Carpathia III: Episode 114: Ringmaster
After dinner and a nap, the group gathered their belongings, preparing to move on. Before they left, Jaze held up Toma's shackles and the little blue bottles.
Jaze: What should we do with these?
Toma glanced momentarily at the contents and turned away immediately.
Toma: I don't want to see those again.
Jaze's ears sagged as he regretted asking the question to publicly. Fortunately, Adell came to his rescue.
Adell: You can put those on the ground. I'll bury them. We can't have anyone following us, right?
Jaze nodded and dropped the shackles and bottles on the soil. Adell held out both his hands and and made a thrusting motion, causing a small portion of the ground to sink, taking the items with it. Then, he spread his arms wide and brought them together, covering everything with dirt.
Jaze: I shouldn't have done that.
Adell put his hand on Jaze's shoulder and squeezed reassuringly.
Adell: Hey, you're looking at the king of doing dumb shit. He loves you and that's what matters. He'll be fine, just like you.
Jaze contemplated what Toma had been through as he watched Toma stare at the ground for a short while.
Jaze: I'm not sure you could call me "fine." I'm sure he's been through a lot. I guess we're just going to have to get to know each other again.
Adell reached up and ruffled Jaze's hair.
Adell: You'll be fine. Just do your best. That's all anyone can ask.
With everyone else ready, Jaze and Adell rejoined the group and they continued forward toward the Outlands. They journeyed for several hours, while Jaze hung close to Toma the entire time. Toma said little and had a distant look in his eyes, as though he were dreaming while walking.
Deciding that it was time for a meal and a rest, the group made camp once again. While everyone was setting up the fire for another meal, Toma, without any warning at all, continued his story.
Volcano, Yseri, Ringmaster's Palace
It was a long hike up the stairs to the Ringmaster's palace. As difficult as it was for Toma to make the climb with chains attached to his ankles, Brutus seemed to labor even harder. If it weren't for the platoon of guards at the base, Toma would have considered attempting to escape, but even if he did manage to miraculously skirt by all the armed guards, there was the issue of the chains. Toma did his best to concentrate on his surroundings, but the heat was severely challenging that endeavor.
For awhile, they stopped at the top of the stairs while Brutus caught his breath. Finally, they entered. The entry foyer was tall and grand, covered from top to bottom with marble tiles. On the walls were more marble tiles etched with sculpted artwork depicting fighting scenes of various kinds. Brutus lead Toma to the right where they entered a pair of ornate french doors. Inside was a massive, luxurious bath which was decorated in the same sort of marble as the foyer. Marble colums rose from the water, supporting the ceiling above. As large as it was, much bigger than the average swimming pool, he could see only one figure relaxing in the bath. That person, along with themselves and two guards standing on either side of the door were the only ones present in the room.
Toma had hoped that the inside of the palace would offer a reprieve from the heat, but the bath was so humid that it was somehow worse. His head began to throb and he found it increasingly difficult to focus on anything. The figure in the bath spoke without turning his head, his distingué voice echoing softly from the marble walls.
Ringmaster: Who goes there?
Brutus nervously cleared his throat before speaking.
Brutus: Ringmaster, sir, I am Brutus. I have a new fighter for inspection.
For several unnerving moments, there was silence and the figure in the bath did not move. Finally, his head slowly pivoted around revealing a ghastly white face painted in red and white make-up.
Ringmaster: Brutus... I do not recall any Brutus.
Brutus: I took over from Daris. He is dead.
Ringmaster slowly rose from the bath, exposing his thin, naked form. Toma could now see that only his face and neck were painted and the rest of him was just normal, pale skin. He was too pale, in fact, for someone who lived in an environment such as this, which reminded Toma of high-class Tokkastrians who showed their pride by staying indoors and keeping their skin out of the sun at all times.
Slowly making his way through the water, Ringmaster approached the steps and gracefully stepped out of the water. Bypassing the towel rack, he strode toward Toma.
Ringmaster: How fortunate for you. Did you dispose of him yourself?
Ringmaster placed his hands on his hips, awaiting Brutus's answer.
Brutus: No sir. He did it.
One eyebrow on Ringmaster's face slowly, almost imperceptibly, raised as though he were trying to hide his surprise. Ringmaster slowly turned his gaze to Toma.
Ringmaster: Daris was not one to be dispatched so easily. If what you say is true, this is indeed a candidate for the colusseum.
Ringmaster slowly reached up and took one of Toma's ears between his fingers.
Ringmaster: And what a peculiar creature this is. These ears are unnaturally warm to the touch.
Ringmaster placed his hand over his mouth as he scoped Toma from top to bottom. Toma could now feel his legs shaking and suspected that he might collapse soon.
Ringmaster: Does it speak?
Brutus: Yes, but not much, sir.
Keeping his hand over his mouth, Ringmaster's eyes darted to either side of Toma, as though he were looking past him to someone else. After a few moments, suddenly, he felt a pair of hands snatch him away from Brutus. Before he had a chance to react, Ringmaster delivered a fierce backhand across Brutus's face. Brutus stumbled backward until his prodigious butt plopped to the floor.
Ringmaster: Fool! When was the last time you gave him water?
His eyes full of panic, Brutus looked up at Ringmaster.
Brutus: I... uh... But... He's just a slave, sir!
It took a moment, in Toma's delirious state, to realize that one of the guards by the door had pulled him away so that Ringmaster could focus on Brutus. Ringmaster stood over Brutus and glowered at him, like a disappointed and abusive parent.
Ringmaster: Any imbecile can plainly see that he is dehydrated! If you want this one to be your new champion, you have to ensure that he is fed and watered sufficiently!
Ringmaster motioned to the other guard who was not restraining Toma.
Ringmaster: Guard, fetch some fresh water immediately!
Without a word, the other guard left the bath while Brutus began to grovel at Ringmaster's feet.
Brutus: I'm sorry, sir! I didn't know, sir!
Ringmaster kicked Brutus in his side.
Ringmaster: Silence. You have much to learn. When you leave here, ensure that he receives plenty of meat.
Though slowly losing his command of his faculties, the last sentence struck Toma with fear.
Toma: No... meat...
Ringmaster turned sharply, clearly surprised to hear a sound come from Toma's mouth.
Ringmaster: Indeed it does speak.
Toma continued his plea hoping that it would not go ignored.
Toma: I can't... eat meat. I could die. Vegetables, grain, and fruit only.
This time, Ringmaster's eyebrow arched again and he made little attempt to hide it. Leaving Brutus behind on the floor, Ringmaster marched up to Toma and pulled up his shirt. Ringmaster ran his fingers over Toma's chest and stomach, examining him.
Ringmaster: Astonishing. How is it that you can have such strength as to kill Daris and never eat meat?
Confident that his message was understood, Toma said no more as Ringmaster turned back to Brutus.
Ringmaster: You are fortunate. This fighter should prove to be very inexpensive to keep!
Ringmaster once again stood next to Brutus and loomed over him disapprovingly.
Ringmaster: I run a quality gladitorial establishment. You shall submit to inspections like everyone else and if you fail, I will cut off your water supply. I require him to remain healthy. Aside from that, do what you will with him. Understood?
Brutus: Y... yes sir.
Yseri, Volcanic Arena
After Ringmaster's scolding of Brutus, Toma was given not only water, but a tray of vegetables to eat. After consuming his fill, Ringmaster allowed them to leave and Brutus took Toma to a massive structure near the bottom of the palace. Night had finally fallen and the cool, clear air felt every bit as refreshing to him as the water he'd just drank earlier.
Brutus lead Toma inside and after winding their way through several corridors, they arrived at a nondescript door. Brutus kneeled and produced a key, with which he unlocked Toma's chains.
Brutus: You stay here. There's only one rule. Don't kill anyone.
Brutus reached for the handle and pushed the door open. Inside was a vast room filled with many colorful, grizzled characters. He recognized humans, nekomi, and nekohumans, but there were several he'd never seen before. There were green, lizard-like creatures, human-like beings except for their long, pointy ears, and others. None, however, seemed to be tokki. Everyone in the room turned toward the door and surveyed the new stranger menacingly.
Brutus: Now git.
With a shove, Brutus pushed Toma into the room and slammed the door closed leaving Toma to wonder whether or not he'd just entered into a worse situation than before. Averting his eyes from all the conspicuous staring, Toma did his best to slink over to a wooden chair in a relatively unused corner of the room.
A few of the residents followed.
Bowing his head, Toma did his best to appear as non-threatening as possible, but hope faded quickly that this would be effective. Those who approached were already cracking their knuckles and sharpening their claws. Wondering how strict the "no killing" rule was, Toma felt that he wouldn't last very long where he was.
Toma's body tensed, expecting a fight and expecting to lose badly, until a massive nekomi, two heads taller, at least, than Jaze's dad, muscled his way through the crowd.
Huge Nekomi: Back off! Let me see him first!
The huge nekomi positioned himself between Toma and the mob, who immediately backed away in seeming deference. Satisfied that he was obeyed, the huge nekomi kneeled on the floor and began to examine Toma just as Ringmaster did before. Toma watched helplessly as the nekomi's large, green eyes darted from one place on his body to another. Suddenly, the nekomi reached out and put his hand on Toma's thigh, causing him to flinch in fear.
Huge Nekomi: Relax. I'm just checking you out.
Unable to relax, Toma felt as though his muscles would turn to stone as tense as he was. The nekomi, however, did not seem interested in injuring him. He moved his hands up and down Toma's body, paying special attention to his muscles and tendons. Finally, he stood, leaving Toma to wonder if the huge nekomi had learned anything of value as he turned to address the mob that still hovered nearby.
Huge Nekomi: This one's mine and you will not touch him!
The others quickly scurried away as the nekomi kneeled again and looked Toma in the eye. Toma now wondered again if his situation had suddenly become better or worse.
Huge Nekomi: You'll do nicely, I think. What's your name?
Toma took a deep breath and cleared his throat.
Hanif: Good to meet you. I'm Hanif and I will be training you for the arena.
Toma's thoughts raced with many things. What was the arena? Where was he? Would he ever see Jaze again? For now, it seemed that Hanif would at least keep him out of immediate danger and for that, he was able to relax just a little.
All city pictures from SimCity 4