Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Prince of Thieves

4. Play Hard

by Myshu 0 reviews

Play Hard

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Freya Crescent - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2007-03-27 - Updated: 2007-11-02 - 2827 words - Complete

4. Play Hard

Luth had heard of Lindblum's underground--anyone who'd seen even a lousy gangster movie was familiar with it. It wasn't a fictional concept, either; the public generally accepted the existence of "the mob" as it has been for untold decades.

What most people, Luth included, didn't realize was that Lindblum's underground was more than an organization of crooks or a black market--it was not just an idea, it was a place, and it actually was underground.

That was precisely what Boss was explaining as they descended into the utility tunnels around Lindblum's sewers.

"They used to just call this place Undertown."

The ladder dropped out, and suddenly Luth was marching down a long corridor of bad water and bad lighting between slimy cobbles and stinky rats. The lame orange lights were like embalmed torches in rotting catacombs--like the dead orange sky outside. Luth stepped carefully around inky shadows in the bricks, trying not to stick his toes where cockroaches sleep.

Boss's easy voice rang over the gurgling sewage and twittering vermin. "Then Gator's family took over and it got renamed. That was a long time ago. This place has been Gator territory for generations."

They turned into a black culvert that ran too far for Luth's nerves. He began to dread every next step into unseen cobwebs, but at least he managed to swallow any squeals or complaints. A real Dragon Knight wouldn't shy from dark corners, he counseled himself.

He could barely discern Boss's white sneakers plodding straight ahead, no care in the world. A caged yelp escaped Luth when something soft and slender coiled around his wrist.

"Haha, relax Lu, it's just me." The tail squeezed gently; it was more firm and weighty than Luth realized. "Hold on through this part, okay? It's a little slippery."

Luth tucked his stomach back in place and clutched the fuzzy guideline. The pair navigated a steep bank awash with what Luth didn't want to believe was urban waste, especially as it soaked through his leather anklets and into the fur.

Finally the path evened and light broke the tunnel. They stepped out into a high-domed plaza that was rich with more color, sound and even odor than Luth ever dreamed of finding in a ditch.

Wiry lanterns were strung across the short-stacked alleys, leaping from rickety rooftops to giant pipes jutting out of the manmade cliffs. Shacks and sheds were nestled under ruined archways and clumsy steel rigging. People roamed the shifty streets like packs of dogs, their riotous barks and the crack of metal bubbling through the echoes of curses. There were lampposts with busted glass cases and park benches with grizzled old men sprawled over them and pigeons fighting with rats for perches on overturned cars. There was an open market--little striped tents and everything--peddling apples and pears next to suspicious potions and powders. A palpable haze crept out of broken taverns where cloaked figures smoked, drank and spat at each other under neon beer logos. The seamy infrastructure was dyed in rusty, dark hues, and the scents of tobacco, motor exhaust, alcohol, mildew and urine singed Luth's nostrils.

There were no children, no pretty little houses, no picket fences--nothing clean, nothing smartly dressed, and nothing polite. It was a true, crude suburbia--a city under the city--a mirror image of Lindblum as seen through a greasy puddle.

Boss drew a hazardously deep breath and announced, "Welcome to Gatortown," with a flourish. "There's no cops, no curfew, no drinking age--the only law here is the Don's. It's right off the edge of civilization. Oh, I'd watch your purse there, if I were you."

Luth prudently trained a hand to the strap of his pack as he followed Boss to the opposite end of town, where people were congregating around a fenced arena. They shuffled into some vague queue in front of a ticket booth.

While they were gradually packed deeper into the waiting throng, Luth dared to ask, "So what are we doing here, sir?"

"You remember Ricky stopping by earlier? Remember how I said I'd loan him five thousand gil?"

"Yes..." he reluctantly recalled.

"Well, I don't exactly have that kind of change on hand."

"Then why did you say you'd give it to him, sir?"

"Ah, well." Boss rolled his shoulders in a shrug. "I just fibbed a bit. I do have the money, but I'd rather win it here than take it out of my pocket. You might say I'm a cheap bastard, but I just think this way is more, eh..." A sly grin sprouted as he dug up the best term. "Sporting."

"Win?" Luth blinked at the shady stadium beyond the ticket gate. "You're not considering gambling, are you sir?"

Boss chuckled. "This is gonna be much more fun than gambling, rookie."

A dog-faced senior met them at the head of the line. "Entry fee is 50 gi--" He stopped and stuck his nose out the ticket window to peer down his bifocals at Boss. "Oh, Ultima. Long time no see."

Boss rested an elbow on the booth's ledge. "Hey Arty. Yeah, been a while."

"Going to get in The Pen tonight?"

"Sure am."

Luth stood aside, absorbing his environment. He was now close enough to see through the fences, spying a boxy, spotlit enclosure at the pit of tightly tiered benches. People were slowly filling the seats and passing coins and drinks under the low ceiling and dim lights.

"What's your prize?"

"Five thou this time."

"You know, Don hates when you do this," Arty commented as he began to file a ticket. "Says it's bad for business."

Boss rolled his eyes. "Oh com'on, it's not like I come down here that much. He'll get over it."

Luth was just thinking that it all looked like a boxing ring when he at last registered the sign above the front door.


Boss nudged him. "Hey Lu, want me to sign you up, too?"

The Burmecian snapped out of his discovery, glancing around frantically. "Uh, what, this--this is real fighting!"

Boss stared flatly at him. "Glad you could join us, rookie. You want to sign up or not? If you beat me, I'll let you keep the five grand," he offered adventurously.

"What?" Luth gagged on alarm. "No! No thanks, really, sir."

Boss shrugged the rejection off. "Oh well, suit yourself."

Arty finished Boss's pass and handed it down. "Here you go. Good luck."

"Thanks, Arty!" Boss waved as he skipped away.

Luth tailed him through the gates and around the surly-looking bouncers. "Sir! Isn't this--this is--I don't know what this is called, but I'm pretty sure it's illegal! And dangerous!"

"What are you worried about, Lu? This is Gatortown, remember? This kinda stuff is the norm."

Luth wrung one ear nervously. "So you've done this before, sir?"

"Plenty of times. Nothing makes you feel more alive than a good old manly beat-down," he declared louder than necessary.

"If you say so, sir..." he quietly acquiesced, failing against Boss's leisurely confidence.

Boss stopped him at the bottom of the bleachers. "I'm heading to the lockers. Gotta get ready. Go ahead and find a seat if you want to watch. If you see Ricky, tell him where I went, okay?"

Luth scanned the rows for a vacant spot, trying his best to comply. "Okay, sir. Please be careful."

"Don't worry!" And Boss was out of sight.

Hardly knowing what else to do among such an unsavory lot, Luth parked reasonably out-of-the-way and waited for the spectacle in the ring to unfold. A girl with a tray of beer paused in front of him, and he was too thirsty to resist a mug, even if he didn't trust beverages in these parts too much.

"The Pen" was aptly named; it looked like an oversized chocobo coop. A lone strobe lamp beamed through the honeycomb wire that enclosed the ring on all sides. Sawdust and litter sprinkled the otherwise barren floor.

The first man in a suit Luth had seen all night entered The Pen, screamed some extravagant welcome to the audience, and then stepped clear for the competitors.

This wouldn't be Luth's first taste of violence. He was training to be a Dragon Knight, after all, and sometimes Burmecia Palace's sparring grounds got a little bloody.
Bare-knuckle boxing, as Gatortown made sport of it, was a slightly different animal. Blood and bruises were closer to the point than skill and pride. The raucous crowd cheered and booed at the bat of an eye, every deadly swing a turning point. Luth could barely see the fights for all the bouncing spectators (he nearly spilled his beer thanks to the boorish gentleman to his right).

He watched a huge black panther throw down a bald white human and a woman wearing feathers and muu skins break a dwarf's jaw before Boss appeared in the ring, opposite an extremely corpulent man.

Boss was a strange sight on the floor, pacing like a tiny tiger around his opponent, tail thrashing around his ankles. Shirt and shoes discarded, Luth could see the garden of scars along his spine, across his chest and down his arms. His wrists were wrapped in cloth bandages. A faded red tribal eagle stamped his back, its wings cresting his shoulders. He looked lean and fit, but terribly small altogether.
The crowd received "Boss Ultima" oddly enough, with an even mix of jubilance, rabid outrage and Genome-oriented slurs.

Luth slipped to the edge of his seat, anxious on his employer's behalf. His opponent was a wide-set hulk who carried his flab like armor, and once the match started all that meat flowed through his arms like sledgehammers.

Boss cartwheeled out of the initial attack and tested a punch on the fat man's flank, which yielded flabby nothing. The human tank guffawed and spun into a frenzy, tossing his girth into all The Pen's corners, but Boss danced around the bulk like a child on a trampoline. The giant kept throwing slow, futile fists at an impossibly nimble target.

The match dragged on for an appalling while, until Boss's opponent broke into a panting fit, soggy and pathetic. It was then that Boss pounced, pouring a flurry of blows over the man's ears until he fell with a mighty thump. Boss bounced off his prone belly in a victorious somersault, and the crowd roared a spectrum of profanities.

Luth sat back and contemplated the score while two more unknown brawlers scuffled in The Pen. He was impressed and relieved that Boss's aplomb wasn't unfounded. Luth had met his fair share of soldiers back home, and knew how to pick a skilled warrior out of a rabble--Boss was looking to fit more with the former. His technique was easy enough to read: Boss used speed and endurance to compensate for his lack of size and strength. Avoiding direct hits and outlasting his opponent were his keys to success. Luth only worried about what would happen if Boss met someone too quick and strong for his game...

The small tournament wound down to the finals, and by the time Boss faced the last challenger Luth was almost as excited as his fellow spectators.

The opponent was introduced as "The Black Griffin," and he was no less intimidating than the others, if the most freakish: too much muscle on a lanky frame, pale skin shaded blue, a black spiked mohawk, silver rings piercing his ears, navel and lip, dark camouflage pants, and a soaring griffin tattoo across his sinewy back as a matter of course. His face was long and jagged, dark eyes ever-glaring.

Luth's pricked ears could narrowly pick the sneer from his mouth. "We meet again, Ultima."

Boss's feral pacing fell into a relaxed saunter as he snickered. "Hey Griff. You're looking well."

Griffin flexed his oversized hands. "Cut the chit-chat. I'm here to beat you."

Boss straightened, crossing his arms defiantly. "I hope you won't take it personally when I stomp you, then. I'm here on business."

"We'll see about that," Griffin growled, stooping into a monk's broad-bowed stance.

Luth couldn't tell who moved first. They lunged at each other and all at once the arena was in an uproar. To the Burmecian's chagrin, Griffin was a match for Boss's swift moves, thwarting every bold reach and long step with a strong arm or heavy hand. The larger man was surprisingly agile for his build, bouncing off the quivering chocobo-fence with purposeful grace. He didn't afford Boss room to breathe, and the Genome couldn't spare his guard.

It was a blurry stalemate for a long minute, until Boss lent his weight to one palm, throwing his legs up for a kick to the gut. Griffin caught him by the shins with one hand and shot the other deep under Boss's ribs, launching the little body across the ring.

Boss crashed in a sputtering heap, dust clinging to his sweat-sticky skin and hair like paint. Griffin stood smugly while the Genome coughed up a wad of red phlegm and climbed to his feet.

"Heh!" Boss cracked, wiping the blood off a mad grin. "You've gotten better!"

Griffin responded with a low swipe, and Boss returned to the fight.

Luth heard himself shouting encouragements he couldn't attest to later, spun up in the energy of the match and its followers. The fighters were fast--almost too fast for simple eyes to follow, but there was no fury, no fire. It was too-big arms and black-and-blue competing for the upper hand against spindly quick limbs, liquid gold--it was a spider monkey scrambling around an orangutan--it was serious child's play.

Griffin's patience wore thin before his stamina, and he drove Boss to a wall with a surge of attacks. The crowd balanced on toes and a wave of held breath, anticipating the end. Nowhere left to go but up, Boss leapt and aimed high, and Griffin was ready to snare him by the neck, crushing his flight.

A rush of air and denim brushed over his thick fingers. Boss was gone, up and then up again, and Griffin noticed the monkey tail propelling him off the fence's links too late to stop the heel sailing into his nose. Griffin's head violently snapped back, and his body followed in apparent slow motion until everything thundered to the floor. Boss stepped off his face and--just as Griffin was lashing vengefully forward--pivoted sharply, sweeping his knuckles under Griffin's rising chin.

The Black Griffin flopped to his side with a sick crack and lay still, a disoriented, savage grumbling spilling from his sore throat.

"Gonna stay down?" Boss challenged, and in retort Griffin spit out a crushed tooth.

Luth abandoned his drink and pushed his way down the stands to meet the victor while the announcer sang the conclusion of the tournament and the crowd hissed and hurrahed over their wagers. He'd nearly been squashed and trampled threefold by the time he found Boss emerging from the lockers, wiggling into his oversized shirt.

"Sir!" Luth clung to his sleeve lest the flock separate them again. "Sir, I'm glad you did well."

"Hey, Lu!" The Burmecian's mistaken affection was repaid with a loose hug. "Did you watch? That was total fun--you should've got in this time. Did you find Ricky?"

On cue, Greasy Ricky jumped the two from behind. "Holy shit, there's our champion!"

Luth carefully recoiled while Boss exchanged a high-five with the drop-in. "Holy shit, there's our favorite bastard!"

Ricky laughed roughly and jabbed Boss in the arm. "I'd rather be a lucky bastard than a favorite! That was a helluva fight, man. You aced Black Griffin flat. Bam!" He pantomimed the winning uppercut. "Holy shit. How's that prize money lookin'?"

"Not subtle at all, are ya, Ricky?" Boss fished a wad of bills from his wallet, handing his winnings off. "Don't spend it all in one place."

"Ahaha! You're the man, Boss. You're totally getting this back. Hell, let's go for some victory drinks. It'll be on me."

"Drinks, eh?" Boss's gaze lingered on the weary dread in Luth's eyes before he said with a tired edge, "Nah, that's okay, I'll take you up on it later. I need to head topside."

"Heh, chickening out? Griffin musta hit you harder than I thought! Haha!" Ricky cuffed his back. "Oh well, see ya." He then bolted off, in a hurry with or without Boss.

"Are we leaving now, sir?" Luth enquired, trying not to sound too eager about it. He'd taken a big enough draught of Gatortown for one sitting.

"Yeah, we should. I'm a little worn ou--woah," Boss huffed, stumbling over a step, and Luth reflexively caught him under the arm.

"I'm okay, Lu," he assured breathlessly, leaning more on his aide than pride would admit. "Let's go home, okay?"

Luth nodded and led the way to the exit. "Of course, sir."
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