The coliseum roared to life as the sword plunged into my chest for the second time this round, ending it. It was rigged, but it didn't matter; they still loved it. My opponent pulled his sword out with a flourish, lifting his helm up far enough to lick the weapon, mocking me. I looked to the Arena Master, but his spear was in his right hand; I wasn't allowed to actually fight still. My opponent knew it too and was getting cocky, turning his back on me, taking in the cheers from the crowd.
My wound was already closing. Fast regeneration is one of the reasons why I'm a favorite in here. I gently inspected it with my fingers through the slash in my leather tunic, it was still fairly deep. The poor quality dagger which I was given to use today was like wielding a led pipe; so unbalanced and heavy. It lay a few feet away where it had been kicked by my opponent.
"Lucious! Lucious! Lucious!" The crowd began to chant his name as the secondary weapons were brought out. Since he had won this round, Lucious was allowed to choose his weapon first. The crowd called out their favorites and when his hand hovered over the mace, the cheering reached a climax. He hefted it and then turned to face me, finalizing his choice. I hated the mace.
The weapons were brought over to me next, but it didn't matter. I was to lose this round too, so I just grabbed the weapon that was the closest: another dagger. I crouched down waiting for the signal, wincing as my tunic rubbed against the wound. Lucious smiled as the Arena Master tapped his spear on the ground three times, signaling for round two to start.
He didn't even wait for the spear to hit the ground on the third time before charging straight at me and swinging wildly. If it had been a fair fight that move would have gotten him killed. Since this was what it was, I managed to roll out of the way in time and he overshot me. It was like fighting a bull instead of a man and I was the taunting red cloth.
He turned quickly and charged me in the same manner and again I was forced to dodge by rolling out of the way. I could feel the skin over my wound tighten and rip as I came up from the roll and knew what he was trying to do. If the Arena Master didn't do something I would only be able to dodge a few more times.
The crowd wanted blood and the Arena Master's stance didn't change. As Lucious was coming at me again I braced myself for the impact, deciding that letting him hit me once would probably be the only way to get him to change tactics. He smiled, realizing that this time he was going to see blood. I stepped forward to meet him, throwing him off guard so his swing didn't have the impact that he wanted.
My shoulder was dislocated and there was still enough force to spin me around and drop me. The crowd's cheering barely registered as I fought to not pass out. To pass out before the final round meant a beating and an even more limited food ration. I opened my eyes and saw the Arena Master's iron clad feet, even they were imposing.
The cheering crowd turned into a jeering crowd; various insults regarding me met my ears. I stood up, but my vision went black and I felt lightheaded causing me to fall back down. I caught myself with my left arm and right knee before I fell flat on my face. I could hear the crunch of footsteps as Lucious came right up to me. I readied myself for round two to end.
"Look!" He shouted and the crowed quieted. "Look! My opponent goes so far as to kneel before me!" He let his mace fall to the ground and then kicked me in the side, knocking me over. My helm shifted so I could no longer see through the eye slits. "Pathetic!" I heard the warning thump of the spear even though I couldn't see the Arena Master, Lucious wasn't supposed to draw this round out. I reached up with my good arm to adjust my helm at the same time Lucious stepped on the fingers of my other hand and ground them under his boot.
He bent down close to me and said quietly, "Scream. Scream like a little girl and I'll end it." He was still angry about the first time we were pitted against each other in the arena. He took a step back and kicked me again. I swallowed the sound that I was about to make and continued to lie on the ground in the dark, listening to him circle me.
He put a foot on my chest, leaning most of his weight into it and making it hard to breath. "You crying yet?" The crowd was starting to get restless; as far as they could see nothing was happening. Much to my irritation tears sprang to the corners of my eyes as he ground his foot into my chest. Suddenly I could feel my head being jerked up as my helm was pulled off; everything became too bright.
The crowd gasped in unison and fell silent, being witness to one of the oldest taboos of the arena broken. Lucious' smile faltered as his looked at my now uncovered face. My helm slipped from his fingers and dropped to the floor. He looked at me as if he couldn't believe what he had done and I looked up at him with probably a similar expression.
The crowd broke us out of our trance as angry shouts became coherent. 'A woman?' was the loudest one. It was true that I was female, another taboo broken. Only the crowd was unaware of my gender, those on the inside knew and didn't seem to care. I could fight and I had a high regeneration rate, so little else mattered except keeping the public oblivious. No longer an option now.
I glanced to the Arena Master and blinked several times to confirm what I was seeing. The stoic Arena Master hadn't moved but his spear did; it was now in his left hand, blade-down into the arena floor. Lucious' life was now forfeit. My expression must have changed because Lucious turned his head to look at the Arena Master himself. I took the opportunity to reach for the dagger that lay only inches to my left. Lucious grabbed the mace and lifted it over his head, intending to bring it down upon me. I rolled left just in time to feel the breeze of the weapon moving passed me and the vibration of it smacking into the ground.
I lashed out at the back of his leg with the knife as he lifted the mace again. The leather of his boot was not enough to stop the blade and it sunk in deep. He stepped back taking the knife with him and swung his mace at me again. I rolled out of the way, but my right arm was nearly hit; it was still dislocated and not moving how I needed it to.
I was able to stand and scanned the ground looking for where the first dagger had gotten to; it was behind Lucious. He had stopped to pull the first dagger out and flung it behind him; when he looked up his eyes looked like those of a mad man. He charged and I ran towards him as well. Just as he swung I slid; moving under the wide arc of the mace and toward the daggers. He corrected his swing quicker than I thought and turned to me before I had reached one of the daggers. The mace met my leg and I could feel the bone break. I grabbed the closest dagger and threw it at him. He blocked with the mace and then stood over me; poised to finish me off.
I had the second dagger in my hand and lunged for him as he brought the mace down. I felt the knife sink into something as the mace landed on my back. I couldn't stop my forward motion and my weight knocked him over, both of us immobile.
I knew I wasn't dead because it hurt too damn much. Lucious on the other hand hadn't even twitched since we fell. I began to drag myself along his right side so I could see his face; my dagger was sticking out from his throat. I removed the dagger but didn't have enough energy to close his glazed eyes. I didn't even have enough energy to reposition my right arm so it didn't look so grotesque.
I tilted my head just enough so I could see the Arena Master, but he hadn't signaled that the match was over. I started to drag myself slowly in his direction, but my right arm was jerked violently. I looked back at Lucious' corpse and saw dried blood on an almost closed neck wound and eyes that were very much alive.
I was too slow at bringing my hand around with the dagger and he stabbed my right hand with the other one, the blade going all the way through. I rolled backwards over my right arm, pushing the knife deeper and widening the wound, but it was the only way to bring up my left arm to stab him.
The knife sank into his neck for the second time and this time I left it. I waited for him to get up and attack me again, but he never did. The crowd couldn't decide whether they wanted to cheer for a death or be angry about a woman being in the arena. The only way my masters could get out of the public's criticism would be to kill me; I waited for a crossbow bolt to find its way to a vital part on my body, but the shot never came. Instead a guard came and pulled me roughly into an inner room in the coliseum out of the crowd's sights.
I was led to a dim room with a wooden stool in the center and a medicine man in the corner. My armor was roughly pulled off and taken away; I was left with only the cloth binding my chest and my undergarments. I sat on the stool and the guard turned and left; I was alone with the medicine man.
The medicine man came over and thrust my shoulder back into place and the scream that I was holding back involuntarily sprung from my lips. "Looks like you really took a beating this time, Aztal." Before I could reply, a thick piece of hardened leather was shoved into my mouth and I bit down on it as he began to set the bone in my leg.
I could see the coliseum grounds from the little barred window that was about ground level with the outside. The worst of the doctoring was over so I spit out the piece of leather; a clear imprint of my teeth was left on it. "What are they doing?" I was fortunate that my face wasn't swollen this time and I could still speak. A guard was escorting a figure out into the center of the coliseum and the Handler followed behind.
"The crowd is angered that a female was allowed to fight in the arena; they are proving that the fighter was not female."
"How are they going to prove that? Everyone saw my face and the front rows won't be fooled by an imposter." The crowd was an angry mob as the guard pulled the helm off to reveal the scapegoat's face. I could only see the back of his head and the hair looked really close, but I was sure that no matter how close a person they found, nobody would be able to fool the crowd. The guard stripped the armor off the boy and had him turn a full circle to show that he really was a boy and the crowd quieted down, some even whistled. It wasn't his naked figure that shocked me, but his face. "How does he have my face?"
Gerald always answered my questions immediately and without hesitation, but now he faltered. I resisted the urge to threaten him and asked again, "Why does he look like me?" He continued to put some kind of salve on my wounded back. "Gerald…"
He sighed. "If I tell you, you must forget it immediately, swear it." I had never heard him so serious; I nodded. "No, swear it."
"Alright, alright. I swear."
"The reason he looks identical to you is because he's your twin."
"My… twin?" It didn't matter what I swore, as soon as I knew about him, there was no way I could forget about my twin.