We all the best of us come undone at times. The loose thread that unravels to a busted seam and then it all comes tumbling out. The olny way we can pull it back together is to grab a needle and thread and stitch it back up ourselves, and then eat the stuffing again. Richmond Bantam had stitched himself up a fair few times but more often than not he was picking at the threads of other people. Bad people. He'd worked alongside Casper for years and years, and Casper knew he could use the extra pair of fists out beyond the city limits.
It was Richmond, with Casper and Grissom and Beatrix and Timothy, and Cornwall too, whom had congregated abouts West University. They were there in the speaker's corner along with Professor Duckworth, and Duckworth was addressing his audience.
It is my tragic duty to inform you all of recent events. There has been another death in the valley, only just beyond the Mariam Ravine. I have with me an esteemed group of individuals who will be investigating the crime further. Detective Bernstein, Dr. Johnstone, Mr. Bantam, Miss Beatrix and Mr. Timothy Wallace have gathered here because they will be setting off on an expedition into the valley on the morrow. And Detective Bernstien here has graciously invited one student of West University to join them on their task, with the expedition offering experience in the most practical sense. It will be dangerous, most dangerous indeed, but I think you'll know who you are, those of you who are up for the challenge.
Thank you, professor. Casper said, as he stepped forward to address the audience.
My name is Detective Casper Bernstein, I don't have much to say, more than what has already been said. I look forward to the opportunity of working closely with one of you, I'm sure the expedition won't disappoint.
The audience looked half afraid and half excited, such news does not come their way often. They knew of the valley, they knew the stories, the mysteries that had gone on down there in the past, but here, now, people in the flesh and blood stating with confidence that they were willing to venture into that, it brought everything right home, it was real. One of us they throught. One of us will join them before the day is gone. Leaving tomorrow, dropping the studies, dropping the tests and assignments for the great untamed valley.
Professor Duckworth stepped forward to speak again, the bring the disoriented crowd into unity once more.
You should all know that we have not selected the one student as of yet, but rather a list of eight nominees. It is to my knowledge that all eight of you are present now. The chosen one will be the victor of a small fight tournament. The detective here will act as referee. Howard Arthur, Fiona Mathers, Jordan Lincoln, Seth Carter, Nicola Porter, Jesse Temperley, Kyle Ford and Sally Westfield. Make yourselves ready for the fights in the couryard on the half hour.
Kyle steepd up to the platform first to face Seth. Kyle was smart and reasonably strong. But in all his time at West U, he'd spent much more time studying than bare knucle fighting or participating in stick combat. Seth, on the other hand, fought regularly. If not for necessity then for fun. Truth be told, he liked a bit of pain and bandages in his life, a reminder of his inherently flawed being. He gripped his rod with a menace and brought down upon Kyle with a whirl. There was no competition. The crowed cheered as Seth landed the hits, flourishing, smattering, the thunk thunk thunk of wood on skin, and Kyle fell quicker than a rock. Two more unforgiving bouts and Bernstein called it. Seth didn'tknow much about the expedition, merely the fact that it'd look damn impressive on his resume after graduation. Danger, hell, what's life without a bit of it, eh?
Three more fights Seth sat in the wings, watching, studying, the women were swift and agile, they who've obviously been through their fair share of the stick combat, and they who were obviously not going to let up for anything. But Jesse took Howard down with a mighty swing from his left cannon. Howard copped a good block shot, but the sheer force of the blow had him buckling at the knees. But the dull thock, thock, thock of wood on wood echoed throughout the courtyard as the blows kept coming until Jesse towered over the poor fellow.
The next round had an intensity that couldn't be beat. Each fighter with a win out of the way came back fresh with a new fighting vigour. Seth and Sally, Jesse and Nicola. Sally came out swinging and Seth ducked and weaved and blocked and guarded his way across the floor. He scanned for an opening, a weakness, a mistake to manipulate to his advantage, but he only just got by with the steady tock, tock, tocking of the battering sticks. They rallied all about, he was quick, she was probably quicker. A flourish and blur of wavering weapons, and then the smack of wood on skin. He leaped back, crying out in frustration. She let a satisfying grin consume her face and she stepped forwards confidently. She was quicker, but he was stronger. He sent a swift, strong blow raging upon the perpendicular to her own stick, and then came the sickening crunch of splintering and snapping wood. She was left with naught but two little twigs in her hands with which to defend herself.
Try as she might, Sally could do little to prevent the flourish of attacks that proceeded, her stumpy weapons thunked hard off the full force of Seth's weapon. They jarred her hands terribly, and then she was all a mess. It didn't take long for Seth to work her to the ground and pass the victory onto him. Next bout saw a replacement weapon in her hand, but she did little to redeem, The damage was done, and whilst Seth regretted the bruises he inflicted upon her, he knew she would likewise have attacked without hesitation upon him. And Jesse... well, he was a force to be had, and his strong aggression showed once more. With little more than a small bruise on the shoulder, Jesse met Seth to go for the win.
If you wanted something at West University, you had to fight for it. You had to want it enough to fight for it. It makes things worth having. Seth wanted a bit of danger in his life and a bit of extra punch to his resume. Jesse mainly liked winning. He liked the satisfying feel of his knuckles passing over another man's face and not giving a shit for the consequences. Some say the city trembled that day when Jesse and Seth fought. Each bruise that came up on Seth's skin just made him feel the more hurt, the more alive, and the danger pumped him on to dole out a bit of the beating too. Punch for punch they fairly smacked eachother up. Some could say they heard the crack when Seth sent his fist into Jesse's leg. Some could say they heard the crack, but all could hear the scream. No killing, and no breaking of the bones. In several ways Seth was lucky that it was only a fracture and not a complete break.
Jesse fell to the courtyard floor writhing in the dirt, his face and chest a flourish of cracked blood and wholesome rainbow coloured bruises. The white plaster cast he'd be wearing for the next week would look very much out of place amongst his other, more nonchalant injuries. He buried his head in the ground and Seth stepped back, waiting to hear from the referee's verdict. They carried off Jesse to see the nurse. She typically got these sorts of patients about two or three times a week. No one said anything.
The more they waited, the more Seth became agitated. Someone tried to clean him up but he just pushed them away and tried to shrink further from sight. A strong hand grasped Seth by the shoulder and gave him his wish, pulling him from the crowd and out away from the courtyard. It was the detective, Casper Bernstein, and Seth didn't know whether to feel proud or ashamed of his fight. Instead, he just felt queasy.
Well, son, you sure beat him. The detective said as soon as they had drawn quiet of the crowd.
So, an engineer, huh?
Yeah, that's the plan.
Good, good. Two years to go?
Two and a half.
And you do a bit of brasswork on the side?
Yeah, a bit of a hobby.
You know, the mechanic, Timothy, does some of that stuff too. Inventions and things. I tell you what, we could sure use a guy like you on this expedition.
You're taking me? Seth said with enthusiasm.
Well, of course, why not?
Eh, I just thought there might be something about the way that I won, what with the bone fracture and all.
It'll be fine, Seth, don't worry. Now, right now, we need you to pack and be ready to leave at dawn. Meet us down at the airfield, hangar 52, at about 5:30. We'll debrief before we head off, right now, we're keeping things quite low key.
Ok. Thanks a lot, detective. I'll be there.
I'm counting on it. Casper walked back to join in with the group, as Seth peeled off to go back to his dormitory and pack. And tomorrow came before he really knew it.