It seemed like there should be a rule or something, like a referee should just put a stop to it. Prevailer couldn’t just come BACK to a place. Not at the worst possible time.
But there wasn’t, there couldn’t be. If people could make rules to stop Her from doing stuff She wouldn’t be Prevailer.
Her arrival was a little different from last time. This time we saw Her coming, a flash of explosions knitting their way across the sky from the east. People gawped and stared, but even coming by a bunch of little warps She was upon us before anyone could do anything constructive.
I shrank back behind one of the trucks as She flashed into existence in front of Krishna.
Everything was over.
Why had we believed the warlord when she said that Snitcher was dead? We’d fallen for that like a bunch of idiots, and now we were fucked.
Thor couldn’t touch Her with his best, and Krishna only had ten. She was done for. We’d been playing around with them instead of fighting them. We were done for. Why had we gone and done such a stupid thing? Why had I listened to Preventer?
I looked over at Space Devil. She was holding her head in her hands, breathing hoarsely through her mouth. We’d never get to have our bout now.
I peeked back out. I had to. Krishna had played fair with us. She hadn’t tried to set up an ambush, or sneak in any tricks or anything. She’d been motivated by the same thing that I was, a desire to entertain people, to snatch a moment of decency from this terrible situation. Or at least I thought she had. Anyway I owed it to her to see her last moments.
Prevailer was actually a little shorter than Krishna, who’d shot up out of the big chair when She was first sighted. The warlord looked down on Her, hands held loosely at her side.
I could tell that all of her Ultras were waiting to take their cue from her. Would they scatter, hoping She wouldn’t bother to hunt them all down? Would she ask them to launch a futile assault? Go out in a blaze of glory?
Lots of followers wouldn’t take orders like that, but I had no doubt at all that Krishna’s would. The feeling that I got was that Judith and the others loved their boss. They’d die with her if she asked.
Krishna dropped her head in a low bow, and then crumpled to the floor, her hands coming up into the Posture.
I couldn’t have been more surprised if the two had started making out. THIS was how she wanted to end her life? In total submission to her nation’s archenemy?
The Posture spread like a wave, everyone in the crowd dropping to their knees, hands rising to cross behind the neck. I didn’t join them, instead still peering out from between the trucks.
Prevailer raised a hand to Her neck, scratched it. Then walked right past Krishna and sprawled down into the big chair.
“Get back to it,” She said.
She hadn’t raised her voice, but everyone had heard Her. We’d fallen deathly silent.
This didn’t make any sense. Why would She want to watch Pantheon members grapple? Why wasn’t She killing them, killing us, for the mockery that we’d made of Her war?
People started to stand, nervous glances flicking back to the chair where She was seated.
Something struck my mind then, something weird. The line of explosions as She’d warped here had come from almost straight East. But if She’d taken a straight line from the Lair it would have been much more of a North East kind of direction.
I was shelving the question of why She’d used small hops at all. That was for later, if there was a later.
And then it all clicked.
Krishna had been right.
Snitcher really was dead.
She hadn’t come here to punish us for dealing with the Pantheon. She hadn’t had any idea what we were up to. She’d had to ask where we were!
The reason that She came from the East is that She’d gone to Third Fist first, got our location from them. It all made sense.
I looked back to the ring, watched the featherweights renew their bout. There was still hope for us after all.
It was mostly thanks to Krishna’s quick thinking. I couldn’t even imagine how scared she must have been when She had warped down in front of her, but she must have kept her head and realized that the only way out for any of us was if Prevailer never learned that the Pantheon was here. She’d kept her troops in line, and bought us this precious time.
I looked over to Krishna, hoping to see her slipping away, and couldn’t see her for a moment. Prevailer was lounging in the chair, talking at Haunter and Preventer. Condemner and Fisher weren’t here at the moment, they must have slunk back to Redo a while back. But where was Krishna?
It took a sec to realize what had happened. Prevailer had needed a footrest, and Krishna had been kneeling right there. She had Her feet up across her shoulders, grinding Krishna down into the mud.
That was some rotten luck. None of the Pantheon Ultras would leave while their boss was trapped, and at some point Prevailer would probably get around to asking why this random person had been in the big chair before She showed up.
Cheers drew my attention back to the ring. One of the featherweights was straddling the other against the corner ropes, launching punch after punch down into her exposed face. The audience was counting along.
A glance confirmed it. She was counting along too. She was watching the ring. Someone being punched in the face was doing it for Her.
Space Devil grabbed my shoulder, and I looked back into her wide eyes. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell what she was thinking. Considering our new audience, we’d have to alter the booking.
“Ok, shit.” I said. “I’m going to have to win. No way does the Fist lose when Prevailer is watching. Ok?”
She nodded, impatiently.
“And I think…Shit, I dunno. Should we make this a squash match? Do you need to get beat the fuck up?”
I felt super awkward asking this, but that was buried under all of my being afraid of my terrifying boss.
A squash match is a special kind of Ultra Fight where the goal isn’t to have a thrilling battle, but rather to build up one of the participants as a big deal. It’s just one person kicking the shit out of the other.
They can be done well, certainly, but mostly I thought they sucked. It was a pretty lame way to get heat on a fighter. And you would NEVER do one at the climax of the evening.
Devil worked her mask, loosening it a bit so she could speak without having to shout through the muffling.
“Will that satisfy Her?”
Even foreigners knew to do the capitalizing thing.
“I don’t know.” I looked back to the ring, where the featherweights were working a submission hold. Prevailer looked markedly less interested, was actually talking to Preventer again.
“It seems like She likes punching, not so big on grappling. Can I punch you a lot?”
There were subtler ways to ask this, but we didn’t have a lot of time.
“I’m not Ultra Tough, but I am Ultra Quick,” she said.
That wasn’t ideal for a squash match. I’d kill her if I hit her as hard and as often as I’d need to in order to make it look one sided. There were a lot of grapples and finishers that only LOOKED brutal, but Prevailer didn’t seem to give a shit about submission moves.
A spray of blood and a stifled scream from the big chair caught my attention, took my breath.
Preventer was clutching at her cheek, a big old dose of what we’d call ‘color’ in the business running down her face. Prevailer was laughing and shaking something in her hand, maybe a tooth?
Preventer stifled her screams after that first one, clutching her mouth with both hands and shaking her head rapidly from side to side. Was this the first time that she’d ever been hurt?
It had to be, at least since the Process. Her invincibility was proof against anyone else. This was her first pain in years.
It might have made me a bad team leader, but I couldn’t make myself care. Preventer hadn’t really seemed to care when I got hurt, and I had a lot on my plate just now.
I refocused on Space Devil.
“Ok, after this, we go out there, and basically we are gonna run the original plan, just in reverse. Ok?”
She nodded slowly, seeming to give it deep thought.
“So, I mostly beat you up, then you come back and win? Ok, I can do that.” She seemed relieved to have a plan.
I put my hand on her shoulder, lowered myself down to her level.
“You got to be fast, keep punching me, never let me touch you. Ok? I’m the face, you are the heel. You are just an annoying fly that zips around and I can’t swat you. When She is good and ready to see me win I’ll use my gift to grab your feet, then I get my hands on you.”
“And then you kill me?”
I dropped my hand off her shoulder, rocked.
I’d never killed anyone in an Ultra Fight before. I could barely bring myself to kill people that were actually trying to kill me! And Devil, or, to be real about it, the Pantheon soldier wearing his uniform, was being totally matter of fact about dying.
“No, I’d nev-“
She held up a hand to shush me.
“She’s gonna want to see blood. If it gets the rest of my team away, then you feel free to take me apart, ok?”
Before we could keep this conversation going I heard a sudden change in the crowd noise.
I looked back out through the slot between the trucks, saw that one of the featherweights had triumphed over the other. She was looking at Her, now, and Prevailer was holding up a hand in the old gladiator Thumbs up/Thumbs Down motion.
There was no doubt whatsoever in my mind which way Her thumb would point. My gift lurched into action before I even had the chance to make the conscious decision.
A ripple of mud and earth shot out, shaking the arena and tossing victor and vanquished out, like so much trash. I even managed to toss them out on the other side of the ring from Her, so that they were out of sight, and hopefully out of mind.
At the same time as I sent out the wave I shoved the truck aside and dashed out to the ring. Really it was mostly my gift that moved the trucks, but since I looked so big and strong people wouldn’t take the time to figure that out, or at least I hoped they wouldn’t.
I bounded up over the top of the barrier, raised my cupped fists above my head in the classic champion pose.
“Representing the Regime …. InnnnnnDULger!” roared Judith, who had sort of moved into a ring announcer position.
I winced inwardly at the whole ‘Representing the Regime’ thing. We absolutely did not need to be stressing that connection right now.
Prevailer put two fingers in Her mouth and gave a wolf whistle. I caught her eyes for a second and suddenly realized why she must have come here.
This was a booty call.
Before I could think too much about that Space Devil made her entrance, flashing from place to place with blurring speed. She had poise, showmanship. I wished for just a sec that we’d actually gotten to do the match the way I’d wanted to, with her going over.
She jumped up on the ring and ran around on the ropes, flashing from post to post like an old movie special effect. The crowd’s cheers were still sullen, everyone was still mostly paying attention to Her, trying to guess what sounds She would want to hear.
Judith rang the bell, and we set to it.
It had been super easy to say that Devil should hit me an awful lot, but it was much tougher to actually endure. If she’d had any Ultra Strength at all I’d have been killed.
Devil wasn’t just Ultra Speed One, or, if she was, she was on the high end. It was like fighting someone who is going in fast forward, while you are struggling just to move at regular speed.
She absolutely rained punches down on me, five or six landing between each of my motions, slipping away like a shadow from every lurching swing I pulled off. It was a brutal lambasting, one of the worst beatings I could remember taking.
I staggered back, which didn’t help, and sent another wave of ground crashing toward her. She was up and over it in a heartbeat, dropping an elbow onto my shoulder from the crest of the wave.
I roared with pain, mostly pretend, and tried to throw a clothesline at her. She slipped under without difficulty, continuing to rattle my rib cage with a never sending series of rights and lefts.
I tried a kick, and it sailed right by. My costume’s midsection slid off somewhere in the middle of the endless string of blows, and Prevailer gave another two beat whistle.
Enough of this. I set my gift to catching her, turned the ground against her feet and dragged her down. She danced away for a second, but with nothing but more of my hostile ground to stand on she quickly succumbed.
I towered over her, my gift continuing to suck her down into the earth. I wasn’t sure, actually, whether I’d genuinely snagged her, or whether it had only worked because she let me. It didn’t matter now.
I raised my fists high, the very picture of a beast enraged by the constant stinging of an insect, and then slammed them down on her exposed head, the only part of her that was left above the ground.
Really, though, I didn’t smash her skull or whatever. My gift simply parted the ground a little under her, letting me drive her down into a little cave I’d made for her, safe and sound for the most part. Her head was probably not feeling great, but that was fucking fair for how much she’d rung my bell.
I nearly leaped out of my skin as Prevailer appeared in the ring with me. The explosion of Her old body had tossed Haunter and the rest of the VIP section off their feet.
She grabbed me by the chin, pulled my head down to where I was looking into Her eyes.
“You game to go one more round?” She asked.
I honestly couldn’t tell whether She wanted to fight or fuck. Either, probably.
I forced myself to give a big grin.
“Don’t like an audience,” I managed. It was hard to talk when someone was holding your jaw so tightly.
She threw back her head and laughed, a sort of rote, hollow sound with what seemed like a little bit of actual pleasure.
“Neither do I”, She said, looking around.
Everybody took off like, well, like Prevailer had just asked them for privacy. I saw some of Krishna’s guys carrying her into one of the trucks, so it looked like the explosion hadn’t killed her.
She pulled me in for a kiss as all of her victims raced away.
All but one.