“Why are we the only ones fighting the terrifying beasts that can tear us apart with their sharp teeth and claws?”
Daniil looks at the three men with beasts on chains facing them. He sighs and the air begins to cool. “Because Ime can’t be bothered to share the load. Are you ready, Kylii-li?”
Kylii claps his hands together, creating sparks. “Always, Daniil-li.”
One of their opponents sneers. “We only get to kill these two? What a fucking bore!”
Two of the beasts roar and pull against their chains. The men easily hold them back and beat them with clubs and whips made of spiked chains. The beasts become more aggressive and the men laugh.
“Who should go first? Scorch? Ears?” the one with a large tattoo across his face banters. The other two men, one with severe burns on his body and the other missing an ear, snarl at him.
“Let your dujian tear ‘em apart, Face. My rotrauk will be too quick.”
Face releases the dujian, who leaps towards Kylii and Daniil. It stops in front of them and roars. A huge creature with a great mane stretching down its back, its two tails whip wildly back and forth cracking the earth, as razor sharp claws dig into the ground. The horns on its nose and forehead bear dark stains. And pieces of meat hang from its long, sabre-teeth.
Kylii looks at Daniil and bows his head with hands stretched toward the beast. “This one’s all yours.”
Daniil rolls his eyes. “Too damn lazy to help, huh?”
“I just think you’ll be a little more effective than me.”
Daniil groans and steps towards the dujian.
The three men laugh behind the dujian and stomp massive feet on the ground. Face rolls his eyes. “What? Are you going to fight one at a time? This’ll be a nice and quick!”
The dujian growls and swipes a large paw at Daniil, who quickly moves out of its way and pulls a knife from his belt. He throws the knife at the dujian’s face triggering a roar that melts the blade. The hilt bounces off the dujian’s face and falls harmlessly to the ground.
Daniil looks at his brother, annoyed. “Oh, I see what you mean.”
Kylii leans his head to the side and smiles, devilishly.
The dujian leaps at Daniil’s turned back. But Daniil raises a hand and encases the beast in ice. The dujian falls to the ground, but doesn’t shatter. Daniil surveys his captive as he circles it. Suddenly long icicles extend inward from the frozen shell piercing the encased animal at specific points on its body. A wave of Daniil’s hand melts the ice and releases the dujian to fall to the earth—dead. Blood pools around its still body.
The three Brüdel stare in shock. Face walks forward and places a hand on his dujian’s dead body and looks into Daniil’s eyes. The Brüdel’s face twists in rage, as he draws a large, curved sword and rushes Daniil. Daniil tries to freeze Face, but he dodges each attack. Ice forms on the ground in front and behind Face as Daniil struggles to keep separated from his angered foe. Fueled by his rage, Face overtakes and brings his blade down at Daniil.
Face erupts into flames and screams. He drops his blade and tries to put out the flames covering his body. No matter how much he rolls the flames grow stronger. Daniil looks at Kylii who has his hand raised at the burning man.
“I was doing fine.”
“Yeah, you keep thinking that. Meanwhile, I’ll deal with reality for you.”
The flames covering Face’s body go out. He stands, turns to Kylii, and grabs for his sword. Before he can reach it, Daniil retrieves it and cuts Face’s arms off in one swing. They fall to the ground and blood flows from severed arteries. Face stares in silence at the stumps that used to be his arms before the pain signals reach his brain. He screams and falls to the ground.
Scorch releases his beast, the rotrauk, to leap onto his burned, bleeding comrade. Whether it’s mercy or something darker that drives this attack, the screams abruptly stop. Looking up at Daniil and Kylii, the rotrauk opens and closes its long snout full of sharp teeth. It hops onto its long legs and roars, as a long spindly tail wraps around the remains of Face like an inquisitive arm. Thin, wiry hairs cover its body, revealing the pale flesh beneath.
Daniil looks at Kylii. “Would you like to take care of this or should I?”
Kylii shrugs. “I can’t let you have all the easy ones.”
The rotrauk leaps. But Kylii ducks and rolls under the animal. Daniil makes the ground where the animal lands ice. It slips with no traction for its long, clawed legs, and manages to fall forward to roll across the dirt. A tail slaps the ground, helping it regain its footing. Able to run again it rushes Daniil, throwing its tail. Kylii raises his hand and a wall of fire divides his brother from the rotrauk’s tail, which bursts into flame to the sound of guttural wails. Changing targets, the beast leaps at Kylii. This time it’s Daniil who throws up a wall in front of it—a wall of ice. With no time to change direction or slow down, it crashes into the wall headfirst. When the rotrauk tries to stand, its legs tremble. It tries to regain balance, but the impact from the wall was immobilizing.
“I can take care of myself, Daniil.”
“Fine, I’ll leave you to it.”
The wall of ice disappears and the rotrauk slowly regains control. It shakes its head and stands, using its tail to help. The spindles on its tail start to shine. The rotrauk takes a deep breath and spews liquid. Kylii jumps behind the body of the dujian. The liquid hits the body and dissolves it. A giant hole reveals Kylii and he looks at Daniil.
Daniil shakes his head. “You said you could handle this easy one. I’m not going to help you.”
The rotrauk inhales again and spews the liquid towards Kylii. He runs and tries to hide behind the partly eaten body of Face. But acid quickly dissolves flesh and bones. While Kylii tries to devise a defense, the rotrauk leaps onto what’s left of Face’s body. Its claws dig into the acid-soaked flesh and it inhales again. At such close range, Kylii can’t dodge.
He curses and raises both hands. The rotrauk spews acid as flames appear from Kylii’s hands. When the acid and fire meet, an explosion knocks man and beast apart.
“Kylii!” Daniil shouts.
Kylii sits up and coughs. He shakes his head. “Great, it not only melts flesh and bone, it’s also explosive.”
The rotrauk rolls to its feet, shakes off the dust, and runs for Kylii with open jaws. Kylii rolls. But the beast is too quick. Kylii struggles to keep the large jaws from his face as the rwo roll across the Arena floor.
The rotrauk’s tail wraps around Kylii’s throat and claws dig into his sides. He yells angrily, but the tail tightens around his throat. Kylii feels the air becoming cold around them and glares at Daniil. “Don’t you dare!” he shouts.
Daniil angrily redirects his magic to the two men watching excitedly. Finding the ground beneath his feet frozen, Scorch slips and falls, landing on the tail of the third animal. The beast goes into a crazed rage. Forcing Scorch and Ears to use all of their skills just to keep the crazed animal under control. In the process, the beast scratches Scorch across the stomach. Eyes wide, Scorch punches Ears in the face.
Kylii tries to get a hand free to use his magic, but he can’t risk releasing the sharp jaws. He sees the spindles of the tail start to glow and curses. He rolls the beast over so he’s on top. The rotrauk prepares to spew acid. At the last second Kylii raises a hand and creates a fireball. The fire hits the acid and an explosion knocks him back away from the rotrauk. The animal roars in pain.
Scorch and Ears continue fighting. The beast now lies calmly on the ground, staring at nothing in particular. A single horn curves back over its scaled head. Razor-sharp teeth protrude from its mouth. The body is covered in dark red scales, with a brown mane running down its back and chest. The mane continues all the way down to the end of a long tail. The back legs are hoofed while the smaller front feet are tipped with sharp claws.
Ears shoves Scorch away. But when he hits the ground, Scorch stiffens. Convulsions follow and foam fills his mouth. Although white at first, the foam turns red, blood pours from his eyes, ears, and nose. He jerks several times before becoming still.
Kylii groans and rolls onto his side. He pushes himself up and looks at the rotrauk writhing on the ground. Its head is still smoking. The flesh around its jaws bubbles uncovering the bone at multiple points. With great effort the rotrauk rolls onto its feet and glares at Kylii, who struggles to his own feet, holding his wounded side.
“Didn’t like that, did you? It’s dangerous to keep all that explosive acid inside you.”
The rotrauk roars and runs towards him. Kylii leans forward and stretches his hands out in front of him and yells loudly, mimicking the rotrauk’s roar. Further angered the beast increases its speed, spindles glowing brightly.
Kylii runs forward to meet it. The rotrauk opens its mouth to take a deep breath, preparing to spew its acid. Kylii rams his right arm down its throat. He reaches as far as he can and the beast’s eyes widen.
The creature freezes and tries to close its jaws. But it can tell something is wrong.
Kylii winces as teeth dig into his arm and he can feel the acid inside the rotrauk burning his flesh. He smiles and releases his magic inside the rotrauk mixing with the acid.
He just has the chance to say, “Bye-bye,” before the animal explodes, throwing Kylii into the air.
Daniil runs over and catches his brother.
Pieces of the rotrauk fall like rain across the Arena. The crowd stands and leans forward. Blood King Klaeon laughs at the carnage and claps his hands.
Daniil lowers his brother to the ground and stares at Kylii’s right arm. It is barely an arm. It stops at the elbow. Skin is still melting off the remains. Bones and muscles are scorched black. Daniil is amazed anything is left at all.
“Shit! Should’ve let you blast your arm off,” Kylii jokes. He screams as a piece of the rotrauk hits him in the arm. “Fucking bastard had to get the last word in, didn’t he?”
Daniil stares at the remaining Brüdel and beast. “I don’t think we can win.”
Kylii grabs his brother with his good arm and glares at him. “What the hell kind of talk is that, after your brave brother sacrifices his arm to get us this far?”
“It’s a Khorgoi.”
Kylii looks at the animal, which is still lying down. White eyes stare back at the two brothers. “Are you sure? I thought those were just stories to frighten children.”
“It killed that Brüdel with one scratch.” Daniil nods to the quickly decaying body of Scorch.
“What do we do?”
Daniil looks across the Arena at those fighting. He spies a small group running from one wounded slave to another. Recognizing Rava and Mava, he waves them over. When they see Kylii’s arm they gasp.
“Take him to Meah. If she can at least prevent infection, it’ll help a lot.”
“Daniil! What are you doing?”
“It’s my turn.”
“You can’t fight it alone! Let me help!” Kylii tries to stand, but screams at the pain in his arm. The sisters pull him to his feet and lead him away.
Daniil walks towards the Khorgoi and Ears, holding its chain.
The Khorgoi perks up and stands. Ears laughs. “Going to fight alone? Your partner didn’t do so well.”
“Shut up. I’m nothing like him. And I don’t think you understand who’s actually controlling whom.”
“What’re you going on about?”
“No one controls a Khorgoi. They’re great creatures that choose when to be seen. They can kill a man with a single scratch or they can provide great power. They’re to be respected not treated as common animals.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Daniil laughs. “You don’t even know what you have. You must think you’re a great beast master because of how easy this animal was to tame, am I right? The thought probably never crossed your mind that this animal allowed you to capture it and only acts as though you’re in control.”
Ears’ eyes widen and he sneers. “You must think you’re very fucking clever.” He whips the Khorgoi. “Kill him!”
The Khorgoi doesn’t move. It stares at Daniil. Ears whips it again. “Go on! Kill him you animal!”
The beast turns to him and attacks. Ears screams as his flesh is carved from his bones. When the beast is finished it turns back to Daniil. It breaks the chain around its throat with its front claws and shakes. It walks towards Daniil, staring into his eyes with its emotionless white eyes.
Daniil takes a deep breath and raises his hands, preparing for the fight to come.