The wind was picking up on the mountain as Petrova made her way down. It would take her nearly two hours to reach the City of Carthusa by foot. There she would find a place to rest as the night had not been kind enough to give her sleep.
Petrova let her feet crunch loudly on the leaves and twigs that littered the ground beneath the massive trees. She began running through her mind the items she was going to use in her fight. The Arctic Round Tool had features that were useful for cutting away anything made of ice. It was meant to counter the Russian Frozen Tundra, which froze everything and stringed everything together with small knots of icicles. The Arctic Round Tool easily sliced through the layers of ice and could dig anything or anyone out of it. But the Arctic Round Tool could be used on anything if imagination was used. Nearly every weapon could.
Her Fulmeric Tonic might actually be of use this time. The Fulmeric Tonic was used to counter any weapon that had a ‘death’ component to it. These were weapons that would cause the the person receiving the hit to think they were dead, thus leaving them unguarded to attacks that wouldn’t necessarily have defeated them if they weren’t disoriented. A Fulmeric Tonic would reveal the truth when drank. She would give the Fulmeric Tonic to her opponent once she did away with him so he would know for certain he was no longer alive. And if the reverse were to happen, she would be able to know her death as well.
Muhler Tea Sprouts was an offensive weapon. When administered, roots formed and locked the opponent to the ground, and if done correctly the roots formed to the opponent’s arms and legs and rendered them useless. However, they were only effective for thirty seconds due to the tea sprouts’ life span. Thirty seconds of life and then the roots would dry up and the opponent could easily break free of them. But thirty seconds was enough to use a second offensive weapon.
The Log Roller was also an effective offensive weapon. When used, a series of logs fell from nowhere and trampled the opponent. In the past there had been many ill-equipped fighters who had found death because of a Log Roller. There was only one weapon ever found useful against the Log Roller and that was the Russian Frozen Tundra. Petrova had extinguished her supply of Russian Frozen Tundras long ago and unfortunately only had a fourth of a Log Roller, meaning her logs would be shorter than the full length and there would be more time between the falling of the logs. It would be nearly useless and her spectators would likely have a good laugh at her for using it.
She did have one major weapon though: The Ball of Fury. The Ball of Fury, it was rumored, initiated a series of fireballs that would sail through the air, busting up anything it came into contact with. The Ball of Fury was a fire weapon, meaning that in the right conditions the weapon could do a lot of damage. No one knew its full power yet. The conditions had never been quite right in past uses of the weapon. The Ball of Fury was a rare weapon. In fact, Petrova had never witnessed the use of a Ball of Fury. She had obtained the weapon from her Master and had never known how to use it until recently. While in the northern Ship Star City she had come across the remains of a library that had burned. The runes still smoldered as Petrova scavenged through the black dust and embers. She didn’t know why she had stopped in the first place. It was not her nature to rummage through a library, burned or unburned. But it was lucky she had because she found, buried beneath ashes and soot, the Book of Weapons. Somehow it had gone nearly untouched by the hot fire.
She sat among the red-hot smoking remains of what used to be the greatest library in their country and read the book entirely for she knew she would not be able to take the book with her in her travels; it was much too heavy. She stayed awake for two days to finish it, without food and water, and with very little sleep. When she had finished it, she carried it with her for nearly a half mile before she left it in the dust of the desert that separated the eastern City of Carthusa from the northern Ship Star City.
Even though it was merely a book, leaving it behind reminded her of her father and how he had left her behind in the dust of the desert. She was just a baby then, not even able to walk. She wondered if he had left her there in hopes that the swirling dust of the desert would suffocate her and she would die. That’s what she had always assumed. Her father had gone into town and an old man had found him crying in the streets. When the old man talked with him, he discovered what had been done and secretly scoured the desert until he found her. He took her and raised her as his own. His name was Vortura and he was a magi; a person of magical healing powers. He taught her healing spells and ingredients to use in making healing potions.
Her memories of Vortura were fond. She thought back on her last day with him. On her eighth birthday they had set out for the City of Carthusa. They had weathered the dust storms of the desert and were near the gates of the City of Carthusa when they were ambushed and robbed. Vortura had hidden in his robes a rare gem which he planned to trade for new clothing as Petrova had grown out of the ones she owned. When the robbers found the stone, Vortura refused to give it to them. She remembered watching the blades of the swords shoved through his thin rib cage. She could remember the blood that flowed to the tip of the blades and fell silently to the ground as Vortura fell to his knees. A last sword went through his heart and she could see it exit through Vortura’s back. She watched as he fell forward to his death. She screamed and cried out his name, but it was of no use. Vortura was gone. She rushed to his side as a man grabbed her and even though she flailed and grunted trying to be released, she could not get free. The man was too strong. They took her away and told her she would be sold into slavery.
They restrained her with thick ropes and heavy chains in their covered wagon as they travelled to the City of Cardusa where most of the country’s robbers and murderers slept. Slave trade was illegal, but in Cardusa it was a daily occurrence. She sat, bound and gagged, in the covered wagon as it bumped along for two days before anyone thought to give her food.
She had become so weak she could not hold herself up and her body fell limp to the side. She could no longer feel the rope burns on her wrist or the ache in her jaw from the gag rags in her mouth. Finally a girl who was halfway between a child and a woman came to her with a bowl of oatmeal. She knelt beside Petrova and brushed Petrova’s hair out of her face.
“Girl, hey girl,” she had said to Petrova. But Petrova had not been able to find the energy to grunt.
“Look, I have food for you,” she had said excitedly, like one would be excited to feed a new pet.
Petrova remembered that moving had been agonizing. She could remember she tried to move into a position where she could be fed, but all she could manage to do was move a leg and lift her torso before falling back where she had lain. The girl had helped her to her knees, took the gag out of her mouth and spoon fed her.
As she had put the first spoonfuls in Petrova’s mouth she had whispered to her, “I can help you escape, but you’ll need to follow my directions absolutely.” The girl continued to feed Petrova as she told her the plan.
“We stop tonight at the Tankard, a pub that is just outside of Cardusa. When we stop I’m required to set the room up for a stay overnight. In the morning is when they plan to sell you off. I’ve become very quick at preparing rooms and I’ll do it my quickest this night. Afterward I shall sneak out here and loosen your bonds. A man will come late in the night to check on you, but he will not check your restraints. I’ve been his servant for many years and I know his habits. After he sees you and he leaves, you must go. There is a house three miles in the East at the end of a path. This is important, you must do this. You must go to that house and give the woman there this letter.”
The girl had pulled a letter out of her apron and showed it to Petrova. She remembered the letter had been written on heavy paper that she knew was expensive. It also had a red wax seal on it, but she couldn’t remember the design.
“I’ll leave the letter behind you so no one can see it if they check on you. Oh, by the way, my name is Georgina. The woman at the house, her name is Minserva. Will you do this for me?”
Petrova had nodded her head as best she could. She had understood and she had been grateful that the girl was going to help her escape. She’d have done anything the girl asked her to do if it meant her freedom. She could remember thinking that the walk to Carthusa would take a fortnight by foot and she had no food, no water and no money. Worst of all she had no one. She would return to the cottage she lived in with Vortura for as long as she could remember, but that was not her house and she was certain the owners would be by to retrieve it. If they found her there, alone without a guardian, they would send her to The Stables which was for orphans.
She had learned about it from Vortura’s sister before she had died. Petrova cringed as she remembered her aunt. Vortura’s sister, Varea, had not been pleasant at all to Petrova and constantly reminded her how lucky she was to be in Vortura’s care. Every time she saw her in the streets the woman would grab her up and make her help her bring her baskets home from the day market, purposefully filling them with as heavy items as she could purchase. And every time Petrova would be petrified from the stories she would tell her. They were stories of orphans who lived in The Stables that were forced into heavy labor for eighteen hours a day with only two small bowls of wet, runny food in their stomaches. Varea would scare Petrova with the stories she told her about the young girls who would be sold to older men as wives once they were in The Stables’ care. Varea was vicious to Petrova, hitting her and slapping her when she didn’t do something exactly how she wanted it. But Petrova was smarter than the woman had thought she might be because Petrova knew what Varea wanted her to do. She wanted for Petrova to tell Vortura about the beatings so that Varea could claim innocent and make Vortura decide Petrova was a liar and not worth keeping. So Petrova kept her bruises hidden and her scars covered. Vortura never knew of his sister’s sinister side.
She remembered lying in the back of the covered wagon, promising herself she would not go to the Stables. She could remember thinking that she knew Varea was a hideous woman, but she also knew that what she told her might very well be true. She had seen the orphans out cleaning the streets. She had watched one be beaten with a leather whip. She noticed how none of the orphan children ever looked the other children in the eye and how they would shy away from anything and everyone. She would not let herself be an orphan because she would take care of herself.
So as the night wore on she had listened and waited for the almost woman to return. She did not have to wait long before she heard the barrier to the door being lifted. The girl popped inside quickly and, with a key she kept in her apron pocket, began to unlock the chains. She loosened the ropes. Just as quickly as she had squirmed inside, she had left.
The night continued on and it had seemed like forever before the man would return to the caravan to make sure she had not escaped or been stolen. She remembered trying to memorize the many sets of feet walking around her and the many voices. Finally she had heard a pair of heavy boots coming closer to the caravan than the other pairs of feet. She had heard them stop right outside the back of the caravan. When he had lifted the heavy material, light from the Inn flooded into the caravan and it had stung her eyes. She had grunted at him and pretended she was trying to wiggle free, thinking it would make it look like she was still tied up tight and couldn’t get away. It had seemed to please the man, who had chuckled and walked away.
She had waited until she was certain she could no longer hear his footsteps and then quickly broke free of the ropes that bound her arms. She had untied the rope that bound her feet and let the unlocked chains fall free of her ankles as she stood. She had untied the gag from her head and walked clumsily to the back of the caravan. Through a small hole in the material she could see outside. What she had seen was not part of the plan.
The man that had lifted the material and was satisfied with what he saw inside had been standing nearly ten feet away with Georgina. Her arms were bound behind her back and he had covered her mouth with his left hand and held a dagger to her throat. Three burly men had stood behind him.
Petrova’s memory was keen. She remembered it step-by-step. She had shuffled her way back to the front of the caravan to look out over the horse’s heads, but there were no horses. They were undoubtedly away in a stable, getting hay and rest. She had climbed through the small hole that led to the horses that pulled the carriage, crawled down its side and lay on her belly, inching her way underneath the wagon.
She remembered clearly seeing their feet and recognizing Georgina’s small boots. Petrova had slid herself as far to the back of the caravan as she could without risk of being seen.
“Muerler I thought you said you heard these girls plotting an escape?” The man who held Georgina had said in a gruff voice.
“Heard ever’ word o’ it, just keep watchin’” the second man had said.
“Lift the damn flap!”
Petrova’s heart had beat fast as she listened to the man lifting the flap. She knew what he had seen, or rather hadn’t seen.
“She’s gone!” She remembered him proclaiming to the others. The memory was vivid, their feet scurryied around looking for her. She had watched two pair of feet go to the right, out close to the wooded area. She could see the feet of the man who had Georgina still captive. Where was the other pair of feet? There was one more set.
“Come here you,” she had heard as a hand reached out and grabbed her. She kicked and bit and punched, but the man had handled her as if she were a cranky kitten.
“Let me go, you scum!” She had yelled to him once he had pulled her from underneath the carriage with one hand.
“Well, would you look at that? One almost got away,” the man who held Georgina had said. And then, right as Petrova had looked at her new friend, the man had glided his dagger across Georgina’s throat. Petrova had watched her eyes grow big and her body stand on its toes as the life flowed out of her. The man pushed Georgina to the ground. Petrova could no longer see life in her eyes. Blood poured from her neck and quickly created a large puddle. Petrova’s heart lurched and settled in her stomach. Two people had given their lives for her. She would not go down without a fight. And fight she did.
She had screamed as loud as her weakened body would let her. She had kicked the man who held her arms behind her back. She had wiggled fiercely trying to loosen his grip. She had slung her head back as hard as she could into the face of the man. She had heard a loud pop and the man had growled in pain, but still did not loosen his grip. She had thrust her head back again, with all her might, but the man put his arm in the crook of the back of her neck, stopping it from hitting him. Then he put his other across the front of her neck, locked his hand in his elbow and began squeezing her. She had tried to gasp for breath but the pressure on her neck was too great to allow any air to flow into her lungs. She had scratched at the man’s arms, but his skin was thick. She had kicked and wiggled as hard as she knew how, but his grip was like iron. She could remember not being able to breathe, how the black faded in from the sides and consumed her.
The memories didn’t stop there. When she had awoken she had been slumped over and tied up again in the back of the carriage. Her entire body felt like one big bruise. The sun had come up and the horses were unmanned. The sound of birds chirping had made her already aching head pound. She remembered looking out of the opening ahead she could see the tails and hind ends of the horses and they felt like freedom. She reimagined the images of horses running free and proud in an open pasture crashed through her mind as she tried to free herself from her own reigns. She had jerked violently, pulling and twisting the ropes with her fingers, but all she had gotten was rope burn on her already bloody wrists. Pain coursed through her and it was a relief because it meant she was still alive.
She remembered the voices she had heard outside the carriage, speaking in a foreign language she neither understood nor had ever heard before. They came closer to the carriage and the man lifted the flap on the back of the carriage.
The face of an old man with a very long, white beard poked into the carriage.
“I’ll give you four monts for her. She’s not worth any more than that, she’s much too thin,” he had grunted to the man. His voice was harsh and deep. His face had been full of resentment and he had looked at her with scorn.
“Yes, but look at her face. It is flawless. You’ll be able to resell her for a wife,” the man had said to him.
“No. I intend to use her for myself,” the old man had told him.
“Well alright then, but I’m asking minimum of five mont,” he had told him.
“Fine. Five mont, put her in my carriage.” And just like that she had been sold. She had been sold like the butcher sold slabs of his cows.
A slight smile crossed her face as she remembered him climbing up into the carriage and pulling her to her feet very roughly. She had been so weak she could not stand so he had to hold her up. When she neared the edge of the carriage the man pushed her to the ground. She had landed on her right shoulder and had felt something give in her neck. The pain had been excruciating and she had cried out, knowing her collar bone had snapped in two. But of course, no one cared. The transaction went on.
“Two, three, four, five,” the bearded man had counted as he placed the coins in the man’s palm.
“Nice doing business with you,” the man had said to him as he clapped him on the shoulder. Then he turned and walked away, apparently very satisfied with his profit. She recalled how she was very angry, thinking most girls would be scared, but not her. She was ready to fight her way out, she was ready to make a run for it. She remembered what happened next.
He had bent down so his face was near hers. His breath was staunch and she had held her breath to keep from smelling his. He had reached to put a hand on her shoulder but she moved quickly and tried to brush it off, but the action of moving made pain sear through her neck and shoulder.
“Shh, girl. I am not going to hurt you,” she had heard him say. He had used a different voice, a less harsh voice, one that was not intimidating.
“You have been hurt, I will help you. I am not going to make you a slave,” he had told her. “But you will stay with me, I bought you.”
She chuckled lightly to herself as she remembered how she had felt. She had been relieved she was going to be a slave but at the same time she was afraid because she didn’t know why he had bought her. She didn’t know it then, but the man’s name was Montrivious Sceptor and he was to be her Master. For many years after that she would stay with him and train with him. He first sent her to Japan for a year to learn to read, write and speak Japanese as she learned how to use the orbs and the scepters. Next she was sent to Russia for one year where she learned to read, write and speak Russian as she learned about stealth and charm. It was fortunate that her name was a Russian name: Petrova.
Her memories had occupied her during her walk down the mountain. Three more miles and she would be in the City of Carthusa. Petrova could see the flags atop the arena. All that separated her from the city was three miles of slightly rolling, grassy hills and open space.
By the time she reached the gates of the city she was exhausted. The gates towered some thirty feet high and were open, allowing visitors and travellers into the city. Fourteen guards in total stood near and around the open gates, checking travelling vouchers. Before pressing on she pulled a ball of brown hair out of her bag and placed it on her head. She was easily recognizable with her red hair. By wearing her wig, it was very rare that someone recognized her. Her face was pretty, but ordinary.
She waited in a small line as others ahead of her checked into the city. The woman ahead of her had two small children with her. When it was the woman’s turn she handed the guard her travelling papers.
“Purpose?” the guard asked as he took the papers to study them.
“The Arena Games,” she told him. “My husband will be along in a few hours as well.”
“I hope he has his own papers. Otherwise we will not allow him into the City,” the guard told the woman strictly.
“He does,” she told him.
“Very well. I suggest you make accommodations quickly, the rooms are filling up fast,” he said to her and then handed her the papers. The woman took one of each child’s hands and led them into the city.
“Purpose?” the guard called out to Petrova.
“The Arena Games,” she told him. He looked at her, expecting receipt of papers. She would have thought he would recognize her as many young people had drawings of her.
“Name?” he asked when he understood there were no papers.
Petrova stepped nearer to him and whispered, “Petrova.” The man’s left eyebrow perked up and he looked down at her from his stand. He knew the rules regarding the Warriors in Arena Games. Their names and any other name that would likely cause people to stir were on a special list with special instructions that had been left with them prior to the event.
The man thumbed through his book quickly.
“Oh c’mon,” Petrova said to him in a very aggravated, hushed whisper. He thumbed through his book.
“Oh good Ashen, I’m Petrova,” she said to him a little louder. “Petrova the Pummeler.”
The guard bent forward over his podium and said to her, “I know who you are Ms. Petrova. Your master has left you some instructions. Let me find them and you’ll be on your way.”
She was slightly embarrassed at her display of impatience.
“Here you are,” he said to her, handing her a note.
She walked quickly to the side and opened the small piece of paper. It read: Darton Inn, 7:00PM. She knew they were the instructions on how to enter into the arena without being seen by spectators. She also knew this was the inn at which she would have a reserved room. She imagined that at any second someone would recognize her. A wig was not a proper disguise. But to her relief no one did and she made her way to the Darton Inn.
Once in her room, Petrova laid on the bed. She was happy her room was on the top floor because if she had been on the bottom floor she would not be able to rest because of all the noise from outside. The city was packed. There were people yelling, both cheerfully and angrily, kids screaming and crying, people haggling and selling things. It felt chaotic. Petrova took a deep breath, closed her eyes and tried to sleep. In spite of all the noise from the streets below, she fell asleep easily.
Petrova awoke to a loud booming noise coming from outside. A few moments later she heard another loud boom. She rushed to her window to see what was going on. It was already night time and the booms were the sound of the pregame fireworks.