The frantic knocking on the door rips Meah and Ime from their sleep. Meah rolls away from the loud noise, pulling the blankets around her. Ime roughly leaps to his feet and hurries to the door. He opens it wide and glares at the two identical faces staring at him.
“One of you better be dead,” he growls.
Daniil and Kylii smile wide and almost bounce with excitement. “You’re not going to believe who just showed up,” Kylii says.
“You and Meah need to get over to the Great Hall,” Daniil adds.
An annoyed mumble comes from the bed. Daniil and Kylii eye Ime confused. Ime smiles and leans close. “She says, it can wait until morning or it can die in a fire.” An added mumble reaches the three. “And she says I have her permission to start said fire.”
The brothers each place a hand on Ime’s shoulders. “Trust us, you may want to,” Kylii says.
Daniil nods his head. “The gods are either smiling on us or laughing at us with who they’ve sent here.”
After some coaxing and promises of no further interruptions before dawn, Ime and the brothers manage to get Meah out of bed. She and Ime dress quickly and the group heads for the Great Hall. As they walk, Ime and Meah realize the closer they get to the Great Hall the more crowded the streets seem to be, but not with citizens of Kellahn.
Those who’d been with Ime and Meah the longest, the ones from the Arena, the freed slaves gathered at the foot of the Great Hall’s steps. Angry faces greet them, but no one speaks. Mava, Rava, Bern, Cal, Bon, Skara, and Tristan stand at the front of the crowd, keeping everyone away from the doors.
Standing in front of the closed doors are Deven and Altan, both still in their sleeping attire. Saunem sits next to Deven, facing the closed doors, his ears aimed straight ahead to hear any sound that comes from inside.
“You seem to have a visitor,” Altan says as the group of four approaches. “One that is causing quite the commotion among your people. We’ve already had to threaten several to keep them in line.”
Growls echo from behind the closed doors. “That would be Tanith, keeping an eye on our guest,” Deven says, responding to Ime and Meah’s worried glances.
Without another word, Deven opens one door to allow Ime and Meah to enter the Great Hall. Daniil and Kylii follow, shutting the door behind them. The growling grows louder.
Tanith stands on the table at the center of the hall, facing the door. Her fangs are bared and her mane stands tall on her back. Her tail slams on the table threateningly. Her white eyes are locked onto the woman seated in front of her.
At the sound of the door closing, the woman carefully stands and faces Ime and Meah, smiling. She raises a hand from under her cloak in a small wave. “Hello, Life Healer. Glad to see the rumors are true and you’re still alive.”
“Seera,” Ime says, his body tensing. He moves in front of Meah and glares at the woman before them. “What are you doing here?”
Attempting to walk towards them, Seera stops when Tanith snaps her jaws at the leader of the Arena workers. The ensuing growl that follows echoes throughout the hall.
Holding her hand up to show she intends no harm, Seera looks to Ime. “I’ve come to join your fight.” Her eyes focus on Daniil and Kylii, who’ve slowly been moving towards the table. “As I told your comrades, I’ve brought all my men from the Arena as well as slaves who were collected after your escape.”
“The escape you tried to foil and nearly got us killed,” Daniil says, reaching the table and placing a hand on Tanith’s side. She calms a little, but her tail continues to pound roughly on the table.
“Or did you forget that?” Kylii adds, standing on the other side of Tanith.
Seera shrugs, peeking behind her at the brothers. “I made a bad choice. If it’s any consolation, I paid heavily for my failure in stopping you.” Pulling her cloak back behind her, Seera reveals her right arm. Meah covers her mouth with her hand. Seera’s right arm ends above her elbow and the skin on the right side of her torso is terribly burned. “After doing this, he threw me into one of my own cells.”
“And how did you escape? I’m sure many of the slaves were eager to help you,” Kylii says, angrily.
Pulling her cloak back over her wounds, Seera smiles. “My men are and will always be loyal to me, not him. The Blood King was probably shocked to hear the entire Arena disappeared in one night, including the beasts.”
“How many did you bring?” Ime asks.
“That gives us well over two hundred thousand,” Meah says. But her eyes narrow as she stares at Seera. “If we accept it.”
“Which, in my opinion, I think we shouldn’t,” Kylii says.
Ime walks towards Seera, stopping close to her. “If you betray us again, I will kill you on the spot.”
“Understandable. Does that mean you accept my aid?”
“We accept your fighters. You will remain off the battlefields here where we can watch you. Starting now you go nowhere near your men without one of my men with you. You will sleep in one of Kellahn’s cells. You’ll find unlike the cells of the Arena, there’s more room and as a show of faith, the doors will be kept unlock so you may come and go as you please…with limitations, of course.”
Seera raises an eyebrow. “The star of the Arena has truly become a leader.” She holds out her left hand. “Lead us to victory, Ime Gurek.”
Ime takes her hand and the doors to the Great Hall open. Jaxon enters, rubbing his eyes and wearing half his armor. “I heard we have visitors. Who—?” He freezes when he sees Seera.
Seera’s smile is immediately wiped away and her face pales. The surprise in her eyes is genuine and the reaction causes Ime and Meah to step back so they can stare from her to Jaxon easily.
“I hadn’t heard about this,” is all Seera is able to say.
“What is she doing here?” Jaxon snaps.
“She brought men to fight with us,” Meah says, watching Jaxon.
Jaxon tears his eyes from Seera and stares at Meah incredulous. She’s never seen the expression on his face before. It’s a mixture of fear, rage, and shock. She understands the rage, remembering how Seera almost killed him back at the Arena.
Returning his attention to Seera after a moment of shocked silence, Jaxon forces a smile. “It’s nice to see people can change.”
Trying to mimic Jaxon’s smile, Seera can only raise one corner of her mouth. “I could say the same for you, Black Caravan Leader. I assume since you’re here, you were the strange man who helped them escape.”
“You were the one who attacked the Blood King, stabbing him, if I remember correctly.”
“You remember correctly.”
“That’s interesting. I heard rumors the mysterious man who helped them escape could also use magic.”
An amused light fills Seera’s eyes. “So you’re a magic user and you’ve been collecting slaves for the Arena, knowing that if you’re men discovered your secret they would’ve sold you out.”
“Not all of his men,” a booming voice echoes angrily through the Great Hall. Standing at the doors are Bruer and Fleance, fully dressed with their hands gripping their weapons.
Altan and Deven enter, taking in the scene before them. Saunem chirps at Tanith who responds with a huff of air.
“What is the verdict?” Altan asks.
Before anyone answers, Jaxon turns and leaves the Great Hall. He doesn’t speak or look at anyone, only waving his hand at Bruer and Fleance who attempt to follow. Meah watches Jaxon’s back disappear through the double doors and worry fills her.
After introducing Seera and explaining the settled upon restrictions to her movement through the city, the group follows Seera to the top of the canyon to take a look at her gathered forces.
Slaves who chose to stay behind during the escape as well as many who were kept in other cellblocks are excited to see Ime and Meah. They tell how the Arena became more ruthless once they escaped. The games were changed to solely pitting strong fighters against the slaves who were given less food and rest time between each match.
Once the sun rose high enough in the sky, the allied leaders met once again in the Great Hall to learn of the additional manpower. There are a few who remain adverse to the idea of accepting help from men and women who at one time worked for Klaeon, but hearing of Seera’s punishment eventually curve them to agreeing.
“We stand over two hundred and thirty thousand strong, a match against Klaeon. We’re ready to march on his lands,” Ime stands and peers around the table, meeting each leader’s eyes. “Five days. We rest, train, and gather our forces. In five days, we march to war.”