This week’s teaser comes from Bloodlust: A Gladiator’s Tale, first book of the Domains of the Chosen series.
The second half of the book takes place in the desert. The parallels to computer games (and certain Fantasy/Sci-Fi films) that have an act in the desert is purposeful. Scorpion’s Oasis is where the Gladiators join the Faction games and begin a kind of popularity grind as they seek to further their careers. Ambitious Sadira purposefully chooses a place where her chosen Faction is on a loosing streak, hoping to win extra glory by turning it around.
For those who are new to my work, Factions are like political parties, but they permeate beyond politics, even owning their own sports teams. Imagine the superbowl if teams or players could represent the Democrats and Republicans.
Of course, in the modern day, we associate the barren desert with the wealth of Arabian Nights and the oil princes.
Under Giselle’s patient supervision Scorpion’s Oasis had been built into a resort town of unsurpassed beauty and impressive luxury. The extravagant splendour of the place was known throughout the Domains, attracting an elite clientele, including many of the Chosen. The tall walls of the town were tiled with pinkish-white marble imported from quarries half an empire away, while the streets were paved with beautiful tesserae of bright coloured glass, formed into cunning geometric patterns. These glass cobbled roads seemed cool to the touch, even in the harshest sun. The Gladiators learned that each street had its own intricate identifying motif; simple signs being considered far too common for such a decadent place. Most animals were not allowed to enter the city, for their waste and clacking hooves might offend, and they had to be stabled some distance away from the main town.
Regal palm trees and shapely flowering bushes, planted in rich soil, lined every street surrounding the sprawling waters of the Oasis. Gardens and parks, so rare in the desert heat, abounded here. A dozen palatial bath-houses, magnificently decorated with gold and marble, and a score of opulent inns gathered around the pure, perfect crystal waters. Peacocks wandered freely in front of glorious fountains adorned with beautiful statues of Ezuis, Giselle, and a few allied Chosen. The town was spacious, clean, and beautiful; full of smiling young men and women who were eager to assist in any fashion. Servants lived in small, cunningly hidden compounds on the grounds of the places where they worked. A handful of independent taverns, brothels, and restaurants competed with those that could be found on the expansive grounds of the baths and inns. A hundred or so residences of modest size but great sumptuousness belonged to those who could afford the absurd expense of buying property within the town. Tall lantern posts lit up the city at night and also sprayed a fine mist into the air that kept pedestrians cool during the hottest hours of the day.
The Faction Games have an additional set of rules, based on making challenges to other teams. Often the Gladiators do not fight directly (which would be costly) and rather fight the same match and are awarded points based on their performance. Part of Sadira’s growth is having to learn these rules and get her team to understand them.
Sadira tried not to sound frustrated as she went over it again. “Marius’s additions double the loss of points for any team member unable to stand at the end of the match. This makes defence even more important. If the Blues let anyone tap out, this rule will make them pay a rather hefty penalty, enough to guarantee a victory for us. We included this addition because you, Ravius, haves told us that they don’t field many defenders and we have Vintia and Gavin.” The two defenders smiled. Sadira continued. “The Southshire rules add points for monster kills with a maximum equal to your survival score. This addition will encourage the Blues to attack hard, which might get some of them in trouble. Also with Karmal and Vintia casting strong spells and my fighting skills, we should be able to keep close to this points cap even though we aren’t all attackers. Overall, with our Defenders and Ravius backing everyone up we should be able to last a long time without anyone dropping, and rack up enough kills to max out our score. The Blues will have to field a really well-balanced team to even come close.” Sadira exhaled emphatically; she was tired of talking. Faction challenges seemed needlessly complex to her, as if designed to foil the novice on purpose. Gavin had told her the intricacies came from centuries of accumulated rules and rulings.
“What happened to the increased number of monster waves?” asked Vintia, pinching her lower lip while looking at the sheet they were reviewing.
“The Blues rejected it; sorry Vintia,” said Gavin. He too, had been looking forward to a longer match; it would give defenders like them a real advantage. They were trained to outlast their opponents. “They also rejected our terrain additions…”
“Well, at least we won’t have to deal with them cheating again with the single-team trial bit,” smiled Karmal. “Those bastards nearly cost us the last match with their cheap tricks. Although, I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on that little spaz Steel Harmony…”