Nisha and Aaren were stumped momentarily.
Based on the flow of the story, they still had some faint hope that the master of the noble family had some appreciation for the [Eternal Warriors] friend and let him off with a smaller burden for teaching his son a valuable lesson.
Without any forewarning, that tiny dream shattered and turned to dust.
Twenty five fights symbolized a death sentence. They did not know what manner of fights were held in the Terus Empire arena, but it was not hard to guess that twice the number of fights would have to have been a cruel burden to bear.
Fortunately, they knew the tiny ray of light at the end of the depressing outlook.
Tyne’s friend must have made it out alive based on the fact that he lived to tell the tale.
Now they were fascinated with the details and terrible secrets hidden within the underground cells.
Fundamentally, the citizens of the Leandar kingdom believed in the rule of the law.
The king and the nobles were in charge of defending the kingdom from natural disasters, monsters and were in charge of maintaining order.
They enforced the law and protected the public from violence and similar threats in exchange for their taxes and obedience.
It was a stark contrast to hear about the arena, where it was possible and even encouraged, to the point where the sand in the pit got dyed red from blood and guts spilling out.
Thankfully, the [Eternal Warrior] did not disappoint them and satisfied their craving for more details.
“In fact, the arena does not treat the prisoners too badly.
Every convict gets their own cell, daily meals and basic healing in case of injuries.
When my friend got sold to the arena, he was examined, judged for his cultivation level and assigned to a cellblock with inmates that have similar strength.
For a full moon, he did not have to fight or risk his life in any way, they even gave classes to everyone detained there in the basic handling of different weapon types.
He once confided to my that he expected torture or abuse, to rile them up for the actual fights to make them more bloody for the crowds, yet the kind but austere treatment confused him.
As it turned out, there was no need at all to incite the prisoners for the fights.
They would do it all by themselves.”
Tyne Pinewood smiled at the irony in his statement, though it held no mirth.
At the same time, Nisha wondered why the instructor took them here if he had no positive feelings towards the management style of the arena, though it was not her place to question his motives.
Meanwhile, Aaren imagined a set of dusky rooms located beneath the ground, with an array of metal bars separating the space into different cells.
Prisoners stared at each other, deeply distrustful of each other and waiting for a chance to bite at each other’s throats.
Just from imagining it, it dragged his mood down.
Regardless of the trios exchange, the fight in the pit entered the last stage.
The spear fighter and the gauntlet wielder had mostly tested each other’s capabilities and adapted to the combat style of their adversary.
So far, the former focused mostly on defense and mid-range blows to force his foe to keep away, not risking any big blows that might compromise his defence.
Contrary to that, the second combatant constantly sought for ways to advance and get up close and personal, emphasizing bursts of aggressiveness and faking the direction he wanted to move to force an opening.
Since they grew familiar with each other through the martial exchange, there were less and less unexpected movements and techniques, signalling the end of the exchange.
Whoever managed to seize an opening first stood a good chance at winning the entire fight.
“You know, I did not understand the implications when he first told me about his experiences.
If we were not drinking, or I tried to ask him directly about his past, my friend would generally shrug my questions off or pretend that he did not hear me.
And when he revealed some small details, I could only hear what he wanted to share and piece them together later on my own.
Basically, I failed to understand why the arena would show their prisoners kindness, but it made sense later on.
My friend entered the arena for the first time after a month and was ready to fight for his life, full of determination to make it through fifty fights and take back his life.
I remember that he looked profoundly tired and more like a scarred veteran than the champion of the arena that just returned from a successful campaign into the Dungeon.”
Tyne Pinewood regretted opening the memory box a little.
Normally, he could have enjoyed the sun while napping on the seat until it was time for the fight he wanted to show the students.
For whatever reason, he went down the memory lane and was now stuck with introducing the true face of the arena to the little ones.
Although it was a complete bother and he would much rather forget about it, it was his creed to always finish the things he started, so he went on.
“He was thrown back into his cell in a broken mess, splattering blood all over the cold stone ground.
A while later a priest and some apprentices came over and flicked him back together roughly, treating it as a chance for the acolytes to get some training with a real patient.
He barely survived and was too weak to pick himself up for the next half moon, with only thin gruel and tattered clothes to sustain him.
Of course, he was too weak to attend the free training and staggered into the arena with nary but his spirit to prop him up.
Thankfully, his condition also made the arena managers view him in a negative light and his second fight was part of a mass fight against a horde of starved monsters.
The prisoners were in better form than usual and managed to put them down successfully, despite my friend not really pulling his weight except being live bait.
With another grace period, he recovered enough to get back on his feet.”
So far, Nisha did not really see the cruel aspect of the arena, yet she was afraid of making another quick judgment and waited to hear more.
“He lost another fight, although not quite as badly, before he finally managed to get a win once he was set against an opponent with a similar lose streak.
Upon returning to his cell, he was presented some options by a manager from the arena.
For every win, the prisoners would be granted one benefit, while every loss would cost him two of them, if he had any.
Quite surprised by the range of options, my friend asked for the full set of rules so he would know in advance.”
The [Eternal Warrior] naturally knew what was on his students mind, given that he did not really reveal much of the important content so far.
He deliberately dragged out the story to tease them, the enjoyment of doing so greater than the annoyingness of having to talk more.
Surprisingly, he also enjoyed the feeling of having students hanging at his lips and carefully listening to his stories.
So far, Tyne Pinewood had little love for his job as an instructor.
He only accepted it because the Beastmaster, who usually accepted such tasks when the [Silverveil] adventurer group took a break and stayed in Leandar, was busy this time and the band already expressed their agreement to the guild before they knew that no one would be available.
However, he did find it quite enjoyable to have authority over a bunch of promising youngsters, who respected him and listened to his words.
Tyne believed he saw part of the reason why the Beastmaster was so willing to become a part time instructor every now and then.
“In fact, it’s not very complicated.
For every win, the arena grants the prisoner a benefit, while a loss will result in at least two of them being taken away.
But on top of that, the captives could also plunder benefits from each other, namely by killing them in the combat pit.
If a prisoner manages to execute another in a duel, they are allowed to take two benefits away from the deceased, given that they have any in the first place and they don’t overlap with the ones that the victor already owns.
This is mainly added to prevent the veterans from butchering the newcomers before they have time to adapt, essentially killing off the replenishment of fighters.”
Benefits and killing each other did align more with the insidious system of pitting the prisoners against each other, yet the man was not done yet.
“The benefits mainly consisted of small blessings, such as a proper bed, more fulfilling meals with meat and bread, additional healing or a familiar weapon in the pit.
Lots of little things that may seem pointless and minor to us right now, but for the prisoners it majorly influenced their performance in the arena and their way of living inside the cells.
For example, the bare cells where my friend first arrived in the underground prison are only intended for fresh arrivals.
Those who won several games would certainly ask for the benefit of a better environment and get a better accommodation.
Some of the major advantages required several benefits to be paid as the cost at once, but they were too far away for the new fighters.
Now imagine how much these guys crave for these small luxuries and how much it could potentially affect them if they were taken away after a loss.”
Prompted by their teacher, Aaren tried to insert himself into the described scenario and emphasize with the prisoners.
Inevitably, he compared his own living circumstances to those he just heard about.
He came from a rather normal family, living in a small village far away from the capital but still barely within the heartlands around the Thurgau river.
Nearly all villagers depended on farming or craftsmanship to earn their living.
His father owned a bigger than average farm and Aaren himself was the second oldest son.
The only difference from any other farm village manifested in the Adventurers Guild branch that oversaw the nearby area.
Same as the other children of his parents and aunts and uncles, who owned a share of the farm in exchange for their help, the youth attended classes hosted by the guild branch to attain basic literacy and math skills.
His teacher always had high praises for Aaren’s perception and felt he was quite gifted at picking up knowledge, hence the teacher applied for a chance to win a spot at the famous [Royal Academy] on behalf of Aaren.
The youth himself never expected to pass and neither did his family, none of them travelled much further than the neighbouring villages in their lives and could not imagine that one of them would attend a school in the capital.
To their surprise, the teacher barged into their farm house in the middle of the night a moon later to share exciting news: Aaren got a full stipendium to study with his results!
After celebrating and expressing their disbelief over the sudden fortune, the youth and one of his younger ants travelled with an escort of the guild that went in the same direction and arrived at Thurgau a while later.
Now, Aaren lived in the dormitory provided by the school and was able to eat his meals in the canteen for free as part of his stipendium.
Most expenses and a small allowance were given to his aunt and the boy, who had to worry about neither a roof above their heads or food on their table.
In stark contrast, the prisoners of the arena had to compete against each other to secure much inferior benefits and it was designed in a way that made them lose the small advantages quite easily once they lost a fight.
On top of that, they were encouraged to kill each other and plunder their advantages from the officials in charge of them.
It was no wonder that the guards and overseers did not have to incite discord or mistreat the captives to rouse their bloodlust.
Guessing in his heart, Aaren admitted to himself that he might also kill others to better his own life, since they were neither kin nor friends in the underground cells.
Nisha looked pensive and followed a similar train of thought, when the situation in the pit changed.
Instead of dodging as he had the previous times, the gauntlet fighter stepped into the trajectory of the spear coming down at him in a wide swing.
He put both hands together and rebounded the long weapon coming down at him back into the air, surprising the spectating crowd, which burst into great excitement and cheers at the sudden opening.
As everyone thought, the gauntlet fighter advanced and pounced at the spear wielder, hoping to end the fight.
Unfortunately, the target did not respond as both the aggressor and the crowd expected.
Instead of panicking and trying to get his weapon under control, the spear wielder accelerated the motion and brought the spearhead behind his back, while the butt of the spear snapped upwards.
Running straight into the unexpected obstacle, the gauntlet fighter had the air knocked out of him and he stumbled on the sand covering the pit.
The spear wielder repeated the wide swings on purpose to give his opponent an artificial flaw to exploit.
With a carefully planned trap, the spear wielder twirled his weapon around and brought the blade down on the throat of his foe.
He won the battle!