A Short Story by Amanda Wyckoff Stone.
©2017. All Rights Reserved.
Takeshi watched his wife grope another man and felt the blood in his veins curdle. Every pair of lips that brushed against her naked flesh nudged him closer to madness. He knew he shouldn’t stare, but he couldn’t help himself.
He didn’t blame her; the orgies were mandatory. This was life in the Lust District.
The temple bells chimed, and finished or not, men and women peeled themselves off of one another. Takeshi approached Lena’s reprimanding scowl. “Are you trying to get us excommunicated?” She whispered.
“I’m sorry,” he said. If a priest suspected Takeshi wasn’t enjoying himself, he could be exiled along with Lena and their two children. No other district would accept them because of Takeshi’s past, and the world beyond the seven districts was a desolate hellhole.
He had fought in the Great War against The Church of the Seven. He killed to preserve personal freedoms and stop the violent cult from gaining power. The Church won and rebuilt society in their image. His generation was unlucky enough to remember a better world.
A temple priest rested his wrinkled hand on Takeshi’s arm while he dressed. “You’d better come with me,” the priest said. Lena shot him a concerned glance, and he worried their fears had come true. He followed the priest into a small room.
The King of Lust stood waiting, his red silk robe embroidered with genitals and hearts. Takeshi fell to one knee and bowed deeply, averting his gaze. “The infamous Black Swordsman,” the king said. “Please rise. And spare me any false praise. I know you detest me,” the king flashed a vulgar grin. “But that doesn’t matter. I have chosen you as my warrior, to represent Lust in The Tournament.”
Takeshi’s mind reeled. The Tournament was a fight to the death between seven warriors representing the god of each district. Whichever god won would be worshiped above all others for ten years. It was a barbaric ritual, but many believed the peace treaty between the districts held this long because of it.
“It’s only three days away –” Takeshi objected, monitoring his tone.
“My first choice was murdered,” the king interrupted. “You aren’t in a position to refuse. Pride is slotted to win. And if that isn’t enough motivation, I will excommunicate your family if you decline.”
The choice was clear. Pride was too dangerous to let win. Victory meant praise for the god of Pride, but it also granted political sway. A world ruled by Pride would lead the districts into war – a reality he didn’t want his children to know.
Takeshi left that afternoon. He kissed Lena goodbye, banishing thoughts of all of the lips she’d kiss while he was gone, and the man she might marry once he was dead. It was a two day carriage ride to neutral territory, where the Temple of the Seven and the colosseum resided.
Before him was an impressive building made from white marble, vestiges of the Seven carved into the exterior of its domed roof. The coliseum was attached in the rear, an even larger structure that blocked the twin suns from the street.
Inside, he was bombarded with priests dressed in the vestments of the Seven offering him food, sexual favors, and perfumes. He waved them away, trying to hide his disdain. “The Lust warrior!” A voice boomed from behind the prostrating priests. “It’s about time.” A wrecking ball of a man rolled through the crowd and introduced himself as Takeshi’s guide.
The boisterous man led Takeshi to a private room. Running the length of the room was a private buffet. “You’re probably going to die tomorrow, old man,” his guide laughed, shoving him towards the buffet. “So, try the cheesecake.”
After a restless night, Takeshi was wrangled into a room with his competitors. They were all young men in their prime, muscles finely tuned. There was one young woman, and by process of elimination, Takeshi determined she was the Pride warrior. Her eyes were sharpened daggers, glinting as she sized up her opponents.
The Grand Priestess stood at the center of the room reciting the rules of the contest: seven warriors entered the colosseum. Only one left.
Takeshi’s guide appeared behind him like a ghost summoned from the ether, peeling off his clothes and replacing them with a red leather vest and shorts that hardly covered his most vulnerable areas. It restricted his movements. He began to protest when his guide slapped him on the back and hissed, “You’ll wear what we tell you to wear.” He had never felt so much like someone else’s property.
Before he had time to gather his thoughts, the gate that separated the temple from the colosseum opened. The seven warriors entered to a roaring crowd shouting from the stands.
Takeshi took in his surroundings. Weapons were scattered about the arena floor. He scanned for a broadsword, finding one half-buried at the other end of the stadium.
The Grand Priestess signaled to begin, and the warriors scattered. Takeshi darted to the sword. The Greed Warrior intercepted him, wielding a battle axe. The brute grinned wolfishly and swung.
Takeshi dove out of the way, allowing Greed to exert himself. He grabbed Greed’s wrists and twisted the tendons so the bones beneath them cracked. Greed yelped and dropped his weapon, which Takeshi scooped up and drove into his bulky neck.
Warm blood splattered on his face and visions of the battlefield came flooding back. The sounds, the smells, the adrenaline. He had fought to preserve humanity’s personal freedoms, and now he fought as a puppet in some ridiculous game to please gods he knew couldn’t exist. He tossed the axe and headed towards the sword.
Two weapons clashed before him. He slid beneath them, dirt wedging itself under his flimsy uniform. He ignored the discomfort. He was almost there.
He lifted the sword from the ground and tested its balance. It would have to do. He spun around to find his opponents slaughtering one another. Perhaps they didn’t view him as a threat and ignored him.
Pride opened Vanity’s face in a succession of quick cuts. The young man toppled to the ground, a lifeless heap. Sloth was launching flaming arrows from a distance, but none of them landed on their target. And Gluttony was headed straight for Takeshi.
Gluttony leapt to tackle him. Takeshi launched his sword into the warrior’s chest, cutting him open down the center, like a butcher gutting a pig. Gluttony’s innards spilled into the dirt. It was too easy. They were only children.
The young woman representing Pride was agile, maneuvering between Envy’s blows as she neared Sloth. A dozen cuts from her daggers leaked on Envy’s bare arms, but each new cut only served to enrage him.
Takeshi snuck up behind Sloth, who was too distracted by Pride’s display to notice. He beheaded the archer in one swing. Sloth’s head rolled from his shoulders to under Pride’s feet. She shrieked as her heel landed on it, sprawling out her arms to regain balance.
Seeing his advantage, Takeshi swung at Pride. She dodged him. Envy’s spear struck Takeshi’s shoulder, piercing his flesh. Crying out, he cut the wooden spear in two with his blade. “Pride can’t win,” Takeshi grunted, hoping to convince his attacker.
Pride slit Takeshi’s ankles open twice before he kicked her head and she flipped backwards. Envy punched him in the gut and Takeshi fell on his back, disoriented. The crowd cheered.
He was exposed. Envy’s fist was hurtling towards him. He rolled and Envy’s fist landed in the dirt where his head had been. He wrapped his legs around Envy’s calves and tugged. They were now both on the ground.
Pride hurled knives at them, landing one in Envy’s eye. The warrior tossed his head back and let out an unearthly howl. Takeshi drove the knife into Envy’s skull with the hilt of his sword. The warrior fell, dead.
Back on his feet, he found Pride panting, gripping her weapons so hard her knuckles were white. She spit blood and twirled a dagger between her fingers, eyes locked on him. “An old man from the Lust District,” she taunted. “A soldier trying to relive the glory days –”
Takeshi interrupted her diatribe with metal through her chest. He twisted the blade. She convulsed and looked on him in shock before going limp.
The crowd fell silent. Their surprise was tangible. Pride was supposed to win.
Takeshi wanted to rub their noses in their shit, to scream at them about a better world. But he thought of Lena, of his children. Takeshi threw down his weapon and left the arena.
The King of Lust granted him knighthood and a home in his court. Takeshi’s children became nobles. They would have the best the world could offer at too young an age, and would have to constantly question everyone’s motives. This wasn’t the life he wanted for them. This was life in the Lust District.