Tag Archives: Hovetown Left

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 10

-Blunderer

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Three days and two nights of walking and resting lead the quartet over one final dune, revealing a medium sized oasis town known as Hovetown Left.

Jax pushed the brim of his hat back to give himself a better view. He wiped the sweat from his brow.

“Well fuck me sideways,” he exclaimed,” you can navigate. We’re not gonna die.”

Sebastian only gave a grunt at this jab, and surveyed the town.

The town had the designator ‘left’ because it was the left town heading South from Sixty Clicks. The meaning of Hovetown was unknown to all but its founder. He couldn’t be asked because he was knifed to death in its only brothel a month after its inauguration. Where Sixty Clicks had grown fat on the trade and travellers its position supplied, Hovetown Left had only grown pleasingly plump. Its sibling rivalry with Hovetown Right meant the trade carrying through into the outer settlements was split in half. Its further out location meant it hadn’t benefitted from Sixty Clicks’ ‘PC tourists’. PC tourists were visitors from Portal City who travelled out to towns just clear of Portal City’s influence, enjoyed the true poverty and deprivation, then returned to Portal City where the Portals meant a steady train of Earth goods and technologies, not to mention wifi connections.

As a reflection of its economic standing, the main drag of Hovetown Left was narrower, and didn’t line up perfectly with the straight line of the Sixty Clicks approach. Any traveller at this point would need to at least be able to orientate without relying on a road. The buildings were squatter, most not two stories. The verandas lining the shops and houses were smaller too, not having to accommodate as many pedestrians. In Terra Deserta, where all materials were expensive, construction was generally kept to a bare minimum. The oasis was off to one side, couched by a titanic dune, and walled up by a defensive cluster of housing on the other. The wet ground offered around the oasis had no buildings. The land was too precious for that, crops took up every usable inch. All in all, a pleasant town. It had what Sebastian thought was the right balance between wealth and isolation, and with the cherry on top of a natural oasis.

Something seemed off, however. Sebastian’s instincts were tingling with anticipatory fear. The wind was getting stronger, and the orange tinged sand was being kicked up. It hung in the air like a visual representation of malaise. This leant the view of town a sepia tone that was reminiscent of old photographs. It wasn’t truly obscuring, however, and Sebastian could clearly see the street and houses. Finally, his conscious mind fell in line with his subconscious and he realised that the town was empty. Even excluding travellers, locals should have been visible walking, playing or farming. Hovetown Left was a ghost town.

“I don’t like the look of this town,” Sebastian said.

“W-why?” Pauly said, nerves jangling.

Sebastian pointed, his index finger tracing the path of the main strip. “No people about. I think we should recon. Tana-”

The words died in his mouth. Tanaka was no longer on the top of the dune with them. He was instead bowling down the side, kicking up a trail of dust.

“Fucker!” Sebastian shouted, frustrated and surprised. “Jax, Pauly, move down the backs of the buildings, I’ll try catch Tanaka.”

Half of this was hard to hear as he was already rushing down the dune, eating a fair portion of Tanaka’s kicked up dust. Spitting out a gritty paste of dehydrated saliva and sand, he didn’t have time to see if his order had been followed. He was livid, in the oddly calm way he had. Where others’ rage may have been akin to violently boiling water, his was like a placid lake of magma. Tanaka might have had faster hands, but he had shorter strides and Sebastian was closing the gap fast.

“Tanaka!” Sebastian called, trying to avoid being too loud.

Tanaka ignored him, and halted a bit of the way into the main drag. He threw back his head and bellowed, “Is there anyone in need of aid!? I am here to help!”

Sebastian ground to a stop just at the mouth of the town. “Tanaka you dumbass!  Don’t go yelling in a potentially hostile environment?”

“It’s fine, I can handle any problems,” Tanaka replied. He cupped his mouth. “I am Tanaka Daisuke! I will be a hero one day! Believe it! I am here to help!”

His voice echoed around the town. There was no reply.  Sebastian strode up to meet him.

“We’re getting out of here,” he said. His tone did not leave room for argument.

“Hold it.” The calm voice carried in the oddly still town. “Hands up.”

Sebastian did as the voice said. His eyes bounced around like the balls in a pinball machine, searching for the source of the voice. What he saw was even more disheartening. He counted six figures lying prone along the rooftops on the left, armed with rifles, and seven on the right doing the same.

Tanaka threw his cloak back, clearing the path of his hands to his revolver.

“Thirteen people,” Sebastian hissed, “It’s a no go.”

Tanaka winked, and wriggled his fingers.

“You can’t pull it off. The range is too far, the distance between targets too great, and your gun only carries six bullets.”

“Don’t you think I know that!” Tanaka shouted, “but when it’s a challenge like this I can’t back down. It’s got my blood boiled up! A true hero never backs down!”

Sebastian punched him, hard, in the cheekbone. Tanaka went down, startled and hurt. Sebastian wound back for a kick, one of the armed men on the roof crying protest, but it was a feint, his feet stomping onto the ground and becoming a launching pad for a lunge to safety. A rifle shot rang out but missed, kicking up the sand at his feet. If it had been Sixty Clicks, with its wider road, Sebastian would have been a goner, but he successfully reached a pile of barrels by a support pole of one of the verandas. Another shot from across the street splintered one of the barrels but Sebastian was miraculously unharmed apart from some superficial scratches.

He was breathing heavily now, those moist lusty breaths he got when things got dangerous. One of the ambushers on the near roof got onto the veranda and tried to peek over the edge, but Sebastian was ready and a shot sent them scuttling back. Sebastian decided things were getting too hot on the street, but he didn’t want to risk another run in the open so he hunkered down as more shots slammed into his rudimentary cover.

His needed distraction came in two ways. Jax and Pauly, hearing the shots, had emerged from a gap between two buildings down the way, opening fire on the far side of the road, and Tanaka had recovered and was emptying his gun at the roof just above Sebastian. All these shots were meaningless in terms of lethality, the distance making them harmless, but the flashes, the bangs and the smoke were about as good as a distraction could get.

Sebastian took the chance and burst through the shop door, knocking off the cheap lock. He came up to a stumbling halt just short of sending a small child tumbling. The child was staring with opened-eyed fascination, while his mother pulled him close to her, shivering with fear. Sebastian scanned the room quickly. There were several adults, some with young children, but no visible threats. He relaxed a little and drew his gun. All the adults recoiled. All the children gaped.

“Move to another room,” he said, his voice hoarse. The adults obeyed, herding the children, some of whom resisted, into a backroom behind the stores counter. Sebastian moved clear of the windows, and began searching for a way onto the roof, but he could find none. Shots and shouts carried in through the open door, but he couldn’t tell what was happening.

He found a back door, and poked his head out. It looked clear, which was as good as he was going to get, so he exited. The back of the building offered a lot of potential for climbing, with thick slatted boards and crates and rubbish piled up beside it, but the climb would be slow, noisy and exposed.

Sebastian started moving along, deeper into town, until he reached a building he deemed far enough clear of the ambush point. He climbed up this one, getting splinters from the worn, low-quality wood in his fingers. He dragged himself onto the roof on his stomach, and lay flat for a moment, waiting for someone to spot him, but no one did. He got up to a crouch, and surveyed the situation from this better vantage point. He could run along the rooftops now to the ambushers, but it was essentially open ground to close and he’d probably get shot dead. Probably. Sebastian considered the option for a while longer, and then discarded it.

“Starboy! We got the others! If you don’t turn yourself in within the next thirty seconds we kill one of them! Then, you have another thirty seconds, or we kill another!”

It may have been the same voice as before, it may have been another. It didn’t matter. Sebastian peeked over the roof’s edge just to see if it was a bluff, but Jax, Pauly and Tanaka were all lined up with rifles to their heads. This didn’t surprise Sebastian much. Tanaka had used up all his bullets and would have been left standing in the open like a berk. Jax and Pauly clearly hadn’t realised that there were ambushers on their side of the road, leaving them open from above.

Sebastian breathed out one hot, angry breath, the only visible sign of frustration, before standing up and climbing down onto the veranda then dropping onto the street. He raised his hands and walked slowly and reluctantly over to the rest of his group. There were five attackers holding them at gunpoint, all disparate in dress. Once he reached them, one of his attackers, a woman if he was judging her feminine face correctly, disarmed him and carried away his revolver and knife. Sebastian took in the faces of his gang. Pauly was scared, no surprises there, and Jax enraged, ditto. But Tanaka was an infuriating calm. Sebastian’s placid lake of magma didn’t begin to boil, but it got a hell of a lot hotter.

All four of them were marched over to a building that must have normally functioned as the town’s jail. It was squat, its walls thicker and better quality than the others. The windows were small and barred. Inside, the room was divided by a bar wall with a hefty lock on its door, a desk and sofa on the near side, and two bunk beds and a porcelain potty on the far side. One after the other they were shoved inside, under watchful eyes and steady guns. The door swung shut with a solid clang. The key turned, the lock falling into place with a heavy thud. One of the captors, the one with the shoulder length auburn hair Sebastian had pegged as a woman, sat down on the sofa, her rifle cradled between her legs. The others left. And that was that.

Sebastian and his group had been captured.

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