The heavens glittered with stars as the man silently drove over dirt and gravel, the thousand twinkling eyes mocking his desperation.
Muttering a curse under his breath, he slowed down at the rusty security gate at the entrance of the abandoned mines. To an ordinary person it would be a half-broken gate with just a couple of night guards sleeping their shift away. But then again, the average person wouldn’t notice that the old equipment was strewn about almost too cleanly, or that the uniformed guards lacked an identity or a logo.
Or how a cold eye glinted from under the angled cap, a sleek gun pointed at any approaching vehicle. Private security.
Good, he smiled. He’d expected nothing less.
He rolled down a window and casually brought up his right hand to scratch his stubble, flashing them the tattoo on his arm. One of guards came over to inspect it, shining a flashlight right in his face. Satisfied, he nodded to the other one, and the gate opened.
The newcomer growled at them as he drove past. The guards didn’t blink.
He took the car to the mouth of the mines and parked it aside a vintage piece, tossing the keys inside when he got out.
Won’t be getting out in this ride, that’s for sure.
He took one last look at the night sky. The stars still winked at him. I’ll show you, you damned twinklers, he thought. And then you and your glowing arses can collectively burn the fuck out.
He walked in and took the narrow elevator down, fixing a crick in his neck to look at the small black camera from the corner of his eye. The caged door opened into a tunnel entrance sealed long-ago. Dim light and vulgar music blared from within.
The tunnel widened into a narrow hall within, a despicable den of sin. Sellers had set up their wooden stalls on either side, sporting wares of all kinds and catering to the needs of anyone bold or foolish enough to venture within.
A place fit for the lowest of low-life scum, the kind who’d kill their own mothers for the right price. Everything in the hall was as good as Eden’s forbidden fruit on Earth, attracting a number of fools who’d end up unconscious in dirty alleys, pickpocketed at best, missing an organ or an appendage – if not sporting a slit throat, at worst.
The market and its dealers had been thriving in the sealed mine for almost a decade now, and he had no doubt that even the poorest of these merchants could have half the law enforcement in their pockets.
He grunted. Hell, half the buying and betting crowd out here was law enforcement. Drugs, flesh, poison, weapons– they themselves would know where best to find any product being sold in the dark hall. The man sighed and jammed a hand in his pocket, pulling out a pack of gum. He looked it over with a frown and popped one in his mouth, tossing the rest in a makeshift stall with a wink at the seller. Let him pour over hours wondering what’s so special about it, he allowed the thought to bring him a dry chuckle.
Visibly relaxed now, he cleared his thoughts and covered the tattoo on his arm, lest it be discovered by someone who carried one of its counterparts. He’d thought about this evening too much to spend it in a petty black-market fight.
Ignoring the purrs of a woman offering him the finest opium and a merchant sporting priceless stolen jewels, he made his way to the guarded room on the other end, where once again a discreet flash of his ink admitted him within.
A flash of white greeted him on the other side. White tiles decked the room, save for the ceiling, which held a long mirror across the length of it. Across the table from him sat a red-faced man in a puff of smoke, cigar in one hand and a wicked blade in the other, a host of monitors beside him. Eye of The Market. He leaned forward with his mouth split in a grin, rivulets of sweat running down his temple into his short-cropped white hair.
“Welcome, my friend. Mr. Rahsut, I presume? I’m Gvadiskvi, we… spoke via our mutual contact, who sadly passed away today.” He took his visitor’s hand, shaking it and nodding. “Tragic, really, but you know how it is. I was hoping you’d stop by this week. Give us a chance to talk in person.”
“Yes. A conversation has been long due.” The man called Rahsut replied, pulling his hand back. He remained standing.
“Now, my friend. We are friends, yes? He-he. I would offer you a cigar, but unfortunately, I do not yet know if you are a friend. Let’s save the cigar for later, then. A question for now. I heard from our friend Rihake you were taking an interest in the pits. You ask many questions, my friend, he-he. I must know, now, because I dislike having to answer so many questions, do you intend to partake in any way at all? Place a few bets, maybe indulge yourself in a match? Perhaps you’d like me to fix one for you, if only your first to get you a little start? He-he, say so, and we have a deal.”
“I don’t want to place bets, Gvadiskvi.”
His host’s eyes narrowed, his smile faltering “Then you will understand, there are steps to be taken. We must be cautious about our little venture, he-he.”
“You misunderstand, friend.” He spat with a smile of his own, “I wish to fight in the pits.”
The red-faced man barked a laugh, hurling his cigar across the room. “Well, then, my friend, he-he, we must drink to that!” he shouted “I knew I liked you the moment you walked in.” He poured out a strange green liquor in glass mugs kept behind his desk. “Come, Mr. Rahsut, we drink to victory. To living forever, and battering one’s enemies to death!”
The man called Rahsut raked a hand through his dusty hair, clenching his fist at the drawn-out conversation “I do not drink before a fight. I will, however, take a whiff of your finest snow.”
“Aye, it is a cold night, Mr. Rahsut, and you are a bold one.” he sniggered “My new friend, a man of taste!”
The man called Gvadiskvi obliged, immediately sending for his finest of the drug. He invited his guest to sit across him and talk. “Come then, tell me.” He grinned “What brings you here?”
Rahsut tilted his head, starting. “I t-”
“Huh-uh” he was cut off “Please, do not insult my intelligence. I’m curious,” the other man leaned forward “I truly am. Why would a man like you resort to this?”
He stared across the table icily. “You don’t know me. Don’t pretend to.”
“But surely someone such as you would have noticed the shadows trailing you, yes?” A giggle. “They’ve been watching you. The way you walk, the way you talk… the much-concealed desperation in your eyes… he-he.”
“Maybe I have a death wish.”
“Ah, but that’s not the half of it, my dear Mr. Rahsut, is it?” his watery eyes gleamed, sending a shiver of revulsion down the addressed man’s spine.
“Having a death wish doesn’t have to be personal.” He said quietly.
“Oh, but coming here always is.”
His drug came and he consumed it, courtesy of the House. He rolled his neck, grasping at his colliding thoughts and the clarity he now had. He pulled out the battered old pocket watch; A half hour still remained before he’d fight. The man called Rahsut suddenly realized that he was talking and stopped, visibly shaken. He found himself staring across at his half-witless host who beseeched him to continue.
“You were at the bit where you had the epiphany after giving up your old ways, when the fighting was over. Go on, then.”
He considered for a moment, then shrugged. No harm done. Screw it, it wouldn’t matter after tonight anyway.
“When it struck me,” he spoke through the piece of gum still in his mouth “How much the stars and I are alike.
Gvadiskvi hummed in appreciation “How poetic for a man of your… bearing. But do tell, how so?”
“It’s silly, really, but also true.” he snorted a scoff, waving his hand airily. “When they die, it’s got to be a cosmic carnage, or no one knows cares, because otherwise no one would know when they die.”
The other man spoke through a puff of smoke as he lit another cigar “Ah, much like battle veterans and mercenaries such as yourself, eh? He-he.”
“Yes, and the natural way is… too mundane.” He tasted the word on his tongue, and how morbid it felt. “So, I thought why not die in a carnage and make people care.”
“Care?” Gvadiskvi went silent for a long moment. “Do you truthfully think the people he-”
“Enough to place bets, anyway.” He retorted.
The elder man undid a button on his shirt, rolling back his shoulders. “Fair enough. You want to bring business to me, who am I to refuse, my violent friend?”
A bolt of lightning went up his spine, and Rahsut tilted his head. His host noticed it.
“Oh, come on. I’ve been running the pits for nine years now, how many of your kind do you think I’ve seen?” he huffed a laugh, thick smoke momentarily covering his face. “I lost the count from not caring, Mr. Rahsut, if I ever was honest, and you’re simply another face in that pile. Men like you, you only like violence. Do you know why?”
He looked at him, very still.
“Because it’s the easiest thing to do.” He continued, twirling the knife in his hand. “So you go about your life, with violence as your creed, until suddenly one day you realize that you’re all alone. So, what do you do?
He said nothing as the eyes across his bore into his own with a cruel smile.
“You turn on yourself, becoming violent to life itself. Hating your existence, and desperate for the bittersweet mercy the idea of death offers.” Gvadiskvi looked into his eyes. “And so…
“You turn to men like me. Like I said, Mr. Rahsut, I recognize people like you. I think you’ll find some kindred spirits in here this evening. Try to be merciful to them a little, he-he.” He finished with a twinkle in his eyes.
Feeling uncomfortably vulnerable, he rode on a surge of blood and vaulted over the table in a blur, grabbing Gvadiskvi to whirl behind him, the knife now in his hand and held to his host. “If you claim to know my motivations so well, then tell me, friend,” he spat, “Why don’t I be a gentleman and grant you some mercy right now?”
The man laughed softly, feeling his own blade digging into his throat. “I am trying to be polite, Mr. Rahsut, but if you move that knife one inch closer to me, I will rip your heart out. Besides, we both know that you’d rather put on an impressive display, if you are so adamant on dying.”
Rahsut released him, taking a step back. “The pits are crowded tonight,” Gvadiskvi remarked with the eyes of a predator “Our old friend Rihake picked you a good night to fight, he-he…”
The fighting pits had been emptied and a large area cleared for the closing event of the night. It was sparsely decorated, a handful of oil drums scattered to provide cover and a few low-hanging bulbs as the only source of light in the wide hall.
The crowd was brimming with nervous energy, with people shoving each other for the best spot to view the last fight without falling inside. Rules of the arena were clear; A single step in and you were fair game.
The audience silently parted as its supreme benefactor glided through. Aytanpar Gvadiskvi, the man who ran the pits, and every piece of low-life scum that haunted the mines. He raised his arm, holding a glass of exquisite liquor, and the world fell silent.
“Greetings, Children of the Pits!” he boomed “I have a special night in store for you. The matches till now have offered but a slice of the excitement to come.” He looked at those who would fight now, spotting them in the audience.
“No-life is better than half a life. Tonight, the six individuals gathered in the arena share more than blood-brothers do in a lifetime! They share this thought, and are willing to fight to the death to prove it. They are the superior people amongst us, for these men and women have looked into the eyes of desire and stared it down. Riches or luxury, a good, quiet life… that’s too much to ask of them. They live for the combat, and for the combat they willingly die! Most of them, anyway…” he trailed off.
The crowd cheered. The man nodded and continued, “We are graced with our weapons master, Mr. Black, offering us the chance to witness his latest wares in action!”
The crowd went wild, shrieks and whoops filling the air as the said man joined Gvadiskvi, completely decked in black, only parts of his face not covered by his wide-brimmed hat or sunglasses visible as his lip burst in a cheery laugh. He waved. “Tonight, I bring to you,” he started in a deep voice as the crowd went silent “The only functioning prototypes of my latest gun, a tranquilizer coated with poison from deadly toads... and from my herb garden. Highly flammable, although one wouldn’t need fire for them to do their job. A slight graze could end a grizzly’s life, to say nothing of our own. Up for auction next week!”
Murmurs streaked across the room as Gvadiskvi continued, “To make it more of a challenge, each of the fighters are equipped with a gun, good for two shots. No other weapons. Look closely, for if you blink, you may miss it... but mind your eyes, he-he.”
At a signal, six figures stepped in the cleared area. A lithe figure prowled in, carefully eyeing her opponents. The woman had a vicious smile plastered on her face, tracing a finger up her leather-like body armor. “My new guns will go well with the gear.”
The other woman grunted and flicked her the finger. A thin man slicked a tongue over his teeth, filed into sharp fangs. “We’ll see about that, doll.” Two other men staggered inside, either drunk or badly beaten up recently.
Rahsut was handed his gun as he weighed his options. Oil drums for cover. Low-hanging lightbulbs. A stale piece of gum in his mouth and a gun with two rounds of poison within. He nodded, taking a deep breath. In mortality lies my victory. In victory, a worthy death. Till my last breath, the carnage will not stop. He looked up in front of him. The carnage must stop. Tonight, then. Death is life.
A bell rang without warning and the crowd roared as slivers of crimson flew all around, spraying up a shower of blood where they struck. He moved in a flash, ducking past a couple of darts and backhanding a lightbulb. Those nearest to him flinched, momentarily blinded.
Those two died first.
He shimmied up behind the loudmouthed girl with the protective gear, swiftly shooting at the unbalanced man across the room. He was dead before he fell, the dart buried in his eye. Grabbing her by the hair, he smashed her nose on the oil drum and she cried out, instinctively raising a hand to her face. He snaked a hand into the side of her neck and snapped, snatching the gun out of her hands even as her body fell.
He ducked as a barrage of darts flew past him. Pressing his back against a drum, Rahsut peeked to find the other drunk-or-injured man already dead while the man with the razor-sharp teeth wrestled with the bulky woman, their guns tossed a few feet away.
Huh. So much for that momentary truce.
He spied the lightbulb near him, still swinging. He grabbed it with one hand, pulling out the chewing gum with the other and sticking it on the bulb, recoiling when the hot glass burned his finger.
At least this will go quicker than I anticipated, he thought as the glowing bulb twinkled like the stars outside. Damned twinkler.
He moved quickly, moving behind another oil drum as he fired twice at the one directly beneath the bulb, then tossed the dead girl’s now empty gun at it for good measure. A thin spray or oil spurted from it, steadily growing into a tiny fountain leaking oil that quickly spread across the floor.
This caught the attention of the woman, who had finished crushing the throat of the thin man and pummeling him to death with her fists. She grinned, going for the two guns at her feet even as he leaped, and the world froze.
In that moment, Rahsut saw everything. The horror on Gvadiskvi’s face, the victory on the woman’s, the final moments of the mine as he shot at the lightbulb which burst apart, flames engulfing the oil an-
The next day, all the papers talked about the mine blow-up. A gas explosion, they called it. The official report said that no one was around when it happened, no one got hurt. The clean-up crew moved quickly, doing multiple sweeps and gathering what they found before loading the bodies in a truck to be taken away and incinerated. Yet no one noticed a single hand twitching still, of the dead man who would still live, outliving his own carnage. No one noticed the mouth speak obscenities in broken whispers, cursing at himself, at the stars, and at life itself.