Pandora awoke to the smell of dried blood. Though weak, the clutches of her syndrome were enough to rip her from her slumber and thrust her back into the cramped little janitor’s closet that had served as her room. The sudden presence of real light made her eyes narrow and dart up to see the door to the closet ajar and a shadowed figure looming on the threshold. Pandora wasted no time and snatched up her kusarigama to slash at her new foe.
“Woah! Settle down there!” The figure backed out of the doorway and into the hall where the light illuminated his features. They were soft and fragile, not the features of a fighter and nearly not the features of a man, either. At the very least, he came off as being unthreatening and his hands raised with palms turned out didn’t hurt that image.
“Sorry if I gave you a start. I found you in this closet with blood on you so I decided to give you a quick examination. It seems you tried to heal yourself, but couldn’t quite get the job done. Don’t worry. I helped you out.”
Pandora looked down at her arm and found her bicep dressed with a medical tourniquet. The old smell of blood still lingered in the air and the haze of exhaustion still clouded her mind as she rose to her feet and stepped out of the closet with only the slightest of stumbles.
“Don’t talk much, do you? Well, my name’s Drek.”
The unlikely pair walked together down the hall. Drek couldn’t help but feel the crimson eyes borrowing into his back as they walked. She was trying to figure out who he was, but for some reason, his name hadn’t clicked. Good thing, too. He was still a little on edge himself after following the trail of blood to a janitor’s closet containing a rather regal looking neko. If he had been thinking clearer, he wouldn’t have made such a slip, but it didn’t seem to matter much.
Hallway after hallway passed as he explained who he was to the girl or at least who he wanted her to see him as. Perception was a wonderful thing. Miss Lydia kept an entire group of people just like him with powers that could be used for the greater good of contestant’s health as medical personal. In between the rounds, that group, him included, were to go about their rounds and tend to any contestants they found. ‘Healthy contestants put on better shows’ he’d told her. For lack of a better argument, she’d agreed.
“Right this way, Miss Pandora.”
That’d been another battle in its self. Getting this girl to give up her name was no easy task, but one that was pulled off with the utmost finesse. They always give their name eventually; if not theirs, then at least someone’s. It’s not like a name mattered much. Miss Lydia was sure to have the proper names for everyone’s tombstones, so it didn’t matter as much to Drek. All he cared about was being as polite as possible.
“This is where all the contestants are to meet. You’re lucky you took shelter where you did. You were the closest to the medical pavilion, so we were able to tend to you before any one else. You should mark that luck well. I doubt this next round will be as fortuitous.”
As he spoke the last of his little speech, he pushed open doors that were larger and more ornate than most in the hotel. As they creaked open, they revealed a large room with higher ceilings that even that of the pool. With rows of padded seats and a marvelous stage at the far end, it wasn’t hard to place the room they were now entering as a theatre. As Drek walked onto the rough carpet, he laughed to himself. “My, that Miss Lydia and here dramatics.”
He took a few steps forward before realizing that Pandora hadn’t followed him in. Instead, she hovered at the door, clearly trying to spot any traps. “Oh. I’m sorry, Pandora. I must have forgotten to tell you. I could have sworn I did. Anyway, since the contestants only had names to go off of in the last round, for this round she’s decided to get all of the contestants together for a little meet and greet. It’s a bit sick if you ask me. She wants everyone to get to know each other before they have to fight,” Drek put a finger to his lips and looked upward in thought, “though I suppose it would be better for ratings. Most people seem to enjoy watching newly formed friends tear each other apart. Pack of savages if you ask me.”
Pandora took a single step into the room and simply stood there. It was clear she was still uneasy about the entire situation, but that didn’t matter much to Drek. She didn’t need to like him or even trust him. All she had to do was let down her guard. “Why would she do this after the first round? I mean, the tournament’s already started.”
“Who knows what that woman is thinking half the time. All I know is that she pays incredibly well and allows me to treat people’s wounds. I would have been a doctor if…well, most hospitals don’t exactly look highly upon the sort of methods I employ.” Drek put his hands in the pockets of his hoodie and stared off into the ceiling once more. “Though, it is a little uneasy healing people just so they can fight better. Sorta defeats the purpose, don’t you think?”
As Drek looked over at Pandora, he could see the introversion in her eyes. She was thinking deeply and that was never good when you were putting on an act.
Kioko, wake up. I need your help. What do you think of this Drek character? I don’t know if we can trust him.
Drek? Drek! He’s one of the contestants!
As Pandora came to terms with the knowledge she’d been giving, Drek came up quickly with his ornate knife in hand. Glistening in the light of the theatre, the gold patterns in the cold steel blade glistened brilliantly. They weren’t even hampered by the blood that dripped down its length as Drek pulled back to survey the damage of his sneak attack.
Pandora stumbled backward, examining her now bleeding hand. ‘She’d managed to at least protect her vitals,’ Drek though to himself. ‘Bloody shame.’
Drek moved out to the side and came in at a flank to hit Pandora again when it hit him. The eyes that stared back were no longer the same as before. They were still a beautiful crimson, but within them the fires of hell themselves burned. He’d seen those eyes before and knew that it was no longer a simple girl squaring off against him. His opponent had become bloodlust itself.
Drek found out that the spiked ball that acted as a counter weight on Pandora’s weapon was just as effective as a real flail. The spikes stuck deep into Drek’s gut and knocked him flat on his back. Pandora pulled it back in a single motion and simply dangled it a foot or so above the ground, allowing the blood that now clung to the spikes to drip dramatically to the ground.
‘Nobodies faster than me.’
Drek scrambled to his feet to continue the defensive. Defense never won fights; a voice spoke in the back of his head. “I know.” He said aloud as if to silence to the voice. He needed to get his opponent to a better spot and he knew just the one. Without checking his opponent’s position, he took off down one of the aisles at a full sprint; his goal, the back stage.
Drek had been a singer once in a past life, so to speak. He had loved to sing and was turned onto the technical part of putting on a performance by a childhood friend. He knew the inner workings of a theatre and how to manipulate them.
When he reached the stage, he leaped up onto the polished wood and didn’t stop until he found himself in the area concealed by the grand velvet curtains. The moment he skidded to a halt, Pandora’s blade came arcing down. If Drek hadn’t become accustomed to the sound of metal piercing air, he would have surely been killed by the well-placed attack. As it stood, he rolled out of the way and quickly rose to defend himself.
Pandora retracted her blade with deadly efficiency and came back with another attack. The constant motion of her weapon made it impossible for Drek to focus on anything save blocking and dodging every blow that came his way. Their dance continued for longer than it should have in Drek’s mind and he began to panic. Finally, Pandora made a powerful attack with the spiked ball; exactly what Drek was waiting for.
As the flail passed by Drek’s side, he continued to sidestep. The spiked ball slammed hard into the concrete directly behind where Drek’s gut should have been. When the spikes pierced the concrete, the blood that still clung to them shot out and grew rigid, locking the weight in place.
Restricted to only the blade and with her fighting style thrown off, Drek moved in to kill Pandora for good and end their fight. What he hadn’t accounted for was the bloodlust still driving her to never stop or falter. She switched to defense and kept him at bay long enough to drive a solid foot into his chest and send him sliding away on the stage. She took that opportunity to place the same foot against the wall and pull with all her might to dislodge the end of her weapon, taking a good portion of the concrete around it out as well.
At a disadvantage, Drek sought to employ one of the traps he loved so much. As Pandora approached, he snapped his fingers. Off in the distance, within a small room set in the ceiling on the other end of the theatre, blood he’d placed their earlier made a small explosion, turning on the spotlight and blinding the approaching Pandora.
As her hand flung up to block her eyes, Drek righted himself and charged back and forth. With each pass he left a cut on Pandora’s body, but not enough to do any lasting damage. Whether he was willing to admit it or not, even blinded his opponent was better than him.
“Nobody’s faster than me. Nobody!” Drek drove his knife clean into Pandora’s stomach. If it had been longer, it might have stopped her or even killed, but at its length, it only hindered. Fueled by pain and bloodlust, Pandora struck the side of Drek’s head with the flat of her Kama.
He spiraled away from her and crawled most of the way to ropes that held the curtain. There, he gripped one of the ropes and drew a second knife to cut the sandbags that held it down. With the rope slack, it carried him up to the catwalk that held all of the main stage lighting. There, he had only a moment to breath before Pandora found her own way up. Backing up down the catwalk, Drek’s lips curled into a smile. “A catwalk. How fitting.”
Pandora charged at him, but couldn’t quite traverse the entire distance before the area where Drek’s tourniquet was exploded outward, forcing her arm limp. She staggered, letting go of the weighted end of here Kusarigama and gripping the wound.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot to mention. Before, when I said I had worked on you, I wasn’t lying. Of course, instead of actually healing you, I had the forethought of putting my own bl-“ Drek was cut off by another attack of Pandora’s. When she swung at him, he easily parried the blade with his spare knife and sent her weapon flying from her hand and to the stage below. “What’s the matter, kitty? You fight like you’re dying.”
Pandora, the shock from the parry worn off, dropped to her knees. As her legs found hard metal, she ripped Drek’s knife from her stomach and slashed deep across Drek’s, splattering blood on the lights to their side. Wide-eyes, Drek dropped the knife he was holding and stumbled backward over the railing.
Lying there, with his back against the wall, Drek stared down at his stomach as footsteps approached. Before him was the same girl, but when he found her eyes, they were crystal blue and seemed to go on forever. What’s worse was they were full of regret.
“I’m sorry it had to come to this,” said Kioko, her voice reflecting the sorrow of her words. For a moment, Drek really was sorry.
“I wish I could say the same, but I just can’t apologize for winning.” As if to answer Kioko’s unspoken question, Drek grabbed the bottom of his hoodie. “I’ll let you in on a little secret.” As he spoke, he lifted it up, revealing his soft stomach and the long line across it that had no blood anywhere to be seen. “I only bleed when I want to.”
Kioko was quicker of mind than Pandora. She remembered the cut that Pandora had given Drek and remembered exactly where the blood had gone. As she looked up to the lights above, her eyes grew wide. The lights were already crashing down toward her. In those few moments, a deep crimson overtook her eyes, turning them red just before the moment of impact.
I’m sorry, Kioko.
A protector until the end.
After sitting there for quite some time and staring at the pool of blood beneath the mangled lights, Drek was confident he had one. “Nobody’s faster than me.” He said once more for good measure, forcing himself to his feet and putting his hands in his pockets. He accepted with some remorse that he had lost his favorite knife, but his life was a bit more important, so he couldn’t be too sad. He had some time before his next fight and he had heard there was a ballroom with very good acoustics in the hotel. He hoped to see that room at least once before he died.
Walking out of the theatre, he placed his finger to his ear and spoke as if to no one. “She was an innocent, but it’s over. I’m almost done.”
Just one more.