Featuring BaByWolf, Aura, Lo-Rei and Ruthless as the winners of the event 'Cataclysm'
"When will we finish climbing this fucking mountain?" Chee-to spoke with a furrowed brow.
She looked at him without saying anything, considering anew the name that could not possibly belong to a Tamvaasa. Anyhow, Aura is what she had used two passages previously, and it seemed just as likely that both were using false names. Aura was as good a name as any in that strange time—when names seemed to no longer matter.
Both had left behind them a battlefield greater than any had ever seen, but even that seemed unimportant now. The sky was covered in ash and the earth still gave way to frequent shuddering. Neither could make out way lay beyond the thick mantle of black clouds, but it appeared to be the light of another passage.
It was a different sort of light, and not because it filtered through the thick atmosphere. It was entirely unnatural, as if it was the product of two different sources, as if the sun itself had split in two.
That cannot be, thought Aura. But the thought remained, like pain from the prick of a needle. Something had to be the cause of all she saw, and the parting of the sun into two parts seemed just as likely as anything else.
They had spent two such passages struggling up the stony path that led between the spurs of the Rhozha Mountains. No sign of life had greeted them back. Instead great cracks seemed to have swallowed everything in their way, from villages to entire hills. Streams of boiling water carries more ash and even molten rock as if the mountains had simultaneously become volcanoes.
"It would be good to stop." Chee-to did not wait upon his companion. He sat heavily upon a stone and began to search through the detritus that filled his leather bag. Aura had watched this ritual a hundred times: after a while looking, he would tire and begin grumbling to himself. The first two times had intrigued the youth, but by the third she began to lose patience.
"I know this place." she said. "At least I think I do. If I am not incorrect, a stream ought to come descend not a length from here, to the northeast."
Her companion pointed to a distant peak with tired despair, all the while looking at Aura in hopes of guessing her thoughts.
It was a high peak, which was a sign of importance to the Tamvaasa. He wore filthy, tangled hair and beard and his eyes wandered constantly from side to side. From his clothes and accent, Aura took him for a member of the Durnslayun: living so close to the border of the Enemy leaves no other option than to keep open a thousand eyes. He said he had fled from the plains of Hiria when rocks the size of great houses began to follow among those battling. They had met far from the action, although they would have preferred to meet one or another band of the hundreds that had also fled.
This battle against the Durno had anyway meant nothing to Aura. Tamvaasa womenfolk also attend battles, and the youth’s axes had covered themselves in the blood of various enemies from the time that they had been forged for her sake. Politics did not interest her so much and she had little desire to join a battle between thousands of warriors who had long forgotten what they fought for.
The cataclysm had surprised her in the distant tundra of the Long North, in the lands of the Karkupaw. Almost her entire Karkin had perished within a great gaping crack opened in the land. The rest had died one by one, envious by the end of those who had been blessed with a quick death. Aura had turned to the mountains, alone until she had met Chee-to.
Whether they would find food and refuge remained to be seen. What they did not see was the dozen or so Khärn that watched them from a nearby ridge…
Ψ Ψ Ψ
The narrow cell even had a cot to fall into, but it wasn’t designed for very long stays. The Celeani had removed his helmet to be able to endure the suffocating heat that emanated from the stone floor. In the outer passage, lava flowed in narrow canals that had been excavated straight out of the rock, bringing an elevated temperature that made all the prisoners sweat and stink.
"Your first time, Gaalian?" Asked a voice emanated from the cell in front. It was a Northener, with long hair. His beard was a straggly white and contrasted poorly with his blue hued skin. It was still surprising to the Celeani to see that bluish look of the people that had previously only lived in legend—the People of the Shadow, the Tamvaasa. He decided not to answer, but held the Northerner’s gaze.
"Are you shy, or what?"
Again there was silence, but this time the Celeani mumbled some words in his own language.
"Aha, I see. You do not know our tongue. Fair enough, let’s start with something basic. I am Borj. What are you called in your land?"
The Celeani seemed to understand what was being asked of him, for he slightly lifted the maroon cape that hung over his shoulders and revealed a tattoo engraved like fire upon his dark skin. It was an image of a small wolf.
"BabyWolf!" Said Borj with a laugh.
The Celeani appeared content with the Tamvaasa’s response. He repeated the sounds with a marked accent. The Celean language was deep and smooth, with sounds that appeared to emanate from deep within the chest and throat. It contrasted with those made by the Tamvaasa, which were like the sounds axes made when striking rocks and wood—at least that’s what the Folkin liked to say.
"Good. Well, you won’t understand what I am about to tell you, but I hope you know how to use that spear of yours, or you won’t survive long in there."
The Celeani followed Borj’s gaze down the passage. A chorus of echoing shrieks bounced through the passageway at that moment, like the response to an unspoken question.
"Blüt" Said the Celeani.
"You learn quick," Borj grimaced. "though there aren’t many words to learn from the Khärn. What Leel has written, we will certainly perish in a Blüt. The only way to survive is to kill. So far I have done well, and to our companion too. I hope you’re up to it."
"Do not invite me to share words. At least not with one of his race." The voice came from within the cell next to that of the BabyWolf.
"Ah, tis true. You can’t stand the Gaalians, can you Shinse." Borj leaned onto the horizontal bar to his cell to get a better look, but quickly jumped back in pain. The metal was burning. "It is no shock. They were the ones that threw you off your pretty beaches where you used to tan. Is it not so?"
The joke had a certain truth, for Lo-Rei was anything but tan. The paleness of her skin was only broken by the scar that etched a patch across an eye, which were both blue. Her hair, dark and lank, was covered by a grey hat with grey edges. Anyone familiar with the Shinse knew the meaning of those colours. Lo-Rei was a Guardian of the Signs, the private escort of the Matriarch. The chosen ones raised from the cradle to enter the Seventh School. What a powerful Guardian was doing in one of the dungeons of the Lava Coliseum was a mystery: It would have been simple for her to enter Khilma, slay a dozen Khärn, ride Groth like a stallino without anyone realizing. BabyWolf could not have known that having a Sign Guardian on his side in a Blüt was the equivalent of having a small chance of leaving that place alive.
Suddenly a guttural chorus rang out. The khärn were celebrating another victory. To judge by the many empty cells that ran along the passage, it would not be long before they would enter the action.
They called him Ruthless—or at least that’s what his name sounded like if you could pronounce it in words. The khärn used few, and this one in particular fewer than most. This specimen was the largest and most ruthless that Aura had ever seen. Unlike the rest, he was not chained into a cell, for he walked back and forth in the passageway with impatience, looking ferociously at the prisoners, freezing them with a glance.
Aura asked the heavens but one thing: Why did they choose her? Perhaps it meant she had a small chance to survive the Blüt.
Perhaps she wouldn’t be the only one. Chee-to had said that many seemed willing to die and kill in the arena. The Khärn, for the spectacle, paid well in food to those who survived the coliseum. Aura counted another three prisoners. Together with the Khärn her and Chee-to, that was enough for two teams. It could be that they were looking at their first enemies over the lava pit.
A Shinse warrior held her gaze calmly from the cell opposite. She was short, like many from her race, but extraordinarily muscular. She wore simple pants, the majority of her torso was naked, with ribbons on her forearms and a great tattoo on her back. Sta-rox she was called, and she had not rested the two Wakat that she held in her hands, which appeared sharp as needles.
In the cell next to her, she could just make out the appearance of a Gaalian, a Celean, adorned with a strange mask with blue feathers. He walked barefoot and seemed entirely naked except for the broad belt and a cloth that hung loosely off it. Around his shoulders was a short cape adorned with the hide of a strange white coloured beast. On the cell to Aura’s right was Chee-to and on the left was another Tamvaasa that Aura had not yet seen or heard, for he kept a heavy silence.
Hardly having been able to take stock of the situation, Aura heard the sound of a blaring trumpet from the entrance of the passage. The Khärn grabbed Aura by the lapels. It seemed that they had chosen her to be next. She held onto her arms, and followed the Khärn called Ruthless, accompanied by Sta-rox. It seemed like a worthy team. The Khärn contributed his strength and ferocity. The Shinse moved in spaces with a speed that made her attacks difficult to anticipate.
And her? Aura desired to enter her two axes into the first skull she could get near. She was to determined to be the one that left that hole alive.