Continued from The Frozen Arena.
It was a full year after my last visit to the frozen arena under the South Nazi rainforest, before I could find another sponsor and return there. I spent the year creating a digital model to explore and ponder from, but nothing of the sort was capable of replacing time spent in the area, walking through it myself.
I called my crew from the previous year, and they were all available to join the expedition, even if some of them were far from eager, and seemed disappointed that I was going to take them somewhere ‘boring’ like an arena that required neither demolitions, nor fighting to defend the rest of the crew from animals or other people. Money was money, however.
We left on a nippy autumn day, and arrived on a hot and rainy day that promised even more rain in the coming days. Our supplies were enough to last at least two months– hardly enough time, as far as I was concerned. I pushed until we bundled up and ventured underground early, and we left the elevator hatch at the top shut for the rain, so the site was not disturbed too much more than it had been already.
Unaccustomed to the cold, the first few hours were hellish as we spent them shivering by a battery-powered space heater.
The demolitions expert and our defense manager stayed by the heater as the rest of us spread out to once more walk among the halls. I paused for a moment as I was walking from the flat ground of the ring itself. The two fighters in the center seemed different somehow.
Unable to place the difference, I continued into the stands. Last time I came, someone else observed and recorded the viewers. I paced through them with Nancy, and we painstakingly charted each person’s position, outfit, and features. Unlike last time, we worked digitally– save for the sketches. I filled half of a memory card in my tablet with notes and transferred photographs, and several sketchbooks were filled by my charcoal sketches.
Nancy’s use of our recording materials was similar, although she was even more thorough than I was. I paused as we arrived at the high seat, and stood to look down. From this angle, I saw no difference in the two. They were tiny dots with shining bodies, as though covered in sweat. I could not make out their faces, nor any minor wounds. From that place, I recorded more data on my observations, then looked to the frozen guard by the door that led out.
The previous group had not been able to get through there. They were overweight, I mused as I quickly stripped my layers off and carefully slipped past into the darkness before I dressed again. “Light, please.” I held a hand through the gap, and soon felt my lighted “spelunking helmet” fall into my open hand. I flipped the switch to turn it on and pushed it onto my head. Immediately in front of me, I saw two guards tending to a well-dressed man on the floor who gripped at his blood-covered stomach.
The frozen blood resembled a pile of cut pyrope gemstones against his white tunic, embroidered heavily in spun gold. He wore nothing over his lower half, save a pair of sandals that was beaded with gold. A white ribbon was tied about his forehead, exactly a centimeter wide, and covered at the back by his medium-length hair. The man’s expression was agony, and his mouth was open, as though he was frozen mid-gasp.
The first guard at his side was lifting his finger from near the wound with a grave expression. He wore a steel chest plate, polished to shine like silver, and embossed with gold. It was inlaid with faceted black onyx in the shape of a frightening face, and in his other hand, he lightly held an onyx-pointed spear with a golden handle. The frozen blood stuck to his fingers, and to one side, a drop that had frozen mid-fall rested against a wall.
On the other side of the ‘dying’ man, the other guard was much more plain in appearance. He wore simple iron armor and held a wood-and-iron spear. His face was much older than the guard across from him, and his eyes were closed with an expression of deep sorrow.
Awed, I quickly began to record my findings. From outside, I heard Nancy ask a question, and I vaguely recall that I gave her a monosyllabic response as I continued to photograph, sketch, and take notes on the setting in front of me. It took more effort than usual to avoid recording my guesses as though they were fact.
I had no recollection how long I had been inside that small hallway with the three frozen men, but at some point, I became hungry and flipped through my sketchbook to ensure I had missed as little as possible. Finally, I turned to leave.
My parka brushed against the wall, and it almost sounded like a human sigh. I turned back to look at the three figures. None had moved. Finally, I stripped down to exit the hallway.
Midway through re-dressing, I spotted how pale Nancy was. I hurriedly finished pulling on my heavy winter gear and escorted her back to the heater to warm up before I sent her up to the surface. Changing temperature too quickly was far too dangerous to risk. The rest of us followed her up for the night, and until the wee hours of the morning, I reviewed my notes from throughout the day.
I constantly found myself staring at the images of the three men in the hallway, however. Their expressions of sorrow, grief, and pain drew me in, and I decided that I would record the guard that blocked the way, and then I would get Nancy in there tomorrow, if she was feeling better.
Plans in place, I set my sketchbooks aside and switched memory cards for the morning. I packed up a bag that would hopefully last the day, and I walked to my cot. For a moment, the shadows tricked my eyes, and I thought I saw a figure in my bed. It was nothing, however, and before long, I was asleep under the thin blanket.