Gladiator

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It was a different kind of city, this one. Treydolain had been sprawling and flat, other than the two mesas jutting up from the ground, and Tarn had found its scale overwhelming and incomprehensible. Bruckin had looked smaller from a distance, though its towers stretched up higher than any buildings Tarn had seen so far. Their vertical scale only became clear once they got nearer, revealing the lattice of criss-crossing aerial paths and cables. The city was tall and appeared to operate on multiple levels - from the ground, they could see people moving about on high walkways strung between towers.

There was an intense bustle of industrial activity, one of machinery and metal and rivets, which Tarn found immediately familiar. The people working here seemed content, though, and healthy. For the most part they went about their work with an energy that was altogether different to the enforced labour of the machine rooms.

The air was cold here, though it was offset by the furnaces and ironworks which lined many of the streets, steam and sparks spraying from wall to wall. Many of the locals carried collapsible shields which they held above their head as they walked, unconcerned, through the heat. Fenris explained that they had entered the city through a gate that led to the industrial quarter, and that other parts of the city were different, which rather disappointed Tarn. He could feel the city beating beneath his feet; he understood machinery, and this city was functioning as one giant machine - although towards what end he could not tell.

They were keeping a low profile as they explored the city in search of a market where they could buy supplies for the next stage of the journey. Fenris said they needed to somehow acquire a pass in order to travel through the north gate. Tarn didn't understand but Fenris always seemed to know what he was talking about.

"How many years was it since we were last here?" Kirya asked, her head concealed beneath a thick hood.

Fenris smiled. "You visited when you were twelve," he said. "I've been back a few times since then, on various assignments."

"I didn't know."

"My role as your teacher has always been a small part of my overall responsibilities, despite what you might think."

They turned a corner into a broader street packed with throngs of people, all converging towards a large, octagonal building at the far end.

"A market?" Kirya asked hopefully.

"It could be," Fenris said. "I wish I knew this part of the city better." He pointed up, towards the elevated walkways above. "My visits have previously been to Bruckin's higher strata."

"We're down in the mud, now."

"That's where I come from," Tarn said, always eager to contribute to a conversation. He'd been trying to speak more, growing more confident with his words with each passing day. His companions had been kind to him, giving him the courage to keep trying, even when his words clearly caused offence or confusion.

Kirya looked at him, the corners of her mouth curled up in amusement. "Mud?"

"It was very muddy underground," Tarn explained.

"I'm sure it was," she replied, touching his arm. "You belong up here with us, now."

His arm tingled with an electric warmth. She'd seemed pleased with what he'd said. At first, she had been cautious and suspicious of him, clearly wishing that she were travelling alone with Fenris and seeing him as a distraction. Tarn had done everything he could to be friendly but that had only irritated her further.

"Move with the crowd," Fenris instructed, leading them down the street. There was an excitement in the gathering; an anticipation of something imminent. As they neared the building, its base lined with multiple arched entrances, it became evident that it wasn't a market, though there were stalls positioned at regular intervals around its circumference.

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