The Tournament 03: The Puzzlebymadam_noe©
copyright Nora Quick 2012.
As always, I welcome and comments and all feedback!
Licking his lips Carlos Mencia had to resist the urge to put his hand on his pulsing erection and relieve the aching need there. When he closed his eyes he saw her just as he'd left her, so perfect with her white skin crisscrossed with oozing wounds, her chest open and bones cracked, blood everywhere. It was the blood that gave him strength and he'd spilled it with relish. It was so much better when they were pure an innocent just as the young girl had been, so that he could bathe in her blood and gain his full power.
He just knew he was shining with it now. Huitzilopochtli's gift was sweet, letting him draw power from blood, and with each sacrifice to his god he was showered with favors. This time before he could find release within the dead girl Huitzilopochtli had told him of a boon. Carlos had come this far north in search of the one female champion, the ultimate kill, but another was closer.
It was worth it to travel through the fallout zones. The blood sacrifices kept him healthy and free of radiation poisoning. The same could not be said his kills and he'd taken dozens to pay his fare to the north. Now with one innocent and clean death he was charged with power. The next would make him a demi-god. Killing men wasn't as good, but the thought of this one and the power his death would bring was what made his dick pulse.
Watching him now Carlos couldn't wait to end it quickly. He'd celebrate with the whore Bao-Zhi had plied with drinks. She was no innocent, bearing the full regalia of a woman who made her living sucking cock, but she was clean, free of radiation sickness. She would watch her prospective lover die and then she would die slowly and painfully. Three kills in one day, one of them a champion. His body was so aroused he was afraid he might rush it but once he was in the moment he would make it last.
Now it was time. Bao-Zhi was kneeling between the whore's legs, pleasuring her, distracted. What a waste of money, Carlos thought. Women were there to provide pleasure, not receive it, and in fact their pain heightened the experience. Bao-Zhi's sword was across the little tent-on-a-platform and Carlos couldn't wait any longer. He charged, using his machete to tear a hole in the side. Leaping through it he wasted no time. The champion had to die quickly but the girl could linger.
Bao-Zhi turned at her shriek just in time for his eyes to meet Carlos' as the machete swiped across hi neck. Sharpened meticulously it cut deep and when it passed through the Chinese champion's it left his head barely connected to his body.
As the corpse fell and blood pooled he saw the machete had also slashed open her thigh. Damn it, he'd hit an artery, she'd bleed out in seconds. Quickly he slashed at her breast, blood welling there as her screams weakened. He barely unzipped his pants before tackling her, thrusting in, blood easing the way.
Oh, how he loved to fuck them as they died. As he pumped away into her now lifeless body he imagined her slimmer, paler, with red hair, just as Huitzilopochtli had described the Irish champion.
She was next, and on that thought he came harder than he could remember.
It was a cool summer, but that was expected. The earth was choked by fallout leaving us with two seasons. Dry, cool summer, and long, hard winter. Since I lived out of a tent and rode a motorcycle this chagrinned me more than knowing it meant the earth was dying.
If I cared more about humanity I'd actively fight, as one of now seven champions chosen to fight to the death for the chance to save earth. I'd chosen to train and stay in fighting shape as the champion of the Irish gods, but not to seek out the others. Let them come to me, after three millennia of living I'd had enough death.
The Morrigan's gift to empower me was to reincarnate me over and over, and in each life at the age of thirteen I'd remember all my past lives. She meant it as a gift, but it made me bitter and twisted. I could remember killing with joy, raping with abandon, nurturing children only to watch them die of illness. The older I got in my current life the more only the dark memories stayed with me. For the past three I'd been working to get north and clear of the fallout, eking out a harsh life.
The one that haunted me most was killing Stellan the Norse champion. It had been self-defense, he was trying to impale my head with a crossbow bolt at the time, but for a few months prior we'd been friends. Years before that we'd been lovers. Of all my selves he wasn't the first lover I killed but for some reason I couldn't name his death stuck with me. Perhaps because in my current incarnation as Keelin he was the first person I'd killed.
Like most people I'd been moving slowly north to avoid drifting fallout, chasing the myth of a purely clean town of permanent buildings with clean water and plenty of fish and livestock. Since the great wars had reduced humanity back to verging on hunter-gatherer status knowledge was the greatest loss. As a walking repository of it if I told anyone the town they were looking for was nothing more than a Brigadoon they'd brand me insane and kill me or drive me out. It'd happened more times than I could count when I slipped into speech patterns or stories from past lives.
I was now thirty, pretty old for the modern age. I could remember lifetimes were that was ancient and lifetimes when it was young. Now it was just a feat of survival in an increasingly barren world.
Unlike the other champions I was alone. Each had a god or goddess of war to guide them and train them. Mine, the Morrigan, had shown up late in life and we'd had just minutes before the other gods recalled her for violating the rules of the tournament and saving me from swift death at the hands of the Chinese champion. Neit, her male counterpart, allegedly was out there but hiding from me, and that's how I'd found Stellan, looking for an explanation.
A few thousand years ago, give or take, a bunch of pantheons of gods had fought for eight spots. At the twilight of humanity, aka the modern times, we'd fight to the death, and the winner would open a gate between our world and theirs. The pantheon that won would reshape the world as they saw fit.
Some, like mine, wanted to save humanity and the world, to gain followers and power. Some, like the Aztecs, wanted to do the same but only to gain blood sacrifices and increase their former power. I got the gist of it, good and evil, but somehow I couldn't bring myself to care. I'd seen enough sides of humanity to think that the end of it might not be such a bad thing.
"Here's an extra piece. You were worth it."
The young man whose name I'd already forgotten laid three pieces of gold on the dresser. He bent to kiss me as he fastened his pants and then left. Like most travelers when I needed money and there was no manual labor available, I traded in my body. I felt no shame, but often times it was so boring that even when some stranger was thrusting in my body and I was faking pleasure, these were the thoughts running through my head.
It'd been a good night. I'd made enough now to pay for my food, drink, and the room, ad I'd have five pieces of gold left over. I needed food staples and gas for my bike and I'd be set to camp for another two weeks before seeking work again. Or perhaps I should stay and earn more. Summer meant saving up for winter so there would be more nights indoors, and one winter where I could rent a room without having to fuck a stranger or two to pay for it would be nice.
With that conundrum I locked the door ad laid back on the bed, prepared to sleep. It'd been almost six months since Stellan's death and no champion had found me. I kept moving, never more than a night in once place, and I was safe. It was something, at least. With that though I blew out the oil lamp and fell asleep quickly.
The dreams of a reincarnate are hard to explain. Elements from all my lives were present. I could be a young man in an instant and an old woman the next. It made perfect sense to be on an airplane in one second, on a shuttle to the old lunar colony the next, and then riding a horse through a field.
What I liked best was dreaming of how the world was before the wars, when the sky was blue and the sun shone through brightly. When there was vegetation and animals everywhere and you could buy all your food at giant stores with everything. A time when you didn't have to fear radiation sickness.
I was cleaning out stables, heaving hay with the strong back muscles of the stable boy I'd once been, happy just to be in the sunshine. Suddenly the sun was blotted out but it was no cloud. It was a giant raven and as I stared at it the head turned to me with familiar blue eyes. "Right! Right!" it squawked .
I awoke bleary but my body followed the direction and I rolled right. Just as I did something moved and the bed shook. I tumbled out to see a dark shape holding something like a sword, now embedded in the bed.
"It's better to see the fear in your eyes," an accented, deep voice said, sending chills up my spine.
From the accent and my memories I pinpointed it to the southlands, once known as Mexico, which meant this was Carlos, the Aztec champion. If half the things Stellan had said about him were true it would explain the revulsion creeping along my skin in shivers.
"Not here," I said quickly, thinking. The deal in most of these roadhouses was I left my bags with the barkeep, collecting them in the morning when I turned in my earnings. I had no suitable weapon here. "If we fight the others will stop the victor from leaving. Let us fight where it's quiet."
The dark shape stopped, the strange sword free of the mattress. He was considering.
"By the rules I am allowed my weapon as you have yours, and mine is downstairs."
He licked his lips, I saw now that I had adjusted to the dark. "A real fight would be most...interesting." His tone was patronizing, telling me he was a deep misogynist. Charming, I thought, as I slowly stood.
His hand stroked down the front of his body to lewdly massage an area that pissed me off. In my lifetimes I hadn't always been the villain, sometimes I'd been the victim. I didn't react like someone unfamiliar with violation. It held n fear for me, just a mindless rage combined with an instinct to live.
"Let me grab my bags, get my sword, and we face each other on an open field of combat far from any interference."
His only reply was to open the door and let the early morning light of the roadhouse spill in. Illuminated now he looked very plain and unassuming, if more darkly tanned than I was used to seeing in the segregated, xenophobic world after the wars. Funny how serial killers always looked like the lame kid picked on in school all grown up and barely changed.
"Come," he said in that surprisingly deep voice, and again I shivered.
His dark eyes roamed over my naked body with dark lust and I fought the urge to cover myself with my hands, instead jerking on my clothes while he watched, unmoving from the door. I took the three gold pieces from the dresser and the bag of the rest of the night's take and stalked past him.
I didn't trust him at my back and made him go first after seeing it was a machete he wielded. It disappeared beneath his rough leather coat as he descended the stairs to the main room. I was getting sick of being surprised at roadhouses. I might want to rethink my travel habits but this was where the humans, food, gold, and goods were.
There was a new bartender on for the day shift and I told him my room number and gave him four gold pieces. He gave me back my bags and coat which I put on and followed Carlos outside.
Like most roadhouses it was designed to see to the needs of travelers like me. Ramshackle buildings grouped together looking like a mining town from centuries ago. This one had stood a bit longer than others and children romanced about in the early light before going to whatever makeshift school hid amongst the brothel, bar, and pleasure shops.
It was surrounded by forest and this was where we walked. Once we were far enough out of sight I pulled my sword from my bag. In the two years of training I'd used the boon of gold the Morrigan had given me to buy the sword as well as tent and a few other comforts. I sharpened it every night and practiced with it every morning. Weapons were illegal but seeing as most people were criminals by alleged Union standards they were plentiful, and finding sparring partners was never a challenge.
Still none had the palpable feeling of malice that rolled off Carlos. He was a few inches under my own six feet but broad in the shoulder and rippling with muscle. He looked like he'd been lifting weights since childhood without break. I was easily outweighed by eighty pounds, all of it muscle.
He saw me looking when he turned and grinned. "Don't worry puta, it will be all yours soon enough, but you'll be in too much agony to appreciate it."
"Like that's supposed to scare me," I replied confidently. My mouth spoke the words but it was Raymond talking. I'd been Raymond once upon a time, a professional boxer back when the sport was a big deal and televised, something that meant nothing in a world where television hadn't existed in over a century. He was smart-ass and knew the value of a bluff, because, truth be told, it scared the shit out of me.
"No, but this is," he sneered and dove towards me.
I didn't have enough time for a proper guard but managed to deflect the blow, though it sang up my arm. Holy hell he's strong I thought and I danced away, looking for distance. We did the dance several times over, he'd hack at me, I'd barely defect the blow, and my arm was weakening.
I was just as good with my left as my right and could switch if he'd give me a break, but he didn't seem to tire. For all the times I had courted death and dreamt about it, something in the fight made me want to live. Maybe it was that he was nothing more than a butcher and his gods were similar, or maybe it was just that I refused to die simply because I was tired, cranky, and had to piss badly, but whatever it was, I found myself move to attack.
It left me open and to twist away from his machete shortened my strike and I missed. It changed the rhythm enough I switched hands and he frowned and I smiled with a s much malice as a bedraggled redhead could muster. I held the slight edge for a moment but then he was back and his strength seemed doubled. The bastard had been holding back.
Though it shamed every warrior in the chorus of my head, I began to look for a lag that would give me the chance to run. He might be stronger, but I was fast and had longer legs, damn it. It was becoming clear I couldn't win this fight.
Chillingly he laughed and I worried he knew what I was planning, but then it came. He was toying with me and after a damn close swipe he tossed the machete to his other hand. I bolted and sprinted, knowing my life depended on it. I could formulate a plan later, for the moment I just pumped my legs as fast as possible trying to gain ground between us.
I ran for what felt like a mile and suddenly his footfalls stopped. I turned and there was another man there, he'd appeared as it by magic in the clearing. We' hit what had once been a road, complete with rusting street lamps from when municipalities had provided electricity for whole grids. There was still concrete, cracked and merely dust in certain places with age.
Metal...the fighter had a sword, a long thin blade with a slight suggestion of curve and he moved as fast as lightning. Tall and slim he still wore his long coat which billowed in the wind as they moved. He moved like the wind, flowing and bending, forcing the Aztec into a queer dance. This had to be Tanaka, the Japanese champion.
My legs began to shake. Would they fight and the victor would face me? Sure, he'd be tired, but from the looks of both men I still wasn't in their league.
Abandoning dignity I let loose the piss I'd been holding it right then and there. They moved like blurs and I watched, motionless, gripping my sword like a security blanket. In my head my past selves argued. Sure, theoretically I could join in and try to kill them both while they were distracted, or I could let them both skewer me. I wanted to run but I was frozen, my muscles weak and my sides burning from all the exertion.
Their dance was entrancing, and all my selves were fascinated by it. The Aztec had pure, raw fury and strength on his side, and the slimmer man had skill that was dizzying, pure, violent, nearly inhuman poetry.
Why did it have to be swords? Sure, guns were nearly impossible to find, ammunition even harder, but as a lightweight girl competing with the heavies something large caliber and semi-automatic would feel damn good right about then.
Suddenly, with no warning, Tanaka slashed his sword and Carlos' head went flying. I tried to run but something froze my legs in place. I jerked but it was a force like magic. Fear gripped me and I slumped, making the same sound as a cornered animal with no defenses facing a large predator.
Panting and worn, he turned slowly to face me twenty feet away, and my heart leapt into my throat. His eyes on mine he slowly walked nearer, his sword dangling almost limp from his hand, but I knew in an instant it could be up and through my neck. Still, I could not move, only whimper.
As he drew nearer I saw he was truly handsome, the lines of his face strong, the only softness his black hair which was wavy, a few errant curls falling onto his forehead. Some strange light seemed to fill his eyes, and they appeared almost golden, not the dark brown I'd been expecting.
When he was eight feet away he stopped, his flicking to my damp pants. Great, I thought with bitter sarcasm, I'd die fully humiliated.
"Tanaka Itou," he said in a pleasant, almost friendly tone and bowed slightly.
"Uh-" And that was all I could manage.
"Keelin of Thorpe," he said and actually smiled.
Had he been a customer of mine the night before or a fellow traveler I would have been dazzled by his smile, brilliant with even white teeth, surprising in a world without dentistry as anything more than hacks pulling teeth with pliers.
"Will we fight now?" I asked after silence stretched between us and I finally found my voice.
With flourish he twisted the sword, raised it, flipped it, and stuck it down his back, presumably into a sheath. "Not today."
He laughed at the puzzlement I knew shone through in my expression. "Why?" Shut up! the chorus in my head yelled.
"There is no honor in it. You have had no training. Someday, if...our gods will it, when you are ready, we will fight then."
I started to ask if his honor extended to aid, and I remembered the last time that had happened, and I'd had to kill a friend. So I shut my mouth and he smiled again, turned, and walked into the trees.
I stood there on the abandoned road for the better part of an hour, gripping my sword, smelling my stinking pants, and staring at the dead Aztec champion. I was ripe for the picking and yet he'd left me. Stellan, a man I counted as a friend, had bided his time until he thought he knew all my strengths and weaknesses, and then struck. This was so much simpler, yet Tanaka had walked away.
I'm not sure when I could move my legs, but when I tried after the sounds of the forest returned, they worked. On shaky legs I walked to the Aztec's body and stared at his corpse, wondering how many people he'd killed. At east there would be no more.
I left the scene after pulling gold and a watch from Carlos, unashamed to scavenge another's kill, and then washed up in a stream, scrubbing my pants, my only pair. I let them dry in the weak sun and waited but Tanaka never came back.