The Pantheon showed up early, but I’d already finished building the ring.
I had worked nonstop since they’d headed out earlier in the afternoon. It was a way to get away from Haunter and Preventer’s bickering, and also a way to pass the time. Ever since I was a boy I was really bad at waiting, and having two Ultra Fights scheduled for the evening had me totally on pins and needles.
We didn’t have any ropes, so I’d made the ring out of mud. The barriers around it oozed up to about five feet in height, which was high enough to bounce off. When we were actually fighting I’d use my gift to open holes in it to let people see what was going on, especially if we took the action to the mat.
The mat, of course, was just more mud. It was wetter, though, I’d found an underground spring or something, so I could get some moisture up here and keep people from having to get slammed on what amounted to a desert floor.
All told, it looked pretty good. I’d built rudimentary chairs in a concentric circle around it, just two rows. We’d only brought about a hundred people, and I didn’t expect the Pantheon to have that many humans who might want to come. There was a big fancy seat for Krishna or Preventer, whichever of them won the pissing contest when she showed up. I put it up on a little platform to give the main people a good view of the bouts.
They brought 4 trucks this time. I let my gift take a look at the ground for miles around as soon as I heard the people start fussing. No other vehicles. That was a good sign.
I turned to watch them roll up. One of the trucks had clouds of smoke coming out of the back. Engine troubles, I guessed.
Them being early was suspicious, but the fact that they hadn’t brought more trucks made me think that they were on the level. I leaned against the ropes and braced myself to find out.
Around me, the rest of the Fist was doing likewise. Haunter had her shadows out, the ones with the guns. Fisher’s Hook was lurking behind a big rock she’d had me make, waiting to pounce. Nirav and Preventer were sheltering behind the audience, within one of her barriers. And I was in the ring, just standing and waiting.
Judith hopped out of the lead truck, almost before it came to a complete stop. She looked left and right, then followed people’s gazes to where I leaned on the ropes in the ring. She gave a frantic wave when she caught my eye, then came jogging over.
“Ho-Lee-Shit!” she yelled up.
I stepped over the ropes and dropped down beside her.
“You did all this in one afternoon?”
It wasn’t often that I got people saying how awesome I was for anything but fighting. I flushed and knuckled my forehead.
“It’s no big deal. My gift is really good for constructing things.”
Around me, the rest were relaxing. Not entirely. After the nonsense with the Union we probably wouldn’t ever relax totally again in a situation like this. But a bit.
I looked up and saw why they were easing up. People were coming out of the Union trucks. A couple dozen people spilled out, must have been crammed in the backs, and among them were ten people who had that special strut that people who think that they are Gods develop.
In the middle of this crew was Krishna.
There was a moment of tension, where Haunter and Preventer faced off with the Pantheon team, but it didn’t last. They all headed over to the raised up platform I’d built, while the audience that the Pantheon had brought started to kind of awkwardly blend with the one that we’d raised in Redo.
“Come on,” said Judith, motioning towards the trucks.
I followed her over, walking around to the back where the luchadores were waiting. Choker, or at least the woman wearing his gear, gave me a respectful nod.
“Ok, this shouldn’t be a long match. Go a few minutes, get everyone into the spirit of the thing. Lots of power moves, you know? Work with what the Regimer here’s brought to the table. When was the last time you saw someone that big? In the end, he goes over.”
Judith gave us some quick directions. I didn’t pay too much attention. This was going to be amazing, and it was so soon now.
Choker asked a few questions in some Asian language, then took a knee. She reached down and grabbed some dirt, rubbing it across her palms in a kind of ritual way.
Then she stood up, slapped herself across the face, and headed out around the trucks towards the ring.
I heard it then, the first stirrings of the crowd. I sometimes felt like a man out of time, a lover of an art that had long since stopped mattering, but when I heard the crowd I felt like I was close to all of the old greats of the ring. I felt like Greater Gator himself. I loved it.
It wasn’t the loudest cheer, honestly. The reaction was a bit muted. People were still picking their seats, the Pantheon crew and ours eyeing one another with suspicion. I’d turn them around soon enough.
I reached out with my gift, lifted stairs before Choker as she neared the ring. She stepped obligingly up them, ascending to the squared circle with a kind of grace that the real Choker never could have mustered.
I was hoping that she’d do some kind of presentation or gesture from the ring, something to hype up the fans, but she just kind of stood there. She might have the garb of a pro wrestler, but she lacked the heart. Too much of a real fighter. It was inexcusable to just let fans cool down.
I stomped out, coming around the other side of the truck from her. Everybody would know that we really came from the same place, of course, but every little bit helped.
As I walked placed each foot carefully, smashing my feet down with every ounce of force that I possessed. I used my gift to raise puffs of dust about my steps, and even shook the ground, just ever so slightly, in time with my pace. The overall effect was to make me seem like a great sea monster from an old movie, a huge beast about to crush a city.
I didn’t raise any stairs for myself as I got to the ring, just reached up and grabbed the top of the sand wall, then pulled myself right through it. Fragments of shattered ring cascaded all over as I surged up onto the mud platform.
I threw back my head and gave a titanic roar.
The crowd yelled back, but it wasn’t the right reaction. They were cheering, calling out encouragement. Some of them were even making the Double Gator symbol.
How to turn the crowd? I needed to be the heel here. If I was gonna win the first round, and they were supposed to buy that Space Devil was the hero who would save them from me, then I needed to be a bad guy. But how to do that in a town that I’d basically rebuilt…
Inspiration struck. I jumped up on a ring post, or rather, on the section of mud wall that I was using as a ring post…and struck the Posture.
Instantly, the cheering stopped. People, when faced with the sign of submission to the Regime, fell silent. No one liked to be reminded of Her, of the master that scared them so. It was a stroke of genius.
I kept on mugging. I swept my hand across the crowd, a broad gesture, then brought it to my throat. The implication was clear. I wanted THEM to take the Posture. The booing began.
I turned back to Choker, just in time to take a shot to the face.
It wasn’t a perfect wrestling punch, too much reality in it. It was a straight shot, thrown with all the force of her body behind it.
I let my head loll back as though I’d been kicked by a horse, but it didn’t really hurt. She hadn’t used her Ultra Strength on that one, and I was three times her weight.
She took the initiative with a flurry of offense, a pit fighter’s combination hits, all of them targeted at my head and neck. It was a brutal pummeling.
I blocked, ineffectually, letting her blows slip by. She backed me into the corner with her onslaught, then reared back to do a big move.
The timing wasn’t right for that. I sprang back into action, leveling her with a savage elbow strike.
It was like slamming my elbow into a stone pillar. She had Ultra Toughness, probably level two.
At least she had the grace to topple from the strike, falling onto her back with the awkward movements of someone trying to act unconscious, but not disciplined enough to actually let themselves go limp.
I grabbed for her ankle, lifted her into the air.
I had her measure now. She was a Pantheon warrior, with some quick explanations about how pro wrestling worked, probably an afternoon’s instruction. She could kill, but not perform. They had almost certainly put her into the bout because I didn’t have the strength to hurt her. No matter what went down she’d leave this ring just fine. Another measure against treachery.
Hanging upside down by one ankle, she sort of kicked at me. I swept her leg out to one side, and axe kicked her right in the crotch.
A chorus of boos rose up around us at the unfair shot. It had looked positively savage. The size difference let me get away with some things that the real Gator wouldn’t have been able to pull off.
I jumped up on the ropes and posed a bit, repeating my command that the audience take the Posture, heeling it up. Behind me, she played possum for a while.
Choker had, at least, been told about how damage works in wrestling, how it just makes you stay down for a while. She writhed around, selling the kick for all it was worth.
After a little while of this I moved back to my prey. I lifted my hands high, as though I was about to smash them down on her. It was pretty much the basic ‘hit me in the gut’ pose, and she didn’t disappoint.
Choker came up off the ground in a flash, slamming my gut with a knee. I doubled over, and she pulled me into a quick DDT.
I sold for a sec, and was surprised to feel her flipping me over to my back side. She hooked the leg and went for the pin.
We hadn’t talked about how we were going to do pins, which was a pretty big oversight, but fortunately Judith had us covered. She slip up into the ring and slammed the mat in time with the crowd’s changing.
One…Two…I pressed Choker off me and tossed her across the ring.
I got up, waving off Judith’s attempt to check me for injuries. I stormed across the ring towards Choker, my every motion portraying rage and wounded pride.
This time I caught her punch, pulled her off balance and gave her a backhand slap. I broke a few bones in my hand, but most of the crowd couldn’t tell that the blood spray was from my mangled digits and not her face, and I pulled her into a headlock before anyone could see the actual situation.
She grabbed for my waist, and I let her take it, laughing a great belly laugh at this puny person trying to lift my bulk.
She fake strained for a moment, and I felt the sting of fear as her Ultra Strength eased into it, but Judith was there to whisper directions in that other language.
At Judith’s instruction, probably, Choker let me sag back to the ground, acting like she had failed to lift me up.
I gave a contemptuous bark and bent over for the Gatorplex, square in the center of the ring. I put my foot on her chest as Judith counted the One Two Three.
A chorus of boos heralded my win. My heeling had worked. The invocation of Her wrath, the way I’d picked on someone so much smaller than me, it had all added up to heat, setting me up perfectly to be the villain of the evening.
I dragged Choker back behind the trucks, even as the next two featherweights ran out and began their act.
An honest chuckle escaped me, as real as the in ring laughter had been fake. I hadn’t been the heel in quite a while. I’d forgotten how much fun it could be.
Space Devil gave me a fist bump. She’d be vanquishing me later on tonight, and it was nice to know that she’d approved of the job that I’d been doing so far.
I peered out between the trucks, getting a decent view of how things were going.
I couldn’t really see into the ring, but that wasn’t important. My gift could tell me, from what parts of the ropes I had to repair, and what parts of the ring people were stepping on, what was going on there. What I was interested in was what the crowd was up to.
On the main viewing area, Haunter and Preventer were arguing animatedly with Krishna. They didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the performance at all. The other main people were mostly just sitting and watching. Nobody seemed to be trying to prepare an attack on anyone or anything.
Fisher and Condemner had slunk off, they were in Redo somewhere. But everyone was else was basically just doing what they were supposed to.
I felt the warm glow inside that means that things are working out. This wasn’t going to turn into a great big fight, or some bullshit scheme. This was just a night of pleasure, a chance to take advantage of Snitcher not watching us anymore and see another side of people that we might have had to fight if stuff had gone a little differently.
I knew that this kind of thing couldn’t really change stuff. We were still at war, and Krishna and her gang were the enemy. But just for one night we’d gotten a chance to play at war, instead of wage it, and I was determined to enjoy that.
I looked back over to Space Devil, gave her a wide grin. I had already decided that our match was going long. This was going to be the most important thing about the night, so who cared how long we went?
I didn’t realize that I was wrong about what was the most important thing about the night until Prevailer showed up.