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Of Monsters and Men

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A red haired young boy hurried through the busy street of Ruben, carefully weaving through gaps between passersby. The sky was a dull grey, and the gentle pitter patter of rain drops only served to accentuate the general feeling of drudgery that seemed to emanate from the town. One of the few towns of the Eilan El Wetlands, the town was used to the rains and seemed doomed to be perpetually sodden and grey.

The young boy’s eyes searched with an eagerness, however, for children were less inclined to have their mood soured by a little rain. As he moved away from the cobbled streets and rickety old timber houses, with the tiled rooftops, his already sodden boots splashed in the mud as he approached a run down, old cottage that was built next to the mill. There were fewer people around, only the mill workers who were beginning to return to their homes after a long day.

The boy passed them by, and a few smiled weakly and nodded to greet him, to which he returned the nods and continued towards the cottage. As he approached he heard a tremendous belly laugh, and he beamed with excitement as he turned the corner of the cottage.

“Oh sure, that’ll be shinin’ bright right enough!” The source of the laughter said loudly, before letting out another hearty chuckle. “Ya might convince the young lady to let you buy ‘er a drink, might even let you show ‘er your bedroom, but when she gets one look at your little pickle, she’ll be gone like the wind!” This met with laughter from the other mill workers. The man who was speaking was tall and broad shouldered, with a bald head and fiery, red beard.

“Dad!” The boy exclaimed as he joined the group of men.
“Oh, allo son!” The man replied, smiling at the boy and ruffling his hair. “Your old mum sent you to fetch me then? Must need ‘elp with gettin’ a jar open, eh lad?” The man laughed again, along with his coworkers, but the boy frowned slightly and shook his head.
“Dad, you said you’d take me to the fight tonight. Remember?” He asked.

“Oh that’s right.” His father replied with a nod. “Where’d you tell your mum you are?”
“Said we was going fishing, like you said.” The boy replied.
“Good lad.” The man said with a grin. “She’d ‘ave my arse tanned if she knew I was takin’ you to the fight.”
“Guess you’ll need to stop at the fishmongers on the way home then?” One of his coworkers asked.
“Nah.” Came the reply. “If I was any good at fishin’ I wouldn’t be sittin’ around here talking to you pillocks, would I?” Another round of laughter followed, and the men chatted some more. After a short while the boy tugged on his father’s shirt pleadingly. “All right, boy.” His father said, holding his hands up. “Come on then. I’ll get you a pie on the way.”

--- --- --- ---

The young boy ate his pie happily as he walked with his father, through the streets towards the pits. As they neared the streets became crowded as townsfolk began to file in to the four entryways to the large wooden structure in the center of town. When the boy and his father finally began to file inside, the noise of people talking and chanting grew deafeningly loud.
“Sounds like we’ve missed the first fight.” His father yelled. “Let’s hurry to the stands before the next one begins, eh?”

The pair made their way through the packed crowds, the brawny father pushing his way through the crowd with relative ease, gently prodding the boy along in front of him. Before long they found themselves overlooking the pits. Deep below them was a circular arena, caked in mud. The edges of the arena were decorated with thick, downward slanting spikes to stop the fighters from trying to climb out. At either side there were gates guarded by men clad in armour, carrying spears.

The crowd began to hush at the direction of a man stood in a boxed off area at the far end from where the boy and his father were stood. The man was dressed in a nobleman’s tailed jacket and a top hat. Yet the clothing was old and tattered, and the dirty trousers the man wore revealed he was no nobleman. He twirled his greasy fingers around his black mustache as he waited for the crowd to quieten. Then when relative silence fell, he spoke in a loud voice so all could hear.

“Ladies and gentleman!” Her cried, holding his hands up. “Oh, do we have a special treat for you tonight! Our first combatant, something of a local. Yet he don’t live in the town, something of a wild man! Well, if you can even call it a man. Ladies and gentleman, I present to you, caught fresh last night, a Wendigo!”

The gates below the man opened, and the boy shrieked in fear and gripped hold of his father as a terrifying creature emerged, snarling and howling, as men with spears prodded at it from behind, forcing it in to the ring. The creature looked like a man in some ways, but it’s body was covered in patches of greasy, matted fur. It’s eye sockets were hollow, and it’s flesh around it’s skull was torn, revealing bones underneath. It’s jaws were a mess of gnashing fangs, stained with blood. Small horns, like that of a dears, protruded from it’s head. It’s feet were like that of a beasts, and it’s long fingers each had a long, sharp claw at the end.

“Dad! Dad, what is that!?” The boy asked in a pitiful whine.
“A bloody demon, son.” His father replied. “But don’t you fear it, it can’t hurt you down there. If anythin’ deserves this fate it’s that wretched monster. It steals children and gobbles them up! Nothin’ worse! Well…”
“Well, what!?” The boy asked fearfully.
“Well…there’s Darklings o’ course. Not that there’s ever been any round these parts. I shouldn’t worry about ‘em.”

Before the boy could ask just what, exactly, a Darkling was, the announcer had began to speak again.
“Oh yes! I feel your disgust, ladies and gentleman! Surely there are few creatures more disgusting than this wretched beast! And what brave soul shall fight this monster? Now, an honest man such as myself would not dare to endanger his loyal men to such a beast. The only thing fit to fight a monster, is another monster!” The crowds whooped and cheered, banging their feet on the floor as the Wendigo, angry and distressed, howled and snarled, desperately trying to scale the spiked walls and then flailing in pain as it tore at it’s skin.

“I think you know what’s coming, ladies and gentleman!” The announcer said with a grin. “Only our most exciting new attraction. A demon who dared to step on our soil, travelling from across the sea to the vile lands of the east! A man who gave in to the devil’s whispers, who let a foul spirit infest and rot his brain! Ladies and gentleman…I give you…The Glaive of Falice!”

The crowd erupted in riotous cheering, their feet stamping, their arms flailing, as the other gate lifted. More men with spears prodded at a man, leading him in to the ring. This man, at first glance, seemed as ordinary as any of the onlookers. He was dressed only in ragged trousers, his bare chest covered in bruises, cuts and dirt. He looked lean and muscular, and quite young, perhaps in his late twenties. He had black hair swept back, short at the top, and long at the back, with thin, beaded braids tied through it. His hair had been shorn to the scalp at the sides of his head, and he had a thin shadow of stubble across his face.

The man’s arms were branded with faded, inky symbols, tattoos of a foreign language. Much more peculiar were the portions of his back, chest and arms, that seemed to have pale, white veins that travelled across his body like lightning in the sky. The young man turned to face the crowd behind him, and the boy caught a look at the man’s eyes. His irises were as white as the moon, and seemed to glow softly in the dark, torchlit arena.

The boy watched as the men retreated to the gates and began to close them. At the last moment they threw a weapon through the gap, and the man quickly moved to grab it. He held up the glaive by it’s long handle, it’s blade wide and curved, with strange engravings across the steel. It looked entirely different from any glaive the boy had seen. Perhaps it belonged to the man. Falice was across the ocean, and the boy knew little of what was there, but he had heard that the people there wore strange clothes and carried peculiar weapons.

The boy watched with anticipation as the man, the Glaive, turned to face his foe. The Wendigo was circling the Glaive in a predatory crouch, sizing him up. The Glaive moved much more delicately and precisely than his foe, each step an example of practiced footwork. He held his weapon at his side with the blade pointed downwards, in a relaxed grip. The crowd whooped and cheered as the pair circled one another, each one fixed on the other intently, watching, waiting.

Growing impatient, the wendigo suddenly lunged forwards, with its teeth bared. The Glaive side stepped it’s advance with ease, swinging his blade in an upward strike at the creature’s exposed flank, but the wendigo suddenly rolled to the side and avoided the strike with cat-like reflexes, and slid to a stop on all fours, primed to attack again. With a blood curdling roar it pounced at the Glaive, swiping furiously with it’s long claws. The Glaive vaulted backwards with a daring flip as the wendigo came down on the spot he had been previously, before lunging forwards with a joust, the blade’s edge gouging a deep cut across the creature’s shoulder.

The wendigo screamed a reeled back in pain. Then with another rattling cry it lunged forward at the Glaive. He responded with another thrust of his weapon, but the creature suddenly shifted it’s weight and with a scrambling jump it landed atop the weapon, pushing down and using it to vault over the man, it’s long claws swiping at his back, tearing four long, deep gashes across it, with blood spraying out and falling to the thick mud beneath.

The man cried out in pain and fell to his knees. The wendigo saw it’s chance and came at his from behind. The Glaive, fell forward and rolled on to his back, but the creature pinned him to the floor, it’s clawed fingers pushing tightly against his throat. The blood thirsty crowd jeered and yelled, as the anticipation of the fight’s end growing near. The wendigo’s fanged maw glistened with thick drool, as it lowered it’s head towards his neck. Then it shrieked as the Glaive thrust his blade into it’s side. It’s grip around his neck tightened and the man pushed with his blade, finding enough strength to push himself up and force the creature back. It wailed in pain as he twisted the blade in it’s chest, and it clawed furiously at it’s own flesh, trying to rend itself free. Then it got it’s wish as the Glaive wrenched his blade from it’s body, and using the momentum of the pull he spun on the spot, bringing the blade in a swing overhead, before cleaving the wendigo’s head clean from it’s shoulders, landing with a soft splat in the thick mud of the arena floor.

The crowd went wild, and as the stomping and cheering went on louder than it had ever been, the young boy watched as the pit masters flooded into the arena, spears at the ready. Archers notched their arrows and fired at the victorious man, sending three arrows in to his back. He cried in pain, dropping his weapon. The pikemen advanced on him, lunging and prodding at the beaten down man, as other men tied his arms and legs together in ropes, and then shackles. Once he was finally hog-tied, he was carried by two men through the dirt of the arena, and back in to the cells underneath.

“Well that was fucking glorious!” The boy’s father bellowed and clapped his son on the shoulders. “An’ there’s still 3 fights to go! Ah, isn’t this grand, son? Fuck it, I need a pint. Stay here…” His father disappeared in to the crowd, and the boy looked back down to the pits. They were already setting up for the next fight. All the onlookers seemed to be busy reveling and drinking, and paid little mind to what was going on in the interim.

Yet the boy noticed the stairs leading down to the cells beneath. The guards were too busy nattering with the spectators to even notice him. Curiosity got the better of him, and he left his spot, and crept quietly down the steps. At the bottom he was overwhelmed by the sudden, strong smell of piss, shit and blood. The noise of the crowd became a dull noise overhead. He moved slowly, cautiously, watchful for guards patrolling the halls. Yet he found the area to be decidedly lax of security, perhaps the men were busy setting up for the next fight.

The boy made his way through the various steel barred cells. Most were empty, some were covered with black tarps and he could hear bestial snarling from behind them. Finally, he found what he was looking for. A shadowy figure lay slumped at the back of one of the cells. He was breathing heavily, with a slight whimper on the exhale. He sounded like a wounded dog.

“Er…hello.” The boy said. Suddenly the figure stopped whimpering, and his eyes shot open, his white irises glowing softly in the darkness. A terrible silence fell over the room, and the boy suddenly felt quite afraid as the man watched him with an unwavering stare. “I…I’m sorry. It’s just…mister Glaive…you were really good. Um, I mean. Amazing. I just wanted you to know that…um…” The boy paused, feeling nervous.

“Tel.” The white-eyed man replied in a strange accent. “Tel anir. Galay, na tu djan wo. Adashwe!”
“I…I don’t understand.” The boy said. “Is that your people’s language? Um, Falician, is it?”
“De Njern. Wos hala Falice uma tel mjordietsche! Fos rova!” The man replied, his voice croaky and weak, but it held an angry tone.
“Uh…” The boy paused, he didn’t understand the man. “I’m Hoid, by the way.” He waited, but there was no response. “That’s my name.” He said. “My name is Hoid. Do you have a name?”

“Wos anir ‘name’ shala nur?” The man asked.
“Uh, name.” The boy said, and he put his hand to his chest. “Name. My name is Hoid. Do you understand?”
“My…name…is…Hoid.” The man replied slowly.
“No, that’s my name.” Hoid said, smirking slightly. He patted his chest. “Hoid.” He repeated. Then he pointed his finger at the man. “Your name is…” The man was silent for a long moment. He seemed to be thinking, and he watched the boy with such intensity, like he could see something that Hoid couldn’t.

“My name is…” He said finally. “…Loke.”
“Loke?” The boy asked. “Your name is Loke?”
“Mjet.” Loke replied, nodding in affirmation.
“Oh…does Mjet mean yes?” Hoid asked.
“…Yes.” Loke replied, and nodded again. “Mjet mean…yes.”
“Wow, you’re a quick learner.” Hoid said with a smile.

“Oi!” A voice yelled from down the hall. “What are you doing down here!? Where’s your parents?”
“Makyev Shtova, Hoid!” Loke said, with a hint of urgency in his voice. “Shtova! Shtova!” He tilted his head, urging the boy to run off. Hoid stumbled for a moment. He took a final look at Loke, and then he ran back up the stairs. The guard went running after the boy, and Loke was left alone in his cell, his wounds weeping badly. He felt heavy and exhausted. He closed his eyes again to rest.

“Hoid.” A voice inside his head said. “I…your…is…people…understand….vosh tet mura gamora?”
“Avoy wos njern, Nyx.” Loke replied.
“Nyx.” The voice replied. “My name is Nyx.”

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Cold, moist stone scratched at her back. She pulled herself up from her bunk. Noise outside had focused her senses. A waft of smoke trickled in alongside the shafts of light from the corridor outside her cell. She couldn't help but breathe it in. It's scent was noxious. Foxglove. The name given to a flower with a strong doping effect, and it was working. She swallowed, feeling nauseous. Then drew herself up against the cold stone of her cell. Voices pulled her from her discomfort. The voice of a young boy. Somebody in the cell beside hers. A foreign language, one she'd never heard before. Her interest peaked, and she listened to their conversation as well as she could, trying to resist the muddying effects of the burning Foxglove petals. Then suddenly the boy was running, footsteps echoing down the corridor as a second, heavier set rushed after him. Then silence.

A few minutes passed, the boy didn't return. She drew her tongue across her dry, sore lips and then brought her right hand up in front of her, staring at it in the near-darkness. Balling her hand into a fist, she grit her teeth, and slammed it with all the force she could muster into the wall. Stifling a scream, she smashed her knuckles against the stone. And again. This time, it came away bloodied. She took a quick, shallow breath and shook her head. At least for a time, she could think.
"Oi!" She whispered as loud as she dared. Silence. "Oi! Loke! That's your name, right? I heard you fight, you know." 
There was a long pause of quiet silence. The flames of the torches outside of the cells crackled. Somewhere nearby water dripped. Then Loke's voice came from the other cell. 
"Fight?" tasting the word on his lips for the first time. "... Loke no fight. Loke win."
"I heard that, too." She replied, a grin spreading wide across her face. "But you don't sound like a winner..." She added, her tone playful.
"What does winner sound like?" He asked.
"Winners make it through the night..." She replied, her eyes darting to the corridor outside. She heard footsteps, more voices, but they were distant. "Maybe..." She pulled herself up, and crossed the room, pressing her ear to the wall to listen to the man in the cell beside her, "Maybe you should have asked the boy for medicine..." She chuckled, wiping long, greasy black hair out of her face.
"Medicine? Wos un?" Loke replied. "Loke not knowing...boy help. Boy talk to Loke. Elementa... they... cuerva... move around. Loke see Elementa, and Loke knowing fast. Was... wasing? Wasing the doing of... knowing the..." He trailed off. The man's incoherent prattling was giving her a headache. She couldn't focus on it any longer.
Groaning, she fell back onto her bunk, "You're exhausting to talk to." She muttered, but before she could say anything else, the sound of footsteps returned.

One, no, two men were approaching. They were armoured, she could hear the chink of their chain mail. They were also quite large, and one of them had a limp. He carried most of his weight on his right foot, the sound echoing louder and clearer with every other step. They both stank of booze and roast pheasant. She felt like she hadn't eaten in days. She was starving. Her eyes darted to the door of her cell, as a key turned, clicked, and the door swung open and in stepped both men.
"Alright, be quick, that flower's only gonna keep her under for a couple minutes."
"By the Gods, Eric, I know!" The guard pushed his way in, he was carrying something.
"Ye say that, but she's the reason yeh've got that bum leg, Ricard... hurry up."

A dull clunk as the object in Eric's hands was unlocked and raised to her neck, then shut tight around it. She swallowed as the metal dug into her skin, stifling a cry as she struggled to breathe. Both Eric and Ricard attached long poles to her collar and led her out into the corridor. She saw the bowls of incense laid outside her cell door, then she was led on, up the stairs, to the fighting pit.
As the stairwell opened out, light cascaded over her, blinding her for a moment. She was forced into the pit, as her senses began to pulse and throb. She felt overwhelmed by all the signals reaching her. The blinding light, the deafening cries of the crowd, the smell of blood, piss and sweat. Her tan skin vibrated and quivered.
"Get outta there, gents!!" The ring announcer called with an amused tone in his voice. The guards pulled the cords on their restraining poles and the collar clicked open, releasing her as they both fled back down the stairwell, pulling a door closed behind them so there was nowhere for her to go.

"We may be a few fights into our night's festivities, ladies and gentlemen, but let me tell you the best is yet to come!" The announcer waited as the crowd cheered, their cries stifling his words. As they settled, he continued, "You've seen it before, and you'll see it again, the Shadow of the South, the--" Yelling, cheering, hissing. The crowd whipped itself into a feverish state, drowning the announcer's introductions. From the other side of the pit, two men entered. One held a scimitar and little armour, while the other wore a vest of plate mail and carried a mace and a shield. They exchanged glances with one another, both seemed to agree, wordlessly, that their target before each other, had to be the woman. They charged, and she grinned.

Shrill, piercing screams echoed down the corridors of the cells. The cheering from the crowd, which at once became all the louder, suddenly became still as the screams stopped instantly. Then a woman from the crowd screamed, a man cursed and there was suddenly chaos. Eric and Ricard grabbed the bowls of incense and ran back up the stairs, unlocking and throwing open the door to the fighting pit just long enough to throw the bowls into the ring. Great plumes of smoke broke through the mud, bursting across the arena and smothering everything. A shadow moved in the fog, then darted towards them. The door was almost closed, but not quite. A hand grasped and flung the door open. Eric and Ricard froze in fright, but then stepped back in surprise as the woman collapsed at their feet. She was drenched in blood, her hair matted to her face, her clothes permanently stained a dark red.
"G-grab the binds!" Ricard yelled. Eric ran for the collar, yanking it out of the mud, then turned and swiftly returned to the door. He felt something crunch and snap under his weight as he ran back, but he dared not look to see what it was. They bound the girl as before, and dragged her back to her cell. Ricard put her on her bunk and removed the collar while Eric ran to replenish the bowls of Foxglove incense. When she awoke, the familiar smell of the burning petals, and the cold of her stone bunk, was all she could focus on once more.

"That sounded violent." Loke's voice came from the next cell. "Well, more than usual." He added. There was something about his grasp of the words that seemed more settled and natural now, even though she had only been gone a short while.
"You should refocus your talent from listening to healing." She muttered, holding her hands over her face.
"Healing I know." Loke replied. "I simply lack the..." He paused. "...fuel? Hmm... I think that's right. Words come quickly to me. Syntax takes longer. Once it begins, however... it is like snow rolling down a hill. Do you have snow here? Well, I suppose you must, you have a word for it."
"Do you always talk this much, or just when you're dying?" She muttered.
"Forgive me. It has been a while since I have been able to talk to those around me." He replied. "As for the dying...I fear you may be right. The wounds...perhaps not so bad on their own. The infection will take me first, I suspect."
"You're all so... brittle." She paused in thought, "You should tell the guards. If you're dead, you can't fight any more."

"If I get sick enough, they might move me for treatment. I will have an opportunity to escape. If I can get out of here then the rest will take care of itself."
"You couldn't escape if they opened the door and gave you an encouraging speech, never mind breaking free and running from here when your health becomes so poor that they decide they need to treat you. Smarter to play it up, and get moved when you're still in a position to fight... but don't mind me..." She yawned and rolled onto her side. It wasn't often she could hold a conversation with the things in the cells around her, it had been a fulfilling evening. 
"Perhaps you are right." Loke admitted. "Yet I cannot decay my sickness. I cannot regrow my flesh. Not without the right Arcanium."
"Dinner conversation is more pleasant when not spoken in riddles." She grumbled, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, inspecting the smear of blood before she licked her hand clean.
"I speak plainly enough. It is not my fault if you don't have the knowledge to understand." Loke retorted. "Arcanium. It's... a fuel for my bindings. There are sources scattered around the land. If I can draw from decay Arcanium I can destroy my infection. If I draw from growth Arcanium I can heal my wounds. It is perhaps more complex than that, however, with the means it is a simple enough task."
"Good luck with that. It sounds like a lot more effort than I can muster right now." She quietly pursed her lips and blew the wafting smoke from her face, though as her room was saturated with it, it only swirled and danced in the torchlight from the cracks in her cell door. 

"Well then... if luck is on our side, perhaps we will be pitted against one another soon." Loke said, sounding a little amused. "Of course we could set about ending each other's misery quickly... or a bargain could be struck."
"Usually bargains are struck from a position of power." She replied, yawning again, she turned onto her other side, staring at the wall on the far side, the one separator from her and the man called Loke. "But you are mortally wounded, and I am healthy, well-fed and if our little sleepover would end, I could be well-rested, too. What could you possibly have to offer me?
"Freedom, of course." Loke replied.
"And wouldn't that be something." She muttered. Then closed her eyes to sleep. Soon enough, she was sure, they would be set against one another in the fighting pit. Humans are duplicitous creatures. But there was something about this one she found... refreshing. Whatever was to happen in the pit, she was sure it would at least be an interesting experience, if nothing else.  

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Loke wasn’t entirely sure how long it had been since his conversation with the prisoner of adjacent cell. He had discovered that attempting to gauge the passage of time whilst locked in a dark cell under the ground became increasingly difficult. At some point, he had mused about how time was a cognitive construct, and was thus relative. Without a distinct example of change he could not truly know how long he had been there. At first, he had listened for morning bird song to tell him when it was morning, and the chanting of the crowd always meant that the evening had come.

However, as his wounds had begun to fester, the pain and sickness began to muddle his concentration. He had assumed that the person next door had stopped talking to him, and that was still a possibility, but he could also not discount the fact that he was simply too sick and exhausted to hear her any longer. He wiped at his face and examined his fingers. He was feverishly hot, but his hands were not sticky and wet as they had been the other times he had wiped his face. He had stopped sweating, despite the fever, and he knew this to be a very bad sign.

Dehydration would only allow his condition to worsen much more quickly. He thought that he might only have a day or two left, then again, he wasn’t quite sure how long he had been here anyway. Perhaps he only had hours. The prospect might have provoked fear and overwhelming dread once upon a time, but he was no longer a man who feared death. Still, it would be preferable to live, of course.

He was distracted from his meandering thoughts as a guard stepped out to the bars of his prison. He sat up and began getting to his feet slowly. He knew the routine now. It was time for the daily course of slop. He wasn’t entirely sure what was in the sludgy bowl of grime they served him each day but with no other food to eat he was not about to waste it. He slowly shuffled towards the cell bars where the guard’s outstretched arm held a small bowl.

“Not lookin’ so good.” The guard said, and he sounded amused. “Don’t imagine you’ll live much longer.”
“Then…then heal me.” Loke suggested wearily.
“Heal you?” The guard replied, smiling. “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, mate. Y’see, the crowds like to back a good fighter, but they get bored eventually. You’ve had a good run, and now that you’re in this condition it’s time for that to end. Nobody ever gets to see a healer here..”

Loke didn’t reply. He reached out for his bowl of slop, but before he could grab it the guard dropped the bowl on the cell floor, it’s contents spilling out and mixing in with the filth. “Oops…clumsy me.” The guard said with a grin. “Wouldn’t have done you any good anyway.” He added. Loke ignored him and dropped to the floor, taking the bowl and scraping the last few scraps out of it, and eating it hungrily.
“Now that’s just sad…” The guard said as he turned to leave. “Cheery bye!”

Loke slumped down on the spot and sighed in frustration. That food, awful as it was, was the only thing that was going to keep him going. Just the effort of walking to the bars had resulted in his head swimming, and his body wracked with dull pain. He wasn’t sure how long he lay there before he finally lost consciousness. The pain didn’t truly leave him, but as he retreated in to his mind it seemed to dull at least.

--- --- --- ---

“Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.” An impish voice said.
“What?” Loke asked.
“It’s the first oath. The first truth. At least in this language.” The voice replied, sounding amused. “I quite like it, actually. Lot’s of fun words. Like pickle, and bogey!” The voice let out a childish little giggle. Loke’s slight annoyance was overcome by relief, however. He always felt the presence of Nyx within his mind, a subtle pressure that was hard to define. Yet Nyx was speaking to him less and less. Likely due to his lack of Arcanium, and the fact he had not had much opportunity to swear new oaths.

“What’s there to laugh about? You know we are dying, don’t you?” Loke asked.
“Well, it’s a little funny.” Nyx replied. “I mean, not death, obviously. I don’t think you can really be amused when you die, on account of being dead. The circumstances are quite funny though. You came here with such excitement and hope, and then five minutes off the boat and you were clapped in irons and thrown in a box made of bars. Sold like property from wretch to wretch.”

“Again, I ask how that is funny?” Loke asked, annoyed.
“I think it’s something about seeing hope get squashed. I suppose I must be a bit morbid.” Nyx replied.
“You shouldn’t want our hope to die. It can be the difference between life and death for us.” Loke said.
“Oh, rubbish.” Nyx scoffed. “That’s just silly human nonsense. Do you think hope will starve your fever? Do you think hope will heal your wounds? Does hope hold the key to this dungeon?”

“Without hope I would give up and allow my captors a sure victory. Hope let’s me continue trying.” Loke said.
“Hmm….” Nyx seemed to muse for a moment. “No, that’s determination. Hope is just wanting something to happen reeaaally badly. The universe doesn’t cater to your wants. Not even a little bit.” Nyx let out a little sigh of exasperation, which was quite a neat trick considering he didn’t have lungs. Then again, he didn’t have a mouth either.

“So how are you so chatty suddenly?” Loke asked.
“Your body is failing, and your mind is shutting down.” Nyx explained. “So, at the moment, our connection is strongest within the realm of the mind. Your thoughts are all you have left, really. And, well, I’m basically a thought. A rather complex and powerful thought, I should add.”
“I hope that brings you comfort as you die.” Loke said.

--- --- --- ---

“Loke!” The voice was a tense whisper. Loke opened his eyes to see who was speaking. He turned slightly towards the bars, and was a little surprised to find the young red-haired boy from before.
“Hoid…” Loke said. He cast his eyes over the boy, and his gaze stopped at the bandages wrapped over his little hands. “You’re hurt.”
“Yeah…” Hoid said, looking at his hands. “Got 20 whacks with the cane for running off the other night. Dad said that should have me learn my lesson.”

“Clearly not.” Loke replied, and he forced a brief smile. “And what brings you here, my little friend?”
“I just thought…I’d see if you were okay.” Hoid said. “You…don’t look well.” The boy had a worried look on his face. Little, purple bubbles popped around him. They looked thick and grimy, and seemed to have a stickiness to them as they popped. Elementa of worry. It comforted Loke to see them.

Elementa were often drawn to the thoughts and emotions of children more than adults. Long ago it was thought that the emotions and thoughts themselves were what birthed the Elementa, there and then. However, in truth the Elementa existed without human intervention, and were only attracted to the thoughts associated with them. Children were always thinking, always feeling, and so Elementa flocked to them.

“Do not worry yourself.” Loke said, “I am a fighter in this pit. It is what I am here to do. This is my path.”
“I…don’t think that’s right.” Hoid replied. “The other night…it was the first time I’d came here. It always sounded so exciting…but...” He paused. “…I don’t think this is right. That’s why I came here, even after the beatings. I know I can’t get you out but…I just wanted you to know, I suppose.”
“Know what?” Loke asked.

“That…” The boy seemed to be struggling with something internally. “That…we aren’t all like this. That I’m not like them. I know this is…wrong. It’s wrong and it makes me feel…angry…and sad.” As if waiting for their queue, more Elementa flocked to Hoid. The ground beneath his feet bubbled and spat angrily, like a pool of boiling blood. Small hands seemed to curl and twist around his body, gripping him tightly. Anger Elementa and Sorrow Elementa, respectively. Hoid leaned closer to the bars, his hands gripping them tightly.

“I’m sorry I can’t help you.” Hoid said. “They’re wrong about you. You’re not a demon.” He closed his eyes tightly, and fought back the urge to cry. A single tear welled up in his eye, and suddenly his body was aglow in shining white. The aura washed over the boy like a holy fire, although he did not react in any way to it. Loke stared at that fire intently.

“Well that’s convenient.” He heard Nyx’s voice in his head. “Or inconvenient in the long term. This only serves to solidify your faith in the concept of hope. That’s going to be annoying.”
“Hoid.” Loke said, trying to calm the urgency in his voice. “I…thank you for speaking to me. You’ve done more to help than you realize. I can see that you’ve changed, that you’ve grown.” He weakly held out his hand. “Goodbye, my friend.” He said. Hoid sniffed, and wiped at his eyes. Then he reached through the bar and clasped Loke’s hand.

The fire pulsed and raged, shooting down Hoid’s arm like a slithering snake. As it touched Loke’s skin he felt it buzzing through his body like lightning. Power coursed through him, not a physical power but something that shocked his mind back to lucidity. Arcanium flowed within him once more, and he had to fight the urge to burn it all immediately. When the last of the fire had seeped in to his body, he let go of Hoid and gasped as if he was taking his first breath. “Run off now, Hoid.” He said wearily. “Come to the fight with your father tonight. Promise me you will, okay?”

“I…I will.” Hoid said with a forced smile. Then he ran off down the corridor and into the darkness once more. Loke clapped his hands together and smiled a jubilant smile. His wounds were still agony and his infections were still likely to kill him quickly. He could give himself more time if he used it all right now, but it would not last. He had to wait until the right moment. He would have to wait until tonight.

--- --- --- ---

Loke gasped as icy cold suddenly crashed over his body. His cell door was open and a guard was now holding an empty bucket. Loke was soaked to the skin. His mind raced for a moment, but he was grateful for the shock to his system. Before he could get himself up the guards were grabbing him by the arms and dragging him out of the cell. Feet stamped above him rhythmically as voices jeered and chanted. It was time.

He was led up the stairs to the pit as the announcer called out his ‘name’ – Glaive of the East. He fell forward in to the mud as he passed through the gates. There was a thump as something landed at his side. Without looking he gripped the handle of his glaive and used it to push himself up to his feet. The crowd booed and hissed, disappointed by his condition. He looked over to the gate on the other side.

“Ladies and gentleman it appears our fierce warrior from across the ocean is feeling a little under the weather.” The announcer cried. “Oh dear! Oh dear, oh dear!” The crowd let out a rippling chorus of laughter. “Well that’s a real shame. However, there is entertainment to be found in watching a cat play with a wounded mouse. And so…let us see how the Shadow of the South plays with her food!”
The gates opened up and something came out from the darkness. Loke’s eyes widened with shock as he saw the form emerge.

Into the light of the arena stepped a young woman. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties, with tan skin and long, greasy black hair that fell down over her face and down her shoulders. She was tall, and as thin as a rake, her cheeks slightly gaunt and the pupils of her eyes seemed remarkably small as they darted around the pit, falling upon Loke before scanning the crowd above. Then her eyes refocused on Loke, and she grinned. Her grin widened until it looked as though her face might split if it stretched any further, and her teeth lengthened and formed into canines. The crowd cheered from above, but her gaze was locked upon him.

“Wow, she’s got a lovely smile.” Nyx said in Loke’s head.
“Sh!” He hissed at the air around him. He tensed his grip on his glaive, straightening his body and preparing for a fight. Now that he had got a look at his companion from the cells, he was unsure if it was wise to believe anything she had said. On the one hand she had given him no cause to distrust her, but neither had she expressly promised to work with him. And now he could see her, and if there was one truth to be gleamed, it was that she was a predator.

She remained quite still, until Loke tensed his grip. Darting forwards like an arrow, she closed the gap between them before he could raise his glaive. Her arms raised, elongated and began to turn black. Her fingers extending into long, razor-sharp claws. The deadly talons danced along the flesh of his arm, splitting the skin and opening several deep wounds. Blood splashed the arena, and the crowd roared as she smelled the bloody, muddy ground inquisitively.

"Fascinating." She said, her word leaving her mouth like the purring of a cat. Then she was on Loke once more, he raised his arm to block, but his wound was too severe, and the glaive dropped from his twitching hand. She dropped to the ground at the last moment, charging him and knocking him to the mud. The announcer was talking as she circled him, but she wasn't listening. As Loke tried to stand she charged and knocked him back to the ground again, watching him with a gleam in her eyes.

Loke stood up, but stumbled halfway and fell on one knee. He took a moment, gasping for breath. The sickness within him made him feel hot, heavy and dizzy. The adrenaline of the fight, one sided as it was, only added to nausea, bringing forth a fresh new hell of pain.
“What are you waiting for?” Nyx asked in his head. “She’s going to kill us.”
“I need to know…” He said weakly as he pushed himself up. He fixed eyes with her once more. “I need to know if you are still interested in our bargain?”

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"Our bargain?" She parroted his words, enunciating each syllable carefully, "I haven't killed you, have I?" Her question came with a confused frown.
"Indeed." He gasped. "But... that is exactly what you must do to fulfil our bargain. Bring me to within an inch of my life, and I will free you."
Seeing her stood over the kneeling Loke, the crowd began chanting for blood. They were eager to see a gory conclusion. Her sneer widened as she listened to them rhythmically repeating, 'Kill! Kill! Kill!'. Fists beating into palms, feet striking the floor above. She looked up at the light, and the shadows of the crowd moving over the edge of the pit.
"I would like to be up there..." She muttered, reaching up with a clawed hand, "... with you all..." Then her hungry gaze turned to her opponent.
"This is acceptable." Then quick as a flash, she struck. Her claws impaled Loke through his shoulders and she lifted him cleanly from the floor, until his legs were hanging limply in the air.
"Now i'm going to hurt you." She added, as though she had done nothing to him up to this point. She pulled Loke towards her, and then with a strength hidden within her slight frame, she threw him across the arena. The crowd screamed and cheered as Loke flew like a ragdoll until he struck the spikes at the far wall. Two had impaled him. One pierced only a few inches out of his right shoulder, but the other had skewered him by more than a foot directly through his abdomen. Watching him cough up blood, she could hardly imagine him being capable of anything more than a little more 'leaking'. She could only hope his plan was more impressive than his air time. Whatever was going to happen next, she was sure the fight would be over. She began what felt like the longest walk in the world. The noises of the crowd died away, as she crossed the muddy, bloody arena, and approached her latest, and with luck, her final opponent in the pits.

Loke's vision grew hazy as he felt himself drifting from consciousness. Then, with a sudden burst of unnatural strength, he jerked his pinned shoulder upwards with an agonised scream, and the wooden spike snapped with a thunderous crack. Wide-eyed, the sheer pain of it snapping him back to wakefulness, Loke gripped the two spikes at either side of him and with another scream and a heaving pull, he pulled himself off from the spike that was through his abdomen. He fell to the floor with a thump, blood pouring out of the massive wounds on his shoulder and torso. Slowly he stood up straight, facing his opponent as she continued her slow pace towards him. His gaze flickered towards the torches around the arena. "Burn..." He wheezed, barely able to speak. "Burn this... pit. So no one..." He stumbled towards her, unable to walk properly. "No one..." He trailed off, unable to finish.

"Spike...!" She hissed back at him, as quietly as she could muster without shouting.
Loke cursed as he slowly lifted his hand to the spike protruding from his shoulder. With another cry of pain he pulled it from his shoulder, and the arm went limp. He spun the spike in his good hand so that he was holding it like a weapon. Then with a croaking, anguished cry he began to run at her, brandishing the wooden spike high, his eyes wild and crazed, like a man with nothing left to lose.
She had to give it to him. If nothing else, he was quite an actor. Opening her maw, she loosed a blood-curdling roar and charged him. Keeping her long, loping arms behind her as she ran, she closed the gap between them in a second. She leapt into the air, readied to strike with both fang and claw, and landed on Loke with a dull thud, knocking him to the ground. She stood over him, panting, an unhealthily wide, wicked grin on her otherwise human face.
"I can play pretend too." She whispered, looking down at the spike embedded in her chest. Then she howled and leapt from him, dashing to the side of the arena and pouncing off the spikes on the wall as she sprinted from one spot to the next in what appeared to be a blind panic. Wailing and screeching the most unsettling cries, as she abandoned the rest of her human form. Her body turned to blackness, and nothing was left of her gender. Just a plain, humanoid shape. She looked as though she was made of tar, or ink, as she had a glossy, ever-moving fluidity to her form. Then she changed shape again and it was like she was some kind of four-legged big cat. Howling, she charged at the arena's wall, darting up and sinking her claws into the wood. For a few brief moments, it looked as though she might be able to frantically drag herself up, but then at last she was unable to haul her weight any further, and she fell back down, knocking into a torch sconce as she did so.

All hell broke loose. The torch fell onto her back, and in seconds, she was ablaze. Screeching like a harpy, she bound around the arena in an ever-increasing panic, while spats of oil, flame, mud and dust flew in every direction. Smoke began to billow, and soon the arena was a haze. The crowd watched for signs of action, but they could only see the light of the flames growing stronger and stronger in the depths of the pit. 
"Ladies and gentlemen, if there's a winner, I can't yet see one--" The announcer peered into the dense smoke, but saw nothing. Then a thought occurred to him, "All bets are final, no refunds, in the event of a draw, house wins! Thank you for your patronage!!!" And then he quickly retreated, motioning to the guards to follow him out as the crowd became more and more animated, waiting for something to happen, for the smoke to clear.

"Hey!!" Someone yelled. A middle-aged woman was pointing at something. The light from the fire had subsided. The dense smoke began to thin, turning wispy and rising up out of the pit. Everyone strained their eyes to see into the pit below, but half the light had been taken by the extinguished sconces. Then finally, the smoke cleared, and the crowd gasped in surprise. Lying in the mud, coiled in on itself, was a burnt humanoid corpse. A few feet away from it however, lay Loke. He was badly burnt, terribly wounded, but his rattled breathing echoed up to the crowd that watched him in shocked silence. Every breath he took was agony, but he was alive. He had won.
"Glaive! Glaive the Darkling Slayer!!" Someone yelled, and that was it. The crowd began chanting, 'Glaive! Glaive! Glaive! Glaive! Glaive!' as the door at the far end swung open, and guards ran in in droves. Three of them picked Loke up, inspecting him as they hurriedly carried him back down to the cells. The announcer stepped into the pit, stepping to one side as Loke was being carried out. Then suddenly Loke reached out and grabbed the announcer's arm, making him yelp in surprise.
"What do you want us to do with him, boss?" One of the guards asked.
The announcer froze, his gaze locked with Loke's, "I..." He tried to pull himself away, and Loke's weak grip faltered, his arm falling limp. "... I want you to..." He considered his options, but then he could still hear the crowd above, chanting the man's title. "... get him seen by the doctor. If he dies, it'll be your head..." The guard swallowed in fear, then nodded to the other two, and they carried Loke out of the arena.
"What about this one?!" One of the guards called over to the announcer.
"Throw that thing on the corpse pile." The announcer grit his teeth in distaste, "I paid too much for you..." He muttered, then turned his back on the arena and walked out.

The burned corpse was dragged, still smoking, out of the pit and down through the corridors by the men. As they dragged it they gagged from the horrendous smell of burned flesh, before hurrying their pace. After what seemed like an eternity too long for each of them, they finally reached a pile of mutilated corpses, stinking and rotten as they waited for their final destination, to go on top of a burning pyre. Without a second of hesitation the men tossed the corpse on the pile and hurriedly left, coughing and gasping. 
A final gasp aired after the men had left. This one had escaped the corpse's mouth. Another short gasp, followed by a low and terrible moan. The pitiful noise continued, a weak cry of absolute agony and misery. Then it stopped, and a deathly silence filled the room. Distantly men and women could be heard vacating the arena, returning to their homes in the town. Cell doors clanged shut somewhere far off. 

A single piece of the corpse's charred flesh began to sizzle and bubble. With a hiss, a white mist escaped from beneath the burnt body. Then more mist began to pour out from cracks all over the body. It was as if it was boiling away from within. The eerie mist swirled and danced with an organic, pulsing rhythm that seemed to be almost alive. Then the corpse gasped again, this one full of relief as it drew in breath much needed. 

The blackened skin began to melt away, becoming pink and waxy. Then the skin paled, and began to smooth out. Muscles began to nit themselves back together, and wounds began to stitch. The corpse jerked as bones cracked themselves back in to place. Then the corpse's eyes opened, and they glowed a brilliant white. It slowly rose, climbing down from the pile of bodies, naked, hairless and lacking in any distinguishing features. 

As the body began to walk, hair began to form on the arms, legs, chest and head. Loke's strange tattoos bubbled up from within like a black liquid, taking shape before settling. His hair reformed in it's usual style, but it hung loose without his braids, something he could not regrow, much like his clothing. In the space of a minute the blackened corpse had become Loke, healthy, strong and completely void of even the tiniest of scars. He flexed his fingers and examined himself. 

"That...was an indescribable amount of pain. Remind me to never get set on fire again." He said. 
"I'd have rather you hadn't done it the first time." Nyx's voice replied in his mind. "That was a foolish risk. If you had truly died, you would not have been able to return, even with Arcanium."
"I would have died before long had I not." Loke said. "But now..." He balled his hand into a fist and clenched tightly. "I feel as strong as I ever have."
"You're still quite sick." Nyx pointed out. "You just feel amazing by comparison. A healthy body can ease the burden of sickness."
"Perhaps with my health I can fight it off." Loke mused. 
"Perhaps..." Nyx agreed. "Not likely though. Growth does not reduce the sickness within you, which has festered quite significantly in your time of weakness. You will need rest and medicine before long."

"Not before I hold up my end of he bargain." Loke said, and he went off at a brisk jog. He moved quietly, stepping carefully down the corridor and listening for nearby footfall. He crouched and leaned against the walls as a patrol passed him by, going off in another direction. He waited a moment and then continued onward, finding himself in a room with several long tables, adorned with a variety of items. 
He examined the tables and saw that it was a myriad of weapons that lay across them. He reached out with his hand, considering each weapon, until finally he found his glaive. He picked it up and felt relief at the comfortable weight of it. He stopped as he heard a scuffling noise of approaching footsteps, and he ducked away and hid under one of the tables. He watched as shadows bobbed around in the torchlight. A man in tattered leathers coughed as he approached the table, tossing a pile of bloody weapons atop one of them. 
The man turned around to leave, and Loke came out from under the table. His movement made noise, and the man turned but he was far too late. With a swipe of his glaive, Loke cut an incision clean across the man's throat as he turned. The man let out a gurgling sigh, and then collapsed on the floor. Loke felt little resembling guilt as he began to remove the man's clothes. The cold was starting to get to him, and he needed something to cover his body. When he had finally dressed himself, he held his glaive in his hand and hurried towards the cells.

"If he's as badly injured as you say, I don't see what I could possibly do for him." A man with short brown hair and a scruffy beard followed the announcer down the corridor towards the cells, "You say he's been stabbed, impaled and burned alive? Couldn't you have declared him victor sooner...? At least before the burning..." The man shook his head in disapproval but followed the ring announcer all the same. He was a doctor, and didn't agree with all this violence. But money was money. And he was paid a fair bit of coin every time a runner came calling from the pit.
"Just heal him." The announcer growled, irritable at the situation he was now finding himself in. They turned a corner and began walking past the cells. The doctor glanced inside each one as they passed, expecting to see all kinds of horrors, but the announcer was moving quickly and he had to almost jog to keep up. Finally, the top-hat wearing showman stopped and pointed into the cell behind him.

"He's in there." He jerked his thumb back over his shoulder. The doctor stepped forwards and glanced inside the cell. 
"I don't see him." The doctor muttered, his eyes glancing over the sparse features of the cell. It wasn't as though there was anywhere to hide. Frustrated, the announcer whirled around, ready to point Loke out to the apparent half-blind doctor, when he found himself at an equally distressing realisation. There really wasn't anyone inside the cell. 
"But..." He frowned, and reached out to touch the cell door, but recoiled in horror before he could touch the handle. A mass of black liquid spewed out from between the bars of the viewing window and formed up into the shape of a woman, though still entirely black save for it's eyes which were almost entirely white, and a jaw full of long razor sharp fangs. A squeak escaped the lips of the doctor, who found himself unable to move, but the announcer tried to run. He knew he only had to outrun the doctor, and he'd live to see another day. Did he dare to turn and see the doctor being devoured as he ran? One last look. 

The announcer turned mid-stride, his neck craning as he gazed back down the corridor, but to his surprise, he did not see the doctor being devoured. No in fact, he didn't see the doctor at all. He saw a mouthful of knives, and then nothing. The doctor screeched in horror as he came out of shock. The announcer's body lay half-naked on the ground, a sizeable chunk of his face missing, and a pool of blood surrounding it.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" The announcer's ringing voice echoed through the corridor, "I am pleased to announce the--" And as he spoke, his voice shifted, became lighter and more feminine until it was no longer his, "--triumphant return..." She twirled the announcer's top hat in her long-fingered hand, before placing it atop her head and tapping it so it was slightly off-kilter, "... of the Darkling." Footsteps quickly approaching.
She sounded human, but she was still a humanoid shadow, a living mass of onyx, she had no use for a human form right now. She pulled the announcer's ratty coat jacket on, completing the look in a strange sort of way. Then the owner of the footsteps was revealed as he came sprinting out of the shadows of the corridor, almost tripping on the announcer's faceless corpse. Loke.
"Good evening," She mock bowed, twirling the top hat down her arm and into her waiting hand as she did so, before expertly replacing it. Then the doctor screamed once more and backed himself up into a corner before fainting. A dull thud resonated through the corridor as his unconscious body hit the stone.

"You." Loke said as he stared at the Darkling. " out?"
"Mm," She nodded, "I couldn't shift with all that funny-smellin' smoke burnin' outside my cell. But they thought I was you, so they didn't burn any of that funny-smellin' stuff, so once i'd healed... I got out." 
"I...understand." Loke said with a nod. "Sort of." he added more quietly. He turned and looked around the cells, and noted what was left of the announcer's corpse. Then he turned back to the Darkling. "So you can change your form. How do you do that without..." He stopped himself. "Questions for another time, I think."
"No, go ahead," She grinned, "Take your time, let's chat..." Her sarcasm trailed off as she started walking, passing the doctor with a longing glance, but she'd already eaten and really the doctor seemed less appetising somehow. "So you're something too, hm?" She asked, her large white eyes scanned him intensely as she tried to figure him out.
"Something, yes...or two somethings..." He considered it for a moment. "My people call my kind 'Spellbinders'. Judging by the reactions of, well, every man I've met in this land, I'm quite certain there are few like me here."

"Two somethings, eh?" She paused and leaned in, examining him closer, "Where's your other something, hm? Did you eat it?" She narrowed her large eyes in disbelief.
"It's... here." Loke gestured vaguely around them, "But also not here at all. I mentioned before, in the cell. Elementa. Life that exists in a realm parallel to the physical." He seemed to enjoy explaining, but once again he caught himself. "We should leave. My injuries are healed but I am still sick. I want this town at my back before my strength leaves me once more."
"Here but not here?" She looked him up one last time and shook her head, disregarding his statement, "If you say so, human-something." Then she resumed walking down the corridor. Slowly, she could see light growing stronger. It wasn't the brilliant blazing rays of sunshine that you might connect with daylight, but they were in a marsh, and it was likely raining, so it was still very likely they were approaching an exit. She would be glad to be out of this place.

"What about you... Darkling, was it?" Loke asked. "Is that your name, or what you are?"
"Eh," She played with the brim of the top hat, "That's the thing humans call us to make them less afraid. We're not supposed to have names." 
"All things have a name." Loke replied, matter-of-factually. "My people call me Sunborn, Bright Eyes, or Truthseeker. My name, however, is Loke. That name is personal, it's mine. What is yours?"
"We don't have names..." She repeated, scowling at him. But then a thought occurred to her, she lingered on it for a while, walking in silence. She saw the entrance up ahead, sure enough, it was raining outside. They'd found a way out. As they stepped out into the rain, she held her hands aloft and took a deep breath. At last, she was free again.
"If you have to name me, you can call me... Aquas." Then after a brief pause she shrugged it off, "It's as good as anythin' without a purpose." She muttered, then as she walked onto the grass, her form shifted once more. Back into the form of the tall, gaunt-cheeked and long, greasy black-haired young woman. Plain black rags formed beneath the jacket she already wore, but she did not attempt to create shoes, choosing instead to walk barefoot.

"Very well, Aquas." Loke said with a nod. He stepped out into the rain with her, and smiled as she changed her form. "Quite amazing. I thought that changing the form was something that could only be accomplished through spellbinding, and here you do just that, and in a way that no spellbinder I know of has ever managed. Truly amazing."
"You mean you don't have a thing like me where you're from?" Aquas asked. Delicately, curiously.
"Spellbinders can change the form of things, but there is cost, and there are conditions. With the right Arcanium I can turn these rags into something more appealing to the eye." He gestured at his stolen clothes, "I can make the material harder, or softer, or change it's colour. However I am limited to the mass of the material I bind, and I cannot change it's purpose." He lifted his glaive. "Naegl can become a sword, or an axe, but not a shovel or rake. Do you understand?"
"No." Aquas replied, chuckling, "But I don't care to understand..." She considered him a while longer and then stepped up to him with an honest expression of curiosity, "Loke, you are not all human then, yes? What do you suppose you taste of?"

"I... could not say." Loke said, shrugging. "The part of me that is not human, it does not exist within the physical, and so taste is not a relevant factor. That part of me does, in some ways, enhance my physical aspects.  For example my own senses became more acute when I formed the bonding. I am stronger, faster, I learn more quickly."
"Loke... I don't like that look in her eyes." He heard Nyx say in his mind. He frowned, and eyed Aquas warily. 
"Nyx thinks you would like to eat us. I must warn, I will put up more of a fight than before, by quite a substantial degree. Also I'm sick, that may disagree with you."
"Oh?" Aquas raised an eyebrow quizzically, "A Nyx can hear, but is not here, does he have ears... I think it is inside you..." She took a step towards Loke, who matched her step backwards. Her head lowered ever so slightly, as her instincts reacted to his trepidation, and she darted towards him and grabbed him by the head, restraining him. "Are you in there, voice inside?" She asked in barely a whisper, peering into Loke's ear, who struggled and pulled himself free. Aquas raised her hands in a peaceful gesture, "Jus' checkin', Loke." She grinned, a human with a smile that stretched a little too far, and a little too thin.

Aquas turned and started to walk through the grass, towards a steep incline. She wanted to get a feel for her surroundings. She had no idea where they were. Being drugged and brought here while unconscious made it difficult to know just where they were exactly, and she wanted to fix that. "I know, by the way." 
Loke paused for a moment, unsure whether he wanted to follow. 
"Need I remind you that you aren't that much stronger than a human." Nyx said to him. "She could probably still kill us, since you burned all of your Arcanium. Until you find more, however, I suppose there are a lot of things that can kill you. Also your health is going to worsen soon. Either you'll die from your illness, or you'll be murdered by the savages that roam this land, or she'll eat you. Any way you look at it, we're probably going to die."
"Know what?" Loke asked, frowning as he ignored Nyx's comments and followed Aquas up the grass.
"You're sick." She replied nonchalantly, coming to the top of the rise. She looked out across the marshlands and saw the town that almost certainly had to have been the source of the vast majority of the pit's crowd. "So, I should know when you're not, too." The corners of her lips curled up into the smallest of smiles. "So get better soon, kay?" She gave him a quick pat on the shoulder in a friendly sort of way and then trudged down the other side of the incline, "Can we go there? I'd like to eat some of them..."

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“I…” Loke paused, shifting uncomfortably. Perhaps it was the casual nature of Aquas displayed in her suggestion of murder. He was not particularly against violence, or killing for that matter. Indeed he had killed many himself, and had even enjoyed it. ‘The Thrill’ was something often spoke about by the Warbreakers, the feeling of sheer, primal revelry and excitement when fighting and killing. It was a feeling any warrior knew well, he felt. Yet with Aquas it seemed to make him uncomfortable. “…honestly I would rather you did not. We have our freedom, and you have eaten already. To kill and devour them would be unnecessary.”

Picking at a loose bit of debris amongst her fangs, Aquas shrugged her shoulders and sat down on the grassy hill. Staring at the village, she leaned back and stared up at the sky, "What does a caged bird do when freed?" She asked aloud.
“I wouldn’t know.” Loke replied. “We don’t cage things in Falice. All things lead, follow or die. That is natural. Slavery is…” He struggled to find the word for how he felt. “…disgusting. No one can truly claim ownership of another.”
"Sure they can." Aquas muttered thoughtfully

“How so?” Loke asked, folding his arms.
"If I eat you, then you are mine. You're a part of me, whether you like it or not. I took choice from you. You're a slave." Aquas licked her lips and then sprang back onto her feet with the ease of an acrobat. "So, what are you going to do with your freedom?"
Loke paused for a moment, considering her words. He had never thought of it quite like that.

“Well, what I was doing before most likely.” He replied. “Seeking truth.”
"What does that mean?" She asked quizzically. Loke smirked.
“It is…not a simple thing to explain.” Loke replied. “Falice is a land of different castes. Each person lives by a code of honour, one determined by their caste. Warbreakers fight our battles, Lightweavers tell our stories, Nurturers rear our children, Formbuilders create tools, and food. There are many more castes, and some are larger than others. They are built around the oaths sworn by various spellbinders. I am a Truthseeker, we are a smaller caste. We seek truths that are universal, through study and through experiencing life, and through reflection.”

"You are unlike any human i've met." Aquas replied, "Humans say that trust is something you feel when you are not threatened by another, I think then I trust you."
“Trust is more than that.” Loke replied, though he smiled at her. “I am not threatened by a mouse, for example, but I do not trust it. I cannot depend on a mouse to be reliable, or to always work to our mutual benefit.”

Loke let out a sigh and looked back towards the town. “I will need to stop there. I need food, rest, and medicine. I will also need supplies for my journey. I suppose I’ll need to get some of those metal rocks they trade for goods. I’m not sure if I’ll ever understand that…”
"I'll come." Aquas added quickly, "Better to come with you then walk into town on my own. People are suspicious of lone strangers. I've no idea why..." A wicked smirk spread across her face.

“I doubt it will help.” Loke replied, but he started walking at a pace Aquas could follow. He gestured at his eyes. “Difficult to hide these. No doubt the people there have spectated us in the pit, and I cannot change my face like you. It does seem strange to me, how they fear me for the colour of my eyes. I do not fear their strange coloured eyes. Blues, browns and greens…I never knew eyes could have such colours.”

"Humans fear the different." Aquas walked quickly, increasing the length of her legs slightly so she could walk at a more comfortable pace. "That's just how it is. They swat at flies, they chase rats, they kill cows and given the chance, they'd do the same to us."
“The humans of this land seem burdened by a great deal of fear, and ignorance.” Loke said with an agreeing nod. “Are they not taught? A child came to me in the prison. He spoke of his father like he knew him well. What sort of world leaves teaching to the parents? It’s no wonder the people here are like this.”

"'Parents? Tch! A fine notion." Aquas grumbled her reply.
“Is it of importance here?” Loke asked. “My mother and father brought me life, and I suppose I am grateful to them for that in a way. However, I know them only passingly. They seem nice enough, I suppose.”
"Humans are attached to one another. More so with their spawn." Aquas replied, her tone becoming more irritable, "In fact, some are like to throw themselves in the way of danger for the sake of their offspring."

“Oh, like family then.” Loke nodded. The word has meaning to him that had little to do with blood relation. “So, when we get there…I’m not sure what will happen. The sailors who brought me here from Falice claimed to be traders, but they lied. They knew enough of my kind to wait until I was vulnerable, and then they put me in a cage. Since then everyone who has seen me has been fearful. How do we win them over?”

"Humans appreciate other humans that can do things for them. Give things to them. What you say is not important. Gather currency and valuables, and trade them for goods, buy them drinks, oh--!" Aquas derailed from her train of thought, "When they drink alcohol, they are far more loose-lipped and easier to subdue. Also, one last thing," She stopped as they entered the edge of town, "I need to eat. Frequently. I will continue to do so, and i'd really like you to not get in the way of that, 'kay?"

Loke folded his arms again and eyed her for a moment, considering her. “That depends.” He said. “A man who is caged can kill his captors. There is honor in that as there is honor in defending ones self. However, I have sworn oaths as a spellbinder. Each caste has their own oaths, but the first is the same for us all. Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination. These words are a promise I have made, a compact. They are bound to me just as I bind Arcanium to this realm.”

“The woman must eat.” Nyx’s melodious voice said in his mind, sounding quite fascinated and amused. “I have never demanded you save a Krell from the plate. Here is the truth of this situation, Loke. Your kind are her food. You are just a Krell, in that regard.”
Loke paused, letting out a sigh of annoyance. He scowled at the nothingness in the air, directing it at Nyx.

“My friend, however, has offered some perspective.” He continued. “My oath demands that, acting as a free man, I cannot kill except through honorable means, such as through contest. Alternatively, I can kill to defend myself, or if the result will save more lives than are lost. I also cannot stand by as witness to such acts that dishonor my oaths. Might we find a way that is mutually beneficial? My oaths are as important to my survival as food and water, it is the nature of the bond.”

"Sometimes you spout a lot of words and say nothing." Aquas observed, "What are you asking me to do?" She wanted clarification, as to her, he spoke in riddles.
“You require a lot of instruction for one so apparently independent.” Loke said, rolling his eyes. “Those who act without honor are not worthy of my protection. I would ask that you be discreet about it, however, as I would rather avoid being chased from town. Children are innocent, and so I will protect them. Anyone who means us harm accepts the consequences of doing so, and so I will not mourn their death. However, those who welcome us will be given my protection, as will those who yield to us in combat. Does that sound agreeable?”

"I will only agree to this on one condition." Aquas crossed her arms. She didn't like where this was going and ordinarily, she wouldn't agree. However, she had rarely had an ally, and it seemed a sensible step to take. At least, for as long as it would suit her.
“Name it.” Loke replied.
"Fear, as humans describe it, is an alien concept, but if I was to give it a name... I would call it starvation.  It is as though a fire has been lit within us, and we begin to burn, the flame spreads across our body until we are no longer ourselves, a pain so vivid I cannot accurately convey it. While I will attempt to resist my hunger in agreeing to this... contract.... I will not allow myself to starve." A shiver ran up her spine and she visibly shook before she held her hand up and offered it, "In this country, humans clasp hands to seal a verbal agreement. Consider it a formal bond of trust."

Loke smirked and clasped her hand in his own. “I will do my best not to let you starve, I promise.” He said with a nod. He released her grip and turned towards the town and started walking. With Aquas following him he made his way down the dirt road that led to the town houses. In a cottage near where the cobbles began, a woman was outside hanging up clothes and sheets to dry. When she noticed Loke’s white eyes, glowing faintly in the light, she gasped and backed up, almost tripping over her basket of laundry.

“Great…” Loke grumbled under his breath as he saw the gripping, clawing hands of fear elementa clawing up the woman’s form. “G-g…” She stammered fearfully as she moved to run.
“Please, I mean you no harm.” Loke replied holding his hand up. “If you jus-“
“GRIFFON!!” She cried in terror, as she began to flee towards the town. “Griffon! GRIFFON!!” She shrieked over, and over.

“Uh…” Loke looked perplexed. “What is a Griffon?” He asked. As if in response, he heard a blood-curdling screech pierce through the air. He turned in shock as mighty wing beats thumped skywards. A shadow swooped gracefully overhead, its form growing larger and larger as it began to descend.
“I think that’s a Griffon.” Nyx said, as the creature suddenly went into a dive towards them.

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