“It’s almost time for the matches to begin,” Lord Aeron Rydell began as he swung the door open. His arrival was accompanied by the smell of sweat, piss, and blood, wafting in from the arena in the center of the building. It was even worse than the smell of this cell, which seemed and impossible feat. Declan Hyrell nearly gagged at the smell of it, before forcibly swallowing his gorge and presenting a tight-lipped smile to the cosmopolitan man standing in front of him. The chains binding his ankles to the floor rattled slightly as he stood. Lord Rydell didn’t seem to notice Declan’s discomfort, as his back was turned to the tiny room as he closed the door. Aeron seemed uncomfortable himself. It may have been the first time the nobleman had ever entered the slave pits. Normally that was the job of the slave-trainer. Declan, though, was a special occasion. “You’ve got a hard fight ahead of you. The bribe, well, it was successful. Our “impartial” lots picker paired you against Visrah, the Black Water.” Aeron rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably, carefully staying clear of the walls, lest his fine clothes brush up against the dirt. His shoes were already beyond repair. Declan didn’t feel a trace of guilt. It was the man’s fault for wearing such impractical clothes for the occasion. “She’s tough. One of the toughest. I’ve seen her fight before, and she’s a beast. Utterly merciless, obedient to the crowd’s every whim. They’re expecting a bloodbath, since she’s paired against someone new in the arena, and all money is on Visrah.” It was far too late for concerns now, but Lord Rydell actually had the gall to look concerned. Even though this had been his idea. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” “Of course I’m ready, I’m immortal,” he replied, trying to sound cheeky. He almost pulled it off, too, until his heart suddenly jumped up into his throat, choking off his words. “Doesn’t matter how many times they try and ki...” he gagged, swallowed, and continued, smile plastered right back on his face. “Kill me, it won’t work. I could be the worst fighter in the world, and it wouldn’t matter, because I’ll still win.” The lord’s expression of concern suddenly seemed to double. “You aren’t the worst fighter in the world, are you?” “Of course not,” Declan replied with a scoff. “I’m far from the best, but I’m not the worst. Don’t worry. The audience will get their bloodbath, and you’ll get all the money you’ve planted on my unfavorable odds after my victory. Everyone’s happy.” “Except you,” Aeron pointed out. “As you are about to get ripped apart for the amusement of the crowd.” This time, Declan didn’t manage to conceal his grimace. Aeron patted him on the shoulder delicately, before subtly wiping his hands off on his pants while Declan pretended not to notice. For a moment they simply stood there like that, before Lord Rydell coughed awkwardly. “Well, then...” he said, uncertainly. “Good luck.” Without further word, he walked out the door. The fights began only a few minutes later. Had Declan wanted to, it would have been possible for him to turn over his wastebucket and use it as a footstool to peer out the window at the arena below him and watch the fights. He could hear the clatter from the slave pens on either side of him as two others did exactly that. Declan, however, sat back down on the bench and buried his hands in his face as he tried not to think about what exactly he’d just gotten himself into. The effort was thoroughly ruined when there was a sudden roar of excitement from the crowd, which nearly drowned out the sound of a scream of pain. The shouting got louder, for a moment unintelligible, until it suddenly resolved into words. Or, rather, one word specifically. Repeated over and over and over again. KILL! KILL! KILL! KILL! KILL! KILL! There was a sudden hush, where it was suddenly possible to make out the muffled screaming of one of the combatants. It went from muffled to bellowing in a moment, before ending in a gurgling scream. The crowd roared its approval. “Hehehe!” Came a sudden gleeful cackle, floating in through the window from some of the nearby seating. “Third winning bet in a row! Ah, the gods smile on me today. I’m going to drink well tonight, yessiree, and for the week to come, too!” Declan’s fight was not early in the matches. He had more than enough time to listen to the sounds of people and beasts getting injured and dying to begin to think he was going numb to it. A few matches before his fight, although he did not know it at the time, he got up the nerve to watch. It wasn’t until the guard rammed his fist against the door and ordered Declan against the back wall that he suddenly realized he had just watched some of the ways he was about to die. He threw up just in time to hit the guard’s feet, and earned a black eye and a bloody nose for his timing. It vanished, even as the guard pushed him out of the cell and down the dark, stone hallway. For a time as he walked the sounds of both combat and the audience faded, and he imagined he was leaving. He pictured silent mountains, a green pasture, and chestnut hair, glowing in the sun and cascading over fair shoulder. Then he was back, as the guard shoved him from behind, and he barely managed to catch himself before landing face first on the floor. But at least he was calm again. He was given a two-handed sword, which looked impressive with his muscular frame, but he knew was far too heavy for him to be able to swing effectively. It didn’t matter. He didn’t really plan on relying on a sword anyways. “Two more fights,” the guard said brusquely as he herded Declan into a small space. There was a gate on each end of the tiny room, more of a holding space than a real room, the one Declan was shoved through, and the one that opened onto the arena. “Then you’re up.” The gate dropped closed, and all that was left to do was wait for his moment to die.