The orphanage was a front.
People dropped children off at the large wooden doors to the building that so resembled a church with a single thought in their head; ‘This child will be taken care of here.’ Why would they think anything different?
The building was sound proof. The warehouse type basement was beneath the building, under layers of thick cement. The only way down was a hatch cleverly hidden.
She was the youngest of the children here. There may have been kids her age here at a time, but had they lacked the fight she had, they wouldn’t have lasted long.
Being the youngest meant the matches were seldom to her advantage.
Many night she would lay awake and wonder what the people who left her here would think, how they would react had they known who ran this orphanage, had they known how she was left to spend her days, and her nights.
Would they have come back for her? Would they have whisked her away, spoiled her because of their guilt and given her the one thing that always seemed to evade her?
Those thoughts were foolish and worthless, and as time passed, she found herself thinking about it less and less.
Despite the jealousy and envy of the other children, she found herself empathizing with Sasha. Sure, she had a father which was one more parent than any of they had, and she had a name; but to be the biological daughter of Aleksandr was so much pressure.
Aleksandr held them all to impossible standards. Every day they woke up was a day they would risk life and death situations, yet for her… knowing she had to try just as hard, fight just as many, move her way up the ranks just like all these nameless urchins, and never dare to dream of the wondrous escape that was Death.
Now, as she licked the blood dripping from the open wound on her bottom lip, she told herself all that empathy had been wasted. Her side ached; each breath was a painful reminder of the skills embedded in them both from where they came from.
“Tell me girl, what have you been doing with your worthless life all this time?” She spat out a mouthful of blood and ran her arm along her mouth. She grinned, blood settling between all her teeth making her smile menacing. Widening her stance, she brought her fists back up beneath her eyes, nodding towards her.
Accepting the challenge, she flew across the room towards Sasha Aleksandr. Having been in this exact place so many times before, she stopped a step short, dropping low.
Sasha’s fist pounded through the air above her head as she ducked below her arm, quickly stepped behind her and brought her arms up to cup the small gaps below her armpits. Sasha groaned, as she swept her leg through her feet, pulling her back towards her.
Flipping over her bent form, Sasha’s chest his the ground hard.
Flying through time, she remembered her small six-year-old frame mounting nine-year-old Sasha’s back.
Her knee pressed into the back of her neck as she brought her fist down on the side of her face, hoping to minimize her struggle. Her flailing arms faltered for a moment, pausing, before she kicked angrily on the ground.
Pressing her whole weight into her foe’s neck, she waited until she surrendered.
Stubborn and egotistical, she refused to submit.
Through grit teeth, Sasha looked up at her through slits in her eyes. “Do it, go on then.” She laughed. “Nothing you do here will change who you are, what you are. You’re a worthless little orphan. No matter who you beat, no matter where you run or who you become, deep down, you’ll always be that. Only that!” She laughed again. “Little orphan.” She repeated in English.
Sasha’s words didn’t cut her. She was a little orphan, and she would always be a little orphan.
Linking her fingers under Sasha’s chin, she pressed her knees between her shoulder blades and pulled back. “So.” She replied.
All she could do was wince as she was stretched, jolts of pain going through her stomach, chest and back.
She fought as long as she could. Her jaw set, her eyes locked back with a menacing glare. Slowly, her eyes rolled back, her body went limp.
Letting Sasha go, she stood up. Walking a few feet away, she stood with her feet shoulder width apart, linking her hands behind her back, she waited.
“What are you doing?” Aleksandr came out of the shadows, slowly walking towards them. “Who told you to stop?”
Her eyes widened slightly, but she quickly erased the look of surprise on her face. She tried to keep herself from trembling as he took each slow and calculated step towards her. She kept her gaze level and straight ahead as he stopped in front of her.
A large gasp echoed through the room as Sasha came through. She let out a slew of curses as she pushed herself angrily to her hands and knees, pointing a finger at her. As she got to her feet and rushed over towards them, Aleksandr’s hand came out and one of the other children stepped forward to grab hold of her. He was older, larger, and he simply wrapped one of his arms around her abdomen and stepped back into the shadows.
Even though she couldn’t see Sasha anymore, she could still hear her angry protests.
Her breath caught in her chest as the world seemed to soar around her. Lightning cracked across the side of her face as the floor came up to meet her. She slid across the floor, slamming into some empty apple crates. Her limbs felt heavy as she tried to force air into her lungs.
Gasping for air, she pushed herself up to shaking feet. Pushing all the pain and disorientation out of her mind, she got back on her feet. Widened her stance shoulder width apart and linked her hands behind her back.
Staring blankly ahead, she waited.
Aleksandr laughed, although she could see the smallest trace of respect flash across her face. “Even when you disappoint me… you do not disappoint me.” He looked back over his shoulder into the darkness, where Sasha’s cursing could still be heard. “Then there are those who disappoint me even when I think I can take no more disappointment from them.”
Sasha fell silent.
Dropping to a squat before her, he looked at her face. She felt a muscle twitch in her jaw as she did her best to keep her eyes from watering, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from breaking down from the pain that had her vision still blurred. Reaching out, he cupped her small chin between his thumb and bent finger. “To pause in a moment where life and death hangs in the balance is to invite Death himself to take hold of you. Do you understand?”
She did, yet she didn’t.
She understood that in every fight, they were expected to go for the kill. Two would walk in and only one would walk out unless told otherwise. Sasha Aleksandr was his daughter. She had never even considered going any further than she did; yet he was telling her that the punishment she had just received had been for disappointing me. And she had disappointed him by… not killing Sasha when she had the chance.
Letting go of her chin, he wound up and hit her again. Her ears buzzed as everything went black.
“So orphan, tell me what you are going to do.” Sasha’s voice broke through her memory, pulling her back. “Is this not the part where you usually back off? Walk off to your corner like the little robot daddy made you into and wait for instruction?”
Dropping her face so it was right next to Sasha’s, she licked the blood from the open wound on her lip. “Look around you Sasha, does this look like the orphanage?”
Sasha’s eyes went wide as a sickening crack sounded through the air. Sasha slumped lifelessly forward as she let go of her head and let her slump lifelessly to the floor.
The fight had been quick. What had once felt like a battle, as a young child was now a quick spar as a woman. Taking a deep breath, she winced as pain shot through her side. Wrapping her arm around her abdomen, she took the black latex gloves off her hands and shoved them into her bag.
Looking over her shoulder at the lifeless body of Sasha Aleksandr, she shoved the bag on her shoulder before shutting the light off in the abandoned warehouse.
Sasha would be found eventually. She wondered if it would bring a grieving Aleksandr out to mourn the loss of his daughter.
Walking into the apartment she had paid for in cash for the month, she dropped her bag by the door and walked over to the wall made of exposed brick. She sat down on the edge of the mattress on the floor before slowly lying back.
Reaching out blindly, she could feel the loose piece of paper on her single bedside table. Grabbing onto it, she wrote the name down without looking at the paper. Folding it, she held onto it for a long while as she stared up at the ceiling.
She repeated the name in her mind over and over before sitting up and walking over to the solitary wooden dresser across the room. She opened the wooden box on top.
Dropping the paper into the box, she wondered if she would ever put the one that mattered into this box.
Closing the box, she told herself; soon.