The celebration continues into the night as more drinks are passed around. The slaves enjoy themselves for the first time in many months. For some, many years. Arena workers who joined in the festivities pass out, leaving most of the slaves awake. The excitement of their victory makes many less susceptible to drink.
Ime stands, startling everyone in the cell. He walks from one worker to the other and tries to wake them, but they are sound asleep. He smiles and faces the slaves. “This is our chance.”
Meah, Kylii, Daniil, and others in the cell join him. The rest of the slaves gather around to listen to him.
“We escape now. Those who wish to escape follow us. Those of you who wish to stay…may your Gods watch over you.”
The crowd looks at each other. A handful lower their eyes to the floor and move slowly back to their cells. The rest hesitate. Meah moves next to Ime and takes his hand.
He smiles at her. “Let’s go.”
They head out followed by Kylii, Daniil, Tanith, Bern, Cal, Bon, and Tristan. After a moment, most of the rest follow. The group moves carefully through the catacombs avoiding workers who didn’t join the celebration. They are so scattered that it’s easy for the group to slip through unseen. The few they see are completely distracted preparing for the next day’s events. Still the escaping slaves keep to the shadows.
They reach the exit quickly, but Ime stops them and points. “Those aren’t Arena workers.” He indicates a group waiting at the entrance of the Arena. “Those are Klaeon’s men.”
About two-dozen soldiers stand in ranks and hold torches. One barks orders and points into the catacombs. The slaves disappear into depressions in the rocky walls as the men enter the catacombs.
“Looks like the Blood King isn’t too happy about our victory,” Kylii whispers.
“We were supposed to die. I don’t think he was too thrilled when we didn’t,” Daniil replies.
More soldiers enter the Arena and move off in a different direction from the first. More and more men enter the Arena until a final group blocks the exit.
“What are they doing here?” Meah asks.
Ime laughs. “They’re here to kill us in our sleep.”
“But why? Why does he want to kill us?”
“We threaten his power, especially his power over the people who were in the Arena and those they tell of our victory. He’s afraid we’ll rally them against him.”
“Is that what you’ve been doing?”
Ime smiles at her. “Trying to. But it hasn’t worked until today.”
Kylii parts the two. “Enough talking. How are we going to get past them?”
“Too many to take on without weapons,” Bern says, walking up next to Ime.
“Is there no other way out?” Skara asks.
“If you don’t mind scaling the walls of the fighting arena,” Daniil says.
“There is another way out,” a stern voice says.
The group jumps and prepares to fight. Seera walks around the corner and leans against the wall, crossing her arms. “I can show you, but you have to take me with you.”
“No way!” multiple voices nearly shout. Hushes move down the group.
Daniil glares at Seera. “Why would you want to come with us? Your life is very comfortable here at the Arena.”
“It was. But you won the fight today instead of losing. Who do you think the Blood King is going to blame? My fate was decided the same as yours when you won,” she says, angrily. She throws two severed hands at Ime’s feet. “He didn’t send his best soldiers for this little mission. I killed these two before they even knew I was awake.”
Ime looks at the hands and up at Seera. He leans his head to the side. “Where is this other way out?”
Kylii pulls Ime away from Seera. “Hold on, you can’t honestly be thinking of letting her come with us?”
Others in the group voice their agreement and Ime holds his hands up to silence them. “We need a way out. We can’t go this way and if she’s speaking the truth then we have to trust her.”
“I don’t trust her,” Meah says, looking at Seera. Seera smiles back at her and laughs. “What if she’s lying? What if she just wants to make sure the Blood King’s men find us?”
Daniil jumps at his name and stares at Ime, confused.
“Your…pet—” Ime eyes Tanith and sees her white eyes staring back at him.
“Tanith. You claim you can hear her voice.”
“And she understands human speech. What is your point?”
“We’ll have her watch Seera as she leads us out. If it starts looking or feeling like a trap, have her kill Seera. Will that ease your minds?”
The group hesitates and tries to think of other solutions, but eventually agree to the terms. Daniil confirms with Tanith that she understands the plan. Ime returns to stand in front of Seera.
“Show us the way.”
Seera pushes off the wall. “And you’ll take me with you wherever you’re going?”
“Well then, follow me.” She leads them back the way they came.
The group follows reluctantly. Daniil, Tanith, and Kylii stay directly behind Seera. Meah and Ime follow next and then the rest of the group. They are lead back through the catacombs, but instead of heading for the holding cells, Seera takes them through the animal pens. Most of the beasts are asleep. But those who hunt at night watch the strange group with curious eyes.
A small group of Klaeon’s men walk through the pens. Seera signals towards the shadows. They move, avoiding the lights coming from the soldiers’ torches. Seera whistles and the shadows across from them begin moving. The group realizes, to their relief, they are Arena workers. The workers sneak behind the soldiers and attack them, killing them quietly and pulling the bodies into the shadows, disappearing.
Seera continues leading the group to the far end of the animal pens. She takes them between the pens and into a hidden hallway. Two large stone doors appear at the end and she signals again to the shadows. The workers move to the doors and open them slowly.
Seera waves the group through. “Hurry!”
They feel cool wind blowing from between the doors, filling the slaves with excitement. They press forward eager to see the outside world.
Instead Klaeon’s men greet them. Spears are lowered to aim at the group. Before they can react to their shock, the doors behind them slam shut. Those at the back of the group, closest to the doors try their best to force them open, but Seera has locked it behind them.
“Shit! It was a trap!” Kylii yells, joining the others trying to open the doors.
Klaeon’s men move closer. “By order of Blood King Klaeon you are all sentenced to death,” one of the soldiers says.
Ime stomps his foot on the ground. A crack races towards the men and the earth crumbles beneath them. They scream as they fall into the earth.
“Run!” Ime yells, grabbing Meah’s hand and running around the hole in the ground.
The group follows, but more soldiers appear, trying to cut them off. The slaves fight back. Those with magic distract the soldiers as those without grab their weapons and attack from behind. Meah fights with a discarded knife. Mava and Rava stay close to her and Bern watches their back. Tanith’s roars echo through the Arena and attract more soldiers. Workers awoken by the fighting join in the fray. Most fight along side Klaeon’s men, but the slaves realize several are fighting with them against Klaeon’s forces.
Ime, Daniil, and Kylii clear a path through the soldiers to reveal a closed exit. Ime turns to a wall of stone and blasts a hole through it. The night air rushes in and Ime turns to the fighting. “This way! Everyone outside!”
The slaves run past him through the hole. The workers who joined their fight stay behind to give them time to flee. Meah sees Bern, Mava, Rava, Cal, and the healers help others through before following themselves. Daniil and Kylii grab her and pull her through followed by Tanith. As soon as they clear the hole it closes and the group runs from the Arena before the soldiers have time to open the exit and follow.
The night air rushes against their skin and whoops of victory fill the sky. Meah feels tears in her eyes. “We did it! We made it out!”
Daniil waves to get Bern, Rava, Mava, Cal, and the healers’ attentions. They slow their run and gather around. “Head to the front. Lead the group towards the mountains.”
They nod and hurry ahead of the group. Meah, Kylii, Daniil, and Tanith slow their pace to have privacy.
“I can’t believe your plan worked, Ime,” Kylii says gasping for air.
He is answered with silence. The three turn to find Ime gone. They look ahead, but can’t see him mixed in with the others.
“Where’s Ime?” Meah asks, her blood running cold.
“He was right behind us, wasn’t he, Kylii?” Daniil asks.
Kylii shrugs, giving his brother an odd look. “I thought he was ahead of us.”
“But he closed the wall. He didn’t close it from the other side, did he?” Meah’s eyes widen and she shakes her head in disbelief. “Why would he do that?”
Daniil turns to Tanith. “Go. Find Ime.” Tanith lowers her head and then leaps into a run back to the Arena. “She’ll lead him to the mountains.”
“We can’t wait. What if they’ve captured him?”
“He’ll be fine, Meah. He took care of a dozen Brüdel. He can handle a few soldiers,” Kylii says.
“But can he fight the Blood King on his own again?” a voice whispers from the shadows.
Daniil and Kylii instinctively move in front of Meah and raise their weapons. A cloaked figure walks out of the shadows and stops in front of them.
“Who are you?” Kylii demands.
“I need to take Meah to Ime. He’s in danger.”
“And what’s to say you aren’t here to give Meah to the Blood King?” Daniil asks.
Meah forces her way in front of the brothers. “Why do you say he’s fighting the Blood King?”
The cloaked figure looks over his shoulders as though expecting someone to be there. He turns back to Meah. “That’s where he is. Or where he is going. I can take you there, but only you.”
He motions to the brothers and they try to pull Meah back. She shrugs them off and takes a few steps towards the cloaked figure. “Daniil, Kylii, go with the group. I’m going to find Ime.”
“We can’t leave you alone with this guy. We don’t even know if we can trust him!” Kylii yells.
“I’ll be fine. Just go. Please.”
Kylii tries to grab her, but Daniil stops him. He leads his brother away, silently. Kylii protests, but eventually stops fighting and the two run off after the escaped slaves.
Meah breathes deeply. “Take me to Ime.”