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Mayahani “Yah” Torrents had never been so in debt.
One simple, extremely stupid mistake, and suddenly she was a slave. Even had the marks to prove it. She studied them now in the empty fighting ring; a simple wooden pallet surrounded by lines of barbed wire.
“To make it more interesting,” Fernice Harsio had laughed.
Yah had been silent, fingers drumming the space between the sharp barbs. What did she have to say, anyway? She was the one fighting in the ring, the one that was in debt, the one that had been stupid enough to think that she could weasel her way out of anything.
She flexed her arms, watching the small golden tattoos ripple slightly. She huffed and leaned back on the wooden stool, staring at the blood flecked boards beneath her.
“Ten more minutes,” Lassmo said, and she curled her fists in anticipation.
“Time outs” as Fernice called them, were supposed to keep her in check. What was worse was that her legs were tied to the stool and there was no way she could climb over the ten-foot wire surrounding the ring without the special hook Lassmo had to move the wire for her. Honestly, she had forgotten what deed had sent her there in the first place. Maybe she had stolen another note off of him? Embarrassed him in front of someone, maybe? It didn’t matter, what mattered was that she had been without food the whole day and she had a fight in an hour.
Fighting on an empty stomach wasn’t desirable.
“Five,” Lassmo told her, twisting his silver hook with one hand and studying his watch with the other. “Hang in there, Yah.”
She nodded, sweat pooling in the hollow of her neck. The floodlights were at full power, all directed right at her face. Another little perk.
Lassmo stretched out his hook to her left, moving aside the wire to squeeze inside, “Two minutes.”
She cracked her neck, hoping she would have enough time to fill up and stretch out her stiff legs.
Two minutes passed, and he finally cut the binds around her legs, “All right, Yah, you can go.”
She stretched her legs out long, wincing as the stiff muscles were finally released from their still state, “Thanks, Lassmo.” She stood slowly, stomping her feet to get the blood flowing again. The red lines from the rope were still visible against her bare skin, and she decided she would have to wear her leather jeans instead of her usual combat shorts to hide the bruises.
“Yah, get going before the boss finds yet another reason to stage you in time out.”
She scoffed, shaking a little from hunger, “I have a fight in an hour.”
“Forty-five minutes,” Lassmo corrected, using his hook to raise the barbed wire.
She slipped through, only her hoodie catching on the spikes, “Then I best hurry!” She tore it free, waving at Lassmo, as she shakily ran to the showers.
Her shower was scalding and quick and she gritted her teeth the whole time, her stomach aching for food. Afterwards, she pulled on her leather pants and tight, impractical corset shirt made of leather. Fernice insisted she look good when bringing down men twice her size.
The pay was better that way.
She glanced at herself in the mirror, shoving her choppy brown hair out of her face. Bruises and scars from previous fights marred her face, but she looked good enough to bring in plenty of notes. But she needed something to eat.
She made her way back to the arena, where the doors had been opened since she was no longer in “time out” and customers were filing in with pockets full.
Yah grinned and made her way to the bar, subtly nicking a few notes from a passerby.
“Yah, I’m a little busy!” Costi snapped at her when she slapped the stolen notes on the bar and asked for a bowl of beans.
“And I’m about to fight in about twenty minutes,” Yah told him, “and I was in ‘time out’ for the whole day. Do you want Fernice to hear that you denied his favorite fighter food?”
Costi sighed at Yah’s words and spooned a sizable portion of beans into a small wooden bowl, tossing it at Yah so that some of the beans splashed onto the stained wood.
Yah smiled sweetly and tipped the bowl back so the beans slid into her mouth. She heard Costi gag and pulled the bowl away. Somehow, it was already empty.
She tossed it at him and he caught it easily, sighing, “Try to make it quick. I have a mind to get home early.”
She stuck her tongue out at the older, red-haired man and turned to watch the crowd swell. So many bulging pockets and drunk fat men. She hated to admit it, but the illicit Club Juno was the perfect place to nick a few notes. But she had to be careful; Fernice was on to her.
Lassmo appeared out of thin air next to her, his bulging arms rippling as he crossed them over his chest, “It’s time.”
Yah cracked her knuckles and rubbed her now full stomach, “I’m ready.”
He escorted her over to the ring and the bustling crowd quieted as Lassmo slipped the black mask covering her lips and nose onto her and used his hook to make a door for her to squeeze into. Her tight pants felt constricting, and she growled as the fabric tore on one of the barbs.
Lassmo met her gold green eyes and winked reassuringly, “Tears can be mended.”
She nodded and straightened after pulling the rest of her body inside. Calmly, she pulled the brass rings from her pocket and jammed them onto her fingers.
The crowd cheered at this, and Yah grimaced. She always felt exposed before a fight. Fernice intended that. He wanted her to know that, without him, she was nothing.
Yah heard him before she saw him; he made a distinct sound. Drag. Step. Drag. Step. Drag. Step. She looked up and caught his blue eyes as he shuffled through the gap Lassmo made for him.
The crowd seemed to be holding their breath.
Her eyes couldn’t help but wander to the mutilated leg he dragged behind him and the wooden cane he bounced against the wood. Despite how rich he was; Fernice never paid much for anything. He wore mostly tattered suits that hung from his skinny body and chose canes that were either broken at the top or had been hacked at with a sword.
He stopped beside her, his very presence making her tense, “Welcome to Club Juno!” He announced, voice grating on her ears.
The crowd cheered, visibly exhaling as they saw that he wasn’t frightening in looks. But he could be.
“Let me introduce my undefeated champion; Mayahani Torrents!”
He took her slender fingers in his, his signet ring pinging off her brass knuckles, and raised it high above his head.
“Now, who dares challenge her? Who is brave enough to face her?”
Several hands shot into the air.
Yah couldn’t help but smirk; idiots.
“You!” Fernice pointed to a grubby hand that looked about as big as Yah’s head.
She grinned behind her mask. No matter how strong, she would always beat them.
“Step up, brave soul!”
Lassmo moved aside the wire for a beefy man around twenty years older than her nineteen years. He was thick, yes, with corded muscles and a beard dripping alcohol and beans. His mean eyes latched onto hers and he spit at the ground beside her polished boots.
Welcome to the Devil's lair, she thought at him.
“Betting starts now!” Fernice used the opening to get out of the ring and the opponents began stalking each other.
This is going to be fun.
Elizabeth Pikes watched the gory fight with amusement; the girl was relentless and the bulky man near death. Though the underground goings-on of the city's slums were less than ideal for her, she liked betting and watching the girl fight.
Though she had put her money on Mayahani’s opponent.
Elizabeth adjusted her fur coat and sunglasses and tried to find a clean patch of ground to tread upon in her new red heels. She could tell the girl was growing tired of beating the man to a pulp and would want a fresh opponent soon. Now was the time to approach her. She made sure to keep her brown eyes peeled for any sticky fingers as she pushed aside sweaty bodies shaking with excitement.
She was too good for this place.
“Wait,” a tall man with a long silver hook stopped her as she drew close to the ring. “What do you want?”
The crowd roared as the girl slammed the man’s face into the barbed wire
Elizabeth sniffed, barely noticing, “I want to talk to her.” She pointed with a long, painted fingernail, smiling coyly.
He shook his head, “Yah has no time for fans.”
Elizabeth wanted to laugh but also yell at him for insulting her like that. Elizabeth Pikes was a fan for no one. “No,” she said with emphasis, “I have personal business with her.”
The man set his shoulders and shook his head, watching the girl slam her fist into her opponent’s chest. He fell and didn’t get up.
“I’ll see if Yah will take you.”
Take her? Elizabeth tightened her smile and fisted her hands, “She will. I’m Elizabeth Pikes.”
He barely batted an eye at her title, “Like I said; we’ll see.”
She huffed and stomped her foot. Did he seriously not know who she was? It didn’t matter. The girl, sweating and speckled with her and her opponent’s blood, made her way over and peered out at the man and Elizabeth.
“What is it? Who is this?” She demanded, wiping the sweat from her eyes and glancing back to see someone drag her downed opponent away.
Elizabeth growled dangerously. Was no one educated down there? “I’m Elizabeth Pikes and I have a request of you, Mayahani.”
Yah curled her nose suspiciously, left fingers tugging off her right knuckles, “I don’t have time.”
Another opponent squeezed past Elizabeth, and the man used his hook to make an opening for him in the wire. Yah moved aside, still staring at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth needed something to persuade the girl to at least meet with her. Judging by her golden markings, she owed her employer a large debt, one that was either paid back in notes or labor. It was clear that was why she was in the ring at all. Money was needed, that much was obvious. It wouldn’t matter in the end, if Yah agreed to help, but it would persuade the girl to see her.
Subtly, Elizabeth poked the corner of a note out of her pocket.
Yah’s eyes took in the golden corner and Elizabeth saw the gears turning in her head. Finally, she nodded, “Wait for me by the door.”
Then she turned toward her new opponent, shoving the bloody knuckle back onto her fingers, and a new fight began.
Elizabeth grimaced as Yah began punching and kicking the tall boy in tattered rags. But at least she had a meeting with the violent fighter before her. She shoved her way back over to the door and decided to wait.
Four opponents later and Yah was finally given a break. Elizabeth watched her through her thick sunglasses, taking in her beat up face and gory clothes.
“Finally,” she muttered, straightening.
Yah jerked her head at the door, “I have at least twenty minutes.”
Elizabeth grumbled in Mongolian as they trudged out onto the grimy street. She hated the slums of Trasten. And hated the beggars who brushed her heels with their dirt-crusted hands even more.
“Okay,” Yah stopped and removed her bloodied mask, “what is it?”
Elizabeth visibly winced in disgust at her marred face, “Do you seriously not know who I am?” She demanded, starting to get frustrated at the lack of respect in Yah’s eyes and manners.
“Does it matter?” Yah snapped back, jutting her hip out with her arms locked in front of her, “I just want to know what you want with me.”
Elizabeth scowled and muttered in her homeland’s language angrily, “My father is famous!”
“Get on with it or I’ll tear your flawless skin off your bones.”
Elizabeth thought she sounded very serious, even lazy, about the way she said this. She couldn’t help but shudder, though she had seen worse done to someone.
“Fine,” she relented grudgingly, “you belong to Fernice?”
Yah bristled, “I belong to no one.”
“But you fight for him, and those marks,” Elizabeth looked pointedly at the golden dots, “mark you as a slave.”
Yah gritted her teeth, “So I owe some money, what does that have to do with you?”
Elizabeth grinned slowly while trying to shake some strange, mushy substance off her new heels, “I work for Testfa.”
Yah stiffened and then snarled at Elizabeth’s words. The latter grinned; finally some recognition. Everyone knew what the people of Testfa did to crime lords; the torture was nothing short of slow and exceedingly painful. Though the wounds were invisible on the outside, much harm was done on the inside. Even slaves and workers to the cruel bosses hated the people at Testfa. What was the point in harming someone if there was nothing to be gotten in return? They never even asked questions, just tortured and laughed.
“I don’t work for murderers,” Yah spat, actually shooting a thick glob of saliva at Elizabeth’s heels.
Elizabeth cried out, hurriedly moving away from the disgusting deposit, “I suggest you lose that tone with me and accept my offer!” She hissed, adjusting her ruby studded gloves, “I can give you everything you need to escape him!”
“I don’t wish death upon anyone!”
Yah shoved past her, but Elizabeth turned and caught her arm, “Just listen to me! This man stole your parents! Why wouldn’t you want him dead? I can do that for you. Just help me!” Elizabeth hated the somewhat pleading tone in her voice, but she had a deadline. Pride would have to be pushed aside.
Yah turned her head, brown choppy hair flying over her bloodied shoulder, “How did you know that?”
Elizabeth smirked, “We see all.”
Yah wrenched her arm free and wiped it on her shirt like it was tainted. Elizabeth fought not to snap her neck. “What would you do with him? If I agreed to help you catch him or whatever.”
“I don’t want to catch him,” Elizabeth fluffed her hair, “I want to incriminate him enough to have him sentenced to death.”
“You do that anyway,” Yah muttered.
“No. We teach them a lesson that permanently scars. Then they learn to be less cruel. Understand?”
Yah shifted, her eyes flashing her thoughts. Elizabeth tried not to grin. She had her.
“Why do you want him dead?” Yah asked, “I can understand wanting someone so awful to perish, but this seems personal.”
Elizabeth’s smirk faltered, “Don’t worry about the whys. Just agree and we can part, only meeting when you have some evidence of his illegal goings-ons.”
Yah chewed on her lower lip, fiddling with her knuckles, “What do I get in return?”
“Before we kill him, we’ll find out where your parents are being held. And you’ll be freed, of course.”
“I want money too,” Yah said.
“Name your price, Testfa will pay.”
Yah mulled the choice over; the world would be better without Fernice, but she had never actually killed anyone. Of course, she wouldn’t be the one doing it, but she was condemning him. But, if she agreed, her parents would be returned to her and Fernice wouldn’t be able to lord his having them over her as a way to keep her complacent. And the money! She could take her parents far away, maybe to an island, where they would never be harmed again.
“Okay,” she conceded, holding out her hand to shake.
Elizabeth smiled dryly, “No thank you.”
Yah shrugged and let her arm fall to her side, “Come back in a few days; I may have something then.”
Elizabeth nodded and turned to go.
Yah stopped her with a deep-rooted question, “I won’t give you anything if you don’t tell me why. Call me crazy, but I like to understand my enemies and allies.”
Elizabeth took a second to still her nerves and glanced over her shoulder haughtily, “It’s for an assignment.”
With that, she slipped away, heels clapping the dirty cobblestones. Elizabeth felt a chill settle, and she curled her fur coat tighter around her body. Her true reason tightened around her stomach and she fought the urge to dump it on Yah. Not that she could, anyway. Yah had already stepped back inside the club.
But she wanted to. She knew what it was like to be a slave, knew the achiness hunger left. She curled her fists and raised her chin.
Nothing would stop her from taking down Fernice.
And if anyone tried… then they would have to go through Elizabeth Pikes.
Or she could go through them.
She grinned at the thought, standing a little taller. Yes, she would complete her assignment and take down a devious man in the process.
Tic Tock, Fernice, she mused, time is running out.