The Burnt World of Athas

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Echoes from Another World

By Samuel 17 /CP Debugger

Galyeth scanned the seats above him trying to detect a trace of compassion on the faces of the proud citizens of Urik. Excitement, rage, hatred, or just plain dullness. There was no mercy to be found. He looked up to the high throne where a magnificent man sat, half lion half human, his beautiful cruel face as unreadable as the statues adorning his seat, and knew salvation wouldn’t be coming from that direction either.

“Only one battle, only one more battle to win, please oh ancient lords of my ancestors, grant me just this one victory.”, he thought bitterly. Too much was hanging on the scales and the odds like always were against him. His own existence didn’t matter anymore. He was old, has seen enough and has tasted enough of this cruel world. He had his share of pain and suffering but also his moments of glory and pleasure. Now only the safety of his child mattered, his life focus forcing him to carry on.

It was a windy day, a day of crazy weather as the elders like to call it when the black eyed prophet leaning on a black walking stick came into their midst. Galyeth has not seen his fourth year yet, a young dwarf, son of a herder who’s only worries in life was making sure all the Kanks are safe in their corrals at evening fall. He had no idea his life was about to take a spin. The human whose name was Samuel came alone and on foot which was bizarre considering the fact that between the village of Halabad and any other settlement stood at least a two hundred miles of harsh unforgiving desert. What was even more peculiar was the fact that the dwarves didn’t meet him with the usual hostility reserved for strangers but offered him food and shelter. The self proclaimed prophet accepted the invitation from Galyeth’s father Jesse. That night remained engraved in Galyeth mind as it marked him forever. Deep shadows playing on the walls and the smell of a well cooked dinner.

Galyeth fidgeted on the floor of Urik arena, not so much from the inconvenience of standing on the searing sand but from the uncertainty of the future. Galyeth looked at his feet where Tickon Cheteck lay taking his last gasps of air. One mighty leg of the huge mantis man was still kicking wildly, but Galyeth knew this was only a reflex. Tickon Cheteck was nothing but a dead husk of a Thri Kreen. That was the fourth victory only one more to go.

Deep shadows playing on the walls and the smell of a well cooked dinner. His father pouring hot stew into small wooden bowels. His elder brother Eliab, on the verge of becoming a man telling a tall tale of a battle against the Gith. Himself the youngest, a huge eyed toddler curdled on his mother lap drinking every detail of Eliab’s story with the naivety reserved for children. From time to time he couldn’t help his gaze from wondering back to the stranger in their house, gaining a conk from his mother each time she caught him gawking. The long legged human was strewn uncomfortably in one of the short chairs designed for people of shorter frame and wider girth. Unlike the young dwarf the man had no qualms about staring. Each time Galyeth turned his head he found the black eyes inspecting him with intensity. Suddenly as if on a cue the stranger named Samuel rose, (Galyeth remembered he had to stoop in order to stand up), raised his black walking stick and pointed at Galyeth. He stood like that poised for a few seconds, the dwarves family immobile, a moment frozen in time, “BatSheba” he croaked suddenly.

“Only one more to go, Only one more to go” Galyeth whispered the words like a mantra, “Please ancient ancestors, let it be an easy one.” He had numerous cuts from the previous fights, one deep stomach wound was bleeding at alarming rate. Even Galyeth with his amazing dwarvish stamina could not hope to continue fighting for long at his current condition. His next opponent, if he was smart, would only need to stay out of reach for awhile and let time do the work for him. “Let it be an easy one and a stupid one . Only one more to go.”

Deep shadows playing on the walls and the smell of a well cooked dinner. “BatSheba” the man said, a word that would topple the world of the young dwarf. “Rise Galyeth, I dub thee the father.” the man had said. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren. The young dwarf suddenly bold looked up to the stranger with bright eyes. “Find the girl BatSheba”, said the man. “Find the girl BatSheba so together you can give birth to salvation and hope. Do not fail your son, he is your life focus.” Then the man turned and without another word of advice or farewell strode into the inky Athasian night. Next morning when Galyeth asked people where had the man named Samuel went to, he got only blank stares from his family and neighbors. When he persisted they told him that no man named Samuel or any stranger of any race came yesterday into Halabad, and that he better stop wasting time daydreaming as there is plenty of work to get done. A week later the slavers stroked.

“Four victories only one more to go.” On the yellow red sand lay the body of Metianth crazy laugh, his head tilted in an impossible angle, his eyes facing the cruel sun and his stomach resting against the arena dirt. The half Elf famous laughs, which could freeze the blood of sane person, forever silenced. That was number one. Not far from him was strewn the body of Mathilde sharp spear, cleaved from sternum to gut. It was said Mathilde could hit a desert mouse while mounted and in full charge on storm, her famous Crodlu. Now storm was lying too on the arena sand, still alive, keening in bird/lizard language as if mourning the death of his mistress. His left leg cleaved off just above the clawed foot. It was trying to stand erect with no success, by tonight storm would be buzzard food. Mathilde was number two. Three black obsidian columns stood in the middle of the arena floor, through their length jagged obsidian tips produced into the suffocating superheated air. People knew them as Hamanu’s staves of death. Galyeth knew them almost personally as he fought countless of times in their shadows. Long scars on his body told of many unpleasant close encounters he had with the deadly columns. Nailed and hanging on one of them was Findarato Tulcakelume long shanks. The elf has been stupid enough to get himself cornered by the slower dwarf. His eyes like the eyes of his partner Matesa Kitier were staring blankly into the nothingness. Matesa the Mul and Findarato the elf have been a success story, combining both strength and speed they managed to win Hamanu’s trial twice and were carving their names into the halls of champions when Galyeth put an end to that. Findarato and Matesa have been number three. Tickon Cheteck was number four but Tickon Cheteck had also dealt him a mortal wound. And he still had one more victory to accomplish. The sound of horns heralded the beginning of the next fight and the big portcullis below the sorcerer king’s seat started rising.

 

The slavers took Halabad by surprise, eliminating all resistance (Galyeth’s dad and big brother included), and took the rest as captives. Galyeth’s mother and remaining two brothers were sold in Draj, meant to toil in Tectuktitlay’s hemp fields, Galyeth never saw them again. His fate was different though. He was sold in Urik to the house of Lihaj. Galyeth was to become a slave warrior whose sole purpose was deal death and to die himself in order to quench the masses unending thirst for blood. Galyeth was to become an Athasian gladiator. As he grew in years so grew his skill and so grew his status in Urik. His courage was unmatched in the ring and the strength of his right arm became the stuff of legends. But all this time he has never forgotten or strayed from his true life goal, his future son. He had to find the girl BatSheba but in order to accomplish this task he needed freedom. Making plans to scan the entire tableland, leaving no stone unturned, searching all the dwarf villages for the mother of his son, he plotted for a way for escaping. His first breakout attempt at the age of twenty three was a failure. He never even reached the slaves pen gate. A colleague rat squealed for an extra portion of food. His next attempts didn’t come to a better end, even though he took care to break the rat neck. But he never gave up hope, eventually earning himself the title of a troublemaker. His repetitive escape attempts cost his masters so much money in property and lives they eventually had to sell him at a losing price. Galyeth was tossed from hand to hand until he was finally bought by the noble house of Lubar. Now the current Lubar lord at that time has been Lubar Amamon which was a no nonsense type of guy. He owned enormous tracts of lands and thousands of slaves. Unlike many houses which could afford providing for only a few gladiators Amanon had over a hundred in his pens. Galyeth was pure financial investment, one amongst many. He was clarified that his next attempt to escape would also be his last. It’s impossible for a dwarf to forgo his focus, the risk of afterlife as a howling undead always hovers in the menacing distance. But Galyeth had little choice, he decided to bind his time and wait for the perfect opportunity. He took a Mul girl gladiator named Uriah for a lover just to appease his masters mind, trying to convince them he has finally decided to settle down. But somehow when we forgo seeking our destiny, it comes looking for us. One afternoon after a long and a very successful arena fight Galyeth was given his favorite pampering reward, a cold bath of pure water. He was indulging himself naked and alone on the roof on one of the pens when a pair of curious eyes chanced to see him. The eyes belonged to a curious young human girl with a tendency of getting into trouble. Her name was BatSheba and she also happened to be Lubar Amamon’s granddaughter.

The big portcullis below the sorcerer king’s seat started rising slowly revealing the huge shadowy form that stood behind it in the tunnel connecting to the gladiators exit. Galyeth cursed miserably under his breath, the gate under the king, called the gate of champions, was reserved for Urik’s best arena fighters. The dwarf himself has used it countless of times in his younger days when he was one of Urik’s favorite. But today it seemed like the city was bent on killing him no matter how long it would take. A chant started rising from the crowd, “Daud, Daud, Daud.” and heavy steps echoed from the tunnel as the huge figure stepped into the light drawing a mighty cheer. Galyeth heart sank, he knew his adversary by rumor and even chanced to see him once in action. His slim chance for assuring the survival of his child just became even slimmer. The half giant suppressed him in almost every field. Even at the height of his strength which was now ebbing slowly he was no match for Daud whose power was legendary. It was told he has once peeled a Thri Kreen out of his exoskeleton and once even broke the spine of a B’rohg using his bare hands only. He was faster much faster on his feet than the dwarf and had a far longer reach. He was also far better protected and equipped than Galyeth.

It was probably the Lubar’s family education that made her so, because Lubar Amamon’s granddaughter was far more pragmatic and ruthless to be accounted for her young age. Nonetheless she was smitten with the athletic gladiator even though she didn’t know he was a slave or that he was seeking her for almost his entire life. She acted with the swift and cruel methods acquired by anyone with a will to survive in that harsh family. First she dealt with Galyeth’s current lover, Uriah. She arranged for the Mul to fight alone against a deadly adversary, supplying the girl’s opponent with a poisoned blade. She would admit this act to Galyeth only on her deathbed, years later. She arranged for Galyeth to be transferred to a private cell where she started to pay him visits revealing her feelings for him. The dwarf was stunned. On one hand he was hardly able to feel anything towards this strange ugly human girl who was daughter to the institute which kept him in chains and symbolized everything he despised. On the other hand Samuel’s prophecy haunted him forcing him to let down his basic disdain and natural distrust. As their relationship developed and their meetings became more numerous the inevitable happened. Someone whispered on the ear of Lubar Amamon of his granddaughter unhealthy relationship with a slave dwarf. Amamon ordered Galyeth and anyone who knew of the affair executed before the scandal would slip out. He also promised BatSheba hand to a Tyrian noble, believing that by whisking her away from the city would diminish the damage dealt by the inevitable leakage of rumors. But even Amamon underestimated the craftiness, the resourcefulness and the tough resolve of his granddaughter. That night, using seduction and bribery BatSheba flew into the desert taking her lover with her. Furious Amamon sent trackers after them but they disappeared without a trace.

They lived a few years on the run, always in fear, always one step ahead of pursuers from house Lubar. Finally when it seemed like Amamon had despaired from capturing them they finally felt it was safe to stop running. In their wandering they came upon Halabad, Galyeth's birth village whom they found in ruins. There, far away from any city and watchful eyes they settled down and started to rebuild their shattered life. Twenty years of hard labor brought Halabad back into his former glory as more and more dwarves and humans (mainly escaped slaves), joined and settled in. BatSheba tough nature helped her to adapt to the life outside the pampered city, but the harsh desert had finally caught with her at the age of thirty eight. Galyeth cried for a week when she was gone as he buried his own heart along with her body. But his dead wife left him with a gift and a mission. Their one year old son whom Galyeth swore to raise and protect as long as there was breath of air left in him. Less than a year after his wife death they were both caught by house Lubar agents and brought back to Urik to stand before lord Amamon.

Daud was far better protected and equipped than Galyeth. He was covered from head to toe with scale mail made of the leather stolen from a huge desert serpent. The scales glistened and gleamed in dangerous green, forcing anyone watching for too long to blink. His hands were covered in tough leather gloves, black couters at the elbow made of Kank chitin, bone cuisse for protecting the thighs and poleyn for the knee with lames connecting the two supplying the leg with a full protection. Half Giant legs were usually vulnerable to low attacks made by dwarves or Halflings but Daud was more than ready to tackle anything Galyeth could throw at him. Daud’s helmet was made from giant desert wasp black and yellow chitin. Two yellowed tusks of some dead monster went from the helmet rim down along Daud’s nose line down to his chin imparting him the visage of a nightmare beast. The half giant’s array of weapons was no less formidable than his harness. A custom made Gythka, its Agafari shaft twice as long as normal human height, blinked evilly in the harsh noon sun, a genuine iron blade. Only this morning Galyeth had the chance to see it in action as the half giant skewered an Elven warrior against the arena wall. The poor Elf woman squealed like slaughtered Carru for over five long minutes while Daud laughed like a small child. Her partner finally assembled enough nerve to attempt a rescue operation and was captured by a Kolahuk, a stranglers noose attached to a large pole, which Daud used with surprising agility. Displaying cruelty that was unique even to the Athasian arena, the half giant then sewed with care the heads of his adversaries with a jagged obsidian sword. Both were still alive when he started his ghastly task. The gruesome trophies were now tied around his belt in red thongs made of his own hair. Besides the Iron headed Gythka and the Kolahuk the half giant had several other obsidian swords tied to his belt.

Daud waited for the cheers to subside and then unbuckled the fastening on his helmet. Letting the curios thing drop to the ground he revealed a surprisingly handsome face. A torrent of red ringlets, hidden before by the frightening helmet, fell down like a wave or weeds kissed by the desert wind. They surrounded the big head reflecting the red sun cruel beams, thus creating a red corona almost angelic in its nature. He was nicknamed handsome Daud. Human ladies blushed when he walked by and Half giant women swooned when smiled in their direction. Loud roars of approval rose again as the crowd cheered the act that has become Daud's trademark. The half giant surveyed the field and the wounded dwarf. Then in an act of pure contempt turned his back to his adversary and addressed the sorcerer king.

"Only one more to go only this tower left, please lend me strength my son," Galyeth whispered.

Lord Amamon studied his former gladiator. He was an old man now, well over eighty, the ravages of time easily distinguished on his frail bent body. He had to be carried now by two servants and took drugs half of the time, trying to ease the disease which was eating him from within. The only thing Galyeth was able to recognize in the broken shell of a human were the eyes. They still burned like the pits of hell with red fury. The fact that his granddaughter was dead, thus preventing him half of his long awaited revenge didn't help to lighten his dark mood.

"My agent tells me you wouldn’t fight for me in the arena tomorrow slave!"

"I am old my lord." Galyeth tried to sound as polite as he could, his child's life, his own life focus depended on it. "My fighting days are over, we are both old my lord let the past lie in the past."

"Nothing is over until I say it is so.” Amamon voice like his shattered body, sounded like a long nail scratched against a smooth obsidian board. "You will fight, and you will fight like you never have fought before in your entire annoying existence."

"That I will not do lord." Galyeth bowed his head, they can force him in the arena but they cannot force him to fight for them.

Suddenly a cruel smile brightened the death mask which was Amamon's face, "We will see about that dwarf, We shall yet see about that." For some reason the wretched smile made him scared. Far more afraid than from the shouting and the beating he was given so far.

They took him inside a small slave pen which stunk from sweat, blood and fear. In the middle of the mud constructed shed stood a curious misplaced piece of wooden furniture, a small cradle holding his son. The toddler screamed with delight upon seeing his father and tried to rise but was held by two bone shackles that fastened his body to the wooden construct. Then Galyeth noticed the device.

A huge bone axe rested above the cradle, the handle was attached to the cradle serving as an axis and a short giant hair rope connecting to the wall prevented the axe from falling and splitting the child in half. At the sight of the peril his son was in Galyeth jumped, knocking his guards throwing caution to the winds. Only a dagger point at his child's throat brought him back to his senses and prevented him from throttling lord Amamon. The small kid sunk his front teeth into the hand holding the knife above him forcing the guard to drop his weapon shouting in pain and alarm.

"A gutsy little fellow, just like his father and just like his mother. Too bad he is an ugly hybrid." Amamon chuckled.

"Leave the kid out of it he has no part in our feud," shouted Galyeth.

"Feud," the noble's voice was full of poison, "you think there could feud between the two of us like two equals you little dwarf?!" he shrieked. "You will fight tomorrow and you will fight like the king of Urik himself unless you wish your son to die."

Galyeth tried a one last card, "I do not believe you will hold any promise you are about to make my lord. You see lord, you and I go a long way back I know you have already made your mind set concerning my son. He is a Mul, less than two years old and already a fighter, the blood of arena champions in his veins. I don't think you are willing to depart with such a promise so easily."

Amamon chuckled again, "you raise an interesting dilemma dwarf. My stained honor against my greed." He scratched his weak chin for a few seconds as if pondering an important question. Then he smiled again his bone chilling smile and patted the Mul cheek, careful for any attempt by the toddler to use his teeth a second time. "But then again you have known me in my youth, and you should have known that I plan for everything in advance and that I don’t offer any promises to slaves. Maybe I would be able to win revenge and still satiate my greed" he rubbed both hands in apparent pleasure. "This rope is the only line separating your son continues existence from his certain demise. I have put a spell on this rope by the blessing of our merciful king Hammanu Templar, my son Olderich. No one, not even I can break the spell, certainly not a stupid dwarf slave," he continued. This rope will continue holding the axe until tomorrow evening on one condition only", Galyeth strained his ears though he knew exactly what the old bag of hatred was about to say. "You will have to fight tomorrow and win five consecutive duels, just like in the old times. If you refuse the fight, your son dies. If you lose any of the five games, your son dies. If you survive five matches, I will raise the kid to be a gladiator, one that would bring honor to the name of Lubar. You see little dwarf, it is out of my hands completely now and entirely in yours."

Galyeth hang his head in despair, Amamon has won completely and utterly, he left him no loophole. The only thing he could do was to try the almost impossible task of winning five matches. Something which was considered tough even when he was young and trained on a daily basis.

"Let me at least say goodbye to my son Lord", he whispered.

"There is no time for farewells dwarf, you must lose no start practicing immediately. You are out of shape and your skills are rusty, you cannot hope to win a single match this way.."

The young Mul’s wails "dada dada" accompanied Galyeth all the way to the training ground. His torn heart perceived them like the echoes of a banshee spelling his doom.

"Only one more to go only this tower left, please give me strength my son" Galyeth whispered.

Daud had his back turned towards him and he was addressing the king. "Oh great and mighty King", The half giant bowed his head in the accepted form. "This must be a mistake. I was told I am about to fight a master champion, not a sorry excuse for a dwarf, what glory lies in butchering an already half dead joke?"

The half man half lion brow creased in displeasure. It was only a minor gesture but it sufficed to drain the blood from Daud's face. "This mistake has just finished five excellent gladiators displaying great courage and skill. I advise you to take heed Daud, even the mightiest tree can be felled by the axe."

The half giant bowed in respect and then whirled in place. His face was red. He was put to shame in front of the entire city of Urik and someone was going to suffer. With a shout of rage he started marching without haste towards the awaiting dwarf whom just stood there looking at him stupidly. It seemed to Daud’s not too complicated mind that the dwarf was too frightened or wounded to even try and move.

The half giant gladiator wasn't so far off the truth. Galyeth tried to stand erect and to embrace himself for the incoming behemoth. His eyesight became suddenly blurry as dark spots covered his vision. His breath came in a tortured gasps and he couldn’t bring himself to stand erect. Tasting blood on his lips he realized Tickon Cheteck last strike must have penetrated a lung and he probably had only few more moments to live. His arms started shaking involuntarily and his axe fell to the ground. Galyeth went to his knees like a blind man and desperately groped for his weapon. His right hand suddenly closed on a sharp stony object, one of Tickon's Chatkchas left orphaned at his belt. Galyeth rose slowly using a reservoir of strength that should have long been depleted, and faced Daud whom was now less than thirty strides away. He didn't even have the ability to draw another breath as he took aim, his lungs already full of fluid as he was drowning in his own blood. Acting on willpower alone he bent his arm backward.

"This one is for you my son Rikus, grow and let your parents be proud." He let go the sharp weapon at the critical point. The stone Chatkcha left his hand, drew a perfect half circle in the hot air and buried itself completely in Daud's exposed forehead.

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