On the dull-grey concrete, almost as cold as the winter ground, Sylvia shivered. Although she was cramped into an unnecessary half-sitting, half squatting position, at the moment she was too frightened to shift. Every footstep on the old wooden stairwell could be her adversary advancing, but each time a dark figure approached, it was merely another spectator.

In the centre of the room, the onlookers collected like schoolchildren. Dark-haired, handsome Kenneth was sitting on the large and worn-down mattress piled against a bare wall. Next to him, his sister watched a tiny spider skitter along the floor. And right across from Sylvia herself, on the other end of the red ring, sat Allan, his tired eyes staring at Sylvia’s with a dull sort of interest.

“You look scared as hell.” he murmured bluntly, hiding a yawn behind his hand. “Keep in mind; you don’t have to check out so early, Little Fawn. No one’s making you.”

Sylvia would have bristled at the nickname if she wasn’t so scared. The nickname itself was connected to the very reason she had opted to leave this horrible group. Earlier, her failure to free the very master of this guild from a trap had cost Sylvia the feeling of security, even though it was always faint. Now the timid girl felt terror whenever the master was nearby. She could not suppress the suspicion that what awaited her was something horrible.

The master’s arrival was announced by soft footsteps from the floor above. Sylvia snapped to attention at once, standing up stiffly, trying to control her petrifying fear of the ritual that came ahead. ‘Hen-fighting’, as it was commonly called, required a person or super-creature who wished to defect from the Rooms to win a physical fight that was between them and the master herself. Weapons of any kind were strictly prohibited. Unfortunately, that was all Sylvia knew about the performance. She had been welcome to watch the many previous ones, but had never opted to. Dreading the next moment, Sylvia stood still and watched her master approach.

The leader’s name was Samantha, but she was rarely called such. Although her crimson hair, pale skin, and graceful figure were admittedly attractive to look at, Samantha had an air so intimidating that even the likes of Shanna didn’t wisecrack with her. In all truth, the master was not even a human; she just took on the form of one in all but the direst of circumstances. Sylvia was forcibly reminded of this when Samantha glared with artificial blue eyes, clearly still angered about what she deemed to be a betrayal.

“Little Fawn… This day should have come a long time ago.” crooned the eerie girl, only stopping an arm’s-length away from her follower. Sylvia had no words to say- and would not have spoken if she had them- so her master laid out the rules without interruption.

“Do not leave the ring, and you may not use any external weapons. You have only your own body and the objects within this ring, just like I do. If you concede defeat, then you may not resign until a later date. Is this understood, my Little Fawn?”

Silently, Sylvia nodded through her trembling frame. She had no idea as to the master’s physical prowess and hadn’t previously fought her before; but because she was a monster, Samantha would almost doubtlessly be more powerful than Sylvia. How high the chance of winning was, Sylvia didn’t know. All she could do was fight like she’d never fought before and hope the master would not be too strong.

Samantha placed herself exactly five feet away from Sylvia, at the tip of the narrow red ring done in faded paint. The demon-girl appeared calm, but there was no denial that excitement was within her because of her faint smile. Sylvia tried to look at her, but it was difficult. Was this her only avenue of escape from the guild?

“Ready, you two?”

Kenneth, acting as a sort of ringleader, asked this. Samantha nodded subtly, not blinking, and Sylvia emitted a tremulous “…Yes.”

“Then, three…two…one… fight.”

Kenneth’s mellow voice had lulled Sylvia and she was not ready for the first blow. Samantha closed the distance between them with an effortless stride and, rather than a classic wrestling move, thrust her hand straight at Sylvia’s throat. Dodging just in time, Sylvia grabbed her adversary’s hand and tried far too weakly to haul her to the floor, exposing her leg for a sweeping move. Promptly, she was hauled onto the concrete with an ungraceful thud.

This was nothing like Sylvia had imagined. Samantha was vicious; she had seemingly given up the choice of strangling Sylvia, but had moved on to trying to bite her somewhere. Sylvia could barely keep her enemy off with her hands and arms, and tried to use her one free leg to kick her away- but the blow was ignored, and the master drew in closer.

“You’re pathetic!” she snarled, relaxing briefly before wrapping her fingers around Sylvia’s pale neck and squeezing. Instantly Sylvia’s breathing was halted. “I will have no trouble finishing at this rate!”

When she knew that her life was in immediate danger, strength propelled in Sylvia. With all of her strength she bit down on the arm choking her, tasting bitter blood, and used her free hand to claw at her own enemy’s throat. Momentarily startled, Samantha nevertheless wrestled furiously once Sylvia struggled more violently. The terror-stricken subordinate was using not just her hands and teeth, but her entire body, as a potential weapon.

It took ten whole seconds and a Herculean effort for Sylvia to flip the angry girl onto her own back. The muscles in Sylvia’s arms were screaming in protest at the sheer exertion, but she paid no heed to them, for her fear was too great. Just the look in Samantha’s eyes meant that she intended to kill. Once she was on her back, the demon reacted much as a beetle would- furiously kicking her legs and waving her arms, but Sylvia was undaunted. Ignoring the hard kicking and clawing, she held down Samantha’s arms with her own.

“Holy shit, this fight in insane!” the audience exclaimed in unison, Sheshock’s voice being the loudest. Then came Allan: “Never seen that before! Master, don’t let her do it!”

But the master was almost immobilized. Sylvia lowered her face to her antagonists’ throat and bit down, breaking the flesh, and felt the awful blood between her blunt teeth. Yet before she could get deeper than a tiny puncture, Samantha thrashed a single arm free and struck Sylvia so violently that the nails dug long scratches into the soft cheek.

“Never… before…” The master’s voice had gone from a calm tone to a vicious, animalistic snarl that scratched painfully at the lining of her throat. Samantha had at long last gotten her hands around Sylvia’s neck once more and was clenching them ruthlessly, totally depriving her victim of air. Sylvia’s legs scrabbled with harsh clashes on the cement, and as if to quiet her, Samantha lifted her face a few inches and shoved the back of her head to the concrete, dazing her.

“Alright, alright, cut it out!!” came an abrupt and unidentifiable cry. “Samantha, you win!! You’re going to kill her…!”

“There are no rules against killing in these fights!” roared the master, not removing her eyes from Sylvia’s face as she gasped fruitlessly for air. “If she wants her life, she has to fight for it!”

And indeed, Sylvia was fighting. This brutality was unimaginable. She was being treated like an animal, not another person. Her thrashes had stopped, but her arms were locked around her master’s, using all the power she had to make the fingers move. Her struggles were no doubt weaker with the loss of breath, but the master’s throat was bleeding badly, and her own old body was feeling the pain. Powerful as she was, there was limit to even a demon’s strength.

Suddenly the tremendous pressure on Sylvia’s throat lifted. In a split second she tried to stand up, which was another mistake- the villain again intercepted her progress, locking her leg around Sylvia’s and throwing her to the ground, harder this time. By now Sylvia was barely conscious from so many blows to her head and bloody about her mouth and nose, but she enacted a feeble resistance when her tormentor tried again to strangle the life out of her.

With only adrenaline moving her, Sylvia pushed up like an explosion before Samantha’s weight could hold her down. The smaller girl not only pushed her master, but taking advantage of Samantha’s surprise, managed to slam her against the hard wall. Standing on her feet to stop her escaping, Sylvia began to strangle Samantha with a matching lack of pity. She was wearier than she could ever remember, but her life was at stake.

“Let go, Fawn!! Get your damn hands off!”

This and similar shrieks were coming from the audience, but they did not dare intervene. The so-called little fawn looked more like a vengeful stag out for blood. She didn’t so much as shift when the Master slapped her face in desperation, only tightened her deadly grip even more.

Samantha could use the one arm Sylvia did not have pinned down, but it was doing her no good. Little Fawn kept moving her neck out of reach and was not detracted by the blows she was receiving- especially not as they became weaker and weaker. The master was vulnerable for one of the first times in her long life. Fighting fear, she attempted a signal for Sylvia to cease.

“Shut up!” Sylvia yelled madly, although no one was talking to her. Pressing even harder on the master’s throat, she felt her own bruises throb in pain from the attempted throttling she’d received. Samantha’s eyes blinked rapidly and started to waver, her mouth open and bleeding, and her arms still trying to harm the Little Fawn in some way. She choked without force, spitting up more dark blood, and then dropped unsupported to the concrete.

“Stop, now!”

Upon hearing Kenneth’s voice, his sister shoved the stunned Sylvia aside roughly and inspected the unconscious Samantha for signs of life. Sylvia was ready to collapse herself; her whole body felt battered, as if she’d had to squeeze through some cramped passage. The defeated girl was breathing again already, but was otherwise limp, bleeding slowly from the rough bite to her throat. Sylvia fought back a yelp when she perceived the amount of blood that was coloring the grey cement.

“…You just about did it.” Cassandra breathed, observing the wounds left all over the master’s neck. “Were you going to… keep going?”

Frightened at the accusation, Sylvia shook her head in refusal. “I would never do that… W-would she… I mean, has she killed someone in one of these… fights before?”

“Yeah.” Sheshock confessed grimly, her usual smile absent. “It’s never pretty. I do my best to stop it, but that’s why she warns people who wanna join that it can get rough.”

Kenneth, on the other hand, was having trouble concealing his admiration. “I’ve never seen her get wiped like this, Sylvia. A lot of kids just get scared and let her trample them, but you’re supposed to fight back hard as you can. It’s more of a dog fight than the wrestling match it’s made out to be, that’s why we aren’t allowed to discuss it.”

Finally done with her examination, Cassandra turned her nervous blue eyes back to Sylvia. “Do you need treatment?”

“…N-no” whispered Sylvia, hardly able to believe her luck. She could finally leave now- or at least according to her master’s previous word. “Do I… have to do anything else…?”

“Wait till she wakes up, then she’ll talk.” replied Kenneth bluntly. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you, she’s going to be furious. Hasn’t been beaten at her own game in years…”

As if she could hear him all along, Samantha’s eyes wrenched open and she hefted herself to a sitting position. Her face was horrible to look at- her lips and chin were crusted with half-dried blood, and her neck was bruised black from Sylvia’s grasp, so she had to gesture to her former member to look at her.

“…I haven’t seen many… have the courage to try to kill me.” rasped Samantha, pausing many times to try to breathe steadily. “I should be impressed, and yet… All I feel is anger.”

Sylvia visibly trembled at those words. Was her freedom slipping away? Taking the first chance she got, she blurted, “Let me go! I followed your rules… I don’t want to work anymore…!”

“Then leave us!” Samantha cried, but her voice quickly calmed when she was forced to breathe more deeply. “I thought someone with such daring as you could be useful, but I will abide by the laws I wrote.”

Samantha paused to rub her mouth clearer of blood, a strange expression on her sweating face. “This shall be your payment for failing to aide me in the forest. I will remember this match for many years to come, Little Fawn.”

Too eager to leave, Sylvia did not spend much time on her good-byes. The only one in the group she had ever liked had been the Longmire siblings, and they could never remain active because they were already involved in their own affairs. Everyone else was more-or-less succumbed, or succumbing, to Samantha’s brutal influence. Naturally, Kenneth offered to walk her out of the basement.

“You can come back if you ever miss us, you know.” Kenneth reminded Sylvia lightly as they walked cautiously up the rickety stairs. Each step gave the light-haired girl another jolt of pain from her bruised frame, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask Kenneth to carry her.

“I won’t.” she said, eventually. “Samantha just terrifies me…”

“Well, I’m sorry you didn’t have good experiences here.” Kenneth’s voice grew sadder as he continued. “But I’m glad I got to know you a little.”

“Kenneth, you should leave, too.” Sylvia spoke unexpectedly. “Y-you might be in danger… I don’t want you to get hurt…”

Kenneth’s brows knitted in concern, but he was smiling. “I’m not leaving, and I’m a careful guy. Cass doesn’t let me do anything… So I’ll see you at school, I guess…?”

“If you want.”

The pair had finally reached the front door, and Sylvia had never been happier to see it. Her escort looked calm as always, taking a moment to shake his colleague’s hand. She took it tentatively, but felt her heart start to race when Kenneth suddenly put his arms around her. For a long moment he held her close, and inexplicably, the one heart that was racing began to slow down.

“Be careful, Sylvia.”

Written by Grizzly Bear