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Early June, 75CE

Azarion was a junior charioteer now. It was only a matter of time before he could join the actual races, driving a quadriga around the tacks of the Circus. He had been training for months, making progress, even building up some muscle (although he was still fairly lean for a charioteer). He was wearing the colors of the Whites, and training his own horses.

With all of those things noted, he was definitely sure that he should not be sent on shopping duty.

And yet, here he was.

Since that first, rolling pin and apple fiasco, Azarion only crossed paths with Safinia a few times, usually around meals. There was a tentative truce between them, in which she gave out his two apples, and he only tired to steal more if he was sure he could get away with it, every once in a while. He had risen in status from stable boy to charioteer-in-training. But sadly, said raise did not come with an extra amount of apples. And he had four horses under his care.

Safinia was being sent to the market, and Azarion was told to accompany her, for safety, and for extra hands to carry things. It was a disgrace. As someone a step away from being the star of the races, why did he have to accompany her to shop? Just because he couldn't talk back, and she could wield a rolling pin?... Azarion was not in a good mood as he walked behind her, out of the Circus and around the Palatine. This was not the glamourous life he had been promised.

@Liv

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The calendar's progression had seen Safinia performing more or less the same tasks as when she started working for the Whites, which suited her just fine. The familiar, practised routines meant little variation and few distractions, allowing her to optimise each step. The cook was appropriately impressed, enough to either not notice or ignore the recurrent missing apples from the pantry, or the small trinkets that inexplicably went missing every now and then.

With such lofty responsibility came greater freedom. Today, that freedom was to go to the market and buy the items on the cook's list, with Azarion in tow. Since they couldn't very well bring a horse to carry the purchases, a former stable boy turned charioteer-in-training was the next logical option. Besides, he owed her for all those extra apples he kept taking without permission.

Safinia was theoretically leading the way, but somehow she hadn't quite ended up where she wanted to be. Must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. She stopped abruptly, looked around for a few seconds and then turned to Azarion with a blasé look on her face despite their predicament.

"I think we're lost. Do you know the way?"

@Chevi

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Azarion followed the young woman, observing the teeming life of Roman streets, and resigned to go wherever she wanted to go. He was just there to carry things, and to punch people if they tried to hurt her. Although he was not sure about the latter. Safinia could be quite fierce when she was angered. He would not be surprised if he ended up having to save some poor soul from her wrath.

After a few minutes she stopped to look back at him.

"I think we're lost. Do you know the way?"

Azarion blinked, then made a face. Why on earth was she asking him? He shrugged, making some signs, pointing at her basket. She was supposed to know what they were shopping for.

@Liv

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Even without using words, Azarion managed to perfectly get his point across. Annoyingly so, too. "I know what we need to buy," Safinia replied, glancing down at the currently empty basket and back up at the slave. "But this is not the place to do it." She made a sweeping motion with her free hand, indicating the narrow street they found themselves in. It seemed to be populated by houses rather than businesses and was most definitely not the market.

She didn't come to this area of Rome that often, and poor navigational skills combined with fuzzy instructions had resulted in this situation. Still, untroubled by the unfamiliar surroundings, Safinia resolved to continue on their very important mission. If they returned empty-handed, cook would have her skinned, butchered and served for dinner that evening. With a dead serious expression on her face, she shared her plan with Azarion. "Let's just keep going down this street and see where it leads." Not bothering to wait for his assent, she turned round and started walking again.

The way was longer than it had appeared at first, but eventually it reached what appeared to be a small open square, and beyond it lay a impressive wall with an entrance halfway along it. From behind the wall a litany of sounds reached the pair's ears, some easier to make out than others - yelling, clanging and sharp screams. Safinia exchanged a questioning look with Azarion, which in her case consisted of a series of blinks and a slight narrowing of her blue eyes rather than raised eyebrows or a tilt of the head most would instinctively do.

"What do you think is going on in there?"

@Chevi

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"I know what we need to buy. But this is not the place to do it."

Azarion huffed and rolled his eyes. Obviously. Somehow, Safinia managed to lose her way between the Circus and the freaking market. In Rome, one needed a special talent for that. He was not about to correct her because, well, this was her task, and it was kind of fun to watch her flail.

"Let's just keep going down this street and see where it leads."

She marched down the street basket swinging, and Azarion followed, wondering where they were headed. Once they reached the small square, he had a general idea - but he was distracted by the open gates in the wall, and the noise coming from the other side. So was Safinia.

"What do you think is going on in there?"

Azarion tilted his head, listening, then shrugged, and mimed holding a shield and a sword in his hand. Gladiators? It could be one of the places where they trained people for the games. As if trying to confirm his suggestions, a man standing on a crate by the open gates started yelling:

"Come on in, step right up! Only for today, see the best of the best, the heroes of the arena, training for the next deadly fight!"

@Liv

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Fighting, huh? Well, that would be a nice change from all the horse business, although at first sight it appeared to be just as noisy as the Whites' compound. They even had animalistic grunts to make up for the lack of whinnying. Safinia was not particularly crazy about gladiators - then again, she wasn't particularly crazy about anything -, but seeing it as they were already lost, they might as well enjoy the mysterious designs of Fortuna.

Taking Azarion by the arm and tugging on it to make him follow, she went to interrogate the man by the gates. "Is there an admission price?" If he said yes, then Fortuna would have to provide some coin too, because Safinia couldn't very well spend the money cook had trusted her with on tickets to watch gladiators train. It had not even occurred to her that Azarion might not be interested in tagging along, but it wasn't as though she had given him a choice.

"No, today you get to see our fine fighters in their home turf for free! Of course, if you would like to get up close to your favourite, that may be arranged for a small fee..." The man winked at her as he waved them in, but she failed to understand the hidden meaning to his words. Why would anyone want to get close to a gladiator while they were training? It would be a death sentence.

Mind made up, Safinia went through the gates, still dragging Azarion by the arm. Inside the walls the shouting seemed to be louder and there was concerted chaos as small groups of fighters and their rapt audiences were scattered about the place. It was a very confusing setup. Safinia let go of Azarion's arm and eyed him expectantly. "Now what? How does this work?"

@Chevi

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Azarion made a surprised sound as Safinia grabbed him by the arm to tug him along, as she suddenly decided to explore what the man was yelling about. It was one of the ludi, alright. A big one. And she was clearly more interested in it than she was in the shopping.

"Is there an admission price?" 

"No, today you get to see our fine fighters in their home turf for free! Of course, if you would like to get up close to your favourite, that may be arranged for a small fee..." 

Azarion raised an eyebrow at the man, then at Safinia. Did she have a favorite gladiator? Did people actually do that? What... pay to pet the fighters? Romans were so weird. He made some gestures at Safinia, pointing at the glistening bodies beyond the gate, then at the basket with a sarcastic look. Did they send you out to bring home a nice fresh gladiator for dinner?

She dragged him inside and he followed, partly because she gave him no choice, and partly because he was also a bit curious about the ludus. The Circus was a small world onto itself, and he suspected this place was the same. With a different kind of violence. And no horses.

"Now what? How does this work?"

Azarion gave her an incredulous look, shaking his head. The fuck are you asking me for? You dragged me in here! He looked around, surveying the various training courts and the groups of people standing around them. He shrugged. Dunno, pick your favorite... he gestured, willing to follow along... when, over the din of the crowd and the clash of swords and shields, his ears picked up a familiar sound. Forgetting about Safinia for a moment, Azarion's head rose like a hunting dog's.

Swoosh. Pop.

@Liv

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No, of course they couldn't take a gladiator home for dinner. He wouldn't fit in the basket or in Azarion's arms, would be too expensive and cook would be far from pleased. If Azarion wanted to pet a gladiator, he would have to pay his own way. They couldn't very well use the faction's coin for that. "What do you think he meant by 'getting up close'?" Safinia wondered out loud, a vacant look on her face. "Is admission free because they want to use the public for target practise?" And why would anyone pay to be hacked into pieces by a gladiator? The whole thing made no sense.

She didn't keep up enough with the gladiatorial world to have a favourite. A shrug was her reply to Azarion's gesturing, followed by a quick skimming of the crowd. How could she even see the fighters when there was a mass of people surrounding them? Safinia was about to tell Azarion that he could pick first when something made his head perk up like a hare spotting an eagle. 

"What is it? Someone you know?"

@Chevi

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There were plenty of people inside the Ludus already. They seemed very much entertained by watching the gladiators train with various weapons in various groups. Azarion had never really watched the games before, but he recognized the general idea. People talked about it often enough.

"What do you think he meant by 'getting up close'? Is admission free because they want to use the public for target practise?" 

Azarion scoffed, nodding in the direction of some women, watching some of the gladiators fight with swords and shields. They were clearly enthralled with the sight, reaching out their hands whenever some of the men got close enough to the edge of the courtyard. This was not target practice. This was... something entirely different. He was about to make some clear gestures about it, when he was distracted by the familiar sound from the other courtyard.

"What is it? Someone you know?"

Azarion shook his head, tapping his ears. Did she hear it? Was it really as loud as it sounded, or was it just him hearing something he'd been missing for years? His ears picked up on the sound of arrows being shot into targets. Azarion turned and followed the sound into the other courtyard, where a handful of gladiators were shooting arrows. Azarion only stopped at the edge of the field, staring at them. For a brief moment, he thought maybe... but none of them looked Sarmatian. Two looked African, one was a tall, fair-skinned man (Greek?), and the others didn't really looked like they came from his part of the world either. Azarion couldn't tell if he was disappointed or relieved. They were mostly using long, straight, cumbersome bows to shoot, hitting the targets with varying accuracy. Behind them on a long table, at the edge of the courtyard, there was an assortment of bows and arrows in rows an piles; some people were examining them with mild curiosity.

Azarion didn't realize he was staring.

@Liv

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Safinia followed the direction of Azarion's nod with her gaze, and while she understood what he was pointing at, the motives behind the women's behaviour were obscure to her. She assumed there were sexual undertones to it, but if that was what the women were after, surely big brawny prostitutes could be had in the city's many brothels. Or did gladiators also do that when they weren't fighting? She really knew very little about them. If her father had been a spotter for a ludus instead of a stable, perhaps she would know a bit more.

Whatever sound Azarion had reacted to had gone unnoticed by Safinia. She had not heard anything unusual, if metal on metal and shouts were the usual sounds of a place such as this. Intrigued by his response to it, she trailed after him, taking in the sights as she went. It seemed like every gladiator had his own group of supporters, no matter how ugly or unskilled he was. Now that she thought about it, it was much the same for the charioteers - somebody somewhere would root for them, even the weird ones like Bassus. Lost in thought, Safinia almost bumped into Azarion when he stopped, but managed to sidestep him just in time to avoid a collision.

Ahead of them, a few men (gladiators, for sure) were demonstrating their bow and arrow skills, and for some mysterious reason, Azarion seemed completely transfixed by the display. Safinia gave it a few seconds before waving a hand up and down a few times right in front of Azarion's eyes, trying to break his trance. "Hel-lo-o...?" Had he suddenly found his favourite gladiator?

@Chevi

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Azarion had buried his past deep when he was sold as a slave. At first he was rebellious, fighting his fate and even running away and getting branded for it. For someone who grew up on the endless steppes, in the tents and around the campfires of Sarmatia, losing freedom was not only humiliating... it was deadly. Azarion was still not sure how he was still alive, mute and enslaved as he was. Somewhere long the whippings and the beatings, he buried the memories of being a Sarmatian boy. It was easier not to think about it.

At the sight of the bows and the sound of the arrows it all came flooding back.

"Hel-lo-o...?"

Safinia waved a hand in front of his face and Azarion blinked, shaking his head. One of the gladiators shot his last arrow and walked back to the table, looking over the assortment of bows, picking of this or that, trying the ones that had been strung. Azarion's eyes followed his hands as he picked up an unstrung bow with a wicked curve, almost shaped like the letter C the wrong way around. He picked up the string too, but it was clear for his expression he was not sure how the whole thing fit together. Azarion, on the other hand, stared at him, watching every movement, until the gladiator tossed the bow aside, muttering something about barbarians as warped as their fucking bows.

You incredible, gods damned fucking moron.

Azarion opened his mouth, but no words came out, fucking obviously. Making a frustrated gesture, he turned to Safinia, pointing at the bow and then the gladiator, then making a whole series of gestures in rapid succession. He doesn't know what to do with it. Tell him. Tell him to ask me. 

@Liv

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For reasons not quite clear to Safinia, Azarion was taking an uncanny interest in the gladiator with the bow. It was out of character for her, but she was intrigued by his reaction. If she recalled correctly, he was from a tribe of hunters somewhere beyond the empire's borders. Did they perhaps hunt with bows, and seeing the weapon reminded him of his kinsmen?

Curiosity killed the cat, but she wasn't a cat. So she watched with interested as the boy's eyes stayed fixed on the gladiator's motions, almost as if he was in the presence of some god. And then the gladiator tossed a bow he had just picked up aside, and the spell was broken as Azarion gestured wildly at her, the man and the bow. "Wait. That's too fast." Safinia had got used to most of his signs by now, but when he was excited - as seemed to be the case -, he performed them with blinding speed.

She took a moment to put them together and ventured an interpretation. "You want me to call him over so you can talk to him?" Sure, simple enough. "Hey!" she shouted out to the gladiator, who lifted his eyes from the table with the bows and eyed the pair quizzically. "My friend here wants to talk to you. I think it's about that bow you just tossed." 

The gladiator snorted in disdain, but perhaps something in Azarion's intense expression piqued his attention, and he picked up the bow again. With lazy steps and a cocky grin he approached the two. "What about it? Just a piece of barbarian rubbish. And why's he need a girl to speak for him, hmm? Cat got his tongue?" 

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"Wait. That's too fast." 

Azarion bit back a frown, and repeated the gestures, this time a bit slower, but equally frustrated. Safinia did her best to follow. They had known each other for a while, so she knew some of his language, and right now she seemed interested enough to actually help.

"You want me to call him over so you can talk to him?"

Azarion nodded. He was not even sure they were allowed to do that, but to hell with it.

"Hey! My friend here wants to talk to you. I think it's about that bow you just tossed." 

The gladiator turned, and so did some people nearby. Azarion wondered if this qualified as "getting close" to a gladiator, but, unlike in the other courtyard, precious few people appeared to give a shit about the archers. They were clearly not fan favorites, and they knew it.

The guy picked up the bow and walked over, looking like a cat that finally gets to play with an actual live mouse.

"What about it? Just a piece of barbarian rubbish. And why's he need a girl to speak for him, hmm? Cat got his tongue?" 

Azarion turned to Safinia, making a few gestures, as if he was bending something. If this fucking moron didn't know how to properly string a recurve bow, he would show him. As for the rest of the joke... he opened his hands, nodding to Safinia. He trusted her to take up the banter on her own.

@Liv

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A small audience had formed around them as a few other visitors stopped whatever they were doing to scrutinise this 'conversation' between a gladiator and two scrawny-looking young people. When had they become a part of the show too? Safinia hoped nobody mistook her for a gladiatrix and wanted to get up close, though one look at her physique would betray the impossibility of it.

She watched Azarion's gestures with interest, trying to make heads or tails of them so she could replay the message to the arrogant gladiator. "He says you're doing it wrong." This statement did not go down well with the man, who kept smiling but narrowed his eyes and puffed up his chest like a rooster strutting around the coop. "He can show you how to string the bow properly. And..." So now it was her turn to add her own comment instead of simply interpreting? She could do that.

Safinia looked up expressionlessly at the gladiator. "Yes, that's right. Pussy got his tongue, which I guess is more than you've been getting." Like most inhabitants of the Subura, colourful language and sex-related insults were part of everyday speech for her. A couple of young men watching from a safe distance whistled and the gladiator's smile quickly faded as he threw the bow to the ground with some violence and grunted in irritation. He looked very angry now.

Safinia elbowed Azarion lightly. "Do you think we should run?"

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"He says you're doing it wrong. He can show you how to string the bow properly." 

Alright so that was what he was saying. Safinia was getting better at interpreting his gestures. However, the gladiator did not seem pleased that he had to face an uncomfortable truth. Azarion took a step back to allow Safinia to deal with the banter that was too complex for his sign language. She could handle some crudeness on her own just fine.

"And... Yes, that's right. Pussy got his tongue, which I guess is more than you've been getting." 

Azarion grinned. Good girl. There were ways this joke could have gone, but for now, it did more than enough. The gladiator tossed the bow aside, which made Azarion wince, and some people turned, eager for a different kind of spectacle. Azarion knew this was dangerous territory, but he was too pissed to care.

"Do you think we should run?"

He shook his head, gesturing to her, and pointing at the bow, then raising his chin to look up at the gladiator.

Let's make this a bet.

@Liv

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Unlike the gladiator, Azarion seemed to have found Safinia's comment funny. From a purely practical point of view, it was a good thing: it meant he would die with a smile on his lips if the gladiator lost his cool all of a sudden and embarked on a murderous rampage. Considering their current situation, it looked as though Azarion did indeed have a death wish. Would cook miss her after she was gone? She doubted it: there were hundreds more of girls and women willing and capable of doing the same work. 

It took her a few moments to understand what Azarion meant to say. At first she concluded he wanted to shoot the gladiator, which despite being a brave thing to do had three major issues: he was too close to the intended target; he couldn't possibly get to the bow before the gladiator; and he had no arrows. What Safinia hadn't quite managed to figure out was the role Azarion intended for her to play. She shrugged at him with a vacant look, wordlessly letting him know she hadn't grasped the whole thing and seeming entirely oblivious to the circumstances. 

The gladiator met Azarion's defiant look with one of his own and a grumble low in his throat, but for some reason didn't jump at them right away. Perhaps he had realised this was his little arena of sorts, now that he had attracted an audience, and was milking it for what it was worth. "What now, boy? You ready to apologise yet?" The man made to pick up the bow, glaring daggers at the two of them. "Or you wanna have a contest since you know so much about bows, hmm?" 

@Chevi

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Well, it had been nice while it lasted. Safinia gave him a blank stare, obviously missing his point; then again, 'bet' was not something so easily explained without words. The gladiator seemed angry, but didn't resort to punching just yet. Maybe, Azarion thought sarcastically, he was on the archery range because he was shit at close range combat.

What? It would have made sense.

"What now, boy? You ready to apologise yet? Or you wanna have a contest since you know so much about bows, hmm?" 

Hey look, sometimes even a blind hen can find some corn.

Azarion smirked, nodding. Now it was a challenge. He pointed at Safinia and made a hand sign for coins. If they were going to make this a contest, the only thing he had to wager was the shopping money. Good thing he was not going to lose. The gladiator tilted his head, looking at Safinia, and nodded. Money was a universal language. "Don't go too far, darling."

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To his credit, Azarion didn't bother with a repeat performance of his gesturing, probably concluding that whatever he had in mind did not lend itself well to being mimed into existence. The gladiator's menacing words did not seem to bother him, either, much like they did not evoke terror in Safinia's breast. Words were fallible and easy to manipulate - actions spoke louder. 

Her mouth made a small O-shape as she realised what Azarion intended to do. How thick was he, entering a contest with the faction's money? If they came back with no food and no coin, Safinia would probably get the boot after being forced to repay it all by Vesta knew what means. And since Azarion was the faction's slave and not hers, she couldn't even sell him to recoup losses - which was a damned shame. She opened her mouth to complain, but the gladiator had already accepted the wager, and would definitely not take it lightly if she dashed away with his possible earnings. What a nuisance.

"I will tell cook about this," she whispered to Azarion with a menacing fire in her eyes before taking a few steps to the side to stay out of them men's way.

The gladiator picked up the bow he had been struggling with and tossed it to Azarion with a derisive laugh. "Let's see you do something with that piece of shit since you're so into it," the man taunted as he went to the table, picked up another bow and set about stringing it, waving lazily at Azarion to do the same. Safinia knew nothing of bows, but observing the ease with what the burly man was stringing his new bow and selecting arrows, it seemed to be of a type he was more familiar with. She gave Azarion an impatient look, urging him to get on with this stupid contest.

He had better win.

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"I will tell cook about this,"

Azarion shrugged off the threat. He didn't really give a shit. The cook had no authority over him, not much anyway other than being a free man and him a slave. If he was going to get in trouble with anyone, it was going to be Marcus, but only if he lost the money. And he was not going to lose.

"Let's see you do something with that piece of shit since you're so into it," 

The gladiator handed him the recurve bow, and picked up another one, a long, straight piece he stood up straight and leaned on to bend it enough to put on the string. It seemed like such a simple contraption to Azarion. He might not have the height or the weight to bend one, but once strung, it was as simple as the gladiator was stupid. He waited for him to finish before he stepped up to do his part.

To untrained people, the recurve bow looked like a mystery. It's double-S shape, the handle covered in horn, the widening, wing-like ends, and the whole reverse arc of it made it impossible to tell to the untrained eye which way it was supposed to bend, and how. No wonder the gladiator tossed it aside. It was shorter than his long bow, and at first look, not as impressive. People muttered as they watched.

Gods above and below, it was good to hold a bow again. Azarion hooked the string on to one end, then, instead of holding it up, he stepped over the bow and hooked it between his legs, one end over one ankle, and the middle behind his other knee. It looked awkward, but he had done it a thousand times when he was younger; using his legs as leverage, he leaned forward, bending the end of the bow backwards, so that the C-shape turned to its inverse, until he could hook the other end of the string on. Suddenly, the warped-looking stick turned into the classic shape of the wicked, curved bows of the steppes.

Azarion grinned as he stepped out of the bow and held it up, testing the string. Wherever the bow came from, it must have been fairy new when the Romans got to it. He glanced over at Safinia with visible pride, which was a rare look on him these days. Told you.

@Liv

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If Azarion lost the bet and the gladiator took her shopping money, Safinia would definitely try to make some of it back by selling Azarion for body parts. Slaves went missing in Rome every day, what was one more? He wasn't even a proper charioteer yet: there was no gaggle of noisy fans or angry sponsors to mourn his loss.

Despite her violent thought tangent, she watched on with faint interest. A number of people were doing the same, whispering amongst them and pointing more or less openly at the bows and their wielders. Some seemed to be placing wagers with one another too, clearly seeing an opportunity to make their coin purses grow heavier. She would give it to him, though, Azarion seemed to know what he was doing with that weird-looking bow. The other spectators apparently thought the same, as their murmuring increased in speed and volume.

When he held up the bow and preened at Safinia, she nodded and clapped her hands a few times. There was no sarcasm or irony in the gesture, and no grand enthusiasm either. She understood that particular bow required some skill, but weapons in general were as unfamiliar to her as Senate meetings. 

The gladiator, on the other hand, didn't look quite as chuffed. He attempted to hide it under a contemptuous look, but something in his posture belied unease after having witnessed Azarion string the warped bow as if he had done nothing else all his life. Clutching a bunch of arrows, he shouted rudely at the boy. "Oi! You ready or what?" Not waiting for a reply, the man positioned himself an appropriate distance from the target and dropped all but one arrow on the ground right next to him. With a cocky grin that didn't reach his eyes, he motioned for Azarion to start. "Ladies first."

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Safinia clapped her hands, but didn't seem overly enthusiastic. Some murmur ran through the small crowd, and even the gladiator took a step back from his bravado. But all of it dimmed next to the feeling of holding a bow again. Along with the knowledge that he would get whipped into oblivion if his masters found out he was handling weapons.

"Oi! You ready or what?... Ladies first."

The gladiator tossed the arrows to the ground and kept one. Amateur. Azarion held three to the handle of the bow with his left, and drew one with his right. It was a simple, fluid motion, his chest expanding as he pulled back with his shoulder; it felt like the first full breath he'd taken in years. It flashed through his brain that he could turn and shoot the guy in the dick. It would have been satisfying. But alas, he liked living, and there was a target set up anyway. Azarion, like most riders on the steppe, aimed with his eyes, and released the arrow the moment he lifted and drew the bow. The arrow hit the center ring and he smirked, holding back the urge to keep shooting. It was the other guy's turn, after all.

But damn, it felt good to shoot again. He was going to enjoy it while it lasted.

@Liv

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Azarion seemed to rise to the challenge, taking several arrows where the gladiator had been content with one. Safinia hoped he beat the burly man, not because she was particularly invested in the match but so they would keep their shopping money. She debated telling cook about all the apples that had gone missing over the months, but that was riskier business with higher potential for backfiring. That would have to wait.

She knew nothing about shooting, but remarked that Azarion's technique was quite different from the gladiators', going by the little she had been able to observe before a certain former stable boy went picking a fight with a man twice his size. Whereas the men had first raised their bows and made small adjustments by moving their arms minutely in whatever direction they needed, Azarion had instead glared daggers at the poor innocent target and fired off his arrow as soon as he lifted the bow to aim. Surprisingly, it hit the centre, and Safinia clapped again, this time with real excitement. Maybe - just maybe - they stood a chance of winning this ridiculous bet.

The gladiator wasn't quite as chuffed, and gritted his teeth as he cast a murderous glance at Azarion. He took aim in the usual way, drawing his shoulder back and pulling the string taut with the arrow resting between his fingers, and fired his shot. The arrow pierced the target less than an inch away from the one Azarion had shot, and the gladiator spit at his opponent's feet with satisfaction. "Still think you're all that now?" 

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There was some applause as Azarion hit the target, and a murmur of surprise. Before, he was just some lad who walked into the ludus and decided to pick a fight with a gladiator; but now people could see him handling a bow. It was a part of him. He'd grow up learning it, from the time he could walk, and then ride. And even more than the applause, the feeling of shooting again was absolutely worth all the shit he was about to get for this after.

The gladiator hit the target too, an inch or so away from his own arrow, and spat at his feet.

"Still think you're all that now?" 

Azarion's grin widened.

Turning back to look at the target, Azarion adjusted his fingers around the three arrows he was still holding in his left, against the handle of the bow. He took a deep breath, aiming with his eyes (and maybe, just maybe, enjoying the tension), then raised the bow and fired off all three arrows one by one, within a heartbeat from each other. The fingers of his left hand moved them into place with amazing speed, and all three hit the center of the target one after the other. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

Azarion looked at the gladiator, then down at the arrows at his feet.

Walked into that one, you moron.

@Liv

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Azarion, Safinia thought, was having entirely too much fun riling up the gladiator. And she was somebody who did not normally notice that type of thing. Did he like having the audience's attention, being the source of their whispers and the target of their applause? The only reasonable explanation for this was that he had been spending far too much time with the more experienced charioteers like Marcellus, now that he was an apprentice, and it had gone to his head. He fancied himself a star already. Nothing else made sense. Still, stardom hadn't blunted his skill with the bow, and he proceeded to humiliate the theoretically more experienced gladiator in his home turf.

The gladiator, not unexpectedly, did not take kindly to this. With something halfway between a roar and a grunt, he bent down to pick up three arrows and set about partially mimicking Azarion: he continued with his own technique, but shot the three arrows one after the other like Azarion had done. The small crowd waited with bated breath, and Safinia found herself with eyes glued to what was happening.

Two of the gladiator's arrows hit the centre of the target, but a third one was off the mark by half a foot. The spectators' silence was so sudden and all-encompassing that you could have heard a random fly buzzing about. The gladiator flushed bright red and turned round with murder in his eyes. Safinia felt her heart rate go up.

This was bad. This was very bad. Before she even realised it, she was speaking to Azarion. "We should go now."

@Chevi

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 The gladiator was on the edge of his patience. Azarion could tell, but there was no way to back out of this now. And it felt too good, having a bow in his hands again. Just... too. Good. Like freedom.

The gladiator, being a complete moron, obviously did not get any of that. He did pick up the arrows, seething, and did a poor imitation of what Azarion had done. It was a technique Sarmatians used a lot; easier to shoot fast from horseback than always having to pull from the quiver. The gladiator did not have the same experience, but he did his level best. His shots were slower that Azarion's, and one went wide. There was no applause this time. There was, on the other hand, clear murderous intent.

Azarion stared back defiantly.

"We should go now."

Azarion was gritting his teeth without realizing it. He'd lost either way. Even though he was the better archer, he was still a slave, and it was time for him to leave before he got into way more trouble. He gripped the bow. For a moment it felt impossible to let it go again. He glanced at Safinia, who looked genuinely scared now. Letting out a sigh, he lowered the bow and unstrung it, before placing it on the table. 

Let's go.

@Liv

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