Letting Life Lead
I’m not really helpless. Small scalp wounds gush. If you smear it and feign injury like a bird leading a predator away from the nest, someone will lust for the bait. Already an eager foe has broken away. When he raises his trident to strike, I’ll beg and weep then slice his Achilles tendon with the shard cupped in my palm.
Many have already fallen in the arena, running, screaming, or fighting back with a ferocity that earns them points against skilled, armed opponents. The penalty for participation refusal is a torture more fearsome than a sword to the gut. My owner punishes me on principle, win or lose.
I fear nothing.
I keep small and stay mobile.
The fresh tattoos on my face identifying my ownership aches. I can’t let the Netter or the others flank. My bare, upper back burns against the rough wall. Nox like me get a black tank, fitted trousers, and light shoes. No armor. If I want protection and a decent weapon, I must take it.
The announcer’s voice booms from the projection dome above. My collar issues a painful, snapping charge. Incentive. I squeal but refuse to move.
Entertained masses press their screen buttons from their domiciles and select their favorite lambs. The collars on another woman and two men glow crimson — extra points bestowed by popular vote. Sometimes the faceless who watch and categorize us as unworthy of status, might choose the strongest or the one they despise. Whims and bent ethics.
“You’re making it worse.” The Netter looms, his voice muffled beneath the brilliant, plumed helmet.
I feel no pleasure when his tendons roll-up like broken springs and he topples. I need his shin guards, bracers, and trident. He has no shield. The rest of his Neptunian gear is useless to me. I had hoped to lure the woman, the Hoplon, with the spear.
The seasoned Netter sweats in agony, but remains stoic. “Take the extra points.”
Rules state Noxii can earn bonuses for stabbing and maiming the weapon’s owner. “No.”
“Idiot. Get out of the damn fodder. I’ve gone red, do it!”
“The moment I justify playing dirty, is the moment I deserve to be here.”
My brother, through his juvenile machinations, revealed me to the authorities. If he were here, I might have to rethink my moral compass. Yet, didn’t I look away from the trouble he’d wrought? Didn’t I indulge and excuse the behavior that led me to this circus?
I wonder how much compensation he got for his sister? Perhaps, enough to cover his debts.
The two fighters left cut down the divided Nox in single combat. The biggest, a Secutor, wore heavy armor, but the preoccupied woman was a lesser fighter with an exposed back. In fodder battles, my tier are targets and upper fighters don’t attack each other. She wouldn’t be looking over her shoulder.
Nox are supposed to lose.
The trident’s spikes slip between the most vulnerable vertebrae and she drops, joining ten other bodies.
It’ll heal. We’ll all regenerate and brawl another day. Our fellow citizens put us here because they are afraid. They say immortals are dangerous because ordinary death cannot grip us: See how they kill each other? It doesn’t hurt them. They aren’t human. What can stop them? They are a scourge.
My collar glows platinum with approval — a glut of points if I am dispatched.
I haven’t exhausted myself with futile tactics and had a long rest between evasive maneuvers. Stealth and surprise serve my strengths, but I can’t take on multiple opponents head on. The Noxii stare confused then step forward, eyes on my collar. The Secutor trudges from the carnage at the far side, and I move back to avoid being surrounded.
“We can beat him together.”
One rushes me. “You’re worth more.”
“Don’t want another round in The White.” Their faces contort with memories of punishment by sensory deprivation.
“You can’t win. You’ll be crushed, heal, and be back next cycle.” I jog backwards. “He’s slow. Run him like wolves then sting him like hornets. Points all around.” They’d forgotten the rules or weren’t told. All Nox win if every elite falls.
The Secutor’s blow dents the shield and rattles my arm, fracturing the bone. The Nox swarm him when I collapse. Victory comes one jab at a time.
I’ve analyzed the system’s flaws, gathered allies, and learned patience.
My smile isn’t for the spectators.
There's comedic gold behind every painful experience. Here are mine.
playing by my own rules
We take the heat 'cause we gotta eat.
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