Copyright Kelly St. Clare 2015
“Lock it up, boys!” a voice shouts from the end of the hall. The noise interrupts the steady snores from the room next to mine.
There is a wall there, but you’d never know. The culprit resumes their rhythmic wheezing. It will continue through the night – my constant companion for the last month. The strumming of a guitar echoes from a room further away. One of the fighters plays, I haven’t figured out which one yet. But the songs always end up sounding more haunting than beautiful by the time they reach me.
My room at the compound is small. I can only reach the far shelves from the narrow space next to the bed. It makes the tower room, where I was locked away for most of my childhood, seem like a palace.
I’ve been here since the night I ran from the assembly to the Outer Rings. I’d taken my chance during their migration to the First Sector castle. Lost, and in great danger, I followed Alzona, the owner of this fighting compound, across the crumbling rooftops and into her fortress concealed at the bottom of a deep alleyway. It was dark at the time, but I still remember the moonlight catching at the spikes embedded on the outside walls and the series of locked doors we passed through.
I haven’t fought in the rings yet. Competitors are not to fight when injured. It’s one of Alzona’s many rules. And I was riddled with half-healed, stiff wounds when I arrived – the consequence of a severe beating and a journey through the Oscala, the pathway between our two worlds. This rule would have worked in my favor, except no combat means no payment. Payment for me is a cut of the money earned from a successful match. More importantly, if I compete, I get half a day off to locate the source of Seedyr wood arrows. The arrow which killed Kedrick. This is my highest priority. My second priority is finding a new veil. I can’t regain my position as the Tatuma of Osolis without it because of my blue eyes. Even if I get into the castle, King Jovan, Kedrick’s older brother, will kill me if he finds my veil off. He promised as much last sector.
“Alright, Newbie, you can stop,” Alzona calls from her position close by. Giving her my real name, Olina, hadn’t been an option, so I had been issued the name “Newbie”. My real name is too easy to for King Jovan’s Watch to track. But the ‘O’ at the start of my true name is also typical in Solati culture, meaning I’m still unmarried. The name is unusual on Glacium and will raise suspicion.
“We done?” I gasp for air, wrinkling my nose against the smell of old sweat. We were in a smaller room scattered with mats and weights. She’s been training me separately from the other fighters.
“You’re ready,” she says, already walking away.
Alzona is normal height for a Bruma, which puts her at the same height as most of the men here. Her features are as sharp as her tongue. She isn’t beautiful as such, but so striking it takes a while to realize you’re merely looking at confidence on an ordinary face.
When I trailed after Alzona over the rooftops, I assumed she was a fighter herself. I realized about five minutes into my first training session she had never fought a day in her life. I’d watched her shout useless training orders for a week in the gym and then started to make suggestions. She took my advice, though she was snappier than usual for a few days after.
I would like to ask why she’s keeping me separated. But this would breach another rule.