon’s best men will be dead and the slaves will be united. We can do this!” Ime says.