- October 30, 2022
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 33)
“No one who competes should ever admit they’re not in first place.”
Andelyn Stella, 449 A.C.A.
How is he not terrified? Andy asked herself.
She watched the Foster Lao fight through the purple lens she had been given by the challenging Regalic. They were necessary to see into the pitch black chamber that was made to drain out all light.
Foster was surrounded by mirrors in pitch blackness, in an arena with an opponent who could peer into nothing. With her own special lens fastened to her face by goggles, she used the mirrors to watch and stalk Foster as he stumbled blindly through the maze.
Maybe he’s not that calm, Andy reasoned, maybe he’s just barely hanging on. Maybe it’s all in the poker face.
Foster’s assailant made another cut to his arm with her knife, but he was quick to deflect the next one. Not quick enough to cut her down before she disappeared into the maze.
“<How is he doing?>” Malum asked from behind her, speaking in Uzuri with Lord Weisheng out of earshot.
She didn’t turn around, she just handed him her lens. “<See for yourself.>”
Suddenly, she was blind. Without the special lenses, the glass was pitch black. She had thought it was a wall when she first saw it. The lens acted like x-ray vision in practice.
Malum watched for a few seconds, not making a sound. Instead, Andy heard the sound of Foster grimacing, over what she could only imagine was a knife cutting into his flesh.
That the cry of pain sounded like a woman.
Then Malum handed Andy half of the lens, and Andy struggled to watch through one eye. The tides had begun to turn, with the challenger backing away, bleeding from an arm that had almost been cut off.
She stumbled back as Foster listened for her, and slowly moved in her direction. As his head seemed to center on his target, his two swords, Fuchou and Huibao began to glow.
“Roll away,” Malum muttered too himself, and the challenger waited until the last second to do so.
Fuchou and Huibao vibrated and unleashed waves that made all the glass crack, shatter, and then fly through the air. The challenger was struck by glass up her leg, too slow to roll away. Her good hand was caught in the glass that covered the ground. As she stared at her bleeding palm, she must have realized that half of her advantage was gone.
With all the mirrors shattered, she couldn’t find Foster wherever he was, until they were in killing range of each other. They were both cat and mouse now.
As the two began to retreat and hunt each through the maze, Andy asked Malum in Uzuri, “<Did you find your man?>”
“<Yes,>” he said, “<we’re all good now.>”
Andy stopped watching the match as she arched her brow. “<All good? You know how to break him out?>”
“<No need, he’s dead.>”
Andy’s shoulders slumped, and turned to rest a hand on Malum’s arm. “<Mal, I’m… I’m sorry.>”
Then he hit her with the truth. “<Don’t be, I killed him.>”
Andy’s hand pulled away as if he had burned her.
She turned completely toward him, and he tilted his head as her mouth hung open.
“<He revealed our secrets,>” he told her, “<and would have revealed more in the time it would have taken to rescue him.>”
Oh, it was the easy route.
“<You’re a piece of shit,>” Andy hissed at him, turning away as she was overcome with a new migraine. She muttered to herself as she rubbed her ailing temple. “<The worst of all fucking turds, you godamn…>”
Malum leaned in over her shoulder to whisper, “<You wouldn’t say that if you knew who he gave up willingly. He held out for me, but not everyone in our legion.>”
Andy’s hand hovered over her mouth as she glared at him. Her hateful eyes followed his mask until he pulled back away from her, but not far enough.
“<You’re still a turd,>” she said.
“<He gave up secrets about you and you alone to Hun.>”
“<Then he’s a turd, and you’re still a turd, but at least he may have good reason, because you know, he was captured and tortured by the enemy, while you executed an unarmed man.>”
“<That’s a strong assumption,>” the assassin actually scoffed before crossing his arms. He looked at the black glass as he more or less puffed his chest at her. “<No warrior trained by me is unarmed.>”
Before slipping into Rayne, Andy growled at herself. How could I be so stupid? Since when are assassins known for saving people? For preserving life?
And now I have our man’s blood on my hands for more reasons than one.
“You and your fucking semantics,” she said, giving up on settling her migraine. She pulled her hair back, steeling her expression for the mess that was surely to come. “<I’m guessing now you’ll want to leave.>”
Malum turned his head straight at her, as if she were off her rocker. “<What would make you think that?>”
“<Your mission is> done.”
Malum shook his head, and Andy immediately squinted at him. “<I haven’t defeated Foster yet. I can’t leave when the decision of who leads my nation falls to me.>”
Andy scoffed, and her scoff turn into quiet chuckles. She did her best to contain herself, driving the assassin to stare at her in disapproval. “Sorry, just… what? Patriotic pride? From you? You have to admit, it’s a little funny, since when do you care about anything like that?”
Malum stared at her for a moment, before righting himself and looking away.
Yeah, yeah, pretend your feelings are hurt you emotionally stunted asshat. You’re the one who killed you’re own loyal soldier, but sure, now you’re honorable. It must be something else…
“<There is also the massive amounts of money,>” he reminded her in quick hush.
Andy’s eyes only narrowed more, almost closed. As if he ever truly cared about money.
“You want to fuck with the archmage some more, don’t you?”
“<More than anything. I need to know what he knows. I couldn’t learn the extend of what he learned before I had to kill my shadow.>”
Before they could continue, Lord Weisheng walked over to them, having noticing Malum had returned.
His eyes only looked to Andy for conversation. “<Is everything alright?>” he asked in Susannan.
Andy almost shook her head, but managed to stay mostly still as she spoke her answer. “<We’re fine, our warrior is a just piece of shit.>”
“<Does it affect his chances of winning?>” he asked her, and was met with a shrug.
“<Then I don’t care.>”
Lord Weisheng stood where he was as Andy stood with her arms crossed. It took a moment for her to acknowledge his gaze and unassuming smile. And this is a world where unassuming and assuming mean the same thing.
“<My apologies, how can I be of service?>” she asked, remembering that he was the one who was going to pay her.
“<Ah, nothing serious, I simply wish to speak with the beast we’re expected to pay for… or watch die for free.>”
“<Oh, then please, you don’t need permission from me.>”
“<Oh, it wasn’t exactly permission,>” he asked as he walked past her, missing her glare but picturing it accurately.
Lord Weisheng moved to stand next to Malum, and together they watched the fight. They watched with bated breath as the challenger did her best to stalk away from Foster Lao. They watched as she looked around corners to see if the blind man was there, and scurried back at the sound of his feet.
Then they watched as the champion listened for his opponent, twisting back and forth at the sound of glass crunching under his own feet. They watched sweat drip from his brow and his sword cut the walls down in bouts of fear.
The game of cat and mouse flipped on a dime. One moment she was flying through the air, leaping over the walls to get a good stab at him. She would be in his range before he even knew, and his swords would fly towards her limbs as she scurried away.
Time after time she would scatter the glass to cover her escape, and time after time she bled more from the glass that dug deep into her.
Time was the enemy, it was the reason he would eventually die of blood loss.
So they raced against the clock, not wanting to find out who could stand to bleed more.
“Do you think you can win?” Weisheng asked Malum, as he watched.
“The challenger is relying completely on this turf, and in the final stage you’ve graciously paid for, she’ll be easy pickings.”
The Zhuhou laughed at his answer.
“That’s a poor bet.”
Malum was unfazed, his eyes refusing to leave the match, but his lips moved enough for the Lord’s amusement. “They’re all poor bets until you win, that’s why you didn’t have to pay up front… still… one should consider all the options, the obvious tends to bore people like me.”
“But I’m not like you,” the Lord told him, “the assured is the most interesting to me, what will likely happen is always more entertaining than what has a small chance of happening.”
“Humor me, not yourself… do you truly think Lao will lose?”
“Lesser men would have fallen the moment his eyes failed. Foster Lao hasn’t, and more than that… I don’t think he will lose, I know he will win. The alternative is just more entertaining.”
Agreeance did well to put a smile on Weisheng’s face.
“How do you figure?”
“From what I can see, his current opponent is making a gamble she’s going to lose. She believes that hitting Fuchou intermittently will cause the blade to lose the power its stored, so she isn’t careful about blocking it as much as she should. She’s stretching out the fight because she thinks it keeps her safe…”
“The poor fool,” the Lord called her.
“It’s an easy mistake to make,” the assassin reasoned.
“But you won’t make it,” Weisheng pointed out.
“You have to defend yourself, but if I were younger, I wouldn’t know how to minimize the risk.”
“Then thank the Sun you are no spring chicken. How will he defeat her?”
Malum went silent at the thought, his eyes leaving Foster to take in all the possibilities. He already accounted for the weapons, “Fuchou stores energy for days on end, the length it can store energy before passing it to Huibao has never been found truly, but days is the assumed limit. Plus, Foster’s biding his time, surviving, he’ll be able to defeat his opponent in a single blow.”
“But can he?” Weisheng asked, but he received no assurances.
“Of course he can…”
Weisheng’s brow arched as he gave Malum a peculiar look. The Lord was caught off guard when Andy appeared near him, and whispered into his ear.
“The question is would he.”
Weisheng snapped to her, his eyes barely containing a fury at her close presence, but he collected it well. His tone was nothing but pleasant in response. “Why wouldn’t he? He is a warrior.”
“He’s spared every challenger so far,” Malum pointed out, “he is a man of honor and battle, but not blood.”
“Then Aris will have him in death,” the Lord muttered in a droll tone, the thought of a merciful man in his midsts annoying him. “Are you two about to suggest that he’ll disable her with Huibao?”
“Only if he lands his hit,” Andy said with a shrug.
Malum looked away from the fight to ask Andy, “Is there any reason to think he won’t?”
Weisheng finally asked, “Can you defeat him…?”
“Hmm…” The sound Malum made made the lord grimace. “I’m not sure if I’m playing fair.”
The Lord guffawed in respond, and rolled his eyes for good measure. “And how does one such as you define fair?”
“Using a normal sword,” Malum said plainly.
Weisheng stepped halfway in front of the assassin, and pointed his finger at Malum’s mask. “If you can find a sword that will win, use it. We will claim it is a creation of ours if it is any issue.”
This mask isn’t scaring people like it should. Maybe it truly needs the cloak to bring it all together, Andy thought.
“You would lie?” the assassin asked, as if he didn’t already know the answer well. “If you were caught that would bring great shame to your Regalic.”
Weisheng’s laughter was only growing louder louder. “Shame? Honor?” The words he spoke could not leave his mouth fast enough, as if they were sour dinner and he couldn’t help but spit them back out. “Those are things you teach children and mock in your spouse. We are businessmen looking to take control of our country’s highest seat, we need no such things.”
Weisheng raised the back of his hand to cover his mouth, for he could not hold back the dying chuckles of an old man’s undying wisdom.
“Shame… honor, and the like… they’re all handicaps, and handicaps are for those who are already winning.”
Malum and Andy traded looks.
And no one who competes should ever admit they’re not in first place.
They turned their focus to the Jitari artist who was about to make his move.
They catch the tail end of a desparate attack. The challenger was on the retreat, and Foster grew tired of the chase. He had thrown Huibao after the sounds of the challenger, and the challenger ducked her head.
The sound of steel meeting steel was Huibao finding itself embedded in the wall before the challenger.
She slowly stood up to see it stuck in place, and looked back at Foster, waiting patiently for a sound, some kind of confirmation that his throw had struck true.
Then she turned her eyes back to the sword in the wall, and reached for it. The closer she got, the louder Foster’s breathing was. It was when she was a mere inch from gripping it that he seemed to gasp, and then…
She pulled away.
“She didn’t fall for the trick,” Malum noted.
The challenger turned back around as Foster’s breathing calmed, and she didn’t take the bait. Whether she knew what Huibao could do to someone who wasn’t its owner was unknown, but she knew enough not to trust it.
Jitari artists are not common for a reason.
The challenger sought to make sure they were extinct as well.
She charged him head on now that he only had one sword. He moved his second hand to his sword to prepare for her onslaught, and she prepared for his defense with the shruikens that appeared between her fingers.
They flew by Foster at blinding speed, clanging off the walls, his sword, and his person, making him jump. “Huh?!”
She cut him after that.
“Aaaghh!” he groaned as his chest bleed and the sound of the world betrayed him.
She kept slashing at him, hacking away as he struggled to find her over the sound of the shruikens she was throwing.
The sound of the wind that follow them was numbing to his ears, and the clang of the metal stars rang like the world’s loudest cymbol. His sword would clang when it connected with one, but there was no weight behind it, making him follow through on a swing meant for no one.
But her blade was meant for him, and him it struck, again and again, making him shuffle and sidetrack into the walls. He refused to be blind in this dark cave, but his refusal meant nothing to the challenger.
She stabbed away. She stabbed and she slashed, getting closer and closer to him, until she elbowed him.
Then he knew.
Foster stepped into her slash, and caught her arm in his armpit. Her gasp left the maze devoid of sound, and he dragged sound back.
One kick to the ribs.
One knee to make a crack.
And one pull of the arm to get her into place.
The challenger raised her other arm, but it was nearly hanging off and had been for some time. Still, when she tried to raise it, his palm struck it, right above the cut.
“Haaaaaahhhh!!!” her gasp was an ear-piercing whistle that could not cover up the hum.
The challenger swayed back and forth as the pain in her arm threatened to throttle her. She lacked the capacity to fathom what sound she heard. There was no mindshare left to investigate the unknown.
But she recognized that sound right away. A sword leaving its sheathe… or a wall.
Foster ducked as Huibao released the energy it had been storing and shot straight out of the wall. Even with the night vision lenses, the challenger couldn’t see straight, and the grip of the sword wasn’t terribly large when it was flying directly at her.
She collapsed into a heap in Foster’s arms. She felt little pain in her slumber, but she would wake to the concussion of her life, and the news that the match was over.
Foster Lao won again, and it became Malum’s match to lose.
“Hmm,” the Lord hummed, “this was a fascinating talk with you two.”
He left immediately without a second word, just as Malum could start to smell the sweat.
In Uzuri again, Andy asked, “<You sure you don’t want Siwang?>”
Malum’s head tilted as he stared into the arena, light being pooled into it now that the match was over.
Now, Foster could look up and see his audience. Most of them had walked away, but the mask caught his eye. The mask always caught their eye, but what purpose could the distraction serve now?
“<I don’t know if its worth the risk,>” Malum told her, as Foster turned away to the barracks. “<My honor isn’t exactly something I value as much as others, which I’m sure is easy for you to believe…>”
He waited a moment for a snort that never came.
“<At… at the same time, it’s not so easy to hide what Siwang is, it’s only just about the most famous sword in all of Susanna.>”
Andy sighed as her hands wafted through her hair.
“<Gonna have to think of something,>” she mumbled, before turning to him with one eye open, “good luck with that.”
She seemed to be putting her hair in a short ponytail as it took Malum a moment to register what she said.
Andy paused and looked at him with her eyebrows raised. “<What? You lose I just go home broke, I’ve already lost my reason for coming here because of you. So, as far as I’m concerned, you win us our money or you’re worth even less than shit…> you piece of shit.”
“Noted,” he said, and Andy turned around to walk off in response with the other Regalics who sought to leave.
The lords of Regalic Sol took notice, and from a few feet away, Lord Weisheng asked Malum, “You really pissed her off didn’t you?”
Malum was unmoving in his response. “She’ll get over it.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because I am.”
Her arm still hadn’t grown back.
This was the longest its ever taken for… anything to grow back.
Lucy hung from the ceiling by her one arm, a chain bolted tight around it, and a strong chain clipped into it. Her muscles ached, her nostrils were dead to all smells, and every stitch of clothing stuck to her skin with nauseating slime.
She knew she had to be in the middle of the warehouse, but her eyes could barely see a few yards in front of her.
There was little reason to have hope, until she heard her kidnappers drag their next captive into the room.
The Stick man came in, dragging Par by his arms. He threw the boy at Lucilla’s feet, as Piss man and Mutant woman appeared on opposites side of him… at least from what Lucy could see.
Par’s face was red, but she couldn’t see blood or moving liquid. His face was just red, and his shirt had splotches of what had to be blood but she couldn’t tell.
As Par stayed hunched over on the ground, they each came to spit on him, and he did not cower to protect himself. He didn’t even shield his head as the Mutant woman spit directly at his cheek.
“<What has he done?>” Mutant woman asked.
She… she doesn’t even know yet?
“<Your brother has betrayed us, he attempted to warn the vile bitch’s crew.>”
Mutant woman did not hesitate to state, “<He is no brother of mine.>”
She didn’t even question it?
Lucy struggled to stay coherent as she heard someone walk near her.
Piss man’s voice was gargled with blood as he clawed his way to her ear, but she heard what he said, “<Tell me, why did you do it,>” and felt him grab and twist her breast, “<What did the whore offer you?>” She had barely any energy to speak as he groped her. “<Did she offer to use her tentacles while you were between legs? She was lying.>”
“<She didn’t offer me anything, it was just…>”
Lucy’s eyes fluttered as Piss Man released his hold on her, and they fought to look straight as he walked up to Par on the ground.
He grasped the boy by the back of his neck and made him look up at him. “<It was just what, you traitorous-whore-loving sack of shit?!”
“<It was just… the right thing to do.>”
And I had to threaten him to make him do it.
Piss man exploded on him, hitting across the face, smacking him to the ground.
The sound of it shook Lucy awake.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
The deep thuds of Piss man kicking Par as he laid on the ground and took it, woke Lucy. Each thud, each blow to the boy, was a spark in her brain to focus, to watch, and to see the suffering.
For me, for escape.
As Piss man beat Par, he growled and snarled to the high heavens, sounding inhuman to Lucy’s still bleeding ears.
“<To free a backstabbing slaver?! That is the right thing to do?! That’s what you think is just?! Do you want to bleed?! You’ll bleed! You’ll bleed just like her! Just like your brothers! LIke my brother, like his wife and her children and each and every man, woman, and child across the seas that she chained on those boats!>
“<That’s the right!>
Piss man had to stop, his rage pushing him past where his body will go. He huffed and puffed, dripping in sweat as Par’s face laid in a pool of blood from his mouth.
“<Let’s… let’s hang him up with her,>” Piss man said to Stick man.
They had to wait for Piss man to catch his breath. Apparently, Par was heavier than they thought, and there weren’t more ghouls to help this time of night.
Par’s lifeless body was dragged across the ground, and strung up on the hook. It was the first thing Lucy could see with clear eyes in what felt like days. She watched his chest, his mouth, and his throat, looking for proof that she wasn’t hanging next to corpse, and couldn’t find it.
Just when one wouldn’t want to trust their own eyes.
As Par’s head hung to the side-his face bruised, swollen and bleeding from several orifices, old and new-Piss man grabbed him by the cheeks.
He slapped the boy’s face around and got no response, but still he asked the dead, “<You still think helping her is the right thing to do?>”
When he was met with silence, the reason why we prefer arguing with the dead, Piss man forced a smile on his face, and turned around.
“<No… Rajesh,>” came the words that made Piss man stop in his tracks.
They all turned to look at Par, who looked dead to the world, even with his head raised and one eye open.
“<Being the better person is the right thing to do.>”
The man Lucy knew for his piss, a man called Rajesh, flinched and froze. His expression was written stone as he made his painful turn away from Par. It would not change as he left, and it would not change for days.
But Par’s would change in the next moment, as he turned his sickening face towards Lucy, and gave her a bit of hope she hadn’t demanded.
He winked at her. Sometimes that’s all one needs.
Krera, you may save us still.