By: Ian Krueger

The room stinks like sweat and cheap booze, the air is thick with bloodlust and dancing seizure–shadows. I'm reclined up against the bar, leather jacket unzipped revealing my ragged Crawl shirt, fingers on the tabletop, and a knot is tightening in my stomach.

Crunch. Splat. The crowd roars. Two men–– I flinch at the word. Two boys are tearing each other to bits inside the rattling chain link cage. One's got the other by the neck, and he's smashing his head against the blood–spattered concrete. The other boy's eyes are swollen shut, blood dribbling from his open mouth as his skull cracks against the concrete again and again and again.

I flinch. Cage–fighting shouldn't be like this.

"Ugly fight, huh?" A tall, amazonian–looking girl sidles up next to me. She's got sharp features, thick, muscular legs, and a huge sword on her back.

I fold my arms. "Poor kid." There's a sickening crunch, and a tooth flies out across the room. Deafening applause.

She raises an eyebrow. "You aren't much older."

I shrug. "I've been at this awhile."

She gives a slow, knowing nod. Eyes the dagger clutched in my bony hands. "You're going in?"

I nod back. Something snaps in the cage, and the boy slumps to the floor, a bloody broken rag doll. The other boy rises to his feet, blood and gore dribbling down his face. He pounds his chest. Then, he pulls out a knife. The crowd howls with glee. I shake my head. "Someone oughtta buy that poor kid's life," I muse. "He doesn't deserve to die."

The amazon shrugs. "Why don't you do it?"

"Why don't you?"

She licks her lips. "I like the bloodsports."

I feel a flicker of disgust. "Sicko at heart, huh?"

She smiles a bit. "Something like that."

The winner drags the blood–gelatin rag doll to his feet. Puts the knife to his neck with a sadistic grin. The crowd rattles the chainlink, howling for blood.

"Kill! Kill! Kill him!" A high–pitched female shriek rings out across the room. I feel the sharp pang of guilt. The amazon is grinning. "Wait!" I leap to my feet, jerk my wallet from my pocket and wave it in the air. "Wait! Hold up!" I holler. "I wanna buy his life!"

The crowd groans. "You gonna pay for the ambulance, too?" I hear someone jeer.

I push my way through. Grab onto the chainlink. "You!" I roar, locking eyes with the winner. "Two–hundred dollars for that kid!"

He's breathing hard. Sweat pours down his chest, and he's got a little smile on his face. His eyes are wide and bloodshot. "You're Frig, right?" He says after a moment. "The knife–fighter?"

"Yeah." My eyes narrow. "What of it?"

He snorts. Smiles like a killer. "Aren't you the girl that gutted that blonde kid and jerked out his intestines while he was still alive?"

My blood freezes. The crowd had been especially bloodthirsty that night, and I'd needed the extra cash. "Yeah," I swallow. "What of it?"

He spreads his arms. The losing boy slumps to the ground. "Why the hell would a psycho like you care about this loser?"

I gulp. Stutter. "Not your business!" I finally stammer out.

He shakes his head, short black hair shining with blood and limelight. "Tell you what, Frig. You fight me, on my terms––" he nods at the knife–– "and this loser goes free."

The knot becomes nausea. The crowd is staring at me with black, gleaming–hungry rat eyes. Frig, the knife–girl, torn to pieces in the ring by some brute. Oh, they craved it. "Fine," I say, voice quivering a bit. "You've got a deal."

I turn. Push my way back through the crowd, up to the amazon.

"Jesus," she breathes, green eyes wide. "What the hell are you doing? He'll beat you into pulp."

I shake my head. "I dunno." I hold out my knife. Give a tiny, lopsided grin. "Maybe I'm getting soft."

She shakes her thick, bloodred curls. Takes the knife in her hand. "Who do I give the knife too?"

"Nobody," I say coldly. "I ain't dying tonight."

"Cute. Bravado." She laughs, shakes her head again. "I thought you said you were a veteran of this thing."

"I am." I pull my thick, black braid tight. Hang my coat over the seat. "Don't go anywhere."

"I won't."

I turn. March off towards the black, hungry swarm, the gleaming white limelight. The stench of fresh blood hangs thick in the air as the bouncer unlocks the cage, and I step inside.

The boy stands tall, a cocky smile on his lips. His fists are stained with blood, his muscular chest breathing in, out, in out. The door bangs shut behind me, and I hear the rattle of the chain being fastened.

"You're gonna die," says, chuckling a bit. "I'm gonna pound until you aren't anything but a little red stain."

I put up my fists. Circle, my dark eyes locking on his sweat–gleaming, muscular form. "What's your name?"

"Tim." His teeth flash. "What of it?"

"Nothing." I shrug.

He laughs aloud. Clenches his fists, eyeing my form as he slowly puts one foot forward. "My coach calls you the blood countess." He steps in a bit closer, circles, eyes gleaming with bloodthirsty desire. "He says you're possessed by an evil spirit."

"Nope." I smile a bit. "Just a bit crazy, that's all."

He nods. "You're just as beautiful as they said you were," he muses, stepping to the side. "Maybe I'll let you wriggle I little, just so I can have my hands on you a bit longer––"

A flash of anger. I leap forward and swing. He jerks back in shock, but the strike connects. I spring back, and there's a little red mark spreading across his face.

"Cute," he breathes angrily, rubbing his face. "Very cute." He charges forward, fists flying, but I slide to the side easily, and he crashes against the chain–link. I laugh.

"Come on, Tim!" I taunt. "This the best you got?"

He whirls, purple with rage. I size him up. Big, scary, hot with adrenaline, but exhausted. This is his second fight of the night, and he is not at the top of his game. Suddenly, I start to giggle uncontrollably.

"You cunt!" He hisses, charging across the cage with tornadic fury. I slide to his right and catch his shin with my foot. He crashes to the ground, his knee striking the concrete with a sickening crack. He howls.

"Stupid boy!" I'm laughing uncontrollably, tears running from my black eyes. I don't know why I was ever afraid. "Taking two fights in one night!"

"I'll tear you in half!" He screams, leaping to his feet. He comes at me with a haymaker, and I duck, tucking in my shoulders and slamming my head into his chest. There's a sharp crack, and I get knocked flat on my ass. I look up. He's reeling, clutching at his chest. He slides to the ground, gasping desperately for breath, eyes wide with terror, breath low and hollow. Then he goes still and pale, arms wrapped about him, and a little trickle of blood runs from his open mouth.

The crowd stares in disbelief. I hear the door rattle open, and the judge runs in, turning over the body. "Broken rib," he says in amazement, shaking his head. "Snapped and went straight through his heart. He died almost instantly."

"Didn't…even….mean…to kill him," I gasp, chest heaving. The judge turns. "Hey!" I leap to my feet and grab him by the arm. He turns. I point a trembling finger at the boy, still barely breathing on the ground. "Get that kid an ambulance, man!"

Judge nods numbly. "Right. Hey, Rodriguez!" He exits the cage, pushing through the crowd. "I need an ambulance!"

I draw a deep, ragged breath, relief flooding my body. I turn to the boy. His breath is almost gone now, his eyes glazed and sightless. A sharp pang of guilt stabs at my chest, and I rush over, gathering the poor kid in my arms. "Hey," I whisper, drawing him to my breast. "It's okay. I'm gonna get you outta here."

Blood bubbles up from his mouth, dribbling onto my arm. A hot ball of tears sticks in my throat, and suddenly I'm real scared I'm gonna cry.

His eyes flicker open. He draws a ragged breath.

"Hey," I whisper.

His faded blue eyes stare into mine. "Who are you?" he murmurs, voice barely audible.


They flicker shut. I pull him close and draw a hot, angry sob, burying my face in his bloody chest. "I'm sorry."


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