He woke up lying on his stomach not in sand, but on a freezing stone floor. The usual blurriness filled his eyes as his vision adjusted to the harshness of his surroundings. Even after all these times, when he awoke from being unconscious, his mind felt like a timid winter flower blossoming in a cold wind.
A shuffling sound rang upon the stone when his eyes opened fully as someone took quiet steps around his lying body on the floor. From a far wall there seemed to be a lonely small window toward the ceiling as there was only one source of light. Across the walls of the room Arthen noticed dozens of scraps of paper with writings printed with miniscule lettering nailed into the stone.
Arthen tried to turn his head upward toward the person shuffling around him.
“Don’t move your head like that!” a voice came sharply. “You’ll ruin all the work I did on it.”
Before he tried to trace the source of the voice, Arthen reached his hand up to his head. His entire scalp felt prickly as his hair was started to sprout back. His fingers ran along the top of his head, around his temple, and then toward the back until he touched what felt like a spiny caterpillar protruding from his skull. It felt bulbous, coarse, and barbed all at once.
“I’m getting pretty damn good at it, I’ll say. You had a pretty nasty split there. The mountain-rats must be too afraid to stitch you up themselves or they’re probably realizing that I’m better than them at it.”
Lifting up his shoulders, Arthen turned his neck to look who was there. He was a boy who looked roughly Arthen’s age. His hair was cut haphazardly short as if he had to do it himself with a razor and no mirror. The only clothing he wore seemed to be a potato sack with ripped trousers and iron cuffs chained together at his wrists. His eyes were very dark and sunken but wide with curiosity. He looked at Arthen not in the way of wonderment, but as if he were looking at him through a magnifying lens taking in every minute detail about him. Now that Arthen was fully awake and lucid the boy seemed to be looking at him intensely as if for overall weaknesses and imperfections.
“You are him? Aren’t you?” the boy said.
Arthen was still very cloudy. “Huh?”
“You’re him, from the arena?”
Arthen slowly got up to make his head level. He stared around the room again. “Where am I?”
“In a cell. With me. So what happened out there?”
“A cell where? Are we still among the Stahlgs?”
“Yeah. Nevermind that,” the boy said waving his hand. “What did you do out there?”
Arthen paused. His mind raced through alleyways of memory like the arena was ages ago. The sand. Booker and Frayne. Oakley. The bear. And then him. He called out to the bear, but not with his voice. That couldn’t have been his voice. But he remembered what he was saying. He remembered being the one to call out those words, but the sound that came out of his mouth definitely did not belong to him. His words. His anger. But not his voice.
“I–I honestly don’t know,” he said zoning out.
What was wrong with the bear? It went manic when he started talking to it. But no animal he had ever talked to had ever reacted like that. Could the bear’s mind not take anymore fighting and pain and it went rabid? But Arthen remembered when it stopped it in its tracks. It stopped when he told it to and it went back to where he told it to: back where it came from. Arthen was used to calming down horses and animals by talking to them back in his previous life. He did it to ease them to help him with his work on the farm. But this time with the bear, he didn’t try to calm it. His anger brought forth a voice he had never imagined he could produce and Arthen realized–
I could control it. It did exactly what I told it to do.
But it seemed to Arthen the bear’s mind could not handle his commands and the beast went berserk.
Arthen looked back at the boy, “What happened to the bear?”
“Dead. Crashed into the fencing of the arena too hard with its head. Iron gate and archway collapsed on top of it.”
Arthen felt somewhat crestfallen. The bear didn’t seem to be vicious on its own accord, but by being in captivity by the Stahlgs. It didn’t deserve its outcome.
He felt the the back of his head again along the stitches. “Thank you for this.”
“Yeah.” The boy gave nod.
Arthen looked at him more carefully now that he was closer. The boy was somewhat like the bear: pathetic and beaten. He could speak the common tongue pretty well and with them being in a cell, Arthen presumed that he was a prisoner and had been held captive for some time, long enough to earn a reputation as a healer. He looked sickly and his short hair didn’t add any help to the health of his appearance, but then again the boy had more hair than Arthen currently had. It seemed to him that the boy was holding back an excitement for having another person in his cell after being alone for so long. His eyes still kept the analytical look, but maybe they were restraining the boy’s feeling that Arthen was too good to be true, that now it had happened: finally, someone his own age to talk to in his own language.
Arthen gave him a weary smile.
“I’m called Gleim,” he said finally and held out his left hand.
The boy did not take it but looked at his hand and up at him. Even though the boy gave no look of disgust at him, Arthen felt like he was being seen as a contagious disease. He retracted his hand sheepishly.
“What happened to you?” the boy said.
“The way you held out you hand.” The boy folded up his arms. “And when I didn’t take it you pulled back. Insecurity? If it’s that, then that means that you don’t interact well with others which means something traumatic must have happened to you to make you feel like you can’t trust anyone. It took you awhile to say hello. So what happened?”
Arthen stood there stunned. “I–well–wow, alright. You really want to dive into this?”
“Nah, not really.” The boy smiled and held out his left hand. “I’m called Talon.”
Arthen returned the handshake. “Good, because I don’t either.”
“Yeah, it’s probably not a very interesting story,” Talon said. Arthen couldn’t tell if he was being serious or it was a playful jab. Either way, he appreciated Talon for it.
“Here,” Talon said. He held out his hand which held Arthen’s wooden pendant. “Snagged this off your neck before the guards came back to confiscate all your belongings. You didn’t have much to begin with.”
“Thank you,” Arthen said with genuine sincerity. He took it and returned it to its rightful place around his neck.
The sound of grinding rusted metal clanged in their cell as the entry door opened. Two more squat Stahlg guards wearing metal and animal fur walked in. They examined Arthen’s conscious stance. Then one of them jabbed Arthen in the ribs with a leather covered bat. The other guard did the same to Talon and the boy keeled over. Then a small dirty potato sack was thrown over Arthen’s head and all he could see was the dark texture of burlap.
“Uns!” one of them barked. They grabbed the two boys by the scruffs of their shirts and dragged them out of the cell.