Black Blood

Written by

James Szaloy

aka Freedan the Eternal

Chapter 1

The harsh sun beat down on the crimson sand of the arena, stained by decades of violent deaths for the amusement of the crowd, screaming in excitement and rage at the two combatants below. One a young man, scarred by years of close calls, but always managing to snatch victory at the last moment. The crowd now cheered for him even as he wobbled on his feet, barely able to stand, his sword feeling much heavier than usual. Exhaustion and blood loss both wearing him down.

His armor was scraps, his sandy blonde hair drenched with sweat and blood, and he was bleeding from numerous slash wounds on the sides of his torso and arms. He'd managed to avoid taking a fatal blow so far, but the sheer number of cuts were going to be the death of him if he didn't receive medical attention soon.

He used his free hand to wipe the blood from his eyes, trying to stay focused on his enemy, gasping for breath and struggling to lift his sword back into a ready position.

His enemy was a slave like himself, but that was where the similarities ended. Known as a black-blood, his skin was ashen gray and eyes burning red, the obvious giveaways of his mutant heritage. How far back was never clear, but black-bloods were without exception disgusting cross-breeds of humans and devils.

And as the name was also accurate, his own wounds running with blood as dark as midnight.

With a primal animal scream, he rushed the young warrior. This was the chance the warrior had been waiting for. He quickly summoned up what strength he had left, sidestepping the charge, his opponent's sword missing him by mere inches, and he thrust his own blade into his enemy's side.

But the stab did not connect, at least not how he intended. The black-blood spun toward him, the warrior's blade stopping short as the black-blood snatched hold of the blade in his free hand. Trails of blood ran from his fingers where he gripped the blade, and the warrior was transfixed by such a self-destructive move, watching the black droplets rain from the blade onto the red sand beneath their feet.

So transfixed he never saw it coming. The black-blood's sword came down on his shoulder. The warrior screamed in agony, falling to his knees as the blade cut into his flesh, shattering his collarbone and nearly severing his arm in one blow.

The black-blood lifted his foot and shoved it into the warrior's chest, pushing him off the blade and onto his back in the sand. In spite of his efforts to fight it, his vision was rapidly going dark. And his last sight would be the black-blood looming over him, to lean down and whisper in his ear: "Your blade is too dull."

Wrenching the warrior's head up by the hair, the black-blood swung his blade down on his throat. A vicious crunching of bone, and a strong pull, and he lifted the warrior's severed head high, raining blood freely from the cut and torn throat, and raised his own voice in a wordless, primeval scream of bloody victory.

The crowd responded with their own cries, those of hatred and disapproval. Boos and curses rained down upon him for the death of yet another champion who was supposed to wipe the stain of the half-breed from the world. The only ones louder were the angry gamblers who had lost their money.

The arena master stood up in his box, somehow raising his own voice to be heard even over the roaring of the crowd to announce the match at an end. "The black-blood beast Talon has taken another young hero's life this day, and is the winner of the match!" he declared, "This marks his hundred and fifty-second straight win, and seventy-ninetieth straight fatality! Will there ever be a hero capable of ending his reign of terror? He will fight again in one month's time, so be sure to be here and find out!"

As the announcement had been going, ten men had emerged from the gates on the four sides of the arena, approaching the black-blood known as Talon. He dropped the severed head and raised his sword, ready to attack, only for one behind him to cast a rope over his head, tightening it quickly around his neck. He turned, screaming in fury, only for another to be cast low, catching his ankle as he started to move. More ropes fell on him, binding his wrists, ankles, and holding him fast. The men were careful to keep him at full length between them, well out of reach of the sword, which fell to the sand as the rope around his right wrist snapped tight.

He fought every step of the way, but was no match as they forcefully dragged him from the arena and away from the roar of the crowd.

Into the darkness of the halls beneath the arena, the gate slammed shut behind them with a crash. Immediately, Talon ceased struggling and stood upright. The other men, slowly at first, approached him and began undoing the bindings.

The sound of clapping echoed up the hall, causing Talon to look up. Jazeira Debell, the owner of the arena, and thus his owner, along with her bodyguard, Damien, were approaching the group, Jazeira slowly clapping her hands as she smiled at Talon.

Jazeira was a wealthy woman, made so by the arena fights she arranged and controlled, in which slaves and criminals fought to the death with each other, and volunteers seeking fame and wealth. Her clothing reflected her wealth, a deep purple gown with a low-cut neck, with silver lining, and several heavy gold chains hanging from her neck. She was also beautiful, with a face like one would see carved on a marble image, and cold green eyes that when one looked into them, they would see both intense cunning, and a very dangerous edge. These all were framed by perfect black hair hanging down over her shoulders and halfway down her back.

Her bodyguard was almost out of place standing next to her. Damien towered nearly two feet higher than her, and his dark skin was heavily marked by hundreds of scars, only his torso covered by the chain-mail shirt he wore, over which was a belt of long, vicious looking knives, and a hand-axe which hung from his belt.

"Oh, you are wonderful, my boy," Jazeira said, stopping her clapping as she approached Talon, who pulled the last rope from his wrist, dropping it to the floor. "People want to see you lose, and bet against you every time. You've repaid what I bought you for a hundred times over."

"Well, I wouldn't want you to stop feeding me," Talon said.

"Or patching you up," Jazeira said, looking over his bleeding wounds, "To the doctor, and we'll have you stitched up."

Talon's wounds were largely superficial, and a few stitches and bandages were all that were needed before Talon was escorted back to his cell. Though it was technically a cell, it was far grander furnished than any other slave's. A grand four-post bed was in the back corner, along with two plush chairs, as well as a dining table set for one. But the grandest part, at least from Talon's perspective, were two walls of bookshelves, packed nearly to bursting with everything from histories to educational manuals, and even fictional tales of adventure and heroism. And he'd read them all, many more than once.

Talon knew most slaves did not know how to read. He hadn't been able to when Jazeira bought him, and she had arranged for a teacher when, as a reward for a very profitable first year in the arena, she had asked him if he desired anything to make his cell more comfortable.

But what Talon did not realize was simply how much better educated he was than most slaves because of all the books he had acquired in the years since as gifts for his continued performance.

"Five years and you've got quite a collection," Jazeira remarked as she entered the cell behind him, then motioned to her bodyguard to remain outside, and the door was shut behind her, leaving just Talon and herself in the room, "I assume you're running out and would like some more this year?"

"Actually, I've been thinking about something else this time," Talon said.

His life was quite a bit more comfortable since he first arrived at the arena. He had been a mine slave until then, and that had been all he knew. He was born in the mine, from a slave mother. It was amazing he'd survived as long as he did. He was purchased by Jazeira at the age of fourteen for what he was told was quite a sum, because he was healthy and strong. There had been much to learn even before he started fighting, though. It was a waste, after all, to buy a slave just to have them killed in their first match, so he had been instructed in combat for nearly a year before he even set foot in the arena.

Now he was a young man, with scars of battle and so many kills to his name that they had begun to blend together. The first times, the faces stuck in his mind for so long, haunting his dreams and even his waking hours. Now passed from his mind so easily, allowing him to turn to other thoughts.

"Something else?" Jazeira asked, seating herself in one of the plush chairs, "Maybe want to learn how to play Chess now?"

Talon had moved to one of the bookshelves, and now took a book down. He knew which one he was looking for, and walked slowly back toward Jazeira while staring at the front cover.

"I was actually wondering if this year…" he started, and then paused, clearing his throat, clearly nervous about what he was asking, "I was wondering if… maybe… a girl?

Jazeira looked at him for a long moment. "Oh, dear," she said at last, "You know that isn't going to happen. Black-bloods aren't allowed to breed."

"I just…" he started, then fell silent and looked at the floor.

Jazeira smiled slightly. As vicious a beast as he was in the arena, she had him well trained. She held out one hand, motioning with her fingers. He silently handed her the book.

"And this is where this idea came from?" she asked, looking at the title, "Moonlight Sins? I think I should have someone more carefully screen what is brought in for you." She paused, opening the book to a random page and reading a few lines. "What's a double mud-hut?" she asked, and then turned the page, reading another, "Oh. Oh, I wish I hadn't…"

She shut the book and laid it on the arm of the chair, looking up at Talon. He was still staring at the floor. She sighed, for a moment wishing she was a harder woman. One would think she had to be, given her ownership of the single bloodiest spectacle in the city. But Talon had never given her trouble like other slaves tended to, and it was the simple fact he was barely twenty, and never even had the chance to experience a woman before.

It was cute in a way.

"All right," she said, "There are precautions that can be taken, both for your sake and hers.

He looked up, surprise on his face. "You mean…?" he started, only to stop when she held up her hand.

"I'm promising nothing," she said, "A few weeks, a month at the most, and I'll have an answer for you. A prostitute would be easiest, but I don't want my prize fighter catching something from one. If I'm lucky, I'll find a pretty girl that's also barren. If not, there are some other options, but I need some time to look into them."

A smile crept onto Talon's face. "Thank you so much," he said.

"See if you still feel that way afterward," Jazeira said, standing up, "But for now, you get your rest, because tomorrow you go back to training for the next fight. I'm thinking about giving you a shot at Arena Champion. It should really increase bets against you out of hope you fail, having a monster like you as the champion. I also think I need to confiscate this," she added, picking up the book, "It's not suitable reading for someone your age."

"What age is it appropriate?" Talon asked.

Jazeira looked at the book in her hand, then shrugged. "I suppose that's a point in itself," she said, and dropped it into the seat, and walked toward the cell door. She raised her hand to knock on it, stopping just before doing so and looking back at him, "I promise I'll have something for you by the time you fight next month. So focus on that, and don't get distracted. I don't want to go to this kind of effort just to have you end up dead in the arena."

"I won't slack off," Talon said, "I promise."

Jazeira smiled, and knocked her knuckles hard on the cell door. The sound of the bolt clicked, and the door opened, allowing her to step outside. The door was shut, and the bolt slid firmly back into place.

But Talon was smiling, and couldn't resist a moment of glee, only stopped when he lifted one arm and sniffed, nearly gagging himself. A month was a long time to wait, it seemed, but he wanted a bath immediately.