Tal’on was awakened by the sun assaulting his eyelids. He had to squint when he opened them, it was that bright. How long had it been since the sun caressed his scales?
“I am so sorry,” Delevy said.
He realized his head was lying in her lap. When he looked up above her concerned face he could see they were in just another type of cage. This one had a huge barred dome high above their heads. He lifted his head and it swam away in a dizzying wave of images. He heard a roar of voices and the sharp clapping of thousands of hands.
“What’s happening?” He asked Delevy, as his eyes began to focus.
Above the domed cage there was a series of tiered seating that ran all around the edge looking down at them in the bottom of a round walled dirt field.
“I am so sorry. They made me do it.” Tears welled up in his friend’s eyes. “If I didn’t drug you, the Prime was going to order you killed.”
Tal’on rolled out of Delevy’s lap and onto his knees. Another roar went up from the crowd.
“We’re in the stadium,” Delevy explained. “They are going to pit you against the Sandcor prisoners.”
Tal’on’s head had stopped swimming. He rose to his feet.
The crowd went wild. Drums began to pound and horns sounded. The people in the stands stomped their feet in rhythm to the drums until there was a deafening rumble Tal’on could feel in his chest. He looked up around him to see hundreds of the Valdare surrounding them, waving blood red flags with some sort of silver emblem on them.
“I will not fight!” Tal’on snarled. “Tell them!” He ordered Delevy, but when he looked down at her he saw she was still sitting.
She wore a collar made of some sort of metal like the bars above their head, but shiny and lit with a red and a green light on either side of the clasp. The collar had a chain which ran to a post embedded in the middle of the field of ground Delevy had called the stadium. When Delevy came to her feet he could see that she had only about six feet on the length of the chain.
“They won’t listen. You will fight or you will die.” She hung her head as though it were her fault he was in this predicament.
He extended a paw and cupped it under her chin. “None of this is your doing,” he said. His voice could barely be heard above the drums and the crowd. “You have been nothing but kind to me.” He hooked a claw under her collar and tested the strength of it.
“You have one too,” she pointed out.
Sure enough, when he put his paw to his throat he could feel the wide metal collar encircling his neck. He tugged on it. It was not coming off without a lot of effort.
The horns sounded a trill and the crowd fell silent.
“I know you can understand me,” the Prime said over a loudspeaker.
Tal’on raised his head to look for the man who had become his enemy by bringing them to this place. He found him directly in front of Delevy in an enclosed booth above the barred dome. He was seated with the rest of his counselors, his staff and guards. A smile touched the corner of his lips.
“Jailer Delevy tells me you refuse to fight the Sandcor on our behalf. I am here to persuade you differently. Bring out the prisoners!” He ordered.
A door opened into the stadium below the Prime and several guards ushered in six Sandcor prisoners. The guards carried the pain sticks Tal’on was so familiar with. The prisoners all wore collars similar to the ones Delevy and he wore. The guards laid down their weapons and quickly retreated back through the door, closing it behind them.
“You may not fight to save yourself,” the Prime said, “but I am willing to bet, you will fight to save your jailer.” His smile lifted into a wicked grin. He addressed the Sandcor prisoners. “The first man to kill the woman will be taken to the edge of the Valdare lands and given his freedom.”
The prisoners dove for the weapons the guards left behind. They spread out and immediately began to advance on Tal’on and Delevy.
Delevy frantically began to yank at the chain that held her captive. Tal’on grasped it with one huge paw and tugged hard. It broke off at the post. The crowd roared their amazement.
“Stay behind me,” he told her.
He pushed her back toward the far wall. He didn’t want to let the Sandcor behind them. They were moving like a well trained fighting team. The crowd had begun to holler again, yelling encouragement at the prisoners even though they were supposedly their arch enemies.
Tal’on instinctively spread his wings and roared his anger at the advancing Sandcor. The crowd fell silent and the prisoners took a step backward.
“Stay here!” Tal’on ordered. “I’m going up.”
Tal’on flapped his wings once, then twice. It gave him the lift he needed to grasp the barred dome just above the wall at the edge of the crowd. The Sandcor fell back further. The crowd yelled and screamed in fright as they scrambled away from the bars. Tal’on yanked and gnawed at the bars as the people fell over the seats and themselves in order to get away from the angry beast.
“Tal’on!” Delevy screamed behind him.
He turned to find her surrounded by the advancing Sandcor. She was fending them off by swinging the chain attached to her collar.
Tal’on took a deep breath. When he exhaled he spit a stream of fire between Delevy and the Sandcor. The Sandcor fell back in a frantic attempt to beat each other to the door they originally came through. The crowd instantly went quiet, only to erupt into mayhem as they realized the beast’s reach was not limited by the bars that kept it prisoner.
Tal’on caught a glimpse of the Prime’s startled expression before he shot a stream of fire at the Prime’s booth. The glass surrounding the booth saved the leader’s life, but his guard hustled him out before the beast could test its strength any further.
Tal’on turned his attention back to the bars. He was still gnawing and tugging when he heard Delevy scream. He glanced over his shoulder to see Valdare soldiers subduing Delevy. He roared as he dropped down from the bars to his feet on the stadium floor. His ears were laid back in anger, smoke curled from his nostrils. These were either very brave or very stupid men. He advanced on them wings tucked tightly to his sides.
“Stay back or my men will kill her,” the Prime shouted from the safety of his booth above. He had returned.
The crowd had left the stands screaming. It was just the Prime, his men, Delevy and Tal’on. The guard holding Delevy dwarfed her small frame and held a wicked looking knife to her throat.
“Run…” Delevy yelled. “Fly…”
Tal’on looked at the bars above his head. In time, he might be able to work his way through them. He had created a hole big enough for his muzzle in the short time he had been at it, but if he did try to run now, there would be blood before he managed an escape. And there was the question of what to do once he was free. The Sollen he set so much store in getting him rescued was still back in his cell. Would there be stone outside these walls with which he could fashion another? There really was no choice in what action to take. He could not…would not…allow Delevy to be hurt. He and the Prime both knew that.