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Jacky slings a dark blue duffle bag over his shoulder. The artificial lights from the Warpath hit the living room table at an angle, illuminating half the apartment floor. Lala rubs her dark gray, baggy eyes. Lulu mimics her twin sister. Each of them picks up their backpacks stuffed with clothes and miscellaneous accessories. Jacky looks to the twins just as he steps out of the room and into the hallway.

“Claire said she and the committee will see to transferring our rubies to our new rooms above. We gotta hike it to the office. Claire is waiting there with transportation to the Warshaft.”

“You’re the only one from us three who made so much that you can’t carry your rubies anyways.” Lulu muffles her sentence through a dense yawn.

 

Upon arriving at Claire’s office, she is leaning up against the car door of a sleek black vehicle, talking to someone through the window. She gazes over her left shoulder and locks eyes with Jacky.

“Hope we’re not too late.” Jacky tosses a cigarette into the street.

“We have plenty of time to arrive within the allotted time. I see you all have your stuff.” Claire gestures to the driver. “Throw your bags in the back and get in.”

The back door to the car fizzles, black floating particles separate, creating space for the team’s possessions. Lala is amazed at the mysticism; she runs her hands through the effect, the material parts, and bobs like moon dust on water. Another red bag lays in the back of the vehicle. After placing the bags, the black particles reform the solid black door. When entering, the same event occurs. It makes a very faint bassy, rustling sound, then snaps as the door forms back into place. Inside, the seats are very comfortable and soft. The driver is wearing a fine black and gold suit, his hands and face covered by a white hooded veil, their hands garbed with white silk gloves. Clair waves her hand to let the driver know they are all set to go.

“Whose bag is in the back? Are you coming with us, Claire?” Lala can’t quite sit still in her seat. Her legs are kicking like a child.

“Yes. I’m still in charge of you three. I move up the Warpath along with you. That also means I need to bring my stuff to Lala.” Clair looks sad for a moment then shakes her head.

“Who’s the driver?” Lulu questions. Claire looks back at her.

“He’s from the committee. They offered to help rotate the teams.” She looks out the passenger side window. “You’ll be seeing more in this kind of uniform from here on out. They don’t speak. They just do as ordered by the committee.”

“Some kind of mindless slave or just silent professionals working in the background?” Jacky relaxes in the back seat. He laces his fingers around the back of his head.

“I couldn’t tell ya, Jacky. It’s best just to keep those questions to yourself and do what you’ve been doing.”

 

Sheesh. She seems different today.

Something must be on her human mind.

She knows something we don’t. I won’t push her on it. Best to just wait and see what happens.

 

The car approaches the Warshaft. There, the other teams have all gathered together. Miata is the first to notice team Royalty’s arrival. A man standing behind him walks over to the car and greets Claire.

“Claire, baby! It’s so good to see you again! This is what, your fifth or sixth time here, right? I don’t really like bringing up the past, but you think this team is the one to make it finally?” Claire ignores the man as she unloads her bag from the back of the car.

She walks past him as the man smiles. “Fabio, I’m not putting up with your shit this time. If I recall, this isn’t your first time here either. You think your teams cut out this time too?”

“I guess we’ll just have to find out, hun.” Fabio winks at claire. She scoffs and makes it to the rest of the group, Jacky and the twins just behind her.

“What are you two talking about? What’s waiting for us ahead?” Lulu speaks up.

“Oh, Claire hasn’t told y’all too much, has she. Typical. I wouldn’t blame her, though. She-” Claire shoots daggers at Fabio.

“Keep your mouth shut! Everyone here will find out soon enough. I would like to delay the shit show that’s about to happen. Damnit, I hate this part. And screw you, Fabio, for acting so nonchalant. Don’t act like you weren’t a wreck last time too. Stop trying to be the suave tough guy already. You’re not fooling anyone. Asshole.” Claire lets out a deep breath.

The other teams whisper amongst each other. Fabio looks off to his side and dawns a face of shame. He backs off over to his team. Another team’s handler speaks up.

“What exactly are you two arguing about? It’s starting to cause a little bit of worry here. I would like to wait for the committee in peace.” The man crosses his arms and looks at both Claire and Fabio. Fabio rolls his eyes and nods to the handler.

“First time bringing a team to the second floor, old man?”

“First off, I’m not that old, and secondly, my name is Villbrand, not “old man” kid.”

“And the names Fabio, not kid.”

Another handler intervenes in the conversation. “You two argue like children.”

“Nobody was talking to you, babe. Why don’t you mind your own business.” Fabio glares at the woman.

“Names not babe, it’s Mella. Loser” She runs her nails through her hair.

“Can all of you just shut the hell up? I wasn’t gonna ask, but now I need to know. What the fuck is next?” The woman talking to Lulu before the nightmare-fueled race shouts over the pointless bickering of the three-team handlers.

“We can’t tell any of you what’s going on, even If we did know. I don’t even know myself.” Mella says. “Seems to me only this Fabio guy and that other handler seem to know. It’s the first team I’ve managed. I don’t know what’s ahead. Whatever it is, I’m sure we will all deal with it like we normally do, yes?” Mella looks to the other teams. Everyone goes silent.

 

I hate being left in the dark.

How do you think I feel? Your head is just a black void.

I don’t feel like now is a time for jokes. And I know you can see. I can peer right through your eyes every time you take over.

Oh, Jacky, I like to lighten the mood just before things get melancholic.

 

The wall to the Warshaft slides open. Metal creeks and grinds sharply. Emerging from the opening is a man wearing a dark leather cowboy hat with a black long sleeve shirt and jeans. He smiles wickedly to show his sharp canines. His hands are in his pockets, thumbs out radiating confidence. He takes a few steps forward.

 

And then things began to fall into place.

Ah, our old friend is here.

 

The sight of the man sends a shiver down both Claire and Fabio’s spines. Claire avoids eye contact, and Fabio keeps looking around nervously. The atmosphere shifts into a cold fog that blankets everyone gathered around the Warshaft. Jacky folds his arms and pays close attention to the man. Cowboy hat takes a few steps forward.

“Oh, this is my favorite part of the day! How Y’all doin’ this mornin’? Hopefully, I won’t ruin anybody’s early start cause It’s about to get shitty.”

Claire mutters the name Anders under her breath. Jacky catches sweat forming on Clair’s forehead. Fabio appears to be fidgeting and shaking his knee.

“Now I ain’t gonna say a whole lot here; we got an elevator to catch. Everybody hop on in, and I’ll take you to the next floor. Oh, and one more thing, just to begin the fun. A lot of you will be dying today.” Anderss’ canine shines in the bright light reflected off the Warshaft wall as he grins devilishly.

Claire grits her teeth and runs both her hands through her short brown hair reluctantly; she is the last to enter the warshaft. Lala looks worried, and her eyes take the form of a scared puppy. Lulu looks at Jacky concerningly. Many of the other masters share looks of distress. Some appear to have their emotions under control, Jacky included.

The elevator ascends quickly. The entire shaft is very bright. Eventually, the platform comes to a halt. The wall opens before each team. Past the wall is a long dark hallway. The sound of a massive audience dances down the corridor.

“If y’all will just keep following me.” Anders walks ahead of the group.

The teams reach an enormous stadium split up into six separate areas. Each arena could easily fit and showcase multiple horrors battling at once. Anders smiles and holds his arms out to his sides in a welcoming fashion.

“Alright! If I could have team Wild take arena one. That would be Deacon and Helia. Arena two, team Blades with Miata, Jordan, and Miun. Team Fear Dead with Sara and Reedon, please make your way to Arena three. And Last and probably least, Team Royalty to arena four! Once your teams are set, I’ll hop on the announcement stage to discuss the rules of your debut matches here on the second floor of the Warpath.”

The teams all share looks of confusion as they take to their designated areas. Jacky looks at Claire. Ignoring Jacky, Claire’s face is grave, fighting thoughts of guilt. Fabio continuously sighs and beats his fist into his hands. The other two handlers shake their heads at them and make their way to the sidelines, appearing not to know what is bothering both Claire and Fabio. Claire eventually meets up on the handlers sideline along with the rest. There are pillars staged for the masters to situate themselves for summoning.

Anders approaches the stage wearing an earpiece with a small microphone; he fiddles with the device as he prominently places himself on the stage front. He points to a big-timer with red numbers ticking down from 120; clearing his throat, he looks around at the vast crowd gathered in the stands. Floating platforms hover around with onlookers glaring down to the arena floor. Those on the floating platforms look high class, suits, and ties. Expensive dress wear covers their persons.

“Welcome all to the debut match of these four “lucky” teams. Their names are not important as you all know that by the end of the next two hours, a brand new team will join the ranks of the second floor of the Warpath.” Anders cracks his knuckles.

“All you masters, listen up.” Two angels of death fall from above next to Anders. “None of you are gonna like what I have to say next, so before you try anything stupid, which has happened in the past, my partners here will shut down any shit y’all try to pull? Clear? Now. Onto the rules of our main event. You now have less than two hours to be the last one standing amongst your team! It’s not just sudden death for the masters either, but also the horrors. From here on out, that’s how the game is played!”

Jacky looks over to Lulu and Lala with tense eyes. Lulu begins to breathe heavier, realizing the gravity of the situation. Lala looks around, scared. A wave of emotions dawns on the other teams; anger especially erupts from team Wild and team Fear Dead.

“What the hell is this! You’re saying we have to kill our teammates! Hell no! Are you kidding me!?” Reedon from team Fear Dead yells at Anders.

“That’s right. It’s kill or be killed! You all have roughly two hours to decide whether or not to fight and be the one to stand on top of your “team,” or you can all die together. If your team decides to wait out the two hours, you all die. If you even think about banding together to attack me, you’ll wish you had just followed the rules. Trust me; I’d suggest you just play along. Two hours! Get to it! Chop chop! Let’s go!” Anders snaps his fingers and claps his hands.

At first, no one makes a move. For a mere moment, no one summons their horrors. Everyone is looking around to see who will summon first. Even the crowd falls silent. Eyes upon eyes witness the moments before the slaughter that will take place. Deacon from team Wild breaks the silence with his summoning ritual for Wolf King Dosuleius. His teammate, Helia, startles at first. She holds up her hand and shakes her head.

“Deacon, wait! We have time to think about this! Look, we’re both powerful. There has to be another way! Screw this shit! We don’t have to listen to them. We can fight this! Deacon!” She pleads in despair.

The Wolf King lands with the sound of thunder. The spear of Dosuleius hits the arena floor sending a gust of wind across the stadium. He rises to his feet and pulls the spear from the ground; the bladed spear tip hisses through the air—steam billows from a new-looking chrome arm, replacing the appendage he lost in his battle with Wise Speaker. A pulsating light wave of cyan light lines moves like a river down the chrome surface of his new arm.

“Helia... Don’t make this...harder th...an...it...has...to...be” Deacon’s voice is strange and choppy. He speaks slowly and deeply as though winded or sick.

“Damnit, Deacon! We don’t have to do this! Fuck!” Helia clasps her hands together and digs her nails into her skin blood drips down the side of her pillar.

She summons her horror. A hunchbacked creature with swords sticking out of its large back rises from the puddle of blood formed at the bottom of Helia’s pillar. The grey color of an exposed skull rests atop the horror’s head like a small-cap. Jagged metal pokes through the flesh of the horror. It shakes its hunchback, and two sharp sword blades fall from their hilts onto the ground. The handles stuck to its back regrow the blades quickly, an evident thick liquid drips from the newly grown edges. The horror picks up the raw sword blades on the ground and shoves them into its wrist. Bone materializes through the flesh to hold the blades in place, the crunching and crackling of bone and sinew rhythmically dance off the surface of the blade. Dosuleius spins his spear above his head then slams it down by his side. A burst of air causes his magnificent red cape to flutter.

“It was an honor to fight alongside you, Savage Fang. I will make your death is as quick as possible.”

“Dosuleius, now wait just a moment, please, sir. I beg of you. As young Helia has already expressed, we don’t have to kill each other! We can continue to fight with one another against those who hold our essence hostage. Would you not like to be free once more?” The horror rubs its hands together.

“Savage Fang...I have nothing left to go back to in Oblivion. My realm is bleak and abandoned. I cherish the opportunity I have been given to battle with all these fantastic and challenging horrors. Why would I, a warrior of my caliber, give that up? I will remember our battle for all eternity Fang. Prepare yourself for sudden death.”

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I_Am_Warpath_Official

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