Superman x Hunger Games

Wars have been fought for many reasons.  The Trojan War was fought for love.  The Crusades were fought for faith.  The American Revolution was fought for freedom, and the World Wars for dominion.  The Superhuman Wars were fought for fear.

When the first superhuman surfaced, the entire world lost their minds.  No one knew what to make of us.  My six year-old son, Evan, had read comic books that had called people like me superheroes.  How nice that would have been.  Outside of his comic books, we were called freaks, monsters, and aberrations.  We were reviled.

I looked down at my hands.  My ebony skin was heavily scarred, with burns running up my forearms, my palms hard and my muscles thick.  Two years ago, they had been a chef’s hands: smooth, nimble, precise, and meticulously washed.  Now, my knives cut other things than food.

I felt a boot in my back and stumbled forward, towards the high archway.  The man who had kicked me stepped in front of me and handed me a belt of knives.  “Go put on a show, you unnatural bastard,” he said.

It was all I could no not to plunge a knife into his mouth in an attempt to wipe the sadistic grin from his face.  If his death wouldn’t have caused the entire room to be flooded with a thousand volts of electricity, I would have.  But I wasn’t planning on dying in this god-forsaken hellhole.  I will see my son again.  It was what kept me sane.  Survive one hundred fights, and I would be a free man.

“Don’t I always?” I pulled my belt tight around my waist and stepped through the arch.

I was immediately greeted with a roar of sound.  A sandy field lay before me, ringed by thousands of men and women in stadium seating, screaming so raucously and eloquently for my blood.  I didn’t plan on giving it to them.  I’d survived thirty seven fights in the Coliseum, and I wasn’t ready to die just yet.

“Ladies and Gentlemen!” An amplified voice rang through the stadium.  “Our first fighter’s defect is unnatural dexterity.  A thirty seven time survivor, please welcome the Cleaver!”

The arena erupted at the mention of my fighting name.  It had been given to me by the same announcer that now used it to elicit cheers.  It was, as he called it, my “alter-ego”.

Before the Superhuman Wars, Evan had given me another alter-ego.  Superdad, he had called me, “Just like Superman.”  He had been Spiderson, and we would save our living room from such evils as the Green Goblin.

Then the wars came, and we lost, badly.  Those superhumans who survived were taken, tested on, and relegated to arenas just like this one.  We were nothing but a show now.  There were no more Supermen or Spidermen.  There were only Green Goblins.

My opponent stepped onto the field to another round of cheers, albeit a smaller one.  He wasn’t as popular as me, with only eleven survivals under his belt.  Half of his face was covered in angry red scars, and he hovered above the sand.  His defect was announced to be flight, and his alias Deathwing.  What a stupid name.

A horn sounded loud and brazen, and we leaped into action.  The other superhuman soared to the top of the massive domed roof and unslung a recurve bow from his shoulder.

As he began to fire arrows, I leapt for the iron bars that extended from floor to ceiling, separating the crowd from fighters, and began to pull myself up with my superhuman agility.

The fight was over quickly, too quickly for those in observance, who had come to see blood.  With only eleven survivals, Deathwing was infantile as far as the arena went.  As soon as I had climbed within range, I sent a barrage of knives flying at him as he hovered, and he, focused on his shooting, was too slow to move.  Two heavy blades sunk into his chest and plummeted silently to the ground.

I climbed back down the bars, more slowly after my survival, and made my way back through the archway to the bowels of the Coliseum.

Thirty eight, I reminded myself as my knives were taken and I was escorted back to my cell.  Every survival felt like a victory for me.  They brought me closer to seeing my son again.  Sixty two left.

I had been lying on my cold, hard pallet waiting for sleep when I heard a scratching at my cell door.  I didn’t move.  Most likely it was a guard that thought it amusing to keep the superhumans from sleep, and even if it wasn’t, nothing out there could be more dangerous than what I faced in the Coliseum.  I closed my eyes and tried again for sleep.

Only seconds passed before I heard a muffled thud, and a woman stepped through my door.  Once through, she pushed her hand back through the solid steel and seemed to motion towards whatever was on the other side.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked, my voice a low whisper.

“Hopefully escaping,” she replied.

The door opened behind her, and two men stepped through, one tall and heavily muscled, dark-skinned like me, and the other was pale as the moon, and thin as a twig.

“Is he coming with us, Dora?” the tall man asked.  At a glance, he seemed to be in charge.

“I haven’t had the chance to tell him what’s happening yet.”

The small man, whose skin now seemed more translucent than pale, spoke up.  “Tell him now, because with or without him, I’m getting the hell out of her before anyone finds that guard.”

I looked past the trio and saw a guard lying bloody on the floor.

“You killed a guard?” I hissed. “Are you trying to make sure none of us win our freedom?”

“What?”

“They’ll never allow us to reach one hundred survivals now.”

The black skinned superhuman began to laugh, a deep chuckle that started in his belly but never reached his eyes.  “The one hundred survivals tripe is complete shit,” he said.  “I reached it a long time ago and look where I am.”

The news hit me like a truck.  “It…it…”  I was having trouble speaking.  Was there no way for me to win my freedom and see my son?

“There’s a reason they’re called survivals,” the woman said, “and not wins.  There is no victory to be had in the Coliseum.”

I found my breath.  “But there is escape.”

“There is.”  The woman moved to a patch of concrete next to my bed, indistinguishable from the rest of the floor, and pushed her hand through it.  When she brought her hand back up, her arm had solidified, and the floor came with it, revealing a long tunnel.

“What is going on here?” I asked.

The tall man stepped forward.  “My name is Jon,” he said.  “This here is Dora, known as Phantom to the crowd, and the invisible boy over here is Craig.”

“I’m not invisible, Jon,” Craig said, slowly growing more opaque.  “I’m transparent.  I’ve told you this before.”

“And I’ve told you before, I’ll let you know the minute I start caring.”

I held up a hand to stop them.  “Why is there a tunnel in my cell?”

“Your cell is the closest to the outer wall,” Dora said as she lowered herself into the tunnel, “and that means less digging for us.”

“We’ve been digging during your fights,” Jon explained.

“Then why didn’t you leave during one?”

Craig stepped into the tunnel after Dora, who had disappeared down the shaft.  “I heard some guards talking today,” he said.  “Jon was set to fight Ignus tomorrow.  Over four hundred survivals—it was a death warrant.  We had to get out before that.”

Jon moved past me, entering the tunnel.  “We’re leaving,” he told me.  “You’re welcome to join us.”

I thought about Evan.  I hadn’t seen my son in over a year.  He would be different—taller, more mature.  “You can get me to safety?”

Jon nodded.  “We can.”

“I’m in.”  I followed him into the narrow dirt tunnel and began my crawl towards freedom.

Shoremont Keep

                  Soft torchlight flickered throughout the taproom of the small tavern. Save mine, every table was empty. Even the bar was deserted, the barkeep having left the room at my request. My requests were a promise of gold, followed by a threat of steel. The barkeep had only required the former.

                    Clustered around my table were four brothers and a single ebon skinned woman. All wore dark leathers over their black tunics. All were here because of my golden promises. All were thieves and killers.

                    “Why are we here, Tasson?” the woman said. Her name was unknown to the world; she was known as the Panther. She was a master thief, notorious for dangerous heists, and very expensive.

                    One of the brothers, Axus, opened his hand, and the fire from one of the torches floated to him and coalesced in his palm. “I’m here to help a friend,” he said, letting the flame write between his fingers. “I don’t know about you.”

                    The four brothers were elementals, mages with dominion over the elements. It was a rare gift, and for it to appear four times in one family was unheard of. Axus, the youngest, controlled fire, the eldest, Billus, controlled water, and the twins, Garus and Farus, held dominion over earth and air, respectively.

                    “The cat is here for her gold,” Billus said.

                    “Quiet, mage,” the Panther snapped, then, turning to me. “We all know the plan. Why did you call another meeting?”

                    “There’s been a change,” I said. “Suleth is being moved earlier than I had previously known. Everything must happen tonight.”

                    I paused as the news registered with everyone. The Panther took it silently, only a slight frown on her face, but the four brothers all objected loudly.

                    “We aren’t ready,” Farus said. “Billus and I haven’t had enough time.”

                    “Tonight?” Axus was incredulous. “Tasson, there is a feast in the castle tonight. The place will be crawling with guards. Is there no better time?”

                    “There is no other time at all. Suleth will be gone by tomorrow.”

                    Billus spoke up. “If there is truly no other chance, I would regret not taking it. I will follow you, Tasson, and I expect my brothers will do the same.”

                    The four brothers nodded their agreement, and I let out a sigh of relief. Each one of them was essential to my plan. Without them, I was doomed to fail.

                    I turned to the Panther, who had stayed conspicuously silent. “Are you still on board?” I asked her.

                    “Are you still paying me?”

**

                    Shoremont Keep rose high above the sea, a monolith of dark stone against the pale twilight. The keep had four thick round towers that rose high into the sky and, on the sea side, reaching low enough as to be buffeted by the waves. It was situated at the end of a narrow peninsula, with three gatehouses along the path.

                    This was the keep that I meant to break into.

                    My crew, excepting Axus, sat in a small boat, concealed by a mass of fog rolling in from the sea. It looked natural, but was far from it. Billus and Farus worked in tandem, pulling the fog over us like a grey blanket.

                    “We’ve been building it up offshore for the past couple of days,” Farus said. “We were hoping to have more, but by tonight this is the best we can do.”

                    It would be enough, I hoped. I could still see the outline of the keep, but with any luck the guards would be unable to spot our small black vessel.

                    “When are we getting started?” the Panther asked. She sat at the back of the boat, her black leathers wrapped in a heavy gray cloak. “The damp of this fog is starting to soak me though to the bone.”

                    “We have to wait until Axus give the signal,” I replied. “Have some patience.”

                    “You’re not paying me to have patience. You’re paying me to—“

                    She was interrupted by a flash of flame that outlined the castle in an orange glow.  It was the signal we had been waiting for, so, as soon as it appeared, Billus willed the waves into action.  They propelled our craft quickly and quietly towards the castle walls.

                    Axus’s fire had been our signal to move, but its purpose was twofold.  He had assaulted the first gatehouse, setting it ablaze, and drawing the keep’s guards towards his position.  As I drew nearer to the walls, I could no longer see their silhouettes standing watch.

                    Once we had climbed onto the rocky shore, Billus, Garus, and I lifted the boat out of the sea and started up towards the castle walls.  The Panther moved a step behind us, slinking along with the shadows.

                    Garus stepped up to the wall and put his palms on the dark stone.

                    “Are you sure you can do this?” Billus asked.

                    The Panther laughed.  “Is now really the time to ask that?  If he couldn’t do it, I would have liked to know before we made this the crux of our plan.”

                    Billus ignored her with a shake of his head.  “Can you?”

                    “Let’s hope so,” Garus said.

                    With a snort, the Panther stepped further back.

                    Garus closed his eyes and focused, a grimace on his face as he worked.  I sat for a moment as nothing happened and doubted.  What if this didn’t work?  I had no other options.

                    Then, with a deep rumble, the stone between Garus’s hands parted.  The noise wasn’t loud, but it resonated, as if a great roar was being muffled.

                    Garus fell to one knee, panting.  “That was as quiet as I could make it,” he said.  “I had to do it slowly, but there’s still a chance a guard heard it.”

                    I put a hand on his shoulder.  “You did well enough.”  In all honesty, he did better than I had hoped.  I would have been fine with an earthquake, as long as it gave me entrance to the keep.  I looked at the Panther and gestured towards the opening.  “Lead the way.”

                    The passage wasn’t large.  The Panther could make it through standing, but I had to bend over to follow her.  The three brothers stayed behind.  We followed it to the end, where it opened into a shadowy corridor lit by a single flickering torch.

                    As I stepped out, I ran into the Panther, who had dropped to a crouch.  In the poor light I could barely make her out as she sat watching the corridor.

                    “There aren’t any guards,” I said, and tried to move past her, but she grabbed my wrist in a vice-like grip and pulled me back.  She was much stronger than I had thought her to be, based on her size.

                    “This is my realm now, Tasson,” she said.  “Your job is gold and quick talking.  My job is steel and shadow.  And I can’t do my job if you go running ahead of me.  If you want to make it out tonight, alive and with Suleth, you follow me.”

                    I nodded, not wanting to make noise of any kind, and crouched down behind her.  After a few seconds, she began to move, fluid and silent on the stone floor.  She led me up into the higher levels of the keep, twice stopping me from stepping out into the view of a guard.  As we neared the top of the South Tower, I realized that I would never have made it without her.  She seemed to sense guards before they came into view, and a locked door was barely a hindrance to her.

                    We stopped just below the highest floor in the South Tower.  The top floor was a single room, I knew, and it was where Suleth was being held.  The only way in was a single trapdoor that was undoubtedly guarded on the other side.

                    “There’s no way around it,” I said, unsheathing my sword.  “We’ll have to burst through quickly.  A quiet fight would still leave us a chance to escape.”

                    The Panther put her hand on the tip of my blade and pushed it down.  “Now who is the impatient one?” she asked.  “There is always a way around.”  She turned and climbed out a window, her hands and feet expertly finding cracks in the stone.  “I’ll knock on the trapdoor when I’m ready for you to come through.”

                    I stood there for a few seemingly endless moments before I heard anything, then, a muffled thud.  Had that been the knock?  No, I decided, that had more likely been the sound of a falling body.

                    I heard two more thuds, and then a sharp rapping on wood.  I pushed open the trapdoor and climbed into the tower room.

                    It was nothing like the prison I had expected; it was one of the most mundane rooms I had ever seen.  There were four round windows, a low roof, and cracking walls, against which were piled crates and barrels.  A thin layer of dust covered everything, except for the three guards bleeding on the floor, their throats cut.

                    The Panther grabbed the front of my tunic and shoved me against the wall, livid.  I once again came to appreciate her deceptive strength.  “There is no one here, Tasson,” she growled.  “What is your game?”

                    “There is no game,” I replied, lifting my open hands.  “I’m as confused as you are.”

                    Suleth should have been in this room.  My source within the keep had been very clear.  My source…

                      As I heard raised voices and boots on the stairs below, everything fell into place.

                    “It’s a trap!” I said, and with all of my strength, flung the Panther out the southern-facing window.  She was surprised enough that I was able to do it, but I hoped I had been able to throw her far enough.  Before I had much time to dwell on my choice, I followed her.

                   The night air whipped at me as I fell towards the sea.  I hoped that I would be able to clear the rocky shore.  If not, this would be an embarrassing way to die, and I knew the Panther would haunt me through the ten hells.

                    Just before I hit the sea, water rushed up to meet me.  It curled around me and cushioned the impact, holding me in a swirling liquid orb.  Looking over, I saw Billus standing on the boat, focusing on another orb, this one holding the Panther.

                    As soon as we were on the boat, with Billus taking us speedily away from the keep, the Panther rounded on me.  “You bastard!” she shouted.  “You just threw me out a window!”

                    “It was how I had planned to leave all along.”  I tried to sound collected as I relayed my plan, but my shivering betrayed me.  “I never thought to have to do that.”

                    “Where is Suleth?” Billus asked.

                    “I don’t know,” I said.  I felt a cold rage sweep over me.  “He was never there.  I’ve been played.”

                    “I thought you said there was no game,” the Panther spat. “And yet your informant, whose identity you’ve never told us, betrayed you?”

                    “There has always been a game,” I said.  “It seems I just didn’t know who was playing.”