Chapter 7 (A rivalry worth renewing)
Kkaj checked his pockets for the fifth time. Liquor slashed around in all five flasks, and he climbed into the ring. His stomach twisted. Did he really have to fight again? Even worse, did he have to fight Runtef?
On the other side of the ring, Runtef arched an eyebrow. She strolled towards him while the judge helped clear rubble from the last fight. What had happened?
A yawn escaped Kkaj’s mouth. He massaged his neck. “It seems like Moofuj and that wee man put on quite a show.”
Runtef nodded. “Where were you?”
“In the waiting room.”
“You didn’t watch the fights?”
Her mouth fell open.
“I have no interest in these sorts of things anymore.” Kkaj ground his foot into the stone ring. How much longer would it take them to replace the broken sections of the ring?
“Well, I spent most of the time eating. I was hoping to have a bit more time to —”
“Not that, you ass.” Runtef put her hands on her hips. “I meant what happened to make you give up fighting? You used to love it.”
“I did love it. Once. Too much if I remember.”
“More than me … .”
“I don’t hate you for it. Anymore, at least.”
Kkaj found a smile on his face, and he chuckled.
Runtef rubbed at her belly. Did she miss the child? “You know, I only continued to fight to fight because I thought it was the only way to keep your affection. The only way to make you love me more than this brutal sport.”
The smile slid from his face, and he sucked on his lower-lip. “If I had known what my obsession was doing to you, what it led to, I would have quit sooner.”
“So, what made you quit?”
“I killed someone.”
Runtef’s brow scrunched. “If my memory hasn’t gone out completely, you killed quite a few people. Though, all were on accident, and most were in your first year of fighting.”
Tears rimmed his eyes.
“Who was it?”
Kkaj swallowed. “My … my —”
“And it’s time!” The judge’s voice jerked Kkaj out of the memory and focused his thoughts. “Let us continue with the fourth and final match of the first round!”
The crowd erupted into cheers.
“Fighters ready?” The judge looked between Kkaj and Runtef then brought his right hand down in a chopping motion. “Fight!”
Kkaj stepped into River form — both arms extended with his open palms facing Runtef. His knees bent, and his legs split wider than his shoulders, left leg a few inches in front of the right. The muscles in his back grew taut.
“Interesting.” Runtef adopted Mountain form — elbows next to her noes with her clenched fists touching above her head. The counter to River form had her legs in a lunging position. “Are we going to start without alcohol?”
“If you don’t mind?”
“Mind?” Runtef burst into laughter, her shoulders trembling. “I’d prefer it this way. Everyone knows your power is second to none. But I’ve always been better at the unenhanced forms.”
“I may surprise you.”
“I look forward to it.”
Kkaj swayed forward.
Runtef deepened her long stance, and her shoulders tensed.
Five steps between them.
Kkaj shifted into Plains form, tucking his fists by his waist and tightening his stance to half his shoulder width. He charged Runtef and struck her in the middle with three quick jabs before returning to River form.
Runtef dropped out of Mountain form, and as her arms dropped below her head, she gaped. “Wow —”
Kkaj grabbed her by the shoulders and stepped forward, placing his right hip against her left. He tightened his grip. The muscles in his arms, back and gut clenched.
Runtef twisted, her hip pulling away from his.
He spun, lifting her into the air. Damn.
Her shoulders crashed into the ring, and she gasped. Her legs twitched.
Kkaj leaped backwards.
Her feet crossed in front of his face, clipping him on the nose.
Blood rolled onto his upper-lip and into his mouth. The coin-like taste made his eyes water as much as the quick Sea form strike did. “Damn, you’re still good.”
Runtef climbed to her feet. “And you’re not half bad. You almost had me there.”
“How did you pull your hips away from mine?”
“Secret.” She staggered forward in Dessert form.
Crocobear shit. Kkaj took a deep breath then turned his back to her as if he were moving into Forest form. But instead of sliding his back leg to the side and preparing to strike with push kicks, he reached into his Drunkzard vest and pulled out his rum flask. He took a quick swig.
A gasp came from behind. “Did you just —”
“Sorry.” Fire wrapped around Kkaj’s fists, and he focused it into a blue flame. “I have to win. No matter what.” He ran towards Runtef who reached for a flask of her own.
She pulled off the cap, and her lips wrapped around the mouth of a flask like they had once wrapped around him.
He combined the blue flames around his left hand and reached out with his right. He manipulated the fire into a long-handled hammer and swung with all his strength.
Water filled the air above her head like a shield. When had her manipulation gotten so quick?
Shatter! His hammer smashed through her shield then slammed into her face. Her body bounced off the ring and landed in a crumpled mess on the arena floor.
“And our winner!” The judge’s voice boomed through the stands. “Kkaj the unbreakable!” The judge moved towards Kkaj.
Kkaj rushed to the edge of the ring and leaped to the arena floor. He scooped Runtef up in his arms.
Her broken nose wriggled, and she moaned. The stink of her seared hair and skin turned his stomach.
“I’m so sorry about playing dirty like that.” He reached for his flask of tequila. His skill with healing was almost laughable, but he could manage this. He popped the cap and brought the flask to his lips.
Her hand shot forward and grabbed his wrist. “Why?”
“If I don’t win, so many will keep dying.”
“Then don’t waste your strength.”
She grinned, carried lips cracking. “You’ve gotten soft.”
“It’s not a bad thing. I … .” Her body went limp.
Kkaj cried as the medics came to take her body from him.
Next: Chapter 8