‘It’s a good thing that I’ve already read this before,’ she groaned inwardly as the shaking bus rudely closed the book she was re-reading in her hands yet again, ‘Or there’s no way I’d be able to keep up with it otherwise.’ The cephalopod had forgotten how difficult it could be to find a quiet spot in which to try to read or search for a semblance of inner peace on the surface world. The bus slowed to a stop.
She grabbed her stuff, took a look back to make sure she wasn’t leaving anything behind, and ran down the stairs to the subway that led to the crawling confines of the Bolgia.
The Bolgia beckoned passers-by with lights, clicks, chirps, and churrs, whispering sweet nothings in their ears. The Bolgia had a dance floor, a ring at its center where contestants would fight, and tables where people could order drinks. It was the likeliest location she could think of where she could find someone who might have been interested in finding out what her empathy drug could be like to have tried.
A manticore bouncer let her in, and a cockatrice waiter directed her to her seat before bringing her a drink. The Bolgia was a place where a lot of people came so that the wrong people wouldn’t bother them, and it usually worked very well. On the center ring, a weasel and a skunk circled each other warily, poking at each other’s defenses. The weasel’s pants were camo while the skunk’s were white, in longstanding capoeira tradition.
The skunk ducked under the weasel’s back spinning jump kick, coming up in a rising headbutt which the soldier caught to bring the mephit down on his knee. The skunk tried to headbutt the weasel’s midsection but the soldier used that to get him in an arm lock. Bringing his other hand to the ground, the mephit sent both his legs forward over him around the weasel’s neck to pull the soldier back over him. As the weasel stood up from his roll the skunk was already on his hands sending both feet back at him, forcing him into a pushup under them between his arms.
The skunk fell sitting on the weasel’s back and grabbed his feet, pulling them back up to force the weasel’s back to arch until he tapped out. Mano had never met the weasel before, she wondered where Klein knew him from. The way they hugged after the fight certainly seemed to suggest that they were more than sparring partners. How much had he changed in a year anyway? Klein was acting like his arm was a puppet’s arm, daring all comers to pull on his strings and to make him dance, as exhausted as he really was.
He was just about to let himself fall on his back – ‘strings cut, puppet down’ – when the crowd parted into a path to the ring like the Red Sea, and a hooded figure threw off their cloak to gasps while vaulting on the ring. For a brief, shining moment, people saw all six of her arms, saw her skin turn from the lightest pink to the darkest blue in an instant, and they loved what they saw. They couldn’t wait to see her in action, warts and all.
She couldn’t have described how liberating it felt.
Klein twitched when she’d suddenly opened her third eye at him. She’d never told him. “Surprised?” The skunk crossed his arms. “Not really.” Finally, he let show on his face how glad he was to be seeing her again. “What’s it been, a year?” She nodded. “We never did get beyond just talking about this kind of stuff, did we?” She saw through his feint easily, descending into place as her elbows formed a six-pointed star around her, her arms aimed at him like turrets as he launched into a zigzagging dash at her.
As she caught his front kick he turned onto his hands to send his other foot back at her before she caught it as well. He lifted one hand off the ground to punch her midsection forcing her to drop him, doing a front walkover away from her before turning back to face her. She parried a series of round then back spinning kicks while in a handstand, standing then jumping, using all six of her hands successively. She sent her legs back dodging his leg scissors, using her lower arms to support herself while pushing him back with her upper arms.
He pounced then flipped out of the way of her triple hooks then backhands with all her arms, shifting his stance constantly as she then tried to grab his ankles, shins and knees with them. He briefly kept up his stance-shifting as she went for his legs with her own before she caught his crescent kick on its way to trip him over her leg with three arms. She blocked his headbutt to her midsection and he went into a handstand under her descending strikes, thrusting his fluffy tail over her third eye as he did. That was when she got ahold of him from under his armpits.
She threw him upward to support herself on four forearms into a scorpion asana, kicking and pushing him out of the ring with two legs and two palms over her head.
He vaulted back on the ring, handing her the cloak she’d removed on her way in as he did. “What a gentleman you make,” she teased. “Of course,” he answered completely deadpan. The raccoon referee picked one of her arms to raise in victory at random and they hugged, maybe not quite the way that the skunk and weasel had hugged, but not quite the way fighters normally hugged after a fight either. “I missed you, you know.” He saw she was glad to see him as well. “We have a lot of catching up to do. Better late than never, I hope.”
They made their way away from the ring to sit back down at a table where the cockatrice waiter found them again to bring them both another drink. “So, what’s been going on with you?” he asked her. “You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” she rolled all three of her eyes. “Try me,” he said wryly. “It sounds like you’ve been through some rather unbelievable things yourself, to be saying something like that,” she observed. “Oh, but I have,” he said emphatically. “Would you care to fill me in first, then?” she’d inquired. “Sure!” he’d agreed.
‘Let's eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’