5; Wet Sand
The cold rain pelted the concrete as she walked. Dom may have had a point about whether this was a good idea, but she’d tried everything. She hid, she laid low, she went about her life like nothing ever happened, but she had to accept it now. She needed to start the end. Her feet carried her to the direction of Mort Street.
Estro Boris was just as she remembered it, though she’d not come in at least a year. Last she was here was when she went on an errand for Dom, picked up some flowers to welcome Rosa to the team about a year back, after their last waitress had quit to move to Terminus. Livisca. She was okay, never interacted much with Micali, just came, worked, went home. Back when there were two empty rooms on the second floor, not just the one.
Back to Estro Boris. The Lucrusian higher-ups lived in Pes Exis, effectively the rich section of the residential district. Politicians and industry owners dwelled there, bounced coins between their fingers and preyed on the less fortunate. Besides, they had little to care about with the middle-class, as the election for local government wasn’t for another couple of years, and there was no profit to be turned from the repairs or repurposing of old arenas in what they deemed a forgettable section of the city.
The street was only a block away, and the rainwater reflected off her cloak under the streetlights. She needed a good vantage point, somewhere she could sit for the night and observe.
It came in the form of Mort Street Hotel. She booked a room, the clerk at the base floor nearly asleep when she entered. Her room was on the far corner of the top floor, the third. It was the only room with a passable view of the floor of the arena itself. There she stood on the veranda, where her gaze lingered on the distant coliseum through falling streams of rain. The arena was as you’d expect: a large circle. Large bent columns lead up to the top, formed a six pronged star that went out and down to create the foundation of the coliseum. The metal was now mostly rust and peeled paint. It had fallen apart after the higher-ups in Lucrus disbanded the fights about two and a half years earlier, when demand for it fell.
Estro Boris was the lower-middle class section of the residential district. It was coupled on either side by Pes Exis and Fere Divi, which was the lower class third of the district. All 3 are sheltered by the outer wall of the city, and face in to the mercantile district, which covers a large section of the city, before it reaches the borders to the slums, which connected between the mercantile district and Fere Divi. Dom’s was in the mercantile district, and as there were no laws that prohibited it, the workers lived there, too, in avoidance of the class system. In relation to the residential districts, Dom's was closest to Fere Divi and the slums, but was largely centered in the city, not too far from any of the districts. Gemma’s brothel was on the edge of the mercantile district, between Estro Boris and Pes Exis, though favoring the latter. The Insidiis headquarters were in Fere Divi, but near to Estro Boris and the outer wall. The arena, only a block away from Micali’s hotel, was near dead center to Estro Boris.
The rain blurred the exact person, but there was the bob of a head, moved from one side of the arena to the next. From this angle, any observation was redundant. She needed to get closer. About half an hour after all movement ceased in the arena, just past eleven, she made her move.
The pavement beneath her feet was the only thing firm and strong in that moment. She faltered as she walked, eyes darted from side to side in case anyone was stood on that street, observing her. It’s strange how long a block can feel. As she approached the arena’s gates, she paused at the sound of distant conversation, which fast approached.
“...way from my girl!” A round of chuckles. She counted at least three voices amongst the rain and angle.
“Yeah man, that was great. You should’ve been there, Pal.”
She ducked down behind a nearby tree, one of six planted in rectangular stone foundations along the sides of the arena, now derelict and overgrown. Her eyes widened as a familiar voice sounded out.
“You didn’t use excessive force, though, right? Just as we trained, just enough to incapacitate?” The large black gates to the arena creaked open. From the darkness of the night, the low angle, and her attempt to hold still and be quiet, she couldn’t see much.
“Yes, Master Pallorus.” The shuffle of clothing, followed by giggles at the comment that oozed sarcasm. She counted four voices, now.
“Yeah, yeah. Remember, class next week is starting an hour early.” A chorus of mhm and yeah.
“And Rae, say hi to your mom for me. I’m probably stopping by for dinner in a few days, so I guess I’ll see you then.”
“Yep yep. See you then, Uncle Pal.” The last voice of an apparent five, a young woman. Rae. Memories were stomped out by Micali's boot. Footsteps and more stories echoed out down the street and into the night, while the heaviest set of feet moved back into the arena. She waited for a few minutes behind that overgrown tree stump, watched wet roots mingle and twine, then waited a few minutes more. Could she really go through with this? He was right there. There was no more scoping out to be done, she knew the general layout as best as she ever would. Was this what she wanted, though?
She took a moment to rationalize in her head. Then, she stood.
The gate opened and closed with a bit of weight needed, the rust and dilapidation her only hindrance. Behind the gates was a small platform that broke off into two stairs running down at a curve on either side, in toward the arena. There were also two pathways at the end that led to the seating on the upper level. The end of the platform was an open view into the arena, and Micali could see the whole thing in its outdated, forgotten glory. A completely open layout. She remembered the one time she came here, then immediately tried to forget it. It was with him. She fought back the urge to spit, instead snuck up to the ledge that oversaw the coliseum. The rain stopped, then, and moonlight cascaded down. The arena itself had been set up with mats and dummies. Standing at the far end of the arena’s base was Pallorus, who stared up at her, his expression hard to read from the distance. Her eyes locked onto his as best as they could, and she moved to descend the stairs.
The longest walk of her life, one where she had to be careful not to slip on the poorly maintained wet stone. She inevitably reached the bottom of the stairs, and turned in to see the lower section of the stands. Essentially a mirror to the top floor, though six staircases moved down to the arena itself. She saw him waiting for him in the middle, and his face was much more visible to her now. The wet sand of the arena squished and crunched beneath her feet at the same time somehow. She walked up, stayed where he was in the middle of the arena. He had some new scars, one ran jagged across his face, from one ear to the center of his bottom lip. Her eyes traced it over and over, and she wondered how he got it. An attacker got the upper hand? An attack from above? He tripped? She didn’t have long to think before he spoke.
“Hi, Cal.” She kept one hand ready to reach for Cora. The fact that she hadn’t killed him yet scared her, but some long forgotten voice in her head told her to hesitate, to hold steady and hear him out.
“Hi.” Her voice threatened to break, an unknown emotion raised at the nickname. His eyes were the same, just as large, just as warm.
“How are things?”
She held her tongue, wanted to tell him everything about the last three years, all the good, all the bad. All the fucked up things that came from what he helped happen to her. Wasn’t that awful? Even now, after everything, she wanted to tell him about her day, ask him how his was, be his friend. A nearby trickle of rainwater flooded the silence. Micali could see her breath, see his. The air was cold, but she felt as though she had been boiled alive.
“Okay.” He didn’t move a muscle, just stood there and allowed her to speak her own piece.
“The people here, your students, I presume.” The thought was unfinished, but it was all she could form. If they were to come back, she needed to know how likely it was that she’d be dead within the next ten minutes.
“Ah, yeah. You could call them my students, I guess. I’m teaching a self-defense class.” He backed away some, looked up and around the rusted intricacies of the architecture. “I’ve spent the last three years waiting, Micali. I knew you would come. I didn’t know when, but I knew it would happen. This is our business to settle, nobody else’s.”
Past the thought that she would ever include Rae, or any of those young people in this, her brain clutched onto a single part of the statement. “How did you know I was alive?”
“Aw, shit. Yeah, I wasn’t supposed to mention that, I think. I’m no good at secrets, though. You know that.” He chuckled, and looked to her as if she would do the same. Her face was kept in a high frown. “Anyway. Tal visited me about a year after everything happened, once everyone had parted ways and stuff settled down. She knew you were alive somehow, but wouldn’t tell me where you were.” He moved toward her, and she instinctively began to move back. “I wanna say I’m sorry, Cal.” Her distant face drew forward.
“Don’t fucking call me that.” Her mind was stuck. He was acting as though he didn’t give a hitman a knife in order to kill her. “Fuck you.”
He didn’t seem taken aback, but he did seem disappointed. He went to speak, but something rose out of her chest and into her throat before she could shove it back down.
“You held me down while they stabbed my daughter to death in front of me. You don’t get to be sorry. You don’t get to be absolved. You were my friend, Pallorus. My closest friend,” she spat, anger that had been kept in a tight bubble now burst as she let out the words. “You were her godfather.”
He didn’t know, she’d never told him. He gaped at that. “I…” he started but couldn’t finish. She slowly drew Cora from the harness on her back. It was designed originally to be able to pull apart, but takes time to put back together.
“Wait, Ca-Micali. I have my reasons for why I did what I did.”
“I don’t care.” She nocked an arrow, pointed it straight at him.
“They were going to kill Myna. And her kids, too. They made me choose, her or you. I...you know I had to choose her. She practically raised me, for fuck’s sake.”
Micali hesitated, the bow and arrow slowly let drift down toward the sand. “So they blackmailed you. Your first thought was to let them? To just give in to them and not try to fight back or tell me?” Tears flooded her eyes, then, and she was sure the rain had begun to pick up again.
“It was four against one! What did you want from me?”
“Not to murder Cora. Why not just me? She didn’t...she wasn’t even supposed to be there that night. It should’ve been just me.” She pointed the arrow straight at him again, the range more than possible for her. “It should’ve been me.” She let it go, and he managed to swerve to the side slightly before it pierced his side.
He groaned in pain as he ran at her. She managed to get another arrow out, which grazed off his arm as he ran, and another was ready when he was too close for her to fire it and still be able to defend herself after. She dropped Cora, instead pulled the knife out of her bag. As soon as she dropped it, he stopped running.
“Stop, Micali. We don’t have to do this. I can-” She lunged at him, and he was caught off guard. He went to grab something from the back of his belt when she caught him along the left side of his ribcage, a glancing blow. He reeled back as a thin strand of blood fell to the sand. He looked at her, but his eyes weren’t furious, weren’t even pained. They were sad. She hated it.
From behind his back came a familiar knife. Micali stared in disbelief as he brandished it, and he assumed a stance ready to fight. “This isn’t what I wanted, Micali, but if you insist on this…” he flourished the jade handle between his fingertips. “Let’s get this over with.”
She cursed Gemma in her head as the two both circled around a single patch of grass that had risen through the foundation of the arena. No more words were exchanged, just steady eyes and the brief snap of the arrow in Pallorus’s side and the fall of it to the ground. The sand crunched beneath both their feet in unison, their steps synchronized. A drop of water hit Micali’s nose, then, and she moved forward, her knife jabbed forward quickly before being retracted. He overcompensated, assumed she’d go all in, and jabbed his own arm forward to catch her. Just as she reeled back, she moved back in, a deep cut apparent in his arm. He backed off some, swiped some of the blood off before he realized the futility.
He charged her. A massive velen that went straight at her wasn’t something Micali liked to see. She noted his gait - he was just as large as ever, and he never did correct the gap in his legs. It was risky, but it was that or get bulldozed. As he approached, she ran forward too, and allowed the sand to carry her between his legs, which closed in just as the last few hairs of her braid passed through. Her dark grey tunic was now dirtied with the ground, but it was of little importance. He smirked at her, and her blood boiled.
Another single raindrop hit a knuckle on her left hand, and she thought back to their spars. It was her turn now, and she charged him. He stood still, allowed her to run up. Just as she did, he swerved to the side ever-so-slightly, a calculation she knew would happen. He didn’t swing at her, so she seized the opportunity to grab the cloth of his shirt with her left hand, and used the force of her momentum to swing around and onto his back. Her legs restrained his shoulders as she brought her knife down at an awkward angle, a deep stab in his right pec. He rumbled in pain, a dropped knife freeing one hand to bring both together above his head. They grabbed at her arms, both still together from the stab, and he flung her down into the sand with a thud and a momentary loss of vision for the laicar.
Her ears rang, yet she managed to crawl away a few feet and stand. A hand went to her temple and came back bloody. She didn’t feel any immediate pain but knew damn well that this wasn’t good. He shredded the knife out of the side of his chest, a good portion of blood now drained down his clothes and into the sand. He picked up his own knife as well, and she realized her error all too late. He charged her again, and with no weapon, she had only the option to roll to the side. Despite her agility, his size won out, the back of her legs clipped by him as he ran, a knife dragged down the side of her right leg. She dragged herself further now, before she looked back to him.
Pallorus towered over her, both knives bloody, though she couldn’t be sure whose was on which anymore. They stared each other down, and his expression betrayed any kind of expression. Raindrops began to fall at a steady pace now, and the storm picked back up. The sky cracked in anguish and a burst of light spread the water droplets just enough for her to get a better look at his eyes.
Just as warm as ever.
The knives in his hands dripped blood next to her fallen form until he moved. He holstered his own, and instead twirled the handle on her own to face her, his other hand steadied for her to lift herself up. She did just that with some struggle, and her hands wrapped around his. Neither said a word.
Both held the handle of her knife as she drove it through his heart.
The sky mourned.