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God and Mind - Volume III - Freedom
By Dark

Presented by: Xenogears: God and Mind

Chapter 24
Baptism in Blood

     With her tangled blonde hair bobbing Suzarn lead the way into a long narrow room, as ostear and spartan as the last.  It contained no furniture except rows of wooden benches set around scrubbed trestled tables and a stout wooden serving hatch set into one wall like a ludicrous port hole on some prison hulk.  Looking out of the windows they passed, Fei saw a glimpse of a gray and lifeless world swirling with tufts of mist like the garden of the souls of the dead.  
     In one corner of the cafeteria they ascended a flight of plain wooden stairs.  Fei groaned inwardlyy as the pain in his head seemed to throb like a vile of acid being shaken he was almost certain that he would collapse before he reached the top like some exhausted mountaineer, but he kept going.  
     The room they entered wasn't particularly opulent; sofa's and armchairs lined the walls with a few tables set amongst them like pebbles on a beach.  A moderately nice carpet covered most of the floor and the walls were pleasingly papered.  Fei wondered if this were the seat of power within the prison as he saw that they were walking towards a second flight of three steps set in the center of the room like a dais.  Fei took the room in at a glance then moved his gaze up the steps of the dais to see the king of this sordid prison kingdom who ruled here in his dubious glory.  
     He stopped amazed.  Sprawled on the sofa in an atitude of almost regal languidness was both the ugliest and strongest looking man that the young martial artist had ever seen.  Like Suzarn and Leonardo, and like the two other prisoners that stood behind his couch he was dressed in a leather suite and one of those strange heavy bronze collars.  The suite however was utterly black accept for orange flashes at elbows, shoulders and knees that matched the straggling orange hair that fell to his massive shoulders in an unkempt sprawl.  Through the leather Fei could see the bulge of titanic muscles, biceps like steel cables, deltoids that jutted from the broad shoulders like new bones.  Unlike Suzarn and Leonardo, he wore few ornaments on his suite, save two steel cuffs encircling the massive wrists, and the almost inevitable studded leather boots.  But it wasn't his clothing or muscle bulk that made Fei's eyes grow round with shock, it was his face.  Beneath the straggling orange hair the face was hard and feral, flat and inhuman, glinting predatory green eyes in heavy sockets, ears pointed like some demonic pixie.  The skin of the knotted fists, the face, and what could be seen through the slightly open leathers was a brown shot with green, reptilian though not scaled like bark on a massive ancient tree.  The appearance of some forest tree was enforced by the man's height; for standing Fei saw that he would be over seven feet tall and broad as a barn door.  Behind him, like two sentinels stood two more leather-clad figures, both men in their early thirties.  One wore leathers of dull brown a set red cross belts meeting over his heart and a flat leather cap on his crew cut black hair.  The other wore blue with a pair of studded blue leather gloves on his hands and what seemed to be a chain male shoulder guard across his back.  His light hair was worn in long dreadlocks and held in place by a blue headband.  Like the others they wore the heavy bronze collars about their necks.  
     "This is the Champ!" Suzarn's voice gave the word the prestige of a royal title as she gestured towards the huge man on the couch.  Fei felt the sullen anger inside him, how dare they threaten him like this, how dare they.  But behind the anger like some black fuel inside a throbbing engine was the realization and resentment that stemmed from the desert sands of Aveh and the fear of the darkness that had come after.  
     "Do you have a name, or do I just call you champ?" Fei's voice was insolent and harsh, yet even as he spoke he knew it was just bravado, there were five of them and one of him, and he was in their world --- he was alone.  Suzarn, Leonardo and the two minions behind the couch looked as if they were just about to punch Fei out, their faces hardening like suddenly closed fists.  
     The huge man simply looked amused, a sardonic smile seeming to crack his craggy face.   "Kid's got guts --- I like that."   His voice made the grinding of gravel blocks sound like sweet music, and it was with out question the deepest voice Fei had ever heard, tinged as the voices of the others were, with that hard twanging street accent.  "Okay kid, I'm Rico this is Vargas," he waved to the brown clad minion.  "And this is Heinrik."   The blue clad man with the studded gloves.  
     "Rico's the champ, he's the toughest battler in all of D block" Suzarn spoke flatly not looking at Fei.  
     The big man seemed to ignore her.  "So what you called, kid?"
     "Fei Fong Wong" the young man kept his voice carefully neutral, his brown eyes locked on Rico's feral green gaze.  
     "Fei --- huh.  Right" The champ swung his massive legs round and stood up, towering over Fei and the others, a pillar of uncaring strength.  Pausing, ""Let's get this over with" He started to walk forward, the four prisoners in their leathers and strange heavy collars closing in around Fei as they walked from the Champ's special suite down a flight of evil smelling stairs into a gray-lit street.  
     Fei smelt the acrid stench of smoke and industrial fumes as cold air stung his bare arms.  The street was wide drear and deserted, the dull stone that covered the buildings and road way seeming an extension of the smoggy gray sky.  From somewhere Fei could hear the chug chug of machinery and the dull clank of metal like a doleful accompaniment to a miserable play.  Without pausing, the black clad Rico with his orange hair gleaming turned right into a low cul-de-sac, which smelled of spilled oil and rust.  gray windowless buildings hulked on either side like pillars for the low smoggy ceiling, at the far end was a pile of rusting machine parts that lurked in the dark corners looking nasty.  This was Fei thought, the proverbial dark alley.  
     "Right, baptism time Wong.  In here your rank is defined by your strength, so your gonna fight these four battlers.  The more you beat the better life you have got it" Fei looked consideringly over the four tough looking prisoners.  Then his glance strayed once more to Rico.  
     “What're the rules --- knock out?" Heinrik hooted with laughter, his face sneering beneath it's dreadlocks.  "Say listen to him! He'll want cushions next"
     "And a brawd come round with tea at half time" Vargas joined in, Rico glowered at them and they became silent.  
     Fei dropped his eyes down to the stone at his feet, only now did he realize that he was utterly alone and away from all help.  He felt the icy tinge of fear, followed by the lash of self-disgust.  
     "There's only one rule" Rico's unpleasant voice was quiet.  "I make the rules!" He leaned forward from his great height and spoke slowly as if explaining to a child.  "You fight, one on one until I say that one of you can't fight no more okay?"
     Fei ignored the sarcasm, but felt the rage inside him building to an icy crescendo, like the peak of some extinct volcano covered in frost but boiling beneath.  "I'm ready."  
     Rico nodded, his green eyes seeming to gleam with approval at the look of anger on Fei's face.  "Heinric."  
     The others stepped back to the sides of the cul-de-sac, leaving Fei facing the blue clad battler with his studded leather gloves.   
     Heinric dropped into a boxer's crouch, fists weaving, feet either hard leather boots planted firmly on the dirty stone circling for an opening.  Fei could see the man's eyes beneath the headband, measuring assessing and calculating.  By some strange sixth sense Fei knew what would faze his opponent.  He stood fists balling with the thumbs inside, head erect elbows in, weight backwards, the picture of someone who didn't know how to fight.  Heinric sidled closer in his boxer's crouch, his eyes gleaming with triumph.  Then with out warning he attack, a scything axe stroke of a punch aimed at Fei's midriff.  Bu fast though he moved, Fei was faster, his right arm snapped out in a block that stopped the battler's punch like a bar of solid steel.  The man's momentum carried Heinric Forward, and it was a simple matter for Fei to bring up his knee to connect with the man's groin with a sickening thud.  Heinric gasped the air whistling from his lungs, his hard face wearing a strange expression of surprise.  Even as he buckled Fei's hands were moving, his right delivering a smashing uppercut to Heinric's jaw and his left following through with a massive blow that lifted the battler off his feet and sent his body pitching unconscious to the dirty stone floor.  
     "Well, Wong wins" The Champ's voice was almost surprised, Fei saw him raise one hand like a balk of timber and scratch his pointed ear thoughtfully, his feral green eyes speculative.  "Leo."  
     Fei readied himself; he knew that a deception like the one he had used to fool Heinric wouldn't work again, they had him measure now.  He watched as the green clad battler, the stylized flames on his jacket seeming to give out light like real fire, strode across the alley.  The man was shorter than Fei, but with long limber arms and legs that would give him longer reach.  
     Fei moved forward warily, keeping ready for any sudden moves his eyes locked on his opponent's hard face.  The battler stopped in the center of the cul-de-sac, crouched low like a violently colored mantis, his leather covered body coiling like a spring, waiting for Fei to attack.  
     The young man sidled forward to within a few meters of his opponent, booted feet almost silent on the dirty gray of the paving.  Then with out warning, Fei leapt, with no run up or preamble he rushed up into the air and pushed out one leg in it's stained khaki trousers, the drop kicked aiming for the battler's neck.  Leonardo rolled cat like, and Fei's kick glanced off his back causing Fei to land off balanced his weight all on one leg.  Then the battler attacked, his long limbs blurring into motion.  Fei felt hands grasp him but before he had time to react he was flung away, as he had been all those days ago in the sunny square of Nisan, but this time there was no soft crash mat underneath him and no Sigurd waiting to help him to his feet.  Fei tucked in his head so that he landed on his shoulder, feeling his bare arms graze on the stone he rolled awkwardly and came to his feet head spinning.  But before he could take stock a green figure was charging at him, fist extending in a sucker punch aimed at Fei's belly.  Fei brought one arm round and blocked the blew, feeling his skin bruise under the impact, then even before his opponent had time to counter he seized the battler by the shoulder and wrist and twisted.  
     The snap of breaking bone was almost obscured by the scream of pain as Leonardo rolled on the ground clutching his broken arm.  Rico stared at Fei with a measure of respect.  
     "You're good kid, not many people can beat Leo.  Okay Vargas you're up"
     "What, me!" The brown clad battler dashed past Fei towards the pile of twisted metal at the closed end of the cul-de-sac.  Fei thought he caught a flash of fear in the man's dark eyes.  
     "Get on with it Vargas --- waste this guy."   Suzarn's hard voice sounded from the other end of the alley, and with a shock Fei realized that he hadn't yet fought the hard woman in her red leathers.  If the battlers were in rank order then that meant --- Vargas charged back up the alley a section of rusty piping swinging from one hand in a brutal blow aimed at the young man's head.  Fei ducked and the pipe --- well studded with corroding screws, whistled over his head.  
     "Hey --- I thought you said --- this was a fair fight?" Fei danced away from the battler as the end of the three foot long pipe missed his chest by inches.  
     "This is fair --- ain't it Suzarn?"
     Fei let fly with one of the more colorful swearwords and felt rage build up in him again, so these low-life's couldn't even play by their own rules!
     Vargas advanced, any glint of fear in his gritty face stilled beneath an aura of confidence brought on by his new weapon.  He swung his impromptu club in a series of heavy hacking blows that drove Fei back against one of the cul-de-sac's wet gray walls.  Vargas smiled and raised the pipe to deliver one knock out blow.  But Fei had learnt about weapon combat, and how to use his enemies confidence to his own advantage.  Even as the blow fell he dived forward, flinging himself at the prisoner's feet in their studded leather boots.  Even as he dived he felt the club slash down on the back of his thigh, the sharp edges ripping into his skin and leaving bloody welts.  But then his shoulders slammed into his enemy's calves and Vargas reeled backwards, supporting his weight with the length of the pipe like some ungainly staff.  Using the momentum of his dive Fei slapped one hand onto the floor and pivoted forward bringing the heal of the other hand up into Vargas's belly.  The battler buckled at the waist as if he were hinged in the middle, the air whistling out of his lungs in a rattling hiss.  Fei could have simply wrenched the pipe from his hand, after all people don't usually bother holding onto their weapons when they're having difficulty breathing.  But Fei still felt the anger inside him, the anger at these idiotic criminals who forced him to fight for no reason, and the anger at himself who --- left his friends possibly dead on the sands of Aveh.  Getting to his knees he chopped at the battler's wrist and once more the chilly cul-de-sac echoed to the snap of bone and the scream of pain.  But Fei wasn't satisfied.  Snatching up the pipe he stood and neatly smashed it into Vargas's skull knocking the brown cap flying and sending up bloody welts in the man's black hair.  Vargas dropped like a felled tree.  Suzarn ran over quickly, her face concerned.  Reaching down with one hand she felt the man's skull, blood staining the cheep silver rings she wore into the shade of rubies.  
     "Will he live" Fei asked, his face and voice colder than his feelings.  
     "Yeah, just a cut scalp --- head wounds always bleed a lot."  
     Remorse flooded through Fei --- what had he done, he was causing pain again --- as usual.  "He'll be alright?"
     "Who cares, some one'll find him I suppose."   Suzarn hawked and spat onto Vargas's brown leathers.  "Wimp."  
     Anger filled Fei again, he gritted his teeth like an animal, uncaring bitch, he would kill her --- and yet a small voice inside his mind, a small spiteful voice was saying: "Release your anger, isn't that what Grahf wants?"
     "This's got to be unusual, almost nobody gets through Vargas.  Well Suzarn it's up to you"
     "Right" The woman with the once pretty face and scar drew her brutal scythe and tested the edge with a thumb.  
     "Has anyone been killed in this?" Fei asked, remembering Commander Ramsus and the long sharp Solarian sword that had almost ended his life in the tower of the Bledavik Citadel.  
     The big man shrugged, and the shear callousness of the gesture appalled Fei, he tried to imagine compassion on that brutal inhuman face.  "A few, but it don't matter --- you can't make an omelet without ---"
     "Killing a few people" Suzarn finished sardonically.  She tossed out her matted hair in an old gesture of vanity that now seemed grotesque with her leathers and matted hair and scar.  The steadily dimming light flashed on the gold of her dirty hair like a sudden radiance of gold in an underground mine.  "But don't worry --- I'll be aiming to maim not kill"
     "Thanks for your concern" Muttered Fei through gritted teeth, and then he prepared himself for Battle.  
     To his surprise Suzarn attacked first not with her scythe, but with a stunning baletic kick at Fei's groin.  Even as he rolled out of the way Fei knew that it had been a faint to bring him into range.  He tucked in his head and turned the single role into a protective fetal crouch, his already filthy T-shirt becoming muddy as he lay on the dank stone.  There was a whistling rush and Fei felt pain slice into his upper arm as the wickedly sharp blade of the crude weapon sliced into him.  He lounged forward and he must have caught the woman off balance by moving towards the blade not away, Fei felt his hand hit something that hurt --- the blade, then his fingers closed on the hilt and on the strangely small shape of Suzarn's hand holding it.  A quick press and her fingers opened, the blade clattering to the stone.  Fei lounged forward and stood up in the same motion, so that he was facing her with his foot on the scythe.  She dived towards him, one hand smashing at his groin in a half punch half claw, and the other reaching down to snatch the weapon.  Fei didn't move, blocking her finger jab at his groin with the back of his hand he pushed down on the scythe for imputes and launched himself forward to crack his shoulder into her chest.  She fell backwards falling heavily onto the stone one arm-twisting beneath her.  Fei with a sideways kick of one foot sent the scythe skittering away into a corner like some malignant metal insect.  Suzarn got to her feet slowly, never taking her gray gimlet eyes from Fei.  
     "Okay --- you win."  
     "Suzarn?" Rico's voice was as stunned as Fei felt he had never thought that this hard woman would give in so easily.  Suzarn brushed down her leathers and started combing her hair with one hand --- the first slightly feminine gesture Fei had seen in her.  "You heard me, that's it.  Your better than me Wong --- but whether your better than Rico --- this's a fight I must see."  
     She moved back to the alley wall and leaned against it taking deep breaths as if to calm herself.  The huge form of the champ moved menacingly out of the growing darkness, the orange hair and the orange padding on his other wise plain black suit catching the light.  There was the sound of creaking leather as he moved, and the metal caps of his shoes clinked on the wet stone.  
     "The first time in living memory --- Suzarn ain't been beaten before."  
     "Except by you, Champ"
     "Yeah, well you're already top status prisoner so lets see what you got kid."   The big man's body stiffened into a fighting posture and he strode forward towering over Fei.  Fei wondered how he could possibly beat this monster.  Rico was plainly strong, and if the other battlers were anything to go by, a skilled fighter as well.  
     There was no sound except for a slight moaning from Leonardo with his broken wrist as Rico and Fei circled each other.  Like a jaguar and house cat they seemed, the young gear pilot in his stained and filthy clothes, and the huge strong Rico with his brilliant colored hair and dark suite, towering from his seven feet.  
     Like a weasel jumping on a fox Fei launched himself at Rio, his fist snapping up in a chop at the big man's neck even as his feet left the floor.  He had hoped that Rico's responses were slowed by his size, but as one hand seemed to move almost lazily to block him Fei knew he was wrong.  Then Rico attacked, one arm launching a text book punch at Fei's face, Fei ducked the blow and caught Rico's wrist, but was forced to let go and jump back a second later to avoid the Champ's foot separating him of his head as it flashed up in a murderous kick.  
     "What's up kid, can't fight huh, scared huh? Like to run away eh?"
     Fei felt anger filling him again, and used the anger to flash forward fists and legs pumping, but each move he made the big man blocked with lazy grace, keeping up a running commentary of taunts in his deep grating voice.  
     "So your mummy not here to help you, well ain't that a shame, maybe she just don't care.  Well I guess no one'd care about a wimp like you --- huh, call that a punch I know old ladies who hit harder --- can see why you ended up here, not got no use to anyone a wimp like you --- you don't have a right to live."  
     That did it, the anger, always simmering boiled up and over red and gold and white and black, fiery and intoxicating like a draught of brandy.  Red and gold and white and black, red and gold and red!
     Etheric sparks flashed from Fei's feet as his body left the ground and hurtled towards Rico like a torpedo, his shoulder connecting with the black chest with a force that the sent the giant staggering backwards gasping.  Fei got back to his feet, feeling stunned and surprise, as when he had launched the etheric bolt at Ramsus, and as when he had first piloted Weltall, he felt that he had acted totally on impulse.  
     "That --- good --- real good.  Looks like I'm gona have to fight my best here."  
     Almost without warning the black giant dashed towards Fei, the martial artist turned aside, but he couldn't have got out of Rico's reach if he had tried for a hundred years, two enormous arms with muscles like steel cables shot pout and seized him.  There was a blur and then a horrible slam as his head hit the floor.  Groggily he tried to get to his feet, but the cap of one boot caught him in the ribs, he reached out a fist blindly, felt it hit something, but then two hands descended in a double fist blow that had all of the Champ's massive weight behind it and Fei knew no more.  

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