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It’s cold, a tired Jack thought as his head rested against a solid surface in an unfamiliar location. He sat up, surveying his surroundings. Stone walls surrounded him in a circle with stair-like seats on top of them and doors embedded within while a roof loomed over all. The placed looked symmetrical apart from one area containing a tunnel, presumably for an entrance or exit, and a lavish throne in front of Jack, ordained with jewellery and feathers of some sort.
A bright light smothered Jack, blinding him for a moment. When he regained his vision, he saw someone sat on the throne, the same little boy he met on the boat, hand resting on a smug face, surrounded by people in white coats and holding boxes that lit up and showed a floating image.
‘Welcome to the Colosseum!’ the boy remarked. ‘Or at least my own knock-off version. Can’t exactly use the original nowadays. Yikes. That was a dark time in history.’
‘Huh?’ Jack said, bewildered.
‘See. This is why I hate being old while being in a child’s body. Either they don’t get my awesome references or they ignore me for looking like a ten-year-old, or it might be forty ever since the lifespans of man increased. Isn’t that right, Alfred?’
‘Yes, sire. Your references are on point,’ the suited man that always accompanied the boy replied.
‘Thank you! Good to see someone appreciating my brilliance. Yo, Jackie boi. Come here.’
Jack stood up and began walking to the boy, the spotlight following him with every step. He remained confused, unsure why he was following the boy’s orders. The chill from the ground ran through his bare feet. Was it winter already? Jack’s breath didn’t make steam nor did his body shiver, so the ground’s temperature felt unnatural. He looked up at the boy who leaned over the edge of the wall and stared back.
‘Jackie, Jackie, Jackie. I think this nickname suits you,’ the boy mused. ‘Have I already told you I’m Bastion East? Maybe. I don’t know. Anyway, can you talk now?’
‘Uh, where am –’
‘Good. Experiment seventy-nine was a success. Take note boys and girls.’
The white-coated people fingered the floating images, causing more images to come up. They had the occasional glance up to look at Jack before turning back to their devices. When they finished, they whispered into the ears of Bastion, getting a nod out of him in return.
‘Now, Jackie boi. Have you checked out your new weapons,’ Bastian asked.
‘Are all Eurasian mages this stupid? Look at your hands.’
Jack peered at the palms of his hands, wondering what was different, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. However, when he turned them over, he couldn’t see his nails. Instead, the pink flesh of the underside stuck out like a sore thumb.
‘Did you pull them out?’ Jack asked.
‘Wow. You suggest something so macabre and still act so calm like ‘tis but a scratch. How awful was your childhood?’ Bastion said. Someone leaned in, whispering in his ear, giving him information he didn’t know. ‘Oh. You’re one of the low-ranked mages. Ah, then it’s kinda my fault. Whoops.’
‘Fear not! For I am a generous God. Your nails are still there. Check your shadow.’
With the spotlight still over him, Jack looked down at the floor, noticing the long, thin, black spikes that stuck out of the shadow his hand created. He wiggled his fingers and the spikes followed even though you couldn’t see any spikes from Jack’s hand. He then attempted closing his fingers into a fist but pricks, five in total, forced him to retract the motion, speckles of blood seeping out.
‘Like your new weapons? Or should I say your new nails? Thought you could use the manicure, especially after how much you wanted to improve yourself,’ Bastion explained.
‘Um, sir. Should we tell him why we knew about it?’ A woman whispered, the same one Jack remembered seeing before being bundled into the container. Elivia, right?
‘Goddammit, woman! Who gave you permission to speak?’ Bastion snapped, causing the others, bar the one called Alfred, to cower into their devices.
‘Zip it. Forgive me for my rude-as-f*** minion, Jackie boi. I just wanted the best for you. That’s all.’
Was this not the enemy? Was I actually not taken by the AAA? What was going on?! Jack stood there gobsmacked. He didn’t know what to do. Confusion, gratitude, a hint of fear and several more emotions meshed together into whatever he felt at that very moment, silencing him in his bemusement.
‘I thought I cured your voice. Why so quiet? Maybe I should tell you the truth. Y’see, Jackie boi, I know all about you.’
‘What?!’ Jack exclaimed, snapping out of his confused state of mind. ‘How?’
‘Your friend spilt everything from your name to how you hated yourself since you couldn’t do an assassination. Enough chit chat from my end though. How about you speak to him yourself. Everyone! Take notes of the fight!’
A door slid open on the far side of the Colosseum, causing Jack to turn around, wary of the sudden turn of events. Another beam of light shone on the opening, illuminating the darkness and revealing an all too familiar face, surrounded by puffs of smoke, making his entry as flashy as possible.
‘No way,’ Jack murmured.
‘Hue. Now, this is where the fun begins,’ Bastion announced. ‘Jackie boi, say hello to your fellow Eurasian. Oh, and he’s also a snitch. Thought I’d mention that.’
Esper looked paler than before, his cheekbones showing, with his eyes being those of a madman, the same ones witnessed back in Egypt. His usual spiky hair slanted forwards, as if it aimed right at Jack, ready to be fired.
‘You,’ Esper snarled.
‘Esper. I’m glad you’re alright,’ Jack said with a smile, relieved that he knew someone at least.
‘You left me for dead!’
Jack realised the situation he was in and the cause. Esper was the one who didn’t listen to the plan. Esper was the one who screwed up the assassination. Esper was the one who betrayed his partner and revealed the rendezvous point within the King’s Room. Yet, Jack couldn’t act out against his fellow Eurasian. He didn’t want to. Surrounded by the AAA, Esper was the only one Jack could trust now. He needed to get on his good side.
‘I tried to save you. I waited in –’
‘Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!’
‘Where’s the ditzy Esper who didn’t care about the world? Can’t we talk it out like we used to? What have the Africans done to you?’
‘I said Shut. Up.’
‘When I meant fight, I didn’t mean bickering between lovers,’ Bastion spoke up, catching Esper and Jack’s bewildered attention. ‘Um, you do realise where you are? Oh, come on. Don’t you know what a colosseum is used for? I demand a fight to the death. To sweeten the deal, I’ll free the winner. How’s that sound?’
‘Fine by me,’ Esper grunted.
‘No, Esper wait,’ Jack pleaded. But he couldn’t get through to him.
Esper charged at Jack, his hair standing up, crackling as he got closer. He stretched out his hand, aiming at the exposed flesh on Jack’s arms. Jack dodged the attack but a line of electricity arced through the centimetre gap between the two. Jack yelped in pain. His right arm became a ball of fuzz, jerking every few seconds.
‘Please stop this, Esper. They’re our enemies. Why do we have to listen to the African’s orders?’ Jack questioned, rolling away from another of Esper’s swipes.
‘Oi, Jackie. Stop being a whiny bitch and fight him mano a mano. I know you can go invisible and I’ve given you tools to land a KO. Here, let me help you.’
Bastion took out a mask and placed them over his face with the other mages following suit. With a flick of his fingers, the spotlights faded away, the artificial lighting dimmed down and the place went dark, reducing everyone but the masked mages’ vision.
Jack skipped backwards, avoiding another attack and restoring his control over his spasming arm. He went into stealth, using the darkness to cover his own shadows.
‘What are you doing?!’ Esper screamed.
‘Hey, I never said I couldn’t interfere with the deathmatch,’ Bastion teased.
‘This is perfect,’ Jack mumbled to himself before calling out to Esper. ‘Let’s calm down for a moment. We can both get out of this if we work together.’
‘Really?’ Esper responded, his voice quivering but, to Jack’s relief, less angry in tone.
‘Jackie boi, stop being a dick and ruining my fun or do you intend to make me use every cuss word in the English dictionary? Oh wait, no one taught you them.’
‘That is correct, shire,’ Alfred responded, the mask giving him a slight lisp.
‘I don’t want to fight him!’ Jack yelled. ‘Esper! Please team up with me.’
‘Haaaaaaah,’ Bastion sighed. Flicking his fingers once more, the room lit up, exposing Jack’s location, via his shadow, a few metres away from Esper’s distraught face. ‘Tell you what. Either somebody dies or both of you get killed by my men. How’s that sound instead?’
‘Esper, please don’t listen to him,’ Jack pleaded again.
The Colosseum went quiet.
‘Aha. Hahaha. AHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAFuck you, Jack. I’m the one going to survive, man.’
Esper charged at Jack, taking him by surprise and hurling him to the floor. Esper readied his hand, filling it with a static charge, predicting where Jack’s chest was for the killing blow. Jack stared at his crazed ex-partner, resenting his inability to get through to him. But if gaining strength meant betraying Eurasia, he didn’t want it. He’d rather Esper have it instead.
Jack closed his eyes and removed his stealth, becoming an easier target. He waited for his demise. What was it going to be? An electric shock, stopping his heart from beating? A stranglehold, taking away his breath? Or maybe a simple slice of the throat, if Esper was capable of course. Maybe this was for the best. Jack never amounted to anything, always being weak, always relying on others. No…
‘Bravo, bravo,’ Bastion applauded with the others clapping along with him. ‘Alfred, please take care of the dead body.’
With that, most of the white-coated mages left while Alfred jumped down from the top of the walls down into the arena, walking to where Jack and Esper’s body resided. He picked up the carcass of the loser, flinging it over his shoulder and nodding back at Bastion.
‘Hey. Wake up,’ Alfred nudged the victor.
‘What an attack at the end. I knew you had it in you. Great finale.’
Jack opened an eye, his chest feeling lighter than before. He looked around in a daze, unsure what had happened. Attack? What attack? A sticky liquid fell on his shoeless feet. He looked down at his hands. His nails no longer were invisible, absorbing the red substance like a leech and returning to their original state. He then looked at the marks on Esper, all five holes in his neck letting blood seep out of them.
‘Did I do that?’ Jack quivered.
‘Yes,’ Bastion confirmed.
‘I’m sorry. I know you two were close,’ Elivia tried to console, only to get piercing glares from her boss. But just as he opened his mouth to scold her, a faint chuckling drew their attention back to the arena.
‘What’s so funny?’ Bastion asked.
‘Me close to that imbecile? Ha! I don’t give a damn about him. He ruined everything. He betrayed me. He tried to kill me and I’m meant to still be friends with this idiot? Don’t make me laugh. He deserved to die!’
‘Woaho. He finally broke!’ Bastion exclaimed. ‘Love this guy. He’s hilarious. Hey, Jackie boi.’
‘What?!’ Jack growled, baring his teeth and into an instinctive animalistic position, his arms outstretched, ready attack at a moment’s notice.
‘I like you a lot. You’re a great experiment. As a reward, how about I get you promoted and show you the truth?’
Synopsis: The online game <