Chapter 5 (What must be done)
Kkaj’s jaw dropped, and he gaped at the king. “You can’t be serious.”
“One-hundred percent.” King Koi-Jankorest gestured to the large crowd behind him just before a roar of cheers sprang up. “They came out in droves to see the unbreakable Penta step back into the ring. It’s why the other monarchs brought their strongest fighters. It’s why —”
“Too bad they’re all going to leave disappointed.” Kkaj stepped to the rail on the balcony and looked down onto the arena floor.
The one-armed man kicked the woman from the ring. He bowed to the crowd before pointing up towards Kkaj. Had Kkaj met the old-looking man before?
Kkaj narrowed his eyes, glaring at the man’s face.
Several wrinkles bunched up the man’s forehead, and the left half of his nose was missing. Black burn marks singed his graying hair and pale skin. His haunting, gap-toothed grin sent icy octospider legs racing down his spine. Where had Kkaj seen him before?
“And the final member to take part in today’s tournament will be Merkaej,” the judge said as he pointed towards the one-armed man.
Where had Kkaj heard that name before? He bit into his lower-lip and began tapping his foot.
Junkoi rested on the balcony railing beside Kkaj. “I’m surprised he returned.”
“Who?” Kkaj asked.
“You don’t remember?”
Kkaj shook his head.
“It was your first official tournament. I believe it was the third or fourth round, and he nearly beat you. It was the only time safe for — It was probably the closest you came to losing.”
The fights of his youth blurred together in Kkaj’s memories, and he snapped his fingers, pretending to remember. “Ah.”
“He’ll be rather disappointed if you don’t join the tournament.”
“I don’t care.”
“Do you also not care about the prize?” King Koi-Jankorest moved to Kkaj’s other side.
“You should know better than anyone else that I’ve never cared for the prize.” Kkaj turned away from the arena. “What good is money for someone like me?”
“Who said anything about money?” King Koi-Jankorest wrung his hands together.
“What else would it be?”
“We were discussing it earlier.”
Kkaj’s heart skipped a beat. “You can’t mean —”
“I do.” King Koi-Jankorest clicked his tongue. Was he lying? “And it’s the only way you’ll get your hands on Lucidity since the wastes have become far worse in the past few years.”
The muscles in Kkaj’s neck tightened, and his head twitched to the right. “You’re a bastard.”
“So, you’re going to fight?”
Kkaj gritted his teeth.
“I guess I should lift the taxes and fines I levied on your family’s distilleries.”
Kkaj’s jaw worked, grinding his teeth together. His heaved, and a low growl reverberated in his throat.
King Koi-Jankorest twirled a finger through his long bangs that had gone out of fashion three years ago. “Though, I doubt I can change the trade agreement that gives the other monarchs controlling stocks in both —”
Kkaj found his fist flying towards King Koi-Jankorest’s face.
Something slapped his wrist.
Kkaj’s fist brushed past King Koi-Jankorest’s face. Kkaj jerked his hand back and squared his feet. He cocked his arm.
Stomping boots on stone echoed from behind. Rough hands wrapped around Kkaj’s shoulders and jerked him backwards. King Koi-Jankorest laughed.
Kkaj twisted left and right, struggling to break free from the guards holding him. “I’ll rip you apart!”
“That’s the spirit.” King Koi-Jankorest cupped Kkaj’s chin. “But you need to save it for your opponents.”
“Your people suffer because of how worthless you are, and you extort the only one who tries to help. For what? Your entertainment? Money?” Kkaj spat, and the wad of spittle hit the king in the nose and cascaded across his cheeks. “You filthy piece of crocobear —”
Smack! King Koi-Jankorest slapped Kkaj, jerking his head to the left. King Koi-Jankorest pointed at the guards. Get him to the arena floor. He has a tournament to participate in.”
Blood rolled down Kkaj’s cheek and dripped onto his shoulder. Had one of the king’s gaudy rings cut Kkaj? The wound throbbed as the guards dragged him from the balcony.
Next: Chapter 6