The droags hatch and raise drakelings for many purposes, including sport.
Even the training of drakelings for sport can elevate one of the faithful to a coveted position at the Temple.
“Are you ready?” asked the Prelate, dropping a heavy hand on Clytus’ shoulder.
Clytus nodded, never taking his eyes away from Zasha. “She is ready, my lord, to serve for the glory of His name.”
“Excellent. Bring her to the pit.” The Prelate turned and walked away, then paused to add, “His blessings be upon you this day, Clytus. Much will be decided, depending on the outcome of the fight.”
Once the Prelate was out of earshot, Clytus whistled to Zasha.
“You are my ticket out of this place, ” he whispered, offering the drakeling a scrap of dried flesh. “If you win again, the Prelate has promised me a place at the Temple. I can put this pit behind me.”
Zasha took the scrap from Clytus daintily. Everything about her spoke of fine, delicate things and not the trained killer she had become.
Clytus trained drakelings for fights in the contest pits. Though he had trained many other drakelings, Zasha was his first champion.
After seeing her disarmingly frail looks, bettors had often put their coin on the competition only to lose. Zasha was nearing the end of her career in the pits; soon she would be too old for these battles.
Clytus knew he could always train another drakeling to victory, but he knew that Zasha would always be his star.
The Prelate had come to see Zasha fight and had gained much by placing his bet correctly during each of her bouts.
“My lord is lucky,” Clytus had said, bowing low before the Prelate. The Prelate had wanted to meet the winner and her trainer. “I am not lucky; I am blessed,” the Prelate responded.
“Your beast has good lines. She would be an asset to the Temple. If she wins her next fight, I will see to it that both of you are taken to the Temple of Scale.”
And so today, Clytus offered Zasha the choicest morsels so that she would be at her bloodthirsty best.
There were still those that bet against her (and would have made large sums, if they had won), but most knew better. Her thin talons shredded the wings of her competition and left long, thin scars on their hides.
Clytus appreciated the aura her fame brought to hi. But when he looked into her eyes, he wondered whether she deceived more than just the bettors at the pit.
The pit fights were designed to weed out the weakest drakelings as well as to teach the others a variety of combat forms.
Flying was discouraged, to keep the combatants in the pits and away from the spectators. In this way, the drakelings learned how to fight without needing to use the advantage that flight gave them.
Any drakeling that flew in a pit battle was disqualified.
“You will enjoy life at the Temple, Zasha,” whispered Clytus, rubbing her hide with oil to deepen its color.
“They say that He will soon return to guide us to victory. He will come first to the Temple and reward those of us who are faithful to His word.” Clytus paused briefly to say a prayer beneath his breath.
“In the Temple, there will be no one who will tell us lies or speak untruths.”
A distant hollow gong announced the start of the first battle of the day.
As the star attraction, Zasha did not fight until the final bout. That gave Clytus time to do the invocation before leading her to the pits.
Voices clamored excitedly, mixing with the screeches and sounds of the current fight. The dry dust of the pit floor rose in the air, curling into golden brown clouds.
The first fight ended quickly and the pit floor was swept clear.
Clytus stood with Zasha beside the ring awaiting their turn. Other trainers did not arrive at the pit before their bout, but Clytus believed that this was what gave Zasha her edge. She watched each competition intently, absorbing the energy of the crowd.
He never metioned this as his reason of course. All he said was, “I like the pit.”
The Prelate arrived for Zasha’s match. As did most of the high clergy, he had sent ahead lower level clerics to hold his place at the front of the crowd.
Clytus did his best to keep himself from meeting the Prelate’s eyes. It was not illegal to offer a position at the Temple to someone who had earned such status.
But it would be unwise to draw any attention to a potential conflict if the Prelate had placed a large bet on Zasha.
Zasha tiptoed into the pit, turning her delicate head this way and that, acknowledging the crowd.
“She is like a princess,” Clytus thought. Her competitor entered the ring squawking and posturing. His trainer had to speak several sharp words to bring him under control.
“In His name, let this battle begin!” cried the pit referee. He made a sign of blessing before stepping out of the ring.
The challenger rose high on his hind legs, spreading his wings and piercing the air with a shriek to intimidate Zasha.
Instead of reacting to his actions, Zasha circled, her own wings folded tightly against her back. The challenger shrieked again, stepping forward to slash at her.
Zasha stepped aside lithely, turning to snap at her attacker as he clawed at the empty air where she had been standing.
Seeing Zasha in the pit always gave Clytus a feeling of pride.
And yet, he had taught her nothing. Zasha fought instinctively, calculating each move and anticipating her opponent’s movements. None of her movements were wasted.
She appeared hesitant at times, but those were the moments in which she waited for her challenger to make a fatal mistake.
As in all her previous battles, Zasha found the challenger’s weakness and exploited it.
As he lifted his wings for another attack, she darted beneath him to sink razor sharp teeth into his side. Caught off-guard, he rose into the air to escape her attack and was thus disqualified. The crowd roared its approval.
Only then did Clytus glance at the Prelate. The Prelate smiled broadly and inclined his head slightly.
“In His name,” whispered Clytus gratefully, giving Zasha a treat.