Opening Moves

Kris was in the Arena for two days before we moved. Those two days were the longest of my life.

The media were in a frenzy over the seeming "recapture" of one of the "two devious fugitives". I could have laughed at the thought that they found nothing suspicious about her simply turning up conveniently in a lower city cellar, whose landlord had been conveniently "out of town" for several weeks before returning to find his new lodger. She was whisked back inside the Arena's gates within the hour, and suddenly the media's attention turned abruptly to the upcoming battles that were to be staged in the Arena. It had been christened Gladiator Week by the public, and every issue of every newspaper, podcast and internet feed was full of lineups, combatants, and betting opportunities. Seeing Kris' name written at the bottom of those lists made bile rise in my throat every time I looked.

Thankfully, I did not have much time for looking. Our plans moved faster than ever; Lucatz and Scilla vanished into the city nearly every day, hunting for what the snake-haired woman called "last-minute bargains". It did not surprise me that most of these bargains had sharp edges. Chase and Wex were constantly ensconced in the room where we had first heard the Raven, buried beneath piles of wire, flashing screens and half-drained cups of caffienated liquid. They were slipping easily into the Arena's system, but - from what I heard of Wex's muttering - their planned electromagnetic pulse, which would effectively deep-fat-fry all of the Arena's systems for just under half a minute when we needed to make our getaway, was apparently having some compatibility issues. I suspected it wouldn't last long. Neither of them appeared to have surfaced from their flashing, bleeping domain for eons.

As for me, I tried to keep myself busy in planning our movements inside the Arena to distract myself from the thought of Kris alone in the Arena's bowels. Scilla and I were the moles - we would be working our way into the Arena's inner sanctum and making off with its profits. The high levels of human security would be dealt with by Chase and Lucatz, who, together with a few opportunistic underlings that Lucatz had dredged up from the Underurbs, would be leading noisy distraction parties to keep the enemy off our backs. Wex would be back here, maintaining his control over the Arena's cameras - looping footage, creating "technical errors" and causing all sorts of havoc I had no hope of understanding - to keep those watching blind to our movements. With Kris drawing all the attention in the Arena, we would have no trouble avoiding the media either.

And thus, on a cold, stinking morning, as the city piled in to watch the only friends I had in the world tear each other apart, we moved in.

Chase went first, slipping in un-noticed with a forged ticket and happily surrendering to the pat-down inspection of the guards. Scilla was close behind him, and while we waited for her I pulled Lucatz close to me and hissed in his ear.

"Did it work?"

"Like a charm. Square-eyes and his mate never smelt a thing."

"Good. We might need to use that to our advantage later."

Lucatz nodded, but as he pulled away I seized his arm and hissed hurriedly.

"Watch yourself."

A ghost of a smile tugged at my brother's lips, and then he slipped through my fingers like smoke and vanished into the crowd. Within seconds I was through the gates, and Scilla's braided head appeared at my shoulder. Without a word, we moved like automatons through the crowd, taking up our pre-destined place at the bottom of the steps. Finally, the door guards secured the gates and moved off to their new positions. Half-shrouded in the shadows, Scilla and I went un noticed. When the last echoes of their footsteps faded, we took the tiny passage behind us and crept away into the dim, empty passages of the Arena's upper levels. I kept my eyes locked on the back of Scilla's head, fighting down the acidic cocktail of fear and adrenaline in my throat.

Overhead, the announcer's voice boomed through the ceiling.

"Ladies and gentlemen, honoured guests! It is a priviledge to welcome you all here, for the crowning jewel of what has been a glorious week! In just fifteen minutes, we will see the Arena's two deadliest fighters go head-to-head in what will be the greatest spectacle this city has ever seen. Let me hear you roar!"

As the crowd screamed, I felt a cold shiver run up my back as I remembered a very different scream, though the waves of pain and the stink of blood and sweat seemed a world away now. I took a deep breath and plunged on after Scilla.

The End

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