Following Lord Lúcuma's orders, the skies over Victus had been cleared of all clouds, to prevent any possible precipitation from ruining today's event. Last month, a sudden downpour had caused considerable discomfort to most spectators, and a few patrons demanded a guarantee that they would not get drenched like this again. The use of weather altering machinery required a permission from the city's authorities, but that was not an issue. It just so happened that Lúcuma had the governor's ear in most political and economical issues. One more day without rain would not harm the cultivators' crops too badly, he claimed; it would, however, ensure the satisfaction of the entertainment-seeking crowds and the undisturbed money flow from the sponsors. The latter part of the statement was certainly correct, although Tiyesa doubted the truthfulness of the former. Their lunch table was laden with a variety of lavish dishes as usual, and so were the tables of all nobles rich enough to reside in the aloft area of the city. Down on the ground, the story might be different - especially for the people of the lowest castes.
"I hear Lord Ackee has bought a pair of young Herans for his fighting pit. Once they grow up, they will be quite an attraction," Tiyesa's mother was saying conversationally, while delicately dismantling a crimson-colored spiky fruit.
"It will take years until they grow up, Ava. There's no guarantee they will survive for long, either. Even then, they will be no match for the fame of some of my warriors," Lord Lúcuma scoffed in disdain. "And if those Herans steal too much of the crowds' attention, I will propose a fight - both of them against my Saiyan. Ackee won't be able to refuse without losing the respect of his supporters. When he agrees, he'll lose his prized warriors and the crowds will surge back to my amphitheater."
Tiyesa listened to the conversation in silence, the food on her plate mostly untouched. She couldn't get herself to eat, the anxiety regarding today's plans so great it was making her feel sick. The conversation went on just fine without her, as it so often did. She barely registered the topics being discussed, although she knew she should pay attention - a lot of what was said at this table served as valuable intel to the resistance. Yet her thoughts were all over the place, poking holes in the risky plan, counting the numerous ways in which it could go wrong. It took her a few moments to realize that her parents had gone quiet, and were both looking at her expectantly. Apparently, Father had asked her something, which she completely failed to register.
"Excuse me, can you repeat that? I was lost in thought," she said.
"You should pay attention when we're talking about business - one day, you will have to start helping me organize it, after all," her father said disapprovingly. "We lost three percent of the audience in the last year, people seem to be growing bored with most of what we currently have. I'm planning to send more acquisition teams out. I asked what breed of warriors do you think would draw the most interest."
"I'm not sure if it's the lack of new fighters that is causing decrease in interest," she spoke, choosing her words carefully. "The pits all over Canistel are reporting decline in spectator numbers, are they not? The times are changing, perhaps people are just less inclined to watch extraterrestrials slaughter each other."
"That is undoubtedly true," Lord Lúcuma inclined his head, giving her a momentary glimmer of hope before completely thwarting it with his next words. "You are correct - no matter how good the fights are, they will not hold interest if the stakes remain the same. I agree, we should design new activities. Perhaps a weekly lottery, the winner of which would be allowed to execute a losing fighter? The more involved the spectators can get, the more interested they will be. That's why I'm organizing the dinner with the brute - to keep our sponsors intrigued. It is good to know that you are able to think outside the box, Tiyesa."
There wasn't much she could say to that. Father had clearly been thinking a lot about different types of entertainment for the pits, and heard only what he wanted to hear - a confirmation that he was on the right track. Once again, she came to the disappointing realization that the older generation would not be open to a change in deep-rooted traditions. She excused herself and walked out of the dining hall, leaving her parents to continue discussing potential improvements to the events.
Out in the Sanguine Gardens, blood-red plants were soaking up the sun and exuding a sweet, soothing fragrance. Tiyesa closed her eyes briefly and inhaled the smell, sparing a few moments to enjoy the blissful relaxation it granted. Then she continued walking, her eyes drawn to the city below. While not as splendid as the auriferous floating palace, it was still beautiful to behold, even to someone who had seen this view every day for their entire life. Spreading out in all directions were the humbler homes of the lower castes - mostly skyscrapers, all built in accordance with the Canistelean architecture, ever sumptuous and pristine. Some of them were gilded, to show that the inhabitants were well-off and respectable, although the 'plain' buildings still inspired awe with their elegant facades. The city gleamed in the sunlight, unmarred by even a single shadow of a cloud, just like Lord Lúcuma had requested. One of the planet's two moons also hung in the sky, a large silvery orb that added to the magnificence of Canistel's capital. Vehicles of various sizes and purposes were moving in the air like giant, glittering, mute insects.
The largest building in view, partly underneath the suspended palace, was the main amphitheater, the one owned by her father - elephantine in comparison to the surrounding structures. Tiyesa paused to look down at the massive circular structure below, resting her hands on the low barrier encompassing the outskirts of the garden. In a few hours, people from all around the city would start streaming towards the amphitheater, to receive their daily dose of entertainment. There were some signs of life there even now, a few dozen people - seen only as tiny dark dots - were moving about in the arena, preparing for the day's event. Soon enough, she would also be heading there, to take a place of honor next to her father and converse with the guests in between shows of massacre - making sure that the elites didn't get bored while the field was being cleaned up for the next spectacle. But before that, she still had duties to carry out, preparations of her own to make. With any luck, the lives of those down there would soon improve.
POWER LEVEL: 8,000 || SUPPRESSION: 600 || ANTISENSE: ON
LORD LÚCUMA'S GLADIATOR LUDUS ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━
Another day on planet Canistel, another highly regimented and controlled day of existence, supervised by instructors and guards that maintained the function and efficiency of the gladiator training school. The small compound owned by Lord Lúcuma was located in the lower portion of Victus City, not far from the nobleman's high-rise estate, and it was in the Ludus that Lord Lúcuma's fighters were trained for the Canistel arena. For all the splendor and grandeur of the ornate and technologically advanced city had to offer, unfortunately such cityscapes and panoramic views were not for the eyes of the chaff; in fact, the Ludus was housed as low down in the bottom caste sections as it could be, to reduce cost and lessen taxes, undoubtedly. The compound was a decent size, which encompassed barracks, training yards, bathing rooms and meal halls - all the typical, if basic, amenities one might expect for a simple life as an indentured fighter for other people's entertainment.
The gladiators and fighters-in-training themselves were want to nothing, save a lack of freedom. Clothing, meals, training were all provided, at the expense to their benevolent master, Lord Lúcuma. That was a fact routinely spouted by the instructors and guards, especially when there was any unease among the fighters, either from agitation or pent up frustration; all of them were, after all, encouraged and expected to develop aggressive demeanors for the sake of doing well in the fighting arenas, and not just those on Canistel. So, it was generally understood that tempers could run high in the Ludus, as each member of the school was put through excruciating regiment and training every day... however, Lord Lúcuma and his instructors had - wisely - worked out ways to let the gladiators relieve stress and find enjoyment under controlled conditions.
As such, it was lunchtime for the Ludus.
That meant the crowd of gladiators and fighters-in-training were loud, talkative, and able to enjoy one of the few times permitted as unstructured. Joking, arm wrestles, gossip, all of the things not typically allowed in the training yards were present. Conversation buzzed, insults were thrown, and the guards around the eating hall remained unobtrusive - but still blatantly present - as they permitted the fighters to enjoy the break. It was a known understanding between all parties that fun was allowed during lunch, but too much meant that luxury was temporarily removed, and so everyone behaved to an extent and a loose supervision was maintained.
"Hey, Keel," A low rumbling voice said from the next table over. "You heard Grizz is coming for you?"
Seated on a wooden chair, at a wooden table, with a plate of nutrient pastes and cubes, dark eyes glanced over to regard the alien that spoke. The individual the alien addressed was a muscular and tall humanoid, tan of skin with mottled scars, and a mass of black hair that covered his head and wore the typical outfit of a gladiator - gauntlets, boots, pants and a belt with thick cingulum strips attached. Those that were fans of the arena of Canistel knew the Saiyan by sight, his appearance unique in that most of his species weren't nearly as tall or as broad, not to mention the sheer amount of time he had lived as a gladiator...
"Nope," Keel grunted, as he looked over at the purple-skinned alien, who had four eyes and a mohawk, she was very distinctive also. "And why would I care?"
"Oh, uh, well," The alien - Shank, by name - blinked all four eyes and stuttered. "I guess you wouldn't? Just wanted to give you a heads up, though, since he seems hellbent on pushing an arena challenge on you."
"Let him," Keel said simply, as he forked another mouthful of nutrient paste into his mouth and chewed loudly. The Saiyan's dark gaze moved about the eating hall, where he settled his stare onto Grizz across the way. The human was laughing loudly, making a spectacle, and then offered a short glance back and a smirk. "He knows what will happen. It's why the challenge hasn't come, it's boasting... and it makes him look weaker for it."
"Yeah, well, just watch out," Shank chuckled, as the alien went back to her own food. "That human can be tricky. From some place called Earth, I heard... anyway."
If it was one thing Shank knew, it was that Keel wasn't much for conversation. Or friendliness. Perhaps it was simply the lifestyle, as being a gladiator meant you were on borrowed time, surviving as long as you were able to win. And there was no point in making friends as one day they could just die, failures in combat, and that camaraderie would have been for nothing. Keel had been a fighter in the arena for 14 years, and he definitely didn't have time for useless connections, especially when his next opponent could literally be anyone from the Ludus, or any other fighting school in the space sector...
"Okay, slugs," Called a guard suddenly, as the people in armor that brandished weapons began to stomp and move about the hall. "Lunch is over in five minutes. Finish your meals, your conversations, and be ready to leave the hall to return to training before then!"
This was his life.
It wasn't much of one, but at least the Saiyan was able to fight, which felt oddly good on an instinctual level. He had also managed to exceed in his profession, as it was, and had become a prized gladiator to Lord Lúcuma ever since being claimed by the noble as his property. A lot of time had passed since Keel had arrived on Canistel - 25 years, actually - and it was all the fighter knew, as he had no recollection of his home planet, culture or parents. Being taken as a baby in his growth pod, Keel had been birthed - technically - on Canistel and to Lord Lúcuma, and there had been no attempt at giving information about Keel's past to him from his master.
Sometimes I do wonder about it all, Keel thought, as he reflected on Shank's mention of Grizz's planet, Earth. I don't even know the name of my planet, but I know I'm not a Canistelean... the lack of blue skin is obvious.
With several last mouthfuls, Keel finished his meal and stood, to then walk over with his dish to the water trough. He dumped the items in the water, the fighters who worked the kitchens would clean them later, and proceeded to make his way to the eating hall exit. As Keel waited, patiently in line as others began to mingle over and join him, the Saiyan glanced out the shuttered window of the building... he couldn't see much, not beyond the high buildings outside the tall compound walls, and the view certainly didn't inspire much of anything internally.
"Lunch is now over," Called another guard, as he smacked the taser-pole against the ground with a loud clang. "Cut the chatter, you're now back on Lord Lúcuma's gracious and generous time. Everyone move to the training yard, regimented partnered sparring will commence immediately!"
At the front of the queue of gladiators, Keel sighed and stepped through the heavy doors of the meal hall, before he turned and started to walk along the dark corridors of the Ludus, before he stepped out into the training yard. It was a large, flat section of sand with various wooden racks with wooden weaponry and equipment on them. Training items, non-lethal. Keel didn't bother with the weapons, he preferred using his hands, and without complaint or word simply walked over to his sparring space - a position at the far edge of the yard, where all other fighters knew he trained specifically.
One of the many faceless fighters-in-training approached, assigned to Keel to spar, to which the Saiyan crouched and rubbed sand through his hands. When he was ready, the gladiator stood and turned to begin training for the afternoon, before the big event later that evening...
Here's to another day on Canistel...
Last Edit: May 13, 2022 17:56:07 GMT -5 by Deleted
"Your techniques have improved significantly in the last few months, Lady Tiyesa. Soon I won't have anything left to teach you," Master Longan was saying. Standing at a bit over six feet, lean and muscular, the man possessed a physique of the perfect Canistelean warrior. For the past year, he had been instructing her in harnessing the Azure Aether in order to perform powerful ranged attacks. They had a training session thrice a week, as per her father's instruction - while most other noble youths only got the chance to practice once in ten days. The tutoring had to take place in a specifically designed hall at the floating palace, a fortified, sacred location away from the prying eyes of the 'filthy' lower castes that were not meant to learn about the arcane arts. Given this limitation, it was difficult to book a time for training - being the favorite of Victus City's governor helped a lot in that regard.
"You're being too kind, Master Longan," she said, lowering her hand. Across the hall, an armor-wearing dummy now had a narrow, smoldering hole in its chest.
"I speak the truth. Your Shield Breaker is quite lethal. If you are ever drafted for military service, you will be a valuable soldier."
She took the compliment with a smile, trying to suppress her disgust with the idea of serving in Canistelean military. As 'respectable' and 'honorable' as the service was considered to be, it mostly consisted of attacking weaker civilizations to kill or enslave their inhabitants and steal resources - before destroying the planet or selling it to some sufficiently advanced and prosperous race.
"Thank you for the lesson, I could not have mastered this technique without your guidance. But now I must go and start preparing for today's event. I hope I will see you there,". She walked out, heading to her rooms to take a scented bath and change into a festive attire. Her handmaids already had the water warmed, and the clothes laid out on her bed. She would be wearing a light yellow gown today, along with some golden accessories. The daughter of the amphitheater's owner had to look splendid during every event. No matter how impractical such garbs were, and how much they restricted her movements.
The young woman spent as much time as she could simply enjoying the warmth of the water and the undisturbed peace of her solitude. Which, in truth, wasn't all that much time - one of her handmaids knocked on the door not ten minutes later. She was a Majin, light green of skin - not at all like that of Zamma's; although she did share the same amicable personality. The extraterrestrial chatted away happily while helping Tiyesa into her clothes, brushing her hair, and weaving some strands of it into elaborate braids. It was difficult to shut her out, but Tiyesa did her best. The lesson had been learned three years ago. Getting too close to an alien slave could get them killed. It was best to act haughty and ignore the talkative Majin altogether.
"Oh, you look beautiful, mistress," the slave breathed out in admiration after placing a thin gilded circlet on Tiyesa's head.
"That will do. You may go now," was all she said, turning her back to the handmaid and pretending to admire her own reflection in the looking glass, until she heard the door open and then close again. Alone once more, she walked over to her nightstand, took a thin piece of paper and wrote a quick note, before slipping it under the belt of her dress - careful to fully conceal it.
Soon the transportation would arrive. Lord Lúcuma and his family would be heading down in an ornate, luxurious craft of yellowish metal. Most other nobles would have less imposing ships waiting for them, and some would just use the gliding elevators. But there was still some time to kill until then, and so she went out to the Sanguine Gardens again, to enjoy the sweet scents of late afternoon. For a few minutes, she had the place all to herself. Then a familiar voice spoke up behind her, making the redhead turn around.
"Lady Tiyesa, I daresay, you look absolutely breathtaking," Lord Ackee's eldest son, Litchi, was walking towards her, the usual slimy smile on his face. Either instructed to do so by his parents, or of his own volition, the young nobleman kept seeking out her company and attempting to woo her with endless compliments. It would have been a major advancement for their family if the two were to get married - with Tiyesa being the heir to Canistel's largest fighting pit, an espousal like that would bring riches, power and influence far beyond their current status. Father had explicitly forbidden such union - Ackee was a rival, and an unworthy one at that. His amphitheater, while the second biggest in Victus, was still meager and insignificant - no city needed two fighting pits, not event the capital. His constant petty attempts to undermine Lúcuma's influence over the governor were clearly antagonistic. Not to mention the poor genetics of their entire family, which rendered them much shorter than a respectable Canistelean noble should be - almost as small of statue as the lowest-caste peasants. The little runt, Litchi, was only as tall as Tiyesa - and she herself was at least an inch short of the desirable female warrior height. While most of these arguments held no significance to Tiyesa, she was more than happy to comply.
"Thank you, that's very sweet of you to say," she responded - with the minimum required level of grace - before appraising's the nobleman's own looks. "You look rather appropriate yourself, are you by any chance going to attend today's games?"
"Most definitely. We heard about the intriguing announcement your father is planning to make - I was curious to see if it's true." He was clearly pleased with himself, flaunting the knowledge of information that was meant to be secret for now. Tiyesa found herself idly wondering who was Ackee's spy in her father's household. Not that she really cared. Squabbles between owners of fighting pits were only to be encouraged, therefore she would not tip her father off about this. "Is it really true? Will he really allow a brute beast to attend a gathering full of nobility?"
"I'm afraid you'll have to wait until the evening, and find out for yourself." It was an attempt to disentangle herself from the conversation, but such subtlety was lost on Litchi.
"I shall do just that. But if the rumor is true, aren't you worried? Isn't that creature utterly barbarous? It could end in a complete fiasco, don't you think?"
"I do apologize, but this is not a topic I wish to discuss," she said impassively. In all honesty, she was worried about a whole lot of things. The little party her father was organizing was not on that list - hopefully, it wouldn't even take place, if all went as planned today. She was about to turn away when the nobleman spoke again. Apparently, her words were taken as an invitation to change the subject, rather than to end the chat.
"Say, have you heard about the Herans my father has acquired? It's funny, they look almost like us, what with their blue skin. Even their hair is red, much like that of some Canisteleans. Not as lovely as yours, of course, not by a long shot." He offered another obsequious grin. "Anyway, it's an unsettling similarity. They're just beasts, of course, far inferior to us. But people are curious to see them - we're selling tickets just for the possibility to look at them sitting in a cage, not even engaging in combat. It already generated as much income as two full fighting events - and in only three days!"
"Perhaps you should consider closing your fighting pits and opening a menagerie instead," she suggested, feeling mildly irritated. Merely looking at captured extraterrestrials was, of course, much better than pitting them against one another, but it still sounded like abuse - especially if those Herans really were just children.
Litchi guffawed. "That's a delightful idea, I'll pass it on to my father."
"Great. Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe I should go and join my family." She walked off before the noble youth could pull her back into the inane conversation.
POWER LEVEL: 8,000 || SUPPRESSION: 600 || ANTISENSE: ON
LUDUS TRAINING YARDS ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ Training had been relentless.
For hours and hours the fighters had been sparring, each of the numerous individuals that mock fought brought to physical and mental exhaustion. Theirs was a painstaking lifestyle, one filled with endless lessons, endless bruises and wounds, endless training that was aimed to allow them to get through the arena. Some overcame the toll on the mind and body, some fought through the endless hours of monotonous sparring, and earned valuable lessons to help survive; others gave in, started to become complacent with the instructors, barely put in the effort and usually paid for that mistake with their lives.
And further still, there were a select few that relished in and excelled with the brutal and unforgiving lifestyle, who came alive when in the middle of combat - whether sparring or not - and took to each training session with the same abandon as a fish to water. These were the champions, the prized fighters of a Lord's fighting group, and they were expected to do everything any regular combatant would in training, if not more. As being a prized gladiator made one no exception to the rule: to survive, you must fight; to fight, you must learn; and to learn, you must train.
Keel grunted as he blocked a strong overhead smash from the wooden training sword, even as the force shuddered his arms, though his gauntlets absorbed the impact for the most part. Opposite the Saiyan gladiator, a yellow humanoid alien with four muscular arms - and consequently four swords - sparred, as he delivered several combinations of sword strikes, aimed to test Keel's defensive clout. The strikes continued to come, raining down against Keel's defenses, as the Saiyan blocked and deflected and moved his feet to keep balance under the training onslaught. Most of the wooden blades were turned aside, but every so often the yellow alien landed a solid hit, which elicited a grunt from Keel for the mistake.
Amid the numerous other fighters who trained in the yard, it seemed these two specifically had drawn attention. As near the pair, Ludus Master Rimoya watched with narrowed eyes and keen observation. The older training master was in charge of the development of the fighters-in-training and gladiators, and had the pale blue and yellow eyes of his race, the Canisteleans. Rimoya was trusted by Lord Lúcuma, the former's social station quite high himself, though it had still been an honor to serve under the noble household of Victus City. As such, Rimoya had dedicated himself to giving the best training he could to every combatant, regardless of skill or survivability chances...
"Good, Quash, go again," Came Rimoya's response, filled with authority, as the training master nodded. "Harder. Make those swords splinter."
The yellow alien with four arms - Quash - nodded, as he turned and readied himself. Keel, scowl on his face, prepared also. There was a few moments before Quash rushed in and began to swing the swords, the wooden blades blunt but the force and strength applied real, to which Keel moved his forearms to intercept each strike; the metal gauntlets were more than enough to stop damage, as the wood blades smashed down from Quash's powerful hits, and the sound of cracks and groans could be heard from the weapons--
--then one of the wooden swords snapped, as the blade portion finally gave way and broke over Keel's forearm. The result sent the blade portion sailing through the air, where it smacked into Keel's face, against his cheek, and brought a grunt from the Saiyan. The sparring paused, as Quash blinked and stopped mid-swing, while Rimoya looked to Keel with a cautious glare. Both aliens watched, hesitant... then Keel shook his head and muttered something under his breath, but otherwise shrugged off the mishap.
"Keep going," Keel said in a low tone, as he locked eyes with Quash. The Saiyan now had a streak of blood just below his right eye, but the wound didn't seem serious. "Just a scratch."
For his part, Rimoya let out a contained sigh of relief, as he crossed arms and continued to observe. Thankfully Keel had pulled his temper in, since the dark-haired warrior had a reputation for his fierce strength and rage, and overzealous training partners in the past - who intentionally tried to hurt Keel - had come out the other side of that temper the worse for it. Though today it seemed Keel was in full control, much to Quash's state of well-being...
"Good," Rimoya said as he pointed to a nearby instructor and then clicked his fingers at a nearby weapon rack. "Another sword, now. Quash, lose the broken one. We go again!"
Both gladiators waited as the replacement weapon was brought, even though Keel wondered at why Rimoya had him training against four blades. It wasn't usual, the Saiyan could count the number of training sessions with Quash on one hand, but for the last several days there had been a heavy focus on multiple limb defense. It was enough to make Keel suspicious, as he pondered if the old Canistelean trainer knew something about the upcoming arena fight later in the day...
"Ready, Keel?" Quash asked, big eyes blinking. He had all four swords again. "Didn't mean for that to happ--"
"It's fine, go," Keel nodded, then raised his arms before him, defensively positioned. He added. "And never apologize for striking well."
LUDUS FIGHTER'S BARRACKS ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ It was late afternoon by the time the fighters were allowed a break.
Most retired to the barracks, where they rested in preparation for the upcoming arena fights that evening, so most of the compound was free of movement or sentient traffic. The guards still patrolled, of course, but their alert gazes tended to look over empty yards and halls, as the trainees retreated to what was considered personal quarters, but were in fact small spaces with bunk beds. Multiple fighters to a room, cramped living spaces, little-to-no personal effects or belongings, save what could be placed on a window shelf or under the bed. Sleep in those circumstances was difficult, not to mention the sound of dozens and dozens of aliens, conversations, snoring, and the smell of sweat (and equivalent other odors, from aliens without sweat glands) permeated the area.
But those who had proven themselves, the champions or prized gladiators, had it a little better; though not by much...
Keel sat on the edge of a simple bed, in a narrow room, which was solely for himself. He had the 'honor' of privacy, even though his personal room was smaller than the others, which barely allowed the Saiyan to stand upright or outstretch his arms. A few others were in similar circumstances, those like Keel who proved themselves in the arena, with their own private rooms. Again, theirs wasn't much, little more than narrow spaces between rock walls to slip into and lay down - with only a bed crammed into the far corner to call their own.
Still, for the most part, Keel couldn't complain. It gave him solitude, a chance to escape from the numerous other fighters who occupied the Ludus, and also allowed for some time to relax and think and wonder. In those moments, when training was done, and Keel was alone, he found his mind wander to thoughts of his past - of which he knew little - and who his people might be, who his parents were, and of someday returning to them. A hopeless endeavor, maybe, it had been 25 years after all, and the likelihood of Keel's parents caring about their lost son was probably long gone... but it was something, a thought exercise perhaps, which allowed Keel to escape beyond the Ludus and his situation and to see some kind of future where he had any kind of option or choice in his life.
Do I want to meet my parents? I think so, yes, Keel thought as he shifted to lay back on the short and narrow bed, his feet off the end because of his height. Do I think I ever will? Doubtful...
Keel stared up at the ceiling of the small room for a while, until he closed his eyes and drifted into a light rest. He wanted to be refreshed after the training, to be ready for any opponent in the arena that evening, and getting some sleep usually helped with that. Besides, when Keel slept, he was able to escape beyond the confines of the Ludus and allow his thoughts to create new and interesting worlds that may - or may not - have existed, where he might one day explore and see for himself...
Crowds were still trickling in to the amphitheater. People moved about, looking for their seats, buying snacks from vendors, or chatting with acquaintances. The place was filled with a low murmur of conversation, which was getting progressively louder. With every passing minute, the spectator numbers swelled, and the excited whispers thus grew in volume.
The amphitheater could fit approximately one tenth of Victus' citizens, and most Canisteleans preferred to attend these events in person - which meant the tickets were usually sold out in a flash, sometimes weeks ahead of a given event. The spectator sections - the cavea - were almost always filled to the maximum capacity. The ima cavea, consisting of the lowest rings of seats, was reserved for merchants, government workers, prominent military officials and other affluent members of the highest castes - the more influential, the closer to action they could get. The media cavea was open to lower-middle castes, consisting of cultivators, armorers, regular soldiers and the like. Summa cavea, comprising the third and highest section - furthest away from the arena - did not have seats, so more of the lowest-caste members could cram in. Most of them, especially those unlucky enough to be further at the back or stuck behind someone tall, would have to crane their necks and look up rather than down, at the projection in the open ceiling - as it showed the magnified version of the current happenings down in the pit. For them, it did not really make much sense to come to the amphitheater, since they could just get the same view - if not better - from their homes. After all, those who did not secure a seat in time, or simply chose to skip the week's games, would just be tuning in for the broadcast. And yet, instead, they filled the stands, competing with each other for the tickets, feeling elated when they managed to snatch one and bragging about it to their neighbors as if it was some great achievement. It had something to do with being there in person, and being able to 'bask' in the atmosphere, Tiyesa supposed.
Only the most prominent members of the nobility had seats in the luxurious spectator box, which was connected to a private lounge area, replete with snacks and refreshments. Hidden from the eyes of the unworthy, the lounge was a popular place for the well-bred Canisteleans to socialize during intermissions. The box itself was shaded from the sun and the elements, and furnished with cushioned benches, where the attending nobles would recline. There were three separate seats in the center of the space, with the best possible view to the arena. The middle one, a large ornate and gilded throne, was to be occupied by the owner of the amphitheater, who also served as a referee and a judge when a fight ended in an uncertainty. The seats flanking it were somewhat more modest in design, meant for the owner's family members. Tiyesa would be sitting to her father's left side, while her mother would be seated to his right.
All the spectator areas were separated from the arena with a fully transparent electric force field, which allowed unimpeded visibility but prevented any stray weapons or energy attacks from harming the audience. There could be no violence against the spectators or assassination attempts on the gladiators' benevolent master. The pain and death would be confined strictly to the arena, while glee and enjoyment were reserved for the crowds above it.
At the moment, while final preparations were still being made, the nobles were standing around in small clusters and discussing today's fighters in feigned nonchalance. In truth, most of them would be just as excited as the great unwashed, if not more. Vast majority of the wealthy citizens were betting on each game's outcome. All winnings were taxed (as were ticket sales), which meant that during these events, the government's coffers were being filled just as much as Lord Lúcuma's.
Tiyesa was listening to a recently-drafted young nobleman talking about the 'real fighting' taking place outside the planet, and how every single Canistelean soldier - himself included, even though he was not fully trained yet - could take down the famed Saiyan easily. She barely registered the youth's words, and only gave him generic reactions that encouraged further elaboration. Which seemed to be fine by him, as it meant more self-important talk. In the meanwhile, Tiyesa's mind was occupied with thoughts of the gathering that would take place late in the evening, when the final activities of the day were concluded and the masses began dispersing. She had half a mind to cancel the whole plot, although there was no guarantee it would make a difference at this point - the concerned parties might just decide to proceed regardless, tired of low-aimed goals, small victories and large defeats. Her insides were tingling with anxiety, and it was a struggle not to let it show.
Finally, Lord Lúcuma walked up to the front of the box, for all the gathered swarms to see. A wave of cheers and applause rolled through the cavea as he raised both of his arms and held them out wide, greeting today's spectators. Quickly enough, the noise died down. Most chit-chat having ended promptly, Tiyesa nodded to her military-enthusiast companion politely, and slipped into her seat.
"Esteemed citizens of Victus!" her father began, his amplified voice killing off the last bits of chatter. "It is an honor to welcome you here, and promise first-rate entertainment for today's evening!" While her father spoke, Tiyesa sat behind him, pretending to listen attentively. At the same time, her expression was growing cold and distant as she prepared to watch a yet another spectacle of slaughter. Whatever deaths occurred, she would observe apathetically, distancing herself from the scene even as her hands applauded the victor. "And to the warriors who will demonstrate their prowess today - fight with honor, and be ready to die with honor. You do not want to be remembered as cowards or weaklings. Now, without further ado - may the games begin!" He stepped back to take his place on the throne, as the crowd erupted in cheers of excitement and ominous, rhythmic drumming filled the arena, announcing the start of the first game. The first fighters would soon walk up to stand in front of the spectator box, and bow to their master before initiating a combat only one of them would leave alive; or, in some cases, neither of them.
POWER LEVEL: 8,000 || SUPPRESSION: 600 || ANTISENSE: ON
VICTUS CITY ARENA ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ The short flight to the arena was uneventful, as the gladiators selected for combat in the arena were transported via multi-person hover vehicle, and delivered to the lower entry of the large structure. In binding chains, mainly to discourage escape attempts by overzealous fighters, the line of gladiators were led into the dark entryway, with chains clanking with each step. The guards remained alert, watchful, with weapons ready for any kind of sudden disruption of the transport process.
The routine was exactly that for the gladiators, a routine. There were some murmurs from the back of the line, but otherwise nothing seemed off, and the fighters were delivered without incident. The thick entry doors closed behind, locked, and the guards guided the gladiators into their allocated area for the duration of the arena events for the night. The space was large enough to allow them to move about, maybe even get some personal space, but remained heavily fortified and guarded.
It didn't take long for the arena notices to begin:
"Gladiators," One of the Ludus guards said, as she walked over toward the fighters. "Your combat orders are as follows..."
Keel turned to look her way, as did Shank and Grizz.
"Keel, you're fighting after those two," The guards said, as she motioned to Keel and then to Grizz and Shank. "Then you've got another fight at the end of the night."
"Who's the second?" Keel asked, eyebrow raised.
"No idea, sadly," The guard said with a shrug. "Against a champion of another Ludus. That's all I know."
Keel nodded, though sighed internally. Two fights in a night, one against a champion. That would be tough, especially if he got injured during the first one. He supposed there was little else to do but to wait and watch. With any luck, Grizz would die in his fight, and that would end whatever one-sided rivalry the human had with Keel once and for all. If Shank survived, Keel supposed that wouldn't be a bad thing.
Either way, with the fight information passed along, and each gladiator aware of if they fought - or not - it was time to get ready. Live weapons were brought into the area, which passed through under heavy guard, and were taken to the fight prep rooms. That was where each gladiator would be secluded leading up to their combat, and was where final checks on equipment and weaponry choices were completed and decided. Some opted for swords, spears, axes, basically anything with a capacity for stabbing, chopping or skewering.
Keel never used weapons, he didn't need them.
"I'm fighting before you," Shank said, as she stepped over and crossed her arms. She looked to Keel with two of her four eyes. "Sorry to hear about the multiple fights... that's bad luck. Must have been a challenge made."
"I'll be fine," Keel shrugged as he watched Grizz enter the prep room. The human glanced back, smirked, then the door closed behind him. "Hopefully he won't be, though..."
Shank chuckled, but it was obvious she was nervous. Keel had seen it before, the pre-fight nerves. It happened to everyone, but not everyone was able to control the feeling and push through it.
"Focus, channel those nerves into adrenaline," Keel said slowly, as he looked over to Shank. The Saiyan's tone was firm, low, and caused the purple alien to take a breath. "You'll be fine."
"Yeah," Shank nodded. The shakes began to recede. "You're right. Focus. Thanks."
The voice of an arena announcer came over the communicator system, as the female voice began to announce the first fight of the evening, which caused both Keel and Shank to turn their attention to the combat that began, both secretly hoping Grizz happened to perform badly...
SOMETIME LATER... ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ Turned out Grizz and Shank lived to see another arena day; at least the latter was something.
That also meant it was Keel's turn to fight his first fight. And as such, the Saiyan stood to one side of the prep room, as he kept to himself and ignored everything else around him. This was his process, how he got into the right state of mind, because the next handful of minutes - inside the arena - would be the most important of his life, literally. Failure to do well in the combat that was to come would result in death, it was as simple as that, and Keel needed to be as prepared as he could be - mentally and physically - to ensure his survival.
Ignore the noise.
With white-knuckles from the grip on his gauntlet straps, Keel pulled the leather binds tight and secured them.
Ignore the crowds.
Keel knelt and began to tighten the straps on his boots, before he locked the armor plating into place.
Ignore the distractions.
The gladiator stood and checked his belt buckle, as he tightened it and checked the protective cingulum were attached correctly.
Focus only on the opponent.
When Keel felt his equipment was ready, when it felt right on his form, he turned and looked to the guard across the way. The gladiator nodded, to which the guard nodded back, then spoke into the scouter earpiece he wore. Some mumbled words were shared, a pause, then the guard walked over and held a hand to the door panel on the wall beside Keel.
"Good luck, gladiator," The guard offered another nod, as the panel activated and he stepped back. "Bring honor to Lord Lúcuma's house. Get another victory."
"Yeah," Keel muttered, as he exhaled and narrowed his eyes. "That's what's important. The Lord's honor."
Not the fact I'm fighting for my life...
When the opponent across the arena was ready, both prep room doors opened simultaneously and the gladiators were greeted with a near-deafening crowd that cheered and stomped and clapped. Keel jogged out into the arena as he felt the familiar sensation of boots in sand, just like the training yard at the Ludus, and moved swiftly into the center of the arena. Across the way, a very large form approached, as an alien of unknown origin jogged to meet in the middle of the space, and appeared to be all height and muscle; the opponent was easily two foot taller than Keel, twice as wide with broad shoulders, and was armed with a pair of mean-looking axes, one in each hand.
Both combatants came to stop beside one another. Keel stared at the alien, the alien stared at Keel. Finally, the larger gladiator spoke:
"So you're the warrior from across the galaxy, huh?" It bellowed with a chuckle. "You don't look so tough, for a Saiyan - I've killed your filthy kind before!"
Keel's dark eyes narrowed. It wasn't so much that he was intimidated, or even curious about the species of alien he faced, so much as the word it had used to reference the shorter fighter. Saiyan. Keel had heard the word said about him before, but he had always assumed it was just some kind of Canistelean term or nickname; it had never occurred to Keel that the word Saiyan could actually reference his people, since he had never met another one in his entire life...
So it's not just a name for me? Am I actually from a race called the Saiyans?
Meanwhile, the announcer spoke about the upcoming fight. She introduced the gladiators, with her words lost on Keel as he frowned at his opponent.
"Are there more Saiyans?" Keel asked, his mind whirling. "Where are they?"
"Of course there are," The axe-wielding alien glared and snarled. "Now shut up and get ready to die."
"Wait, where are they? The Saiyans?"
Overhead, the announcement sounded - "Fight!" - and the combat began, as the axe alien jumped at Keel and delivered a heavy kick to the Saiyan's chest, which sent the smaller fighter tumbling backward across the sand...
"Fight me, no more talk!" Shouted the alien as it charged with both axes swirling in front of it, as muscled arms moved in a flourish. "It don't matter where the Saiyans are, you're not leaving this arena alive!"
Keel pushed back to his feet, as he narrowed his eyes and brought his fists up protectively for defense. Now that the Saiyan had learned a vital part about his life, namely his species, it was now even more important to get out of the arena alive. But, first, Keel had to deal with the obstacle in the way...
With a roar, Keel rushed at the alien opponent, as the two clashed in a flurry of powerful strikes and axe-blade deflections...
The first several fights went as usual. Two fighters entered the arena, one left it. Tiyesa was rather good at ignoring what happened in-between. She could even make her vision go hazy if she unfocused her eyes just right, which was most helpful. All she needed to do was stare at the center of the fighting pit, and take her cue from the audience - when it erupted in applause, it was time to join in.
Then it was the Saiyan warrior's turn to step out into the pits, which came as a surprise to Tiyesa. Usually, the most famous fighters were kept for last - a grand finale of sorts. The momentary confusion brought her out of the defensive state of indifference, as she glanced at her father questioningly. What was he planning? Surely he would want his prized possession to be fresh in the minds of nobility today, when they all arrived at the gathering.
"You look confused, my lady. Did you not read today's program?" she heard the irksome voice of Litchi to her left, and turned her head to see him sitting on the closest cushioned bench, leaning towards her with a portable mini-screen in his hands. She could have sworn he was not seated there when the games began; but then, she had been purposefully zoned out for over half an hour. He probably switched seats with someone during that time, so he would be only a few feet away from her. Able to comment on the fights and bring her attention to the details she would have preferred to ignore. The youth must have been watching her body language carefully, waiting for the smallest possibility to pull her into a conversation. Tiyesa barely managed to hang on to a composed facial expression as she glanced at the offered screen, scanning the list of matchups. It took her a moment to realize that Keel's name appeared twice. This third fight, and then the very last one. That was not a frequent occurrence - during most events, each gladiator only had to risk their life once; it was enough to satisfy the crowd. Was this Father's doing? Did he decide to take a gamble, only to leave a more potent impression on the attending nobles? "I thought you were always aware of the upcoming fights. Doesn't Lord Lúcuma talk to you about the events?"
"He does, but this week I was preoccupied with other activities," Tiyesa responded, not untruthfully. Indeed, she had been so busy with her current plans that she failed to gather any intelligence this week. Well, that, and partially because she'd hoped the attempt would succeed, and such tidbits of information would not be needed anymore. That had been an oversight. If Keel was to perish now, the gathering could get cancelled, and the chance would be gone. But that wouldn't happen. Keel never lost. Surely he wouldn't lose today, of all days - even if he had to take part in two fights.
"Understandable, I imagine you have a fair amount of responsibilities, given your station," Litchi continued to lean over even as he folded up his portable screen. "At any rate, I am curious to see the outcome of these fights. What a risky idea, to have the brute engage in two combats during one event..." She did not like the shrewd look in his eyes. The young nobleman continued, voicing the thought she'd just had herself not a moment ago. "It would be most unfortunate if the Saiyan was to get injured in this first one, and thus met his demise at the end of the evening. Such an anticlimactic ending to today's excitement, and to your lord father's plans."
"The Saiyan hasn't lost for fourteen years, he won't today, either," she said, barring any doubt from entering her voice. It was such a strange thought to begin with. Keel had been around for her entire life, even though the two of them were separated by social status so much that they never had a chance to interact. She had been watching him fight for as long as she was attending the games, too. He never failed, even if he did sometimes come dangerously close to defeat. He was a familiar sight, someone without whom the games just wouldn't feel the same. That was also why he was beloved by the spectators, and served as one of the most valuable assets in Lord Lúcuma's heinous business. In all likelihood, Keel had grown to enjoy his lifestyle and fame, perhaps even the sensation of ending someone's life. That was the rumor about the Saiyan kind's bloodthirst, at least. Tiyesa did not know for sure, and did not care all that much. What she knew, however, was that he was not actively involved in the resistance movement, because at one point there had been ideas floating around to assassinate him and a few other prominent warriors, dealing a sudden blow to the popularity of the games. She vetoed the proposal - after considering it carefully. The deaths of a few big-name gladiators would not make a lasting impact, not in the long run. Father would just send out more acquisition squads, to replace the temporary lack of quality with quantity. Everyone was replaceable in the pits, even an undefeated Saiyan. Tiyesa could only hope he wouldn't be getting replaced today.
"Are you quite sure? He's not off to a great start," Litchi inclined his head towards the arena, where the fight was already commencing. Keel was stumbling backward, seemingly having suffered a powerful kick to his upper body. Tiyesa found herself holding her breath along with most of the crowd. Usually, she was immune to such excitement, at least since Zamma's death. She should not have favorites, everyone's life should have been valued the same; and having been around for a longer time should not merit support to keep on living and slaying others. And yet, morally elevated as such ideals were, she occasionally found herself feeling anxious when watching certain fights, secretly wishing for someone specific to win. Usually those were new captives, especially young ones, who were often terrified and died gruesomely as the crowd laughed and jeered at their inept performance. In a few cases, however, she succumbed to the spell that certain fighters had managed to put on the crowd - being either long-lasting, charismatic, or a bit of both. Some deaths affected her more than others, some victories granted her more relief than they should have. Feeling anxious over Keel's fight was not a first, either. She vaguely remembered rooting for him during his early games, mostly because he was around her own age, and seemed like an underdog for a while. Then, in the later years, she would occasionally be gripped with apprehension when he was evenly-matched against a formidable foe, and sustained injuries that the cameras kept zooming in on, to emphasize the possibility of the crowd's favorite finally being defeated. Tiyesa was capable of analyzing her own emotions enough to understand the anxiety she felt was caused by the gamemakers' manipulations of the crowd's perceptions, and by creating an exaggerated threat of losing something they had grown used to - a simple psychological trick. At the present moment, her fears ran deeper than that. If Keel died, weeks of planning would go to waste. It could be months until another similar opportunity arose - if it ever did.
"He'll do fine. It's only a small trip-up. He recovered from it without any trouble," she declared, more to assure herself than her companion.
"Sometimes the tiniest trip-up can end an endeavor of countless years, Lady Tiyesa," the nobleman pointed out distantly, his attention also drawn to the fight below. She did not respond, following the action intently. Please don't lose, not today, she thought, as the quick-paced jabs and parries were exchanged. For anyone who lacked the observation skills required to watch the fight in real-time, a projection up in the sky showed a slowed-down replay. Tiyesa did not need such aids, her eyes keen enough to track all motions being made. Should Keel fail to block an incoming blow, it might mean death - if not during this combat, then during the next one.
"You seem unusually engaged, if I may say so," Litchi spoke again, probably watching her as much as he did the fight. "I truly hope the brute emerges victorious from both battles - if it means so much to you."
POWER LEVEL: 8,000 || SUPPRESSION: 600 || ANTISENSE: ON
VICTUS CITY ARENA ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ An axe blade swung overhead, barely missing Keel's shoulder, as it whooshed by. The second axe followed through, as the large alien roared and continued the onslaught of deadly slashes and chops. Keel, being the smaller of the pair, was physically quicker and able to evade a number of the attacks with deft steps and twists of his body. Still, that didn't help much when the alien launched into a successful - and effective - axe combination, which so happened to be at that moment, as Keel brought his forearms up and caught the edge of a axe blade with his gauntlet--
--the sharp edge chopped through, as Keel felt the sting on his arm beneath the protective armor. It seemed the Saiyan's attempts to wear the large alien down were starting to fail, as the tactic started to put Keel under more and more danger, the longer - and more often - the axes were swung at him. The situation wasn't ideal, Keel had to admit, and if it hadn't been solely for the fact the large opponent knew something about Keel's race and people, it likely would have been over several minutes ago...
Have no choice, Keel thought to himself, as he grunted and stepped away from a powerful overhead slash from the axes. I have to keep trying.
The large alien, for it's part, kept up with the pace well. The muscular arms continued to move with both strength and precision, despite wielding the axes for an extended period of time. Though, to be fair, 'extended' was relative in gladiator combat, as the bout had only been a half a dozen minutes so far. Still, Keel felt there was a steady decrease in the alien's speed, with it's breathing heavier and movement delayed, if only a little.
"A planet name, anything," Keel said with a growl, as he tried to get the alien to talk again. "Just give me something..."
The larger opponent laughed, as it felt like some advantage had been gained, by keeping the Saiyan in the dark. Keel was distracted, clearly, and that meant the opportunity to land a killing blow was greater and therefore maintaining that advantage only made sense. The alien couldn't help but continue to laugh, since Keel clearly refused to see the situation for what it was, and failed to grasp there would be no budging on information sharing.
"Your squawking about your precious Saiyans has been amusing," The muscular alien said simply, as it stepped back and looked at the blood on one axe blade. "But now it's time to die!"
Keel grimaced, as both fighters clashed again, with a combination of punches and axe-swings. Sparks flew as blade met armor, grunts and shouts sounded as both combatants reacted to the escalation in deadliness, and not a moment later did the larger alien succeed in kicking Keel once again with a solid chest impact that sent the other reeling through the sand--
--then as the Saiyan sat up and started to get to his feet, the alien's mouth opened wide, and a ball of energy grew at the maw. Then with a powerful burst of crackling energy, a beam fired at Keel, and passed through the space between the opponents in a second. Keel's eyes widened. Then where he had been was engulfed in an explosion of sand, rock and smoke... the crowd went silent.
"Heh heh, too easy," The axe-wielding alien sneered, as it raised it's chin and gave a smug look at the receding smoke. "So much for being a challenge, and I thought Saiyans were meant to be--"
The alien paused, big eyes going even bigger.
The smoke cleared, which revealed a section of arena floor that was blasted backward, however Keel crouched where he had been amid the destructive aftermath. The Saiyan's arms were up defensively, the gauntlets he wore all but melted, with a mottled pattern of scorch marks over his skin. Keel breathed in and out deeply, as a low guttural sound began to emanate from his chest. The breathing intensified, as did the loudness of the noise he made, until finally Keel tore the gauntlets from his forearms and let out a roar of pure, unconstrained rage!
The crowd had been silent up until that moment, when suddenly the collective let out a shout of surprise to match Keel's own.
"What! How did you survive?" The alien spat, before it began to charge another mouth blast. "Die this tim--"
The larger gladiator didn't get to finish, as within an instant Keel's hand clamped around the alien's mouth, which caused the energy that started to form to fizzle. The alien's eyes were double-sized wide, as it met the glare of the Saiyan who now held a tight grasp against the front of it's face. Keel ignored the mumbles, the attempts to make a deal or share information or whatever the hell the alien wanted to do, as the Saiyan's rage boiled over and he focused purely on defeating the enemy...
"You had your chance," Keel muttered in a deathly low tone. "Now die."
With another roar, Keel flexed his entire body and pulled the larger alien - by the face and head in one hand - into a full spin, which brought the opponent around like a flailing ragdoll. Then, the Saiyan changed the momentum of the spin, as he aimed upward and threw his opponent high into the air as he released the hold on the alien's face--
"Wait, noooo," The alien shouted, as it spin through the air, axes flying in different directions when let go in panic. "I can tell you more!"
--meanwhile, on the sandy ground, Keel began to power up his energy. The Saiyan's arms and hands were spread outward to his sides, as he gathered Ki energy. A small pair of yellow energy orbs formed in front of each palm, then suddenly Keel brought his hands around and before him, and he forcefully merged the two smaller orbs into a singular large one cupped between his fingers. Sparks, a hum of energy, and the ball of energy grew and grew between both palms in front of Keel - "Final Finish!" - and then with a shout, the Saiyan pushed both the energy and his arms forward, as a massive beam of electric-discharging energy filled the space between him and the alien!
"Nooooo--" The alien shouted, as the energy beam impacted with it's falling form, and the cry ended.
The area overhead was empty, as the energy beam dissipated. The shielding on the far side of the arena was bright blue, as it had caught the end of the powerful blast from Keel, and the crowd had been saved from being caught in the attack. The Saiyan let out grunt, as the combat ended, and looked over to where Lord Lúcuma's seating box was located and offered a quick salute - a fist placed over the heart, per standard gladiator display - then started to walk toward the arena door that would take Keel back down beneath the structure to recover surrounded by Lord Lúcuma's Ludus guards and other fighters...
Shame I didn't get more out of my opponent before it ended, Keel thought as he felt exhaustion settling over him. His body ached from the energy blast earlier. Keel rubbed at some blood over his eyebrow. But I got enough. It's a starting point, anyway.
Last Edit: May 17, 2022 17:24:27 GMT -5 by Deleted
"The two of them appear to be having a chat," Litchi kept on babbling, attempting to lure a response from Tiyesa. "Isn't your brute supposed to be the quiet, focused type, only intent on getting the job done? I never thought he would be one to socialize." Tiyesa was so intent on watching the combat, however, that it didn't really take any effort to ignore the young nobleman. In fact, she barely registered his words. A slightly delayed audio of the fighters' conversation, with all the weapon clanging and grunting removed for improved sound clarity, was playing from a small speaker device in the backrest on her father's throne, right next to his left ear. The volume was low, only meant for him alone to hear. But Tiyesa could listen in, if she leaned closer and concentrated. Behind her, suddenly gone quiet, Litchi was also trying to catch the words.
It seemed that the larger warrior was taunting his opponent, talking about the Saiyan race but refusing to give any details when asked for them. Tiyesa was appalled by the abrupt realization. Keel didn't know who or what he was. Even such basic information as the existence of more people of his race was news to him. Had he truly spent his entire life without anyone bothering to tell him about his origins? He wanted to know, it was clear from his persistent questioning. All these years spent being admired by the crowds, both for his prowess and for being a Saiyan... After joining the resistance, Tiyesa had not thought of him as a victim of the pits, not really. At least not on the same level as most others, who clearly didn't want to fight, lacked the skill, and died for it. The general opinion of the games' fans was that the brute thrived on bloodshed. Having spectated his fights for over a dozen years, she was inclined to agree. When the gladiator games were brought to an end, he might be one of the few fighters who would not benefit from such societal change; or she had thought so. Now, a new understanding was settling in. Keel had been raised for the pits, all his other inclinations and desires culled in some way. He might be one of the best captive warriors on the planet and enjoy privileges other slaves did not, but he was still made to suffer by this barbaric system.
Absurdly, it made her feel guilty for the way she had thought of him before. A part of her wondered how many Canisteleans in the audience would experience a similar emotion, or any emotion at all, if they were allowed to hear the conversation and understand what has been denied to their favorite gladiator. Undoubtedly, the risk of such flashes of empathy was why the crowds in the amphitheater could not hear any verbal exchanges between fighters. The audience at home would be hearing some of it - although it would be a recording delayed by a few minutes, so as to edit out any bits that could stir unwanted sensations. Tiyesa caught herself glaring at her father, anger and hatred boiling inside, much like it did back when he forced the Majin handmaid to fight in the pits. Oblivious to his daughter's gaze, Lord Lúcuma was watching the fight with a dark expression on his face.
She turned away, forcing her attention back to the combat. Keel was already wounded and bleeding - Tiyesa had not been following when it happened. The sight of a scarlet slash on his forearm brought another wave of concern. He would be impaired for the next fight; if he got to it at all. She saw the Saiyan stumbling backward again, as his rival began charging an energy blast, releasing it... Much like everyone else in the crowd, Tiyesa leaned forward, attempting to see through the shroud of smoke that hid Keel from view. She could sense that he was alive, but was he wounded? Would he be able to finish this battle, and manage to recover sufficiently before the next one? The answer to these questions was not a particularly promising one. He was clearly burned - not so badly that he couldn't continue this fight, but enough so that he would be at a disadvantage for his next performance.
Tiyesa watched as Keel charged at his foe, sounds of excitement rippling through the cavea. He successfully prevented the next attack, the doomed gladiator's head now locked under his iron grip. Most everyone could see that it was over now, and straining to witness the imminent demise, hoping for a good show. They got one, too, as the alien was tossed upward and obliterated with a powerful beam. The crowds began to cheer wildly, satisfied with the outcome. Tiyesa did not applaud, instead regarding the victor attentively. He looked worse for wear, tired and injured. There would be almost two hours for him to rest before the next combat, which wasn't nearly enough time. Normally, he would have a full week, or more, if the wounds were deemed too serious.
"I have to admit, this suspense is masterfully crafted," she heard the lordling speak again, and was forced to turn to him, since no more action was taking place. The rubble was being cleaned out and the arena patched up for the next clash, two more of them being scheduled before the intermission.
"If you enjoyed the show, perhaps you should come to our games more often," Tiyesa suggested, speaking the words that were required, like the well-trained heiress she was supposed to be. Seeing more of Litchi was not something she wanted, but such invitation was expected of her. A rivaling amphitheater owner's son coming to Lúcuma's events regularly would be good for public image - it would mean that even competitors admit these events are the most alluring ones in Victus City. Which was also not desirable, but Father was sitting right next to her, and she had to play the part.
"Only if you pay a visit to my father's pits occasionally, my lady," the youth smirked as he reclined on the bench.
"I'll have to see about that," she responded vaguely, before raising her face skyward and feigning interest in the replay of the fight that had just taken place.
POWER LEVEL: 8,000 || SUPPRESSION: 600 || ANTISENSE: ON
VICTUS CITY ARENA ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ When Keel stepped back into the prep room, he was immediately met by the training master Rimoya. The older Canistelean stood several yards inside the smaller space, arms folded, as he looked at the Saiyan expectantly. There was a moment of silence, as each considered what the other had planned to say, given Keel could assume the conversation during the fight had been overheard. He wasn't a fool. Master Rimoya, for his part, didn't seem to judge or anticipate a line of questioning or answers, but instead waited for Keel to speak.
"Did you know about Saiyans?" Keel said simply, as he walked over to stand before the older trainer. "Why wasn't I told?"
Master Rimoya inclined his head, before he let out a sigh.
"I did, yes," The elder Canistelean said, voice low. He glanced over his shoulder, to where several guards stood at the exit to the prep room. "And you weren't told for several reasons. Lord Lúcuma felt it best to avoid informing you of the truth about your species, as it wasn't likely to help you..."
"Go on." Keel crossed his own arms, and caught the subtle shift of the guards' hands on their weapons. "What's the truth, then?"
"Are you sure you want to know? It's not beneficial to you, despite what you think," Master Rimoya seemed resigned, but at least offered the Saiyan a chance to remain ignorant if he so chose. "Knowing won't change anything."
"I'll decide that," Keel said with a glare. "Go on."
Master Rimoya nodded, with reluctance, then unfolded his arms and placed his hands on either hip. He paused for a moment, thinking about how best to explain the Saiyans to Keel, and likely running through the worst case scenario if the younger warrior didn't accept the explanation. Still, one way or another, the encounter with the axe-wielding alien in the arena had brought about a change, it had been a catalyst, one that had been avoided for 14 years simply because Keel hadn't attacked immediately as he usually did...
"The Saiyans were a war-mongering species, filled with battle-lust and want to conquer planets. They were aggressive, relished combat, and ultimately were a culture focused on that singular notion," Master Rimoya started slowly, as he gauged Keel's reaction to the information. It was important to convey what Lord Lúcuma expected, in order to keep his prized Saiyan gladiator placated and fighting. The irony was that - right now - Master Rimoya was explaining for the sake of saving Keel's life. "However, there was a catastrophe that befell their planet, known as planet Vegeta, which resulted in the destruction of the home world... I do not know the exact time frame, but we can assume you were taken before that event, as you still live."
Master Rimoya frowned; but, whether from discomfort at the situation, or the words he had to say next, it was hard to know.
"However, it is said that the species perished in the planetary explosion. You are likely the only remaining Saiyan. That is why you have not faced others, in these arenas, I can only assume... as surely, any remaining members of your species dedicated to combat would have been picked up and recruited as a gladiator in the many long years since your arrival on Canistel, yes?"
Keel stood silent, unmoving, as he considered the words shared. Part of him wanted to refuse the old trainer's explanation, to dismiss it and hold onto the hope that other Saiyans still existed. But another part of Keel, the part that had been raised as a servant of Lord Lúcuma's household, was ready to accept the answer and reasoning as to why he hadn't been told. The knowledge of learning about your people, your culture, only to be informed afterward that they had been destroyed, wasn't exactly comforting or informative.
"I... can see why you didn't tell me," Keel said after time to think. "I'd better prepare for the next fight."
There was relief on the faces of the guards, as they relaxed and stepped to one side to free the door out of the prep room. Master Rimoya - also with a sigh and nod - stepped to one side, and placed a hand on Keel's shoulder as the gladiator passed, which caused the Saiyan to pause momentarily as the old trainer spoke in a low voice:
"I'm sorry you had to find out about those events," Master Rimoya offered a thin smile. "You do your people honor, by fighting fiercely in the arenas in their memory."
The sentiment was kind, but still rang hollow in the wake of the revelation, but Keel wasn't one to dwell on things. Well, that wasn't entirely true, he just didn't have the luxury of time, with another fight in the arena being mere hours away. And being in a state of injury, with cuts and burns on his body, and the need for replacement equipment. Right now Master Rimoya's words were as good as Keel could hope to expect, given that - really - no explanation had been warranted, since Keel was but a lowly gladiator serving at the whims of a noble.
Keel walked out of the prep room, into the larger general Ludus allocated waiting hall. He saw several gladiators and guards that looked his way, including Shank who offered a nod regarding the fight, but otherwise ignored them and walked toward the Ludus medic. The Canistelean began to fuss with a case that was clamped closed, as the medic unclasped the lid and began to rummage for the appropriate items to help the Saiyan begin a recovery - or at least as much as could be, before the next bout...
"Take a seat, Keel," The young doctor said, as he laid out the ointments and bandages. "We don't have much time, and you took a beating with that energy attack... here, take this for the pain."
The doctor offered a vial. Keel shook his head.
"It's fine, I don't need it," Keel muttered, as he sat on a wooden chair beside the other individual. "Let's just sort out the burns and cuts."
"Very well," The Canistelean doctor said with a sniff, as he put the vial back in the case. "We'll begin with the wounds. Bleeding everywhere won't help anyone, especially you. Now, stay still, while I sew the slices..."
Keel let out a sigh, as his mind filled with thoughts of a long lost people, on a long lost planet, as he imagined the events that led to the destruction of planet Vegeta. He imagined his parents, and how they looked in his minds eye, on the planet and exploding with the others of his species. It wasn't much, but it provided at least some level of closure, as Keel focused on ignoring the pain of his wounds and instead thought ahead to his continued existence in the care of Lord Lúcuma's Ludus... after all, with no other Saiyans in the universe, there was little point in dismantling the life he had, in pursuit of nothing.
A shame they're all dead... I would have liked to meet other Saiyans, I think. Well, best to concentrate on the more immediate problem: surviving another arena battle challenge.
Fixing a hole in the arena's floor was not a new chore for the workers, but it certainly took more time than just removing dead bodies and kicking some sand over conspicuously crimson spots. While the plebeians had to wait patiently and be satisfied with watching replays of previous fights, most privileged nobles chose to spend their time in the lounge, enjoying the refreshments and conversing with one another. Thankfully, Litchi went to join them.
Tiyesa stayed in her seat, trying to think of ways to ensure Keel's victory in the next round. In truth, there wasn't much she could do, not without invoking all of the influence she possessed, and risking to later lose it all. Once the event started, gladiators were guarded as well as the governor himself - they could not be secretly attacked, nor could they be aided in any way. Delivering potent medicine that would induce rapid healing might have succeeded - she was Lord Lúcuma's heir, and could probably get to the doctor treating today's fighters, to give him orders as if they were coming from her father. But the spectators would notice that the Saiyan had fully recovered, and the public's indignation about such preferential treatment could cancel the gathering just as well as Keel's death. Lowly slave fighters were not granted any advanced care, to preserve the archaic traditions as much as possible. That only left the option of finding out who the challenger was - the program did not mention a name, to further increase anticipation - and then getting to them by bribing a few dozen people, to reduce the fighter's combat performance in some way, perhaps with sedatives. This plan would require a lot more steps, with the success being rather unlikely. In the end, she had to accept her helplessness.
The speaker device in Lord Lúcuma's backrest came to life again, transmitting a conversation between Keel and a voice she recognized as belonging to one Master Rimoya. She strained to hear, the increased chatter of the crowd making it much harder to eavesdrop. Noticing her interest, Father increased the volume with a flick of his fingers, his piercing eyes observing her expression. It was clear that this situation would now be turned into lesson for her. Tiyesa made sure to control her face carefully, even as she realized what the exchange was about and felt resentment simmering in her chest again.
The gladiator was receiving lies and half-truths to negate the sliver of knowledge he had just gained. Planet Vegeta was destroyed, yes - but the Saiyan race still existed, on Plant. Most noble Canisteleans were aware of that. The lower caste members, those who had any interest in interplanetary matters, also knew about it. Even now, she knew Father to be looking for ways to obtain another Saiyan, although that was no easy task.
"Well, what is your opinion on the matter?" he inquired once the listening device went quiet. Tiyesa was still trying to suppress her rage at the final comment, about Keel honoring his people by being a slave in the fighting pits. She took a moment to compose herself and chose her words with care.
"With the Saiyan finding out about his origins, there was a risk of him starting to seek ways of reconnecting with his people. He could lose some of his loyalty to you, even attempt an escape. Telling him that his race has been wiped out of existence was a wise choice."
Lord Lúcuma offered her a hint of a smile. "I see you understand the business and the psychology of these beasts - they really aren't that difficult to control. Especially if they were brought up on Canistel from a young age. For a lot of of them, it's not even the guards or the walls that keep them in this place. It's the knowledge that they have nothing else, and couldn't get anything better if they were to leave." He turned his attention to the arena now, as the announcer began talking of the upcoming fight. His next words were spoken in an indifferent, offhand manner, as if the notion did not bother him in the slightest. "It's good that the brute was willing to believe Rimoya's tale so easily. Otherwise, I would have had to get rid of him before I could even obtain a replacement Saiyan." Luckily, no response was required from Tiyesa. There was no way she could provide one, without revealing how aghast she felt.
For the remaining two combats, she settled back into her usual state of apparent indifference, looking at the arena but not seeing the action. The first one was between a pair of newly-trained captives; by the booing of the crowd, she could tell the show was not particularly impressive. Perhaps it would have been acceptable, had the crowd not just witnessed experienced gladiators clashing together in a spectacular flurry of attacks and deflections. The second one, a mini finale before the mid-event break, had a Canistelean volunteer gladiator facing a pair of identical reptilian-humanoid aliens. Quite predictably, the favor of the audience was immediately bestowed on the solo warrior, for the merit of being a native to the planet, having a long streak of victories - nine out of the twelve he had sold himself for, and for being at a perceivable disadvantage. Also quite predictably, there was profound outrage when he died in under five minutes, torn limb from limb by his well-coordinated opponents. After that, the mid-game break began.
"I shall go for a walk, clear my head from all this excitement," Tiyesa informed her father and anyone else within earshot, before some chatty lordling could attempt engaging her in vapid small talk.
"I will inform the guards, an escort will be waiting for you," Lord Lúcuma nodded, permitting her to leave. She went into the lounge with the other lords and ladies. A corridor on the left of this recess space lead to a private exit, rather than the crowded stairways used by members of the lower castes. At the door, a duo of tall Canistelean soldiers was waiting for her. They both bowed to greet her as she approached.
"Where are you headed, Lady Tiyesa?" one of them asked.
"Only a brief stroll at the Magisterial Park, and then back before the intermission ends." She lead the way, both men following only a step behind her. The streets were quite empty now, most people either at home watching the replays of the fights, or in the amphitheater, unwilling to abandon their seat for a mere thirty-minute break. Some did go out to stretch their legs, but wisely stepped out of the way to leave a clear path for the noble lady - she was easy to spot in her upscale garb with golden accessories, flanked by two guards.
At the side of a narrow alley, a Canistelean beggar was beseeching the occasional passer-by to be charitable, holding out his old-model scratched up screen for any possible donations. Shows of philanthropy being common among the nobility, it did not strike the guards as an odd occurrence when Tiyesa paused by the poor soul, stepping closer to him and taking her own computing device from the small pouch attached to her belt. She typed in a modest sum and confirmed the transaction, the tramp's gadget making a short beep to indicate funds received. Neither of the guards noticed a thin, folded slip of paper fall from the folds of the cream-yellow dress and into the bum's lap, to be palmed with a smooth motion as he thanked the generous noblewoman exorbitantly.
Tiyesa resumed her walk, leaving the alley and heading towards a small, well-tended park dominated by yellow-leaved trees. She chose the main pathway that coiled within this little island of nature in the sea filled with urban landscape. In only fifteen minutes at a restrained pace, she had circled the inner perimeter of the Magisterial Park. It was time to head back, for the second part of the games. They passed the same alley they had come through, with the beggar nowhere to be seen. With most of the population spectating the games, and the break nearly finished, there would not be any more possible donors until the games concluded - by that time, a lot more panhandlers would be seen around the amphitheater, expecting the entertained citizens to be generous.
The announcer was already introducing fighters that would be battling next when Tiyesa slipped back into her seat. Before long, four gladiators stepped out into the arena, a team skirmish this time. She directed her gaze at them, readying herself for another bout of slaughter.
POWER LEVEL: 8,000 || SUPPRESSION: 600 || ANTISENSE: ON
VICTUS CITY ARENA ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ It was time.
Keel stood silently in the prep room for the arena fight. He nonchalantly slipped his hands through the shaped gauntlets that secured over his forearms, before he reached up and removed several bandages from his arms and torso. The tight material would just impede Keel, and would just slip or tear off during the combat anyway, so there was no need to keep it on. Besides, whatever benefit to his recovery the things had offered had been used. The Saiyan glanced to the other occupant - aside from guards - in the room, dark eyes stared at the old training master.
"No update on the challenge," Master Rimoya said as he clenched his jaw. He stood looking out through the wall sections that allowed a narrow view of the arena and sand beyond. "You'll be going in blind. I tried to find out what I could, but the opposing Ludus refused to share."
"All right," Keel said as he looked back through the same wall sections as Master Rimoya. "It's happened before. Probably won't be the last time."
There was a pause, a quiet moment, as both considered what was to come. A challenge was always risky, as the challenger had every right to refuse sharing information. The challenger also had the right to determine the level of threat they brought against another Ludus, so long as it remained within loose guidelines set out by the pit proprietors, so it remained to be seen what - exactly - Keel would face. An android with six arms? A pack of ligers? A set of gladiator triplets? It was hard to say, so wide was the challenge rule book...
"About before," Master Rimoya said in a lower voice, as he glanced to Keel. There seemed a reluctance to continue, but the old Canistelean did anyway. "About your people... I -- well, our informants looked into it... and Lord Lúcuma's people insist there is no evidence of Saiyans outside of the Pompilius System. There's - uh - mentions, of course, but no physical accounts or witnesses. From what I'm told."
"Hm." Keel nodded. In truth, he had come to accept that the destruction of a planet likely meant the death of basically every Saiyan present. But if Lord Lúcuma's best spies and information seekers couldn't find accounts of the species, beyond mentions, then... Keel supposed that was that. "It's okay. Can't miss what I never knew. I have no reason to question Lord Lúcuma, so let's just move on."
"Hm, yes," Master Rimoya returned the nod. Clearly the old Canistelean was relieved. "A wise choice, I think. And it seems about time for your fight..."
The announcement system through the arena crackled to life, as the introduction for Keel's next fight began to sound. The announcer mentioned Keel first, to which the prep room wall section began to shift and open, which meant it was time for the Saiyan to walk out onto the sand and be presented to the crowds for the final combat event of the evening, the Ludus challenge.
Let's see what hellish challenge I'm in for.
Keel stalked out onto the sand, his boots crunched with each step, and he maintained a degree of confidence in appearance. The Saiyan still looked a little worse for wear, with burn marks and sewn cuts on his body, but few could deny the focus and readiness Keel seemed to present. The crowd was loud, as a second fight for a gladiator wasn't common at all, and it meant they were about to see Keel - a fan favorite - engage in another melee against an unknown challenger.
"Aaaaaaaand the challenger, from the Opoyo Ludus in the Kreeashi System..."
Across the arena, a wall section opened.
"Courge, the warrior Saiyan!"
From the opening, a short but broad individual stepped out of the darkness. The similarities between the two fighters was immediately obvious; both shared dark, wild hair and black eyes, with expressive intensity to match. The challenger, Courge, walked out to meet Keel, and the shorter fighter offered a smirk as he crossed his arms and raised his chin to regard the other. Spiked hair stood tall, with the new arrival decked out in the latest combat armor from the neighboring system, which offered more protection than the standard arena outfit.
"So," Courge spat, as the smirk increased. "You're the legendary Saiyan gladiator, huh?"
Keel, for his part, stood and stared. His expression was a mixture of anger and surprise, as the realization of what he had been told was thrown into clear contradiction... everyone had lied. Or, at least, hadn't looked very hard. But the truth was that Master Rimoya had assured Keel that Lord Lúcuma's people had looked into it, and had turned up no evidence of Saiyans existing in the universe.
"It took me a while to talk Lord Opoyo into letting me face you. But now that we're here, I don't see what all the fuss is about," Courge scoffed, as he cleared his throat and put his gloved hands onto his hips. Despite being shorter, the new Saiyan projected his presence far more than Keel did. "Just so you're aware of the danger you face... I'm an elite level Saiyan. And I'm going to enjoy smashing you into a bloody pulp on the ground."
The arena was dead silent; all in the stands and seats around realized another Saiyan had appeared...
ARENA PREP ROOM ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ "Damnit... damn Lord Opoyo, damn his Ludus, and damn this... this damned new monkey," The old training master muttered, as he glanced between the newly arrived opponent and Keel, yellow eyes filled with concern. Master Rimoya's eyes narrowed, as he clenched his fists. "Of all the fight nights. It had to be this one, didn't it?"
Master Rimoya turned to the guards in the prep room, as he motioned quickly and gave them quiet commands. The number would be tripled, just in case Keel came back into the hall and survived the encounter, because the truth - or rather, the lie - had been revealed. Not only had Master Rimoya been implicated in the narrative to be told to Keel about his species and home planet, but the gamble orchestrated to bring Keel back under submission following the fight with the axe-wielding alien had failed... there was absolutely no way, at all, that the deception over Keel could be maintained now.
"Another Saiyan. Blast it!" Master Rimoya sneered, as he cursed the challenging Ludus, and how events had twisted to become as they now were. "Get the guards in here," The old Canistelean snapped, as he looked around. "If Keel survives, he's going to be angry. I'm going to contact Lord Lúcuma and find out how we proceed... but for now, assume we might need to put our pet Saiyan down. Permanently."
It wasn't ideal, but right now the best any of them could hope for would be for Keel to simply die.
"Lord Lúcuma," Master Rimoya said into his communication device, as he pressed the activation button. "I apologize, I wasn't aware of the other Saiyan... what would you like us to do? The likelihood Keel will believe us now is very low, especially if he survives and has to kill one of his own, after being told they don't exist in the universe anymore."
The extra guards began to file into the prep room, and took positions around the outer walls of the space.
"In my opinion, the pet monkey has lost his usefulness. I highly recommend we kill him, start fresh, and you allow me to capture you another Saiyan... I believe recent reports have them on planet Plant, the conquered Tuffle home world?"
Master Rimoya glared out of the wall section, at the back of the once-prized gladiator owned by Lord Lúcuma. Keel had been a good distraction for the crowds, a financial draw, but with the instability in loyalty and potential for the Saiyan to go rogue against his captors... well, it was time to consider replacements, and the old training master hoped Lord Lúcuma agreed.
For Tiyesa, all the fights after intermission formed a single scene, gory and blurred. Luckily, Litchi's seat was occupied by another noble, who was not attempting to converse with her. That made it much easier to tune out, and let her mind wander. Minutes ticked by excruciatingly slowly as fighters were killing each other down in the arena, or battling wild beasts of various origins. It felt like half a day had passed since she came back from her walk, although it had hardly been an hour. Finally, however, the event's second-to-last combat ended. Only the final challenge was left, the crowd's excitement so intense it seemed to electrify the air in the amphitheater. While the workers were cleaning the mess of severed limbs and spilled guts from the previous game, Lord Lúcuma's listening device crackled to life, transmitting a yet another exchange between Keel and Rimoya. Tiyesa clenched her teeth in annoyance as another blatant lie was spoken. Father had probably told the man to reiterate the deceit, in case his prized warrior retained even a sliver of hope. She glanced at her father, who wore a hint of a smug smile. He was evidently satisfied with the gladiator's answer and apparent trust in his master's honesty. While ensuring the Saiyan's short-term submission, the idea of associating Lúcuma's own name with the deception was a risky one. Tiyesa could think of a few ways how it could backfire... although, admittedly, they were all unlikely.
When the arena was finally cleared of all the mess, the announcer's voice rolled over the cavea. Tiyesa watched Keel emerge again, to be greeted by thundering cheers. Given that this was his second performance today, and he was clearly injured, the fight promised to be filled with excitement - would he be victorious, or would the crowd's hearts break when watching him perish? In all honesty, either option was acceptable to the sensation-seeking Canisteleans.
Even though everyone had been waiting for the revelation with rapt anticipation, there were no cheers when the challenger was introduced. The shock was far too great. Another Saiyan gladiator, in Victus City? The people were astonished and filled with uncertainty. Who to root for - the long-time champion, or the imposing newcomer?
Tiyesa turned her head to look at her father, a small part of her glad to see the smug expression having vacated his face in a flash, another part of her anxious about the new development. It turned out that the backfiring of this direct lie was not as unlikely as she had surmised only moments before. Which was not exactly a good thing, at least not in the current situation. The statement about Keel possibly being the last Saiyan was proven false, which meant the gladiator would have lost a significant degree of trust in his master. If he asked his opponent some questions, and got answers...
Lord Lúcuma looked furious, which did not bode well. Usually, his emotions were well-contained, his face revealing nothing that he didn't wish to reveal. He did relax his facial muscles a few moments later, regaining control and probably already thinking of solutions. Tiyesa dreaded to think what those might be. The possibility of the noble gathering taking place after the event seemed to be more distant than it had ever been.
She saw her father make a subtle swiping motion on the armrest of his throne, and the speaker device switched channels - there was suddenly Rimoya's voice coming from it, his tone urgent. Her fears confirmed, Tiyesa listened to the suggestion in horror, mind racing. She had given a tentative confirmation of the upcoming gathering and its location to the rebels, which meant the plan was already in motion. They would know it might get cancelled, from the numeric value she had chosen to transfer with her act of 'philanthropy' - it indicated a decreased likelihood of success. Should she take another walk and give a signal to abort the mission completely, so no risks are taken? Could she even do it without attracting too much attention, as she departs before the grand finale that everyone had been waiting for? Pretending to faint from the overload of stimuli could be an option, it sometimes happened to the more sensitive noble ladies, although never to her - not even after watching her Majin handmaid being butchered by a trained gladiator. Other lords and ladies might not think much of her momentary weakness - other than gossiping about it for a few weeks - but Father would get suspicious. No, there was no way she could safely inform her allies without damaging their future possibilities. She would have to put trust in their good judgement.
With another slight motion of his hand, Lord Lúcuma activated a sound cancellation barrier surrounding the three central seats of the spectator box. It was an invisible, intangible wall that most surrounding nobles would fail to identify. Except perhaps the ones sitting the closest, if they happened to be eavesdropping at the moment - for they would have suddenly lost the audio mid-sentence, with Lúcuma's space going unnaturally quiet. For Tiyesa, it was easier to note the activation of the privacy measure, as it also blocked the considerable noise coming from outside their little area, plunging them into silence.
"The timing is most inconvenient, Rimoya. We will have to gauge the situation before making a final decision. I have the function planned, and it's preferable that the brute attends it." Tiyesa perked up, hanging onto every word her father uttered. "Execute him if he attempts any violence against you after the fight. Just make sure to do it quickly and quietly - the audience must not find out something is happening behind the scenes. In case he shows signs of ill-will, tranquilize him and inform me. If you can't detect any grudge, and he is willing to talk, the situation might yet be salvaged. I do not like it, but I will need to decide on how to proceed based on your evaluation of his mental state."
The orders contained far too many uncertainties for Tiyesa's liking, but at least the possibility of the noble gathering taking place was left open. All that was needed for it was Keel surviving this fight, which he started already being wounded... and then not being visibly angry about the lies he was told. If the tales of his temper were true, the famed gladiator was already dead, no matter how this combat ended. As were the rebels' plans.
"And Rimoya - be ready to depart with the next acquisition squad," Lord Lúcuma spoke again after a brief pause, having come to a decision. "Even if the brute behaves placidly afterwards, it's too big of a risk to keep him around. He will be seeking more information, losing his loyalty to me. In the best case scenario, I will have him killed after the function. His presence there is the last useful service he can provide. Report to me immediately after he gets back from the fight. You've known him for years, I hope you're able to read him well. Do not fail me."
After ending the call, he looked at Tiyesa, noticing she had been listening. "Don't worry," he said, having misread her concern. "The situation is not as bad as it might seem. Who knows, perhaps this challenger will win. I have no doubt that there is a price for which Opoyo would sell him to me."
The noise of the spectator box, the cavea and the arena flooded their space again as the sound barrier was deactivated. Lúcuma steepled his hands, directing his attention to the fight that would take place below. Tiyesa turned her gaze to the two Saiyans as well, trying to rid herself of the distracting mixture of guilt and compassion she was now feeling towards Keel. There wasn't anything she could do to help him, not really. If he won this battle, and if he did not go berserk at his lying masters, there was a chance that he would be saved along with everyone else in his Ludus... that is, if the rebels succeeded, and if the nobles were willing to negotiate. There were too many if's. The sense of premonition was growing more intense by the minute.
POWER LEVEL: 8,000 || SUPPRESSION: 600 || ANTISENSE: ON
ARENA PREP ROOM ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ Master Rimoya listened carefully to Lord Lúcuma, as the nobleman spoke into the communication device. The orders were unfortunate, the training master had put a lot of effort and time into Keel over the last 25 years, but the fact remained that the Saiyan was too dangerous and unpredictable now. The opportunity to keep the fighter ignorant had kept him under control, but with that gone, Keel was little more than a ticking time-bomb waiting to go off. And when he did, Master Rimoya had no doubt of that, then the result would be devastating. Lord Lúcuma's pet Saiyan had become strong over the years, stronger than most in the Ludus, save perhaps elite guards and Master Rimoya himself, but it wasn't a risk worth taking; there were always more Saiyans to kidnap, more monkeys they could subjugate and own for the fighting pits, so being stuck with a troublesome investment made no sense.
"I will watch him carefully, Lord Lúcuma," Master Rimoya nodded to himself, as he stared out of the gap in the wall section. His glare was aimed at the back of Keel, who stood face-to-face with the other Saiyan in the arena. "Assuming he survives, and to avoid any complications, I will have him chained and tranquilized, simply as a precaution for the after-fight gathering. Then, after the dinner with your guests in the near future, I will concoct some training accident that results in his untimely death... it will be a sad but predictable end for a gladiator, Lord Lúcuma."
The orders to prepare the next acquisition squad were confirmed, as Master Rimoya looked down to his glove and began typing on the wrist-pad built into the material. He sent the command for his people to prepare, outlining the objective to focus on another toddler Saiyan, and to be ready to leave within 24 hours. Given the Canisteleans were so far away from the more central regions of the universe, it stood to reason that sneaking onto the Saiyan home world, and taking another one, shouldn't pose too big an issue... so long as the Saiyans continued to have their guard lowered, what with the recent peaceful resolution to their war on planet Plant.
"Peaceful Saiyans are complacent Saiyans," Master Rimoya said to Lord Lúcuma, confidence in his voice. "We will get you another fighting monkey within short order, I promise."
It seemed Lord Lúcuma would take no chances. Once the dinner function in the following week was complete, Keel's life was forfeit, which is exactly what Master Rimoya would have decided, also. The old Canistelean was glad to work under such a pragmatic and logical nobleman, one who wasn't deluded by emotional connection or misguided morality. The fighting pits, the arenas, were all about business - and Keel had now become a less-than-desired investment, despite the many years he had served the household. It was time to find the next financial draw, one that Master Rimoya would oversee personally once again, and have ready for Lord Lúcuma in half the time...
Another benefit Keel provided was learning from our mistakes with his upbringing, Master Rimoya thought, as he saw movement in the arena. Things were about to begin. I can now get another Saiyan arena-ready in half the time, in six or seven years easily.
"I will see it done, Lord Lúcuma," Master Rimoya said to the communication device, before he turned it off. "And now time to enjoy Keel's final fight..."
MEANWHILE, IN THE ARENA ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ Murmurs began to spread throughout the arena, as the confrontation between two Saiyans was shared to the crowd. Granted, some of the conversation was delayed and edited, but it seemed most of the conversation that took place involved confusion from the famous gladiator and annoyance from his challenger, the new arrival Courge. It was difficult to tell how restless the cavea were becoming, since one could almost hear a pin drop, though those in charge of the arena suspected the novelty - and talking - would soon wear off...
"Wait," Keel said as he held out a hand, his aim to cause Courge to pause. It seemed to work, as the other raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know others were out there. Saiyans, that is. I don't know anything about your-- our people..."
Courge, clearly expecting a fight, sighed and considered. He supposed a little bit of talk couldn't hurt, besides he wanted to see who Keel was and whether there was a warrior worth saving. Or worth killing. Keel nodded slowly as the other seemed hesitant, which indicated an opening to engage without fists for the moment. Then, with an eyeroll, Courge spoke:
"Fine. Allow me to enlighten you. First, you obviously aren't from this backwater planet, though if you needed that clarified I would have guessed you've been dropped on your head too hard. You were - clearly - born on planet Vegeta! Not only that, you're a Saiyan warrior... well, you're at least a member of the most powerful race in the universe, if not one of our warriors!"
"Planet Vegeta isn't destroyed?" Keel narrowed his eyes, suspicious. "Our race hasn't been made near-extinct, then?"
"What in blazes are you talking about, you fool?" Courge stared with clear confusion, as though he spoke to a simpleton. "No. Nothing has happened to our planet. Or my people. You, though? You clearly don't belong with the Saiyans, you pathetic Canistelean lapdog... and it will be a pleasure removing your tainted and subservient bloodline from the Saiyan gene-pool!"
But Keel's protest fell on deaf ears, as Courge gave in to his rage and got bored with the conversation. The shorter Saiyan launched forward and roared with a mighty punch, which Keel blocked with a forearm guard, before a swift kick hit Keel in the stomach. Keel stumbled with a grunt, then followed up with a punch of his own, which caught Courge on the face, and knocked the shorter Saiyan into his own stumble. Back and forth the hits came, as each warrior pitted strength against strength, exchanging strikes and knocking the other backward.
"You," Courge shouted, as he delivered a punch. "Are," He followed up with another punch. "Pathetic!" And delivered a haymaker to Keel's chin, which knocked him backward and made his teeth chatter.
"We don't need to fight," Keel muttered, as he wiped blood from his lip with the back of his gauntlet. He stood up and stared at Courge. "We can leave here..."
"Leave?" Courge laughed as he shook his head. He approached Keel, arms up in a defensive posture. "I'm here to replace you, fool. I'm going to kill you, then become the Saiyan arena champion... you mean nothing to me, you're just dirt on my boot to glory!"
Keel grimaced, even as Courge attacked again. The pair exchanged blows, fists and boots flew, at rapid speed that caused limbs to blur. It had come down to pure instinctual combat, as each combatant gave - and took - strike after strike; but eventually Keel began to wear down, as his wounds began to catch up with him from the previous fight, and a stumble caused Courge's roundhouse kick to land exactly as planned--
--Keel was sent sideways, as his face spun and his body followed. He hit the ground with a thunk of sand, then slid to a stop. But, not one to give up or surrender, Keel began to push back to his feet. However, a boot landed on his back, as Courge stomped down and began to laugh, pinning the gladiator and forcing Keel back into the sand.
"Such a pity," Courge said in a low voice, as he sneered. He clearly enjoyed towering over the other Saiyan, forcing him to submit. "And here I thought you might prove a challenge... I suppose it's true, Opoyo said Lúcuma took all your Saiyan spirit out of you. How fortunate your parents couldn't be here to see how pathetic their son had become, hm? How utterly pitiful their offspring was... how he isn't worth the noble blood that flows through his enslaved, servant veins--"
Keel began to breathe heavily, under Courge's boot.
"--and I'll be sure to tell them how you died. Like a worthless slug, crushed under my boot heel, hah hah!"
Filled with rage, at his situation and his life and the lies and Courge who mocked him, Keel let out a roar that shook the arena floor and vibrated the sand. Pure Ki energy radiated from him in sharp bursts, as Keel balled his fist and then from his downed position reached back and struck - he delivered a leaping uppercut to Courge, the shorter Saiyan caught by surprise at the sudden outburst, which sent the latter reeling.
Without wasting a moment, Keel jumped up and grasped Courge with one arm, as he threw his opponent upward toward the arena ceiling - which Courge impacted against, as the shield shuddered and kept him inside the boundary - and when the shorter warrior began to fall downward, Keel was ready and circled above to deliver a powerful kick slam--
"Ugh!" Courge was stunned, as he plummeted downward at high speed, to impact with the ground heavily!
--and from above, Keel put his hands outwards to either side. His Ki energy was low, but he was so angry and lost to battle-lust that he didn't care, and began to charge his power. The yellow energy orbs formed in front of each palm, then Keel brought his hands around and before him, and he forcefully merged the two smaller orbs into a singular large one cupped between his fingers. Fueled by Keel's rage, the energy ball expanded rapidly, even as Courge rolled over onto his back and looked up at the glowing power high overhead...
"Wait..." Courge said, as he spat blood. "Wait!"
But Keel's face was twisted in pure fury, as he thrust his arms forward and put every last bit of his energy into the attack!
"No, wait, Keel--" Courge went wide-eyed. "No! No, curse you lapdog!"
"--Finish!" And then with a shout, Keel sent the massive beam of electric-discharging energy downward, where it impacted with a blaze of light and explosive power, and completely surrounded Courge. The downed opponent screamed, as the energy disintegrated him, and continued to burrow deep into the foundation and underground of the arena... and when Keel was finished, there was a giant hole that was dozens of feet deep, where the shorter Saiyan had been.
"Well... that's what this 'lapdog' can do."
Keel lowered himself to the sandy arena floor. He stood there for several moments, as he peered into the burned hole, which had glistening shards of glass around the edge. That's how hot the energy had been. But, totally spent and with nothing left in reserve, Keel took several steps toward the arena exit, before he fell face-first into the sand with a thud.
The last thing Keel saw, before he blacked out, was Master Rimoya and several guards approaching to collect him from the arena...
Down in the arena, Keel sealed his own doom with the conversation he chose to have. From finding out more about his planet - misleading as his opponent's answer was - to suggesting that they could just leave without fighting (that bit of their exchange would never reach the ears of the audience), his words ensured that the plan to kill him would not be reconsidered. Tiyesa was growing worried that it might actually get implemented sooner, now that the gladiator was semi-openly suggesting an outright breakout. Unless it somehow slipped Lord Lúcuma's notice-- she glanced at Father, his eyes narrowed as he hid a slight twitch of his lips behind the fingers of his steepled hands. Of course, something like that would not slip his notice. If today went as planned, Keel would live, along with all other slaves tied to this amphitheater. But his inquiries and the blasphemous suggestion made it almost certain that the gathering, and thus the plan, would be cancelled - he had clearly lost all loyalty to his master and was thinking of escape, and not even hiding it. Hopefully, Rimoya would come to a different conclusion, in hopes of pleasing his lord by enabling the success of his planned function.
In the meanwhile, Courge was making too good of an impression, Tiyesa judged. Claiming he was here to replace the current Saiyan champion, showing willingness to fight and desire to enjoy the fame... She could virtually sense her father calculating the price he would offer Lord Opoyo for this new warrior, and thinking of negotiation tactics he would use.
The fight having finally commenced, she followed the Saiyans' actions closely, rooting for Keel like she had never rooted for anyone before. His victory was necessary. As was his compliance afterwards. If he lost, the ramshackle plot would crumble, and more people would suffer - including at least one Saiyan child, as well as sizable group of extraterrestrials hurriedly brought to slavery in order to fill the gap that Keel would leave. She found herself already making plans to contact the off-world resistance teams in that case, tell them to keep an eye on planet Plant and intercept the delivery of any successfully captured Saiyan children.
For a few moments, it seemed that Courge would actually win. He had felled his opponent and was gloating, impressing both the crowd (half of them already switched to favoring him, the other half still faithful to the long-time champion) and Lord Lúcuma. That is, until he mentioned telling Keel's parents about killing their son. It might have been just empty words, something meant to mock his opponent, but it hinted at a lack of understanding on how being a non-Canistelean gladiator worked. Courge seemed to believe he could just leave at will, to chat with the members of his race off-planet. That meant he might decide to break out one day, a threat Keel had not posed for most of his life thanks to being subdued from an early age. Would the stocky monkey-man be worth purchasing, even for a few years, until the newly captured Saiyan child matured enough to replace him? Knowing her father, these were probably his thoughts at the moment, as he weighed risks and benefits. The intact tail was another drawback, and an adult might not be as willing to separate with it as a child was. Breaking someone at this age was not exactly viable, which meant he would need to be negotiated with, as if he was a Canistel native. No, he would not be worth the effort and the money. Tiyesa was quite certain her father would come to that conclusion, if he hadn't already.
Just then, the tables turned. Gloating over defeating Keel, while he was still very much alive, had not been the wisest idea. The spectators who still supported Keel, having held their breath as he was stomped on, now cheered loudly. Such emotional outbursts were not appropriate for the nobility, hence Lúcuma's box remained largely quiet - save for a few lords cursing quietly, which could only mean they had bet a considerable sum on Courge and his chance to dethrone Keel. The conclusion to the grand finale came rather quickly after that. Nothing was left of the challenger after Keel's finishing attack, and the arena suffered some serious damage. The worker crew would have to spend some time patching it up...
Tiyesa's heart was racing now, as the decision her father would make in a few minutes could either set the plan in motion or crush it. She watched Keel collapse to the ground, which silenced the elated roars of the audience somewhat. As he was carried out by the guards and his training master - to be revived, tranquilized and evaluated psychologically - she saw Lord Lúcuma rise from his throne. He stepped forward, fastening a small communication device to his ear before raising his arms to catch the crowd's attention. A wave of applause rolled over the cavea before everyone fell silent, ready to listen to the closing speech.
"That concludes today's event! I hope you have enjoyed the games. Yet again, the champion remains undefeated - even by a challenger of his own kind. It only serves to prove that being a gladiator on Canistel gives superior training. We elevate the wild beasts above their own race!" More applause, caused by Canistelean pride in being a civilization of slave masters and conquerors. Lord Lúcuma waited for the noise to die down before continuing. "I am honored to have provided quality entertainment for you today. Enjoy the rest of your evening. Until next week!" There was one last surge of cheers, then the crowds began moving towards the exits. For some of them, it would take over a quarter of an hour to get out of the amphitheater - especially the members of the lower castes, standing all the way at the top, furthest away from the gates.
The arena workers, usually made up of gladiators who volunteered for the job for increased food portions and similar benefits, came out once again and set to work, filling the massive hole left by Keel's final attack. Tiyesa watched them for a while, the unease in her chest growing. Then, with a corner of her eye, she saw Father put a hand on the communication device, receiving a call. She turned her gaze to him fully and held her breath for the moment of truth, waiting in her seat with the rest of the nobles - most of whom had already heard the rumor of a gathering being planned. It was only a few moments before father turned to them, his voice no longer amplified to carry over to the entire cavea.
"Dear friends, I invite you to the recess room - fresh drinks and snacks have been prepared. I will be joining you shortly to make an announcement I am sure you will find most intriguing." Tiyesa experienced only a few seconds of relief, before anxiety flooded back in, more intense than before. In about half an hour, a massive change would be initiated - whether for better or worse, remained to be seen. The lords and ladies began rising from their benches, hushed conversations already starting as they tried to guess what this meeting would be about. It was most unusual for the nobles to stay after the event; they were usually the first ones to get out of the amphitheater through the private exits. What could make Lord Lúcuma organize a gathering here, rather than at one of his residences?
"Let's go join the guests, Tiyesa," her mother spoke, ready to play a proper hostess and make her daughter do the same. Tiyesa obeyed quite reluctantly, since her father was once again listening to someone's voice in his earpiece. She desperately wished to know the contents of that conversation, but there was no way to stick around and eavesdrop.
She entered the spacious lounge room, filled with splendidly-dressed nobles chatting with each other in small clusters. Her mother located the group that she judged to be most in need of entertainment - a trio of lords who were barely conversing - and joined it, bringing the company to life. Not quite as eager to follow suite, Tiyesa weaved her way between the nobles, exchanging a few sentences here and there but not staying for a prolonged conversation. Litchi was notably absent, which was a relief. There was no doubt he would return and aim to join her - most likely, he had just gone to the restroom - but even even the momentary reprieve was welcome.
She picked up a glass of nondescript purple liquid and took a sip, scanning the room casually. At the same time, slowly and gradually so as not to attract any attention with unnecessary flashes of blue aura, she began to raise her power level - just in case something didn't go as planned. Outside of combat training, most highborn lords and ladies of Canistel conserved and controlled their energy by keeping their power suppressed - with guards constantly present, there generally was no reason to be on alert. Surely danger could befall them on their own planet...
In a dimly-lit corridor halfway between the gladiators' preparation area and the nobility's lounge room, Litchi was leaning against the wall and toying with a dark metallic rod, half a foot in length. The item twirled lazily between his fingers, while the young nobleman's eyes were fixed on a door down the hall. Soon, he would get to play a little game. It would be far more restricted than similar pastimes he generally engaged in, but appealing nonetheless - purely for the prospect of possibly causing a downfall of his father's rival.
"Lord Litchi, we are bringing him now. He's quite sedated - shouldn't pose any danger," a male voice spoke in his scouter. If only Lord Lúcuma knew how willing his servants were to betray him, for the right price - not a terribly high one, either. Not that the lowly middle-caste guards would be able to discern how detrimental a small act of treason could be to their master. Letting a rich lordling briefly meet the Saiyan gladiator in private could not possibly get anyone in trouble - and the reward for such a small misconduct equaled an average guard's whole month's salary, which was more than tempting.
A few minutes later, the door he had been watching opened. Two tall Canistelean guards, armed with taser poles, stepped through, bringing the hefty prey with them. Litchi smirked as both guards came to a stop in front of him, offering a respectful salute. He moved forward, eyeing the shackled gladiator.
"Well, well, the famous monkey without a tail," he spoke, holding out his left hand to one of the men accompanying the sedated fighter. "I don't like him looking this sleepy - the brute always seems so alert in the arena." After a brief hesitation, the guard handed him the taser before putting a gloved hand on the slave's upper back - to support him in case the weakened state made him collapse from the upcoming jolt. Litchi touched the tip of the pole to the Saiyan's stomach, the satisfying buzz of electric discharge bringing a grin to the nobleman's thin lips. He then handed the taser back to the guard, watching the expression on Keel's face carefully.
"Your today's performance was most entertaining, I was really captivated. Especially by the part where you defeated that other Saiyan... you know, I did bet a considerable sum on his victory. Opoyo guaranteed that he's an extraordinary fighter, no match for a tamed pet monkey. Most disappointing..." He let out a feigned sigh of disgruntlement. "No matter. I suppose your losses are far bigger than mine. How did it feel, killing one of your kind after being lead to think none of them exist anymore?"
Litchi's eyes drifted to the stitched cuts on the gladiator's upper body, some of them caused by the first fight, against the axe-wielding alien. "No wonder you have so many scars. You know, there's medicine that could heal these injuries in a few minutes - but of course Lord Lúcuma would not grant his slaves such luxury. Traditions forbid it," he spoke, tracing a particularly deep-looking cut on Keel's shoulder with the tip of the metal rod he had been fiddling with. "Or are you proud of your scars? Do you think they're a source of pride and honor, much like your fighting in the pits honors the memory of your Saiyan kind?"
POWER LEVEL: 8,000 || SUPPRESSION: 3,000 || ANTISENSE: ON