This story is set in the world of the Circled Plains and the serial Jumping Rings, but stands alone.
It is written in reply to Rix‘s suggestion to this request for questions, after the successful Domain Name Fundraiser.
I still need more questions! I have answered the two asked and need three more.
Retsharra Koy remembered her mother.
There was no room in the Circled Cities for graveyards; the citizens of the Circled Plain gave their dead to the plain itself, to the desert and to the Flow.
But in her Third-Circle apartment, Retsharra kept a small plaque hung below a portrait. Kollandrin Teschar, Gladiator, the plaque read. Died in service of the City, for which we are eternally grateful.
The portrait showed Kol at the height of her Gladiatorial career, before the Flow had eaten her. As always, she had fought in minimal armor – a custom-made mail shirt and coif and the world’s most elaborate greaves and vambraces – preferring to use Flow-pulls and straight-out spells to protect herself.
It showed, even in this picture. Kollandrin Tes had long ears, the points hung with gems and draped in chains. Her skin had taken on a bluish tinge, with long gold-yellow lines, the way her greaves and vambraces were patterned with gold over the silver. Her legs were longer than they had been – Retsharra remembered well when the second knee had come in. Her feet could have been shod – people were falling over themselves to be Kol’s Patron – but she had preferred to let the changes show, to let her wide, rabbit-like feet splay out on the ground and lift her over her opponents’ heads.
When the portrait had been painted, Kol had been five years into what was supposed to be a ten-year stint in the Pit, and Ret had been seven years old. She’d lived with her mother in her Gladiator’s apartment and grown up playing with valets and swinging old wooden practice weapons.
Ret remembered when her mother had looked nearly-human. The memories were fuzzy, enhanced by early portraits, but she could see in her mind’s eye the tall, slim woman, her hair long and silky. They had documented every Change together, Ret and Kol. The knees, of course. The lines in the skin and then the blue tone. The extra toe, the extra joints in the toes, the claws at the toe tips.
There were conversations in Ret’s memory, too: Kol’s valet, Charnee, fretting at her about yet another Change, worrying at her about the amount of Flow she pulled. Kollandrin Tes was known, not just in New Indapala, but across the Circled Plain – she fought more brightly, more gaudily, then any other Gladiator. She won more rounds than many, and even her losses were spectacular. But it came with a cost.
Ret looked down at her own hands. Seven fingers on each hand, and claws like her mother’s. She remembered when those had come in, too. She’d been nine, and watching her mother during a practice bout. It was a random surge, everyone said. Ret knew better.
At the height of her fame, Kollandrin Tes had looked like a stately creature more than she had a human. Huge horns protruded from her head. Long claws extended from her fingers. The gold patterns on her skin gleamed like metal. And her smile was sharp with filed metal teeth. At the height of her fame, the best bet-setters had Kol at a year until she became a Fountain, maybe two. And the best bet-setters had no qualms about placing those bets in hearing of a nine-year old.
It hadn’t come to that, or, at least, it hadn’t come to that in the middle of a bout. Dozens of people had lost fortunes on that bet, but not one of them had ever complained in Retsharra’s hearing.
Gladiators did not normally fight in defense of the city. But when raiders and Flow-monsters had attacked New Indapala, Kollandrin Tes had plowed her way to the front lines. When the Flow had rebelled, the magic spitting back against its users as the Flow-monsters shifted the current, it had been Kollandrin Tes at the center of the storm.
Ret touched two fingers to the portrait’s forehead, seeing Kollan Gladiator. Let the city remember Kollandrin Teschar, hero of the Last Incursion. Retsharra Koy remembered her mother.
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