GFD: Blood Money

He looks so weak these days.

So very frail. I can’t believe that he’s deteriorating so quickly.

The doctors don’t know what it is. They just keep pricking him with needles and giving out more useless medication than my father can afford. And yet, all it does is plague him with horrible side effects that do more to make him feel ‘yucky’ than they do to make him better. My little brother, Jason, is only 9 years old. He doesn’t deserve to suffer like this. Not him. He’s an angel. And sometimes angels need to be protected. Their wings can be SO very brittle at his age.

I ran away from home at age 17. My mother was hitting the bottle pretty hard, and hitting ME even harder. When it got to be too much…I made my exit from a life of further abuse and misery for something that I was hoping would be better. Jason was barely 5 years old at the time. One of the few reasons that I stayed at home for as long as I did was to make sure that she didn’t screw him up the way she did me.

I’ve come back many times in secret to see him and whisper a brief hello in the darkness of night. I doubt that he has much of an idea of who or ‘what’ I am. As far as he’s concerned, I’m just a friendly shadow outside of his bedroom window. It’s our little secret. Maybe I’ll tell him the truth one day. Some day when he’s older. When he’ll be able to truly understand what I’m doing and why I can’t come back home. For now, it’s better that I remain his imaginary friend in the dark. I’m sure that my dad told him whatever story he needed to hear in order to let him sleep at night…and I guess I should stick to it. As far as he knows, his big brother is dead. Who knows…maybe on a variety of levels…he’s right.

I know that Jason deserves to know the truth about me. His big brother, Jacob. And I know that trading my life in daylight for an eternity in darkness was a decision that I should have made with his feelings and well being in mind, as well as my father’s. But even though I may never be able to officially return home, or really interact with my baby brother or the rest of the ‘human’ world ever again…I want him to know that he’s still my lucky charm. The only one I have. And he’s the reason I made this choice. In darkness, I can be better. Stronger. I can be what he needs me to be…in order for him to get well again.

I always make him little folded Origami swans and paper dolls to give him a signal. A trinket, to always let him know that I was winning, and that I loved him. I miss his charming smile soooo much.

Every time that I step back into that arena, and I win a match…I personally make him another paper doll, and I set it outside of his bedroom window with a single piece of clear adhesive tape. Just to let him know that I’m ok…and that I’m thinking about him. Keeping him close to my heart. I know he remembers the significance of it, and he never said a word about it to Dad or anyone else. Thank goodness. It’s just something for us two to share, and no one else. When I win in the arena, I win for him. The paper dolls are our only real communication nowadays. I hope, in some way, it’s enough.

I love you, Jason. And no matter what…always remember…I’m doing this for you….

BRIGHT LIGHTS!!! LOUD MUSIC!!! SEXY LADIES!!! WE’VE GOT IT ALL!!! LET ME HEAR YOU PEOPLE MAKE SOME *NOISE*!!!” The announcer shouted over the loud speaker, waiting for the ever predictable roar of a blood thirsty crowd craving their fix of Saturday night carnage. “The ‘Black Gator’ fighting arena welcomes you!!! You know how it goes down in here, vamps and vampettes! Two fighters enter the ring, and only ONE leaves with his bone structure in tact!!! Place your bets, take your hits…and WE clean up the mess! There’s no better plan than that on a Saturday night in the vampire underground!!! Am I right???

The ‘Black Gator’ was one of the biggest hidden underground vampire fighting pits in the city. Now rapidly growing even bigger since their rival arena, Soren’s ‘Stronghold’, ended up being recently destroyed in some sort of unexplained freak accident. Whatever happened to Soren’s expert fighters from the ‘Stronghold’ arena is still a mystery. Mere rumors, whispered between professional gamblers and somewhat credible street informants. But whatever it was that took out his best brawlers, it came back and tore the place down from the inside out like some kind of crazed monster. Either way, Soren’s loss paved the way for the ‘Black Gator’ arena fighters to sweep nearly ALL of the IceZone battles without much competition at all. Making us number one in the city. And that means a shitload of new clients and a flood of new, ambitious, gambler money, that has come looking for the next new superstar in the ring. All of that hoopla pouring into the place, of course, means more money in my pocket as long as I keep winning like I have been. Money that I can bring home and make sure that Jason gets well again. This is my moment! I can’t fuck it up now! I CAN’T

By the time Soren and his fighters are back on their feet I will have made myself a big name and a familiar face for the biggest gamblers in the biz to watch for. This is the perfect opportunity for someone like me! It’s the only way that I’m going to increase my earnings and get myself into a higher class of pit fighters here in the city. There were arena scouts from all over the country that were watching the matches now. I had to be the best. No excuses. So I’m definitely gonna show them the lion in me tonight.

The moments before a match were always thrilling for me. It was a surge of adrenaline that sent me soaring to an almost spiritual plane of existence. Win, win, win. It was all that I could see. It made me feel invincible. Even if I take a beating, it’s the anticipation beforehand that keeps me going. This arena was the one place on Earth that could take the only thing that I was ever really good at…and exploit it for money until my well runs dry. There was a strategy to the sport. You have to be good, but not too good. You want the odds to even out against you. You’ve got to give them a ‘show’. They should be cringing when you break something on another fighter. They should spontaneously jump out of their seats and SCREAM in victory when you deliver that final blow. Exciting my audience and pulling them in is half the battle. If I can just keep my stats as high as they have been lately, then I can be sure that Jason gets a fighting chance to survive. A chance to be able to get out of his bed and go out and enjoy the glory of those beautiful rays of daily sunshine…that I can never again see for myself. That’s what I want for him. that’s allI want for him. Jason’s fighting too…but his challenger is a lot bigger than mine.

If flexing a little muscle a few times a week, along with a couple of bruises and broken limbs that heal within a single sleep cycle or two, is all I have to suffer through in order to help out the family I left behind…then so be it.

As I collected my thoughts in the locker room, the muffled sounds of cheers and hard rock music bouncing off the walls, I closed my eyes and began using a few breathing techniques to hopefully keep my stamina up. Clearing my mind. Letting go of any traces of fear or doubt that I may have hiding inside my head.

I heard a bit of commotion coming from behind me, and turned around to see a few other fighters walking in to prepare for fights of their own. One of them was Jody.

Ah, Jody. I swear, it feels like my heart gets squeezed in a vice every time he comes into view. He’s the kind of boy that forces even the coldest skeptics to believe in ‘love at first sight’. Jody had the kind of beauty that made you envy him both inside and out. Such a gentle personality, such a sweet sense of humor…and delicate features that gave him the right to wear the title of ‘pretty’. Medium length, dishwater blond colored, bangs…and eyes so blue that they could drown you in a matter of seconds. Mesmerizing. Looking at this boy from a distance, you would NEVER guess that he was a pit fighter. He was much too cute for this business. Who could stand slamming their fist into a face that perfect?

Jody and I used to spar together at an underground gym further in towards the city. He was the one who told me about the Black Gator arena in the first place. I’ve spent the last two years trying not to visibly drool every time he smiles in my direction. His very presence does wonders for my soul. He makes me soooo very happy. And I haven’t even told him how much I love him yet.

After all the power fighters I’ve stepped up to and beaten without breaking a sweat…you’d think that something as simple as a boyish infatuation would be easy to deal with.

Quite the contrary. In fact, despite the joy and comfort it brings in the long run…love just may be the most frightening emotion of all.

“You’ve got that look on your face again.” He grinned. Jody has the kind of smile that makes his cheeks bunch up in the cutest way, just a hint of a dimple in either side. Teeth, so white that it’s hard to imagine that he’s ever tasted blood before.

“What look is that?”

“That ‘I can’t wait to crack somebody’s ribs tonight’ look. Hehehe! You’ve been on firelately, Jacob. I’m gonna have to work harder just to keep up with you.” He said.

“As long as you don’t end up in the ring withme, trying to knock me down with one of your little ancient tricks.”

“Awww, but the ancienttricks are the best ones!” He said with a playful whine. See, Jody crossed over when he was only 15 years old, but he’s been in darkness for a few years longer than I have. He’s an expert on martial arts forms and techniques. He studies them relentlessly, trying to absorb every positive and negative aspect of every fighting system ever known. And some that aren’t so known. Jody hopes to one day be a high ranking master of them all. And hey, when you’re a vampire with a few centuries ahead of you, that’s not such a far fetched goal to have at all. “It looks like the money pot is pretty heavy tonight. There are a lot of newcomers tonight. More than usual. You’ve gotta make a real go for the gold tonight.”

“Yeah. I know.” I said, remembering to breathe steadily. It wasn’t easy with Jody causing my heart to flutter like this.

“How’s he doing? Your little brother?”

I sighed. “Not so good. I’ve got to get this money to my family fast. This place had better fill my pockets, and quick.”

“Yeah, well…you’d better keep a watchful eye on the fight schedule. Kenshiro’s pushing to be the crowd favorite lately, and he’s been making a lot of gambler’s highlight reels in this place.” Jody said.

“Ugh! I HATE that guy!” I said. “He’s such an asshole. How could anybody route for that son of a bitch?”

“The sharks in this place don’t care. He wins. That’s what they’re interested in. Can you believe he’s actually claiming to be the best fighter in the city now? He’s made a whole campaign out of it. It’s narcissism at its best.”

“Whatever.” I groaned. “You know, if he hadn’t lucked out and had to actually take that match against Soren’s boy, Natpea, I’m willing to bet that he would have been knocked off the charts completely by now. And I heard through the grapevine that even Natpea got his ass kicked. And if that’s true, then there’s somebody running around out there who’s even better than HEwas!”

“Well, the way things are going, you two are going to have to face off eventually. And when you do…I want you to smash Kenshiro right in that big dumb mouth of his. Put him to sleep for me. My money’s on you.”

I felt a bit of a swoon go through me as the words left those plush lips of his and glided into my ears, the compliment sending a series of tender electric sparks up my spine. I blushed slightly and asked, “You’d bet on me? If I went up against Kenshiro?”

He turned to look me in the eye. His expression softened, and he said, “I’d always bet on you. No matter what.”

“Heh…you’d probably lose everything you have.”

“It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about believing in you. And I…” He blushed a bit himself. “…I believe in you, Jacob.”

The moment was eternal. A connection so strong that it nearly cut my lung capacity for oxygen in half, if not more so. We barely blinked at all, and I felt a certain ‘push’ within me to just take a chance, lean forward, and crush my hungry lips against his in a fit of insanity.

But reality intruded, and the red siren lights began spinning in the high corners of the locker room…signling all fighters to prepare for their announcement.

With a bashful smile, Jody looked down at his feet, and said, “I guess we should get going, huh?”

“Um…yeah. I guess.” I answered.

Things began to get awkward between us, so I tried to escape in order to keep from embarrassing myself any further.

I stepped to one side, but Jody accidentally stepped to the same side. We nearly bumped into on another, and did an uncomfortable ‘dance’ back and forth for a moment before we were able to work things out and put some distance between one another.

It feels like fear. It has all the components of fear. But it’s love. I know it. It’s a narcotic, and I can’t get enough of it. Thank God it’s free.

FIGHTERS TO RINGSIDE!!! All bets are closed, people!!! If you missed your chance to make some real money tonight….TOO BAD!!!” The announcer screamed, keeping the hype extremely high for all of the spectators that turned out in record numbers to take a peek at the new king arena in the circuit. The bright lights above were chaotic in their harsh flicker, the fury of ringside pyrotechnics blazing with a harsh and brazen light of their own. The ‘splash row’ was full of the richest vampires in the building. The ‘splash row’ were those vampires who were so close to the ring that just the right punch or kick would reward them with a sudden offering of fresh warm blood. They were always thrilled by the tang of its flavor. I could always see them wiping the blood off of their faces with a finger or two…soon sucking the blood coated fingers into their mouths for an indulgent taste of another fighter’s pain. Jody was right. Even though the seats have been packed on a few occasions before, it was never anything like this! The Black Gator was beyond capacity! I had quite a number of people to perform for.

Don’t worry, Jason! Big brother is gonna have your money sooner than I thought!

I was instantly shaken by the vibration of the thunderous music pumping overhead. The speakers practically exhausting themselves to keep up with the tunes, pounding hard enough for thin clouds of dust to be shaken from their surface. And yet, despite it all, the crowd’s cheering was loud enough to almost drown it all out. Once I was close enough to the ring to see the current match taking place, I could see why.

Kenshiro was in the middle of his first match for the evening, and he was already taunting his current opponent into a rapid defeat. I couldn’t help but to wrinkle up my face in disgust. I hated that arrogant son of a bitch. I hated him with every fiber of my being.

A vampire who was born into darkness when he was 18 years old, right at the prime of his youth and physical condition….had now accumulated over 30 years of practice and fighting experience. He was practically invincible in the ring. And he only seemed to be getting better. Faster. But was he fighting for? Money. Fame. Frivolous, material, bullshit. Not to mention that he had the personality of a rabid wolverine. It just sucked that I was going to have to inevitably battle him for the money I needed. And out of all the people in the arena…he was quite possibly my biggest threat. That made me hate him all the more.

I kept my eyes glued to the ring, watching his technique. It was almost flawless in its execution. His footwork moved him around that ring so fast that it almost looked like he was sliding across the canvas. His legs delivered kicks at the speed of light, and his fists were even faster, often getting in three or four shots in before his opponent knew what was going on. The crowd fueled him wit enthusiastic praise every step of the way. Somehow, it made him perform at an even higher level of perfection. The louder they cheered, the better he got. They fed him all the energy he would ever need, and intimidate his challenger at the same time. He definitely knew what he was doing.

As I took my position, I saw the other fighter make the mistake of trying to sweep Kenshiro’s legs from under him. Already anticipating that move, Kenshiro jumped up and spun around in the air….bringing a brutal kick down on the forehead of his opponent. It was a done deal after that. The other vampire fell back, a huge dent in his forehead, the flesh turning a dark purple while his brain attempted to calculate the damage before causing him to pass out on the mat.

The fight was stopped, and Kenshiro played to the crowd with both fists raised in victory. His smug grin pointed in my direction as he saw me approaching the side of the ring. Kenshiro had been watching my ascension in the rankings lately. He’s watched me fight and take home a decent amount of winnings. And ever since then, he’s been giving me the stare of a mad dog, trying to break down my confidence early, strategizing to have an easy win later on down the line.

I don’t intend to give him one.

But…deep down, I’d be lying if I said that he didn’t intimidate me…JUST a little. That’s the only inch I’ll give him. And nothing more.

The ring was cleared. Kenshiro’s latest victim was dragged out and put on a stretcher so he could be taken into the back where he would be revived and informed of how bad he looked in front of all the people who bet money on him tonight. He’ll be ok in a day or two…unless those gamblers lost big on him. In which case, he might want to leave town and lay low for a while. They tend to hold a grudge about that kind of thing.

Nobody ever said that fighting in the vampire underground was easy.

Heads up, my fellow night crawlers!!! It looks like we’ve got ourselves a LOCAL talent coming up next, folks! He’s been a regular contestant here for the last year and a half! And judging from what I’ve seen on his personal scorecard out there…you gamblers have got a lot of LOVE for this neighborhood bad boy! So let’s get him hyped up so we can some BLOOD flowing up in here!!! HUH?!?!?!

Introduced as ‘Bandit’ in the fighting circuit, I walked towards the ring, hearing the deafening clamor of the crowd as they showed me all the love and support that I had worked so hard to achieve. Pushing myself to the limit every step of the way. Always giving it my all, every single time. But it was the belief of that ONE boy…my favorite boy…that meant the most to me. I couldn’t pick him out of the mass of people before me…but I knew he was out there somewhere. Watching. Caring. And in a room full of screaming and adoring fans…just a silent nod of approval from him would be enough to get me through this. The rest of the arena…in fact, the rest of the world, could be completely empty…and it would still be enough.

The ref signaled for me to step into the flat, circular, ring. Dead center, with HD cameras capturing me from every angle for a close examination of the match, no matter who won. The referee was, of course, only there for ‘decoration’ in this place. There was no reason to really enforce any kind of strict rules in the fighting rings while the fights were taking place. Except for the solid rule of not using your vampire extras to gain an unfair advantage over your opponent. They have devices overhead that send out frequencies to cancel out the brainwaves that allow our extras to work, but I’m sure that there are ways to get around them if you practice hard enough. Other than that, there wereno rules. A luxury that fighters used to not only beat their competitors to a bloody pulp, but to inspire fear and dread in the hearts of the next combatants to come. One could really get hurt in this place, possibly even have their existence in darkness terminated for good. And for many of the fighters here….that was a major part of the fun.

Weird fetish to have, don’t you think?

I stretched a bit, getting my practiced stances and balance together, snapping my neck a few times as I got myself ready for my first match of the evening. I might not have had as much formal training as some of these other fighters in the arena…but I knew enough to kick some serious ass when I really needed to. I’ve been fighting since the first day that I went to public school at age 5 in daylight. And since then I’ve had plenty of lessons, grew to be a teenager, crossed over, studied with a few other expert vampire fighters, picked up a lot of tricks from Jody, honed my instincts, sharpened my skills. I’ve done it all in my six years in darkness. I just hope that it’ll be enough to get me some major gambling points tonight. The competition is heavier than it used to be.

But despite all that, I’ve got myself a new secret weapon now. I’ve been studying him from afar for a few weeks now, but I think that I’ve mimicked his movements enough to have effectively learned his unique fighting style. Enough to take me to that next superior level of fighter skill. Those movements, those positions…I have been trying so hard to get them down, but they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I know that I kind of ‘stole’ his style for myself, but I consider it more of a ‘study’. An analysis made by a potential colleague, right?

Heh…and to think, I just happened to see him practicing one night outside in an old graveyard up North. A vampire…completely covered in shadows. Where did he learn to fight like that? How old could he be to have developed such an amazing level of grace. And where did helearn it from? I think I’ve learned a few new tricks to get me through the night, but I’d really love to know more about this style. I’m sure Jody knows what it is. He knows everything. I’ll have to have him explain it to me in detail a bit later. Maybe even…whisper it softly into my ear. Hehehe! How awesome would that be? Ugh…still overrun with teenage hormones. I’ve gotta fight to focus before I end up taking on my next challenge with a raging hardon.

Anyway, whoever that dark man in the shadows was, or whatever style he was training with, I know that with his help…I might just be able to win a ton of money before anybody else in the arena figures it out. So I consider that my ace in the hole.

Here’s hoping.

Here he is, Gator Patrons….your chosen local halflife boy…and quite a CUTIE if I do say so myself! Your potential boy-champ…‘BANDIT’!!!! MAKE SOME NOOOIIIIZE!!!

It was a fighting name that I think seemed to fit me, even though I hated the halflife stigma attached to it. Anyway, I loved it more for Jason’s benefit than anything personally appreciative or media worthy, myself. I am a bit of a fallen angel, after all. Doing what I’m doing…just for the money. Rob from the rich, give to the poor. Well, I’m a bit more selfish than that, but you get the idea.

It was then…that I saw my first competitor for the night. The guy was built like a freakin’ TANK! A dark skinned goliath, with red ribbons tied to his elbows and knees. MASSIVE muscles that looked like they had been carved out of wood. My knuckles seemed to cringe on their own with the threat of having to slam themselves into such a solid structure. I don’t blame them.

I knew this guy. I remember watching him break a guy’s arm at the elbow a few weeks ago. Nearly broke it in half actually…and then proceeded to drag him around the ring by the nearly severed limb until the poor bastard screamed his vocal chords out in agony and tapped out. Afterward…the bastard broke his arm the rest of the way off, and then twisted the poor bastard’s neck backwards anyway. Just to be cruel. The other guy was paralyzed from the neck down for at LEAST ten sleep cycles while his body tried to repair itself completely. It took even longer for him to get full feeling back in his fingers and toes. I must have been doing too much ‘showing off’ lately if they’re starting me out with major heavy hitters like this one. I need to tone it down. I want easywins. I’m not in it for the prestige or the cheering, bloodthirsty, crowds. I just need money. That’s all. Then I’m leaving this life behind me for good. I swear it.

And taking Bandit on tonight…is one of your all time FAVORITE bets!!! He’s BIG! He’s BAD! He’s BRUTAL! Ladies and Gentlemen….give up some SERIOUS ‘Black Gator’ cheers for…’KRUSH GROOVE’!!!!!!!!!The untamed roar of the huge crowd surrounding the ring nearly deafened me as they obviously had seen Krush’s previous fights, and were investing big bucks in the idea that he could beat me to the floor without any problem whatsoever. Still…I had to keep my game face on. Show any weakness…and he’ll trash me for sure. When you’re fighting somebody else…if you believe for one second that they can beat you up…they most likely will end up doing exactly that. You can never let that happen. And yet…

…Total confidence can be such a hard thing to fake sometimes.

We both stepped into the fighter’s circle. Warriors. Gladiators, bred for a new era of bloodshed. Carnage fueled by an inhuman lust for money and prestige. At our most basic level…how can we dare to think that we’re any better than the savages who gave birth to such a barbaric form of entertainment in the first place?

Krush angrily stared down at me from his six inch advantage on me. His massive frame could practically cast a shadow large enough to completely conceal me from the rest of the spectators. I was so wiry and thin in comparison, but I knew that I was quick. Much quicker than he could ever hope to be, lugging all of that heavy ‘meat’ around with him with every step. Wearing him down with evasive tactics was definitely going to be my best strategy here. Jump in…take a few well placed shots whenever I could…and quickly jump back out again before he could retaliate. He’s got size, muscle, and power, on me. I’d have to keep moving. If he slams a hard one down on me with one of those ‘beddy bye’ haymaker punches of his, I’ll be seeing stars for the next three weeks.

His breath fell, hot, on my face. I heard all sorts of various snaps and pops as he flexed his muscles…cracking his knuckles in his palm right in front of my face. Stay cool, Jacob. Focus. Show no weakness. You can do this. Jason is counting on you.

There was a pause….then the loud ring of a buzzer as fiery explosions were set off in every corner of the arena! The ref dropped his hand, and quickly tried to find an immediate escape from the ring so he could stay out of our way and not get hurt.

Krush didn’t waste any time at all…

Thank God for my reflexes, because as that first punch shot out from his shoulder at full power…the wind of it blowing my sandy blond hair up as it breezed past my face…it might have taken my head clear OFF!!!

I swiftly spun around to get behind the big behemoth, but as soon as I got my footing, I saw him swinging back with an elbow that I didn’t have time to duck under. So I thrust both of my forearms up to block the blow, and immediately felt the sting of the impact as he knocked me back a few steps in the circle. JESUS, he’s strong! I had to fight the urge to grimace in pain and shake my arms loose again. He didn’t let up, not even for a second. He came at me with a powerful series of attacks, and I began to find my balance again. I was soon expertly dodging everything that he had to throw at me. Like I said…speed is my only advantage in this match. And I was praying that he’d keep expending energy the way he was. Because there was no way in HELL that I was going to be able to battle him one on one.

I moved my head back and forth, side to side, to avoid his massive head shots. But he soon grabbed the back of my head with both hands and pulled me downward. My instincts reacted all on their own, folding my arms together to block the brutal knee butt that was heading towards my face. Once, twice, three times…then he tried another way…dropping his elbow hard on my back, nearly separating my shoulder blades from the impact. Acting as fast as I could, I lowered my head further, and brought my leg way up behind me to smash the flat of my foot into his ugly mug! The few seconds that he spent stunned from the surprise blow was enough to give me time to deliver a few power punches to his iron gut, and then reach down to grab his ankle to pull it up to flip him onto his back.

The audience went WILD after this unexpected move!!!

I should have take advantage and pounded him into the mat while he was disoriented…but his intimidating size and strength caused me to hesitate. You’ve gotta clear your head, Jacob. Just FIGHT already! Stop thinkingso much! Losing is not an option, you hear me? You’ve gotta go HARD on this guy! Or you’ll be going home with your spine shattered and your head swelled up big enough to weigh you down to the street!

Krush was back on his feet in no time, and he rushed towards me at top speed! I had a momentary panic, as I imagine that being hit by a runaway TRAIN would hurt less than the impact of this ‘monster’ sharply pushing his shoulder up under my ribs. But my legs reacted, and I hopped up high enough to roll right over his back and shoulders before he could tackle me, full force, into the audience. I spun back around, my leg swinging low in an attempt to sweep him off of his feet….


I might as well have swung my leg into a petrified treestump! He didn’t budge an inch. And he turned around to grab me by the throat. His grip squashed my windpipe, and cut off my air supply as easily as pinching a water hose on a weekend afternoon. I gasped, crashing my eyes closed as the pain rushed through me like a bolt of lightning. I felt my body being lifted off of the floor, with me helpless to keep my footing.

Again…the crowd went crazy. Investments well spent as far as they were concerned.

Open your eyes, Jacob! Keep you head in the game!

I forced my eyes open as my vision began to blur from the lack of oxygen. And the first thing that I saw when my gaze regained some stability, was Krush’s smiling face looking up at me with a smirk. Readying his other fist for a punch that was sure to knock me unconscious the second he let it go. So I reached up to grab the hand holding me up by the neck, and dug my nails in to the softest part of his wrist. Just in the tender places where his wrist bones connected to the rest of his arm. I was hoping that he’d loosen his grip just long enough for me to catch a quick breath…but no such luck. I balled my other hand into a fist, and lunged out to punch him repeatedly in the face! Once in the cheek, once in the eye, once on the bridge of his nose. All useless. He only squeezed tighter…and that’s when I felt my throat beginning to collapse from the intense pressure of it all. I kept punching away, and then kicked out at his stomach and his sides. But his body was layered so thick with rock hard muscle, that it was hard to make much of a dent in him at all.

I kicked and punched and kicked and punched…flailing helplessly in the air, raising my knee up to smash it into his chin. Nothing worked. So I grabbed onto his arm with both hands, and lifted my lower body up to wrap my legs around the solid thickness of his arm, locking my ankles up around what little neck he had, and I tried to use my leverage to flip him over onto the ground. Unfortunately….supporting my body weight with one arm didn’t seem to be much of a challenge for Krush Groove to pull off. He held me in mid air as I tried repeatedly to roll him over. And after a bit of a chuckle, he swung his arm forward, and literally threwme to the other side of the ring like a rag doll.

I crashed down to the mat with a thud and rolled to a stop. It hurt, sure. But I was definitely thankful to be breathing again.

Aggravated, I pounded the mat with my fist and tried to use my frustration as motivation for me to fight harder. Fuck this! I’m NOT losing! I’m NOT going to let this son of a bitch make a fool out of me! A match like this can really take me over the top and make a difference in how much I start earning per match from here on out. I HAVE to win! I *HAVE*to!

I got up on my feet, rubbing my throat for a few seconds as my lungs inflated again with precious oxygen, and I tried to sooth the pervious agony with a slight massage. Ok…you wanna do this? Let’s do this. Screw the fighter image, the betting pool, and the score cards. I wanted easy wins with a big pay off…but this asshole is asking me to ‘show off’ now. I couldn’t use my extra, or I’d be booed out of the ring and would lose all of my winnings for the night. But that wasn’t the onlysecret that I was keeping under wraps in my usual bag of tricks.

I had been holding back on using the hidden skills hat I had secretly been learning in the silence of night, because I wasn’t sure that I was good enough to make them work for me in a place like this. Still…even though I’ve never actually used it in an arena setting before…I’m hoping that it will work wonders for me now.

It couldn’t hurt, right?

I changed my stance. Instead of keeping my fists tightly balled up like before, I loosened up my arms and legs, opened my palms, and took a deep breath to try to truly relax myself as I pictured the shadowed figure in the graveyard. That seemed to be a huge part of the style that I had witnessed from afar. Comfort. Tranquility. Focus. Flexibility. Peace. It hardly seemed like much of a defense against this merciless brute, but from what I had seen…the style wasn’t about physical strength at all. There seemed to be something deeperabout its movements. Its entire structure of fighting applications seemed to be held together more by NOT moving rather than making any advances against an opponent. It was something that I took a great interest in. I had never seen anything like it before. Already, I could already feel the tension leaving me. And the fighting style itself seemed to come ‘alive’ all on its own once I gave in to the practiced stance that I had been observing over the last few weeks..

It was as if I could feel a surge of energy coming up through the floor, through my feet, and flooding into every part of my body. I could only get it to work when I was relaxed, when the stance was right and my mind was clear, but it worked. And that’s a good thing, because Krush was looking to make this a quick knock out tonight.

As Krush’s gargantuan fists came rushing towards me at what looked like the speed of light, I felt my body swiftly and easily roll to the side with a step or two, not only stepping out of the way of his punch, but positioning myself behind him simultaneously. I had studied the movements, and I had been practicing in secret on a nightly basis for weeks, but never would I have assumed that it would be so effective. So…’automatic’. I was so taken by surprise that I didn’t even launch with a beneficial strike when I had the chance. Krush shot back with a back kick that nearly knocked my intestines out of alignment! I flew backwards nearly fifteen feet, my back skidding across the ring as I gasped for breath. Nice, Jacob. Why don’t I just bend over for him and let him just kick my ass out into the cheap seats next time?

I got up, and tried to get my fighting stance back in order. It took a few wobbles to get my knees under me and have my source of energy flowing into me the right away again, but once I had it, it almost seemed to instantly heal me from the inside out. What is it about this particular style that keeps me so invigorated? If only I knew more about it. If only I could understand it. I’d be invincible tonight.

Krush played to the audience for a bit, laughing at my screw ups as he prepared to make his crowd pleasing knockout so that he could get paid and go home happy. I don’t plan to let that happen.

I loosened my arms a bit more, and tried to force myself forward to attack. It was harder than I thought, trying to use this style as an offensive technique. The energies flowing within me were almost cut off entirely once I made a move towards him in anger. I landed a few punches, connected with a few kicks…and the angrier Krush got, the easier it was to anticipate and dodge his aggressive blows. I was dancing around him so fast that he barely knew what he was swinging at. And yet, still, the fighting system that I was using before refused to…’power up’ like it was doing before. I NEEDED that extra edge! I NEEDED that advantage! Come on! What the fuck is the MATTER with this thing???

I was seriously worried that the feeling wasn’t going to come back when I suddenly felt a slight tingle coming from the very center of my stomach at just the right moment. Everything seemed to move into slow motion. Everything began to make….sense. More so than ever before. I wish I could explain it, but it was just this whole other level of awareness that seemed to feed me all the knowledge I would ever need to win this particular match. It’s like it came out of nowhere. My body reacted on its own, and my head drastically leaned to the right side to avoid a punch that I’m sure would have broken my nose, and probably cracked parts of both of my cheekbones on top of it. My legs relaxed themselves, and bent slightly, and I was ‘alerted’ to all of the open strikes that I had to the most vulnerable parts of his body. The punch Krush delivered hit nothing but air…and my legs sprang upwards to crash into the inside of his ribs, followed by a vicious butt into the center of his chest with my shoulder. Krush yanked his hand back, his fingers shaking with pain. And he was too stunned to block the front kick that I blasted into his stomach. What the hell did I just do?

A weak spot! MANY weak spots! All visible to me at once! The tender veins on the insides of his wrists, the inner tendons in his thighs, the sides and front of his neck, the tender spots in his underarms, behind his knees….he had vulnerabilities all over him! This big OAF was just a virtual house of cards, just waiting to come crumbling down at my feet. Sure, the muscle on him was packed solid, and it might as well be titanium armor. But all the places I saw in my mind’s eye, the places where his muscles came together…soft as an over ripened Georgia peach. And whatever this new fighting style of mine was….it could already detect it from a mile away. JUST by exploiting the movements of his body alone.

I wanted to keep my mind focused on what I was doing! But all I could think was, “Omigod…it’s WORKING!”

Krush Groove shook his hand back into working order, and lashed out at me again with a vengeance. He was moving fast! I mean, every swing could have done some major damage, had I been foolish enough to let any of those blows connect with the force he intended. But I didn’t. It was like I could predict and sidestep each and every attack that Krush launched at me, sliding between his every punch and kick to safety while analyzing the best ways to strike back. Actually getting inside of his defenses with every movement. I had gone through so many different martial arts lessons, and none of them ever gave me such a close proximity and instant access to an enemy as this one had. I could evade everything he threw my way effortlessly, and as soon as I was safe, I was given a free ticket to all of the exposed areas on his giant body that I could use to bring him down. All I had to do was memorize the right sequence of movements. They were almost flawless in their display. Perhaps that guy was really on to something.

I dug my thumbs into the soft spots on the sides of Krush’s abdomen, I flicked the front of his throat, I struck the inside folds of his elbows, I jammed the side of my palm into his groin…every strike deeply bruising his skin with the slightest of taps, causing the blood to rush forward and clot in dark purple wounds that continued to burn with misery and pain long after the strike had been delivered. It was more about precision than power. More about balance than speed. By the time I was finished with him, Krush had fallen over, twitching in agony. He was laying on his side, his eyes clenched tight from his suffering….shaking with agony. His body simply couldn’t take anymore of my abuse. He was sore at every joint, and the crowd gasped as the ref ran in to see if he would be able to continue the fight. I had surprised quite a few gamblers that night. Hell, I think I even surprised myself, to be honest.

A hush fell over the crowd.

And then, the ref heard a childish whisper from the monstrous frame of my fallen opponent. Everyone held their breath for the verdict. And it was then that the ref stood up, and took my hand to raise up over my head, declaring me as the winner.

He shouted the name ‘Bandit’ in victory! And once again…

…The crowd went WILD!

I had easily broken the gambling spread for those betting on me, and that was going to mean a little extra money in the pocket. Always helpful. For those betting against me, too bad. They’d better wizen up, and FAST! Because I’m going to keep kicking ass until they do!

I don’t know what the hell this fighting style is or who invented it, but if it works thiswell…I’m definitely going to make it a personal part of my daily training from now on. Imagine how much faster I can gather the money I need! I’ll have Jason feeling like a brand new boy in NO time.

People shouted congratulations at me as I grabbed a towel for my face and proudly stepped out of the arena.

“Helluva fight, kid!!!”

“You fuckin’ ROCK, man!!!”

“Money well invested, boy! You were a BEAST out there!”

Compliments, sure, but only because I just made them a boatload of money. If I had lost tonight, these same people would be just as likely to spit in my face and toss garbage at me as I took the long walk of ‘shame’ back to the locker room. Industry gamblers are not my friends. It was one of the first things I learned when I got into this business. But I guess that’s Krush Groove’s problem now.

However, as I walked down the aisle, I saw Jody smiling at me…..and that made it all worthwhile. It instantly made me feel 50 pounds lighter, my senses getting dizzy as his charm penetrated my every emotional defense. His stunning beauty was a knockout punch that I’d never be prepared for. Not ever.

I bashfully walked past him with my head down…but it’s not like he didn’t know where to find me.

I went back into the locker room, and I wiped myself down with the towel. I could feel a few sore spots on me, still pulsing with a heartbeat of their own from the pain, but I had pretty much avoided the kind of beating that MOST fighters would have taken from a guy like Krush. I was EXTREMELY lucky to not have any broken bones. I doubt any of his last ten to twenty opponents could have made such a boast.

I had some spare clothes inside of my locker, and a little cash for the train ride home in case I lost, and an extra pair of gym shoes. Once I collected my winnings from the promoters tonight, I’ll be sure to pay my temporary hotel fees a couple of weeks in advance. It’ll keep me out of daylight for as long as possible. And once Jason is all better, maybe I can invest in a small apartment home of my own. A place where I can rest my head and relax for as long as the fact that I never age holds out with the neighbors around me.

Only time will tell, right?

Jody rushed into the locker room shortly after I had gotten myself settled, and he was overwhelmed with excitement. He smiled openly at me, his sexy blue eyes wide with admiration. He pushed his longish, blond, bangs back just to let his untouched beauty come into view. “Omigod, Jacob! That was AMAZING, what you did tonight? I have never seen you move like that before!” He said with a joyous grin. “What the heck WAS that anyway?? I’ve never seen strikes like that! Like…anywhere.”

“Honestly? I thought you had seen everything.” I said.

“Not like that! It goes beyond anything that I’veever studied. I can tell you that.” He said. “What do you call it? Where did you learn it?” He said, anxious to add it to his collection of passionate subjects.

I looked right at him, and I said, “You know what, Jody? I honestly don’t know.”

“You don’t know? What the heck does THAT mean?” He giggled sweetly.

“It means…I don’t know. Hehehe!”

“Well, where did you pick it up from?”

I looked around the area to make sure that it was totally empty, and then I pulled Jody to the side to speak more privately about it.

Just touching his arm sent a pulse of infatuated sweetness shooting up the length of my spine, but I attempted to keep myself calm regardless. “Listen…this is just between us, ok?” He nodded, and I told him, “There’s this…this vampire, right? I don’t know him personally. I mean, I don’t even know his NAME. But I was coming home from a fight one night, and I passed by this old graveyard on the North side. And that’s where I….I saw him.”

“You saw him, who? And doing what?”

“I don’t KNOW who. But he was….practicing. He was…truly involved in these positions that I had never seen before, but his whole body was covered in this swirling mist of shadows. I couldn’t see his face, but I knew that he was one of us. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all.” I said. “I swear to you, Jody, I had never seen a fighting style this fluid. This…‘exact’. I didn’t let him see me watching, but I took out my cell phone and started recording everything so I could watch it and study him later. That was a few months ago, and I’ve been trying to imitate the fighting style ever since.”

“Does he know that you were watching him?” Jody asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that I found it interesting. And once I tried to use it on my own…it just activated the most incredible fighting stances…all by itself.

Jody seemed perplexed, but he never lost his cheeky grin. So he said…well, it looks like you might be the guy to bet on after all.

And with that, he turned to leave me alone to clean up and prepare for my next match.. I wasn’t really sure what it is that I had stumbled upon…but that dark figure had certainly tapped into something that I had never experienced before. And I was curious to learn more. Because if this was my ticket to getting Jason all better and healthy, then I might need to find out as much as I can about it before I lose my opportunity.

I guess I’ll just…have to find him again…..

Won’t I?

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