Finding Gratitude, Part 13

Lady Violet

“All right, all right…gods below, everyone shut up!”

Regni paused to take a breath. “That’s better. You hopped-up adrenaline junkies ready for your next hit?”

The crowd cheered. Regni was a petulant little beast, but he knew the fights. The gnome could size up anyone who wanted in the ring, and match up accordingly. For newcomers, this meant a real challenge. For the old hands, it prevented rust and complacency. And for the crowd, there was excitement.

And in truth, they knew he was right. There was no one in The Rusted Grip who did not burn for real battle. Everyone in the place was on just this side of feral, and they loved hanging on the edge.

“I thought so, you freaks. On one side, you know him, you hate him, he owes you money, which means the Ragged Knuckle is back in the ring!”

Sela leaned against the rail and watched the man walk in. Man… he looked more like an ogre, with the broad chest scarred and reddened by a thousand drinks. He moved slowly, swaying under what was probably his fifth drink of the hour.

“Ragged Knuckle is…okay, he’s drunk, but he remains undefeated in the last eleven rounds. And we all know what a bit of whiskey does to that Knuckle’s temper.”

Probably nothing that Sela would like to find out. Staring back at her with beady eyes, he was probably imagining what her face would look like, covered in dirt and blood. Best not to let him find out.

Regni leaned over next to her. “Seriously, if you don’t want in, he has several people that would love a chance to beat on him. Last chance.”

Sela cracked her knuckles.

“Psycho.” The gnome took a deep breath. “And now, entering the Rusted Grip for the first time ever! We have a woman that has heard our reputation, seen our décor, and still wants to test the waters to find a suitable challenge. Will she find it? I don’t know, but if she dies, it’s half-price drinks for everyone. Give it up for Lady Violet!”

The cheering was for the drinks. Sela knew this. She didn’t care. Ragged Knuckle twisted around, and tried to scan the crowd for creditors. He did a slow mental check of how much money he might owe after this fight, and nodded.

Regni beckoned them both forward. “All right, you pansies, listen up for the rules.” He kept his voice low and commanding. “Knuckle dragger, yes I know I messed your name up, sue me, you know the rules. No dismemberment, no use of bar equipment, and if you try and drown someone in a barrel again, I will personally have you hung from your eye sockets. No, don’t whine at me, the bartender is still angry at me and complaining about lost profits.”

He looked at Sela. “New girl, it’s simple. Don’t die, don’t kill. We play to submission or knockout, none of this sissy first blood crap. And if you wuss out early, we might just let Knuckles here play. Got me? You asked for this.”

I did indeed, Sela thought. Regni backed away, and looked at them both.

“Let’s try and keep this only a little dirty, okay ladies? Begin!”

Sela dashed forward. Punch to the throat, slam his ears to disorient. Kick him in the groin to bring the face to chest level. And just because Regni was a little condescending, spinning kick for the knockout blow. All in all, seven seconds that should have been five. She was rusty.

Sela looked at the stunned crowd, and shrugged.

“Next.”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

Finding Gratitude, Part 12

The Reza remained silent. They stared at Lana, questioning her words. This new girl, this creature they called kin, cursed at them. Degraded their entire existence with that word. how could she? Was she so offended by the birds’ little playings that she was so crass?

“Waste Beast?” Mister Clops said. He shook his mane once, and turned away. He snuffled, and wheezed. “Is that what you think we are?”

Lana tensed. Of all the self-styled Heroines, Lana was the youngest by a full year. And thanks to Mel’s and Sela’s kind actions, she remained the least experienced with the world. She did not know how to best understand certain emotional reactions when they were directed at her. Joy, exuberance, sorrow, sympathy. Pity, she knew that one well, as well as a mocking laughter.

But the one she most knew was quiet rage. That cool anger that simmered right below a calm countenance. Looking at Mister Clops’ still face, Lana recognized what she had seen, and experienced, all too often.

She wanted to fly away. But there were birds, and it was daylight. She would be seen anywhere she went, easily tracked. She had no choice, but to answer.

“I-it’s what they call us,” she stammered out. “Everywhere, people say we’re Waste Beasts. Isn’t that right?”

Mister Clops’ face softened. He bowed his head, and nodded. This wasn’t a cruel girl. Just one so used to misery it was natural to her.

“Are we Beasts, child?” he asked. “Animalistic things, that can do no more than snarl and rut?”

“What’s…” The horseman’s face told her she shouldn’t ask.

“We know what we are.” Mister Clops said. “Children of the Folly. The great bombs that fell on greater cities, poisoning the world with a need for death. And we came, crawling out of radiation, a union of magic and destruction.

“But we are not just this!” Mister Clops bellowed. “We are carvers and artists! We are lovers, fighters, warriors for Gratitude!”

The call was answered. Goats bleated, the birds cawed. Even Nahc crowed to the skies, flying up in exuberance. The Reza weren’t beasts, and they weren’t humans. They were better! And soon, they’d prove it the only way they knew how. By showing the world their worth.

Lana understood. Mister Clops was their leader, and protector. He gave them hope, a purpose, a path forward. Perhaps, he might even give her some of her own.

But… Lana looked out the gate. Somewhere out there were Mel and Sela. Her two friends, her cohorts. They were probably looking for her, worried sick. They were a team, and needed to be together.

Mister Clops leaned forward. “You have friends?” he asked.

“Out there,” Lana said.

“Not like us?”

“No. but they’re my friends,” Lana said. “I need to find them.”

Mister Clops nodded, and pointed through the gate. “The guards will let you through, but they will expect you back before sundown. Another way we pay for human weakness.”

A large, callused hand lay on Lana’s head. “When you come back, you’ll find us a welcome home. And your friends, if friends they are to the Reza, will be welcome here as well.”

“Thank you.” Lana said.

She turned, and went to face civilization once more.

copyright 2018 Jack Holder