Yet you still want to know it from her. You don't touch her since you know a simple touch can sear the armor she has crafted. You simply stare at the blood dripping from her crooked pale mouth. You leave her because you've thought for so long that she was strong. You leave her by Hell's Gate. You leave her in the familiar shadows that have embodied her. She sits in the blood stains, and you leave her in the remnant cries for help or life or both.
You remember seeing her out there. She was ruthless, merciless. You remember seeing the swing of her 7 foot blades. How had it gone to that? Why did she stop right in front of the enemy's throat? It could've been a simple,clean cut. Why did she hesitate? But then fatigue and darkness closes in,and your eyes flutter shut and everything goes black.
You're now looking for Hell's Garden, and of course the first place you look in is her 'Cage'. It is nearly 60 meters away from your own brittle cage. You start the trek in the early frosted morning. The light filters in through the dust streaming through the various holes in the windows. It leaves a snowy pattern of shadows on the ground that is soon disconfigured by your dark silhouette. You are dressed ready to fight. You wear a sleeveless,black high collar shirt with gloves fitted with the feathers of dead ravens. A powerful gun is held by an old fashioned belt newly checkered with red and black. A samurai sword is strapped to your back, and after 7 years of bloodshed it is weightless. Your stockings patterned with roses are ripped. People both D-lists and woeful visitors stand in fear as you walk past. They are certain your are the A-list, Shi Karasu. You were raised in blood along with many others that have taken shelter in a literal Hell. Your pale skin is like the snowy fields of a land you once knew. Your hair is the color of smoke once rising in homage to those lost. You are a memory;you are a painful lackadaisical death. You are a kaleidoscope of reds and blacks. But truly who are you?
You stand in front of the aged yet steel-strength door wondering how to approach Hell's Garden. You knock after long contemplation. It's a small tune you knock,and it leads you to think of an old nursery rhyme. A song that held to you so much promise. What was the name? Something around Yokaye Ekayuuy. You can tell your guess is far off. You knock again with more force, and the door opens slowly with a creak of old forgotten movies. Hell's Garden is nowhere to be seen, but being stubborn as you are you look further in. You can hear soft talking. You can see her next to a familiar figure as they sit and talk, and at this distance their words are unintelligible. You walk closer to them, and Hell's Garden glances at you with a stoic face.
~You are now Hell's Garden~
" 'Ey Karasu. Thanks for lettin' yourself in, I could tell by your knocking it was you" you speak with a seemingly calm tone of voice. Your face is dashed with new scars, and there is gauze on your knee. You are definitely glad of your long lasting rank in the Arena. A long stitch runs along the length of your arm.
You sit across the person who gave you these wounds, and you smile at them with a wicked grin. You see the fear in their eyes. And there as you live and breathe you see your sanctuary nearly four feet away from you.
"Karasu, meet the new C-list that gave me these," you gesture casually to your wounds "he's a kicker and a cutter. I could see by 'is stance that he was scared as 'ell to walk in here". The boy is buff, but his skin is pale. His dirty blonde hair, being the same shade yours once was, reminds you of a devil long forgotten in dusty nightmares. He is all scruff, and his body is covered with dirt. "Kid, go take a damn shower, let Karasu sit. Ya' stink like 'ell" he rises slowly like a weak tide "bathroom's straight to the left". He leaves the room with an uneasy stare, and as you light a cigarette (another luxury in this world) you gesture to the chair you know she will easily take place in.
"Kid think's I'm 'is mother. Fucker's on anti-lucid if ya' ask me. I've been around, been pregnant once or twice..." you see Karasu grin, and that is a gesture hard to make to you unless they don the title 'respected childhood friend'.
"I wouldn't have guessed. It isn't like I haven't been here any day week or weekend in the hours of,hell anytime you breathe and are half-dead" Karasu picks up a cigarette, and you lean in to light it with your flickering bud. You place your bud in a small open rubber box after leaning back.
The air is smoky, and you exhale to add to the musk. A window above the circular table you sit at is propped open with a throwing knife. The burning sunset peers in. Bars cover the outside of the window, and it reminds you of a crumbling city you once called home. A calendar with aged paper is behind you on the right side of the room. The year reads 2013, yet you sit here more than two decades later. A lot of furniture in your Cage was found in a rectangular room with a large orange entrance. All of it was covered in plastic, and their soft cloths were not touched by mildew and mold. You have carried old paints with you since your childhood, so the walls are painted with nightshades a deadly shade of violet.
You brush over your face with your left hand tattooed with flying sparrow silhouettes. Crows' feet bloom at the corners of your eyes. You hide the fact that stress has taken over you by saying "I got anotha' fight tomorrow. Couple's duel. Or doo-al as Stevie says. Prick's gonna get mugged some day. Betta' watch 'is ass it might be me".
"What lucky bitch gets to fight alongside you?" Karasu grins, holding her cigarette with her index and middle fingers. A puff of smoke rises up like a dragon from her red lipstick stained mouth.
"The Phoenix. She's a bitchy snob,but's not everyday you get to fight alongside a pyromaniac" you grin. Karasu is looking for a bottle of Malt Liquor. She holds the fragile bottle in one hand, and three glasses are held in her other. The low sound of the shower stopped a few minutes ago, and you wonder why Hyman has been in there for nearly 20 minutes.
~You are now Hyman~
You stare at yourself in the steam glossed mirror. Its frame is intricately designed with silver roses. You trace along the scars on your right arm with your calloused finger. A long exasperated sigh escapes from your weak lungs, and you savor the comforting heat of clean water. An old cloth is wrapped around your waist, and your clothes lay in a neat pile on the toilet cover.
A low knock rumbles in, and you hear Ma... Hell's Garden say: "'Ey kid, what ya' been doin' in there for so long?" You close your eyes and muster the energy to respond.
"I'm sorry, I'm not used to clean water. I kinda just sat in the bath for a while". Your glasses are foggy, so you wipe it with the wet cloth tied around you like a lost mother's grasp. You place your glasses on your face, and the room becomes clearer. You hear Hell's Garden shift her weight, and she breathes in deep.
"'Ey kid, since you beat the 'ell outta me, I'm obligated to care for you. I have three extra rooms in my Cage. Pick one. I'll have some old clothes I'll give to you. Your clothes kinda have my blood on it. I'd think you'd want to get some new ones". You furrow your brows as you think of a socially-acceptable way to respond.
You swallow and mutter "Thank you" in a jumbled whisper.
"Hey kid, can ya' step out for a minute? I need to talk to ya' face to face" you wonder what she'll say, and you plan possible responses. You grip the door knob, and you slowly turn it to reveal a scarred face. A black bang covers her right eye, but you can see the worry by the heavy creases in her face. It reminds you of the woman you called mother. You ask yourself if coming here was a mistake.
"We need to talk about you thinkin' I'm your mother. Look, kid, there's a 99% chance you could be my kid. I'm a whore. Don't think I'm some compensation for your daddy or mommy issues. I find someone to take care of the people I can't. That may be the reason you're alive, it may not. I'm not carin' for you because I want to. I'm being forced to do this" your expression is blank "Now go pick your room and change your clothes, Karasu and I'll be waitin' for ya'". She leaves you in a silent swagger.
You are walking to the hallway branching like a fork. The doors of the three rooms are open. One is covered with pink wallpaper, and its bed is covered with pink bears. The room reminds you of a young girl long lost in a flurry of flames. You walk into the middle room, and the wallpaper is covered with blue trains. A chest overflowing with figurines of men with capes sits at the north wall. You pick one up of a man with a bolt of lighting and a red bodysuit. You remember a small boy long gone. You remember the night in the forest, and you remember the blood on your hands. The blood of the wolves.
The third room is beige, and it has a large bed in the far corner. A wood desk with a swivel chair sits against the north wall. You choose this room, and on a dresser standing unnoticed is a stack of clothes sitting as if it expected you.
As you walk out of the room with your new clothes on, you see Hell's Garden sitting on the pair of leather couches with Karasu. "Where do I put my old clothes?" you ask trying to seem as if you belong here. The moon is high as you glance at it in the sun roof. The women sit with half empty glasses of what seems to be a strong liquor. You watch as they laugh hysterically, but both of them have the same amount of control over such a strong substance.
Hell's Garden notices you, and finally speaks after smiling for a long period of time "Ki-id you're finally finished. Come 'ere!" you
walk to the cushion next to her in a slow stagger. "Throw that pile of shit in the fire!" you see that she is clearly drunk, and you glance at the nearly empty bottle of malt liquor on the coffee table.
"Fire! Fire! Fire!" Karasu and Hell's Garden chant, so you throw your old clothes into the fire and slowly sit back down. "Ey' kid finish this off" Hell's Garden hands you a glass and the rest of the bottle. She sits up, and she takes the bottle out of your hand. She pours your glass in an unsteady stream, and you chug it down quickly. They both smile, and Hell's Garden says between hiccups: "Ey' maybe he is my kid!"
The rest of the night was a series of drunken events. The three of you dance and sing groggy tunes. At one point all you remember is a figure in black strumming an acoustic guitar somehow skillfully. The night fades away into blurred dreams. You enter into a new level of consciousness, and you see a blonde woman with a blue dress. You are held in her arms, and your sight becomes clearer. The woman's face is pummeled and bruised. A man behind her stands with a furious face. You turn your bobbling head to a window. There are pieces of glass missing, and smoke drifts in from the fires you see outside. Chaos reigns, and you can hear a man's voice from the radio. It was a broadcast you had heard millions of times by now.
It starts in crackles and then the man says "is in storm! Riots have started. Blood is on the hands of all that don the title" there was more static and then he continued "No one is safe! Barracks and survival groups sprout like weeds in the dusty ground. Protect your family, your loved ones, for hell's sake even your dog! This is the end, we are the end".
The man behind the blonde haired woman speaks, yet the words are incoherent to you. All you make out are clear expressions and gestures. They both grab bags, and you stay in her arms. They are running to a vehicle. You hear planes crashing and falling. Diesel stains the ground. They enter quickly as people with cleavers and combat rifles charge fervently. The bristly man drives off to a large building reminiscent of an old coliseum. They drive you into the building, and you look up through the glass roof and see that the building had sunk to the point where the roof of the vehicle hit the building's ceiling. You are carried out of the vehicle by the blonde woman. Both of them are crouching as they go down a ramp to a lower level.
You see them arguing with a scarred figure. You look up to the woman as tears drop down on your rosy cheeks. She is yelling loudly and furiously. Her face turns red, and she gives you to the bristly man. Two burly men take her arms, and they seem to drag her to a dark door. The man who holds you continues to argue, but the hooded figure stays adamant. The rest of your dream was being driven to a small wooden village set ablaze, and you remember a stone building sitting high on a hill in the distance. The building's border is ablaze as the sunset turns a deep orange.
Was this a dream?
~You are now Hell's Garden~
You wake as if you weren't drunk the night before. Your head rests atop Karasu's lap, and she sleeps sitting up with a glass in her right hand. You get up, and you trudge to the bathroom. You can hear Karasu wake up. Her face is flushed, and her velvet lipstick has faded to an early-sunset pink. In your confusion you walk into the branching hallway. You glance into the beige room that Hyman lays in. You can only wonder how he could have mustered the strength to walk.
A large rusty clock hangs in the middle of the forking hall. There are three hours left until Hell's Gate rises to welcome the onslaught. You shuffle into the bathroom. You wet a cloth to erase the masking makeup on your face. You smile as you see your natural face appear. You unclothe, and you step into the shower. You prepare the water as you do everyday. A hot stream envelops you in a rebirth that has droned in your impervious mindset.
You can hear the squeak of rusty bed springs. Directly afterwards you hear the distinct sound of Karasu's metal cuffed boots clink together. Without hesitation you get ready for your shower, and five minutes later you're done. You step out, and your Cage is empty. Karasu's signature raven's feather is laying outside your fireplace. Karasu must be giving Hyman the signature tour, and you go to your room with a smirk on your face.
~You are now Shi Karasu~
Hyman is stumbling around the green house. You know every path through the genetically engineered plants. You barely feel any sun hit your skin, but you know the power of the light outside. "This is the green house," you say glancing back at Hyman. He is staring at the large cabbages and other assorted pre-desc plants. "I see you've found the pre-descs. Have you seen any of them before?"
"No. What are pre-descs?" Hyman still stares as he speaks. His line of sight is locked on the intricate vines.
"Pre-destruction. These are pre-desc plants. This greenhouse was standing here long before the Arena was. This was a center of a large community. Hell's Garden knows all too well about it," you keep your eyes on him as you speak, finding it rude for him to look away as you talk.
"What was she, a prophet?" Hyman prods the plants.
"So," you step up on the dry stone fountain "what's with all this 'he thinks I'm his mother' stuff?" You've been wanting to ask this question since last night. The curiosity has been eating away at you, and you wonder if Garden really fucked up this bad.
"I've been a refugee in a laboratory for a while. I learned they used to do secret abortions. I found papers on a girl about 16 years old. I have a picture of my mother when she was about that age. They matched," you listened attentively "and her abortion was canceled."
"There's other refugee camps? How big was yours? When did you leave?" you remain stoic as you ask "You're one of the few that have come here in the last five years. We all guessed you used to be a bandit or something. Your jacket has their marking. I thought you'd be wearing the one Garden gave you."
Hyman looks down at his jacket. A small emblem of two squares with a burning cross in the middle sits on his left breast. One square is red while the other is white.
"The ardens pugna Domini," you speak with your eyes squinted "the burning lord's battle. I'd burn that if I were you."
~You are now Hell's Garden~
You can see Phoenix in your peripheral. The couples duel is against four D-Lists. They look to be malnourished. You infer that they traded in their food cards for drugs. A whole set of residents were known to be dealers. Even in post-desc there are still druggies. You're glad you feed your desires with blood.
Two burning bodies lay on the floor. A third is pinned to the wall with a blade. You can see Phoenix pause. The final one charges her, and they are on the other side of the arena. In a blink Phoenix is down without a whisper, and the last D-List is still fighting to bludgeon her skull in. You take your gun loaded with poison shells, and the D-List is down. You decided to simply shoot their arms off, and you can hear their screams as the poison seeps through the open wound.
You are now running towards Phoenix. Her line of sight is not broken, and you can see a figure moving as you look towards them. You do not see their face, but you see fiery orange hair. It is the same color as Phoenix's. Hell's Gate is slowly opening, and you sprint towards it. You leave your blade in one of their bodies, but you don't mind. You've got a drawer full of them.
Stevie is waiting outside of the gate, and he prepares to speak. You continue to run without a second thought. You see the scarlet brush whip around a corner. You start to feel hot, almost as if the fire is truly that. In your head you know that it is simply anger. Whoever this was led Phoenix to her death.
You turn the corner into the D-List's cages. The red haired figure fumbles with her key card. She begins to take out her back up key, but you stop her there.
"Who are you?" you ask furiously. You can see in her eyes that she is scared. A scarf covers her mouth, and she mumbles something. You pull her scarf off, and she speaks again.
"I'm Ru...Rum," she pants as she speaks "Rum Hilt."
~You are now Hyman~
Karasu is leading you through the nursery. You are surprised to see so many happy people here. They hold children in their arms. One woman sits in a corner, whispering to herself. You slowly walk towards her. She looks up at you, and she smiles with a slight twitch.
"Would you like to hold my baby?" she has a slight stutter when she says baby. She hands her small bundle to you, and you take it nervously. Inside is a small porcelain baby. It's eyelids are a slightly different color than the rest of it. Was it repaired, or was it given eyelids after it was originally 'born'? The state of its eyelids makes you believe your second theory to be true. A large crack is set in its 'skull', and red lipstick stains smudge its 'cheeks'. You hand the baby back, and the woman goes back to whispering.
You go to Karasu who is talking to two men. One of them holds a baby. The baby is dark-skinned, but both men are white. You look at both of their hands, and they both have matching rings. You smile.
"Billy and Pat, this is Hyman." Karasu introduces you, and you give them a small wave. "Billy and Pat are two A-Lists here. We call them Central. They run half this place. They quit fighting awhile ago, but they've kept their title. This is their baby, Esther. They did a run to a small bandit camp on the border. They cleared it out, but they saved this baby. She was a dying newborn, and there were no women in the camp. That was about a year ago." You smile and gesture Karasu to walk with you.
"Who is that woman in the corner?" you ask her after walking a sensible distance away from Billy and Pat.
Karasu shakes her head, and she walks towards the large exit guarded by two men.
~You are now Shi Karasu~
Three blue jay calls chime through the Arena. Hyman asks you what that meant. "An A-List just died," you answer.
You then recall that Garden was dueling today, and you walk calmly towards the exit. You show your face and spin around. They let you pass, and then you go running. It takes you ten minutes for you to run to the fourth commune; this commune contains the 'meeting hall'. People gather in pew like benches. People stand in small groups, and you can hear them whispering. Echoes of 'who is it?' and 'how could two A-Lists get beat in two days?' are all you hear.
You see a familiar tattooed body sitting in a front pew. You push through people to get to Garden, and you find her sitting with her arms crossed. She sits with a girl with fiery red hair. You almost confuse her with the Phoenix, but the girl sitting there has both her eyes. You look around for Phoenix, but then you come to the final realization.
Five minutes had passed and Bill was finally there. He shared the news, and he gave the time of the funeral. He let the crowd subside, and he continued.
"A bandit group has been found about five miles away. We need two people to scout it. Hell's Garden is our first pick, and a C-List in the fifth ranking will be chosen at random. Hell's Garden, will you accept the run?" the crowd looked at Hell's Garden, but you stay focused straight ahead of you. "If you say no, then standard procedures will be followed. We will understand that you may not want to go due to your loss. A different fighter of subsequent ranking will be chosen in your place."
~You are now Hell's Garden~
Do you go on the scouting mission?
[Branch yet to be uploaded]
Do you stay in the Arena and let another person go in your place?
[Branch yet to be uploaded]