Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Koreshi Chronicles - Down But Not Out

13 Autumn, 1922
"Hey. Cubling."
"Lyta," she replied before she even took her eyes off her plate. The cafeteria was almost empty, but clearly not empty enough.
"Right, Lyta."
She looked up. The man who stood across the table was taller than Lukas and just as muscled, but older. Lyta guessed he was at least 35 cycles. Five french braids traced lines across his head. He wore the loose-fitting clothes Lyta had come to expect of the Desert Wolves, but he wore them with style. She had absolutely no idea who he was, other than someone clearly more important than her.

She put down her fork. "Yeah?"
"I hear you've been spending time with the boxers." Even at rest, he stood in a ready stance, arms loose by his side and knees slightly bent.
Lyta shrugged. "What of it?"
The man's black eyes surveyed her, taking in the pendant around her neck and the calluses on her hands. "I'll spar with you. My name's Terrin."
She didn't sigh. She didn't give any indication at all of the knot that had formed in her stomach, part fear and part anger. She tossed down her napkin in a show of carelessness. "Yeah," she said. "Okay."
5 Spring, 1909
The world spun around her, wobbling unsteadily, and she swayed with it.
"Stick it! Stick the landing!"
She heard Marissa's voice, her coach, clear as day, though she had no idea where in the topsy-turvy world she might be. The mat was soft under her feet, and all she wanted to do was fall down onto it and start laughing uncontrollably.
"Lyta! Stick the landing!"
She'd wanted to show off, do more black flips than anyone else. She wasn't sure, but she thought she'd done at least seven, maybe even eight. She’d lost count after four. No one had told her that doing that many back flips would make you so dizzy you wanted to fall down.
"Lyta! Stick it!" Marissa's voice was insistent, and the words finally started filtering into the girl's brain, as her legs stumbled one way and then another across the bright blue mat.
She blinked, but the world kept spinning. Stick the landing. She knew she had to. She knew she needed to make her legs stop moving. She closed her eyes and felt the world move and sway. She planted her right leg, then her left, even as her head wobbled and her shoulders pitched.
She took a deep breath, threw up her arms like Marissa had taught her, and opened her eyes. The world moved, but her legs didn't. Slowly, so slowly, the room settled down again.
Marissa stepped up -- she'd been right beside the mat the whole time, Lyta realized -- and gave her charge a high-five. "Good job," she said. "You gonna do it again?"
Lyta stared up at her coach. She was so tall. All grown-ups were so tall. Marissa's eyes were laughing, even though her mouth wasn't. Lyta shook her head vehemently, felt the room spin again, and fell down on the mat in a fit of giggles.
8 Autumn, 1922
"Welcome aboard, then, cublings. I'll get someone to show you your rooms. Oh, and Ennik, why don't you stay behind and chat a moment, eh?"
Lyta had to admit she liked Grey Cub. He wasn't that much older than Lukas, but he had an easy power she suspected Lukas never would. His men loved him, that was clear. Oh, they were tough about it. You wouldn't see them hugging or anything, but she could feel it. She could feel him watching her and her brothers as they stepped off the furs that lined the floor of Mor's makeshift receiving chamber, but she found she didn't mind. There was just something about Grey Cub that made you want to like him.
There was a woman waiting for them as they reached the hallway. "You the new cublings, then?"
All of a sudden, Lyta was snapped from her reverie. When Davood called them "cublings," it was friendly and playful. This new woman, hair split neatly into two braids that fell down her back, was all business. And when she called them "cublings," it grated. It made Lyta feel like a child among adults, and she didn't like it at all.
Lukas, at least, didn't seem phased. "That'd be us," he said amiably. "You the one who's going to show us to our rooms?"
"Yup," she said. They shook hands, and the woman started leading them down the hallway. "I'm Beka, and I'll be your tour guide." She grinned, and Lyta felt some of her initial dislike fading, though it still nagged at her. "First stop, infirmary." She looked pointedly at the still-seeping gut wound at Todd's side, and a rush of emotions played through Lyta's mind in an instant: shame at letting Todd be injured, anger at the deputies that had done it, guilt that she'd let Grey Cub distract her, relief that despite everything Todd was still alive.
Lukas glanced at Todd and back to Beka. "Sounds like a plan. Lead on."
13 Autumn, 1922
She felt eyes on her as Terrin led her into the boxers' gym. No one stopped fighting, but they knew she was there, and they were waiting. She recognized some of the faces by now, some only as familiar features of the room, present almost whenever she was, but some had more solid associations. A bruise below her ribcage ached, and her left shin twinged. Her shoulder throbbed from being slammed too hard against the ground. A few of the fighters glanced at Terrin, but most of them focused their attention on her. She set her jaw.
The centre ring was free, and Terrin stepped between the ropes and onto the mat. Lyta was a few paces behind him. He held the top rope down for her. "Coming?"
37 Winter, 1916
"Not today, Lyta." Donovar Lassander stood at the edge of the window, the curtains drawn, and peered out from behind a corner of fabric.
Lyta stood in the hall, steps from the door, gym bag in hand. She wore jeans over her white tights, but her leotard clung tightly to her torso. Lukas and Anastasy still sat at the breakfast table, watching the scene. The tension was palpable. "But Father..."
Donovar spun around, letting the curtain drop back into place. His eyes flashed. "No, Lyta. Don't make me say it again."
There was silence in the room. From outside, dozens of boots marching in unison echoed across the wide boulevard. Lyta looked back to her mother with pleading eyes, but knew there would be no help from that quarter. Donovar had always been his daughter's champion, and if even he was unwilling to set out today, Anastasy certainly wouldn't contradict him. She turned back, took a tentative step forward. "Father, please, I--"
"No." His voice was low and menacing. For a brief moment, she was afraid he would hit her. She had never seen her father so upset. Then his face softened and he knelt down beside her, so that their eyes were level. "Lyta, it's not safe. Even if the gym is still open, we can't get there. Not today, not with the soldiers. Go downstairs and train in the basement."
Lyta stared into her father's eyes, the blue as unyielding as steel. Without a word, she slammed the gym bag down beside her and stormed away towards the stairs, determined to at least do something, even if she couldn't get to the gym. Donovar watched her go. When she had turned the corner, he stood and faced back toward the window. The thump of Lyta's tumbling sounded in counterpoint to the marching soldiers. With a sigh, Donovar Lassander shifted aside the curtain with two fingers and resumed staring outside.
10 Autumn, 1922
"Kid!" The large fighter planted himself in front of her, a few inches too close for comfort. "I'm talking to you, kid."
It was her second day in the boxers' gym, and the first time anyone had spoken to her. She'd found it the day before, after leaving Lukas to train with the men and women she'd privately termed "Gear freaks." The Desert Wolves' gym appeared to have been designed, she thought, by maniacs with a Gear fetish: armor plating as weights for the barbells, pistons instead of dumbbells, dead lifts with a Gear's hand, and all other manner of gym equipment made out of salvaged Gear parts. Lyta wanted no part of it. Instead, she'd kept searching and had eventually stumbled across the sparring rings. From what she had seen, the fights were mostly freestyle, and it was generally the higher-ranked Wolf who challenged the lower-ranked. As low cub on the totem pole, Lyta hadn't been in a position to challenge anyone and had spent her first day shadow-boxing and watching the fights. A half-hour into her second day, and it had looked to be shaping up as more of the same, at least until she'd been confronted by the mass of muscle that strode up and filled her entire field of vision.
She let her arms drop back to her side. "It's Lyta."
"Whatever." The Wolf looked down at the silver pendent that hung at her neck, then back up to her face. "You wanna fight? I'll fight you."
He was bigger than she was, but then again so were most of the people she fought. She shrugged. "Sure."
The main ring was in use, so he led her to one of the corner mats and dropped into a ready stance. "Clean fighting. Until submission. That work for you?"
Word had clearly gotten around about her fight with Frederick, and Lyta wasn't sure she liked it. Yes, it had gotten her and her brothers into the Wolves, but she wasn't sure it had won her any friends. She shifted her weight and raised her arms in front of her torso. "Yeah."
Without warning, the Wolf lunged forward and Lyta sidestepped. She didn't even have time to counterattack before his leg struck out and caught her in a trip. She fell, rolled, and stood again. There was anger in his eyes, and pride also. From her periphery, she saw that other fights had stopped or slowed and that eyes were on her.
He came again, and again she dodged out of the way, snapping back with her fist against the side of his head, but he moved at the last moment and she could tell it was only a glancing blow. She saw him shift his weight and prepared to dodge right, but it was a feint, and she moved directly into his oncoming fist. It slammed into the soft tissue below her ribcage, and she staggered backwards, panting.
"Yield?" he asked, arms held up at the ready.
Lyta clutched her side, doubled over. She'd had less vicious opponents in bar fights, even after Lukas had insulted their local honor. She could see eyes on her, on the fight. She forced herself to stand up straight, and shook her head. "I'm good. Keep going."
The Wolf attacked again and again, and Lyta danced away from the shots, sometimes getting in light hits of her own but mostly staying away from shots that were meant to strike in all the legal places that could do the most damage. Slowly, the blows started to come slower. At least, she thought, she was finally tiring him out.
Another punch came in and she grabbed it, grasped him by the arm and the hip and threw him to the floor. Without letting go, she levered herself down, twisting the arm behind his back. He grimaced. "Yield?" she asked.
He grunted at her.
She lowered her face next to his ear and whispered. "Damn it, yield! Don't make me break your arm!"
He grimaced again, face contorted as Lyta pulled his arm further back and up. Finally, his hand tapped on the floor and Lyta got up, panting. She extended her hand, but he didn't take it, and instead pushed himself up with his good arm and glared at her. Then he stormed off.
Lyta closed her eyes and forced her breathing to slow down. The right side of her body ached from where she had taken the punch, and she wondered whether he hadn't broken something after all. She realized she'd never heard his name.
She opened her eyes to find that she wasn't alone on the mat. Another Wolf, not as big but just as mean-looking, stood before her. "That wasn't so bad, was it, cubling? I bet you've got another one in you."
Lyta unclenched her jaw and tried to ignore the pain. The Wolf whose arm she had nearly broken was nowhere to be seen, but the one in front of her was watching her expectantly, with only an occasional downward glance at the pendant at her neck. She pulled herself back up to her full height and drew her arms up in front of her. "Yeah," she said, "sure. And it's Lyta."
13 Autumn, 1922
Terrin let her attack first, and she did, two snap-kicks to the torso. He parried them. She tried again, sweeping with her descending leg for a trip. He stepped back from it. She used the spin of the sweep to aim a backhand strike at his head, and a hammer-hand strike at his solar plexus. He blocked them both. She let her momentum carry her forward and aimed a side-kick to his stomach.
And then she was on the ground, with her ankle twisted in Terrin's hands. She struggled against it, but he held it in a firm lock. Defeated, she tapped the floor, and he released her.
He extended a hand to her and she took it warily. She lowered her weight onto the ankle and found it could still support her. Terrin waited. "That was good," he said. "Another go?"
24 Summer, 1917
She limped away from the fourth level of the B'Ti, using the vines to support her weight, and leaned her head against a rock. She blinked back tears. She could hear people milling around her, saw Todd run off towards the Bathani tents. Time passed, but she didn't notice. Her knee throbbed, and when she touched it to the ground, it sent waves of fire up and down her leg. She focused on breathing and trying to make the pain disappear.
She felt fingertips brush against the side of her knee, feather-light, and she opened her eyes. Jonas knelt beside her. "What happened?" he asked, the softness of his voice cutting through the pain.
"I landed wrong," she said, letting the tears fall from her eyes. Lukas stood a few steps away, watching. "I didn't see the hole. The leaves covered it."
Jonas moved his hands, pressed gently, and Lyta cried out before she could stop herself. She gripped his shoulder hard, and he didn't stop her.
"It's not broken, only twisted," he said at last. "You're lucky. It could have been much worse." He helped her to the ground, sliding her down the side of the rock.
"You can fix it, can't you, Jonas?" She brushed away the tears with the back of her hand.
He looked up at her tenderly. "I can set it in the proper position to allow it to mend," he said. "But only time can heal it."
"But I have to run the fifth level tomorrow," Lyta pleaded.
Jonas took bandages from his bag and began to wrap them around Lyta's knee. He spoke as he worked. "Child, running four levels of the B'Ti in your first attempt is admirable, especially in one so young. Perhaps you should wait until next cycle to attempt the fifth."
Lyta shook her head. "But I'm so close! I know I could do it! I know I could!"
Jonas paused, the bandage held firmly in his hands. Lyta could see him thinking. "I can bandage it tightly enough that you could run on it, but it will not be easy, and it will be terribly painful. And you will not be at your peak performance. Torgath tells me you've competed before, but our competitions are not like the Olympics. There are no age categories, no opponent you must best. You compete only against yourself. No one will fault you for stopping."
Lyta exhaled sharply and set her expression. "I'd fault myself," she said. "A Lassander goes forward. Tie it as tight as you have to."
Jonas glanced up at her face, his eyes compassionate, and nodded. "Very well," he said.
12 Autumn, 1922
Lyta sat on the bed and breathed slowly. Gingerly, she prodded her new injuries: a sharp pain in her shin where a bony leg had swept her, and an ache in her right shoulder that had almost been dislocated. With a sigh, she took the ointment from the bedside table and began to massage it onto her bruises. She only let the smallest of murmurs escape her lips -- Lukas was sleeping in the next room and she didn't want to wake him.
It was like being in a half-dozen bar fights a day for three days running. She hadn't fought the same person twice, but it seemed like her fight with Frederick had been a slap in the face for many of the Den's residents. All of them wanted to prove that if she'd been fighting them, she'd never have taken their symbol of honor. They needed to prove it to her, to their fellows, to themselves. She hoped there weren't too many more of them. Letting the pendant fall between her fingers and clink against her mother's wedding ring, she wondered if it had been worth it after all.
She screwed the lid back on the ointment container and lay back on top of the covers, letting out a small whimper as her muscles protested. She would go back tomorrow. She had to. Sooner or later, they'd realize she was serious. She just hoped that her body would hold out that long.
"Lukas," she whispered to the ceiling, "if you don't find out about the Bear, I'm going to personally beat you senseless."
13 Autumn, 1922
She slapped the mat again in frustration, and Terrin let go of her wrist, helped her to her feet. "Again?" he asked.
Lyta massaged her wrist with her left hand. In the last fifteen minutes, Terrin had demonstrated at least a half-dozen ways to take her down, and she'd felt like she'd been on the mat more often than on her feet. She knew people had watched him wipe the floor with her. But he'd earned it. And at least she had the consolation of knowing that he could probably do the same with anyone who'd fought her over the last few days.
She shook her head. "I think that's as much punishment as I can take in one day."
In truth, while she was sore and out of breath, she was little worse for wear. There were none of the deep bruises that the marked her matches for the last few days, none of the sharp pains where an elbow had connected too hard or a leg swept her with no care for how she landed. Terrin, at least, didn't seem to take the pendent around her neck as a personal challenge.
He nodded and lowered the top rope. "Will we see you tomorrow, Lyta?"
She stepped out of the ring. It was, she reflected, the first time anyone in the Den had called her by her name without being prompted, or at least anyone other than Grey Cub. She looked around the room, at the faces of men who were no doubt waiting to prove their Wolfish honor by pummeling her, looked at the mat where she had just left most of her dignity, and nodded. "Yeah. Count on it."

Heavy Gear Roleplaying Game


Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.