The guards came around handing out sad-looking slices bread and I slumped against the wall, gnawing on its stale crust hungrily. I noticed that Kris did not; she had slipped her piece wordlessly into her pocket.
"Watching your figure?" I joked. Kris was about as slim as a fencepost and incredibly fit.
"No, I just don't want to get a cramp when I'm fighting for my life," she said. "You're better off saving it for the morning before your next match, if you can wait that long. It'll give you a little extra strength."
I stopped eating and after a moment's thought, stowed the morsel I had left in my pocket as well. Kris smiled with just one corner of her mouth.
"So have you learned all these tricks from experience?" I asked. "How long have you been here?"
"I've been here around six years, I think," replied Kris. "It's hard to keep track after a while, though. The days sort of blend together. They brought me here when I was seventeen, that's all I know. I was like you at first, didn't know what to do, how to survive.But I guess I just wanted to live more than everyone else. I did everything I possibly could to live to the next day, and I'm one of the few who succeeded."
I imagined what it would be like to live in this place for six years. Fight after fight into an undefined eternity. What would be the point in surviving that long? Wouldn't life become worse than death ever could be? But I knew that in the end, like Kris, I would do whatever it took to live to the next day.
"So why are you here?" Kris asked.
"I'm not saying," I answered, looking at my feet.
"Fine, we've all got our secrets," said Kris, apparently not bothered by this. "I was with the Dusk Rats before they shut them down. You heard of them?"
I had, so I nodded. The Dusk Rats were one of the Underurb crime gangs that had been routed out about a year ago, but I understood they had been pretty powerful at their height.
"I thought you were Scarabine, though," I said, confused.
"I am," explained Kris. "But I moved to Alarbor when I was six. My dad was from here. He died when I was fifteen and I took it pretty hard. My mom turned to alcohol, and I turned to the gangs. They were the only family I had left."
"I'm sorry," I said gruffly.
"Don't be," said Kris. "I scarcely remember that life anymore. And God knows everyone else down here has been through worse probably."
Suddenly I heard my name being called and looked up to see a guard in the doorway, list in hand and scanning the assembled crowd for me. My nerves, which had temporarily been sedated while talking with Kris, returned with an unpleasant swooping sensation in my stomach and my heart rate doubled.
"Good luck," said Kris, squeezing my hand, which for some reason brought on a fresh jolt of nerves. "Remember to keep your knees bent and aim for his weak side."
I nodded, then walked shakily toward the guard and followed him out of the room.