The morning sun rose over the Wasp-bite Hills, highlighting the mighty and deadly structure that was built upon it. Staff members got up from their beds in their living quarters and prepared their morning routines, such as showering and breakfast. It was time to go to work.
Talius Buck, the owner and founder of the Deadgold Arena, was pushing his sunglasses closer to his eyes before he picked up a large smartphone from his suit-pocket, dialing the number of his right hand man as he looked over a large pile of papers and documents placed upon his desk of polished dolomite.
A young and peppy male voice answered from the other line.
“Good morning, boss. How can I help you today?”
“Greetings to you as well, Mr. Higgs. It has passed two days since the introduction battle went on air. Quite the spectacle to see everyone surviving after all those years. Really something for our audience to behold. But enough chit-chat. Tell me about the ratings and the word on the web.”
“Of course. Let me just find the data here...”
As Talius was listening at the phone while writing down signatures and numbers on his stacks papers, he could barely hear the rushed clicking of keys being pushed, a clear sign that Mr. Higgs was a fast worker. As he awaited an answer, he felt nervous, wiping some sweat from his brows and hoping that all of his hard work would have been worth the effort. He was never one to take losses well, especially not if a fortune spent on commercials, posters, promotional events and manpower was on the line.
“Let’s see here… aaaannnd there we go! The ratings are not as high as last year’s introduction, but it still rather close thanks to our rather large marketing campaign. But the best part about it all is that the vast majority of people we interviewed in the crowd seemed to be far more positive about this season’s beginning than the former. But that’s not all! After contacting our web research group, we found out that the online feedback for this battle was rather good, with people already picking their favorite champions from the new batch.”
Talius took a deep and cool breath, feeling as if a great, painful burden had been lifted off from his broad shoulders. He leaned forward with great relief, making a triumphant fist-pump in the air. He pushed a batch of papers to his left side, having finished them in a short amount of time.
“That’s amazing news! Tell me about the niche groups that each champion has attracted so that I can forward this to the marketing department.” said Talius, doing his best in order to hold back a victorious laughter of joy. He could hear more sounds from keyboards as he awaited an answer.
“As you wish. While the gunners, Ryo and Escobar, has shown to be somewhat popular around gun enthusiasts, many younger people and women in their late teens has shown a liking to Syranon Glaed. The more blood-thirsty crowd, that would be mostly young adults, has grown a liking to the Johannes Svartsvard, the death knight. The Viking has attracted some more old-school fans, thinking of her as a throwback to when we didn’t have so many mystical or magical combatants. The Sorrow has grown a smaller fan base of robot-lovers while Lizzy Strong has attracted some more…enthusiastic admirers. Oh, and some martial arts geeks.”
During the explanation from Higgs, Talius was taking notes on a small sheet with his ink pen. After placing the notes in his back pocket, he began to remember something that had troubled him for the past few nights. Something that had almost robbed him of sleep.
“That’s great and all, but… what about Xanthe Justice? Before we brought her out to the arena, I looked over some of her accomplishments in her home world. It… well… left me worried to say the least. Have you found any form of movement or group that is taking her side? Any at all?” the large demon asked with great insecurity, scratching his chin as his heart was pounding inside of his chest.
Once again, his brow began to sweat. The seconds passed as Higgs looked through the information on his computer one more time. Though he had powerful soldiers at his disposal, he knew very well that he would be unable to take on the entire female population of Taraboxus in case they ever got the idea of attacking.
“No need to worry, boss. She’s the least beloved champion of the batch. Hell, I even think Ratmane from four years ago received a warmer welcome than her! The lady is some of the best flame war fuel out there! Though some feminist extremist sites showed some minor support, it is nothing I would call any danger. I’d be surprised if they even managed to stage a protest or an online campaign in Xanthe’s name!” Higgs explained as Talius once again sighed in relief and happiness. Things were going somewhat better than he had hoped for.
“Excellent. But contact some spies to keep an eye on her, preferably female ones in order to make her lower her guard. She might have an ace in her sleeve. Have them report anything out of the ordinary.” said Talius as he finished placing his signature upon some salary checks.
“Understood, boss. So what about the champions? What new matches should we start putting them in? Say the word and I will have the guys make some promotional material!” The young voice of Higgs was filled with enthusiasm and determination
“Oh, that? Yeah, I don’t have any specific ideas for the moment. Maybe we’ll set up a non-fatal fight between Lizzy and some other fan-service fighter along the line. Or maybe we’ll pit Syranon against some demon or undead. Hell if I know. I have allowed them to use the VIP lounge for the day. Had some guys set up some simple snacks, music and drinks in there, just to make them feel rewarded for their good battle. Not every year that a new batch of champions makes it out alive.” answered Talius with a delighted voice, finishing even more paper work in the process.
“Ok. I’ll be ready for whenever you make a decision. Oh, by the way, boss. Since it is a Saturday, how about we call some prostitutes after work? I’m sure our places are cleaner than the brothel.” Higgs asked with a sly chuckle at the end. Talius simply sighed in annoyance of his more perverted co-worker.
“As I have told you before: I’m a demon of Greed, Mr. Higgs. Not of Lust. Besides, I have too much work for the weekend to be distracted. Got three meetings just next hour.” said Talius before picking up some envelopes in order to read the contents.
“I see, boss. I’ll be around if you need. Have a good day!”
The call ended with Talius Buck placing his smartphone back into his pocket, looking over the letters he had received. He took a deep breath after reading some customer complaints about the arena food served to the audience as well as some weak death threats.
“This is going to be a long day… wonder how well a Sorrow hugging pillow would sell… or maybe Escobar shades…”
“This must be the place, Ryo.”
“You don’t say?”
Four members of the Shielded Guard stood a fair distance behind Syranon Glaed and Ryo as the beastman looked up at an ebony sign above a big sliding door, large enough to fit a jeep through it. The sign had the words “VIP LOUNGE” written into it, with each of the large letters being made out of solid gold. The night was still young and he saw this as a good opportunity to get to know the other champions better. He had to do so if he was ever going to get along with them in a proper manner. Ryo on the other hand was simply there for Syranon’s sake. Parties were not really a thing of hers. Due to their results in the introduction battle, they had been rewarded by Talius Buck himself to use the VIP lounge for a small party set up for them. The paladin and the demon hunter had been informed by their escort that the other champions were already inside, enjoying themselves with music and treats. Behind the door were muffled noises and voices, belonging to both men and women.
One of the guards moved past the two friends without a word before he stood in front of a camera in the upper left corner of the door, removing his steel helmet in order to be recognized. After a few seconds, the camera emitted a short and small bleep before the door slowly began to slide open. For every inch that the door moved, the sounds from behind became louder and clearer for Syranon and Ryo. The guards once again moved behind the two champions, giving them a quick nod.
“The doors will open once again in a couple of hours. By that time, the party will be over. Have fun, champions. And try not to kill each other in there.” said one of the guards before putting his helmet back on and holding his shield firmly in his hand.
“Thank you kindly.” responded Syranon before both he and Ryo entered the VIP lounge. The door was shut and locked slowly behind them with the guards standing outside, ready to act upon any major signs of trouble.
The demon hunter and the paladin could hear the party music blasting through loudspeakers built into the walls as the moonlight through the large windows was met by the colorful spotlights and disco balls on the ceiling. The smell of warm snacks and cold drinks could be felt in the area along with a weak scent of tobacco. Fresh air was being blown through an air conditioner, making a long red banner of thick cloth under the ceiling wave back and forth. The wide, bulletproof window showed that they were in a spot elevated over the rest of the arena seats. To the right side of the lounge was a large table carrying a wide variety of treats, including pizzas, chicken wings, French fries, small steaks and bbq sauce. Next to it was another table, this one having ice and drinks placed upon it, including cola, whisky, wine, vodka, beer, orange juice lemonade and water. On the left side of the room was a much smaller table, this one holding snacks such as candy, potato chips, cookies and popcorn.
“Hi, cutie! Glad you made it here!” called the cheerful voice of Lizzy as she waved towards the paladin. Syranon waved back before looking around, noticing that everyone else were also present at the party.
The laughter of Johannes and Escobar could be heard as the two of them were sitting on a large black couch, drinking rum from large cups and smoking cigars. One could see smaller heaps of ashes and tiny spills of alcohol on the surface of their glass table. They were clearly not too concerned about the cleanliness of the lounge as they were joking around and telling stories about their life. Annika Lundadotter and Lizzy Strong on the other hand, sat a fair distance away from the two criminals, staying near a round, decorated table near the center of the room, simply conversing and getting to know each other better. The Viking was drinking from a large can of beer as the monkey girl was eating peanuts from a bowl. The only two who were not joining the festivities were Xanthe Justice and The Sorrow. While Xanthe simply stood in a corner, constantly writing words down in her notebook, Sorrow was sitting on the opposite side of the room, wearing a rather dull expression on her face as she looked down on her rubber duck, having placed it in her hand. Neither of them had any food or drinks, nor did they pay much attention to the music.
“Good to see you as well, Miss Strong.” the young beastman said as he made his way towards the drinks in order to get a cup of ice cold water.
The Sorrow, upon hearing the voice of the paladin, instantly switched moods as she looked up towards him. She wore a big smile on her face before she ran towards him at a high speed, catching Syranon in a strong and warm hug. Syranon gasped, feeling some air escape his lungs because of the hard embrace as he looked at the cyborg, noticing how her face was so close against his, leaving no personal space between them. Still holding onto the rubber duck, she looked back into Syranon’s eyes with the same stare of a happy puppy, blissfully unaware that she was putting a painful and dangerous amount of pressure against his ribs and arms.
The voice of Sorrow, though still rather robotic, didn’t sound as monotone as before when she showed her gratitude towards the beastman for having saved her favorite toy. Syranon twitched a bit from the mighty sign of affection, trying to breathe properly as he was wondering just how much more his bones could take. There was only so much cushioning that her synthetic flesh could give him, even around the upper torso.
“It…I-it was nothing, Miss Sorrow…B-but could y-you please ease up? It ki-inda hurts…” pleaded Syranon, trying not to push back too much.
Luckily for him, the cyborg let go of him carefully, still wearing her innocent smile as she stayed close to him. The paladin fell to one knee against the oak floor, taking a deep breath as he looked back up at the tall woman. Syranon gave the cyborg an awkward smile, trying to hide the fact that his ribs and spine had become rather sore from her grip before getting a glass of water. The Sorrow never left his side as he made his way towards an empty couch, sitting down next to him in an almost instinctive manner. Lizzy watched from a distance, holding back a small giggle at the scene before her. Thankfully, Johannes didn’t notice the interaction between Syranon and Sorrow, being far too busy drinking and conversing with Escobar.
“It seems you have been giving Syranon quite the attention, Miss Strong. Are you feeling some form of attraction towards him?” asked Annika kindly as she took a sip from her cold drink.
The monkey girl shook her head lightly before chewing a couple of peanuts.
“Nah. I just think it’s fun to mess with him. He’s cute, but I have my eyes for someone else. A rivaling treasure hunter from my home world. He always tries to play it cool whenever we meet, but I know that he wants me as much as I want him.” she said confidently, washing down the nuts with some orange soda before looking back at the taller Viking. Lizzy paid extra attention to Annika’s sword, noticing the fine steel and mystic inscription on the blade.
“So what about that sword, Annika? Me and my sister has seen many weapons all around the world, but that one looks rare.” Lizzy wondered as the Nordic warrior pulled out her sword, placing it on the table. She seemed delighted to be able to introduce it.
“This, my dear friend, is an Ulfberht sword, passed down to me from my father. I am the fifth person in our bloodline to wield this blade that was forged from steel found in the southern lands of the deserts. An entire village had a hand in making this weapon for my ancestors, each of whom passed it down to their children. It has yet to fail anyone in combat, even in this distant world of monsters and magic.” the Viking explained as she moved the Ulfberht closer to the monkey girl.
Lizzy looked over the sword as she took hold of the handle, noticing that it was harder and more flexible than most blades that she had encountered before. Before handing the sword back to Annika, she took another handful of peanuts.
“Sounds cool. Got any kids to give the sword to yet?”
Annika placed the sword back into its sheath, seeming somewhat reluctant to answer the question. However, she thought that Lizzy was a person she could trust with such information.
“Not … really… I have yet to be married. I know of one man who’s very close to me, an explorer and merchant from Denmark, but I have yet to propose to him yet. I believe that our relation needs more time before I make such a decision. I just hope that we will both be alive by the time I meet him again. He lives a dangerous life, always having to battle bandits or fight through the weather of the seas.” said the Viking before drinking the last of her cold beer. Lizzy seemed to be rather understanding of her situation, always hoping that the one she had her eyes on wouldn’t suffer a deadly fate due to having to avoid both criminals in the city or traps in the many tombs that they explore on a daily basis.
Further away, Escobar and Johannes were still drinking and talking as Escobar had used one of his silver bars in order to make a long chain necklace that was holding onto another silver ornament that carried the words “El Jefe”. The death knight was stuffing his face with vodka and steaks as the drug lord was using an empty glass as an ash tray for his cigars.
“But yea, that was my first bank robbery. I’m telling you, Johnny. Nothing beats the first time that you get to hold onto that fat bag of dineros, thinking about all the shit you’re gonna spend it on!” stated Escobar proudly as he took a bite from some warm French fries.
Johannes washed down the meat with the bottle of booze before he wiped his mouth with his cape, letting loose a loud and nauseating belch before looking at Escobar.
“Sounds cool, man. Not as cool as when I killed a couple of giant spiders while partially blinded or that time I jumped into the mouth of a giant wolf and chewed my way out of it like a chestburster, but still.” Johannes boasted before taking another big bite from his steaks.
“So how did you even get into the drug business?”
Escobar lit up another cigar before blowing a small cloud of smoke into the air, hoping to hide the stench from the undead burp.
“Long story short: I needed money for me and my family, met some coke dealers, got into the business, worked my way up, killed a fuckton of rivals, handed out bribes, made connections, blackmailed some others and I became a king pin after a few years!” explained the drug lord in a happy tone.
“You know, Johannes? You and that cat dude kinda remind me of my brothers.” Escobar stated as he leaned back into his seat. The death knight cringed noticeably, grimacing at the mere thought of having Syranon as a brother.
“Oh, really….” said the undead, sounding far less enthusiastic about their conversation. Escobar seemed to be unaware of the uncomfortable spot that Johannes was in, continuing his story.
“Yeah, you’re kinda like my older brother. A real crazy motherfucker. He constantly got involved in fights and robberies, constantly getting arrested and having me bail his ass out every time. He was a party animal too, fun to be around and worked well as muscle for smaller jobs. And my little brother? A lot like Syra-whats-his-face. Always trying to be a goodie two-shoes, helping out people on the street, donating to charity and shit. He didn’t know about me being a drug dealer. Was too busy trying to become a doctor. I paid for his studies, but he never asked where I kept getting money. Even if he did, I’d probably just tell him that I found a cool job or something. Shame they died so early.”
The intrigue of the death knight was peaked at the last statement of his new friend. What seemed more interesting to him was how casually he was talking about it.
“Sounds like it had to suck. So what happened to them?” asked Johannes before putting his steak down back on a greasy plate. He got his answer instantly.
“Yeah, they got killed by a rival of mine a couple of years ago. My parents got gunned down too. They all lived in the same house. I was mentally prepared that it might happen, because you don’t get as big as me without your close ones getting in danger. I didn’t cry or break down and all that shit when I found the house all shot up like a crack-head’s arm, but it still fucking hurts you know. Anyway, first thing I did was find the guy who did it and kill his ass for fucking with me. Lucky for him, I couldn’t find his loved ones. Probably left the country long time ago. I had mixed feelings about my parents getting shot, considering how they always tried to stop me, but I really wanted my brothers to be alive. They had lots of potential. Could have made a family business out of my drug trade if I had bothered giving them guards.”
Through his story, there was not a single sign of sadness or melancholy in the voice of Escobar. The drug lord told about his loss as casually as he had spoken about everything else during the party. Though Johannes was nothing one could consider an emotional or sensitive guy, he still found it strange how the death of one’s family could be taken so lightly, even if he did hate his own dad.
“Well, enough about my past. I need to get more drinks. Lots of it!” exclaimed Escobar as he got up from the couch to hopefully find more rum to sip on.
On his way to the drinks’ table, he noticed that Ryo was leaning towards the window, smoking from a small cigarette as she looked over the vast arena that the VIP lounge gave perfect view over. The moonlight shined over her skin and red hair, highlighting her combat gear and pointy ears. In her gloved hand was a glass of wine that she tasted from time to time. She seemed rather calm and somewhat bored by the part, wearing a neutral expression on her face as she looked up to the countless stars in the heaven. The skies of Taraboxus contained far more stars than those of earth. Escobar, having had a few drinks too many, made a perverted smirk before raising an eyebrow, adjusting his sunglasses before approaching the demon hunter slowly. As he stood two feet next to her, he caught her attention due to the smell of tobacco that surrounded him. Ryo turned her face towards his direction, noticing his pearly white grin.
“You’re going to flirt with me, aren’t you?” said Ryo in a deadpan tone, giving him an unimpressed look.
“Baby, why stick with a tiny cigarette whe-“
“You’re going to make a sexual innuendo about your cigar, right?”
Escobar was silenced by the sudden answer from Ryo, noticing that she didn’t seem very fond of his attempts. He turned his eyes away from her for a moment, looking over the room for anything else to use for his next pick-up line. He then noticed that she still had her Desert Eagle’s in her holsters, making him grin deviously once more.
“Girl, you don’t need those pi-“
“If you’re going to claim that your manhood is some form of larger firearm, then save it. I’m not just that into you. Sorry, Escobar.” the demon hunter stated bluntly before looking over the moon through the window again, ignoring that her admirer was right next to her.
The drug lord was getting irritated by the denial from Ryo as he took a step closer to her, holding his empty glass hard enough to cause small cracks in it. It was only out of slight restraint that he didn’t shatter it completely in his grasp.
“HEY! If you interrupt me one more fu-“
Before Escobar was able to say another word, he found himself being pushed to the floor face first as a painful pressure was applied to his left shoulder and arm. He felt a weight applied onto his back just as the pressure became worse. Any further pull against his joints would probably break it. He turned his head up as much as he could, witnessing Ryo putting him in a strong hammerlock while giving him a stern glare cold enough to freeze the blood of most people. Though this was an angle he wanted to see her in, he hoped that the conditions were different to say the least.
“I have survived jumping off a skyscraper three times and I have suffered injuries from demons more times than I can count. I doubt that there is much you can do to actually harm me, Escobar. So how about that you calm down and enjoy the party?” said Ryo strictly, not caring for the constant movements of agony and cries of pain that the gangster made in protest.
“GOD! DAMN IT! FINE, LADY! JUST FUCKING LET GO ALREADY!! YOU’RE BREAKING MY ARM!”
With that, the demon hunter released Escobar from her grip, letting him slowly get up from the floor as she continued to smoke her cigarette and look out through the window. Johannes and Lizzy, watching from afar, couldn’t help but to laugh at the failed attempt of seduction as Annika looked rather impressed by the quick moves of her red-haired ally. Escobar walked away to get some drinks, now having very conflicted thoughts in his head. On one hand he wanted to use a gun of lead to shoot Ryo between the eyes for embarrassing him in front of everyone, but on the other hand he felt far too attracted to her to cause her any major harm. He always had a thing for strong women with guns.
“Damn it, woman… you’re just too damn perfect…” he muttered for himself before pouring up some rum into his glass.
Xanthe, still standing in her corner, watched over every detail of the part, but she took special notice to the interactions between Escobar and Ryo as well as the affection that The Sorrow was showing Syranon. She could see how the cyborg was always hugging the paladin softly and displaying the rubber duck in front of his face, barley saying a word. Though the beastman seemed tolerant of the presence of the machine-woman, he still felt rather awkward around her. He never knew how saving a small toy could grant him such love from a robot. The leader of the Sisterhood began to write down words onto her notebook again.
“My biggest chance of finding an ally to our cause is currently in Ryo, considering her lack of tolerance towards dudebros. However, considering how she has spent the longest time around the paladin, the source of the corruption, I will have to tread with caution. Sorrow is becoming corrupted as well in a rapid pace. I will have to take drastic measures to stop this. Hopefully, the program we used in the fembot factory will work on her.”
For the first time since she arrived at the party, she moved towards Syranon and Sorrow, catching the attention of the cyborg as she pulled out a small USB drive from her right pocket. Xanthe approached Sorrow and stood right in front of her before giving Syranon a judging look. The paladin had no clue what was going on as he looked back and forth between the two women.
“Hi, Xanthe. Sorry that I didn’t get the chance to greet you. So…can I help you with anything?” asked Syranon kindly, feeling as if he may have done something to offend Xanthe.
“Leave, dudebro! I want to talk with Sorrow!” she demanded as she took a step closer to them.
The Sorrow’s happy smile slowly shifted to a more menacing look as she let go of the paladin, standing in front of him as she kept her eyes on Xanthe. The holy knight only became more confused by the situation as he slowly walked away from the both of them, not wanting to start a fight.
“Oh…ok…I’ll just be getting something…I guess…” Syranon said, sounding guilty and a bit sad, constantly wondering what he was doing that kept earning him the hatred from Xanthe. He made his way towards the snack table, hoping that there were still some sour gummies to be found.
The Sorrow looked at the paladin as he walked away, wearing the expression of a sad kitten on her face. As she turned her head to face Xanthe, she took a deep breath before giving the fanatic a rather hostile glance as her clawed fingers extended slowly, showing that the tubes that connected them had been repaired. She placed her rubber duck on the couch in order to keep it away from herself in case she would go ballistic on Xanthe. She was not happy in the slightest that Xanthe had forced Syranon away from her. Despite the threatening aura that was surrounding the cyborg, the leader of the Sisterhood did not back down.
“Look, sister Sorrow. He’s corrupting you to serve the patriarchy. I know it is hard to believe what I’m saying considering what he may have done with your programming, but trust me. Just read through these files here and you will see that I speak the truth about all men out there.”
Xanthe handed the USB drive to Sorrow as the cyborg looked over it, having dire suspicions about the item at hand. The hand of metal grasped the item, noticing that it carried markings of Venus symbols along the sides. There was complete silence between the two for a full minute before a small USB port was revealed in the headband of circuits around Sorrow’s head. With one careful move towards the side of her head, she inserted the drive into the port. For a short moment, nothing seemed to happen.
Sorrow then suddenly fell to her knees, wearing a pained and sickened expression as her breathing became more rapid. The light in her eyes blinked on and off at a constant rate as her arms were shaking. She was looking as if she was having a seizure, alerting the other champions on what was happening to her. Syranon threw his snacks aside as he, Lizzy, Ryo and Annika made their way towards her. Johannes and Escobar on the other hand slowly moved behind Xanthe, making sure that she was cornered.
“Hey, Sorrow! What the hell is happening?!” asked Lizzy as she gently shook Sorrow, hoping to calm down the cyborg.
“Lady of steel! What is it that ails you?!”
The sudden statement from Xanthe made the champions turn their heads towards her as Syranon looked over the cyborg. He noticed that the moment that the fanatic spoke, Sorrow stopped moving, instead taking deep breaths as her eyes glowed red.
“What?” The paladin wondered as he was growing far more concerned about the situation.
“Foot bindings. Rape. Trafficking. Genital mutilation. Lingerie. Pornography. Strip clubs. Models. Brothels. Countless tools that men have used in order to oppress us women. Things that sister Sorrow has remained oblivious too. I have shown her the darkness in male hearts and the dying light in girls.” explained Xanthe in a calm voice, almost oblivious to the two champions standing behind her.
“Are you insane?! Do you even listen to the crap that comes out of your mouth?!” exclaimed Ryo angrily as she grabbed Xanthe by her collar. The fanatic remained unfazed as The Sorrow began to move to her feet.
“The problem is not what I’m saying. The problem is that none of you are listening! But I understand your issues, sister Ryo. Having been led astray by Syranon for so long will do that to you.”
The Sorrow suddenly turned her glowing red eyes towards the beastman. She seemed far more different from when she was spending quality time with Syranon. Her gaze seemed far more murderous, making the target of her affections slowly back away.
“She is now an agent of The Sisterhood. Once she kills the paladin for his crimes against women, she will move on to the other two dudebros. Then I can begin reversing the effect on the corruption that is controlling your minds before we spread the words of our matriarchy, my sisters.”
It became clear to Ryo what danger her friend was in at the moment. In a moment’s notice, she stood between Syranon and Sorrow, pointing her guns towards the cyborg. She didn’t want to kill a fellow champion, but she wanted to protect her long-time ally even if her life was at risk.
“You…you brainwashed her?!” exclaimed Lizzy, wondering if she should beat Xanthe to a pulp or prepare to hold back Sorrow. Annika pulled out her sword from her sheath as her shield was prepared for whatever good it could do.
“I was wrong about you, Miss Justice…you’re far worse than I thought! Not only are you a coward, but an agent of Loki as well! A traitor and manipulator!” the Viking said as she stood three feet away from Xanthe, making her trapped between the three champions. Johannes prepared his sword as his Latin friend turned part of his necklace into a switchblade of silver. They looked as if they were ready to stab her at any second.
Though Xanthe was secretly worried about the reactions from Lizzy and Ryo, she didn’t react much to Annika’s insults.
“You will all thank me when you see what I see. But first the pigs have to die. Sister Sorrow. Fierce Mode act-“
The leader of the Sitserhood was unable to finish her command as The Sorrow made her move. However, it was not towards Syranon, nor was it against Johannes or Escobar. It was towards Xanthe. The cyborg extended her claws further as the tubes holding them together were exposed even further before she rushed towards the one who tried to wipe her mind. The Nordic warrior was caught off guard, getting tossed aside by a push from Sorrow as she landed into an empty table, nearly breaking it in half. The cyborg gritted her teeth as she rammed Xanthe with her right shoulder and into the wall behind her, knocking the gangster and the death knight aside like bowling pins. The impact caused a smaller crack in the wall that nearly shattered the spinal cord of Xanthe. It was an alien feeling for the fanatic. It was the first time that a woman had ever harmed her physically. It scared her.
“Sister…sister Sorrow…why are you betra-“
“MALWARE REMOVED! EXTERMINATING HOST OF HOSTILE DATA!”
The shout of rage emitted from The Sorrow echoed in the room, drowning out the amplified music from the loudspeakers. The long tubes that made up her fingers started to wrap around the neck of Xanthe, strangling her with the force of an anaconda’s constriction. Both the blood and airflow was cut off by the deadly grip. The fanatic struggled to break the cyborg’s hold, but it was of no use. It was far too powerful. Death was close. She looked up at the ceiling, thinking that it was the end. Her sights became darker and fuzzier by the seconds. That was until she started to feel a sudden loosening, allowing her a very small amount of air and blood, just enough to keep her awake. To her surprise, the ones that tried to hold the tubes apart from her were not those that she tried to “save”, but the ones she tried to have killed: Johannes and Escobar. Sorrow made no attempts to get rid of them as she kept trying to squeeze harder around the neck of her foe.
“Hell no, girl! You’re sexy and all, but I am NOT letting you kill her! That’s my job!” said Johannes, struggling to hold the strong grip of Sorrow.
“Bullshit it is! This perra loca is mine to fuck up! I’m giving her a Colombian necktie!” exclaimed Escobar in response, using a crowbar of lead some of the tubes apart even if just a few inches.
“A tie?! Are you serious, Escobar?! A piece of fucking cloth?!”
“It means I will cut her throat up and pull her tongue through the hole, dumbass!”
“That’s lame! Where the hell did you get that idea? A freaking Itchy and Scratchy cartoon?! So much for hardened drug lord!”
“Says the virgin with no tan!”
“FUCK YOU, ESCOBAR!”
“FUCK YOU TOO, JOHNNY!”
As the argument between the two got out of hand, they stopped holding onto the tubes around Xanthe’s neck as they leaped towards each other, getting into a violent fist-vs-crowbar fight near the snack table as Sorrow kept strangling her target undisturbed. Whatever window of hope that the fanatic had was now gone. The cyborg felt that she was about to break Xanthe’s neck at any moment. She had little to no hesitation to do so.
“Miss Sorrow! Please stop!”
The desperate voice of Syranon called as the cyborg felt his tender hand upon her shoulder. Her grip became much softer, but there was still a dangerous pressure applied to the neck of Xanthe. Sorrow looked at Syranon as he slowly removed the USB drive from her head, putting it aside. Her hostile nature began to turn into a more tranquil one, calming down as her eyes stopped glowing with a crimson color.
“Miss Sorrow… I know that it isn’t easy for you, but I need to ask you to release her. I don’t want you to get in trouble for what she did.” the paladin pleaded as his eyes met those of the cyborg.
The Sorrow began to look back and forth between Syranon and Xanthe, wondering what she should do. She didn’t want to disappoint her friend, but she didn’t want to spare the one who was going to make her kill him. Sorrow was thinking long and hard about what her decision as Syranon kept giving her a pleading stare, begging that she would show mercy.
“…ok…” said Sorrow in a melancholy tone.
She instantly released Xanthe from her grip, allowing the fanatic to breathe once again. As the cyborg slowly walked away, returning to her rubber duck at the couch, the leader of the Sisterhood gasped for air, her throat and neck having become sore and bruised from the constriction. While Syranon tried to look over Xanthe’s neck, the other champions began to approach the fanatic, giving her a judging look. Johannes and Escobar stopped fighting, having dealt bloody cuts and bruises to each other at the cost of bottles and bowls before they too approached Xanthe.
“Are you guys done yet?” asked Ryo as Johannes spat out a shard of glass while Escobar pulled out a large splinter of wood from his chin. The two friends looked at the other before shaking hands.
“So…seems your plan backfired, Xanthe. Mind explaining why I shouldn’t kick your ass?” said Lizzy as she cracked her knuckles.
Syranon’s hands began to glow as he prepared to heal Xanthe’s neck, noticing just how dark rhe bruises had become.
“Don’t worry, Xanthe. I’ll he-“
His hands were slapped away by the fanatic as she got to her feet, coughing as she built distance between the others.
“Don’t touch me with your patriarchic magic! I don’t know, but you changed her programing to obey you somehow! I know it!” exclaimed Xanthe in her sore voice, coughing even more as she fell to one knee.
Syranon looked rather hurt by her words, remaining speechless still having no idea where her hostility came from. He took a step back, wondering how he should handle the situation. He didn’t want a brawl to break out, knowing how badly it could hurt the trust that the champions have for each other.
“He can barely check his e-mail, let alone reprogram an AI. Besides, you’re not in a good position to talk about changing people’s mind after the stunt you tried to pull off.” said Ryo as she took a step closer to Xanthe.
“I tried to cure her! Just like I am trying to cure the rest of you from the patriarchy’s grip!”
As Xanthe tried to justify her actions, Johannes rolled his eyes before he approached her, pulling out his sword in the process.
“You know what? Fuck this! I’ll just cut her head off and save us the trouble!”
The death knight was about to raise his sword until he felt something trying to pull his hand down. He looked to his side, noticing that Syranon was stopping him for chopping Xanthe by holding onto his wrist. The paladin was met with a slow and furious stare from the undead, but he did not waver or back down.
“I’m sorry, Johannes…but I can’t allow that.”
The other champions looked confused by this act of mercy, considering that he was the main target of Xanthe’s failed plan.
“Paladin. This heretic attempted to turn a friend against you. What is your reason for sparing her from the cold steel of justice?” asked Annika as Johannes still stood still with his sword, looking at both the beastman and the Viking. Syranon looked at all of the allies that he had in the VIP lounge before he sighed.
“Because I wish to make a promise to all of you. As a paladin, it is my duty to save as many as I can. If a life can be spared, then I shall keep it safe. I intend to keep you all alive for when we finally find a way out of here. Weather the threat comes from within our without, I will defend us from it. You all have my word on that…but I need to know if I can trust you. I wish to know…who among you will do their best to avoid killing those within our group?”
There was an eerie sensation lingering in the air. Not a single word was spoken. No sound was made from any of the champions for quite some time. Annika made a small smile, being the first to speak.
“If this is your wish, paladin, then I will help you fulfill it.” said the Viking as she placed a fist over her heart.
The demon hunter sighed a bit before giving Syranon a pat on the back.
“There are lots of weirdoes amongst us… not sure if I can trust them all…but I guess I can give you a hand, kid.” said Ryo calmly.
“Killing has never been a thing of mine, either way. You can count me in, cutie!” exclaimed Lizzy as she nodded at her ally.
The Sorrow, hearing all of it from the comfort of the couch, responded by making a thumb up in approval. Johannes on the other hand simply had a dumbfounded expression on his face as Escobar seemed to be thinking about something.
“SCREW! THAT! I can’t even stand a minute of this nazi’s whining! I ought to punch a crater into her face right now!” shouted the death knight as he raised his fist, preparing to strike down Xanthe. However, before he could go any further, he was pulled aside by Escobar.
“Whoa, Johnny! Chill. I got this!” said the gangster as he placed an arm over his shoulders, leading the both of them near a corner to be in private.
“What the fu-“
“Whisper with me, man! Let me explain!” Escobar interrupted as he leaned a bit closer to the rat-bitten ear of Johannes.
“Look. Trust me. I want to kill this douchebag too, but there is shit out there worse than death, Johnny. Believe me. We only need to promise Prince Charming over there that we won’t kill this little asshole. And even if she does try to fuck with us again, we only make her wish that she was dead. Or maybe I can bribe some guys to take her out if she goes too far again. Sounds cool?”
Johannes began to think for a moment, looking down on the ground before a devious grin was shown on his face.
“Sure…I’m in!” said the death knight in a malicious tone. Escobar grinned in return as he turned around to the others.
“Yeah, we’re in on this thing too, guys!” Escobar called towards the others.
The champions were suspicious about this sudden change of opinion from Johannes and Escobar, but they had little intentions of looking a gift horse in the mouth. Xanthe was the only person not responding to the question of Syranon as she got up on her feet and walked away from her fellow champions, not saying a word in the process.
The door for the VIP lounge was sliding to the side as two armored guards entered the room.
“Ok, champions. Sadly, the part is ov…”
The first guard was silent as he witnessed all the broken bottles, chairs and tables, along with the damages on the walls caused by the sudden mayhem that had taken place. The two armored men placed their palms on their foreheads, taking deep breaths as they were feeling ill.
“Oh crap, we shouldn’t have watched those videos on the phone…the Captain is going to be so damn pissed…” muttered the second guard as he shook his head.
“Aaanyway…we were asked to escort you back to your rooms. The guards are waiting outside”
Syranon gave a nod to his fellow champions, smiling as he made his way back to his suite.
“I’ll see you all tomorrow, guys.” he said as four shielded guards began to lead him back to his room.
“Good night, sweetie.” responded Lizzy in a flirty tone before walking out of the VIP lounge as well.
The other champions soon left the room in order to return to their beds, Johannes and Escobar going out last. As Xanthe was being escorted out as well, her eye twitched to notice that the ones escorting her were all male. She pulled out her notebook one more time, taking notes of her progress.
“It is worse than I thought. This agent of the patriarchy, this paladin, is more powerful than I expected. By capitalizing on me lowering my guard, he has captured the other women with his dudebro magic. Maybe I shouldn’t focus on getting an army through the champions. I will make a few more attempts, but I will put the majority of my focus on the gladiators. Maybe his influence has not spread to them yet. Their vast numbers should work in my favor.”
As Ryo’s and Lizzy’s escort troupe were standing near to each other, one of the guards responsible for the lounge ran towards them as fast as his heavy armor would allow. He stopped in front of the two squads as he approached the two champions.
“I almost forgot. These are for you.”
The guard sounded tired as he handed the monkey girl and the demon hunter one piece of paper each. As they read through it, noticing a variety of strange pictures and symbols on it, they looked up to the guard once more. Some of these markings were familiar to Ryo, having spotted them on some of her past targets.
“What is this?” asked Lizzy as she scratched her head.
“It is information regarding your next battle tomorrow. Non-lethal fight. Your opponent has received similar information. Good luck.” said the guard as he walked away, getting out of their sights through a turn to the right.
Lizzy gained a big smile on her face as she was going to be able to fight once more. Hopefully, this would take her one step closer to finding the treasure that was hidden in the arena. Ryo on the other hand, seemed more suspicious. As she looked through the description of their opponent, she noticed how it seemed rather similar to a suspect accused of committing a series of crimes that once took place in New Ayers. Though she had doubts that it was the suspect, she still saw this as an opportunity to find out.