An unwelcome visitor

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Another day, another fight. But this day it was the last fight, each strike of his sword opening the gates to the mountains a little wider. Tranton Seldon walked through the streets of Bruckin, feet crunching into the half-frozen slush, wrapped in a loose shawl which hid his clothing and kept him nondescript: it was not unusual for Bruckin citizens to be covered from head to toe, shielded against the cold, though it was perhaps more unusual to see it outside of the winter months. Nonetheless, it was fortunate that he was not attempting to hide out in a warmer climate - his departure from Treydolain had been perilous and he had spent most of the journey travelling at night and sleeping during the day, hidden between rocks and in gullies, out of sight. It was some distance from the opulence of the palace on the mesa.

The arena was situated in a part of town with uncharacteristically short buildings - only two or three stories high, due to their age. The iconic Bruckin towers loomed all around, but the arena and its surrounding streets sat apart, as if an entirely distinct village had been surgically inserted into the city. The arena was at the centre, all roads pointing towards it, the red awnings suspended over its open centre and secured in place by long guy ropes which stretched outside of the arena and down to the rooftops of the lower buildings around its edge.

He could already hear the low, undulating, anticipatory roar of the crowd within, with more eager pundits gathered outside, waiting to gain entry and place their bets. Tranton entered through the rear door of the nondescript betting shop, slipping through a concealed doorway into the tunnels below the street. Halfway down the tunnel a half-awake guard nodded wearily at him as he passed, then he climbed the steps into the combatants' area. Other fighters were there, some preparing to fight each other. Tranton never took part in the human fights - he could do without the added complications and subsequent ego-baring. Animals were fast, simple, clean. He had an ulterior motive, of course: the Gamesmaster prided himself in sourcing the most exotic creatures he could find, even if that meant venturing far from Bruckin and even into the mountains. Every peculiar beast he encountered was training for Tranton's forthcoming journey.

"There is somebody here for you," the Gamesmaster noted with a frown, nodding in the direction of one of the adjoining rooms. "She's very stern. But cute. Young. Perhaps your type? If you have a type?"

Many had come to the arena seeking an audience - or other engagement - with the fabled Outsider. Men, women, charlatans, hopeful hangers-on, entrepreneurs and gamblers. "Here for me?"

"For you, Outsider. She wanted to enter your chamber before you arrived but I refused."


"I know you like your privacy," the Gamesmaster said, stroking his cheek. "She might have been a nice surprise, or perhaps not. Like I say, she has a stern way about her. Violence in her eyes, I think."

Tranton put his face close to the cross-hatched wooden mesh that covered the walls of the chamber. Through the gaps he could see into the rooms beyond. At the far end, pacing, was Pienya Martoc. She couldn't know he was here, not for sure, otherwise she'd have timed her arrival more carefully. Evidently her jurisdiction ended at the Bruckin city walls.

"She knows you've arrived, Outsider."

He thought he could hear the north gates clanging shut.

"No fight today," Tranton said. "I'm not feeling well." He turned on his heel and headed back towards the stairs leading down to the tunnels.

"Wait, Outsider!" the Gamesmaster cried, chasing after him. "The audience is waiting. You cannot leave now."

Ignoring him, Tranton descended the steps, checking that his sword was ready at his side. Martoc appeared to be alone but there would be more King's Eyes outside, he was sure of it. Getting the fight money was important but it would do him no good if he was arrested upon leaving the arena. He would have to find the rest of the money via other means.

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