The Fan

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This chapter was written by the simply fantastic krazydiamond

    

She was glorious.

Gerald stared, transfixed, at the screen, fingers poised over his keyboard mid word as he watched the Rogue Soldier's breath-taking violence. She snarled and hissed with primal fury, blind to the blood that splashed across her face in swatches of careless war paint. A tiny thing, petite, so much so that the others bet high against her. They believed she wouldn't last more than five minutes, but he knew what she was when he saw her; a jungle cat, a tigress, in human form.

He'd watched her with intense focus from the moment she'd set foot into the arena. She was wary but hid her fear well. Cautious but intent, as she scented the air. His breath quickened at the first glimpse of her slow deliberate steps. Not just a survivor, a predator, he was certain of it, though he wondered how aware she was of her own potential. The Underground stripped away the trappings of civilization, down to the raw soul of a person. If you survived it, you learned a great deal about yourself.

His gaze was glued to the feed in anticipation of what she would do. A justified assessment when she ripped the bones from Shadow Puppet, that bloody disappointment, to serve as a weapon.

And when she rose from the decimated body of the Viking, a hunter who had paid for the privilege, like a blood-stained idol of feral beauty, Gerald felt an emotion akin to awe, as if he'd witnessed her rebirth through the screen.

She left the shard of bone embedded in the Viking's eye socket and scooped his fallen knife from the floor. Her gaze darted, a quick assessment of her surroundings when she saw the camera. Her nostrils flared. She gave the home audience a middle finger salute and slid back into the shadows. She couldn't disappear completely, he'd help set up the cameras himself to catch every possible angle of the Hunt, a far superior set up to the watered-down packaged garbage they televised on regular cable. He could still track her progress, knife in hand. No longer prey, she was a huntress now. Glorious, the moniker of Rogue Soldier didn't do her justice. He would fix that next time.

He swung in his chair to view his secondary screen. A blank cursor waited for him. She would be tired after such an act, drained, and Gerald wanted more.

TheUnderlord_92: 10k for Stim Pac to Rogue Soldier

UndergroundGuru69: for fucking prey?

TheUnderlord_92: 20k.

UndergroundGuru69: Come on man, it's against the rules.

TheUnderlord_92: 50k

UndergroundGuru69:....

UndergroundGuru69: Boss wants to know why

TheUnderlord_92: Fortune favours the bold.

UndergroundGuru69: Right. Whatever. 75k and he'll throw in a few toys.

Gerald smiled. The thirst for violence would always be trumped by greed. It was a balance he knew well, one his family held in high esteem. Human foils and vices were what made the world go around. They had since the dawn of humanity, and they continued to do so with society in free fall.

TheUnderlord_92: 100k to rebrand

UndergroundGuru69: 200k.

TheUnderlord_92: 150k. She'll survive.

UndergroundGuru69: Your cash, bro.

Yes, it was indeed. More cash than he could reasonably spend in his lifetime, guilt money, but he'd made use of it. Gerald Crawford once belonged to the upper echelon, one of the privileged families who Hunted. Certainly, the Crawfords were no Addingtons, but they held a reputation of prestige, one that could not afford the stain of weakness.

It was a hunting accident. The Hunt was a dangerous sport for all involved and sometimes, it wasn't that got you. For Gerald, it was the land, a sharp dip in the ground that twisted the legs of his horse. It was a freak accident, a fall that broke his horse's front legs, and trapped his own broken body beneath the beast.

They didn't find him for hours, long after the damage had been done. The Crawford matriarch was sympathetic but firm. They couldn't afford a cripple in the family. Not if they hope to eventually supersede the Addingtons. So, they quietly packed him and sent him away, with a sizeable bank account and a discrete staff.

He hated them all.

It would have been simple to sink into oblivion, a cast off, but through chance or perhaps a small mercy of the universe, Gerald found the Dark Web. He found the real Hunt.

He became the king of his own little kingdom, a lord of the darkness, the highest sponsor of the Underground. The blood money of his family bought him many hunters and prey. He named them all, his dear pawns, and sent them into the game to play. His personal avatars for the thrill of the hunt, the adrenaline, and the purity of violence denied to him.

His leg gave a twinge, a subconscious reminder each time his thoughts strayed to the loss. His jaw clenched as he impatiently shifted the useless limb to ease the pinch of half dead nerves. It was a bloody useless gesture, borne from habit. He gave up after a moment, gritting his teeth through the rising static of pain. It was eventually pass. Ignore it, distract the mind with something better.

Gerald transferred the money with a few taps, loathe to take his attention away from Rogue Soldier a moment longer. His focused shifted to her slow deliberate movements through the shadowed corners of the arena, knife up and ready. Movement in the corner of the screen caught his eye. Another hunter, the Black Wolf, stalked toward her.

Fuck, the Stim Pac hadn't arrived yet. Rogue Soldier slumped back against the wall, her limp body half collapsed to the floor, the knife tucked behind her back. Gerald tensed. Had she given up? Was he wrong about her? Black Wolf came closer. He crept forward in silent steps on the pads of his feet, the habit that earned him his nickname. But why? Hadn't he seen his prey already? No, it was possible he hadn't. The arena was purposely dark, the feed heat sensitive to appease the viewer. Which meant his Rogue Soldier wasn't slumped in defeat.

She played possum.

Black Wolf moved closer. Closer. He stepped parallel to her. Passed her.

Rogue Soldier struck in a quick outward slash against the back of the man's legs. Gerald grinned as the man screamed. She was on him in an instant, her movements jerky and untrained. She blindly stabbed until he stopped moving and rose unsteady to her feet. Her shoulders heaved, his beautiful blood-stained avenger. The Stim Pac fell from above her to land in the pool of Black Wolf's rapidly cooling blood.

It was perfect. They could easily pass it off as a delayed attempt to provide Black Wolf with supplies.

Rogue Soldier didn't react at first, either from confusion or incomprehension. Gerald realised he held his breath. What if she didn't take it? Didn't trust it or scorned it for its source? It would give her a much-needed advantage, one he wasn't certain she could afford to snub.

"Take it," he whispered to the screen. Rogue Soldier hesitated a moment more, her face half hidden by strands of blood slicked hair. Her shaking fingers dipped to retrieve the Stim Pac. She shredded the packaging and stabbed it in her leg with jerky ruthless movements. The empty cartridge bounced on the ground. She bent over Black Wolf and plucked whatever she found of use from his corpse like a proper scavenger.

Her shoulders were still heaving when she stopped and glanced up to search her surroundings. She stared up into the camera and held up hand, palm up with her fingers splayed. Gerald's smiled widened as she deliberately folded two fingers two. Her teeth were bared in a mirthless grin, but a dark promise flashed in her eyes. He wondered what colour there were. He longed to find out, if they truly looked like the trapped lightning he saw on the screen. He erred wrong when he first named her, his Valkyrie.

She melted back into the shadows. Game on. 

    



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