The air tasted of dust and salt. With his first breath in this new environment, Kael had grains of sand lodged in his teeth. The air was saturated with heat, heavy and difficult to breathe. He opened his mouth, drawing in deeply, trying to bring enough oxygen into his parched lungs. For a moment he struggled with panic. Was there enough air? Would he choke on the butter-thick air, unable to separate heat from what he could breathe? Then his chest swelled, and the air rushed back out in a sigh of relief. This was okay. Uncomfortable, but okay.
Mollified, he slowed his frightened panting, and surveyed the area. Now another significant trait about this wasteland caught his attention. It was quiet. Very quiet. For the first time since his noisy arrival in Eama, Kael lifted his ears. Slowly at first, and tentatively. Then he brought them upright, wide and leaflike, collecting the sounds from the air like dew. He could hear the quiet rustling of windblown sand, a high rushing that sounded like a waterfall, and above all, his own heartbeat. It was a bit eerie, hearing it from outside his body like a stranger. He listened in rapture for a bit, fascinated. He would have loved to sit and listen to the silence a while longer, but this was not the right time to be relaxing. From somewhere off in the distance, the whirr of a device reassured him that there was indeed a teleporter here, and reminded him of his task. He had only just enough time to locate its' general position when a sudden bang and a loud chugging overlaid it. Kael jolted, anxiety washing through him. It took a few moments for him to realize the feeling was not just his own. Ninety degrees to the left, and there was the source. Something green, almost as big as he was. And it was headed towards him.
Rather than head for the teleporter, Kael opted to wait for the stranger to get to him. From where they stood, the green person was closer anyway, and to make a run for it would be to let them know where it was. Or at least, that Kael knew where it was.
While waiting, Kael quickly learned that appearances were deceiving in this hot land. His foe was closer than he had expected. Either his eyes were worse than he had thought, or sound traveled very well here. Only a minute or so after their arrival, the two opponents were facing each other. With an unhappy sinking feeling, the quadruped realized that he knew this person. Not personally, but his name. Bouje, one of the taller contestants, and memorable for that reason.
They stared at each other for a brief moment, and then simultaneously looked away.
"I don't want to fight you." Quietly, regretfully, but resigned to the idea.
A somewhat awkward prolonged pause, and then-
"I know where the teleporter is."
Another pause. Kael studied the sand, not wanting to meet his adversary's eyes. Not wanting to acknowledge that it was a real person. Knowing that he already had.
"Yeah... I... I can hear it."
"Mmm." A meaningless murmur of agreement, for lack of anything better to say. Kael continued to inspect the ground.
After a moment, with a hint of hopefulness, the stranger asked,
"Uh... Don't s'pose you could you tell me where it is...?"
The silence went on for quite a while this time.
"No. I'm sorry."
With something feeling like a tiny sigh, the hope winked out.
"Thought it was worth a shot."
"It was... But... I need to win. I suppose you do as well, though."
They shared a wry, humorless smile, each still not meeting the others' eyes.
"Yeah. I do."
With the awkward tension thick between them, neither 'racer' noticed the ominous rumble until it was too late to react properly. The slight rise upon which they had been standing erupted, hot water blasting them well into the air and then dumping them harshly on the sand. Hissing with pain, Kael bolted. As he ran, the rumbling increased, and more geysers spewed out at his feet. A panicked burst of speed shot him past (and through a few of) the remaining scalding water pillars. Even then, he continued running until he realized that there was someone behind him. And right after he noticed Bouje, it hit him that the background whirring of the teleporter was not longer so very 'background'.
In fact, it sounded quite close.
Tail whipping madly, trying to keep a hold on his balance, Kael dug his claws in and came to a sliding halt, throwing out an arc of sand. With the adrenaline still pumping through him, he didn't have enough time to feel bad. Before he knew it, he was lunging for the green man, wrist barbs extended, and digging them into the strange goo of his chest. The give was unexpected, only slightly outweighing the bemusement he felt when his foe didn't collapse into sleep. Then Kael was being flung backwards, rejected with double the force he had attacked with. Stumbling, he only barely managed to keep from landing on his side, and whirled to face Bouje with a feral snarl.
He didn't expect the wave of hurt that jolted through him. Bouje was emotionally bruised, having been attacked by someone he hadn't wanted to fight, and who he had thought felt the same way. He had known it would come to this, they both had, but neither had wanted it. Now Kael could feel himself pulling out of his fear-induced drive of aggression, and he desperately wanted it back. Fighting was not something he enjoyed in the least, but when it was pressed upon him, it was easier not to think.
What was done was done though, and now Kael had to face the consequences of his actions. As Bouje came at him with massive balled fists, he skipped to the right and turned to clamp down on the passing arm. This time he was careful. He tasted steel, iodine, and something cloyingly sweet, like rotting fruit. He nearly gagged from shock and disgust, but managed to hold it in check. As the rebound came, he bit harder, slowly closing his jaws, doggedly holding on, refusing to be thrown away again. Seeing that he couldn't force the jaws apart, Bouje began to struggle and flail. As his head was whipped about, the loud sound Kael had heard when his opponent had arrived seemed to move about. This caught his attention, and forced him to focus on something else momentarily.
It a took a moment, but when he finally grasped the thought, it made perfect sense. Gears. He could hear them, glugging, clicking, muted by the viscous substance that held them in place. Gears were the center of all machinery, the command line between 'turn' and 'stop'. The 'nerves', if you wanted to think of it that way. They weren't the life, nor the energy, but to stop them would be to stop movement.
At least, that was what he was hoping.
With his teeth sinking closer together with every passing second, he knew his moment of control would soon be past. His opponents' thrashes and desperate struggling only served to force the thick gel further down Kael's throat. Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult. Hauling back with all his might, Kael shifted his balance to his back feet, leaving his hands free to lash out at the source of the sound. A punch might have no effect, but slender fingers could puncture. It felt a bit as though he were reaching through a plastic film, stretching it to the limit. How far before it gave? Something smooth and solid brushed the tips of his fingers, and he lunged again, with as much effort as he could summon. The film burst, and the not-liquid suddenly became easier to move within. Clenching around the cool metal, he yanked. His teeth met, submerging his nostrils. Choking, he reached again, feeling a ripple course from the exit point of his hand.
No words were shared, but Kael could almost physically feel the surge of </i>NO!</i> hit and flood him, threatening to drown out everything else. Fear, desperation, misery, self-preservation. His own guilt bubbled from Kael's chest, spilling out in an uninteligible apology. The removal of the first gear might not have done much, but from the reaction, it was obvious that a second or third would be the undeniable end of the battle. Kael had lost the upper hand for now, but he was still ahead. Nevertheless, while Bouje might not know where the teleporter was, he could easily follow behind and ambush Kael. Or maybe not, in this condition. The chance was there though, and Kael would not, could not, lose this. Not yet.
Expelling sickly-tasting goo from his mouth and nostrils with a body-shaking series of coughs, Kael circled the green man. Bouje was trembling. The loss of one gear, combined with the aching fear of losing, was sending small shock waves through his now not-quite-so-solid body. He was thinking, focused, but daunted. The time to act was now, before he could fully recover.
Shaking Bouje's emotions from his mind, Kael lunged again, drawing himself to his full height as a scare tactic. It worked, but not as much as he would have liked. While he was on all fours, he was still a good foot under the towering gelatin mass. He dived to the left, diverting Bouje's attention. His rival responded, pulling back and hardening his fist for a good sock in the ribs. Kael's heart thudded. Silently counting down the seconds before it was too late, he flicked his tail out, and drove it tip-first into Bouje's abdomen. A curl and a slight twist, then yank, and his flesh was burning like fire. A muffled thump let him know that the second gear was gone. Regret burned through him, nearly matching the pain his tail, mouth and flank were experiencing. Then it faded, leaving his own feelings of guilt and remorse.
They were quickly washed away though, as the agony refused to lessen. Cursing silently, he stumbled towards the source of the ongoing whirr. It wasn't as far as he'd thought. A large skull shielded anxious eyes from the presence of the circular object. Kael dragged it out, and pressed the center as he had with the device he had used to arrive. A satisfying click, and it was dark.