And so it begins.
Drek wasted no time. Once Lydia began speaking her final words, he made his exit. Only a fool waited to the end. There were things that needed to be set up and places to find. Never fight an opponent in foreign territory. A lay of the land always gave advantages. Surveillance. That was the first step to the hunt. Stalk your prey until you know them inside and out and pick a convenient place to meet them. Never fight them on their terms.
It didn’t take long to find the room he was looking for. Drek had a decent nose on him and it led him straight to his sanctuary. With a wry smile, he set to work on a few quick preparations.
Jules was tall and muscular. He had all the looks of a playboy about him, but playboys weren’t suited for combat. They might break a nail. Then again, who was Drek fooling?
Slim in body and adorned with soft features, he looked like he belonged in some fashion magazine, not in the center of a battlefield. He left silently at this notion. He was never in the center of battle. That was reserved for mindless oafs. No. A dagger at midnight was worth a thousand swords at dawn. He didn’t remember from where he heard it, but it always rang true. It didn’t matter how good an opponent was; a slit throat kills anyone.
Jules walked the corridors, an air of importance around him. With the way he held himself it wasn’t hard to picture him in a place of royalty with servants at his beck and call. That would make it so much easier. Royals were always the easiest targets. Sure, they had guards and what not, but every last one of the pigs had delusions of immortality, all of which came crashing down around them before Drek left their side.
As Drek watched, he shifted position, the many pieces of jewelry he wore clanging against the metal of the air duct he concealed himself within. It wasn’t hard to pinpoint the location and Jules already had his sword drawn.
“Come out, coward. There’s no sense hiding.” His voice was painfully royal and thick with self-confidence. He was truly a man who knew many battles and little defeats.
Let’s change that , Drek thought to himself.
Screws could be heard falling against metal right before the grating that covered the duct fell to the floor with an echoing clatter. From within the dark confines, Drek produced himself in an elaborate manner. With what looked like something of a roll, he flipped himself out of the duct and into a standing position, dusting himself off lightly. “No need to draw swords so soon. Why not get to know each other a little better? We’re not uncivilized.”
“So you can stab me when my back is turned? I’d like to see you attempt it,” came the sharp reply. Jules, for all that he seemed cocky seemed to also have a decent head on his shoulders.
“Geez. And here I thought I was fighting a gentleman. Oh well. Catch you later!” With what looked like a bit of a salute, Drek took to running, bounding down the halls with practiced speed. His stamina was week, but he didn’t have to run far. Not for where he was going.
“Coward. Get back here.” With sword in hand, Jules followed. He didn’t run, however. At least he was smart enough not to waste energy. “Rats can only run so far.”
The smell of chlorine was thick in the air. As Jules neared the door that was slightly ajar, he knew without reading the sign what lay within. The door revealed a large room covered in tiles from the floors to the walls, each sky blue piece of ceramic reflecting the large lights that hung from the top high ceiling. The light cast danced playfully on the surface of the water that filled the center of the room. He found himself faced with the indoor pool.
Usually a delightful place to be, the pool was anything but with the foreboding notion of an enemy deep within. Then again, waiting was never Drek’s style.
The moment that Jules crossed over the threshold, he noticed blood on either side of the tiled walkway that lead to the main pool area. Not just there by chance, the blood was in the shape of an ‘x’ on either side. He only had time to raise an eyebrow before the tiles that the blood had marked exploded towards him. He ducked and rolled quickly, tucking the sword against his gut to avoid hurting himself with the roll. As he came out of it, he straightened himself out and raised a hand to a thin red line on his left cheek, a single drop of blood tracing the indentation before his nose.
“Setting traps? It’ll take more than that, Coward. Do you have any idea who I am?”
“You bleed and if it bleeds…” The voice echoed in the large room, the tiles providing a pleasant acoustic set up that bounced the voice until all sense of direction and distance was lost.
“I can kill it.”
As he spoke those words, Drek dropped from the Myntion Manner crest above the entrance, putting him right behind Jules. In his hand was a single knife, very ornate in its design from handle to blade. A single push from his right foot closed the distance between them. “Too easy.” He muttered as he rose the dagger to neck height.
“Hardly.” The hilt of Jules’ sword found its way into Drek’s soft gut. Not having flexed, Drek’s gut gave way to the hilt and forced him back, a spray of blood coming following in the wake of his cough and splattering lightly against Jules’ already cut cheek. The force of the blow knocked Drek back and onto the hard tiles. It only took him a moment to recover, but even that was too long. A sword was already pressing lightly against the tender flesh of his through.
“You’ve lost. You may have been a coward in life, but you will at least die with some civility.”
Drek knew he was in trouble. The armor that his opponent was wearing was all wrong. It should have prevented him from reacting so quickly. That was his folly. So his opponent could move quickly and he couldn’t be cut easily. That’s fine. Drek always believed in plan b’s.
“Wait. I’m sure we can talk this out!” Drek’s voice held a level of panic. It was a voice bartering for it’s life, knowing that without the body, it too would be lost. As he pleaded for his life, he put his free hand on Jules’ sword, the metal biting into his palm. “There’s no need for us to get so hasty.”
“You’re right.” Jules drew the blade back quickly, slicing Drek’s palm and spilling his blood onto the tiles between them. “Cowards like you don’t deserve to die so quickly. You may not know who I am, but by the time I’m through with you, you’ll never forget.”
Those who knew Jules called it something along the lines of Consume, but anyone familiar with it never had time to give it a name. Twisted by visions of their worst fears, nightmares incarnate, he destroyed his opponents’ minds. Reserved for only the worst opponents he face, Drek deserved it.
It started out as a slight pressure; the feeling one gets right before a major headache. If only it had stayed that way. Drek knew what was happening. He didn’t know what would come, but he could feel the pressure on his head and the intrusion in his mind. Though not weak willed, Drek wasn’t praised for having an impenetrable mind either. It didn’t take long for Jules to find his way in and begin his work.
Shackles, so heavy and tight that the bruises they left behind extended up Drek’s forearms and down his neck. It was too painful to bear, but bear it he must. There was no other option. Not here. Before him, a boy stood, only a few years younger than Drek. The boy, with youthful features, was bent over, his face contorted in pain. Where his left arm had been was a bloody mess, bits of flesh and bone scattered around him as if a firework went off within his very flesh. Tears streamed down his eyes as he looked up and met Drek’s.
“If only I’d been there. I could have done something.”
Drek mouthed the words, but they found no voice to carry them. The only sound was the faint sobs coming from the armless boy.
Suddenly, reality came crashing through. That’s right. I’d been in a pool. Drek looked around, trying to figure out what had happened. His wrists and neck hurt incredibly and he found his cheeks mouth with tears and his eyes burning. He barely understood what was happening until his eyes met Jules’.
They were wide in horror as they stared back at Drek. As Drek wiped away the tears, he pointed to the ground. Where his blood has spilled earlier, there was nothing.
Thorough, precise, and above all else, clean.
Tile was used in pools because liquids slid right off of it. It didn’t absorb things like water or blood. They could easily be moved without even a conscious effort. Never fight the enemy on their terms and always find a good place to fight. With a small laugh, Drek pushed some hair from his eyes.
“I told you before; if it bleeds, I can kill it.” Holding up his palms, Drek made a show of the fact that there was no blood around the wounds. “Whatever the fuck you were doing to my mind certainly took a lot of concentration on your part. Apparently, so much that you didn’t feel a liquid making its way down your throat. I guess something about going into the land of sub-consciousness will do that to you. Pretty inconvenient if you ask me. If you’d been paying attention, you probably would have noticed my blood moving off of the floor and into you. Right now you’re probably feeling like your stomach is going to explode. I’d focus in on that feeling, because it’ll be the most pleasant thing that happens to you today.”
With no more explanation, Drek walked out of the pool area, taking refuge in the hallway. From behind she could hear the sound of vomiting and a terrible splash followed by a wet thud. Tiles were good because they were also easily cleaned. You’d better be thankful for that, he thought as he walked further down the hall. When he was far enough away that he wouldn’t be able to smell his opponent, vital organs, for as important as they are, have one hell of a stink about them, he leaned against a wall and took a deep breath. The cool air filled his lungs, providing a much-needed relief to his hot muscles. For a moment, he really wished for nothing more than death. That would never happen again.
Drek’s hand rose to his ear, pressing against the inner portion slightly. “Are you watching?” he asked what seemed like no one. Once he finished, he let his hand fall away and took another breath. He was going to finish the tournament and whatever God is watching over his opponent better help them if they try to stand in his way.