I Am Gladiator! (Closed, Started)

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"In case something goes wrong pick up this one. Perhaps Lahar could even pick it up, we shouldn't look so suspicious." Antonius nodded, they did seem very suspicious whispering with each other. Antonius took a more casual stance against the bar.

As if he was merely watching the fight, while in reality he hoped to get a change to stab the 'champion'. Lahar's changes of beating the man, weren't good at all. But Lahar shouldn't be underestimated either, maybe he could even win without them helping.

The Vaanic warrior slid down to the ground with a quicksilver grace, colliding with "The Will of Death" with enough force that would have floored a normal man. "Death" however simply stumbled forward slightly barely losing any balance; Lahar was stopped, dead still. "Death" Roared out in frustration and turned each of the sword points downwards, driving them towards the ground as if to nail Lahar in place.

The momentum he had gather from the slide came to a stop once he hit the giants legs; instead of tripping him over as he had planned, the giant simply shuddered, fumbling forward. So much for that plan. His chanced of success were getting slimmer by the minute, the giant turned both swords downs, pointing their tips towards him, ready for the finishing blow. He only had a few seconds, but he had to use them, while on his back he rolled to the side.

"Death" lurched himself around, flinging one of his swords in a wild uppercut. He waved the other one around in Lahar's direction absentmindedly. This wasn't the style of a man used to fighting with two blades.

Neither blades connected with Lahar, the giant swung them clumsily, the only purpose to hit him with one of them. Even though the intent was there, if he continued to swing them so haphazardly then all he would succeed with would be tiring himself out before he hit Lahar. He rolled again, this time from a crouching a position, he could keep this up all day, but could the giant?

"Death" wasn't happy. This one was too quick for his taste and his bad leg was giving him grief. Damn thing was throbbing like hell. He gritted his teeth and fought through it. Fighting through the pain he charged the stupid little Vaan head on like a demented bull, swinging his swords back and forth as he went.

The giant kept going, swinging rapidly, but just a clumsily. A few swings came close, grazing Lahar on the chest, but most missed their target. The Giant continued to lumbering, however it was becoming obvious that all was not right with him, he favoured his right leg, stepping forward with that foot even when it would've been more beneficial to go with the left. It was chance, it was better then his previous choice of attack. In between swings he quickly kicked at the giant's left leg, hoping the gamble would pay off.

The giant roared out in pain and fell to one knee. He lashed out, but in his haze of pain he forgot to use the blade of his weapon and simply punched Lahar in the chest with his huge fist.

The giant punch Lahar square on the chest, if it was the blade that had hit he would no longer be in this world. The knock sent him tumbling backwards, but he quickly steadied himself. The giant looked dazed, maybe now was the right time. He dashed forwards and made a grab for one of the two blades.

"Death" tried to struggle to his feet but before he knew it the Vaan was on him, getting inside his reach and twisting his wrist in a way it wasn't supposed to. He fought as best he could to keep his grip and fight the Vaan's lock. Little bugger was stronger than he looked and had a grip like a vice. He tried his best to get him off, elbowing Lahar over and over; curse these blades! They were too long for him to get any use out of them in this position. He wanted to drop them and just grapple the Vaan to the ground and snap his neck like a twig but he knew if he dropped them the Vaan would be away. His sluggish mind warred with itself, trying to decide what to do. It wouldn't be long before he reached a decision but for the time being the two gladiators were in deadlock.

The giant held onto the blades, his strength was tremendous, he wasn't just going to let go of them. They struggled in the sands for what felt like an eternity, deadlocked in an embrace that would end in one of two ways. Fortunately, the giant must have suffered more from the blow to his leg then he had let on, his grip loosened and one of the blades came free. Taking no chances Lahar jumped back as soon as he picked it up.

"The will of death" rose to his feet and the swung out with his remaining sword. The twin blades clashed against each other, the noise echoing through the arena. The two gladiators shifted across the sands, neither one willing to give ground. Lahar's training had not failed him, but the strength of his opponents blows sent his arms shaking.

His arms were shaking from the giants blows, for every swing he blocked with the lone sword, another would almost send him flying backwards towards the bars of the caged arena. The giant wasn't going to end his barrage any time soon, the only chance he would have was if he parried one of his attacks. The blades slid against each other generating sparks from the friction, Lahar quickly ducked and lunged for the giants unprotected left side.

He managed to dodge past the initial attack, moving closer to the bars, but the hook at the tip of the blade snagged in his flesh as Lahar brought it back in close. The giant gladiator tried to pull himself free but only managed to work the blade deeper into his side. In a blind, furious panic he lifted Lahar by the throat and slammed the Vaanic warrior against the cage wall. The gladiators on the other side whooped and jeered at the display. A few of them began prodding at the combatants with their own weapons while others pulled at them trying to interfere in the fight out of sheer malice.

Lahar finally wrung his weapon out of the giant's grip, but the battle wasn't going any better for him. He managed to cut his side, but the hook of the blade was caught in the freak's flesh. Surely painful, and sure to do damage but not as much as a good swift strike. The ogre lifted Lahar by the throat like a child's toy, it reminded Gaius of how the Asier would beat their opponents into submission, brute strength prevailing when it could.

They were close enough to the wall to interfere, now was their chance. Lahar's back was to the wall, his feet off the ground, but the proud Vaanic warrior stayed strong, struggling to breathe but he looked as if he could hold it. A few other gladiators prodded at the two combatants. One in particular had a spear and was trying to stab at Lahar. Gaius rushed towards the man and head butted him, grabbing the spear and continuously butting him into submission. He lay on the floor in defeat and Gaius threw the spear to the ground as he rushed to the wall and grabbed the knife, slipping it into Lahar's hand, as he quickly grabbed at "Death's" wrist. He pressed his fingers in deep, hoping to manipulate his bones and veins to break his grip, and hopefully his wrist. He did this with one hand, his raw strength to break the bones of any normal man, though this "thing" was clearly not normal. He punched his outstretched shoulder repeatedly with the other, trying to make him drop Lahar. The Asieren hoped that the oddly shaped blades could not fit through the bars in time to stab him.

Belkin watched the fight happen, taking note of Lahar's eager attempt to try and grasp the weapons that "Death" seemed to carry. He had heard that every Vaan's weapons were unique to the owner and that they were made from a Dark metal. 'Maybe the Judge has brought Lahar back to his weapons the old fashioned way' Belkin thought to himself. However those thoughts were cast aside when he saw Lahar being pushed towards the arena bars, other warriors attempting to help Death!

Belkin fumed with anger from this display of cheating; to make him fight unarmed was one thing, but to have other people interfere was going too far. Belkin rushed towards where they were, hoping to bring some pain towards them for this act. However, when he got there he saw that they had mostly scattered, with Gaius trying to help Lahar by holding onto "Death's" arm with one hand while trying to help free Lahar with the other. Belkin ran towards his position, taking a hold of the arm Gaius was trying to grab hold of with both of his own, both pulling him forwards and wrenching it backwards into the bars, with the hope to cripple the monster.

He shouted at Gaius, "You help Lahar, I'll hold the monster back!", before putting more of his strength into it. He internally cursed himself for also breaking the rules, but he knew it to be a necessary evil here, one he'd hope to repay with blood later....Empire blood, he was hoping.

Lahar had managed to get his weapons back. But the fight was still not going his way, Antonius held onto his dagger, ready to use it. The large man grabbed Lahar by the throat, he was standing very close to the bars. A gladiator with a spear was about to stab Lahar, but Gaius charged at the man and head butted him into submission.

Another gladiator holding a sword walked towards the bars. Antonius didn't hesitate for a moment and charged at him. He grabbed the gladiator, using the element of surprise, slammed him face first into the bars. The gladiator was dazed, he dropped the sword and fell on the ground. He was missing a tooth and was bleeding from his nose.

Antonius turned back to Lahar and the giant, to see that Gaius had grabbed the man's wrist, he seemed to be trying to force him to let go off Lahar. Belkin also interfered trying to help Lahar, this was the opportunity he had waited for. Antonius looked at the man's undefended left side. He grabbed the knife and stabbed the man with all his might. The knife pierced the soft flesh. The power behind the stab had been so much, that only the hilt and the handle could still be seen. The rest of the knife was stuck inside the giant, Antonius quickly pulled the knife out hiding what he had done.

Before Gaius knew it Belkin and Antonius were upon the beast. He was big but three on one wasn't good odds, even for a monster such as he. Belkin held the arm and Antonius stabbed him in the side. Gaius gripped the man's fingers from around Lahar's throat and tried to bend them backwards. Gaius had just the right size hands to match the monster's own, and almost enough strength, but it was hard.

For a majority of the fight, Rowan had embedded himself in the crowd, quietly watching the scene unfold around him. He'd learned to temper his actions since the day of the riots, and made an effort not to appear as hot headed as the loud Asieren brute that had first arrived on the ludus grounds. From everything he observed, it looked as though the gathered gladiators were there to witness a funeral, not a fight. Lahar was greatly outmatched in size, strength, and arms. However there was still the variable of the crowd. A roaring mass of bloodthirsty killers separated from the ring only by a set of bars. A spear or a knife or even a fist could slip past those bars and very easily impact the outcome of the fight. And it seemed like that was exactly the plan, as what was once a one on one fight quickly devolved into an all out brawl. The men of House Merrick sprung into action as soon as the lumbering giant was close enough to the bars, stabbing and grabbing and punching at him to help free Lahar. Rowan calmly pushed himself through the crowd and knelt down, picking a handful of sand up. He remembered his lessons well.

Pushing closer to the bars, Rowan flung the sand into the eyes of the gladiators trying to attack his friends, buying them some time to help Lahar get free. The sand sprayed out into the eyes of five or six men, causing them to lash out in a blind mess. Rowan kicked out at one of their chests, sending a man falling backwards into a larger crowd. He then grabbed the wrist of another man, twisting it until he released his blade with a crack of bones. Rowan quickly cut the blind gladiators throat and pushed him back as well. He took up a stance in front of the huddle of House Merrick's gladiators, prepared to cut down any man who attempted to interfere.

"Any man stupid enough to interfere with this fight will dine with Morgul shortly after." He called out, challenging the crowd.

Lahar was pinned against the caged wall, the giant grasped his neck and held him as ferociously as he had previously held onto his blades. The sword was still embedded in the giants side; swaying as he batted away other gladiators fists or as he received blows to his unprotected shoulder, entrenching the hook deeper into the unprotected flesh. Lahar did the best he could to stay conscience, however the giant knew that this was his chance, all he would have to do was squeezer his neck harder and Lahar would be dead. Another Vaanic warrior defeated, another sword to add to the monster's collection.

Fortunately the giant had decided to gloat instead of enjoying his victory, showing off the crowd how week this Vaan was, they bellowed and roared as he took his time to beat Lahar further. During this time someone behind had slipped a dagger into his palm, someone from the ludus, or some other fighter who had taken pity on him. Whoever it was he would make sure to that them after the fight. The dagger was his hope, his life.

Despite all this, something inside him questioned what would happen next.

Will you show this man mercy?

No.

You always show mercy

He will not give me mercy, he taunts me now, he taunts my people, why should I give him mercy.

He drowned out the voice within him, ignoring it completely. The giant had finished his boasting and was about to finish Lahar, he put both hands around his neck and and started to squeeze, leaving Lahar gasping for air. There was no time to evade or dodge the slash. Lahar quickly raised the gifted dagger and slit the giants throat

The giant went pale and his grip on Lahar went limp. He stumbled back one step at a time, he gasped and croaked and swayed like a tree in the wind. The audience whooped and jeered at it as if they were egging him on, it was as if half couldn't see the font of blood running down his neck. Finally "Death" gave up the ghost and sell to the ground with a thump. The crowd showed their approval leaving Lahar to bathe in the gore and glory.

High above them in the gods, Marrick allowed himself a quiet smirk at seeing one of his men uterly ruin Senator Balus' scheme. Across the arena from them, unseen by the majority of his peers Artus Kedrin let out a sigh of relief. "Will this make things any easier for him?" Lyria whispered in his ear.

"What part of this life is easy?"

Eventually the Vaan was ushered from the sands and the crews came on to clean up after the fight and set up for the next one. The raggedy bunch of slaves had brought out a pair of barrels and were pouring it out across the gritted floor in a criss-cross grid. No one really paid them much attention.

Then the time came for the others to have their moment to shine. The next bout was to be a public service exhibition. A reenactment of the gladiator heroes and their victory against the rebel terrorists. This was particularly special, it wasn't often the real (human) stars of an even would attend.

Antonius, Rowan, Vokrash, Belkin, Gaius and Vorgis were given a few minutes to get their gear in order and then lead out onto the sands. Opposing them were a collection of men, varying in size and build. Each of them wore the animal masks made infamous by that day. They didn't carry themselves like gladiators, these were captured rebels, put in chains and thrown to the wolves of the arena to pay off their debt to society.

Still even they were armed better than Lahar had been, with some basic short swords and bucklers, along with some light leather armour. The two groups waited while the announcer gave their introduction, talking about the fiery battle and how they were going to recreate it for the enjoyment of the loyal subjects of the Empire. How were they going to do that?

Then one of the crew slaves dropped a torch and the lines of oil that they had drawn in the sand were ablaze. Dividing the warriors in a labyrinth of flame. The crowd roared out in deafening approval and over it all one voice was heard, it said one word.

"BEGIN"

The assistance given to Lahar by his fellow Gladiators came in handy, given the Vaan just the opportunity he needed to slash the ogre's throat. His blood spurted everywhere as he clasped his throat. He died like an animal, swinging around wildly, as if he thought that attacking something would stop the bleeding. He eventually gave up, and fell to the ground like a sack of meat. The crowd cheered at Lahar's victory. Gaius took his hands off the bars and slowly backed away, heading back to the wall he was leaning on before. For the three men that helped he grabbed their shoulder before releasing it, just a small sign of respect. He didn't have much time to react however as he was on next, fighting with the gladiators who saved Antonius, along with the former imperial himself. Gaius was confused however, since he was never in this fight. He asked Vorgis "We weren't a part of the rescue, why are we a part of this "story" they have us telling on the sands?"
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Gaius prepared his weaponry, he grabbed a small, easily concealed dagger and tucked it into his slave garments. He equipped some medium leather armour, not very protective but enough to provide quick movement, it could take a strong hit or two but it could be pierced with some effort. He grabbed a sword and spear as well, a modified technique of his dagger and spear combination. The sword gave better reach and was a much better weapon than expected, though he wasn't as proficient as some others in his "clan" so to speak and as Lahar could attest to dual wielding swords was not one of his talents. This weapon set was of high risk high reward, at least that's what Gaius thought.

They were eventually shuffled onto the sands were they were met by a group of men in strange animal masks. They were not equipped well enough to defend themselves against gladiators; this was an execution not a fight. Still, they could be more of a challenge than they appeared, Lahar had nothing and still managed to defeat "Death".

A stupid boring man rambled on about rebellion and loyalty, making it clear that these men were against the Empire. Just like Gaius. While it pained Gaius to have to kill men who shared his views, at least to some degree, he knew that it was kill or be killed. He made a vow that their deaths would at least be swift, nothing brutal or painful.

Suddenly the ground was set on fire all around them, separating the two teams of warriors. Gaius readied his weapons as he thought of the best way to approach his opponents.

Belkin lost his grip on the monster's arm, being bashed a little against the bars in his resistance. As Belkin cursed himself for allowing the Vaan to die, he all of a sudden felt a splash of something akin to water on himself. He looked up to see Lahar brandishing a dagger as "Death's" blood spilled out from his cut neck as he swayed around. When he dropped dead, the roar was deafening, and while was delighted to have Lahar still alive, the voice in his head reminded him: He had cheated to allow another to win. He knew what the penalty for that would be in his home...but for now, he recognised it as one law that would need breaking.

When it came to the next battle, Belkin was called forward to recreate the battle during the riot with his fellow gladiators from the event. He quickly picked up a sword and shield, noting how he couldn't really re-perform the Death run again, not without some ability to practice recreating it. Instead he would just keep to himself and just fight as any warrior would, not caring the least about trying to impress Vokrash, whose armour selection was now the least of his concerns. On the other side were people dressed up as the rebels from the riot, possibly Prisoners or criminals dressed as them for authenticity.

Belkin had to suppress a laugh when he heard the announcer talk about loyalty. 'Loyalty?' Belkin thought to himself, 'The Empire has less knowledge about loyalty than a bear does about grooming!'. But then, after it had all finished, the arena lit up in flames, a maze of fire dancing about the Gladiators and their opponents. Belkin noted just how high the flames were, about waist high at best.

"Well then, shall we make it authentic and hold our shields up while they charge us, or shall we go on the offensive?" Belkin said to the group, talking to no-one in particular.

Therdan was shoved off the wagon and out into the street. The imperial guards herded him towards the arena.

"Welcome to Ptolemy, Asier. I'm sure you're eager to see the sports which you will be participating in," the guard captain said with a sneer.

(I'm gonna need a quick recap of events)

Rowan armed himself appropriately, trying to match the weapons and armor he'd used the day of the riot as closely as possible. The crowd was there to see a story unfold, and he would be sure to let them have everything they wanted. He grinned for the first time in a long time at his comrades in arms as they made their way out to the arena to face their foes. Were it not for the animal masks covering their faces, Rowan would have sworn each man before him looked terrified to their very core. They were in the same position as Lahar only a few moments ago: sent out not to fight, but to die. They may have been better armed then the Vaan, but the chains they carried would be a deadly burden. Perhaps one I can exploit to draw out the fight, give the crowd a real laugh, Rowan thought to himself.

After their brief introduction, the arena around them lit up in a blaze, bright enough to sting at Rowan's eyes, though he did not waiver. The stage was set at last, and all that was left to do was dance for the crowd. A bloody, deadly dance but a dance all the same. Rowan uttered a quick prayer to Morgul and looked at each of his fellow gladiators to gauge what they were thinking.

"We can't start the fight yet, where is the imperial baby?" Rowan called to the gladiators, not quite loud enough for the crowd or the politicians to hear over the roaring and cracking of the fire. Belkin asked if they should raise their shields and wait for an attack, or press on aggressively. Rowan thought about it for a moment and shouted back his answer

"I don't think it would be fair to keep Morgul waiting!" He called, bringing the shield he'd equipped himself with down to protect himself from the flames as he charged out after their chained opponents.

Gaius examined the area, trying to find a good route to the rebels without getting burnt. Replace the fire with trees and it's similar to when I fought the Empire in the forests, he thought to himself. He had just found a decent route were the flames didn't jump as high, enough for him to clear with enough speed and a high enough jump. However before he had time to react Rowan charged forwards. What happened to his sudden growth? Now he was just acting like a child again. Gaius shouted after him "Rowan wait! Dammit" Gaius ran in a zigzag across the flame covered battlefield, true to his route but much faster than he wanted. He wanted to take it slow but Rowan was ruining his plans. "Surround them!" He yelled back to his comrades. So far the hardest part of this fight was crossing the fire, though that would surely change once they reached the rebels.

Antonius smiled, Lahar had slit the giant's throat. He released Lahar and stumbled back, blood spewing from his wound. He quickly hid the bloody dagger near one of the unconscious gladiators. Gaius grabbed his shoulder and Antonius looked up, surprised. Gaius let go and walked back to the wall, Antonius was left by himself wondering what it had meant. Had it been a sign of respect?

He then heard they were supposed to fight next. Antonius was happy that he was allowed to pick his own weapons this time. He put on a medium sized leather armor, it was perfect for Antonius since it didn't slow him down but did offer some protection. He also grabbed a sword, and a large shield. He would have preferred to take a spear too, but he didn't want to risk over encumbering himself. He walked into the arena and looked at his comrades, the fires were lit. Antonius grinned, this would be an interesting fight.

"We can't start the fight yet, where is the imperial baby?" Antonius gave Rowan a cold look. He can call me a baby all he wants, at the end of the day I am still stronger than him. Belkin asked what tactics they should use but Rowan just charged ahead. Antonius heard Gaius shouting "Surround them!" Antonius nodded and also charged at the enemy, he would prove himself in this fight.

"I don't think it would be fair to keep Morgul waiting!" shouted Rowan as he charged seemingly THROUGH the flames. Belkin was stunned by Rowan's sudden recklessness; did he forget to control his temperament, or did he really consider himself strong enough to take them on?! Whatever the case, Gaius's call of "Surround them!" was hear clearly by the Pingla, as he started going through the route to the other side of his team-mates, hoping to help cordon the "Rebels" off and if possible from their attack plan, flank them and decimate them from there.

Belkin cautiously rushed through the maze, hoping to not get caught off by any dead ends or the like. Either way, Belkin knew that this would be much simpler than what happened in the riots. There were no firebombs, no narrow alleys and they weren't stuck in an epicentre of chaos, it was just a simple maze where the walls could set you on fire and you can see your enemies ahead. Belkin continued along, willing to get there in time to help out.

Gaius ran across the battlefield, carefully and swiftly jumping over the flames. He could feel the heat coursing through his legs, almost getting burnt every time. He charged forwards, leaping over the fire as it rose up waist high, it would have been chest high for any other man but given his monstrous height Gaius was safe. He hit the ground running, however his left foot had landed in the oil and the bottom of his boot had been caught ablaze. He was about to put it out but one of the rebels was already charging towards him. Thinking fast Gaius kicked the man in the chest with his flaming boot, he kept his foot on him as he fell to the ground and stomped on his chest before stabbing his sword into his face, destroying the mask among other things. With no time to pat out the fire Gaius kept running, spear in one hand and sword in the other. One particularly large rebel decided he would be the one to put out the flame of the charging Asiren. This man was almost the same size as Gaius, however a vile wound coursing up his side, from his armpit all the way down to his hip, gave away his weakness as well as the most likely reason he was captured. The scar was badly treated and had hardly healed over.

He attacked Gaius with a large overhead swing. Gaius blocked with his own sword and kicked the man in the side. He flinch and pulled back his sword, stabbing at Gaius, the Asiren jumped back easily avoiding the clumsy swing. The fight would have been easier if it wasn't for the fire on his boot. Every time he moved it seemed to calm down slightly but when he was still it would raise up towards his leg threatening to burn the man. The man swung his buckler at Gaius's stomach. The gladiator spun out of the way and quickly elbowed the man in his wound. He took the opportunity to slash at the rebel's back but he was just quick enough to deflect the attack. Gaius began stabbing low with his spear and slashing high with the sword. The rebel was forced to walk further and further back towards the flames. Sick of the Asier's games he charged forwards and tried to ram Gaius down. Gaius put his arms under the other man's and held his ground. The rebel tried to stab Gaius in the back but his sword was too big to kill him from this angle. The gladiator remembered his dagger, quickly dropping his spear to the ground to pull the knife from under his armour, neatly tucked away in his slave garments. He knelt down and stabbed the man in the foot making him wretch in pain. With no time to wasted Gaius swung his sword at the rebel's arm, cutting his forearm. Even with his strength, cutting through bone with a sword is a hard feat. Still it was all he needed as the man's sword was dropped. Gaius grabbed the dropped sword and stuck it into the man's side, reopening the wound before plunging his own sword into his stomach. He pushed him back against the flames before swiftly picking up his spear. Gaius jumped up to meet the man eye to eye and kicked him in the face with his flaming boot sending the rebel back into the flames. The crown roared at this display, seeing the rebel 'scum' burn before them. However, Gaius could not let the man suffer more than was necessary. He plunged his spear deep into the man's heart to end his suffering before turning towards the other's in the arena and quickly taking some time to pat out the fire on his foot.

Rowan emerged from the flames barely touched, having kept his shield up to absorb the fire's heat. His shield on the other hand, had turned from a dark, sturdy wooden brown to a bright flash of orange and red. Flames licked and wisped across the face of the shield, and from the stands Rowan imagined it might look as though he was carrying the sun itself across his arm. deciding it would be better showmanship to keep the blazing shield, Rowan turned his attentions to where he'd ended up. A wider area than the mazes entrance, though not by much. In front of him were two of the captured "rebels", each of whom looked ready to chop his head clean off his shoulders. One of them was short and lanky, with bruises and other marks covering his body. The other one was considerably more fearsome, with long brown hair tied into a ponytail, bulging muscles, and a bulls face mask covering his own. Rowan decided it might be a better idea to deal with the shorter opponent first, the one wearing a dogs mask.

"Belkin! Gaius! There are two of them here, don't come this way, it's a dead end!" Rowan shouted through the flames in an attempt to warn his fellow gladiators of the perils of the maze before digging his feet into the dirt and preparing for the fight. His shield arm felt warm, though not unbearably so. He would be able to use the theatrics to his advantage, perhaps causing his foes to fight more cautiously and make more mistakes. Rowan flashed the shield in front of their faces, causing the flames to spit outwards in a dazzling sort of dance. The wind carried wisps of the strange fire out before snuffing them with a slight crackling sound. Slightly deterred, his foes took a moment to collect themselves and gather their nerves before charging at Rowan from opposite sides.

Both of his opponents were armed only with short swords, so defending against their onslaught would be easy enough. He used his sword to parry and block the attacks that came from the smaller man, and his shield to block the attacks that came from the bull. Rowan spun and sidestepped all across the field, careful to avoid the flames. When he was confident that he'd gained a foothold as well as an idea of how his foes would react, Rowan went on the offensive. The Dog attacked him with a high, arching slash, to which Rowan replied with a carefully placed block and a headbutt to compliment it. His forehead collided with the wooden dog mask, sending splinters into the flames around them. The dog stumbled backwards, dazed and unable to aid the Bull in his confusion. Rowan swung his shield out at the Bull's throat, blinding him with the blazing fire still whirling about. The Bull tried to counter with a lunging stab, but Rowan was too quick. Rowan spun and parried the attack with his sword hand, grabbing at the Bull's long ponytail with his shield hand. As he spun, Rowan stuck a foot out to trip the confused Bull, sending him off balance. The Bull would have fallen face first into a wall of fire if Rowan hadn't gripped firmly onto his ponytail. Rowan wrapped his hand around the Bull's hair a few times,getting a good grip and pulling the bull slightly further from the flames. In his current position, Rowan was facing the Dog with only his sword hand free, and behind him his grip on the Bull's tail was teh only thing keeping the rebel alive.

"You should be honored." He said to them both over the sounds of fighting and crackling of fire.

"I'm almost certain they're going to make a song about this later."

His joke had sent the Dog into a frenzy, and the lanky man charged back at Rowan with determination in his eyes. Rowan smiled and brought his sword down on the Bull's ponytail, slicing a great deal of hair off the man's soon to be burned corpse. Screams filled the air as Rowan, both hands now free, reengaged the Dog in combat. A swipe of his flaming shield kept the Dog at bay as he cut and slashed with his sword. The screams and moans of his former companion combined with the dazzling effect of the flaming shield greatly unnerved the Dog, and his fighting suffered as a result. Rowan was able to find openings much easier. He landed blow after blow, cutting into the Dogs flesh as if it were a canvas. Rowan brought his shield back to deal the final blow, smacking the man had across the face, sending yet more splinters out into the flames. At long last his shield gave out, bursting in a beautiful display as the Dog's head whirled about and his neck snapped under the strain. The Dog whirled in the air for a moment before dropping to Rowan's feet with a terrible thud.

Belkin swerved his way through the flames, noting two dead ends in his way towards the battle. By now both groups had dispersed and were fighting within the flames, so Belkin hurried along to try and catch up. His progress was halted by a huge man suddenly blasting his way through the flames in front of Belkin, Belkin stopping just in time miss the charge. The man stood up, wielding a sword in each hand and wearing a head unfamiliar to him, spouting a cows face that had large upturned horns at the top. He was clearly either worked up or crazy from the sounds of it, his muffled voice screaming as he charged towards the Pingla warrior.

Belkin dodged out of the way of the charge, his back licked by the flames. The masked man fell over but quickly got up again before moving towards Belkin at a slower pace than before. Belkin hoped that the man's crazed charging would prove to be his downfall, but for now he focused on the actual fighting. The man swung both swords will wild desire instead of actual thought, as each blow was glanced by Belkin's shield, only being pushed back little by little. Belkin saw that he was getting tired after just a few seconds of this, so he took that time to move. He bashed the attacker with his shield, stunning him long enough for him to grab hold of his leg and pull it forward, causing the masked man to crash into the ground. Belkin raised his sword to strike him down, but the man quickly rolled to the side, unwittingly into the tar and fire.

With his body covered in burning tar, the masked man quickly swiped around in blind panic on the ground, rolling over into an opposite area. Belkin started to walk away from the masked man when he heard a second, different kind of yell come from behind him. It was another one of the masked warriors, this time with the mask of something he recognized: a wolf. This one was more reserved than the other man, wielding a club and using more caution. Belkin simply smiled to himself and spoke to him, "Well, you'll be less of a nuisance then that FUDCB (Fuud-cub, one with a rotted brain) now, won't you?" he asked. The wolf responded by simply running towards him with both of his hands gripped on the club.

Belkin raised his shield and absorbed the charged hit, then started blocking each blow, feigning weakness as he got closer to the ground. As the wolf man raised up his club for a very rough hit, Belkin attacked by swinging his sword into the other mans leg, using enough force than it was only after the man toppled over to his right that Belkin realise that he had actually managed to chop through the bone. As the wolf masked man screamed and nursed his wound, Belkin raised his sword above the mans heart. The man tried to resist but he was in too much shock to put up a good fight. Belkin plunged the sword into the mans chest, causing the man to scream loudly as his last drop of life were robbed from him.

Belkin looked at the scene upon him: A man who was nearly de-limbed and now dead, and a crazed person who now fell silent in the flames. Belkin shook his head and walked on, hoping to still help out his team mates.

Fresh Blood

The fight went on and the sands were well fed by the end of the day. Even after they were done there were still countless more matches throughout the day. The people who's homes were burned in the riots were entertained and the people who had done the burning had learned humility in the face of The Empire. It was a good day for house Marrick and the other Ludus households, but not without its price. Across all of Ptolemy, a legion of gladiators bled and died for the love of the people and the glory of the sword.

High above the sands, the masters of the arenas watched. Each one silently calculating the cost of replacing their losses. Evan Marrick had lost some of his own branded men. Soon after came the calm season and the primary legions returned to their home land, bringing with them prisoners of war by the cart load. People who would be broken and crafted into house slaves, miners, field workers, bed servants or what ever else their owners had in mind. But those lucky enough would be claimed by the Ludus lords and Executors. Most would live short, grim lives but each day brought them closer to a chance at freedom.

And like carrion birds after a battle, the ludus owners flocked to the slave markets. The bidding was fierce and more than a few hired thugs were set on rival bidders, with brawls breaking out in the streets. And at the back, separate from the teeming masses stood the Marrick. Obscured from sight and the out of his competitors reach, Marrick pulled the strings as his men worked their way through the crowd, bidding and fighting on his orders. In the end the market dispersed and Marrick got his way yet again.

At The Ludus

The branded men were let out into the Ludus courtyard where they could lounge in the midday sun as they watched the raw recruits led in, dressed in nothing but chains and rags. Just as they had been on their first day, but that was a lifetime ago.

Marrick had set up his table and scales, just as he had before. A Ludus is built on routine and Marrick was always one for his theatrics.

The veterans mutter and talk among themselves while Marrick scans the new men with ice cold eyes. This was his first chance to examine them up close. An invisible signal was given and The Executor cracked his whip, bringing obedient silence to the courtyard. Marrick cleared his throat.

"I am Varlen Marrick, your new master. You are here because you are now slaves, because at some point in your lives you have fallen, because you have each proved too weak to stand on your own. But do not worry, for I shall make you strong! Re-forging you out of blood and steel!" A roar erupted from the gladiators who knew their part in this show and the executor cracked his whip.

Then the show began in earnest. The coin pouches were opened and each man's worth was measured out for all to see. He worked his way down the line until he came to a young Amon rider. Tanguy If he remembered right. "One Amon'Tyr. Your kind are becoming a rare sight in these walls. Your final cost, 25 Denars." The coins were arranged and with an audible clink, placed on the scales for Tanguy to see.

Now it was Therdan's turn. "Yet another Asieren! I'll be up to my ears in you manic woodsmen soon. Luckily you were only 14 Denars." Marrick took a moment to look at Therdan and compare him to his other Asier. "Perhaps I could have bartered them down further." Looking at them this one must have been the runt of his litter. But Marrick had seen enough of the arena to know that the little ones could surprise you.

"And last but not least. A replacement War Walker, finally! our roster has been lacking spice as of late. What would you say Executor?"

"I am told purple is the in colour among the ladies this season. Sir!" The bulldog like man barked like an obedient solider. It got a few laughs from the gladiators assembled there before he cut them off with a crack of his whip.

"Excellent!" Marrick grinned wolfishly. "Something to add variety to the lisitngs and to keep poor Lahar company, I'm sure he's been horribly lonely since we buried his countryman. With nothing but the likes of Antonius and Rowan for company I'm sure a lesser Vaan would have gone mad by now." More laughs from the veterans. Xarev... this one's name was Xarev. Lahar was getting pale and sleek but this one was broad and bronzed. He could play that off for the more, niche audiences. "All this and only for 36 Denars! Well done lad." The coins were weighed again. His worth was added to the rest of the coins that payed for the other new gladiators. Their net worth was a hefty sum, more than the last bunch.

He motioned to the scales. "This is your collected worth. This is what your fellow man thinks of you. Given time I shall make them change their minds. I shall make them sing your names with glory, as titans of the arena!" The gladiators cheered to this. "But we shall get to that later, now you must regain your strength." Marrick snapped his fingers and turned to the manor house he didn't leave the courtyard this time, he had had a chair and drinks brought out so he could watch what would follow up close. A Pack of slaves tidied up the table and scales and scurried off into the manor.

One by one the new slaves are unchained and the gladiators move off to an alcove built into the eastern wall of the courtyard where two young slaves are serving porridge and water from huge pots.

"Eat! Drink! Rest!" Barked the executor. Each word punctuated by the crack of his whip. "Your training will begin in a few hours!"

The fight was done. All rebels dead, and none of his team mates. Gaius surveyed the sands. All men fought admirably, with Vorgis proving why he was champion but Belkin and Rowan giving a mighty impressive show. Gaius would have been worried about the competition- if he wasn't so disgusted by the sight. His fellow contenders for championship downright tortured their opponents, killing them slowly. Belkin de-limbing one man, Rowan burning another to death. Gaius wouldn't dare show his disgust, it might displease his sick masters or even Vokrash who he needed to impress. Still, he had lost a lot of respect for both men, while he couldn't see Antonius or Vokrash through the flames Gaius was sure that he was the only man who killed cleanly on the sands that day.

Some time passed and new recruits were eventually brought onto the sands. An Amon'Tyr, another Vann and yet another Asier. But this Asier seemed familiar. Perhaps Gaius had seen him before but his smaller frame certainly distinguished him amongst their kind. Therdan his name was. His size was mocked by Marrick as he put on his degrading show. Gaius barked along with the other gladiators, he didn't want to anger anyone else, he already had Dran hating him. He wasn't much threatening just petty.

Eventually Marrick was done with his theatrics and allowed the gladiators, old and new, to eat and drink. Gaius moved off to where the porridge and water was being served, hoping there wouldn't be as much drama as when he was recruited. He made sure to keep an eye on this Therdan lad.

The battle ended soon after, Belkin not worse for ware and a little disappointed that they didn't put up more of a fight. They seemed to be less like warriors and more like cattle being slaughtered. He remembered the howl the wolf man gave when Belkin nearly went through his leg, the visceral screams given by the mad man who charged at him. Belkin still remembered his home, so it would be long before these Empire pigs would break him through the gore and pain they used to try and denature the young warrior, but it was slowly working regardless, bit by bit. For now however, he wore his facade as he left the pit, hoping that Zuul cleansed him of what was clearly forced murder.

Some time later, Belkin looked upon the new recruits that entered the Ludus with contempt and wonder; they were new blood, bought by the pig Marrick to bolster his number and fatten his wallet. He used the same methods as before, the same speech as before and he was as annoyingly smug as before. Belkin must have looked like any other loyal soldier to the new blood, but much like Gaius, he was as determined to break free from his captors. Belkin stayed silent through the Gladiators barking moments, still the only man silently showing that he wouldn't be tamed.

When the farce was over, Belkin went with the rest of them into the area where food and water was prepared. He remembered the last time this feast happened, with Rowan's boasting, Gaius's initial unmerryment and an overall impression of tension left on the Pingla. Belkin sat down and consumed the porridge quickly, keen to overhear what the Gladiators had to say now.

For the most part, Vokrash took a backseat to the fight. He needed to make sure he was able to get a good look at Rowan, Belkin, and Gaius fight. Vokrash would not leave the fight without bloodying his axes however, decapitating one of the masked men in one fell swoop after ducking and weaving wild blows from his cleaver.

Vokrash and the others had only gotten back to the ludus when he saw a crowd gathering and was able to force himself near the front. He saw that new recruits were being brought out for the scales and Marrick would have his show again. 'The same script every time, it's been like this for years now.' He noticed that another Asier was captured; along with an Amon'Tyr and another War Walker. Vokrash was once again giving the cheers when called for, as he did for when the Gaius and the others came, and before that for many years. It was the same show every time.

After the measuring was done and the scales were taken away, the new recruits were sent to get food and drink. Vokrash was thirsty after the day's ordeal and decided to go get some water. On his way he stopped and congratulated Vorgis on "a damn good showing. Teaching them kids what's what".

Tanguy looked down at his bloodied wrists; most of the new and old gladiators were making their way towards the alcove to get a meager breakfast. However Tanguy continued to stand in the sand and look down at his wrists. The wounds that the rough iron chains left behind, reminded him of his failure to protect his sister and clan mates from the imperial legions, and so this new life seemed a fitting payment for his mistakes. He would have killed himself for this reason however his sister had been split up from him and sold to someone else. However Tanguy made a promise to her that he would find her and so he allowed himself to go through all this so he could just get a chance to rescue his little sister from her cruel fate.

Raising his head, Tanguy looked as his "new master". He wasn't a warrior of any sort, just a small fat man with a lot of money and connections. But this small man may be able to help him find his sister, he would raise this question with Merrick in the future. But for know Tanguy walked off from the sand to sit under the shad.

Xarev was silent. He scanned the men around him with cold yet smoldering eyes, from the wealthy emperial man who had purchased him, to the formidable gladiators around him. He hadn't spoken in days. Not since his capture had a word escaped his lips. When he was finally unchained, he walked to were the water was and took a cup. Then he sat down alone in the sun and closed his eyes. He began to think.

It was far to early to attempt any kind of escape. He did not know the strength of the guards, the way of the town, or the roads back to his home. He would have to bide his time. He would lay the part of the gladiator, but he would never become a plaything of the Empire, not in his heart.

The gladiators wondered why this new stranger elected to wait silently and alone on the ground, as if he was expecting something. It was certainly an odd first impression. One or two entertained the notion of trying to get a word out of him.

Antonius had been pretty cautious during the fight. He had been in contact with fire before, and he didn't want to add another burn scar to his body. He was happy to see that none of his fellow gladiators had fallen. Quite some time passed after that, but time in the Ludus meant nothing. The moon meant rest, if you were lucky. And the sun meant work, until your flesh fell from your bones.

Lahar had been behaving quite weird for a while now. Antonius gave him as much space as he needed, and because of that he spent quite some time alone. It was then that he realized just how alone he was. Antonius began training with all kinds of different weapons, anything from axes to knives. The arena that he was a champion off, usually had all kinds of different weapons. So he had decided to learn how to use them all, he also began training in hand to hand combat. Because even without a weapon, he had always been a forced to be reckoned with. But now he was even stronger then before.

He also began to notice the slow color change of his skin. It was clear that he spend his days working hard, and that he didn't wear much clothing while doing so. Antonius only had one goal in mind though, and with that was survival. He needed to see his son, and his beautiful wife. He had promised her that he would see her again one day, he could never break that oath.

When the new gladiators entered the arena, he was watching and judging them from a distance. He was saddened about the lack of an imperial gladiator though, he would have liked another one of his kind. Still having someone like that would only distract him from his goal. Antonius was standing against one of the walls looking at them, exposing his body and its numerous scars. He was one of the 2 champions now. Even if the other champion was much stronger then him, he would have to show they what it meant to be one.

Still no man could fight effectively if he was dehydrated. Antonius went to get some water, and after that sat down at the table. He began eating, and listening on others talk. He wondered what the new gladiators were like, still none of them seemed to be a match for him. They looked strong, but not quite up to his level. Which was a big relief.

Like Xarev, Therdan remained silent, glaring at Marrick as he sat down. After a moment, he rubbed his raw wrists and began to look around the alcove. He internally regretted his hesitation that led to his capture. He looked around for anything that could be used to deprive the slave master of a warrior, and end his own life. Seeing nothing, he turned his attention to the other captives, still not saying a word.

The new ones were being quiet... too quiet. The Executor watched them with restless eyes. Were they just tired from the trip or was there something more to it? He never cared for these quiet moments. Crafting a gladiator was a delicate art, one which most of these men were not suited to. He could have named at least ten that would have been better suited to the mines. The more they were left to themselves the more time they had to think, to dream. A tired body made for a tired mind. But this would be the making of them, the beginning of their trials.It was important to make sure they were in as good a condition as possible. More and more the Executor thought he was getting too old for all this.

He looked to his master. Marrick was in his own world, his eyes had gone cold and distant. That was the one that worried him, the young lord was a reacher. It made him hard to predict. The sun beat down on them and the tried and tested among their brood busied themselves among themselves. What was time off to them but a death sentence? He thought to himself.

Finally Marrick returned to the present and motioned for things to begin.

*****

Durro was sent to fetch the wooden practice swords. The child scurried among the gladiators with ease as they were ordered to form up in the courtyard. Durro handed each man a blade. Happily handing out a weapon to those he knew and cautiously to those he didn't.

Marrick rose from his chair. "We have a certain tradition here at the ludus. As each man begins his training for the day, the new recruits are given the chance to try their luck against those who have proven themselves. Here in House Marrick we are honored to have not one but two champions among our ranks." He held up a pair of medals. One shone glorious gold in the sun. The other was chipped and rusted.

"Vorgis!" The Executor cracked his whip and the gladiator stepped forward. He was a giant of a man. muscled like a bull with close cropped hair. His body decorated with tiny scars and a large, tattered looking one on his forehead.

"Vorgis holds both the title of 'House Champion', meaning he is the best that this Ludus has to offer and he holds the champion title in The Den of Hearts. The greatest and most prestigious arena in all of The Empire."

"Antonius!" The Executor said on queue; and the Imperial stepped forward.

"And on the other hand we have Antonius. Champion of The Cauldron and king of the dogs. Home to the lowest and cruelest blood letters this world has to offer." Marrick looked over his new men, placing odds on which ones would step forward. "Those who are willing to step forward and face one of our champions in single combat, should they put on a good show, will be rewarded. To the others, you will have to find a sparring partner yourself."

By now Durro had made his way around the yard and seen each man armed with a practice weapon.

"So... who here is brave enough to step up to the challenge?"

"I challenge...this could be interesting" Tanguy muttered as Merrick offered his challenge to the new recruits. The fight was obviously one sided, having a new recruit fight an experienced champion was more than likely cooked up to see which of them would die first. On any normal occasion Tanguy would refuse to take part in this show but Merrick had promised that knows who put on a good show will be rewarded, if Tanguy could manage this the maybe Merrick could help him find his sister. It was a long shot but Tanguy didn't know when another situation like this might present itself.

"I will accept this challenge" Tanguy spoke stepping forward so all could see him "Tell me who I will fight"?

The ludus owner's suggestion inspired a new line of thought in Xarev. Perhaps he could spare his body from the gleeful cruelty of the Empire if he applied his mind. He would show his intellect, to disguise his power, maybe affording him an opportunity to get close to Marrick.

"I would meet the challenge...master." Xarev said without standing. "But something yet bothers me. The new arrivals, myself included, are weary from travel. A man of your elevated position must be smart enough to see this. So I can't help but think you are expecting one of us to fight and lose, to be made an example of. I beg a thousand apologies if I am mistaken master."

Xarev knew that one of three things would happen next. Either, his intellect would be noted by Marrick and it may benefit him in the future. He would be forced to fight one of the champions simply for speaking. Or worst of all, he will have offended Marrick in some way and face punishment.

All things considered, there are worse outcomes for one's first day as an Imperial slave.

Belkin when through the "Initiation" as it were once more; the Champion vs the New guy. He missed out on his shot last time, Antonius beating him to the bunch. He found it funny how the positions switched, with the challenger now becoming the challenged. However, with tho Champions, that meant two challenges, and it was one of those challengers that stood out to Belkin.

"I would meet the challenge...master. But something yet bothers me. The new arrivals, myself included, are weary from travel. A man of your elevated position must be smart enough to see this. So I can't help but think you are expecting one of us to fight and lose, to be made an example of. I beg a thousand apologies if I am mistaken master."

The new War Walker. He may have stepped up, but his lip would get him either killed or at best but into the worse matches. Belkin decided to speak up, help him last the day at least.

"Hey, Fresh meat" he spoke towards him, "the rest of us had to fight when we got here and you'll do the same" he spoke, shadowing his voice in aggression.

It wasn't long before Marrick had used his champions to challenge the new recruits. Ironic how it was Antonius who was a champion alongside Vorgis considering he challenged Vorgis on his first day, and put up an impressive fight. But no doubt these fights would end in a similar vein, both of these young men would be beaten and humiliated. Gaius finished his ghastly meal and made his way over to Therdan. He decided to speak in Asier, hoping it would calm the young man.

"Therdan was it. No doubt you are feeling angry, believe me we all were when we where captured. Come with me, spar. I'm the only person in this Ludas who will show mercy towards you." Durro hurried over with wooden weapons, handing them to both warriors.

"They're a talkative bunch these new ones aren't they Executor?"

"That they are, sir." the Executor said flatly.

"Seems the new recruits a little tired after his busy day."

"Damn shame sir."

"Well I'm sure the nice people he'll meet in the arena will be polite and let him stop when things don't start going his way."

"Perhaps he would prefer work in the mines, sir?"

"Oh your a cruel man Executor!" Marrick cooed. "Here I am offering this man a chance at fame and glory and you want to send him off to get the black lung. No I'm sure he just needs nurturing. Vorgis why don't you help introduce him to the business and go easy on him please."

The bull like Gladiator stepped forward, squaring up to Xarev.

"I suppose that leaves our other volunteer with the lovely Antonius... enjoy."

Tanguy was left standing before the scarred Imperial.

"The rest of you! get to training!" The executor cracked his whip. The other gladiators - the ones who had not been chosen for the challenges - were handed shields and left to find a partner for the morning sparring session.

A fountain of blood blood erupted from the deep cut he made in the giants neck; the red that was this man's, no, beast's life left him and after a few tetering steps back he collapsed. The crowd went wild. It was over, Lahar had won the fight that had been stacked against him. Balus' beast was dead, no doubt he would be cursing this day. However as the crowd rejoiced around him, instead of bathing in the ecstasy of his success, he felt hollow, like he had lost something.

He stepped forward to reclaim his blades, but the rush was over, the pain had finally caught up with him. He collapsed on the ground opposite the giant he had slain.

Lahar woke up in the medicus, the healer towering over him applying bandages to his torso and salves to his neck. He tried to stand, but the must he could muster was to lift his head, even that was agony.

"Come now lad, it's best for you to lie down for now," The healer said, "You've taken quite the beating, but that's to be expected, you've faced 'Death' and lived. Your ribs are broken or bruised, only way to tell is how long they take heal. Your throat for that matter isn't much better, you'll have some trouble breathing due to the swelling that is, but that should go down in a few days, it'll leave a nasty bruise for a while as well, but you'll live. For now however, you should rest."

Lahar tried to object, but before he could the healer gave him something that made him fall asleep.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

He dreamt he was back in the arena, the giant dead, the crowd cheering, but instead of feeling hollow he was cheering along with them. Enjoying the kill, enjoying the power he had over the last moments of the ogre's life. Elated with his success, he stood there, both swords in hand stretching up to the heavens and feeling every bit like the champion he was.

"No, this isn't me" He thought

A figure appeared opposite him, a mirror image of himself. "Yes it is," It leered.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

He woke up with a start inside his cell in the ludas. He would not let himself become that, it was everything he had been taught against, what the wise words frowned upon, everything that the war walkers fought against. He needed some air and some food to calm himself.

In the courtyard Marrick was going through the same song and dance that he done the day they had arrived in the Ludas, first the tallying, then the mocking, then the laughter, word for word it was the same speech he had given them, changing the names, the japes and the sum of money, but otherwise identical. It was the routine only a showman like him could perform, only this one could punish you for not joining in the festivities. He reluctantly joined in the show, laughing when the queues were given, it made him feel sick.

There was another War Walker among the group of soon to be gladiators. He kept an eye on him, now he wouldn't be quite so alone, someone to speak vaanic too other than Kedrin. Lahar wondered what kind of weapon this one used and whether Balus had snapped up the new black blade as he had with Typhon's and his blades. Something to ask next time he saw Kedrin.

"I would meet the challenge...master." He overheard the new war walker, Xarev say, "But something yet bothers me. The new arrivals, myself included, are weary from travel. A man of your elevated position must be smart enough to see this. So I can't help but think you are expecting one of us to fight and lose, to be made an example of. I beg a thousand apologies if I am mistaken master."

"Don't bother,"He said to him in vaanic, "Honeyed words will earn you nothing here, no matter how sweet they are; you fight or you die, you make that choice now" Vorgis stepped forwards to fight him, "You will lose this fight, but give him everything you have."

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