The Kingdom of Jauffre was, well, a bit of a rough-and-tumble place. Or so the merchants, nobles, and anyone else concerned with the amount of visitors to the land would tell those who would listen. In reality, the place was a real hell-hole. Both the prince and princess had abdicated the throne years ago, upon their father's death, and the absence of a queen left the land monarch-less. Perhaps it was really more of a 'dom', sans king.
This, of course, was an ideal point in time for complete chaos to ensue. Knowing how highly chaos thinks of ensuing, it should go without saying that it did. Leaderless, the people pretty much did whatever they wanted for a good while, which mostly consisted of breaking every law imaginable.
However, a regent soon popped up and began to, well, do whatever he wanted for a good while. Which also consisted of breaking every law imaginable, except he threw people in jail if they mentioned in, whereas the citizens, at least, had been honest about their trouble-making. Proud of it, even.
And so the Kingdom of Jauffre, though officially still known as such, became the Regency of Inglis the Incredibly Greedy and Corrupt, home to the largest army and most crowded dungeons in all the world.
Once the people realized that trying to change things was a very effective way to end up headless, they sought other ways to relieve their stresses, and turned to two very effective methods of distraction; violence and gambling.
Fighting in the streets and blowing money hoping for their big score kept them occupied for awhile, but people quickly grew bored. That is, until some brilliant mind had the idea of combining the two pass-times and creating an place where people could smack each other with metal objects until one or the other died, all while a crowd placed bets on which of the pair they thought was brawnier.
Thus the Amazing Ring of Extremely Nasty Violence (or Arena, for short, since 'Arenv' just doesn't have the same ring to it) was born, and thus the subjects of this chapter found their fortune.
Generally the day started with the free-for-alls, in which all of the people stupid enough to put their lives on the line were allowed into the Arena at once, with the pretense of some sort of epic battle in mind. In reality, it pretty much becomes a whirling mess of blood, hacked-off limbs, and shiny metals bits, with no real organization in mind. Occasionally a truce or two pops up, but other than that...
After a good few of the number were killed off, the officials did their best to stop the fighting. Sixteen were allowed to pass on to the next round, so they generally gave the signal with about twenty left, and the fighting had usually ceased by the time four more had died.
This day had went perfectly, and sixteen stood in the Arena, awaiting instruction. An official yelled down over the masses for the group to split into two smaller ones by his instructions; basically, "You there, and you there," until he had two teams of eight.
One of the assembled fighters seemed to take offense to the team chosen for them, though; a young red-haired woman who looked, perhaps, like she was made of the stuff of a bar-wench, but certainly not a warrior. However, the battle axe she hefted with relative ease was sort of a push in the other direction, especially after she made a show of bringing it up through the underside of a man's chin, thereby ejecting the vitals bits from his head, and then took his place on the team opposite the one she'd been assigned to.
The official, the crowd, and most of the contestants seemed a little awed by it all, and when the official finally regained his composure, it seemed he didn't want to argue with the young woman's choice. However, the teams were now uneven for the second round, and he had to do something about that.
"You," he said with authority, pointing to a member of the opposite team at random, "will fight without a partner in the doubles round." The crowd seemed to enjoy this dangerous and unusual variation, and they cheered loudly over any reaction from the chosen fighter.
The two matches in the doubles round that the crowd was particularly excited for, the match with the axe-woman and the two-on-one, were first and last respectively. The axe-woman match, to the crowd's disappointment, lasted a very short time; the red-head swung her axe in a wide circle to take a swipe at one of her enemies and managed to not only kill the swordsman opposing her with one blow, but also cleaved her partner in two behind her. The official promptly ended the match, because they needed two warriors for the next round. The two-on-one proved to be a little more interesting.
Left without a partner, the fair-haired young man had to fend off twice the amount of attacks in half the amount of time. However, he proved to be quite up to the challenge. His weapons of choice were one bladed and one spiked set of brass knuckles, and the speed at which he could move them proved to be more than a match for the swordsplay of his opponents. Granted, he was still fully on the defensive, but he was holding his own.
That is, until his opponents wised up. Noting that a frontal attack was getting them nowhere, they split up and each took a side. Their attacks were still staggered, though, and by putting one side to each of them, the man was able to defend himself from this tactic as well. Clearly he had practice fighting against superior numbers. But the other combatants were no pushovers either; they quickly decided that the best course of action would to both take a whack at him at the same time, with all their power. They hypothesized that someone dedicated to speed wouldn't be strong enough to block two powerful attacks with one hand each.
And they were right.
As they both ran at the young man, their weapons thrust ahead of them, he tried to block to blows only to buckle under their strength. Both the swords glanced off his fists and continued toward vital parts of him... only to meet thin air. Quicker than a hummingbird's wink, he moved out of the way of the blades and let them continue their new course; into each of their owners' partners.
The man took a bow, but the crowd seemed a little too shocked to react. When they finally got a hold of themselves, though... a resounding thunder of jeers echoed through the stadium. Apparently they didn't want the underdog to win. It seemed as though they wanted blood, namely his, and namely all over the stamped-dirt floor of the Arena. He shrugged it off pretty quickly though, even catching a tomato thrown at him as he walked away, and, after smelling it to assure it wasn't rotting, took a happy bite of it.
The rest of the day proceeded in much the same manner; the blond man winning fights and getting booed, and the redhead winning fights and getting cheered. After the round of doubles matches were the singles matches, elimination-style, until all that was left was, surprise surprise, the crowd favourite and the black sheep. As the match began, each of the combatants walked to the opposite side of the arena, passing each other roughly in the middle. This was organized this way on purpose, so the warriors could exchange heated words as they passed, most often involving the mothers of their opponents doing nefarious things.
The crowd watched, pleased, as the blond man leaned in toward the redhead's ears, and cheered just a wee bit when they noticed her anger at what he had said. Which happened to be (not that they could hear it from the distance): "Put on your best angry face, love. And try not to make me look too bad." He had kissed her on the cheek as well, but it had been such a brief and stealthy movement, his lean-in had completely concealed it.
The announcer went at it then; his favourite part of the day was just this. "On the east side of the Arena, we have the red-haired beauty from the Kingdom of Melona, Champion of every Arena in neighbouring Kingdoms, The Axe-Wielding Siren, The Beast with the Breasts, Kirien "The Killer" Melanthaaaaaaaaa!" Cheers by the wagonloads. "And on the west half, standing next to the Pit of Despair, the pansy--- whoops, I mean participant--- from Norvestra, The Puny Puncher, The Speedy Sprout, Cloyven "The Smug Bastard" FaRusselllllllllllll!" Jeers by the castleful. "Let the final match begin!"
The fight started with the man, Cloyven, standing still, with a smug smile on his face, as had been his tactic all day, and the woman, Kirien, running at him with her axe held high, as had been her tactic all day. At the very last possible moment, Cloyven raised a fist and punched down at the axe head that was swinging horizontally at him, causing it to ram into the ground at his feet instead of carving out his innards. To add insult to... not-quite-injury, he jumped on the end of the axe, preventing Kirien from lifting it, and gave her another smug look.
However, Kirien didn't seem to mind; she simply lifted both the axe and the man standing on it into the air, a show of amazing strength that had what small amount of the crowd that wasn't cheering themselves into frothy hysterics rubbing their eyes in disbelief. She then swung the axe in a wide arc, as if trying to throw Cloyven off. He didn't go for this, though, and simply stepped off and onto the ground he had been standing on only a moment ago.
...Only to barely dodge the axe as it came swinging around the woman in a full circle. He ducked under it as Kirien used her momentum to swing it around her back again and, with a spin, bring it above her head and down on him. He managed to raise his bladed fist to meet the weapon, his other arm bracing against the weight, and did indeed stop it. The audience wouldn't hear his arm break, but they would see the man's bladed weapon split in two a split second later, and the crimson blood on his fist glinting in the sun.
As much as the crowd liked a good fight, they preferred lots of blood, and quick, any day. So they were mostly shouting 'Finish him!' by this point. The fact that they had spent all day cursing his name didn't help any. Neither did the fact that the majority of them had a lot of money on the woman by this point. Cloyven looked about ready to be finished anyway; kneeling in the dirt, nursing his injured arm, staring defiantly at his opponent.
She didn't argue; his head was lopped right off his shoulders before he had a chance to blink. She made sure to kick the - beheaded... bebodied head? - whatever it was afterward as well, it rolling perfectly in place to line up with the neck it was severed from. Over the thunderous applause and the announcement of the winner from the official, even the woman herself could barely make out the words the head spoke:
"Those were my lucky knuckles! You're going to get it for that, Kirien."
* * *
Kirien walked happily away from the Arena, a bulging bag of coins swinging gaily from her hand. Many greedy eyes fell on the purse, but the axe slung over her shoulder as though it was a toy, as well as the rumours of her prowess in the Arena, were more than enough to discourage any thieves.
Or so it would seem.
As soon as she had left the more crowded area, she was pulled into an alley, where a hooded figured held her by the shoulders. After a moment's pause, he brought his face to her level and kissed her, before throwing his hood back. The pair of them both smiled like a young couple in love (which, in fact, they were), but before long Kirien's hand went to the neck of the man, who bore a strange resemblance to Cloyven, delicately tracing the angry red line that circled it. "Are you okay, Cylo?" she asked, her voice thick with concern.
"One hundred percent," Cylo answered, "though you have no idea how painful it is, being beheaded. You should try being the loser sometime."
Kirien's hand had made it to Cylo's red-again hair by then, and had been playing with it before she stopped to address what he had said. "But we agreed...! If you want..."
"I know, I know. I'm only kidding, don't worry about it. I know how much you hate losing anyway. It's okay. We got the money, we got our safety and health, we're just fine."
"But what about your lucky knuckles?" Kirien asked, seemingly puzzled that he didn't appear very upset about the loss.
The smug smile the crowd at the Arena had grown to hate crept back onto his face. "Oh, I'm sure you can find some way of making that up to me."