Carmine Rojas: Dog Fight By Che Gilson
The private locker room stank of years of unwashed sweat and the blocked up toilet down the hall. The aged fluorescent light overhead flickered, making Carmine Rojas’ eyes water.
The scent of blood drifted down the hall. Twenty yards of green linoleum led to the fighting pit. Faint smacking sounds overlaid with the roar of the crowd and the snarls of the fighters could be heard through the closed door.
In the arena Klaus “Ironfang” Weisman was beating bloody the latest fool to accept the open challenge. A purse of $10,000 was a strong lure even though Klaus had killed three of his last ten challengers.
There was knock on the door. Carmine turned.
A red-furred kitsune came in, clawed toenails clicking loud enough to be heard down the hall. His sharp fox muzzle grinned even though he slunk in, body low in submission. The fox bowed, pointed ears angled back and tails tucked under the hem of his light cotton yukata robe. The kitsune was human enough in his shifted form to walk upright but his low rank and meager magic meant he was subservient not only to Carmine but the other foxes too. Fox magic was dependant on the number of tails they had. With only three tails the gofer sent to give her the message would never rise much farther. It was the silver nine-tails you had to watch out for. They had magic to spare and answered only to the Boss.
“You’re up next, Rojas, time to get your fight on,” he said.
A low rumble of anticipation vibrated in Carmine’s chest. She got up from the wooden bench she’d been sitting on, and towered over the smaller male. As a human Carmine wasn’t much to look at, but her height drew stares. Six foot three inches tall and mistakenly called husky. A very kind woman had once told her she looked Mayan and should be proud. But hatchet noses, twice broken, don’t win beauty pageants.
“Get out,” she told the fox, wanting him out of there before she changed.
He let out a staccato series of yips and bowed out. The door shut behind him.
She pulled the rubber band from her hair and let the black mane fall past her shoulders. Then she took off her robe. Underneath was a racer-back tank with her fighting name, Lobo Negro in rhinestones across her chest and a pair of stretchy silk boxing shorts.
Reaching deep inside herself Carmine touched the wolf that was her other half. Her heart raced as every muscle in her body cramped, doubling in size. The dull ache of her bones stretching and changing radiated soft pain through her body. Already acute senses heightened. Fine black fur, dense and silky, sprouted and covered her body.
Transformation completed, Carmine snarled and punched the floor with a massive clawed hand. The sting in her knuckles helped her gather her senses. She pulled her thoughts together. Her body had changed but, unlike some shifters, her mind remained more or less intact.
Carmine dropped to all fours for a second and shook herself head to tail. Her half wolf form was something from a nightmare. Mostly human, she could stand on two legs or run on all fours. Her hands became stubby clawed paws, thankfully leaving opposable thumbs intact. All the better to grapple with opponents. Her claws were sharp as razors and her grip was a vice. A full wolf form was out of the question though. The half wolf was the best her strain of the curse allowed. She scratched at her clothes to get her fur to sit right underneath the fabric.
She reared up, ears forward. The crowd was screaming, their bloodlust at a fever pitch. Klaus must have won again.
Another knock at the door. One of the sleek silver nine-tailed kitsune pit masters entered. He bowed to her but was far less obsequious than his weaker cousin.
“Your turn, Rojas. We’ve got a good one for you.” The fox couldn’t hide a sly grin.
Her opponent was always a surprise. That was part of the challenge. One of the things that made her fights a main event and it was what the fans wanted to see. Some wanted to watch her beat down anything the Boss threw at her. The rest wanted to see if at long last the Lobo Negro finally lost.
The kitsune gestured and Carmine followed him out into the wide hall.
The metallic tang of blood in the air wet her mouth and made Carmine’s nose twitch. She lifted her muzzle and inhaled deeply, letting the scent excite her.
Halfway down the hall she met Klaus, his iron-grey fur dyed red with blood. He was on all fours, favoring a wounded hind leg. A bloody flap of skin and muscle hung open.
Carmine dropped to all fours before she reached him. Her escort remained stiff backed but he stepped closer to the wall.
Klaus grunted a greeting at her as she passed. She grunted back and showed her throat to the older wolf as a sign of respect.
She let Klaus and his handlers, two mangy kitsune who had themselves been fighters, and the fight club’s patch-it man Dr. Herman, pass before she continued on her way.
The hallway opened up into a ‘T’ junction where two other hallways met.
The double doors that led to the fighting ring swung open and four beefy guys with a stretcher came out.
Klaus’s latest victim. A featherweight coyote now a pile of meat for the clean-up crew, ready for disposal in an oil drum tossed into the Pacific or buried in the desert. Either way his remains would never be seen again. Still the coyote must have had some moves to tear open Klaus’s leg like that.
The nine-tailed kitsune grabbed one of the double doors as they swung shut. Beyond was a dark tunnel thick with the odors of adrenaline and fear. Carmine’s heart raced, the prey smells igniting her blood. Her ears flattened along her skull and a growl louder than an idling car shook the dust in the air.
There was one last door between her and the ring. The kitsune held up a slender paw hand and Carmine waited. The silver fox stepped out to announce her.
The audience screamed as the kitsune entered the arena. Carmine ignored it; she had seen this act performed hundreds of times for her and all the other fighters. The fight announcer came out, arms raised, and strutted around the ring psyching up the audience. Last minute bets could be placed with the floor runners; sly red foxes, all of them quick with numbers.
The nine-tail’s voice rang out over the loud speakers.
“Ladies and gentlemen, shifters of all kinds, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Tonight’s main event!
“In this corner—”
Carmine burst through the door loping into the ring.
“We have ten time, undefeated champion, the Devil’s black bitch herself, Lobo Negro, Carmine Roooooooja!” The kitsune rolled his ‘r’s like a native.
Carmine snarled at the crowd flashing three-inch, white canines. She reared up to full height, seven and a half feet as a wolf, and let out a chilling hunting howl.
Applause broke over her. Fans chanted her name. She raked her claws through the air, soaking up the attention.
High above the floor of the ring the stands were packed. A press of humans and shifters, all on their feet, stomping and cheering. A few of the braver gamblers booed. In the midst of the waving sea of bodies a small island of calm caught Carmine’s eye. A bunch of swanky skinwalkers, their animal skins draped over pinstriped suits, frowned down at her. The tallest mage wore a bearskin; the others were just wolves or coyotes except for a sad sack skinny chick with a bobcat fur wrapped around her neck like a stole. Rumor had it the pinstripe gang were ’employees’ of the Boss. Though it was doubtful they were employed for anything legal. Maybe that accounted for their lack of enthusiasm. The Boss may be displeased.
When the fox judged the crowd close to frenzy he gripped the mic suspended from the ceiling and pointed across the ring at the second door opposite from Carmine’s entrance.
“And tonight’s challenger, weighing in at a mere two hundred twenty pounds,” the kitsune paused to let the crowd jeer, “Ishiguro Akikooooo, The White Wind!”
Carmine snapped her jaws as the challenger entered. A slim okami, pale brown fur shining sleekly over her muzzle and head as if she were groomed for a dog show not a bare-knuckle fight. Her dazzling white kimono glowed against the filth of the underground fighting ring.
She swept in, serene and confident even at half Carmine’s size. Her fawning kitsune attendants, though employed by the fight club, still carried her robe off the floor.
A few feet from Carmine the okami cast off the kimono. Underneath was a white karate uniform tailored to her wolf form.
Carmine looked up at the stands, past the rabble, higher, past the box seats where the money sat, all the way up to the dark-glassed owner’s box.
The Japanese werewolves were the worst of surprises. If Carmine could have smiled she would have. Okami were tricky and a novice fighter would be gutted in the first minute.
Carmine turned back to her opponent. The okami’s attendants were retreating. The fox with the mic pulled a fan from the wide indigo kimono sleeve of his yukata. He held it poised as the okami stepped up.
She didn’t even try to intimidate the okami. That wasn’t how you fought one. Besides, overconfidence was death in the ring. Carmine would have to be quick and careful to come out of this alive.
“Bow and come out fighting,” the fox said. There was no need to explain the rules. There were no rules.
He held up the fan and snapped it open.
Carmine bowed to the self-styled White Wind. The okami bent neatly at the waist.
“Aaaaand, FIGHT!” The fox dropped the fan then somersaulted out of the ring. He landed on the edge of the stands ten feet above.
The first move was Carmine’s. She’d learned from fighting martial artists that it was only way to get a fight started. All these kung-fu types would stand there until it snowed in hell.
Carmine lunged, starting with a right hook. Before her fist could connect the okami ghosted, disappearing into a thin white mist. Carmine knew the move. Her fist hit the ground and she balanced on it while kicking out with her back legs.
Her foot connected and she heard a surprised snarl. The weight against her foot was gone in a second.
The pungent ozone of the okami’s magic filled Carmine’s mouth and nose. Scent would be useless in this battle and the crowd drowned out any slighter sounds.
She dropped and swept her legs in a circle. There. Another contact. The okami grunted as she fell, rolled and ghosted out again.
Experience told Carmine she hadn’t done any real damage.
A heavy weight dropped on Carmine from above, knocking her to the ground. An elbow drove into her kidney making her howl. Then the weight was gone. Pain pulsated in her lower back.
Quick, on all fours she ran for the wall of the pit and backed against it.
Ishiguro was in the center ring, calm as a statue. Carmine’s nose twitched. Was that a whiff of fear mixing with the burnt stink of magic? Or was it just wishful thinking?
Judging by the okami’s initial blitz attack she hadn’t expected to meet any resistance. She’d wanted to beat Carmine fast and hard for a quick win.
She was either new to the illegal fight circuit or arrogant. The okami wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
The crowd’s cheers shifted to angry boos and hisses, annoyed the fight had ground to a halt.
The okami bowed again. Lower than she had before. Carmine’s lips curled back showing teeth. She would have respected Ishiguro if she’d fought fair.
A hail of plastic cups and wadded food wrappers pelted the okami. Her gaze flicked up to the crowd. She ducked as someone threw an open beer can.
Carmine launched herself quick and low. She was over halfway to the okami before White Wind noticed.
She ghosted out before Carmine reached her. Carmine didn’t stop on the spot she’d occupied but shot past and began to circle. Ghosting was a neat trick but the range and duration were limited. The magic was eating the okami’s stamina too.
The okami re-materialized a few feet from where she had been standing, her back to Carmine.
She leapt at the okami driving the slender wolf to the ground, claws grappling for a hold. But she held nothing. Carmine gagged on the ozone as it filled her mouth so thick she could taste it.
The okami kicked Carmine in the face, a solid powerful blow. Carmine rolled with it, momentarily dizzy. Then she was up on all fours trying to look everywhere at once.
Weight pressed her down. The okami was on her back. An arm wrapped around Carmine’s neck choking off blood to her brain.
Ishiguro’s hind legs kicked her. Clawed feet raked across her back shredding the flesh.
Carmine stood, stretching to her full height, ignoring the pain and threatening blackness. She toppled backwards using her body weight to slam the okami into the ground.
The other wolf squealed as the air was forced from her lungs. Carmine drove her elbow into Ishiguro’s ribs until she felt something crack. The chokehold broke just as Carmine’s vision was tunneling out. The raw agony of fresh wounds hitting the packed dirt of the ring as she rolled away from the smaller wolf cleared her vision.
Slower than she would have liked, Carmine got up, the thirsty dirt soaking up the red stain of her blood.
The okami had retreated, her cool gone. The pale brown wolf snarled, one arm wrapped around her middle.
The question now was who could stand the most pain. Carmine’s eyes swept over the okami. The thin graceful bitch was probably top of her class. She’d probably never lost a fight.
Carmine barreled at the okami. She tried to ghost one more time, outline growing hazy. Her magic was tapped out. She was solid when Carmine hit her.
Carmine pinned White Wind, gripped the lapel of her karate gi and slammed her fist into the okami’s face. Again and again.
Her muzzle and cheekbones broke under the onslaught. Carmine felt the bones shatter and tasted her blood as it sprayed into her mouth.
She wasn’t sure what the okami looked like human but judging from her smooth pelt and clean lines she was pretty. Not anymore. Another blow and her eye socket collapsed.
Forget ugly, Carmine would leave her a corpse.
The air thickened around her as she pulled her fist back for the final blow. She was caught like an insect in molasses.
Carmine managed to slowly turn her head.
The kitsune announcer had jumped back into the ring. He had her locked in a spell. Gold light limned the edges of his tails, which fanned out behind him.
The audience was enraged. Carmine heard their shouts and bellows as if from far away. Much more deadly ammunition was lobbed at him by the crowd then when the fight paused earlier. Glass bottles and unopened beer cans thrown with sincere force bounced off the ward the fox had erected around himself. He stepped around the growing carpet of broken glass on tippy paws.
The crowd, denied a second death that night, was close to rioting. The red fox bookies were being assaulted by enraged patrons in the stands.
A folding chair hurtled through the air and clanged off the nine-tail’s ward.
A sonic boom shook the arena. Carmine’s ears popped.
Everything went still. The house lights flickered and the audience quieted. All eyes went to the dark-glassed owner’s box.
“Carmine Rojas, Lobo Negro, is declared the winner. All bets will be honored. You may collect your winnings upstairs.” The voice booming out of the speakers was sexless. Either a woman’s deep voice or a high-pitched man. Impossible to tell.
Everyone obeyed as if it was the voice of God.
Even Carmine. She relaxed her body and the magic holding her loosened. She dropped the okami and stood up.
The stretcher crew ran up as soon as Carmine was off her. A doctor Carmine had never seen before checked the okami’s pulse. He nodded and the stretcher-bearers gently lifted her and put her on it.
Carmine watched them take her from the ring. If she wasn’t meant to kill the okami then the okami had been meant to kill her.
Again she looked to the owner’s box. Maybe Carmine wasn’t the draw she used to be. A new champion initiated by blood was supposed to take over. Honestly, she would have just retired.
Carmine left the ring on all fours, back stinging. She left a snail trail of blood.
The house doctor met her at the tunnel exit.
“Come on, let’s stitch up that back,” he said around the cigarette clamped in his teeth.
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