Arigale: Spite in the Spirit
by Denise O. Eaton
Genre: Dark Epic Fantasy
“Ugh!” He grunted and coughed as he lay in the dry earth he was knocked against. His spear lay within reach, but though he grasped it, he couldn’t find the strength to raise it again as his arm shook. His forehead felt warm, and his free hand dabbed at it and came back red at the fingertips. Vision was blurry at best, but he could make out the glinting sword his opponent was wielding and hear his quiet chuckle. The gray, weathered brick walls that surrounded them were so high that it only seemed to focus the rays of the sun down on him.
“Up! Now, Chit!” A whip cracked the stones that their teacher stood upon at the edges of the training area.
Chit struggled to raise himself as he watched a few drops of blood spoil the sand. He managed to get back on his feet, but his knees were buckling as his head swam. His loose, deep blue curls stuck to his forehead where he’d been injured. A foot slid back in the sand and raised a cloud of dust as he settled back into a low stance and rushed toward his opponent. The other boy was shorter but stockier. Chit’s spear strike was deflected as his sparring partner held up a shield, then bashed him in the head with it again on a downward swing that rang his ears and left him in the sand again with his eyes squinted at the row of weapons along the wall of the church.
“You’re never going to get anywhere that way. You’re fast, but you don’t try to dig into someone, you know? Use that beast-like strength you got there.” The other student looked at their teacher, who just groaned and wound up his weapon to place at his side. They both gave up on waiting and walked off together into the shady archway while Chit found his way back up again. When he could finally stumble into it, the wall of the entryway was a blessing, as the cool stone soothed his bruises and bumps while he turned his body against them wherever it hurt worst. He touched his head again and sucked the air in through his teeth in a sharp hiss.
“I’m not going to be able to deal with this on my own this time, am I?” He sighed as he walked back inside, one hand pressed against the wall the whole way just in case. The halls were dimly lit with torches, and not a single window cast any light from the sunny day most were enjoying just over their walls in the city square. He took slow and careful steps in his state on the uneven stone floor. These floors were also likely laid out in darkness. The thought made his mouth twitch to a near smile. He passed many men and a few older women in the halls, but not a soul saw him, not really.
Not until he crossed the threshold of the other side of the Order did the sun finally find the interior of the church. Bright yellow rays intermingled with the silks of the same shade strung around the grand circular room. The windows stretched from the floor to halfway up the walls and were tinted with cheerful and warm shades of color. The room was large enough to house an army and held a kaleidoscopic array of couches, cushions, daybeds, and glittering tables of gold dispersed between them. It was like being inside a noble’s goblet, the way the glass windows shone all around flaked with gold reflections in this high rising and circular room. This space was crafted to hold such lavish and, dare he think upon it, perverse events on a daily basis.
Chit thanked Yani that today seemed to be a slow one, as only the priestesses of the Order’s Light side were present. They flitted about in their bright yellow and orange robes of various fashions, each suited to their body in ways that made heat rise to his cheeks as he walked by them. They chittered at him with fleeting looks ranging from passive to concerned. One of the older women waved him down and tsked at his wounds.
“You know you aren’t to bring blood here.” She took off her sheer scarf and wrapped it quickly over his head after cleaning off his fingers. “Come on. Chinea is in the back.”
“I’m s-sorry F-Freena,” he mumbled and bowed his head forward until he stared at the ground as she led him by his hand through the pillows and hanging veils.
“What in the world…” He felt a tender touch at his temple. The blood must have stained through the wrapping. There was no way he could afford to replace that cloth, and the realization made him wince as much as the sting from the air as his makeshift bandage was removed. He heard the veils ripple again as Freena went back to work.
“I’m sorry. I tried to do better this time. I know I can’t keep showing up each time I get knocked around, but there’s a demonstration tomorrow and I-”
“Shh.” Chinea pressed a cold, wet cloth to his head. “It’s alright, child. I was the one who told you to come if you needed help, so don’t you dare start apologizing to me for it now. You take the gifts people give you, alright? Yani knows you’re short on them.” She shook her head, and even with his eyes downcast, he saw the long, thin ponytail sway past her knees like the threads that made up those pricey silk curtains above. Her plump arms worked fast as he felt himself pushed back into a large cushion on the floor. The magic always made his muscles go limp in relief, and within minutes all that remained of his wounds was the bloody cloth in her hands. She tucked the fabric into a small bag at her side.
“Thank you so much.” He smiled earnestly at her from his reclined position as she handed him a glass of water.
“It’s the least I can do with how they treat you. It’s barbaric. If I hadn’t sworn an oath and could get my hands on that old moth bitten bag of bones, then I’d-”
“Chinea, please. No talk of the Dark here. I rarely have a chance to show up at all, but they just left me in the sandpit this time. Frees up my schedule some.” His sharp teeth flashed in a grin, belying a hint of vindictiveness.
“You’re right.” She sat on the edge of a velvet chair that looked like a cloud the way it ruffled and rumpled at its borders; her round form all puffed up like a mother hen as she drew in her arms. “I haven’t seen you but in the dining hall for the last month. What have they had you doing?”