ImageWhy?: I wrote the cage to take some of those dark fantasy ideas in my head and put them in a cool setting. This piece is all about the power symbols. If you are a fan of the genre you get them right away, if not then you’re lost in an unfamiliar world. Either way I hope you enjoy the ride.

THE CAGE

I knew I shouldn’t have come back. Two weeks away for recovery wasn’t long enough, but some addictions you can only fight so long. The Cage was my worse by far.

The cage looked like one of the dozen clubs party row. It was supremely more exclusive than the others. There were no velvet ropes and long lines keeping wannabes out. Its unassuming façade and the keeps those not meant for its walls away.

Stepping through those double shiny aluminum doors, was like stepping back into sin. The good, the righteous, they don’t venture past those doors. Sex, violence, destruction lay in the shadows, swaying gently to the hard rock music pouring from the surround sound speakers.

I didn’t come for the sex, or to fight, I came for the food. During my short hiatus, one thing remained on my mind, orange glazed lamb chops and rice pilaf with mushrooms and jalapeños.

It wasn’t the rarity of the dish that made the dining experience so special. It was eating with the sounds of the pit in the background. The smell of fresh blood in the air. The company of those with a like mind.

 A young nekko, in a pink miniskirt and black skull-covered tank slid into my favorite booth. She spotted me coming and promptly moved. Her purple tail curled up around her leg in apprehension. I acknowledged her with a nod.

Despite my recent defeat, the respect I earned wasn’t tarnished. I won ten matches in the pit, tying the human record. I would be an Equalizer for life even if I never fought again.

“Welcome back, Nakari. Wasn’t expecting you for another week at least.”

“Umm, Jocelyn, my favorite girl. You know I can’t resist a good meal,” I said, giving her offered cheek a kiss. She smelled of fries and cookies.

Joce and I flirt every chance we get. As the one person, I knew I could tease and touch without consequence; it was a good way for both of us to relax. She’s the best waitress the place has which made her my first choice for recruiter. Without her, I wouldn’t have the excellent reputation I now enjoy.

“Please tell me Cael has lamb left.”

“No prob hun, I’ll tell him it’s for you.” She stroked my hair before leaving.

Coming to The Cage was like coming back home. Outsiders didn’t get it. They wondered why we spend so much time and money dressing up, playing foolish games, immersing ourselves in iniquity.

They failed to realize not all of the tails they see are custom made attachments. Not all of the red eyes they spot are contacts, or the fangs dental implants. And the magic tricks, most are more magic than trick.

For the rare human in the know, like Jocelyn and I, being up close to the supes is intoxicating, thrilling. Testing myself in battle against their like was the best experience of my life. The scars were badges of honor, sources of pride.

A church group picketed the doors one evening. The spokeswoman screamed about how The Cage was a place of sin, a place of darkness. She was taken aback when I agreed with her. After all, Sex Rooms  took up the entire upper floor.

Still it’s the only place the freaks and outcast can be themselves, with impunity. We accept each other, no matter what. Everyone deserves a place to call home. Why is ours considered socially unacceptable?

Joce brought the steaming plate in quick order. She included a tall shot of rum. The girl knew me too well. The smell of rosemary and orange glaze trickled into my nose, making my mouth water.

“Anythin else, just holler,”

“Of course, thanks.”

Knife and fork in hand, I sliced into the succulent meat. Before I could bring a bite to my mouth, Drade came into view. His miss-matched eyes, one violet, and one silver mesmerized me. Time was swallowed whole by his gaze. When I broke free, he was leaning against my booth.

“What,” I barked, feigning irritation to hide my worry.

“We must talk,” he replied, evenly.

The leather of my black, knee-high boot groaned, as I stretched it across his way. “No thank you.” I lowered my face to my meal, hoping he would go away.

He slapped away my foot and slid into the seat before me. I reached for the dagger, tucked in the belt on my corset, before remembering whom I was dealing with. I took a few more bites of my meal before acknowledging him, trying to retain as much control as possible.

“What?”

“We are to fight,” he said.

My stomach flipped and my blood went cold. Fighting a death-dealer would be the end of me. The rare daemon-human hybrid was notoriously hard to kill, shoot, hard to injure. Drade’s reputation was for crippling opponents, killing the ones that didn’t know how to back down. I had no desire to be on his list.

“I’m not here to fight, I’m here to eat.”

Drade leaned in. The musky scent of cologne, a hint of cigarettes, and a faint undertone of cinders that all daemons gave off, clung to his skin. The hard set of his jaw demanded my attention.

“The overseer wishes to regain face. The damage you inflicted to his Equalizer cost him greatly.”

 It was a matter of pride.

Refusing the fight would label me a coward. No one would hire me to fight their case for them ever again. Worse of all the, the only haven I knew would be stripped from me. That was worse than death at the hands of a warrior like Drade.

“Was my defeat not enough for him?” I threw the fork down, splashing sauce on the table.     

Drade snatched the knife from me, twirling it with one hand. “I thought your case to be honorable and your passion for it admirable.”

I couldn’t read his face. I was reasonably sure he was trying to placate me. Not knowing for sure had me on guard.

“Him making an issue of it is a sign of his weakness, not yours.”

“I don’t know what you’re playing at, but I’m in no condition to accept your challenge today. Give me your terms and be on your way,” I ordered with a strength I didn’t know was in me.

The muscles in his square jaw twitched. His eyes glowed with constrained rage. I sat back, afraid I had pushed him too far.

 “I’m not without heart,” he confessed a twinge of regret softening his husky voice.

It was so abrupt I almost laughed, until I realized he was serious. Never having spent time with the man I didn’t know what I was expecting. This wasn’t it.

The reputation of the death-dealers was brutal, cold. Drade was at the top of his game, the favorite Equalizer for the overseer of the pit. The man before me didn’t seem like a coldblooded killer. Why he felt to need to reveal this side of himself to me was beyond comprehension.

 “If you don’t want to fight, then don’t. I’d really appreciate not having you break me in half.”

He didn’t smile.

“Honor is important to me, as it is for you. My father and the overseer owed debts to each other. Those debts have been passed to me. Would you do differently? I have not heard you refuse the fight.”

“Then why the speech? If our fate is set, why discuss it?”

The silence between us was long and thick. I gripped the rum glass, the single ice cube still the size it was when it went in. They always kept it too cold inside for my taste. That’s the problem with having fairies run the place. It could be minus ten and they’d be perfectly comfortable.

The dark liquid burned my throat, much like the words defeat and destruction. They were barreling at me like a runaway train. I stood to face them like Don Quixote and his windmills. While he was immortalized because his life had a touch of bravery mixed with tragedy, I would be erased.

Erased because the overseer was too arrogant to let a perceived slight go and too powerful to be ignored. Because Drade and I lived and died on the reputations we built. Erased because I dared to be a fighter, in a world of magic, instead of to merely exist, in a world of humanity. 

“I am unsure how to explain,” Drade said. “I am rarely unsure, which makes me all the more confident you are the woman I thought you to be. My desire was to let you know, I respect you. No matter what happens between us, Selena’s case is mine as well.”

Anger swelled in me. I didn’t need his pity, his condemnation.

“No, I lost that fight. I lost her right to dispute the matter.”

I was reminded of the Equalizer’s credo. We are champions for hire. To give our lives in defense of a cause we think just is the highest honor our profession has. There are no courts in the realm of magic, just two fighters praying to whatever gods they believe in the truth is on their side. The master of the pit – the fighting stage at the rear of the restaurant, makes sure each match is settled according to the terms.

When Selena chose to marry a human, against her clan’s wishes, I volunteered to be her champion. Draco blood was passed from mother to child. They had no basis for denying her request.

The thick claw marks on my back and the scorch mark marring half my right leg was nothing compared to what Selena lost. The law of the pit ruled. She had to say goodbye to her true love. Drade couldn’t overturn that, no matter how strong a fighter he was.

“In the arena, yes the matter is settled, but there are other ways to change a Draconian’s mind.”

“You would do that?” My desire to see Selena happy overrode any worry I had for my own well-being.

There was a tortured look in his eyes that excited me. Couple that, with the way he continued to twirl the blade and I couldn’t help but imagine us in a more intimate situation.  I would have given my left breast if dangerous, tortured men, didn’t attract me so, but it did have its rewards.

“Can and will. I need, for once, to risk everything for a truly worthy cause. I need to do something for someone other than myself,” Drade said with confidence.

I wanted to be pissed at him. He was doing it to clear his conscience. There would be no need to assuage his guilt if he took it easy on me. That kind of thinking wasn’t worthy of me, so I swallowed it, with a healthy dose of rum. 

If he could save Selena, who was I to complain?

“I’m grateful for your compassion,” I said. I reached out for my knife. He laid it in my palm. Our rough hands brushed against each other.

“To terms,” he said ruining the tender moment.

“To terms.” I nodded before returning to my, now cold, meal.

“Two weeks to the hour.”

We both glanced at our watches, 6:15.

“Blades only,” I said, over a mouthful of rice.

“As you wish. One on one. Armored.”

“To the death,” I asked in barely a whisper.

“Not necessary,”

I wasn’t sure if being crippled was preferable to being killed, but I rather have the option for now. “Agreed.”

I offered up my hand. He shook. The deal was set.

I shouldn’t have come back. I should have said goodbye to this way of life the last time it nearly killed me. Some addictions you can’t defeat. The Cage is my drug of choice even knowing it will be the death of me.

End

 

 

 

 

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