The Arena's Din
Part 2 of 4
The crowd was going crazy; half cheering the Beast, the other taunting Din. He needed to act, and quickly. Utilizing Sza's pause, Din advanced with his own attacks. The Beast spun as Din tried for the man's stomach, but was easily dodged. He brought the sword back up, but the Beast side-stepped. He swung for Sza's throat, but he calmly tilted his head back, Din's blade passing just under his chin. The Beast brought his off-foot up and caught Din in the chest. The air forcefully escaped him as he hit the ground. Before he could catch his breath, Sza was coming down with his blade. Din rolled to the side. As Sza recovered, he sent his foot into Din's ribs, rolling the man even further.
Din came to a stop on his stomach. Pushing himself up, he tumbled forward to avoid another of the Beast's kicks. When Din regained his feet, he was unarmed. Sza, however, continued to approach, all the more intimidating now that Din lacked his weapon.
Staying low, Din waited for the first swing. When it came, it came strong and low. Din hopped up, flat in the air as the blade passed below him. When he came back down, he landed on all fours and tumbled behind Sza. Using his momentum, Din jumped back up to his feet and began running. Sza recovered quickly, however, and pursued Din closely. He could almost feel the Beast's breath on the back of his neck. He ran with purpose, however, and upon reaching the gun on the ground, he dove towards it. Twisting in the air, he scooped up the weapon and shot it before hitting the sand.
Sza, the Beast of the East, stiffened and fell forward with his momentum. He hit the ground hard, face in the sand, and motionless. The crowd was shocked. The world felt still as Din lay in the sand, staring in disbelief at the body of the Beast.
Cheers. The crowd cheered heavily. The force of it hit Din and held him against the sand for a moment. When he recovered his strength, he pushed himself upright. Without flourish, he dropped the pistol and walked back towards where he entered. This time, however, the catacombs didn't seem so dark; his tenure was done.
As soon as he reached the gates he was greeted by a pair of armed guards. In that moment, he wished he still had his sword. "Congratulations." Icar said, from behind his armed retinue. The two guards took a step from each other, allowing Din to look the poisonous toadstool in the eye. "The guards here will escort you back to your cell until-"
"What? No, I'm done with this. I'm going home-- now!"
"You misunderstand, Champion. I must draw up your papers before you can go home."
Din didn't savor the idea of having to wait in the fighter's cells, but at least he was free. "Fine. What about my pay?"
Icar pulled open the pouch at his waist and picked out a couple coins. He weighed them in his hand, bouncing the coins in his palm, before finally tossing them at Din's feet. Scooping up the loose coins, Din counted them out. "This is far less than you said I would get."
"Oh? Is it? Well you see, now that I can no longer profit from your... skills, I had to charge additional interest on your loan to cover expenses for your stay here at the arena."
"Gruel three times a day for the past year is not worth four gold pieces."
"Take that up with the Quartermaster. Right now, I have more important business to attend." With a cursory flick of his wrist, the Guards stepped forward and grabbed Din by the arms.
Din bucked against his restrainers, testing their strength. "You better not take your time with those papers."
Icar laughed. "Champion," he mocked, "I plan to take more than just my time."
Din lay restless on the floor of his cell, illuminated by the light of the moon. Icar had yet to free him, and he was beginning to fear his freedom wouldn't come at all. A whisper from just outside his cell grabbed his attention.
Din turned over and dashed towards the cell bars. "Sherah? Is that really you my darling?"
Sherah crept closer to the bars. She grabbed Din's outstretched hand and placed it upon her cheek, savoring his touch. "Why do you remain behind these bars, Fardin? Please don't tell me you're still fighting."
"It's only a mistake; a momentary delay in my return home." Din reached out with his other hand to stroke his wife's hair. It felt smooth and so soft; he wished he could bury his face in it. And the touch of her cheek, the warmth of her skin; if he were as strong as the Beast was, he would have ripped through the bars and carried her home. Sherah moaned softly as a single tear streaked down her face. "Do not lament my heart. Hush. Tell me, how did you get here?"
Sherah finally looked up, the moisture in her eyes reflecting what little light hung in the air. "Noushin, our neighbor; her husband is a guard. He helped sneak me in. We do not have long."
"Why have you come? It is too dangerous for you to be here. And what of Yeshua?"
"I couldn't wait to see you. Noushin told me you were still being held; I feared they would never release you."
"But what of my son?"
"He is with her. You worry when your mind should be on your wife instead."
"I'm sorry my love." Din continued to stroke her hair and hold her gaze. Finally, he remembered the small purse he earned. "This is all that I've won, take it with you." Sherah obliged and tied the pouch around her waistband. "I swear I'll never leave your side again."
Unbidden tears began to streak down Din's cheek. Having his wife so close for the first time in over a year was rapturous. "I'm so sorry... I'm sorry I put us through this..."
"Hush my love," Sherah said, trying to offer comfort. Soon, her tears joined his. "I love you; I am proud to call you my husband. No other man would have done what you have for me and our son."
"I love you too, Sherah, I love you too."
She reached into the cell and wiped the tears from Din's downcast face, cradling it with her hands. She pulled him close and kissed him through the bars. The touch of her lips spurred Din's sorrow. All he could think about was the possibility of never seeing her or his son again. She drew back at the sound of a knock, deeper within the darkness. "I will wait for you tomorrow."
"Yes, do. I swear, by the stars in the sky, at night's fall we shall be embraced beside the fire." Din watched as the shadows enveloped his wife. When he was sure she was gone, he crawled to his corner and, with a small stone, scratched another peg into his count. He then rested his head and stared at the mark, somehow sure it was his last.