Coffee Break Read – The Kill

Torwyn watched the Easterner as he advanced across the floor of the arena. Therloon was fully aware that this was his moment and the exaggerated grin that split the tattooed face was as much leer of derision as smile of victory. Only those nearest the edge of the arena heard the tattooed man’s words as he approached his unarmed foe.
“You want to take back what you said before?”
The Sabre backed off step by step as the other man advanced, his arms spread wide in a gesture of pacification or surrender and the roar of contempt from the crowd at this sign of cowardice swelled close to riot.
“Take it back? Why should I?” he said as if puzzled by the question.
“Because on that depends how fast you die.”
“I don’t see why.” The Sabre’s tone was soft. “No matter how quickly or slowly you kill me it is all still true, Gant. You are an imbecile, a laughably dumb brute. You have less intelligence than the beast they named you for.”
An animal growl in his throat, the Easterner shot forward, the long axe held lightly in his hands. Sabre stepped back in a nervous retreat and in doing so missed his footing and tripped, sprawling backwards over the body of Therloon’s previous victim. He fell on his back, arms wide, body spread open and helpless.
The Easterner charged the last few paces, his face congested by anger and hate and Torwyn knew he was going to make this kill one his audience would long remember.
Then the fallen man moved. His body rolled suddenly backwards, looking for all the world like a street tumbler, legs disappearing over his head and he finished the movement smoothly on one knee, the spear he had rescued in the process of completing the roll, held in his hands and braced solidly against his foot.
Therloon could no more have shifted his course at that point than taken flight and his eyes barely had time to widen in horrified comprehension, before his stomach was impaled upon the spear.
Sabre was on his feet as the impact was carried through, driving the point home deeply, twisting it to bite into the spine as the Easterner went down. Standing above his fallen foe, the sturdy fighting-slave looked down, without compassion at the tattooed face which was broken now by a rictus of agony.
“How fast do you die?” he asked savagely, for once allowing the fury and disgust to boil up through his veins. But the Easterner was beyond words, lungs pierced by the ripping barbs on the side of the spear’s head and breathing only in wheezing grunts.
The adoring ululation of the crowd ran like a hurricane around the arena and a monsoon of flowers and ribbons rained down onto the blood-drenched sand.
“Sabre! Sabre! Sabre!”
Torwyn straightened up and looked around as if seeing the scene for the first time. Then, strangely impatient and with no more than the most perfunctory of gestures to acknowledge the adulation, he ran his hand through his short rust-coloured hair and strode back through the now open gates, into the dark tunnel beyond.
The lanista was, predictably, already there to greet him from behind the bars with a grim smile of delight.
“You had the crowd really going there for a few, Tawn, but I knew you could do it. I had an entire moon’s takings riding on you.”
The fighting-slave shook his head in disbelief.
“You are a bad liar, Proculin. You meant that asshole, Gant, to take me – in fact I am sure you are disappointed he did not. Why else did you give him that axe and me nothing but a shiny twig? You knew I stood no chance with that against him, that if I tried to fight with the thing it would snap in two.” Torwyn, the man the crowds knew as Sabre, was feeling more than cynical. The intense exaltation that another had died and he still lived roared through him with a primal surge, making everything clearer, brighter, more perfect and intensifying every nuance of sound, sight, smell and sensation. He did not miss the false stiffness to Proculin’s smile.
“I hope you lost a lot.” Torwyn added sincerely, gripping the bars that kept him from the free-world. But for once the money-grasping lanista seemed unconcerned.
“It is no matter. I made on you anyhow. But don’t bother settling down too comfy, Tawn, you’ve been sold.”
There was a nasty edge of delighted malice in Proculin’s tone that the lanista made absolutely no attempt to disguise. The relationship between the owner of the Alfor Arena and his most famous and profitable fighting-slave had never been other than caustic, but this presaged something of a different order.
“Sold?” Torwyn repeated incredulous. “You would never sell me. You’d more than halve your profits to do so.”
“Well get used to the idea, because it happens to be true. As of the moment you spitted Gant you became the property of Qabal Vyazin. But cheer up, Tawn, I hear he has a Zoukai captain working for him nowadays, one who used to ride with the caravans keeping the slaves in order on the road. So you’ll be in professional hands.”
The lanista seemed to find his own joke very funny and he walked away laughing, leaving Torwyn still gripping the bars, his knuckles white, as the real consequences of his lanista’s words dawned on him with the cold chill of comprehension.

From Dues of Blood part three of Fortune’s Fools Transgressor Trilogy by E.M. Swift-Hook

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