How we live, love and fight. The Arena.
The crowd was silent as they walked through the gate. It always was. All eyes were fixed on them in hushed awe as they entered the arena, their kingdom, their home. And it was right.
Nira stopped, standing for a moment just where the shadow of the gates became the dazzling brightness of the arena floor, feeling Ara settle with easy grace at her side. Across the arena, their opponents stared at them, the older warrior with wary measure, the younger with raw lust. She laughed a little at that, bouncing on her steel-clad toes. No wonder, poor boy. With only those boots against the debris and the leather vambraces on their forearms to hide their magnificence, they were truly lust-worthy. Naked as the day they'd been born, and why not? They needed no armour, and the lack was a weapon in itself.
She looked then at Ara, satisfied with their opponents, and met her lover's ardent smile. Ara was beautiful in the arena, full of a vicious radiance that was only theirs, and the sight of her here was intoxicating, deadly and sensual and divine. Nira never felt so clear and passionate a love for her than she did here, never knew such pure joy as it was returned. She leaned in, catching Ara's arm, feeling her own clasped, and pressed their lips together in a kiss both brutal and chaste. Ara, her lover, her partner, sister of her soul, who smiled so fiercely as she pulled back from the kiss, and raised her arm to the sky.
"Blood!" Ara roared, the battle cry of the arena.
"Iron!" Nira cried, fist brandished to the air.
"Blood! Iron! Blood! Iron!" the crowd screamed, agonised ecstasy, vivid adoration. Ara threw back her head, laughing and wild, a devil of the battlefield, seductive and gorgeous, and Nira echoed her, high and fierce and clear, the goddesses of the arena in all their vibrant glory. And then the horns cried out over the crowd, the clarion call, and they were nothing but movement, nothing but force, racing across the sand towards their enemies, steel ringing in their hands, on their feet.
The boy was hers, Nira thought, her body arcing low over the sand, the knife in her attacking hand sweeping high, the other low and guarding across her abdomen. He fell back in shock, sword coming up on nothing but instinct, and she batted it contemptuously aside as she moved in, second knife coming up from below. Too fast, too soon, but she had no mercy. And then, miraculously, he seemed to remember himself, and her knife screamed harmless across his bracer as he leapt sideways beyond her range, his eyes wild and terrible. She laughed in her throat, spinning after him, the lioness on the hunt once more.
Behind her, in that moment of reprieve, she heard the clash of steel as Ara met her own opponent, ringing in a sequence that spoke of knives on the defensive, sword attacking. She grinned. So Ara had a challenge. Good for her. Her sister-soul had been so listless of late, so pensive. This gift would be sure to lift her spirits.
The boy came back towards her, sword raised and guarded, a testing circle. He had remembered some skill, or at the very least some caution. Nira grinned, knives coming up in shimmering anticipation, her eyes fixed on his, her smile vicious and taunting. Come, little boy, her body sang. Come, let us play. He raised the sword, feet sliding to a launch position, and she could feel her heart leaping already to meet him, to strike him, to love him. And then he shifted further, his body angling slightly away from her, and she moved, instantly attacking, frowning without being quite sure why. He spun away, diving around her attack, terrified betrayal, and leapt not at the brief flash of her exposed flank, but away altogether, towards the other pair, towards Ara's undefended back ...
Nira spun with a scream of fury, rage boiling up from her blood, so white and fierce it near blinded her, and at the sound Ara dove forward, her soul as always in sympathy with Nira's, her instincts riding in tandem with her sister-soul. Ara's opponent had a brief moment to stare in horror as the boy's blade passed through the space where Ara had been, before it impaled him through the right shoulder, and his scream tore free. The boy gasped in terror, dropping the blade, and before he could move Nira was on him, her knife tearing through his shoulder and into his throat, the blood leaping to its touch, spraying the stunned older man.
For a moment, no-one moved, the silence as loud as any roar, the breath thundering in Nira's ears, the pounding of her raging heart as she held the corpse upright, panting in fury. Then her blood calmed, the rage passing, and she dropped what remained of the boy to the sand. Behind their other opponent, who had sunk to his knees with shock and the pain of his wound, Ara rose to her feet, knives in hand, the boy's blood painting her back and arms where the spray had caught her. She was flushed, her eyes glittering with adrenalin and anger, and love as she met Nira's impassioned gaze. Sister mine. My life is yours. Always.
She moved, then, body instinctively seeking, rushing to the warmth that was her lover, blood and sweat and steel, and the scent of Ara as she buried her nose in her shoulder, the brush of her hair against Nira's cheek. Her sister. Her soul. Their kiss was searing and sweet, terrible and tender, singing with life and death, and in that moment Nira could not have loved anyone more fiercely, more completely, more terribly than she did Ara. And though it burst inside her, her heart was calm, because Ara loved her as deeply, as passionately.
A sound behind them broke the moment, and they turned as one, arms coming up in the same instant, knives guarding. But it was no threat. Only the older warrior, Ara's opponent, as he struggled vainly to remove the weapon from his body, his face twisted in pain and a broken pity as he stared at the boy's corpse.
Nira looked at him for a long second, turning to meet her lover's gaze, see the agreement that shone there, and then she was kneeling at the man's side, ignoring his start of fear, and her hands rested with steady assurance over the blade as it entered his shoulder. A second later, as he stared in pain and fear, Ara's arms had cradled him from behind, her cheek resting against his, her mouth moving gently as she whispered soothing things in his ear, her eyes fixed on Nira's. Meeting that gaze, Nira nodded to the silent count of three, and heaved with all her might, the sword arcing out from the man's shoulder in a spray of blood that was instantly stemmed as Ara pressed her hands against the wound. His scream cut off in his throat, and he slumped back against her, unconscious.
Nira looked at him a moment longer, looked at Ara, then stood, content to leave him in her sister's care. She raised a bloody hand to the sky, her face fierce and bronze and radiant, and screamed to the roar of the crowd as it returned. "Blood! Iron!" The battle was finished, the victors obvious. She had decreed it so, and a nod from the Foreman's box made the verdict official. With a final salute, she opened her fist, and let her hand fall to her side.
This battle was done.
Ara came to her side, then, as the healers rushed out to take care of the old warrior. He would live, and would not fight in the arenas again. Not wounded like that. Most likely he would end up in the mines, pushing ore, but there was nothing they could do about that. They could not have killed him, not after he had been struck down by his own partner. They did not finish the treachery of others.
Nira paused, feeling a bloody hand curl around hers, feeling the warmth as Ara pressed close to her side, the love as their eyes met once more. She smiled, faintly, and leaned in for the kiss, chaste and gentle, just a whisper as the other mouth brushed over hers, a faint tang of iron. Ara. And then her sister-soul smiled, and let her go, let her do the last duty they owed on this battlefield.
She moved to the boy's side, a bloodstained panther, her eyes warm with pity and love, and placed her hand to his throat where his blood had flowed. She waited until it had stained her fingers almost black, then raised her hand to her lips, and sucked them dry, swallowing his blood. Then, finally, she took his face between her hands, held her opponent close and dear, and pressed her bloody mouth to his forehead.
"I carry your blood," she whispered. "I carry your soul. To the gates of heaven, little brother. To the gates of heaven."
She left him, then, in the sand and the blood, a husk without a soul, and walked side by side with her lover from the arena.