Chapter 01 - Arena - Part 01

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Pain exploded across the back of the Orrin's head. He fell to his hands and knees on the cold flagstone floor, crying out in anguish. A voice from behind him cried "Get in there, scum!" and a hard bootheel kicked him in the posterior, sending him tumbling forward. There was an ominous creak and then a loud clash of metal on metal behind him.

Orrin flopped over on his back and saw, through rusted iron bars, several large, rubbery men clad in rough leather tunics and dull, tarnished pot helmets. One of them was turning a large key in an oversized lock. He looked like a man that had seen, and done, more than his share of cruel deeds, his face blotched and veiny with a broken nose. The cell in which Orrin lay was grimy and cold, its walls and floor of undressed stone with patches of straw here and there; the only light was a flickering torch in the rough-hewn corridor outside. The guardsmen turned to leave, and Orrin cried out, "Wait! Please, what's happening? Where am I?" The guards offered no reply; instead, the nearest spat on Orrin as the others laughed. They then turned and walked away into the darkness of the poorly lit passageway.

With great effort, Orrin managed to get to his feet, swaying from the pain and shock. "Where am I?" he cried helplessly. "And... and who am I?" He stood for a minute, aghast at the enormity of what faced him. His memory was entirely blank. It was true; he did not remember even who he was, not even his own name. Had the blow to the head stolen his memory from him? He looked down at himself - tanned but light-skinned hands, lithe and nimble fingers, wiry arms and legs corded with muscle, a stiff black leather jerkin covered in brass studs. He did not know this body, did not even know what his own face looked like. On the back of his left hand was a tattoo -- a toothed wheel, like some sort of machine cog, with the letters 'XVIII' inscribed in the middle. "18?" he whispered to the darkness. "18 what? What can it mean? Who am I?"

From the deepest of the black shadows came a dry, rasping laugh. Orrin turned, nearly falling again from the dizziness, and peered desperately into the depths of the cell. There was someone else there, lying just at the edge of the flickering torchlight; he saw the barest suggestion of a wispy beard on a weathered, wrinkled face. The man in the shadows was clutching his side with both hands, but lay there almost entirely motionless, save only for a quivering motion as he laughed - a laugh that soon gave way to spasmodic coughing.

Once the man in the shadows had caught his breath, he said in a faint but deep, gravelly voice, "Who are you? Why, every man in Arc City must know that, fool. You're Orrin Shandy, the Prince of Thieves. The most daringest pirate of them all! And to think, I got the chance to see your face afore I died."

Orrin... was that his name, truly? Orrin knelt at the old man's side. "Prince of thieves? That doesn't sound right at all. Well, then, who are you? And where are we, and how did I get here, and why? Please, can you help me?"

The old man in the shadows laughed again. "Lost your memory, have you? I've heard a blow to the head can do that. As for me, I'm nobody important. Just another pirate scum, lived far beyond his time. They caught me and sold me for a slave, they did... just like you, I suppose. I would have expected that a high-profile criminal like yorself would have been executed straight off, but waste not, want not! I don't doubt that the crowds will roll in like flies on a midden to see you fight."

"Fight?" Orrin shook his head. "Fight who? And why? I don't want to fight anybody! What kind of place is this, anyhow?"

"This," the old man said with laughter just behind his voice, "is the Arc City Arena! Greatest entertainment in the known world, this is, where the scum of the city and all around are sent to battle to the death against all manner of spectacles! Trained warriors, powerful 'mancers, mighty beasts and terrible mazes -- you'll get to face them all, provided you live, of course! And the groundlings pay a pretty penny to see it!" The old man's sarcastic tirade trailed off into a fit of coughing that racked his form. The hands he was holding to his side fell slack, revealing a gaping wound, covered in festering pus and necrotic flesh.

"Oh my God!" Orrin cried. "You, you're hurt! That looks terrible! Why has nobody dressed that wound?"

"Dress the wound of a pirate scum like me?" the old man whispered. "No need to worry about me, oh my Prince. Caught a poisoned blade in the labyrinth, and did the crowd ever cheer for that! I'm not long for this world. So I hope you go out there and really give them their money's worth!" He exploded into another fit of coughing that went on and on, then drew a long, rattling breath and was finally still.

Orrin backed off, scrambling away from the dead man until his shoulders fetched up against the clattering bars. "Guard!" he screamed over his shoulder. "Somebody, please help! There's a sick man here, there's a, a dead man here! Please, somebody! Take him away and at least give him a decent burial, you monsters!" He cried out again and again, shouted until he was hoarse, but nobody came, and in the end he collapsed to the ground, weeping, as the poor old man's body cooled on the other side of the cell.

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