Chapter 4

Leo was busy in the library where he worked, correcting a stack of papers of all their abominable spelling mistakes. He taught languages, to anyone who wanted to learn them, from a small room adjoining the library and was convinced that this particular lot were trying to develop a language of their own.

“I'll be with you in a minute.” He called out when he heard someone entering the building.

“You'll have to be, I can't bloody read.” Leo recognised the voice of Shawn straight away. Shawn was a gladiator and a very good one.

“Shawn! Normally I'd be pleased to see you but this isn't one of your usual haunts.” Leo said apprehensively. “Kore?”

“Is fine ... sort of. Oh settle down Leo. You asked me to report every scratch and I do!” Shawn sat himself down on a chair opposite Leo. “She got herself a dislocated thumb and a teensy cut on her ribs. That's all.”

“Got Herself?” Leo threw down his pencil. “And I doubt the gladiator definition of 'teensy' is the same as anyone else's. She wasn't supposed to be in the arena today.” He fumed.

“Well Freda Pix was running a temperature Leo there was no way she could have gone out there. She'd have been hurt, maybe killed.” Shawn explained.

“So that means Kore has to substitute every bloody time does it?” Leo snapped. “I'm sorry Shawn, it's not your fault. My sister is a masochistic psychopath, I know.”

“Nah, just bloody good.” Shawn laughed. “Relax Leo, there aren't many who can beat Kore, you know that.”

Leo knew it alright. They'd both trained for the arena but it was Kore who'd excelled at it, Leo was never going to be good enough. He was a scholar, a natural boffin and bookworm. Leo simply didn't have his sister's temperament nor her affinity for adrenalin. Obviously there was no such thing as a poor gladiator, they were either good enough or dead and Leo wasn't destined to last long at all. Kore substituted herself in many, many of his match-ups, as well as doing her own and it had lead to a few nasty mistakes that could have been tragic. Kore was Blacklock's star pupil and it was clear from the start that she was going to follow in his footsteps to freedom. When she did so, at a rapid rate, she forfeited it. Leo got the pardon pass and Kore's money she made in the arena pushed him on a path straight from the Pit to an academic job in the library. Leo had since passed up several positions outside of Azoria because they would have taken him away from his sister.

The iron gates of the Pit hadn't been locked for over four years now and the days of winning freedom were over. The gladiators still existed. They basically found themselves free to leave the Pit that most of them had called home for years, but had nowhere to go. The majority of them had no academic qualifications and no other skills, which rendered them virtually unemployable. The menial jobs that the government would have them take were scoffed at quite openly by the gladiators. They were a very proud people, some had reached celebrity status in the arena, like Kore had. Kore washing dishes or scrubbing middens? Leo shuddered at what her reaction would be if she was ever asked to do that. The only difference between now and four years ago was the physical condition of the Pit's gate. It was wide open and it's iron hinges had started to rust. The Pit was still the home of the gladiators and it was still a slum.

“Are they ever going to pave this muck-midden?” Leo grumbled as mud from the streets of the Pit rose up to his ankles. At least Kore had laid a few stone slabs round her abode, which consisted of a single story that seemed to expand every time Leo saw it. “Was that bit there last week?” He pointed to a square appendix building that had been tacked on to the side of his sister's home.

“She wanted a storage room. Apparently her firewood was getting damp and she also suspected Ray Jenkus of helping himself to it.” Shawn smirked.

“I saw him yesterday, he has two black eyes and a broken nose. I presume he hasn't been in the arena?” Leo winced at his twin's thuggery.

“Nope.” Shawn laughed. “She knocked most of that up herself, windows and all.” Leo wouldn't doubt it. Kore had 'knocked up' just about the whole house that she used to share with Leo. It was on Blacklock's patch but he'd given up insisting on 'planning permission' years ago. Kore needed only her own permission born of her own necessity. It was hardly surprising she was such an excellent athlete. All she ever did was manual exertion. No amount of physical exercise could add inches to height, however, and Kore was stuck at a lofty five feet two which set her as the tiniest gladiator in the village. Leo seemed to sprout suddenly once he's left the Pit and now towered over just about everyone at over six feet. Nothing could alter the twins' looks though, they were still identical, despite their genders. They still both had silvery blond hair and huge blue eyes. Blacklock called them pixies, a name that still suited the scaled down Kore.

Leo and Shawn found Kore's house in emptiness. Leo stood and fumed and Shawn looked at the ceiling.

“Do you want to match guesses?” Leo said shortly and stormed out of the house.

One thing that certainly hadn't changed about the Pit was Dresk's Ale House, and it's lack of any sort of licensing laws. It was open, and active, every hour of every day and was the social centre of the village. Leo preferred to call it 'unsocial', as it was as rough an establishment as you'd find anywhere.

“Leo! Just in time.” A woman who was as tall as Leo was grabbed him by the arm as he entered the ale house. “I've no sparring partner and I'm getting flabby. Want to help me work out?” She winked at Leo and a table full of customers started to laugh.

“Oh not just now Bride.” Leo laughed too. “Flabby? Pfft. Where's Kore?”

“In the back with Blacklock. He's stitching her up.” Bride answered. “She's amazing Leo, you should be very proud of her.”

“Stitching her up?” Leo said in alarm. “Shawn! You said a teensy cut!”

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