The Great Game

 

He settled down into his chair. It was gilded in fake gold, but the redwood that was cleaved to make it’s seat and legs was real. His seat squeaked against the finish and his eyes met the camera before him. They shimmered with the reflection of stage lights yet it seemed to illuminate the readiness within him. The games were about to begin, and he was set to announce the death of unknown numbers of Americans.

“WELCOME,” His voice echoed, charged and climbing, “To the next installment of the Great Games. HERE!” He shouted louder, the audience felt his energy. Every observer grew more enthused with every evocative word, “We shall observe… and we shall watch! As those who would lead us engage in an arena… a fight to the death! For the right to rule the American public! Ladies…” He smiled, his lips seemed crisped and edged and his gaze slimmed to wedges of something dark, “And gentlemen. I introduce you to the 45th Great Games. Let the campaign begin…”

So things trailed away, a shudder of anticipation before the event began. All the observers, no matter how far or radical their opinions, would watch in terrified silence as those who demanded to be the next leaders of the United States entered the arena and agreed to fight – alone or alongside their cabinet – to assume the role as President.

In the century past it was determine that every man or woman would determine their worth in the arena. If you believe the country deserve to potentially suffer and sacrifice it’s sons and daughters on behalf of your beliefs; first, you would have to suffer and sacrifice. Only those who could see it through and perhaps die would be called worthy to be named the next President. Here today, the last President, Barrack Obama, was surrendering his station to the next potential leader. None could know for sure who it would be – it was a wild and chaotic melee. Yet here it would begin, in a bloody sport those who so coveted the position could bring into the arena themselves and their cabinet, who were willing to die for them, and prove themselves worthy. It was not simply a matter of blood sport – diplomacy mattered as well. Appealing to your foe, turning your enemy to your side. Every element that was around you was your to use, only the most fit would endure and arise victorious. Only death or surrender ended the games.

 

It was the twelfth week of the games. Many contenders had entered the arena and many had already been slain. Untold scores of lives had been lost in the pursuit of one man or woman’s claim to the seat of President. Now, but two remained strongest among the savage ruins of so many others. The Lady Hillary Clinton, and the Lord Donald  Trump. Some few quivering hold outs lingered in the fringes of the arena – as was their right. Warriors for the Lord Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson remained. Bernie Sanders had long abdicated his chances and admitted surrender. He threw his support behind the only candidate that he could – Hillary Clinton, yet champions fighting on his behalf remained in the arena hoping to pull victory for him even though he had already admitted defeat. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson both were absent from the arena – they had champions representing them present, yet neither had the support to reliably exit the arena alive and thus neither had entered. Such was the nature of the game – no matter what, you had to be willing to die. Only then would you or your chosen candidate achieve victory.

 

Luscia struggled. Dust clogged her nostrils and it was hard to draw breath, and so she stifled the impulse to inhale and simply pressed forward. Her sword swung in sharp, hard strokes. She pressed, onwards and forwards, each blow hit something and it did not matter who it was or what the blow did to them. Some she trampled over still screaming as the trauma of their own imminent  and slow death dawned on them, others instantly destroyed and laid another sad parent’s regret in the arena. These were not her concerns – she was a champion for Lady Hillary and she would fight and kill until only her Lady remained.

 

A crest of crimson ripped across the field, the spray of blood was almost unimaginable. The man fell back as his open throat gave up it’s contents without relent, grasping at the wound as though his fingers could seal the breach. Emblazoned across his chest was an insignia – Trump, it said. When he hit the ground he landed hard. As a hammer striking the earth his massive body thundered in all it’s armor, yet every ounce of expensive privately purchase protection did nothing to stop the flow of his life’s shallow worth gushing from his throat. Luscia had struck him and rendered him impotent in a single blow, and now as his fading eyes gazed hopelessly skyward his last hanging thoughts of his family and greatest love would not avail him against the choice he made, nor did his loyalty to his candidate save him from the awful and slow fate that awaited him.

Rising up her head the armored Luscia lifted her gaze and through the visor surveyed the battlefield upon which she thought she was the only survivor. Every champion of Clinton and of Trump lay dead or dying – only she remained. Why? Why was she the only one? In such a heinous and hateful melee where no mercy was shown, no second chances to switch sides, she was the only one left standing. Perhaps because she had the most to fight for. As a woman, a woman of color and gay as well, she had the most to lose if her opponent succeeded. It wasn’t simply a battle of ideology – for her, this was literally a battle for her right to exist and so every foe that stood before her faced every ounce of her willingness to kill and die. Only the most worthy could stand against her, and no worthy man had been put forth by Trump today.

Blooded pulled itself with the aid of gravity along the edge of her blade. It pooled there at the point of her weapon and dripped. So thick, so red, it could only be the rich leftover of life taken. Nothing else was so tragically thick and beautiful.

A whisper from the field, the hissing sound of Luscia’s armor as she sank into position. She threw her ready gaze around – who was next to die? It wouldn’t matter how afraid or unready they were. Unless they surrendered to her cause, she would kill them. Then she saw him. Fetal, quivering and trying to hide. The emblem across his coat was obvious thought. Bernie Sanders. Though the warrior himself had exited the arena and admitted the defeat, so many of his champions remained. They fought hoping to reduce the number of Trump and Clinton supporters – thinking maybe through gorilla brutality they could assert their master’s great plan for the country. She had killed so many. Now, here another lies, quaking beyond his control as he senses his own fate. What man or woman could retain courage when they knew their destiny lay ahead, and saw the one who carried it? Most especially, upon a dripping edge; and so she crept closer.

“P-p..” He muttered, barely able to control his breath.

Luscia was already standing over him, gazing down on the heap that was his poorly armored form. “For whom do you commit?” She insisted, as she pointed her weapon down. It was the only mercy he could hope for. A final chance to pledge himself. Most champions would not have afforded him such.

He stammered. The words couldn’t come forth. He wanted to say Hillary, but only to save his own life. He stamped tears from his eyes as he gave in and finally said, “Bernie.” And so waited to die.

Where there should have been the hiss of a swing, instead there was a sigh. The give of armor as Luscia knelt down over the man. She placed her hand upon his visor and as he quivered she drew it back, showing the pale face of young white man. “Why?” She said, “Your own candidate has given his support to mine. Why die here… for what do you give your life?”

The thoughts were there – the ideals and the words swirled in his mind. The only important thing though there was willingness. The willingness to die. He had thrown his support behind his candidate – even after he left the arena this champion strove to achieve victory for Bernie, even if it mean dying in a hopeless battle.

“I….” He stuttered, “I behold there a great new Earth… in which all good things are renewed… I will not submit this belief to the strong. Take my life now if you will. I have no more to say.”

The edge of the blade touched his neck between where his thorasic and cranial armor met. There he was weakest and she could cut him with such ease. She looked upon him, cradled there, knowing he would die and his cause would be lost. Should she begrudge him this trust? He was a true warrior, one who would suffer himself on behalf of his beliefs.

So the sword drew, deep and hard against him. She pulled. The hiss of the fibre of her weapon against the fibre of his armor could not cloak out the tiny gurgle of fluid that left his neck. He thought he would die, and if she decided he should, he would have. Yet as he lay there, grasping at his throat, he looked at his hands and saw only the smallest cloud of crimson.

He rolled his eyes up to her through his visor, “Why do this for me? Why do you not kill me?”

“Because you are my brother, but so far estranged are you that you would die at your sister’s hand before you could know it. I will not kill my kin – even if he wears the armor of my enemy. Your liege has left the field, your cause is mine. Do not die today unless you are set upon it. Do not make me your killer.”

Galvin, he was called, cradled himself tighter together and gripped at his neck. The cut she had intended was only a sliver, just enough to terrify him and draw blood. He squirmed, “Fuck you!” He screamed between tears, “Fuck your evil witch and her evil wants! She is corrupt! She is evil!!”

Luscia could have struck him again at that moment, but relented. Her dark skin grew wet in the heat of her armor, it dripped from her visor that she would not remove until the day was done and the last enemy destroyed. “I could see evil in the honey bee for it’s choice to strip nectar from the flower and bring it to the hive – I could see evil in the wolf for it reduces the deer to meat for it’s pack. There is no intent of harm from my liege – but if you should die here today, it will not be on behalf of righteousness, but waste, for every life I take from one of your camp could be preserved among mine. We are not enemies – join me. I beg you.”

There lingered a moment between them – fraternity perhaps. A moment of sympathy that made killer feel for her victim and victim feel for his killer. Luscia’s eyes lifted behind the visor of her helmet and closed again as they beheld the waning hours of daylight. A red-amber shade that smoldered as blood across the fading skyline of falling apartments and offices of the chosen arena. The sun itself blossomed in colors of crimson and violet as though to respect or perhaps simply to stratify the bodies that lay upon the field and all such loss of life. Should the stars say; look here all who you whom you have martyred today, you are killers all.

“Jesus,” The silence was disturbed by the hoarse whisper of Galvin’s climbing sobs, “Sweet fucking Jesus,” He began to cry; to truly weep. His only thoughts could be of the meaningless of his life as it was set to end and that it should be taken by one so close to his own beliefs seemed to make it all the more pointless, yet he must die, for he set himself upon this challenge and now it had found it’s end.

Luscia was a true champion, she had killed untold number of the enemy and Galvin would simply be another wet sacrifice upon her sword. He could never have competed with her on the field and today he knew more than ever how hopeless his crusade was. He was chaff and she was the reaper.

Darkness crept it’s languid fingers between the many streets of this forsaken battlefield. A great hungry cold slipped in to replace the warmth of daylight and took away all knowledge of the dead laying there. If the sun set in angry red remembrance of the loss than the night swelled to extinguish them and render them inert.

There she knelt, her knees relaxed and her armor struck the ground. The stink of dust hit the air as her great weight a hundred times greater than her own body seemed to pass out all around her; the souls of so many dead for whom she was responsible. With each life; she grew heavier, but there was room for more weight. Glittering with an edge of atomized memories and childhood experiences her sword raised skyward above Galvin. The greater champion grasped it at last, and with a final shuddering breath the hopeless boy shot up his eyes in the last moment before it fell and all his world returned to black.

LATER…

The beleaguered champion wandered the grounds of her candidate’s fortress. Worn and recessed, this frayed once office building was now the hollowed castle of a political movement. It could be all of their graves, yet even if it were the site of their victory it would still be a bitter mausoleum of the campaign’s losses. She took every step with a weight as though iron chains hung from her heels and with such crushing burden she dragged them, committed and unyielding even as they soaked the very sum of her life. If she perished, it would never be because she failed in combat; it would be because she succeeded and the cost of her success was her own willingness to continue fighting.

A voice, then, from afar, “Champion Luscia!” Called the honor guard, “She returns!”

Still she languished there in cold the cold, hopeless harmony of her thoughts. If there was an arrow for her from some enemy sniper in this dark moment she would have embraced it. The announcement of her candidate’s return stirred her awake from this abyss but only for the truth of her duty. If she were ordered to die today, she would not have declined.

Through the windows of the crushed and collapsed ruin of their fortress she wandered, the sound of her plating sliding against itself as gravel and dust and blood gave each step a remembered meaning as though the long hours of the day told of themselves. She was not alone, so many other champions wandered with the same terrible truth being told each time they took a step or a breath, nothing came without the challenge of enduring what had been done before.

So she had come. A great and terrible calm had permeated the place. All Champions arrived in their armor with weapons at their side. A thunderous march was heard amidst the cold and dusty chambers and the dark, solemn eyes of the broken windows gave witness to this somber night. Turning the angle into the great chamber Luscia joined her comrades and there saw upon a throne of piled bodies her liege; the candidate for whom she had sworn herself.

The Lady sat here, taking no seat except upon the proof of her own willingness to fight and sacrifice in her own campaign. She rested grimly upon this mound of terrible faces and bent bodies and each, all knew, were her own victims. She had killed each and every one on the field of battle and their broken remains were now the hill upon which she would reign. She was a terrifying vision; clad all in white, and the armor that she wore stained in red.

At once the room was overwhelmed with the applause of a hundred armor knees striking the floor. Every champion knelt at once and bowed their heads at the sight of their Great Lady seated on her throne. None risked a breath until she had spoken.

“Report!” Her awful tone thundered from behind the visor of her helmet. A circus of trembling bodies were paraded before her. Each a withered shadow of what it had been before entering the arena. The coldness of her stare penetrated from behind her mask, looking on them each with a grave focus. They were crushed beneath that gaze and remained silent.

A Champion addressed the candidate, “My Lady. These are rescues from the third fortress of your enemy,”

“For whom do they swear?”

A gauntlet was thrown at the candidate’s feet. It had on it an emblem; that of the Sanders champions.

The Lady looked upon it and then across the gathered prisoners, and then again to the champion, silently commanding him to speak.

“They were in bondage in one of your enemy’s interrogation chambers-” He began, and was suddenly interrupted.

“By what means were they interrogated?”

“Torture, my lady. We have full reports on the examinations ready for your review as well as video evidence from our saboteur sent among the enemy ranks.”

“So,” Stated the Lady, “You have each suffered torment at the hands of my enemy – but you are also my enemy. Given the opportunity you would each see me dead – is this not so?” She addressed the prisoners directly.

Creeping silence overcame them all; if they had the strength to speak none had the courage.

The Champion addressing the Lady took forward a step intent on forcing the prisoners to answer, but fell quiet when a voice from the audience spoke.

“Lady,” Luscia said, “May I offer my own prisoner – perhaps in better condition to address your terms.”

The Lady’s gaze shifted to the source of the voice; one of her own champions. She only nodded.

From the gallery a tired form stepped out of the darkness. His hands in shackles it was Galvin, spared from death and taken as a prisoner he was placed before the very woman he had been sent into the arena to destroy. Shown mercy by one of her champions, now he relied on the mercy of the woman herself.

“Report, champion,”

“My Lady,” Luscia began, “I took him prisoner on the field of battle today. I do not believe this man – or his cohots – are our enemy. Behold, Galvin!” She spoke now directly to the man standing before the Lady, “See your brothers and sisters! Tattered, used, broken. Is it mercy that they were not killed today? If they emerge from the arena they may wish they hadn’t. Yet know that this is the nature of our mutual foe – no champion of my Lady has ever subjected a man or woman to such grief. Yes we have fought and killed and if my Lady chooses you will die today, but you will not be forced to suffer. Think carefully on who your enemy truly is.”

Galvin hung his head in silence, grating his teeth together as he squeezed his hands into bloody fists in their restraints. To what now did he answer; was it truly righteousness now, he wondered, or pride.

The audience chamber lingered in this strange quiet; it had become a common thing now, in the apex of the campaign. A pageant of former enemies brought before their enemy to speak on behalf of their intentions even knowing to do so may mean they will die. Yet if not to die, it may mean a betrayal of their beliefs or worse and admission of their faults. How long does one carry a banner for a candidate that has already left the field? Can their be victory when one’s sponsor has abandoned their own crusade and would that candidate truly be worthy, if victory was won?

“You look painted in all your shimmering rainments, My Lady,” Galvin cursed under his breath to her. If there had to be a speaker for his movement then it would be him, as those he recognized from his campaign stood around him shivering and speechless as much from their time among the camp of the Lady’s foes as from within her own care, “A testament to the thing you should wish me to swear upon. Shall I kiss an oath upon your fist before or after the blood has been washed from it?”

There was stern quiet after the daring remark. Though the hearts of the champions gathered stirred in anger at the man’s gall none dared speak in the presence of their Lady until bidden to do so.

“Do you know why I wear white?” Asked the Lady. A rhetorical question, “It is the color of the suffering that came before me and was my mother’s struggle and my grandmother’s before her. Here I will be seen wearing all the many hours of my campaign either in my enemy’s blood or my own, but it will not be hidden and it will not be washed away. You judge me? Because I have set foot upon the field of battle and killed and yes I have, at the head of my own army in this arena for I have been fighting long before this campaign. Behold!” The depth of her command thundered in the auditorium.

Stepping down from the heap of bodies beneath her she descended to Galvin’s level. She was much shorter than him, yet a great height seemed endowed upon her by her station. He shrank in it’s presence and could not meet her gaze. Then with a shuck of metal her helmet came off and the face of an aging woman was there. Her eyes were red flesh dry; cracked lips begged from thirst yet her coarse throat was not yet ready for respite. Suffering had become a mark of her commitment and it was painted all across her.

“You stand here now among your comrades forgiven and you sneer at me with disgust – so be it. But I did not lend the whip to the backs of these foes of mine – who would see me dead! I did not subject them to torture nor have I to their deaths! Your campaign is at an end. You shall endure what remains of this battle in the prison if that is your wish and you shall wish much if the day should come that I fall for in that hour the forces of my enemy will lay siege to this fortress and you and your kind will be dragged out and staked upon the hill as symbols of the punishment for subversion. Think long, for you shall have much time to do it.”

With a gesture the prisoners were gathered together, having no more to say and the Lady past the willingness to listen. The truth of her words rang with such clarity that it spited each soul so committed to her undoing. There beyond the hill and beyond the horizon lay an enemy vested in their destruction but more their defamation – to defile and torment and reduce them. The true enemy had made itself known and it would be a bitter task to metabolize that truth.

As Galvin and the other prisoners were walked away, Luscia and the other champions stood. She warrior gazed after the man she had spared – dwelling again on whether it was truly mercy she showed him today. The her eyes wandered and she thought about the next day for there would be more lives to take and perhaps another to spare.

Setting herself to a few hours rest, Luscia retired to lay on a pile of debris pulled together to fashion her a warrior’s mattress. This may be the last time she knew the pride of an audience with her candidate or struggled in argument with prisoners keen on their destruction as well as hers. The campaign was nearing it’s end – soon, the last battle would be waged and with it’s steady approach she felt a growing sickness. It was coming and there were no champions ready to show her mercy on the other side.

They were set now upon a grim course.

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