He looks so weak these days.
So very frail. I can't believe that he's deteriorating so rapidly.
The doctors don't exactly know what it is. They just keep pricking him with needles and giving out more useless medication than my father can afford. And yet, all it does is plague him with horrible side effects that do more to make him feel 'yucky' than they do to make him better. My little brother, Jason, is only 9 years old. He doesn't deserve to suffer like this. Not him. He's an angel. And sometimes angels need to be protected. Their wings can be SO very brittle at his age.
I ran away from home at age 17. My mother was hitting the bottle pretty hard, and hitting ME even harder. When it got to be too much...I made my exit from a life of further abuse and misery for something that I was hoping would be better. Jason was barely 5 years old at the time. One of the few reasons that I stayed at home for as long as I did was to make sure that she didn't screw him up the way she did to me.
I've come back many times in secret to see him and whisper a brief hello in the darkness of night. I doubt that he has much of an idea of who or 'what' I am. As far as he's concerned, I'm just a friendly shadow outside of his bedroom window. It's our little secret. Maybe I'll tell him the truth one day. Some day when he's older. When he'll be able to truly understand what I'm doing and why I can't come back home. For now, though...it's better that I remain his imaginary friend in the dark. I'm sure that my dad told him whatever story he needed to hear in order to let him sleep at night...and I guess I should stick to it. As far as Jason knows, his big brother is dead. Who knows...maybe on a variety of levels...he's right.
I know that Jason deserves to know the truth about me. His big brother, Jacob. And I know that trading my life in daylight for an eternity in darkness was a decision that I should have made with his feelings and well being in mind, as well as my father's. But even though I may never be able to officially return home, or really interact with my baby brother or the rest of the human world ever again...I want him to know that he's still my lucky charm. The only one I have. And he's the reason I made this choice. In darkness, I can be better. Stronger. I can be what he needs me to be...in order for him to get well again.
I always make him little folded Origami swans and paper dolls to give him a signal. A trinket, to always let him know that I was winning, and that I loved him. I miss his charming smile soooo much.
Every time that I step back into that arena, and I win a match...I personally make him another paper doll, and I set it outside of his bedroom window with a single piece of clear adhesive tape. Just to let him know that I'm ok...and that I'm thinking about him. Keeping him close to my heart. I know he remembers the significance of it, and he never said a word about it to Dad or anyone else. Thank goodness. It's just something for us two to share, and no one else. When I win in that arena, I win for him. The paper dolls are our only real communication nowadays. I hope, in some way, it's enough.
I love you, Jason. And no matter what...always remember...
I'm doing this for you....
"BRIGHT LIGHTS!!! LOUD MUSIC!!! SEXY LADIES!!! WE'VE GOT IT ALL!!! LET ME HEAR YOU PEOPLE MAKE SOME **NOISE**!!!" The announcer shouted over the loud speaker, waiting for the ever predictable roar of a bloodthirsty crowd, readily craving their fix of Saturday night carnage. "The 'Black Gator' fighting arena welcomes you!!! You know how it goes down here, vamps and vampettes! Two fighters enter the ring, and only ONE leaves with his precious bone structure in tact!!! Place your bets, take your hits...and WE clean up the mess! There's no better plan than that for a Saturday night in the vampire underground!!! Am I right???"
The 'Black Gator' was one of the biggest hidden underground vampire fighting pits in the city. Now rapidly growing even bigger since their main rival arena, Soren's 'Stronghold', ended up being recently destroyed in some sort of unexplained freak accident. Whatever happened to Soren's expert fighters from Stronghold is still a mystery to most. Mere rumors, whispered between professional gamblers and somewhat credible street informants. But, whatever it was that took out his bestbrawlers with ease, it came back and tore the place down from the inside out like some kind of crazed monster. Either way, Soren's loss paved the way for the Black Gator arena fighters to sweep nearly ALL of the recent IceZone battles without much competition at all. Making us the new number one arena in the city. And that means a shitload of new clients and a flood of new, ambitious, gamblers, that have all come looking for the next new superstar in the ring, and bringing their wads of cold hard cash with them. All of that hoopla pouring into the place, of course, means more money in my pocket as long as I keep winning like I have been. Money that I can bring home and make sure that Jason gets well again. This is my moment! I can't fuck it up now! I CAN'T
By the time Soren and his fighters are back on their feet, I will have made myself a big name in the fighting circuit, and will become a familiar face for the biggest gamblers in the biz to watch out for. This is the perfect opportunity for someone like me! It's the only way that I'm going to increase my earnings and get myself into a higher class of pit fighters here in the city. There were arena scouts from all over the country that were watching the matches now. I had to be the best. No excuses. So, I'm definitely gonna show them the lion in me tonight.
The moments before a match were always most thrilling for me. It was a surge of adrenaline that sent me soaring to an almost spiritual plane of existence. Win, win, win! It was all that I could see. It made me feel invincible. Even if I take a beating, it's the anticipation beforehand that keeps me going strong. This arena was the one place on Earth that could take the only thing that I was ever really good at...and exploit it for money until my well ran dry. There was a strategy to the sport. You have to be good, but not too good. You want the odds to even out against you as well as for you. You've got to give them a 'show'. They should be cringing when you break something on another fighter. They should spontaneously jump out of their seats and SCREAM in victory when you deliver that final blow. Exciting my audience and pulling them in is half the battle. If I can just keep my stats as high as they have been lately, then I can be sure that Jason gets a fighting chance to survive. A chance to be able to get out of his bed and go out to enjoy the glory of those beautiful rays of daily sunshine...that I can never again see for myself.
That's what I want for him. that's all I want for him. Jason's fighting too...but his challenger is a lot bigger and a lot deadlier than mine...with a much higher win/lose ratio.
If flexing a little muscle a few times a week, along with a couple of bruises and broken limbs that heal within a single sleep cycle or two, is all I have to suffer through in order to help out the family I left behind...then so be it.
As I collected my thoughts in the locker room, the muffled sounds of cheers and hard rock music bouncing off the walls, I closed my eyes and began using a few breathing techniques to hopefully keep my stamina up. Clearing my mind. Letting go of any traces of fear or doubt that I may have hiding inside my head.
I heard a bit of commotion coming from behind me, and turned around to see a few other fighters walking in to prepare for fights of their own. One of them was Jody.
Ahhh, Jody. I swear, it feels like my heart gets squeezed in a vice every time he comes into view. He's the kind of boy that forces even the coldest of skeptics to believe in 'love at first sight'. Jody had the kind of beauty that made you envy him, both inside and out. Such a gentle personality, such a sweet sense of humor...and delicate features that gave him the right to wear the title of 'pretty'. Medium length, dishwater blond colored, bangs...and eyes so blue that they could drown you in a matter of seconds. Mesmerizing. Looking at this boy from a distance, you would NEVER guess that he was a pit fighter. He was much too cute for this business. Who could stand slamming their fist into a face that perfect?
Jody and I used to spar together at an underground gym further in towards the city. He was the one who told me about the Black Gator arena in the first place. He introduced me to the major players, taught me the game, and gave me a shot at proving myself to the higher ups. And yet, I couldn’t name a single person on Earth who made me feel more weak inside.
I've spent the last two years trying not to visibly drool every time he smiles in my direction. His very presence does wonders for my soul. He makes me soooo very happy. And I haven't mustered up the courage to tell him how much I love him yet.
After all the power fighters I've stepped up to and beaten down without breaking a sweat...you'd think that something as simple as a boyish infatuation would be easy to deal with.
Quite the contrary, in fact. Despite the joy and comfort it brings in the long run...love may just be the most frightening emotional challenge of all.
"You've got that look on your face again." He grinned. Jody has the kind of smile that makes his cheeks bunch up in the cutest way, just a hint of a dimple on either side. Teeth, so white that it's hard to imagine that he's ever tasted blood before.
"What look is that?" I asked.
"That 'I can't wait to crack somebody's ribs tonight' look. Hehehe! You've been on fire lately, Jacob. I'm gonna have to work harder just to keep up with you." He said.
"As long as you don't end up in the ring with me, trying to knock me down with one of your little ancient tricks."
"Awww, but the ancient tricks are the best ones!" He said with a playful whine. See, Jody crossed over when he was only 15 years old, but he's been in darkness for a quite a few years longer than I have. He's an expert on martial arts forms and techniques. He studies them relentlessly, trying to absorb every positive and negative aspect of every fighting system ever known. And some that aren't so known. Jody hopes to one day be a high ranking master of them all. And, hey...when you're a vampire with a few centuries ahead of you to burn, that's not such a far fetched goal to have at all. "It looks like the money pot is pretty heavy tonight. There are a lot of newcomers out there. More than usual. Soren’s temporary collapse is working to our benefit. You've gotta make a real go for the gold out there."
"Yeah. I know." I said, remembering to breathe steadily. It wasn't easy with Jody causing my heart to flutter like this.
"How's he doing? Your little brother?"
I sighed. "Not so good. I've got to get this money to my family fast, Jody. This place had better fill my pockets up, and quick."
"Yeah, well...you'd better keep a watchful eye on the fight schedule. Kenshiro's pushing to be the crowd favorite lately, and he's been making a lot of gambler's highlight reels in this place. He’s not going to let up any time soon." Jody said.
"Ugh! I fuckin’ HATE that guy!" I said. "He's such an asshole. How could anybody root for that son of a bitch?"
"The sharks in this place don't care. He wins. And he’s practically gangster royalty. That's what they're interested in...the reputation. Can you believe he's actually claiming to be the best fighter in the whole city now? He's made a whole campaign out of it. It's narcissism at its best."
"Whatever." I groaned. "You know, if he hadn't lucked out and had to actually take that match against Soren's boy, Natpea, I'm willing to bet that he would have been knocked off the charts completely by now. And I heard through the grapevine that even Natpea got his ass kicked in the Stronghold incident. If that's true, then it means there's somebody running around out there who's even better than HE is!"
Jody grinned, “Kenshiro and Natpea were never going to be pitted against one another. They’re brothers. Any arena with good sense is going to build up the hype to a match like that for decades before they make it happenin front of a public audience. That’s a HUGE payday for them, and they know it.”
“Doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. And I might throw some money into that pot too when it comes around. I’m looking forward to seeing Kenshiro get that smug grin get smacked down to the mat.”
"Well, the way things are going around here, you and Kenshiro are going to have to face off, eventually. And when you do...I want you to smash that son of a bitch right in that big dumb mouth of his. Put him to sleep for me, Jacob! My money's on you, dude!"
I felt a bit of a swoon go through me as the words left those soft, plush, lips of his and glided gracefully into my ears, the compliment sending a series of tender electric sparks up my spine. I tried to hide my blush from him as I asked, "You'd really bet on me? If I went up against Kenshiro?"
He looked me in the eye. His expression softened, and he said, "I'd always bet on you, Jacob. No matter what."
"Heh...you'd probably lose everything you have."
"It's not about winning or losing. It's about believing in you. And I..." He blushed a bit himself. "...I believe in you, Jacob."
“So...you’re saying that you don’t MIND losing everything you have? Hehehe!” I teased.
But, in a calm voice, he said, “It wouldn’t be everything.”
The moment was eternal. A connection so strong that it nearly cut my lung capacity for oxygen in half, if not more so. We barely blinked at all, and I felt a certain 'push' within me to just take a chance, lean forward, and crush my hungry lips against his in a fit of utter insanity.
But reality intruded, and the red siren lights began spinning in the high corners of the locker room...signaling all fighters to prepare for their announcements.
With a bashful smile, Jody looked down at his feet, and said, "I guess we should get going, huh?"
"Um...yeah. I guess." I answered.
Things began to get awkward between us, so I tried to escape in order to keep from embarrassing myself any further.
I stepped to one side, but Jody accidentally stepped to the same side. We nearly bumped into one another, and did an uncomfortable dance back and forth for a moment before we were able to work things out and put some distance between us again.
It feels like fear. It has all the components of fear. But it's love that surging through my heart. I know it is. It's a narcotic, and I can't ever seem to get enough of it. Thank God it's free of charge.
szurp "FIGHTERS TO RINGSIDE!!! All bets are closed, people!!! If you missed your chance to make some real money tonight...TOO FUCKIN’ BAD!!!" The announcer screamed, keeping the hype extremely high for all of the spectators that turned out in record numbers to take a peek at the new kings and queens in the fighting circuit. The bright lights above were chaotic in their harsh flicker, the fury of ringside pyrotechnics blazing with a harsh and brazen light of their own. The 'splash row' was full of the richest vampires in the building. The splash row were those vampires who were so close to the ring that just the right punch or kick would reward them with a sudden offering of fresh warm blood. They were always thrilled by the tang of its adrenaline filled flavor. I could always see them wiping the liquid off of their faces with a finger or two...soon sucking the blood coated digits into their mouths for an indulgent taste of another fighter's pain. Jody was right. Even though the seats have been packed on a few occasions before, it was never anything like this. The Black Gator was beyond capacity! I had quite a number of high paying customers to perform for.
Don't worry, Jason! Big brother is gonna have your money much sooner than I thought!
I was instantly shaken by the vibration of the thunderous music pumping overhead. The speakers practically exhausting themselves to keep up with the tunes, pounding hard enough for thin clouds of dust to be shaken from their surface. And yet, despite it all, the crowd's cheering was loud enough to almost drown it all out. Once I was close enough to the ring to see the current match taking place, I could see why.
Kenshiro was in the middle of his first match for the evening, and he was already taunting his current opponent into a rapid defeat. I couldn't help but to wrinkle up my face in disgust. I just...I seriously hatedthat arrogant son of a bitch. I hated him with every fiber of my being.
A vampire who was born into darkness when he was 18 years old, right at the prime of his youth and physical condition...had now accumulated over 30 years of practice and fighting experience. He was practically invincible in the ring. And he only seemed to be getting better. Faster. But what was he fighting for? Money. Fame. Frivolous, material, bullshit. Not to mention that he had the personality of a rabid wolverine. It just sucked that I was going to have to inevitably battle him for the money I needed to save my baby brother. And out of all of the people in that arena...he was, quite, possibly my biggest threat. That made me hate him all the more.
I kept my eyes glued to the ring, watching his technique. It was almost flawless in its execution. His footwork moved him around that ring so fast that it almost looked like he was sliding across the canvas. His legs delivered kicks at the speed of light, and his fists were even faster, often getting in three or four good shots in before his opponent even knew what was going on. The crowd fueled him with enthusiastic praise every step of the way...ugh! Somehow, it made him perform at an even higher level of perfection. The louder they cheered, the more efficient he became. They fed him all the energy he would ever need, and he would use that as a weapon to further intimidate his challenger at the same time. He definitely knew what he was doing here.
As he took his position, I saw the other fighter make the mistake of trying to sweep Kenshiro's legs from under him. Already anticipating that move, Kenshiro jumped up and spun around in the air...bringing a brutal kick down on the forehead of his opponent. It was a done deal after that. The other vampire fell back, a huge dent in his forehead, the flesh turning a dark purple while his brain attempted to calculate the damage before causing him to pass out on the mat.
The fight was stopped, and Kenshiro played to the crowd with both fists raised in victory. His sickening grin pointed in my direction as he saw me approaching the side of the ring. Kenshiro had been watching my ascension in the rankings lately. He watched me fight from the bottom to the top and take home a decent amount of winnings every time. Ever since then, he's been giving me the stare of a mad dog, trying to break down my confidence early, strategizing his way towards an easy win later on down the line.
I don't intend to give him one.
But...deep down, I'd be lying if I said that he didn't intimidate me too sometimes. JUST a little bit.
That's the only inch I'll give him, though. That ONE inch...and nothing more.
The ring was cleared. Kenshiro's latest victim was dragged out and put on a stretcher so he could be taken into the back where he would be revived and informed of how bad he looked in front of all the people who bet money on him tonight. He'll be ok in a day or two...unless those gamblers lost big on him. In which case, he might want to leave town and lay low for a while. They tend to hold a grudge about that sort of thing.
Nobody ever said that fighting in the vampire underground was easy.
"HEADS UP, my fellow night crawlers!!! It looks like we've got ourselves a LOCAL talent coming up in the next match, folks! He's been a regular contestant here for the last year and a half! And judging from what I've seen on his personal scorecard out there...you gamblers have got a lot of LOVE for this neighborhood bad boy! So let's get him hyped up so we can get some serious BLOOD flowing up in here!!! HUH?!?!?!"
Introduced by my stage name as 'Bandit' in the fighting circuit, I walked towards the ring, hearing the deafening clamor of the crowd as they showed me all the love and support that I had worked so hard to achieve. Pushing myself to the limit every step of the way. Always giving it my all, every single time. But it was the belief of that ONE boy...my favorite boy, Jody...that meant the most to me tonight. I couldn't pick him out of the mass of people before me...but I knew he was out there somewhere. Watching. Caring. And in a room full of screaming and adoring fans...just a silent nod of approval from him, alone, would be enough to get me through this. The rest of the arena...in fact, the rest of the world, could be completely empty, as far as I was concerned...and it would still be enough.
The ref signaled for me to step into the flat, circular, ring. Dead center, with HD cameras capturing me from every angle for a close examination of the match, no matter who won. The referee was, of course, only there for 'decoration' in this place. There was no reason to really enforce any kind of strict rules in the fighting rings while the fights were taking place. Except for the solid rule of not using your vampire extras to gain an unfair advantage over your opponent. They have devices overhead that emit sound frequencies to cancel out the brainwaves that won’t allow our extras to work in the ring, but I'm sure that there are ways to get around them if you practice hard enough. Other than that, there were no rules. A luxury that fighters used to not only beat their competitors to a bloody pulp, but to inspire fear and dread in the hearts of the next combatants who dared to step up next. One could really get hurt in this place, possibly even have their existence in darkness terminated for good. And for many of the fighters here...that was a major part of the allure.
Weird fetish to have, don't you think?
I stretched a bit, getting my practiced stances and balance together, snapping my neck a few times as I got myself ready for my first match of the evening. I might not have had as much formal training as some of these other fighters in the arena...but I knew enough to kick some serious ass when I really needed to. I've been fighting since the first day that I went to public school at age 5 in daylight. And since then I've had plenty of lessons, grew to be a teenager, crossed over, studied with a few other expert vampire fighters, picked up a lot of tricks from Jody, honed my instincts, sharpened my skills. I've done it all in my six years in darkness. I just hope that it'll be enough to get me some major gambling points tonight. The competition is heavier than it used to be.
But despite all that, I've got myself a new secret weapon now. I've been studying him from afar for a few weeks now, but I think that I've mimicked his movements enough to have effectively learned a great deal from his unique fighting style. Enough to take me to that next superior level of fighter skill. Those movements, those positions...I have been trying so hard to get them down, but they're like nothing I've ever seen before. I know that I kind of 'stole' his style for myself, but I consider it more of a study than a theft. An analysis made by a potential colleague, right?
Heh...and to think, I just happened to see him practicing one night outside in an old graveyard up North. A vampire...completely covered in shadows.
Where did he learn to fight like that? How old could he be to have developed such an amazing level of grace. And where did he learn it from? I think I've learned a few new tricks to get me through the night, but I'd really love to know more about this particular style. I'm sure Jody knows what it is. He knows everything. I'll have to have him explain it to me in detail a bit later. Maybe even...whisper it softly into my ear. Hehehe! How awesome would that be?
Ugh...still overrun with teenage hormones. I should have crossed over in my 20’s instead. I've got to fight to focus before I end up taking on my next challenge with a raging hard on.
Anyway, whoever that dark man in the shadows was, or whatever style he was training with, I know that, with his help...I might just be able to win a shitload of money before anybody else in the Black Gator arena gets a chance to figure it out. So I consider that my ace in the hole.
"HERE HE IS, Gator patrons...your chosen local halflife...and quite a CUTIE if I do say so myself! Your potential boy-champ...'BANDIT'!!!! MAKE SOME NOOOIIIIZE!!!"
It was a fighting name that I think seemed to fit me, even though I hated the halflife stigma attached to it. Why does my age always have to be such an issue in darkness? Whatever, I loved it more for Jason's benefit than anything personally appreciative or media worthy, myself. I am a bit of a fallen angel, after all. Doing what I'm doing...just for the money. Rob from the rich, give to the poor. Well, I'm a bit more selfish than that, but you get the idea.
It was then...that I saw my first competitor for the night. The guy was built like a freakin' TANK!!! A dark skinned goliath, with red ribbons tied to his elbows and knees. MASSIVE muscles that looked like they had been carved out of marble. My knuckles seemed to cringe on their own with the threat of having to slam themselves into such a solid structure. I don't blame them.
I knew this guy. I remember watching him break a guy's arm at the elbow a few weeks ago. Nearly broke it in half actually...and then proceeded to drag him around the ring by the nearly severed limb until the poor bastard screamed his vocal chords out in agony and tapped out. Afterward...the bastard broke his arm the rest of the way off, and then twisted the poor guy's neck backwards anyway. Just to be cruel for the sake few more cheers and gasps from the crowd. The guy was paralyzed from the neck down for at LEAST ten sleep cycles while his body tried to repair itself completely. It took even longer for him to get full feeling back in his fingers and toes. I must have been doing too much 'showing off' lately if they're starting me out with major heavy hitters like this one. I need to tone it down. I wanteasy wins. I'm not in it for the prestige or the cheering, bloodthirsty, crowds. I just need the money. That's all. Then I'm leaving this life behind me for good. I swear it.
"And taking Bandit on tonight...is one of your all time FAVORITE bets!!! He's BIG! He's BAD! He's BRUTAL! Ladies and Gentlemen...give up some UNRESTRICTED 'Black Gator' screams for...'KRUSH GROOVE'!!!" The untamed roar of the huge crowd surrounding the ring nearly deafened me as they had obviously seen Krush's previous fights, and were investing big bucks in the idea that he could beat me to the floor without any problem whatsoever. Still...I had to keep my game face on. Show any weakness...and he'll trash me in a matter of seconds, for sure. When you're fighting somebody bigger than you...if you believe for one second that they can beat you down...they will most likely end up winning the fight before it even begins. You can never let that happen. And yet...
...Total confidence can be such a hard thing to fake sometimes.