Chapter 39 – Deathmatch (3)

Heron had watched the fight with a growing confidence in his bet. Though his discussion with lady Mina had caused concern, now that he watched Astoc match up against the small Halifax, there was no doubt in his mind who would win in the end.

He might be fast, but he cannot do any damage, he thought, smiling and stroking his chin. Though he had managed to hit the same spot repeatedly, Heron understood better than anyone how durable Astoc was.

The giant was like a boulder, capable of shaking off any attack, even those leveled at weak points in most fighters.

When Halifax got down on all fours, however, Heron stood up, sensing a change. “What the hells are you doing, Astoc?” He said, gripping the railing in front so hard his knuckles went wide, “Attack him!”

As if he had heard his master’s voice, even through the clamor of the spectators, Astoc roared and leapt forwards, moving like a boulder falling from a mountain; heavy and with unstoppable momentum.

Halifax, on all fours, met the charge with his own, running straight toward the much heavier opponent with a crazed look in his yellow eyes.

“Hit him!” Heron roared, his voice cracking from the desperation in his voice. Astoc reached out, attempting to grab his agile opponent, but Halifax shifted directions. Seeing this, Astoc pivoted and kicked.

Heron watched in horror, as Astoc’s kick missed Halifax by an inch. The little rat bastard even made a show out of avoiding the blow simply by moving his head back, then bared his silvery teeth and lunged.

With his foot in the air, Astoc could not move in time. Halifax did not even bother with blows, but simply crashed his entire body into the man’s knee — the very same he had been assaulting all this time.

With a nasty crack, Heron watched his prize fighter’s knee bend in an entirely unnatural direction. Buckling, Astoc fell onto the ground, roaring with pain. He was a seasoned fighter, though, and managed to grab Halifax by his cowl before he could run away.

Pulling, Astoc drew his opponent closer with one hand, while with the other he reached for Halifax’s throat. An inhuman screech escaped Halifax, as he met his opponents hand with teeth.

Moments later, they both screamed. Blood poured from Astoc’s hand, in which Halifax had planted his silvery teeth. The audience watched in horrified silence, as Astoc let go of the cowl and raised his hand. Before he could hit Halifax, though, the rat released his bite and scampered away.

Once he was far enough away from his opponent, Halifax turned and looked at what he had wrought, smiling while blood seeped out from the corners of his mouth. Fighting the pain, Astoc managed to get up on his one good leg, while raising a hand that looked like it had been through a grinder.

“How can human teeth do that?” Heron said, looking down at the situation below with trepidation.

“I told you,” said lady Mina from behind, “That one is monster, not a human.”

“You knew?” He turned back to look at her, eyes wide with fear.

“I didn’t know he could do that,” she said, waving down toward Astoc’s sorry state, “But I knew he was a monster the moment I met him. This only serves to confirm it.”

Excitement coursed through the crowd, and Heron turned back to the fight, just as Halifax moved again. With alacrity, the little fighter moved in, easily dodging Astoc’s clumsy fist. Grabbing onto Astoc, Halifax climbed the giant, like one would a tree.

Unable to shake him off, Astoc tried to wave his arms and catch hold of the bastard, but his great muscles were now a disadvantage, as they hindered his movements. Halifax got onto his shoulders and slammed Astoc’s ears with his palms.

Momentarily stunned, Astoc lost his hard-won balance, falling onto one knee. Satisfied with his incapacitated opponent, Halifax held onto Astoc’s neck and opened his mouth. Silvery teeth sparkled in the light of the torches, which lit up the arena.

In utter silence, Halifax chomped down on the giant’s throat, and with a twisting movement, ripped it out. A look of disbelief in Astoc’s face was apparent to all the spectators, as he opened his mouth in vain.

Nothing but blood escaped him.

Hands shaking, Heron fell onto his knees. Below, Astoc fell on his face. With a beastly calm, Halifax landed on the ground, beside the fallen giant, and looked around. Blood oozed from his teeth, forming a terrifying smile.

For a brief moment, Heron met the sickly gaze of the terror below, and felt his very soul shake in fear.

Wiping off the blood, Halifax turned to the announcer and said, “Well?”

“T-The rat king wins!” The announcer said, managing to keep his voice somewhat steady. Giving Heron one last, knowing look, Halifax turned and walked out of the ring. Above, Heron could hardly breathe.

He had facilitated fights many times, and most had been bloody. None, however, had been a slaughter. What he had witnessed in that ring made his stomach churn. Turning his head ever so slowly, he looked back at lady Mina and said, “You were right.”

She nodded and stood up. “I’m afraid so, Heron. Shall we go meet our fate?”

——

Above the fighting ring, in the rafters of the ceiling, a man dressed in mismatching colored clothes sat and hummed to himself as the match below drew to a close. Red sleeves clashed against a green breast, blue pant leg against yellow buttocks, together forming a sprawling massacre of fashion.

In one hand, he carried a hollowed out, wooden stick, which at first glance looked unremarkable. A closer inspection, however, would quickly reveal the intricate patterns edged into its surface.

As the fight below reached its bloody climax, the man chuckled with barely contained glee, and clapped his hands at the stylish finish. Just as he looked the most consumed by the spectacle, he jerked his head around to look at another figure, who had joined him in the impractical seating.

“Piper,” the shadow said, voice a low rumble, “Where is your target?”

“Oh stop being so stuck-up,” the piper said, turning his attention back at the scene below, “The target is dead, don’t worry.”

“If the target is dead, why are you still here?”

“Because I am not the one who killed him,” the piper explained, shrugging.

“Even so, you should have returned immediately and be happy you got paid for doing no work,” the shadow, said.

“You wouldn’t be saying that if you knew who killed our escaped slave,” the piper said, cackling at the defiant attitude that the rat was displaying below.

“Who?”

“You’re looking at him,” the piper said, nodding his head to the scene below.

“I’m guessing its the one still standing,” the shadow said, his illusory form billowing as he leaned forward to look down, “I don’t see why you…”

The shadow stopped talking, then looked up at the piper. Even within emptiness, the piper could see the disbelief.

“Are you saying,” said the shadow, very carefully emphasizing each word, “That someone with the bone structure of a five-year-old killed an Inverse poison slave?”

“That’s what I am telling you,” the piper agreed.

“So, the reason you are still here is…?”

“Of course, I’m waiting for the summons.”

The shadow looked contemplative. “You think it will arrive so soon?”

“You think it won’t?” The piper said, laughing, “I’m betting it’ll be here within the week, especially after this little display.”

“I see your point. So, I take it that little monster has gotten your attention?”

“Of course. I’m looking forward to his future.”

The shadow billowed, clearly taking his time thinking it through. “I will return and put in a request to expedite the matter. I, too, am curious. You realize you’re making things more difficult for him, don’t you?”

The piper grinned, and looked down at the place where the little rat had disappeared. There was a mischievous gleam in his eye as he said, “Oh I’m counting on it. The more he hates me, the more fun it’ll be in the end.”