3.5 Bloodlust

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The arena was clean each time guards forced Alex into it. They hauled him with poles and chains, and then they left in hurry, slamming the huge gate shut so hard, it rattled.

He supposed the telepaths wanted him to look like the monster he was. He clanked with every step. Shackles encircled his wrists and ankles, and a steel kilt had replaced his clothes. A jagged spike curved out of each of his forearms, heavy enough to add weight to his punches and attacks, sharp enough to impale flesh. But the notched spikes also made it easy for the monstrous guards to capture him after each fight and drag him back to his cage in the dungeon.

Alex didn't bother climbing the fence. He had tried that already, and he couldn't shift the gigantic bones that capped the top, or squeeze through any gaps. He had tried to use his spikes as leverage, to pry apart the bones, but it was useless.

He couldn't remove the spikes. The telepaths had drilled directly into his bones, without anesthesia, and without permission. They had chained him down without warning and without any explanation. Alex had screamed until his voice broke. For weeks afterwards, his arms were a mass of blood and bruises around the implanted spikes. 

That wasn't even the worst of what they'd done to him. If his mother could see him in the arena, or Margo, or anyone, they would take one glance and judge him a monster.

Alex paced along the enclosure of interlocked bones, his bare feet whispering through shredded husks, listening for the soft signal that would start a deadly battle. He no longer feared the audience. Instead, he focused on them as much as possible, peering through gaps between bones that could have belonged to dinosaurs or whales. He looked past the floating spotlights that followed his movements, and studied thousands of faces.

With their jeweled accessories and imperialistic robes, they were reminiscent of royal opera-goers. Even the ones who sat atop the enclosure looked rich, with embroidered red capes draped over their formidable high-tech armor. Iridescent eyes seemed to peer into the depths of his soul. They judged him guilty. They condemned him. They never clapped, never laughed, never said a word, but he guessed that they wanted him to lose a fight.

Or, more accurately, they wanted him to lose his mind.

Alex paced and clanked the other way. He had no face anymore; just an ugly, dented, knobby metal helmet. His head couldn't take damage. He couldn't commit suicide by slamming himself against walls, and the inflexible collar around his neck prevented strangulation. His mind was might as well be a broadcast antenna, beaming misery for the nearest telepaths to enjoy.

The silent audience had begun to appear in his nightmares. They watched him fail to save his father from burning wreckage. They watched him from dark, dusty rooms while he wandered the Dovanack mansion, searching for his mother. Sometimes, he saw Thomas among the silent watchers, and Thomas had iridescent yellow eyes and regal golden robes, and he was practically a corpse. He didn't seem judgmental. Instead, he looked desperate, as if silently begging Alex for help. Sometimes Thomas pointed and showed Alex that he was standing atop a mountain of bloody corpses. Look, the silent Thomas of his nightmares seemed to insinuate. You are even more monstrous than you realize.

Alex tensed at the sound of a door rolling open. The monster gate was in the center of the enclosure, part of the arena.

A beast snorted. Then another. Alex turned to face his opponents. They couldn't see his face, but he could see their bestial eyes and their bloated bodies, because his helmet was invisible from the inside.

Ropes of drool slathered from their sharklike, toothless snouts. They had backwards legs, and could probably leap as high as the bone ceiling. The third monster was a different species. It was stocky and tough-looking, with sawed-off tusks, a bony frill protecting its neck and back, and close-set, manic eyes. A mass of pinkish jelly wobbled in its opened skull. The telepaths had exposed its brain to make it an easier victim, and to make it easier for Alex to lose his human dignity.

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