Her breathy voice caressed his neck. She spoke in a language crude but ancient. One he didn’t really know and never cared to learn. Yet the message was clear; a sweet invitation to a pleasure hard to resist. He pushed onward, pulling away from the webs she spun around his form with her bare thighs, his head all focused.
For there was a greater prize further along this crowded alley that his mind was set on, and the lingering sighs that they offered along with their luscious bodies were naught compared to it. He found himself struggling against the stench of this place. Incense burning, acrid smoke, cheap liquor and worse. A flair of exotic decadence, marred by the men’s scarred, strangely angular faces while at the same time adorned by dark skinned beauties. The seductive odours of brothels competing with the reek of a pig sty.
She was the Queen of Lust and this her domain. She ruled with a velvet glove and an iron fist. People flocked to her temples, craving delight. And this she gave aplenty, along with rare diseases that plagued the body and mind. Colourful substances and syphilis. Hallucinations and stupor and passions unleashed. They gave her their all, fortunes lost in gambling and bargained love. Those who were seeking and those who stumbled in her den, were forever lost. Their gold filling up her mound forever.
He walked in the alley knowing very well what he would face. The worse you are, the more you last. And the first summons he ignored, completely unfazed. It wasn’t long though till the fumes fount their way down his lungs; the poison soon swam free under his skin. She knew her game well. The more you resist, the worse it gets. Till her whores are women no more; but black serpents lithe, their swift tails wrapped around their victims, their wormy tongues sucking the blood from the flesh-bags they’ve charmed. All the while their poor, young misshapen bastards pilfer them broke. Till the men are spiked demons, their eyes burning embers and clad in rusty chains.
Now this he knew very well. He’d walked endless days through the desert seeking his prize. Yet all the rumours, true as they were, seemed small compared to the facts. Colours bleached from the world, their faces turned into horrid melting masks and they beckoned still. Her palace laid ahead. With gritted teeth he waded through the lustful throngs of slaves and merchants of ruin.
Till the gates opened wide to welcome him with battle roars and laughter. Ecstatic moans and screams of cheer. The air seemed alive with the aroma of exotic oils assaulting the senses, noxious snakes of smoke danced on and the flicker of wicked lanterns and bright red flames. Flutes screamed their dissonant melodies and drums shook the very ground that he tread.
And in the far wall sat the Queen on her bejewelled throne. Face hidden behind her golden mask, like those Assyrian despots of old; her perfect figure barely draped in silken veils and pearls. On her feet sat slothful pleasure slaves, caressing one another, fervently exploring with snail-like tongues.
Before her throne laid a shallow pit; an arena of some sort. The strong, the brave, the foolish and damned battled on with their bare limbs, their teeth and claws for what seemed like ages even in this timeless place. Until the stone floor was covered with the bodies of the fallen; defeated, battered, wounded and dead. Their final throes silenced by the savage growls of an endless battle. And to the victors, the few who’d managed to survive the constant challenge, came the Queens favour. She showered her champion in gold and offered herself as the ultimate prize.
No one ever cared what happened to them. After she led them to her chambers they’d be forever gone; never heard of again.
Just like Rasheed. He’d vanished two months ago without a trace. Daegron still remembered his comrade and their last words shared. They dared each other to snatch the dreaded Queen from her lair, wondering if her beauty was for real. They laughed on as they always did, but never would they take a step back.
Now it was his turn to try. For his old friend had failed. Rasheed was much like him; too strong to succumb to the outer circle of poisons and charms, too stubborn to not plunge all the way. For certain this contest of brawn was too easy for one as Rasheed. The man’s fate was somewhere beyond that pit.
His gaze fell upon the last warriors. This realm had claimed them already. One of them, had a distinct advantage; well-defined muscles, wiry and mean. Barely scratched, his skin was black as the starless night. He walked with the air of an experienced fighter, his moves were precise and deadly; far superior to anyone else. But the keen eye was easy to spot the weariness of a battle long fought as he delivered the final blows to the pour soul who’d just collapsed. The next one was a monstrous giant of a man. Ugly as hell, no doubt the vile product of incest or the curious experiment of a less than gracious God; the strength of an ox along with its physique. This one shambled through the piles of the defeated, his sheer weight crushing whatever bone laid beneath his sandals.
The other two, probably a Mongol breed, looked an awful lot like brothers; the typical kind of rogue or riff-raff inhabiting such a berth and actually making a good living. Together they worked through their stronger or faster opponents by flanking them. Not that there ever was a rule to stop them. He couldn’t help but think that these two were put in there for a purpose none other but to weed out the ones She wouldn’t want.
He walked in the arena and a few more followed; others wary and careful, some cocky and wild. Either driven by greed or pride, or a drug induced sense of might. His first steps were slow and steady. Till the all too familiar carpet of corpses felt solid as stone. Just like those times in the not too distant past when his hand killed for an empire now gone. It wasn’t long till partners were chosen and the fists started to fly. All accompanied by constant cheering and cursing.
The first one was easy to dispose. Drowsy and stumbling, he reeked of vomit and alcohol. Good for a warm up though he didn’t last long. The first surge of adrenaline was enough to chase the visions away. By the time he was served the first proper blow, his head was clear and the beast wide awake. A tattooed warrior grabbed hold of his neck pulling him back into a tight hold. One he’d managed to escape from by biting and viciously chewing at the sinew and tendons that threatened to choke him. The warm taste of blood and the man’s screams drove him into a frenzy that he happily welcomed. For the next few minutes, all his world was a bright red mist, the victorious crack of bone, the occasional growl or scream of agony and sudden flashes of blunt or sharp pain as the hits he received were as many as he’d delivered. Daegron’s fury was unleashed at whomever dared approached; intoxicated by all that violence he fought on.
Sharp claws slashed and stabbed at his back, almost interrupting him from the gruesome work of removing some Northerner’s remaining eye. He turned to find a short statued and horribly scarred fellow with white long hair and a series of filed teeth. A few scratches and painful bites later, his jaw was cracked and removed, giving this madman a permanent gaping grin and a torrent of wails. There seemed to be a pause of some sort for the relentless assaults seemed to have stopped.
He looked around, not wanting to loose his guard or the killing momentum he’d gained. The Mongols had just defeated the behemoth; one of them climbing on its shoulders and stabbing the base of its neck with an improvised shiv, made from somebody’s shattered bone.
The black one’s greeting carried a message well understood. Soon the fighter charged straight at him, ignoring the duo. When the solid fist struck Daegron’s jaw, he stumbled back, surprised by it’s strength. Yet the black man was wheezing as they brawled and spoke.
“I’m keeping you for last.”
And he ducked away from the incoming elbow only to pounce away and straight onto one of the brothers who were advancing against Daegron’s back. Once separated, the cowards were easy to handle. They never got a chance to land a hit or work as they did. It was a matter of moments till they cried out for quarter and they were offered none.
The drums ceased their rumble as everyone acknowledged the final contestants. With sinister gazes and raised fists they approached each other. The crowd screamed for blood, still unsatisfied from the vulgar display they’d so long enjoyed. They craved a champion.
“He told me to look out for you.” Said the black one, his voice coming out laboured and weak.
“The Saracen. He said you were coming next. Before entering the pit and winning. Gravely wounded.” Rasheed had a curious way to earn friends in the most unlikely of places.
“Where is he now?” Daegron’s roared in anger and confusion.
“She claimed him, he’s gone.” And the words carried a gravity greater than a simple flight. The kick that pierced Daegron’s chest was fast and strong and unpredictable enough to force him to fold in two with a painful groan.
As he finally raised his gaze, he noticed a detail which made him certain that the blow he’d just received would be the last. The man’s mouth was filled with blood. Not the bright red kind from injured gums, but a thick dark thing that was accompanied by a wheezing breath and a coughing fit. And his opponent’s stance revealed the truth. His ribs were broken and a lung was pierced.
“I won’t make it, but you must survive. You must finish this.”
And with that, he pushed with all his remaining strength forward into a desperate grapple. There was nothing else to do but give the man what he needed, what he deserved. A death in combat. And this he did, without remorse, after bidding him farewell.
The victorious growl came in a haze, as he stared at the last opponent’s grateful grin. Howls and cheers echoed through the palace, hailing the next champion. As he walked towards the throne, the slaves parted from their lewd activities like waves, clearing the stairs as he climbed step after step.
The queen was satisfied at the outcome. He could tell from the gleam in her eyes that he made a fine specimen for her private collection. Pride swelled inside him carrying him to unimaginable heights. The last remnants of clarity were slowly washed away. Servants walked by his side as he climbed the stairs, cleaning his battered skin with wet sponges and myrrh. And something else that caused the painful aftermath of his trial to subside. A new drug to make him numb and to awaken another primal instinct as the Queen rose to welcome him. She was what every man dreamt of and could never have. His gaze feasted hungrily on her luscious curves, his heart pounded at her wicked smile.
His vision had already blurred at the edges and the cheering cries of worship had melded into a song that soothed the rage that still swam under his skin.
She gave him the mockery of a bow, while everyone knew who was to be the master. No reason to deny the obvious lie; submission would soon be a prominent thought. One of her ilk produced a pearl necklace that he gladly wore. She turned to lead him to her chambers and all he could do was to follow. Till the servants dispersed at the gates as they walked in. They shut with a dreadful thud that resembled the sealing of a tomb. But he was already too far gone, unable to breathe in the reek of an open grave that saturated the air around him. Unable to see the piles of rotting flesh and bone that decorated the floors of solid gold.
All he could see was her graceful dance of a walk. All he could smell was the scent of exotic oils upon her naked skin. All he could feel was the shivers of lust as her veils were removed.
Till it grew into something he could no longer endure. He wanted to have her, his body demanded release. And that she was ready to offer as the last veil unfurled. He watched it fly away, with wide eyes, oblivious to the curved blade that she carried between her legs, gracefully unsheathed from the depths he craved to plunge.
Yet at this most desperate of moments a familiar glint caught his wandering eye. Three bright green stones, three emerald flames that rapidly grew and burned away the cloak that obscured the truth. Her hands wandered along his form, her tongue dived in his still gaping mouth as she kept searching for the perfect spot. A mere moment before she delivered her stab, the illusion cracked.
Rasheed was a killer, an outcast, a beast. But before he became those things, Rasheed had a family that he’d lost. And those three stones, adorning the silver ring that she blatantly worn, were all that was left to remind him of his wife and two sons. His corpse laid there, somewhere close, mourning their loss and his folly.
Indignation boiled inside him, and thoughts of vengeance bloomed, growing tendrils that choked his burning lust. His hand grabbed her own frail one, his grip forcing it loose only to grab it swiftly. Her eyes flashed with surprise. He growled and stepped closer, a wicked kind of mirth beaming through his hard face. It was such a simple thing compared to how big a legend she was. She did not make a sound. Just stared in sheer disbelief, the wall of her pride collapsing to dust. The curved blade slashed unerringly, drawing a straight bright red line across her perfect neck. She chocked and gagged, instinctively grabbing the slit that he’d carved, wishing the warm gush of thick crimson back. She knelt and fell forward, her skull thumped on the floor, her golden mask flew loose. She was truly a marvel to behold. And dead. A beautiful corpse added to the rest of this rot.
One of her maids walked out from a dark corner, trembling and wide eyed with terror. She run to the door and walked away sobbing, only to scream at the revellers the news of her Queen’s demise. In that crude and ancient tongue.
And the festive spirit soon turned to despair. The queen was dead, her flock in disarray. For the power she held upon them instantly vanished, leaving them in a state of mournful confusion. Her court collapsed.
And so did he, as the bitter taste of her mouth clung still. Her tongue was laced with venom, one that slowly coursed along his veins. This was no place to die. This was not to be his end. Too stubborn for that.
Their noise faded, his vision was black
Alone he laid in a desperate fight.