9: The Pits of Despair
The pits of the capital have always served as an execution arena. It was constructed long ago, deep beneath the city. Condemned prisoners are first starved for two weeks, given nothing but water every three days, just enough to keep them alive. At the end of the two week period the prisoner is then forced into the arena for judgment by combat. In the last twenty years, only four lucky souls managed to defeat their enemy and gain their freedom. But freedom came at a price. If a prisoner is declared the winner, they will be banished from the Capital for as long as they live. They will never be allowed to see their families or friends ever again. The king and guards had a name for this banishment and they called it resurrection. The king and his men have brain washed the population into thinking that being resurrected meant a fresh start in a new place.
But now as Issic sat there in a tiny confined cell with no windows, chained to the wall at his wrists in complete darkness he understood that king Holtz and his men were only trying to break his spirit before his fight. And it was working, the day Issic was taken away and Anbel torn forever from his arms, he had been beaten by the king’s guards just outside king Holtz’s chamber. He was then dragged to his cell here in the pits far below the surface of the earth.
Issic wasn’t ready to give up however. For hours and hours he yelled and beat on the door of his cell but with no success. Days past and Issic grew tired and weak. Every second felt as long as a life time and with no light and no perception of time, Issic’s hope began to wither away. But something kept him going. He would not give up so long as Anbel was imprisoned and his father wasn’t avenged.
Suddenly, the room around him began to echo and the ceiling of his cell began to shake. As Issic looked up in complete darkness to see what was happening. His eyes got sprinkled with dust. With his lack of hydration, his eyes began to sting and burn like someone threw acid in his face. “Ack!” he yelled out as he raised his hands to eyes to rub out the pain.
When the pain finally began to subside, Issic heard armored footsteps approaching. Seconds after, his door clacked and creaked open. Before Issic’s eyes could settle to the light he hasn’t seen in two weeks, one of the guards threw a large bucket of water in his face. It took Issic by complete surprise. Yet, Issic stayed true and didn’t let the guard’s actions get to him. Instead of wasting his energy on these two Issic resolved to keep calm and focus his energy on his fight today.
In a way the water was refreshing but it was far less refreshing when he learnt that he had been soaked with horse piss. The guard that waited outside his cell laughed. “I bet he didn’t even know that we just threw horse piss at him.” The other guard grinned as he squatted down to remove Issic’s chains. “Are you ready to die today?” The guard sniggered as he un-cuffed Issic’s last chain and dragged him to his feet.
Issic’s focus was on the fight and he did his best to stifle his vomit from the smell and taste of horse piss that plagued his mouth.
Issic’s cell was just under the grand stands of the arena above and as Issic was being dragged through the narrow passage ways beneath the arena, his eyes began to throb. The light that the hanging torches emitted was far too strong for Issic after being shut off from the world the way he was. However, Issic did not close his eyes. He had to be able to see to defend himself. So he forced his eyes open until they became used to the light once again. On their way, he couldn’t help but notice dozens and dozens of other doors. He knew that some poor soul was in each of those rooms suffering as he did.
As they neared the stairs at the end of the of the narrow path, the cries and cheers of the crowd got louder and louder and soon all Issic could hear was a constant roaring as they began their assent to the arena floor. “That’s right. There is a fight going on right now but I doubt it will last long. They never do.” the guard sniggered with the other.
They emerged from the narrow paths into a short tunnel and that end of the tunnel stood a barred gate that opened into the pits arena. As Issic approached the gate, his heart began to beat faster and faster. He was witnessing the horror of the pits. He could see everything from where he stood and all the while he knew that his turn was next.
The guards had brought Issic up just time to witness the death of the man who was condemned to fight the Banisher. The Banisher was known far and wide for his fierceness. He always kept his face covered with a black executioners mask. The man’s robust size and overwhelming strength gave him the advantage because he was never known to tire out. When he wasn’t fighting, he would spend most of his time beneath the pits in his oversized cell where he would sharpen his long two-handed axe. It’s been rumored that the blade of his axe was so sharp that the simplest touch with your finger would server it.
As Issic watched the fight progress, he knew the Banisher had the upper hand. The man he was fighting struck slow and weak and the Banisher deflected every attack. His axe was so sharp that sparks flew with every blow. Then, the offensive switched and the Banisher deflected the man’s last blow and pushed the man back with a heel in the gut. The Banisher pursued the man in his unstable state. He swung his axe back and forth at the man with two hands but miraculously the man jumped back fast enough to avoid the deathly blows. And now, seeing his chance, the Banisher took it. As quick as a bolt of lightning, he grabbed his axe in one hand at the end of the shaft, spun around in a circle and cut the man in half at the waist. For a moment, the crowd seized their cheers and the man had an overly surprised expression on his face, until his top half slid off his bottom half and fell to the ground. The crowd burst into a ground shaking roar at the sight of the man’s body lying there with blood and guts pouring out onto the sand.
The Banisher raised his axe over his head in triumph as the crowd sheered him on. Meanwhile, the pit attendants raced out onto the field with chains and hooks and stabbed their hooks into the dead man’s skull and feet and dragged the two halves off the field.
“The match is won…” whispered Issic in fear. He stood inside the gate in nothing but his under cloth to wear clenching the bars frozen in terror, until he realized why he was brought up from his cell early. “The king… Of course, they brought me here to witness this terror in the hopes of breaking any spirit I might still have.” The gates began to rise and the guard on his right handed him a common short sword. “But no, I will not have my spirit broken so easily. I must avenge my father and save Anbel.” he thought to himself.
The gate was fully raised and Issic was kicked out into the arena to face his fate. As he began his walk towards the center of the arena, the gate began to lower and the crowd fell silent. Then, a voice echoed through the pits. “My lords and ladies, witness his silver tongued liar and traitor meet his doom before the hands of our Banisher.” It was the king’s voice. Issic searched the stands for him.
The arena was massive. It was dug deep into the ground where no day light could go. It was lit by thousands of torches that hung on the wall above the stands. The walls that surrounded Issic in the arena were very tall. There was no hope for escape.
Finally, Issic found the king sitting in his chair on the left side of the stands underneath his tent. But what caught Issic’s eye angered him beyond anything. Anbel sat beside the king in chains. She was washed and groomed. Her eyes sparkled with tears and her nostrils were red from crying.
Anbel moved to cry out for Issic, but before she get a word out, the guards behind Anbel held her down and scolded her. Issic only had one thought as he turned his eyes back towards the king. “One day I will have my revenge.” He turned towards the Banisher and starred him down awaiting the signal for battle.
The king laughed out loud. “Begin.” The king waved them off.
The anger that flowed in Issic’s veins gave him an adrenaline boost. He held his ground taking quick deep breaths. The crowd waited in silence for someone to make the first move. The Banisher raised his axe with one hand and let out deep and fearsome war cry. The crowd took up the roar once again. Issic saw his chance. Skill and force wasn’t going to win this fight and Issic knew that. As the Banisher swam in a sea of cheers, Issic seized his opportunity and took it. Only a few meters away from his target, Issic lunged forward to strike the Banisher while he had his back turned. Issic’s approach was flawless. But the Banisher seemed to have anticipated his move. Just as Issic was about to land a killing blow to his back, the Banisher swung around and smashed Issic across the face the flat side of his axe. Issic fell onto his back and the offense immediately changed.
Issic lay on the ground holding his cheek while the Banisher rushed after him. Holding his axe with both hands, the Banisher brought it down at Issic with incredible speed. Luckily Issic rolled out of the way, avoiding death by mere inches. The Banisher brought down his axe again, causing Issic to roll in the opposite direction and scramble into a squatted position. But the Banisher didn’t hold back. He pressed an attack by swinging his sword sideways towards Issic and grazed his right arm. Luckily the cut wasn’t deep but it was deep enough for his arm to start bleeding.
The Banisher began to laugh at the sight of the blood and the crowd roared with applause. The Banisher then jumped back and paused. “Oh poor little lord-ling. Does it hurt? Do you need me to put you out of your misery?” he taunted Issic.
Issic held his arm in pain. “How can I beat this animal? I’m already dead…” Issic thought to himself in despair. Then he remembered Anbel. He looked up at her. She held her mouth with both hands in anticipation as tears ran down her face. “I can’t let it end like this!”
Issic gathered all the strength he had and composed himself anew. “Hey fat fuck!” Issic called out to the Banisher. “You fight like horses ass!” Issic could not see his face but Issic could see the Banishers eyes as they grew with rage. Issic’s taunts worked.
The Banisher burst out in anger and raced towards Issic with his entire wrath. As this tall oversized beast of man rushed towards him, Issic ran off in the opposite direction towards the wall. With all his might, Issic jumped off the wall, swung his body around and landed an open foot straight across the Banishers head. The Banisher stumbled back and fell to one knee as the crowd fell silent with astonishment. The impact caused Issic to stumble and fall on his rear. Issic regained his feet as fast as his worn out body could go. The Banisher wasn’t moving and the crowd was dead silent as Issic approached with his blade raised ready to deliver his killing blow. Arms raised and the end of his blade pointing down at the Banisher’s head, Issic brought his blade down with all his strength. The crowd gasped.
What should have been a victory was not. The Banisher somehow managed to lean back and avoid Issic’s attack causing Issic’s blade to come down only inches from the Banisher’s face. Amidst the confusion, the Banisher summoned his speed and swung his axe to the side all the while disarming Issic and himself. The Banisher jumped his feet and locked Issic’s neck in his grasp and smashed in his face with a head butt. The blow sent Issic into a daze and he nearly forgot he was being choked to death. The crowd jumped to its feet and roared at this come back.
“Issic!” Anbel’s voice cried out. Issic turned his eyes to the King’s tent and saw one of the guards slap Anbel across the face to keep her quiet while the king sat on the edge of his seat awaiting Issic’s imminent death.
“No I won’t give you the satisfaction.” Issic smashed his fits into both sides of the Banisher’s face causing him to loosen his grip on Issic. He took his chance and kicked the Banisher off making them both fall onto their backs. Now both disarmed and both on their backs, Issic struggled to gather his breath as the Banisher slowly made his way to his feet. The crowd cheered him on as the Banisher finally made to his feet. But the Banisher was so focused on getting back to his feet that he had forgotten about Issic. Suddenly crowd gasped and the Banisher lost his breath as Issic drove his blade deep into the big man’s lower back.
“Impossible!” yelled the King.
But something happened next that no one expected. The Banisher began to laugh hysterically and then he took a step forward and another until he slid off the end of Issic’s blade. Then, the Banisher turned around and grabbed Issic by the neck once again. Yet, something was wrong. “He should be dead!” thought Issic as the life was being ripped from him. Issic looked straight into the Banisher’s eyes and that’s when he saw something different, something un-holy, something empty. The Banisher’s eyes have turned purple and glowed like the ancient dragon of the mountain, Drakroth. But Issic saw deeper than that, past the fearsome eyes of a beast and into the Banisher himself and saw nothing. His eyes were empty. They were the eyes of a dead man.
Then, Issic looked over the Banisher’s shoulder and saw someone on the other side of the gate. The guards lay dead at his feet. The man was hooded and cloaked and just stood there starring out at them in the field with a hand holding a bar. But there was one thing the man couldn’t hide and those were his eyes. His glowed purple the same way the Banisher’s did.
Out of fear and panic, Issic stuck his sword into the Banisher’s gut, over and over again until he finally let go of him. The Banisher jumped to the side and rolled across the arena and gathered his axe. Issic did not dare move. He was struggling far too much for air to move. He thought it would be best to hold his ground and let the Banisher come to him.
The crowd cheered and cheered. They were completely ignorant that the Banisher was being controlled. The King was also too stupid to understand. He stood at the railing and watched in anticipation.
The moment had come. The Banisher charged Issic like a crazed bull. His stomach and guts hanged out.
“No I can’t let him charge me! I have to charge him now! Shit!” though Issic. Then Issic raced towards the Banisher to end this. During their charge, Issic noticed the Banisher’s eye grew so bright that they hurt too much to look at. In this distraction, the Banisher demonstrated a skill that no one had ever seen. The Banished bent forward as he ran, spun his axe across his back with one hand and caught it with the other and then slid his one handed grip to the end of his shaft. He then spun his entire body in a circle and brought his axe down towards Issic’s neck.
The crowd gasped! But that tiny silence soon turned to cheer as Issic’s head bounced and rolled its way across the ground.
The crowd roared with excitement. King Holtz cheered and whistled in triumph.
“No!” cried Anbel as she struggled to get loose of the guards so she could go to Issic. She was not strong enough and the guards over powered her. Then suddenly, the Banisher dropped to the ground as though someone had taken away all his bones. And that’s when the ground began to shake ferociously. Not the ground beneath their feet, but the ground above them.
That was when Anbel barred witness to the roof caving in, along with a good part of the city. The cries and screams were everywhere, people died before her eyes and then there was only silence as though world around Anbel had washed away…