There were many taverns. Quiet little holes in the center of Gratitude. Lost souls disappeared into the door to find some comfort in shared solitude and a glass of wine or pint of beer. They would stagger out an indeterminate time later, not happier or even more fulfilled, but content with how time was consumed.

Sela ignored those. Sir Violet was pulling her to blood.

Sela knew she was different. Her motivations for heroism were not based in heroism like Mel, or fear and goodness like poor Lana. The duelist lived for a thrill of battle, the chance to feel that adrenaline pumping and hear the sound of Sir Violet singing. Even better, she knew that if she could play it right, there could be a way to make an actual living out of it.

To the outside world, she was probably viewed as broken. No, definitely. If she and Sir Violet could agree on that assessment, certainly anyone looking at her would probably say that.

What was definitive was that she was not a heroine. She didn’t deserve that title.

But she was a fighter.

In that case, the Rusted Grip was just for her.

Sela stood outside the door, and laughed. Gratitude was just so…blatant. A secret fight club, right in the middle of the town. It didn’t even try to make the blood sport a secret. Right up above the faded letters was a sword, gripped by a bloody hand. The bruised and seedy-looking types milling around the entrance didn’t dissuade anyone of that notion either.

Well, if they were going to be this out in the open, then so was she. Sela walked up to the first thug, a dusky dwarf, and nodded to him. “Is there an open slot today?”

The dwarf looked her up and down, and sneered. “For what, knitting?”

Sela drew Sir Violet. “Does this look like a needle to you?”

The dwarf looked Sir Violet up and down. He nodded to another thug, and knocked on the door. After a moment of consideration, it squeaked open.

“It’s not nice down there, lady,” the dwarf warned.

“Neither’s the sword,” Sela muttered. Sir Violet may have protested, but the sword knew the statement was accurate. Besides, they were in the door.

The door opened to a set of stairs descending into a well-lit pit. Around a small arena was the tavern. On one side was the bar counter, opposite it the betting tables. Both sides were moderately well-filled. After a quick check Sela estimated about three dozen in the place, with some of the fighters hidden in the underworks of the bar.

She walked up to the bar, and nodded to the bartender. “What’s it take to get in a fight?”

Bartender nodded to a squirrelly gnome in the midst of his second gin and tonic. He couldn’t have been over four feet tall, and from his manicured hands, had never struck anyone in anger. Sela leaned against the bar, and stared.

“I don’t actually fight,” The gnome muttered. “I just run them.” It must have been a bit of contention. “You want in?”

Sela nodded. “How soon can I get going?”

The gnome squinted, and looked her up and down. “We’ve got a bit of a light evening, so it can be more lax. But I don’t want to send anyone in there. Bad for the club’s rep, y’know?”

“I can handle myself,” Sela said.

“Fair enough.” The gnome pulled out a pen and paper, and looked at the list. “Gimme half an hour? And if you’re looking for a proper duel, there’s other clubs that specialize…”

Sela set Sir Violet next to him. “No need. Not trying to kill anyone tonight.”

The gnome let out a sigh of relief. “That’s refreshing. Name’s Regni, by the way.”

“Lady Violet,” she said out of habit.

Regni cocked an eyebrow. “Stage name. dig it.” He looked down to the bartender and nodded. “It’s to first blood, and if you humans bleed on any of the fae, I’ll have to intervene. Understand?”

Sela nodded. She made to grab a drink.

“Hey!” Regni called out. “You trust me with this sword?”

“Sure,” Sela said. “He’ll kill you if anyone gets too friendly.”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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