Blood:Water 血液:水 (B:W)
Chapter One--"Buried Hatred"
On the brink of a canyon, slicing the desert ground into a sheer cliff overlooking a giant's twisted maze, a slight figure is pacing. Hooded against the fierce glare, the head constantly faces north and grumbles under its breath. A pause, determined silence, and then it returns to the fervent pacing. If this were a dark story of pure survival, he may have been contemplating suicide—a single misstep sending him over the edge and into the jagged crags below. However, this isn't that kinda story.
As if he made up his mind, Kifa rips his hood off and shouts into the engulfing desert:
"I will not lose!"
With his arms flexed in challenge, speckled tawny wings spread out in glorious confidence, sadistic grin, and sharp golden eyes unflinching, our hero takes the stage.
"Isn't that the same as saying you'll win?"
The boy glances back, and among the haze another figure approaches. Taller, with a casual shuffle of feet, an older boy with ominously dark hair and wings frowns and takes his hands out of his pockets. clink clink He is wearing bracelets like Kifa, but his are silver in contrast to the younger boy's copper.
Kifa scoffs and takes a step back from the cliff, growling, "I don't need to win. Those stupid fairies can keep their princesses for all I care." He pauses and looks out on the canyon with a slight frown, "I just don't want to die..."
The other boy places a hand on Kifa's shoulder and smiles sadly, "No one wants to die unnecessarily."
Guided by a single arm around his shoulders, Kifa is lost in thought. Growing up in a world that sets nearly impossible obstacles in front of him since before he was born, this young boy has grown up feeding on the blood of his family, learning the art of war before flying, and raised to be another participant in the Ancient Race. With the increase of pressure to get better, fight harder, fly faster, Kifa's childish care-free nature soon disappeared, replaced by a hard, ruthless exterior.
However, there is always a little bit of who we were hidden away somewhere.
The two boys leave the canyon behind, passing a small tent with a nod to the few men stationed on duty, and then glance across the barren ground at the distorted outlines of their city: Moraga. Though, 'city' is pushing it. A crumbling, torn heap of stone and canopy, there is a look of constant reconstruction. As the boys pass into the city lines, marked by a boundary of red threads that suspended strings of small metal beads, the look of decadence remains consistent—from the torn wooden supports of what used to be to the dust clinging to clothes, tables, and people's faces.
Kifa wipes a bead of sweat and ends up smearing dirt across his forehead.
Suddenly, Kifa feels a sharp panic shoot through him-a small child is reaching for the end of his right wing. He spins, rushes the child with his open hand jutting out, up to clench the small, vulnerable neck. The child's voice chokes off into a breathless period.
The other boy steps forward and grips Kifa's hand with a shout of warning, "Kifa!"
Not paying attention, the boy bares his teeth and shouts, "NEVER touch a Pilot's wings, got that? You an idiot or something?"
"Stop it Kifa!" The other boy tenses his wings and calculates what to do if they meet resistance from this rash behavior. Meanwhile, the people around them have stopped, watching in silence.
The boy tries to wriggle free, gasping for air and clawing at Kifa's unrelenting grip. After a few tense seconds, when the boy is about to fall limp, Kifa lets go. The small body hits the ground in a whirl of dust and coughing spit. The people gasp and back away as Kifa leaves the scene without a word or glance back.
The older boy sighs and follows, and the pace of the city resumes.
"Kifa, that kid's parents were probably killed in the last ambush."
"I don't fucking care."
Seeing that no amount of reason can bring him out of his rage, the two walk on in silence. The level of traffic grows heavy as they bustle into a shabby marketplace, stalls on each side of the path and a consequential increase in the amount of ruffians. Merchants shout their wares: "MEAT! Fresh collard lizard meat!" "Get your hand-crafted arrowheads now, half-price!" "The finest metal, the finest ARMOR!" "No pain, no gain!"
"Geeze!" Shouts Kifa, still in a bad mood, not helped by the jostling mob, "You'd think people would have better things to do the day for the Race."
"They come here to spend what they have in case—
The solemn look in the other boy's eyes completes the rest of his sentence. Kifa turns away and pushes onward in the crowd. He pauses. Sniffs the air. And follows the trail of delicious, greasy odor to a sizzling meatball stand. The two buy a bunch to share, but as they move to leave, the shouting hushes to a mumble, and then to a dead silence. Kifa glances back and forth in confusion, but the other boy pulls him back towards the meatball stand.
A path is cleared and in a few moments an extravagant litter with a dark, flowing closed canopy passes, with sweating winged men hunched underneath, propelling the cart onward towards the city square.
"Hey Lot, what's that?" Kifa asks, a half-chewed meatball sticking out of his mouth.
"The Ephemi Ambassador."
The two boys fall into silence as the crowd closes behind the litter with heightened curiosity. As they push their way forward to get another glance at the black tent, the marketplace opens up into a large dusty field, void except for the edge of surrounding hovels and a view of a giant Colosseum looming in the distance.
An odd scene envelops the city of Moraga. The dark litter makes it way on the backs of winged men, followed by a parade of sodden inhabitants, shuffling along in the dust. Near the front of the parade, Lot and Kifa watch gloomily like everyone else, knowing that the presence of the Ambassador solidifies the encrouching life or death battle.
It has been this way for ages, longer than anyone alive could recall any deviation from the original pact. Living aboveground, on the edge of the giant canyon called The Labrynth, the Arian people traded and cohabitated with their more delicate breathren, the Ephemi. A subterranean dwelling people, the Ephemi rarely show their faces, for the sun would pain them, and their bodies are frail from malnutrition. In contrast to their battle-seasoned counterparts, the Ephemi seem like a sick and dying race.
Or so most of the Arian people think.
"I think they should all rot underground." Kifa growls sharply, glaring at the black canopy and hoping his voice carries.
The boy falls silent but the resentful glare never leaves his face, not even when the parade has reached the Colosseum. Without pause, the litter continues inside, and the momentary shade draws back to reveal the flattened training grounds within.
"Hey, the mayor." Kifa exclaims in surprise.
Lot isn't surprised, no, he knew this would happen. Luckily, his father is still alive, unlike Kifa's parents, and passed along the tale of the Ancient Race. Every generation eligible Arians dare the brutal Labrynth to find the hidden subterranean metrpolis of the Ephemi. Not to be taken lightly, the Labrynth is said to not only hide physical dangers, but also giant prehistoric beasts known as the Goliath. Having fought a few of them, Lot has only a dwindling sense of discontent, whereas he worries about the look of panic in the inexperienced Kifa's eyes, hidden under his rage and over-bearing confidence.
Ultimately, Lot just hopes both of them will survive, like Kifa said.
Standing in the center of the training field, with rows of empty seats slowly and wordlessly being filled, the aged and hardened mayor of Moraga waves the small black train closer. Though there is no official opening ceremony for the Race, there has always been the meeting of the two species, Arian and Ephemi, in the heart of the battle arena. With a loud buzzing murmur, the litter is set on the ground and the mayor disappears inside.
"What does it look like, I wonder." Kifa says, with a scoff, "Probably lifeless like a rotten corpse."
"No, I hear they look quite ethereal, with strands of hair so thin its transparent and soft, pale faces with large, glistening black eyes."
Kifa looks hard at Lot and says, "What the fuck?"
"I heard it from Havik, you know his brother was on Water Duty—
"That dumb ass pansy, he was put on Water Duty because he didn't have the balls to fight like everyone else."
Lot heaves another sigh. Kifa frowns, taken aback his companion's sad and tired gaze, looking out through the masses of feathers and beads to the miniscule tent below. The very air is humming with curiosity, taught with tension, and seething with rage. The cause of every death, spawned from duty and thirst for glory, is hidden behind those impenetrable layers of black silk.
Then, the mayor reappears, taking a moment to shade his eyes and blink away the temporary blindness. He gracefully stretches his strong white wings and his taught legs leave the ground, rising. Floating, then pumping higher, soaring, gliding around the stadium to the awe and excited howls of the audience, with gold bracelets and beads in his pearl-white hair, scars scraped across his bare, flexed shoulder muscles and chest, the mayor circles the arena—once, twice, thrice. With a burst of sand he lights next to the litter and makes a signal to the Arian men to take it back up again.
With a murmur from the crowd, everyone leaves the stadium, some to follow behind the train until it stops at a temporary shelter, forbiding anyone but the Ambassador to enter and leave. However, some, like Kifa and Lot, stay behind and disperse onto their individual tasks.
"Lot, we've been looking for you! Oh, Kifa."
A bulky man approaches, not as tall as Lot but more heavily built, with an angular face and striped gray wings. He carries himself with an air of importance, and his silver bracelets are mixed with red bangles to signify his unique position.
"Havik!" Lot shouts and grips the man in a hearty embrace.
Kifa bows and growls harshly: "Sir!"
"Kifa!" Havik ruffles the boys hair, which intensifies the young, bitter frown, "No need to be formal, your cousin is a good friend, and your parents—
"Nevertheless, you are my instructor."
Havik pauses and looks at Lot with a pained smile. The other just shakes his head and holds his hands up in defeat. With a sudden change of expression, Havik pulls Lot aside and whispers into his ear. The young man's dark eyes glint with resolve and he excuses himself.
Kifa goes to follow, forcing his shaken voice: "Lot—
"It's a Flock summons, I must go. I will see you tonight at the Festival." If all goes well, Lot thinks to himself.
"Leave him be." Havik puts an arm across the boy's shoulders and leads him out of the Colosseum, "He is doing his duty, as we all should."
He's going to fight a Goliath, I know it. What if—No! Lot would never be that weak, he will be back and we will dance together at the Festival.
Kifa watches Lot's figure disappear into the desert haze, not knowing for certain if his only surviving relative will fall victim to the wandering giant's bloodlust, like so many others. In the fierce rage of a child, he judges the Ephemi responsible for the living hell his people have to go through every day. If it weren't for them, then this deadly Race, the relentless training, and the groveling orphans would never exist.