The next morning outside the window of my room at the Inix all I can see is a steady stream of people forming a path to the stadium. These ‘stadium scum’ as they are affectionately known are always the first to arrive and last to leave on any game day. They come from all walks of life, carrying banners and painting their faces all in support of the current favourite. Then there are the merchants and vendors, eager to make a quick coin or worse, as wealthy merchants or eager templars ‘sponsor’ a special modification to a meal or drink. Its a thieves paradise as the wealthier classes come out in force to parade themselves in front of their peers. Finally there is the rest of us, the free, the slaves, the general bulk of the population who hope there will be enough bloodshed to satisfy their thirst and a moment or two of relative escape from the oppression of their lives.
We enter the Gladiatorial Stadium attempting to keep a low profile, Abdiel especially warily keeping an eye out for his would-be assassin. Thaxos Vordon spots us however and waves us over, enthusiastically pointing to the seats next to him and shooing away the nobles nearby with a slight wave of his withered hand. Again we have little choice but to concede to his wishes and cautiously take up positions by his side. Naraaku seems to take to the life with more ease than most helping himself to more than a few skewers of spiced lizard meat even though he was enduring a barrage of insults from less privileged elves above us in the ‘cheap seats’. Already we could see the sun baked upper stand residents wilting under the relentless heat even at this early hour. There was a large group who were getting rowdy and jostling with each other, when two of their number were suddenly violently thrown down from the stand and into the arena! A huge cheer erupted from the rest of the crowd as the two panicked and dazed individuals recovered and were quickly surrounded by guards and captured, you could barely hear their frantic cries for mercy as the roar from the crowd began to build. Then at once the stadium (now almost full) erupted into rapturous applause and cheers as Banther, Tithians master of games strode in full ceremonial battle armour into the centre of the arena. His giant helmet was decorated in style with giant multicoloured feathers (surely from the ringing mountains or maybe Solzak’s bird buddies) and fleshed out with Iridescent giant scales from the hides of long dead desert creatures. A sceptre held in his right hand was raised in order that the crowd fall silent to let him speak. With a booming voice he announced today’s running order which would include such bloodbaths as the team gladiatorial matches, dritan – a recreation of Kalaks sacking of Tyr from the ancient barbarians, a ‘special’ creature fight, loop race and the Tyrants pyramid, so named due to the fiendish traps and tricks which threaten each combatant as they climb to the top. The first match however would be a special addition to the programme in that a member of the Templars would fight a match against a half-giant! Even though I have no love for them I don’t like the odds for the templar. Finally he runs through some of the names of today’s stars, none other than Rikus the mul and Neeva are amongst those mentioned, this should be good!
After Bather’s announcements the official opening ceremony concludes with a speech from the King. This is always a tense moment at the best of times but it seems today his majesty is in good spirits. A wizened and withered ancient man appears on the kings viewing platform, his long regal purple robes flowing around him and long twisted strands of white-grey hair fall below a lavish iron crown. No-one really knows how old Kalak is, but most dare not even think it, for this man is far greater than any mere mortal and all bow before him whether they wish to or not. He hails the crowd in typical regal fashion and announces how pleased with the citizens of Tyr for their loyalty and hard work he is and continues by saying that in four days time there will be an additional games to celebrate the start of festival week. This news is greeted with rapturous applause as only a bloodthirsty crowd could and without further pause the games begin with the ‘trial’ of the templar accused of consorting with the Veiled Alliance and the two unwitting victims who fell into the arena! As the huge hulking half-giant walks slowly from the underbelly of the arena floor his club glistens crimson under the throbbing heat of the sun. His giant feet crunching satisfyingly into the rust stained sand creating contrasting with the clapping and jeering of the hungry crowd salivating on the kill, chanting the words over and over ‘death’ ‘death’. We could see those taking and making wagers on how quickly the ‘trial’ would end. Like a rat caught by its tail the terrified templar tried to frantically prepare a spell as a counter attack but the half-giant was fast and with one sweep of his giant club winded the templar, caving in his ribcage and crushing his skull beneath his sandaled feet. The sickening crunch of broken bone and bursting of organs was matched with an excited roar from the crowd and very soon after the poor victims who had earlier fallen into the arena are dispatched in an equally inglorious way.
Frenzied betting ensued as the individual and team matches began. I put some coin on Rikus to win, pretty safe in the knowledge that there wasn’t much chance that he’d be beaten, he was a mul after all! Sure enough as fresh blood was spilt on the ground he triumphed and soaked up the deserved adoration from the crowd. I gained a few coin in the process too so overall a good day for mul-kind.
Next, the grand monster was revealed by Banther – now up on the kings viewing platform. The ‘Chathrag’ is brought forth, pulled by a dozen or so slaves as it roared and protested. It looked like an oversized tortoise, but with a back that was covered with reed like protrusions. As the contestants begin their battle the ropes holding it are cut and it roared once more firing its sticky quills into the fleeing guards, hitting and dragging a couple of them in before stamping on them or crushing them in its jaws. The monster made a brave effort at fending on the Gladiators brought forth to challenge it, but in the end there was only one outcome after relentless hacking and slashing and more spilling of blood.
Naraaku and I take a short break to get more lizard skewers as the Dritan event is set up, catching a glimpse of some nobles we recognise, chatting and plotting as usual, but we end up having to rush back as we see the firing of an arrow into the air that signifies the start of the event. Masked archers on various battlements play the parts of the defenders of Tyr whilst the contestants attempt to get from one side of the arena floor to the other. Several are shot down by the defenders after running just a few yards but as they near the ruined structures the defenders must take a different approach. From trapdoors on the arena floor more masked slaves wielding blades and axes spring forth and ambush the attackers as they pass and several more fall as the crowd cheer and jeer in equal proportion as attacker and defender fall. The eventual winner is revealed to be an Elf! Typical, he probably spent the entire time sneaking around whilst the rest of his comrades fell around him only to emerge at the end once everyone was dead or thought it was all over.
After a short interlude the arena floor is cleared to reveal a looped track marked by small pillars of stone. 12 contestants then march from below ground to take up positions on the starting line. As before, an arrow shot in the air signals the start of the event and all but two of the contestants begin a run around the marked track. The two left behind are a huge muscular Half-Giant and a nimble Thri-Kreen. As it dawns on us and the crowd what is about to happen a huge ripple of applause and cheering begins as the racers make the second loop and begin the run into the final straight. The Half-Giant takes out a large Carrikal (dual headed axe made from the jawbones of a mekillot and Jozhal) from his back as the Thri-Kreen begins to whirl a chain dexterously around his head and body using his extra limbs to steady himself. A look of horror appears on some of the runners faces as they realise what is going to happen and they try to evade the fate. With a quick spring of its clawed feet the Kreen jumps into action flinging the chain out towards a runner, wrapping it around their neck and causing him to fall to the floor clutching the chain and choking. The Half-Giant strides up and with deft accuracy and a clean sweep brings the Carrikal down on the helpless victim splattering his face in all directions of the arena floor. The crowd erupts and cheers the duo on who carry out their executions with brutal precision until there are no contestants left besides themselves. All that is left to do is to walk around the loop in triumph to the tune of rapturous applause.
As the applause dies down the stadium returns to a joyous murmur as bets are placed on the final event and the nobles make deals with nefarious characters and assassins, playing dangerous games to try to work the odds in their favour of their sponsored contestants. The final event is the Tyrants pyramid, a structure that resembles the infernal ziggurat but created of splints of wood and large bones strapped together in a loose structure with giant hair rope. Parts are sectioned off with planks of wood and others with simple leather canvas stretched between the frame. On top of the pyramid, chained to the floor but able to move its hands is a grizzled and half starved gith shaman. Its eyes wearily gazing around it half with fear and half fuelled with hatred for its captors. Then, as the gates are opened one more time and the combatants are revealed the gith launches with all its remaining strength what attacks it can, causing some contestants to fall before they even start climbing the pyramid. Then a roar and an explosion from one side of the pyramid as a huge gout of fire appears on one side, killing a couple of the combatants outright as the crowd gasp and coo. On the other side large serrated teeth shoot through the floor impaling another as the others scramble and battle with each other on the way up. Of the original 15 combatants the final level is reached by only 3 of them, of which one is launched off and killed by a kinetic blast from the gith. After a further struggle the gith is killed and the games are pronounced over as the champions are crowned and rewarded, some with coin and the lucky few with that rarest of all gifts – freedom. Banther concludes the proceedings and as the event draws to a close our thoughts move to our next task, one that is of critical importance to one of our own, Abdiel, the party at Blacksun villa. We slowly make our way out of the stadium and I spot Naraaku swiping some more of those spiced lizard skewers on the way out, I actually think about it myself, but I’m not going to sink to that level just yet. I am probably more surprised that the day went so smoothly, sure there was the odd fight and scuffle but nothing that would have broken a bead of sweat for the templars. We exit and part company as with only a couple of hours until we are expected at the villa we must make our own preparations. For myself I check into a nearby inn to freshen up and don the expensive suit that I am hoping will impress the lady Dorjan…