Rated M for violence, foul language, blood, death and sexual themes.
The crowd gathered in the arena was large tonight; the main event fighters were two of the best that Asterheim had to offer. The Iron Puppeteer was said to arrive and go up against Neil 'The Bloody Angel' for a rematch. Everyone in the sidelines was ready for the main fight, and as the other competitors knocked each other around, the enthusiasm only grew for what they knew was to come.
A swift kick to the gut sent the big man to his knees. Blood spewed across the floor and over his opponent’s trousers. 'Big Gordy' was on his knees, coughing up blood. Gordy's face twisted with agony. The blow snapped a couple ribs in half, parts of which had ripped through the skin on one side. The crowd gasped and grimaced with horror. Blood oozed from his side as sharp, stabbing pain left him spasming on his knees. Some members of the crowd turned away as more blood and stomach contents spilled onto the ground. It took all the strength Gordy could muster not to black out from the pain and blood loss.
It wasn’t hard for Aalis and Zabel to find a place to rest in the empty streets of the Springbury slums. Their journey from Gallimoor had taken a lot out of them, more so Aalis who had gotten sick along the way. Their arrival in Asterheim was a week behind, something that Zabel wasn’t happy with but his twin’s health was more important than making good time. Aalis had all but got the color back in her face, save for a heated blush across her cheeks and minor sunburn.
Zabel stuffed the map into his knapsack and groaned. They were lost in Asterheim, and from the looks of the map, they were good hours’ walk from Haven’s Rest Ministry near Delmore Castle. Aalis didn’t seem to mind in the slightest. Her sights were set on watching the sun set over tattered rooftops. Despite the situation they were in, she still managed to smile.
She sighed happily, “Don’t you just love the city?”
“Love? Love what?” Zabel gestured all around him, “The run-down houses, the poverty, the corruption, the smell of city air?”
Aalis sighed, and shook her head. “You just don’t see it.”
“And you just don’t see at all,” mumbled Zabel.
Aalis picked herself up off the ground and dusted off her cloak. The cobblestones even seemed dirtier here, but Aallis –of course- seemed rather oblivious to that fact. Their squabbling ceased when the sounds of shouting drifted down the street. They exchanged a look, and before Zabel could open his mouth, Aalis had grabbed him by the arm, and was dragging him down the street towards the sound of the commotion.
One of the many abandoned buildings stood out from the others. Most of the windows were blown out or broken, and the front entrance was barred shut. Zabel’s protesting fell on death ears, and before he knew it, Aalis had batted her lashes at one of the men standing guard outside of the back entrance, and was using her brother as a human shield to push past people in the crowd.
The sight that was thrown in front of their eyes was unlike anything they had seen before. Blood soaked the floor, and two fighters were bloody – more so an older gentleman than his opponent that looked close to their age.
Big Gordy struggled to stand up despite his severely weakened state. For a moment, his knees looked ready to buckle, but he staggered forward, wiping blood off his beard. His eyes were bruised and almost swollen shut, but he still had a little fight left in him. He sat some blood on the ground, and feebly licked his lips.
"I ain't ready to go down yet," said Gordy, clenching the crude metal bracers in his hands. Gordy swayed on his feet, barely able to focus on the man in front of him.
Aalis grabbed onto Zabel’s arm for support and shook him. She looked like she was ready to cry. Shaking her head, she whispered, “He’s going to kill him!”
The kid bobbed on his feet enthusiastically, and grinned. "You sure you wanna go down like this, Pops?"
"I ain't goin' down without a fight," he groaned, forcing his hands up into fists.
The man shrugged, mumbling, "Suit yourself," before an upper cut struck Gordy square under his jaw. Gordy's neck snapped back and the impact from the blow made the rest of Gordy's teeth collide loud enough that people in the sidelines could hear. The crowd erupted with cheers and whistles. Gordy was unconscious standing on his feet, but whether the new comer noticed it or not didn't stop him from dishing out a couple punches to each side of Gordy's face, every hit making his neck snap to the side.
Before Gordy's limp body crashed to the ground, the new comer delivered a crushing shin kick to the other side of Gordy's abdomen, sending the older man colliding and skidding across the floor that left a bloody streak behind in his body's wake.
"I hate to see you go out like this, but it's what you wanted."
Aalis’ eyes widened in horror as she stared down at the bruised and bloody body of a man not more than five feet away from her feet. Blood was caked around his mouth and in his beard. The extent of damage on his face was too much for neither Zabel nor Aalis to make out with certainty. As if the damage that was done wasn’t enough, the man’s opponent didn’t seem to be finished with the unconscious man.
Gordy wasn't breathing, but that didn't seem to stop the man from deciding on a finishing blow. Bones in his arm cracked and began to rearrange themselves into a dagger-like shape that caused some audience members to flinch from the sounds. Aalis’ grip on Zabel’s arm was starting to hurt, and he cradled her head against his shoulder.
Blood gushed and filled the air, sending the crowd into an adrenaline filled frenzy before all noise suddenly ceased. Tendrils of blood wrapped around the man's neck, choking and dragging him backwards. The Bloody Angel himself stood behind the man, arm extended, blood dripping from gashes on his palm.
"Sorry kid, but there is no fucking way I'm allowing death in this tournament tonight," said Neil. Jerking his arm back firmly, the man fell to the ground, gasping and sputtering for breath.
As angry spectators began to complain, Neil's blood sliced through layers of skin before recoiling back into his body. The man, severely bleeding from his neck, struggled and squirmed, his already bloody hands grasping at his throat for fear of bleeding to death.
"I'm not one to stop a fight, but there is such a thing as honor - even if no one else understands." Neil looked around the building, eying disgruntled audience. He shrugged and strode across the arena to crouch beside the bleeding man.
"Stop acting like a fucking child!" Neil shouted, "It's just a damn flesh wound."
If all color hadn't been drained from the man's tan face, he could have sworn the guy was actually blushing from embarrassment. Or anger. Either way, Neil had his fun before his upcoming match.
"I fuckin'... hate you."
"And?" Neil grinned, "I could give a rat's ass what you think. Get up and get the hell out of my ring."
The night before
“They’ll be in Linbrook Commons by sunset.”
“Linbrook Commons?” Lieutenant Irving shook his head. It didn’t seem right.
“Is there a problem, Lieutenant?”
“No sir, Captain. Linbrook Commons doesn’t seem accurate. We’ve been tracking them for months. Why would they frequent the same building again?”
Captain Leary shrugged. “It’s a little too late now for second guesses. Linbrook
Commons is the best bet. We don’t have enough men to send in two different directions.”
“How many men are being sent by the Court?”
“At least a dozen.”
“A dozen?” exclaimed Irving, slamming his fists on the table. “How are we supposed to take down the biggest fighting Network in twenty years with only 40 men?”
Leary sighed, and leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up on the table. His head was starting to hurt. “It’s your problem. I’ve been reassigned to take care of matters with guard control at the castle.”
“Guard control? Tomorrow of all nights?”
“I can’t go against direct orders.” Leary straightened up, and met Irving eye to eye,
“You have to get the men into shape and lead them. I have faith in you.”
“Failure isn’t an option, men.”
The sun was beginning to settle in the west horizon as the rest of the men finished preparing their armor for the mission at hand. Platinum armor gleamed from the light of the Sun’s fading rays, leaving Lieutenant Irving with a sense of pride as he stared at the solemn faces of the men under his control. They were well disciplined, strong and courageous. He could see why the Captain held his men in such high esteem. The fact that he was bestowed with the honor of leading the raid into Linbrook Common, all his hard work at gaining the Captain’s praise finally settled in.
“There is no room for mistake. Arrest anyone with affiliations to Dread Network. The fighters we are up against are not formally trained, and are not above using petty tricks and cowardly tactics to elude capture. Because of the importance of this mission, we cannot go about the raid the wrong way. Do you all know your assigned groups?”
“Sir, yes sir!”
Irving peered down at the map held in his hands. Linbrook, once a large, wealthy neighborhood, had fallen into slow ruin five years ago just as many Commons did by the steep increase in taxes posed by the mayor. He trusted the guards that were used to patrolling the streets of Asterheim, but unlike the Captain, he hadn’t put much faith in the Knights that were sent over. Hallowed Knights had too much faith put into them, and no matter what achievements his fellow Guards completed, they were always outshined by their more religious counterparts.
“Trust no one with the Hallowed insignia,” said Irving.
The other three Guards exchanged skeptical looks. A younger Guard with a short sword and long hair spoke up, “Sir, is that order wise?”
Irving shrugged, “The rumors of Hallowed Knights taking part in Dread Network seems like too much of a possibility to ignore.”
“Those rumors were put to rest by the Caesar.”
Irving laughed, and shook his head. “Of course he’d banish the idea. Any blemish on the Hallowed Court’s shield would devastate people’s opinions of them.”
Fully armed Knights and Guards shifted through the streets, the amount of civilians thinning as the Sun set further into the Western horizon and the outside light was growing dimmer. Many families were gathered around their tables, feasting on warm lamb legs or returning from fishing trips. Cats scattered at the sound of approaching footsteps, and as each group made their way through the back alleys and empty streets, the appearance of the buildings and even the cobblestones beneath their boots began to change. Broken shutters and cracked stones lead the way into Linbrook Common. Very few people were seen making their way into their houses and closing their shutters for the night.
The building slowly came into site. From everyone’s positions, the two story building was surrounded. Broken windows allowed the noise to filter through. Voices and odd sounds drifted through the evening air, giving the appearance that the building was occupied. Whether it was occupied by Dread Network fighters was uncertain, and Lieutenant Irving had a bad feeling at the pit of his stomach. Making his way out from his position behind an old food stall, he held his gloved hand in air, waiting before giving the order to charge.
Guards and Knights alike sprang from their hiding places, storming up the stairs of the front and rear entrances, using their shoulders or boots to kick in the doors. It was unorthodox and rather unheard of, but some Guards smashing through the remaining window panes, swords drawn. Whatever was inside the building, Irving was soon to find out.