“Get out of my inn!” the older man said, cracking his wide knuckles fiercely.
Rin smiled sheepishly, holding onto the stuff in his pockets tightly. The customers sitting at their seats eating their meal turned to him and they looked at Rin with shock. He leaned back as the innkeeper stared down at him, trying to keep the innocent appearance.
“Oh why good sir!” he said. “I’m not sure why you mean that! After all, I just came in for the atmosphere and good company!”
“Don’t give me that you little shit!” he said. “You’re trying to steal food during my breakfast special today! I saw you take some eggs from a customer’s plate! Now hand them over I’ll have to get serious and show you why no one dares steal from me in this town!”
Rin smirked up at him, focusing on his hand, envisioning a void appearing in his palm.
“Oh well, you caught me,” he said. “Guess I’d better give up what I stole.”
“That’s right,” he said. “No good free-loading thief’s gonna-”
Rin had already stuck his palm to the man’s chest. The man looked confused at first before appearing as though he’d become overcome with fatigue. His knees gave out and he would have fallen down if Rin had not caught him over his shoulder. The patrons of the inn eating looked disturbed at this sight while Rin smiled cheekily as he dragged the man over by the reception counter.
“Don’t worry folks!” he said. “The gentleman just had a bad case of stomach pain! He’ll be up in an hour or so!”
After laying the man down he leaned underneath the counter. Rin walked to exit the inn while whispers stirred behind him.
“What was he?”
“That was weird. The old man gave out without a fight.”
“He must be a Changeling of sorts.”
“Came in to spend the night before getting a job at the stadium.”
“Ruthless, them changelings.”
“If they’re not fighting for the kingdoms of Blue or Niegra then they’re just freelancers who fight for themselves. Worthless to the common man unless you have what you need to pay them.”
Rin opened the door the inn and before exiting turned to the patrons with a dry smile.
“Enjoy your meal.”
Rin left, letting his soft boots touch the dusty metal below. He threw his bag across the shoulder of his tan tunic before brushing his black hair out of his eyes. Rin looked around at the buildings and streets that surrounded him, looking to see they were all connected to the metal floor below him.
Circles, as they were called, gigantic ships that were more or less in circular shapes that contained whole cities and communities. They would, at when manned at their control center, lift off to fly into the sky. The problem with them was that they had to be restrictive of their population because the more prosperous they grew the more people wanted to come in and so they’d have to build on to them. Not to mention, their power supply was not the cleanest thing to attain.
Rin pulled from his pockets the boiled eggs he’d obtained, biting into them with the soy paste he stole.
“Eh,” he moaned. “Life’s better when you know its best-kept secret…being able to get what you want without people bothering you or getting in your way.”
He finished what was in his pockets before reaching into his backpack and pulling out a poster that read:
Changeling needed for commission. Must be at least Level 1 and has had direct experience battling before. Meet at stadium of East Violet Circle near the center at the 22, 349nd hour. Come prepared to fight.
Rin put it back into his backpack with a great sigh.
Yes. Rin thought. Quite the crazy world we live in.
Rin sat down at the street, leaning against the side of a building as he did so. He reached into the bag across his shoulder as he ate the rest of his egg to pull out a hardcover book with a plain blue cover. He opened it to look at some of the earliest chapters, chapters that he’d read a hundred times before since he was a kid:
A realm that lies in between dimensions…It absorbs the cosmos ever so slowly, taking in it the land, necessary requirements to live…even the living beings there are not spared its assimilation. All is taken into this plain that moves freely in between the space of dimensions and it grows in mass by the day…one day it will absorb the entire universe…and reset all of creation.
He used to read that paragraph to himself all the time, thinking it was only part of the myth that was part of the book’s text. Rin closed the book, putting it back into his bag before getting up and walking down the street. Rin, curiously, went over to the very side of the Circle to look at the land that lay behind the handrail.
Beyond him were glaciers of purple and green ice that surrounded the bare earthen edge of the Circle he stood on. The structures of ice that towered over him must have been thirty feet high. If he looked closely enough they were gradually growing larger, protruding deeper up. A minute ago the same surface covered with ice had been only barren, craggy red soil with thick algae growing in it.
That’s what they called the Bizarre Plain. Right now the former matter soil was now being brought deeper into the realm’s land mass. A realm that absorbs the universe surrounding it, assimilating matter, air plant life, even living beings into it. The environment and atmosphere change almost on a whim and what land and earth there was a second ago is replaced with another.
Quite the conundrum for anyone sucked into what has been termed the “Bizarre Plain”. However, most of the people Rin had met were people who had been born from ancestors who’d, long ago, been sucked in along with the ground beneath their feet. Circles had been invented to create communities made up of leftover technology from their original worlds so that, whenever the environment changes to something hostile, they could move their communities whenever they pleased.
The glacier he was witnessing probably came from another planet from a far off galaxy. The soil with algae he’d walked on to get here was transferred to another place. Rin guess that the townsfolk probably observed this and were scrambling to get to the helm of the circle and fly before it the glaciers threatened to engulf or topple their ship.
Rin stood up on his feet, looking to the left of him.
Well. He thought. Enough exposition. Let’s get down to business.
He walked down the street before stopping a woman pedestrian quickly.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” he asked. “Do you know where the stadium in this Circle is?”
“Oh, it’s right across the street from here before you head west at the garden and animal stock,” she said. “Can’t miss it.”
Rin thanked her before leaving to go off in the directions she said. He passed the gated garden they had of soil where animals ran around. He finally stopped in front of the great domed building that stood ten times his height. It was gray in color made of a combination of stone and metal. Sitting on the steps leading up to the stadium were guards in silvery gray robe-like armor. They wore curved swords, knives, and other weapons around their belt. Rin stepped up to them, smiling down. On each chest there was a large red, four petal flower-shaped badge.
They were called Sentry-men, if Rin remembered correctly. Each Circle had their own group of warriors that defended their people. They were usually small since they guarded and surrounded a changeling and, outside of the changeling, were their Circle’s main form of defense against invaders. Sentries would bring their changelings from one Circle to another for fights.
“Hey there,” he said. “Was looking for a fight that was supposed to be here. Are you the guys who needed commission for a changeling?”
A blonde haired girl who looked to be about twenty-something stood up before him, looking at him with apathy. She didn’t seem too enthused, mostly looking heartbroken over something. She would not look Rin in the eyes, diverting them to the side.
“You should have been here earlier,” she said. “But…whatever. I’m Shita, head of the Sentry for the Red Clover Circle. You’re a changeling right?”
“Name’s Rin,” he said. “I’m the changeling you commissioned. Clover…I’m guessing you’re from Earth if you named your Circle that.”
“I am at least,” Shita said. “I’m a Newcomer. The rest are Generationals from a mix of different far off planets.”
Rin almost forgot the distinction, so he should probably cue the audience in on what it was as well. A Newcomer was someone who had been sucked into the Bizarre Plain while a Generational was someone born from the descendants of Newcomers and had lived their entire lives in the Plain. A Newcomer was often looked upon like naïve sheep to the slaughterhouse.
Rin was surprised to find that most intelligent creatures from other planets looked about the same as humans that never showed much of any physical signs of difference. He found it…unnerving that there didn’t seem to be any race that didn’t resemble a human. And yet they called themselves was very different. Rin had heard several names for peoples but never bothered to remember any.
“Our fight’s against a changeling who’s with the Purple Sky Circle,” Shita replied. “We were hoping for someone to put up a decent fight against the one they call the ‘Fighter of Mind’s Plane’. He’s not to be taken lightly as the Circle he fights for proclaims him to be on of their strongest of five changelings.”
“I heard he was a Level Three Changeling,” one of the guards said. “I heard he can fight without lifted a finger.”
Rin did his best to feign fear as the girl looked on at him. He didn’t really care much for what she thought so long as she was complacent with him. However, Rin couldn’t help but feel the need to shock the girl just a little bit, trip her up just so she’d know he knew more than he was letting on.
“Where is your Circle now?” Rin asked as innocently as possible. “I didn’t see anything when I walked here.”
“It’s stationed farther back,” Shita said. “Somewhere the land of the Bizarre Realm isn’t as unstable.”
“You sure?” Rin asked. “Because from what I heard, you’re Circle was destroyed in a raid for fuel.”
Shita recoiled back at Rin as he said that, a flash of discomfort in her face. The expression gave Rin exactly what he wanted: he wanted to know where this girl’s loyalties lied. If she was the leader of her Circle’s Sentry, she should feel ashamed of herself that she let it be destroyed. If anything happened to a Circle or its people, the Sentry took near full responsibility, seeing as how they were the only ones armed on their ship.
“How did you know that?” she asked.
“Eh,” he moaned innocently. “I heard it on the way hear once I asked people what directions I took. They managed to give me some background information on the Circle that would come to commission me.”
Shita looked down at herself.
“I’m sorry if I may have fooled you into thinking we were a more stable place than we really were.”
“Oh,” Rin said as he put on a nice smile. “That’s alright. What did you use to get here then?”
“A few scooters,” she said. “Those were under our protection are camping out on what remained of our Circle. Part of it still functions and we need a victory in this battle to get it running. I hope you’re up for this challenge.”
“I think they’ve arrive,” one of the guards said. “We best go in.”
Shita led Rin and her guards as the young man observed the inside of the stadium. The ceiling was domed above them with stands for and audience to their sides, a concrete floor beneath their feet. At the foot of the stands stood men in blue outfits with objects in hand that reminded Rin of gigantic toothpaste tubes, only with gigantic syringes at the ends. The inside was rather plain for what Rin had experienced in other Circles. Rin looked at the ground beneath him, nothing more than soft sand for the ground they’d fight on. Rin sifted through his bag before throwing ten or so seeds out onto the ground in front of him. When Shita looked at what he’d done he smiled at her.
“Tradition,” he said. “For where I come from.”
Unimpressed with what was around him, he turned to see his opponents.
Oh, yes, Rin almost forgot to mention that part to the audience. Here, fights are meant to get what fuels Circles, allowing them to move: blood. You see, as sentient creatures from other worlds had been sucked into the Bizarre Realm by its gradual assimilation of those worlds, their technology had been absorbed with it. However, that technology didn’t really work in such an alien setting without the prior civilization, and without electricity to run the machines they would not function. And that was when, through some unknown, way, someone had discovered something extraordinary: the human body changes when exposed to the Bizarre Realm. This change was sort of like a subtle transformation in that their bodies became stronger than before.
But one of the strangest parts was the blood. Someone had discovered that blood from someone in the Bizarre Plain was enough to energize old technology that had been brought from those other places. It was estimated they could power machinery five times better than that of ordinary electricity. Changelings’ blood, however, was thrice as energizing as that. So changelings fight to shed blood to power their Circles, with the winner of the stadium fights receiving seventy percent of the blood and the loser receiving thirty percent.
On the opposite end of him and Shita’s Sentry stood another Sentry in near-identical uniforms to Shita’s, only these had a purple sash across their shoulder. Rin guessed that armor for Sentry was basically identical for each Circle so they had to do something to tell the other apart. In the middle of the Sentry-men stood a man with long black hair and red garments who was looking equally curious at Rin.
“So will this be my opponent?” he asked calmly.
“He is our changeling,” Shita said, sounding uncomfortable.
Rin paid attention to the way Shita sounded nervous when confronting the opposing Changeling.
She must be frightened. Rin thought. She must feel very desperate.
The young man with black hair stepped up to the arena, fiddling slightly with his red garments.
“My name is Kakudo,” he said. “If you’re ready to fight then, let’s commence this battle.”
Rin put his bag down on the floor.
It will be my pleasure to take you on. Rin thought.
He nodded before standing at attention on his side of the arena, already flexing his wrist and fingers. His hand, and by extension his arm, began to become a lightning rod for energy. It was subtle at first, those around him didn’t know that part of their life force was becoming Rin’s fighting power. But then, the range of what he absorbed began to extend to the plant life both growing in and outside the Circle.
If I wanted to. Rin thought. I could turn this into a blast of pure aura. But no, I don’t usually do that. I’m going to wait for him to make the first move.
It was Kakudo who struck first. Rin saw him flex his neck before dust around him started levitating into the air. Before Rin could react, Kakudo had clumped up stray dust around him to turn into rocks of hard-packed earth that were sent flying in his direction. Rin lifted his arms from the sleeves of loose shirt, and with it a wall of flashing light erupted in front of him. In a moment the sand clumps burst into stray dust.
However, while Rin defended himself, Kakudo seemed to have been preparing for another attack.
Rin was slammed on both sides by what felt like invisible walls. He felt something in his arm crack slightly as he fell to the ground, pushing at the two transparent objects. He channeled more of the energy he had absorbed from the surrounding environment into his arms, giving him the strength to keep the walls at bay. Rin looked up to see his opponent was walking towards him slowly, almost nonchalant. Rin felt the walls become harder to resist with each step Kakudo took, forcing him to put more of the captured ki into his limbs.
I have to hold out. Rin thought. If I move from this position I die. But I can’t use up all the energy I have just yet. Just surviving this won’t attack won’t be enough…
Sweat dripped from his forehead.
To make it through this fight.
Rin smiled up at Kakudo, trying his best to make it look as though he wasn’t struggling beneath his sweaty face.
“You seem to…be able to handle yourself,” Rin said. “I don’t…didn’t know Changelings could have such with such weak telekinesis could be so versatile.”
Kakudo looked past Rin, forming a sphere of hardened air between his hands he seemed ready to launch.
“You call my psychokinetic abilities weak?” he asked as he slid his right foot farther up along the wall.
Rin slowly began transferring the energy from his right arm to his left, in doing so increasing the pressure the telekinetic force put on his right side. He put his right foot against the invisible wall, pushing as much as he could against it.
“I’ve faced stronger and better in my time in stadiums,” he said. “Some psychics were so strong they threatened to crush my leg bones only ten feet away. You may be strong for your position, but in reality you’re second banana to someone more experienced in combat.”
“I do the best for my Circle,” Kakudo said as the air sphere seemed to be complete. “It’s nothing personal when I fight opponents for their blood, so demeaning my power does nothing to diminish my pride. Besides, you’re very talkative for someone about to be turned into a blood stain on the ground.”
“Or so you think.”
Rin let his right arm from the wall, his leg he’d pressed against it providing some support for this split second, before shooting off a blast of shining ki against the ground from his right palm. The momentary flash it created blinded Kakudo in front of him. On instinct, Kakudo turned to his side to see Rin smiling as he began letting the absorbed ki form a flowing aura of white around him. When Kakudo threw his ball of solidified air at Rin, it vaporized on contact with the ki.
“I’ve fought too hard and too long for my purpose in life to be squashed by someone who lets his guard down too soon,” Rin said. “You’re a stepping stone.”
“I take it you’re an ignoble Changeling,” Kakudo said. “Who fights as a mercenary for whomever he chooses instead of protecting anyone close to you.”
Kakudo sent another invisible wall of force at Rin only for him to pass through it as he ran towards his opponent, the aura dissolving the solidified force.
“You’re damn right.”
Rin leaped at Kakudo as he pressed his right palm against his opponent’s breast, the ki of the off guard opponent naturally flowing into his energy-dry arm. Kakudo looked as though he could barely stand up after a moment of Rin absorbing his energy. Kakudo in his weakened state tried to pull away but Rin gripped onto him tight, his energy being sapped by the second.
“Yes,” Rin said. “You’re right. I am just a mercenary for higher. And you know what? It suits me. I have a plan Kakudo. I’m going to reset this entire world and return my home planet, Earth, to its original state, all the land and matter that was once its own will be returned to it before the Bizarre Plain stole it.”
Rin pushed Kakudo away, detecting very little ki output from him now as his opponent staggered back as they he’d fall over at any minute.
“I’ll go to the center of this dimension, find its source of assimilation, and return it,” Rin said. “So act all high and mighty if you want, I’m going to be doing a favor for the world. Oh, I almost forgot, you’ll have to give some blood.”
Rin got on one knee to press his palms to the ground. From the earthen floor sprung up five thick, dark green vines with red leaves and crimson thorns that snapped to attention to whip at Kakudo. Kakudo’s body became stung with streaks of red, blood, pierced by the faster-than-whip speed of the vines. As soon as Rin stopped giving absorbed ki to the plants and the laid on the ground in a crumpled heap, Kakudo laid on the ground, bleeding profusely with deep gashes in his legs, chest, arms and mouth.
Rin stood over him, trying to suppress the guilt he felt.
“You won’t die,” Rin said. “But I won’t say that those seeds won’t heal in just a week or so. Sleep on your wounds.”
He turned and walked to Shita’s Sentry. He walked right up to the girl with the blond bun. She appeared to be visibly afraid of him, her hands shaking a little as she gripped the handles of her sword.
“You didn’t tell us you were a level three Changeling,” Shita said. “It’s…it’s not common around here.”
Rin smiled before picking up his bag from the ground.
“What can I say?” he asked. “Had these powers for a long time.”
Rin turned to the stadium to see two men and two women in those blue uniforms but the syringe part of their toothpaste tube-like objects into the blood that pooled around Kakudo. Suctions, they were called. They started pressing the tubes, creating suction and absorbing the blood into the transparent containers.
“Hey,” Rin said.
The four of them turned to him.
“I want eighty percent for my guys,” Rin said.
They all shook their heads at him before turning back to their work. Rin turned to a clearly disturbed Shita.
“I’ve learned most people are afraid of high level Changelings,” he said. “And will do anything so long as politely coerce them.”
“Leave us,” Shita said to her Sentry.
Shita’s soldiers seemed to slowly move away from Rin, steadily making their way to the corner of the building.
“Those plants that lashed at Kakudo,” Shita said. “You planted them before the match even started, knowing you’d need them.”
“We won, didn’t we?” Rin said. “Isn’t that all that matters in the end?”
Shita shifted her eyes to the field, watching them carry Kakudo away. She straightened her posture and looked at him.
“You’re right,” she said. “I shouldn’t have complained if that won the battle. Because of you, part of the Circle should be up and running, maybe not enough to move, but certainly enough to provide warmth and services.”
“Right,” Rin said. “So how about you come along with me?”
“What?” Shita asked.
“I know of tournaments taking place in stadiums where the reward in blood is high,” he said. “Even one hundred percent of it goes to the winner. Why don’t we go there?”
Shita glared at him, almost looking as though she’d take her swords out at him.
“Why are you doing this?” she said.
“Because I’ll need someone to accompany me to my destination,” he said. “Someone smart and able to fight. Also, someone who has no choice but to follow me.”
“And why do you think I have no choice?” she asked. “Because my Circle’s people are in dire situation?”
“Exactly,” he said. “Your last Changeling was killed in battle months ago and you’ve been struggling ever since. You’re at the mercy of the most charitable and in this case that happens to be me. Come with me and I’ll provide you all the Changeling blood you’ll need.”
“You,” Shita said, acting as though she was threatening to pull out her swords at that moment. “You planned this. You planned all of it. You…you found us in a position where we had no choice. You’re a vulture.”
“I conducted thorough research,” Rin said. “You’re Circle just seemed to be the most vulnerable. So guilty as charged.”
Shita let go of her sword’s handle, looking distressed.
“Fine,” she said. “What is it you’ll have me—or any of my Circle do? I’ll do anything so long as we collect blood and are able to ship it back to them.”
“First,” Rin said. “You’ll follow me wherever I tell you to go, when I tell you to go.”
Shita swallowed, fear running across her face before slumping her shoulders in defeat.
“Fine,” she said. “Where will you take me?”
Rin lightly punched at her shoulder, confusing Shita as she was shocked at the mock display of affection.
“Cheer up, hon,” he said. “I’m not going to enslave you. But there are a few tournaments I’d like to go check out before we head out on the road. You understand don’t you? We’re going a on a little trip is all.”
“To where?” Shita demanded.
“The Center,” he said. “Specifically the heart of the Bizarre Realm.”
Rin could see Shita was trying not to gasp.
The Center was a place far more stable than the periphery areas of the Bizarre Realm. There, large kingdoms had gathered to form safe areas and territories where Land Shifting was only half or a third as common as it was in the peripheral areas of the Bizarre Realm. There Circles were larger, more well-kept and over all safer. However, to be admitted into a kingdom there required a Circle to already be powerful and self-sufficient. It was a pipe’s dream for an individual Circle from the periphery area to join one of the larger kingdoms in the Center.
“You…you’re not thinking of joining the Center are you?” Shita asked.
“No,” Rin answered. “Far from it. I’m going there for something few people know about.”
“What’s that?” Shita asked.
“Now,” Rin said. “If I told you now, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise
“Are you sure you’ll be safe?” Tenla asked.
“I’ll be fine,” Shita said. “Rin said there are other Stadiums out there that are hosting tournaments for blood supply. I’ll send them over when I can get them.”
“Shita,” Tenla said as he shook his head. “You cannot trust this man. He’s too powerful and too cruel…and don’t you think it’s suspicious he came to us when we needed help the most? You told me he even knew about how bad off we were.”
“My question is do we have any other choice?” Shita asked.
Tenla shook his head.
“I’m afraid we don’t Shita,” he replied.
“Hey!” Rin cried.
The two of them turned to see him standing in the doorway of the circular ship—a ship that was originally a small pod that disconnected from the main Circle. Rin frowned at them impatiently.
“Come on now,” he said. “We don’t have all day. We only have enough Blood Energy for about fifty miles or so. Better make the most of it.”
He disappeared into the interior. After he entered Shita pulled her pack farther up her back and waved Tenla goodbye before moving onto the pod just as Rin did. The interior wasn’t much more than a plane house with a control station where one piloted the small ship. Rin leaned in the corner, almost as if he was going to sleep. Shita almost glared at him in frustration, a question forming inside her mind as she did.
What does he want?