Chapter 18 – And the Land Shuddered

Braen stood up and faced the light. Even as the doors opened inward, Braen did not run. There was nothing but those deep cells behind him to go to, and for some reason, Braen was more scared of that dark place than what laid beyond the doors in front of him.

Braen steeled himself. His hand moved to his missing arm and he sighed. He could not remember why he was there. He woke up in this desolate place, on that creaky, wooden bench, with no clue as to what was to happen next. But as he looked at the place where his arm was supposed to be, he just wanted it all to end.

There was no such thing in this world as an old cripple.

*

2 Days Ago

“So? What have you found out?”

“Nothing,” a stout woman in a white lab coat answered. “I have asked him over and over again, used many of my methods, but he continues to say he doesn’t remember. The only course of action would be torture, but..,”

The Twelfth Executor turned around, staring into the woman’s eyes. And although the look was for a moment, the woman turned as pale as paper. “There will be no torture… In any case, to his newfound amnesia, do you believe him?”

“I-I don’t know, sire,” she stuttered. “Even as I am trained in depth to read people, I could not read him. His facial expression was completely devoid of emotion. It’s either he’s a master deceptor at his age, that he’s telling the truth, or that because of what he went through, he is unable to display his emotions correctly.”

The Twelfth Executor grew silent. It seemed as if he was lost in thought. He then turned around and asked,“what are his scores? Have they improved since he was tested the first time he woke up?”

The woman sighed in apparent relief now that he was no longer looking at her. “No, sire, they have not. In fact, his scores have shown signs of being unstable.”

“Unstable? Well, the result is better than the others who were first in their batch. Send him to the pits.” And he dismissed her with a wave of his hand.

The woman turned silent and did a slight bow before she left, jotting something down on a form on her way.

“Is that wise, Executor?” Came a soft-sounding voice. A woman walked to the Twelfth’s side with a sensual grace, her braided ponytail swaying with her gait.

The Twelfth Executor took a glance at the woman’s long, black tunic, and dark capris, before turning back to what was in front of him. The white tiles below his feet, the white porcelain walls, nor the embedded blue stones equidistant around the room could break the view in front of him. Behind a double layered glass window, was an entire city. The city was unlike any other. It was massive, and the spires were tall, albeit not as tall as the one he was in; and the streets were clean. He could see the busy walkways below. They were like ants below his feet. It was as if he could just take one step out, and they would all be crushed by his mighty boot.

“You doubt my decision?” The Twelfth Executor no longer looked at the woman. He kept his eyes on what was below. When you became very powerful in the world, you no longer stared blindly at what was above you, fervently wishing for greater heights. No, you became paranoid, watching out for the thorns, the ticks, and the creatures below you, ones that with a single prick, could make you sick and sicker until you fell, dead.

The Twelfth Executor was always keeping his eyes on those ‘ants’ that many in his position would ignore. Even the ones that managed to crawl their way to his side, and at that, he finally flicked a glance at the woman.

“I do.”

The Executor’s mouth twitched.

“How brazen.”

“Isn’t that why you picked me to work by your side?”

The Executor smiled. “If that case, explain to me your doubts, and let us be done with it.”

“The boy was a gift from the Eleventh Executor’s son. That’s akin to being a gift from the Eleventh Executor-”

“And so what? Are you saying we are not valuing his gift? The gift is now mine, I can do as I see fit, unless, you are asking what the giving of the gift in itself means? That the Eleventh could be moving towards our side? I doubt it. Everyone of us are selfish bastards. Furthermore, we don’t know if the son represents the father. For all we know, the son might be vying for his father’s position.”

“More than could be. It is a most likely that he is, but that doesn’t mean we should act as if we know that. As far as we are concerned, the boy was a gift from the Eleventh himself! That alone could breed doubt in the other Executors.”

The Twelfth Executor’s face grew solemn in thought. “So what do you propose? That we keep the boy? He is weak. Although his scores are better than the first batch of the other groups-”

“Because the others died-”

“Regardless, that only speaks to Doctor John’s skills, not the boy’s. Not to mention his history is unknown. If that brat he gave us turns out to be some kid of a governor, another executor, even someone of the lowest political faction, a councilman, we would have a storm brewing under us. We would be under scrutiny. We cannot have him in the ranks-”

“Which is why I propose you don’t place him in the pits, but in the Black Arena. If he dies, we rid ourselves of a problem. We purge house, and no one but the Eleventh and us upper ranks would know of him; not to mention we would gain valuable data on the result of Doctor John’s newest methods. And even if he manages to live, so what? That just shows us his power. A power in which we have been searching for. Then, no matter what storm is brewed, it would have been worth it.”

The Twelfth Executor’s lips stretched into a smile, and his teeth began to show as he looked out the window.

The woman by his side could not tell what the Twelfth thought, but looking at that smile, she felt a shiver. The purge, or even, how they may have to put that potential storm down, she was afraid for those who stood against him.

Whatever she had said, the Twelfth would likely not stop there.

*

Braen walked into the light. He was blinded at first, a wave noise crashing against him, but soon his eyes acclimated themselves to his surroundings.

All around him was a giant circular atrium, but this atrium wasn’t completely open above. Giant large steel poles that jutted from along the walls reached fifty meters high before they bent and merged themselves in the middle. The light, falling snowflakes drifted between the gaps among the poles, landing on the gravel-like earth, only to melt as soon as it touched it.

The walls themselves were only ten meters high, where there was something akin to a seating area above and all around him, a grey screen sectioning himself from those behind. And yes, there were people behind the screen. Braen could see their shadows, their movements. There were hundreds if not, thousands. Above even those people, was a platform that protected them from the snow.

This… I’m in an arena.

“It’s only a kid,” a laugh echoed out from the audience. And the rest of the audience laughed along with it.

Braen looked around, ignoring the chattering crowd.

Standing to his side, was a half-man.

Braen’s feet turned cold. He gulped.

The half-man was tall, as tall as six feet, with grey colored hands and forearms. His head was shaved, and his mouth was grey as well, taking his nose and entire jawline with it.

The half-man was also barechested, showcasing the hairs of his chest and belly.

Braen wasn’t stupid. He had lived for only a short in this world, but he had lived enough to have seen enough. There was only one reason someone was put in an arena.

They want me to fight him?

Half-men were not rare in the free cities. A good quarter of the population were half-men. They were inherently stronger than men themselves as a part of them were traits derived from the population of other high functioning creatures of the mainlands, but half-men also had their weaknesses. If only I knew his.

“Who are you?” Braen couldn’t help but ask.

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The half-man just sneered, “not only did they put me with a kid but a crippled one at that. Are they trying to test me?”

Braen unconsciously reached for his right arm. His hand wrapped around the gauzed up half limb. It was against all of his instincts, but he closed his eyes for a long time before he opened them up again.

He looked at the half-man ahead of him. The half-man had not moved. Why did he not move? Braen was not sure. He had practically given the man a great chance to rush and end him.

Braen was confused.

“So you want to die, kid.” The half-man said softly. He just looked at Braen, not moving. “I can tell from the look in your eye. Your arm… You must have just lost it. To value a simple arm so much that you couldn’t bear living… You’re not from Volaris, are you? Must be from a backwater city. But even if you’re just a kid, you cannot die yet.” And he smiled. “If you and I win today, getting your arm back would be a simple matter.”

Braen rose his head. “What are you talking about? I can get my arm back? And aren’t I fighting you? How can we both win? Where am I? What am I doing here?” All these questions began to spill from Braen’s mouth. It was as if the half-man had opened up the floodgates. Even as the doubt over the half-man’s words was like a pestilence gnawing at his every conscious, the hope it brought was like a tidal wave that crashed into his chest. He could barely breathe, and yet, he could not stop talking.

And then one thought popped up inside of him.

I can get my arm back!

The man just laughed. “Kid, do you not know where you are? Did you hit your head or something? This is the Volaris Arena! Do you think anyone would pay good money to watch the ‘Half-man v. Little Boy’ fight?”

And he turned around and walked to a section near the end of the wall. “It must be your first time here. You might be the small percentage that did not come here willingly… Although, even if that was the case, they are required to inform you of the fight so that you wouldn’t die too easily. As you can see, where there is a fight, there are always bets. But in any case….” The half-man pressed a small section against the wall, and the wall indented, coming into itself, only to slide to the right smoothly, revealing a wide section of weapons.


There were swords, spears, sabers, crossbows, bows, and arrows, maces, daggers, and the list went on of other weapons Braen had never even seen before.

The half-man picked up a long sword and tested it out. He did strike after strike, using a stance that Braen did not recognize.

“You should hurry and pick one from your side before it’s too late. You won’t be able to take any of these as they are imprinted with my DNA… You give me the air of a survivor, so you should know what to do.”

Braen’s eyes narrowed. The half-man was right. He was a survivor, and now, he had a chance at life. He looked around the arena walls until his eyes landed on a rounded square outline. The same square outline the half-man had pressed to open up the weapons storehouse.

I could get my arm back. I don’t have to die today.

Braen had his doubts to what the half-man had said. After all, how was it possible to get his arm back? But he was merely scum in the eyes of the world. Someone who wasn’t privy to the good things in life. What if it was possible though? What if he could get his arm back to the way it was. Maybe then, he could survive in this world.

They were rare, but Braen had seen people who were crippled. None were born crippled. Well, they were, but in Eastern City, they were all killed by their parents the moment after their birth. It was impossible to take care of a cripple, and even harder to live as one. They were deemed as mercy killings, but Brean saw what they truly were. They just don’t want to take care of one. And braen did not want to live like that. Life was hard as it was already. Ninety percent of them died tragically before the year was up. If he was going to die, the sooner and quicker it was, the better.

Pressing against the square, he watched as the wall indented in. He watched as the door slid open.

Should I take the sword? No, I cannot use it with only one hand. The only left to me is the crossbow. One bolt is already loaded in for me. I will only have one chance at this.

Braen did not open his back to the half-man. He kept him in his peripherals. He did not know what was going on, and so, as long as he had a chance at regaining his arm, he was not going to let his cautiousness lower even by a bit.

It was then that a cold gust of hair blew against him.

Something’s wrong.

Braen jumped back. His balance was off, and he stumbled slightly before he could rectify his position.

His eyes were wide as he looked into the giant dark tunnel that opened up before him. The tunnel was cold and eerie, and had the scent of death.

The half-man cursed. “And here I thought it was near the door. You’re one lucky brat, aren’t ya, kid? There goes my advantage.”

Braen’s anger rose. He was going to use me as a distraction!

Braen slowly walked back, giving himself more distance from the tunnel.  I can’t believe I let that man trick me. It was so obvious too. Damnit… I was too hopeful. I let him get the better of me. Anger bubbled inside of Braen, but the anger was more at himself than at the half-man. To anyone from Eastern City, hope was like a disease. It festered inside of you, making you do things that only led to your death. 

For that moment, Braen had hoped; and he felt utterly disgusted with himself for it.

Unless you were stupid, it was not hard figuring out what was going on. Whoever put them here wanted the both of them to fight something. Two against whatever it was.

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First, they were to claim a weapon, and next, they were to open the door and fight. Braen counted to ten seconds before the door was open. Something he did automatically with everything, a trait instilled in him from his training at the association. That was plenty of time to run back and prepare yourself for whatever was on the other side.

But the half-man used his ignorance against him. He wanted to let whatever creature or person they were to fight to attack him and open itself up to the half-man’s sneak attack.

Braen cursed.

He wanted to rip the half-man apart, and he would too if the man wasn’t stronger than him. Besides, he was weaponless.

And at that, a might screech echoed from the dark tunnel, and the land shuddered.

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