Rachel’s eyes flutter open. Or, more accurately, her eye flutters open. It shows her the small white light illuminating a tiny room. She turns her head and discovers a small metal table. A top the table sits her bag, a crowbar, and sword. Behind the table lie cabinets and medical supplies. Helena’s office, Rachel thinks.
That’s right. My fight with Heavyweight. I lost. He killed me. So why am I still here?
Rachel ponders the question for several minutes before deciding that she must still be alive, due to the fact that the room distinctly smells like cigarettes and disinfectant. She reasons that heaven would smell better, hell would smell worse, and a complete cessation of existence wouldn’t smell like anything at all. While she is correct about being alive, she is somewhat incorrect about what the afterlife smells like.
Rachel reaches for her sword but can barely lift her arm. She feels a sharp pain in her chest that is similar to the feeling of being stabbed in the heart, something Rachel is now very familiar with.
“You’ll need to take it easy for a few days,” a voice says.
Rachel turns her head and sees a woman wearing shawls and a lab coat. Helena, the Tournament’s doctor. “No heavy lifting, no exercise, no running, etcetera. The best thing you can do is get some rest.”
Rachel stares at the older woman, waiting for her to say something else. Rachel knows something is wrong, but can’t place her finger on what exactly, and hopes that Helena will tell her what.
Helena turns away and Rachel turns back to the ceiling. There’s something very, very wrong, she thinks. Why can’t I figure out what?
Helena sighs. “I’m sorry about everything that has happened to you,” she says, which only raises Rachel’s suspicions further.
Then Rachel realizes what the thing that is very very wrong is. She moves through the pain and puts her hand on her eye. The eye that is no longer there. “Where’s my eye?” Rachel whispers.
Helena doesn’t respond. “Where’s my eye?” Rachel says again.
“What happened to my eye?” Rachel shouts.
Helena sighs. “You lost it during the fight,” she says.
The memories come flooding back to Rachel like water coming from a burst dam. She remembers cutting the chain attached to Heavyweight’s weight. She remembers the chain hitting her. She remembers the pain.
Rachel starts screaming. “Please don’t freak out,” Helena says. “It’s bad for your heart. Try to calm down.”
Rachel doesn’t calm down and Helena is forced to inject her with a mild tranquilizer. Rachel calms down. The screaming stops.
Rachel touches where her eye used to be and is surprised to feel something in its place. The thing is smooth, like a cue ball, and round, also like a cueball. It feels weird within her eye socket, like a cue ball would feel if it was within your eye socket.
“It’s glass,” Helena explains. “It’ll be weird at first, but, after a while, you’ll get used to it.”
Helena pulls out a small mirror to show Rachel her new face. Rachel doesn’t recognize the girl who stares back at her.
The girl’s tan skin is covered in bumps and bruises; she looks like she was just beaten to a bloody pulp. A white streak runs through her wavy brown hair. Said hair is messy and knotted from being shaken around by a gargantuan psychopath. A large jagged scar runs across the girl’s left eye. The eye has a silver iris and is shiny, almost unnaturally so.
Rachel does recognize one feature, though. The girl’s right eye, which had turned blood red during the fight, has returned to being as blue as the Caribbean at night.
“Well, that was anticlimactic,” Faust complains. “I don’t know about you, but I was really hoping for Jackrabbit to pull off something great at the end.”
“Botterill lacked the means to deal any lasting damage to Heavyweight,” Legion says. “She was doomed from the start.”
“I know that, but the fight would have been amazing if she had managed to win. The fight might’ve even been the best fight we’ve had in the history of the Golden Valhalla Tournament.”
“Regardless, the winner of the Tournament’s first week is Marek “Heavyweight” Kysely. He now moves on to the quarterfinals, starting in seven weeks. Jackrabbit will have the option to fight in the Redemption bracket for another shot at the championship.”
“Well, there is one good thing that came out of this fight.”
“If we keep having fights like the one we had today, this is going to be the best Tournament yet.”
Rachel stumbles through the door to the metal room. She’s still a little weak, a little sedated, and a little half-blind. Walking will be hard for a few days.
When she enters, she sees Jeremy sitting by the counter with his head hung low. Tears streak down his face. “Jeremy?” Rachel says.
Jeremy’s head rises like water coming from a geyser. He jumps from his chair and runs to Rachel. He hugs her so hard that she worries about him hurting her heart. “I thought I lost you,” he says.
“It’s okay. I’m here now.”
Ten minutes after Heavyweight’s win, Vic and Haven are the only ones left in the Peanut Gallery. Vic’s head is buried in his lap and his hands are in fists so tight that Haven can make out the veins beneath Vic’s gloves. Haven would like to leave the gallery, but doesn’t want to leave his new friend.
“Shame Rachel lost,” Haven says, breaking the silence. “I was rootin’ for her.”
Haven places a hand on Vic’s shoulder. “That’s just how life is, partner”
Vic pushes the hand away. “I’m not in the mood for cowboy talk,” he says.
“Sorry,” Haven says.
Vic stands up and punches the window in front of him. “I can’t believe she lost!” he says.
Haven follows Vic to his feet. “Don’t worry, Heavyweight’ll get what’s comin’ to him. It makes sense that miss Botterill lost. Heavyweight can really stand the gaff.”
Vic shoves him. “I said I wasn’t in the mood for cowboy talk!” he says. “Stand the gaff. Who even says that?”
“Cut the crap. We both know that the whole wild west thing is just an act.”
Haven looks Vic in the eyes for a solid five seconds before sighing. He pulls off his hat and places it on a chair. “Perhaps you’re right,” he says, his voice free from the southern drawl that it normally has. “There is a distinct possibility that my western persona is nothing more than a ruse.”
Haven sits back down and looks at his feet. “Did you know that I used to work for the government?” he says. “For years, I worked as a mid-level bureaucrat with a generic title that I can’t recall. I hated every minute of that job.”
“I enjoy being a cowboy. I really do. I enjoy being Gunslinger much more than being Anatolios Haven. I feel much more alive now than I ever did when working in a cramped office doing meaningless work.”
Haven smiles and puts his hat back on. “Course,” he says, his voice back to normal, “That’s assuming that my personality and vernacular are a bunch of hogwash. It is possible that I actually talk like this.”
Vic sighs. “Sorry for taking my anger out on you,” he says. “I really wanted to see Heavyweight die. Not because of any connection to Rachel, mind you. Because he broke my neck and I want to watch him suffer.”
Haven laughs. “Keep tellin’ yerself that,” he says, “It might come true.”
Rachel stares at the tv from her bed, half-asleep. The tv shows a swordsman wearing a leather jacket fighting a heavily armored woman carrying a spear. Rachel doesn’t really care about the fight on the tv. She only watches it because she doesn’t have the energy to do anything else.
The swordsman suddenly appears behind the armored woman and stabs her in the heart. The woman is teleported away and the commentators prattle on about the swordsman being the second quarterfinalist. Rachel doesn’t care.
“Rachel, I think it’s about time you got up,” a voice says.
Rachel slowly twists her head towards the source of the voice, a young man staring at her from the side of the bed. “Go away, Jeremy,” Rachel says. “I don’t want to talk right now.”
“Well, considering the fact that the Tournament staff won’t allow us to go home for another six weeks, you really don’t have a choice in the matter.”
Rachel turns her head back to the tv, as if to say I don’t have to talk to you if I don’t want to.
“Rachel, you need to get out of bed eventually.”
“Eventually, yes, but not today.”
“It’s been a week since your fight with Heavyweight. During that time you’ve only gotten out of bed to eat and go to the restroom.”
“I need bed rest. I got stabbed in the heart, in case you forgot.”
“Helena said you needed a few days, not a few weeks.”
“That may be true, but you’re forgetting something very important.”
“What am I forgetting?”
“I don’t have to get out of bed if I don’t want to.”
Jeremy sighs and sits down on the bed next to Rachel. “I know the real reason you don’t want to get out of bed,” he says.
Rachel rolls her eye. “Really?” she says sarcastically. “Enlighten me.”
“First of all, you’re going through withdrawal. Throwing those pills off the balcony wasn’t a good idea.”
“You knew about that?”
Jeremy deflects the question by saying “I think you not wanting to do anything is more than that. I think you’re still upset about getting your ass kicked by Heavyweight.”
“Really? I would have never guessed that. You must be a genius to figure that out. Bravo. So smart.”
Jeremy sighs and stands up. “Come on Rachel, get up. Let’s train, or come up with a new strategy for your next fight.”
“What next fight?” Rachel snaps. “There are no more fights! It’s over! I lost! Unless I want to kill myself by signing up for the Redemption Bracket, there’s nothing else I can do. Just let me wallow in self-pity peacefully.”
“Rachel, you are far too strong for this to be how your story ends. The Golden Valhalla Tournament isn’t the only place where you can fight other people. There are organized matches around the world!”
Rachel says nothing.
“What about the piece of you that’s missing?” Jeremy asks. “What about feeling happy?”
“I don’t want to feel happy! I tried that. Now I have two pieces missing. The one in my heart and the one in my skull. Just let me give up and be miserable before I lose any more body parts.”
Rachel sighs and sits up. “I mean, yeah, I liked my fights with Lazarus and Aegis. Hell, I even liked my fight with Heavyweight, for the most part.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I got stabbed in the goddamn heart, that’s what the problem is. I thought I could fight with these people, but I was wrong. I’m not strong enough. A frickin deus ex machina wasn’t enough for me to win.”
“Rachel, you had a swordfight with a former champion and won! You kicked Aegis’s ass! Yeah, you lost to Heavyweight. So what? Everyone loses once in a while. What you should be focusing on is the fact that you put up one hell of a fight.”
“No buts. Get off your ass and fight.”
Rachel stares at him for several seconds before getting out of bed and grabbing her sword. She activates the cyan blade and closes her eyes. She opens them and two eyes, one grey, one red, stare at a red sword radiating energy. “Okay,” she says. “Let’s start training.”
7 months before the 14th Tournament and 5 days after Marek Kysely’s family died, Heavyweight sits in a Coalition prison cell. Heavy stone balls are chained to his arms.
Capturing Heavyweight was an arduous task that resulted in the deaths of dozens of soldiers. Because of this, the army has a dozen mages casting spells to immobilize Heavyweight. A dozen more are working on ways to kill him. Despite these precautions, it would be very easy for Heavyweight to break out if he wanted to.
Heavyweight isn’t currently concerned with breaking out or with hurting anyone. He’s too busy thinking about what he should do now that Felix is dead. Before gaining his powers, he had wanted to do two things: protect his family and kill Felix Ares. Now that he’s accomplished one of his goals and failed horrifically failed the other, he doesn’t know what to do for the rest of his newfound immortal existence.
He does know a few things, though. He knows that he is in pain. He knows that he wants the pain to stop. He knows that he wants to hurt others.
After a few hours of intense thought, Heavyweight realizes his new mission. He wishes to end his pain and punish the world by eradicating humanity, himself included.
Fortunately for him, a slender talk show host named Faust enters five minutes later with a way for him to grant his wish.
It would be wrong to say that Marek Kysely is alive after Felix Ares entered his home. His lungs breathe in and out, his heart is beating, the neurons in his brain are firing, but he is not alive, not really.
There is a very big difference between surviving and living. People survive when they are given food and water and air. People live when they are truly happy, when they have a purpose, when the missing piece of their hearts is filled.
Some people find their missing piece in work. Others find it in their family, or in the arts, or maybe in something else entirely. It does not matter where you find what makes you feel alive, all that matters is that you find it.
Anatolios Haven finds his piece in dressing like a cowboy and speaking in a terrible southern accent. Rachel Botterill finds her piece in fighting against powerful opponents. Marek Kysely’s piece was taken away from him by a cruel man carrying a shotgun. Because of this, he is not truly alive.
Marek Kysely’s life is twisted hell full of pain and misery. He does not live. The sole thing he does is survive.
A monster dashes through the streets of City 89, searching for its prey. The creature moves faster than anything else alive. Its prey are incapable of running away or hiding; the monster always finds what it’s hunting. The only way to escape this creature is to kill yourself, something that a surprisingly high amount of people have done over the years.
Since it moves so fast, humans are incapable of seeing the monster. All they see is a white blur jetting through the city and the mangled corpses that it leaves behind. This is the monster that slaughtered Agi Fishman and her crew, the monster that Victor Callaghan jumped into a vat of liquid nitrogen to avoid.
The monster notices a slim man in a nice suit standing atop a building, holding a picture of it above his head. The monster climbs to the top of the building and stares at the man. For the first time in years, the monster stops moving.
“Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me,” the man, Faust, says. “Since you don’t have time to talk, I’ll make this brief.”
Faust tosses the sign away and pulls out a contract. He holds the contract out to the monster. It cocks its head in confusion. Faust says then says something that would change the lives of not just the monster, but every single person living on that insignificant blue rock.
“I’d like to talk to you about the 14th Triennial Golden Valhalla Tournament.”