After the check in, Tonya was directed to another table. The staff member there also wore a referee shirt and explained that all staff members for the Arena Games were identified by them. She signed numerous waivers and various other paperwork until she feared her hand would cramp. She paused a moment before signing the line concerning accidental death. Tonya was then given a key card to the women’s locker room that would also unlock the locker number printed on it.
As she turned to leave, the staff member said, “Good luck, Tonya Spartan. We hope to see you again.” Tonya hid the concern that flooded her thoughts behind a stoic expression as she walked away.
She located the locker room with ease due to the large neon lettering above it. Weaving through the crowds and enduring the pounding music, she felt like a salmon swimming upstream trying to reach her destination. As the door shut behind her, the music reduced to a dull thumping, letting peace settle on her. There were a few women conversing trivial matters amidst the lockers as she began her search.
The locker numbers grew in sequence until she found number thirty-three, matching her card number. With a swipe, the small light above the lock turned green. Inside lay a square envelope wrapped with purple and blue ribbon. Tonya thought nothing of it, perhaps it was a welcoming letter. She hung her bag from the hook and slipped the key card behind her lanyard pass. She sat on the bench that separated the rows of lockers and untied the ribbon, setting it beside her as she read the tight, heavy handwriting.
I can’t explain everything now. But know this, you must win at all costs. You don’t know me yet, but that will change with time. There is more to the Games than just the surface appearance. Don’t expect mercy from anyone, not the contestants nor the gladiators. Also, the Games are recorded and analyzed so don’t reveal too much of your strategy while playing.
This will challenge you mentally and physically. The gladiators are well paid, so give them all you got. I know you have a kickboxing history, so don’t be afraid to use it on anyone that gets in your way.
Officials will explain the rules of each event, but don’t let it cripple your imagination. You must think outside the box to win the Games.
I will provide you with letters like this before each event. You can’t let anyone know that I helped you in any way. My life is at stake here, I’m depending on you to win. If you lose, I lose. So don’t let me down.
P.S. The quickest way through the labyrinth, is through the gladiators. Get passed one and find the next. There are ways to find the center without meeting a gladiator, but I’m guessing that so many people will go that way that you will not rank high enough in the final standings to move on to the next round.
Crumbling up the paper and ribbon, she stuffed it into her bag just as a woman rounded the corner, obviously searching for her locker. So many thoughts coursed through Tonya’s mind as she tried to piece together the fragmented clues.
The other woman was opening her locker when she spoke to Tonya. “I’m Ash. Is this your first year in the Games?”
Tonya collected herself, “Yeah. I’m Tonya.”
“Tonya Spartan? The Tonya Spartan?”
“How do you know who I am?”
The timid woman came down to stand a few feet from Tonya. Her brown hair was pulled back into a loose braid and her athletic clothes hung loose on her frame. “You’re the favored rookie this year. The hype around your name is insane. I can’t wait to see the action first-hand.” There was a tint of excitement in her eyes as she looked at Tonya.
Tonya felt the weight of the statement lay on her shoulders. “What are the Arena Games, anyway? What should I expect? I never heard of them until a few days ago.” Tonya asked.
Ash shot nervous eyes around before whispering to Tonya. “The Arena Games is kind of like the Black Market of sports entertainment. Underground kind of stuff. They play games that aren’t allowed in mainstream sports. This is my second time to play. Last time, my leg got broken in the first event and I was eliminated. It took some monetary persuasion on my part to get my name back on the list. Did they tell you the prize yet?” Tonya shook her head. Ash’s voice was barely audible. “Two million dollars to the overall winner.”
Tonya matched Ash’s whisper, “Where does the money come from?”
“Sponsors and online viewers, I guess. The Games bring in more money than all other sports combined. When we get in first event, you’ll see why. It’s brutal.”
“If it’s so bad, why did you come back?”
“I’ve got something to prove to myself. I’m not an outgoing person, but I have more to offer than people realize. Do you want to be a partner in this? We’ll help each other as much as we can without affecting our own chances of winning. What do you say?”
Tonya looked her in the eyes, “Sounds like a plan.” Their hands met with a slap overhead. “What is the first event?
Ash dropped eye contact, “The labyrinth. It’s full of booby traps and gladiators. It’s where my leg got broken, thanks to a gladiator. I was left there laying in pain until the event ended. He laughed at me like some sick psychopath as I tried to not move it.” Her voice took on a stone’s edge, “I was then dropped off at a hospital to deal with it on my own.”
“Sounds like you have a bone to pick with someone.”
Ash’s face twisted in a wicked smile, “You could say that. I don’t intend on winning the Games; just getting a little revenge would be nice.”
The two spoke of plans and details of the event in hushed whispers until the speaker in the ceiling announced the first call of contestants to the main stage. With their final preparations made they left the safety of the locker room to find the stage.
The air was electric as more contestants gathered near to receive their briefing. Tonya couldn’t believe that she was about to enter a dangerous labyrinth that could result in serious physical injury. Her monotonous life seemed rather dull now. She told herself if she survived that she would be more outgoing with her life from now on.
The line of people ahead of them was beyond their sight. Ash told her that fifty men and fifty women would enter the labyrinth and the first seventy-five total would move on to the next event. When the bell rang, there were no distinctions between the sexes. The announcer’s voice boomed from the speakers as he took the stage and built the audience into a frenzy. Male and female champions of the past gained the spotlight as their names rang out over the crowd. Several of the champions had large followings as the people erupted with enthusiasm. Seeing that many experienced players stacked the odds ever higher against Tonya and Ash.
“The rules of the Labyrinth are this,” the announcer said to quiet the crowd. “Contestants will choose one of ten gates to enter the labyrinth by. They will then navigate to the center. Once there, they will dive into a pool of water sealing their place in the next event. The first seventy-five to hit the water move on. The rest will go home. Are the contestants ready?” Everyone including Tonya and Ash let out hoops and war cries. “Are the people ready to witness the Labyrinth?” With this question the crowd roared with deafening volume as Tonya covered her ears.
“Contestants, choose your gate and prepare for…THE LABYRINTH!”