Shadow of Wrath Preview:
While other kids his age suffered from their fair shares of worries — failure, bullies, being ridiculed — the boy living on the streets worried about dying alone with an empty stomach in a filthy alleyway; rotting, unnoticed and uncared for.
Today was one of those days he believed he was going to die.
The boy survived as a vagrant throughout the years, a wandering bastard to the streets, drifting from one place to the next, and during this time he learned that starvation had a way of eroding his flesh and bones and altering the chemical balance of his mind. Perhaps the worst part about being hungry was that it took a visible toll on the boy, stealing away what little image of strength he had. It made the boy look — and feel — desperate and weak, and because the boy had no one in his life to look out for him, the appearance of weakness made him an easy target; it made him prey.
The strange men in suits were quick to ambush him. They had a ravenous look in their eyes that the boy immediately found unsettling. They were like wolves in human skin and the boy had lived long enough on the streets to know when he was being hunted.
“What’s your name?” one of the men asked sweetly. The boy took a step back into the alleyway, where he had slept earlier in the day. He never trusted a man whose smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“Come on, you must be hungry,” the smiling man said as he pressed forward while the other four strangers trailed behind him; a pack on the heels of their leader. “I’m here to help you son. What’s your name?”
“I don’t have one,” the boy replied. It was the truth.
He lived with nothing, not even a name.
They backed him further into the alleyway, cornering him against the brick wall layered with graffiti.
“There’s no need to run. In fact, there’s nowhere to run,” the smiling man said. “Why don’t you come with us and we’ll take you somewhere safe? You can have a hot meal and a nice bed. I promise. I always keep my promises.”
The nameless boy scoured the alleyway for any potential weapons: a rock, a couple of broken beer bottles, and some garbage cans. They would do.
“Get him into the van,” the smiling man ordered.
They converged on him like vultures on carrion, but the boy fought back savagely. There was only one thing on his mind.
The boy drove a rock against one man’s cheekbone, crushing it. With a broken beer bottle, he sheared off the ear of another of his attackers, yet they were relentless. His fighting spirit only served to provoke the strangers into an adrenaline-fuelled rage. The boy screamed for help while fighting off the four men while the smiling man disappeared from sight.
“Help me, anybody please!” he shouted. All the pedestrians that walked by the alleyway ignored him, like they always did.
Baroque city. It was that kind of place he lived in; that is, if you could call his existence living.
The boy armed himself with a trash can and was about to use it when the smiling man reappeared with a paper bag in his hands, the bottom translucent from grease. He pulled out a hamburger smothered in melted cheese and sauce. The smell of meat was intoxicating and the nameless boy felt the hollow rumble in his stomach that ached for some food.
The last meal he had was a few days ago; a half-eaten sandwich that someone had tossed on the ground just outside the alleyway. Since then the boy had found nothing else to eat and the smell of grease and cooked meat was enough to subdue him.
“Take it,” the smiling man said. “If you come with us, there will be a lot more food waiting for you.”
He was so tired and on the brink of starvation. With the fight in him extinguished, he dropped the trash can and desperately grabbed the burger out of the smiling man’s hands and devoured it like a starved animal.
“Kid freakin’ took off my ear,” one of the men said as he pressed his hand against it to stop the bleeding. “I’m going to kill the little prick myself.”
The smiling man shook his head. “Touch him and I’ll open you up from your navel to your neck. That goes for all of you. This kid is a diamond for us. Ryker shells out extra money for street kids.”
They ushered the boy into the silver van and he entered without a struggle. He no longer cared. The taste of grease from the meat and the sudden intake of high calories had the effects of a drug. Nothing else mattered except for chewing.
They eventually brought him back to a dingy building and the smiling man fed him again—this time boiled pasta and tomato sauce—and he ate until he was about to burst. After he was done, he was led to a bedroom where fresh clothes lay on a made bed. A full belly and a warm bed to sleep in, the boy couldn’t think of anything more wonderful. Perhaps he was wrong about the smiling man.
“I promised you food and a warm bed. I didn’t lie to you,” the man said. The boy didn’t know what to make of it. It was a kindness that the street boy wasn’t used to. Perhaps his luck was finally changing? After all no one in this world was meant to suffer for as long as he had, right?
After the boy crawled under the warm covers, he fell asleep almost instantly. When he woke from his unconscious sleep, he found himself a prisoner in a rough, moldy dungeon.
The pasta he had eaten — they had drugged him. He vowed never to trust anyone again.
The boy wondered how many hours had passed since he sat alone behind the bars. Just beyond the wooden doors of the dungeon, he heard all sorts of sounds that stirred his emotions into one giant mess. There were screams, and then silence, followed by a crescendo of cheers.
He was mystified.
Finally two men armed with guns came for him. They unlocked his cell door and dragged him through a dark, narrow corridor. He wanted to fight, but the heavy chains that bound his hands and feet prevented him from doing so. At gunpoint, he had no choice but to follow them.
At the end of the tunnels was an iron gate. It was there that they released him from his shackles. They opened the gate and a light emerged through it and he saw a sandy earth marked with blood. Boisterous sounds of cheering flooded his ears.
“Get in there,” one of the men said as he jammed the barrel of the gun into the boy’s spine and nudged him towards the entrance.
“Where am I?” the boy demanded.
The guard grinned, and shoved him fully through the entranceway. “Welcome to the fighting pit.”
The other kid in the pit with him looked shaken and was crying.
It took a while for the boy to recognize the horrific situation he was in but the loud voice from the crackling speakers spelled it out for him.
“One of these boys will die,” the voice announced to the frenzied audience there to witness the fight. “Who will survive? The Dog from the streets or Sunny, the boy from Beverly Hills?”
They had given him the name Dog. He figured it was as good of a name as any and he accepted it. If he were to die here tonight, at least he was not nameless.
Dog looked around his environment and frowned.
The crude pit was a circular quarry filled with hard sand stained a reddish brown from dried blood. Two-storey high concrete walls encased the fighting pit and prevented the combatants from escaping into the crowd. They were sealed in, like scorpions in a cement vivarium.
He wrinkled his nose at the pungent smell that assaulted his nostrils. It stank of blood, sweat, and urine.
The other boy, Sunny, reeked of fear. Piss ran down the side of his leg, and he shivered as a skinned animal would in a frozen winter. Dog guessed that Sunny was no older than twelve, maybe thirteen at most. Dog had a good couple of inches on the boy, despite being average in size.
Dog had lost track of his own age long ago. Surviving day-to-day had made him oblivious to many things, the number of years alive being one of them.
Sunny’s voice quivered as he spoke. “Are we going to fight?”
Dog was cold in his response. “Yes.” He was resigned to the fact that he would most likely die in this place.
“We don’t have to do this,” Sunny said. “We can try to escape.”
Dog looked at the high cement walls encasing the pit and knew it was foolish thinking. He shook his head.
“We’ll only leave this place when we’re in a body bag,” Dog said. He pointed to the iron gates that they had entered from. A man with hungry eyes and an automatic assault rifle guarded it from behind the rusty metal bars. His wicked grin was telling of his desires. He wanted violence and if he didn’t get it, Dog was certain he wouldn’t hesitate putting a bullet into their skulls.
The crowd roared above them, screaming obscenities and cheering for the fight to begin. Dog realized that they were a part of some sadistic game. When he was younger, he heard stories about ancient fighting arenas and warriors that were forced to fight to the death in front of live audiences. Gladiators they were called. It looked like he had just become one.
Sunny began to cry.
“Don’t do this,” he pleaded. Dog ignored him. He had already accepted the harsh reality of this twisted event — another thing gone wrong in his life. It was nothing new. Perhaps it was all those years of living in a harsh environment that made him callous to the situation, but it all boiled down to one single thing for Dog.
Survival. It was his natural instincts, despite death staring him in the eye constantly.
From the static of the crude speakers that lined the building’s ceilings, Dog made out one single word.
The guard behind the gate tossed something through the gap of the iron bars and it landed on the sand. The metallic object reflected the lurid yellow lights that rained from the ceiling of the grimy building. Dog immediately knew what it was.
Before Sunny had time to understand what was happening, Dog lunged for the bowie knife.
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