Sebastian woke early the next day, nerves inhibiting his ability to sleep. The sand in his clothes and the bed had further amplified his discomfort. This discomfort was also coupled with a full bladder. He got up and peed haphazardly into the gezunder, with a few splashes and side sprays wetting the floor. Zipping up, he went to the small barred window. Placed high on the wall, it may have been unreachable to Tanaka, Jax and Pauly. On tip toes Sebastian could just manage to peer over the sill and through the bars. It was just before dawn. Sebastian could just see the night sky that he so loved to see, but the cruel sun was rising. The black sky was being bleached blue and the stars snuffed out one by one.
Sebastian sat, shivering from both nerves and the early morning cold. There was movement in the bunk above him, and duly Pauly swung his legs over and dropped down. He looked awful, and was shivering like a wounded animal. He was clenching his jaw to stop his teeth from chattering. Gingerly, he went to the potty and tried to pee. At first he was too tense to do so. Eventually a stream flowed, although it was shaken everywhere by his trembling. He turned and their eyes meet. He jolted, then awkwardly got his dick back into his pants. Suddenly something poked him in the back and he leapt away.
It was Jax’s foot. He was drawn and haggard, a look accompanied by a swollen brow and black eye. Despite this, his face was lit by a supernatural energy, and he looked better than he had in days. Sebastian recognised the look. He’d observed it in school bullies, and in the kids that pulled the wings off flies or burned ants with magnifying glasses. It was the light of gleeful evil and sadism. Jax smiled, put his finger to his lips to mime silence, and then jerked his head towards the couch. The guard from last night was still there, and she was asleep. Apparently their captors didn’t take their guarding too seriously. Sebastian could see why, the cage was pretty indestructible without any tools.
Jax gently lowered himself from the bunk. His boots whispered across the wooden floor. His fly came down with a gentle susurration. Jax got right up against the bars, and peed. His initial stream fell short, but his second had a furthered burst of power. It splashed against her reclined booted feet. Jax began chuckling maliciously, as the purr of water on leather filled the room. Some urine made it further, wetting the guards ankles. The guard stirred, before snapping her eyes open and leaping up. Jax jeered joyfully. Pauly, for whom going along with bullying was second nature, jeered too. Sebastian didn’t go that far. However, he’d been locked up, forced into a fight to the death, and watched his comrade be hurt twice, so he smiled along. The guard was jumping between furious and disgusted. This created a confusion that left her frozen just long enough for Pauly, buoyed by his partner’s jeers, to pick up the potty and splash her in the face. There was a shocked silence. Pauly felt instant regret. It was an emotion with which he’d grown painfully familiar over the years of being carried along too far by a group. Sebastian was toeing the line between malevolent satisfaction and guilt. Jax was only happier still. His smile threatened to split his head in half. He delivered an outpouring of victorious and imaginative insults.
The guard gaped, gasping with horror and disbelief. Tears sprung into her eyes and she began to cry, albeit with extreme resistance. Sebastian was tipped over into the guilt side.
“You-you idiot! There’s no fucking water in this fucking desert! Do you understand that? I can’t shower! I’ll smell of piss for months!” she screamed. With large gulping sobs she recovered herself, and the person that returned was a demon of pure rage. She picked up her rifle, and worked the bolt action to put a bullet in the chamber. She levelled it at Jax. “Fuck you!”
Jax stared down the gun. “Shoot me then, you bitch.” His voice was fearless and defiant. For a moment, Sebastian felt he’d caught a glimpse of the true Jax. A man who’d just lost his best friend, nihilistic and depressed. But then it was gone, like a mirage in the desert.
The gun remained pointed at Jax for a whole minute before the guard shook her head and raised the barrel up and away. “You’re not worth it.”
“No one’s worth killing,” Jax replied, “but we do it anyway, you pussy.”
The guard scowled and dried her face with the dry bottom part of her shirt. Sebastian found the midriff she exposed painfully erotic for reasons he couldn’t explain.
Tanaka had slept peacefully through the whole altercation. He carried on for another hour still before awaking calm and rested. He smiled at everyone, even the guard. For a man only an hour or so away from a fight for his life, he was unbelievably confident and energetic. He bounced around the cell, shadow boxing, dancing, chatting incessantly. Everyone else watched him resentfully, their stomachs churning and their bodies trembling. The guards came to take them to the ring. Tanaka bounded to the door, raring to go. Pauly’s legs gave out and he had to be caught and supported by Sebastian. Sebastian gave one last plea.
“Tanaka, please, take this seriously.”
Tanaka just winked and lead his guards out.
The instant they left the jail the noise hit them. It was the loud noise of a hundred people not being loud individually. The verandas were lined with spectators, mostly parents with their children. Some of them were holding up signs, most saying ‘Lord Shiva’. Sebastian wondered why a Hindu god was being celebrated now. Some kind of quasi-religious sacrificial fight? A weak cheer was raised as they walked down the main strip, along with a scattering of boos. Tanaka waved and smiled. They walked the full length of the main drag. They were then marched back to the centre of town, and down an alleyway to a clearing on the outskirts of the oasis farmland.
The space was roughly circular, and flat. People were already seated in a ragged circumference at the edges. The prime spot was a row of wooden benches in the shade of the buildings, and it was already full. Others were kneeling in the dirt in areas still in morning shadow. The sun exposed areas, already scorching, were only inhabited by a few brave souls. In the centre was a ring. Four poles had been driven deep into the hard-packed dirt in a square of about 6 metres squared. The sun had bleached them a ghostly white. Through some method the floor had been elevated about half a metre. Sebastian suspected either a wooden frame or a stack of pallets. To obscure whatever messy framework there was, tarpaulin had been stapled to the sides. For flooring, a layer of thin plywood had been lain out and screwed in. Three lines of cables of threaded steel were strung at high tension between the poles. To soften the hard metal duct tape had been wrapped around it. It looked ominously like a execution stand. The group was lead to the far left corner, and made to line up.
One of the guards sniffed the air.
“Smell likes piss,” he exclaimed. He leered at the four prisoners. “One of you babies pee your pants?”
All together, excluding the oblivious Tanaka, they turned and stared mutely at their prison guard. She glared at them, then forced a sickly sweet smile.
“I think we can leave the teasing alone, Steve,” she said.
Steve was bemused. He contented himself with one last sneer before turning his attention away from the group. Their prison guard tapped the butt of her rifle, clearly communicating that she’d be happy to silence them with violence if such favours weren’t effective. Another time, Jax may well have pushed onwards and taunted relentlessly. This time he was preoccupied, as was everyone except Tanaka.
The noise level from the main street began to pick up. A rhythmic chant was rising, and snatches of words began to carry over to the ring. ~EEEEEVA…~~ORD…..~SHEEEEE.
“Sounds like a baboon orgy,” Pauly joked half-heartedly.
“Or a religious cult praying,” Sebastian said.
There was activity around the ring too. Young men and women scuttled about: setting up a speaker system running off a diesel generator, laying out a threadbare and sandy red carpet, and handing a barrel-chested man a megaphone. The equipment must have been extremely expensive to acquire and maintain so far out.
A woman rushed over to the group.
“You guys need stage names,” she said breathlessly. She glared at their prison guard. “Amy was supposed to have gotten them from you in the morning.”
Amy, the piss roasted away in the heat but the smell lingering, glared back. There was some kind of rivalry present, although what kind Sebastian could not tell.
“You guard the cells next time, then,” Amy said.
“Maybe I will,” the girl replied snootily. “We don’t want the prisoners carrying knives around.”
“Girls, we don’t have time for this,” Steve said.
“I’m sowy, Steve honey,” the girl said, speaking in a cutesy voice and clutching his arm. Steve smiled and softened. In that instant, Sebastian decided he disliked the pair. He felt a sympathetic twinge for his prison guard. He might have given her a supportive look had he been someone else, but his steel eyes gave away nothing.
“Names, now,” Amy said.
Sebastian was now on her side in the familial ‘no one treats her like that except me’ manner. He spoke straight away without resistance. “The Star-studded Stranger.”
“Nice one,” Tanaka said.
“Jax,” Jax said.
“I’ve heard you guys talking, that’s your normal name,” Amy said.
“It’s a nickname.”
“Not good enough.”
Jax paused. “Ratman,” he said, but the words seemed painful, like he was chewing shards of glass.
“What about you, big guy?” she asked, looking at Pauly.
Put on the spot, Pauly’s mind was empty. “I don’t know.”
“Big guy it is, then. Jap?”
Tanaka grinned ear to ear. His fist shot up into the sky. “Raijin, the holy lance of justice!”
“Fantastic. There. Done,” she turned to the girl. “Problem solved, Erica.”
Erica rolled her eyes and pranced back to the man with the megaphone.
The chant was reaching a climax, and it was spreading to the people around the ring. Some of the workers and guards even joined in. SHEEEV-A… SHEEEEV-A… LOOOOOOORD SHEEEEVA. With a crinkle of static, the man activated his megaphone. His barrel chest inflated.
“UNDEFEATED FOR SEVENTEEN MATCHES!” Pauly and Jax exchanged nervous glances. That wasn’t good. “UNDISPUTED CHAMPION OF THE RING!! MASTER OF NINE DIFFERENT MARTIAL ARTS!!! FAMED ACROSS THE DESERT FOR HIS LYNCHPIN AERIAL REVERSAL!!!! THE TRANSFORMER!!!!! THE DESTROYER!!!!!!! HIS NAME IS…” The man paused for dramatic effect. The silence rippled outwards across the crowd. More people were streaming in from the street, taking up the less desirable sunny seats. It was so quiet their individual footsteps could be heard. The man took another deep breath. His voice was joined by that of the enthusiastic components of the crowd. “LLLLLLLLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORD SHHHHHHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVAAAA!”
The stereo started blaring a generic hip-hop instrumental, heavy on the brass. Bounding out of the alleyway came Hadrian. He’d stripped out of his v-neck, and was barefoot. He still wore his puffy pair of shorts. Likewise, the spiked hair, the ear gauges, and the large wooden bead garland remained. What was truly eye-catching was that his torso and face had been dyed a bright blue. It was like looking at a Greek statue vandalised with blue paint. He energetically bounced around, waving an adulating crowd into louder and louder cheers. He got up close to some of the onlookers, before darting up the red carpet and diving onto the stage. He climbed up onto the wires at his corner and waved some more. He then leapt into a corkscrewing backflip that he landed effortlessly. The crowd adored it.
Sebastian didn’t allow himself to be drawn into the wrestling-like spectacle. His eyes were forcibly in boredom mode when they wandered over to Tanaka. Alarm bells rung, and his mind sprung to attention. Tanaka was enthralled by Hadrian’s spectacle, but he was also excited. There was a hunger in his eyes that Sebastian recognised, because it was the same hunger he had. The hunger for danger, and for a challenge. And just like that, Sebastian knew Tanaka was about to leap into the ring as the first challenger. He acted straight away, hugging Tanaka around the shoulders. He didn’t care how silly he looked.
“Pauly! Get in the ring now!” he shouted.
At first, Pauly didn’t hear. His burst eardrum was facing Sebastian, and the roar of the crowd in the other. He turned around dumbly. “Huh?”
“Jump in the ring!” Sebastian managed to say just as Tanaka wriggled free. Pauly’s eyes light up with comprehension. He leapt underneath the lowest cable into the ring. He beat Tanaka, who had been standing further away, in the nick of time.
Pauly got unsteadily to his feet, brushing sand off his front. His synapses were firing off in a confused fashion. He didn’t actually click to the fact he was in the ring until he came up face to face with Hadrian. Or rather, face to impeccably sculpted chest, considering the height difference. Pauly’s mind was still in a cloud of surprise and befuddlement. He melancholically rued his unexciting and lame stage name, and wished he’d come up with a better one. Hadrian gave a friendly smile, his white teeth glowing against blue-stained lips. The megaphone man wound up for his announcement.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNDDD IT’S OUR FIRST ROUND, FOLKS. LORD SHIVA VERSUS… THHHHHHEEEEEE BIG GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUYYYY!”
Pauly’s brain finally got the memo. ‘Aw shit,’ he thought.