Posted on November 30, 2006 by Flames
Written By: Elizabeth Petersen
Written For: Obsidian: the Age of Judgement Setting
Don’ wanna wake up.
Shit. My skull seems to have a small, rampaging daemon smashing around inside. In fact, my whole body feels like someone loaded it into a high powered cannon and shot it at a brick wall from close range. I don’t know what I had to drink, but it doesn’t like being in my stomach, and really wants to escape, one way or the other. I must have had one hell of a night.
Too bad I can’t remember it.
Ooooh. Opening my eyes was a big mistake. Not only did my nausea double, but I just realized I don’t have a damn clue where I am.
Deciding against trying that again for the moment, I take stock of my surroundings without sight. I’m laying on a bed, with a blanket over me. From the feel of things, I have more than one bruise. I also appear to be naked. I am wearing neither shirt nor pants. I know this because I can feel two warm feet against my left leg, and an arm across my chest. There is also the indistinct warmth of yet another body against my right side.
I hope my memory of the night returns quickly. It seems to have been much more exciting than I originally thought.
Both my companions are breathing slowly and deeply, apparently asleep. As curious as I am to meet these two fine ladies who were kind enough to share their bed with me, I try to block them out of my senses for the moment. I can hear nothing but the hum of electricity from the room adjoining this one. There are only the three of us at the moment, and if they are both still asleep, they haven’t stolen my things and left me naked and alone in a cheap room. My taste in women is steadily increasing.
I test the air briefly with my nose. I am in luck. Not only are both these ladies well groomed and sweet smelling, but the room is clean. Perhaps we are not in rented rooms, but actually in the home of one or both of them. Good, I hate cheap rooms. I’ve lived in too many of them.
Alright, let’s try this again. Much more slowly than the first time, I attempt to open my eyes. Everything is blurred for a moment, and my stomach heaves, but I swallow hard and blink a few times. The room obligingly comes into focus. First my gaze flickers down and to my left. All I can see is a delicate, bare shoulder under a fine curtain of hair, the strangest silvery-brown color. Squinting painfully against the dim lighting, I notice a small braid, tied with dark blue thread. I smile slightly, though I couldn’t say why. There is something sweet and innocent about that little braid.
I wrench my eyes away, to my right, but I can see even less of the other girl. She is laying with her back to me, the blanket pulled high, almost past her chin. All I can see is dark brown hair, almost black, cut boyishly short. The only thing to stir my memory is the top of a tattoo scrawled on the nape of her neck. I lean a little closer, trying to make it out, but finally I have to give up.
At last I look down at myself. The arm wrapped around the sleeper on my chest is sporting several contusions consistent with a large set of knuckles. Possibly more than one set of knuckles, as they vary in size and color. What I can see of my chest shows another set of bruises, some more probably the result of a well-placed kick, and three parallel cuts, probably from a broken bottle. My right arm has the largest bruise yet on my bicep, as well as a bandage wrapped around my forearm. My own knuckles ache, so obviously I felt the need to return fire. While I can’t see it, I know my right leg received a nasty attack. It feels like someone tried to rip it off below the knee.
I feel an ache on the back of my head, probably the result of yet another blow, and a tightness over one brow that heralds a cut, but I do not try to investigate. I’m afraid to move much, afraid to wake those sleeping so peacefully on either side of me. It’s not often anyone sleeps so serenely in such a terrible world. Besides, they’re cute this way. Instead, I look about the room, hoping for more clues to how I got here.
Lifting my head just an inch, I look over the shoulder of the girl on my left. My eyes fall on my large, black jacket of daemon leather tossed over a bare chair. On the ground beneath it lays a personal data pad.
Oh, yes. Now I remember. I went to the theatre. It was the grand unveiling of the newest work by Patrice Black, one of the Unity’s favorite propaganda artists, and a personal friend. I probably would not have gone, I hate the theatre and all it’s hypocrisy, but the author invited me, and who am I to deny a lady?
I dressed up nice and sharp in first-rate daemon leather jacket and pants and boots, the most expensive of their kind, or course. The finest residents of Sublevel One would be attending the performance, and one must always remind them that you are just as rich and powerful as they, or perhaps even more so. You have to keep reminding those of the higher circles of your influence, or they’ll mistake you for an easy mark and try to fuck you over. While the attempt would not work, it might take up time and resources that I would just as soon spend elsewhere.
I hate business politics. Patrice owes me big.
I don’t remember the title of the play, or the plot, or much of anything except that Patrice kept pinching me to keep me awake, and the main actress was none other than the lovely Eldora Reitz. Patrice wasn’t particularly angry with me for dozing through her “masterpiece.” She has too much of a sense of humor about her own work. However, it does look bad to have the author’s escort yawning by the second act. I advised her to have the costume designer lower Miss Reitz’s neckline another few inches if she wanted to keep her audience’s attention.
That accounts for the rather large bruise on my right bicep.
Well, both Patrice and Eldora got standing ovations, to which I contributed heartily. Then the invitations started. The entire cast and crew, as well as Patrice and her two assistant authors, were invited to a party in a private room of the Burning Heart, one of the premium clubs in Sector 36. Patrice insisted that I come along. I often wonder why I feel the need to maintain our friendship.
The party was a very fashionable affair of standing around and posturing so that everyone would notice how well connected you are, and how wealthy you are. I was ready to leave before we even entered the room. Then Patrice pulled a nasty trick by promising to introduce me to Eldora Reitz.
I called upon all the skills from my years in the arena to safely and strategically maneuver the both of us from the door to the circle around Miss Reitz. She and Patrice did the kiss-kiss thing, while I realized two of my rival weapons designers were standing to one side of the ladies, eyeing me warily. I smiled pleasantly at them, and they shifted from foot to foot, looking for an escape. They probably would have bolted if Eldora hadn’t been there. She is lovely enough to risk even my wrath.
“Eldora, dear,” Patrice said, “this is Lucius Torrence. Lucius, this is Eldora Reitz.”
She offered her hand, and I decided to turn up the charm, raising it to my lips for a gallant salute. Suddenly ignoring the other two hovering hopefuls, she flashed me the glowing smile that made her career even more than her impressive bosom. It’s the kind of smile a man could drown in.
Realizing their danger of loosing Eldora’s attentions and smiles, the other two burst out in an explosion of praise, both for Eldora’s acting and Patrice’s writing. Eldora accepted it all gratefully, as a rising star should, while Patrice tried to keep from laughing in their faces. When one of them called the play “divinely inspired,” she just about choked on her drink. Between the ridiculousness of the peanut gallery and the look on my friend’s face, I couldn’t stop the little sound of amazement that came out.
It was not a giggle.
Patrice started drinking rather deeply to keep herself from laughing, while Eldora got quite snippy with me. It turns out she actually buys into the general propaganda, and does not care to hear her beliefs referred to as, “that bullshit the Unity adds sweetener to and calls gourmet.” She tried to set me right with some bit about good and evil, without a clue as to what true evil is.
My father always told me, “When you are trying to get a beautiful woman into bed, LIE. If I hadn‘t lied to your mother, you would never have been born.”
Instead, I chose to call the most beautiful woman in Sector 36, “a spoilt rich brat who never saw anything more dangerous than a pair of nine inch high heels.” Also, I probably should not have told her that the idiot spewing compliments all over her and agreeing with everything she said was a suspected collaborator with the Internalists, “who love to jerk your precious Unity around like puppets on strings.”
By now both my competitors were trying not to smirk, Eldora had lost all traces of her beautiful smile, and Patrice was shaking her head at me in exasperation. As for myself, I had had enough of the society of Sublevel One’s finest. I gave Patrice another kiss and congratulations, gave Miss Reitz a very civil farewell, and gave my business rivals looks to remind them that I was not in the mood to be laughed at. They sobered very quickly as I marched out.
So, now I know why I was dressed up nice, and I know why I left the Sublevel where I live. But it still doesn’t tell me how I wound up here, or who these ladies are.
The girl to my right huffs and sighs in her sleep. I can see her shoulders moving under the covers. Briefly, it sounds like she’s going to wake up, but no, she settles back down with a murmur.
I study her, frowning again at the nape of her neck. Even though the blanket has shifted lower, I still can’t quite make out her tattoo. Something about it is so familiar…
Well, no use dwelling on it for right now. I raise myself up a bit again, peering over my second companion’s form to look for more clues, or even just my pants. Hmm, nothing over here-
Wait. Yes, indeed. On my second companion’s breath, I smell it. Alcohol. We all met at another bar, and only one place I know makes that particular scent.
Of course. The Blade. In the mood I was in last night, where else would I go? I must have… I think I remember…
I know I turned heads, dressed like I was and entering one of the shadier bars of Sublevel Three. Several people glowered at me. It isn’t the place to welcome a wealthy idiot looking to go slumming. Then the woman behind the bar with more scars than any man I know grinned and yelled out a greeting.
“Torment! Hell, boy, I was wondering if you forgot how to get from On High to my lowly establishment.”
Sera Block, a.k.a. Serrated Blade, is one of the few women to ever enter the arena fights. The girl’s got more fire in her belly than any other fighter I’ve ever met, and won most her fights on sheer will. Not to say that she’s weak, or a bad fighter, but she’s got a certain level of fanatical love for battle that scares the shit out of most people. She moved through the Sector Circuit fast, and entered the Zone Circuit around the same time I did. Let me tell you, when you spend that much time trying to bash each other’s brains out, you either grow to love or hate each other. We decided it would be easier to be friends.
Sitting at the bar talking to her were Paddy and Nicodemus, more retired arena fighters, who added their greetings. Paddy’s the most mellow guy I’ve ever met, until you put a staff in his hand. Then he becomes a berserker. Nicodemus has always been a bare hands fighter, and kicked my ass more times than I care to admit without even a pair of brass knuckles. Good friends.
I sat down, handing my jacket across the bar (the Blade is a stuffy place) and taking the drink Serrated slammed down in front of me, and put up with Paddy and Nick riding me about my clothes. I gave them a quick overview of the night, and Paddy and Nick both reminded me that I was the only straight man in the Zone who would have gotten into an argument with that beautiful of a woman over something so stupid. I couldn’t argue with that, and Serrated took pity on me and gave me another free drink.
I don’t know exactly how it all went, but my friends harped on me for awhile. I was getting ready to start reminding them of their own failed conquests, or just start taking swings, when a most welcome distraction caught my eye. She was sitting silently, a sleek neural rack snug against her smooth, shaved black head. She studied the table in front of her with electric violet eyes, long fingers tapping the rhythm of some unheard song, her face blank. Beside her, her face almost entirely hidden by a thick curtain of shockingly red hair, another young woman appeared engrossed in her reading. The pair seemed to be ignoring each other.
“Don’t even think it, Torment.”
The warning came from Drake, a contractor I’m on friendly terms with. He had moved to the bar for a refill, and followed my eyes.
“Who is she?”
“Just goes by Lexa. She and her partner are the new noise on the scene,” Drake explained simply. “I’ve never seen them in action, but rumor has it they’re the stuff of legends.”
“She looks like it,” Paddy agreed.
“Her partner isn’t the red head,” I guessed.
“Nah. Big guy, goes by the name of Xander.”
“So Lexa’s here alone.”
“But she ain’t too sociable, Torment,” Serrated muttered.
“You could have been enjoying the company of a prettier, friendlier girl if you hadn’t opened your mouth,” Nick reminded me yet again.
“What happened?” Drake asked. “Did you sing her some of your poetry?”
There are certain things you wish your friends, especially those who make a living of violence, never find out. One of them is that you write poetry. They will never forget it. So the harassment changed from my inability to woo members of the fairer sex to my need to write verses about them. Yeah, good friends.
Well, as this was all happening, Serrated kept putting drinks in front of me, and as I already stated, I am not one to turn down a lady. It is impolite, and in the case of a lady like Serrated, dangerous. So when my “friends” started heckling me to give them a poetry recital, I acted like a proper drunken idiot and decided to indulge them.
I can’t really remember what I said by way of poetry. I’m fairly certain it was neither romantic nor pretty. I was not in a romantic or pretty mood. However, as the Blade is most populated by contractors, arena fighters, and arena hopefuls, my poetry was quite to their taste.
Again, I really don’t want to know what I said, but I must have ended it rather grandly. I do remember a great deal of applause and whistles. I had just turned back to enjoy another of Serrated’s definitely unwatered drinks when I heard the beginnings of trouble.
“The famous Torment, huh? I thought you were dead.”
“Shit,” I muttered. That was definitely the sound of some young punk looking to prove something. Not good.
Why, oh why, did I turn around? If I had ignored him, as Mama always said, he probably would have gone away. But the fine idiots of Sublevel One had me roaring for a good fight, and only down here do people know how to do the thing right.
I kept my drink in hand, and raised it in greeting. “Torment I am, and not half as dead as many people would like.”
“Here, here!” Serrated seconded enthusiastically, probably well aware that she was only stoking the fire.
The kid was pretty big, probably with as many pistons as sinews under his skin, and certainly more wires than brain cells. He had a neural rack, though not as nice as Lexa’s, and electric red eyes. His hands kept twitching nervously towards his heavy coat, telling all the world he had a weapon, or weapons, in there. The dumb kids always seem to find me.
He started the way they all do, commenting on my age and my none-too-tough exterior, sneering at my clothes, laughing at my gray hairs. He even made a couple less than flattering remarks about my poetry, all to no avail. I generally let the young idiots walk away from these confrontations unscathed, thinking they showed up the great Torment.
Then he made his mistake.
“You talk like some high class nancy boy, but we all know you’re from the same streets as the rest of us.” He snapped his fingers, a brilliant thought apparently flashing across his mind. “Your mama was some high end whore, right? I bet she was all kinds of sweet-”
He probably would have gone on a while, and just annoyed me more and more, so I found it much easier, and far more therapeutic, to crack his skull with a bar stool.
The only reason Serrated was even pissed was because the stool was originally bolted to the ground. But really, what else was I supposed to do? The tables were too far away, and for comments about my dead mother, a bottle just isn’t heavy enough.
This kid was dumber than most, because he came around for another shot. By this time I know I was smiling. I wasn’t even trying to play nice. The red-eyed kid charged me. I caught him and flipped him onto the bar, his spine making a strange cracking noise. Serrated stepped back, making an annoyed face, but I didn’t care. The kid tried to punch me in the jaw, but found his wrist twisted at an odd angle.
“Get him off my bar!” Serrated yelled, sipping at her drink. “He’s unsanitary.”
He did smell funny. I obliged her, spinning him off the bar to land face-first on the ground. I had his arm wrenched back behind him, and was feeling slightly disappointed that it was all over, when-
“Oh, you idiot.”
The girl sleeping on my chest stirs, and I hold my breath. I can’t believe I said that out loud. She’s settling down, and oh, yeah, I remember now where the bump on my head came from.
Like an amateur, I got carried away with emotions, and drink, and forgot that these little punks always travel in packs. I noticed his first friend when the glass shattered against the back of my head. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Of course Nicodemus and Paddy let him get behind me, I needed that reminder to watch my back. Shit, I’m an idiot!
Well, I might have needed the lesson, but the moron who hit me learned one too. If you’re going to bash the three time champion of the Zone’s Grand Melee, you’d best make it count.
The idiot, a kid with green hair and strange, scaly arm plating, was still standing there, grinning and gloating, when I caught him by the throat and threw him. He crashed into a table, causing the couple sitting there to roar with anger. Trying to get to his feet, he snatched at the man’s bottle, breaking it on the edge of the overturned table. Before he could try the thing on me, the other occupant of the table smashed her own drink over his head. He turned on her, swinging the shattered end at her face, only to have her companion lunge at his back. The woman jumped him as well, and they went down into a swinging mass.
Two more came at me, while Red Eyes managed to reunite his feet with the floor. A girl dressed almost entirely in chains, with the most garishly pink hair I have ever seen, jumped at me first, leading with her feet. It was a good kick, and might have hurt if it had landed. She jumped too soon, and gave me too much warning. I caught her foot and twisted, dropping her where her leader originally lay.
A spin took me out of the way of her gigantic, armored compatriot, and put me behind him. A simple touch to the back of his neck left him in a fetal heap on the floor. Cracking heads with heavy objects is an excellent way of blowing off steam, but I’m not a very big guy, and I would never have survived the Coliseum without being a diligent student of Shamesh-Tor. The easiest way to get through an opponent at least twice your size is to drop them with a touch.
I found myself face-to-face with my original opponent. He looked somewhat less smug without friends. He had probably banked on Serrated breaking up the fight if it got carried away, but she just kept drinking and smiling. Nick and Paddy did not look much inclined to help, either, and everyone else seemed happy for the entertainment.
Red Eyes swung not only with his fist, but with his whole left arm. I blocked with my right, and shot a blow straight to his jaw. He managed to roll with the punch, and only staggered instead of falling. Unfortunately for him, he tripped over his large, whimpering friend on the floor, and crashed into Nicodemus. Annoyed, my friend shoved him sideways, where he rolled across a table and, again, hit the ground.
My attention quickly moved to the object flying at my head, and I managed to step out of the path of the bottle. This, however, put me in direct line with Pink. She spun on one foot, picking up momentum, and caught me in the ribs.
“Damn, that girl can move!” Drake noted, sounding greatly impressed “Her form’s kind of sloppy, but with a little polishing, she could be the next Serrated Blade!”
I wasn’t thinking along the same lines. I was thinking, I should have kept my jacket on. Daemon leather would have taken the blow without any damage to me, while the shirt I wore underneath let me feel the full impact of her chunky boot heel. I stumbled a foot sideways, then ducked the next kick. She jumped at me again, and I met her solar plexus with an open palm. I probably should have punched her and taken her out then and there, but she was the most fun I’d had in years.
In the thirty or so seconds my exchange with Pink took, Red Eyes leapt back across the table, baring down not on me, but Nick. Apparently he took that little shove as a personal insult. The lunge toppled yet another table, causing an uproar from the three kids sitting there. He ignored them, and pulled back for a hammering blow, then let fly at my old friend’s chest, hoping to knock the air from his lungs.
Nicodemus is a master of just about every style of fighting known to man or daemon. Strangely, for a man who’s life has been one of violence, his preferred style is that of Mekedian. He always seems to move so slow, but there’s no one in the Zone faster. He stepped through the blow and rolled his body. The kid never touched him, and had no idea Nick had even caught his wrist until he was spun around and thrown into the bar. His shoulder slammed against the synthetic wood, and should have popped out of its socket. Apparently, he has more upgrades than a neural rack and bio-boosters, maybe a set of metallic bone fibers, maybe some kind of armor grafted into his skin. He pushed off the ground, crashing unceremoniously into Paddy, then picked up the stool I had hit him with earlier and flung it at Nicodemus.
I’m fairly certain Nick caught it, but I missed the next few exchanges while I met Pink’s newest volley. She really liked to use her legs, but not her hands, in a sloppy version of Storm of Eyrie So I closed the distance, made her kicks ineffective, grabbed her arm, and spun her around into a secure hold.
Like a good street fighter, she tried to crush my toes. I was still wearing dead daemon on my feet, though, and the move proved ineffective. She bucked back against my body, attempting to crush my groin, but I moved quickly, blocking her. Next, she tried to smash my nose with the back of her head, and I tipped my head safely out of the way.
Our dance was interrupted when I thrust her away and stumbled back, managing to avoid yet another bottle flying through the air. It shattered beside Drake, who sat on the bar watching the madness with a grin. A glance showed the three kids whose table had been knocked over had joined the fight, seeming inclined to hit anything that moved. Paddy had taken possession of the bar stool, and hammered one of them in the stomach with it, sending him to the floor.
Growling like the Canivorian daemoness I took on in the Coliseum over a decade before, Pink launched herself at me yet again. She didn’t even kick, just threw herself life a battering ram. Deciding to sacrifice a little comfort for a lot of fun, I let her hit me straight in the chest and tumbled to the ground with her. No wonder my torso looks like one big black-and-blue mark today.
She would have gone for my face with her clawed hands, but I caught them and held them harmlessly to her sides. Smiling most charmingly, I told her, “Madam, if you had wanted a good tumble, all you needed to do is ask.”
Women hate come-ons while fighting. She tried to bight me, snarling with rage. I laughed, which did not make her any happier, then caught her around the waist and pushed her off me. I know I shouldn’t show off at my age, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. I flipped rather impressively to my feet, and grinned down at her. She might have come after me again, but the couple struggling with her green haired friend fell over onto her, effectively pinning her for the moment.
For no apparent reason, another man decided he wanted a piece of the action, and leapt at me. By now, the fight had turned into a full on brawl. The dim light glinted off his right hand, where three of his fingers had been replaced with razor-sharp, five inch blades. They flashed towards my eyes, intending to gauge them out. A quick back step put me mostly out of range, though one blade carved into my eyebrow. I caught his fingers below the blades, and snapped his wrist back. There came the terrible popping sound of broken bone, and he staggered back, cursing most elegantly. His other hand, bare of any noticeable enhancements, clenched his shattered wrist painfully for a moment. He snarled with rage, baring teeth filed to fangs, and came in again. A bare fist smashed into the side of his head, and he went to his knees.
Serrated Blade kicked him in the stomach for good measure, and brought her elbow down on the back of his neck. He tumbled, grunting, forward, and she raised her eyes to mine, laughing.
“You always know how to liven the night up, Torment.”
“Anything to keep you happy, madam,” I gasped, leaning over to steal Drake’s drink. He grinned, and reached behind the bar to grab another bottle.
“This is wonderful!” Drake said. “You’ve started a complete riot in a place dedicated to professionally violent people!”
“He started it!” I reminded Drake, pointing at Red Eyes as he punched Paddy in the stomach. Paddy winced slightly, then came in with an upper-cut that lifted the punk off his feet. The fool obviously couldn’t tell that Paddy always wore armored, hybrid weave shirts, which effectively defused most punches or kicks.
“You threw the first punch,” Drake argued. “Check that out!”
He pointed to where Lexa still sat at her table, looking bored with the whole thing. The redhead looked around in mild confusion, plainly surprised to see the battle going on around her.
“That is an amazing woman,” Drake said. “Beautiful, deadly, and ice cold.”
“You’ve got weird tastes, my friend. Excuse me.”
I downed the rest of the liquor as I stepped back into the fray.
Fighting is not a hobby. It is a passion bordering on addiction. The adrenaline racing through your system, the blood singing, the elegance of the flying fists and spinning kicks, the roar of the battle, the scent of blood, the power of your own hands… Nothing the Chemicalists sell could ever compete. I hadn’t felt so alive since the time that Alley Spider pinned me to the floor of the Coliseum with a leg through each shoulder, and I saw my own death in its pincers as I rammed my blade into it’s open mouth.
Grinning like a fool, I slammed an elbow into someone’s face as they went for Paddy’s back. The guy backed up, shaking his head painfully, then turned his attention to me. Blood poured from his broken nose, but he didn’t seem to mind too much. He lashed out with a foot, much more gracefully than Pink, straight for my head. I dodged, but he smoothly changed feet and caught me in the chest. I was thrown back against the bar, where Drake looked down at me with mild concern.
“You know, you are kind of old for this, Torment.”
“Go to hell.”
“Just trying to help.”
The guy was definitely a fan of the Storm style. He jumped, and would probably have taken me down with the kick, if he hadn’t been knocked out of the air by the flying bar stool. I’m not sure who threw it, as Paddy, Nicodemus, and Serrated were all otherwise engaged, but I was grateful none the less.
The shout came from Serrated, who stumbled sideways, clutching her side. Green Hair stood behind her, covered in scratches, holding the broken bottle, the shattered edges dyed with her blood. As she turned towards him, he brought it in a wide arc across her cheek. She snarled with rage, and kicked him dead in the groin. With a sharp gasp, he slowly crumpled to the floor.
“You alright, girl?” Nicodemus called, catching one of the two ganging up on him in a tight hold, using him as a shield while he threw a glance at Serrated.
“Yeah,” she yelled back. “Just stings a bit. Damn.”
I turned around in time to see the boy with the blades on his hand behind me, grinning with fury. He swung the blades clumsily at my chest, but I had no problem evading them. As he rushed passed me, I simply stuck out my foot and watched him fall. I stepped up to his prone body, ready to render him unconscious, when a girlish shriek startled me. I looked up briefly in surprise at such an out of place sound.
The redhead sharing a table with Lexa had been knocked from her chair by the heavily armored giant I had downed earlier. She stared up at him in horror as he reached for her, though she could not possibly defend herself against him, and was in no way involved in the fray.
The arena is a place of violence and trying to beat the crap out of each other, true, but the fights are fairly equal, and strictly professional. There’s no need to attack a small woman caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Several people moved to stop him, when a body moved between the giant and the redhead.
“Do not touch her,” Lexa said, calmly and coldly.
“Get out of my way, bitch,” he laughed. Then he brought up his hand to backhand her.
Drake’s warning came too late. I barely had time to look down before the boy with the blades opened his mouth wide and sank his fangs straight through my daemon leather pants and into my right leg. Yelling, I crumpled to the floor, and he shook his head viciously, trying to rip muscle and flesh from bone.
A pair of boots landed on his back, and Drake leaned down to help. He barely managed to touch the Arhat Snake’s hair before Red Eyes grabbed him from behind, hoisting him off the man ravaging my leg. Drake kicked him in the knee cap, and they both fell shouting.
I managed to twist my body around, and struck almost blindly. I hardly had to touch him, but I knew how to do it just right. As the name of the touch suggests, he shattered, screaming in agony. He released my leg, blood coating his teeth and splattering the floor around us. Another strangled shout followed as he writhed about, thrashing in pain and clawing the ground.
I got to my feet as Drake delivered a sharp jab to Red Eyes throat. The kid’s lucky the contractor wasn’t aiming to kill. As it was, he staggered back, clutching at his neck and gagging. He stumbled straight through three more people locked in heated battle, and out of my sight.
“Thanks for the backup,” I called to Drake. He nodded back, then watched with absolute wonder as the armored giant flew through the air to disappear behind the bar.
Almost everyone paused to turn in awe to Lexa. She merely stood, every inch the cool professional, and sneered after her fallen enemy. She did not have a scrape on her.
“I want one,” Drake said longingly.
Paddy stepped up to smash the face of the man behind Drake, who had somehow ended up with the barstool I had torn up earlier. “Focus, please.”
I stumbled back from my own fallen foe, realizing that I was probably out of the fight with half my right leg in someone else’s mouth. I also noticed I was bleeding a great deal. He must not have hit the large vein, though, because I’m still alive.
Nicodemus was surrounded by three people, now, and looked as calm as Lexa, though less cold. He did not even react until a blow was less than an inch from his body, when he would dodge or strike in a flash of movement almost impossible to follow. The sickening thing is, he never got any enhancements. It’s all natural. His voice did not sound even strained as he ordered, “Torment, get out of it.”
I would have done just that, but unfortunately Red Eyes had other plans. Seeing his chance to finally achieve his original plan, he lunged for me. I managed to his main attack, but he still knocked me backwards several feet. I landed on my back, and there was no way I would be flipping up with any grace this time. But I staggered up, just as he ran at me again. Finally, I was really pissed off. When a man backs out of the fight, a professional lets him go.
I caught the kid on the fly, the way I had the first time. However, instead of just knocking him down, I used his own momentum to propel him straight through the nearest window. He smashed through the glass and disappeared.
“I’ll pay for that,” I promised Serrated.
“Oh, yes, you will,” she agreed, sounding more angry than she looked.
Things seem a little fuzzy from there in. I was still bleeding, and I leaned against the wall, as out of the way as possible, and bent to check my leg. Somewhere in there, Green Hair tried to jump me with that same broken bottle. It must have been then that I got the cuts on my chest. I punched him in the nose, and someone else tossed him through the broken window after his friend. I’m not sure who. Probably Paddy. I think I remember him asking me if I was alright.
I vaguely recall seeing Lexa finishing off her big opponent. She moved quick as Nicodemus, mean as Serrated, and lethal as myself. The guy never stood a chance.
Just when it looked like things might be winding to an end, my red eyed poetry critic stormed back in, covered in black glass and looking a tad irate. Drake seemed to take offense to his return, and flung the bar stool at him. Red Eyes ducked, letting it fly over him and out the door, then held up his arms importantly.
“Now, see why I am ten times greater than the great Torment! See my true power! See Incendiary!”
No one looked too impressed with the speech, and I vaguely wondered why no one ever went after Nicodemus to prove themselves. He’s twice as good as I am.
Then the kid thrust his hands towards me, palms out, and-
I spoke out loud again. Neither of the girls stirs, and I am frozen by the horrible memory of a firestorm flying into my face.
The flames shot straight from the kid’s hands, across the bar, and towards me. Even without my brain working at full capacity, my reflexes are incredible. I fell flat, my left arm in front of my face to block the fire. I felt heat rip across my flesh, exactly where this morning I wear a bandage.
Pandemonium and screams filled the air. Feet almost trampled me in the instinctive animal fear of fire. I heard Serrated cursing heavily, and I know she would have ripped his flaming arms off if Paddy hadn’t pulled her back to safety. Nicodemus picked up two of the kids he had been fighting and threw them to safety behind the bar just as Incendiary turned their way. Nick dropped on top of the last of his former opponents, protecting the younger man as the blaze came their way.
All I could see from my position was feet, but I recognized Drake’s boots as he went for the punk’s back. I don’t know if he landed a blow, but it didn’t stop the kid, who spun, shooting flames now at the contractor. I saw Drake duck and roll away.
Realizing that this could all be construed as my fault, if I was a more moral man, I figured I should help. I pushed myself up in time to see Lexa hit the bar. Now I know why Drake says she’s legend material. She sprang from the top of the bar straight at the kid. Flames singed her jacket, which must be reinforced, and she landed with both feet against his chest. He went over backwards, roasting the ceiling, as she fell, rolled, and came back up, ready for more.
Incendiary didn’t even get back to his feet. He just sat up, shooting the fire at the lithe woman, who tumbled smoothly out of its way. I rose all the way, standing on my one-and-a-half legs, and watched her move with appreciation. Still, even she couldn’t outrun the fire forever.
“Yo! Bitch with the fireworks!” I shouted. “I thought you were here to beat the great Torment! What are you doing picking on a girl?”
That got his attention.
He forgot Serrated, Drake, and even Lexa. He rose and brought his flaming hands towards me. I readied myself to move, the fire came straight at me-
I’ve seen some strange things in my long life, but nothing as odd as a jet of fire that went nowhere. The flames kept moving, the fire kept pouring from Incendiary’s hands, but it just would not move any closer to me. It did not hit a barrier, it did not extinguish, it just stopped.
So did the whole bar. No one seemed capable of movement while the fire was frozen. All eyes were on the strangely halted flames, including their wielder’s. Then his eyes suddenly rolled into the back of his head, and he fell to the ground. The blaze extinguished, and I saw a person standing behind him.
A deep sigh comes from the girl sleeping on my chest. She moves fitfully, a soft groan coming from deep in her throat. Her face burrows into my skin for a moment, then I feel lashes fluttering against me chest. Slowly, her head rises, the amazing cloak of her silvery-brown hair trailing around her. Her eyes meet mine.
Blue eyes, crystal clear as a Spiritual Essence Kultist’s, but darker, deeper. They are almost hypnotic, but not at all seductive. They peer at me with the wisest, most innocent expression in the world. Then she smiles.
Eldora Reitz has nothing on this girl’s smile. Sweet, glowing, pure, kind, playful, and ten thousand more things shine in her smile. Instead of drowning in this smile, I feel healed, refreshed, amazing.
“Are you alright?”
The same thing she asked me last night. Standing over Incendiary’s prone form, she looked at me with those incredible blue eyes and smiled. Then she asked, “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” I said then, and I say now. It’s more true now than it was last night.
“Good,” she said, looking down again at Incendiary. “What was that all about?”
“The kid must be mystically talented,” Serrated guessed, walking up to the punk who had torched her bar. She added a hard kick to his ribs.
The sweet, shaken voice belonged to Lexa’s redhead friend. She walked around the table she had hid under, still clutching her data pad, and approached the still body. Kneeling down beside him, she rolled back the cuff of his jacket.
“I’ll be damned,” Nicodemus muttered. Everyone else drew closer to see. Even the two kids Nick had thrown behind the bar rose up, only their eyes peering over the edge.
“See?” The red head pointed to something protruding from the skin of the kid’s wrists. “Built in flame throwers. They’re probably illegal, and very dangerous. You can see the hose here, going up the inside of his arm. I wonder where the fuel is kept?”
“Lexa, Xander,” the blue eyed girl called. Really, she can’t be much more than sixteen or seventeen. “Do you think you can do something about this?”
“I could cut out his fuel supply,” the icy contractor offered. “It’s probably kept here,” she, too, kicked him in the side, “where they removed a kidney to make room for it.”
It wasn’t a cruel threat, just a statement of fact. Lexa suddenly looked a little less attractive. I can handle Serrated’s fiery rage, but I have problems with the cold, logical indifference of a machine.
“We’ll figure something out,” a tall man said, stepping to Lexa’s side. My best guess is he’s Lexa’s partner, Xander. He looked frighteningly similar to her, in nearly identical clothes, with a matching neural rack against his equally bald black head. The only difference is his eyes are green, instead of violet. He seemed slightly disturbed by her violent suggestion, while she looked annoyed at his squeamishness.
“Preferably something that does not involve dissection,” Blue Eyes agreed. “Miriam, are you alright?”
The redhead nodded, still looking at the flame throwers with fascination. Xander rolled his eyes, bent, and lifted the body, throwing it over his shoulder. He paused to let Lexa precede him, then followed. Miriam trailed after them.
“Seriously, what happened in here?” Blue Eyes asked again, looking around with a little frown.
“Nothing but a good, old-fashioned bar brawl, angel,” Drake reassured her. “Everyone survived, unless you killed that moron.”
“I did not,” she said, sounding like an exasperated mother.
“My place is trashed,” Serrated noted, glaring around. “Torment! You better be paying for the repairs!”
“Hey, I’m bleeding to death over here!” I reminded her. “Can we talk money later?”
The girl jogged across the bar towards me. “This is bad, but not fatal. Someone get me a towel. Nick, check that girl there. She’s unconscious. Lazarus, over there, that boy has some burns. Drake…”
I blink away the memories of her taking charge of the situation, focusing on her smiling face so close to mine. I feel like a dirty old man, in bed with such a pure child. She doesn’t look angry or upset, though, so I couldn’t have done anything too bad.
“Well, you look better than when we got you in here last night,” she says, stretching in a languorous yawn. “Mmmm. I don’t want to get up. You make a very comfy pillow. Maybe we should just go back to sleep until tomorrow.”
I laugh, tucking that darling braid behind her ear. “Sounds good to me.”
“Nah. We should get up. What time is it, Lazarus?”
Close. She gets points for effort.
“My name is Lucius.”
Her smile grows. “Lucius Torrence, only child, orphan, former Coliseum star, current free-lance weapons designer, anonymous benefactor of Mother Alice’s orphanage, no Kult allegiance, negotiable Corporate allegiance, and fairly talented poet.”
“If you remember all that, then why did you call me Lazarus?”
She peers closely at me, her expression changing once again to a playful, mysterious smirk. “What do you remember about last night?”
“The theatre, the Burning Heart, the Blade, the brawl, the idiot shooting flames towards bottles of strong alcohol, then you clocking him from behind.”
“Close enough,” she agrees. “Anything after that?”
“You sent Incendiary, what a stupid name, off with Lexa and, was that Xander? Then you started piecing my leg back together.”
She crosses her arms on my chest, and looks far too shrewdly at my face. “Do you remember how you got here?”
An extremely cute giggle sounds from her mouth. “Do you even remember my name?”
Amazingly, she leans in to kiss my cheek. “Poor Lucius, you had a hard night. I’ll forgive you.”
“You still haven’t answered my question. If you know my name, why did you call me Lazarus?”
“I didn’t. You’re Lucius, and he’s Lazarus.”
Yep, my reflexes are still as good as ever. I’m off the bed and across the room in less than a second, my right leg screaming in agony, the sheets tangled around my ankles and trailing off the bed. My heart hammers in shock as I finally get a good look at my bed partners.
Apparently, my sexual prowess is not as great as I thought it to be. My blue eyed angel lounges on the bed, laughing melodically and uproariously. She is clad in a simple, sleeveless polyblend top that leaves her shoulders bare, and a pair of shorts in the same material that are far too big for her. On the other side of the bed, looking at me blurrily, a young man yawns and scratches his bare chest. He is wearing a pair of baggy, green-brown pants.
Pants. Good, he’s wearing pants. But I’m not! Oh, wait, I am still wearing my underwear. Thank you, God!
“What the… You’re a…”
“What’s the matter with him?” the youth, Lazarus I assume, asks the giggling girl.
“He seems to be having some problems remembering part of last night,” she explains cheerily. Stretching again, she rolls across the bed so that she is beside him. “I think you scared him.”
“He’s bigger than me, why should he be scared of me?”
“Laz, hon, he just woke up beside a man.” She rolls back across the bed until her feet touch the floor. “Explain things, won’t you? I need to call Xander and see what they did with that kid.”
Without further explanation, she wanders out into the other room.
Slowly, I look back to Lazarus. He is now sitting up cross-legged, itching at his eyebrow. Blinking twice, he sneezes suddenly. Then he grins at me.
“Relax, Torment. You were so drunk last night you couldn’t have scored once, let alone twice. You hungry?”
He rises as well, waving me to follow. With no better ideas, I do so.
The young girl is not in here. There is another door, probably to a bathroom, and light is showing at the bottom.
“Isn’t she calling someone?”
“She can do it from in there while she freshens up,” he says. “Have a seat. We’ve got some fairly decent crud, it should bring back nostalgic memories of before you were a Coliseum legend and a rich man.”
“And remind me why I like being a rich man,” I mutter, putting my face in my hands. “Look, Lazarus, would you please tell me how I got here?”
The sound of something clinking on the table announces breakfast. My stomach tries to rebel again, but I remind it that we haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday, and drank way too much last night. It growls in return as I reach for my spoon.
“You looked like you’d been dragged through two, maybe three, circles of hell face down,” Lazarus begins. “Crystal’s pretty good at patching people up, without asking annoying questions or telling the Law things they don’t need to know. They don’t even know there was a bar brawl last night.”
“Crystal,” I repeat. “Suits her.”
“Yeah. She figured you wouldn’t want to go stumbling back to Sublevel One looking like, well, crap, so we brought you home with us. You’re the one who got naked, then collapsed in the middle of the bed. You’re lucky Crystal convinced you to keep even your underwear on.”
I can’t find any flaws with this story. As much as I hate the back-biting hypocrisy of the rich and evil, I chose to play their games, and I always play to win. Coming back from a bar brawl on Sublevel Three with a chunk of my leg missing and my arm half fried would have definitely tarnished my image. As for the getting naked, when I am exceedingly intoxicated I have a strange need to take off all my clothes. I don’t know why.
“So… where are my pants?”
“Trashed,” he reminds me around a spoonful.
“How am I supposed to get back home without pants?”
“That could be a problem.”
The other door opens, and Crystal breezes in, now completely dressed, her hair tied back in a long tail with a braid cascading down from each temple. She leans over Lazarus’ shoulder, stealing a fingerful of paste.
“Nummy,” she chirps, and I’m not certain she’s being sarcastic. “Relax, Lucius, I had someone get clean clothes from your house.”
“How? My house is pretty damn secure.”
She just smiles again. “Xander and Lexa managed to disable that fool’s flame throwers, and dropped him off for the Law to deal with. They said Serrated’s still pissed, and demanding you pay for everything.”
A knock sounds at the door. Lazarus answers, and Crystal takes his chair.
“Let me see your arm.”
I do as commanded, and she strips the bandage away with practiced fingers. Who is this kid?
“What the hell?”
I know I caught a full barrage of flames with that arm. I might have been drunk and woozy from the blood loss, but I remember the pain and the sizzling of my flesh pretty damn clearly! Now, the flesh is only dark pink, without even so much as a blister.
Crystal looks it over carefully. “Well, your shirt must have caught the brunt of it. Let me see your leg.”
Even I don’t want to see this. I turn my head as she begins pealing away the gory bandage. I can be a real baby about my own blood sometimes.
“Oh, that’s not too bad. Give it a couple days and you’ll be kicking plenty of stupid young kids again.”
Like my arm, my leg is far too well healed. There are deep gauges in the flesh still, but they are half as deep as they should be, and scabbed with what looks to be a week’s worth of healing.
Crystal begins to wrap a fresh bandage around my calf, humming softly. She does not look at all surprised, and I begin to get suspicious. Between my amazing healing, and the fire hanging frozen in mid-air, I wonder just who, and what, Crystal is.
Just as she secures the wrap, Lazarus returns with a bundle of clothing that is definitely mine. He dumps it on the table unceremoniously, then returns to his breakfast.
“If I ask you how you got into my home, would you even tell me?”
She smiles that amazing smile, pats my knee, and silently leaves the table. Lazarus just shakes his head and chuckles. I shrug and finish my paste. I’m probably happier not knowing.
As soon as I’m finished, I pull on my clean shirt, pants, and boots. Crystal is sitting silently on the floor, her back against the couch, her eyes closed in what must be meditation. The redhead, Miriam, is sleeping behind her, five data pads piled beside her, and two on her chest. Lazarus is laying with his head on the table. I tap him on his shoulder and tell him I’m leaving. He grunts a reply, and waves with one sleepy hand without raising his head.
That tattoo is so damn familiar!
I don’t want to disturb the ladies, so I quietly tiptoe out of the room. Just as I open the door, though, I hear Crystal’s voice, soft and sweet, so close she seems to be whispering in my ear.
She’s still sitting on the ground, far from me, and does not appear to have moved. She’s a sweet girl, but a little strange.
I get half way to the lift when I hear, “Lucius!”
Turning in surprise, I see Lazarus running after me, now wearing shoes but still no shirt. He comes to a stop, holding out my jacket with a strange, shy little smile.
“You forgot this.”
I go to take it, when I realize everyone on the street has turned to stare at me, taking back an article of clothing from a partially naked young man half my age, who is smiling at me in a very intimate way.
Well, I’m not leaving my very expensive jacket, not even to save my pride. At least he decided to pull this little joke down here. I take it back, contemplating strangling him with it.
He laughs, then turns and jogs away. Everyone gives me disgusted looks, and go back to their business. I get into the lift, with too many questions still unanswered.
Where have I seen that tattoo before?!?