The, as yet, still nameless main character has been in training a while. And, he has begun to show an implacable dedication to what he considers his writs about life. When he is told to do something, he does it until told to stop. So, is it unusual that when he is in the Arena, he trains? He does this so much that even during his allowed rest time, the trainer has to make a decision about how to handle this child. He can discipline the boy, and drive him into resting at the expense of letting the other children take advantage of the food bearing slaves, or he can focus on distributing the food and let the child train.
I elected to have this little by-play remain in place because I felt it was necessary to firmly establish the child’s dedication to accomplishment. In part, it would allow me to have the child show some creativity, but also in part because I knew even at this early of a point in the story that the child could not be like any of the others. It was not critical for him to be stronger, faster, smarter than the others, but this mindless dedication comes into play a little later on.
Here you can see that by-play:
“He did continue to be last in line during the training sessions when food was served, because he had established that he would focus on his perfection, not on his stomach. Vergol had tried reprimanding him over this particular idiosyncrasy even going as far as withholding the portion, but had never managed to prevent the Silk from continuing the habit. As such, he had finally given in, and set the plate for the odd child aside until everyone else had been fed. In part the child did this because it ensured he got the drink his body craved so desperately first, but also, it gave him up to an hour of extra practice to finish working on perfecting some technique. And in this time he could also practice the amalgam of styles he was developing, because there were none who had the time or desire to cuff him for not using the pure techniques. In this, again Vergol had tried several times to make a change in the child’s patterns and failed.”
He has managed to figure out at least the three basic parts of the day, but once he has started on a routine, he continues through it without deviation.
I also used this section to begin foreshadowing that the main character was not gong to be the same as most of the other characters. While, true to life, some people can handle pain better than others, in this case, it is for a different reason. Here is an example
“The administered cuffs just did not seem to reach this child the same way as the others. His ability to soak pain was amazing to all who knew him, and unnatural to those who only heard of it. His tenacity of routine was just as out of place for one who could only count seventeen years of life, but he seemed to be one who was not meant to be counted amongst the “normal” at all. ”
Now, with the child’s drive for perfection isolating him from his training group, he is quickly advanced into other groups in an attempt to keep him out of the actual Arena combat for a little while longer. However, his drive forces his Owner into a tough decision, and he enters the Arena early. But, because this is done under duress, we get to see a little of the culture here. Cruel – yes. Callous – definitely. But, they also want to be entertained. Death is common, but how that death is accomplished is what brings the masses to their feet and gets their blood pumping. Much like Rome, this culture has a blood lust that will not be denied. So, we come to this passage:
“Gartal did manage to wring some concessions from giving in to the pressure. Most Fighters had to fight in a round robin style debut – fighting until they either were killed, or collapsed. Because of his age, and the fact that Gartal had such a reputation from running three fighters who had become champions, he was able to limit the number of initial matches the child would face to no more than five per day. It was thought this would be enough to tax the child, but not enough to overextend him beyond his ability.”
All right, there is more here than culture, you also get to see how one of the secondary characters thinks. At least where the main character is concerned. It does help to build a little more mystery around the child. After all, if his Owner is willing to cash in some of his political clout to preserve this one fighter, what makes him so special, right? As the action of the plot begins to transition from the focus on training into a focus on the fighting, the mentality of the child is brought out a little more. The question of how his dedication to a routine is answered, because his routine is abruptly disrupted by his change in status from boy-child-trainee to boy-child-fighter. Now, instead of training all day, he is an athlete expected to be at his peak when he performs at night. His answer to this is highlighted here:
“His natural ability to accept things as they were once again enforced itself in his mentality. He stolidly waited in his cell for the unknown to happen, and reveal what the new way was. However, even then, his body was used to being pushed hard to its limits on a daily basis. He was unable to remain still for long so began to go through his techniques, as if he were actually in the Sands. The only part of the routine he did not follow was the run that always came first. The space available in his cell was no longer large enough to allow this, causing him instead to modify the hard cardiovascular workout to a more intensive, but sedate method. Through trial and error, he quickly developed his own style of calisthenics. He did not know why the run was important, but he understood and enjoyed the feeling of invigoration he felt after the run was complete. He also enjoyed the feeling of invincibility when he took the seemingly extra energy given from the run and turned it to his pell work. The other thing he did not follow exactly was the weapons drill he had started, but not mastered. He could force his limbs to follow the movements, but without the weight of the practice blade in his hand, he could not temper his body to the extra weight. For once, his ability to perfect a technique on his own from remembering what he had been shown failed him. ”
And, also, he is given a few minor flaws – make more real. He doesn’t push himself as hard as he thinks he does when he is by himself. It takes someone other to make him perform at his best. He also does not have a superhuman ability to some how mysteriously make his body work empty handed as if it had a weapon to work against. It was the small things like this that made crafting this section interesting for me. Finding the little nit-picking things to bring out that showed him to be something other than perfect. One of the imperfections I enjoyed writing the most in this book was when the child had to figure out what clothes were. For those who have toddlers or other youngsters who are just now starting the process of learning how to dress themselves, please let me know how close I got to the actual process your little ones used the first time they tried to dress themselves.
“with the visual instruction he now understood that he was to pull something over his head. Something that would cover him as some of the Steels had been covered from neck to ankle. Elated, because he thought this was a sure sign of approval, he swarmed over to the pile and picked up the topmost piece. He began pulling it on, trying to pull the pant leg over his head, and struggling to understand where his arms were to poke through to cover his body properly. The girl laughed, and soon another sound joined her bright bells of laughter. The deeper rumble of laughter came from his master; he noted this when he finally managed to bunch the pant leg up enough to sit uncomfortably around his neck. The rough material reminded him for the first time in many years about the pain he was constantly experiencing. As he looked at his master, one leg of the trousers bunched around his neck, the other dangling ridiculously over an arm, the waist hanging oddly from his shoulder, ”
When he finally enters the Arena as a debut fighter, there are many things that are similar and different from what has been shown before. Now, the child is facing his own possible death, as well as the necessity of killing others. Since this is what he is trained for, it seems pointless for everyone to keep ordering him to win, but it is often shown that knowing how to kill someone does not mean the person or character has the will to do this. Here, the child’s dedication to his routine, his single-mindedness to obeying the letter of his orders, and the isolation he was reared in all come into play. With all of these factors working together and supporting eachother, the scene is set for what happens here:
“As he located it, the flag fell, and he found himself obeying the last order he had received without thought. He launched himself at the nearest opponent, his arms beginning the open sweeps of his official form. He felt his wrist impact a solid bony limb, and not bothering to discover if it had been a head, arm, or shin, he spun. His foot lashing out viciously towards the midsection of the man who had come within range behind him. The shock told him he had made a full impact. Even then, he had turned to face the next opponent, and found himself facing someone who was not just better trained, but faster in the same style.”
Needless to say, he wins the fight. After all, if he didn’t, there would be no main character to write about, would there?
Most of the rest of this chapter deals with the actual fight itself. Though not quite a blow-by-blow recounting, there is enough gory detail to satisfy many thriller readers, and to turn many stomachs of the more genteel fantasy readers. However, it also establishes the tone for the rest of the book – bloody combat, the harsh reality of fighting for survival, and the uncomplicated desire to live. It also begins to highlight the fact that the main character, while the result of his training and rearing also is the product of his own personality. He is NOT a nice boy. He thrives on the bloody by-play of the Arena to which he has become exposed, and willingly allows himself to become dedicated to.
Now, with the scene coming to a close, it is time to evaluate what the child’s future potential may be. He has taken several injuries that should have been debilitating, and yet he remains standing. Up until the last paragraph. Here we see the child succumb to his injuries, once more providing a sense of realism:
“As the body of his last opponent crumpled, so did his own. He was not awake to hear the adulation that was heaped upon him. It was rare that a child’s debut should have such a clear-cut victory.
Until next time …. keep those pages turning!
If I’ve peaked your interest, you can find a copy of Out of the Darkness on