It was noisy, loud. Excited yells filled the air. Lightning flashed in the night skies in white forks that illuminated the darkness. Rain fell down in buckets, pounding like sledgehammers against the glass walls of the Colosseum. As she heard the rumble of thunder echo throughout the air Setsuna opened her eyes wearily and gazed across at the two fighters in one of the metal cages in front of her on the platform. One was a robot, the other well…he would have to find a way to live. It was a serious fight so the cage door was closed. There was no way out until someone hit the floor first. That was the way things were here, in the Palace. Setsuna smiled to herself. Of course it was called a palace-on the outside maybe. The Colosseum was connected by one walkway to the main buildings where everyone who worked here slept, ate and worked together. The main buildings were part of the Palace. It was where Setsuna lived along with over two dozen other people that included show-girls, circus performers, cooks and helpers that were employed on a casual basis. And most of them were either magical creatures or had some measure of magical powers. Standing on the opposite side of the platform in the audience across from her were Al and Nekane. They were watching another fight adjacent to the one Setsuna was looking at.
Al was dressed in his usual white cloak and hood, his hair tied back. He looked jovial as usual. Nekane was carrying an umbrella and had her palm out, a fireball hovering above it to keep warm. It was a skill that was specific to gypsies-to be able to create fire from life-force itself. Catching Setsuna looking at them Nekane waved at her. Setsuna smiled slightly, standing up as the fighter in the cage in front of her rolled to the side to avoid being crushed by the robot. They were all fighting the same robots-humanoid in appearance but controlled and imbued with magic, given fighting skills by Nekane and Al. That was how they knew every style of fighting in existence down to the last jab or strike. It was because Al and Nekane had transferred knowledge from books and scrolls into their hard-drives. That was another speciality of gypsies to feed information from anywhere into a person or animal-well, ones that were born a gypsy. Ones that had innate power.
Crunch. Setsuna didn't bother to look. She'd seen it all before. Not many people survived the Colosseum. Not many at all. They underestimated the power and skills of the robots. Those that were foolish enough to come knew what was at stake-a chance to win $10, 000 cold hard cash. Setsuna should know. She had been here for a very long time. They held these battles once every year. The audience usually consisted of a small group of people from the Palace, workers and performers that were employed on a casual basis-the ones who lived in the Palace were usually elsewhere, having seen the fights before. Most came because the matches were held in the late afternoon and they had nothing else to do during that time. Al and Nekane were the owners, both with equal share of the profits. Al was the one who was powering the robots using sheer, raw magic. He was a gypsy. Setsuna had known Al for a very long time now but he'd never told her whether he was a born a gypsy or not. Those kinds of gypsies were naturally gifted with innate magical ability and raw power. They were stronger than people who learnt the skills. Nekane was a born gypsy.
A worker near Setsuna cheered as the robot diverted a punch and threw the fighter down on the ground. Setsuna stood up, feeling her insides squirm. She didn't like seeing these things. She squeezed past the audience, going to the stair-way in between the seats and made her way down to the inter-connecting walkway at the bottom ringing the platform for the cage matches that led out the Colosseum. As she reached the bottom she heard a sizzle of electricity. The warrior screamed. Setsuna glanced upwards. The warrior was down, sprawled out on the floor. Above them the robot's face on the scoreboard lit up. The lock clicked and the cage door to the right sprung open. The robot's closed fist screeched to halt an inch away from the warrior's face. Like all the other robots it was programmed to stop the second it or its opponent hit the floor. One by one, the other fighters fell too. Beeping noises filled the air as the doors sprung open. Al's form shimmered like static then another version of him appeared hovering in the air in the middle of the arena. The illusion procured a handheld microphone from underneath his cloak and raised it to his mouth.
"Ladies and gentlemen, will you please thank our brave fighters who took to the stage tonight," He announced, his voice filling up the area. "We'll see you again next year and hopefully, someone will walk away with $10,000!"
The fighters hopped down from the cage, helpers in velvet robes coming out from the audience into the inside to support the ones who needed help getting out because they were too injured from the fight. The workers that made up the audience began to file out, hustling one another and laughing. As they made their way to the exits on the left and right on either side of the Colosseum Setsuna lingered near the front seats. She had to do a routine check-up on the robots to make sure none of them had been dealt any blows to their systems that could mess with their programming and cause themto malfunction. In a few minutes the arena was empty save for Al, Nekane and Setsuna.
"Setsuna," A voice, cultured and decidedly feminine, said from behind her.
Setsuna turned. It was Ayaka, the ring-leader for the circus shows they held. She was holding an umbrella and dressed in a long yellow night-gown embroidered with white floral hair was tied up at the back with a clasp, long platinum blonde hair spilling down her back. She was looking over a sheet of paper in her free hand with a disturbed expression on her face.
"What is it Ayaka?" Setsuna asked.
Looking up from the sheet of paper she said, "I was looking over the costume designs and it says here that I have to wear nothing but a coconut bra and a hulu skirt?"
Setsuna paused, having walked halfway up the steps into one of the robot's cages. A mental image had popped into her head.
"Why do I have to wear something so revealing when it's so cold?" Ayaka said indignantly. "I thought the outfit I had was fine. It's been fine for the last eight years why change it now?"
Trying very hard to get images of a semi-naked Ayaka out of her mind Setsuna said climbing into the cage, "Why don't you go talk to Haruna? She's the one that's in charge of your costume."
"I did," Ayaka said irritably. "She told me we'd attract more people."
Setsuna knelt down tapping the robot's chest and sent magic from her own ki energy into it from her hand. The energy streamed out in a stream of glowing white energy, seeping into the chest and unlocking it from the inside. The square compartment sprang open, revealing a mass of circuitry with wires and fibre optics. Green light sped through the wires, igniting the insides like the city lights. The light signified the magic Al and Nekane had given to the robots to keep them moving. They were racing like little blips inside a mass of transparent fibre wires in set patterns that went from left to right and crisscrossed one another. The lights were strong, steady and moved at a rapid pace which meant there was nothing wrong.
"…Setsuna? Are you listening to me?"
Setsuna closed the compartment, the lines of the edges dissolving into its skin and stood up, looking at Ayaka, "Why don't you try it for a couple of shows? If you're still unhappy then I'll talk to Haruna about it."
Hopping down from the steps she headed for the next cage-there were four cages altogether. Setsuna looked at Ayaka briefly. Ayaka was in a word, beautiful with pleasant, feminine features, a tall, well-endowed, willowy frame, smooth, luxurious hair and expressive light blue eyes. She always held herself in composed, calm manner with grace and dignity. She resembled and acted like an aristocrat or one of those in the elite society that lived in town-houses or a noble or princess that lived in one of the real palaces that housed the country's royalty. Which was why Setsuna often thought she fitted better with the upper class of society, the elite, not here. And when Setsuna thought about Ayaka in that outfit…
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Ayaka asked suspiciously.
Catching herself Setsuna coughed and mumbled, "No reason. Just go talk to Haruna and if that doesn't work then I'll talk to her."
Ayaka didn't look happy but Setsuna couldn't do anything about it. She climbed up the steps of the second cage, doing the same thing to the robot. It was modelled after a Taekwondo fighter who was part dog demon who they had seen last year so it was slim and agile with long legs, lean so that it could move fast and swiftly. It had a shirt, a jacket, fingerless gloves and pants that formed part of its other two were bulkier than this one and the one opposite the cage was the tallest. Its name was Inugami. It was Al's personal favourite, having been built and created and given magic to move and fight by him. The rest were conjured by their resident conjurer, a green-haired bard called Haruna who had joined the palace over five years ago as a young girl. She was one of the ones that had anyway.
"I hope we don't have a blackout this thunderstorm's the worst we've had," Ayaka muttered.
Silently Setsuna agreed. It was the most unusual one she'd ever experienced having gone on ever since the fights had started which was five hours ago. As she checked she saw something through the glass of the dome. Someone was running towards the dome. As Setsuna looked closer she saw it was a girl in a tattered white dress, drenched in rainwater. She slipped, caught herself and kept on running her face as white as a sheet. As she looked behind her Setsuna heard lightning split the skies like a whip. The room was illuminated in white for a short moment. The tripped, fell.
Setsuna stopped what she was doing calling, "Nekane there's a girl outside! Can you-"
She didn't get to finish her sentence as the girl burst through the doors, staggering inside. She kept on throwing frantic looks over her shoulder. As Setsuna began to move towards her something crashed into the glass above them, showering a lethal rain of jagged shards of glass over them. Setsuna pulled Ayaka down underneath her, sweeping her wings over them in an arch. She heard a sizzle of fire scissor through the air. Setsuna glanced upwards. There was a net of fire above them. Nekane was standing in the stands, her palm outstretched and a string of blazing fire extended from it that stretched across the air and started the net. There was a giant hole in the roof of the dome where glass was still falling but they were all melting as soon as they hit the fire. The girl was backing away from the gaping crack that had formed in front of her.
"What on earth is going-" Ayaka started to say when a white lightning bolt speared through the air through the hole, punching the ground near her feet.
The ground exploded, sending pieces of rock flying everywhere. A charred smell filled the air. When Setsuna turned her head back to look smoke was rising from a mini crater, a ring of scorched earth around it. The girl had darted away weaving around the cages. Setsuna was surprised she didn't cut her feet on the glass that was littering the floor. Setsuna snapped her gaze upwards as she heard more glass breaking above her. Tongues of lightning were whipping into the arena, lashing out upturning the ground and smashing holes into the seats. One of the lightning bolts slammed into one of the robots which exploded, mechanical innards spraying everywhere through the gaps in the bars. The girl had frozen, terrified. Setsuna quickly drew gypsy runes in the air around Ayaka, glowing blue letters that would protect her from getting hurt by any flying objects. They spun around, forming a circle around Ayaka's waist that hung there, suspended in midair.
"Stay here," Setsuna told Ayaka.
Bam. The lightning was getting worse now. More of it was coming through, blowing apart the cages and striking the air. Setsuna ducked to avoid getting decapitated by flying shrapnel and broken bars-the ones that didn't end up getting torched on the fire. Al was drawing rune after rune into the air, his movement so fast that it looked like he wasn't even doing anything at first glance. Then one noticed the mass of blue glowing symbols, letters in another language that were hanging in the air at the roof of the dome. They were gypsy runes, things that looked like random shapes or lines or inverted letters. As soon as he finished drawing each rune they flew upwards, joining the rest.
"Al, hurry up!" Setsuna yelled.
Al knew more runes than she did and drew them at a speed that Setsuna could only describe as inhuman but the lightning was coming through faster and faster. Not even he could keep up. The girl shrieked as it struck close to her feet, stumbling over a mechanical arm and fell through the open door into the cage. She'd fallen into Inugami's cage. She hit the robot, looked up at and leapt to her feet in fear her hand brushing against the buzzer at the door. There was a noise and it slammed shut. And the skies gave an ungodly rumble of thunder that sounded like a roar. Tingles shot down Setsuna's spine. She rushed forwards, vaulting into the cage and running to her. The thunder got louder, so loud Setsuna surprised her ear-drums didn't explode.
"Setsuna get out of the way!"
Al was yelling. He never yelled not unless he was being serious. White lightning suddenly crashed into the ground around them, drowning out all noise. Setsuna could run but then the girl would probably be fried and she'd be paralysed or something. She'd never tried to running directly in a minefield of lightning before. So that meant staying where she was a sitting duck.
"Setsuna!" Nekane cried out, "Above you!"
Setsuna glanced upwards. A torrent of crackling, sizzling white lightning was hurtling towards them hissing and spitting. Inugami threw himself in front of them at the last minute. Setsuna swept her wings over the girl in a protective shield, drawing the same runes she'd done for Ayaka for both of them. She finished them just in time because she heard Inugami explode behind her just as the runes banded around them both in a circle locking in place in the air. Setsuna pulled the girl tighter to her, squeezing her eyes shut and praying that her runes were strong enough so she wouldn't get her head sliced off by flying pieces of sharp metal that she saw and felt whipping past her. She guessed it was because she saw ripples in the air in front of her which meant that the metal that impacted the barrier that the runes erected was being stopped as soon as they touched it. Sure enough she heard them falling to the ground. When everything was silent again she slowly, very slowly, moved back and opened her eyes. It looked like someone had set a bomb off in the arena. Half the stands were destroyed, the robots were in pieces around them and shattered glass littered the ground which was lacerated and burnt black. Chunks of earth scattered the area.
"Are you alright?" Setsuna asked the girl gently.
"Y-Yes," She stammered nodding. She swallowed looking around, "W-Where am I?"
"The palace," Setsuna said. "You're safe now."
"Setsuna!" Nekane stumbled into the cage followed by Al. "Are you alright?"
"I'm ok," Setsuna said.
"T-Thanks for saving me," She smiled weakly up at her. "My name's…my…" She stopped, sneezing again.
Setsuna slipped off her coat and draped it over her shoulders. Sniffing she looked at Setsuna again and said gratefully, "Thank you."
Tingles shot up Setsuna's spine. Everything faded. She felt like she'd been hit with a hammer-a very big, giant-sized hammer. And inside her head a voice, husky and smooth, whispered promises of lavender kisses, chocolate roses and endless nights spent underneath satin sheets and duvets sprinkled with the twilight stars of the fathomless night skies. In front of Setsuna in between them a trail of delicate pink rose petals fluttered past. Setsuna blinked, shaking her head and rubbed her eyes, dazed.
"Are you ok?" The girl asked, watching her with concerned eyes.
"Y-Yeah," Setsuna said.
She glanced to the side and stared. There were no petals. Setsuna looked back at the girl in confusion.
"Are you sure you're ok?" She said innocently.
"Why don't you tell us who you are?" Al said. He stood near the entrance, surveying the girl with calm curious eyes.
As Nekane crossed over to Setsuna who was stumbling to her feet the girl got up clinging tightly to Setsuna's rain-coat. Her hair was in her eyes, rain streaming down her face in heavy rivers.
Her lips turned upwards into a small smile and she said, "My name is Konoka."
A.N: Enjoy :).