Walking through the door, a blinding light forced Aleran to squint his eyes. The contrast between the dark tunnels and this place was too big. With his eyes temporarily blinded, he could only concentrate on the smell of blood and sweat that permeated the air.
Thus, Aleran entered the room completely disoriented. The deafening sound of people cheering and yelling only served to strengthen that feeling. But slowly, the white started to recede and the room finally showed itself.
That's when he realized that calling this place a room was wrong. It was too big, almost the size of a small stadium. The place consisted of long and simple seats made of earth, arranged in a circular fashion. They were made to allow the people sitting to see what happened inside a big hole dug in the ground. So, there was a slight slope going from the higher stands towards the hole.
A brutal scene was playing inside the hole. Around eighty people were fighting barehanded against each other, employing all kinds of methods to cause harm. There seem to be no rules in this fight. In this short span of time, Aleran had already seen people biting, hitting others genitals, and even using unconscious people as shields or weapons.
This place reminded Aleran of the stories and movies about Rome and its coliseum. Although here, there were people with superhuman strength adding extra spice to the show. The fact that this place was still underground surprised him a lot. There were some crystals that lit every inch of this place with a yellow light. It made one forget that this was still an underground chamber. ‘How big is this complex of tunnels? And how deep underground are we? Don't tell me... these tunnels extend all under the city!’ That would mean that this gang had a deep grasp of everything that happened inside this city.
“Look at that one in the middle” taking him out of his thoughts, Kindrav pointed only with a movement of his head.
It would have been difficult to spot someone in the crowd of almost eighty people chaotically fighting. But it was very simple to notice that, in the middle of the arena, there was someone who stood out. He stood out because every time he was attacked he moved with a fluidity and agility that reminded one of a river. He was in constant movement, every punch, and every kick that was thrown his way was avoided with unusual grace. And then, they were answered with a graceful palm or fist that hit others in weak spots with brutality. But what stood out the most was that every opening he left seemed to be a bite for his opponents to fall. Of course, from time to time he got hit, but he was clearly used to physical abuse.
“Wow, that guy knows how to fight.” Aleran was impressed.
Kindrav nodded. “It's more that, though. That is a martial technique, he has some minor accomplishment in the flowing water martial stance. Those things are only taught to soldiers and cultivators who go to the academy. He is probably an ex-soldier.”
“Are these two fresh meat?” Before Aleran could say anything, someone approached them and interrupted their chat. It was a tall man with a small tattoo of a dagger on his forehead. His voice was loud enough to be heard clearly, even with all the incessant cheers and curses of the spectators.
The guard simply nodded making the man with the dagger tattoo smile. He placed himself between Aleran and Kindrav and wrapped his arms around them. Looking like old drinking buddies, the man dragged them both near the hole. “ Welcome to the pit, rookies. Things are simple here, you have to be one of the last ten participants still conscious. The best part, we don't care how you do it. There are only two rules, nothing of weapons, and nothing of staying in a corner avoiding the fight like a pussy. If we see you are avoiding the fight, then we will bring a fight to you that you won't be able to escape.” The last part was a clear warning as he asked in a threatening tone. “Got it? ”
By the end of his speech, they were a few meters from the edge. And without previous indication, the man suddenly exploded with an unbelievable force, even higher than Aleran and Kindrav combined. He was clearly at the qi circulation stage.
The sudden force made them both fall to the five meters deep pit. “WHO WANTS TO BET FOR OUR TWO NEW PARTICIPANTS!!” The last thing Aleran and Kindrav heard before touching the ground, were the words of the man as he turned to the public.
“Tud Tud” Aleran landed on his feet. Luckily he was not a normal human anymore otherwise, that fall would have seriously injured him. But still, he barely got the chance to circulate his cultivation, making him hurt his legs a little. He turned his head to see that Kindrav had fallen perfectly with a roll that absorbed most of the force from falling. Inwardly he rolled his eyes at Kindrav dexterity. But Aleran didn't have much time to think. The loud announcement from the man with the dagger tattoo grabbed, not only the attention of the viewers but also from the people fighting in the pit.
Before he could regain his bearings, a bald man was already charging at him. The man wanted to tackle him, but it seemed he hadn't realized that Aleran, who didn't even flinch before his strength, was a cultivator. The man got locked in an awkward position with his head at Aleran's waist. On his part, Aleran threw a knee to the man chest and, like a wrestler, he lifted him over his own head and slammed him on the floor.
From his peripheral vision, Aleran could see that of the three people that were initially going after him, two retreated as they realized he was more powerful than he looked. But the third one, a man with a ponytail who was in the second phase, soon reached him while throwing a frontal kick. Aleran instantly dodged, and as the kick touch the near wall, he answered with a chop to the now extended leg.
“Kacha” “Ahhh!” With the sound of breaking bones, the ponytail man dropped to the floor screaming, taking part in the common background noise. His leg was now bent in the wrong way and he was out of the race. ‘What a disappointment, without weapons I can't use my magnetism image, and I am still far from using it directly on humans.’ Aleran watched the man screaming as he lamented in his head. Although he didn't realize yet, his mentality was slowly changing. A few months back he would have been impressed by such sight. But now he was used to these gruesome scenes.
Now, with time to regain his posture, Aleran looked around to see Kindrav his back against the wall. A short guy had climbed onto his back and, even as he was slammed against the wall, the short man was still biting Kindravs ear. At the same time, Kindrav kicked unconscious another man that attacked him from the front. And soon, the short man was on the floor too, wailing and with his back broken.
Aleran and Kindrav closed the distance between them until they were next to each other. If everything was allowed, then teaming up was an option too. In fact, they were not the only ones, there were a few other two men teams. And the strongest was a four-man team with three at the third phase and one at the second. Aleran didn't need to talk to Kindrav to know they were going to avoid that four-man team and the guy with the martial techniques in the middle. The rest of the people were all on their own, it was hard to team up with someone if you didn't know him. Most of these people were street rats, so they naturally mistrust others and they were propense to betray their allies.
In total there were between 15 to 20 people in the third phase, 25 at the second, and the rest were all normal people. But this last group was dwindling at a fast rate, clearly, they were people who were biting more than they could chew.
Aleran and Kindrav decided to stay near the wall to avoid being attacked from many angles. Aleran stood in a boxing posture as more people started to come closer. These past few days, Kindrav had been teaching him how to fight. It wasn't anything as fancy as the martial stances, it was mostly some footwork and how to throw punches and kicks correctly, but it was enough to defend himself. The enhanced body of a cultivator, with higher coordination, allowed him to learn how to fight faster than normal people.
The next few to come their way were cultivators only. They swarm in groups of two or three, even if they were not consciously teaming up, they still attacked at the same time. But now, both of them were more prepared, so they faced them without fear. After all, they were two heavenly opening third face cultivators.
The first to reach them was the one with the higher cultivation in the third phase. And closing in were two cultivators in the second phase. Kindrav and Aleran exchanged a look and charged towards the third stage cultivator. The first to attack was Aleran with a high kick to the man's face, which was easily dodged by the man as he ducked. But as he dodged, Kidrav jumped and threw flying knee worthy of an action movie that hit squarely in his head. The man, now with a broken nose and fewer teeth in his mouth, started to fall. But midway, and before the man regained his composure, a fist from Aleran hit his head again.
Two more punches from Kindrav and the man was lying on the floor, he didn't have a chance to fight at all. The next two were already too close to run now, they were obviously expecting to take advantage of the fight between three third phase cultivators. But now they had to bite the bullet and fight. The result was easy to predict, Aleran made a quick work of his opponent and the same was for Kindrav.
What followed after was a constant fight, hours of fight. Not always fallen enemies would stay on the ground. And not always one had the time to cripple or even kill an opponent before others arrived to fight you. Not to mention that cultivators were often tougher than normal people. So they could get up several times even with broken bones. Meaning the whole battle royal lasted longer than what Aleran first estimated.
During the whole time, Aleran and Kindrav choose their fights wisely, trying to save as much energy as they could. Except for an especially violent third phase, that was using a ripped off leg like a club, the rest of the fights were relatively easy. The two made quite a good team, it was almost natural to them. Although they had to often save each other's ass when they coordinated poorly. Aleran suspected that it was Kindrav's innate ability to adapt that made the teamwork so smooth. The guy was a genius when it came to fighting and physical abilities. As expected of the man that learned how to fight hand to hand and with a sword in one week and when he was still a child.
Even with the good teamwork, by the time only the last thirty people remained, Aleran was exhausted. And it was at that time when the group of four cultivators they had been avoiding, faced them. Two of them were clearly brothers, they had similar short blond hair and blue eyes with the only difference being their noses. One had a long straight nose and the other had a long but curved one. The other two cultivators were also blonde but their features were somewhat different from the brothers. ‘Maybe they are all relatives.’ Thought Aleran as the approached.
They divided into two groups, one facing Aleran and the other Kindrav. ‘ Ahh. As always my luck is flawless.’ Sighing inwardly Aleran prepared. The two brothers were about to attack, and they were both in the third phase, while Kindrav had to fight a third face and a second phase.
The fight started too fast and Aleran was soon put at a disadvantage. He managed to block and doge some of the fists and kicks thrown his way by the brothers. But he didn't have an opportunity to retaliate or to separate the brothers. They were coordinating their moves even better than him and Kindrav. It didn't take long for the punches to start passing through his defenses.
Soon, a fist found Aleran's plexus, with a worrying sound the punch hit him and made him curl gasping for air. Taking advantage of his moment of weakness, one of the brothers wrapped his arm around his neck and hold him for the other to give Aleran a rain of punches.
But before the straight-nosed brother attacked, Aleran grabbed the arm that was around his neck and sent an electrical discharge at the man behind him. It was a subtle thing. Otherwise, he would grab the unwanted attention of the other participants and, what was much worse, the attention of the Crimson Claws. The power of the current was low, much lower than the one he used against the wolf in the forest. But enough to stun the man and make him lose his strength for an instant.
That instant was enough for him to free himself and, grab the head of the stunned man, and slam it against the wall. At the same time and with a single movement he kicked the other man that was approaching to hit him. With the recoil from the kick, Aleran threw a knee with that same leg at the man that was now against the wall.
The knee must have hit the right place because the man was out cold immediately. Seeing his brother out, the remaining man threw caution to the wind and he pounced on Aleran. There was such desperation in the man's attack that, for a moment, Aleran felt curious as to why these people were here. Perhaps they were just like him and Kindrav, fighting for a better future, or perhaps they were in more dire circumstances. But those thoughts didn't last long. he had to finish the fight quickly. So, used a small discharge of electricity again. And like that, he got a clear advantage that soon became a victory. Now, he noticed that as he stunned his opponents they stopped circulating their qi for a moment. And that gave him a huge advantage.
Whit both his opponents down he looked for Kindrav. To his surprise, he found him on the floor. On top of him, one of his opponents was strangling the air out of him. Near the two of them was the other cultivator, lying unconscious on the floor. Although Aleran cursed because he had to fight the two third phase cultivators, the truth was that the strongest of the four was the man currently on top of Kindrav. He was older than the two brothers and had much more experience. So, the pairings were not that unbalanced as they first seemed.
WIth a fast reaction Aleran hit the man on top in the back of his head with all the strength he could muster. The man fell to the side while Aleran kept punching. And together with Kindrav, they fought him for almost twenty minutes until they managed to pin him down and knock him out. And for the first time, Aleran saw the urge to kill in Kindrav's face. Aleran would certainly not stop him if he wanted to kill this man. He understood all too well how it felt to have your life in the hands of someone else. It was one of the worst feelings he had ever felt.
But Kindrav seemed to chill out, and instead, he looked at him. “Thanks, that guy could have killed me. Ah, it hurts to talk.” He knew that giving the finishing blow would just waste time and energy.
“Then I should thank him, now I can enjoy some peace.” Aleran joked trying to lift Kindrav's spirits as they stood alert for the remaining contestants.
“Haha. Oh, an easy target to our left.” Since they had to keep fighting, they always targeted the weakest.
The battle royal ended soon after that, with Aleran only having to fight two more opponents. The crowd had already left and the last ten men standing were in the middle of the pit. The rest of the ground was still displaying the bodies of those that will never stand up again. The winners stood with their backs straight looking at the man with a dagger tattoo, waiting for what he had to say. Surprisingly for Kindrav, and not so much for Aleran, the man with the martial stances was not between the ten. He had grabbed too much attention and was taken down by two people fighting him at the same time. The guy was too tired by then so he ended up losing. Although taking him down was not necessary, those in the pit were trying to impress the Crimson Claw members watching. Except for Aleran and Kidrav who only wanted to do some jobs to exchange for the IDs, the rest were probably here for reputation and ready to live by the codes of the gang.
“Well done! You ten have survived the battle royale, and now you are external members of the Crimson Claws.” Then he pointed towards two people and said. “ You two killed the guy with martial stances. Come, stand next to me, you will be directly introduced as an inner member.” Under the envious gaze of the other eight, a white-haired man and a redhead woman stepped out of the group. Both had pride painted in their faces and were looking down at the rest as if they were looking at a bunch of cowards. It was true in a way, they had taken the risk and it had paid off.
“As for the rest.” The man pointed towards a door. “If you don't have a place to stay go through that door, there are dormitories. They are a dumpster, but that's what we have. If you want to go out to your own places then follow the guard. But you all have to be here by tomorrow morning. The test is over, but tomorrow you will be assigned to follow one of us for a while. And you better respect the ranks, even if the one you have to follow is of the same cultivation level as you.” With that, the man walked away followed by the two contestants he had picked up.
“Let's go to the dorms. Uncle Oldre will be worried but we don't have a place to stay, I'm sure someone will tell him that we pass the test.” Kindrav said once the rest of the people started to disperse. Cultivators always had ways to make money, and the last ten winners were all cultivators. It could be shabby but they had the money to rent a place to stay. But Kindrav, although he had some money, he wanted to save as much as he could.
“Not like I have any money on me” Aleran just shrugged and went to the dorms with Kindrav. They followed the tunnel, this one was straight with a few turns and there was no way to get lost. They walked until they reached some stairs with a door at the end. The door was connected to a run down place that was a big abandoned house located in the slums. It was barely standing and the ceiling was filled with holes allowing one to see pieces of sky. They entered directly into a big hallway that was filled with doors. Some of these doors were opened or directly destroyed, but still, there were people in most of them. None were friendly enough to talk. Most of these people were not cultivators. The free rooms were one of the reasons why normal people took the risk to enter the pit or do some other dangerous tests to join the gang.
They were all doing their own stuff, and as Kindrav and Aleran passed by they just raised their heads for a moment and then went back to their business right after. Most of the doors were broken so you could see clearly inside each room. In some, there were even people having sex, in others people sharpening their weapons or simply sleeping. The only constants were the mold, the rats and the awful smell. They quickly found two empty rooms one next to the other, and since that was the most important requirement they staid in these rooms. Just like the rest of the rooms, these two were also dirty, filled with spiderwebs and a rotten smell. The man with the tattoo was not joking when he said this place was dumpster.
The next day, they returned to the pit, that was now cleaned of blood and bodies, to be assigned their first mission. They were not inside the pit but in a side room, it was small but it was well kept.
Aleran and Kindrav were the last to be assigned a leader. They were standing once again in front of Ibrak, the man with one eye white and the other black. Next to him was a man that was frowning and clearly displeased at his two new underlings. This new face had a square jaw a small nose and big eyebrows. His eyes were black just as his black short hair. And besides being muscular his only distinctive feature was a tattoo of a bloody dragon claw on his arm.
Ibrak pointed to this man and said. “ This is the person you will be following for the next few days, his name is Rogdo. He will show you the kind of small jobs you will be doing for the next cycles. If you want your IDs, then you will have to work for roughly four cycles. You will start with small easy jobs and then we will see. Maybe, if you do a good job, you can speed up the process.”
“Zone leader, one is a barbarian…” Rogdo couldn't help to mutter.
“Yes and he was introduced by an outsider and took the test just like the rest, rules are rules, and we have to stick to them.” Ibrak also seemed a little annoyed, but he was better at hiding his emotions.
Aleran couldn't understand why these robbers and murderers were so bent in hating the barbarians. Normal people could hold a grudge to the barbarians that assaulted the villages and roads, but these gang members were just the same. ‘I guess people are influenced by the common prejudice and probably the Sidrin empire encourages this hatred. And perhaps, there's something else I don't know about the barbarians.’
Rogdo closed in and looked at them with a threatening glare. “I will be watching you closely. You too, boy, if you hang out with this scum then you are the same.” Both Aleran and Kindrav just looked at the front. They already knew they will have to endure this kind of threats.