A Tale of Two Rangers

Chapter 11: Live to fight, fight to live.

“Courage is a resistance to fear, mastery of fear-not absence of fear.” -Mark Twain

Alix blinks as she is led into the bright sunlight shining into the center of the stadium. Everyone cheers when they see her, excited to watch whatever cruel challenge she is faced with. The man leading her pulls out a knife and deftly cuts the ropes that bind her wrists. She nods her thanks, studying the skin where the ropes rubbed it raw.

“You go through maze,” the man says gruffly.

Alix looks up, “Huh?”

He gestures to rows of wood with narrow trenches of water surrounding them. “Maze. You go though.”

Alix feels relieved. “I can do that. Easily,” she says, planning to just leap over any of the wood piles that may be in her way. She looks at the flag that marks the end, and pulls her ragged cloak off her shoulders.

“Good.” The man walks over to the nearest length of wood, and starts it on fire. The flames catch quickly, then spread down the line.

Alix pales, watching the wood go up in flames. “They must’ve soaked it in something,” she mumbles dazedly to herself, the realization of how lethal this going to be having finally caught up to her.

“Go,” the man says, shoving her into the maze of fire, and blocking the entrance.

Alix stumbles forward, the flames climbing higher. The crowd is enraptured by the intensity of the challenge and cheer. She coughs, pushing herself to go onward. She goes left, right, then left again, only to be met by a wall of fire. The smoke seems to be pushing in on her from all sides, filling her lungs, stinging her eyes, impeding her vision. Alix backtracks, going a different way than before.

“Where,” Alix coughs, her voice hoarse, “is that blasted exit?” Every inch of her can feel the intense heat of the fire, and her desperation to get out increases. She makes another few turns, her energy slowly depleting. She reaches a place where the path splits into three and hesitates before taking the leftmost way. Alix sees only fire, and quickly retreats away from the dead end. She pushes on, realizing she can’t go on like this for much longer. She knows without a doubt parts of her face and arms have been burned, how badly though, she wasn’t sure. She makes a right, blindly stumbling forward and falling to the ground.

Alix lays there, unsure if she could ever get up again. She is tempted to stay there, fail at the challenge, and not have to face any other brutal trials they may have for her. As this thought creeps into her mind, she thinks how hurt and disappointed Rea would be if she found out that her mentor had just… given up. Gave up at a time when she should have been strong.

“Can’t give up yet,” Alix groans, the heat from around her seeming to seep into her skin. She slowly gets to her feet, covering her mouth and nose with her hands, and presses onward. She rounds a corner, and sees fabric tied around a pole. The flag. Filled with hope, she runs towards it, and out of the maze. Alix becomes aware of the cheers of the crowd, and the fresh air that surrounds her. Alix leans against the pole, dizzy after her escapade. Alix coughs and is aware of someone approaching her.

“Well done. You have lived to fight another day,” Kaden says, and gestures to two of his men to escort Alix back to her room.

Gilan and Rea disembark just as the sun begins to sink past the horizon, “We need to find where they went. Let’s ask around,” Gilan says. Rea nods her agreement, both of them wanting to find Alix as soon as possible. They walk into the small seaside pub, Rea moving to stand closer to Gilan when she sees the rowdy groups seated within.

Gilan strides across the room, to where the tavern keeper is wiping down a table, “Good evening sir.” he says, with Rea still close beside him.

The tavern keeper looks up, and nods a greeting, “And to you too. How may I help you?”

“Me and my… niece are looking for some friends of ours. They came on a large ship, and there was a big group of them, probably bigger than you are used to seeing in this fine town of yours. They all are kinda… rough looking,” Gilan explains, relieved that the tavern keeper speaks the common tongue. His Gallican was a little out of practice.

“Not here, no,” the tavern keeper says, shaking his head, “But rumor has it that the next port over had a group just like what you described. They were headed to the games.”

“The what?” Rea asks.

“The Death Games. Where challengers face each other to the death. Occasionally they must complete near-impossible tasks… or die trying,” he says simply.

Both Gilan and Rea realize what he is saying at the same time, their horrified expressions proof of it.

“Alix…” Rea whispers feeling light headed and faint. She grabs Gilan’s arm for support.

“And, where might these games be?” Gilan asks immediately.

“Somewhere in East Gallica. Haven’t ever bothered to go myself.”

Gilan gives the tavern keeper a strained smile. “Thank you for your help,” the apprentice and Ranger leave quickly, distressed by the news they had received.

“Gil, what are we going to do?” Rea asks as they walk through the small village.

He turns to face her, his expression somewhere betwixt anger and fear, “That’s what they wanted Alix for! Just so she could die in some meaningless game!” explodes Gilan.

“Then let’s go find her and save her!”

“Yes. And if I have to, I will kill every last one of those idiot scoundrels to do it.” Gilan growls in an unusual show of anger.

Rea nods, her face full of determination as they walk east in hopes of finding Alix.

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