9: Tsahzhast, The Arena Sandman

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Tsahzhast was a fifteen year old viantu male who stood 3′ 11″ tall and weighed 77 lbs. Despite his relatively few years in this life, Tsahzhast had nearly a decade of arena victories, and he and his brothers were considered heroes in the Rendalenn fighting underground. Tsahzhast had a wholly unique look about him. Apart from being one of the fruit eaters, the strange Volaani dark forest men from the far east rarely seen in the Protectorate, Tsahzhast had a frame with shockingly narrow shoulders that emphasized the presence of his vestigial wing appendages emerging as part of either of his shoulders. This was distracting especially in close quarters combat, and he used to brag that it contributed to his successful fighting. In his fame as an arena champion, Tsahzhast developed his own distinct type of short-ranged weapon–a spear thrower that was shaped like one of his vestigial arms with a notch on the end designed to hurl a long pike with fletchings, like an oversized arrow. The weapon was commissioned by Tsahzhast’s long time friend and servant Trell, who got the idea based on the way Tsahzhast preferred to throw javelin more rapidly than an archer shoots arrows. A fateful battle against a formidable foe using a horrific weapon infused with pale stone left Tsahzhast and his brothers at death’s door. When Tsahzhast succumbed to his wounds, Trell took his name and vowed that all the Empire would hear of his story.

Background

Rendalenn is not much of a city by popular standards in the main part of the Empire. It rests at the fringes of Thelea’s borders in the far West, the remnants of the settlement formed when Emperor Rendal I decreed that a wall be built between the Empire and the Djenn Totality. Now, nearly a thousand years later, Rendalenn’s more permanent population sees little influence from the central powers of the Empire. The city is home to one of the largest libraries in the west, archives of scholarly tomes that rival the most revered collections of Vostiar’s Hold. Sadly, there are few scholars of recent generations who care to busy themselves to search through the dusty tomes in such a remote locale. Life in Rendalenn is slow and deliberate, and the weather is extremely predictable. It is arid during the summer months, and temperate and humid during the winter months. The merchants and elites among the city’s populous depend on that stability, and they command the wealth, resources, and power of the city. The merchant elites command unchallenged power, even by the nobility of the region. Despite slavery being outlawed in the Empire, there is a thriving criminal underground that forces the impoverished, indebted, and disenfranchised citizens of the region into a life of indentured servitude that makes them slaves in all but name. Most who have no recourse to escape their servitude are doomed to die as slaves in Rendalenn. Such practices go unchecked and are rarely discouraged in the city due to the privilege and entertainment that indentured labor provides the broader populous.

Tsahzhast was born into such a life of servitude in Rendalenn, a child of fighting slaves who worked the central arenas. Most citizens in the northwest of the Empire have never seen members of the viantu race, and so fifteen years ago when the merchant master Entok encountered a group of viantu stranded in the northern deserts of Valadagal, he offered them passage to Rendalenn where they could make a new life for themselves. In truth, he brought the viantu family north and divided them as laborers among several merchant elites. The four strongest of the group Entok kept for his fighting arena. No one ever recorded the names of these viantu, and many of them died of disease during the first months of their time in the city. Entok secluded his four fighting viantu together in the same cell, and much to his surprise within two months one of the viantu fighters gave birth to a litter of three babies.

Tsahzhast barely remembered his parents and was orphaned young. A few disparate words of Chenachua, including his name, are all that remain of the viantu under Entok’s charge, all of whom had fallen in the fighting arena by the time Tsahzhast and his brothers were three years old. Entok learned, though, that viantu seem to grow much more quickly than other members of the civilized races, and by the time the tiny creatures were six they seemed crafty and dangerous enough to fight like any young adult from the northwest could. Thus began Tsahzhast’s career as an arena warrior.

The young viantu excelled in fighting, and was especially adept at confusing opponents and rapidly striking both from a distance and up close. The three viantu–Tsahzhast and his two brothers–were also keen showmen, and had a knack for gathering a sense of the crowd’s engagement and enlivening the audiences of the arena fights. Tsahzhast embraced his life as an arena fighter, even encouraging Entok to plan more elaborate fights involving the three brothers, fighting wild beasts, and reenacting battles.

Over nine years, Entok amassed a fortune as Tsahzhast excelled in the arena and crowds grew in size and enthusiasm to see the skilled seeker in action. The viantu had a unique fighting style; he even developed his own method for hurling arrows and pikes in battle, unstoppable missiles powerfully thrown. After several years of fighting, Tsahzhast earned the nickname “Duster,” referring to the way that his hurled missile weapons would always drop his opponents to the ground, kicking up dust as they fell to their demise. Whenever Tsahzhast would pick up a stray arrow from the ground or reclaim a javelin from a fallen foe, the crowd would begin to chant, “Duster! Duster! Duster! Duster!” There would be an uproar of cheers and shouts when he finally threw the weapon and hit his target.

One of Entok’s longtime huntsman named Trell spent over twenty years as an indentured servant for the merchant master. For fifteen of those years, Trell’s responsibilities–in addition to gathering the food, supplies, and weaponry needed by the arena fighters–included caring over the viantu fighters in Entok’s charge. Trell was deeply inspired by Tsahzhast’s prowess in the arena, and was honored to call Tsahzhast his friend. In truth, if Entok had not entrusted him to care for the viantu fighters, Trell would have bought his freedom from the merchant master long ago. Trell found a rare ironwood tree growing from a bundle of heart rocks in the hills outside Rendalenn where he would hunt game as food for the fighters. One of the branches reminded him of Tsahzhast’s vestigial wing arms, and so the huntsman took time taking the branch from the tree and bringing it with him back to the city. There, Trell commissioned a local maker who owed him a favor to turn the ironwood branch into an atlatl, a spear thrower with a handled scoop that could be designed to hurl small fletched pikes.

For the next few years, Tsahzhast used his specialty weapon commissioned by his friend. Duster became even more feared and respected in the arena, a famous name in Rendalenn. City scholars drew pictures of “Duster” and children mimicked his spear throwing motion in the streets. It was the fame that enticed Entok to arrange a dangerous battle that cost Tsahzhast and his brothers their lives.

A famed arena fighter, the spellsword warrior named Bronhofl from Schelk, put forth his challenge to the viantu trio. Entok accepted, advertising the fight throughout the Protectorate. Little was known of the spellsword, other than the fact that he was undefeated in battle, and fought as his own master in the fighting pits of the Schelk Islands. Bronhofl traveled north to Rendalenn, and so many gathered to see the fight that the arena was full and crowds gathered outside listening to callers shout out a narration of the action from the arena rooftops. The fight raged on for hours and all of Rendalenn seemed to hold its breath awaiting the results of the arena. Bronhofl used a formidable sword that was slow and clunky, and he could not keep Tsahzhast still long enough to strike him. But the battle turned sour when the spellsword reached into his belt to pull out a strange, radiant singing stone affixed to a metal pick. Bronhofl threw the stony dart at Tsahzhast and it stabbed the viantu in the belly. More than a stab wound, Tsahzhast felt as if his skin was crawling, burning from a thousand suns, making him weak. The crowd called foul and began to riot; some enveloped Bronhofl as he tried to fight them back with his sword.

Tsahzhast’s brothers ran over to where he fell and tried to touch the dagger, but they recoiled and started writhing and twitching on the ground. Trell had also rushed to Tsahzhast’s side, but he was able to remove the stone dagger from his friend’s abdomen. He tried to force a bandage onto the wound, but Tsahzhast was already unconscious and growing cold. The huntsman watched his hero die in his arms, the ironwood atlatl he made for him resting in the dust beside. Trell vowed that all throughout the Empire would hear the name “Tsahzhast,” that he would take Duster’s true name as his own and continue to perform exploits, to elevate the seeker’s name in song and story.

When the chaos subsided, Entok’s arena was severly damaged and several citizens had been killed in the riots, but the merchant master still made a great deal of coin from the battle. He was in good enough spirits that when Trell petitioned to buy his freedom Entok agreed. Now Trell tells others his name is “Tsahzhast,” and travels as a ranger throughout the Empire.

009-Tsahzhast

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Fractalform is the gaming handle of Bret Woods--ethnomediologist, author, and lead developer of Augur's Lore RPGs. Bret is Thing 1 at http://descrypt-studios.com.

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