Arena Book 3, page 1
“Impressive, most impressive,” the shadowy figure’s deep voice said as it brought the blazing red laser saber down toward my head.
“You’ll find out I’m full of surprises,” I shouted back as I brushed the blow away with a swipe of my own blazing blue laser saber and kicked the shadow figure in the chest.
It stumbled back a few feet but then came at me again in a flurry of red blurring slashes of its saber. I blocked as well as I could, but this guy was good, and I wasn’t used to using a sword. I desperately wanted my trusty space Viking battle axes, but I didn’t have them, and instead had to pretend I was a Skywalker, only without the angst and cool telekinetic powers.
“Woah! Careful! That’s my moneymaker!” I felt the heat of the humming saber as it sliced the air a half an inch from my face and then I swiped up with my own sword. I missed and instead, the saber cut through a metal support beam as if it were made of cream cheese.
The grated platform that we fought under gave a groan as the other support beam began to buckle under the weight. I deactivated the laser saber and dove out of the way just as the platform crashed down. Hopefully on the shadowy figure’s head.
I got to my feet just as the dust and steam from a severed hose began to clear and peered into the murk with the saber cylinder ready in my hand. I tried to reach out with my feelings to see if I could sense anything, but alas, I was still no Jedi.
I was just about to turn away to get out of whatever the room I had found myself in when I heard the telltale snap-hiss of the shadowy figure’s lasersaber as it ignited not two feet to my left. I ignited my own saber not a second later and swiped clumsily at where I thought the shadowy figure was but all I cut was dust and steam.
Heat singed the back of my neck, and my parkour mod roared to life. My legs pumped, and I did a fast wall run into a backward flip as the angry red blade of the laser saber passed under me. As soon as I landed I had to bring my own weapon up immediately to block a furious blow. But it didn’t end there. The shadowy figure unleashed blow after blow after blow. And instead of fading in strength and power, they seemed to increase. Each one got harder and harder to defend against.
I was eventually pushed out of a large portcullis like doorway out onto a railingless walkway over a missile silo-sized air shaft that appeared to have no bottom. Why were there no safety rails ever for any reason in this damn galaxy? Wind buffeted us as our fight pushed out further onto the walkway, and it was all I could do to keep my balance and fight off the onslaught from the shadowy figure who was now no longer in the shadows.
The figure was well over six feet tall and clad from head to toe in jet black armor like a medieval knight from the 25th century. There was a long black flowing cloak that flowed around him. Its ends snapped angrily in the wind. Atop his head sat a helmet that looked like a skull with large oversized mirrored lenses where the eyes should have been. I could see a little miniature funhouse warped reflection of myself in them as I desperately flailed my laser saber in an attempt to stem the tide of his furious blows.
Eventually, I could retreat no further, and my back came up against some sort of suspended platform that resembled a knife blade with blinking lights all over its surface. It was either fight back with all I had or plunge to my doom. So, I gripped my laser saber tightly in both hands and unleashed a wave of my own blows. This surprised the black armor-clad space knight, and I pressed my attack. Sweat dripped into my eyes as I regained a few feet of ground, and it felt like my heart was drumming a thousand beats a minute.
Our laser blades locked for a moment, the purple light of our combined laser sabers bright in my eyes.
“You fight well, young one,” the space knight said in his deep, computer-modulated voice. “But you are no sword-monk, and your resistance is pointless.”
He pressed down with all his considerable weight, and I began to buckle under the force. With a yell of frustration and anger, I let his saber slide down my own blade and then directed it to my right. Our sabers separated, and the sudden lack of push back caused the space knight to come off balance and overextend himself. I saw my opening and whipped my blade around and smashed it as hard as I could into his shoulder.
Instead of slicing deep into his main saber arm and incapacitating him, there was a shower of blue-white sparks from his armor, and he cried out in pain before he spun back on me with the speed of a cornered rattlesnake. His strikes were now fueled with a fit of sudden and terrible anger, and I lost the ground I’d worked with all my might to regain.
Then my back was once again against the unforgiving metal knife blade of the platform.
I tried to keep both hands on my laser saber but his strikes hit with such power that soon I held it in my right hand alone and batted after his flashing red blade with all the coordination of a toddler. I felt the twisting, corkscrew motion of his blade on mine and then a searing hot pain in my right arm.
I glanced down just in time to see my right hand, my lasersaber still clutched tightly in my fingers, spin-off in thin air and then disappear down the massive shaft.
“Arrgg!” I screamed and held my now handless right arm tight against my body.
“You fought well,” dark space knight said, “but you are beaten. Join me and together we will rule the universe.”
“Never,” I spat as I inched my way out onto a thin ledge that ran around the outside of the knife-blade platform. The wind whipped my sweat soaked hair into my eyes. My vision blurred.
“You killed my trainer!” I screamed. “I’d never join you.”
The dark space knight stared at me for a long beat. All I could hear was his rhythmic breathing. Then he held out his left hand as if to beckon me to him.
“No,” he said and even through his skeleton mask I could sense the emotion in his voice, “I am your trainer.”
The shock hit me like a kick in the soul. He was right. I could feel it my bones.
“No!” I yelled with all I had and then I let go of the handhold I had on the side of the platform and fell into oblivion.
“Son of a bitch!” I cursed and threw off the VR headset. Full of frustration, I un-velcroed the knee length bio-feedback gloves and threw them to the ground as well to land on top of the headset. “This game sucks!”
I heard Grizz laugh heartily as he materialized before me. My six foot six inch tall two hundred and thirty pound holographic trainer who looked uncannily like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had a big shit-eating grin on his face.
“I believe that is twelve rounds in a row that I have won?” he asked smugly, and I wished I could slap the shit out of him. Well, not really because he could crush me with just his pinky, but I hated his gloating face at the moment.
“Thirteen, actually,” Artemis piped up from behind her bank of computers. “You put an eternal place of fiery damnation descending spank on him for sure, Grizz.”
While Artemis looked like a twenty-three-year-old adorable, sexy, full-breasted, thin-waisted brunette with shoulder length dark brown hair, amazing green eyes, and full cherry red-lipped human woman, she was actually a highly complex artificial intelligence algorithm that had been downloaded into a perfectly crafted biogenetically engineered human body. She still struggled heavily with Earth euphemisms.
“Hell of a smackdown, Artie,” I gently corrected. “And you are not helping.”
“Do not be mad at Artemis, human,” Grizz said through the last remnant of his chuckles, “it is not her fault you are terrible at the virtual reality combat simulation. Or, what you call ‘video game’.”
“Well, come on, it’s not really a fair fight is it?” I said rather poutily. “I mean, you just got to jump right into the game, no VR headset or anything, and, you know, you’re good with a swor
“I am exceptional with a sword,” Grizz said gruffly.
“Thank you!” I exclaimed as if I’d won the argument when actually I hadn’t.
“Oh, did Grizz beat you again, sugar?” Aurora asked as she sauntered sexily over to the command chair, what I called the bank of computers and such that was set up on the side of our gym in the Hall of Champions.
She was decked out in her usual “gym gear” which consisted of some form of a tight corset that cinched her waist and pushed her already large, incredibly full breasts out even further from her body to her classic Nineteen Sixties Playboy Bunny hourglass figure. Completed by thigh-high stockings that attached to her tight boy shorts with built-in garters and ended in knee-high leather boots.
As always, she wore a long, flowing black coat with blood red lining that moved and curled around her body as if it were sentient even though there was no breeze inside the building. She had just been practicing some hand to hand combat with a dummy-bot and had forgone her usual bicep-length gloves.
Her pearl white skin was in stark contrast to the deep emerald green color of her outfit. The geometric tribal tattoos that covered her entire torso and extremities pulsed with blue light. The tattoos helped her keep the vampire-like life force sucking creature that lived within her, a Shriike, at bay. Her sultry face was framed with a mane of shimmery silver hair that went past her shoulders. Today her Angelina Jolie full lips were stained deep purple to match her violet eyes.
“Yes, yes he did,” I answered after I was able to tear my eyes away from the way her body moved as she walked over. I’d known Aurora Starfall, last known survivor of the planet Starfall, for almost two months now. Hell, I had fought alongside her many times, and we’d shared some heavy makeout sessions, but I was still mesmerized by the way her body moved. John Mayer could suck an egg with his wonderland, Aurora’s body was freaking Disney World, Six Flags, and a Cirque du Soleil show all rolled into one.
“Poor, baby,” she said and placed a gentle kiss on my cheek before she continued on her way over to Artemis. A little crackle of electric desire flashed through me as her lips touched my skin, and I instantly wished our training was over for the day.
“Oh, do not coddle him, Aurora,” Grizz shot over. “His insistence on using that ancient and outmoded virtual reality simulator is beyond me. Especially when we can summon any number of construct creatures to fight in the real reality.”
“Thank you, Morpheus,” I snarked. “That VR rig is like light years ahead of what Earth has, and it’s freaking cool. I mean, the computer pulls shit right from your own subconscious and creates a game on the fly to play! I could waste a full week of playing nonstop and not get bored.”
“How did you know my middle name?” Grizz asked with a bit of concern.
“For real? Your middle name is Morpheus?” I answered.
“Morphel-Doh’Farahna-Con’Am-D’arharbing-ek-ek-Furiosa,” he said to the cadence of supercalifragalisticexpialadous. “Morpheus for short.”
“Lucky guess,” I said wide-eyed.
Grizz harrumphed in response and began to pace about a bit. It was his usual response when I’d driven him crazy.
Just then, there was the rattle of plasma cannon fire and one side of the gym exploded in a big ball of flame. I looked over lazily. This was not a new or uncommon occurrence.
Nova and PoLarr stood at the firing range portion of the gym and both unloaded huge, counterbalanced hip plasma cannons at targets that popped up at random down range. They both had an almost maniacal grin on their faces as they unleashed a steady stream of rapid-fire plasma blasts from the cannons. They looked almost comical, like an ass-kicking, smoking hot, babe version of Laurel and Hardy.
PoLarr stood over six feet tall and had a slim, lithe, long-range runner physique with narrow, but still shapely, hips and small, pert breasts that sat high on her chest. Her short, blond hair was spiked up like a sharkfin that ran from her forehead all the way to the nape of her slender neck. While she may look almost fragile to the untrained eye, PoLarr was a member of the Val’Keerye, or Death Angels, one of the most feared and respected all-female Special Forces units in the mega-verse. She handled the large plasma cannon with ease and never, ever missed her target. I could almost feel the massive energy weapon buck in my own hands as a memory of the first time PoLarr fired one flooded into my brain.
“Get some! Get some! Get some!” she shouted like some Marine in Full Metal Jacket over the electronic like clatter of the cannons.
When we first met, PoLarr had Soul Gazed me. It was like a Bluetooth Vulcan Mind Meld, and we could now access each other's memories. I got all her badass training in a gun based martial art known as Ar’Gwyn, and she got an endless supply of dick and fart jokes.
Nova Qwark, who stood next to her and handled her cannon as if it were an extension of her own body, was shorter, but by no means short at around five foot nine, and had the taut, well-muscled body of a fitness model or elite CrossFit athlete. She was a knight errant from a feudal world called Paladin Prime. Her orange skin and green eyes made her resemble Starfire slightly, complete with deep auburn hair that was done in a tight warrior braid down the left side of her face.
I smiled for a moment as I looked around our gym. This was my motley crew of misfits. My alliance mates in the Forge of Heroes, or, as those of us who fought in the kill or be killed arena-style battles called it, the Crucible of Carnage. A super intelligent and powerful alien race known as the Aetheron Ozusti had started the Forge a few millennia ago as a way to keep peace in the galaxy. One champion from each world was chosen to fight in the games, and if they won, their world got upgrades in technology and science and resources. Originally, it was meant as a way to stop intergalactic warfare. Now, it was a hugely popular spectator sport that would have the Romans eating their orgiastic hearts out.
Two months ago, I was just a kid from Delaware with a dead-end job, a shitty apartment, and no love life. Now, I was Marc Caleb Havak, Earth’s ruggedly handsome, devil-may-care champion.
“Oh, hey everybody, we just got details on the next arena match,” Artemis called out from behind her computer. I pulled myself out of my own self-congratulatory daydream and walked over.
“When?” I asked as Nova and PoLarr shelved their cannons and joined the rest of us.
“Looks like it’s going to be two days from now,” my brunette lover answered.
“How come we’re getting so much advance notice?” I asked. Until now, the matches had all been either flash matches, where we had like ten minutes to prepare, or a day away.
“You moved up into Silver Tier,” Artemis replied. “There will be the odd flash match from time to time, but for the most part, we will get at least forty-eight hours’ notice.”
“Well, that’s kick ass,” I spouted off rather excitedly.
“Stagnate your rotation, frozen wind,” Artemis quipped.
“Yes,” Grizz echoed, “what Artemis said, Havak.”
“It’s slow your roll cool breeze, but whatever,” I said under my breath.
“There is a huge difference between Bronze and Silver Tiers,” Grizz lectured. “The champions you will face will be much more sophisticated.”
“Yes,” Artemis agreed, “and there are way fewer un-allianced champions. They will have greater abilities, stronger boosts, more powerful weapons--”
“And be adept at more complex strategies,” Grizz broke in.
“I think I can help in that regard, Grizz,” PoLarr said as she stood in a military “at ease” position near the command center. “Part of our Val’Keeyre training included almost five years of concentrated military battle strategy and history.”
“As can I, Grizz,” Nova added, “Paladinian knights are well versed in the language of coordinated combat attacks and defenses. My brothers and I would often re-enact famous battles from our planet's history as children.”
“Brothers?” I asked a bit surprised. “I didn’t know you had
“Yes,” she replied as she crossed her arms and glanced at the ground. “There were seven of us. I am the youngest and only woman. We were very close as children.”
“Were?” I asked gently. Her body language told me that she had started to close off. Nova had begun to let the battlement walls that surrounded her feelings come down a little, but my question had sent them right back up again.
“What is the next challenge, Artemis?” Nova asked, all business. “We should get back to the task at hand.”
“Um, yes, ah,” Artemis replied and clicked a few buttons on her computer. I could tell she had sensed the same walls as I did. For an AI program, she was tremendously empathetic. So much so that she often would absorb the emotions of those around her to her detriment. The depth of her caring for her friends was incredible. Hell, most humans, who’d been human their whole life, couldn’t deal with their own emotions, and Artie had only been human for a few weeks. “Okay, so it’s going to be a giant underwater battlefield. Max three-member teams in a timed match. The goal is to survive submerged for one hour, surfacing is certain death.”
“Sweet, SeaQuest DSV,” I blurted out. I’d been obsessed with that show when I was little. I’d wanted to be Lucas Wolenczak until I was at least twelve years old and realized I was horrible at computers. That, and an ill-fated “meet the sea life” excursion at our local aquarium where I realized dolphins could be dicks.
“What are the other parameters, Artemis?” PoLarr asked.
“And will there be sharks?” I interrupted. “Remember how I wanted to get the shark riding skill--”
“I don’t know if there will be sharks, Marc,” Artemis said with a shrug, “but each champion will be given one initial oxygen tank for your underwater breathing apparatus. There will be several tanks placed in the environment but far fewer than there will be champions.”
“It will be imperative for us to find as many of those tanks as fast as we can,” Nova added.
“Grizz,” PoLarr started, “didn’t you fight an underwater battle during your time as champion?”
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