Ramble before the story: I haven't posted a story in so long and even this one's kind of old but hey.
This is based on a scene in The Crossing, wherein Strakk describes Malum as a very close friend and does not seem to recall that Malum was the guy who nearly killed him, which led to Malum's exile. Better still, Strakk later greets Malum himself with something along the lines of "Hello old friend!" to which Malum replies "We're not friends". This is a story dedicated to this mysterious friendship, and takes place sometime after Malum's banishment and before the events of The Crossing.
I'm not sure if this is would go here or in Short Stories. This is my best guess. It's fairly short, too.
Strakk's Best Friend
It was a sunny day when Strakk woke up, yawning and stretching the tightness from his limbs- sleeping in armour was uncomfortable but necessary on Bara Magna- and he felt more well-rested than he had in weeks. Stiff, too. He rose, yanking a steel shutter down to slam the sunlight filtering through his window out, and stretched again.
Strange, he mused, was the fact that he couldn't recall coming home. The last thing he remembered for sure was going to fight his absolutely best friend Malum in the arena. Ah, yes, his closest and most dear friend. They got along so very well, he remembered. Well, he admitted the specific memories were a little fuzzy, but he was sure they were best friends.
That fight must have been tiring, if he was too sleepy to recall travelling home. And the fight itself. Ah, well. He would hear of the results later.
He took a moment to muse over his pile of treasures- he could have put his pay away neatly, but it was so much more rewarding to have it heaped in the middle of the room, where everyone could see and feel jealous of it. It was also why he kept his door locked, so no thieving Agori could go sniffing around the pile. It kind of defeated the purpose of having the pile out for everyone to see, and admittedly took up more than half of his shelter, but it made him feel much better about his life to think he'd achieved something.
Outside, he blinked in the bright light. Defessus, the Agori who usually handled his pay, glanced over at his slightly unsteady approach.
"You're here," the Agori grunted, turning back on course towards the inn with a sack overflowing with dry old roots. "Thought you were dead."
"Why?" Strakk asked, to no effect. He tried another question. "I just wanted to follow up on my pay after my last battle. Did you pass it along? I seem to have forgotten."
Defessus gave him a dubious glance. "Is that really the first thing that came to mind to you? Your pay?"
"Hey, I don't need any lip from a sand mite like you. My last battle was quite arduous, and I cannot... properly recall... collecting my pay."
"What do you remember?" This had the Agori's interest, a rare feat.
Strakk didn't want to admit that he remembered nothing after stepping through the Arena's gates- it sounded so pathetic and childish- but he did desperately need answers. "I don't even remember how the battle ended. It must have been an amazing battle to watch, crossing blades with my dear friend Malum."
This actually made Defessus stop in his tracks. He seemed to be piecing together something in his head. Finally, he repeated, "Dear friend?"
"Yes. We're close friends. Surely, you know."
The strangeness disappeared in a heartbeat, but Strakk couldn't figure out why the Agori appeared to be trying to hide a smile. "Oh, absolutely. Apologies, Strakk. I've not been right this morning. Ah, I will see to it you are paid."
As he walked off, Strakk glanced over to a pair of gossiping Agori, one leaning on a pick and the other fiddling with the handle of a shovel. Neither had seen Strakk, apparently, so he used the opportunity to slink over and eavesdrop.
"Did you hear about Malum's exile?" the pick-bearing Agori said to his friend. "That was a long time coming, hey?"
"Sure was. What a brutal fight, though!"
"Thought he'd kill the guy."
"But now he's roaming the desert! Isn't that a scary thought?"
"I give him a month. The guy's tough, but that's all he's got going."
Strakk strode away quickly, very concerned. His friend had been exiled? When had that happened? How long had he been asleep? Defessus acted as if his appearance was a surprise, so perhaps he had been asleep longer than he had thought.
He spotted a lean Agori chatting animatedly to a Glatorian trainee nearby, and marched right over. "Metus!"
The trainer was just waving the rookie away when Strakk called. He turned with a surprised grin. "Strakk! Hey! Good morning, sleepyhead."
"How long was I asleep?"
"Just over a week, my friend. We've had to send Gelu out for all your matches. He's travelling to Vulcanus for a match against Ackar as we speak. Woo, that's going to be a mess for us. I mean, Gelu's all right, but Ackar-"
"How did Malum get exiled? I don't believe what I heard, about him nearly killing someone in the arena. What happened?"
Metus stared at him. When he had determined that Strakk had honestly asked the question, he said, "You really don't know?"
"I just woke up, Metus. I heard what I did from some Agori."
"Well, uh... wait. You... don't believe Malum tried to kill someone? We are talking about the same Malum, right? Big guy, red armour, tends to use his claws for everything?"
"Yes, yes. He's my friend, I know him better than most. I know he would never do such a thing."
"Strakk-" Metus began, but was distracted by something behind the Glatorian. Strakk turned to see Defessus and a small group of Agori cease some sort of complicated hand-waving manoeuvre. He turned back to find Metus' demeanour had switched to a sombre, understanding sort.
"It was a horrible thing to happen to any Glatorian," Metus nodded, patting Strakk's arm in what was meant to be a comforting fashion. "But you know how it is. Sometimes, people snap. The desert just gets to them. Malum was an unfortunate casualty to desert madness."
Strakk glanced to the sand at his feet, digesting this. Metus brightened a little. "He's a tough guy, he'll be fine. Maybe you'll see him again sometime."
"Yeah," mumbled Strakk. "Look, thank you, Metus. I've got some thinking to do, but you can find me in my shelter if you need me for any matches."
"Sure, buddy. Take the day off, relax."
Strakk gave him an appreciative glance before walking away. Metus joined the growing throng of Agori grinning at Strakk's back.
"How hard did Malum hit him?" asked one of the younger Agori in wonder.
"I didn't think it was possible to hit someone so hard that they lose all bad memories of you," Defessus remarked. "How long do you think it'll hold up?"
"I hope it lasts forever," laughed the innkeeper, who had left his establishment at the sound of the commotion. "This is the funniest thing to happen since Gelu tried on that Agori armour."
"You did that so well, Metus," said Defessus, clapping the trainer on the back. "One would think you're a natural at lying."
Metus laughed good-naturedly, but hastily stuffed the folded parchment containing the Skrall's plans deeper into his pocket.