After defending their camp, the slaves of Hezzrat had a few scarce moments to assess their station. Plumes of smoke blew from somewhere in Valmirren, and Nusakan had realized that, due to his grievous injury, he would have to have the arrow in his back removed or risk bleeding into his lungs and drowning.
The gladiators Mir and Ka’tho held Nus to the ground as Razin stood at the ready with cloth pads to press on the wound. Ka’tho hesitated briefly before Nus used his second sight to guide the kreen to yank the arrow from his back. In a moment it was over without complication, and Nus was left to his own devices as the rest of the party ran into the town.
Following the traces of fire they found one of the larger arena teams’ mekillot wagons on fire. The thri-kreen Qui’rick and guard Rasea mulled about the site, noting that the raiders had looted the supplies from the caravan and were easily replenishing their supplies while diminishing those of the town.
“They always loot the camps,” Rasea said. “Food, money, weapons, armor. This was a big target.” The party shared conjecture as to the nature of these attacks and their mechanics and resolved to investigate it over the next few days.
The next afternoon, the party was approached by an elf woman, a man, and a third, bound creature. The elf piped up, saying she was looking for Barthomar, and Ka’tho called out to the mul to get his attention. She introduced herself as Trians and her partner as Fadric, explaining that their gladiator team had been wiped out. House Uula, from which they had come, was participating in the games in the interest of winning prizes. Without sufficient gladiators to fight, they were looking to sell the services of their last remaining fighter to an interested party.
“I’m not gonna rip you off,” Fadric said.
The slaves exchanged nervous glances as they assessed the man, whom they recognized as the descendant of defilers who had made dark pacts to attain arcane magic. These people, the defiler-born were notable for their horns, tails, and ruthless demeanor and efficacy in killing.
“We’ll take a cut and a half for him,” the pair posited. The horned man scoffed and spat into the sand.
The party took a moment to themselves to commiserate. “Maybe we can test him.”
Mir asked, “what if he let his team die?”
In the end they decided it should be left to Ka’tho, who had become the haggler for the slaves.
“We should tell them we are consulting other offers,” Mir suggested, straining her mental faculties.
“If he dies, they shouldn’t get a cut,” Razin said.
The horned man fidgeted, visibly frustrated.
Ka’tho decided that they needed more time to decide and to investigate, telling the Uula representatives they would find them later with an answer. He noticed a message scrawled in the sand and brought it to the attention of the others, unable to decipher it. Razin, who had not let on that he could read, was puzzled by the message: “don’t trust assholes.”
Razin went to the gambling house to inquire about Uula’s team and successes. Timur said that Uula had been ranked at 11th, above Hezzrat, and that they had hired on famous gladiators from different towns to make an all-star team. Razin asked about the defiler-born, mentioning that Uula had been trying to loan him out. Timur noted this and did some calculations – there were 16 teams left in the games. Razin bet 300 on fighting Wavir, and would put those winnings towards Hezzrat’s win, explaining that losing would basically be consequence free because the team would be dead.
Timur remarked, “you don’t have to die to lose.”
The odds for Hezzrat to fight in the final round were 18:1. Razin took note of this and left.
Ka’tho and Mir, meanwhile, had gone to visit his information gopher, Dieber, and interrupted a board game between the former merchant and the local cook, Yarma, with whom Dieber had fashioned an infatuation. Dieber had seen Uula’s performance in both games, noting that two of the gladiators from the first had made it into the second, but each time they were divided. Uula had hired on a large stable of eight gladiators who did not seem able to cooperate.
In the first game against the dangerous flora of Valmiren’s pit, the horned man and a half-giant cleaved their way through the cacti and blood trees in tandem. The remaining gladiators were shot full of spines and then crushed into each other by one of the massive trees.
In the second game, one of the elf gladiators tripped the half-giant into the mobile blood mound and watched him disintegrate. The horned man, who saw this happen, had just been engulfed by another blood mound and began to suffocate. As the gate to exit the arena opened and the elf ran for the door, he and the horned man were translocated with one another and the horned man was the only one to make it out alive. The actions of the Demon of Urik, as he was called, did nothing to abate the fears of Mir, who wondered whether this man was easily set off and a threat to the party. Ka’tho was heartened at the idea of battle brotherhood that he imagined having transpired in the fight, and Razin arrived to share the information he had received from Timur.
Ka’tho thanked Dieber for the information, Mir thanked him for the food, and Dieber was momentarily offended at their motives for the visit, laughing it off a moment later.
The slaves considered their options of having Barthomar fight with them versus the idea of this stranger, and asked Dieber what he thought of Uula, and in turn, Urik.
“Anyone with money is not to be trusted,” he responded. “If they were able to hire 8 famous gladiators from different towns…they have a lot of money.”
More questions arose as to when Uula would get paid for their loan of the horned man, and what he could be like.
Dieber thought and asked, “why not talk to him?”
The party arrived at Uula’s camp to find it nearly empty. A pile of folded tents lay off to the side that had belonged to the deceased. Fadric sat outside of the one remaining tent and acknowledged the party. Ka’tho asked if he could speak to the gladiator, looking around for the absent elf woman. Fadric motioned for them to enter the tent, where the party found the defiler-born seated on a bedroll.
Razin approached him, suggesting they cut the pleasantries, and asked his story. The man, who identified himself as Coral, went on about his upbringing in Urik as a member of a prominent family who served in Hamanu’s army as an elite guard, and how his own training as a gladiator after their destruction reflected in a desire in him to preserve life. He spoke about the idea his people carried of a blood-debt, one that most repaid by way of killing but others, such as himself, felt they could pay by preserving life.
Mir scoffed at the notion of gladiatorial fights having anything to do with saving lives.
Just then Trians walked into the tent, wondering whether the party had come to a decision. Ka’tho explained that they needed proof of his capability, suggesting a three-quarter share for the first game, a “test run.” Trians suggested that they get no cash for the first fight, and would negotiate until they reached the qualifying rounds, after which they would take a share and a half. Ka’tho asked if it would be reasonable if Coral could stay with the party. Trians obliged, wondering what difference it made, but said that if he was to disappear, Uula would receive instead two shares for every fight in which he would have participated. Ka’tho consented, remarking that at least he tried, and the party made way for camp with their new arrival.
Hurgen greeted them and introduced himself to Coral in front of the kank-dung fire, hanging out some bowls of gruel as dusk began to set in. In the night the party saw raider scouts out in the wastes, watching and waiting for an opportunity to strike.
The next few days consisted of training. Hurgen had the slaves spar and take brief lunch breaks at the local tap house. Barthomar had the party perform exercises they had not done in a long while-Hurgen was amused to realize he was showing off for Coral.
Razin looked for a correlation within the raider attacks. He found out that the large house that owned the previously attacked mekillot wagon did poorly in both games. Asking coral about motivations yielded little, as Coral was not a stereotypical member of his kind. Razin decided to keep a journal in case any other patterns arose within the attacks.
Ka’tho and Mir began to set minor traps in the desert for the raiders. Qui’rick joined them, misconstruing the intent of the traps.
“We’re going hunting!”
Ka’tho took a moment to process this, and then hungrily clacked his mandibles, salivating at the thought of elf meat. They were.
In the middle of the second day, Kai arrived to deliver the rules for the next event. Barthomar outlined the rules, trying to make sense of the diagram on the first of two sheets he had received. The pit was to be divided into a field on which there were two goals and a spiked ball, which would have to be moved into an opposing team’s goal for a single point. Two smaller objects would have to be retrieved from the other team’s side to be returned into one of two goals on the players’ team’s side for two points. The games would last seven minutes, and no weapons or harm could be inflicted on the opponents team via direct contact. Barthomar looked at the two sheets several times, and from the carefully worded rules, devised a plan.
Training would start immediately.