“Move!” said Gahag, kicking at the slave.
There was an entire procession of the pink worms, edging its way from the ship, down the gangway and up the loggia to the market.
In the name of Ishata, they stunk. Months locked up in the hold would do that to a despairing body. He looked at them. Some were sobbing, others solemnly silent. Others still wailing. A few were naked, others were caked in their own filth, their clothes now little more than soiled and bloodied rags.
He might have pitied them in another lifetime, in another world. But they were cattle. No, worse than cattle. They were weak, had allowed themselves to be taken. There was no room in Elyden for the weak.
He spied a human struggling, trying to shed himself of his bonds. He was big, for a human, and roaring. A fire burnt in his eyes that had not yet been quelled by weeks chained up in the hold.
“You,” he said, using the pidgin trade language that was common to most merchants and seafarers across the Sea, “you a fighter?”
“Take these handcuffs off and I’ll show you,” said the man, lunging for his captor.
Gahag cocked his head, appraising the man. There’s fight in him yet, he thought with a grin.
He whistled, attracting the attentions of one of the drivers.
“This one,” he pointed to the man, turning back to his native tongue, “wants the pits.”
The other oghur nodded and gestured for the human to be released from the procession. He struggled, punching out. Some of the oghurs laughed. One of them punched him. He fell to the floor like a wet ragdoll.
Gahag snorted. Humans and their diminutive brethren tended to forget the strength that size brought with it. At around 8 feet tall, an average oghur was over 800 pounds of fat and muscle. Most never realised how much that really was.
That man knew how much it was.
Abdor woke to darkness. And the mother of all headaches.
He sat up and blinked, allowing his eyes to get used to the gloom. He heard stifled coughing and dripping water. The air was close, damp. “Where the throne am I?” he mumbled.
“About as far from the throne as one could ever be,” came a voice in the gloom.
Abdor turned and saw a white giant sitting on a wooden pallet - one of the clones soldiers of the Korachani empire. “You’re not an oghur,” he said.
The man facing him nodded. “legionnaires are used to being giants. Here, I am a man just like you,” he said, his voice deep, his words with little inflection. “This is Orgldia. Slaver capital of Cyhlagharr. If you are here, you are either to be sold as a fighter. Or you will become a slave, sold to a merchant and shipped off to throne-knows-where.”
Abdor rubbed his head and stood, walking to the bars of their cell. They were underground, with rows of other cells stretching up and down the corridor.
“There has to be a way out.”
A voice from another cell replied, “Because no-one’s ever thought to do that before.” It was a woman.
“Who are you?”
“You’re asking a lot of questions Laaskhan, but not the right ones.”
“How do you know where I’m from?”
“I’m… I was… a diplomat, stationed in Baayn. Got used to the accent.”
“So this is it?”
“This is it,” replied the diplomat.
The legionnaire nodded.
“How long have you been here?” asked Abdor.
“A few weeks.”
The Steel Legionnaire shrugged. “Two, three weeks?”
“Indeed,” said the diplomat. “Welcome home.”
Gahag paid no attention to the human slave as it lay a platter of food on the rock table in front of him. He reached out and drank from a large mug. His eyes never once lifted from the spectacle before him.
The mix of tar-like coffee and alcohol went down nicely as he watched the fight below.
A large reptilian quadruped was pacing around the arena, its thick tail swaying to and fro as it lifted its head to the sky, eyes blinking, nose twitching. It was a ferocious predator common to dry regions of Sammaea. It had been brought over from the Surrach a few months ago and was already a big hit with the crowds. Not so much with the slaves thrown in against it.
Agate opened and a handful of slaves came out, shielding their eyes from the sun as they looked around wondering what hell they had been spat out into.
They carried ancient weapons - spears, swords, tridents, flails - and shields and wore little in terms or armour and clothing. Amongst them was the feisty captive from a from a few weeks ago that Gahag had singled out.
He sat up, his interest piqued.
One of his companions saw the changed look on his face and gestured to the slaves. “Got money on one of them?”
Gahag shook his head. “Against an apexaur? Hardly. I might place a bet on how quickly they die.”
The other oghur laughed. “I feel like a good wager today. Pick one of the humans.”
“You’re throwing your money away.”
Gahag nodded towards one of them. “That one, with the trident. Picked him up a few weeks ago. Has a chip the size of your mother’s arse on his shoulder. Wanted to fight me.”
“Ha! I’ll take it. How’s fifty bits sound to you?”
Gahag thought for a moment. “What are the terms?”
“He kills the beast - I win. Beast kills him - you win. Anything else, we call it a draw. It’s a long enough shot as it is.”
“Deal,” he said, reaching out with a hand.
The pair shook on it as the slave spread out, circling around the beast.
The apexaur span around the spot, hissing at the humans, eyeing them each in turn.
One threw a spear at the beast, but it flew short. The crowd booed.
The apexaur stepped forward, sniffing at the spear and then lunged.
The movement was quick, like a coiled spring suddenly released. Before the crowd could even stop booing, the apexaur has the man in in its jaws. It shook the man from side-to-side with powerful muscled and ripped his arm from his body. It reared on its hind legs and swallowed the arm, clothes and all.
The crowd roared.
The injured man shuffled away, his pained moans drowned out by the sounds of the crowd.
As the apexaur finished swallowing the arm a pair of the men edged clow to it from the back, shields held high and swords ready to slash at it.
One of them lost his nerve and stabbed at the hindquarters of the beast. He just about penetrated its tough skin.
The beasts head spun round and its roared at the men.
It waved its tail, knocking the two to the ground. It spun round, and trampled the two with its forelimbs. It kicked at one of them and took the head of the other in its mouth.
It bit down hard in a shower of bone and blood.
The crowd went wild.
“That is one pissed off animal,” said Gahag’s companion. Gahag nodded, eyes on the Laaskhan.
He was circling farther from the others, observing the apexaur and the movements of his companions. He was keeping his distance, not through fear, but as means of studying its foe as it wore itself out against the others. He had eschewed a shield in favour of a second smaller blade that he was twirling nervously in his left hand.
There were two others left - a woman who was moving frantically to be behind the apexaur whenever it moved; and a thin man who was sobbing, barely reacting to the events in the pit.
The apexaur was roaring at the crowd, moving from side-to-side, trying to keep all three of the remaining humans in front of it. One of the pair it had just attacked was wounded, crawling away from it and was no longer a threat.
Its eye caught the movements of the woman, trying to get behind it. It snorted and lunged at her. She fell onto her back, her spear pointing at the beast. It caught it in the chest and bent as its weight forced down on it. It penetrated the skin and the apexaur twisted trying to get its weight off it. It roared, the sound different to its previous noises - a mix of shock and pain.
It managed to get the spear out of its chest, and was moving away. It saw the woman, the sobbing man, but had lost sight of the Laaskhan, who was behind it, within striking distance.
He jumped, both weapons pointed at the soft skin behind its legs.
He hit the apexaur, the steel sliding into flesh.
The apexaur screamed and turned round. The Laaskhan held onto the weapons, carried by the beast’s movements. It flailed at him with its forelimbs, mouth snapping at air as it screeched. Gahag looked at the scene intently, sitting farther up on his chair. He’d forgotten all about his drink.
The apexaur rolled onto its back, crushing the man, who let go and was left on his back holding onto the small blade. The apexaur reared up on its back legs and stomped down.
The Laaskhan rolled over, narrowly avoiding the attack, and slashed at its heel with the blade. It made contact and drew blood.
The apexaur yelped. It was breathing heaving, limping as it turned to face the man, who was roaring.
“He’s putting up a good show,” said the oghur. “If he makes it out alive, I’d be interested in buying him. He’ll do well in the arena in Gryglla, make me rich.”
Gahag nodded, never taking his eyes off the spectacle. The crowd was going wild, and was on its feet, arms and banners flailing as it screamed “Laaskhan! Laaskhan!”
The Laaskhan crouched low, staying mobile, ready to dodge any attacks as they came.
The apexaur was beginning to back away, its wounds commanding its survival instincts.
The Laaskhan took the opportunity and charged it, stabbing at its side, where he hoped its lungs were. The blade made contact, burying deep into its flesh.
The Apexaur screamed and rolled over, kicking at the man, who disappeared beneath a cloud of dust.
When apexaur was on its feet again the man was still on the floor, immobile.
He was covered in blood.
The crowd went silent as the apexaur slinked away.
“Damn you Gahag,” said the oghur. I was sure that one was mine. He reached into a bag and produced the coins he’d promised the other oghur.
Gahag grinned as he took the money. “Maybe next time.”