Action is the foundational key to all success. – Pablo Picasso
I awoke with a gasp. The first thing I felt was claustrophobia—there was barley room for me to breathe in the hot, cramped box. It was filled with slight vibrations, reminding me of riding in a car.
I slammed my hands on the roof—or was it the bottom; it was much too dark to tell—of my coffin.
The rumbling stopped with a jerk just as I opened my mouth to scream, even if nobody would ever hear me. It unsealed with a hiss, and I gaped like a fish as fresh air flooded in, replacing the thin, muggy excuse of what I had been breathing.
I could hear people… cheering?
The first thing I thought was that I was at a baseball park, but of course that thought did not deserve to last. When I levered myself out of my container, I saw that it was a sports arena, sure enough, but not one I'd ever seen or felt the need to imagine. It was a giant cage, and the soft sand surround me still had patches of blood in it. I had seen something like it in a movie before, when dogs had been forced to fight, to tear each other apart mercilessly, but surely that could not be the case now….
Looking back, I almost wish it had been.
Soon, the mindless cheering morphed into a loud, singular chant, as if everybody's favorite team was coming onto the playing field.
That was when I felt the first stirrings of fear. I had no idea of what was going on— no experience, no weapons, no nothing, and now they were chanting the name for the Hebrew angel of death.
A door I had not noticed before rattled open and a young girl stepped regally through. She moved daintily, but directly, as if she were moving over a field of land mines. Long legs were barley covered by shimmering bronze basketball shorts, and the only thing keeping her torso even mildly covered besides extensive scars was a torn, faded sports bra. Her angular face was accented by thick, wavy hair that was neon red, and a sprawl of freckles, along with sharp, intelligent eyes. I immediately thought of a stray dog my younger sister had found, scared and beaten and ready to do anything to live, to fight.
The door rattled closed, and I started to tremble.
There was no comfort of denial now. I was in a fighting ring, trapped with this feral, wary woman who I had no doubt would kill me in a second. There was no signal that I could tell, no warning, but all of a sudden the girl was on me, a blur of movement and pain. I think I blacked out, for the next thing I knew, I was on the sand of the cage, with this nameless woman perched on my chest.
She was looking into my eyes eerily, not blinking, trapping my gaze into those honey colored depths. She leaned forward, and gave a deep sniff of my neck. I heard strange, animal like sounds of terror, and realized they were coming from me.
I had frozen, completely still in my absolute panic.
The girl suddenly through back her head and screamed, "What is this! What have you sent me!"
Silence fell. This was obviously not common, fighters speaking to the crowd.
Soon those who I assumed to be guards, looking at their uniforms and guns, the latter of which they pounded against the cage, rattling it.
"The hell, 1625?" One called. "Just kill him so we can move to the next fight!"
And I hadn't thought I could get more terrified.
The woman on top of my chest gave an irate sigh, and leapt up, dragging me with her. "Look at him." She snarled. "Look at his eyes. Helper eyes. Healer eyes." One guard, a large man with dark brown hair leaned closer, and looked at me keenly.
"So?" He conceded. "What does that have to do with this?"
There was no question of what he was asking.
The girl leaned forward so her face was inches from the guards. "So, besides the fact that you could be killed for throwing a healer in to the Pit, I am in need of a medic, both of these things you very well know." The guard's eyes had been narrowing steadily throughout this speech, and were now flushed with anger.
"Fine." he spat. "You can keep him. But you must fight and be Placed, first." She tilted her chin up ever so lightly, so she could look down her nose at him, and with a distinct air of satisfaction said "This is acceptable."
He snarled, I swear.
There was a rattling noise behind me, and I and turned just in time to see the young guard storm towards us, who then proceed to drag me backwards, and I could see the woman staring at me levelly. The door slammed loudly in front of me, and I was jerked forward to face a long, sloping hallway.
There was a sudden scream of pure pain and fear, and I saw flashes of blue on the walls of the earthen walls. I tried to turn and look, but the guard stopped me.
"Trust me," he said, voice barley heard above the screams, "you don't want to."
The screams cut shaply off, and all I could hear for several minutes was my panicked, labored breathing. We came to a stop in front of another cage, about twenty square feet, smaller than the one we had just exited, but bigger than I would have expected.
"Good luck," the guard said wryly, "and call me Jakers."
He then proceeded to toss me unceremoniously in the cage. My hands immediately began to bleed from the rough concrete floor.
Previously, there had only been small lanterns dimly lighting the way, but now there was a harsh glare emanating from overhead fluorescents. I squinted upwards, but could not stare to long. There was nothing but me in the new cage.
Standing, I went to sit in a corner farthest from the door, watching. Sometime later, maybe minutes, maybe seconds or, for all I knew, hours, before I heard anything but the buzz of the lights.
The door rattled open, and the girl was tossed in. I tensed, immediately wary, but she didn't even look at me, simply sat in the corner diagonal from me. The door rattled closed without a word being spoken, and sometime later I asked if she was hurt. She stuck one leg out, keeping her right one pulled up to her chest, and proceeded to ignore me.
I glanced down to see what she was looking at.
It was a thick, black piece of what looked to be plastic at first glance, but under closer examination it could be seen that it was a sheet of metal that held her slender ankle captive. She had placed her palms on either side of it, fingers stretched back, and twisted.
She closed her eyes with a small hiss, but now the anklet, which I could see had blinking lights all up and down one side, could move.
Of course, it took a chunk of burned, blacked flash with it, and where it had previously occupied started to bleed immediately.
She ignored both it and my next question.
"What were you talking about, with the healer stuff?" I was edging closer so I could see the wound better and when I quickly said, "And you should really stop the bleeding on that. " , her lips simply curled upards.
I felt the sudden need to reassure her. "Well, don't worry." I said confidently. "We can escape somehow, or my parents will come and help—"
And then I was on the floor again, but this time the tiger-yellow eyes were filled with anger and hate, and I was just as scared as I had been in the arena. When she spoke, the soft, reassuring voice was cold as ice.
"You think I've been here for ten years and never tried to escape? Trust me, this is no dingy, run down operation, and there's just as small a chance of us escaping as there is as your parents leading a SWAT team here for your naive, spoiled, city boy ass, and I have half a mind to kill you and save them the toub—"
Suddenly, she threw her head back and screamed, sliding off of me. Bolts of electricity flew around her, and I tried to touch her, but she flinched back. The bolts increased it size, and her screams got shriller, turning into a jumble of words.
"I'm sorry forgive please please please forgive me I'm sorry sorry sorry—" the bolts increased again, and the semi coherent words turned into a harsh scream, randomly filled with words with pleas, and I suddenly got it.
"I accept you apology!" I yelled above her screams. Panicked, I added, "I forgive you." The electricity disappeared, and her body collapsed, limp, to the ground. In place of her screams were now soft whimpers, and when I reached out to touch her, she slammed herself back, eyes filled with silent fear.
Days later, when she had been taken and returned several times to our, or, at least my, new home, always having minor cuts and bruises, I got tired of just staring at each other in stony silence. We had been fed once a day, with surprisingly healthy food. Fresh fruit, unspoiled meat… All so we could be in prime fighting condition. Or, as far as gathered, she could.
But then again, to quote the still unnamed woman, this was no run down operation.
"Who are you? I mean, I assume you have a name besides Malach. At least, it doesn't fit you."
It did, but white lies never hurt anybody. She looked at me; head tilted, and hugged her knees to her chest in an oddly childlike gesture.
"You should have simply asked my name, since that is what you obviously want to know. Asking who a person is a very personal gesture, here. After all, a person is much more than a simple name."
"So you have one, then? Or are you just avoiding the question?" Why the hell was I being such an ass? I wasn't like this to people I liked, let alone were terrified of.
She narrowed her eyes, apparently sensing a challenge. "Echo." She said at last. "You can call me Echo."