Brimone’s grand-arena was breath-taking, Mariqah could give them that. It was no Coliseum of Rome or Amphitheatre of Libya – but it was breath-taking all the same as she stepped out of the holding area and onto the open sands. Several of Skye’s female prisoners stepped out with her. She didn’t know them well, but they were underfed and timid. They looked well enough for Brimone’s blood-thirsty crowd – the cheering, jeering, psychotic lunatics that stood in high seats and threw floating petals down at them – but the prisoners stared in confusion and thrill at the crowd. Some of them started waving and smiling.
Mariqah had no need for such things.
She stood straight and looked up at the Royal Box as Lord Grumm stepped up. He smiled down at her.
“I hear you have no tongue,” he said. The crowd hushed as he began speaking, “Earth’s hero, Mariqah de Saint-Omer, here before us at last. The murderer of my father. I’ll make your death twice as much agony, I swear it.”
Mariqah put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot. The clothes she wore allowed the chill of the night air to creep in and give her goose-bumps. She tried to not let her discomfort show.
Lord Grumm laughed, “This is amusing! Your mockery silenced for good. It’s a shame that the Witch-Queen of Skye has had to leave so soon. She would have enjoyed this.”
Mariqah shook her head.
She shook her head again.
Mariqah smiled up at him and inclined her head.
Lord Grumm paused, his smile waning a little, “This will not end well for you, Mariqah.”
Mariqah raised her hands and shrugged.
She didn’t know if elves had sign-language, but even if they did – she didn’t know any.
But if she could, she would have said: It won’t end well for anybody.
Of course, she could have telepathically said so, but she wasn’t about to let Lord Grumm hold all the cards.
She saw Lord Grumm frown and a woman edged up beside him. Her eyes turned black.
“Let this Games commence!” Lord Grumm called.
The woman raised her hand and music started to play. It was hearty music, with drums and fiddles and flutes. Mariqah’s hands raised, her legs crossing each other. She was standing tip-toed.
This was how the Games worked? she thought, disappointed, I assumed there would be more blood…
She breathed and when the witch allowed her, she looked at the other prisoners who were dancing in unison with her. They were resisting.
Give in, she told them.
They looked at her.
Don’t do that, she snapped, glancing as the witch lost power momentarily, Give in to the magic. Absorb it.
Some of them continued to fight the magical restraints.
If you want to come out of this alive, then listen to me! she told them.
It had worked. They all submitted to the witch’s power and their performance won cheers and shouts from the Brimonian crowd. They twirled: their limbs loose and fluid in motion. It was like watching oneself from the outside, allowing one’s own limbs to move of their own accord. It was a beautiful sensation.
Then the dance was at an end. Mariqah bowed low under the witch’s orchestration. The music stopped abruptly. The magical bonds were suddenly broken. Mariqah stayed down as she heard swords being drawn.
Stay down, she told the other prisoners.
“And now!” said Lord Grumm, “To kill these miscreants and to rid ourselves of such scum of this world!”
Mariqah rose slowly, the others following in unison. Guards were standing around the arena, their swords drawn. They advanced, their heavy boots crunching on the sand.
Come near me, she told the prisoners.
They flocked near her and fell painlessly unconscious as soon as she tapped a finger on them.
Mariqah touched her forehead just as Cyne had showed her – starting from the top of her forehead and ending at the bridge of her nose. The area glowed a pale blue. She saw the witch raise her hand towards her, and Mariqah reached out with her mind and thrust her mental fist into the witch’s, gripping on her sense of understanding, twisting and snapping it. The witch flopped like a puppet cut from its strings next to Lord Grumm.
How ironic, Mariqah thought smiling.
The guards looked uncertain and a hush fell over the crowd.
Mariqah stood on the back foot, her smile spreading, and beckoned them to come with a hand.
Afraid, laddies? she asked them.
They scowled and descended on her.
She ducked below the swipe of the first sword and kicked at the guard’s legs. He shrieked and fell back. She ripped the sword from his grasp and plunged it into his belly, tearing it out again to slice the throat of a second guard. The tip of a blade sliced into her back, and Mariqah turned sharply and met the third guard, blocking each of his swings.
Not used t’givin’ your victims a fightin’ chance, eh? she asked him.
The guard scowled and flicked his blade at her ankles. She jumped and speared her own blade through his neck. He gagged, holding his throat as he sank to his knees, chucking-up blood. A guard leapt on her, pinning her to the ground, raining punches on her face.
Mariqah growled. She spat into his eye and head-butted sharply him in the nose. He pulled away slightly, barking a shout, before she kneed him in the groin. He howled and threw him off, breaking his trachea with a vicious punch. She picked up a sword as he choked, and looked at her other opponents.
The others were backing away, eyes on the man dying at her feet.
Mariqah stood and gasped as a pain seized her back and face.
They’re healing… she thought.
Mariqah couldn’t help it, she laughed.
The Witch-Queen had forgotten to remove her regeneration spell.
“Oo mock me?” she screamed audibly and was able to say, “Oo mock me!”
More witches were trying to subdue her. She snapped all of their minds. She partially snapped one, just to prove a point. The witch went mad, tearing at Lord Grumm’s beard and ripping his face with her nails.
Mariqah laughed, and sent a message to the entire crowd. They fell on their knees, all of them, covering their ears:
You think I’d kill so easy?
You thought your preening idiots could kill me? she said, Your previous Lord couldn’t kill me! And, to his credit, he was much more fearsome that the sorry embarrassment you all currently have! she pointed to Lord Grumm.
The arena echoed with screams as Mariqah continued to grasp at their minds. She began walking out of the arena.
Ead, she called, I take it you’ve picked all the locks? Freed of Skye’s prisoners? You have? Good. Send a few to collect the unconscious girls at my feet. You’ve prepared a cab? Can everyone fit? They can? Good man. And food? Supplies? Everyone’s doing their share? she smiled as a few of the ex-prisoners came and collected the unconscious girls, I think I’ve found myself a new lieutenant.
Mariqah raised her hand and tugged at everyone’s minds. The crowd swayed, and they all fell on their faces.
He got out of hiding and looked down at her. She sensed worry in his mind. He too was holding his ears.
Mary? she asked him.
Tostig raised a thumb and nodded frantically.
Mariqah smiled at him and she saw him relax, before she walked out…