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By Tom Waltz
Copyright © 2001

The Warrior quickly dropped the small treasure he held in his right hand--instinctively raising his shield to protect his face with the left--as the Black Knight rushed screaming toward him, his eyes ablaze, a long sword held in both hands high above his head.

The battle had begun.

In a sudden spark of recall, the Warrior remembered seeing the Black Knight before now, long before he had discovered the treasure outside the castle walls. Then, the encounter had been distant--seemingly unimportant. Deep down, however, the Warrior had known the challenge would come. In this small, desolate land, confrontation was unavoidable.

Confrontation was the only rule.

There were no others.

All paths eventually crossed in a perverse spider's web of survival. The strong would endure, would continue along the dirty strands of the web to fight again and again.

And again.

And, for the weak: only the spider--the land--remained. With its poison--a slow, lonely death, faceless and uncaring.

What was the difference between living and dying? The Warrior did not know.

Not that it mattered now.

The Black Knight's sword came down with blinding speed, a silver arc crashing against the raised shield. The solid impact sent powerful vibrations through the metal defense, into the Warrior's left wrist and forearm. Instantaneous, throbbing pain left the Warrior grimacing as he fell back against the castle's brick wall.

He hit the ground and looked to the Black Knight for another deadly strike. Instead, the Black Knight stood motionless in front of him, the sword still held by both hands, at waist level now. A perplexed look spread across the Black Knight's face, and the Warrior could see that the ferociousness of the initial blow had surprised even the Black Knight himself.

Taking advantage of this unexpected opportunity, the Warrior dropped the shield from his nearly useless left arm. Then, grasping his own sword tightly in his good right hand, he stood up to face his adversary, who watched him as he rose. In a flash, burning rage returned to the Black Knight's dark eyes, and once more he fell upon the Warrior.

Swinging his sword wildly back and forth like a man possessed, the Black Knight drove the Warrior into the wall. It was all the Warrior could do to meet each frenzied slice of the Black Knight's weapon with a block from his own. He felt cold fear seize his loins as the Black Knight slashed at his head, barely missing, sending white sparks flying against the Warrior's left cheek as the sword's blade skidded across the castle bricks.

Suddenly there was open space to the Warrior's right side. He leapt toward the opening, reflexively bringing his sword arm around and across his front. Fortune was his as his weapon found the Black Knight's exposed back, battering the thin armor that was there. The Black Knight barked out a painful grunt and fell forward, striking the castle's wall with his unprotected face, blood and teeth exploding from all sides of his mouth.

Breathing heavily, the Warrior took another quick step to his right and warily looked to his enemy for movement. The Black Knight remained face down against the wall, groaning into the large, red puddle that was forming around his mouth. Without thought or hesitation, the Warrior ran at the Black Knight and delivered a crunching kick to the side of his fallen enemy's head. He cocked his leg back for another blow. but stopped short when he heard voices from above, from the castle tower. It was all the signal he needed to know the battle was done.

He'd beaten the spider this time; another small victory in the endless war.

The Warrior hastily searched for the treasure and picked it up. Clutching it firmly to his chest, he turned to flee. He did not belong to this castle, after all, and the priceless treasure he now held was stolen. Still, he felt no shame, no dishonor, in the theft. To survive--to walk the spider's web--one must be ready to steal.

Confrontation was the only rule.

There were no others.

As he ran, he heard the voices above and behind him growing louder.

". . .Get outta here, ya stupid drunk!"

The guy in the torn, faded jeans and baggy t-shirt leaned out of his buddy's fourth story apartment window, the one that faced the alley, and spit.

His buddy, sitting in an old, brown recliner in front of the television, took a swig of beer and belched. "Who the hell you yellin' at?"

"Nobody," replied Baggy T-shirt, looking back toward the Buddy. "Just a couple a winos having it out in the alley over a box of old chicken outta the dumpster. Damn bums were kicking each other's asses down there with metal poles and a garbage can lid." He returned his gaze to the alley below. "One of 'em's laying on the ground. Black dude. Probably passed out or somethin'." He let out a chuckle. "Other one took off."

He turned away from the window to face his buddy. "Didn't ya hear 'em?" he asked.

"Naw, man. Springer's on!" the Buddy said, pointing at the television. "Anyways, they're always down there doin' that shit: fightin' over scraps. Fuckin' city's full of 'em."

Baggy T-shirt rolled his eyes and plopped a half-stale pretzel into his mouth from the plastic bag he was holding.

"Hey, man!" the Buddy angrily shouted. "Don't be hogging all those damn pretzels!"

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