Chapter Three: The Angel
Ciarra once read that time was like water; it could move like a river or trickle by like a stream. Her time since her one and only tie in the arena was not so poetic; it moved more like sludge in a sewer, painfully slow and foul. Even now, Ciarra couldn't recall how it was she survived where muscle man died. Maybe she was made of stronger stuff (yeah right!), or maybe she had wounded him worse than she originally thought (much more likely). Either way, he had escaped the hellhole, and Ciarra was left to suffer on. That's how Ciarra thought about it, that's how she had to think about it, or she would have gone mad long before from the guilt of all of the people she had killed. They were in a better place. They had to be.
It must have been quite some time since her first fight because in the intervening time she had been in many, many more; and each time she won. She had no choice. It wasn't her fault! It was either die and let Errol win (not an option), kill the opponent quick, or leave them to be tortured to death. There was no way Ciarra was going to die before she wrecked revenge upon that bastard Errol. If she were to die, she would make sure she took that monster with her. A random thought popped into her head and Ciarra grinned. It takes a monster to kill a monster, and despite her best efforts; a monster is what she was slowly becoming.
Ciarra grinned wryly as she lounged in her cell, making bright sparks jump between her fingers. Maybe she was already a monster. Frowning, she clenched her hand into a fist, feeling the sticky blood of her last opponent on her hand. The last opponent wasn't much of a challenge, he had been young and scared stiff with fright. Ciarra shuddered slightly as she recalled the thoughts that went through her head as she stalked toward her prey. How she had the sudden urge to make him suffer as she had suffered; to punish the poor, and probably innocent, boy for the wrongs that had been wrought on her; to punch a hole in his lungs and watch as he slowly drowned in his own blood. She had come close, too close, to becoming the monster Errol and the Barron wanted her to be; before the young elf gave a pitiful cry of terror that woke Ciarra from her bloodlust long enough for her to rip out the elf's throat, end his life as quickly and painlessly as possible, and end the match. The match ended, but it still bothered Ciarra, how close she had come to stepping over that line she had set for herself. No matter what happened, she would never enjoy another's pain. She would never become Errol.
Speaking of Errol, Ciarra was abruptly shaken from her thoughts as the sound of synchronized marching met her sensitive ears. Her head shot up and her eyes scanned her surroundings, skipping over the purple-tainted inner eco of the prisoners, and focusing on the cluster of green eco-ridden forms heading toward her cell door. That was one power that had manifested itself, the ability to See the colors of different types of eco. Green was the life-eco in all life, which meant the guards, while the prisoners' inner eco were tainted with the purple of dark eco.
Ciarra jumped to her feet and backed into a corner, her anger throwing Errol's features into relief as he strolled in, a broad grin on his face. Practically snarling as Errol came closer, Ciarra tried frantically to reign in her rage. She had already used a large portion of her inner eco in the last fight; and if Errol had come to take her to another, she had to conserve the eco she had left or she wouldn't be able to See, much less fight.
Errol stopped a few feet in front of Ciarra, still grinning, and Ciarra got a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. This couldn't be good. Errol looked like Christmas had come early.
"Hello my little freak, well," he eyed Ciarra up and down, "not so little anymore."
A thrill of fear and disgust shot through Ciarra as she glared at Errol's insinuation. In the past, Ciarra had wondered why she had not suffered the same fate as the other women of the prison, and concluded that for some reason, Errol had been forbidden to touch her. That was the only explanation she could reason out, because Errol's moral compass was so skewed, she was positive he wouldn't have had any qualms with violating a kid. It seemed that now whatever was holding Errol back was gone as he came closer to Ciarra, reaching out with his left hand and stroking her cheek in a parody of affection. Ciarra shuddered in revulsion as her eyes snapped to the blue eco-powered taser in his right hand. One aggressive move from her and she'd wake up in Errol's torture room.
He must have seen the look on Ciarra's face because he grinned evilly before leaning in to whisper in her ear, "You're running the obstacle course today, little freak. I have money on you, so if you lose, you'll regret it." He pulled back to look in Ciarra's eyes, and must have seen the loathing there because he laughed harshly and snapped his fingers to signal the guards to drag Ciarra after him as he pulled away. Ciarra let them grab her arms, but opted to walk as she pondered these new developments. She wasn't too concerned about losing. She was fast, extremely fast, and she'd never lost a race. But one thing was for certain; if by some miracle, the other prisoner beat her, she'd rather die than let Errol violate her. Screams jerked Ciarra from her inner pledge as she and her escort stepped into the large room that housed the obstacle course.
The obstacle course was used to test the "experiments" to see how the eco injections affected their speed, strength, and reasoning. At least that was what it was supposed to be for. Ciarra thought it was just there for the guards' entertainment. Usually prisoners went through the obstacle course at least once before going to the arena. While the arena was where failed experiments were sent to die; the obstacle course was where successful experiments were "incented" to keep on living. Ciarra figured that her losing her sight labeled her as a failed experiment before she could make it to the obstacle course, but afterward the scientists became interested in her; and she was sometimes sent to "show off." She never lost. She made sure of it.
Another scream made Ciarra involuntarily widen the area of her Sight, and she immediately recoiled in disgust as she watched the whip, held in the grasp of a cackling guard, cut into the skinless back of the loser of the last race. Slightly tainted blood pooled around him, and saliva started accumulating in Ciarra's mouth as the sharp metallic-smelling blood wafted over to her. She tried to turn away in the steel-like grip her guards had on her arms, contradicting feelings of sadness, anger, and bloodlust ripping through her until the man finally passed out from pain; and the guards deposited Ciarra in the starting box. She stumbled and almost fell; two strong arms catching and steadying her.
She looked up in surprise and was almost blinded, again, by the intense light before her, not only light, but colors! Colors that Ciarra had not seen since her Sight had turned green and purple. Bright, sunny, yellow hair turned to a deep green as it neared his scalp, but it was the eyes that made Ciarra's knees buckle, slipping out of his grasp with silent tears streaming down her face. They were the color of the sky she had fantasized about, glowing just as the rest of him was, lighting up the entire room on his own. Even his clothes were colored! It was as if a precursor had come to free her from her hell; but no, after kneeling in awe of the light and colors she hadn't seen in so long, Ciarra began to look at the man himself and realized he was just a teen, probably her age, and new, brand new. He had stepped back, confusion, fear, and worry shinning in his blue eyes as they occasionally flickered around the metal cube. He had no taint to his inner-eco at all. Breathing in, Ciarra could even taste a faint trace of fresh air on him! Looking at this boy-of-light as he watched her warily, but did not take advantage of her moment of weakness, Ciarra knew he had not killed yet, probably hadn't even been to a "session" yet. He was pure, untainted.
Gaining mastery over herself, Ciarra wiped the tears from her face and resolved to herself that she would make sure her angel's light remained pure for just one day longer. She would lose the race. Ciarra didn't know how long she had kneeled there, gawking, but she needed to speak to him before the doors opened, before they had to return to the cruel care of the guards.
Pushing back the dread that pooled into her stomach as she remembered Errol's warning, Ciarra scrambled to her feet; recapturing the attention of the angel who had wandered to the wall, inspecting it for faults he may be able to use to break it down. Approaching him hesitantly, Ciarra came as close as she could before he tensed up, and she said in a whisper, "It's no use. The walls and door are solid metal." The hoarseness of her own voice surprised Ciarra for a moment, but then she couldn't recall the last time she had used her voice other than screaming.
He didn't reply, just blinked at her and she continued, pressed for time, "You're new so you probably don't know what's happening, so I'm going to tell you. This is a race. When the doors open, get through the obstacle course as fast as you can. Got it?" He nodded his head, his eyebrows crinkled in confusion. Ciarra sighed and tried to step closer, but he tensed again and she stayed put. "No matter what happens," she said, quietly, "don't stop running." The doors began to grind open and Ciarra used the remaining seconds to imprint the image of this angel-of-light into her mind. She probably wouldn't see him again.
When the doors finally ground open, Ciarra, seeing that the angel was too confused to start moving on his own, ran at him, shouting, "Go, go, go!" Startled, he turned and ran as fast as he could; and damn, that boy could run! He had the speed of a six-month-old prisoner contaminated by dark eco. Given a few weeks he definitely would have been a challenge, but given the amount of eco enhancing Ciarra's strength and speed, she was easily able to keep pace with the angel as they tackled the obstacles, side by side. Ciarra was impressed. The angel conquered each challenge with an uncanny ease. She caught a surprised look on his face and could tell he was just as impressed by her. Ciarra gave him a small smile in encouragement, the first smile she'd given anyone in a long time, and his answering smile took her breath away. She almost stumbled as his eyes lit up and the glow that seemed to permeate his entire being intensified. He really looked like an angel, and any doubts Ciarra may have had about throwing the race were immediately dispelled. In those moments she knew she would do anything for this angel.
The final stretch came up, and Ciarra stuck close to the angel until the very last second, imprinting his glowing form into her mind one last time, then with three feet left, she stopped abruptly, letting the angel cross the finish line.
Dead silence rang through the room as the spectators were stunned by the unexpected move. The angel, seeing that Ciarra was no longer beside him, turned to her, confusion once again showing on his features; but Ciarra was scanning the crowd until her eyes finally found Errol's dumbstruck ones. Figuring she was in for pain anyway, she gave Errol a triumphant grin, saying loudly into the silence, "He wins." Her voice was the trigger that set the crowd off, cries and curses were shouted from every mouth, but were not loud enough to mask Errol's cry of outrage. The next instant Ciarra was surrounded by tasers ushering her to the blood-covered wheel. Knowing that worse punishment awaited her if she resisted, Ciarra calmly walked over to the wheel and laid down on her stomach, not even registering the smell of blood as she fought, desperately to hide the apprehension coursing through her. Glancing up, Ciarra saw Errol pushing through the crowd with rage in his eyes; further searching, Ciarra finally caught the eyes of the angel. He was being forced out of the room by a guard, but was struggling, trying to remain in sight of Ciarra as comprehension, horror, and no small amount of guilt began to show on his face. Ciarra gave him a small smile, trying to convey that she didn't place any blame on him, but the guilt only gained more prominence on his face before the guards finally ganged up, and wrestled him away. Ciarra was glad. She didn't want him to see her punishment.
Ciarra watched as the angel's light was obscured by the green and purple lights of the guards and prisoners, and couldn't help but wonder, as the first lash cut into her back, whether her sacrifice had been worth it. Picturing the angel's face, lit up in a smile, she supposed it was.