Tag Archives: Fight

Desert Steel Chapter 17

-Fracas

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The party was thumping, if expectations were downscaled to outer Terra Deserta standards. All of the fight show crew was there, bar Hadrian, as was a slice of Hovetown Left locals. Alcohol was available in two kegs. It was nasty and cheap but it was stronger and tastier than the earthy oasis water. The party was taking place in one of the towns two saloons, which was furnished with a lean towards comfy. The saloon buzzed with conversation. Cigarette and other smoke occupied the top half of the room.

Tanaka was propped up against one corner of the bar. Not one to dwell on a past mistake, he was savouring a glass of moonshine with a unfettered grin. His hair had restored to its usual chaotic bramble. His ear piercings, a row of simple pale yellow and dull grey rings along the arc of his outer ear on both sides, gleamed. When he lifted up his glass, the lithe muscles in his forearm rippled beneath his tattoo. A crowd of admirers drank in every aspect. He fielded their questions with a friendly manner and an easy smile, even those asking about why his teammate had spat in his face.

Pauly was in his element. His old lifestyle may have had its foundations in bullshit, but one thing had shone true: he loved a party. As a bonus, he didn’t even have to lie. He really had been to bigger and better parties involving more famous people. Let me tell you about a REAL party, man, it’s got minor Staten Island celebrities and people drinking all different kinds of alcohol, none of this low level bullcrap. Besides that, he actually had a real reputation, having fought Hadrian. No longer did he have spin a tale about this gangbanger from Brooklyn he’d roughed up, or some out-of-state college student he’d slept with. Pauly was a badass for real this time. Sure, people still had to take what he said about himself with a grain of salt, but a little seasoning makes a meal taste better anyway. In Terra Deserta, embellishing stories was something of a local pastime. He was the life of the party, imparting anecdotes and cracking jokes with every group. He bounced around the room, constantly replenishing drink in hand.

Jax stood off in the corner, and smouldered. If anyone or any group strayed too near he repelled them with his glare. He sipped from his drink with a burning intensity. He observed the party as it flowed with unconcealed hatred. His mind continued returning to his dismal and pointless round in the fight. Every time it did his anger flared further. Even the crybaby Pauly had done better. Now he swanned around chatting while Jax wallowed in his isolated corner. Jax stole another furious sip of his drink. He passed the time by fantasising about punching a partygoer’s stupid smiling face. He scowled at a girl that had looked up and made eye contact with him. She dropped her gaze, a friendly smile dying on her lips. Jax’s eyes darted off for their next prey.

He alighted upon Steve, Erica and Amy, although unlike Sebastian he didn’t remember their names. Steve was lounging on a sofa, legs and arms splayed. Erica’s small and willowy form was curled up on his lap, one slender arm slung over his neck. She had a smile like cough medicine, sickly sweet but still unable to hide its bitter, nasty nature. She was talking over Steve’s shoulder to Amy, her face towards Jax. Amy’s boyish figure had its back to Jax. It was shaking. Erica’s lips moved, evidently saying something, and Steve threw back his head and laughed. The group in the area did the same. Amy spun and stormed away.

Jax saw she was fighting off tears and rage. After stalking a few steps away, the laughter still chasing her, she froze with fearful confusion. Her head spun left and right, looking for a safe haven to run to. She alighted upon Jax in the corner. He had no angry glare for her. She didn’t have some fat, shit-eating grin on her face. All people were trash, but some had the decency to be sad about it. She walked over and joined him. He took another sip of his drink, his glare sweeping the whole room.

He opened his mouth to say something, reconsidered, and closed it. She sniffled, and he flared up again.

“What the fuck’s your problem?”

She got pissed and glared at him, but she stopped crying. “People.”

“Amen,” Jax said under his breath. He took another sip. He eyed Steve and Erica. The group had lost interest, as had Steve, but Erica caught his eye and leered at him. He turned his attention back to Amy.

He cleared his throat. She stared dead-eyed off into the distance, past Erica and through the far wall. “Sorry, you know,” he managed. “For the things I said and did to you.”

“Whatever,” she said hurriedly, her voice cracking.

“People are trash,” he said. He gestured vaguely in Erica’s direction. “You don’t need them.”

“I need someone,” she said. Emotion was breaking through the cracks. She turned her eyes to meet with Jax’s.

His burned with rage and emptiness. “No. You don’t.” He paused, the flames dimming. “You want someone worth something.”

“I… guess,” she said, averting her eyes. The emotion and the pain in her voice tugged at Jax’s memories. His emotions swirled, and something dislodged.

He dropped his cup, the clear liquid spilling at his feet. He strode over to the sofa. Erica looked up at him.

“Yesssss?” she asked. The group around her sniggered. Rage rose of Jax’s body like steam.

He sucker punched her. Something cracked. Somebody screamed. She fell off of Steve onto the floor. Steve got up, fast, shouting something. It was an elemental buzz to Jax’s ears. He headbutted Steve as hard as he could. Steve fell back, roaring in pain. Hell broke loose. Confusion reigned. Some people tried get away. Others tried attack him. He kicked, and punched and bit. They were knocked back, tripping over one another.

To his left, and behind him, Tanaka waded through the tangle with practised ease. With the nonchalance of a man picking a flower, he took Jax’s flailing arm and wrenched it into a lock. Jax thrashed about, still hitting out at anyone in range in front of him. Tanaka increased the pressure, trying to drive home the point, but Jax seemed oblivious to it.

“Jax!”

The words were delivered like a whip crack, and the crowd was cowed as if it were.  It cut right through the fog of anger clouding Jax’s brain. He stopped struggling. Sebastian stood tall at the door, one eye still swollen shut. His good eye stared Jax down. Jax averted his gaze.

“Explain,” Sebastian commanded.

“He just started attacking peo-” someone began saying. Sebastian didn’t turn to look at the speaker.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” he said. Whoever it was fell silent.

Jax expelled air in an angry and frustrated tut. He didn’t say anything, unsure where to even start.

“Answer.”

Jax glared up defiantly at Sebastian. “Just showing how you take out the trash.”

Hadrian had entered after Sebastian, his imposing presence oddly going unnoticed. He was now kneeling over the moaning Erica. “I think her jaw’s dislocated,” he said. He rose, his eyes hard. “I think you should leave.”

“Yes, let’s.” Sebastian agreed. He crossed his arms. Tanaka released Jax and left, Jax following just behind. Pauly came out last, hurrying out from a group of people. Applause started somewhere in the back of the crowd and spread. Sebastian pretended he didn’t notice. His eyes searched the room, and found Amy standing frozen in the corner.

Shock, horror, admiration, joy and disgust all fought for supremacy on her face. It told Sebastian everything else he needed to know. He sighed, turned on his heels and left. His three men were waiting for him outside under the veranda.

“That’s the first time it wasn’t my fault we’re thrown out of a party,” Pauly joked.

“Follow me,” Sebastian said, ignoring him. He lead them down the street and into the cellar where he had been. He surveyed his group. The blindly heroic Tanaka who was only now opening his eyes. The jokey and sociable Pauly who was emerging from his shell of bluff and fear. And Jax, a vicious and violent wounded beast.

Sebastian smirked. “That went better than it should have.”

Tanaka and Pauly gave relieved smiles.

“True. I thought the town was going to turn on us,” Tanaka said.

Jax sullenly remained non-responsive.

“So Jax,” Sebastian asked, the tension relieved. “What were you thinking? That you were some white knight coming to save poor, sweet Amy? Or are you some kind of berserker, and bullying is your trigger to hulk out?”

“How the fuck do you know this?!” Jax burst out. “You reading my fucking mind?!”

“Ooo, Jaxxy boy. You’re crying.”

“I am not.” Jax furiously wiped his eyes.

“You are. It’s ok, buddy, you’re among friends here. There are more emotions other than anger, you know.”

“You guys are not my friends!”

“No, because you don’t have any friends. Your only one died because you didn’t try to save him.”

Jax reacted like he’d been slapped. New tears sprung to his eyes. He bit his lip and lowered his head.

“I don’t know your past,” Sebastian said. “I don’t care either. I care about your fuck ups now. That old you? He died when you jumped through the portal. In this desert, you adapt or you die.”

Jax swallowed. Anger relit in his eyes. “Fuck you, you preachy bitch. I’m more adapted to this fucking desert than any of you moralising pricks.”

“Then act like it,” Sebastian said, unbothered.

Hadrian burst in, making everyone jump. He was alone.

“Hey, hey, hey,” he said. “Where’s my little trouble maker?” He saw Jax, and rushed up to meet him. Hadrian patted him on the back as he cringed away. “Great punch, man. First time I’ve seen anyone successfully shut Erica up.”

The three were stunned by Hadrian’s nonchalance . Sebastian just rolled his eyes.

“Yo-you’re not bothered that we just attacked your crew? Punched a girl?” Pauly asked.

“Nah. Equal rights, equal lefts, that’s what I say.” Hadrian laughed at his own joke.

Pauly picked up on the accent. “Are you and Sebastian from the same-”

“God no,” Sebastian said. “He’s Australian. Just ignore him and he’ll go away.”

Hadrian laughed again.

“Well anyway, we clicked her jaw back in and wired it shut, so she’ll be alright apart from the agonising pain,” he said.

“Do people think Amy put Jax up to it?” Sebastian asked.

“Not if she plays her cards right.”

“Do you think she will?”

“Nah.”

Sebastian nodded. He respected Hadrian’s insight, if not his attitude. He agreed. Amy would only incriminate herself further.

“You said you wanted to be my mate, Hadrian.”

“Yeah?”

“As a favour to your mate then: resolve the conflict, help Amy.”

Hadrian scratched one of his healing cuts. “Yeah, no worries. You’re a manipulative bugger, starboy, even if it is for the greater good.” He eyed Sebastian for a reaction through his wounds. There wasn’t one. “That was a compliment, by the way.”

“Thanks. My name’s Sebastian. I don’t think I’ve introduced myself yet.” Sebastian extended his hand. Hadrian took it and shook it firmly.

“Hadrian Chanda Smith.”

Pauly, Jax and Tanaka all exchanged looks. What had those two talked about when they’d been left alone.

“It’s been a pleasure, Sebastian. Most of the people we get are so damn boring. Which is why I’d recommend leaving town now. I don’t think I can quell another incident.”

“We’ll need bearings.”

Hadrian bared all his teeth in what was probably a smile. “No problem. There are three outposts near and South, but the biggest one will be the best one. Go one hundred and seventy seven degrees South from this town’s boundary. It was ten days travel for us, less for you probably. Feel free to take the oasis water.”

“Thanks, Hadrian. It’s been a pleasure.”

“Likewise.”

They filled up their water at the oasis, checked all their equipment, and left. Before Jax’s violent outburst they would have left to a fanfare. Instead, they beat a quiet and ignoble retreat. It suited Sebastian fine. Crowds and attention he hated, although he never let them phase him. Against all common sense and better judgement, however, he loved the desert.

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Desert Steel Chapter 15

-The Fight Part 3 (Raijin)

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There was a hushed silence as Tanaka entered the ring. In part it was because of the impressive but disturbing display the last fight had been. It was also, however, because of Tanaka’s demeanour. The cheery and confident delinquent with the sunny smile was gone. A wrathful god, marked with blood and spit, had emerged. Hadrian felt a terrible unease in his stomach. He knew instinctively that this man was different. His men had sensed it too. They stood around, unsure whether to start the round. He nodded to the Dwayne, the announcer. Dwayne hesitantly raised the megaphone up.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! IT’S THE FINAL ROUND!! GIVE IT UP FOR LORD SHIVA AND RAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIJINNNNNN!!!!!”

Adil rang the bell.

Tanaka had had a whole plan laid out for his fight. He was going to announce to the crowd that he was the holy lance of justice. He was going to give Hadrian one minute to attack him, before he would take him down in one hit. He was going to tell Hadrian this on the stage for the whole crowd to hear. His final move would have had a grand declaration, and been as showy as possible. He discarded that plan.

He was on Hadrian in an instant with a flurry of blows. His fists were blurs, spamming Hadrian’s defences until they broke through. He varied the attacks and their angles. His body jived and twisted, dodging any attempted counters. Hadrian tried to strike but he was beaten back under the cumulative weight of the blows. He couldn’t tell how many times he was being punched. It was like trying to punch a cloud while dodging lightning strikes.

He gave up on punches, and went for a kick instead. Tanaka leapt over the leg and delivered a spinning jump kick of his own. It nearly unscrewed Hadrian’s head. He went down and Tanaka straddled him. Tanaka began pounding Hadrian’s head ferociously, alternating between fist and elbow strikes. Hadrian tried struggle at first, but his strength was waning.

Adil rang the bell without being prompted by Hadrian. Tanaka disengaged immediately. He wasn’t out for vengeance. He was out to win, and he needed to stay inside the rules.

Hadrian got up and strode over to Adil. His face was a mess, but his displeasure shone through.

“The crowd will notice that round wasn’t as long as the others,” he said. He could feel Tanaka’s red-rimmed eyes burning into the back of his head.

Adil looked worried. “But the fight!”

“The fight is lost, no matter how you delay it. We’ve unleashed a demon.”

“Should we forfeit?”

“No. This is the climax. I’ll just have to face him.”

Adil nodded, and rang the bell once Hadrian was back in position. Tanaka didn’t charge in this time. He waited, his arms raised in a unorthodox guard. Sebastian’s spit was smeared across his face like war paint. Hadrian charged in, swinging a big haymaker.

Tanaka caught the outstretched arm, locked it, and brought his elbow down. Hadrian’s arm cracked and bent the wrong way. The crunch was sickening. He howled and collapsed, clutching the broken arm. Tanaka let him fall, and walked over to his corner.

Jax nudged Sebastian with his foot.

“Hey,” he said.

Sebastian groaned but stayed unconscious. Jax shook him.

“Hey,” he said, louder.

Sebastian’s eyes fluttered open.

“My head hurts,” he groaned, his eyes misty. Then they focussed sharply, and scanned the area. He managed to see Jax looking down on him, not unkindly, and Pauly, who was smiling with unfettered relief, before a hot spike of pain seared his brain. He squeezed his eyes shut until the pain passed.

“I think you need to see this,” Jax said.

Sebastian allowed himself to be helped up into a sitting position. Tanaka was approaching to their corner of the ring. Hadrian… Hadrian was lying on the ground, his arm clearly broken and his face a pulpy mess. Relief washed over Sebastian, followed by surprise. Tanaka’s appearance was shocking. His fists were red with blood. His orange-blonde hair with the black roots was slicked back, looking like a flame with a black heart. His eyes were red-rimmed from crying, and were now ferocious and stern. Blood and phlegm was smeared on his forehead, nose and cheeks in an inverted Y. Most shocking of all was his face. The ever-cheery, open, friendly expression was gone. In its place was a cold and dead mask.

Without a word, Tanaka prostrated himself to them, first kneeling and then bending forward until his forehead touched the ground. He held the position while speaking to them, his head still lowered. Hadrian’s men, who’d been entering the ring, hung back confused.

“I, Tanaka Daisuke, beg your forgiveness! I treated things like a game and did not consider the consequences!” he shouted.

Sebastian smiled wryly, or at least thought he did under his injuries. Tanaka was earnest, at least.

“Why are you talking so weird,” Jax asked. “Just say sorry like a normal person.”

Tanaka stayed down, his face hidden.

“And yeah, you were a complete fucking idiot. You ran into an ambush, shouting your head off. You tried shoot someone with a pistol that was too far away. You thought a fight to the death was some kind of silly fucking joke.”

Sebastian smiled and let Jax blow off his steam. The rant grew in colourful curses before he cut Jax off with a wave of his hand. It was all he could manage but Jax went silent.

“Anything you’ve got to say?” he asked Pauly.

Pauly scratched his head. “Nah. I think Jax covered it and then some.”

Sebastian felt sleepy. He quelled the sensation. He had to get this right.

“Tanaka, wipe the stain off your face… But never forget why you got it.” He then realised Tanaka was second-language English and probably didn’t understand the symbolism. “You’re forgiven.”

Tanaka’s head shot up, grinning ear to ear. “I beat the shit out of him, didn’t I?”

“Hell yeah you did!” Pauly whooped.

Tanaka jumped up onto his corner pole and raised one finger to the sky. “I, Tanaka Daisuke, am Raijin, the holy lance of justice! I will be a hero one day!”

The announcer took his cue.

“THE NEW CHAMPION BY DECISIVE KO… THE RAGIN’ RAIJIN, THE HOLY LANCE OF JUSTICE…. TANAKAAAAAAAA DAISUUUKEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!”

The crowd cheered.

Sebastian gave up, and let sleep envelop him.

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Desert Steel Chapter 14

-The Fight Part 2 (Stubbornness)

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“ROUND THREEE! SHIVA VERSUS…. THE STAR. STUDDED. STRANGERRRRRRRRRR!!!!!”

In this type of situation, Sebastian would normally feel that primal keening for danger. He didn’t this time, maybe because he saw there was no hope of victory. Sebastian raised his guard. He drew on his crystal clear memories of martial arts manuals he’d read on the internet. They dissolved away when he got hit in the face, hard. Sebastian smiled wryly, and jumped back. Just as when against Jax, Hadrian charged in, keeping the intensity up. Unlike Jax, Sebastian held him back with a low, straight kick to the hip that killed the momentum. Sebastian let out a deep breath, for what felt like the first time in ages. Then he stepped in hard and fast, and gave a punch that stretched his reach to his limits. He was taller than Hadrian, and had long arms, so he could use his reach to his advantage. Hadrian ducked under it, stepping in himself. He landed a counter that made Sebastian’s teeth clack together.

Sebastian staggered back into the ropes. He didn’t bother to raise a guard, and instead tried get some breath back. He calculated correctly, because Hadrian had lost interest and turned back to the crowd.

“You don’t have to try too hard, you know.”

Sebastian turned and looked down on Tanaka’s round face. “Huh?”

“Just go down in the next phase,” Tanaka said. “I’ll handle him.”

Sebastian shook his head. “I’m never going to give less than everything in a fight for my life. And neither should you,”

If Tanaka had a response Sebastian never heard it, because he was grabbed and lifted away from the ropes. Hadrian had returned to the fight. Sebastian was hopeless in Hadrian’s iron grip as he was thrown down into a suplex. Knowing this, he tensed himself and rode out the impact. He rolled away the instant the grip loosened. He got to his feet unsteadily. Hadrian was up in a gymnastic kip-up. Sebastian put up his guard again. Hadrian changed tactics, and started launching high kicks. Sebastian tried block one, but it blew right threw his defence and cracked him across the cheek. He gave up on defending, and instead launched another one of his long reach punches. On only one leg, Hadrian couldn’t dodge. Sebastian’s fist smacked him in the jaw.

Sebastian felt a warm glow of victory. This was the first time Hadrian had been dealt a proper blow. It vanished as Hadrian’s kick connected, sending him tumbling. He landed face to face with Tanaka.

“Just stay down,” Tanaka said. He wasn’t concerned for Sebastian. Just cheery and confident.

Sebastian shook his head and got back up. The world spun. Things weren’t looking good. He bit down on his cheek, focussing on the pain. The world stabilised.  Sebastian didn’t bother with his guard, it was worthless. Hadrian was weakest when launching an attack. This was going to be a good old-fashioned slugfest.

Hadrian launched a hook, and Sebastian fired back another long reaching punch. Both made their marks. Hadrian’s crushed Sebastian’s ear and sent him reeling sideways. Sebastian’s hit Hadrian’s cheek bone. Sebastian’s hand stung like crazy. He hypothesised he’d broken a few bones, but he ignored it. He threw another punch, the other hand, same style. It connected again, opposite cheekbone. At the same time Hadrian’s fist pulverised Sebastian’s nose. Blood gushed down over his mouth and onto his chest. Sebastian ignored it. Another round of blows were exchanged. Sebastian’s lip was split, Hadrian’s face paint smeared off on one side. Another round. Sebastian left eye was bruised. Hadrian’s cheek bone was suffused with a purple hue. He was beginning to show damage. Hadrian broke off from the fight, and moved over to his corner again. Sebastian made no move to follow him. His left eye was swollen shut, his nose broken and bleeding, his lip split and bleeding, and his right hand broken.

The bell rang. It was the end of the round but Sebastian stayed standing, for fear he’d never be able to get back up again if he sat down.

“Just tap out.”

Sebastian turned to Tanaka. “No.”

“It’s just a fight.” Tanaka whined. He was no longer calm and confident.

Sebastian leant over the rings. His face was hideous, and not just because if its wounds. “It’s real life. It’s my life. It’s our lives. It’s never ‘just a fight’.”

Sebastian returned his attention back to Hadrian. His depth perception was gone and he was dizzy. He got ready for another round of fighting. The bell rang.

Hadrian had had enough of the slugfest, because he attacked straight away. He delivered an eye-wateringly fast high kick that attacked from Sebastian’s blinded side. Dazed as he was, Sebastian didn’t even react as the kick hit his temple dead on. Sebastian stumbled. His vision was greying out. As he half-fell, half-walked, he blacked out several times, only to wake himself up. By sheer miracle, he managed to plant a foot to stabilise himself. He placed it oddly though and as his body weight came upon it his knee twisted. The pain kick-started his consciousness. He came rushing back, and managed to put a steadying hand on the ropes. His head felt like it was in a vice.

“You… you don’t need to stay up,” Tanaka pleaded to him. Sebastian ignored him, feeling guilty about exploiting Tanaka’s sympathetic nature.

The whole world buzzing, Sebastian got back on two feet and weaved a path to Hadrian. He placed his hands on Hadrian’s shoulders. He looked like he was about to collapse and Hadrian didn’t attack. In fact, he looked mildly worried. Without warning, Sebastian headbutted Hadrian as hard as he could. The sudden movement of his head felt eerie and wrong. As soon as he heard the crunch of bone on cartilage, a wave of nausea overwhelmed him. He staggered away from Hadrian, who was clutching his nose, and dry heaved over the side of the ring.

Hadrian’s nose appeared to be broken, although it wasn’t bleeding. He touched it, winced, and then exchanged worried glances with the cowbell man. His opponent was deteriorating. He seemed to be clinging to the fight by sheer stubbornness alone. This was going far beyond the parameters he wanted in a fight. He was saved from indecision by the Japanese captive banging on the ring.

“Forfeit,” he yelled. “He’s done.”

The crowd started booing again, as with the last forfeit. It was less than before, however. This fight had been getting far more brutal and far less pretty.

Hadrian was relieved. He’d been losing control of the fight.

“No.” The words cut through all other noise. They were unyielding. The bloodied, battered man was back on his feet, fists up.

“You’ve forfeited,” Hadrian said, in disbelief.

“He doesn’t get to decide that. You don’t get to decide that.” The man’s words were slurred from concussion and blood. The crowd started to cheer, a little hesitantly. “I alone decide. I’m not leaving this ring until I can’t stand.”

Hadrian was trapped, he realised. The crowd was getting behind the man’s resilience. He couldn’t force him off the ring. He just had to end this fast. He nodded to Adil, his man with the cowbell. He didn’t want it said he gave the man no warning. The bell rang, and he planted his hardest punch into the man’s head.

For Sebastian, it was as though the world had ended with a clap of thunder. He was unconscious the whole way down, and didn’t wake up until he’d bounced twice on the plywood floor. He was on his stomach, staring at his corner. He pushed himself up on his knees, every part of his body rebelling. His eyes met with Tanaka’s once again. Tanaka was as white as a sheet, all his confidence and cheer gone. He was blinking back tears.

“Just stay done. Please. I can win. You don’t need to.”

A whole speech bobbed up out of Sebastian’s magma lake. About how he had to, because he couldn’t trust Tanaka to win. About how Tanaka’s lack of seriousness meant he hadn’t earnt the right to win for his team. But he didn’t have the energy, and he felt these words had already been communicated to Tanaka.

What Tanaka needed to understand was the emotion behind them.

Sebastian spat in Tanaka’s face, a mix of phlegm, blood and a small touch of bile. It landed squarely on his forehead and ran down his nose and onto his cheeks. He recoiled in shock and revulsion.

Sebastian, using the ropes as support, got back onto his feet, and planted them.

Hadrian observed his hand in mute amazement. He’d been going for the temple, the softest part of the skull, but the man had turned and taken it on the brow. As a result, he was still standing and Hadrian’s hand had broken. Hadrian didn’t know if the move had been intentional or instinctive. He didn’t know which made the man more dangerous. Whatever. He’d been careless. This time, he’d put the guy down for good.

Sebastian didn’t bother throwing a punch as Hadrian approached. He was far too unbalanced. He did try shove him away when Hadrian grabbed him, but the strength was gone from his arms. He fell helplessly when Hadrian pulled him over. Once he felt the pressure around his throat, he finally realised what was going on. He punched up at Hadrian’s chest, the hits awkward because of the angle. Over and over again he punched. His fists bounced off Hadrian’s chest. The grey tunnel returned to his vision, closing up until his view was a needle point of light. Then that too winked out. His arms finally fell.

Hadrian breathed out a relieved breath and dropped the limp body. The man had fought until the very end. It was crazy- the man’s final punches had been weak and ineffectual- but for a moment Hadrian had feared he would lose.

“WHAT A MATCH! GIVE IT UP FOR LORD SHIVA AND THE STAR STUDDED STRANGER!!!”

The crowd applauded as Sebastian was lowered down from the ring. The wheeze as he breathed through a broken nose and blood was the only sign that his collapsed form wasn’t dead. Tanaka knelt reverently by his side. He still hadn’t wiped the spit from his face. It sat red and vivid against his light olive skin. He wiped tears from his red-ringed eyes and ran his hand through his hair. The combination of grease and sweat slicked it back, keeping it out of his eyes. He was determined. He was serious.

He stepped into the ring.

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Desert Steel Chapter 13

-The Fight Part 1

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One of the guards, who was wearing a Bedouin style robe, pulled a cowbell out of the folds. He rang it with his knuckle. To the roar of the crowd, Hadrian, or Lord Shiva as he was known, charged forwards. Pauly, slow on his best days, was overwhelmed by the noise. He didn’t even twitch when Hadrian’s meaty bicep ploughed into his face. Pauly was taken right of his feet, his legs kicking up and his neck straining under the force of the blow. He landed on his back on the plywood floor, which boomed under the impact. It sounded worse than it felt, barely. Hadrian bounced against the cables a few times before jumping up and dropping his elbow into Pauly’s gut. Fortunately, Pauly’s dense muscles absorbed the majority of the hit. He managed to scramble up and escape to the corner of the ring. Hadrian got up and paraded around in front of the crowd.

Face stinging, stomach aching, Pauly realised he needed to fight back somehow. He threw a clumsy and telegraphed punch. Hadrian ducked under the swinging arm, popped up behind Pauly, and booted him in the back. Pauly was sent staggering into the ropes. They were still hard and unpleasant despite their plastic wrapping. He tried another punch, this one an uppercut. Hadrian merely leant back, watching the fist sail by. He launched a flurry of punches that knocked the wind out of Pauly’s lungs. Wheezing, Pauly attempted to charge him down, but was instead neatly tripped. He was sent sprawling onto the unpadded plywood for the second time.

On the ringside, Sebastian watched with dimming hopes. Hadrian was muscular, which had been obvious and intimidating from the start. He was gymnastic, which was further discouragement. But against the group’s most muscular fighter, Hadrian was also revealing himself to be fast. He dodged around Pauly’s swings with unhurried ease. Sebastian saw Jax’s and his own odds dwindling. They lacked muscle, and he now knew their speed would not fill the gap. Sebastian looked over at Tanaka. He was watching without a single sign of concern. But this same man had walked into an ambush shouting out that he’d be a hero. Was he delusional?

Hadrian climbed up to the second cable on his corner, sighted Pauly’s recumbent figure over his shoulder, and rallied the crowd.

SHIVA! SHIVA! SHIVA!

On the third, climatic cry, he leapt backwards, falling and twisting. The crowd watched in breathless silence. Hadrian landed with a resonating slam, his shoulder cracking Pauly’s ribs. The crowd erupted with cheers. Pauly’s hands scrabbled weakly at Hadrian’s chest. Hadrian looked at Pauly, looked at the crowd, and nodded to the bell holder. The nod was subtle, but Sebastian noticed it. The bell man rapped the bell once, and Hadrian disengaged, striding back to his corner. Pauly, dragging in each breath with agonising effort, rolled over and crawled over to the cables. By upper body strength alone, he pulled himself to his feet.

“What..? Is happ… enning?” he managed. His ribs sent shards of pain shooting up his side when he breathed.

“End of the round, I think,” Sebastian replied. “More importantly, how are you?”

Pauly managed a weak but brave smile. “I’ve been better. I think he’s broken my ribs.”

Sebastian nodded. “Just cracked, I think.”

“What’s… The difference?”

Sebastian didn’t tell him a lose bone chip or broken end could puncture an organ, something that would be certain death out here. It was a concern Pauly didn’t need. “Not much. Listen, your punches are pointless. They’re slow, and they’re obvious. He may be the peak of the male aesthetic mountain, but your arms and chest are bigger, and stronger. So try grab him. One good grip might be all you need. After all, he’s showboating. Got it?”

Pauly nodded just as the cowbell was rung again and Hadrian came out of his corner. Hadrian hopped around a bit, showcasing some fancy footwork that was wasted on Pauly. He then threw a right hook like a cobra strike. Pauly swung both his arms wildly, but they missed out on gripping anything. This gave Hadrian an opening to rush past Pauly and come flying back in a dropkick. Pauly stayed up and tried grab the now grounded Hadrian but he rolled away. Hadrian wound up and then sprung up onto his feet. Two more grabs missed Hadrian, who danced between them. Finally, Pauly got a grip, his thumb hooking under Hadrian’s armpit. He consolidated his hold, his left hand grabbing Hadrian’s side. Pauly froze.

He twisted his head to look back at his team.

“What do I do now?” he asked. Hadrian politely refrained from breaking free or striking back. The three on the side shrugged, and exchanged looks.

Jax hazarded a cautious “lift him?”

Pauly shifted his left hand grip to the inside of Hadrian’s thigh, and strained. His ribs screamed in protest but he ignored them. ‘I am desert steel’ he thought, his mantra. Hadrian’s feet lifted off the ground. Pauly’s biceps bulged. He got Hadrian up to his chest. Hadrian remained unresisting. With one last gargantuan effort, Pauly heaved Hadrian up above his head. A line of pain seared his side and he almost lost his balance but he managed to steady himself. His two arms were held up in a v shape, his elbows locked, and on them rested Hadrian. Pauly froze.

He twisted his head to look back at his team.

“What now?” he hissed. His team shrugged again.

“Drop him hard?” Sebastian offered.

Pauly went to do just that, moving his arms forwards to chuck Hadrian onto the floor, or maybe out of the ring. The weight above him shifted. Suddenly, his right arm was jerked backwards, while his left side was still pushing forwards. His forward leg twisted, and he fell down hard, a weight on his back driving him down harder. The floor bounced, the unsecured centre of the plywood flexing in and then out, acting like a drum. He tried get back up but the weight on his back was immovable. His right arm was being pulled back painfully, his shoulder felt ready to pop out of the socket. His ribs screamed.

“THERRRRRRRRRRRRREEEE IT IS FOLKS! THE LYNCHPIN AERIAL REVERSAL!!!!!! GIVE HIM A BIG HAND!!!”

Pauly’s shoulder was near dislocated to thunderous applause.

From Sebastian’s viewpoint, the move was a lot clearer. Hadrian had wrapped himself around Pauly’s right arm and fallen backwards. The weight shift had sent Pauly over, unable to break his fall. Then he’d pulled the right arm into a painful lock. It sounded almost bland when simplified and described, but the move had been poetry. The gravity-defying twist to shift the balance. The graceful descent. The forceful lock. The fluency between actions. The sensual flexing of his perfect body in action. There’d been an undercurrent to the action, however. Hadrian had stopped playing around, and gone for the kill. He was controlling the progression of the matches. Drawing them out was going to be even more difficult than Sebastian had initially anticipated.

“I give, I give!” Pauly screamed.

“Tap the floor, hard.” Hadrian ordered, in a near whisper. With his blown eardrum, Pauly almost didn’t hear it, but fortunately for his shoulder he did. He slammed the ring floor with two more dramatic and resounding thumps. The pressure came off his shoulder, to his immense relief. The cowbell rang once again. Hadrian got up and started riling up the crowd again. Pauly just dragged himself off the ring, collapsing at his group’s feet.

“You did well!” Sebastian said, having to shout over the megaphone that was blaring out the victory announcement.

“I did jack shit,” Pauly puffed. “He was just playing around.”

Jax was shaking his limbs in warm up. “I’m fucked, guys. I can’t fight fair.”

Sebastian nudged Amy. She glared at him. “What?” she hissed, the words acid.

“What happens if one of us cheats? Goes for a low blow?”

“You’re shot dead where you stand.”

Sebastian turned back to Jax. “I think you’d better fight fair,” he observed wryly.

“Fuck, man,” Jax said, before using the elasticity of the cables to jump into the ring. “I fucking hate getting the shit kicked out of me. It’s never fun.”

Hadrian was circling back round the ring, still hyping the crowd up. He spun on nimble feet and raised his guard. Jax half-heartedly did the same.

“ROUND TWO!!! SHIVA VERSUS RATMAAAAANNN!” the megaphone man rumbled. The cowbell was rung again and Hadrian darted forwards.

Regardless of what Jax had said, he was actually a decent fighter. His punches had good form, and he was fast, far faster than Pauly. The problem was that where Jax was good, Hadrian was better. Jax hopped around, and then went in for a left hook. Hadrian dodged, landed a stunning uppercut, ducked under a reflexive straight, and then gave a body shot that lifted Jax full off the ground. Jax manoeuvred back, trying to find space, but Hadrian kept the gap closed. Jax tried drive him back with a quick succession of jabs, but Hadrian batted them aside. He double faked his approach, and then gave a direct punch to the face. It was like getting hit head on by a steam locomotive. Jax reeled back, dropping his guard, and Hadrian fell back.

Sebastian watched with growing suspicion. Twice now Hadrian had given openings. He was either confident or stupid. Or the fight was about the entertainment, not the victory. As the fight continued, this third possibility was growing ever more likely. Sebastian didn’t let it bother him. The reason for the openings didn’t matter, and his turn was soon approaching by the look of things. He checked on Tanaka, to see if the comprehensive pounding was fazing him, but he was still unworried.

Jax waited for his vision to stop blurring from tears before moving away from the ropes. He was moving sluggishly now, and his head felt both oddly clear and foggy at the same time. He took a step in and sidestepped, just in time to dodge a punch that hummed as it passed. He stepped back again. Hadrian didn’t approach at first but when Jax continued to hang back he moved in. Jax leapt back, felt the cable dig into his back and dived and rolled just in time to escape a colossal onslaught. The crowd began to boo this cowardice. Jax ignored it as he backed up in the ring, his face still stinging. Hadrian was ignoring him for now, instead addressing the crowd again. A chant got started somewhere in the back eastern row, and spread.

KILL. KILL. KILL. KILL. KILL. KILL. KILL. KILL.

Hadrian wiped his nose with his thumb and dropped back into his guard. Jax body tensed up, ready to leap away.  Hadrian came in to the left and Jax spun out right. There was a dense thump and his thigh felt like it’d just run into a log. Jax went down. Hadrian had faked him out with punches and then delivered a low kick that had numbed his leg and thrown him down. Fucker! Jax tried to get up but Hadrian strolled over and gripped him by the armpit and side. In an imitation of Pauly’s move that mocked it by being superior to it in every way, Hadrian heaved the thrashing, cursing Jax into the air, held him there for dramatic effect, and then slammed him onto the plywood.

Jax’s back took most of the force, but his head still whipped back and hit the floor hard. At that point Jax had had enough. He was looking up at Hadrian, who stood wide legged and confident. His eyes alighted on Hadrian’s unprotected crotch, and his booted feet which were lying beneath it. He rose halfway, seeing blood.

Sebastian saw the change in Jax’s eyes, and he saw the obvious target of Jax’s rage. He hammered on the floor desperately. Jax and Hadrian both froze and stared. Sebastian waved his arms parallel to the ground. He remembered seeing it down by referee’s in some sports, and he figured it looked legitimate.

“Forfeit,” he said. “We give up this round.”

The cowbell man looked at Hadrian, who shrugged. The cowbell was rung. The crowd burst out into even bigger boos. The megaphone man started announcing the result and attempted to console them.

Jax got up, furious, and stormed over to his corner.

“I wasn’t fucking done,” he said.

“You were about to go for his balls,” Sebastian said. “You were going to be shot dead.”

“Whatever,” Jax said, although he knew Sebastian was right.

“Wait,” Sebastian said, the ghost of a smile on his face. “Don’t tell me you were thinking: ‘If I hurt him bad enough then my team can win the next round and live, even if I die’.” Sebastian said, in a modestly good affectation of a Boer accent. His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “Jax, are you… Tsundere?”

Jax’s face relit with new rage. “No, I’m fucking Yandere because I’ll kill you shits!”

“How do you know that term?” Sebastian asked. “Could you be an ‘anime watching freak’, to quote yourself?”

Jax face transitioned from angry flush to blush. “So what if I do?”

Sebastian and Tanaka burst out laughing.

“Wha-what do you watch?” Sebastian managed between giggles.

Jax blushed even deeper. “Moe Moe Bubble Girls,” he admitted.

Tanaka’s and Sebastian’s laughter graduated into body convulsing guffaws. The image of a neo-nazi watching moe girls was too bizarre and hilarious. Jax stood at the corner of the ring impotently, his fists clenched. Sebastian recovered himself and jumped up into the ring. He patted Jax on the shoulder.

“I needed that, mate,” he said, and Jax softened a little.

Jax dropped down, leaving Sebastian alone with Hadrian in the ring.

Sebastian raised his fists. There was just one objective in his mind. After seeing Hadrian’s display, it wasn’t winning. He needed to make Tanaka take the fight seriously, one way or another.

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Desert Steel Chapter 11

-Quarrels

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“You fucking idiot!”

Sebastian kicked at Tanaka’s legs to emphasise his point. Tanaka remained infuriatingly calm. His only reaction was to lift his shins up to block the blows. They weren’t very hard. They were meant to show seriousness, not to harm.

“What the hell were you thinking?!” Sebastian asked, his leg scything low.

“I am going to be a hero,” Tanaka said calmly. “A hero wouldn’t back down from a challenge. A hero wouldn’t sneak.”

“This is real life! Not one of your stupid fucking anime! People who do that in real life die!”

Tanaka stuck his chin out stubbornly. “I am Raijin. I will be a hero.”

“You’ll kamikaze and become a corpse!”

Tanaka’s eyes flashed victoriously. “But I’ll die a hero.”

“You’ll die an idiot!”

The guard got up off the sofa and banged the butt of her rifle against the bars.

“Hey! Break it up, and shut it up!” Her voice confirmed that she was female.

Sebastian ignored her. “Trying to shoot thirteen armed people with a six shooter isn’t heroic, it’s stupid!”

The guard’s mouth dropped open. “You were actually going to try that? Are you insane?” she asked incredulously.

Suddenly, Jax, who had been sitting sullenly in the corner unnoticed, lunged for her gun, reaching through the bars. She twisted just in time and stepped back. She neatly jabbed him in the face with the gun stock. Jax reeled back, clutching his eye socket.

“You fucking bitch!”

The woman, with surprising levity, stuck her tongue out at him. She sat back down at the sofa, well out of reach.

Jax sat down, still holding his brow. “Fuck!”

“Nice try though,” Pauly said. He’d meant to sound encouraging and kind, but it came across as sarcastic. Sebastian laughed, his anger cooling, and Jax glared at Pauly with his one good eye. Pauly cringed. He expected another one of Jax’s outbursts, but Jax’s rage swerved and directed itself at Tanaka.

“This is your fault, you animes watching freak!”

“I don’t watch anime,” Tanaka said.

“Not the point, you useless chink. You’ve fucked us over and now we’re caught. Fuck!”

“We’ll be fine, don’t worry,” Tanaka said. “But I don’t watch anime. I was a delinquent, not a child.”

“Whatever, man. You’re a retard, not a loser that watches Chinese cartoons. Hurray.”

Sebastian joined back into the conversation. “How can you guarantee we’ll be fine. This is real life, you dick. There’s no plot armour to save us. The hero doesn’t always win. The hero doesn’t always live. Get that through your head.”

Tanaka sat down on his bunk. “I’m bored with this conversation.” He laid back and pulled his hat over his face. Jax and Sebastian stared in disbelief. Within minutes, light snores started emanating from the hat.

“Motherfucker,” Jax breathed.

It was past midnight by Sebastian’s mind clock when the outer door swung open and a small contingent marched in. Three men and one woman armed with the same bolt action rifles entered first, and lined up either side of the path to the cell’s door. The woman on the couch got up to, but not hurriedly, and she didn’t stand at attention. Sebastian noted this to suggest the group had a respected leader, but not a feared or strict one. A man entered unarmed, and Sebastian assumed he must be the leader.

He was probably just under six feet tall, and he carried himself with self-assured confidence. His blonde hair, presumably bleached judging from his dark eyebrows, was short and gelled into a sea of spikes. His ears, like Tanaka’s, were pierced, but his were wooden gauges that had expanded large holes in his ear lobes. He had a pair of old-timey goggles on his forehead and a large necklace that looped down over his chest. Bright red spheres, made of wood and the size of a fist, decorated the necklace in an unbroken chain.  He wore a v-neck that plunged below his sternum, and puffy shorts. What stood out most, however, was his body itself. He had the body of a Greek god, except with bigger lats. What struck Sebastian wasn’t how strong or muscular he looked, but how aesthetically perfect his body was. Whereas Pauly’s pectorals look over-inflated and odd, his were slabs of granite. The way his thighs curved into the knees was a thing of art. His body was the outcome if Michelangelo’s David and Arnold Schwarzenegger had a love child. It was the golden ratio personified.

“Any trouble?” he asked.

Their guard nodded. “That one tried grab my gun,” she said, pointing at Jax.

The man walked right up to the bars. “Tsk, tsk. What would you even hope to do with it, locked in there? Take a hostage?”

Jax snarled back. The man took no notice. “Now if you had, I can assure you we would have only gone to every length to kill you all. Do you understand? Down that path lies only oblivion.”

“My grandfather was Scottish,” Jax said.

The man tried raise one eyebrow, and failed. It wriggled like a caterpillar on his face, and then both raised upwards into an arrogant leer. Such imperfection on his face, when contrasted to his perfect body, was jarring. “So?”

“So,” Jax said, and in one smooth motion he’d pulled a knife from his sock and grabbed the man by the neck. He wasn’t as fast as Tanaka, however, and the man had plenty of time to react. He grabbed Jax’s knife hand and back flipped, in a move so effortless and graceful that it seemed to defy gravity. Jax’s arm was twisted painfully and he dropped the knife, screaming. The man adjusted his necklace and picked up the knife. It was, Sebastian saw, a sgian-dubh, a knife traditionally worn in a highlander’s sock. The man passed the knife to the guard, who put it in her belt.

“Give me back my grandfather’s knife, you whore!” Jax screamed, now clutching his arm, with his brow still swollen up from his last injury.

“You’ve lost the right to have that knife,” The man said calmly. “But you can regain it, and everything else: your guns, your freedom.”

“How?” Sebastian asked bluntly. He had no patience for bullshit anymore.

The man smiled. “Simple. The four of you have to fight me, one at a time, fairly. You win, you go free.”

“And if we lose?”

“You die.”

Those words sucked whatever good feeling was left out of the room. Tanaka, Jax and Pauly were stunned speechless. Only Sebastian kept thinking, trying to work out all the details.

“Do each of us have to beat you?”

“No. Just one of you wins, and then you all go free.”

“What are the rules?”

“Keep the fight within the ring. No weapons. No hits to the groin. No eye gouging. Locks, grappling and throwing are all allowed, as are punches and kicks. Only one opponent in the ring at a time.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow morning. Agreed?”

Sebastian stared the man down with his lifeless battleship grey eyes, or at least tried to. The man’s eyes were shielded by self-assurance. “What if we don’t?”

“You die now.”

“Agreed, then.”

The man smiled again. “Great! My name is Hadrian. Prepare to put on a show.”

“Fuck you.”

If this bothered Hadrian, he didn’t let it show. He just left, taking his four person honour guard with him. The guard stuck her tongue out at Jax again, and sat back down on the sofa.

Tanaka leaned back contentedly while sitting on his bed, a smug smile on his face. “You see? Did I not say we’d be fine?”

Jax, still rubbing his slowly recovering arm, was incensed. “Fine?! Didn’t you see the fucker twist my arm like it was nothing?! With a fucking back flip! I can fight dirty, but I’m shit at fighting fair.”

Pauly agreed. “I don’t even know how to fight… I uh, never really had it come to that. Also, he was built like a bear on steroids.” He looked pale, and he was breathing unevenly.

Sebastian nodded, his face unreadable as always. “I’ve only ever gotten lucky in a struggle, and luck doesn’t work on those kinds of backflips.”

Tanaka rolled his eyes. “Didn’t you hear? Only one of us has to win. I was the King of Tokyo back in high school. I was the Lightning God Delinquent, undefeated for three straight years. I can go first, defeat him, and we can all go free.”

Sebastian kicked him in the stomach, not hard but enough to show his anger. “What if you lose, then? What if he’s better than you? We all die? This isn’t a fucking game. It’s real life.”

Tanaka shrugged. “I won’t.”

“You can’t know that for sure.” Sebastian took his foot off Tanaka’s stomach, and strode over to his bunk. “We need to increase our odds. Tanaka, if you’re our best fighter, then you’ll go last. The rest of us, try to win, but if we can’t do that then hang on as long as possible. We need him tired out.”

Tanaka scowled. “That’s not honourable, nor heroic.”

“You don’t get a choice in this decision. Our lives are at stake too. You’ll fight him last, and you’ll fight him with everything you’ve got. You’ll take this seriously. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Tanaka said, but Sebastian saw nothing but defiance and stubbornness in his dark eyes. He closed his own eyes and cursed softly under his breath.

“Pauly, you’ll go first. Jax, second. I’ll go right before Tanaka…” He glared at the Japanese teen who was now absentmindedly relaxing on his bunk. “…And let’s just hope to god or anyone else who’ll listen that he’ll take this seriously.” Sebastian knew the guard could hear everything, but he didn’t care. Their strategy was uncomplicated, and obvious. If they were good enough, it was also unbeatable. If they weren’t, the Greek god of backflips would defeat them.

Sebastian sat down heavily on his bunk, causing a layer of sand that had inevitably formed on the bed to bounce up. “Credit where it’s due, though, that was a good idea with the knife, just bad execution,” he said to Jax.

Jax tried find sarcasm in Sebastian’s words, but where Pauly’s words had been distorted by his efforts to show kindness, Sebastian’s were delivered in the toneless drone he always spoke in. It was devoid of emotion. There was nothing but unbending literalness in that voice.

“Thanks,” Jax said. “Thank my grandpa. He died when I was thirteen, but he was the best of the cesspit of genes they called my family.” As an afterthought, he added, “I hope I get it back.”

“What reason do you think they even bother with this whole charade of a fight. I mean, they ambushed us, captured us, and now want to fight us,” Sebastian wondered aloud.

Jax banged on the bars and pointed to his new lady friend. “Why don’t you tell us, you sadistic bitch?”

The guard scowled at him and looked around. She saw a heavy glass ashtray on the floor by the sofa, a luxury good that was strange to see this far out. She chucked it at his head. It hit the bar instead, bouncing off and ricocheting into the desk. It took a chunk out of the wood. Jax flinched back, and then skulked off to the far corner.

“Entertainment?” Pauly suggested, with some apprehension. He was still getting used to putting forward ideas and putting himself out. Back in New York he’d been too afraid of the social repercussions to put out his own ideas. In Terra Deserta where a missed idea could mean death, he was forced to do so. Every time he did, he felt the same uneasiness as he shed the ghosts of his past. “He said: ‘Put on a good show’, didn’t he?”

“‘ Prepare to put on a show’, but yeah,” Sebastian said, quoting the exact words. “But entertain who? Themselves?”

“Why not?” Jax asked. “You keep looking for rational answers here, Sebby.” Sebastian hated being called ‘Sebby’, and Jax knew it. “It’ll be your undoing. What you need to realise is that here on Terra Deserta, a lot of people are just stark raving mad.”

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