Welcome to chapter 27 of Arena of Souls- A Brock Stone Adventure, a serial adventure story in the style of the old pulps. If you’re just joining in, begin here:
Chapter 27: The Arena
“What is the Arena of Souls?” Stone demanded. His fists clenched, he took a threatening step toward Akente, who backed away.
“A place few go, and even fewer return. No one speaks of what happens there.” Akente glanced nervously about. “It is also the path your grandfather traveled in order escape the island. At least, the last time anyone saw him, he was entering the arena. We assumed he had died, until you arrived with news of his safe return home.”
“Why would Samman take Trinity into the Arena?” Alex asked.
“Samman has entered the Arena many times. Inside there, he is a master. I imagine he took the woman there because he knows no one will follow him.”
“He was wrong on that score,” Stone said. “Show me the way.”
“You can’t. You know nothing of the Arena.” Akente looked to Alex and Moses, a pleading expression on his face, but both remained silent. “If you go in, you will surely die.”
“My grandfather didn’t.” Stone seized Akente by the shoulders and resisted the urge to shake him like a rag doll. “Besides, it doesn’t matter. I abandoned by friends once for the sake of this island and my grandfather’s secret, and look what happened. I’m going in no matter what, so you might as well show me the way and tell me anything you can of what I should expect.”
Akente stiffened. For a moment, Stone thought his uncle meant to resist, but then the man nodded. “Follow me.” Stone released his grip and Akente led them back in the direction of the volcano.
“I am not permitted to tell you what I experienced the only time I ventured there. Do not bother trying to force me. I would die first.”
Stone could tell Akente was serious. “Go on.”
“I will say only that many dangers await you. It is well known. But the dangers are not merely physical. You must be strong in mind, body, and spirit in order to survive.”
“You said Stone’s grandfather, your father, escaped the island by going into the Arena,” Alex said. “But how?”
“I cannot say for certain, but I can guess.” Akente hesitated and then looked around to see if anyone stood within earshot, but everyone appeared busy, either tending the wounded or patrolling in case the Varri returned. “I should not say this, but there is a place in the arena where the water meets the land. The waves are fierce, but if you can make it beyond them, the current will pull you out to sea.”
“Like a riptide,” Moses said.
“How do you know about the current?” Stone asked.
Akente shook his head. “I have said enough. There is the way in.” He pointed to a tiny stream that trickled past their feet and over a rock ledge into a bowl-shaped canyon. A curtain of mist concealed the canyon from sight, with only the tops of a few trees jutting out of the blanket of gray.
Stone turned to Alex and Moses. “Wait here. I’ll find Trinity, then I’ll come back for you and we’ll find the way out.”
“We’re going with you,” Moses said.
Alex nodded in agreement. “Whether we go with you now, or after you find Trinity, we’re going to have to pass through the Arena in order to find the beach Akente described. We might as well go along now and try to be of some help.”
Stone didn’t like it, but it made sense. He turned and peered over the edge of the waterfall down into the mist. “How do we get down there.”
“You stand in the water at the edge of the cliff,” Akente said. “And you jump.”
Stone nodded. “I probably won’t see you again,” he said to Akente. “Thank you for your help… Uncle.”
“I wish you well, Nephew.” Without further word, Akente turned and walked away.
“No time like the present.” Stone turned and leapt out over the edge. He did not experience the familiar, tingling sensation associated with falling. Instead, the mist that shrouded the arena seemed to bear him gently down until he hit the water.
He scarcely felt the impact, made no splash as far as he could tell, and the water felt strangely warm. He slid beneath the surface and immediately began swimming. He expected Alex and Moses to follow and second and he didn’t want to be underneath one or both of them when they jumped.
Surfacing, he found himself in a large pond, or tiny lake, depending on one’s perspective. The mist hung like a thick blanket about fifteen feet overhead. Here and there, pillars of mist whirled like tiny tornadoes, putting him to mind of marble columns supporting a low roof. Rocky paths wound through the sparse trees and tropical foliage, but despite the terrain, the place felt artificial, like an odd sort of temple. The shore, a rocky, gray ledge, lay about thirty feet away, and he struck out for it, ignoring the uneasy feeling with which this place filled him.
On the shore, he scanned the ground and quickly found scuff marks that he took to be tracks left by Trinity. He had no doubt Samman could have moved through this landscape without leaving a sign, but Trinity was a city girl and was probably fighting her captor all the way. Now that he had a trail, he waited with rising impatience until he saw his friends plunge into the water. He quietly called out to them and they swam over. After hauling them out of the water with ease, he led them into the arena.
He ran as fast as he could while following the signs. Trinity had left regular scuff marks along the way, and in a few spots it was obvious she had dug in her heels and forced Samman to drag her. He smiled at the thought, then wondered why Samman had not merely thrown her over his shoulder and carried her. Perhaps he wanted to leave a trail? Of course he did. The arena was his home field as the ballplayers might say, and Stone was a rookie. Here, Samman had all the advantages. Or so he believed, which could work to Stone’s advantage.
Off to their left, one of the columns of mist began to whirl faster, then broke off and spun toward them. Having already plunged through the thick mist, Stone doubted it would do them any harm, but he saw no reason to take a chance.
“Look out on the left,” he called back to his friends, and quickened his pace. He heard the sound of rapid footfalls behind him, and then Alex cried out in alarm.
Stone looked back to see his friend sprawled face-down. A rope of mist wrapped around Alex’s ankle like a snare, and tendrils of mist sprang forth and began creeping up his leg.
Moses drew his machete and slashed at the mist, but it re-formed as soon as it parted.
Not knowing what else to do, Stone grabbed Alex by the wrists and pulled. The mist held on, stretching like rubber as Stone hauled Alex farther away. The mist now reached halfway up Alex’s body and his eyes suddenly went wide. He opened his mouth as if to scream, but made no sound.
Desperate, Stone lifted his friend bodily off the ground, and the mist released him.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said to Moses. “I’ll carry Alex until he can run again.”
“I… can… manage…” Alex shuddered with each syllable, like a man coming in from the cold.
“Are you injured?”
“No.” Alex would say no more.
Stone put him down and eyed him doubtfully, but Alex immediately set off at a slow jog. Stone again moved to the fore, and was relieved to find they had not lost the trail.
As they ran, they narrowly avoided several more attacks from the columns of mist. Soon, Stone realized that the the path they followed gradually spiraled inward.
“I think this path leads to the center of the arena,” he said.
“How… can you be… sure?” Moses panted. Though Moses was in good condition, the exertion was taking its toll on him.
“I’m not completely certain, but we’ve already circled the arena once. It appears to be taking us closer to center as we go. We might be better off…”
He didn’t see the coil of mist that whipped out across the path like a tripwire, snaring him and Moses.