Poison Ivy

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					                                           POISON IVY



Har'zeltar sat at the head of a long table, feasting on a roasted boar. Around the table slavers,
a few off duty guards, several naked women, and Urodak, the current gladiatorial champion
boasted and bantered about the days' match. Somewhere outside, slaves were busy with the
grim task of clearing the corpses and bloody chunks of beasts and men alike off the arena floor.
But here, in the dining hall of the arena, it was normal post-match revelry.

Urodak was a slave, but his continued success in the arena had earned him perks, such as this
meal with his master. He was a huge man, and had been neigh unstoppable in the arena for
the past few months. To date, he was still un-defeated, and had begun to carve out quite a
reputation for himself. Slave women vied for his attention by massaging his muscles or moving
seductively around him. Each trying to catch his eye with the hope that his influence might
possibly elevate their own status. Little good it did them. He was much too busy talking about
himself and the men he'd just killed to even notice.

I sat next to Har'zeltar's plate of food with my legs dangling off the edge of the table. Spittle
occasionally rained down on me as Har'zeltar whooped and laughed with his guests. I'd have
moved, but I couldn't get far enough away from him that it would make much difference; I was
tethered to him by a small cord of silver that had probably once been a valuable piece of ladies
jewelry. On me however, it looked less like a necklace and more like what it truly was: a leash.
Like everything and everyone else, I was a piece of property. A unique little oddity or pet that
Har'zeltar liked to show off. As far as I or anyone else knew, I could be the only pixie on all of
Athas. Occasionally a slave or guest would come over to ogle and poke at me, but tonight the
attention was mostly on Urodak, which was fine with me.

I stood up and examined the food on the table. Just past Har'zeltar's plate, behind a basket of
bread rolls was a wedge of cheese twice my size. I reached out and touched the side of the
wedge and released a small burst of magic. The wedge shrunk to fit in my hand, and I quickly
tucked it away in my pouch. If everything went as planned it would come in handy. If not, well,
at least I'd have a snack for later. As I spun around I caught one of the slaves staring at me.
She'd been reaching for the slice of cheese that just vanished. I stuck my tongue out at her,
hopped back to Har'zeltar's plate, and helped myself to a grape from it.

I hated Har'zeltar. He was the ring master of the arena. I watched him as I ate his grape and
imagined his painful death. The image brought a smile to my face. I'd been preparing for this
for weeks. I had an escape route out of the arena's grounds. I'd even managed to scrounge
enough ingredients to mix up a nice little parting gift for my master. All I had to do now was
push just the right button. I'd have to choose my next words carefully. Too light and I might
only get laughs. Too harsh and I might get more than the specific punishment I wanted. Above
me, Har'zeltar leaned over the table still talking to Urodak about the fight.

"What I couldn't believe" Har'zeltar exclaimed, "was how you dodged that third swing from
behind! It's like you have eyes in the back of your head! If'n it were me, I'd be walking around
with an axe buried in the back of my skull now."

"Pity is wasn't you then." The words slipped from my mouth. All the movement in the room
abruptly stopped as everyone stared at me. It's like they hadn't expected I could talk. Or
maybe they just couldn't believe what I'd said. Dammit...too harsh.

Har'zeltar grabbed his end of the silver cord attached to my collar and began to spin it above his
head like a bola only with me at the end instead of a weighted ball. The room became a blur of
colors and I thought my head would surely be ripped off my shoulders from the tremendous
strain the collar placed on my neck. Somehow, amazingly, I didn't blackout...at least not right
away. At some point Har'zeltar let go of the chain and I was sent hurdling at an ungodly speed
toward the wall. There were a few seconds of serenity, just a few precious seconds for me to
regret those poorly placed words before the room went black.

I was laying down when I came to. It was dark and I wondered for a moment if I was dead. The
throbbing pain in my neck and my side where I'd slammed into the wall convinced me that I
wasn't. Slowly, I sat up and evaluated my injuries. Sore and bruised, but nothing too serious.

I sat there and squinted in the darkness, trying to take in my surroundings. I can normally see
pretty well in the dark, but the room was near complete darkness save for a tiny sliver of light
that shown through a crack between two boards of the cellar door above. I was locked in the
food cellar. From somewhere in the darkness I heard subtle movements, like the skittering of
tiny nails on the stone floor. Har'zeltar thought I was terrified of rats (a belief I might have
encouraged by some brilliant acting), and found it hilarious to punish me by locking me in here
with them. Idiot.

Minus my aching neck and swollen bruises, everything was going to plan. I was exactly where
I'd wanted to be. "Hey guys," I said to the rats I knew were watching me, "I told ya I'd make it
down here tonight."

Several of the rats brushed up against me and gave small nudges to help me stand up. I
scratched behind their ears as a way of saying thanks.           Har'zeltar thought this was a
punishment? He didn't know anything about me. I'd show him punishment. I walked to a
small hidden corner, where I'd stashed supplies under a shelf. "Tonights the big night boys, but
give me just a minute, I have a little parting gift to leave our host. We're going to give him
some of this poison back."
I gingerly took a little pouch out from the hiding spot and flew up to the closed cellar door. I'd
taught the rats how to avoid the rat poisons the humans left for them and they'd been my
friends ever since. Using some of the base compounds from the rat poisons, along with a little
of my own dust and a few other ingredients, I'd been able to make a dose of Id moss powder. It
was one of my favorites; known to sometimes cause permanent insanity. I carefully attached
the pouch to the door and armed the trap. Something to remember me by Har'zeltar. Enjoy!

Once the trap was set, I flew back down to the rats. "Okay I'm ready, let's go." They led me
through a chewed hole out of the room and through tunnels that circumvented some of the
arena's walls. The tunnels zigzagged left, right, up and down but the rats knew them well and
had agreed to show me the way outside. As we neared the edge of the arena, I could see
moonlight spilling into the tunnel up ahead. The rats that had been leading me stepped aside
and nudged me forward, as if to say go on. I pulled out the cheese I'd taken from the table
earlier and reversed my shrink magic. The cheese grew back to its original size and nearly
blocked the tunnel. If possible, the rats' eyes seem to bulge out even more than usual at my
offering. "Thanks guys." I said as I continued on. "And remember what I showed you about the
poisons."

I continued down the rest of the tunnel, which opened up to a star lit night sky. My shoulder
and neck still throbbed with a dull pain, but the fresh night air and the freedom it offered
spurred me on. Finally, the hole opened up into the earth outside of the arena walls. I had
made it- freedom at last! Somehow, despite my elation, I could barely pull myself up out of the
hole. My wings wouldn't work, my legs and arms felt like lead, and my head became faint and
disorienting. The only sensation I could still accurately feel was the burning around my neck
where the slave collar was. 'I should've seen this coming' was my last thought before I passed
out on the dirt outside the arena wall.

I awoke to the sensation of drowning and a burning pain in my lungs. My eyes shot open and
immediately began to burn but all I could see was dark liquid. I quickly closed them again. The
liquid had already entered my airways, and I couldn't breathe. I struggled to break free but
something held me firm in that position. Just as I thought I couldn't hold my breath any longer,
I was lifted up by my back. Har'zeltar had my wings gripped between his thumb and index
finger and was dunking me over and over in his beer mug. I coughed and gasped for air on each
upswing before being plunged back into the beer.

"You killed my cook little bug." Har'zeltar finally stopped dunking me and swung me around so I
could see the corpse of a slave not far from the opened cellar door. "Was that little surprise
meant for me?" The dead slave had several sword slashes through him...The poison I had left
had probably made him go mad and attack the guards. No doubt they cut him down. That
should've been Har'zeltar's fate.
"You try to escape and you try to kill me...You're going to pay little bug. I wonder, what
happens when I rip these pretty little wings off?" Har'zeltar held me firm in one fisted hand and
began to slowly pull on my wings with the other. The pain was excruciating.

"Please stop! I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Was all I could scream out. "Please don't kill me."

"Why not? Can't have you leaving those nasty little surprises around like that one can I?"
Har'zeltar gestured toward the slaves corpse. "How 'bout I just squash you right now?" He
released my wings but then clinched both fists together and squeezed tightly.

"I caa..." I could barely form words under the pressure. I heard (and felt) the sickening crunch
of a few of my bones snapping under the weight of his grip. I knew I was about to die, and
being crushed might be one of the more painful ways to go. I had to give him something. "I
caaa.. seee...fuutuur."

Har'zeltar still held me firmly, but stopped squeezing and released some of the pressure. "You
trying to save yourself bug?" Har'zeltar gave me an evil grin, and I knew he fully intended to kill
me. I only had one hope of convincing him I was worth keeping alive.

"I can...." I was gasping for breath, "read a person's future."

"Bullshit." Har'zeltar began to squeeze again.

"Please stop! I can I can. I can prove it. Please don't kill me, I'm sorry. I'll never do it again. I'll
do anything, please...I can read your gladiators, I could make you rich! Please please don't kill
me." I was rambling. Hysterical. But it seemed to be working. His anger was being replaced
with a thoughtful expression. Either my fragile helplessness sparked some hidden compassion
in him or if he was contemplating my words. I suspected it was the latter. What if he could see
the outcome of the matches before they happened?

Stepping over the slaves' corpse, Har'zeltar took me to his office and locked me in my usual
spot, a bird cage that sat atop his desk. "If you're lying to me little bug..." He imitated swatting
a fly and left the room. I slunk to the bottom of the cage, barely able to move. I spent the rest
of my magic mending my wounds.

Har'zeltar left me in the cage for 3 full days before finally returning. Instead of opening it, he
just picked up the entire cage and carried it, and me, down to the slave pits. As we walked, he
made it clear that this was my one chance to live, and that I'd better impress. He described a
few very inventive and painful ways he would kill me if I had been lying.

First, we went to Urodaks cell. He was loosening himself up for the fights when we
approached, which consisted mostly of him shouting and growling at himself and plenty of
chest pumping. Har'zeltar set my cage down on the floor near his gladiator, and wished him a
good fight. While they talked, I cast Urodaks fortune.

Saying that I can see the future was sort of an exaggeration. Really I can't see someone's
specific future per se, perhaps because the future isn't set in stone, or perhaps because I'm just
not that good at it. Sometimes I get glimpses of things or events that have yet to come, but
thats about it. What I can see, however, are the auras around the individual that will influence
their future. Their fortune. If someone's going to have a lucky or unlucky day, I'll see it. So
when I looked at Urodak, I saw the pallor of bad luck surrounding him. I couldn't know the
outcome of the match, but I could make a pretty good guess.

When Har'zeltar finished his conversation with Urodak, he picked up my cage and we continued
on to another cell. This one held all the newest acquisitions. They were an unusual stock.
Most were humans, but there were some exotic races mixed in as well. Har'zeltar had probably
paid a premium for this group.

Har'zeltar held my small cage up to the cell bars. "Well bug, tell me the future."

"Which one is Urodak going to fight?" I asked. "All of them?"

"Nah, probably an exotic. He's torn through dozens of humans and muls. Let's give the crowd a
different color of blood tonight. You there!" Har'zeltar shouted to one of the exotic looking
slaves. This one had elven features, but ebony colored skin and white hair. I wasn't sure what
race he actually was. The slave calmly approached the cell bars and looked back and forth to
Har'zeltar and myself. No doubt he was wondering why the ringmaster was carrying around a
caged pixie in the slave pits. "Congratulations slave, you get the honor of being tonight's main
event. What do they call you?"

"Belgos."

"Do me a favor, and try not to die too fast Belgos. Wouldn't want to disappoint our fans."
Har'zeltar said with a snort and dismissed him. I quickly read the slaves' fortune aura before we
turned and left.

Har'zeltar took me back into his office without saying another word and set the cage on the
desk. Through the walls, you could hear the cheering of the crowds become louder and louder.
There was a certain electricity that ran though the air just before a match. I found myself
actually wanting to go watch.

"Urodak will die tonight." I said flatly.
Har'zeltar chuckled under his breath. "We'll see little bug. And if he doesn't, you will." With
that, he left to attend the games. I sat in the cage the rest of the night listening to the crowds'
cheers and boos. And from them, I knew my prediction had come to pass.




***NINE MONTHS LATER***


"Come on little bug, time to go."

Har'zeltar opened the door to my small cage, and held out his hand at the cages' door. I slowly
got up and made a show of stretching. I wasn't stiff or anything, I just hated being couped up in
that cage all day long waiting for him to let me out. Forcing him to wait on me, even for just
that extra thirty seconds while I stretched, made me feel a little better. I take my retribution
where I can get it these days. As soon as that annoyed look entered his eye though, I stopped
stalling and hopped out of the cage and onto his palm. In all honesty, sitting in the small bird
cage all day was kind of my own fault. Well, okay maybe 50% Har'zeltar's fault for throwing me
in here and 50% my fault for getting caught.

Actually, now that I think about it...I DIDN'T get caught ...everyone just blamed me anyway.
They find a little itching powder sprinkled around that nasty outhouse and I'm the one they
blame. I mean really, it could've been any of the guards! It's not my fault those meatheads
weren't clever enough to think of it first, or that they have no sense of humor to speak of. So
really its 50% Har'zeltar's fault and 50% the guards' fault that I got stuck in this cage. I have to
admit though, it was worth it to watch Torian and Silmara look like idiots scratching their asses
all day.

Even if he was pissed at me for messing with his guards, Har'zeltar got a good laugh out of it
too. Sitting in a cramped little bird cage all day was easy time. A token punishment really, just
to make those butt scratching guards feel better. I knew Har'zeltar wouldn't be too hard on his
prized pet on a fight day. Not when I was about read his fighters.

As Har'zeltar lifted me from the cage, I knelt to steady myself on his big palm and raised my
chin, exposing the collar on my neck. I waited for Har'zeltar to snap the clasp of the small chain
to my collar. It was unnecessary; the enchanted collar on my neck kept me bound to the arena
grounds, and Har'zeltar's penchant for violence kept me in check better than the stupid leash.
But Har'zeltar forced me to wear it regardless whenever he took me to the slave pits to read his
fighters. It was a dominance thing...he wanted everyone to remember who the master of this
arena was. As if we would forget.

This time though, he didn't attach the chain. "Go read them, I've got some other errands to
attend before the match."

I darted out of his hand and hovered in front him just long enough to give a little salute. "Yes
master. Be right back!" Then I zipped out of the room before he could change his mind. Ever
since my escape attempt backfired, I'd been playing nice and slowly earning back more and
more trust. He often allowed me to move around the arena grounds freely, but this was the
first time I had permission to go into the pits alone. I suspected the coin he was making on the
side based on my predictions went a long way in how he viewed me.

On the way to the slave pits, I made a quick detour through the kitchen, just to scan for any
potential poison ingredients. It was routine for me to scavenge what I could when I could to
add to my hidden stash later. Nothing seemed particularly useful this time however, so I
continued on past the reinforced gates and down into the pits.

"Hey Belgos, hi guys." I said as I slipped past the bars and into the cell. Belgos and the other
gladiators were making their preparations for the upcoming matches.

"Hello Ivy. Do we have you to thank for Torian and Silmara's particularly foul moods?" Belgos
asked with a grin.

"I have no idea what you're talking about. Honest." I couldn't hold a straight face and actually
laughed. "They won't be able to sit for days! You can't tell me it wasn't worth it." The grins
and chuckles from the other warriors confirmed that it was.

I hung around and bantered for awhile and took my readings while the gladiators laced up their
armor. I found myself regaling past arena fights with the same enthusiasm Urodak had had at
that dinner table many months ago. Despite my tales, their moods became more and more
somber as the time passed. In another hour, they would face death as they each had many
times before. When it was finally time for me to leave, I wished each gladiator luck and good
fortune on the field. From what I had sensed, some of them were really going to need it.



~End~

				
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