Burned Out Heroes
Their destination, just like all the other stores that dotted the backstreets, was covered in a layer of filth. However, it served to hide this one in plain sight.
The entrance looked like a run-of-the-mill metallic door, but it was equipped with a top-of-the-line security system that included energy sensors and other gadgets.
“Aaaall right, ladies and mudder fuckaaas!! Get your asses to the ring ‘cuz the main event is comin’ up! Byakko, the Armored Dragon versus Castro “Boreas” G., the Wind God! Place your bets! Get movin’! Any bastard not putting money down’s gettin’ kicked to the the curb!!”
“...Here, too, eh?”
“...These places are always so loud. It’s like the people here think they’ll die if they’re aren’t yelling nonstop.”
01 and Karen pass security only to be greeted by an excessively vulgar announcement.
Jeers from equally vaglar spectators weren't far behind as they gathered in a frenzied mass to get a better view of the lower level.
This was Flavius, the colosseum. Built under the guise of a failed night club, this establishment lived up to its name in every sense.
The arena was blocked from view to all except those in the seats on the top rim of the bowl-like structure. The hollowed out second floor had been repurposed into a bar that dispensed all sorts of liquor and drugs to the patrons. In a world stricken with shortages of every kind, the prospect of real alcohol was more than enough to draw a crowd.
However, the booze and twisted pills were only an appetizer. The main course within these walls were the bloody duels to the death within the central arena.
It had been nearly 3,000 years since the original gladiators fought in Roman times, but taking pleasure in another’s suffering was still a form of entertainment even now.
“The ultimate human weapon that dominated battlefields across the globe against the next step of human evolution, an arbiter in the flesh! The Anamnesisian Conflict rages on, right here, right now!”
What was different from 3,000 years ago were the combatants. Rather than man vs. man or man vs. beast, it was human weapon vs. inhuman in a showdown between monsters. The specital offered a more “evolved” stimuli than the Roman Colosseum could provide.
“Castro G’s makin’ a preemptive strike! Anything goes for arbiters!”
A mechanized warrior stood within a devastating whirlwind at the center of the arena, his armor disintegrating before the spectator’s eyes. Armor of that caliber could be exposed to a century of hurricane winds and be no worse for wear, but this was no ordinary wind.
The corrosive gale torrents brought about by anamnesis had led to disasters of mythic proportions. Simple science was no match against such miracles.
Arbiters could recreate these calamities by accumulating anamnesis within their bodies. They used this power to ignore the laws of physics and unleash their wrath during the Anamnesisian Conflict.
“What’s this?! Has Byakko already lost?! Does even the champion fall when a real monster is in the ring?!”
Booes echoed through the stands as the battle failed to live up to the hype.
A resolution without any pain, agony, or drama would never satisfy their thirst for entertainment.
“Finally! I bet on yer sorry ass!! Win me some cash or fucking die trying!!”
“Hell yeah! That arbiter freak is a monster! Tear him apart!!”
Arbiters were indeed powerful, but many methods of dealing with their abilities had been forged during the Conflict.
One of which were mechanized soldiers like 01. By replacing every bit of their flesh with machinery with the exception of their brain, they could adapt to the extremes anamnesis brought forth and become equivalent to a living tank. This pursuit of a simple concept allowed the heroes of yore to walk the modern day earth.
These warriors chosen to exterminate monsters were some of the few beings that could hold their ground against arbiters on the battlefield.
“...Can I just mince all these bastards up and call it a day?”
“I know you hate it in here, Dad, but please put up with it...”
01’s displeasure was palpable as Karen looked up at him with concern. While she could tell he was joking, she also knew that her father wasn’t one for idle talk. 01 actually was more than capable of turning everyone in the arena into mincemeat.
Even the ultimate weapons of war had to make spectacles of themselves to stay fed in this world. 01 was merely frustrated by this reality.
“Yeah, yeah. We gotta get through- Gah! Frickin’ pain in the ass! Karen, stay close to me!”
“I know! I’m not that dumb!”
“Fuck him up! Castro bein’ an arbiter don’ mean shit! Off him already!!”
01 and Karen worked their way through the frenzied crowd. While 01 was grateful no one bothered to bust his chops for bringing a child into a place like this, that didn’t change the fact they kept getting in the way.
The person who called them here awaited within the central seating area inside a booth blocked off by a curtain on all sides.
“That’s a direct hit on Castro! Can he get back up?!”
“Atta boy, Champ! C’mon, make it ten wins in a row!!”
The match had reached the moment of truth while father and daughter trudged toward their target. The mechanized soldier stood triumphantly over the arbiter, seemingly moments away from delivering a killing blow and the audience couldn’t get enough.
It seemed the two of them were the only ones not swept up in the fervor consuming the arena.
“No! Let go!!”
01 had run out of patience with the crowd. A woman’s shrek reached his ears just as he was about to do something about it.
“C’mon, worthless piece of shit! Get on your feet! Move!”
The screams were coming from just outside the curtained-off box. A thug was half-dragging a scraggly woman toward a back hallway with a vice grip on her arm.
Her cries didn’t stand out much from the tumultuous throng around him, but they were more than enough to draw 01’s attention.
“Tch, lousy tramp. Ya ain’t even human no more, so quip yappin’, will ya?!”
“L-Let me see Barkov, please! I-I need work...”
The thug slapped the deathly frail woman across her face. Not a single person in the area bothered to take notice.
The only things people who dwelled in this city cared about were living to see tomorrow and finding pleasure along the way. Trampling others underfoot to make that happen was the norm and certainly not worth their time to interfere.
“What would the boss want with a chick with one foot in the grave?! Jackshit, that’s what!! Ya ain’t got organs left to sell, so go die in the alley like the mutt ya are!!”
“W-Wait, wait! I can’t die yet, NOT YET! M-My baby girl... I want to see her again!”
“If it’s drugs ya want, get ‘em from the Ryusei-kai! Now get the hell out!”
The woman bawled, clinging onto the thug’s leg but he couldn’t have cared less. Her pleas fell on deaf ears.
Selling off internal organs was one of many businesses in this world, and the woman had come looking to fill that occupation. Along with offering his patrons exhilarating entertainment, the owner of this establishment was apt to pull strings to provide work and information for those who gained his favor.
“Get the hell off me!!”
He raised his fist to strike her yet again.
Should it land, the result was all too obvious: instant death. Against a man who appeared to be the living definition of a blunt instrument, the weak woman’s neck was little more than a toothpick.
It was nothing short of first-degree murder, but no one batted an eye. Save for him.
“I’m going to have to stop you right there.”
The woman clenched her eyes, bracing for a deathblow that never came.
The woman slowly opened her terrified eyes to see the thug writhing in pain and one other person standing above her. Death in the form of a fist had been stopped mere centimeters from her face.
It was the other man who stopped it. That didn’t seem possible, considering his frame was outclassed by the thug’s bear-like build.
However, the newcomer was steady as a rock. Palming the punch, his grip was so strong that she could hear the thug’s bones cracking. A sharp snap pierced the air as muscles and tendons were torn asunder.
His grip was akin to a pulverizer. Any longer and the thug’s fist would be unrecognizable.
There was no comparison between the physical strength of these mechanized living tanks disguised as human beings and actual people. That was true even before taking into account the one standing before her had been called the strongest ever built.
Unfortunately for the thug, he had gotten on his bad side.
“Quit staring and go.”
“He already spared your life once. You’d better get out of here before things get messy.”
Karen’s warning prodded the ragged woman to her feet and she staggered off. Even 01 knew her chances of lasting the night were slim to none.
Jumping in without hesitation despite that was what made him (01) him (her father) in Karen’s eyes.
“So, you one of Berkov’s cronies? Haven’t seen the guy in a while, but damn have his standards tanked...”
“Ghhhhh?! Th-The hell did I do, huh?! L-Let g-ARGH!”
It was nothing more than a twitch of the wrist, but the thug’s fist popped like a balloon. Blood, bone fragments, and bits of ruptured muscle fell to the floor with a sickening crack.
A few people in the crowd spared a glance, but that was all. A thug in pain was far less important to them than the battle taking place before their eyes, the booze in their hand, or the blunt wedged into their lips.
“I did it ‘cause you had to ask at all. And your manners are shit. Maybe I should do the left for good measure.”
Standing over the kneeling man gritting his teeth and writhing in pain, 01’s voice was devoid of sympathy.
So devoid, in fact, that the thug understood without question this newcomer would break a bone for every wrong answer he gave.
“...Dad, you’ve made your point...”
“Would you please stay your hand? Any more, and my reputation will suffer.”
It wasn’t his daughter’s voice that stopped the Spartan-esk interrogation, but a synthesized one.
01 practically spat.
For the voice belonged to the very man who summoned them here.