I have been finishing up and submitting Bloodlust: The Great Games, my short story. Bit too tired now to do a Nomads post tonight, so I’ll do that on Sunday.
En lieu of that, here are the first few pages of Bloodlust: The Great Games which should hit Amazon tomorrow.
Bloodlust: The Great Games
“Life is harsh. There is no better way to weed out those who are not worthy of the Gift from those who have the strength to lead.” Chosen Moltar
“If these games are the heart of our culture, then what does that say about us?” Omodo diYava
“Keep your head in the game, rookie!” growled Darius. “If you let that metal cool now, even for a fraction of a second, it will be brittle. The last thing the fleet needs is this cannon falling apart when it fires.”
The new kid, Boros, snapped to attention, cheeks reddening even further. Sweat from the heat trickled down his face as he worked the metal with the white-hot sun-rod. Behind his back, Darius smiled; unlike the rookie, he barely noticed the heat, or even the smell of metal and oils, anymore. Young men often seemed to have terrible attention spans these days, but Boros was in good hands; Darius’s crew was the best on the shift.
Further down, Kaz, a lean muscled Orc, slammed the enormous barrel with a number two tempering hammer, sending up a spray of sparks. The noise was often compared to that of a great bell, but flat and ugly. It reminded Darius more of the arena, the sound of arms clashing and blows glancing off armour. Despite not having the Gift, which would allow him to sense magic directly, Darius could feel the discharge from Kaz’s hammer and the aura of Boros’s sun-rod. After working in the foundries for fifteen years, he was exceptionally sensitive to the magics used there. It was one of the qualities that made him so good at his job.
Intense concentration was another. Without even glancing at the brass shift-clock, he knew that they had just over an hour left to finish this gun barrel. He did not trust any of the third-quarter-shift crews to finish their work. The pride of a master workman drove him to see the job through to the finish.
But Darius’s mind wandered, for just a moment, as he started to think about his plans after the shift. He was taking his daughter Rose to the Grand Arena tonight. A thrill of excitement coursed through him. As he pushed his thoughts aside, he caught Kaz looking at him, tusks twitching with a suppressed grin, as he pushed his thoughts aside. Somewhat embarrassed, Darius shrugged. It wasn’t like him to lose focus. All in due time.
The sun-rod sizzled. The hammer struck. The great gun settled into its final shape, ready to be mounted on one the colossal new war-ships of the Domains of the Chosen.
Predictably, Harlson stalked into their work area as Darius’s shift came to an end. Ever since Darius had intervened to prevent Kaz from being transferred to Harlson’s crew, the third-quarter shift sub-foreman saw him as an enemy. Darius had viewed it as a favour to an old friend, but Harlson had seen it as interference and he now took every opportunity to snipe at them. Somehow their area made it into his `random’ inspections almost every day.
The whip-thin man began inspecting their work. No doubt Harlson knew what today meant to Darius, and thus took extra care, and spent extra time, inspecting the barrel for flaws. Darius sent the rest of the crew to the showers, but did not risk leaving his nemesis alone with the cannon. Harlson wouldn’t dare to find a fake fault in the gun with him watching.
The big man suppressed a snarl as Harlson ran his fingers along the barrel with a gloved hand. Harlson had no business picking on his crew. Their work was top tier, better than anything he could do. Besides how could someone be so clean working in a place like this?
Eventually even Harlson had to give up and sign off on the gun. Darius smiled absently; if Harlson could not find fault with it, it was definitely worthy.
Harlson looked at Darius as he passed, flashing perfectly white teeth in a vicious approximation of a smile.
“I just watched Lord Peerless hit twenty-eight points in the Faction Challenge today,” he drawled. “Think your Reds can beat that score?”
Darius forced himself to be calm. Harlson was slick and he did not want to be tricked. Twenty-eight points was an impressive score however. “Maybe,” he said, hating how faithless he sounded.
“Care to make a wager?” said Harlson, eyes glinting. “A week’s wage?”
“No,” said Darius. He felt himself deflate. He could not afford a wager like that. He had saved for months just for the tickets to tonight’s match. Even though he knew it was the wiser course of action, he still felt like a traitor and a coward for backing down; a good Red never backed down from a Blue.
“I didn’t think so. You Reds are all bluster when it comes down to it,” Harlson smirked, and he began to walk away, leaving Darius staring at the ground, fists clenched.
“I’ll take that bet, Harlson,” said Kaz, startling them both. The Orc grinned, as he reached for a cap on a peg at the entrance to their workshop. “Can’t leave this behind.”
“Your loss, workman,” sneered Harlson. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
Darius made a point of thanking Kaz in front of the rest of the crew. Smiling outwardly, he was deeply worried about the bet. Kaz had wagered a full week’s wages to save face for Darius and spite Harlson, but twenty-eight points was a hard score to beat in singles. Even ‘the Executioner’ would have trouble matching that. He would pass some money to Kaz’s wife if the bet was lost; Reds stick together.
Rose sat in the kitchen waiting for Darius. An intelligent child, she knew why he was late; she had overheard her father mention the name Harlson to her mother many times when he was late. Harlson was a bad man to keep her father like this, especially on their special day. When she pictured her father’s antagonist, he was a monster in her mind’s eye, his personal failings matched by a warped appearance. She had once read that a fair form could conceal a foul mind, but she wasn’t sure of this.
Her mother, Melia, watched Rose out of the corner of her eye. She had prepared a hero’s feast for her husband and their only child, but Darius was late. They would not have time to eat at. Melia had guessed, however, that Darius’s ‘work problem’ might crop up again today. Thinking ahead, when she had left the small, busy restaurant that was one of her passions in life, she had taken some travelling containers.
Melia was conflicted about their nine year old daughter going to the arena. The Great Games were the very soul of patriotism and culture throughout the Empire, and almost all parents who could afford to brought their children on a regular basis. But the violence and the bloodshed had never sat well with Melia. Perhaps it was because she had been raised in a small town, with less early exposure to the Arena. The Games meant so much to Darius though.
Melia knew that her dislike of the Great Games, a centuries old tradition, marked her as an oddity in the Empire. She often hid it from strangers; it might be bad for the restaurant if people knew. Fortunately it did not cause friction with her husband, even though he was an avid fan. She felt lucky to have such an understanding partner.
Rose, through intuition more than perception, stood and opened the door for her father. He smiled down at her her; she was dressed up as her favoured Gladiatrix, the formidable Red Scorpion. With an eye for detail surprising in a child, Rose had asked Melia for pointed ears and a glamour that made her green eyes look deep purple. She had paid for it by helping at Melia’s restaurant, and had hidden it from her father to surprise him.
“There’s my Champion,” said Darius, face lighting up. “My, you look proper fierce, my girl!”
Rose smiled savagely, whirling her imitation blades. Darius was proud of how well his little girl wore the red. Though he was glad that Rose showed no sign of having the Gift, he could not help but think that she would have made a good Gladiatrix, perhaps even a Chosen.
Darius patted Rose on the head and stepped into the kitchen, looking sheepishly at Melia. His eyes always found her in any room, no matter where she stood. Smiling and shaking her head gently, Melia denied that his lateness was his responsibility; she knew him well. The food, packed and ready for travel was in Darius’s hands before he could protest.
“You don’t have time, go go go!” Melia said, taking a moment to plant a kiss on his lips and throw her arms around a squirming Rose. In truth she was glad they were in a rush; a long dinner might allow her discomfort to show. Guilt washed over her; the arena was a fact of life, why couldn’t she just enjoy it instead of burdening her loved ones so?
“Have fun, you two!” she called after the pair as they passed out of their little yard onto the street, trying to sound excited for their sake. She was glad that she had saved this quarter-years taxes to do tonight; it would keep her mind off the arena.
–Yeah, the fighting comes after this bit.