Ronnag Fragment 2
When the afternoon sun poured into the arena’s antechamber, and the porcine Lerruik was seen as little more than a crass baritone veiled by the light, he would often tell his favorite joke.
Obviously, I am not going to repeat it here. I will say that the old half-Orc never told it the same way twice. Once, it involved a goat; the next, a cow; often, a goblin. Always it involved a brothel, which somehow managed to be the least blasphemous thing about it. No matter. The raucous laughter that accompanied every noxious word was always vindication enough.
Gods above, Werlen, I truly stumble for ways to describe the place without welling a feeling of nausea. You’ve not seen iniquity. Not until you’ve laid eyes on these people. A few seconds inside and I was wishing they’d all just disembowel themselves on the spot and be done with it. Why wait for all the prudes outside to see it? I’m trying to bring a modicum of mercy to these savages, and one of the idiots just backhands me. “Quiet,” they always say; “he’s about to get to the part about the stable-boy—”
One cannot help but wonder: don’t they see more than a minute ahead of their own faces? Are they not aware that quite a few of them aren’t coming back from this? And for what, exactly? I often hear them prattle about the word “glory” like it’s some sort of thing you can buy at the cobbler or grow from a seed. Again, I attempt to tell them the only true glory is divine; again, my words fall on sinful ears. Although Lerruik is far from the only root of the problem, he’s certainly the worst of it.
And of course, of course that execrable thing is a talented fighter. The others of his kind – Yonnrik, Gelmon, Adomma, Ronnag, Tavirek, – they all look up to him, banding together if need be. Each of them have confronted me at one time or another to slap away the hand of mercy. I forget which of them is which, but one of them was slaughtered in front of the bleating masses just last week. Another lost a finger to a crazed psychopath told to spare his opponent. On and on it goes.
I am miserable, Werlen. Every day I witness slight variations of the same sin. And yes, I knew what I was getting into when I was told to go here. Many clerics like myself have humbly administered whatever rites they can to the senseless brutes about to slaughter others until they meet that fate themselves. We try to heal the wounded, only for the mended fighter to walk away without a word – none but the gods ever thank me for what I provide.
I suppose you’ve realized by now, however, that this isn’t why I’m writing you.
Yesterday evening was like any other. The fighters were returning inside, some in better condition than others. I could hear the hammed-up roar of the statesmen beyond: tomorrow they were to reenact some sort of battle – a decision that drew a loud roar of approval from the dispersing crowd.
I remember my heart sinking. In gold and in blood, enactments were easily the costliest of events at the arena. Tomorrow would bring so many dead, slaughtered in vain and with no provision to see them home. And how do they react? The fighters all laugh at their own profanation. The crowd bleats at them with sightless idolatry. And I, enveloped in the sights and smells and sounds of it all, felt more alone than I ever had before in this long life of mine.
For what it’s worth, the feeling didn’t last long. I had only begun to tend to some of the wounded when one of the arena guards beckoned me to the arena gates, curiously still open. They told me there was still one who hadn’t returned. Sure enough, I managed to see one last combatant in the sands, near the very center of the place, face-down and probably near death.
For the first time ever, I stepped into the arena itself. Let me tell you, Werlen – I thought I felt small on the outside of that place. There were well over a dozen immense stone sculptures of beasts seemingly looming over the sky itself, staring holes through me as I fearfully made my way around the bloodied ground.
To be sure, I had my doubts I could save this one. As I ran closer to him, things looked bad. It was a half-Orc, young yet quickset, his silvery-green body prone and crumpled in the dirt. Cautiously, I stepped around him, checking for an obvious wound, but I found none. His eyes were squeezed shut, and he had a shortness of breath; I wondered if someone had merely kicked the wind out of him.
I remember telling him who I was, and if he could hear me. He asked if I was a cleric. I told him I was – for whatever reason, it seemed to animate him a bit more. I asked him if he could get up. He was unusually frightful, his legs trembling too much to right himself. He managed to roll over on his back after a moment, still wincing in what appeared to be pain.
I did not get to ask my next question. Halfway through inquiring what had happened to him, he opened his eyes at last. There were, in both sockets, what appeared to be orbs of liquid steel where the eyes should have been. Immediately they began to copiously leak a silvery, metallic substance down the sides of his head and into the sands, immediately turning each grain a dull black as it sopped up the impossible stuff.
I stepped back, agape. It was all I could do to keep myself from shrieking in terror. I glanced wildly about the stands, far above us; they were not completely empty yet, and a few were watching. I pray they were all unsure of what to make of it.
Our old enemies have returned, Werlen – though by now I trust that, one way or another, you know this already. They’ve returned, and they’ve harmed an innocent just to send a message to us. Right now it’s nearly six in the morning; I’ve been with the fighter all night, administering all matter of drops and medicines. His vision has returned, for the most part, but it’s plain as day – something unknowably dark has happened to him. I have only theories, and most of them bode badly for someone of his vocation.
In another hour or two, he is, if able enough, due back in his usual place. That afternoon, he will hear more of Lerruik’s doggerel before being sent out into the sands once more. Because of a shortage of able humans, he is to play the part of one – an old conflict, long ago, often misremembered.
Werlen – all is not going to go well. I fear that today, our friend will do something…unexpected. The matter is, as usual, a question of when and how. I know that twenty thousand eyes will be gazing into the warriors in the sand, and a few pairs may belong to the ones who did this to him.
This letter should find you by midday. By then I will have hopefully made an arrangement or two for your safety. Do not worry about me. As ever, I must hear blasphemy and be offended, heal the wounded and be ignored, and act normally – just as though I did not witness the return of the Ferromancers.