Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 15 - "Against the Odds"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

a bet that can't be won

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy,Sci-fi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2010-07-05 - Updated: 2010-07-05 - 2624 words - Complete

When Max regained consciousness, he wasn’t quite sure where he had ended up.

All he could tell for sure was that it was a room, about ten feet by ten feet, most of it occupied by storage boxes. Including the small stack he was lying on, illuminated vaguely by a bare bulb that seemed too faint to cover even this tiny space. The heavy, windowless door that served as the only way in or out also failed to provide any clue to his location, or what he was doing here. No windows, either.

It was feeling his hands bound behind his back with what felt like some sort of plastic strips that brought it all back to him. That abrupt and unexpectedly violent confrontation back at the ship, all about… Max looked around, his movements turning frantic as he realized Bandit was nowhere to be seen.

“Bandit!” he shouted, stumbling to his feet. Though he strained at those plastic straps with all his might, they refused to give even a hair, instead biting into his wrists. Lunging at the door, he kicked it full force, finding it quite solid on its hinges. “Hey! Is anybody out there? What do you want with me? Where is Bandit?”

No response.

Max kicked the door several more times, starting to adjust his balance to having his arms bound. Even shifting his stance for greater power, the best he could manage was rattling the door in its frame. Turning around, he backed up to the doorknob, twisting it until his wrist hurt, only to find, much as he already suspected, that it was locked. Having run out of bright ideas for the moment, he turned to sit down on the boxes and think.

Just as he was about to sit down, he heard what sounded like someone fiddling with the lock, then saw the doorknob turn, and the door swing inward. Seeing a lone figure enter, concluding that this might be his only chance to escape, Max rushed him, barging right through the doorway and across a wide hallway, shoving his unknown captor up against the opposite wall. But even as it was beginning to dawn on him that he had no way to subdue his adversary without the use of his hands, that was when he sensed a second figure move in from behind him, apparently having hidden himself just to the side of the door.

“That’s enough of that, kid.” Max recognized both the voice and the attitude from the docks earlier as he spotted an equally familiar power pistol pointed at his back. “Unless you want to go to jail for burglary.”

“But you’re the ones who brought me here,” Max protested even as he let go of the other guy.

Still angry at being blindsided, he shoved Max back.

“That’s not what the authorities will see when we haul your ass out of our place,” the man countered, gesturing for Max to follow him down the hall. “It’s up to you, but Mr Bertona will very disappointed if you’re late for your appointment.”

“What did you do with Bandit?” Max demanded, wanting to know at least that much. “Where is he?”

“Who knows?” The man smirked and shrugged. “Bertona’s in charge around here, so even if he made a throw rug out of that damn cat, it’s none of my business…” The look on Max’s face changed his mind about pursuing that line of jest as he simply said, “But I imagine that could be what he wants to talk to you about.”

“Bandit’s not for sale,” Max reiterated.

“Save it for Bertona, kid,” the man replied, leading him along, his partner also covering Max with a second power pistol he had drawn while Max’s attention was diverted.

They continued on in silence, leading Max, still in his bare feet, up a flight of stairs to another hallway, this one better lit and less dingy than they one they just came from. Seeing that he currently had no chance of escape, Max simply followed their lead, trying to take note of as much of his surroundings as their brisk pace would allow. The only thing he found at all noteworthy about his captors, recalling it from his earlier run-in with the them, was that they both wore the same red armband he had seen around town before. Though he could hear the bustle of other people beyond, the sections they led him through were all unoccupied, and he concluded that trying to call for help wouldn’t do him any good here, as he was pretty sure he was well inside their territory.

They eventually reached another stairway, marching up several flights. One of them stopped to unlock a door on one of the upper levels, and they entered another hallway, this one curving along a contour that seemed to follow the outer edge of the building, based on the occasional window overlooking part of the city of Bodeen below. While the levels below appeared drab and utilitarian, this hallway was cleaner, more ornate in its architecture, and increasingly more decorated the farther they traversed it.

The only thing Max got to see much of through the largest of those windows was a massive bronze statue, that most likely stood in front of the building they were in, before he was whisked along.

They passed several more doors along the way, but the one they finally stopped at had a pair of Red-Bands standing guard, who briefly sized Max up before letting them pass.

Inside was a spacious office, decorated in even more opulent fashion than the rest of what he had seen of this level. There was a massive, ornate desk on the far side of the room, an expanse of window behind it offering a commanding view of the topsy-turvy roofscape below, all the way down to a glimpse of tiny ships sailing in and out of the harbor from the sea beyond. Though there were several people present, it was the one sitting behind that desk that grabbed Max’s attention.

“I take it you’re the boy I sent my men to bargain with,” the man remarked, pointing a burning cigar at him.

Balding and bearded to conceal a couple extra chins, he appeared as solid and substantial as the desk he loomed over. Prominent, barrel-chested paunch working its way into midlife rotund. Either the statue he saw outside was a very flattering rendition, or else time and luxury had not been kind to him, Max reflected, watching him take another leisurely puff of his cigar. Flanked on either side by a pair of thinly robed women not much older than Max, and, as far as he could tell, looking more like living decorations than playing any active role in the events transpiring here.

There were also, he noticed, the only ones here besides himself not wearing one of those red armbands.

“And I take it you’re this Bertona I keep hearing about,” Max replied, looking him evenly in the eye.

“You’re smarter than I expected for someone who wouldn’t take my first offer,” Mr Bertona chuckled, tapping some ashes into a jade ashtray. “Might I ask your name, boy?”

“It’s Max,” he answered, “and I don’t want to bargain with you. I just want my friend back.”

“Oh? You mean that?” Mr Bertona commented, gesturing off to the side.

Only now did it dawn on Max that he was so focused on Bertona and his entourage, that he failed to notice the small, wheeled cage sitting off in the corner. Groggy from the residual effects of the tranquilizer, occasionally looking up blearily from behind bars, but still alive. Much to Max’s relief.

“Bandit!” Max shouted, turning toward his friend, stopping short as the plastic bands binding his hands reminded him of his own predicament.

“You don’t seem to understand your situation, do you?” Mr Bertona motioned for his men to stop as Max paused in indecision. “If you hadn’t made such a big scene back at the docks, my associates would have been willing to discuss price, but now we’ll have to conduct business very differently.”

“Price?” Max demanded, reminding himself just how deeply those straps could cut his wrists if he wasn’t careful. “You think I own him? He doesn’t belong to anybody. He’s my friend, and if you don’t let us go—”

“You’ll what?” Bertona shot back, his henchmen laughing at Max’s growing frustration. “Are you going to take on my entire organization? You’re welcome to try, boy. We’re Nikopol, surely you’ve heard of us? The Militia’s not going to take the word of a burglar over mine.”

“But you took him…”

“I’ve got the shipping manifest right here,” Mr Bertona informed him, tapping one of several documents spread out on the desktop, “and my guards now have you caught inside my property. It’s your word against mine, boy.”

“My friends will come,” Max told him, “and they’ll also tell them Bandit’s with us.”

Mr Bertona exhaled a long, exasperated stream of smoke before continuing his argument.

“You’re all outsiders,” he warned Max. “Your word means nothing against Nikopol here, not from some troublemaking streetrat the tide washed in.” That last remark giving Max a whole new understanding of how Justin must have felt all these years. “You have no choice but to bargain with me if you want to get anything other than a tour of Bodeen’s jail out of this. Take your pick, but don’t waste my time. I don’t have all day, boy.”

“Fine,” Max sighed, seeing that he was completely out-maneuvered, in the heart of his adversary’s own turf. “What will it take to get you to release him?”

“Now that’s more like it.” Mr Bertona smiled at him, then intoned, “I take it you’ll behave yourself in here if I remove your bonds?”

When Max nodded his head in grudging assent, they shoved him back over toward Bertona’s desk, and he felt some kind of cutting tool snip the plastic bands, freeing up his hands even as he felt equally tight restraints clamping down on his range of options with them. After all, he was still unarmed, surrounded by at least half a dozen armed men, and probably plenty more throughout the rest of the place, if the number of Red-Bands he had seen around town was any indication. Bertona’s own private army to fight his way past, and no way for Bandit to flee while still drugged.

“So it would seem you’ve at least heard the name ‘Nikopol’ before,” Mr Bertona resumed, “but do you know what we do here?”

“You run the fighting arena, don’t you?” Max’s tone shifting from one of contemplation to realization as it dawned on him that he was forgetting something important that he should already have known about the Red-Bands. And, most likely, a clue to his current whereabouts.

“Very good. That should save me some explaining.” Mr Bertona took a long, leisurely drag before stubbing out the remainder of his cigar. “My associate tells me you put up quite a fight against his men when you attacked them—”

They attacked me,” Max corrected him.

“Watch your tone with me,” Bertona cautioned him. “You forget where you are, and who you’re dealing with. As I was saying, I am told you can hold your own in a fight, so I was thinking, perhaps we might make a little wager.”

“What do you mean?” Max gave him a wary look, not sure he liked the sound of this.

“What I mean is, why don’t we see just how good you are in a fight?” Mr Bertona waved his arm at the grounds below, at all the people now flocking toward the entrance. “People come from all over Bodeen— even other parts of Sarna— to bet on our matches. I don’t like to disappoint our spectators, so I expect you to put on a good show.

“You’re a nobody in these parts, so the odds against you could bring in a tidy profit if you last more than a couple fights. If you can bring in more money than your little friend would sell for at the Bodeen Bazaar, I would be willing to part with him. Of course, even with those odds, you’d still have to win every bout today to pull it off.”

“You want me to fight for his freedom? How is that any different than ‘buying’ or ‘selling’ him?”

“Don’t push your luck, boy,” Mr Bertona leaned over his desk at him. “Neither you nor your friends have that kind of money, do you?”

“Well, no…” Max admitted, figuring there was little point in trying to lie about it.

“So you really don’t have any choice,” Mr Bertona told him, opening a glazed lacquer box and lighting up yet another cigar. “You have nothing else to bargain with but your fighting skills, which means this is the best deal you can negotiate.”

“Very well…” Max now understood that he had reached the limit of trying to reason with this man. On one hand, if he went to jail, his friends would probably be able to find him more easily, for it now occurred to him that Justin and Shades had no clue what happened to him, but it would become a huge delay, with no indication of what might happen to Bandit in the meantime, to say nothing of trying to rescue him with the Bodeen Militia hounding them everywhere. This Bertona’s attitude did not inspire confidence, and he now understood that he was all on his own in a den of thieves, but this was the best chance Bandit had. “I don’t care about your money, but I will fight for Bandit’s freedom, if that’s what it takes.”

“Then shall we begin?” Mr Bertona looked Max over, then added, “The fights begin soon, but are you ready as you are?”

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” Max retorted.

To which Bertona blew another stream of smoke, right in his face.

“Pathetic,” Mr Bertona remarked. “I won’t let you set foot in my arena like that, and I won’t let you use it as an excuse if you lose.” He turned to one of his men. “Give the boy some boots before you put him in the ring. I’ll throw them in for free if you make it past your first match.”

“I can fight just fine in bare feet,” Max replied.

“That’s not allowed at Nikopolas,” Bertona told him, “so you’ll take the boots and be grateful for them.”

“Fine.” Max shrugged. “Let’s just get this over with. I never wanted to bargain with you in the first place.”

“Whatever.” Mr Bertona leaned back in his chair. “One day, kid, you’re going to open your eyes and realize that everything in this world is for sale. It’s only a question of price.”

For his part, Max walked over to the cage, where Bandit was still sleeping off the effects of the tranquilizer, reaching through the bars and patting his head, promising his old friend, “These people don’t respect you. I’ll find a way to get you out of here. Somehow.”

He then turned back to Bertona’s men to be led out to the arena, steeling himself to do just that.
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