Tops and Turvy, Etzos Underground, Ashan 63rd, arc 718
The lad was practically skipping ahead, still not quite believing that he’d been paid ten
whole golden nels just to take the strange-lookin’ stranger to that weird, older kid. What had she called him again? Flint? It didn’t matter, he knew just who she meant. There weren’t that many children frequenting the underground, as those that were almost always worked for Karla Kingston who ran Finders Seekers. “There’s several place ‘e might be,” the boy said over his shoulder as they ventured deeper into the underground. “I’ve seen ‘im alot ‘round Tops and Turvy with a big man, all decked and everythingk’.”
It didn’t take them more than a few bits to make it to the underground tavern. Not that it was a registered establishment, it was more of an oversized cellar hidden behind a heavy door guarded by a broad-shouldered man with a fat scar running all the way from his collarbone down to his navel. Other than a quick, lustful grin in Nightshade’s direction, the bouncer didn’t say much and let the odd pair in. They were greeted by a thick, warm air, pregnant with smoke and the scent of booze.
On the inside, Tops and Turvy was cramped, it couldn’t fit more than ten small round tables at full capacity and presently, half of those had been set aside to make a space in the middle of the room while the other half was occupied by a rowdy crowd. A few boxes and some empty wine bottles delineated a makeshift arena in the center of the room. There weren’t any mattresses to break the fall of the youthful contestants in the arena, merely a thin layer of sand sprinkled over the hardwood floor to soak up the sweat, spit and blood that would inevitably flow. None in the betting crowd seemed remotely perturbed by this fact however, judging by their rambacious chatting and shouting, least of all the high-rollers leaning against the bar, smoking tobacco.
Tops and Turvy had long played host to “The Small Contest”. The business was welcome to Dickon who ran the tavern, for it had brought in many more customers, more even than The Big Contest, which featured adults in the ring.
Dickon had soon found that between the two, The Small Contest was the more profitable. The entry fee of placing bets was significantly lower, leaving the guests visiting his establishment with more nels to spend on booze and some of the female entertainment he provided. The gamemaster, Selyse Na’qish, a Biqaj woman with an appetite for brawling from the day she’d left her mother’s womb was just as happy with the arrangement, as she only paid a small percentage of her earnings to Dickon, that oaf, without having to clean up the mess afterward.
Finn stood in one corner of the make-believe arena, a stern frown etched into his brow and his rapid heartbeat plainly visible on his exposed chest. Bare feet scraped over the floor as he tried to gauge his odds against Grennen, the larger, broader boy in the corner opposite to him. Aye he was older and stronger-looking, but he was also fat, sluggish and bound to make mistakes. Besides, Finn wasn't half as much skin and bones as most seemed to assume. Half a childhood spend on the streets and countless little scuffs had endowed him with some strength in his arms and a good fighting brain on his head.
“Last chance to place your bets!” Selyse barked. Two more visitors shuffled over to the extraordinarily large Selyse who received their gold with a wide grin before scribbling their bets on her clipboard.
Finn’s eyes remained fixed on the boy opposite to him as Grennen prepared, his every movement followed by the creaking of the floorboards.
“You know the rules,” Selyse said.
Aye he knew the rules. Rules didn’t allow under-fifteens from participating. That’s what Selyse preached anyway, in practice she was plenty lenient and as the spat had broken out between him and Grennen, she’d seized her chance to make their violent disagreement into a one-time-only special edition of her usual games. She had
to know he wasn’t fifteen yet, but she didn’t care, nor did he, he merely want to send Grennen home crying for his mommy.
“First one who’s out for ten trills or taps out loses. One round only!”
Finn clenched his fists at his side, steeling himself for what was to come. Grennen had a confident smirk plastered on his face as he approached with raised fists.
The lad who’d brought Nightshade sensed she might want to interrupt, but stopped her with an outstretched arm. “Not now,” he whispered. The gathered crowd wouldn’t take kindly to sudden interruptions, there was hard gold at stake after all. Even with her prowess, there wasn’t much Nightshade would be able to do anyway. There were too many people, there was too little room and she’d risk making far too many enemies if she kept them from having their fun.
Finn, still oblivious to Nightshade's presence, raised his own fists in defense as Grennen approached with thumping footsteps.
“Hit him!” someone in the crowd shouted. Grennen gave one last smirk before he swung back his arm to lash out and-
-hit nothing but air. Finn had ducked and in the same motion doled out a mean kick to Grennen’s shin. His victory didn’t last for long however as Grennen’s other leg shot up and struck him hard in the gut, knocking all air out of him. The crowd roared. The vast majority had put their money on Grennen and rejoiced at having made a quick buck.
But it wasn’t over yet. Thrown off-balance, but no less determined to reduce Grennen’s ugly mug to mush Finn retreated a few paces, buying himself some time to fill his lungs.
“You scared?” Grennen mocked, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
He didn’t reply. He’d come to beat the living shit out of fuck-face Grennen, not to please a crowd of betting drunks. “Come on Finny, I’ll make it quick.”
A blink later Grennen had closed the distance again and threw another punch, and again he missed. The following left hook tousled a few strands of Finn’s hair but ultimately did no damage. “Shame your sister isn’t here to help,” he teased, trying to lure Finn into attack.
Only stupid cunts fall for cheap tricks like that
, Finn thought to himself as he tried to formulate a strategy, the best of which seemed to be to keep dodging and tire Grennen out until the right moment arrived to counter and throw the older boy off-balance. There was only one gruelling downside to that: Grennen would undoubtedly land some punches.
A third blow proved his point as it struck Finn’s jaw, making his head snap to the side with a painful crack
. He recovered fast though, fast enough to avoid another knee to his stomach.
The game continued like this for several bits: Grennen on the offensive, missing more often than hitting and growing increasingly irritated that despite bleeding from his nose and lip, Finn was still standing, still circling around him. Between the two of them, Finn was the more bloodied, but Grennen dripped a different fluid altogether and his forehead glistened with sweat. The moment Grennen wiped his brow, Finn struck.
It wasn’t so much an attack as it was simply launching himself at the tired Grennen and throwing his arms around the older one’s neck.
The floorboards protested as they hit the floor and Grennen was too shocked, too tired and too sluggish to do anything against the onslaught of fists that pummeled at his face. “Don’t talk crap about my sister again!”
Grennen squirmed, wriggled, tried to throw him off, but Finn was relentless. "Say you won't!"
A white-hot fist crashed into Grennen's puffy cheek.
"Say you won't!" Finn demanded again.
It was the nose this time, and it cracked real good. Grennen squealed like a pig. He could squirm all he wanted, try to protect his head all he wanted, Finn’s fists still found their mark, sending dust and spit flying into the air on each impact.
"Say you won't!"
Something crunched, and then the squealing stopped as Grennen’s head slumped to the side. Finn kept one fist raised above Grennen's head, threatening to strike again if the older boy showed any sign of consciousness.
Gods he wanted to beat up Grennen some more, he had such a soft, punchable face after all.
Still nothing. Finn relaxed a little.
Then a roar from the crowd as Finn slowly stood up and wiped the blood from his nose with his fore-arm, leaving Grennen unconscious and motionless on the floor. A little smirk played at his lips, and it only widened as he spotted a familiar face near the door.
“Night!” He was beaming a little too much for someone who’d taken over a dozen hits to his chest, face, and stomach. Aside from a slight wobble in his step, he didn’t seem too disturbed however and left the impromptu arena without tripping over the boxes that marked its boundaries. “What are you doing here? You don’t strike me as the type to…” He gave a little shrug, then smiled again. “Well I hope you betted on me, earn your onyx nel back huh?”
The boy who’d guided Nightshade to Tops and Turvy made a face of utter disbelief at the mention of an onyx
nel. Such things existed only in dreams! Nonetheless, he’d done as asked and gotten richly paid for it. It didn’t do to linger, especially not in this place and so the boy left with a little nod.
Finn snorted as he picked up his shirt, wiped the sweat off his brow with it, and slid it back on, a concerned frown coming to his face. “Do you know how Alistair is doing?”
A thick crowd had gathered around Selyse in the meantime, each voice shouting over the others, demanding their returns. It wouldn't last forever though, and when they'd all been rewarded their petty prices, Selyse had every intent of offering the young O'Connor a more permanent role in her games. There weren't many kids that knew how to throw a punch, much less take so many hits and walk away as though nothing had happened, especially not at that age. With a bit of grooming and guidance, there was a fortune to be made here.