Kore stood in the tunnel of the arena, outside the cells, and looked down at the dead body that lay covered, on a wooden stretcher.
“That shouldn't have happened.” She sniffed back the tears. “That should never have been a death match.”
“No it shouldn't.” Shawn said angrily from Kore's side. “I'd like to be there when Blacklock gets his hands on Glynnus Jasper. Why the hell did the arsehole kill her? He had her disarmed for shit's sake! That should have been an end to it.”
“He owed her money Shawn, nothing more. She demanded it back to buy grain for her land. Obviously Jasper didn't have it.” Kore spat.
“And now he'll also get the land too. Shit-bag..” Shawn said in disgust. This practice had long ceased in the gladiator ways. The days of villager fighting villager for possessions had passed away when there was no longer the restraints to keep the villagers in the Pit.
“She said only last night that she was out of condition.” Kore smiled sadly. “She told Leo she was getting flabby. Poor Bride. Her spear?” Shawn handed Kore Bride's weapon and Kore lay it across her body. “Rest with the gods Bride, they have a place for you, I know it.” She nodded to the two men carrying the pallet and they proceeded down the tunnel. “I bet that's put the crowd in a fine frenzy.” Kore said glumly.
“It has. Bloodthirsty arseholes. How's those stitches?” Shawn began to tighten armour around her body.
“As pissed off as the rest of me, I'd imagine.” Kore muttered. “I'm fine Shawn. You sound like Leo.”
“And you sound like Blacklock. Go on, they're waiting for you.” Shawn handed Kore her circular, studded shield, the only one the five foot two gladiator could carry without it becoming a hindrance.
The arena was full to the brim and they were mainly higher strata of citizens, thanks to Lady Ursus Toller's birthday festivities as organised by her husband, Governor Spence Toller. Kore raised her shield and her sword and the crowd let out a deafening roar.
“Where's our gladiator?” Spence Toller asked a uniformed captain at his side and looked towards the tunnel.
“That is our gladiator, Sir.” Captain Vespus Creed replied.
“What? Who is? That child?” Toller asked in disbelief. “Don't be absurd Creed.”
“She's twenty, Sir, and she's been the ring champion for eight months this time and quite a few times before that too. She's very good Sir.” Creed explained.
“Yes but the Knoss' champion is Nellatian! I'll be a laughing stock.” Nellatia was the only continent who's native people were markedly different to everyone else. The men stood, on average, at seven and a half feet and the women only marginally smaller. They all had red or auburn hair in varying shades and they all had exceptional strength that was peculiar to their race. It was very rare indeed for a Nellatian to actually leave Nellatia at all, let alone in the occupational role of someone's 'pet thug'. Creed was astonished to say the least. He'd never seen a Nellatian in all his forty two years.
“Sir can I have permission to go to the cells down there? They were obviously unaware that the Knoss champion was a native Nellatian. This will be a serious mismatch.” Creed said in concern.
“Too late.” Toller nodded towards the tunnel where the huge Nellatian carrying a massive broad-sword had to duck to clear the roof on the way into the arena. “Oh well, maybe just as well it's like this. Perhaps anything less than a fatality would be a bit of a let-down after that last show.” He shrugged.
“Yes Sir.” Creed said stiffly. He didn't mind a bit of gladiatorial entertainment himself but the Governor's cold attitude was quite shocking. Creed had just come off duty guarding a cold-blooded psychopath in the form of Loram DeGaise, now it seemed he was bodyguard to another.
Kore blinked at her opponent in astonishment. She'd only ever seen pictures of the Nellatians in books! This particular one was at least seven feet nine and was as wide as Kore was tall. His broad-sword alone must have weighed almost as much as Kore did. She was gaping, open-mouthed at Shawn who was standing in the tunnel mouth, when the huge Nellatian let out an ear-perforating roar and came at Kore like a solid wall.
He was also much more agile and fast that his height would have people believe and kept up with Kore as she ducked to the side and spun round behind the huge man. He swung sideways at Kore with his huge blade and she was forced to roll to the ground and flip backwards to avoid being slashed in half completely. Still the giant strode towards her. Kore kept low and dived towards the big man. She had no chance of injuring this one in the groin area but it did bring her inside the arc of his vicious blade. Kore drove the edge of her shield into the man's abdomen by swinging it over her head and as he pitched forward slightly, she rolled through his legs and slashed a nasty gash across the back of his calf muscle. The Nellatian roared in rage and whirled round on Kore with surprising speed and hacked downwards. Kore skipped backwards but wasn't fast enough to avoid the tip of the sword as it ripped through her breastplate as though it were an evening gown she was wearing. This was followed by the huge giant lifting his booted foot and almost decapitating Kore as he kicked her under the chin. She fell sprawling across the dirt covered ground and rolled on to her side, spitting out a mouthful of blood. It was the shadow of the massive sword that she saw first and managed to quickly roll the other way and spring to her feet. The giant's blade made a four inch deep dent in the ground where Kore had been lying. He raised his weapon for another vicious hack and Kore sprang forward with all her strength. Her sword found the soft flesh on the big man's underarm and he flailed round widely, dislodging Kore, but not the sword. He now had two swords, Kore had only a shield. Again she jumped forward inside the arc of the blades and drove her fist into the wound her sword had left under the giant's arm. She winced slightly as her arm sank into the spongy flesh up to her wrist. The Nellatian howled in agony and dropped Kore's short-sword to try and grab Kore. Kore swung on to the back of the huge man and her arm made a sickly squelching sound as it was pulled out of the bleeding wound. With both legs locked round the man's neck, Kore threw herself sideways and forward. Luckily the huge Nellatian was off balance and the weight of Kore's swinging momentum sent him staggering forward, falling heavily onto his head.
Kore grabbed her sword from the ground and prepared to slash at the man's sword arm. Something was wrong. The massive man was lying on his side and was shaking and twitching from head to foot. Kore glanced at the broad-sword before standing on the man's wrist. He dropped the weapon straight away, as though he hadn't been aware he was holding it. Kore looked at the man's face and saw his eyes were rolled back so only the whites showed and he was foaming at the mouth. She kicked the broad-sword out of reach and approached her fallen opponent warily. He didn't even know she was there.
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