He paused for effect. “We welcome the return of the champion of Salverford—Khan!”
The surprise fight tipped the crowd into a frenzy. Raven looked on in disgust at the writhing crowds encircling him and wished he could escape. Around the arena, images of Khan’s handsome face flashed across the TV screens. There was a detailed profile of the young fighter, accompanied by a montage of his greatest moments in the ring. Raven shuddered to watch it. There was picture after picture of him in masculine poses, video clips of that charming smile, and black and white, slow-motion shots of his powerful, defined body mid-battle. It was sickening.
Collier was forgotten by the fickle crowd, his fleeting popularity dismissed. Khan was a superstar. He had been in Salverford for one and a half years and had never lost a fight. He was an invincible killing machine, and he loved his fame. Khan played up to the cameras, the crowd, interviewers, anybody who’d look at him. He was a show business natural. After his flamboyant TV introduction, the band emerged from backstage. The sea of darkness broke out of the back room and flooded out to the microphones and equipment set out before them.
From the corner of his eye, Raven caught the flash of red again. His eyes flicked over to the backstage door to see the singer emerging. She too wore black, a long, flowing dress that trailed behind her like a wedding dress. Her makeup was dark, nails painted black, her eyes masked in shadow, but it was her hair that caught Raven’s attention. Long. Red. A waist-length river of fire. It provided a stark contrast to the darkness all around her. Surely she wasn’t a prisoner? She looked too well-groomed for that, too regal. She advanced to the edge of the stage, bowed to the crowd before her and took her place behind the microphone.
The commentator started a countdown, the crowd shouting and clapping in unison.
“Five, four, three, two, one!”
As the countdown reached its climax, fireworks erupted around the fighter’s entrance. As the smoke cleared, Khan walked out. His slim, athletic body flexed as he entered, toned and strong, of average height and stunning beauty. He made his way to the ring, smiling and waving at the crowd. His mischievous grin endeared the crowds instantly. He lived to entertain.
Collier stood, dumbstruck, against the rope, as the body of his previous opponent was clumsily dragged away. Khan made his way past his adoring fans and stepped up to the ring. He ducked under the rope and confidently strolled up to Collier, who visibly stiffened with fear.
Collier may have only been in Salverford for a few weeks, but he must have known about Khan. Everybody knew about Khan. In the outside world, he was the idol the teenage girls had posters of. He was the man on all the fitness magazine covers, who men everywhere wanted to be like. Some people had even said that it would be worth getting sent to Salverford just to meet him.
Of course they were delusional. Khan may have been a prisoner, but he didn’t mix with the rest of the inmates. He lived in the opulence and luxury of Emerald Tower. Outside the ring, nobody saw him. He’d occasionally join them in the dining hall when he absolutely had to. It was like community service; he had to be seen mixing with the others sometimes to keep his public image positive, but he was always surrounded by guards.
Khan swaggered up to Collier, stopped a metre away and grinned a malicious smirk. Collier was still frozen, rooted to the spot. The referee joined them in the ring and the commentary began.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Let the show begin!”
The band kicked in. The sounds of snarling industrial metal reverberated around the stadium. The band members thrashed their instruments furiously. The red-haired singer stood at the edge of the stage, clutching her microphone in her left hand, looking down at the floor. The music continued and she lifted her head, raised the microphone to her mouth and began to sing. It was beautiful. Strong and powerful, her potent voice echoed over the growl of the music. She poured her heart into her singing and the effect was mesmerising. Primal and enchanting. The crowd was jumping up and down, dancing and enjoying the beat of the music.
Khan smiled and closed his eyes as the music echoed around the arena. He let the music wash over him, licking his lips as if he was tasting the powerful beats. When he finally opened his eyes, he was ready.
He took a few steps back to his starting position. Collier, still stunned with fear, was jostled forward by the referee into his own place. The crowd started a rhythmic chant, “Khan! Khan! Khan!” He gave a charming sideways grin at the girls in the front row of the pit.
The bell rang.
Khan didn’t move; he just stood in front of Collier, a smile spreading across his lips. Collier’s eyes widened. With lightning speed Khan’s leg swept out in a wide, graceful arc, connecting sharply with Collier’s knee. Collier was thrown off balance and landed heavily on his back, forcing the breath from his lungs.
He gasped for air, choking, then tried to pull himself together and roll over onto his knees. He staggered to his feet and stumbled away from Khan, tripping into the rope surrounding them. As he fell onto the cord, he looked into the eyes of the crowd before him. They grinned back at him, watching in pleasure at his horror. The kick came swiftly, slamming forcefully into the bottom of his spine with great precision.
Nausea and disgust washed over Raven. Collier’s plight was breaking his heart. To have the chance of life so brutally ripped away from him, only minutes after escaping the jaws of death…it was too cruel.
Despite the deafening music, Raven thought he heard the crack as Collier was paralysed. Khan turned away from the weeping Collier and signalled to the crowd, raising his arms in the air in a display of victory. The masses roared with pleasure. He flashed his trademark smile and turned back to Collier.
Khan leant down close to Collier’s face and whispered something in his ear. It was inaudible to all except Collier, whose eyes widened as he heard the words. Khan leapt up and looked back down on his victim, and for a moment there was a hint of pity in his eyes. The moment passed as Khan delivered a quick, powerful kick to Collier’s temple. Raven watched in dismay as he saw Collier screw his face up in anticipation of the kick. As the foot connected with his head, he gasped loudly. It was the last sound he ever made.
Khan smirked and walked to the edge of the ring. He leant over the rope to reach down and kiss the hands of his fans. With an athletic jump, he vaulted the rope and walked into the crowds, people gathering around him to shake his hand. There was a surge as people at the back pushed to get within touching distance of their hero.
Khan was only in the crowd for moments before security came to clear people away and escort him back to Emerald Tower. As he was taken out, the music came to an end, finishing with a loud squeal of guitars. The band members came to the edge of the stage, taking a bow in unison as the crowd cheered and applauded. The band members seemed pleased that Khan had fought well and their song had been a success.
That was when he saw it: a barely noticeable trace of sadness in the red-headed girl’s eyes. Raven remained transfixed on her eyes, searching again for a shadow of regret, pity or guilt.
Behind the crowd, there came a mechanical grinding sound as the enormous metal doors swung open and the guards began herding the prisoners back to their cells.
Title: The Phoenix Project
Author: D.M. Cain
Genre: Psychological Thriller
A thought provoking and compelling dystopian world that will change the way you view justice…
A man fights for life—and redemption—in D. M. Cain’s riveting new novel, The Phoenix Project.
Britain has descended into chaos as violence and terrorist attacks seethe across this once-peaceful country. Outraged by the steady stream of lawlessness, citizens demand a harsher penal system, and the Phoenix Project is born.
In prisons across the country, inmates fight to the death in a weekly bloodbath while the nation cheers them on.
Raven Kennedy, a prisoner who has never forgiven himself for his unspeakable crime, struggles against his own guilt and self-loathing. But even as the real war wages on within himself, Raven is forced to battle some of the prison’s most ruthless killing machines. Can he survive long enough to unravel the anger and regret that shackle him—and one day find the forgiveness he seeks?
‘The Phoenix Project by D.M. Cain is a superbly written debut, soaked in tension and intrigue,’ Jack Croxall, author of the ‘Tethers’ trilogy.
D.M. Cain is a dystopian and fantasy author working for US publisher Booktrope. She has released three novels: The Phoenix Project – a psychological thriller set in a dystopian future, Soren – a middle-grade fantasy, and A Chronicle of Chaos – the first in a dark fantasy series. She is currently working on the next novel in the series, ‘The Shield of Soren’, and a novella to accompany it.
D.M. Cain is also a member of the International Thriller Writers and is one of the creators and administrators of the online author group #Awethors. Her short story ‘The End’ was published in Awethology Dark – an anthology by the #Awethors.
Cain lives in Leicestershire, UK, with her husband and young son, and spends her time reading, writing and reviewing books, playing RPGs and listening to symphonic metal.
Buy on Amazon