Two weeks later...

Kino took stock of her situation. She was literally on the enemy's turf, standing in the shadow of the guards' station house. The half-dozen white, shiny helmets that hung from pegs just outside its door reminded her eerily of polished skulls.

"The last man --or woman-- standing receives a medal of citizenship from the hand of the king." The guard continued his lecture. "At that time, he or she's permitted to make one new law. Anyone who passes through that gate before the deadline is automatically entered. Congratulations: you're in."

This is the place the sailors warned me about, Kino mused. Where the king forces people to fight for his amusement. So.

"But I don't want in," Kino went through the motions of arguing. "I don't want to be a citizen of this... place."

"You gonna participate?" asked another guard. "Or you gonna head straight for the slaves' quarters?"

Kino glanced around her. Guards had come from every corner to ogle; every man wore a vulgar grin and rattled his gun as if to say, "just look at this!"

Strange. I'm not frightened at all. I just feel like if I don't shoot somebody I'm gonna burst!

"I have one more question," Kino said, not allowing her expression to change. "Have there been people like me, ordinary travelers who stumbled in without knowing the rules?"

The guards cackled.

"Idiots like you? Usually get killed in the first round. I remember one couple drove in with a horse and cart, and in a beautiful stroke of luck got to fight each other in the first round. The wife surrendered and survived 'cause he let her, but the husband was killed in the second round." The guard grinned and minced, "it was so romantic."

She lost someone she cared about, and they're laughing. Kino's eyes narrowed....

"Here we go," murmured Hermes.