“E-e-explain it to me again” Radik stammered as goblins skittered about, attaching pads of armor to his legs. The armor was cracked and dented in some places and spattered in blood in others, but it still felt weighty and solid. “It’s very simple” A Rakdos woman named Vazra was talking to him. She was covered in a gratuitous number of tattoos and piercings and wore gaudy brightly colored clothing covered in jewelry. “You have accrued a tremendous debt at some of our gambling houses. You can’t pay that debt. Rather than coming to your home and making an example of you; gutting you like a fish and then stealing everything that isn’t nailed down,” A pause “and then everything that isn’t nailed down, we’ve decided to be generous. You are going to work off your debt; you just need to put on a little show today. If you perform well, your debts with us will gone.” She made a popping noise with her mouth and flailed her hands “Clean slate.” She smiled a toothy smile at him. She was a reasonably attractive woman with surprisingly straight teeth for a Rakdos, but a good deal many of them were fakes made of silver or gold. It made for a rather unsettling image that gave him the feeling a bear trap was smiling at him.
Radik swallowed hard. “W-what kind of w-work?” “Oh don’t worry, you won’t need to be trained or anything. It’s a sparring match, you go into the ring with another fighter, throw a few punches, take a few punches, try not to die. Simple stuff.” She rattled off the list, checking them off on her fingers. “What was that last par-“ “Don’t worry about it! It’s all part of the show, you’ll be fine!” Another bear trap smile. A goblin shoved a visor down over his eyes. It was a tight fit, and it smelled heavily of sweat and blood. The armor was ill-fitted on Radik, he appeared to be a good deal scrawnier than the last poor sap who wore this thing. He looked around the locker room he was in, it looked abandoned and unused. For quite some time if the layers of dust and rust were any indication. Just him, the pack of chittering goblins and the tattooed bear trap talking to him. “Any questions?” “Do I have t-“ The smile became a scowl “Do you really want to do the alternative? With the gutting and the looting and the un-nailing of your furniture?” Words failed him, all he could manage was a weak shake of his head. Bear trap smile “Atta boy!” a firm slap on the back. Talking to Vazra was a confusing mix of pleasure and bed-wetting terror; a pretty coat of paint on a dilapidated building. No wonder she fit in with these people. “Well, let’s get to it then. Those debts won’t pay for themselves!” A goblin pushed him and they started parading out of the locker room.
He was led into a dank hallway, it was in slightly better condition than the locker room. Slightly. There were cracks in the concrete, drips coming from pipes in the ceiling, and the magically fueled lanterns running down the hall looked as though they might go out at any second. There were faded and torn posters of previous shows on the walls, some arrows and signs giving directions to different rooms, and a sign advertising how many days it had been since the last work related accident. The previous number had been written over with a large “000” written in what looked like blood. Gods, he hoped it wasn’t blood. Anything but blood. Vazra walked with direction and purpose and Radik continued to be pushed and pulled by the goblins. They murmured maddening little lines at him ‘You gonna die! You gonna die!’ ‘How long you think he last?’ ‘When you go squish, can me have your clothes?’ ‘Me bet you fiddy shinies he make it!’ Horrid little creatures.
As they walked, the hallways got slightly less ruined. Slightly. A low rumbling was detectable off in the distance and slowly got louder. Cheers and jeers and hoots and hollers. The stamping of feet and the roar of the crowd. There was a light at the end of the hallway that got brighter and brighter. Radik was pushed blinking blindly into the sun. As his sight returned to him, he was inside a massive arena. Rows upon rows of seats filled with the wondrous mix of peoples that called Ravnica home. As he was lead to the ring, the cheering intensified and a chorus began in the crowd. “Fresh meat! Fresh meat! Fresh meat!” Radik turned to Vazra “F-fresh meat?” “Oh don’t worry about that! It’s just an expression like ‘break a leg’ or ‘knock em dead’!” Radik was not reassured.
Several goblins were in the ring with washrags, scrubbing away at a pool of blood. As Radik gawked, wondering how someone could have so much blood inside of them, a booming voice that seemed to come from everywhere began announcing. “For our next match, we have something special for you! A redemption fight!” Excited murmurs rose from the audience as the voice continued and a shotline suddenly illuminated Radik, in all his terror “Radik here accumulated some debts to the Cult. How much debt? All of it! More than he could ever hope to pay off if he outlived Rakdos himself! But he’s a ballsy sort of fella, so he volunteered to pay off that debt in the manliest way possible. A fight to the death to defend his honor and wipe his slate clean!” “Wait, what did he sa-“ Then Radik was pushed into the ring. It was an elevated, six-sided platform with elastic ropes.
“The conditions of the fight are simple, Radik has to last thirty seconds in the ring. It’s as simple as that, folks! After thirty seconds, whether or not he’s still alive, Radik will be a free man!” “W-w-what!?” Radik had gotten in way over his head. He should have just let them break his legs and be done with it, at least that way it wouldn’t be a spectacle. If he was going to be lynched, he didn’t want the whole world to know about it, how he was a lousy gambler that was going to die in a gutter. “With that, let’s see who Radik will be going up against!” The lights dimmed except for several spotlights, which all centered on the largest hallway leading from the underground. “Born from the bloodiest pit in the deepest, darkest parts of Rix Maddi; he was raised on a steady diet of gore and indebted gamblers” the audience cheered “Nasil the Bonebreaker!”
The doors to the hallway began to creak open, but before they could finish they were unceremoniously shattered. Out stepped an impressive specimen of ogre, roaring triumphantly. He must have stood ten feet tall, at least; equipped with armor much like Radik’s, except less shoddy looking. The audience exploded, he was evidentially a very popular attraction. He started strutting towards the stage making poses as he went. He jumped over the ropes in a single bound and then ring shook with the impact of his landing. Radik fell onto his back and the audience laughed at his plight.
As Radik pulled himself to his feet he noticed bars being lowered around the ring. “That’s just g-great, I’m going to die in a c-c-cage” He looked up; Nasil’s hulking frame loomed over him, silhouetted by the blinding spotlights. “All right, let’s put 30 seconds on the clock.” Several large screens attached to the ceiling lit up, displaying a large glowing number 30 upon them. “And begin!” DING! “Okay, so here’s the th-“ Like a bolt of lightning Nasil kneed Radik in the gut, sending him flying into the side the cage. He fell, tumbling off of the ropes, onto the stage floor. He lost all sensation for a moment. “What just happened” he thought to himself before the searing pain in his abdomen made him remember. He curled into the fedal position and began to vomit. He felt Nasil’s footsteps reverberate through the floor. A weight crushed down on his back like a cinderblock and he was lying prone, gasping for air. He was kicked in the side, rolled several times, then lay face up looking towards the ceiling. Through his pain, he glanced at one of the timers “27… 26…” He was doomed.
He began to roll over when Nasil stomped on his left arm. Radik screamed in pain and began instinctively clawing at Nasil’s massive foot. Nasil grabbed Radik’s free arm, lifted his foot and threw him into the ceiling of the cage. The timer glared at him “23… 22…” He grabbed onto one of the ceiling bars, hoping to pull himself out of reach until the time ran out. “PUNCHING BAG!” Nasil roared. He crouched, leaped, and punched Radik straight into the chest. He was propelled violently into the floor and bounced off of it. He could distinctly taste blood in his mouth. “17…” He managed to pull himself to his feet just in time to miss getting kicked in the teeth.
He hadn’t noticed the ringing in his ears until it faded and he heard the roar of the crowd and the taunts of the announcer “How about that folks, he managed to dodge one!” “13…” He started to run. He didn’t have to win, he just had to survive. He didn’t last long, any sort of exertion produces a stabbing pain in his chest. Before he could figure out what was wrong, he felt a hand wrap around his leg. He was yanked backward and Nasil lifted him over his head and slammed him into the floor. Radik was sure his leg was broken. “9…” He looked over his shoulder to see what shape his leg had taken and caught a faceful of knuckles. He felt the blood trickle out of his nose into his mouth. Nasil took his head and slammed it into the mat leaving a bloody faceprint. Radik was flipped onto his back and furiously backhanded. Everything seemed to slow down; his head felt numb. He spit out several teeth but he couldn’t feel that they were missing.
It was a very unusual sensation. Everything moved like it was underwater. He looked up at his aggressor. He could tell that he was being punched in the face, but he didn’t feel it. He could see the blood splattered on his knuckles, but he didn’t know he was bleeding. He glanced up at the clock “7…” He kept staring at it, and after an eternity it flashed to “6…” So this was it huh? This is how he would die. His mother tried to warn him about the Rakdos, how they couldn’t be trusted. She told him that even their most innocent looking establishments were still being funded by a lunatic murder cult. But he didn’t listen, and now he was being executed on a stage for the whole world to see. “4…”
He felt like crying. He wouldn’t notice if he was at this point. His point of view was shifted; he was looking Nasil in the face. From the look of it Nasil was holding his head up. He couldn’t feel it though. Nasil’s spare hand was winding back. This was going to be the last blow. The audience was losing their minds but as far as Radik was concerned they weren’t even here. He closed his eyes and waited for the end. Just him and his thoughts, soon it would be all over. He would be at peace, no more debt, no more pain, why was this taking so long.
He opened his eyes and he was being held up by Nasil, arms raised. Confetti was showering from above and the cage was retracting into the ceiling. Vazra pulled herself into the ring and began speaking to Radik, but he still couldn’t hear what she was saying. She pointed up and Radik traced her finger to a giant blinking “0” on one of the screens. With his fight-addled brain it took him some time to register that he had ‘won’. He had gone into debt with the Rakdos and lived to tell the tale. And all it took was a broken leg, a broken arm, a concussion, 11 missing teeth, 7 broken ribs, a punctured spleen, a shattered pelvis and a hospital bill a mile long.