You've got to be kidding me. Soon the guards caught on and started running towards me and I did what my instincts told me to do, I ran. People started screaming and rushed out of my way like I was some disease they didn't want to catch. I didn't get very far though because suddenly out of nowhere, someone from the side rammed into me and I slammed into the hard-baked ground. A moment later a bunch of guards sat on top of me and pinned me down. Before I knew it I was tied up again but this time I was headed for inside of the arena.
Was this part of Akiko's plan? Or was she selling me out because she got the information she needed? I was hoping it was the latter.
"How'd this one get out?" asked one of the guards stationed at an entrance.
The guard leading me answered, "Don't know but he wasn't very bright running out in broad daylight". Then he bellowed a laugh and we stopped for a moment so they could laugh together.
A voice came from my right ear, "Hey kid, now's your chance." It was Akiko. I was too angry to reply though. What happened to 'I'll look out for you'? She sold me like live bait!
Wack! The guard leading me struck me hard in the stomach and I doubled over. "The man's talking to you slave, answer him."
Akiko spoke again, "the longer you wait the longer you stay there."
I didn't like what she did but she was my only way out so I had to trust her. "Ugh fine!" I exasperated to the ground on my hands and knees. "I challenge the Quwallie!"
The guards bellowed even louder.
My frustration grew, "Anyone has the right to challenge the Quwallie… even slaves." The guards stopped laughing and scowled at me. My leading guard yanked the rope, pulling me right in front of his dirty face. He smelled like chewing root and spit some of it out on my feet in disgust.
"I'm gonna enjoy watching you die."
For some reason I just got angrier but I didn't retaliate. He pulled me along deeper underneath the arena. We passed by many hallways filled with prisoners in cells, some were thin and dirty, others stronger looking and dirty but they all had the same sad expression on their faces.
All the women and children were on a different level. I couldn't bring myself to look at them. It was hard to believe that these people were living their lives peacefully and before they knew it, they were captured and taken away to be sold like cattle. We are all human beings here and what Vaughan was doing was disgusting, lower than the sand beetles we step on.
I was taken to a different level with rows of empty cells. The guard dropped the rope and shoved me into the cell before locking it up. There was only a single small pot sitting at the corner of cell.
"Ain't no one challenge the Quwallie in awhile seein' as how he killed the last 278 challengers." His bellowing laughter reverberated throughout the entire level, "this'll be some good entertainment." After locking the cell he spit at my feet again and then walked away.
I sat down on the cold slab of rock and let out a heavy sighed. I think I'm the craziest person I know, I thought to myself. I tried contacting Akiko but I guess we were too far down for her to reach me. Once again, I was alone.
It was less than an hour before someone came down to see me. A man appeared through the doorway, dressed in fancy clean clothing. He was obviously someone important to Vaughan if he wasn't Vaughan himself.
He spoke to me, "Vaughan has invited you to dinner with him." He had a look of distaste when he scanned me from head to toe. Then another guard opened the gate and placed me in metal cuffs.
I followed the fancy man with a few guards behind me and we headed even further down under the arena. I was getting nervous. What was I supposed to do? I'm about to meet the most powerful man on the planet. Actually, I'm supposed to help capture him and I just challenged his number one bodyguard.
The fancy man stopped in front of two very large marble doors and clarified to me, "you are not to engage in any manner with the Quwallie until the time given by Vaughan. If you do so you will be prohibited to fulfill the challenge and killed on the spot. Is that understood?" I nodded and he rolled his eyes.
"Open the doors!" he shouted out. A guard came back and released me from my cuffs. I rubbed my wrists where they were chafing.
Slowly the heavy doors began to open revealing a large table filled entirely with an assortment of foods. Some of them I recognized but most of them were unknown to me. My eyes widened with hunger. I had never seen so much food in one place before and I stared at it with longing until my eyes caught movement in the background.
A figure that appeared from behind the opposite wall spoke aloud, "It's beautiful isn't it? I'm sure a slave has never seen anything like this before."
I didn't know what Vaughan looked like but there was no mistaking that this was him. He wore the cleanest, finest clothing I had ever seen. He walked over to the table with a pompous attitude and sat down. Immediately, servants came to his side with a bowl of water to clean his hands. He didn't even bother to place them in the water. One servant held up the bowl and dipped his hands in and the other servant cupped his hands to pour the water over Vaughan's to wet completely. I noticed myself gawking in disbelief but quickly caught myself.
Vaughan just sat there, peering at me while his hands were being washed.
"Sit down," he commanded.
I tried to act tough, but on the inside my guts jumped at the sound of his voice. I sat down in the chair in front of me and tried not to think too much.
He spoke again, "You too, sit down."
A gigantic man appeared from behind me and sat down between myself and Vaughan. How long had he been standing there? The whole time and I didn't notice? This must be the Quwallie.
I am so dead. The man was almost twice as tall as me and extremely buff. He had a bald head and a mean-looking face. The scars on his body gave him the impression of an experienced fighter.
I'm pretty sure I looked like a baby next to him.
The Quwallie sat there, his eyes glued to the food but he didn't move until commanded.
"Eat," said Vaughan who was already enjoying his meal. He looked at me too as if he was expecting me to shove as much food as I could in my mouth. Seeing the Quwallie made me lose my appetite even though it's been days since my last meal, but I couldn't look like a weakling in front of these two. I forced as much food down as I could.
"Tell me…" Vaughan spoke through a mouthfull of food, "why you're so eager to die. You're a young, healthy looking lad. I could sell you for a good price."
I had to sound as convincing as I could. "I'll show you a good match."
Vaughan laughed, his food spilling out of his mouth and spraying everywhere with each bellow. Even the Quwallie smirked at my remark.
"Very well, I'm eager to watch your performance! If you say you will give me a good match then I expect you will." He took a moment to catch his breath, "The match will be set up for tomorrow when the suns align."
Tomorrow? This really was my last meal on Sola.
He continued, "I've had 278 meals with challengers over the past 22 years but most of them only made the challenge to Quwallie for a good meal and quick death. You look like you'll surprise me." He slightly raised his left hand and the same man who brought me here appeared. "Set the match for tomorrow during the sun alignment." The man nodded and whisked away. Vaughan took a sip from one of his many sparkling cups and stood up from his chair at the head of the table. Without delay, the Quwallie stood up and I caught on and stood as well. "Put on a good show for me tomorrow" he said to me and then turned around to leave the room.
I stood there not knowing what I should do, when servants came out and began tossing the leftover food into trash skins. There was still so much food left, it made me sick when I realized how much I ate and the servants cleaning the table probably haven't eaten all day. I felt guilty. I wanted to help them, but how? I began stacking my empty plates and all their heads turned to me with a look of fear in their eyes.
"Leave it for them," the fancy man had returned, "if they're doing their job inadequately I'll be sure to see that changes." The servants looked down at the table and started cleaning faster, obviously full of terror of being killed. I wanted to hit myself, because now I probably got them punished for something that I did. Now I really feel like throwing up.
The fancy man commanded to me, "Let's go."
I was cuffed again and lead back to my deep underground level, forcing myself to ignore the people in their cells. I already felt terrible.
Once I was back inside, I waited until the guards and the fancy man left before regurgitating my dinner in the toilet pot.
It was the worst night I've ever had. The bitter cold was constantly nagging at me and the stone floor made it even worse. I couldn't fathom the thought of actually living here. How did the other slave do it?
What bothered me the most though was my impending challenge with the Quwallie. Seeing him at dinner was Vaughan's way of psychological warfare. I thought about what happened at dinner and I realized that Vaughan never even asked me my name. The only reason he wouldn't ask was because he was sure I was going to die, so it was pointless to even waste his time.
Sleeping was out of the question. Every time I tried I always thought of the battle that was going to take place and I would see myself being killed in a hundred different ways so dawn came at the blink of an eye. In a few hours I would be out in the arena fighting for my life.
I was served breakfast but didn't touch it, I didn't even acknowledge the server. I stayed huddled in my corner until I was eventually summoned to the arena. I was in a cold sweat. Relaxing was hard but I kept telling myself I had to keep calm, relax, and focus. That didn't really work much though.
Above ground it was very bright and the suns were already almost completely aligned at the top of the blue sky. I was surprised at how packed the large arena was already. It's been less than a day since I made the challenge and it seemed like the entire city was gathering in the stands. The guards put me in another cell that had two doors, one from the hallway where I came from and one that lead to the middle arena, the death grounds.
The guard locked my cell and said one last thing, "When the doors open you best get out. The ground you're standing on will set fire and anything in the cell will burn to a crisp within seconds."
I looked down and saw little holes scattered everywhere on the metal floor. Great, I bet they had to put these in because whoever was in here refused to be beat to death by other humans.
Outside, the crowd was cheering. I went over to the little square window at the door that led out to the arena and saw that there were already matches going on. My stomach churned and I moved away from the door and leaned against the far wall. I buried my face in my hands to try and calm down. My heart was racing but I managed to tune everything out and when I did, I heard something.
A faint familiar voice whispered in my right ear. "Hey, can you hear me now? Hello?"
Her voice brought me back to life. "Akiko! Yeah I'm here! When are you getting me out of this?"
A pause. That's never a good thing.
"I have some bad news; Vaughan hasn't made his appearance yet. You're going to have to hold off the Quwallie until he arrives."
"WHAT?! That can't be! He said so last night that he was excited to see this fight! How am I supposed to hold off the greatest fighter on the planet?!"
"Just calm down, we have a backup plan remember? I'll just have to use the sync rings." Her voice was fading in and out, "I have to go now. I'll be back in time for your fight just stay focused alright?"
"Wait! No! Don't go!"
Too late. It was completely quiet now except for the random spurts of cheering from the crowd, probably signifying a death. I went back to burying my face in my hands.
I'm not a fighter. It's not that I can't, it's just that I've never really tried or wanted to try. I've always avoided a fight if I could. I wasn't weak looking though, in fact sometimes my appearance enticed the more aggressive people to come at me but I was always in better running shape.
A loud gong echoed throughout the arena and suddenly the crowd went crazy.
I lifted up my head and faced the door that determined my fate. There were a few loud clicks coming from the door and I jumped to my feet. Then there was a hissing sound coming from the entrance I came in, and then a row of large flaming jets that reached all the way up to the ceiling shot up from the floor and blocking the door. There was more hissing and the second row ignited, then the third, and suddenly I was already fighting for my life waiting for the arena door to open.
The heat was intense. My skin felt like it was already on fire. Slowly, the heavy iron door slid open. The flames were getting closer and closer. I squeezed myself through the opening and rolled away from the door just as the last of the flaming jets turned on.
That was close, too close. The match hasn't even started yet and I almost burned to a crisp.
The crowd roared as I stumbled to get on my feet. Looking around, the arena was larger than I originally thought. Pools of dark, red blood quickly caught my attention as bodies were being dragged off by men on scavys.
From what I heard, before the main match they put on a show of 20 slaves who must kill each other to survive, each kill meant more food. Anyone who lives until the suns align gets to keep their life another day.
I thought the crowd cheered loud for me but it was nothing compared to when the Quwallie stepped out from the other side of the arena. It was like thunder as the people in the stands cheered on the greatest fighter on Sola.
The Quwallie kept his eyes on me and made his way over. My heart was out of control.
My right ear buzzed again and the voice that's kept me sane this whole time whispered in my ear.