It looked like the scruffy, note-taking rat who he’d noticed earlier turned out to have been there because she’d signed up for the tournament after all, Klein was surprised to see confirmed. Putting pen and paper aside, she’d gotten up from her seat to waddle toward the ring just as the otter and rabbit had been on their way back to their own seats. The skunk watched her seem to struggle even to get on the ring, and asked himself what her chances could possibly have been.
When her opponent majestically ducked under the ropes on his own way into the ring, his assessment of her likelihood of winning, which was already low, took a turn for the even worse. “And you were telling me I was the one who shouldn’t have bothered joining,” the skunk whispered to Rakim, who was still sitting next to him. “Hey, I know that guy!” the bat remarked.
As she pulled back the hood of her sweater she calmly looked her opponent up and down, as if his appearance was just another interesting piece of information for her to remember so she could write it down later. Klein wasn’t even the one facing him, yet he could already tell that he would’ve definitely not liked having been in her place. It occurred to him that if her opponent and he made it to finals, it’d mean that the skunk and he would end up against each other, which was a distressing thought.
“You do? Where from?”
The lion head of the man who faced her was flanked by a ram head and a dragon head on each side. The eyes of the snake head at the end of his scaly tail shone with reptilian cunning, just as his dragon eyes did. He was easily well over 7 feet tall, weighed well over 300 pounds, and carried himself like a martial artist who’d trained as though his strength couldn’t be relied on without skill to match it.
“I’m sleeping with him,” the cyborg replied.
She couldn’t have been over 5 feet tall or weighed over 100 pounds. The chimera’s lion head and snake head both dutifully repressed the urge to drool at the sight of their natural source of nourishment, as it would’ve seemed unseemly. “I hope she knows what she’s doing,” the skunk shook his head as he saw her taking something out of her pocket.
It was a blindfold.
Klein’s mouth hung open wide as she carefully secured it around her head before the match so that she couldn’t see anything through it. Was she there explicitly to put herself on the receiving end of as much suffering as possible, because she was just that much of a glutton for punishment? Or was she simply the most foolish person he’d ever seen in his life? Time would have to tell, he supposed.
“In the interest of fairness,” the rodent said by way of explanation.
“Uh-huh,” he nodded cautiously while looking her up and down, not sure of what he could be expected to add to that, and wondering if she was packing heat. It would’ve been... unusual, for the culture of the Bolgia, but no other reason for what she could’ve meant presented itself to him. She’d said it with such conviction, as though it were self-evident, though, that it seemed out of place to question it. “Okay then.”
The bell rang.
Before he could blink both of the jumping rat’s feet were front kicking his ram and dragon heads back while bringing an elbow down on his lion head, cobra punching his attacking snake head between his legs with her other arm on her way back down. She couldn’t see the expression of pained astonishment on all of his four heads, but the skunk certainly could, and so could every other member of the audience. Suddenly he was no longer so sure that she was going to lose.
Sliding between his legs, the snake tail head still too busy shaking off her downward hook to it to stop her from wrapping her tail around its maw on her way up, she jumped up on his shoulders from behind. Sitting on his shoulders with the lion head between her thighs, she struck the ram head’s neck and the dragon head’s neck with two reversed hand chops while violently yanking with her teeth on the mane of the lion head, which roared in pain. Back-flipping back to the ground behind him, she used just her tail still wrapped around his snake tail to lift up his entire body above her and slam him down on the ground behind her.
Now she was the one who Klein was terrified would win and that he’d have to face.
When he stood up again to face her, after several seconds had gone by, she still had her back to him and she didn’t turn around to face him. For a moment he remembered the blindfold and wondered if it was because she literally couldn’t tell where he was. Considering what he’d just seen, though, he would’ve put a lot more money on the possibility that she knew perfectly well where he was, and simply didn’t think he even posed enough of a threat to be worth facing while she fought him.
His latest theory was confirmed when she knelt under his arms reaching to grab her from behind while half-turning back toward him to uppercut him in the crotch. Klein noticed Rakim wincing next to him – he could tell why it would’ve been a part of the chimera that the bat would’ve been quite attached to. As the hunched over hybrid’s hands reflexively covered his most recently targeted pressure point she side kicked him unceremoniously across the ring into the rope.
While waiting for him to recover enough to continue, she now faced away from him, blindfolded... sitting cross-legged on the ground... with her arms crossed behind her back. He didn’t know what in the seven hells she was and he didn’t care. At that point he was not only physically hurt by her merciless series of attacks but he was also getting extremely sick of not even being taken seriously by her, and he was going to do something about it.
His dragon head took in a deep breath. Very deep.
She heard. She clearly had to have heard what he was doing because she uncrossed her arms, stood up and turned around to face him as he breathed in. She didn’t have time to remove her blindfold or to get out of the way before he breathed out. Everything went bright. Then dark.
Rats had guarded libraries ever since the days of the temples of Ganesh. She didn’t really think of herself as a librarian, though – she thought of herself more as the caretaker to a unique kind of aviary, one that required a unique kind of caretaking. She had no control over the books which routinely flew around her from shelves to shelves by flapping their pages and covers as though they’d been birds, nor would she have wanted it if she could’ve had it.
She wanted them to be free.
All of them had been banned. All of them had been deemed unacceptable for anyone’s consumption, fit only to be consumed by the fires of hell. They’d been hunted to near-extinction, they were an endangered species, and this was to be their nature preserve. She didn’t agree with all of them, but she knew them – they were her friends – so on some level, she accepted them.
A fidgety notebook, coming back from its scouting mission, had fluttered toward her from the window to come perch on her finger as she wrote, and she put her writing aside to address its arrival. It seemed important. Struggling not to shake too much for its writing to remain legible, it scratched its papery back against her ink-dipped quill as though it was trying to scratch a persistent itch, which she knew only meant that it was using the quill to write on its own back to get a message across to her in time.
They’d found her, just as she’d feared they would.
Everything she did was an effort to continue to exist somewhere outside of their purview. Last time they’d tracked her down, she’d had to use a secret mechanism to open up the ceiling and release the books like people released celebratory flocks of doves or butterflies at major events, and they’d all flown away. She’d let them go as the only way of saving them at all, but she’d had nothing to celebrate about it, and they’d been an incredible hassle to find again after the fact.
To top it all off, it was quite possible that the Cat’s Eye had figured out a way of countering that previous tactic since then. They’d start watching her holes in the walls if she used the same ones to hide from them too often, and she could handle a few of them at a time, but not many of them all at once, which was what they would be sending for her. The Cat’s Eye didn’t mess around. All of this amounted to the fact that she wasn’t eager to repeat the experience, and her mind raced to come up with another, better solution, until it finally came to her.
She grabbed her flute and, standing at the center of the room, began to play.
The books, notebooks and various loose sheets and scraps of paper began swirling around her as her music played, slowly at first, then faster and faster. At first one may have assumed that she was simply going to escape, and pied piper them all into following her where she went, but that would’ve been too conspicuous for her taste, too complicated to effectively manage. She had something simpler – for her – in mind.
The books and papers began to coalesce into columns around her. The very wood of the ceiling, floor and walls of the library soon joined them and melded with them where they stood, until they’d become unrecognizable by anyone but her. She was a necromancer, after all.
They were trees.
Everywhere around her, the books, papers and library had been brought back to life. Simply put, they’d retaken the original shape that they’d held before having been killed and transformed into a large amount of dead trees. Before long there was just a forest around her, forming the least expected undead army the world had ever seen.
As she kept playing, after she was the only one left, a large wooden snake maw came out of the ground around her seeming to swallow her up. Its maw split after a few meters up into branches and became a hollow tree inside of which no one would find her. Using the last of the music’s magic, she turned her head and arms into three pigeons which flew up to its branches and her legs and torso into three feral rats which scurried to its roots, each taking different routes to the same destination.
She’d have to find somewhere to hide out where she’d go unnoticed for a while, ideally a place where creatures who were as freaky as she was were commonplace.
He’d breathed out so hard that he’d blown her ashes right out of the ring. At first he and everyone else in the room had stood in stunned silence, muted by the thought that she must’ve been dead for good. If she hadn’t been part of the handful of beings in existence whose grasp of applied phlogistics had surpassed most witches’ by a long shot, she would’ve stayed that way.
As the smoke rising from her ashes pulled them up along with it and the smoke and ashes both slowly swirled back together into place on the ring, she could only wish that what she’d just been through had been the worst thing that the Cat’s Eye had ever thrown her way. They’d have probably made short work of her current opponent, she’d thought to herself grimly. She’d been burned a thousand times and would be burned a thousand more.
She remembered them all. She just remembered. Everything.
While what the chimera saw reform in front of him resembled the opponent he’d blown out of the ring enough that he could tell it was still her, this was where the similarity ended. The creature in front of him – still short and scrawny as all get out, mind you – had two large pigeon wings sprouting from her back, eight blade-wielding rat tails, an oversized fang-filled maw on her gut, a flaming pentagram around her feet, and skin covered by a thousand eyeballs. When he noticed the walls of the bar around them were definitely bleeding, he started cowering.
This was the True Form of Mnemos.
“Uh,” she said hesitantly with a voice that reverberated like it came from something that ate gas giants for breakfast, “I believe that’s a ring-out, isn’t it?”
It’s not that she didn’t want to win, but that was the rule, wasn’t it? Without rules, you had chaos. She didn’t care much for chaos.
It disturbed her reading.