Sole Survivor – Chapter VI: The Cowboy

Rachel sits at the counter of her room, eating a bowl of cereal. She’s still scared from the fight from the previous night, but not to the point where she cannot function. Jeremy is racking his brain for strategies to take out Heavyweight in the event the sword cannot harm him. He messes with the knife in his hand, taking blades out and in over and over again.

The phone sitting next to Rachel rings. Cautiously, she picks it up. “Hello?” she says.

“Miss Botterill, nice of you to pick up,” the voice on the other line says. “I’m calling to ask about your thoughts on viewing the next match from the quote-unquote Peanut Gallery.”

“The what?”

“The fighter viewing gallery, commonly called the Peanut Gallery is a place in the stadium where the fighters can watch matches together. Today is the first day said gallery is open. Would you like to go there?”

“Say yes,” Jeremy says.

“Uh, yeah. I’ll go,” Rachel says.

“Excellent,” Ysabel says. “Be on your porch in your costume in three minutes.

Rachel runs to go get dressed. “Jeremy!” she shouts as she hurries. “Explain!”

Jeremy places the knife on the counter. “Fighters sit, eat, and talk as the fight goes on. You’d like it.”

Rachel runs up to the table and grabs the knife. “I’ll see you in an hour.”

“I’ll see you before then,” Jeremy says. “The gallery’s live streamed on tv. I’ll hear everything you hear.”

+++

Rachel stands in the small white room from before, the one that she was brought to shortly after Ximeno attacked Arastoo. She gulps and steps into the Peanut Gallery. The room is much different than the first time she visited it. Five rows of chairs, bolted into the ground, stretch out before her. Fighters mill about the room and a large buffet table sits near the door.

As Rachel stands in the doorway, admiring the room, a metal rod falls upon her shoulder. Rachel looks to the right and, upon seeing the large scythe next to her throat, jumps out of its way.

Rachel turns around. A tall and thin person, wrapped in a black hood, stands before her. In the hooded person’s hand is a large scythe and upon their face is a black mask with a skull painted on it.

“My name is Reaper,” the figure says in a deep voice. “Get out of my way before I remove your skull from your neck.”

Rachel backs up, bumping into a nearby coat rack and letting Reaper through. Reaper walks away from Rachel, grabbing an apple from the buffet. Reaper pulls her mask up to her nose and takes a bite of the apple before walking to a seat in the middle of the room.

Rachel, after catching her breath, walks over to the massive buffet table. The table is lined with the most delicious foods Rachel has ever seen. Turkey and pork and a dozen types of fish. Potatoes and burgers, roast beef and large blocks of cheese. Pies and cakes and a hundred other delicacies. The smell alone is enough to make Rachel’s mouth water.

Rachel runs to the table, grabbing handfuls of food and shoving into her mouth, eating all her stomach can hold. The cake is as rich as a mine full of jewels and so sweet that Rachel almost crumples up into a ball. The potatoes are slathered with butter and cheese, created from the finest milk. In the center of the table, Rachel sees a large pepperoni pizza.

Rachel grabs a piece and stares at it. The cheese is gooey and bubbly. The pepperonis smell of fine spices. Rachel takes a bite and suddenly realizes what heaven is like.

She eats until she notices a large shadow over the food. She turns to see a monster with pale skin and large claws. The monster is tall and muscular. It is bald with beady red eyes. The monster wears no shirt, exposing a large scar on its chest. The most striking feature of the monster is its lack of mouth or nose, looking like his mouth was sewn shut.

Rachel knows what the monster standing before her is. She knows little of history, but even she knows about the Invaders, the aliens who ravaged the world thirty years prior. The monster raises its arms in the air, making Rachel think it’s about to strike.

Rachel pulls her sword, pressing the button to activate the blade. The sword reaches near enough to slash the invader but no blade appears. The monster looks at the bladeless sword and walks away, taking up three different seats.

Rachel walks slowly through the room, past a man in a bowler hat striking up a conversation with a pirate. Past a timid young girl sitting nervously next to Reaper. Past the shirtless man posing for a six-armed woman dressed like a belly dancer.

Finally, she sits down in the first row, two seats away from the nearest person. She looks out the window to avoid looking him in the eyes. 

“Howdy there, partner,” the man nearest to her says in a southern drawl. “It’s swell to make a new acquaintance on a nice mornin’ like this.”

Rachel turns and gets a better look at the man. The man is dressed like a cowboy, adorned in black leather pants, a white shirt, and a brown vest. A Stetson sits upon his head and a brown poncho is draped over his right side. Two revolvers are holstered at his side.

“Name’s Anatolios Haven, also known as Gunslinger. I’m a fighter in this here Tournament,” he says.

“Hi,” Rachel mutters, unsure if she should talk to the strange man.

“I saw a pretty young gal like you up on the big screen Sunday. I reckon that you be her. Now then, do you prefer to be called by your given name or by an odd name like Jackrabbit?”

“I prefer Rachel.”

“Mighty fine name. Like they say, a good name is like a second inheritance.”

Rachel thought about this phrase. She had, like most people, never heard it. It also made little sense. The man was odd. Friendly, but odd. He spoke in a strange manner, different from anyone Rachel had ever talked to. He dressed and acted like someone from old western movies.

“Now then, Rachel, due to the fact the two of us are in the same block, I reckon that I may fight you in the next few days,” he said. “If the two of us are gonna fly at it, I swear by god that I bear you no ill will.”

“Nothing personal, right?” Rachel says.

“Nothing personal.”

Haven reaches into his pocket and pulls out a cigarette. He places it in his mouth and begins to search his person for a lighter. Rachel pulls the lighter she stole from the lab out of her bag and hands it to Haven.

“Thank ya kindly,” he says with a smile.

+++

Up in their box, Faust and Legion begin their commentary. “Welcome to the second day of the 14th Tournament,” Faust says. “Once again, I am joined by my talkative co host, Legion. Say hello, Legion.”

“Hello,” Legion says, his voice filled with disdain. “We’re here to introduce today’s fighters. Magalie Matsumoto. 29 years old. From city 89. Victor Callaghan-”

Faust places his hand over Legion’s mouth to silence him. Legion grabs Faust’s arm, breaks in, and throws Faust into the wall behind them. “I apologize for this petty squabble Faust has inflicted on you all,” Legion says, without missing a beat. “The second fighter is Victor Callaghan, 41 years old, currently living in City 63.”

Faust crawls back up to the desk. “What the hell was that?” he shouts. “You broke my arm!”

“If you ever touch me again, I will break much more than an arm. I will hurt you to the point that even Helena will be unable to help you. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” Faust says meekly.

“Good.”

Faust holds his broken arm. “Damnit,” he mutters. “I’m gonna have to go to Helena. Again!”

“Do not complain about that which you have inflicted on yourself,” Legion says. “Regardless, it is time to start the fight.”

“Wait a second. We need to give them proper introductions.”

“I gave them proper introductions. I stated the basic facts then moved on.”

“You need to add a little flair. For example: In the northern corner we have a man with powers as cold as his heart, the cryogenic killer, Arctic!”

“The arena is circular. By definition, it has no corners.”

“Don’t be so literal. In the southern corner-”

“Side.”

“We have the wicked woman wielding weaponized weeds, Emerald!”

“Most of that sentence was completely unnecessary.”

“Shut up.”

+++

“Those two are as different as whiskey and tea,” Haven says. “The little one better end his bellyaching or the big one’s gonna make him belly up.”

“What’s the deal with the big one anyway? Legion, that is.” Rachel says

“What da ya mean?”

“A man wearing a gas mask brought me to this place. As soon as we got here, another man wearing a gas mask killed him. At least, I think he did. Legion, the man talking with Faust, he looks identical to the man who brought me here.”

Haven chuckles. “What?” Rachel asks.

“I’ve got a feelin’ we were brought here by the same feller. Quiet fellow, scar on his eye, big fan of onions-”

“That’s the guy who brought me here!”

“I figured. The man talking with Faust and the one who brought us to here this floating castle are one an’ the same. They’re both a man named Legion.”

“I get that, but knowing his name doesn’t really answer any of my questions.”

“Legion is one powerful son of a gun. He has the ability to duplicate himself. There‘re hundreds of his clones runnin’ around. Guess he’s the poor sap who got stuck with the job of guardin’ the fighters.”

“So, the men with the gas masks are all the same guy?”

“Yep.”

“Then why kill one another?” Rachel asks.

“No clue. Maybe it has to do with how his abilities work. Like, he’s stronger when there’re only a few of him out there.”

“Still, isn’t killing yourself a little violent?”

“Word of advice: Don’t get hung up on the violence. This Tournament’s gonna be a bloodbath. The only thing you can do is try your best to win. For now, I’d relax and watch the bloodshed.”

Rachel decides to follow his advice and looks out the window. Unfortunately, due to the fact that she’s quite a ways from the battlefield, the fighters look like ants. She turns the dial on her goggles, switching to distance view. The fighters remain as small as before. “My goggles are broken,” Rachel says.

“Your goggles pry work fine,” Haven says. “This here room drains mana from fighters. Powers don’t work in here. Shucks the fighters, so the ones fixin’ to fly at it so they can’t shoot center. Understand?”

“Yes,” Rachel lies.

“Hologram’ll be up shortly so we can see the fight.”

Shortly after Haven’s prediction, a holographic recreation of the arena appears in the near the top of the stadium, allowing Rachel to get a better look at the fighters. Arctic is dressed in black kevlar and a thick blue coat. He wears a silver belt with a machete attached to it. His face is covered by a gasmask and blue tubes run down his arms, leading to a large tank attached to his back.

The woman, Emerald, is clothed in a forest dress with lime trim that covers everything below her neck. Her hair is jade and stretches down her back. Virescent tattoos of vines cover her face, all leading to her eyes. Within her hands is an olive tome, containing a verdant gemstone in the center. Her eyes are the same color as the gem: emerald.”

“I’m on the green biddy,” Haven says. “Blue’s armor appears to be kevlar, which would normally make me bet on him, but I know there’s a hell of a lot of magic out there that make armor as useful as crowbait.”

“Crowbait?”

“Ya know, useless.”

+++

Down in the actual arena, the fight begins. Emerald opens the book and green energy appears in her hand. Arctic begins walking forward. Emerald raises her hand and a large green vine shoots out of the ground, headed straight for Arctic’s throat.

A blast of clear liquid, surrounded by white gas, shoots from his hand. The blast collides with the vine, shattering it. Emerald jumps back in surprise and Arctic continues walking towards her.

More vines raise in front of Arctic. He fires from both arms, destroying all of them. Arctic keeps walking and vines keep attacking. He fights and destroys all that come near. Suddenly, a vine raises behind him, aiming for his neck. One of his blasts curves around, destroying the vine before it reaches him.

Emerald holds her book tight and raises a circle of vines around Arctic, all shooting towards him. Arctic spins in a circle while firing blasts of cold. The vines shatter around him, disappearing once destroyed.

+++

“Matsumoto will not win this fight,” Legion says.

“I was thinking the same thing,” Faust says. “Although, fights can change in the blink of an eye. Just cause Arctic Vic’s winning now, doesn’t mean he’ll win in the end.”

“No. Callaghan will win. Matsumoto has shown she is unable to adapt her strategy. So far, she has done nothing but stand still and send vines at Callaghan, despite this failing time after time. This will be her downfall.”

+++

A vine wraps around Arctic’s ankle. Before he can shoot it, the vine pulls him down to the ground and begins dragging him backwards. As he shoots the vines trying to strangle him, more and more vines emerge around his leg, making it harder for him to break free.

Arctic grabs his machete and chops through the vines around his foot. Now free, Arctic runs to Emerald, dodging, shooting, or chopping any vines he runs into. He reaches Emerald, his machete in hand, ready to kill. He swings his machete and Emerald unleashes her full power, raising dozens of vines from the earth. The vines form a domed shield around Emerald, stopping the machete before it can hit her.

Arctic pulls his machete out out of the dome of vines. He stares at the dome, watching as more and more vines add to the shield. He places the machete back on his belt and begins shooting at the dome with both hands. The shattered vines are replaced by more vines, rendering his attack pointless.

+++

“Dang,” Haven says. “She’s really cleaning his plow. I ain’t seen a fight like this in a coon’s age.”

“She isn’t attacking,” Rachel says. “She’s putting all of her energy into keeping that shield up. If Arctic can break through she’s done for.”

“By jingo, yer right! I didn’t even think ‘bout that. Yer’ a smart gal.”

+++

Arctic ceases his attack. The dome is too tough to penetrate. He scratches the chin of his gasmask, trying to come up with a new plan. Suddenly, he grabs his coat and throws it to the side. With the coat out of the way, the audience can clearly see the large metal tank on his back, with blue tubes connecting it to his arms.

Arctic grabs the tank and throws it at the dome. Torn apart, the blue tubes dangle from his hands. He places his hands together, then rips them in different directions before the tank lands. The tank bursts, sending the liquid nitrogen inside in a dozen different directions. The dome shatters, revealing a shaking Emerald.

Arctic charges at Emerald, machete in hand. He slashes through her book, destroying it, and pulls back for another swing. Vines burst through her sleeves, revealing tattoos similar to the ones on her face. The vines wrap around Arctic’s chest and arms, leaving him unable to move.

Arctic struggles to break free of the vines as they wrap around his throat and begin to strangle him. His arm cannot move to chop the vines away and his tank is destroyed. Luckily, a small amount of nitrogen still lies in the blue tubes.

He fires with his left hand, shattering the vines enough to pull his arms free. He cuts the vines around his throat and chest. He throws the machete in the air and fires the remainder of the right tube. Emerald screams as the nitrogen hits her face and screams more when Arctic catches the machete and uses it to slash her stomach.

Emerald falls to the ground and Arctic continues attacking her. Shortly after Emerald’s fall, she is teleported away for medical help. Arctic, covered in blood, stands up. He returns his machete to his belt and grabs his coat. He places his thumb in the air and is teleported away.

+++

“Well I’ll be danged,” Gunslinger says. “That was a hog killin’ time.”

“I enjoyed it too,” Rachel says. “You’re right. It’s good to sit back and enjoy the violence.”

“They’ll announce tomorrow’s fight on Faust’s show. I wouldn’t mind if it was paired with ya. It’ll be an aces high fight. Have a feelin’ you’ll die standin’ up.”

“What?”

“It’ll be a damn good fight and I think you will probably be brave.

Rachel eyes his guns and realizes how difficult a fight with him would be.

“Dang. I meant dang. Shouldn’t curse on television.”

Haven sighs. “May have overdone the whole cowboy thing today,” he says.

“Overdone it?”

Haven ignores her question and leaves his seat. As he leaves, he tips his hat at Rachel. “Til we meet again,” he says.

+++

Several hours later, Rachel watches Faust’s show, waiting for information on the next fight. Arctic sits in the chair, talking to Faust. His gas mask lies in his lap, revealing his platinum blonde hair and icy blue eyes. His skin is a pale, greyish blue color that unnerves Rachel.

“My gloves, made by Tamara Technologies, releases the liquid nitrogen from the vacuum tank on my back,” Arctic says. “Said tank, built by Cuevas Engineering, is currently being repaired. I kinda blew it up earlier.”

“So, liquid nitrogen?” Faust asks.

“Yeah, I get it from a chemical company called Element 151.”

“Liquid nitrogen is notoriously cold, how do you avoid being frozen solid?”

“I take precautions. The tank and tubes are insulated, and I wear cold resistant kevlar made by Deadman’s Defence Depot.”

“Plus,” he says while pulling up the hood of his coat. “I have a really nice David Naldi coat. Keeps me warm.”

“How cold is the nitrogen?”

“I don’t know. Boiling point’s negative 200, that’ll give you an idea.”

“Know that off the top of your head?”

“Yeah. Started learning about chemistry after I got my powers.”

Rachel ignores the voices on the tv. Her interest in Faust’s show is minimal. She instead thinks about her fight. If she has to fight him, Haven’s guns will be a challenge. The best strategy she can think of is to use her speed. In her training before the boat, she learned how to use them to make quick low jumps that cause her to land a good distance away. Her plan is to jump left, then jump forward, dodging Haven’s initial shots and reaching slashing range in a few seconds.

She knows nothing about Aegis, except that his name indicates the use of shields. She can cut through most materials, giving her at least the beginnings of a plan. That leaves Lazarus, an experienced swordsman and winner of the first Tournament.

He’s old, Rachel thinks. He’ll probably slower than he was forty years ago. I can outspeed him and get in some good blows. Plus, he’s used to fighting other people who know how to fight. He won’t be able to predict the actions someone who has no clue what they’re doing.

“Rache?” Jeremy says.

“Yeah,” she replies

Jeremy gestures to the screen. Arctic has left and Faust is making jokes to close out his show. Eventually, Faust says what Rachel has been waiting to hear. “Now,” Faust says, “Before I end the show, I know there’s something a few of you have been waiting to hear. Tomorrow’s fight will be between-” he says while pulling a note out of his jacket, “Aegis and Gunslinger. Tune in tomorrow at seven to find out if the shield shogun can defeat the crazy cowboy!”

Aegis vs Gunslinger. Since Lazarus and her are the only fighters in A block who have not been paired up yet, that means that he must be her opponent. Rachel is relieved that she will not have to fight Gunslinger but is worried about Lazarus. She still needs to train more if she wants to beat him. She gets out of her chair, pulls out her sword, and practices he swordplay.

+++

The next day, Rachel, after a long day of training, decides to go to the Peanut Gallery. Her legs feel like jelly and she can barely move her hands enough to twist the doorknob. After barely managing to push herself onto the porch, she is teleported to the room outside the gallery.

Her knees buckle as she enters the gallery, sending her crashing into the coat rack. Rachel opens her eyes to a sea of darkness. She worries that she is blind before realizing that there is a coat on her head.

The coat is blue and thick, the type that one would be worn in winter to keep warm. Arctic’s, Rachel thinks. Rachel places the coat on the ground and looks up. The entire room is looking at her and a tall figure stands above her. The Invader.

Rachel tries to back away as the monster as it moves to grab her hand. The monster pulls her to her feet and releases her hand before returning to its seat. Rachel, scared and more than a little confused, walks to the seat she sat in the day before.

A short man with blonde hair is sitting where Haven sat, two seats from Rachel. Arctic, Rachel thinks. He is talking to the woman with six arms. The muscular man skulks in the corner, jealous about the six-armed woman’s newfound attraction.

Faust and Legion’s voices play over the speakers within the gallery. “I don’t care that you don’t like them,” Faust says. “The audience enjoys-”

“We’re live,” Legion says.

“-the introductions. Our goal is to provide entertainment. Let me do my thing and we’ll be good, okay?”

“The audience is listening to our conversation.”

“What? How?”

“The cameras and sound system automatically turn on at seven.”

“Damnit.”

Faust pauses for a second to regain his composure. “Hello, and welcome back to the Fourteenth Triennial Golden Valhalla Tournament. My name is Faustino Nash and this is my co-commentator, General Arastoo Rompaye, aka Legion.”

“In the past two days, we’ve seen two great fights. In the first, the monstrous Heavyweight tore apart Helios. In the other, the liquid nitrogen wielding Arctic narrowly beat his opponent, Emerald.

“Today we have two more spectacular opponents. The first is the former apprentice of Pharaoh, champion of the Eighth Tournament. Like Pharaoh, he has the ability to create nearly unbreakable light shields.”

There are several seconds of silence. Up in the box, Faust shifts his eyes to Legion and hopes that Legion figures out that it’s his turn to talk. Eventually Legion figures it out. “The other fighter is Anatolios Haven,” he says. “32 years old, male, and from City 107.”

Faust stares at him. Legion sighs and tells more to the audience. “He wields two 45. Caliber Colt Peacemaker pistols, operating under special permission to use them. Each is enchanted with the spell Endless Quiver, which gives Haven to magically reload in an instant. Prior to this match, he told me that I ain’t seen shooting like this before, which I assume means that he is a good marksman.”

Arctic moves over close to Rachel. “Excuse me,” he asks, are you annoying?”

“What?” Rachel says.

“Annoying. Like that woman over there,” he says while gesturing to the six-armed woman. “She keeps talking about how she wants to devour me.”

“Devour you? Haven’t heard that euphemism before.”

“Devour me as in kill me and consume my flesh. Or, as Coral so delicately put it, rip off my arms and barbecue them with a side of deep-fried kidneys.”

Rachel decides to avoid the dancer woman, or as Arctic called her, Coral. “She’s crazy,” Rachel says.

“Yeah, almost as crazy as people who don’t like Coalition Crunch.”

“What?”

Coalition Crunch, it’s a government-sponsored cereal that I personally find to be absolutely delicious. Coalition Crunch, the only cereal with freedom in every bite!”

Rachel narrows her eyes. “What are you doing?” she asks.

Arctic smiles. “Making money. Now, if you would excuse me, I’m going to get some of that babute on the buffet table. I hope they used EWC Beef. EWC Beef, genetically engineered to be the tastiest!”

+++

Down in the arena the fight is about to begin. Gunslinger, with a wide smile on his face, pulls off his hat and bows to Aegis. Aegis is not amused, keeping his hands balled up in fists. Gunslinger, after putting his hat back on, keeps his hands on his holsters.

I suppose it would be wise to describe Aegis. Aegis wears a white spandex suit, with dark green pads on his chest, elbows, and knees. His face is obscured by a thick beard and green and white aviators. Long brown locks hang down from underneath a dark green stocking cap. Gunslinger, to no one’s surprise, is dressed like a cowboy.

Rachel personally thinks that Aegis looks ridiculous. However, her eyes are drawn to his gauntlets. Standing out from the rest of his ensemble, the gauntlets are made out of silver metal and covered in green lights.  They’re his weapons, Rachel thinks.

The bell rings. Before Rachel can even process the sound, Gunslinger draws and fires. His bullet hits Aegis square in the heart. Or, at least, it would have, if not for the green wall in its way.

A semi-transparent green shield, square and large enough to completely cover Aegis, has appeared in front of him. Aegis’s left hand is no longer clenched. Instead, his palm is open with the fingers spread apart.

Gunslinger smiles. He runs sideways while firing, attempting to reach the other side of Aegis. Aegis counters him by turning, keeping the shield in his way. Gunslinger twists around and runs straight towards Aegis. Once close, he dives to the left, gaining a clear shot. He fires and a second shield, this one created by Aegis’s right hand, appears in his way.

The left shield pushes forward, shoving Gunslinger out of the way. As Gunslinger scurries to his feet, Aegis places his left hand behind his head. He points his pointer and pinky fingers straight and a small shield begins to form. The shield takes form, becoming a shuriken with four curved blades.

Gunslinger narrowly jumps out of the way as Aegis throws the spinning shuriken at him. He begins firing and dodging, hoping to get an opening to shoot Aegis. Aegis returns fire with several more shurikens. One shuriken flies too close to Haven, grazing the right side of his neck. A little bit closer and he would be, as he would say, deader than a doornail.

A length of rope, long and tied together near the end, begins to descend from Haven’s right hand. The rope reaches the ground and begins to slither away from Gunslinger as if it was possessed. As Gunslinger dodges shurikens the rope moves closer and closer to Aegis, before pouncing. The rope, with its noose now expanded to the size of a lasso, grabs Aegis by the shoulders. Gunslinger grabs hold of the rope and pulls Aegis to the ground.

Gunslinger shoots Aegis in the left shoulder. Aegis screams and struggles to escape his bonds. “Gwynn Galo,” Gunslinger says, “You are hereby under arrest.”

Gunslinger smiles about his joke as Aegis points his right pointer and middle fingers forward. A knife made of light appears before his fingers.

Aegis cuts himself free. He swings his arm towards Gunslinger and pulls his middle finger down. The knife shoots forward, cutting the side of Gunslinger’s stomach.

Aegis, with some struggle, pulls himself up. With his left arm, which dangles at his side due to the bullet wound, he creates a shield in front of himself. He blocks Gunslinger’s shots and fires knife after knife at him. The knives barely miss their aim.

Gunslinger aims his pistols at the sky and fires them. Both bullets hit the top of the dome. Aegis yelps as a bullet goes through his right hand. With the gauntlet destroyed, the storm of knives ceases.

+++

“Ricochet,” Rachel says.

“What?” Arctic says.

“The bullets, they ricocheted.”

+++

“How the hell did he shoot Aegis’s hand?” Faust says, not really expecting an answer.

“He shot the walls in a way that caused the bullets to bounce off the walls into each other, causing them to collide and one to shoot down into Galo’s hand,” Legion says.

“Jesus. The sheer amount of luck required to-”

“No. Not luck. Skill.”

Legion smiles. “He was right,” he says. “I ain’t seen shooting like that before.”

+++

Gunslinger’s lasso ties itself around Aegis’s left hand and the shield disappears. Gunslinger them empties his guns into Aegis. Not literally, of course. Gunslinger’s guns cannot be emptied.

Aegis collapses. Gunslinger draws back his lasso and turns around. He spins his guns and returns them to their holsters. He takes off his hat and bows to the audience. Then, a glowing green dagger plunges into his back, piercing through his heart.

Aegis lies on the bloodstained tiles, barely conscious, with his left arm raised off the ground. The pointer finger is the only one raised on his hand. Aegis’s arm drops, crashing onto the arena floor from exhaustion. Gunslinger falls backward and is teleported away before he hits the ground. Aegis is teleported away seconds later. Aegis has won, if only barely.

+++

The fighters begin to exit the gallery one by one. Rachel turns to say goodbye to Arctic only to find him staring at her. “Why are you staring at me?” Rachel asks.

“Your eyes are so blue. Blue like the Caribbean at night,” he says, his voice cracking.

Rachel, creeped out, begins to leave. “The Caribbean is a wonderful place to visit, by the way,” he shouts as she walks away. “Talk to Vertico Vacations today to secure your perfect Caribbean vacation.”

Rachel ignores Arctic’s attempts to sell a vacation to her and instead thinks about what the next fight certainly will be. Eight fighters were announced during the opening ceremony. Heavyweight, Helios, Arctic, Emerald, Gunslinger, Aegis, her, and Lazarus.

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