Monday, March 25, 2019

The Shalafae Archives - The Arena

Another time jump. Bonus: this is actually a moment in Lord Shalafae's past.

***

Young Ulrin led Morrigana to the family box. The arena was crowded, bustling with Sidhehan, loud and full of energy.

The hybrid kept close to her master, desperately wishing she could reveal herself. But in the Dream realm, she was bound by his memories. And his dragon slave girl was not his daughter.

Entering the luxurious room, Ulrin let out a sigh. He flopped into a plush chair, and covered his eyes with one hand. Morrigana had grown used to his needs at this age, and immediately fetched him a glass of spiced wine. The albino quaffed it without looking at her.

"Ulrin Shalafae? Out and about at the games?" The voice behind them was deep, coated with honey. Morri stiffened, glaring over her shoulder at the intruder.

The new Sidhehan was shorter than most. His embroidered robes did nothing to hide his slight paunch, and actually made him look dumpy. An elaborate coif and makeup made him flamboyant, and detracted from his sharp features.

By comparison, her father's outfit and makeup were sedate.

Ulrin gestured at a seat without rising. "Enter, Throndrell. Let us enjoy the games together." The rough tone in his voice revealed how much he wanted to be alone.

I cannot get used to the differences, she thought, watching Throndrell saunter in and occupy another plush chair. Forced politeness and courtesy. When did he change?

"I had no idea you enjoyed the dragon fights." Throndrell glared at the massive viewing window. A small display in the corner indicated ten minutes before the main fight would begin. Advertising scrolled along the borders of the thick glass, boring the newcomer. "Does Rarkeer's final battle compel that strongly?"

Ulrin motioned for another glass of wine, pointedly not offering refreshment to his visitor. Perhaps not so courteous. Skirts swirled around her ankles, and she tried to keep any smugness from her face. Being a body servant seems to come with its own status.

"Personal research has led me to greater appreciation of dragons." Ulrin's fingers touched hers, leeching a taste of energy. "I could not pass up a chance to see two great warriors in mortal combat." Sipping his wine, Ulrin fell silent.

Throndrell arched one colored eyebrow. "You consider the exile Takishidar a great warrior?"

Morrigana stiffened. She'd known they were going to watch dragon gladiators; she hadn't known one of them would be of her own clan.

Ulrin turned his gaze slowly to the older Sidhehan. He stared, silent, and the other man looked away from the albino's crimson eyes. "Until Zeonall's final mission, he had an impeccable record. A perfect killer, unparalleled in fierceness or loyalty."

Throndrell rose, heading to the sideboard for a drink. "Granted, but he is merely a soldier. Rarkeer is a trained and experienced pit fighter."

"How much money do you have on the Shimeii?" Ulrin smiled conspiratorially at Morrigana.

"Blunt as ever." Throndrell tried to laugh it off as he sat, but Morri saw through his facade. His pride was stung, and he began to doubt his choice. "Have you some insight into the fighters I don't?"

Ulrin fingered the arm of his chair. "Call it a healthy curiosity that has led to detailed research." Throndrell snorted, saying nothing more as the combatants were lifted from the pits.

The Shimeii was massive. Crimson scales and crests, black teeth and talons, muscles thick beneath armored skin. He was a dominant male, holding himself with pride, crest expansive behind his head. Scars covered his hide, metal plates and spikes welded and bolted to his body.

Morrigana stepped forward, awed and captivated by the Takishidar.

Zeonall was a little more than half the red brute's size. Takishidar had never been known for their size; wiry and strong, the black dragons relied on speed and ferociousness. Obsidian eyes scanned the crowd. He was scarred and proud, but held himself differently. He was no one's toy, no petty arena battler. As Ulrin had said, this was a great warrior.

Throndrell laughed. "Your girl has much interest in the fighters." Morrigana blushed, and returned to her master's side. It was too easy to forget her place.

Ulrin took her wrist, tugged on it until she knelt. His delicate hand went to the back of her neck, slowly drawing on her energy. There was no derision in his voice as he spoke. "Why shouldn't she be interested in her own kind?"

"Has she sparked your sudden interest in dragons?" Throndrell took another drink.

Ulrin ran his thumb along the edge of her pointed ear. Morri shivered, enjoying the moments of affection the young Shalafae gave her in this Dream. "She would be a better judge of the gladiators than you," he whispered.

Throndrell sputtered. "Surely you jest?"

"Enlighten him."

Morrigana ducked her head briefly, watching the dragons as the announcer rattled off their history. "Rarkeer is dominant and strong. He is used to these arenas, and knows how to play to the crowd." The red reared back and trumpeted, underscoring her point. "Zeonall is better suited to this fight."

"And what gives you that idea?" the other Sidhehan scoffed.

"Rarkeer only fights other dragons in the open arena. There isn't maneuver room here. Zeonall can spread his wings, and all Takishidar fight with quick and agile strikes." She arched a brow, daring to look at Throndrell. "Zeonall will win in less than five minutes."

Ulrin squeezed her neck and snorted. "Throndrell was speechless, face flushed as he stared at her. The opening horn sounded, and the fight began.

Rarkeer opened with a massive gout of flame, head and neck stretched toward the black. Saliva clung to every surface, splashing against the magical barrier. No magic out, no power in. Even prescience was blocked, preventing anyone from foreseeing the outcome.

The crowd approved as Zeonall leapt over the flame, arrowing toward the red. Rarkeer was committed to his move, and his reactions were slow when Zeonall strafed his neck, claws raking scales. Blood spilled, and the Shimeii howled.

Zeonall wasn't a showman. He fought to win, and as quickly as possible. Tucking his own wings close, the Takishidar went under Rarkeer's right wing, slashing patagia. Flight skin shredded, and the red dodged sideways. The black pursued, relentless.

Rarkeer snapped, caught Zeonall's tail. A quick slash with wing claws at eye won his freedom. Silent, Zeonall lunged for the red's throat.

The crowd went wild as the former soldier clung to the underside of Rarkeer's neck. Blood gushed, and the red clawed at the black, attempting to dislodge him. Zeonall ignored his own wounds, seeking the carotid.

Rarkeer stiffened, and Zeonall released his grip. Covered in gore, he backed away and took to the sky. Only as the red collapsed did he voice his triumph.

Morrigana's heart sang, and she flushed with pride. Throndrell swore, and stomped from the box.

"You have a good mind for battle," Ulrin praised. Morrigana suppressed a smirk. If only he knew.

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