One-One-One's voice was horrid. It made One-Two-Eight cringe, grating his teeth together. He did something with his hand, with his claw, that made it sizzle and spark with flame. One-Two-Eight narrowed his eyes, settling the thin, blood-stained man with a piercing gaze. He spat on the ground, scratching his chin, eyeing him up. He stank, like an abattoir - Blood and offal and sweat - But then, they all did. What manner of beast are you
The book-reader began to speak, though it meant little to One-Two-Eight. He wasn't paying attention, not really, catching flitting words - Coalition of Change, Chemorus, Saviors of Chemorus - Nothing overly interesting, not right now. One-Two-Eight understood their importance, however, and knew that he'd need to ask questions, come the time. A flesh-spare creature, half-mechanical, with dead eyes and a slack, drooling mouth attempted to dab at One-Two-Eight's wounds. He moved back, slower than he had intended, and growled. This place, this corpse-house, made him feel uneasy. Being in the presence of armed, seasoned fighters, made him uneasy.
Behind the one called Diatre, the talker, one of the Armsmen had finished assembling a pair of weapons. They were short, bulky, with snub-snouts and sickle magazines. One-Two-Eight stood, walked towards them, crossing his arms over his chest.
'So we're to be soldiers,' He said, a smile tugging on the corner of his mouth. 'And here I was, thinking all this muscle,' He tapped his arm. 'Was for dancing.'
The first week was a blur. They ran, they lifted, they ran some more. Their muscles ached, pulled; their skin bruised and broke. They were taught how to fire weapons - Short, man-stopping bolt-pistols, their cousin, the bolter; which, when fired, split the air like an axe parts wood. One-Two-Eight had a natural affinity for the bolt-pistols, he liked the way it felt in his palm, the heaviness, the cumbersomeness, the way it made his wrist ache when he fired it. Long, thin sniper rifles - One-Two-Eight didn't particularly like them - That snapped and kicked into his shoulder.
'This,' One of the Armsmen said, on the fifth day. He stood before One-Two-Eight, faceless, in his black cloak, black gloves, black boots. In his outstretched hand, he held a pistol. It was chrome, with geometric symbols carved into the side. The top of it glowed and coruscated with blinding, blue energy. 'Is a plasma pistol. Produced out of Ryza, one of the best. You won't find them like this anymore.'
He took aim, down the firing range, and squeezed the trigger. There was a flash, the air crackled angrily, like a thousand hornets had taken flight. With star-speckled eyes, One-Two-Eight turned his attention down the range, and saw the target. The upper half of the mannequin was gone, scorched away. The entire area was smudgy, as though smeared with dirty fingers. One-Two-Eight grinned.
Diatre came on the seventh day. He informed One-Two-Eight, in a calm, holier-than-thou voice, that he was to spar with Two-Seven-Two. He had had little to no contact with the others; training alongside them, but neither talking to, or acknowledging their presence. When he ate, he did so alone. When he slept, he turned away from them. When he bled, pissed and laughed, it was out of their hearing. He kept close watch on them, however; Thirteen seemed to follow Two-Seven-Two, Clawhand was equally as lonely, as content, as One-Two-Eight. Meatjob, well, Meatjob was Meatjob. A hulking, twitching, shifting mass of flesh and sewn-on skin.
So, this news made One-Two-Eight smile. He stood, rubbing his hands together, and followed an Armsmen to a ring. The edges were marked out with hasty, white chalk. The floor was sand, sand upon metal, no real protection. One-Two-Eight was sure that was how it was meant to be.
One-Two-Eight entered the ring, the sand churned by scrabbling, furious feet. There were some red patches, where blood had been spilled. He was stripped bare, save for a pair of rough, tight shorts. Two-Seven-Two stood opposite him, similarly adorned.
One-Two-Eight smirked handsomely. 'Ready to lose, friend?' He asked, the hint of a growl upon his words. He clenched his hands into fists, knuckles white, nails digging into his palms.
Two-Seven-Two's mouth curled, mirroring One-Two-Eight's smirk. His head was bowed, intent on the granules of sand, his toes wriggling. 'No,' He said, coolly. 'But then I don't think I need to be.'
One-Two-Eight nodded, laughing. 'I'm glad you're optimistic, friend. I wouldn't be.'
'No, I wouldn't be if I were you, either,' Two-Seven-Two muttered, with a laugh. It reeked of confidence, of superiority. It made One-Two-Eight bristle.
'Well, seeing as our watchers,' He said, composing himself and pointing a thumb over his shoulder, at one of the Armsmen, a black-clad sentinel wielding a combat-shotgun. 'Refuse to dictate the terms, shall we?'
'Whatever makes you most comfortable.' Two-Seven-Two spoke almost in a falsetto 'We wouldn't want you getting scared and running off again, now would we?'
'More fool you,' One-Two-Eight grinned, spitting on the sand. 'I don't want to hurt you too much, friend, so first blood?'
Two-Seven-Two's face hardened, his eyes becoming dark, feet splaying part, fingers curling into fists.
'No more talking, then,' Ptolemy said, and danced forwards.
He stalked left, stalked right, feet continuing to move. His hands were held up high, at his chin, prepared to strike. There was something within him, a primal instinct, that was hot-wiring his limbs, controlling him. It felt as though he had done this before, as if he'd faced off against other opponents, in other rings, before. Perhaps he had, perhaps in a previous life, One-Two-Eight had. Two-Seven-Two remained still, rotating with One-Two-Eight, always keeping their eyes locked. Neither of their gazes faltered, both pairs of eyes were glazed, angry, murderous.
One-Two-Eight's right hand lanced out, and then his left. They were hurtling towards Two-Seven-Two's face, they were nose-breakers, teeth-snappers-
Two-Seven-Two, sturdy as he may be, was not slow. His forearms came up, soaking the impacts, much to One-Two-Eight's annoyance. He launched another trio of blows, and each time, his knuckles impacted hard, corded muscle.
He growled, furious. This was not fighting
, this was dancing
. Strike, you bastard, he wanted to scream. One-Two-Eight wanted nothing more than to break his companion's back, now. To gouge those soft, brown eyes from their sockets.
His next blow struck. Two-Seven-Two's head jerked backwards, then righted again. One-Two-Eight hammered his fist into Two-Seven-Two's with a satisfying crunch. One-Two-Eight grinned, victoriously, and launched his third blow, his knock-out strike. He had won, this bastard was going to- Oh no
Two-Seven-Two had let
One-Two-Eight close. He had dropped his guard, allowed himself to be struck. Fingers seized One-Two-Eight's wrist, clamped shut like steel, whilst a palm was driven into his chest, with the force of a piston. His lungs emptied, bile rose in his throat. His arm was being twisted, the joints aflame and screaming out, and then his legs turned to jelly - Swiped away by a powerful, unrelenting kick.
One-Two-Eight struck the sand, face-first, with a grunt. An hand wrapped around his throat, constricting his airway. With one deft movement, without effort, One-Two-Eight's neck would snap like a reed. His eyes were watering, his lungs rasping for air.
The grip slackened, slowly and gradually. One-Two-Eight looked up, eyes glinting with menace. His opponent was grinning, madly, through blood-red teeth. He offered an hand, but One-Two-Eight ignored it, stumbling up.
'I won,' He sneered, breathing raggedly. 'First blood, you bastard. I won.'
'I asked what made you feel comfortable, I never agreed to it.' Came the smug reply, emphasised by a mouthful of blood being spat upon the sand. 'Do you think foes would stop at first blood?' Two-Seven-Two said, meeting One-Two-Eight's astonished, humiliated stare. 'You lost to me because you expected an honourable fight on your terms.'
'Honour is the only thing we have, you cur,' One-Two-Eight snarled. He stepped back, shaking his head. 'Give it away, then. Forget your virtues, you bastard. Fug you.'
One-Two-Eight turned, briskly, lungs still burning with effort, and marched away.
Behind him, Two-Seven-Two called out - 'Honour means nothing if you are dead,' His voice rose, now, into an echoing, soulless roar. 'There is no sacred ground for the slain, no monument for the conquered. It is survival, nothing more. Honour is a luxury we cannot always afford, and we must prepare for when our foes fight when they should lay down and die.'
He ignored the words. His ears were pounding, his face warm with indignant rage. That bastard, that utter dog-fugging bastard
. One-Two-Eight was furious that he'd lost, that he had been cheated of his victory, but more-so, he was furious that Two-Seven-Two was right. He had neither confirmed or obeyed One-Two-Eight's rules, and One-Two-Eight had been foolish enough to accept that.
Another week passed. One-Two-Eight trained tremendously; exhausting himself, atoning for his loss. He focused on blades, long-swords and broad-swords, daggers and axes, punch-blades and short-swords. He made a show of it; great, elaborate movements that caught the eye. He wanted the others to see, he wanted them to know that he was better than them, that he was the greatest, that if anyone faced him, he would carve them in two.
Once again, Diatre summoned One-Two-Eight to the ring. Once again, Two-Seven-Two faced him. He glared, lips peeled back, breathing hard. Anger coursed through his veins, it reigned over him. He did not speak, he did not meet his opponent's eyes. He was going to kill him, for his lack of honour, for his treachery, for his truth. Short, wicked blades were pressed into their palms and they went at it.
One-Two-Eight swung, kept swinging, until he broke the other Savior's guard. He stepped in close, silently, and dragged the edge of his blade across Two-Seven-Two's throat.
He spun, threw the sword in the sand and limped towards the others.
Did I kill him?
He didn't. Two-Seven-Two survived, though his throat was now ringed by a patchy, red line. Every time he saw it, he smirked. That was his handiwork, and now everyone saw it. They all knew his prowess, his willingness to kill. They trained in squad maneuvers, learning different formations, tactics; how to properly kick a door through, how to stun a room with flash-grenades and then clear it with their weapons - Bolters and short-swords.
Again, on the seventh day, Diatre came. One-Two-Eight followed, brimming with confidence, swaggering after their leader - Master
And so, for the third time in as many weeks, One-Two-Eight and Two-Seven-Two came together. Again they stood on the blooded sand, half-naked, though this time they both clutched at long, heavy swords.
Two-Seven-Two was moving his blade in small, unsure arcs. He didn't look fearful, or nervous, but rather his face was set in a confident, cheerful smile. It was sly, sly as a fox, but his stance, the way he clutched at his blade, betrayed him. One-Two-Eight had seen his opponent's swordsmanship; it was not where he excelled. 'First blood?' Two-Seven-Two mocked.
'Again we meet,' One-Two-Eight grinned, swinging his sword in a figure-of-eight, loosening his muscles for the upcoming bout. 'I'm starting to think, friend, that this is deliberate. They're trying to iron out the rough edges.'
'Aye, and maybe it would work if you were willing to learn anything from me.' Two-Seven-Two shot back, with a calm, friendly chuckle.
'Perhaps,' One-Two-Eight said, leaning on the pommel of his blade. 'Perhaps I just need to make you bleed again, for the third
time, before I'm satisfied?'
Two-Seven-Two shrugged, still in a combative stance. 'Or perhaps I need to put you on your arse again? Would that satisfy you?'
One-Two-Eight laughed a handsome, soft sound. 'That won't be happening. I'll be kind, I will offer you the chance to turn around, now. Walk away and accept defeat, and I won't bleed you like a pig
Two-Seven-Two's hand shot up, clawing at his chest. When he spoke, his voice was a quiet, sad whisper. 'You're too kind. Sadly...' His voice returned, a loud purr. 'I don't think our guests would tolerate such cowardice.'
'Such fools,' One-Two-Eight tutted, shaking his head. He roared, swinging his blade up, and launched forwards. His blade darted in, light gleaming along its cruel length, and struck against Two-Seven-Two's own with a clarion clang. 'When will you learn that running away isn't
He kept striking, one, two, five times. Each blow was met by Two-Seven-Two's own blade, held in a muscular, straining arm. And then the unexpected happened; Two-Seven-Two went on the warpath, his sword striking out, like a viper. It bit into One-Two-Eight's chest, deep
, and came out red and dripping. One-Two-Eight felt something shudder inside of him and tasted blood.
Blood dribbling from his mouth, One-Two-Eight raked his sword across his opponent's bicep, drawing a jet of crimson. The bastard was smirking, smirking
! Two-Seven-Two drew his blade back, opening up for another blow; One-Two-Eight slashed the inside of his thigh, hoping for the artery. He felt another jarring impact upon his chest-bone, heard more blood patter to the sand.
There was another blow to his chest. One-Two-Eight grunted, suddenly on the defencive, struggling against Two-Seven-Two's impressive strength. Then he realised - Two-Seven-Two was trying to close the gap, to end this quickly, much like he had done during their first, fugged up bout. One-Two-Eight's feet backtracked, sending his lumbering opponent stumbling. One-Two-Eight struck his companion's hand with the flat of his blade, with an audible crunch, and snorted as his fingers opened, the sword bouncing away.
Two-Seven-Two rolled. Stupid bastard
One-Two-Eight slashed, diagonally, across Two-Seven-Two's spine. If
he had put more weight into the swing, if
he had wanted it, Two-Seven-Two would be dead, now. He put a foot into Two-Seven-Two's arse, rolling him onto his side, and lunged towards his opponent's fallen blade. He gripped the leather-bound pommel, came up with both blades in his hands, and pressed them against Two-Seven-Two's neck.
He saw the faded, red line across Two-Seven-Two's throat - From their second bout - And smiled hungrily. Eyes sparkling, lips curled into a snarl, One-Two-Eight slit his opponent's throat open.
Two-Seven-Two reached up, staunching the blood-fall with an hand. Warm, sparkling, scarlet liquid began to coat his fingers, like a macabre glove. He laughed, surprisingly happy, when taking his grievous wounds into consideration. Blood was pumping from his torn artery, even know knitting back together, and his spine was on show. One-Two-Eight's own chest was dripping gore. 'I guess there are still some rough edges to iron out in both of us, eh?'
'I told you,' One-Two-Eight rasped, spitting pink onto the sand. He discarded the blades and smiled, through bloody teeth, much like Two-Seven-Two had, weeks earlier. 'Running away is sometimes the best option.'
A half-smile broke Two-Seven-Two's features. 'I never said it wasn't...' He sat up, still smiling through barely-opened lips. 'I just said our guests wouldn't appreciate soldiers who chose their battles wisely,' He hushed, now. 'I get the impression we are just supposed to fight regardless.'
'I'm done,' One-Two-Eight said, outstretching an hand. Two-Seven-Two grasped it, and he hauled him onto his feet. 'No more fighting, no more bloodshed. If these bastards in black,' He jerked his head at the nearest Armsman. 'Want to fight, then I'll beat them, too.' He grinned, once again, and disengaged his hand. 'You're a good shot, but you can't fight for fug.'
'Perhaps, but if you can kill a man while he sleeps you don’t need to worry about him fighting back,' Two-Seven-Two said, running his tongue over his teeth. 'I think it’s time we tended to our wounds don’t you? We’re not much used to anyone is we let each other die.'
He turned, hobbling away from One-Two-Eight, who stood and watched, hands on his hips.
'You're still a bastard, friend,' He called, laughing. He shuddered, his wounds hurt. 'But I like you more, now!'
'Better the devil you know!' Came the reply, and then silence.
They learned to cooperate. One-Two-Eight would never follow Two-Seven-Two, and Two-Seven-Two would never follow One-Two-Eight, but they would serve alongside one another. They both had commendable skills, one with blades, the other with firearms. They would compliment one another nicely.
'It's cold, isn't it?' One-Two-Eight said, now, to everyone and no-one. They were sat in a rotor-bladed aircraft, flying low over dunes of snow. Everyone wore uniforms, of a materiel called flak-armour, and bowl helmets. Everyone was armed with a bolt-gun and a gladius. They were going to war, they were going to put this training to use. He was excited.
'But,' He said, flashing a grin. 'This helmet is ruining