Chapter 8:

A Bartender and an Aristocrat

The Artificial Lights of R'veno

“And for our second newcomer tonight, coming in from the left at 180 cm and 63 kilos…we have Calix!”

Calix had been unceremoniously hauled to his feet and dragged out to the ring. “I can walk, okay?” he snapped, trying to shake the guards off.

“Against him, coming from stage right, also at 180 cm weighing 62 kilos…Heron!”

A man with long black hair dressed in traditional white robes was ushered in, and he seemed calm as he flicked open a paper fan in his hand. He greeted Calix with a bow, and Calix could only bow back.

“Looks like both of our contestants have brought in some sort of weaponry…but are they going to show us?”

Rei edged closer to the glass, and saw Calix take out his throwing knives from earlier, which Vice had returned him. Heron only smiled, but made no movement. Perhaps he had blades hidden in his sleeves? It seemed awfully inconvenient for him to fight in this getup, surely he had more cards hidden somewhere…

“Place your bets now, folks! These two seem quite evenly matched, and after the last round, there’s no telling who will win! Maybe our newcomers could become our next top fighters?”

“Please no,” Rei muttered, clasping her fingers together over he knees. “I wanna get out of here.”

Oh, shoot… She was going to have to go next, wasn’t she?

She was suddenly struck by the image of samurai or other warriors of the bygone days in old films that were shone in a little rundown theatre near her apartment. Barely anyone went, but she always did, every week, when she was bored, when she wanted to hide, when she wanted to feel something. All those hours in that dark theatre, watching the flickering screen…

Both Heron and Calix seemed poised, waiting for the other to make a move first. The crowd grew impatient, calling out slurs and insults, a couple of them hurling empty cans into the ring. Heron knocked one of them aside with his fan, and the can hit the glass, creating a crack where it landed, and the crowd hushed at the sharp noise.

Calix lost patience and lunged for Heron, swiping his knives across the sleeves of his robes. Heron blocked him with his fan, although he was forced a few steps back due to the force. As Calix fell, Heron grabbed his arm and twisted it, and Calix hit the floor with a thud, and Rei winced as the crowd cheered.

Calix’s other arm shot up, stabbing Heron’s wrist with his knife, and Heron was forced to let go, and with a wide sweep of his fan he tried to knock Calix’s blade out of his hand, but Calix brought his other knife up, tearing through the fabric of the fan. Heron kicked him in the stomach, and Calix crumpled up, but rolled over, trying to climb up to his feet.

It seemed that they were exchanging dialogue, but Rei couldn’t hear what they were saying. Calix swayed in his spot, hand over his abdomen, three knives clenched in his other. Heron gave a small smirk, fanning himself as he paced before Calix, the ends of his robes drifting in the air.

“We want blood!” The audience seemed dissatisfied with this elegant sort of fight. “Blood! Blood! Blood! Blood!”

Blood… Rei felt disgusted. In this world that was supposed to be clean and shiny, blood still stained every street corner, dried up and reeking something awful.

Calix grit his teeth and let his knives loose. Heron sidestepped easily but still one of them glided by his cheek, and a thin streak of red appeared, dripping down his pale skin, staining his white robes. Heron flicked open his fan, and Calix winced, stumbling back.

“Oh? Looks like Heron has struck Calix with the needles hidden in his fan. Is that allowed? Apparently so, after we made sure to remove the poison from them. But still, Calix seems to have taken a rather rough blow!”

Calix stood up again, hand on his chest, his face ashen. Then he grit his teeth and charged at Heron, leaping high into the air, sending another handful of throwing knives down at him. Heron tried to block with his arms, or knock them aside, but they were too fast, and covered a wide range, tearing his sleeves. One embedded itself inside his arm, and he pulled it out, flinging it to the side, blood staining his sleeves everywhere.

“Oho, it looks like Heron isn’t looking so good! Calix may have a chance after all! But what’s this? He’s had a sword hidden in his sleeve the whole time?”

Calix continued slashing at Heron, edging him backwards, while Heron blocked his blows with one hand, using a long and curved sword. Rei recognized it; she had trained with one when she was younger, back when these archaic weapons had been more common. It gave her a sense of nostalgia, watching sparks fly from metal hitting metal in the ring below.

Calix finally backed Heron to the very edge of the ring, where the crowds were pressed against the glass. Heron glanced around him, then in a last ditch effort tried to kick Calix back, but Calix jumped, pinning him solidly down and wrenching the sword out of his hand.

“Looks like we have a winner here!” the announcer exclaimed. “That’s two out of three! Maybe y’all should change your bets for our upcoming fight?”

Calix collapsed to the ground, letting Heron go, and Heron offered him his good hand, pulling him up, and then dusted his robes off and left the ring with the same poise and elegance that he had entered with, graciously accepting medical attention for his wounds. Calix glanced up at Rei, giving her a little wave, and she gave him a small smile and a wave back. Then her cell was opened and two guards stood there, beckoning her, and she was hauled to her feet and led to the ring.

Oh, screw this all…

Steward McOy