The X-men and their world belong to Marvel, no profit or copy right infringement intended.

 

The Price of Victory

{This story is set in the X-men movieverse. I'm reinterpreting Shatterstar's history to fit that 'verse and dumping the Mojoworld origins entirely}

 

His owner's hands smoothed across his shoulders, long nails rasping on the heavy, gold silk. Gaveedra tensed but did not move away. The Viper was his mistress, his owner and she could touch him as she liked.

"You are ready," she said into his ear and Gaveedra could smell her desire, her pleasure and her anticipation.

"Yes, mistress," he said.

"Good, good Shatterstar," she murmured, breath warm against his skin, making the hair on his neck rise. "Because tomorrow is your day, my Champion. And mine. And we will make it wonderful and no one will ever forget it."

"Yes, mistress."

"You will win, my beautiful 'Star. You will win, and kill, and everyone will know that I cannot be defeated," the Viper's whispers were not really meant for him, Gaveedra knew. They were promises and threats meant for others. Her fingers still crawled over him, fidgeting with the costume he'd been given, fondling the beads in his long copper hair. Gaveedra had seen others with lap dogs, petting them, dressing them, playing with them and knew he was nothing more than that. The Viper's pet, the Champion of Shangri-La. "This is my place, this is my kingdom and everything here moves by my will."

"Yes, mistress," he murmured. Eventually, she dismissed him.

Gaveedra knew he should be excited. The final rounds were starting tomorrow, after the weeks of watching the challengers fight among each other for the honor of facing him - he would finally take to the arena. He had always been exited before, eager for the chance to test his skills, his strength and his hunger to win against skilled, strong and clever opponents. He loved the roar of the Audience, the fame and - most of all - he loved to fight. But he was not excited and he did not love tomorrow the way he should.

He was not excited all through the fancy dinner, where the patrons and his owner, the challengers (those that were well enough to attend) and he - the defending Champion - were brought together. The last meal, for some, and it was always expensive and always tiring. Gaveedra had to be careful of what he ate - last year someone had tried to poison him and even without that concern the heavy food and the wine would do him little good tomorrow. He also had to be curious to the patrons and others here as honored guests - watch them look at him and laugh behind their hands. Gaveedra knew they mocked him for all the things he did not know and the only comfort he had from that was that he was capable of killing them all if he chose. He answered the same questions he was always asked, expressionlessly.

'How long have you been Champion?' Two years

'Do you like fighting?' Yes.

'Do you like killing?' I like fighting.

'Does it hurt?' Yes.

'Why do you do it?' Because I am a Champion.

Gaveedra normally ignored the challengers. It seemed the thing to do, since he would be defeating - and probably killing - them tomorrow. But this time, he could not.

Neruun 3 sat at the table in the Challenger's place of honor. That wasn't what she was called now, her show name was Windwalker - for her grace and for her grand, showy flips and leaps - but Gaveedra knew it was her. She spoke in the fashion of his cadre and he answered with the tilt of his head, the shift of fingers. No one beyond the cadre knew how to speak so, they had built that language together as students - a way to speak without words, without the trainers knowing what they said, without the cameras and the watchers beyond understanding that any words were spoken at all. Windwalker was one of his cadre - they'd been trained together, raised from small, worthless students to be gladiators in the Arena.

Gaveedra had not known until he'd watched her fight; she did not look like he remembered - older and taller, metal studding her face. But he knew those movements, he knew that body, he had faced her before. When they were small. When they were nothing. Neruun 3 was of his cadre and he did not want to face her tomorrow.

why are you here? He asked in the cadre fashion.

i am a champion she answered.

chose another place

i will win here

i am the champion of this place, he said. There were not many words in the language of the cadre. Gaveedra still did not understand why she was here.

He had fought his cadre before, facing them in a variety of matches but always before the fights had been until one yielded, or to first blood. He had never faced those of his cadre in a Championship match where death was almost inevitable. It had never been something that Gaveedra had thought about but it always happened - the cadre never killed each other. But Neruun 3 was here now, eating the Challenger's honored meal and being as careful as he was about poison.

Gaveedra's gaze slid to his owner; he sat at her left hand as always. She was pleased, the green of her eyes brilliant and her red mouth smiling. He knew that many found her desirable but he knew what that smile hid and only found her - frightening. He wondered if she knew Windwalker was from his cadre. He knew she would not care.

The dinner was very long.

Late at night, Gaveedra paced the halls. He knew he should be preparing for the next day but he could not rest. It was not fear but still he could not sleep. He had been the Champion of Shangri-La for two years and his owner knew there was no need to imprison him. There was no need for Gaveedra 7 had never wanted to be anything else besides what he was now.

Finally, dressed in his dark sleeping clothes, he slipped out a window and scaled the teak and stone wall of the great castle of Shangri-La. Normally, the Champion and the Challengers were not permitted to speak privately but that was what he needed. So, breathing hard and feeling carefully for alarms, Gaveedra climbed the wall to the challenger's quarters. Neruun 3 was waiting, having disabled the alarm on her window so he could come in.

"Gaveedra 7," She said and his brows drew together in distress. That was not the voice he remembered.

"Neruun 3," he said. "What happened to your words?"

She laughed, a broken, rough sound. "Throat blow. Shattered larynx."

He nodded. A blow like that was usually fatal, the loss of her voice was a small thing but it seemed very great to him. Gaveedra stepped into her room, the faint moonlight catching on the bright color of his hair and the gilded wooden screens that decorated the challenger's room. Neruun 2 was a dark woman, smaller than him but fast - very fast - and like all of the cadre, much stronger than she looked. If they fought it would be a difficult one which was nothing less than expected from one of his cadre. They were the best. All of them. "I remember your voice. You used to -"

Gaveedra gestured, not recalling the word for what she had done when they were all small and frightened. He only remembered that she had made him less afraid. Neruun 3 had been older than the rest of them. She had told them thing, things about the world beyond the training compound. She had told them about a world full of people - where no one fought. A place where the trainers did only good things and there were no whitecoats to make you hurt.

"-sing." She said roughly, shoulders dropping.

"Yes."

In the dark, in the quiet, when the trainers were asleep. Neruun 3 used to sing to them.

"Why are you here?" Gaveedra asked again, stirring restlessly. She should not be here. He did not want to kill her.

"I need to win."

"This is my place, chose another."

Neruun 3 shook her head, gesturing apology. "I know I can defeat you."

Gaveedra shook his head sharply, fingers flicking in warning but the guesture of his head was a pleading one. "I am the Champion here."

Neruun 3 came up to him all the angles of her face drawn and sharp, silver gleamed in her nose, in her lips, in her ears. She came closer than Gaveedra allowed anyone. "I must win. I will be a Champion!"

Her broken voice pained him and he looked away blinking. "No."

"I can't - " Neruun's voice broke further and Gaveera smelled salt. "I cannot fight any longer. I need to rest - Gaveedra 7, I need to rest."

"Chose another place." Gaveedra said desperately. "Do not fight me!"

"It is too late."

Which was only the truth but still Gaveedra did not want her here.

"All this fighting, Gaveedra, I am tired." Neruun 3 went on. She touched his bare chest and he shivered but did not draw away. "If I become a Champion - you know how much easier it is. Fewer bouts, more honor. Less killing. I am tired of killing, Gaveedra."

Gaveedra did not wish to understand her but she told the truth. Before he had been Champion he had fought ten major bouts a year. It had been exhausting. He'd fight and fight and the only rest he had gotten had been when he was injured and healing. Then, always again, the Arenas, the Audience and the blood. Even when the bouts were not to the death there were always risks. Injuries were common.

But the Champions were different. They were the honored gladiators; he had only fought six times in the past year and only two of those had been to blood. He had not had a serious injury yet though tomorrow that would likely change. Most of his year was spent training - specialized training with some of the best weapon-masters in the world. He had sat at his mistress' left hand and looked pretty, or sometimes entertained her and her guests with shadow bouts. His mistress was willing to give him anything he wished. It was a life full of pleasure and little pain.

"My mistress is - not tolerant of defeat," Gaveedra said. He was the Champion of Shangri-La, a symbol of the city and it's power. He knew the rules; if he lost the Championship his owner would lose Shangri-La. She would lose everything she had schemed and killed and destroyed to get - except for him. Gaveedra did not know what she would do if he lost and he did not want to think on it. Most Champions who lost their rank died - Gaveedra did not think he would be so lucky.

Naruun's head dropped, her hand curling on his chest. "Neither is my master."

Gaveedra 7 left then, there was nothing more to say. She could not yield and he could not. Tomorrow it would be swords and blood and the death of one of the cadre. Gaveedra did not believe he would be the one to lose. He had never feared victory before and did not know what to do.

So, he sat on the balcony of his room and tried not to think at all. Instead he listened to the animals that lived in the jungle scream and hunt and die. The moon was small tonight, the stars very bright and the land around the hidden complex of Shangri-La dark. Gaveedra looked across at the edges of the mountains biting against the skyline and remembered what Naruun 3 had told him when they were all so very small. Somewhere out there were cities and people. People not like his mistress, not like the cadre - not even like the Audience. He could not imagine what they would be like.

There was still a lot of night left.

Gaveedra dressed, choosing dark practice clothes and bound his hair tightly to his neck. He tore fabric into strips and wrapped the hilts of his swords so they would not shine and climbed again out of his window. This time he went down.

There were alarms but not too many, not until he would reach the outer perimeter. Gaveedra crept silently through the gardens full of jasmine and banana trees, the nodding pale heads of roses and other plants. He knew the gardens well - he performed here often for his mistress and her guests. Naked but for gold glitter and face paint he'd perform shadow bouts where he'd do the forms of T'ai Chi Sword or Shaoulin spear. It pleased his mistress, it pleased her guests and Gaveedra 7 liked to be admired. This late the gardens were empty and Gaveedra swung over the first set of walls.

Panting, Gaveedra crouched in the shadows. He was beyond the walls he had known for the last two years, beyond the cameras, the gilded wealth, the carefully crafted gardens and servants that made Shangri-La the most beautiful of the great arenas. Ahead were dirt roads and concrete buildings, trucks parked on barren dirt and only a single cigarette burned in the distance where one of the perimeter guards was smoking. This was the part of the arena where the servants lived, where the guards and the cells and the warehouses full of opium, pirated entertainment CDs and sweatshop clothes made Shangri-La one of the centers of illegal, international crime. It was a part of Shangri-La Gaveedra knew of only from overheard conversations. It was not part of the world he lived in and he shifted uneasily. He had to find a way out from here.

Circling, Gaveedra sought out the warehouse where all the goods were stored. There were trucks there and guards and even this late, workers loaded and unloaded goods. Crouched in the shadow of a massive trash bin, Gaveedra watched.

The guards were not a problem; as long as he got close enough to use his swords before they shot him down he could kill them. But it would do him no good to kill the guards. He could not operate the vehicles and did not know where to send them if he could. The night was moving and Gaveedra crouched there, hugging his knees and did not know what to do.

It was the sound of the morning workers that stirred him, Gaveedra glanced around at the voices behind him. He smelled the stink of garbage, realized he'd trapped himself here and - having no other choice, scrambled up the side of the bin and dropped into the mix of papers and old food. Insects buzzed around him and, sickened by the stink, Gaveedra sank down into it as quickly and quietly as possible. Face to his knees, both to breathe in the air pocket and to hide the gleam of his eyes, he pulled some crumpled trash over himself and went very still. The lid slammed partway open and more garbage spilled down over him. Gaveedra did not move. Even when they were gone he did not move.

The bin was full. It was near the big trucks. It was getting light out, soon his trainer and his owner would wonder where he was. Gaveedra stayed where he was.

Even when he felt the rumble of approaching trucks and the machine that lifted the bin. The bin tipped abruptly, light flying in and Gaveedra was poured out along with the old trash, the food and the stinking bugs. Silent, heart pounding, he scrambled in the garbage to keep from being buried. His foot sank into something wet and Gaveedra slipped under. Arms flailing, he latched onto a piece of bent metal and clung desperately as another bin was emptied on top of him and the weight and filth pressed him down.

Choking in the stink, feeling the sharp stab of something sink into his calf, Gaveedra clung to the side of the truck as he felt the engine start. The truck moved, jostling him. Barely heard above the sound of the truck and the rustle and slush of the garbage, Gaveedra heard the driver talking - the guards. Then the truck was moving, picking up speed. Going away from Shangri-La in all it's golden glory.

Gaveedra pulled himself out of the muck to lie spread eagle, panting and filthy on top of the garbage. He rolled onto his back and watched the green canopy of trees go by. Trees he had never seen before. Air he had never breathed before. Sounds, sights - everything he had never known before.

Gaveedra began to shake, more afraid than he had ever been in his life. He was - free.

END (102603)