Michael killed two men before bedtime.
Two men, barehanded, one right after the other. Gifts rained down on him from the audience: money and flowers. The money his master pocketed, and the flowers… What the fuck was he going to do with flowers? He left them to rot with the bodies.
His master was waiting in the washrooms, counting the money. She was wearing an ankle-length red dress with a side slit that ran up to her thigh. From his vantage point Michael could see straight down her neckline. The sight stirred absolutely no interest.
“You’ve got a month off,” she said, pausing to catalogue Michael’s injuries as he stripped. “Looks like you’ll need every second of it.”
“I thought you needed the money.” Michael strode over to the hot springs and lowered himself into the water. If he concentrated he could hear the crowd’s distant cheers as another man died.
“I don’t have a choice.”
She walked over to the edge of the springs and stood over him, waiting for him to ask why. Michael kept his eyes closed, tried to imagine he was somewhere else. Someone else.
“The Prince is getting married,” she finally said. “He requested you specifically after seeing your performance today. You’re barred from fighting until the wedding feast.”
While she calculated her losses, Michael relished the thought of the month ahead. One month’s respite meant at least ten or fifteen men he didn’t have to kill.
“What’ll I do with myself for a month?” he murmured to the water.
“You’ll train.” His master squatted down to his level, her entire leg exposed, the hem of her dress dipping into the water. “They’re pitting you against the Bull. He’s double your size, squashes men with his fingers. You need to bulk up.”
“I need to sleep,” Michael retorted. His body ached. His bones ached. Worst of all was his conscience. How many more men could he kill before he lost every last bit of himself?
“Sleep?” She sneered. “And what, work on your sleep muscles?”
“Yeah.” He didn’t crack a smile. “Exactly that.”
“If you win, the Prince will clear all my debts,” she snapped. “If you die, I’ve got nothing.”
He nodded to her legs. “You can always sell that.”
Michael wasn’t expecting the slap — and neither was she. She straightened, her hand stiff with surprise. “Sleep or train, do whatever you want. But if you’re not ready, you’ll be dead the moment you step into the pit.”
Michael picked dried blood from under his fingernails. “I’m already dead.”
* * *
That night there was a feather pillow on his cot.
Thankfully, it didn’t smell of her perfume. Instead it smelled of the pine needles in his home town and the cheap soap his mother used to use.
Michael closed his eyes and dreamed of another life as his sleep muscles repaired his body.
With another few sleeps, he’d have enough left in him to kill one more man.
And then his debt to her would be over.
(Inspired by Lindsay.)