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Remember the Shadows
Remember the Shadows
Remember the Shadows
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Remember the Shadows

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Under the threat of death, Nameless struggles to restore his reputation through the only means acceptable - campaign an unknown fighter through the arenas to freedom. Now that he is a runner, rather than a fighter, he learns there is much more to the process than merely living to fight another day.

Join Nameless as he journeys through a dark, tangled bureaucracy filled with corruption. Will he emerge the champion of his cause, or will blind devotion to his dark goddess exile him permanently?

LanguageEnglish
PublisherK Caffee
Release dateFeb 15, 2015
ISBN9781310523557
Remember the Shadows
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Author

K Caffee

K. Caffee is a full time graduate student who has bowed to the pressures of her muse to get the stories she likes to tell out into the big world. She has always enjoyed entertaining others with her flights of fancy, and now invites you to come along for the ride. When she is not writing, or studying, she is a willing servant to her two cats who sometimes provide inspiration for her stranger characters. Currently, she is working on her 5 book debut series Followers of Torments. Book 1 "Out of the Darkness" is now available Book 2 "Remember the Shadows" Is now available Book 3 "Into the Sunlits" Winning NaNoWriMo 2014 challenge will release this summer Book 4 "And Keep this in Mind" is being written now Book 5 "I am You while You are I" will be the epic wrap up of the series, is on the table awaiting further developments. If you enjoy delving into the world of the faerie, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

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    Remember the Shadows - K Caffee

    Followers of Torments: Book 2

    Remember the Shadows

    K. Caffee

    Copyright 2014 K. Caffee

    Smashwords Edition

    All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. This is a work of dark fantasy fiction not suitable for readers under the age of eighteen (18) years of age due to fictional violence.

    Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

    Acknowledgements

    I want to thank all of the wonderful folks who have helped me simply by being there when I had a flurry of questions during the odd hours. You know who you are. I also wish to acknowledge Tieve, Mirajai, Delicateaslace, and BellaNotteLight for their work in helping to develop the main character during our role-play sessions, and for being the inspiration for several of the supporting cast as well. Without you ladies, Nameless would never would have become someone to write about.

    And, the last, but most important person I wish to thank, and cannot thank enough is Martin Frowd for your invaluable work in getting this edited. You took another of my monstrosities and tamed it into a civilized book.

    Table of Contents

    Entering Exile

    Champion Abomination

    Learning to Teach

    Tontra Phicar Arena

    Returning to School

    Negotiations

    Not Leaving

    Jarlean’s Debut

    Campaigning the Silk

    Ways and Means

    Change in Plans

    Planning the Finals

    On the Move

    Ascendance Trials

    Ascendance Finals

    Silk to Ascendance

    Preparing for the Journey

    Into the Tunnel

    About the Author

    Forthcoming Books

    Sneak Peek: Into the Sunlits

    Entering Exile

    Returning to the scene of the previous day’s battle, Nameless (with Jarlean in tow) crept across the scarred, desolate charnel house sector that had been struggling to evolve into a place of safety for those exiled from the City. The gentle puffs of ash that were stirred up with each footfall gave evidence to the unusual number of belongings that had been destroyed when the area was burned to the solid bedrock of the City’s cavern. Reaching the sector around the niche he had called home, he felt a sense of dissolution settle over him. More than he realized, he had come to feel as if he belonged somewhere during the lunar cycles he had slept and cared for the people in this section of the Exiled Fringe. These people had provided a sense of acceptance for himself, not just his fighting prowess. A sense that there might be something more to honoring Her than just ensuring Her Children had a living meal every evening he entered the Sands. He had carried to this place some of the civilizing rules and regulations forced upon him from working with the guards, and in return, the people living here had brought to him their need for his protection and guidance. They had begun to teach him how to connect to someone other than himself or Her.

    Now, with everything burned to ashes, a death threat hanging over his head should he be recaptured, and a collared Silk in tow, Nameless discovered his personal war had a higher price than he could have envisioned. That the Arenas had shaped him for this war, he could not conceive. That the City had created him to be a monster, he did not consider. That he was committed to the path of honoring Her, he knew with a bone-deep knowledge he could not doubt. First, though, he had to ensure his survival. That meant eluding the hunting parties he was sure would soon be chasing after him. Unless the sergeant had managed to keep his escape hidden from the military types - something about which he had serious doubts. Though he had been a free man for less than one full seasonal cycle, he did know that Champions did not disappear without a cause. Now, with a Silk in tow, he was forced to disappear without leaving a trail anyone else could find.

    With his grief weighing him down, he made his way to where his nest had been. The niche now contained nothing except a mound of wet ash and lye where the small spring had welled up. Though he had owned few items that were not currently on his person, he began working through the morass to discover what remained. Kneeling, as he worked his hands through the wet ash, he encountered three of the keepsakes given to him. One, a stone painted with the Web Mother’s image done by a local child, was so soot stained he could no longer identify the image. The second, a rough carving from the local rock done in the Web Mother’s semblance by another local, he also kept because it was done to honor Her. The third piece he found, he left in the ashes. It was a large black quartz piece given to him by the Temple district for breaking up a riot – the same district that had now decreed him a pariah.

    Dropping the two keepsakes into one of his recovered pouches, he pushed himself to his feet and turned to look for his captive. Jarlean had been conducting his own survey of the surrounding devastation. Though his Clan had been the ones responsible for calling down the atrocities visited upon these people, though he had known of the unrest with Nameless, though he had done nothing to mitigate the overreaction, he still felt betrayed by Nameless’ collar being around his neck. When he felt Nameless’ gaze on him, he twisted around to return it. Anger, hatred, and betrayal burned in his eyes, giving a silent challenge to his captor. Nameless returned the challenge with one of his own, daring Jarlean to show just how dangerous he was.

    With one last turn, Nameless felt the sights and smells of the desolation solidly anchor into his memory alongside the lessons he had learned so well in the Sands. He nodded briefly as his eyes tracked the route his feet had learned during the lunar cycles he had been free. This was the path he intended to use for his escape. His heart thudded in his chest with the foreboding of the unknown. His mind quailed at the concept of learning how not to be a stranger somewhere else, knowing that to honor Her, he must survive, live and somehow prosper. Nameless listened for any sounds from the distant City that indicated an alarm had been given. The only sounds he heard were the chimes tolling the glasses as they turned.

    Nodding to himself once more, he stepped off into the unknown. He did not think much about Jarlean’s actions. His memory supplied the knowledge that by following his master, he had been given the gift of unlimited freedom in the Sands. Brief though it had been each time, it had still been freedom for a while. When he did not hear Jarlean’s footsteps following close behind, he stopped to look back. Jarlean remained still, his bearing stating louder than words, I am not a slave. You cannot order me.

    Snarling, Nameless returned to his captive, Come, Silk. Move time now. Long too stayed have. Follow. His voice, pitched to carry as far as Jarlean’s ears, growled through the mangled syntax. "Repeat not I will. Will you me obey, you survive will."

    Jarlean snorted, but remained silently planted where he stood.

    Nameless quirked an eyebrow briefly, then his hands lashed out to strike Jarlean harshly – one to the shoulder, one to the point of his hipbone. Doubling over from the unexpected strikes, Jarlean began to crumple to the ground. Refusing to let him fall, Nameless moved around behind the crumpling form and gave him a kick to the backside to get him moving in the correct direction.

    Staggering from the extra force, his body trying to fold in upon itself, Jarlean stumbled into a slow jog. Nameless paced behind him, driving him on, and pushing him faster when he attempted to stop. Silk run, run! Leave must given alarm is. Run!

    As the sharp pain of the double blow faded, Jarlean was able to pull his body straighter and smooth out his stride. Under Nameless’ incessant demands for more speed, he picked up his pace until it had become a slow run. However, he could not maintain the pace. Within a half glass his breathing became ragged as he developed a stitch in his side. His speed began to decrease as his body strove to meet the unexpected demands Nameless made of him. Still Nameless demanded more speed.

    Pushed to complete exhaustion, Jarlean collapsed and could not be forced back to his feet. Nameless tried cuffing him severely with many half strength blows along the body before admitting his Silk had no more reserves. Jarlean could not respond, even when Nameless punched or kicked the most painful of possible targets. Over the sobbing breaths of Jarlean’s exhaustion, Nameless heard the City chimes begin to toll a warning. They were warning the City of an escaped prisoner, and warning the prisoner that his time before capture was limited. Feeling a sense of desperation, Nameless checked his current location against where he knew they needed to reach. The result gave him cause to fear for his life.

    Jarlean’s slower pace had slowed them so much that they still had to cover most of the distance around the City to ensure their survival.

    Up! Up get! Nameless demanded, not yet willing to give up on his plans for using Jarlean in his vengeance. He kicked the fallen man twice. The second blow elicited a weak groan followed by a bout of dry hacking coughs. Jarlean had inhaled some of the thin layer of ash covering the ground. Nameless reached to the mug on his belt so he could give his captive a sip of water, but where his mug should have been he found a broken strap. Patting through his bag and pouch, he discovered a second issue that would have prevented Jarlean from receiving any relief – he had no water skin. With a derisive grunt at himself, he looked around the unfamiliar area of this new section of the Fringe.

    He spotted a likely looking mound not far off his chosen line of march that looked undisturbed from the recent battle. Leaving Jarlean where he lay, he loped over to the pile. Pausing long enough for his silence-adapted ears to filter out the sounds of the City, he listened intently for any signs of new owners. When no sounds of habitation reached his ears, he began looking for the entrance. A largish hole was located on the broad side about waist high. Checking to ensure the pile was, indeed, hollow, Nameless worked his way in. About halfway through the short tunnel, he found himself becoming stuck as his belt and pouches tried to snag on every protrusion. In frustration, he backed out of the hole and stripped down to his undergarments, leaving the rest in a small heap with his bag and pouch covered by his tunic. Trying again, he quickly scraped through to the oblong interior. Stepping carefully, so as not to step on something steel, iron, or breakable, he eased to one side and let his dark-adapted eyes pick over what items remained within the crude dwelling.

    What he found was a treasure trove indeed. The residents must have been the region’s toughest inhabitants. He saw two piles of blankets cobbled into a pair of makeshift beds, two water skins of differing sizes, and a small stash of dried meat. He also found a few other personal belongings with unknown uses. In a short time, he gathered up the useful items and worked them into a bulky bundle. He then worked his way back out of the mound dragging the rough-made bundle behind him. He stopped long enough to retrieve his belongings, looping the belt around his waist to hold the bag and pouch. The rest, he stuffed into the bundle until he could evaluate what he had just acquired. Loping back to where his Silk had collapsed; he broke down the large bundle. Sorting the items by size, he repackaged his loot into three bundles, too many for his hands to hold, too bulky to easily tie together and pile onto his back. He tried again, this time even emptying his pouch and bag into the starting pile. He sorted the items back out into smaller piles based on three broad categories: things he knew he could use immediately, things he might find a use for soon, and things that had no use. Everything except for the two stone keepsakes from his nest fell into one of the first two categories. Once he had the items classified, he used one blanket to bundle the immediately useful items, and a second blanket to bundle the may be useful in the future items. He returned the hank of Her Silk and vial to the soft pouch, the few coins and silverware to the hardened pouch. Then, with the help of his belt and baldric, he bound the two bundles and hung them from his shoulders before turning his attention to where Jarlean weakly stirred.

    As he approached the supine form, Nameless dug the smaller of the new water skins - about the size of a large canteen - out from the top of its bundle, and dropped it beside Jarlean’s head with a soft splat. Jarlean flopped his head over to see what had fallen beside him, and groaned in exhausted anticipation as he reached for it. Nameless continued to scan the surrounding area while he waited for Jarlean to manage the feat of unstoppering the skin and taking a long drink. When Jarlean lowered the skin, Nameless did not give him a chance at another. He scooped up the skin and stopper, plugging the neck after taking a long drink himself. Stuffing the almost empty skin back into the bundle it came out of, he pointed in the direction they needed to go.

    "Now up! Stop not, capture will if. Live not captured if. Up! Fast move. Rang alarm glass two ago. Soon sweep will Fringe. Make must night by to tunnel escape."

    Jarlean nodded, a spike of fear giving him the strength to push himself back to his feet. Thinking he understood why Nameless had been driving him for more speed, he did not question whether or not to resume the trek. He set off at what he thought was the best speed he could maintain. Once again, Nameless proved Jarlean had depths of endurance he had not found before. With the time lost from Jarlean’s collapse, Nameless became ruthless in propelling his captive on. He used cuffs, kicks, curses, and insults to keep him on the move. When these methods failed, Nameless resorted to his weapon of last resort. He pulled the hank of Silk out of its bag, and worked it into a long, whip-like length. The next time Jarlean tried to slow, Nameless whipped the Silk across his captive’s back, searing through the cloth in at least one place with every strike. Before Jarlean could resume his staggering, exhausted run, the back of his tunic hung in bloodied, tattered shreds crisscrossed with chunks of missing material that had fallen out as the searing Silk cut through the material into the skin below at different angles.

    Pushing beyond what he thought possible, Jarlean passed into a somnambulant state, putting one foot in front of the other without thinking. To change direction, Nameless had to push him into the new bearing, where he would continue in a straight line. Nameless, after the third such correction, felt there had to be a better way. He paused just long enough to work up a small string from his own webbing, before he hurried to catch up to Jarlean’s shambling form. Working as carefully as he could on the move, he tied the cord around Jarlean’s waist, then attached the other end to his own bundles. With the better guidance system in place, Nameless then took the lead in the mad flight across the desolate landscape. His faster speed caused Jarlean to stumble at first, but each stumble caused him to run faster. Eventually the stumbles allowed Nameless to accelerate into his effortless lope. Jarlean did not settle into the same steady pace, however, he continued to lurch forward each step jarring his frame. Without the benefit of the smoother pace, he was draining what physical resources he had even faster. After two glass of the increased speed Jarlean’s ability to continue staggering after Nameless failed him again. Despite the cord connecting the two, Jarlean stumbled one last time, and collapsed. The bundle he was tied to ripped away from Nameless’ shoulder. The force of removal caused him to spin. When Nameless came to a halt, he looked back to discover the cause. He found Jarlean’s form sprawled in an unnatural position. Nameless, barely breathing hard, walked back and checked for life signs. Feeling a ragged breath against his hand when he held it before Jarlean’s face, Nameless felt a small sense of relief.

    Looking up, he oriented himself to his destination. Not able to see the black on stone that indicated the tunnel mouth, he turned his attention to the City. Using the opalescent glow of the mingled amethysts, citrines, emeralds, sapphires and jets making up the different homes of important Clans, he realized the two of them had been going the wrong way. However, with the distance he had managed to put behind them, it was now shorter for them to continue than it would be for them to reverse course. When he started out on the mad flight, he had gone the same direction used for his daily runs, not the direction he had intended to travel. At the pace he had been able to maintain with Jarlean in tow, it would be several more glass before he attained the necessary safety to ensure survival.

    Sighing, he picked up the bundle that had been jerked from his shoulder. Hearing the water skins slosh gently, he nodded to himself. Jarlean may not have earned a reward, but even Nameless could see the man needed something more than a short rest if he were to continue. Fishing out the almost empty skin, Nameless propped Jarlean’s head up, and dribbled the remaining water into the parched mouth. Jarlean choked at first, but soon was gulping down the fluid. When the skin was empty, Nameless dug back into the bundle, and pulled out some of the meat. Leaving Jarlean to struggle into a sitting position on his own, he tore off two pieces – a large one for himself, and a smaller one for his captive. While Jarlean worked at his piece, Nameless began worrying at his own.

    Waiting on Jarlean to recover enough to go on, Nameless’ thoughts turned inward. He knew what he needed to do, but he did not know how to achieve the results. As he thought, he dug through is memory for anything he could recall about his early training. Just as he was able to start recalling actual events, movement from Jarlean recalled him to the present. Nodding once, he pushed to his feet, then hauled his captive to a standing position.

    With an ungentle push, Nameless got Jarlean moving again, and once more surged ahead to the lead. The meat had the same flavor as what Nameless knew from his days in the Arenas, and it provided the same surge of strength, and unquenchable thirst as well. With a small grin of anticipation playing over his mouth, Nameless pushed the pace until he settled into his ground-eating lope. He towed Jarlean along behind him like a toy ball that bumbled along at the rope’s end. Jarlean, feeling the surge of strength himself, managed to find the same type of ground eating strides after a few jerky false starts. Watching Nameless ahead of him, Jarlean felt amazement that someone so slight was able to keep the fluid pace for so long. His captor seemed to be a never-ending bundle of endurance who never faltered once it had set itself at a goal.

    Nameless kept his attention sweeping the surrounding terrain, his senses on heigh alert, as if he were still in the Sands. With the alarm in the City, and the regulations he had memorized, he knew it was only a matter of time until the City was declared clear, and sweeps began searching the sectors of the Fringe. He had every intention of being away from the City’s burned out Exiled Fringe before those sweeps had covered more than a quarter of the circumference. It depended on his finicky luck as to which sector the sweeps began working over first. He had hopes it would be the sector where he had lived, followed by the sectors in between that and the tunnel leading from the Sumja Sija Arena into the unknown. Jarlean’s new ability to maintain the current pace allowed the pair rapid progress to their goal. As the chimes began tolling the glass when night shift came on duty, Nameless slowed to approach the tunnel entrance.

    Jarlean, panting heavily, slowed his pace when the cord tied around his waist became, and remained, slack. When Nameless dropped the bundle attached to the cord, Jarlean flopped to the ground, unmindful of his surroundings. Despite his exhaustion, he found he could not relax because his body craved more water even as it demanded he rest to recuperate from the grueling run.

    Nameless, shedding the rest of his burdens rapidly, stalked through the area in front of the tunnel entrance. He looked for any recognizable sign, to his untrained senses, of an ambush. When he did not spot any overt signs, he began to note details of the tunnel itself. The fact that the mouth had been finished with dressed stone, carved with glyphs in the harsh Melkreschen language made him pause and verify how those glyphs were purposed. He was a little surprised in his ability to read them, and even more surprised that he could sense some type of magical purpose to them. Once he had determined spell work set into the stone was aimed at those entering the City, not leaving, he returned to Jarlean and looked him over evaluating his remaining endurance. Jarlean’s inability to push on further told its tale in the sagging posture, hanging head, and heaving chest.

    "Sleep will here. Morning leave will next Tontra Phicar Arena go."

    Without further speech, Nameless settled in to sleep behind a large boulder close to the tunnel entrance using the blanket-filled bundle as his pillow. While he waited for sleep to take him, he heard Jarlean’s small noises as his Silk gratefully settled in to sleep for the night cycle. As sleep stole over his mind, Nameless let his thoughts wander once more into his past. He plucked out individual details to examine. Each memory was a bright gem in its own right, while together they made up a dazzling picture of his days in training. The picture laid a foundation upon solid bedrock for the training he would need to use for Jarlean. His sleeping mind did not question why the training method felt right, but accepted that it was correct.

    Champion Abomination

    Um, Nameless? Nameless? Um, Jarlean took a deep breath and finally grated out Master?

    Nameless rolled over, senses alert for whatever had pulled him out of his sleep. Hearing Jarlean talking, he started to curl back up when the tone of voice and master penetrated to his core thoughts. Sitting up, he scowled at Jarlean, and drew breath to berate the defeated form from where he crouched in his chosen hollow.

    Um, Nameless, master, I really think you need to see this. Jarlean said, his attention on whatever was beyond Nameless’ line of sight, his voice becoming a little panicked.

    Nameless gave up on sleep and rolled to a crouched position behind the boulder. Unable to see clearly, he silently shifted position until he was beside the frightened Silk. When he saw what caused Jarlean to panic, his mind briefly went numb, then just as suddenly kicked into high alert. Twelve men and one of Her Children were making a thorough investigation of the nearby area. They had not yet reached a point where the two fugitives would be noticed, but the limited protection they enjoyed would soon be lost. Feeling Jarlean begin to draw in another breath, Nameless placed his hand on his shoulder and leaned in close enough to whisper in his ear.

    Silence. Me follow, be will safe. Come, things gather. Strip slowly, trews remain. Are you mine, be safe will. Now!

    Nameless spun on his toes, grabbing the bundle he had been using as a pillow. Pulling the strap over his head with one hand, he untied the cord. Nameless stood and stepped out from their campsite to draw attention. He allowed his eyes a chance to sweep the area before they settled on the Child. In a good imitation of fright, he dropped to a knee, head bowed in subservience to Her. In this way, he waited to be approached. Jarlean, not knowing what was expected, remained standing. Hissing in true vexation, Nameless jerked hard on the cord tied to Jarlean’s collar. The move forced the Silk to stumble and fall on his front.

    Oof! Ow! What did you do that for? Jarlean exclaimed. He lifted his head from the ground, and worked his abused hands out from under his chest far enough to asses the damage.

    Before Nameless could move or say anything, he saw that things were going to go very, very wrong. The men approaching wore the uniform of Temple guards, not regular military. The Child was one of the rare rust brown Ascendants, not the typical obsidian coloration. He hissed at Jarlean to be silent and stay still, but he dared not move to deliver his own reprimand. Under these conditions, he had a feeling that would be a certain death sentence.

    Silence slave! barked the corporal leading the sweep as he approached. He glanced at Jarlean before turning and demanding of Nameless, Can you not teach your slave properly?

    Nameless kept his mouth shut, and shook his head. He shortened the rope connecting him to Jarlean as unobtrusively as he could.

    The corporal snorted, then took a second look at the pair. Even though Nameless had been out of the Sands for a little under a year, he still had the physique and matted hair of a Fighter. Compounding the difficulty of classifying him were the facts that while he was almost completely undressed, he had a bundle strapped to his back, an obvious Silk in tow, knew how to behave properly around the Temple guards, and had the wrong coloration to be a native. His heavily scarred, pale skin and red-auburn hair screamed that he was a stranger to the City, yet his mannerisms said he had grown up with at least some exposure to the culture.

    His honor to the Child said he was one of the true believers, while the slave he seemed to control had not recognized the approaching unit, nor shown proper respect. All of this provided another kernel of interest to the corporal and led to one conclusion. When the city guards had auctioned off the remnants of the City’s rebellion, they had been two bodies short. No one from the rebellion had been in any condition to talk by the time the discovery was made, and no one in the guards had been willing to admit the loss.

    With an unkind smile beginning to shape his mouth, the corporal called his men to encircle the pair to prevent an escape attempt. Though one was naked, and the other was partially dressed as a guardsman, the corporal felt his patrol had located the two missing convicts.

    When his men were in position, the smile became hard and predatory, leeching away any humor or warmth from his face. Nameless, his head bowed, continued to track the patrol units through his peripheral vision and the tiny scraping noises they made as they circled behind. His own predatory smile grew as he anticipated the coming results.

    You! I want to know why you are out here, instead of in the city. The corporal demanded, shoving his boot tip into Nameless’ shoulder.

    Nameless stiffened, stifling his first response to the abrupt contact. Fighting to contain his temper, he allowed his head to drift up a little so he could look at the corporal properly. Thinking hard, trying to force his words into a semblance of acceptable order, "Here patrol assigned I. Caught slave before day did, sweep finish will return before."

    What? demanded the corporal, unable and unwilling to untangle Nameless’ syntax, "Speak clearly, wai’lei! I do not have time for jokes."

    Nameless’ hairline dampened with his effort, but he managed to get out, I assigned patrol here. Day before slave caught, before return will sweep finish.

    Oh-ho! And, this assignment was because? And, if you truly are one of the guards, why are you out of uniform?

    Area here know I. Know look to where surviving might rebels be. Sleep was I when patrol arrived.

    Sure, and I am the High Priestess. Tell me another tall tale. I might believe it better.

    Am Arena Champion. Fringe lived did I, rebellion part not. Talked with others did where places hide were. Rebellion known of before, assigned find leaders was I. Nameless replied, his syntax beginning to fall into place.

    If you are the Arena Champion, which Ascendance did you win? Shot back the corporal.

    Most recently.

    Then you are the one we seek. That Champion is not a Champion any longer. He has been declared an abomination by the Temple, and is to be destroyed upon discovery. The corporal’s hard smile had turned even uglier, and several of the other men in the patrol barked cruel laughs of their own. You have given yourself to us, abomination. Kneeling like a ‘good little boy’ should, you have let us capture you. Did you think you could talk your way out of this?

    Nameless returned the corporal’s smile with one of his own. His temper had begun to boil, and adrenaline to seep into his system. His detailed vision began to blur, though the slightest movement became a knife-sharp beacon. Talk through, no. Win through, yes. Care you test me to? he asked in a deceptively soft voice with slightly hissing sibilants.

    Jarlean, his face planted in the light dust covering the hard rock, cringed when he heard the tell-tale changes in Nameless’ voice. The last time this had happened had been just before Nameless had been cursed by High Priestess Sussloriss. Though he wished to look up and see what was going on, prudence warned him that disobedience now to either Nameless or the other man would be a death sentence he could not evade.

    The sensible part of him began to repeatedly gibber in his mind I am too young to die; I am too young to die. That voice got much louder when the edge of his vision showed him an auburn shaded, hairy spider foot being set down less than an arm span from his head.

    The corporal laughed at the challenge, missing the slight change in his tone and subtle alterations in the clarity of Nameless’ speech. He knew better than to attempt an actual capture of any Arena Champion - especially if that Champion retained their full faculties. Instead of challenging Nameless, he glanced at the Child, and bowed himself to one side. Not I, abomination. Perhaps, you would like to challenge Her Child instead?

    Glad meet I am any Child of Her. Honor to Web Mother always do I. Her will do I live always by. Nameless avowed, turning his gaze from the corporal to the approaching Child. Always Sand Child I did feed. Would hungry this Temple Child be? he asked. He stated the question at first in a language the group could understand, then repeated it in the almost silent language of Her smallest children. He stilled his mind, listening for the near silent voice of Her Children for a reply. He was denied an answer.

    In response, Nameless threw back his head to bare his throat in deference to his perceived fate. He assumed She did not wish him to continue among the living. Though the corporal thought Nameless was to receive the City’s declared sentence, he was upstaged as the Child used the hooks on its front feet to bare Nameless’ chest. Hooking his heavily matted hair, it shoved the locks back over his shoulders. Surprised, Nameless snapped his head down to question the Child with his eyes. The corporal turned to stare in equal disbelief at the Child in puzzlement. The confusion was compounded when the Child placed a foot on Nameless’ shoulder in benediction, then turned and walked away.

    The corporal gave Nameless one last glare of suspicion; his desires refusing to acknowledge what his eyes were showing. Turning away, he gave an irritated wave to his patrol for them to fall in. Reports from a few of the infantry involved in suppressing the previous day’s rebellion reported seeing someone involved in the front ranks who bore Her brand. No one believed them. Now, the corporal knew he would be joining the ranks of the derided as well. He would be attempting to make others believe the information was true. She had not shown Her favor through such methods in the living memory of this generation. Historically, when a brand did show up, the results for Her followers were always… uncomfortable.

    Nameless, watched the patrol leave, not understanding

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