Since I did not have any company while walking towards the arena, I did not speak and although my mouth was quiet, there was a loud conflict happening in my head, there was the moral side and the curious side battling out in the open, empty streets of my mind having the loudest arguments, each one trying to subdue me into believing what I was doing right now was the right thing or a decision that I would regret for the rest of my life.
I walked along, my head low bent on the burden of decision, the lights now casting shadows on my pale face.
I only looked up when I reached my destination, and the only reason I looked up was because of the looming structure that was very unusual for our village.
This place was the arena or in our language the ‘Quike’ and it was one of the fewer words used in our village. Only now during when our villagers knew there was going to be a fight was the word used extensively, even by the shopkeepers, trying to profit off the grim event.
But all of them were not that cruel, as they sold shirts, caps and jackets with beautifully drawn pictures of Muite and encouraging words below.
Additionally, all these stores near the arena were almost all selling the same merchandise, and they were almost always seasonal, as they were only in business when someone else’s is fate was already decided.
One thing that fascinated me about them was that the drawings of Mute on the shirts and the caps were detailed, which was kind of surprising mostly because although he was from the same side of the village, that is the east side, his house was far off from the arena. It was surprising how they got details of him without getting a good look of him, especially for the past couple of weeks because he was very busy preparing for one of the most terrifying event of his life.
I walked over to one of the shops which was selling such merchandise and since I had left my house without too much delay I had a couple of minutes to spare.
I bought myself a brown and green cap with Muite’s face etched into the top of the cap, and he looked liked his own calm self, the drawing which once again reminded me what an unfair match-up this was going to be. Under the drawing of his face was a writing in cursive Gorse that read “May the anguished find the peace they are seeking in triumph or by doom.”
I shuddered as I read the wordings, realizing it had a much deeper implication that what it just appeared on the surface.
I then quickly payed up and headed towards the arena as the starting conch had sounded, maybe indicating the event would start soon. I started a light jog towards the primary entrance of the arena and within a brief time I was waiting on the average-sized queue to be seated.
The queue moved rather quickly as everyone there were eager not to miss the start of the battle which in most cases, as I was told before by my friends, was the most entertaining par.
At the entrance of the arena was a security check two guards on both sides of the narrow stone door who checked the age of the villager passing through. Most of the elders were passed through without any verification but the young ones, like me, had to be checked.
Just as I tried to look ahead trying to see using what means were they verifying ages of teenagers like me, I heard someone shouting out my name. Looking behind me I saw a pair, siblings, boy and girl, who seemed just older than me, waving at me. I squinted as I tried to recognize them and then realized that they were my cousins. My mother’s sister’s kids. They lived towards the west side of the village near Grouser’s house. The Elder who we had lied about to our mom.
I gestured them to come forward in the line and they seemed excited, and I think I knew why. Since our houses were pretty far apart, we met rarely almost exclusively, during functions and such, and so seeing them now was quite the delight. They came up over, and the sister, Zefe, gave me a warm hug. After a brief second, we disengaged, and the brother Xey gave me a firm handshake.
They both were twins. Zefe was taller than me and had long, thin and straight black hair much like her body, thin. She was wearing an oversized shirt which read ‘Save Muite’ in Gorse and long slim pants that hugged her skin.
Xey unlike his sister wore a shirt that was only a bit longer than his body and had loose baggy pants that he pulled up ever so often, like he had forgotten his belt. While one of his hand was occupied with pulling up his pants, the other almost always tended to his hair, which was in slicked back. He too had the same dark green complexion as his sister and also was as tall as she was, which meant I was the shortest among the group.
Just as Xey finished our handshake, he called out in a voice that seemed loud enough to attract the guards who were at the entrance of the arena. “Eh guards! I think we have an age violator here.” he said pointing towards me. In the instance I suddenly felt fear creep into me as I looked tentatively at the guard hoping he did not hear my stupid cousin calling out to them. “Cut it would you!” his sister interjected. “He may be underage but that’s not what we cousins do, eh?” she said. “Sis! all I wanted to do was see how much paler our little cousin here could go! I mean the last time he almost went as white as that egg, remember?” I suddenly felt the fear rush out of me, and I only then realized how conscious I was, because of the almost everyone’s attention on me now and the blood rushing out of my face to my feet and arms. Because I had naturally white skin unlike anyone around me, it seemed much easier for the surrounding villagers to notice whenever I was frightened, just like now.
I noticed Zefe stifle a giggle, and she spoke, putting her arm around my shoulder and around my neck protectively. “Hey Aiden, don’t worry, even if you are underage we will sneak you by.” she now came up close to my ear as she said “We have done it plenty of times ourselves.” she said and now freely giggled and like as of on cue, Xey too started giggling, although I was pretty sure he could have not heard what Zefe had said to me.
It was quite obvious to me now that my cousins knew I was of age to watch the Zelia, but natural as they were, they liked to pull on anyone’s leg, sometimes taking it too far. They seemed to have learned their lesson through the years,, however.
As I let them join in on me in the line, I felt my body relax; I felt the blood rush back to my face and along with that feeling I felt the tiredness return to me.
It seemed like the tiredness I had felt when I had gotten up seemed to linger on. I had thought that doing some exercise would shrug that feeling off, but that did not seem to do the trick. But I was almost sure that it would not last for long as within a few minutes I was going to be scared out of my wits, so much so that I might not feel tired or sleep for the next few days.
I now spoke, trying to erase the last thought out of my mind. “Guys how are they going to check whether I am of age to see the Zelia? I don’t have any ID on me.” I said almost expecting another fit of giggle from my cousins which they did not disappoint on. Xey spoke, trying hard to suppress his giggles. “Boy, here has a lot to learn huh?” he said directing the question to his sister how now had suppressed her laughter.
“Xey don’t be so hard on our boy here, it's his first time.” she said in a way that reminded me how their mom used to advise them and seeing her brother still not done with his laughter she spoke.” Lets agree here and now that we will answer our cousin's questions honestly and without laughter of any sorts.” and then instinctively elbowed her brother right in the stomach to effectively end his ever ongoing giggle.
This proved very effective as he instantly stopped and for once became serious. “K cousin here it is…” he said and now spoke answering question. “No ID required, all you need is an intty little bit of blood that’s all.” he spoke and Zefe spoke now continuing. “These guards here have some sort of device through which the poke your finger, just like an injection and then the device using this blood determines how old you are.” “Really?” I asked, almost in disbelief. My cousins tried hard to suppress their laughter as Xey spoke again. “Well, you better it believe it ’cause you are next in line my friend.”
Since I had been turning back to speak with my cousins I had failed to notice the line had moved ahead and I was indeed next in line to pass the guards.