• The annoying thing about blood is that it gets everywhere and takes forever to clean. The crowd didn’t seem to mind however. In fact, they applauded its presence, roaring in awe of each cut and gash that opened. They laughed at the cries of the dying, and jeered at the one survivor out of all of them.
    No one wanted him to be the last standing, yet there he was, as he had been for every show since his first appearance a year ago. No matter what odds were against him, he seemed to take the challenges in stride, not showing a hint of hesitation or fear of death. The large expanse of the Arena had been drenched in the blood of those who tried to destroy him. He was a challenger in name only, because no one wanted to shame the title of champion by giving it to a monster’s son.
    It didn’t help matters that Seraphim, son of Servat, was an oddity among the Elves. He had been born with clay colored skin, and his eyes were orange like a setting sun. Some said he was possessed with a Demonik, like his father before him. The almost superhuman way he fought didn’t help matters either. Elves were known for magic, not combat.
    Seraph picked up a short sword from one of the fallen fighters. He looked it over quickly to inspect the sharpness of the blade, then returned his attention to his final opponent. The chimera’s three pairs of eyes locked on to the Elf intently, its snake heads moved back and forth atop its lion-like body.
    “You’re not the first monster I’ve had to kill,” Seraph said to the creature, “And you won’t be the last either.” Seraph expertly twirled the sword around, and then held it casually at his side. Aside from the leather trousers and the blood and sand that had accumulated on his well toned body during the fight, he had no armor. He brushed back a lock of night black hair, waiting for the creature to make its move.
    It didn’t disappoint. The chimera lunged forward, using the momentum to propel its heads forward at an alarming speed. Its venomous fangs shone white in the sun. The crowd gasped, and roared as a cry of pain echoed through the stadium.
    The moment the serpent’s head reached Seraph, with little effort, he sidestepped the attack, swinging his sword up and through one of its long neck. A single head toppled to the sand. The rest of the creature reeled back, but Seraph didn’t let up. He threw the sword through the air, and it embedded itself to the hilt in the second head. The creature whimpered and limped, dragging its two useless appendages across the sand. Seraph walked toward the pitiful creature, withdrawing the only weapon he had been given at the beginning, a slender hunting knife. With it, he put the animal out of its misery.
    The crowd booed. Seraph ignored it. He dropped the knife in the sand, and walked out of the stadium. He was escorted back to his cell. The smell of death, and excrement had long since dulled Seraph’s senses. He lay back on the wooden bench in the small space, waiting for her to arrive. He looked out at the blue clear sky of Southern Maria through the small square hole in the stone wall, listening to the vultures as they feasted on the smoldering remains of the mock battles.
    He had to get out of there. He came here looking for his place in the world, and hoped in Southern Maria, he could escape his family history in the rolling dunes of the desert, or the open plains of the savanna. It was this hope that made him let down his guard that day, and how a handful of rogues sold him to a rich elf who horded gold like a rat hordes food. Among his many possessions, he also had an item that belonged to Seraph. His father’s sword was one of the two reasons he remained in the Arena, hoping one day his master would reward him with it. It was a vain hope, to be sure, but it was all he had. Kovak, the Furri that took him in as a child, told him to hold on to it, and that was exactly what he intended to do.
    “Hello?” said a voice.
    Seraph sat up. “I am here,” he called out.
    A guard opened the cell door, and a girl walked into the cell, her supple pale arms heaving a bucket of water. Seraph noticed she was limping. He rushed up, and took the bucket from her.
    “You’re in pain,” he said softly, “You shouldn’t be doing heavy labor.”
    “I’m fine,” she replied. “I’ve suffered much worse.”
    Seraph wrapped his arm around one of hers, and helped her to the bench. The very fact she could say those words angered him. But that was the price they had to pay as outcasts.
    Terra accepted his help getting to the bench against the wall. “Are you hurt?” she asked, feeling the gore on his arm.
    “No,” he replied, “This blood isn’t mine.”
    “I’m glad,” she sighed as she sat down, “I worry about you every time there is a fight.”
    “I had a good teacher,” Seraph said as he walked back to the bucket and began to clean himself off, “I won’t be dying anytime soon.”
    “But what if there is someone better than you?”
    “If they’re better than I am with a sword, they wouldn’t be wasting their talents on the primal entertainment of the masses. They would be smart enough not to be the son of a madman.”
    “Stop it,” the she-elf snapped, “You are nothing like your father.”
    “I look like him. That is enough for most people.”
    “But you’re not like him, Seraphim. When will you quit seeing yourself the way everyone else sees you. If you must find yourself in other people, look to me as your mirror.”
    Seraph chuckled softly, “Those are strange words coming from the blind.”
    “Perhaps, but they are not entirely useless.”
    Seraph looked at the elf sitting straight, looking toward his voice. Her eyes, blind since birth, were her only flaw. Her slender figure, soft features and long amber hair would be the pride of any father and husband, but that one little flaw had forever deemed her useless, save to give the fighters their food and water to wash. Seraph, however, found her disability to be a relief. She was the only one who would see him for who he really was, rather than what everyone expected. No one else took the effort, save for the Furri tribe that raised him. With both of them being abused by everyone around them, they had only themselves to turn to for comfort.
    Seraph finished cleaning himself, got up, and took a seat next to her. He wrapped his arms around her, and held her close. “If I ever get out of this sanctuary of death,” he said softly, “it will be because you took the time to see the true me.”
    She giggles quietly, “You’re the one giving me the strength to continue this dreary life,” She replied in turn, “It’s the least I can do.”
    “I can take you with me,” he said, sitting back yet still holding her firm hands, “working in the bowels of the Arena is no way to live.”
    “I couldn’t leave my family. Anaya and Tricia would be worried, and father wouldn’t have it one way or another. Besides, where would we go?”
    “We would return to Northern Maria. I know the forests well, and the Furri will take us in, if not Men or Elves. Your younger sisters needn’t worry about your safety or wellbeing. As for your father, he rejects and abuses his own daughter, and forces her to work like a slave. What tie do you have to him?”
    “He is my father,” she replied, “That is all that matters.”
    The guard tapped on the cell door. The two rose from their seat. Seraph picked up the bucket and rags, and placed it in front of the guard.
    “Be a gentleman,” he said, “and carry that for her, will you.” The guard sneered, yet complied as he opened the cell.
    “Your food will be here shortly,” Terra said.
    “Thank you.”
    She smiled, “No, thank you.” The two walked down the torch lit halls, and disappeared around a corner. Seraph stood for a moment, listening to their receding footsteps. ‘Why?’ he thought, ‘Why cling to someone who doesn’t want you?’

    The evening sun glowed like gold off the sand. Despite the departing light, the marketplace remained in perpetual motion. Animals and people spoke their pleas of attention into the dry air. The overhead canopy served as little comfort against the heat, but his mind was elsewhere.
    He sat quietly, carefully picking out the words of individuals as they passed by, gleaning what he could from their conversation.
    “Is he here?” he asked quietly. There were several mentions of an Elven fighter named Demonik Firstborn. Apparently his antics in the Arena were a cause of debate to the general mass. Some wanted him dead, others were rooting for him.
    “You can’t please everyone,” he said, getting up from his stool, and stepping into the sea of beings.
    Raven was the name he was using. He had no family, no home, no one he trusted enough to call a friend. The only solid form of identity he held was the phoenix tattoo on his left forearm. To the world he was just another face, a vagrant that came and went like a shadow. To those who lived in his world, he was one of the best assassins in Northern Maria. For nearly a year he had hunted the elusive Seraphim Servat. The rumors about him must have been true, for the way the elf could detect danger around him was uncanny, almost unnatural. If the fabled guardians of the forest existed, the son of Servat the Damned had definitely contacted them.
    “What would he be doing at the Arena?” he asked himself. Would it be to satisfy a bloodlust passed to him by his father? Was he captured, then forced to fight for someone else? Either way, if the information was correct, his job would be nearly finished.
    He pulled up the hood to his tattered cloak to shield his pale complexion and black hair from the sun. He left the marketplace for the maze of streets interwoven throughout the city, leaving the mass of society for solitude. After turning through ever narrowing streets and alleys, he came to the outskirts. Children ran along, playing in the street, under the watchful supervision of mothers standing in front of their homes. It was one of these homes that Raven moved towards. A single Elven woman, with a streak of blonde through her scarlet red hair, stood at the door, giving one of the townswomen a basket.
    “Thank you so much,” the woman said, “Eric will love these pastries.”
    “Make sure he doesn’t take them all,” the elf replied laughing waving to the departing company. She turned to the cloaked figure. Raven lowered his hood.
    “Can I help you?” the woman asked.
    “I was told you were a master of riddles,” he replied. He showed the woman his tattoo. “I was hoping you would honor me with one.”
    The woman’s face straightened, and Raven knew he found the right place.
    “Here is one then,” she said, “I come and go like the tide, but I am not wet. I am born many, grow into few, and age into many again. What am I?”
    “The answer is simple: a shadow comes and goes like the tide. It starts many in the morning, becomes few by noon, then many again in evening.”
    The she elf nodded approvingly. “Come inside, Shadow,” she said.
    Raven stepped inside. The place was sparse. A low table stood in one corner, surrounded with straw sitting mats. Out the back window, Raven could see a small stone oven with wooden shelves filled with various clay pots, probably carrying everything from food products to poisons. A weather beaten ladder stood in a corner, leading to the upper rooms.
    “What’s your target?” the woman asked.
    Raven turned to the Guardian, “The son of Servat,”
    “Seraphim?” she asked.
    “You know him?”
    “There isn’t anyone within this city who hasn’t heard his name. He is one of the greatest fighters in the Arena.” She walked toward a space of blank wall, and pressed against it. A passage grumbled into view, revealing a flight of stairs leading into darkness.
    The two of them descended into what felt like a large cellar. The Guardian moved silently through the blackness, and opened several slit-like openings in the ceiling. Dust and sand floated in the rays of light that shone through into the gloominess.
    “I’ll be along with some lamps shortly,” she said, “Make yourself comfortable.”
    In the twilight, Raven looked around his temporary resting place. A mat stuffed with straw lying in the corner, and a small wooden table was all that served for comfort’s purpose.
    The contents of the large cabinets of imported wood, however, made Raven as giddy as a child with a new toy. In what little life he had outside the Shadows, he was a collector of weapons. The dull glimmer of metal crafted and sharpened to perfection of both beauty and utility caused him to grin. Knives, daggers, one hand and two handed swords displayed the glory of their Elven and Human creators. Some would be used for the Shadows. Others, like the larger, bulkier weapons that couldn’t be concealed, were for the Guardian’s use, to protect their assigned locations with their lives.
    “The b*****d son of Servat the Damned will not be an easy mark,” said the woman as she reappeared. She placed a glowing candle on the table, and sat down. Raven joined her on the matted floor.
    “I can’t tell you too much, except he’s an exceptional fighter. The world’s richest have put their best animals and fighters in the ring with him, only to have their money poured out with their blood.”
    “Who does he fight for?” Raven asked.
    “He’s currently serving Count Lyle. Word is he hoped to get some mild sport out of his death. Now Seraph is his prize fighter, though he won’t admit it.”
    “So he will be the best guarded then,”
    “That would be a wise assumption,” she replied. Raven leaned back against the wall, focusing on the ribbons of thought that trailed across his mind.
    “Then the best way to kill him,” he said, “Is to wait until he’s in the Arena.”
    “It will be difficult with people watching, plus I’m not sure his senses will be entirely occupied with the events on the battleground.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “The way he carries himself in his fights. He seems aloft, holding himself back.”
    “Holding back? So no one has seen his true fighting prowess?”
    “It would seem so,”
    ‘That might complicate things,’ he thought. The key to victory was to know the enemy, and he had little to go on in that knowledge.
    “I’ll need more to go on,” he said finally, “I have to see him myself.” He leaned forward. “This Count Lyle; is he a friendly person?”