“Not bad, Dawber.” Theon whistled. It had been awhile since Dawber attracted this much attention. The Old Warrior shouldn’t be that hard to find. The muggy night was pushed back by the giant lights that surrounded the building, calling all to witness the carnage.
A rusted salvaged sign barely revealed the name of this place: The Blood Hall. Packed with thousands of people, the refurbished warehouse looked as though it would burst. Debris spread across the grounds in sheets. In their past lives, this line of warehouses had housed weapons of war. Many had died here in service of the Machina Incursion, working themselves until their bodies broke. In the intervening years since they’d been repurposed into fighting halls, the death count had grown exponentially.
Although the event had started hours before, people still tried to weasel their way in. The crowd seethed on top of one another. Theon admired this sort of macabre enjoyment and faintly remembered something he’d gawked at in his youth. More dream than reality, he remembered little past being a god. Most of the time he didn’t worry about it. Clearly, he didn’t need to remember.
He moved through the crowd without slowing. It parted around him though no one recognized that he was there. He passed a gaggle of young things too caught up in each other’s bodies to enjoy the spectacle. Moments after he crossed them, an argument broke out. Theon grinned.
The guy at the register, dressed in a frayed suit, waited against the ticket stand, craning to see any action. After slipping onto his tiptoes to get a glimpse, he plopped back down. Theon smiled at the boy from the now closed tram station. The boy stared at him as though they’d never crossed paths before. Theon entered the warehouse without the attendant lifting a finger. The roar of the crowd rose in waves, riled up then left unsatisfied.
A far cry from its use in decades past, an arena had been built with brick and mortar. In the center of the building, pieced-together fragments of steel and shorn wires wrapped the enclosure. A circle of people pressed against the vicious materials, accepting their wounds for a chance to get close to the fighters. Remnants of shattered bodies littered the edges, blood splatters not belonging to those poor souls caked the stonework. As a result, the whole place reeked of decay, the death pangs of piss and shit. All this mixed together with the stink of sweat, unwashed bodies. Lights hung generously, leaving no corner unlit.
Two men, spattered with the guts of previous fighters, dragged the body of a badly beaten man across the tarp. A line of blood trailed after him.
Good. Theon hadn’t missed the main event.
Another pulse ripped through the air. Only Theon noticed. He circled the periphery of the arena, making his way to the lower regions of the Blood Hall. He followed a grey shaft down into what had become training rooms. He passed by several closed doors, came across an open one. He shot a glance into the room as he pressed on, seeing an older man standing there.
“You’re—” the voice fell out of range for a second, “—throw this match or you’re dead.”
A deep voice, with the kind of tone that shakes a man to his core, responded with twice as much force, “The fuck I am. This place needs me. I’m the best there is and you know it.”
Theon froze, the timbre more recognizable than the actual voice. He leaned against the opposite wall, smirking as he peered into the open room. The brutality emanating through the words left no doubt for him.
“Not anymore. You’ve seen the crowds. When was the last time you drew this kind of turnout? This new kid’s what everyone’s clamoring for.”
“You say that, but he can’t beat me.”
“He doesn’t have to. You’re going to throw this.”
The wall shook as the fighter on the other side struck it.
“No. I’m. Not.”
“Damn it Dawber, the fans want to see blood. Your blood. You’re going to fucking die if you don’t listen.”
“We’ll see about that,” Dawber growled.
The old man limped from the room. He looked straight at Theon, but proceeded away from the arena.
After the manager disappeared, the crowd lit up as an overbearing voice rattled off its announcement of the next match. On cue, Dawber emerged from his room. He wore a simple black tank top that clung to his muscles. Arrow marks pocked the skin of his back. His fists, wrapped in frayed white bandages, clenched in anticipation. He glanced over his scarred shoulder, eyes flashing in recognition as he caught sight of Theon. Aided by the ripped sides of his mouth, an impossibly grotesque smile revealed rows of jagged teeth. A scar ran the length of his face. He turned toward Theon.
The crowd roared again for their hero.
“They’re calling,” Theon noted with a grin.
With a shrug, Dawber ran out to the main floor.
Theon followed after the Old Warrior, intent on witnessing a great fight. He watched from the edge of the causeway, amusement carving his features. It’d be no more than a minute or two anyway.
Afire with energy, the arena erupted as Dawber and the Kid entered the ring. Dawber raised his arms and howled. The crowd ate it up as he readied himself, taking on an aggressive lower stance. Dwarfed by the monster in front of him, the Kid practically shuddered with fear, eyes locked intently on Dawber. Dressed in a loose, white long-sleeved shirt with a single black stripe down his right sleeve, the Kid held his fists in front of him. His hair fell past his eyes, parted along the sides.
As the crowd’s shouts hit a crescendo, the two fighters lunged.
Dawber swung. The Kid dodged, retaliated with a swift kick to the face. The blow ricocheted off Dawber’s arm. Dawber tossed the boy aside. The Kid struck a plate, ripping his shirt, but managed to stand.
Dawber pelted the Kid’s head, battering his face to each side. The boy dropped to the tarp, narrowly avoiding Dawber’s fist as it swung wide, slamming into a metal plate. The cage rattled violently, shedding debris from the makeshift fortifications. A long spire of steel fell in front of the Kid. The Kid wasted no time clambering to his feet. The Kid stumbled away, left hand touching the bloody tarp before regaining his composure. He spun to face Dawber, eyes clouded with fear.
Dawber turned, knuckles dripping blood.
The Kid ducked as Dawber attacked, sliding under the massive fists, then he scored a hard strike. Dawber’s head flew back, a loud crack filling the space. Dawber fixed his gaze on the Kid, eyes going wild. As the Kid backed up, he pulled something from the loose folds of his shirt. It glinted as it came free.
Theon straightened. His eyes narrowed. He searched the mat for the spire of metal that had fallen earlier, but couldn’t spot it. Movement from the fight caught his eye.
Dawber swept forward. The Kid slipped backward, avoiding the fists by mere inches as he led Dawber around the cage.
A murmur spread through the crowd.
Dawber launched himself at the Kid, gripping the Kid’s loose shirt, and threw him. The Kid flew like a ragdoll, struck the barbed wire, flesh ripping as he tore from its grip. He hit the ground, but climbed to his feet, faltered. Unrelenting, Dawber darted toward him, but the Kid got in close and flattened against his opponent.
Dawber went rigid.
The Kid pulled away, backing from the lumbering giant. Blood trailed from Dawber’s stomach, dripping in thick globs onto the canvas. He took a few unsure steps, then collapsed in a heap. A makeshift blade from the fortifications jutted through Dawber’s back, fresh blood and bile coating the sheared metal.
The crowd exploded, cheering the victor, their roar deafening and bloodthirsty. This is what they’d come to see: a dirty death, not a knock out.
Theon shook his head. At least it wouldn’t be long before the Old Warrior returned. As much as he anticipated seeing Dawber’s skinny self again, it was a shame to see all this fame and hard work gone to waste. But, it’d be a riot to see what kind of chaos Dawber would raise once he was reborn, as furious as ever, and ready to inflict some punishment.