The following is a transcription of posts made by ten different contestants on an offsite forum. Every week they will write chapters from their own character's points of views and push the plot forward until its inevitable conclusion. One by one, they will be eliminated until only three remain. Your vote counts! Please join us by visiting our website on our profile page to vote and discuss, or feel free to leave a review and give us feedback!


Death Follows Close Behind

By: Komi


Whispers throughout the Crater said that today was the day of the Culling. Gladiators new to the Crater would to get their first taste of the arena. Prepared for such, then, Komi had spent the morning lingering in shadows of the Drag and near the privy. She'd spent the last few nights awake as much as possible, obsessing over her escape. Previous fights had told her that a lot of the guards and beasts who worked in the Crater were absent from the lower levels during the matches.

Now the time had come.

Komi was getting out.

During some of the confusion, Komi curled up under some old sacking in a rubbish pile. As the Drag had emptied and the slaves had been herded up to the arena, no one noticed Komi was missing. By sheer good fortune, her name had not been called yet.

While every eye in the Drag focused on Hammerpaw and the otter they called the Monster of Mossflower, Komi wriggled out of her hiding place. She stuck to the walls, staying near the shadows as she slipped down the tunnels to the level below.

Here she ducked behind some barrels, for there were still a few guards lingering about. They had long poles and were jabbing them into the lizard's pit, trying to get the creature heading up the tunnel towards, Komi assumed, the arena itself.

After a few minutes, their job done, the guards put up the poles and hurried up the tunnel, talking about the bets they had placed on various gladiators.

Komi slipped out as soon as they were out of sight. Watchful for anyone else left below, she crept along, heading for the scorpion pit. Though she'd hoped maybe the scorpions would be used in today's games, a quick glance in the pit itself told her she was not that fortunate. At least six of the black armored creatures sat in the bottom, moving about restlessly, disturbed by the commotion of the day.

Komi had brought a short length of rope that she'd found tossed in the rubbish pile and she loosely bound it around her waist in easy reach. Staring down at the dark pit below, she took several slow deep breaths. She bounced up and down on her toes several times.

Then voices echoed down the tunnel. Somebeast was coming!

The stoat looked left and right, seeing no obvious hiding place. She looked down into the dim pit and swallowed a lump in her throat.

She climbed out onto the bars that formed the grate over the pit itself, then quickly let her lean body slide between the gaps. For a heartbeat or two, Komi couldn't get her shoulders between the bars without dropping below, then she found a pawhold and pulled her head out of sight, hanging by the bars from her paws. Paw over paw, she maneuvered herself to the wall and found a niche in the rock to get her footpaws into and take the strain off her arms. She waited, pressed against the rock, dangling above restless scorpions, as the voices drew near. If they looked in the scorpion pit, she'd be discovered.

Walk on by. Walk on by. She repeated over and over in her head.

Voices and pawsteps faded and Komi exhaled slowly. She looked over her shoulder at the hole high in the wall, covered by a smaller grate. Carefully, she removed one paw at a time from where she gripped the bars, rubbed it dry on her tunic, then took a strong, dry grip, and began swinging from paw to paw, releasing one paw, swing, grab the next bar, release the other paw, swing, grab the bar, hoping desperately that her grip would remain true. Finally, paws and arms burning from the strain, she reached the small tunnel, got her footpaws on it to take some pressure off her arms and caught her breath.

Drying her paws on her tunic again, she took fresh grips on the bars, then lifted her legs up to get them up and over the bars, so her weight hung from her knees. She released one pawgrip and grabbed at the metal grate over the hole. It lifted with only a slight squeal of hinges. She had to shift her position several times before she found a way to hold the small grate steady while she untied the rope from her waist and then retied it around the grate's edge and the bars of the pit's cover.

Finally, the grate was secure. Komi unslung her legs from the bars and pawwalked her way to the small tunnel. The final difficult task was getting her body in the tunnel itself. It wasn't big enough for her to turn around in, so she had to work her way in, head first, without losing her grip and falling to the pit below.

Once safely in, Komi took a moment to catch her breath and rest her aching arms, lying in the tunnel opening. Then she reached her footpaw out and hooked a loop she'd made in a dangling edge of the rope holding the grate open. A few sharp tugs loosened the slipknot and the grate fell back down to its place. She caught it so it wouldn't clang against the rock, then lowered it fully. She knotted the rope back around her waist, not eager to leave it behind as evidence of her path, then faced the long dark tunnel before her.

Pushing to all fours, she crawled up the tunnel and left the light of the monsters' cave behind. Komi heard nothing but her own breathing and her heart, hammering too fast in her chest. Her eyes strained in the dark, but not a scrap of light made it past her.

She crawled on, focused only on the idea of escape, the air above her and the road under her paws once more. She had a passing regret for the pack she'd left in the Crater. Nire's beasts had taken her drum and flute along with her pack, but risking her life for those things would have been beyond foolish. Someday, they could be replaced.

She climbed on, the tunnel turning upwards and forcing her to brace forepaws and footpaws against the sides to gain purchase.

Komi fought down feelings of panic, wondering if maybe this tunnel went on forever, or if it ended in a dead end. She wanted to sing or hum, but worried that her voice would carry. So she gritted her teeth and climbed on.

A fresh breeze caressed her face and Komi almost laughed in relief. The opening had to be close! She was almost out.

Komi heard voices. She froze and listened.

"…fault we're late."

"Ah, shaddaup, if you hadn't gotten drunk at that tavern, we'd been here yesterday."

"Oi, watch 'im!"

"I got it!"

"Quick bugger, ain't 'e?"

Komi thought she heard a sort of hissing rattle somewhere up the tunnel and an icy chill ran down her spine.

"'Ere we go, mate. Nice little dark 'ole for you. Git down there and join your friends."

Komi hadn't realized that there'd been a tiny bit of light coming from somewhere in front of her until it was blocked out and the voices were muffled slightly. Then she heard the skittering clatter of too many hard somethings in the tunnel.

The sound drew nearer.

A squeal slipped from Komi's throat and she backed up the way she had come. Sliding down the tunnel. Scraping elbows and knees on the sides. Cracking her head on the top. The whole time expecting to feel the harsh grip of black claws.

It wasn't any better when she bumped her rump against the small grate over the tunnel, and realized she had enough light now to see what came after her. The scorpion had no recognizable face, just pairs of parts that moved nightmarishly between the heavy black claws.

Komi screamed and pushed the grate back, half falling into the scorpion's pit, while the creature skittered forward and snapped a pincher a hair's breathe from her nose. She slid down, claws barely catching the edge of the rock tunnel, as the scorpion came right over top of her. It's armored legs scrabbled at her, looking for purchase of it's own, before it fell to the floor.

Komi's claws slipped and she slid down the pit face, frantically grasping. A claw in the rock here, another in a crack there, and she stopped. Gasping and gulping, she pressed her head against the rock, as she felt for a better purchase while her claws that held her up felt as if they were ripping from her skin. Only when she had a slightly better grip, did she dare to glance down.

The scorpions skittered just below her, claws upraised, some trying to reach the morsel just out of their reach, the others facing off against the newcomer dropped in their midst.

Komi looked up towards the grate and her heart sank to her stomach. There was no way she could reach it and climb back out. Already, she felt her grip wavering.

"Help," she managed weakly. Then took a deep breath and screamed the word again.

She almost wept when paws came running to her call.

She focused everything on hanging on while the beasts above shouted and scrambled around. After what felt like ages, a couple of the guards came carefully across the top of the grate with a pair of catch poles. Komi had to release one paw from the wall to grab at the rope lowered from the pole, though with a skillful flick, the guard got it around her wrist first and she gripped the rope from there, while the other one nearly cracked her across the head.

They pulled Komi up and roughly dragged her through the bars of the grate. She flopped, exhausted and shaking, on the stone floor next to the pit when they released her. She stared into the pit and into the spot where she'd clung desperately. Fresh tremors wracked through her.

Until someobeast dumped a bucket of cold water over her.

Komi gasped and looked up.

Nire stood before her, paws crossed over his chest and a narrowed, angry expression on his eyes.

"Komi Banton, isn't it?" he said, but didn't wait for her confirmation. "You were supposed to be in the arena today, and instead I find you down here, trying to get away?"

She didn't have words, still too physically and mentally exhausted for anything.

"Well, as much as I hope you learned your lesson with your little adventure, I don't take kindly to runaways." He leaned close, his breath hot in her face. "I have ways of dealing with beasts like you!"

Nire straightened and gestured to Komi. "Bring her!"

They dragged her deeper into the Crater, leaving the scorpion pit behind.

They stopped in front of a cell that already had an unconscious female otter inside. Komi stared at her, trying to remember why the otter looked so familiar, then the guards dragged her inside the adjoining cell. One clamped a shackle around her right ankle and they left her alone in the stone room.

Komi rubbed her face with her paws and fought down the urge to cry, or maybe scream. With a shuddering breath, she looked at her new surroundings.

To her left was a soft, mossy wall, while the walls on the right and behind her were jagged rock. Iron bars filled her vision in front.

Shakily, Komi stood, her chain clanking as she walked towards the bars, but it wasn't long enough for her to reach them. When she tried anyway, the chain scraped against something and she got a little further. Her eyes followed the trailing edge of the chain until it ran under a grate in the right wall. A small barred window sat above the grate in the jagged wall and she walked over to peer through it.

On the other side of the wall, wearing the opposite end of the chain, lay the otter. Komi recognized her now, remembering the young one that she'd carried during the long trek to the Crater. Nire kept calling her the Monster of Mossflower.

"Wonderful," she grumbled. "I'm chained to a woodlander." Komi stepped back from the window and looked around her cell. She picked up the chain and drug the unconscious otter in the opposite cell right up to the grate. That gave Komi just enough slack in the chain to reach the mossy wall. She leaned her back and head against the softness and closed her eyes, too exhausted to worry about nightmares.

End of Round 1