"But it was over so fast!" complained Joan while we waited for the crowd to settle and for the next fight to begin.
"So how long does it take you to come?" Cheryl asked with a little bit of a curl to her lip. Joan gave another giggle at Cheryl's sophisticated bon mot, while John continued to rub her body in the places that weren't covered with barbed jewelry.
Cheryl turned back toward me, and I asked, "Is this one of your standard Darkunder outings?"
"You mean, go to the fights then find some place where we can screw?" she asked. She showed her teeth; I'd call it a smile.
"You can't, you know," I told her, watching her face. There was a brief expression of confusion that flickered across it.
"Can't what?" she asked me.
"Shock me. You can't shock me. You're working a nice contrast here from the time Calvin and I had dinner with you. There you were cool and witty in a post-debutante sort of way, and here you're doing a good female slime-wrestling impression. I appreciate it, really I do. But it's not going to shock me, no matter what, so if it's an effort, or if you're doing it for my benefit, don't bother."
An angry look flashed across her face, but it died almost immediately and she laughed. Her whole body moved with her laughter, and then she squirmed closer to me in her seat and took hold of my arm. "I'm really glad we ran into you," she said. Then the public address system squawked and began to announce the next fight.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the main event of the evening, a blood match between two major stars of slash fighting."
The crowd cheered its approval, with special notice given to the mention of "blood." Two men appeared on the fight platform, rising from their respective trapdoors slowly, milking every bit of applause from the spectators. Ah, show biz.
"The challenger tonight is a newcomer from the far north, where they gut bloons before breakfast, and slice open squids for lunch! He was weaned on razor blades and learned to walk on broken glass! This man sleeps on a bed of nails. This man cuts no deals; this man deals in cuts! I give you, in white, Jaxon Manic!"
Both men were dressed in tight body suits that looked quite a lot like what Cheryl and her companions wore, sans the barbed wire, and the clothing extended up into hooded masks that looked like a cross between movie ninja and biocontainment gear. Both men were well built, and the sheen of their clothing highlighted their muscle definition. Certainly the material was too thin to leave anything to the imagination. Any thinner and you'd be able to make out the label on their loin cups.
"In the other corner, in black, is Caine, the current champion of The Arena Slash Ring!"
The rest of it was drowned out by the crowd. I caught something about "undefeated by rivers of blood" but I may have heard it wrong.
Both men were carrying a weapon, the crux of the forthcoming combat. It looked like a slightly shortened billy club, with three long, thin, knife edges set into it, each one quarter of the way around. The remaining flat edge I guessed as being for blocking and parrying. The club looked to be a soft plastic, slightly flexible, but tough.
The blades were narrow, no more than half a centimeter in depth, and there was no point to the weapon, just a blunt tip at each end. The blades ended far enough from each tip to make each end a handle. So "slash fighting" seemed to be basically short stick fighting, but with the added ability to make shallow cuts. Jabs wouldn't penetrate, but a straight strike could open a welt, and grabbing your opponent's weapon was out of the question.
The bell rang and the two fighters began to circle one another. Caine shifted his slasher back and forth from hand to hand. Manic kept his in his left hand, and kept rotating his wrist as he moved. Neither man seemed anxious to begin.
Suddenly, Caine darted forward and whipped his slasher toward Manic's left hand, apparently aiming for the wrist. Manic's elbow came up and the two weapons met, with Caine's being parried to the outside. There was a brief clack, and Caine withdrew.
This repeated itself several times, usually with Caine on the offensive. On the third or fourth time, however, rather than withdraw, Caine used his left hand for the slash attack, and as the two weapons met, he swung his right hand toward Manic's face.
Manic flinched, and as Caine withdrew, he flipped his slasher across the back of Manic's hand. The fabric parted slightly and a slight line of pink and red appeared.
"First cut!" cried out somebody to my left; I don't think it was any of my companions. The crowd seemed ready to surge to its feet, but then subsided back into the seats.
"Is that legal?" I whispered to Cheryl. "Using something other than the weapon, I mean. Can they kick or punch each other?"
"Anything they can get away with," she told me. "But they only score with blood."
As if to prove her correct, Manic tried to kick Caine in the knee, a crippler that would have left his opponent considerably less nimble. But he received nothing but a gash on his calf for his troubles.
The two then began a series of thrust and parries, with Manic on the defensive. He took a weak jab to his chest at one point, but he managed to cut Caine's biceps in the process.
It went on like that for a while; neither man was doing serious damage to the other, but the small cuts began to multiply. The idea seemed to be to use kicks and punches to set up an opponent for point gathering cuts, or, alternatively, to use the threat of a cut to try for some blow that would significantly weaken one's opponent. There were no rests allowed, so eventually one or the other would begin to make mistakes as his stamina ran out.
Or when his patience ran out. After about twenty minutes of back and fourth, Manic suddenly gave a piercing scream and ran full tilt at Caine. I could see some sense to it, especially if an opponent were good at the bloodletting, but not so hot at the rest of the fight. In that case such a tactic would give up some points on the attack, with the hope of a grapple that could do some real damage to the opponent. Unfortunately for Manic, Caine was as good at the rest of it as he was with the slasher. He sidestepped Manic's attack and slammed him in the sternum with the tip of his club when Manic got near enough. Then Manic was past him, and Caine made two quick, long cuts to Manic's lower back as he, Caine, backed off.
Then Caine made a mistake, probably thinking that Manic wouldn't try the same tactic immediately, he let himself relax slightly. But Manic came around without a pause and, screaming another bloodthirsty cry, came at Caine again. Caine slipped slightly; I couldn't see, but there might have been some blood on the floor by that time, since each fighter had at least one slow dripping wound. Manic took advantage of Caine's off balance posture and swung his stick high, with his whole weight behind it. Caine partly blocked the blow, but enough of it got through to glance off his head. The blades gleamed red in the light of The Arena, and suddenly Caine was bleeding from a scalp cut, just over his right ear.
Scalp cuts are real bleeders. The fabric that covered that part of Caine's head quickly soaked, and as the first rivulet of blood slid behind his ear to trickle down his neck, the crowd roared approval and leapt to its feet. One section began to chant "Manic! Manic!" and Caine glared at them.
Then, with his own weapon, Caine reached around and cut himself over his left ear, in a place symmetric to the cut that Manic had just inflicted.
For the barest instant there was a beat of silence; fighters cutting themselves was not a common thing, I guess, nor was it common for someone to so obviously sneer at the audience. Then there came a huge roar as Caine launched himself at Manic.
It looked like a berserker attack, no skill, no forethought, just overwhelming force. But it wasn't. To my eye it was a pure mastery of movement; force meeting little opposition because of the angles in which it was directed. Caine went in through Manic's defenses like smoke through a grating, and his left elbow came forward with a savage strike to Manic's lower rib cage. Manic's sudden exhalation of breath was lost in the thunder of the crowd, and I could see Manic's knees wobble. Caine's stick came down on the inside of Manic's elbow, then again, same spot, and Manic's stick slipped through his grasp.
Manic tried to protect himself from the sudden onslaught of blows that Caine rained down upon him. He fell to his knees trying to reach for his slasher, to maybe regain at least some possibility of rejoining the battle. But Caine was concentrating his strikes to Manic's head, and the blood was flowing freely, covering Manic's head with it, sluicing down into his eyes. Manic was nearly blind at this point, his white mask now bright red, and he was holding his hands to his eyes, both to try to clear them, and also to protect them from Caine's blows.
The overhead lights were flashing, a signal to end the match, I think, but the crowd had gone berserk, much more so than Caine. I could see spatters of blood whip off of Caine's weapon and splash upon the wire mesh of the screen that shielded the platform. Some of the spectators had left their seats and were trying to climb the wire mesh, but it was too fine for handholds. Others were pounding at it, and yelling. Some were pressing their lips against it. I couldn't tell whether trying to yell more directly into the ring or whether they were feeding on the blood that leaked through.
The trapdoors opened up and people spilled out of them, swarming over Caine and Manic, holding Caine's arms, pulling the slasher from his grasp. The new people in the ring were heavily padded and wore night vision goggles, or so I surmised, because then the lights went out.
They were only out for a few seconds, but when they came back on again, the stage area was empty. The crowd was still stone crazy, though. Several fights seemed to have broken out. One erupted only a few feet away from me, I think that it involved the guy that had tried to block our seats when we came in. I couldn't tell who was at fault, but I was annoyed, so I stepped over and rabbit punched one of the participants, and he dropped to his knees. The other guy looked disappointed and looked at me as if trying to decide whether to take me on as a consolation prize. I smiled at him and stepped away. He decided not to pursue it.
I took Cheryl's arm and leaned close to her ear. "Let's get out of here," I told her.
She fastened herself to my arm without even a backwards glance toward John and Joan. That was just as well. They seemed about ready to rip off each other's clothing and go at it on the spot. At any rate, they were temporarily oblivious.
It was surprisingly easy to get out, once we made it back out of the seating area, but we had to climb over some seats to do that. Once that was accomplished the combination of my size plus Cheryl's spiky clothing opened a pathway to the door. Thus we made our escape.