During his first visit through the so called underbelly of society, Kaszbein found it difficult to hold back the gagging his body demanded. Mixtures of blood and sweat combined with an assortment of animal and human feces; a retched concoction born from basic human vices. Yet now Kaszbein’s senses were fully acclimated to the atmosphere of lust and brutality.
A different world pulsed with activity near the southern outskirts of the city beneath the streets. Mining caverns long since abandoned by early Vandarian settlers were retrofitted into revolutionary sewage tunnels that provided a better quality of life for the citizens of Nandule. These tunnels often served a second purpose which brought hundreds of Nadule’s criminal element together in what law abiding citizens commonly referred to as a cesspool of corruption and debauchery.
One particular fight in progress caught Kaszbein’s attention. Inside one of the twelve foot iron cages surrounded by about fifty spectating gamblers, two massive fighters squared off against one another in a battle that may have ended in death. Kaszbein held a vivid recollection of the rules for the pit. Though death was not always a condition for victory it was never a disqualifier.
One of the fighters; an impressive two hundred pounds of muscle with black curly hair covering his head and chest seemed to be the obvious victor. His skin was only of a slightly darker complexion than that of Kaszbein and he kept a distance of at least four feet from his opponent. His right fist shot out in reaction to the advance of his adversary and smashed across the other man’s jaw. Blood shot from the blond haired fighter’s mouth and an unnerving crunch echoed above the carnal shouts of the spectating crowd. He stumbled back, favoring his broken jaw for nearly five seconds before his opponent closed in. Moments later Kaszbein watched the blond fighter fall to the wooden floorboards of the cage and knew the man would not be returning to his feet without aid from the arena cleaners.
The signup kiosks were always strategically placed in front of the slave auctioning lines. New young fighters eager to become famed and wealthy were easily lured in by the prospect of owning one of the attractive female or male servants displayed in cages. As were bored highborn women with little to do all day other than watching men beat each other to a pulp and later fulfilling their own lustful desires. For those not looking to invest in the life of another human being over a quick thrill, several prostitutes walked up and down the line of fighting and slave cages.
“Eight silver vailings for a single match.” The kiosk attendant said flatly. “Or if you’re feeling adventurous, twelve vailings to enter the tournament.”
Kaszbein placed twelve circular pieces of silver onto the kiosk.
“Normally I don’t bother askin’ but are you sure you want to enter into this event, kid?” The attendant asked.
Kaszbein remained silent, which prompted a shrug from the attendant before rising to his feet.
“Suit yourself.” He said while wrapping a black cloth around Kaszbein’s left arm that signified him as a tournament participant. “I’ve seen many a man step into the ring long before these underground fights were introduced into the underworld.”
Although the man was bald, Kaszbein could make out his old age through the slightly sagging skin of his face.
“Out of all the men who have stepped out alive,” the attendant continued, “not one of them was as scrawny as you.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Kaszbein let the attendant’s observations roll off the back of his mind.
“You’ve gotta be more than just physically fit.” The attendant said, motioning towards the ring and the fight that had briefly caught Kaszbein’s attention. “You have to be a mountain of muscle in order to survive in the ring.”
Kaszbein faced the ring, turning his back to the attendant and watched while the blond man was dragged from the ring, his face leaving a streak of blood across the floor while the victor proudly shouted at the crowd, flexing his impressive physique.
The attendant grunted nonchalantly as Kaszbein walked off towards the many fighting rings scattered throughout the arena. “Don’t say I didn’t warn ya when you’re being carried off in a body bag.”
It was true; Kaszbein had never fought in the pit but he had witnessed hundreds of fights since the inception of the event. The cliché was not lost on the young man. But Kaszbein knew there was more to fighting than the bulk of the fighter. He was no mountainous powerhouse but he was fast and cunning. Winning wouldn’t be easy, but it wouldn’t be impossible either.
Half an hour passed before the first match of the tournament was officially announced. Kaszbein didn’t expect to be in the first match of the event but he figured the pit organizers wanted to get the least likely contenders out of the way first. Barely anyone would bet on him, Kaszbein knew. He also knew few bets meant small profits so the fact that his opponent was the towering black haired wall of muscle from the previous singles match did little to surprise the first time tournament fighter.
“What’s this?” The black haired fighter glowered. “Kid, are you lost?”
Kaszbein answered by letting his right foot slide forward and raising his hands into defensive positions. He ignored the sneers and snickers from the crowd of bloodthirsty men and women. The same people who would be identified as lords and nobles on any other day. Highborn aristocrats who looked down on the common man now stood side by side with elements of the working class in the company of criminals and slavers.
“Is that how it is then?” The wall of muscle spat. “Promise I won’t break all of your bones.”
To Kaszbein’s surprise the huge size of the man did not prevent him from displaying an impressive burst of speed, clearing the eight foot distance between them in less than two seconds. Of course this only aided Kaszbein in executing his strategy. His muscular opponent threw a massive fist forward with enough force behind it to break almost every bone in Kaszbein’s face. Fortunately for the young challenger his speed was more than that of his opponent. Kaszbein sunk beneath his adversary, hooking his arm around the large man’s arm. In less than a second, Kaszbein spun himself around his opponent and planted his foot firmly into the back of the larger man’s knee.
The wall of muscle nearly smashed a few planks of the floorboards in half with his knees as they hit the old wood with a loud thud. Normally after performing such a maneuver, Kaszbein would hold an opponent down by the outstretched arm. Struggling against such a hold would result in said arm being broken. However, the size and strength of this particular rival placed another plan from Kaszbein into motion. Instead of holding the man down, Kaszbein quickly grabbed the sides of his adversary’s head then rammed his knee into the back of the man’s skull.
Silence engulfed the crowd as the once towering display of muscle slammed into the floorboards face first and unconscious. Kaszbein exhaled a breath of adrenaline induced exhilaration and stepped over to the locked door of the cage, waiting to be released. A brief moment of surprise overtook him as the crowd suddenly burst into a frenzy of loud cheers. Kaszbein could not understand why the mob in front of him was cheering. He knew that most likely every one of their bets went towards his defeated opponent yet they still cheered even though they lost money.
Kaszbein stepped through the cheering mob, ignoring the pats and caresses on his shoulders. The crowd loved him; a slim muscular wildcard thrown into a mix of large to nearly gargantuan fighters. Bets in Kaszbein’s favor were being thrown down before his next opponent was named. Several prostitutes attempted to secure a session with the young contender before his next match.
One woman whose attire did not resemble the many working girls or highborn aristocracy caught Kaszbein’s attention. She was young, no older than twenty and her dark red hair made her stand out amongst the brown and black cloaks concealing the identities of the surrounding nobles. Brown, dirt stained leather covered her from the neck down and the hilt of a dagger nestled against her waist glinted under the torchlights. A look of intrigue covered her face.
“The fuck you looking at?” Kaszbein challenged.
“Not sure yet.” Tristina smirked after approaching the young fighter and gently sliding her finger across his chest. “But time will make all things clear.”
Kaszbein watched with slight bewilderment as the red haired woman disappeared into the crowds of thieves and whores. He figured she most likely was a thief herself and instinctively patted himself down making sure none of his belongings had been taken.
“You there!” A deep male voice called out in the young fighter’s direction.
Kaszbein turned his attention towards the voice and was greeted by a well-built man who looked to be nearing his fifties. Long grey hair extended down below his chin, which was covered with a bushy beard and mustache. Dressed only in black shoes and grey trousers with a studded sheath holding a large broadsword and round iron shield on his back, the old muscular man stepped towards the young fighter.
“Mistress Gablen would like an audience with you.” The old man said after stopping five feet from his target.
Kaszbein knew the name Gablen. Its owner was a high ranking member within the Lutanic crime syndicate. It was most likely her who was in charge of this particular pit event. In order to stay ahead of the authorities, pit fights changed location with every event. In the eight years since Kaszbein had discovered the secret to learning the location of where the next event would take place, he had come to recognize the names of all the Lutanic members put in charge of organizing the spectacle. But why did this one want to see him?
“Now.” The old man demanded.
“I have this thing about people telling me what to do.” Kaszbein shot back.
“And I have this thing about people not doing what I tell them to do.” The old man snarled while unsheathing the large sword on his back.
A few eyes from the crowds took in the unfolding events by the kiosks and a small group began to gather around the two warriors.
“Perhaps a more polite approach would yield better results, Marson.” The voice was mature, yet cool, almost playful.
Kaszbein studied the new arrival carefully, noting the forward curving sword resting in a black sheath clipped to a brown belt. He was physically fit, slightly bulkier than Kaszbein. Brown trousers and shoes covered his lower half while a white long sleeve shirt and a dark green vest covered his torso. Kaszbein guessed the man was nearly twice his age although his handsome and cleanly shaven features could hide this fact from an untrained eye.
“Fuck off.” Kaszbein warned.
“Unfortunately, we cannot.” Miquel shrugged away the tension surrounding the situation. “You see, refusal is not something Lady Gablen is accustomed to.”
“She’s about to be.” Kaszbein said while turning his back on the two henchmen.
“Arrogant little shit!” Marson roared as he raised his sword, ready to slice open Kaszbein’s back.
“Now, now Marson.” Miquel said just before resting his hand on the older man’s wrists, gently pushing the thug’s arms down, lowering the sword. “The lady would like to speak with the young man, not be the indirect cause of his funeral.”
“Do not presume that simply because you happen to be on business terms with Mistress Gablen that we are equals, thief.” Abael Marson said with a nobility that betrayed his current appearance. “Or that you could ever give orders to me.”
“My apologies.” Miquel said with a tone that almost sounded genuine. “I was simply pointing out the wisdom in ensuring our guest is breathing for our meeting.”
Once Kaszbein was out of earshot of the two old men he let out a sigh of annoyance. Why did everyone suddenly want to bother him?
“Halt!” A voice boomed from within the crowds.
Five men covered in studded leather armor stepped out in front of Kaszbein, blocking his path.
“As I said.” Marson’s voice flowed from behind Kaszbein. “Mistress Gablen would like an audience with you.”
The young fighter's gaze shifted from front to rear before he responded. “No one tells me what to do.”
“Everyone is told what to do.” Marson countered. “Those who refuse to listen rarely live long. Now follow us and you may continue living beyond this day.”
“You’ll have to kill me.” Kaszbein said coldly.
“Or,” a familiar female voice entered Kaszbein’s ears next, “maybe if someone asked you nicely, we can avoid unnecessary bloodshed.”
Kaszbein was once again greeted with the sight of the red haired woman covered in leather. The dagger was still sheathed against her waist.
“Talena Gablen only wishes to speak with the man responsible for knocking out one of her prized fighters in the first round.” Tristina explained with the most sensual voice she could fake.
Kaszbein eyed the woman carefully as she circled him while she spoke, gently caressing his shoulder with an extended finger. “Sounds like an invitation to an unpleasant retaliation.” He concluded.
“Oh, far from it.” Tristina assured the young fighter. “If that were the case I’m sure you can see it would be no trouble at all for Talena to have these guards murder you.”
“Might be more trouble than any of you are prepared for.” Kaszbein’s tone never lost its intimidating menace.
“Perhaps.” Miquel chimed in. “But why endure such a hassle when all you need do is have a simple conversation?”
“So would you please accompany me to the upper level of the pit?” Tristina asked with a playful smile.
“I came here to fight and make money.” Kaszbein said with barely a second of consideration towards Tristina’s request. “Not waste my time talking with old shit stains.” He let his glare land on Marson at the end of his sentence.
“Insolent little bastard!” Marson barked while raising his sword a second time.
“Calm down old man.” Miquel said coolly. “As I said, Talena wants to speak with him, not kill him.”
“For now.” Marson grunted.
Kaszbein stepped away from the group towards the fighting cage designated for his next match. Now he would most likely be distracted during the bout, which put him at a severe disadvantage, especially if his next opponent was anywhere near the physique of his last vanquished foe. Even with the knowledge of knowing his mind must remain clear he couldn’t help but wonder what offers from the pit boss he may have declined. A life under the employ of a high ranking crime syndicate member could at times be as luxurious as the life of a noble if not more so. But a life of taking orders was not a life Kaszbein wanted. No, he would carve out his own path with his own two hands, starting with his next opponent.