“Have you seen his face? I did, once. Scarred. Burned. Apparently the Thranish roasted him on the lake when he tried to flee, some nights after the failed assassination. Left him looking like overcooked horsemeat, and did little to temper his rage. Quite how he survived is anybody’s guess. None of the pirates who helped him escape did.
“Yes, he’s volatile. No, I do not know if he can be relied upon. However Thrane did him nasty, and his loyalty to the nation is without question. He’s like a dog, desperate for a master. You mistreat him and he’ll tear your hand right off, but a little loyalty given, and he’s yours for a lifetime.
“Oh yes… oh he’s quite prepared to work for the greater good.”
The crowd outside was riled up something fierce this day. Cozzard knew, because Cozzard could hear the screaming and the cheering through the thick stone doors, and you could only hear that on a damn fierce day. By his estimation, maybe a thousand people were in attendance. It was a fierce, fierce day.
The familiar scraping sound echoed down the stairway that connected the amphitheater and the barracks below, as the heavy doors were pulled open and sunlight poured harshly into the grey, cold hall. The din of the crowd flooded in too, like an avalanche of sound. Cozzard closed his eyes and smiled. That cacophony of men, women, and children, all braying for blood, thirsty for the slaughter, ready to see some patriotism. That was the sound he lived for.
Cozzard spilled blood for the glory of Thrane, he had armies of hundreds of thousands chanting his name – Cozzard Kraid, the physical embodiment of the Silver Flame’s justice. They’d dress his opponents (starved prisoners, petty thieves, nobody trained in gladiatorial combat) in the colors of the enemy, and he’d make a show of butchering them in a beautifully brutal performance. It was dark business, some might say… but it was for the greater good. Morale was important, and his show was important. It stoked the fires of recent victories or quelled the sorrow of defeats.
As the doors swung slowly open, he could see Tornquist outside, the perpetually smirking elf who served as his herald. He’d never seen an elf like this one, of dark complexion, carrying something unshakably sinister about him. But he did good work, and saw things for what they really were – he did the things that had to be done.
“Aaaaand without further ado, I give to you the man himself, the reigning champion, Greyghast’s favorite son, the brazen slayer, the walking whirlwind, the fuckbringer! He breaks bread with gods and breaks maidenheads with but a look. I briiiiiiing you… COZZZARD! KRAID!”
Kraid twirled the battleaxe in his left hand, snapped the flail in his right with a whip-like flick, before stepping into the daylight to an almost deafening applause. He was unsure which was louder – the cheers he received, or the booing reserved for his opponent – a muscular, mean looking fighter from Breland. Usually, Cozzard’s opponents were more for show than anything else, but this was a more unorthodox battle – there had been a temporary cessation of hostility, and two armies had met on mutual ground while their generals discussed terms. This was no fixed match – Breland’s champion was most definitely here to take a life, and bring the bragging rights back home.
What a fool.
The confidence in the challenger’s swagger, the sneering of a man who did not know he was already dead. Kraid strode before him, the sun glinting off his brass armor – most of it costuming, an affectation of full plate over the useful chainmail beneath – and the light wind gently pushed his crimson, battle-tattered cape behind him. He begun to swing the flail and twirl the axe, daring his opponent to come near.
The fight was a good one while it lasted. This man was skilled indeed. Ten minutes of traded blows, as Kraid deflected greatword swings and surged forward with a flurry of blows. Nobody in the crowd would notice, however, that after those ten minutes of heated battle, the Thrane man was slowing, blinking quickly, sometimes reaching as if to wipe mud from his eyes. Kraid laughed as he rushed forward, axe raised. His opponent blocked the blow, but only barely – sword pushed against Axe as Kraid leaned in, attempting to force the blade at his enemy’s throat.
“You are sweating profusely, my friend,” Kraid taunted from behind the bars of his brazen helmet.
“Thranish whore, I am nowhere near through.”
“Oh but you are… You should be careful who you drink with the night before a battle. I hear our elven attendants here are not to be trusted with another man’s ale.”
The wide-eyed realization in the warrior’s face made Kraid smile with a most genuine joy. It had been a delayed poison, one that took time brewing in the victim’s blood before it finally dulled the senses, clouded the vision, lethargized the limbs, it was one of Tornquist’s favorite remedies for opponents who may prove just a bit too problematic. All for the good for Thrane. All for the sake of morale.
“You were dead before you woke this morning, friend. You see… you’re a godless dog from Breland, and we cannot have you winning. It’s not good for national pride.”
“You spineless coward! I’ll see you torn asunder in hell for this, I’ll…”
He did not finish, or if he did, Kraid did not hear through his own enraged scream. He pushed the axe into the sword, and the sword itself tore through the jugular of its wielder. Kraid forced the gurgling gladiator to the sandy floor, where he proceeded to scream, and hack, and bludgeon, and hack, and scream, and bludgeon, and hack.
“I AM NOT A FUCKING COWARD! I AM NOT A FUCKING COWARD! I AM NOT A FUCKING COWARD!”
Rapturous applause. Tornquist rushed in to pull the big man off a twitching pile of meat and blood.
“I am not a coward,” he muttered, his voice softly echoing in his helmet.
“I know… I know. All for the good of the nation,” said Tornquist, before beaming at the crowd and announcing their champion.