Parable of the Renegades
Hi! Jio Kurenai here!
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Within the compounds of an Underground Arena, a domed cage, full of fighters young and old were competing in a Battle Royale.
This was a multi-competitor endurance contest where fighters were eliminated by being rendered unable to continue. Every thirty seconds, a new competitor would join in, each individual was being timed on how long they could last in the brawl before getting eliminated. Once a fighter became the current last man standing, he was given the privilege to signal for the Battle Royale to stop within the thirty-second grace period before the next fighter could enter. A cash prize would then be rewarded to him depending on how long he survived since the moment he first stepped foot into the cage.
With blood splattered all over the rusty steel floor, the cage's walls, and even its ceiling(!?), the cage itself was becoming too crowded as piles of unconscious cannon fodder occupied most of the available space despite all the work being put into getting eliminated fighters out of the battleground.
On a small boundary in the center of the cage, one participant stood hunched, expressing audible signs of exhaustion. He stood around 5 feet and 6 inches tall with a bruised and battered body comparable to an amateur athlete as his toned muscles were just barely trying to burst out of his skin. The bangs of his wavy chocolate-brown hair, which sheltered his eyes from the sight of others, allowed his intentions to remain difficult to read. His arms, exhausted from hours of combat, dropped straight down as they had become too heavy to lift the black hand wraps they wore, and his baggy cargo pants had been dyed from olive green to a deep crimson red. He panted to recover while anticipating the next move from the other fighters who were entering one by one to possibly challenge him.
His short time to catch his breath ended when another fighter charged at him with ferocity. A massive fist tore through the air like a cannonball had been fired, but even such a powerful blow would be useless if it were to miss its target. Instead, the one who threw the punch got intercepted with a smaller and weaker counterattack thrown by his smaller opponent.
Now, a punch from an exhausted opponent would have been a laughable attack that could easily be absorbed and shrugged off, but as the bigger fighter just learned, even blocking such a weak a punch with your face after building up momentum may not be the best idea for anyone. What a shame. He got himself all riled up, only for all that momentum to be used against him at double the hurt.
The fighter with brown hair was then challenged by another who threw a punch like the one that was defeated earlier. His smaller opponent prepared another cross-counter, but this other fighter learned from the last one’s mistake. At the last second, the bigger fighter pulled back on his fierce straight and used his other fist for a brutal hook aimed to the midsection. The brown-haired fighter was too late.
He flew several feet away before tumbling across the floor. While desperately clutching the left side of his rib cage, he groaned from the crushing blow.
The bigger fighter would have spent some time gloating about his successful attack if only it weren't for the odd combination of pain and numbness coming from the hand he used to throw a hook.
A quick examination quickly turned his smile a complete 180 - three of his fingers were broken! Even when the smaller fighter was hit, he was not in the mood to let his opponent taste sweet victory. This shocking revelation got the bigger fighter distracted and shrieking in pain for so long that the smaller fighter had ample time to recover and take complete advantage of this chance. A swinging hook of his own came down and struck the distracted fighter like a clean hit from a sledgehammer.
As his opponent hit the floor face-first, the younger, smaller fighter examined his status. The world he saw had become blurry and distorted from possible concussions or vigorous activity. His legs shivered, close to the point of being unable to support his own weight. With a sigh of relief, he raised a hand as high as he could (just barely above his head) before another fighter, completely fresh and ready to finish him off, could take a step into the cage.
“The last man standing has signaled for the Battle Royale to stop!" An announcement roared across the venue, shadowing the cheers and boos of its bloodthirsty crowd. "This is something you could only believe if you watched it here live and had the tenacity to book an entire day! For about twenty-seven hours, he survived elimination from countless random opponents with no breaks! At only fifteen-years-old, the last man standing is…"
He took a few seconds to look at a list in search of the winner's identity, then almost blew his vocal cords when he announced the fighter's name.
Lucas Thorne limped his way toward the cage’s exit, gasping for air as he dragged his feet with what little strength he had left. As he got closer to the exit, some of the spectators began to gossip. He paid no attention to them, however, as the long and vigorous battle exhausted him to the point that listening to simple chatter felt like a chore.
“I’ve only watched about three hours, but did he seriously fight for twenty-seven hours straight!?” A young man in the crowd was whispering to a friend seated next to him.
“I know right? My cousin told me that he spent most of his time absorbing hits rather than going on the offensive when he was watching this yesterday!” The friend confirmed.
“So... he’s more of a punching bag? Then he must have exhausted his opponents before he dealt the finishing blow!”
“But to think..." The young man's friend added, "...That he could last that long is just… never mind. Considering the times we live in, survival might just become more important than before."
The young man and his friend sat down a little longer and eyed the exhausted fighter who had spent an insane amount of time in combat. They made their leave toward the spectator’s exit once the fighter was out of their sight.
The Underground Arena was very spacious to compensate for every fighter who competed in matches, especially the Battle Royales. Lucas laid himself down on a long wooden bench in the arena’s locker room. His entire well-being was in horrible pain. From all the hits he had taken, to the moments he chose to attack. All of this accumulated into becoming the extreme agony he could only wait to go away. He needed some time to rest and recover his energy, so he closed his eyes and hoped his unawareness would allow time to fly...
...Only to jolt awake in shock when a hand landed on his shoulder.
“There you are. Congratulations on your phenomenal victory!” A voice rang in.
His breathing had gone haggard from the shock alone, Lucas sprang his eyes open to a man with short and waxed black hair and a small goatee. He appeared to be in his late twenties and was also dressed in a business suit. Recognizing that man as the arena’s announcer (the 5th one to be exact), Lucas slowly pushed his hands down from behind him and forced himself to sit up while trying to calm down his nerves.
“Here’s your cash prize. For lasting twenty-seven hours, you have won $27,000!” the older man said as he handed him said money.
Unfortunately for Lucas, his prize money was in the form of two stainless steel suitcases loaded with cash. A check would’ve been much better. If it weren't for his burnt-out state, he probably would've used the suitcases as stress relievers on the older man’s face. It's what would've been his version of a “thank you" for burdening him with a hassle, and for touching him out of nowhere without warning - that was something he was never fond of no matter how rough or gentle it may have been.
The older man sat next to him.
“I’m very surprised you actually withstood more than a day. Most people would be dead within a quarter of that.”
Lucas slumped back down at a steady pace to gently lay down on the bench. “Well… I’ve always had a strange bit of an aptitude. Been getting beaten black and blue for as far as I can remember," he said, letting one hand wipe some sweat off his face.
“You know, if you keep getting results like this, I don't think you would need to get a job. You're in high school, right?”
“Freshman...” Lucas responded just to humor the man. He was no longer in the mood to do nothing more than to get some well-deserved rest.
"Then you still have a lot ahead of you! Being so young and already winning big amounts of cash... How nice it is to do things this early!" The announcer said before he left the locker room, whistling a catchy tune.
After a while, Lucas felt like he had rested for several hours, but he couldn't trust his comprehension of time. Feeling like he regained a bit of strength, he prepared to leave the Underground Arena, which he always felt was an armpit of a venue. He unraveled his hand wraps, packed them into his backpack, which was previously in the locker closest to him, put on a plain gray t-shirt, then painstakingly lifted the pair of heavy cash-filled steel suitcases. Slowly, he staggered his way out of the arena. The process took a while thanks to a few instances of stumbling over and picking himself back up.
As Lucas went through the exit, the harsh light of the sun struck him in the face, forcing him to squint his eyes, even though they were already shielded by his bangs. It was already bad enough that his hands were full from carrying two suitcases.
He emerged from the arena and returned to the heart of the town he lived nearby: Cameron's Feint, Sarkansas.
Located next to a beach, this massive location was populated with mostly small structures ranging from shops and restaurants of varying international cuisine. A few of the bigger structures included schools such as Cameron's Feint Elementary and High school, which were located within proximity. Cameron's Feint University stood several blocks away.
Out of his backpack, Lucas pulled out a small black smartphone. It was protected by a shock-proof case made with a combination of thick plastic and padded rubber that decorated its four corners. After swiping its touchscreen, a pair of hidden eyes scanned the upper right as Lucas checked the time and date.
June 12. That’s a Sunday I believe. It’s also 9:03 am. Looks like I have one day to kick back.
He was just in time for the first bus of the day. Since it was a Sunday, he didn’t have to worry about the bus having too many passengers while he carried two suitcases filled with cold-hard cash. It was only natural he'd get paranoid about anyone trying to steal twenty-seven hours’ worth of bloody combat money.
After he entered the bus and paid a small fare, Lucas chose the seat that was the second closest to the door and on the opposite side of the bus driver. He stacked the two suitcases on top of each other under the chair in front of him. His original reason for doing so was to make it easy to keep an eye on them while keeping them hidden from anyone else, but since no one was currently occupying the front seats, Lucas allowed himself to take his eyes off his prize money and relax.
Letting his face rest on the palm on his right hand while propping its elbow on the narrow platform next to the window, Lucas observed the residents of Cameron’s Feint as the bus drove by them.
A mother pushing a stroller that contains her child… it's probably loaded with grenades and firearms beyond the baby’s reach.
Next, he focused his attention on someone who appeared to stand out.
An old man. Hunched forward, gentle smile and walking with a cane. It looks long enough to conceal a blade within its stem.
These odd assumptions, coursing through Lucas' thoughts, came from the status quo of the town.
Ever since the incident when the existence of the [Renegades] became common knowledge, nations all over the planet began to adapt on how to deal with what could become a potential threat. For some, their military, navy and air force were strengthened.
Then there were those who began to look back into the past such as a few of the western nations re-adopting the ways of chivalry from the Medieval period. People who originated there, at the right age were taught to wield swords, shields, spears, maces and other weapons that knights used.
Gradually as time went on, people carrying weapons in public became common; it was no longer an unusual sight to witness in everyday life. In fact, even some modern-day attire was modified to include protective padding or armor. The equipment most commonly seen in fantasy RPG video games soon became reality.
Cameron's Feint was no town that existed for centuries. As such, its residents had no form of ancient warfare to follow and instead used whatever weapons were available, creating a lot of variety in self-defense among its people.
From the young toddler skipping gleefully through the street, the pleasant-looking lady talking on her phone, to the old-timer who looks like he could barely walk, it was an unwritten rule that everyone living in Sarkansas had to be prepared to defend themselves when they needed to. They were no easy targets that you could steal candy from, harass, or point at their age. Most likely there was a hidden weapon or skill that each of them possessed, but it’s not like they would use them to control their lives. No, they were solely used for defense only.
It's not like knowing how to defend yourself didn't have any bonus perks, as while several common jobs you can expect to find do exist in Cameron's Feint, competing in the Underground Arena was a good way to earn some easy cash assuming you were prepared to kick ass or get your ass kicked, hence the Battle Royale Lucas just competed in.
When Lucas heard the bus tires screech for the third time, he knew he'd finally arrived at his stop.
Out of the bus, Lucas’ shoes found themselves sunken into the white sand outside. A big, wooden sign near the bus stop read: "Welcome to Moonlight Shores!"
Slowly, with the two steel suitcases in each hand, Lucas limped his way toward a small cottage that stood on a wooden platform supported by four thick wooden stumps on each of its four corners.
Climbing stairs was a hassle for Lucas thanks to a day and three hours of no sleep as well as lugging a pair of suitcases around. Lucky for him, he only needed to climb just four to get to the cottage. Still, each step up felt grueling.
Reaching the peak of the stairs, the door before Lucas had a silver plaque with a name inscribed on it in cursive. Lucas set one suitcase down and was just inches away from curling his fingers on the doorknob when the sound of rushing caught his attention. He turned to the source of the sound, only to get knocked back into the sand with hardly any time to react.
A teenager with black, short disheveled hair burst through the door in his place. Slung over his shoulder was the arm of a soaking wet boy around the same age, who wore nothing more than a pair of board shorts.
“Doctor! Doctor! Emergency! My friend is unconscious!" The black-haired boy panicked.
“I see… Lay him down on the exam table, immediately."
A voice advised him in a calm and somewhat icy tone. Rubber slippers smacked over a creaking wooden floor with every step.
The cottage Lucas tried to enter was actually a clinic. While its appearance was nothing special on the outside, the inside was a pure white room adorned with the standard furniture such as a desk, a few chairs and of course, an exam table. Numerous medical certificates and gold medals for Olympic swimming were framed and hung on to nails embedded on one of the walls.
The clinic's owner was a woman of average height with sharp almond eyes of hazel and shoulder-length ashen brown hair. Her left sideburns were regally styled into resembling an elegant drill while the opposite side remained wavy and let down. Clad in a white lab gown that was quite transparent, it did a so-so job of concealing a navy blue one-piece swimsuit, fittingly worn by her hourglass figure.
Dr. Rea Nightingale approached her patient, who'd been laid down on her exam table and scanned him from head to toe.
“He was just swimming a while ago, but then I found him floating motionlessly with his head still underwater! He must’ve drowned!” The black-haired teenager explained, his hands throwing down.
He then felt a tap on his shoulder from behind. Turning around, he was greeted with a sudden strike of blunt force, courtesy of a steel suitcase loaded with cash. He was sent crashing into a nearby wall, the ruckus apparently caught Rea’s attention.
“Lucas...” Rea sighed and brushed a hand through the neat part of her hair. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t add another patient to my workload."
Lucas allowed himself to fall backward and leaned on the wall before sinking down next to the other person who crashed into it. He grabbed a handful of that person’s hair, eliciting a wince.
“But wouldn’t that mean more income?” Lucas joked with a barely noticeable grin.
“Look, I know it’s my job to take care of the injured, but this just isn’t how I do…" The doctor rested her chin on an open palm while allowing her elbow to rest on her other hand. "Well, not anymore,” she murmured as Lucas sent a quick and glassy stare in her direction.
Then he turned his attention to the other boy.
“And you, Davis, should know it’s not a good idea to cut in line... even if it’s in front of your friend!”
“Right, right, I’ll keep that in mind," Davis casually said, before Lucas proceeded to shove him back into the wall, face-first.
"Oh, he's a friend of yours..." Rea commented on how the two were behaving. "...I can understand you being a bit rough on him, but did you really have to force him to the wall?"
Lucas paid her no attention as he was more concerned with something else.
"Anyway," he whispered to Davis as he directed his view to the patient on the exam table. "...Who is that guy?"
"Just someone I recognized from school," Davis whispered back. "I saw him drowning so I dove in and pulled him out of the water. As you can clearly see, he's unconscious and needs first-aid!"
Lucas glared at the patient, then to Davis, then to the patient again.
Releasing the grip he had on Davis' already messy hair, Lucas gestured a pulling motion with the fingers on one hand, wordlessly asking Rea to lend him an ear. After inching herself closer to him, Lucas, with a hand cupped outside his mouth whispered something to Rea, who nodded every few seconds in agreement.
Approaching the exam table once more, Rea looked down on her patient, her face just a few inches away. Her neat and curled sideburns lightly brushed against her patient's forehead and chin, giving those parts a mild tickle. Rea thought she was seeing things for a second but did the patient's lips rise up a bit?
Not long after that, the patient felt two cold and flat surfaces on his chest.
For some reason, Rea started a countdown.
Something was wrong. The manner in which she spoke was devoid of emotion and warmth.
“GAHHHH!! I'm awake!!! Don't shock me, please!!!!"
In a flash, the patient jolted up like he just realized he overslept on an important day. He awoke to find himself face-to-face with a beautiful nymph, only this one stared cold, icy daggers into his soul.
"You know... faking a symptom can lead to your doctor giving the wrong kind of treatment," An unamused Dr. Rea Nightingale warned the now trembling patient. "Who knows what will happen if I attempt to cure someone who doesn't need it."
The patient nodded nervously in response. He was certain that Rea was intending to restart his heart with a defibrillator, but when he peered down at his chest, all he saw clasped in Rea's hands were a pair of gold medals that were moments ago, framed and hanging on the wall.
"B-but how!?" Davis shrieked.
Again, he winced when the hair on the back of his head got grasped by a shivering hand.
"You told me you dove in and pulled him out of the water, yeah?" Lucas interrogated him. Davis nodded to say "yes."
"I can understand your shirt, but if that's the case, then why are your pants and shoes not wet?"
"I-I t-took them off?" Davis tried to say.
"Why did you stutter?" Lucas grinned, a strange sort of malevolence adorning his face.
It was at that moment that Davis found his face forcefully planted into the wall, again.
Rea sighed. "Rule of three, Lucas. Rule of three."