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Blood and Water: Inside The Kingdom of Tunstall’s Most Notorious Underground Fight Ring

By Libby Bowen, Reporting for the Twelve Realms News

By THE SPEAR SISTERSPublished 7 months ago Updated 7 months ago 13 min read
Baroness Ruslan attempts to break free after her sentencing

Before the recent arrest of Baroness Ruslan (41), rumours had been circling Tunstall about gruesome fights held in secret; whispers told of a gigantic aquarium arena, bets of gold and rubies a mountain high, and a graveyard pit holding the charred scales and bones of those vanquished.

Some said the fights were held deep underground somewhere beneath the old Kraken Cannery. Others speculated they were happening on a hidden floor in the Two Tails Hotel. One man (who wished to remain anonymous) told me he was certain something fishy was happening in the Portside Harbour after he saw a group of people rowing out to one of the abandoned naval ships in the middle of the night last winter. Though he said it was likely the fights never happened in the same place twice, he struggled to conceive of how an aquarium large enough for a fight arena could be moved in secret so many times without detection. There was a lot of conjecture swirling around, but it seemed no one knew anything for certain.

Hearsay, the tales were passed off as by most. Haigan Wrinch (30), a shoe peddler who came to the courthouse today to watch the Baroness’ sentencing, told me, “I honestly thought they were just stories dredged up from history books, told new to pass the time over tea or tankards. I never thought for a blink any of it could actually be true.”

Few in the Kingdom believed that such brutal fights could be arranged for entertainment. “Not in modern times”, “Not in our Kingdom,” patrons of the Hatted Toad had said with confidence when I spoke to them while following up on a lead at the popular side-street bar downtown.

Even fewer suspected that Baroness Ruslan could be the orchestrator. Known across the realms as a fashion icon and celebrated philanthropist, she has made generous (and heavily publicized) donations to the War Orphans Assistance Fund and Kingsland Sanctuary's efforts to protect the last unicorns. In addition, she has been the enthusiastic host of the Morag’s Day parade every year for the last decade, which has won her favour across all ages.

Maybe it was that no one wanted the stories to be true. It was much more comfortable to believe such tales could only exist in history or in fiction. It was much more pleasant to continue catching the shiny foil wrapped sweets thrown from the parade by the Baroness each year. Perhaps the public’s great love for Baroness Ruslan was why the fights were able to continue for as long as they did. It was easier to ignore the whispers than to believe someone so wonderful could do something so terrible.

When I first heard about the fights, I hoped they were just rumours as well. But, in my time working as an investigative journalist, I’ve seen a wide enough scope of human capacity to know that anything is possible. I knew I had to find out for certain if the stories were true.

The following details my investigation that ultimately led to the successful exposing of the illegal mermaid fight ring run by Baroness Ruslan.

I must caution you that what I am about to share will be distressing to read.

To protect my sources, I can’t tell you precisely how I was directed to the Ruslan Estate.

Evidence dragged from the woods of the property by a carrion dragon was a crucial part in what instigated my initial tip-off. Further exploration led me to learn what I needed to know: that tickets to the fights at the Ruslan Estate were available to be bought. If you knew the right people.

The only way I could properly investigate the fights was to go undercover.

This wasn’t my first time undercover. I knew how to prepare. I knew I could keep my identity a secret. What did concern me, however, was how I was going to secure a ticket to one of the most exclusive and secretive events in the Kingdom. What would I have to do to get a ticket?

It ended up being far easier than I had thought it would be. In my previous undercover assignments, particularly while investigating the RedCaps gang, it took a lot of hard (and often extremely dangerous) work to convince certain people to allow me into their circle. However, in this particular circle, if you have enough coin and the outer appearance of prestige and pomp along with a convincing enough title, hidden doors are surprisingly easy to open.

I took on the name “Lady Distall of the Third House of Barthmoll” (a name chosen because I knew no one can keep track of all the members of the Houses banished from Speirgrad, and that the name “Barthmoll” is still held in great admiration amongst the social elite of Tunstall). After some asking around as “Lady Distall”, I was able to learn that the price of a ticket was 1000Rč and to secure one, all I had to do was make an appointment to look at some emerald earrings at the Divine Shine jewelry store on Kingsroad Crossing.

When I arrived for my appointment, a man was expecting me. He introduced himself as “Anatole”. He was tall with dark hair and steel blue eyes and wore a small sapphire and diamond brooch shaped like a bee. Even after the extensive police investigation that followed the Baroness’ arrest, I have been unable to discover this man’s actual name. He has since disappeared. “Anatole" brought me to the back of the store and brought out some emerald earrings. Then he asked me, “Would you like to see some ruby earrings as well?” I had been instructed on what to say next: “Actually, I’d love to see what you have in copper,” I replied.

The purchase was easy. The ticket I was given was simple, just a thin piece of copper stamped with six numbers and a symbol I had never seen before. Two tridents crossed. No location, no date, no time. This was all information you should know already if you are purchasing a ticket to a fight. It was information I had been given by my source.

I arrived at the Ruslan Estate just as the sun was setting. The property is kept hidden inside a towering stone wall topped with brass spears. It’s guarded by a patrolling team of privately hired guards (I have confirmed that last three of them were previously mercenaries who fought for Tsar Malcai in the Barley Wars).

The Estate is right on the edge of the Pyrewood Forest. I had been told where the secret access would be (thirty paces to the right of the main entrance and behind the stone statue of the late Major Ruslan) and where to input the number code I had on my ticket (on a pin pad hidden on the cuff at the back of Major Ruslan’s boot). A door in the floor slid open to reveal stairs leading down under the statue.

I descended the flight of stairs into the darkness. As I walked, the door closed above me and I was left to find my footing without sight (my source had neglected to advise bringing a flashlight).

At the bottom of the stairs, I felt for a door and pushed. The door opened into a bustling swarm of people, all sipping on cocktails from crystal glasses and casually placing bets for the upcoming fight. There were so many people, they stood shoulder to shoulder. No one noticed as I entered. No one appeared to care that there was a new face in the crowd. I had on an outfit that matched the fashion of their style. My stiff lace collar was not what I was used to, but I managed not to tug on it. I blended in well.

At the far side of the room, I could see the aquarium. The fight ring. The gigantic tank of water was separated from the room by glass that made up an entire wall. At the back of the aquarium were the mermaids, all kept in barred cells. Each cell had a number over it from 1-20. From what I was overhearing, the mermaid in cell 8 was favoured to win.

The beginning of mermaid fighting as a sport in the Kingdom of Tunstall can be traced back to the Reign of Vladmor II, over two hundred years ago. Mermaids were taken from the Marisian Sea after they attacked the King’s fleet and sank his favourite vessel. In fury, the King captured one hundred mermaids and made them fight to the death in front of his courtiers in a grand water arena made specifically for the occasion. This led to fight rings cropping up all over the Kingdom as the mermaid fights instantly became fashionable. Mermaids were scooped from the sea daily to be trained. Top fighting mermaids ended up being traded all over the Kingdom. Everyone from Lords and Ladies to miners and street sweepers flocked to see the fights. But when Vladmor V claimed the crown, he called it a barbaric cruelty that had to stop immediately. He made it illegal to force mermaids to fight. It has been illegal in the Kingdom of Tunstall to this day.

It shocked me what I saw under the Ruslan Estate. These mermaids had clearly been specifically trained for fighting. They were unlike any mermaid I had ever seen. They were muscular and wore fierce expressions on their hardened faces. They pulled and rattled the bars of their cells with their strong arms and gnashed their sharp teeth menacingly at their opponents. Most bore the scars of many past fights. The mermaid in cell 8 only had one eye and two of her fingers were missing.

I was hardly able to get my head around what I was seeing before Baroness Ruslan emerged. The crowd cheered as she walked up and down in front of the aquarium. “Which of our mighty warriors shall we start with?” She asked the crowd. The energy of the room had changed now. Everyone was now pushing and jostling to see the aquarium. They were shouting with excitement: “Three and Eight!”, “One and Twelve!” ,“Three and Seventeen!”.

Baroness Ruslan held out a remote control in her hand. She held it out to the cells. “How about we start with One and Twenty,” she said as she pressed the device. The doors of two cells opened. The mermaid in the first cell and the last cell shot out into the open water of the ring. Their scaled tales glinted under the lights of the aquarium. Weaponless, they fought each other with their hands and razor sharp teeth. It was horrific to see. The mermaid from cell 30 used her long nails to rip into the skin of her opponent’s neck. The fighter from cell 1 then clamped her teeth into her rival’s arm. Purple blood spurted into the clear water as the two thrashed about.

I knew I needed to leave and alert the police immediately. But the crush of the crowd made it nearly impossible for me to retreat. Baroness Ruslan called out to the crowd again: “Do you think we should add another?”

“Yes! ANOTHER. ANOTHER. ANOTHER.” The crowd chanted as they stomped the ground around me. The Baroness pressed her remote again. Cell 5 opened and another mermaid joined the bloody fight.

It wasn’t long before the mermaid from cell 1 was knocked unconscious after her head was slammed on the floor of the aquarium. The fight was paused as a net was lowered into the water to scoop up the limp body. Once she was gone, Baroness Ruslan opened two more cells. Four mermaids were fighting now. The water was becoming murkier with purple blood. The more blood, the more the crowd cheered.

I was able to get out before that fight ended. I later learned that three of the twenty mermaids fighting that night had been killed. The mermaid from cell 8, as expected, had won.

After the police raided the property, more information was revealed about what the mermaids had endured. Detective Suffold Polchuk (34) was the one who first discovered the stockpile of tridents. He said his “stomach turned when [he] realized the extent of the violence that had occurred on the property”.

Fight trainer, Derek Roth (28), is cooperating with the investigation in exchange for a plea deal. I was able to get access to speak with him ahead of Baroness Ruslan’s trial. He has revealed it was common practice for trainers to use sharpened tridents to spur the mermaids to train harder and harder. He explained that the mermaids who were weak were killed quickly in the fight arena, which the spectators didn’t like. “They come for lively fights and ruthless winners,” he told me. If a mermaid refused to fight altogether, they were executed by the trainers. Detective Suffold said one of the most gruesome discoveries on the property was the pit in which the bodies of the dead mermaids were burned. A rudimentary gravesite at the back of the Estate, filled with mermaid bones, was also unearthed.

The police investigation confirmed the remains of at least 50 mermaids, but my investigation suggests that more than twice that were killed at the Ruslan Estate in the years that the Baroness had been hosting fights there.

Court documents reflect that Baroness Ruslan personally brought in over 5000000Rč from the fights in just one year alone. Following the guilty sentence she was handed today, she will be behind bars for the rest of her life (despite her unsuccessful attempt to make a run for it). The trials for the trainers she employed will be held over the next coming weeks. Those who attended the events won’t be held accountable in court for this horrific abuse. Under the current laws of the Kingdom, it is not currently illegal to observe a mermaid fight.

It is currently still unknown where Baroness Ruslan acquired the mermaids. The investigation will be ongoing.

Police rescued 52 mermaids from the Ruslan Estate. They are currently being tended to by medical mages in a facility on the coast. It is not yet known where they will go after they have healed. There have been no mermaids seen in the Marisian Sea for over half a century now. It is unknown whether it will be safe for them to return there.

Though Baroness Ruslan’s aquarium is now dry, it is my understanding that there are more mermaid fight rings still running in secret around the Kingdom of Tunstall.

If you suspect mermaid fighting is taking place in your area, please reach out to the Crown’s Police Service immediately.

A reward of up to 5000Rč is offered for tips that lead to successful convictions.

*Note from the Editor to civilian readers: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO INFILTRATE A MERMAID FIGHT RING BY YOURSELF. Libby Bowen is a highly experienced investigative journalist. Going undercover is something she does at her own personal risk.


About the Creator


Kailey and Sam Spear are film & TV director/writer/actors (and twin sisters) originally from Nex̱wlélex̱m, Bowen Island, Canada. Their passion lies in character-based genre, particularly world building in fantasy and sci-fi.

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  • Lorelle R.7 months ago

    Wow, that was fascinating! It scratched a very specific "Joshua Mowll" itch for me too, with the alternate history and detailed world-building (and the black and white photograph!). Absolutely love this!

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