The sound of keys woke Roxanne. She looked up to see a man, a soldier, opening the door of the cell she shared with Nisip and Sugarra. This wasn't the one who cleaned the cages, and that could only mean one thing.
Who would he choose today?
He pushed angrily the two larger felines away, and Roxanne's stomach twisted. She crouched in a corner and hissed to the man. The soldier cursed under his breath and managed to grab her by the scruff, making Roxanne growl and spit, and lash at him with her claws. His fist hit her on the head, making her dizzy. She had no choice but to obey. All of this happened in seconds, and when Sugarra and Nisip turned to help her, the door was already closed on their noses. The caracal was taken away, listening to their voices, telling her to stay strong, that she would come back home. Would she?
The soldier left her on a closed space, where an armor lay. The dark caracal hated it, hated the smell of blood and death that stood on each layer of metal. Yet she knew she had to use it. It wasn't a common armor, however - she heard, from the little she understood of human language, that some rich person was considering buying her. The armor consisted of two plates, one for her back, and one for her belly, as well as two leg bracers that she attached to her front legs. She didn't like the shoulder guards, however, as they always slowed her down, but there was nothing she could do but wear it. Finally, she put on the light set of metal claws on her front paws, twisting her nose in disgust and homesickness. The claws were shaped to resemble lightning bolts, a painful reminder of the home she had already given up on seeing again. Not after almost a year.
Soon, more guards entered the chamber, and let her to what she used to call the arena's 'waiting room'. But today was different. She could hear the crowd cheering, the taint of blood in the air. Today was no ordinary day. After months of training in small competitions, she was strong enough to enter a big tournament. The thought made her shiver. She had never been forced to kill before. Deep wounds, loss of blood, all of this she had already caused, and most of her opponents were probably dead because of her. But she had never been forced to give the final strike. Roxanne had a bad feeling about that thought.
The door to the arena was opened, and Roxanne walked slowly trough it, wary of the challenges she would face today. Sunlight hurt her eyes, after so long on the dark room where the captured cats were held. The sky was clouded, and she could hear thunder. Yet, some patches of sun could be seen trough the heavy clouds, as if Apollo had cleared just enough space to see the coming fight.
A flicker of movement called Roxanne's attention. On the opposite corner of the coliseum - she was stanting on a coliseum, for the very first time, and the wide space scared her, but she would not let her opponent see it - an oddly colored feline watched her. A cheetah? No, the body was built up like a cheetah's, but the patches on its pelt were of a clouded leopard. Probably a hybrid. She tried to think fast. That feline probably had speed and agility, as well as powerful blows. However, its stamina would luckily be low.
The hybrid approached her, and Roxanne noticed its simple, light armor. Definitely made for speed but not for strong defense. It was a female. The look she shot Roxanne was that of an almost crazed feline, young, but determined to do anything that kept herself alive.
Roxanne was sure her eyes reflected the same feelings.
The two cats circled each other as the crowd cheered for their favorites, as Roxanne examined her opponent. She saw her body tense and her eyes, for the smallest second, be fixed on her blind side. She already knew what to expect, and when the attack came, she promptly avoided it. The caracal felt the rush of the wind as the tip of a claw brushed her ear, but it wasn't strong enough to open a wound. Without wasting a second, Roxanne twisted and charged at her opponent, aiming for her left side. The hybrid, however, was also very agile, as the former Lightning apprentice had presumed, and jumped out of Roxanne's metal claws' reach.
They stopped, panting, staring at each other. Roxanne felt a rush of pleasure as her the cheetah mix frowned. Clearly she had thought on Roxanne as an easy target, but after months battling in many arenas, the loss on an eye only annoyed Roxanne slightly. Her other senses were much sharper than before, and she liked it. When her opponent opened her mouth and spoke, on the middle of the battle, Roxanne expected the taunts that were so common in the battles, but...
"You're an Empire cat, no?" She asked.
After a moment of hesitation, Roxanne replied. "Yes. Lightning Empire."
"Hah." Her enemy snorted. "I guessed you were, so weak and tiny like all of those flea-bitten scum."
"Are you a Bounty Hunter?" Roxanne hissed, the fur along her neck rising at the thought of sinking her claws in one of those murderers. The image of Meka's eyes, always present, blinked at her, a plead in that stare.
The hybrid didn't reply, but attacked. This time the fury of fighting one of them made Roxanne bolder, and she forced herself to wait... And wait... And wait... On the last second she took a step to the left, to then jump and sink her teeth in the opponent's ear. With a cry of pain, she tried to pull away, but Roxanne kept her grasp. When she pulled again, Roxanne heard a sickly sound, and felt the feline escape her bite. She was pushed backwards by a slash of her paw, but her armor protected her from injuries. Rolling, Roxanne stood on all four paws, and spit the piece of skin that she held in her mouth. "Are you?" She hissed to the clouded leopard/cheetah mix again, her green eye blazing. Her enemy stood blinking the blood out of her eye, her head now with only a piece of skin where her ear used to be. "No." She growled a reply. "But that doesn't make me hate you less."
"My mother was an escapee" she heard the hybrid say as she twisted aside to avoid a harsh blow, partially succeeding. Her side was bleeding from three gashes, not deep but painful. "She tried to join your blasted Empire, and their Leader, a golden mountain lion, said that it was not Adraksh's will." The cheetah escaped Roxanne's attack and backed away a few steps. They circled each other again.
That must have been Spartacus. But why would he do it? Roxanne wondered. A flick of the hybrid's tail gave Roxanne all the information she needed. As the opponent attacked, diving for her muzzle, Roxanne gathered strengh and jumped, over the cheetah's head, kicking her already injured face with her back paws when she turned back with a starled yowl. Her landing was harsh though, and her metal claws were dislodged. She hissed with pain, and ran away before the cheetah could counter-attack. Biting trough the leather straps, she quickly removed both pieces of armor and stretched her front paws. Much better.
"I don't believe your lies. If this stupid Adraksh existed, he would have left my mother join them." Roxanne eyed her enemy, who was slowly walking towards her. "She was an amazing fighter and a great strategist. I would have been born free from this bloody hell!"
The dark caracal blinked. "And why didn't your mother try other Empires? Maybe Adraksh refused her because she would better serve in Ignis' or Aurelia's Empires!"
The clouded leopard stopped, confused, then shook her head. "No. They don't exist. If that leader had accepted her we would both be free! They're nothing but tales to keep the hopes up. But I know better. I know that there is no end to this cycle of killing and killing. And I'll show it to you!" With a sudden burst of speed, she charged foward with extended claws, and when Roxanne dodged to escape the attack, she twisted and landed a harsh blow on the caracal's head. Her black body was sent flying, and all the air left her lungs and she gasped, trying to breathe, get up. She was too slow, however, and felt the hybrid's paw pressing her throat, so close, so close to breaking her neck. With an effort to stay alive, Roxanne pushed her muzzle with her front paws, but she couldn't breathe, her paws weren't strong enough to push the opponent away. "Life is loneliness." She heard the other say. "No mercy from anyone, not from your family, and much less by a guardian that doesn't even exist!" The pressure intensified, and Roxanne let out a loud wail with what was left on her lungs.
"Adraksh, help me!"
"Fool!" The cheetah hybrid hissed. "There is no Adraksh, there is no help! There is only death!" She raised her head for the final bite and Roxanne closed partially her eyes, preparing to die, when a sudden flash made the enemy yowl with surprise. A second later the echoing sound of thunder almost left Roxanne deaf. A lightning!
The caracal used the moment of distraction to break free from the grasp and slash with her front paws at the opponent's head. Even without her metal claws, she could do much more damage than when Maia had taken Meka's life in the night of the Raid. With a cry of pain, the cheetah mix pulled away, trying to open her eye, but now it was only an empty orbit. She aimed an attack at Roxanne, but the lightning seemed to have given her a burst of strengh. Instead of running away or blocking the attack, Roxanne ran towards her enemy, faster, faster, faster, until she could barely feel the ground under her paws. She smelled the scent of storm, and could feel an odd pressure to her injured side, supporting her. Though the fur was short, it sparked with eletricity. Adraksh?
When the leopard hybrid jumped on her, Roxanne dived right between her opponent's legs, shifting to the right and going right under her belly. The pressure besides her intensified, and she twisted faster than she could ever dream of doing, jumping at the enemy's back and sinking her teeth on her scruff. The hybrid groaned and her legs gave way, and she fell, her sides heaving as she gasped for oxygen. Roxanne's paws tingled with the need to keep running, but she stopped and waited for the other to get up.
It didn't happen.
Roxanne walked closer, trying to make out the words thag came from the feline's mouth. "He listened to you..." She murmured in awe. "He answered your call, with that lightning. He exists, I saw him fighting along with you! He's real, you were right! Maybe my mother was wrong, after all." She fixed her piercing blue eye on Roxanne's, and asked. "Are they... Are they all real?"
"Yes." Roxanne murmured. "We all believe in them. Glacio, Aether, Ignis, Aurelia... Adraksh... And Sator."
"He breathes life in your body when you're born... And he takes care of you when you die." She whispered. It wasn't exacly what the legends said, but it was the closer to comforting the cat who tried to kill her that Roxanne could do.
"Do you... Think he'll take care of me? I never believed him."
Roxanne could hear the voices of the crowd, asking for death, but she replied loud enough just so that the dying cat could hear. "Yes. He will."
The hybrid's blue eye shone with hope and happiness. "Then please... Please... End this. Let him take me. I can't live on this world anymore. Please..." She countinued to plead, but Roxanne hesitated, divided by the sounds of the crowd, the soldiers, and her heart's desire. How could she kill another living being?
Let her go, Roxanne. A voice whispered on her ear. Let her go, and we will take care of her.
The pleads ended abruptly with a relieved sigh.
"Roxanne!" Sugarra called, relieved, as she saw the caracal entering the cage. Luckily, the Healer though, a storm had prevented Roxanne from fighting for the rest of the day. Her fur was ragged and dusty with blood, but she didn't make any effort to clean it. That wasn't like the caracal Sugarra knew. "Roxanne?" She repeated. Instead of replying, the dark cat went to a corner of the cage and curled herself in a ball. Sugarra walked quietly and settled down besides the small feline. After so long sharing the same cell, she knew that Roxanne would speak when she was ready.
As she predicted, a few minutes after Sugarra started to clean her friend's fur, she murmured, barely loud enough for the cougar to hear. "I killed her." Sugarra's strokes stopped as she leaned down to stare in the single green eye of the caracal. "I killed her," she repeated, "just like Maia killed Meka. She was defenseless and would never harm me, but I killed her anyway. She... Didn't believe in our guardians, Sugarra, but when she was about to kill me"- the caracal touched the bleeding wound on her neck- "lightning stroke, she was blinded by the light, and I felt something... Someone... Helping me. Running with me, faster than I ever ran. But in the end she believed on them, she said she saw Adraksh running with me, and... Asked me to finish it. I didn't want to but... But... I did it, and..." Roxanne could no longer speak, hiding her face in Sugarra's fur and sobbing, her whole body shivering with hate, hate for the city, hate for what they forced her to become, a murderer just like Maia and Scaeden. She knew she had to be strong, for as much as the cougar tried to hide it, she knew Sugarra wasn't better than herself. But what she had done... She took a life and didn't even know her name.
However, soon she felt the soft strokes of the former Healer's tongue on her scarred fur. "Dear Roxanne." She whispered. "Maia and Scaeden chose their future, but yours was forced upon you. That feline's time was done, and Sator was calling her back. You're not like them. These... They are wounds, and wounds will heal. Some sooner, some later, but they will heal."
"But some wounds leave scars, forever marked on your skin." She mumbled.
"I just want to go home, Sugarra."
The cougar's voice was filled with determination when she replied.
"And I promised I wod get you out of here. I will keep my promise."
"And you will come with me." The caracal replied stubbornly, as it was already an habit of the two felines. She would never, ever leave Sugarra behind. That was her promise, and she would keep it.
As Roxanne drifted in sleep, the air crackled once again with the scent of storm, and rain, but Sugarra didn't notice as she wrapped her tail around the caracal's body. But Roxanne did. She could almost feel the sparks of eletricity on her fur. Survive, young one. Adraksh murmured on her ear. And you shall soon see your home again, and you will run trough your land along with your friends and your family. And I will run with you, faster, faster, faster, until the world is no more than a blur and lightning cannot match your speed."