“Shavrak! Shavrak! Shavrak!”
The cheers reverberate off of the shallow wooden roof above the blood-stained sand floor of the fighting pit. A young dwarven women lies face up in the center of the ring, crimson streaking from her nostrils. She looks up at the olive-skinned Orc standing over her, taking in the applause and adoration from the crowd in the stands. Masha knew that Shavrak was good. He was reigning champion for a reason. She had started the match strong, hitting Shavrak with an elbow to the abdomen followed by a quick takedown that she positioned into a shoulder hold. It was at this point that she had gotten cocky. A few members of the crowd had begun to chant her name. She looked up, smiling at her few fans, but the bottom of her jaw was quickly met by a large fist, followed by another, and another.
Her offensive position quickly turned into a defensive one. She held her arms in front of her face, futilely attempting to block the blows coming from her larger opponent. Shavrak smelled blood in the water, and he pounced on the opportunity. One lucky punch hit Masha right in the temple, temporarily spotting her vision and leaving her stunned. This was the opening that Shavrak had been looking for. He backed up from Masha and then ran at her full speed, ramming into her with his shoulder and slamming her into the ground with a loud thud. He had fell many opponents in the ring with this slam, his signature move called the Shattering Spear. That was only 10 seconds ago. As Masha coughed and spit out a mixture of saliva, blood, and bile onto the ground, she thought about what to do next.
“I should go ahead and tap out now, no harm in that. No shame in being taken out by the champion. No point in dragging it out anymore,” she said to herself.
As she wrestled with her next move, she looked into the face of her opponent. She sneered at his stupid smile and that stupid scar running across his cheek, winced at the sound of the crowd chanting his stupid name.
“Shavrak!” “Shavrak!” “Shavrak!”
Every muttering of that name set her blood boiling until the point where she couldn’t take it anymore.
“Shavrak!” “Shavrak!” “Shavrak!”
She saw her chance, and despite her better judgement, Masha knew what she had to do. As Shavrak pumped his arms to the crowd, amping them up for the finishing blow, Masha’s boot connected with the inside of his left knee. The snap of bones and tendons was drowned out by the screams from Shavrak as Mashsa got back to her feet. She clasped her hands together and raised them over her head.
When she had first joined the fighting company, Masha made up the stage name Braella the Brightaxe, named after the same goddess from the dwarven pantheon. Her instructor, a grizzled old goblin named Grimshuck, had taught her a haymaker to use as her signature move. She took this simple attack, added a little flair, and made it her own, calling in Haela’s Hammer. This was the first time she had ever been able to use it successfully in a match.
Masha took a step back, and using all the power in her legs, leapt into the air and brought Haela’s Hammer crashing down onto Shavrak’s face. The impact of the blow broke one of the orc’s tusks in half, as the unconscious Shavrak collapsed onto the ground.
The whole area went silent, the only noise coming from Masha’s heavy breathing. After what seemed like an eternity, the tension was interrupted by a shout, followed by another, until the entire area was a cacophony of cheers and chants of the name “Braella! Braella! Braella!”
Masha stood victorious, having defeated the champion. She pumped her fist into the air, taking in the adoration of her new supporters, but at the back of her mind, she knew that she had made a huge mistake, and now there was no coming back. As the cheers subsided, so did the rush of adrenaline as she became filled with a sense of dread. “What a surprise!” The announcer walked towards the center of the ring, a wine-colored tiefling dressed in garish robes and adorned with intricate piercings and jewels. “It seems as if we have a new champion! The underdog, Braella the Brightaxe, dethrones Shavrak the Undefeated. Well, I guess the formerly-undefeated now. How about it folks!? Let’s give a hand to our new champion!”
The announcer grabed Masha’s hands and thrust it into the air once more. This time, she was reluctant to take in the crowd’s adulation. She yanked her arm away from the tiefling and rushed out of the arena towards the dressing room. Once she was out of sight of the crowd, she burst into a full sprint, barreling through the doors of the small room that had been prepared for the fighters. She made her way to her locker and began hurriedly shedding her costume.
Half-undressed, Masha dashed to the washing bowl filled with water at the end of the room. As she scrubbed her face vigorously, trying her best to clean the blood and war paint off of her cheeks, she looked into the small piece of reflecting glass that sat on the shelf above the makeshift sink.
What she saw was not the wrestler who had just bested the arena’s long-time champion. She saw a scared little dwarf girl. The tears that leaked from her eyes mixed with the blood and blue paint as they dripped into the basin, turning the previously clear water a muddled grey. She was tired. She was scared. She also was able to think clearly about the implications of what she had done for the first time. She remembered the day Elina had caught the cough.
She dried her face and finished changing into her regular clothes, stuffing the wrestling costume deep into her pack. She checked a pocket on the inside of her pack, making sure its contents were still there. Of course, there they were; a rather large purse of coins, mostly silver but a few gold, and a few glass bottles with a dark-red liquid inside of them.
She pulled a hood over her head, concealing her bright blonde hair that had been braided into a series of tight dwarven war braids, and made her way into the muddy city streets. She wound through the narrow and dank alleys that glistened from a recent summer storm until she found herself at the door of the chapel’s rectory. She rapped quickly on the door. A few moments passed and the wooden door opened. The tiny priestess of Ilmater, an auburn-skinned gnome, stood in the doorway. A bronze medallion of a pair of two hands bound by cords hung from her neck.
“Good evening my child, how may I… Masha, it’s you! You’ve come just in time! Elina doesn’t have much time left.”
Masha reached into her pack and pulled out glass vials and shoved them into the gnome’s tiny hands. “Sister Hesphina, please take these.”
“Where did you obtain these?” asked Sister Hesphina. “These potions are worth at least 10 gold, a piece!”
“Don’t worry about that. Just take them and use them for my sister. That’s all that matters now”
“Yes of course. Well, you must come in.”
Masha stepped back away from the door. “No, I can’t. I have to leave. Please, just tell Elina that I love her and that I’ll find her someday.”
Sister Hesphina bowed her head sadly. “I understand. Ilmater takes us on many paths. May you and your sister’s paths cross once again.”
Masha gave one more bow and ran back down the alleyway. She rounded the corner and sprinted at full speed towards the city gates. Just as the walls of the city were in view, a figure stepped out of the shadows into the alley ahead of her. She skidded to a stop, almost falling over.
“Going somewhere Braella?” asked the large half-orc standing in her way.
“Garemon. What a pleasant surprise. I was just out for a stroll,” Masha stammered, taking a few steps back. As she did, two goblins jumped out into the street behind her.
“Oh really?” Garemon smirked with a vicious flash of his tusks. “Because it really looked like you were trying to leave the city. You know Belciar had a lot of money riding on that fight, and he had some really good insider information that Shavrak was going to win. Well, at least he was supposed to.”
Masha held her hands up in front of her face, palms out. “Garemon, I swear, I didn’t mean to win. It kind of just happened. Please tell Belciar that I’ll get him his money back.”
“It’s not about the money,” Garemon interrupted. “You know we have to do this. It’s a shame too, you had potential kid.”
The half-orc motioned to the goblin pair and the lunged towards Masha, daggers drawn. Masha acted quickly. The first goblin aimed his dagger for the base of Masha’s spine. Using the goblin’s own momentum against him, Masha grabbed the goblin by his arm, flipped it over onto the pavement, and plunged the blade into the goblin’s chest. She swung around quickly, planting a solid fist into the second goblin’s jaw.
The goblin let out a grunt as Masha lifted him above her head and threw him towards Garemon. Garemon was unprepared as the goblin flew through the air, knocking him to the ground. Masha used this chance to run away down the alley, into the street, and past the city gates into the wilderness beyond. She kept running, through the forest, up and down the winding hills of the countryside, until the city was only a speck in the distance behind her. After she could run no more, she stepped off into the woods off of the main road. She found a small clearing amongst the trees and slumped up against one of the tall pines. After a while, after her adrenaline had settled and a chill took over, she gathered some small sticks and lit a fire for warmth. As she sat by the fire, she ate a small piece of dried meat with some hard bread from her travel pack.
She took her dagger and began trimming the long braids, wincing with each cut as her golden hair hit the ground. She then pulled some coals out of the fire, poured some water from her waterskin onto the coals, and used the blade of the dagger to stir the mixture. She took the black mud with both hands and rubbed it into her now short hair, turning the blonde into a jet black. She dried her hair with a rag, laid her head down on the dirt, and as the embers of the fire began to die down, she closed her eyes and dreamt of the road ahead.