Chapter Five: Den of Monsters

“Ladies and gentlemen! Our next fight will be a weapon roulette match!” said the announcer, his voice echoing throughout the arena. “The competitors will fight it out using weapons randomly selected just minutes before the duel! Both skill and luck are tested in a ruthless dance of death!”

Valeriya, bored with the usual exaggerated announcement, yawned as she watched from her private box.

“First to enter the battleground, we have a skilled veteran with twelve kills in the arena! His unparalleled strength and vicious brutality earned him the nickname The Titan. Heeere cooomes Jaaeeeeger!”

A monstrous man carrying a battle axe stomped into the ring. Jaeger was over seven feet tall and built like a tank.

“And is that what I think it is!? On his shoulder is his weapon of choice!!! Lady luck has smiled on the championship favorite!”

Valeriya unwrapped a lollipop and stuffed it into her mouth.

Luck my ass.

Someone definitely pulled some strings.

“Facing him tonight is one of the arena’s rising stars. In each of her 4 victories, she awed us with her lightning speed and nimble movements! She has no name on record, but her fans call her Gazelle because of her explosive speed and slender figure. And her weapon is…”

This Gazelle has been getting better with every fight.

It’s like she’s in a growth spurt.

“A slingshot! What a terrible twist of fate! But such is the arena!”

The Russian bit into her round candy, cracking it in two.

Disgusting.

Valeriya was fine with deception but abhorred cheating. A contest only had meaning if it was between equals. The blatant rigging of the weapon roulette made her cringe. One of the reasons she had been giving assassination objectives and style demands to Ageha was to make his bouts more exciting. A one-sided fight was not a fight at all, and she loved fights.

Jaeger stood in place and made several practice swings with his weapon. His light brown jacket fluttered from the air currents he produced. He easily waved around the enormous double-bitted axe with his right hand and then the other, a feat impossible without ARMS enhancements.

His much smaller opponent wore the elastic band of the slingshot around her neck like a necklace and marched to the center of the ring. Her messy short black hair gently swayed from her enemy’s flamboyant exhibition. A dark grey form-fitting suit snugly wrapped her athletic physique. A plain white mask hid her face.

“The odds are at -290 for Jaeger and +270 for Gazelle! Will the speedster fall in the face of overwhelming strength!? Or will there be a dramatic upset!? Let the games begin!!!”

The moment the starting bell sounded, Gazelle broke into a sprint. Jaeger lowered his stance and firmly gripped his axe with both hands. When she was a few feet from him, he swung horizontally. Gazelle ducked to avoid the blade but was met by Jaeger’s right leg. She blocked the titan’s kick with her left arm but still got blasted sideways.

Contrary to his brutish looks, Jaeger is fairly skilled.

She’s lucky his legs aren’t metal.

Gazelle tumbled on the ground. Jaeger ran towards her as she picked herself up off the floor. Her left arm, hurt from the attack, hung limp at her side. Jaeger closed in and swung his axe downward with tremendous speed. Gazelle sidestepped left to avoid it, but Jaeger curved the trajectory towards her. She protected herself with her right arm. A metallic screech pierced the arena. The suit and skin covering her arm split open, revealing an alloy interior.

Cybernetic legs and an arm?

Her extensive cybernetic enhancement surprised Valeriya. She would have been downright shocked if she had not met Ageha.

The attack had merely grazed Gazelle but still contained enough force to push her away. She managed to stay on her feet and leapt away from her monstrous opponent. Jaeger did not follow her.

“What a ferocious attack!” shouted the announcer during the lull in combat. “Gazelle looks hurt! Will she be able to turn this around!?”

What will you do now?

Injured and weaponless, Gazelle was backed into a corner. Despite having no stake in the current contest, Valeriya found herself rooting for the girl. She had a habit of siding with the underdog.

Gazelle gingerly flexed her left arm. It moved. She then took a runner’s stance and dashed towards her enemy.

Again?

Did she give up and stop thinking?

Using both hands, Jaeger raised the axe over his head. His face revealed an expectant smile, like a gourmand eager to carve into a juicy piece of steak. Gazelle reached her maximum velocity, but he calmly watched her approach.

Bionic eyes?

His confidence in the face of Gazelle’s inhuman speed suggested that he had enhanced vision. With Jaeger’s win all but confirmed, Valeriya made a mental note to warn Ageha of this formidable adversary. She focused her eyes so as not to miss anything in the following moments.

A split second before Gazelle entered his range, Jaeger drove his axe down. Gazelle swerved left to avoid it, but like earlier, Jaeger used his absurd strength to change the trajectory of his attack mid-swing.

Is it over?

Again, Gazelle raised her alloy arm to defend against the strike. Just before the blade struck, she sideflipped to the right using the axe head as her axis. The axe sliced through empty air before embedding into the ground. Jaeger’s eyes widened as Gazelle landed diagonally in front of him.

Without panicking, he let go of his anchored weapon and threw a left backhand at Gazelle’s face. The attack had enough force to pulverize her head, but she calmly tracked it with her eyes. Gazelle bent her legs while raising her right arm. The backhand missed her head but tangled with her alloy limb.

Grabbing onto Jaeger’s forearm, she rode its momentum and flipped herself onto it. Before Jaeger could react, she grasped his jacket sleeve and pulled herself towards his face. Jaeger tried to seize her with his right hand, but she jumped into the air by using his left shoulder as a platform. Her feet pushed him downward, forcing him into a shallow squat. He looked up to confirm Gazelle’s location.

A pebble plunged into his left eye socket.

So that’s where she hid her slingshot ammo.

Valeriya had clearly seen Gazelle stick her hand into her back pocket and pitch a pebble directly into her opponent’s eye while in midair.

The audience exploded with cheers as Jaeger held his face and screamed in agony. Gazelle spread her legs as she fell and landed on him, sitting on his shoulders and squeezing his neck between her thighs. She thrust her alloy fingers into his mouth, breaking his teeth, and pulled his head back with great force. His mouth was forced open, likely breaking his neck in the process.

With her left hand, Gazelle removed the metal slingshot from her neck and stabbed it into his throat. The blunt makeshift stake and the power in her human left arm were not enough to kill Jaeger outright, but the wound bled profusely.

Jaeger frantically raised his arms to snatch the enemy on his shoulders. Gazelle calmly leaned back, flipped, and landed on the ground. His eyeball destroyed, his neck broken, and choking on his own blood, the giant fell.

“A-Amazing!!! The Titan falls! Gazelle is victorious!!!”

A smile crept onto Valeriya’s face as she imagined a fight between Ageha and that girl. She licked her lips, tasting the sugar on them.

Sweet.

 

***

 

“Let him in,” said Valeriya.

The guard outside opened the door, allowing Ageha to enter the private viewing box..

“What took you so long?” she asked. The kimono-clad Russian unwrapped a lollipop and gave it a lick before popping it into her mouth.

Ageha waited for the door to close before speaking. “You were watching, right? Washing the blood off was a pain.”

“I didn’t expect you to use yourself as a projectile. That was impressive. And crazy.”

“What choice did I have? It was a barehanded match.”

“I got a bit worried when you flew into the audience. Even your opponent looked surprised by how far his uppercut took you.”

“Of course he was. I kicked off the floor when I blocked it. We were close to the wall, but his attack alone wouldn’t take me all the way to the target.”

“No one suspects anything?”

“They were too busy screaming like banshees. My elbow punctured the target’s chest as I landed. It was half luck. No one would think that was intentional.”

“Good. Kudos for using a dragon palm strike to end the match.”

“You wanted flashy.”

“Such good service!”

“I’m a service industry professional.”

Valeriya chuckled and beckoned Ageha to move closer. “Take a look at this.” Using her lollipop, she pointed to the arena below.

Ageha looked through the thick glass window and saw a girl standing over a man convulsing on the floor. “Where do they get all these huge guys? The one I just fought was about eight feet tall.”

“They’re in high demand because they look scary. The spectators love that kinda thing. They don’t understand anything about combat.”

“Then why do I need to use kung fu in my matches?”

“Because entertainment doesn’t require understanding. It’s fine as long as it looks good. Anyway, ignore the ape. I meant the other one.”

Ageha’s gaze shifted to the girl. “What about her?”

“Fans call her Gazelle. Her legs and her right arm are cybernetic. Eyes too, probably.”

Ageha turned to Valeriya. “And?”

“Not just that. She has good instincts. Her movements are getting better with every match. I saw a couple of her fights before. This one is incomparable to the first. She even blinded her opponent by pitching a pebble into his eye while in midair. It’s too bad she didn’t throw an uppercut though. A Gazelle Punch would’ve been a masterpiece!” She laughed.

Something about Valeriya’s comments nagged at him.

Pitching?

A certain teenage grenadier came to mind.

It can’t be.

Ageha searched for the girl’s figure, but she was no longer in the ring. “Wait, a pebble?”

“It’s a long story. She’ll probably make it to the final matches. Don’t let your guard down.”

Valeriya’s high evaluation of Gazelle meant she was truly dangerous. Ageha decided to be more wary of her.

“Take a seat,” she said. “You should watch the coming matches.”

He took her offer. “Let me guess, more monsters?”

“Exactly. It’s better to get a grasp of their abilities early on. You might not like it, but don’t forget our deal. The assassinations are only side jobs. You have to win the tournament.”

“What makes you think I’m against scouting?”

“You never came to watch before, despite my invitations.”

“You invited me before. This time, you ordered me. If it’s a fight worth seeing, you won’t let me blow it off.”

Valeriya chuckled. “I didn’t order you. I just strongly requested.” A charming smile floated on her face. “Gazelle’s performance was a surprise, though.”

The announcer began introducing the next pair of combatants. Spider, a muscular man with very long limbs, walked into the ring. His opponent, a small boy called Crescent, playfully skipped into view soon after. It was an unrestricted match, so most weapons, excluding firearms, were allowed. Spider held two daggers, while the boy gripped a curved blade in each hand.

“A kid?” asked Ageha.

“That’s what you’d think, right? Watch carefully.”

The sound of the bell marked the start of the match.

And the match ended.

Or rather, it was as good as finished, but the boy refused to let it end.

It had been a straightforward contest of speed. Crescent had been just a little bit faster than Spider. Spider’s daggers had failed to block the boy’s slashes by a mere inch four successive times, one attack for each of Spider’s limbs.

The muscular man screamed and wriggled on the floor. His arms and legs were bleeding and immobile. Crescent gleefully took his time cutting his helpless opponent apart. His mask hid his expression, but judging from the spring in his step, the boy was probably salivating in pleasure.

“This isn’t what I wanted to show you,” said Valeriya with a regretful tone.

“I know,” he said. “He’s fast, but I can manage.”

Ageha’s body was almost completely made of alloy. Speed and blades were not enough to defeat him. Seeing this farce had also changed Ageha’s resolve to a powerful desire. He wanted to kill that boy.

Valeriya looked crestfallen. “How sad. Spider was strong, even if he didn’t have ARMS.”

“Strength is meaningless. Survival is everything.”

“Do you really believe that?”

“I didn’t want to.” Ageha’s lips unconsciously curled into a frown as he slid his thumb along the ring on his finger.

Crescent eventually got tired of playing with Spider’s mutilated body and left the ring. A group of cleaners disposed of the corpse and prepared the arena for the next match.

Valeriya tapped Ageha on the shoulder. “Sorry to break this to you, but there’s one more.”

“Is it just my imagination, or is my end of our deal much harder than yours?”

“Hey, finding that Jin fellow isn’t a cakewalk either. And you lost to me, so it’s natural I get better terms.”

She was right, so Ageha did not argue back.

Two new fighters faced off in the middle of the ring.

Ageha observed the tall athletic man in a muay thai stance. Based on his form, he seemed to be quite skilled.

“Not him.” Valeriya puckered her lips and pointed the white plastic stick protruding from them to the other fighter. “That one.”

Thinking that the gigantic man was just another oaf, Ageha had not registered him as a threat.

“Don’t get fooled by appearances,” said Valeriya.

At the start of the match, the kickboxer carefully approached his opponent. With a burst of speed, he dashed in and launched a front kick towards the giant’s abdomen. The giant could not block his cybernetic leg, and normally, that meant the match was over.

However, the giant did not budge from the blow. He swiftly extended both hands towards his enemy. The kickboxer tried to back away but was unable to escape the giant’s long reach. The giant grabbed him by the shoulders, lifted him into the air, and crushed his right arm. The kickboxer cried as he kicked the giant’s chest with his legs. The attacks were ineffective.

The giant executed a flawless shoulder throw and slammed the kickboxer on the floor. The immense force caused the kickboxer to splatter on the ground, like a skydiver with a faulty parachute.

“Now that’s a little problematic,” mumbled Ageha.

A giant immune to cybernetic body blows. That was a nightmare surpassing his fight with the Nikaido cyborgs.

“That’s 0.5.”

“0.5?”

“That’s the name he used to enter the tourney.”

A machine-like name for a giant robot.

“What a fitting name,” he said with a troubled expression.

Valeriya glanced at him and smiled. “I think so too.”

The announcer declared the end of the final match and began the closing ceremonies. Ageha stood from his seat.

“Wait, there’s one other thing,” said Valeriya. “I need a favor.”

“A favor?” His eyebrows furrowed for an instant.

This can’t be anything good.

“Don’t make that face. It’s super easy!”

“Stop talking like a teenager. It’s unnerving. That lollipop is annoying enough.”

“Eh!? What do you mean?”

“I’ve been meaning to say this for a while now. It doesn’t fit your image at all. You’re practically oozing mature charm, but you have candy in your mouth. Sure, it looks erotic when you lick it, but more than that, it doesn’t match your image. Well, you’re sexy either way, so I’m just nitpicking.”

“Er, thanks..?”

“No matter how you think about it, a pipe or at least a cigarette fits better. Aren’t you a mob boss?”

“Isn’t that too cliche? I actually used to smoke but gave it up because of that.”

Ageha looked at her as if he was staring at a dunce.

Valeriya waved her hand in denial. “I’m kidding! Don’t look at me like that! It’s true that I quit smoking, but that’s because Mitsuki hated the smell.”

Ageha sighed. “I figured it was something like that. But why a lollipop?”

“I have a thing for sweets.” Valeriya took the lollipop from her mouth and innocently brandished it. “And I love putting things in my mouth.”

That was kind of hot.

Valeriya peered at his face with a naughty smile. “What were you thinking just now?”

“That was kind of hot.”

“…I knew it all along, but you’re really not cute at all.” Her shoulders dropped. “At least you understand gap moe.”

“What?”

“Nevermind. It’s fine if you don’t know the term as long as you appreciate the effect.” She grinned.

“I feel like you just told me something completely worthless, but whatever.” Ageha walked towards the door. “See you later.”

She chuckled. “Did you really think you could trick me that easily?”

He scratched his head and turned around. “No, but I hoped you’d humor my attempt.”

“Maybe if you tried harder. It was too obvious because you spoke too much. You’re not that chatty. Besides, aren’t you hitching a ride home with me?”

“Running back felt like the better choice.”

“Don’t worry, it really is an easy job. In fact, it’s something you have experience in.”

 

 

Next Chapter

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