They told me that I didn't stand a chance.
- - - - -
The darkness was like a silk blanket that covered everything in depression and the unknown. It effectively masked the war that happened just a few hours ago, right in this very room. In the place of violence and bets being made, it laid out cold silence and gripping tension.
In the center of it all was a young girl, no more than eleven years of age. Her auburn hair stuck to her neck as sweat continued to trickle down her face. She continued to catch her breath, the rise and fall of her chest quicker than the jabs she landed on her enemy's body earlier. Her gangly fingers were perched on her kneecaps, engraving her fingernails on dry skin. She felt a tremor run through her as the fatigue settled in. She didn't realize it before but in the confines of this room, she remembers. Somehow the silence slaps her awake and her eyes shoot open. She's been fighting for five days, against teenagers and children alike. In a rough estimate, she's participated in a whole of five death matches--and won them all.
Death match. The term itself says what she's been doing to reach this point. Obviously she's killed them all; those five people.
But killing them, she found, was her only way to survive. She realized this when she was sprawled on a dusty floor, half-dead on the last five minutes of her first match. It seemed like ages ago but until now she had wounds from that fight that refused to heal. And I'm not only talking about the physical ones.
She was up against a twelve-year old male. He had brown hair and pale, gray eyes. These were the only things she remembered about him. Because as soon as the fight began, he was only a passing figure. A blur. He swam in and out of focus as he landed punch after punch on her small body. This wasn't to say that he was fast--or that he was any better than she was.
She was simply tired. Immensely and hopelessly tired.
This was, of course, due to the excursion she had before entering the match. You see, two days prior to her first fight, she hitched a ride with a group of Wanderers. But being the kid that she was, she was forced to follow on foot and was given little food or water. But nobody cared whether or not she was sleep-deprived or malnourished. Besides, she didn't mind. Just as long as she wasn't stuck in that town any longer.
What town, you may ask? Well, we'll get to that later.
Well into the second day of their travel did the group notice a death match arena. And enlightenment struck them. They knew a girl of her age and appearance was well worth twenty jils should they turn her in to the death match games and the authorities weren't really much of an administration. As long as you give decent competitors, they give you your money. Besides, they knew people paid to see the deaths the most. And from the look in her eyes, they knew she probably wouldn't last long anyway.
And unsurprisingly, that was her notion too. She knew this as soon as she was thrown into the ring, with only two long bandages to wrap around her fists.
She's never fought a fight in her life. She was going to lose, no doubt about it.
Halfway into the match, her opponent landed a solid kick to her stomach and she tumbled down. At this point, she already lost count of how many times she fell yet still she exhausted all her willpower to stand back up. She tried to retaliate as soon as she got up. Keyword: tried. Understandably, she gave weak advances, and ended up punching air and falling flat on her face once again.
Of course, it was her first death match. She didn't understand the concept of it yet. Rather, she didn't understand the concept of survival yet.
But let me tell you that when she did, she was unbelievably good at it.
She felt the crowd rage into the wire enclosing the small arena, jeering for her to win. "Come on! I bet twenty on 'ya! Kill 'em already!" their voices stung her subconscious, mixing in with her own thoughts.
But I don't want to kill him.
Yes, that was the pervading thought.
She rose up again. Her eyes were in a permanent squint as they were swollen, marks of earlier attacks. She felt her feet wobble and almost fell forward again. This time, however, she was caught halfway. Her opponent, who she later found out to be called Shinju Hazaki, clutched her shirt's collar and pushed her upwards in an almost disorganized sort of way. "Come on, fight me!" he shouted as she landed on one of the rougher corners of the wire. She sputtered, blood discoloring her pale face.
Was this not enough? Was bleeding not enough? She thought for one last time.
Her eyelids were heavy and after one last attempt to see the looming figure in front of her, closed shut.
She fell forward, face flat on the ground. A mist of dust surrounded her body as a thud echoed throughout the arena. The small particles of dirt settled on the floor and effectively mixed with the blood spilling out of her mouth.
The world was dark again.
- - - - -
In the recesses of her mind, she saw a town. It was being burnt by black figures. They waved their torches up high and aimed their flaming arrows everywhere.
They screamed one singular word: "Justice!"
She felt her vision blur and awoke to find the familiar face of her mother. She looked pained. "You have to run, Satsuki," her voice cracked, followed by her eyes. Tears trickled down her cheeks and her ruby irises melted into a waning carnation pink. "You must leave through the back door, okay? Wakatta? Do you understand?" she brushed her fringe away and spent a minute just looking at her. Perhaps she was trying to memorize how she looked. As she was about to reply, thunder struck, startling the two of them. Or at least, that's what she thought it was.
She later found out that it was a band of those hooded figures. They broke down the front door and began searching their house. They heard their movements all the way at the second pantry, where they were trying to hide. At that time, she thought their voices were loud enough to be misunderstood as thunder. But apparently, the beating in her heart was much, much louder for she felt it abuse her ears and break through her chest.
There was no more time now. Her mother stood up immediately, bolting the door in front of them. "Go!" she ordered, tears pummelling her face. She desperately wanted to follow but her feet were glued to the floor. "Leave!" Her mother shouted again. But this time, she opened the back door herself and shoved her towards it. She felt her body against the doorframe and winced. She was about to ask why she had to run away but promptly stopped when she saw the fire. And the burning houses. And heard the screams next door.
Her mouth fell open. Her eyes reflected the blaze. It stretched on the horizon, eating up everything in its path. In the future, she would remember not just how it looked and how it sounded but also how it smelled. It smelled like death and it filled up her nostrils to the brim.
She heard distant footsteps and turned to see her mother walking towards the door. She didn't see her face, just her long, auburn hair. "I'm sorry, Satsuki."
She left the room, locking the door behind her.
She should have ran already. She should have sprinted towards the fields, the hill--anywhere away from their town--as soon as that door closed. If she did, she wouldn't have had to hear the sounds coming next.
At first, there was nothing. Just voices. But after a few minutes, she heard a vase fall and windows breaking. Then came the swords. They clashed so loudly she thought her ears would burst. Resonating throughout their house, she felt they would go on forever. But as soon as she thought so, the door in front of her reverberated on impact and all sound in their house effectively ceased. Her eyes grew into the size of dinner plates and she clutched the doorknob tighter. She inhaled. She probably thought if she held her breath it would all go away. But it didn't.
As if on cue, the door fell right when she exhaled. The sound was deafening. But that was probably because there, wedged on the door, was her mother, katana and all.
She felt her knees buckle.
- - - - -
Their voices drowned her, overlapping at the ends. She felt a hand pound the ground in front of her as he counted backwards. It sent ripples throughout the floor. She felt it pound her head, too.
The blood had dried.
You have to run, Satsuki.
Her mother's voice was muffled but she knew. She remembered. Her eyelids were light and after one last attempt to see that town, to see her mother again, shot open. The light held her eyes, squeezing it until slowly letting go. Everything was sideways. The distorted faces. The jils being waved in the air. Her opponent's shuffling feet.
You must leave through the back door, okay?
She exhaled. Her lips were as dull as cardboard now, decorated by cracked lines. Slowly, she lifted her arms and hefted herself up. She felt like a newborn with a flimsy set of limbs. But she had a renewed strength of mind. And that was going to have to be enough.
She was hunched over, knees bent. Hands clasping her kneecaps for support, she looked at her grimy feet and her red knuckles. Her head seemed to loll a bit but she focused her mind on something else. She looked at the red mark on the ground--where her blood had dried up. She saw drops of sweat from her hair form a pool beside it instead. She seemed to breathe easy now. Everything else turned inaudible as she looked up a bit, eyes searching for her opponent's face.
She slowly straightened up. Her face didn't betray the pain that seared through her at all. No grunt. Not a single wince. Nothing. She simply looked at him.
The referee stopped his countdown. The crowd broke into a cheer.
Do you understand?
She was standing now, still as a post. Her fringe covered her eyes. She felt her hands form into fists.
At this point, she fully committed herself to killing this kid. Because as she tugged on the bandages on her hands, she ignored the cut on her lip and the way each bruise on her body throbbed endlessly. She forgot about how her clothes stuck on her skin or how her legs were covered in cuts. Because all she remembered was that town. And something she should have said a week ago.
- - - - -
"She's the best one out of all the survivors."
"Who? That lanky girl?" He had black hair and cobalt-blue eyes.
"She looks lanky now. But in the arena..."
A knowing look.
"You saw her kill?"
"So, when will it be?" He didn't look at him. Only at her.
"Tomorrow." The word didn't even register to him.
"I hate sudden death."