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Rumble in the Arena (Part 2)

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A Second Generation Whateley Academy Adventure

Rumble in the Arena

by

Malagua

 

Part Two

 

Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 8:07 pm
Poe Room 236

“I see… So, Dad’s still looking for Vic?” Gwen sighed.

“He’s not desperately pulling all resources or anything for that matter,” Ronnie explained with discomfort about it. “He’s just doing it passively.”

“I haven’t told him that he is here. Have you?” Gwen said.

“No… I’ve only told him that I got a message from him telling us he’s okay. It’s not enough to give him peace of mind but it did calm him.”

“I wouldn’t be able to cook up something like that.”

“Then you better practice, because he’s coming to your school to visit on parent's day.”

“Must I? Gwen sighed. “Why can’t he just come out straight to him instead of all this. Why did he even run away, if he was going to end up in Whateley when he manifested?”

“Perhaps money?” Ronnie floated out. “I think I understand his reasoning, even if it’s now exploded into far more than it was supposed to be.”

“Ugh… Can we stop talking about him?” Gwen sighed.

“Sure. Have you been keeping up with shows? I just got into RWBY. I’m loving it.”

“Yeah… RWBY…” Gwen said somewhat downtrodden, reminding herself that she used to be waiting for the fourth book in what felt like forever with Vic…

She shook her head and her increasingly souring mood. “Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it? I-I’ve been trying to keep up with some other shows and series. You know, some strange ones, like Steven universe…”

From there, moving on to more modern conversations, the sense of uneasiness within her slowly began to ebb out once again. A part within her wondered if that would be the solution to moving on, just finding new things to enjoy on herself. And yet there was a sense of guilt about the idea, which made for an awkward rest of the conversation.

Still, as it usually happened, Ronnie’s personality made quick work of those underlying feelings and before she realized, she was talking about the recent mischief around her friends and promising her sister to share some more pictures, knowing they would also be shared with their parents.

Eventually, the door to Gwen’s room opened and her roommate, Leslie Wright, aka Ping, walked in, hoisting the weight of a salvaged CPU under her arm.

“Hey, it’s Veronica, isn’t it?” she greeted, without even looking around the screen.

“Leslie!” Ronnie cheered up. “Are you up for some coding tonight?”

“If you can wait half an hour to get my computer ready, sure,” Leslie smiled.

“Sure, I can.” Ronnie smiled.

“Alright, alright,” Gwen finally said after a buzz in her pocket told her she just received a message. Followed by another and another in quick succession to the point she was close to developing a hatred for the feeling. “I’ll let you two have fun. I think I’ll just call it night and watch some videos or something.

“Alright, sis. Don’t forget to call Mom and Dad… and don’t get into too much trouble, okay?” Ronnie said with a small smile as she waved.

“Trouble, when have I gotten into trouble… This year… since I arrived here?” Gwen corrected herself before her roommate would raise her hand. “Alright, I gotta go, have some watching to do. Bye sis.”

“Later,” Ronnie answered before she cut her side of the conversation.

“Your sister is quite spirited,” Leslie noted.

“She is… I guess she’s just been a tad envious. Never having gotten to go to Whateley and learned to use her powers by herself.”

“Ah, an uneventful time? Sounds so nice,” Leslie smiled.

“Yeah, it must be. According to her, I’m living the most exciting life she could want,” Gwen shrugged.

“Will she be coming over for Parents’ Day? I’d like to meet up and share some specialist’s view over her esoteric use of magic to affect the circuitry,” Leslie noted.

“Hopefully, she will. But she’s always busy with college.”

With that, Gwen proceeded to check her phone, finding the buzz she felt not long ago was from Dereck Seaver, her boyfriend.

“Hey Gwen,”

“Just wanted to let you know that I’ve tended to all the needed matters for the day out. Got us into the weekend bus to Berlin.

“I’ve been looking forward to this trip out of Whateley. I’m excited. Our first date outside since school began.”

“I planned a fun time for us. A trip around the mall, then to the movies for that movie you’ve mentioned (see? I do listen to you) and after it, lunch at a cafe. You can ask for anything, I’m inviting.”

“I look forward to it.”

The stream of texts and messages read, and Gwen couldn’t help to giggle and provide a smile as she rolled on her bed. She recalled the pressure of being the one doing the whole student courting back in her old school and not enjoying it during the few times she tried it. Being the object of someone else’s affection while it put her in the spotlight, uneasy, but it also made it so that she felt the love and attention that came along with it.

She wasn’t sure if these were the rosy eyes that Ronnie had warned her of, but it got her to smile and remember why she fell for Dereck. The guy had a devoted side about his actions and thoughts. Thinking that way, she was now forgiving his obsession with the person who broke her arm. No longer worrying about having to conceal a forgotten matter, she could go back to enjoying the happier times from before.

“I look forward to it.” She texted, hoping she hadn’t just jinxed their day out.

Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 9:21 pm
Whiskey’s hidden distillery

“So… the Bohemians are organizing gladiator matches that are open to the public but also might or might not be rigged. But are also doing it for a livestream event so one of the members can have an ego boost. And they’ve hired us to provide drinks and cater to their guests?” Sofia asked as she was caught up to speed on the events of the afternoon. “Did I get it right?”

“That is pretty much it,” Peter confirmed, leaning onto the side of William Crossby’s work desk which resembled a mixture between a distillery and a chemistry lab. “Though, as Pitfall put it, it’s not at the behest of one of the main heads of the group. Just some guy that really pushed the idea.”

“Don’t sit there. If you know nothing about my processes, then can you just not touch anything?” Crossby retorted as he moved back and forth, tapping onto the computer to run what appeared to be simulations on the flavor (that much she guessed by the diagram of a tongue lighting itself up when a sample was placed). Hooked to it were vials of colorful liquids (to avoid saying chemicals) that bubbled when called forth by the computer.

It certainly took away a little bit of the magic to see the process of how the drinks she enjoyed were made. And she was quite sure that, if she were to enhance her nose with any of the animal forms, she’d be just a step from pleasantly enjoying the sweet combination to gagging from an off mixture.

“Easy, Crossby.” Trevor defended from the back corner of the room where he and Gieselle sat by. “You’re getting me dizzy

“Hey, I just went back into production, and I have a demand to fulfill. It’ll take me a good chunk of time to get it done if we’re being secretive about it.

“But it’s manageable, right?” Sofia asked.

“Once I have it started, all I have to do is wait while the bottles fill up.” Crossby said pointing around. She knew he was pointing over to the corner of the room behind her but given that Sofia rarely spent time within the tunnels and had less than a couple of visits in Whiskey’s lab, her gaze wandered around the place.

Despite all expectations, the lab was a cozy place that fitted all that was required and had still some room open for traversing around. No wonder Peter and Trevor often played along with the idea of relocating their casino gig down to the lab. And at the same time, one could guess what sort of problems that would bring. With several glass tanks filled with liquids that could be broken by a drunk patron, cabinets filled with capped bottles that might bring out the temptation within his regulars and the slow mixing machines that, in the worst of situations might induce a sense of nausea.

Admittedly, Sofia’s mind flashed back to her arguments with Caro, where her roommate likened her to a bull in a china shop

And that was not mentioning the privacy matter or the fact that it could put his operation at risk and get every one of the members in trouble. Usually, Sofia would get herself too drunk to care about consequences, but now that she had yet to have her promised drink, the anxiety began to climb its way out.

“I need to drink to forget about this,” she thought to herself while outwardly trying to strike the conversation. And at that, Crossby pulled out a bottle from behind the desk. The reddish color that had a sweeter appeal within it was one she recognized almost right away. The fruity strawberry-like flavor was almost perceivable within her nose, even untransformed.

Once the first glass was poured and she downed it. The familiar taste that she’d been missing. The flavor brought her back to the world of enjoyment, and the buzz she experienced right away was perceivable from the top of her toes to the longest hair atop her head. Yet her body must’ve been quite away from it for some time already, as the feeling of her taste reminded her of those long pauses between her imbibing that something was off. That it was unlikeable and that it was something she had to get used to.

A fleeting feeling that passed by the time she sipped from the second glass.

“You said you needed my help, right? Is it with carrying the bottles?” Sofia managed to ask, looking at the back corner of the room, where crates of recycled bottles sat waiting for the chance to be refilled again, after a thorough cleaning.

“Actually, not just that,” Giselle quipped as, with a flash, the glittering dust that floated out in the air emerged pieced back together in the shape of a bottle of the same design as those at her feet. “You need to do a little more.”

“I’m sorry?” Sofia asked.

“You see,” William said, taking a pause after smashing the ‘Enter’ key within his keyboard to get the mixer to start to work with a soft hum as the colored vials began to effervesce. “There is a spectacle that is supposed to kick off the event.”

“The one that will be streamed, right?”

“Correct. A stream through the internet for about twenty-five minutes and the organizer, Cesar or ‘Cestus,’ whichever you prefer, wants to use those to make himself into a sort of star,” despite Crossby’s speech, it was apparent that he had no particular investment in their success. “So, some of his buddies suggested that we have to give them a win, so we registered you as his first opponent.”

“Wait, so I’ll be fighting?” Sofia blurted. “And letting him win?”

“You put up a show. You’re in BMA, after all. Pretend the fight is even, turn into a couple of animals and throw yourself against him, once the twenty-five minutes are up, you surrender and walk out, giving room for the next fight. Whatever happens after is up to anyone’s guess.” Crossby said. “You won’t even have to fight with the other nutjobs that are starting a fight because they like hitting people.”

“Does Cesar know it’ll be a fake fight?”

“Probably not,” Peter noted. “They want to keep it a secret. Apparently, the guy has some borderline rager emotional problems.”

“Are you serious?” Sofia blurted out. “No, no. Get someone else. They have money, I’m sure they can hire it.”

“Yeah, and we’re getting paid. In both money and publicity.” Trevor noted. “And among us, there is no one with the fighting ability nor powers flashier than turning into whatever wild animal is needed.”

“No,” Sofia said. “I don’t want to put myself out there for a fight like this. Especially since I have to lose.”

“You can do it,” Peter mused.

“Absolutely no.”

“Come on, Sofi,” Trevor chimed in after receiving a whisper from his girlfriend, a quiet lecture on what to say. “Take one for the team, considering you’ve left us hanging for what felt like weeks now. We’re your friends for Pete’s sake. Do you have any idea of what we’ve been trying to do to get the hangout spot rolling again?”

“I…” Sofia stammered. “I’ve been busy, it doesn’t mean that I’m cutting all ties with you all.”

“Forget it,” Giselle continued. “She probably doesn’t care enough about us. I mean, after all, we’ve been her friends for long, laughed together, had fun, and never tried to take advantage of you. Unlike her.”

“I don’t take advantage,” Sofia barely has a chance to reason the objection or to even think about it.

“You had your free drinks and we were always there for you.,” Crossby added as he poured down a glass of a colorful drink for himself. “You remember when I offered you the first glass? You were depressed and grieving after your grandmother passed away. We stayed with you, made you feel better and became your friends. Did you forget it?”

“N-No, I haven’t.”

“Then just do this for us.” William said, adopting a more sympathetic tone. His hand leaning over to caress her shoulder and inviting her to lean into him. There was something about him that drew up the charm towards an uninhibited Sofia. “It’ll just be a show and It’ll help us so much. Can I have your word about it?”

“I…” Sofia stammered, her eyes moving from face to face, sizing the way they were regarding her. Feeling them apply an uneasy pressure as their gazes bore both accusations and pitiful, please. But more importantly, they didn’t appear to be stopping, with the words swimming within her head not giving her a thought. “Do it for us,” they seemed to spell out.

Crossby reached out for a piece of paper down from his backpack, some crumpled thing.

“I…” Sofia stammered, her head close to spinning. “Fine…”

Friday, October 21, 2016 - 5:28 pm
Twain Room 217

If there was a moment of his week when Vic felt he was taking things at a laxer pace, it could only be during the weekends. With the week of school over and knowing that he didn’t have any urgent homework, he had his agenda open. Usually, he would spend it reading and getting ahead in the classes, as he’d expected, but today, that wouldn’t be the case.

Without a doubt, a result of Ronnie’s constant reminders to enjoy the experience of the strange school he was in. Not that he minded. Fridays usually coincided with the celebration for many of his cottage mates. He spent time playing games with the guys onthe side. Either playing some card game Daniel oftentimes kept around, or just chatting things up with guys like Hardnose, Bloodhound and even Humorless. Or occupying the common room just to watch some of their favorite TV shows.

Though tonight, the focus was on a project. One that he was admittedly doing for fun.

His roommate, Tobias Fletcher, who went by Sedrynnor, would be his helper. He just arrived back into their room and was already moving his magic cards onto the side and opening up his notebook onto the table. A mage, one could easily understand the formulas and mystical circles that were traced around, but to Vic, he still needed a translation.

Toby is a sort of odd avatar/mage combination. Not outright possessed like the ones in campus but instead housing the spirit of a sidhe mage within a polished slab that rested on the nightstand. Supposedly, Tir (her nickname) could possess him and get into his body to provide the needed insight but for the most part stayed out and on the sidelines. Admittedly, Vic had no idea how one could deal with a spirit always being present. It was even unsettling to know that there was an invisible entity present within the room.

Creepy at first, as time passed, Vic grew accustomed to the feeling of ‘being watched’ even if it was mostly imaginary.

“Again, thank you for helping me out with this.”

“No problem,” Toby said with an amicable smile. “Teacher told me I had to broaden my elemental affinity, this just seemed like a good way of doing it.”

“Cool,” Vic conceded. Although, even if he had no idea how complex or difficult casting new spells or even using magic was, Toby always struck him as a nice guy, the kind that would do anything for others if asked. So, it was worth appreciating.

“Precisely.” Toby said with a small laugh. “Remember to save me some of your project for later. Do you have the mix ready?”

“It won’t take me long to make the mix,” Vic said before reaching over to touch one of the paper stamps that rested on the side of the table, bearing similar formula and magical markings. “Are you sure these will work?”

“Well, the teacher said they would. Just stick them onto the surface and the water there will remain frozen.” Toby said.

“I see…” Vic said feeling his fingertip get a sting of a burn from the surface as the lines glowed. In a reaction, he carefully dropped the piece of paper onto the table, much to Toby’s amusement. “Is there glue on these things?”

“Nah, it should stick when plastered onto the cold ice. And don’t worry, the paper and ink are not toxic, you can eat them.”

“I’d rather not,” Vic joked, putting the finger up against his tongue, the seals were scribbled on rice paper.

“Just let me know when we can start.” Toby said.

Vic was close to saying ‘now’ and leaving to fill the powdered bucket with water when his tablet rang with someone inviting him for a talk. It was about the accorded time, which he almost forgot about. “Just give me a minute and I’ll be ready.”

“Alright,” Toby said with a casual smile as he slipped his padded headphones back on as he turned his gaze towards his laptop after closing his notebook.

Taking a seat on his desk, with the tablet at hand, Vic tapped onto the screen to answer the call and this time the window opened to show up a woman. Of beautiful pearly complexion with a thin face and straight brown hair that cascaded down her back with an intersection between heroic and office desk appeal. She bore a slight smile as she saw Vic on the other end of the screen which he replied in kind.

He didn’t talk enough with his legal guardian to be comfortable, and was still having some trouble addressing her, so he resorted back to using the name she introduced herself. “Mrs. Kythe?”

“Hey Vic,” she tried greeting with a more casual form. “You know you can call me Caroline.”

“Alright, Caroline,” Vic said, already feeling as if he was back to addressing his stepmother years ago. “I thought you wanted to have a chat, not a video call.”

“Well, I figured why not. Hope I’m not intruding.”

“Not really,” Vic answered. “Was actually going to start making my application for one of the clubs.”

“Clubs? What club are you getting into? Not the masterminds, right?” she asked with a bit of apprehension.

“The art club.” Vic agreed with the sentiment.

“Oh, the one that’s led by that famous art thief?” Caroline said. “I guess it could be worse. I hear she has more of a… chaotic streak, than ‘evil.’ Some friends in Whateley mention she was recently involved in the uncovering of some old mystical artifacts down in Berlin.”

“Did they?” Vic said, recalling one of Laura’s misadventures. “Well, she wasn’t really responsible for it. Think it was her daughter. Wait, how do you know about it?”

“Received some acquisition request about that,” she shook her head. “But that’s not the point nor time to discuss this.”

“I agree,” Vic said. Caroline Kythe is a current active member of the syndicate’s scouting and on-field evaluations team, as well as a one of the in-house magical consultants focused on enchanted items. Mostly a desk job that broke his preconceptions about the Syndicate as a purely criminal organization. It was also the reason why Vic agreed to accept the scholarship the organization extended for him.

“So, Vic, we’re in October. I was wondering if you’d be wanting for me to show up at the school for Parents’ Day this mid-November.”

“You don’t have to worry about it.”

“It’s no worry,” Caroline noted. “I was also considering visiting my son. Assuming that my ex was too busy to actually pay him a visit.”

Yeah… Her son, Dereck Seaver. The guy that pretty much approached him a couple of weeks ago to treat him as a criminal or parasite after he got taken in by Caroline. Also, the guy that was dating Gwen, the girl whose arm he broke a couple of months back. Another reason to avoid Parents’ Day. The whole thing was a powder keg ready to blow.

“I feel like I’ll probably be avoiding parent’s day.”

“You haven’t talked with your parents?” Caroline asked.

“I haven’t. I just know they’ll be showing up, like they did last year.” Vic said with a small shrug. “Well, I do say I’ll avoid it, but I’m hardly certain of what I’ll be doing.”

“I see,” Caroline acknowledged though didn’t bear any disapproval. “Since we’re having plans towards the future. I can only assume you’ll be staying at my place with my daughter during the winter break, is that correct?”

“Thanks Caroline, really,” Vic said with a smile. “I just don’t want to be a burden.”

“I wouldn’t have offered it if I thought you were,” she said, almost chastisingly. “You already know that I can’t allow a kid to be off fending by himself in this world. Least you can do is accept what I ask for without a tinge of guilt.”

“Alright… I’ll try.”

“Your life just took a drastic turn this past half a year. I don’t really want to throw in any more stress upon you than you already have. So, just take a deep breath and treat me as your friend, alright?” she asked.

“Alright, alright,” Vic sighed, feeling himself increasingly awkward from the conversation. He took a deep breath in an effort to let go of those imaginary pressures. “About Christmas… It feels a bit too early to know.”

“Understandable,” Caroline agreed.

“But maybe we can talk later tomorrow? I’d like to show you my application for the Art club.”

“Oh…” Caroline said looking disappointed for a moment. “Perhaps you can take a picture for me? I’ll be busy tomorrow.”

“Work?” Vic asked.

“Yeah.” Caroline nodded.

“What is it about?” Vic asked with a bit of curiosity. “If you can.”

“Well, it’s not really strictly secret.” Caroline said. “And it’s not as if you blab around. Though I could be wrong.”

“I really tend to keep to myself about this.”

“Well… we’re going to the town of ‘La Pedreada’ in Mexico. To evaluate some budding businesses' liability and alike,” In a sense, they were insurance inspectors.

There was a knot in Vic’s stomach. “Is it like back in Plymouth?”

“No, absolutely no.” Caroline shook her head. “Back then, we were indeed doing the evaluations, but the orders came from upper management. The rival gang had a surprisingly stronger grip in our superiors. This one is a more ‘vanilla’ affair.”

“I see… It does sound nice. What sort of business is it?”

“It’s an underground fight ring.”

Of course, it is, Vic thought.

“It’s been functioning for about two years and is about to make itself into something more official. So, its founder reached for the Syndicate asking us to vet the installations, and protocols; and offer them a plan for protection, insurance, security and all that.” Caroline explained.

“And when will you be back?”

“Hm… by Monday noon, I hope. I should be traveling back to Oregon then.”

“Just two days to vet a fighting ring? Is that enough time?”

“More than enough. The report does show that they’ve recently got themselves a new location in an underground cavern, so it’s still being built around. From there we just split up the work. I deal with the finances, logistics, building layout and safety protocols whilst Cole deals with security, construction, networking and the evaluation of some of the indoor fighters.”

“Evaluating the indoor fighters?”

“For recruitment, of course,” Caroline said with a small sigh. “It’s always optional, and the syndicate does have some benefits and opportunities they might want to latch on.”

“Sounds… not bad,” Vic admitted.

“Unless you’re looking to committing crimes, you don’t have to worry about it,” Caroline said.

Though Vic was aware that, not long ago, she did mention that the whole Plymouth incident, in which the syndicate pulled the rug from under their hirers was a decision forced upon them. He still conceded to his legal guardian’s inspiring intentions.

The sound of a door opening and closing prompted Caroline to look away for a moment and nodding someone out of view. “Well Vic, seems like I have got to get going.”

Vic nodded.

“Be sure to behave and be careful with troubles at the school,” she said as she pulled the camera back just enough so she could wave at him. “Oh, and be sure to send me some pictures.”

“I will, Caroline. Have a good weekend in Mexico and say hi to Cole from me.” Vic said.

And with that, the chat window closed.

Toby reacted as if someone was tapping on his back and, without much prompting, turned around, taking off his headphones. “All done?”

“Yeah, all done,” Vic said, surprisingly with slightly higher spirits as he got up and moved over to the door, picking up the packet filled bucket by it. “Let’s do this.”

“Where are we doing this?” Toby asked as he gathered his notes and spells.

“I’ll get a tarp from Shaggy and set it out on the front yard to work on it.”

“I guess it’s better than doing it in the bathroom or the common room with everyone passing by.” Toby noted as he reached back for the stone slab that contained his spirit. “Tir, you told me once you had a spell that wards off bugs, right?” And with that, the two left the room, closing the door behind them, looking forward to this seemingly fun project.

Friday, October 21, 2016 - 4:41 pm
Syndicate Offices. Exit annex

“And be sure to send me some pictures.” Caroline smiled waving at the camera as the connection was cut. Seeing Vic thriving outside of the streets and slowly opening up, it gave her a bit of hope and reassurance she needed. That she was, at least, making some sort of good.

“I heard my name mentioned,” A man said approaching her. Of darker skin and of rough yet gallant port, the man was Cole, one of the Syndicate’s top trainers and enforcer; as well as Caroline’s metaphorical partner-in-crime.

“Vic gives you his regards,” Caroline said as she stashed the tablet down.

“How’s he doing?”

“Progressing at least. Found some peace and seems to be having a normal Whateley childhood.”

“I’d pay to know what that’s like. They say it has more magic, laser beams and a good degree of fighting,” Cole said. At Caroline’s roll of the eyes at that last point, he smiled to give away his joking intention. “I’m glad for that kid. And for you. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you smile like that.”

“I know. It’s weird, isn’t it?” Caroline sighed. “I already have a daughter that needs me and a son in Dereck… but he is at his father’s side, and I barely see him. Every day I wonder how much closer he’s getting to Gigaton and his brother and how different he’ll be the next time I see him.” She rested her forehead against her knuckle. “Am I a bad person? I’ve pretty much replaced him with a random kid off the street.”

“I don’t see it that way.” Cole said. “What you did was step in to help the boy. A runaway with no foster home vacancy open for him. He wasn’t interested in doing an apprenticeship, he wouldn’t have received the scholarship if you hadn’t signed as his legal guardian. If it were up to you, you’d probably be happy getting as many kids as possible because that’s the kind of person you are, everyone’s lifeline.”

“Thanks, Cole.”

“Besides, what better way to coax Dereck into upping his ‘son game’ than to give him some competition.” Cole joked only to get a light jab to the ribs. “Anyway… are you ready?”

“I am now,” Caroline sighed as the two set off, moving down the polished hallway. “Did you make the reservations? I don’t want to repeat another Venice incident.”

“Venice wasn’t that bad.”

“There were cockroaches the size of rats. I could see them scuttle out of the way when the lights were turned on and hear them terrorize the actual rats in the walls.”

“At least they scuttled,” Cole joked. “But yes, I made the reservations in a nearby motel. A quaint little thing.”

“Good. Two-day trip to make sure of the location details. First day, we check on the current locale, we talk business and money.”

“While I check on the fighters and security.”

“You just want to spar.”

“It happens to be my job.” Cole noted. “And the next morning we make the syndicate’s offer, right?”

“Correct.”

“So, what are we aiming for again?”

“The full package,” Caroline said reaching into her satchel purse and produced a thin binder, opening it on one of the colored tabs. “We’ll be offering the full service: Insurance, dental, access to the premium services, Inhouse bodyguards, non-intervention agreement with local hero organizations, construction funds, underground structural engineering, media obfuscation and shadow promotion, web management, magical and cyber security and about two thousand points within our loyalty program.”

“Full package? I doubt they’ll accept it.” Cole noted, knowing full well that, in that price tag, the applicants will need to give away twenty percent of their income for the syndicate. “And how much are we willing to give in?”

“Most of it, really,” Caroline said. “We can be as lenient as we want though it means a lot of bargaining on my end. What the top heads want is the agreement that any of the in-house fighters and specialists be registered within their database. Be it to hire as muscle, bodyguards or technical assistance.”

“Good, that gives me an idea of the standards I have to abide by.”

“Sure. But don’t be a stickler, most of them are just teens or young adults who want their five minutes of fame in extreme sport.”

“Yeah, and the other part are usually people who let the victories get to their heads.”

“Please avoid putting anyone on a stretcher. Last time, it soured the negotiation.”

“I already said I was sorry.” Cole sighed. “And the negotiation did go through.”

“Yeah, and that guy has been requesting your services as a quote on quote ‘elite mook’ ever since.”

“What can I say? I have no interest in lending my fist to anyone who views the men fighting under them as ‘mooks’.” Cole snorted as they drew close towards the Syndicate’s portal system, a devisor artifact meant to boost the potency of the local warper’s powers. All they would need would be to just take a step through and they would be ready to meet in the evening in La Pedreada, Mexico, a little coastal town in the middle of nowhere.

With the man standing by it gave them an acknowledging nod as the screens came to life showing the feed belonging to the multiple hovering drones that surveyed the area, aided with the geographical and longitudinal coordinates, anything that would make it easier for the operative to visualize a place he’d never been to, whilst the pulse emitter on the side, exclusively calibrated to the warper’s signature, made sure that it would both be successful and stay open.

“The portal is ready, get moving,” the warper instructed.

Both Caroline and Cole nodded as they stepped in, one after the other, setting off in a journey that would have them cross miles and miles just to evaluate an underground fight club and sell a subscription.

Just daily business in the life of a syndicate scout.

Saturday, October 22, 2016 - 10:35 am
Whitman Room 247

Caro treaded down the hallways of Whitman, preparing to enjoy herself in her Saturday. What were her plans, she was unsure. Her mind revolved between spending the day online, watching TV or just reading a book. If she was feeling a tad more social again, she could always see hanging around with some of the girls from Whitman. Homework done and her mind free of commitments, she was elated for the time being. In such a good mood she was close to taking up Chris' offer to go over to the anime club’s viewing.

She walked down the corridors, greeting some of the girls. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied Tanya guiding her roommate, Sterling, almost with an iron grip so as to ensure she wouldn’t forget about her presence. Penny Dreadful was pushing her manipulated zombies around the bathroom whilst Petshop was angrily accusing her of scaring her newest pet, which, she reassured, she wasn’t hiding under her coat.

“No, no. I’m not an RA… yet. I’m not dealing with troubles on my day off.” Caro mused as she stepped up to her door, just as Sofia, her roommate, stepped out. She appeared somewhat crestfallen and uneasy, carefully trying to be discreet in her movements. Thus, she jumped startled upon being met face to face with Caro.

This raised some alarms within the back of her head, but she tried to act casual.

“Morning,” Sofia greeted.

“Hey,” Caro answered. “I didn’t get to ask this, but did you have fun yesterday?”

Not that she was particularly interested in her misadventures with Crossby and his buddies, but she figured that she could at least thank her for slipping back into their room without making noise nor breaking anything.

“It was okay,” Sofia said, giving up a slight smile and adjusting the bag that hung across her shoulder. “I think I went a bit too heavy on my drinks, but I still had fun.”

“I guess that’s all that matters, I guess. As long as you do it responsibly,” she said, narrowly keeping herself from bringing up the past incidents.

“Yeah. It was just a small gathering, not the usual… ahem…” she added looking at the surroundings.

“The usual booze and casino party, you mean?”

“Y…” Sofia said, stopping herself. “They’re just waiting for the best of times to bring them back. Probably bigger and better.”

“I wonder when they’re going to get caught. And I just hope you don’t get into trouble because of it. I know you’re not that deep into it. I mean, you’re just Crossby’s girlfriend, but you should still be wary of how involved you get. And I’m not saying this to be bossy or anything, alright?” Caro said defensively.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Sofia said with a small smile.

“Are you heading out ?” Caro finally asked, her look going to the clothes that appeared beneath Sofia’s jacket, a glimmer of the dark green adaptive spandex she wore for exhibition and combat matches, designed to stretch, and contract regardless of whatever form she would take. And it wasn’t supposed to be pulled out until a couple of months ahead.

“Yeah, sorta. I made a promise to a friend that I would help them spar.” Sofia said.

“Training with your combat attire?”

“Well, you know. I can’t get a gi that stays with me when I shapeshift.”

“I see… but I thought you were going to be staying to do your reading for English.”

“Sorry, I kinda forgot.” Sofia excused herself. “Promise I’ll do it as soon as I get back, alright?”

“Alright.” Though Sofia didn’t even wait for the answer before turning around and walking down the corridor towards the stairs for the first floor.

That did put a dampen to Caro’s mood, but she hoped for the best. After all, how much trouble could be involved? It might’ve been a tad unsettling, but she had to trust that it would all be fine.

Putting her purse and wallet on the table while throwing herself onto the bed to check up her phone. It was the usual Saturday stuff, pictures of breakfasts, movies and selfies that were uploaded during their Friday’s evening. From family, relatives, classmates, and former friends from her old school.

There really wasn’t that much content for her to engage with. Rather than watching videos and stream series, roughly ten minutes later, she was putting the phone down and reaching over for her notebook. Of drafts and spells that were halfway done, just a couple of test drives away from being added into her grimoire.

Some of them were created in the spur of the moment, making up rhymes and just running with whatever idea turned up, whilst others were a bit more deliberate. There was a spell designed to bend a location in some Escher way whilst another could guarantee that you would always win coin-flips for a day. One of the spells was meant to let her turn people into donkeys while another would make the surrounding trees sprout vines bent to her will. Only a few of them were tested, of course. They would all be practiced until the moment came where she promoted or deleted them.

There was one that roused her curiosity, amusingly fitting. A cat aspect spell, albeit an imperfect one just for small yet practical uses. She already had one that changed her eyes to allow her to see in the night, why not bother with one that would give her the hearing of one, she thought to herself as her hands reached over to feel her ears.

“I have to ask Grimma if I can change my horns,” she muttered, just a couple of inches above them, the horns that grew in almost around her temples to her forehead. In the form of a semi-circlet, as she’d heard it called, if her ears were to migrate upwards, it would mean squeezing through the tight fit.

Tap tap

“Hello?” Caro asked, looking over her shoulder at the open door. It was Telekat, one of the local catgirls and one of the Whitman RAs. She stood on the threshold wearing a simple tank top and light jacket on top of it, allowing for anyone to see the fur that coated her arms. Beneath it, one could see the thick gadgeteer’s belt strapped and stocked for any problem that might arise in the day to day. “Hey Kat.”

“Morning Caro. Have you seen Rachel?” she asked.

“Rachel? The freshman?” That sort of question was enough to raise some alarms for those that were familiar with her. The girl, Ratel, loved getting into fights and could easily lead to trouble with the amount of collateral damage her bouts tended to have. But it was always within the fringe, so as to not justify a cottage transfer, yet.

Caro thought for a moment. “I haven’t seen her. No. Why? She’s supposed to be grounded, right?”

“Yeah, she is,” Telekat sighed. “Any idea of where she might’ve gone?

“Not really,” Caro said, pushing herself up.

“Some of my classmates in Emerson talked about this sort of event going on. A gladiatorial arena. I didn’t hear if it was a sort of vanity project or the real thing…”

“You think Ratel is going to crash it anyway?” Caro muttered.

“It’s what I’m worried about.”

“Well. Sorry, but I know nothing of it… Wait, you said Emerson?”

“I don’t know if it’s only from Emerson, but there was some excitement about it.” Telekat said.

She felt as though she might be drawing straws and making some leaps in logic, especially at a place like Whateley. There were a myriad of explanations to account for Sofia’s combat uniform being out of the trunk, including the explanation Sofia gave her. But it was better to be safe than sorry.

And besides, she was already starting to feel bored with how her day was going.

“I hope you can find Rachel.” Caro said as she pushed herself off her bed and picked up her purse before walking out the door. “Sorry, but I just remembered I have to check on a friend,” she excused herself.

“Alright, take it easy,” Telekat noted as the sophomore sped down the hallway to the stairs at a brisk pace.

Saturday, October 22, 2016 - 11:09 am
Berlin Mall

“And then, my dad just pulled his fist back, before releasing it up against the three-story tall mechanoid rabbit.”

“Is that when the power cell at the back of it exploded?” Gwen asked intrigued, though minding her tone for any person that just happened to overhear them.

Dereck nodded. “Yeah. That was an unexpected explosion, destroying an entire block within that small town… but at least saved the day, right?”

“He did.” Gwen said with a small smile.

“You know what? I really can’t wait for you to meet him. For him to meet my actual girlfriend,” Dereck said with a slight smile. Their status as a couple only became official shortly before the official break so they’d barely gotten to plan about it and neither seemed that keen in pushing the other ahead.

“You know, maybe if you wanted to extend the offer, I could’ve done without the story about your father destroying a large mech.” Gwen said meekly.

“What? What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Dereck laughed. “Besides, isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? I should be the one scared of meeting your parents.”

“I’m sure my dad will love to meet you.” Gwen said sheepishly.

“You said he’s the chief within the Rhode Island police department, right?” Dereck said.

She nodded. “Yeah.”

“Then all the more reason. Officers can be quite scary.” Dereck said with a small thought. “And most of them don’t approve of hero organizations, most of them seeing them as glorified vigilantism.“

“Yeah, but I’ve been trying to get him to change his mind on that. Slowly,” Gwen sighed.

“Well, that’s what having a hero in the business will do to you.” Dereck said. “But you know what, you might be right, I’m sure he might get to enjoy my presence… Now him meeting my dad, which might be the concerning part.”

“Yeah. I fear for both of us,” Gwen gave out a small giggle. Her gaze wandered over to the nearby store window. The mirror-like surface reflected the image of herself standing by Dereck’s side. Holding hands with him and slowly leaning against his jacket. A sight that she’d hardly believed she would be a part of two years ago.

It felt dreamlike and all she could think of was to follow her instinct, tightening her hold on her boyfriend.

“You remember when we met at Whateley?” she asked.

“Hm? When we met? Must’ve been on introduction day? During the tours?”

“Yeah, well, I saw you then too, but I don’t think I talked with you for more than a minute until the winter finals.”

“Last year I was a different person, you know? I had just arrived at the school having developed the full strength of my powers and, well, it went up to the top of my head. Thought myself as invincible.”

You still do, but are getting better, Gwen thought but didn’t say, instead found herself smiling and pulling herself closer towards her date. “And then, you and I ended up squaring against each other in the field.”

“I gotta say, it’s never felt that good getting beat up by a girl,” Dereck laughed, getting a small punch from her.

“Funny,” she said, letting a bit of her feminine mask slip. “And yeah, I did beat you.”

“And then we began dating.”

“I’m sure there were more incidents in between,” Gwen smiled. “I was just thinking, you know. Wondering what you see about me that pushed you forth.”

“I thought you were one of the nicest girls around. You’re strong, gorgeous and have such a nice personality.” Dereck said, getting Gwen to blush red. “And if it hadn’t been me then and there, I was worried some of the other guys would’ve snatched you away.”

“I guess I was above average in terms of popularity,” Gwen said. “I was worried that, after the first couple of weeks when you found out I was a nerd, you’d break up with me.”

“A nerd?” Dereck laughed. “I can hardly call you a nerd. I’m unconvinced.”

I guess I haven’t been nerding out around in school as I used to, Gwen thought to herself. But then again, that’s because she’s kept it toned down. “Not many girls, especially in my old school, would outright admit they play hardcore videogames and name cartoons as some of the things they watch.”

“So, you would’ve liked me no matter what? No matter what secret I kept?”

“Of course, I would,” Dereck reassured, leaning in for a kiss, though stopped, his eyes bearing a lot of self-consciousness about planting his lips up against hers. A moment that stretched longer than needed as Gwen reminded herself that she needed to take the next step.

Loving that tender and caring side of Dereck, she leaned in and completed the distance, planting the kiss.

“Now,” Gwen said, pulling back and producing her phone. “Wait… isn’t our movie at eleven thirty?”

Saturday, October 22, 2016 - 11:41 am
Imp’s Art studio

Not many people opted to spend their Saturday working in the Imp’s Art studio/Clubhouse. Most of them were either completely dedicated to the craft or were more than interested in getting their assignments for the week in order.

This included a couple of sophomore and junior students, making simple sketch drawings and oil paintings, respectively. Among them was also the same one that was working on a Popeye statuette, Curtis, now with his project looking slightly more recognizable, for the most part because he’d begun to use actual tools rather than fully relying on his powers for the sculpting.

Koichi was also present. The Japanese student who had somehow annexed himself to the M3 table sat by the far end corner, working on his inks and watercolors. Tracing around elegant lines that painted up a picture inspired out of a photo in his phone, pouring in the emotions and memories that his powers allowed him to instill within the print.

“Koichi,” the Imp said leaning in over his shoulder, as quiet as a cat, she almost took the young boy by surprise, making him jump with his brush being close to leaving a long black line across the forest he was painting.

“Ah… Imp sensei,” Koichi said. The admiration and respect he had for the imp as an art appreciator was apparent. “I was making some quick drawings for my father and sister…”

“Hm… I was wondering about that,” The Imp said looking at the image, already she was feeling the boy’s sense of wonder and respect for nature whilst also the thrill that he’d imprinted onto the new location. The kid had joined them not long ago, must’ve been a week or two but had already made an impression on her. Not at the same level as Josephine, but close enough.

His powers were something that still drew her curiosity and made her wonder what it could do and how hard it could be pushed… and how much it could break the concept of subjective appreciation. Unaccustomed as she was, it took a bit of focus to separate the flooding feeling the strokes made from the actual piece of work. And even then, his technique was good. Well taught and practiced, though perhaps a bit too focused within a zone of comfort.

But then again, she enjoyed having him as the latest member of the art workshop. “How much practice do you have in landscapes? I see you’re already adept at the use of inks, how about charcoal?”

Though the conversation was brought to a halt as an object was wheeled in through the room’s doors.

Large and colorful it was impossible for it to not draw the eyes of all those present. Like an image frozen in motion, it was pretty hard to draw the comparison to anything. It came along the lines of a whirlpool to a frozen cascade. The shape spun and spun around, weaving, and curving itself smoothly along by an invisible hand in a sort of a roller coaster.

And then, there was the color. Of a bright friendly red that evoked some sort of cherry or strawberry flavor. The Imp’s discerning eyesight would’ve guessed that it was a mixture of the two. Pure and transparent, in such a way that it felt impossible to manufacture unless it were made out of glass.

But it was ice. As she took a step closer, she could feel the chill in the air. Along with the sweet smell

“Good job. Vic, wasn’t it?” The Imp said with a smile. “Please tell me it’s edible.”

“It is,” Vic said. It was hard to hide the excitement in his face as he rolled in his project, and those others present saw it and began to draw closer. He suddenly found himself as the unwanted center of attention. “So… does this count as making something that can be shared in the classroom?”

“It does…” The imp smiled as she circled around the sculpture, phone at hand to snap some pictures. Of the sculpture alone and with its creator by its side. “You know, usually most people go for the cartoon idea, or making stickers they can exchange for the other. What flavor is it?”

“Strawberry and cherry. Powdered Mixes.” Vic said with a smile. As he pointed down at the base of the cart he used to transport it where a piece of paper was stuck. “This seal will make sure it remains frozen. If you want to start snacking from it, we just need to rip it out. I brought more in case anyone wants to take it home,” he said, producing stacks of more marked papers.

“I see… so how do we go about with this?” The imp said, as a precaution, moving over to the thermostat and lowering the room’s temperature. “Do we have to break it? We have to break it, don’t we?”

“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”

“Oh well, it’s almost a shame, because it is quite eye-catching,” the Imp said as she reached into the supply closet and grabbed a large mallet, presumably for stone carving. Picking a rag doused in water and a sponge, she began to clean it for what was about to happen, whilst gesturing at the kids present to bring in a clean tarp.

Before long, the sculpture had been wheeled into the ‘safety’ zone: a sheet of plastic with transparent walls held up by those assisting.

With a grin on her face the Imp stepped into the area, sledgehammer in hand.

“My daughter is going to be so… so jealous.” She said, raising it over her head.

She was about to bring it down when she suddenly stopped. “Oh, Vic…”

“Yes?” He asked from behind the plastic cover.

“Welcome to the art club.” And with that, the hammer came crashing down onto the bright red ice sculpture.

And it was popsicle break for everyone.

Saturday, October 22, 2016 - 11:24 am
Undisclosed cavern beneath La Pedreada

There was a certain level of prestige when one came to a business that requested their optional yet tacitly vital services. Knowing that members of the Syndicate came to check on the installations prompted this growing business to roll out their purple carpet and be in their best behavior.

They recognized both Caroline and Cole the moment they stepped in before introducing themselves. A manager of the arena, Marco Moreno, a spirited young man whose GSD had given him an extra pair of arms came over to greet them with a firm double handshake and an excited disposition. From Caroline’s point of view, there was no begrudging tone nor hidden intention, so she had the confidence that these negotiations would be easy.

Cole appeared to share her view, giving her a slight nod of agreement.

And thus, the tour began.

Marco led them down the corridors of the compound and shared a bit of the story of how it all began. A clandestine group that organized cock fights began to expand the roster of events and featured MMA style matches. That, in turn, brought in more people interested and sponsors within the vicinity. Either because they sought for an official yet public way of sorting out their problems or were on the lookout for potential hired bodyguards. The growth was fast and by the time the enterprise had reached two years of age, there were all manner of people hired and plans put in motion for its growth… and it became too much to handle.

Naturally, this sort of enterprise was hardly legal. When Karedonia, Animan Island, the triads, the Yakuza, Russian bratva, the underground circuit of mutant fighters in the Americas and even the Syndicate began to mingle it began to draw the attention of those unwanted. And suddenly, some of the organizers came under threat from some guys thinking the outcome was rigged. Last week, there came a situation wherein a fight exploded in the old locale’s lobby as people claimed foul.

No wonder the place needed the syndicate to supervise the situation.

The tunnels were still works in progress, the scaffolds built up along the edges and bricks already laid down to line up the sides of the wall. They were going for a sort of modern twist of a Mayan temple by the looks of it, with sandstone bricks that were being applied with some sort of lacquer-like bonding agent whilst the electricians were up above working on the lighting and circuitry.

From the get go, it all smelled like the vision of the end result would be much more elaborate than expected. It would certainly be interesting to see where the money came from. Either the board of this place had received donations from the interested parties or were doing much better than expected.

The reception occupied a large open area and resembled more like the stadium's entrance, quite fittingly. Above the receptionist’s counter a large TV was halfway in its installation dangling precariously only held up by a couple of cables and bits of steel. Marco seemed to notice this and immediately jumped up in the defense. “Ahem… This area is still not open to the public; this part will be worked over the course of the next couple of weeks.”

“Understandable,” Caroline said, seemingly not as interested in that detail as Marco might’ve expected, instead her eyes were fixated onto the tunnel sides, producing her tablet and was already recording and taking snapshots.

“There’s no need for this to be evaluated. Miss Lifeward,” he said, utilizing Caroline’s codename.

“Even if you’re doing a good job? And just call me Lifeward,” she said, trying to come across as friendly as possible.

“Um… well,” Marco said, dropping his objection.

About seven different tunnels that were being worked into being made into hallways, whilst the other was in the process of being hidden. In particular, there was a large crack that rested by the upper side of the cavern. Caroline counted with a positive note. Not only could it be dangerous in the case of a tectonic shift, but it could also be a potential means of infiltration.

“Where will those paths lead?” Cole asked.

“Well, let’s see. It’ll be staff and services, security, two will lead towards the backstage, towards the audience seats and one for the upper control room,” Marco said, using his four arms to point out towards each of the pathways.

“I see…” Caroline said. “They are a bit messy, many of them overlap. I take it you’ll have proper signalization?”

“Signalization?”

“Yes. So much so that, if one were to find somebody lost backstage, the only truthful explanations you should expect will be either ‘I’m blind and can’t read braille’ or ‘I’m trying to infiltrate you.”

“Ah… I’ll work on that.” Marco said. “Is there anything else?”

“I have a few suggestions… however those can wait till the office,” Caroline said snapping a picture of the ceiling after a droplet of moisture slapped against her shoe. “What do you think, Cole? Is there a place you want to pass by?”

Cole thought for a moment. “I’d like to check on the field. The proposal mentioned they wanted to do something ambitious.”

“Ah yes…” Marco said with a small laugh. “I call it the five-fold spiral… but we’ll need some help to make it happen.”

“We can give you the references later,” Cole said as he reached into his phone and produced the pictures sent. “So, as it stands now, it’s just a fight over a pit of water?”

“Sometimes, simple just creates the effects you want,” Caroline chided.

“We can change the water level.” Marco mumbled.

“So can we see it?” Cole asked.

Marco shook his head. “Sorry, you arrived at a bit of a last minute. We already have our encounters for the day programmed.”

“Then how was I supposed to inspect the field then?”

“I… I’m sorry?” Marco said uneasy, almost meekly, it was apparent that he was concerned about pissing off someone, perhaps the fighter? “We don’t offer entertainment on Sundays, so tomorrow I can open up the place for inspection.” Again, put in an uneasy mood as he saw Caroline tap onto the side of the tablet, seemingly writing whilst her gaze was diverted from what their tour guide was trying to direct them towards.

“I suppose that works,” Cole said. “How about the training yard and locker rooms?

“We’ll have to take the lift,” Marco said.

“The lift upward?” To which Marco nodded.

“The only parts of these facilities that are currently functional are the fighting ring and the control room.

“I see,” Caroline noted, adding a couple more taps onto her tablet. She wasn’t really writing anything then; it was just to see Marco get uneasy. The more uncertain he was, the more likely he was to accept the proposal. “Well, since we’re already going there, how about we take the elevator and check on your current in-house talents?”

“Might as well,” Cole said with a small smirk towards Caroline.

“Cierto, Cierto,” Marco muttered before pointing down one of the tunnels. “This way.”

He began to tread down the steps of one of the tunnels before suddenly stopping and turning around towards the one next. All the while hearing Caroline let out a knowingly ‘hm…’ as they followed.

Traversing down the tunnel, there the cavernous wall opened itself to give them a view of the fighting arena. The expanse of the underground space was a circular open area, bearing a diameter that Caroline estimated was about the width of a football stadium. Beneath their steps, the placeholder seats were still in the process of being carved, making drop after drop until reaching an emptiness that overlooked the current field. The water level was just about a foot below the level of the stone floor for the fighter’s arena, rippling whenever a punch was landed.

Above it two men were focused in a fight. The larger one, built like a bodybuilder gorilla, threw fists down at a slightly smaller man, one that seemed to be catching and blocking punch after punch, answering with one of his own. While the smaller one was fighting, it was apparent that the large guy was relishing on the encounter and putting up a show. Raising his hands up for the smaller camera drones that fluttered around for a victory pose before moving in and kicking his downed foe, sending him a good distance away.

“No. Watch out,” Marco hissed a warning. Not towards the fighters but towards the cameras that hovered the air. “Pinche! Mira a donde las vuelas!” he called out, effectively, two of the three drones flew themselves one closer to the other, coming in together and bumping themselves away, almost crashing up against one of the stone pillars.

“Sorry, it’s the first time I place someone else in control of the cameras.”

“You seem to have a good handle on the equipment.”

“I’m used to them. I might not have the knack for building them… but I really wanted to have a drone setup for filming. I made those babies myself.”

“I can respect that,” Cole said as he leaned onto the side, watching as the smaller man let out a warring scream as he threw himself up into the air, a surprising display of his flight before darting down to the ground up against his opponent.

Marco was elated at the light praise. “I’m usually the only one who operates them, but we had our show booked, so I let some of the techies handle them.”

Cole seemingly ignored the words and stared at the fight. “So, who are we seeing here?”

“Hm…” Marco thought for a moment. “I believe that his name is Paco Malpartida. Codename Anti-Insolacion. I believe that if I were to draw a comparison. I’d say he’s pretty much a superman, only less OP. He absorbs sunlight and uses it to give himself strength and flight.”

Caroline looked up at the ceiling, noticing the large incandescent light array that provided the illumination for the scene, also shoddily arranged in such a way that could be lowered or raised as required. There’s a hazard, she thought, picturing the worst-case scenario: a missed bullet, beam or cut that would slash the rope and allow it to fall down. Cole was also looking up, but his concern was directed elsewhere.

“How long have they been fighting here?”

Marco checked the wristwatch on his lower left hand. “It’ll be around an hour by now.”

What about the big one? “And the big one?”

“That’s Curtis Johnson. He’s our biggest crowd pleaser. Makes a big show about his strength and really barely holds back. Many of the recent viewers compare him to ‘the hulk’ but with a brain. Currently, he’s in the tail end of a three-fight marathon that is being streamed.”

“And what’s his MID?”

“He doesn’t have one.”

“He doesn’t?” Caroline asked. “Is he a local?”

“No, he’s American. He just hasn’t had the displeasure of running into the MCO, or so he claims. His database is basically blank.”

“Does he have a codename?” Caroline asked.

“He’s in between names. People call him Matador,”

“That’s interesting,” Cole said with a bit of displeasure before he continued walking forth.

“These caverns…” Caroline asked as she followed her partner “Did you carve them out using acid?

“One of our technicians used a thick goopy substance to carve out these windows. It wasn’t as effective as we thought, so we decided to search for a better way to terraform the cavern.”

“I see…” Caroline sighed relieved. “I was going to say that using substances to melt away the wall can be a dangerous thing… I’d recommend to you either a terrakinetic or an earth mage to tend to these.”

“Could also be a hydrokinetic,” Cole said out loud while keeping his gaze on the field. “Some water erosion carving might leave a better finish.”

“That’s what we were looking for.”

“Good,” Caroline then gestured towards the field’s viewers area. “And how many people were you expecting? This seems like an awful lot of space.”

“The regular stadium is at about forty thousand.” Marco said.

“You’re running a clandestine fight club within a secluded town in Mexico. You can’t have forty thousand spectators on site.” Caroline noted.

“Hold up there, Lifeward…” Cole weighted in “We can see to find a talented devisor skilled in wormhole technology? Either that or specialized cruise lines that’ll make the transport a piece of cake.”

“Or you can just cut the space for the audience and use it for other things, like sales or other functions.” Caroline said, shaking her head. “But we’re getting ahead. It’d be good to plan for a contingency, but we don’t need it right now. Another option would be to drastically reduce the estimated capacity and go about ninety percent into a livestreaming business plan.”

Eventually, the corridor took them around the field towards an elevator. The kind one would expect to see in a mine: A rackety box that appeared about to start rusting from the humidity, with the floor made out of weaved metal lines and the set of high-tension cables and an engine cranked up ready to pull them up.

“We’ll be remodeling this shortly after your departure,” Marco chimed in as he pulled the door open with a loud screech.

“Lucky we,” Caroline sighed as she stepped in.

Marking the upper floor and pulling the lever, the thing began to move, making for a jittery ascent.

“Is there anything distinctive above us?” Caroline asked. “I mean, as a legitimate business or front for the activity?”

“Not really. We’re in the fringes of a city that already approves of our trade. We just have a mobile station that unpacks into what we need.”

“And do many outsiders stop by?”

“Only selective crowds. Locals like it, and we cater one or another tourist that just finds the sports interesting,” Marco noted.

“That won’t do… if you’re going to even aspire to bring in more crowds, you’ll need a front. Which can serve as an alternative source of revenue…” Caro said, stopping to think. “I’ll draft some proposals later.”

Saturday, October 22, 2016 - 12:01 pm
Anime Club’s showing, Classroom.

The lights within the classroom brightened themselves up as the episode ended, coming in with the soft woman’s voice that sang for a melancholic tune and the white imagery juxtaposed over a black background. “Oh, please don’t let me die waiting for your touch,” It sang, and Chris found herself humming along.

“This is an awesome one,” Chris mused to herself as she was approached by a girl. She was dressed in a rather exotic white dress with purple highlights. A corset that covered around her torso and a collar wrapped around her neck that tied up against upper edges, giving her a bit of a boob window that Chris couldn’t help to stare, and admire how good the thing appeared to be for a conversion from 2D and 3D.

The detached sleeves around her arms, purple contacts and the white wig on her head completed the look, making her appear like a lifelike imitation of the character of Emilia.

Marlene Fisher, also known as Peppercat, was a Whitmanian sophomore who shared plenty of classes with Chris. A rather prominent member of the anime club, she appeared to be quite into the whole cosplaying act, even if this was the first time, she was doing it in public. While her costume was just an inch off from perfect, it still looked well enough on its own.

“So, what did you think?”

“The guy has died about five times and we’re only at episode six. I’m hooked, Marlene,” Chris said, taking advantage of the brief intermission between episodes to raise up her voice.

For Chris, one of the surprises of the day was to see Marlene without the usual cat ears that popped off from the top of her head. Logically, they were caught within the hairnet underneath the wig, with a couple of fake half-elf ears to make up for their absence.

“I’m not deaf, Chris.” Marlene said. “Although I do listen a bit less while wearing this. Still, no need to scream.”

“Okay. I was saying that I’m hooked.”

“Good, because it gets all the more interesting.” Marlene said with a sly smile.

“Really?” Chris said smiling as she was looking at the list of shows the club would be putting out for the month of November. “Sheesh, I’ve been so out of the anime know.”

“Well, they’re not as well announced as Pokemon or Dragon ball. You have to dig to find these.”

“You don’t say.” Chris said with a smile as she leaned back on the seat and stretched. The room must’ve been designed to fit about forty people and, currently, there were only about six people occupying the seats other than Chris. “Hm… you’ll be showing stuff every Saturday?

“Yeah, Percy thinks that renting the rooms for regular showings should be bringing in more appeal,” Marlene smiled. “You know, you can join us if you want. Not like it’s mandatory to show, you can come in at any time and just watch anime.”

“You had me at ‘watch anime’,” Chris joked, getting, much to her surprise, a laugh from the Emilia lookalike, copying the character’s mannerism quite well. “I feel like you’re buttering me up and preparing to spoil me.”

“So, you’ll consider signing up?”

“I will,” Chris said.

“And while at it,” Marlene said, waving her hand and producing a pack of cards that featured art from the anime. “Can I tempt you to buy a pack of Re: Zero cards? Imported by Percy’s connections to Japanese connections.”

“Imported? Sounds expensive.” Chris muttered.

“You might think it, but it’s what we usually say. Percy has them done when it’s his turn at the fabricator,” Marlene said. “All proceedings go to the club.”

“Alright, I’ll want one pack,” Chris said as she was searching her pockets for her wallet when…

“Chris!” came in a voice from the back of the room just as the next episode began to show, earning her a couple of quiet shushes.

“Hey, Caro,” Chris said somewhat taken aback. “What are you doing here?”

“What am I doing here… I…” Caro stopped for a moment to looking over at the projected episode and then over at Peppercat. “Good outfit.”

“Thank you,” Marlene said, making a regal curtsy. “I’ll leave you be.” And with that, she treaded lower towards the front of the room, though not without highlighting the pamphlet.

Once alone, Chris turned towards her friend. “You came!” she said, her disbelief coming as a hushed exclamation. “Did I make a good pitch for this? You’ll like this, there’s this guy stuck in another world, and he just can’t die… Well, he does but he quite literally restarts and…” she quieted as Caro placed a hand on her shoulder and was close to pulling her up on her feet.

“I’ve been looking for you from all around campus,” she hissed. “Chris! Stop putting your phone in vibration and forgetting about it! I can never reach you whenever there is an emergency!”

Someone from the back gave them a quiet yet obnoxious shush.

“Is there a problem?” Chris asked.

“I feel like there might be. Can we talk about this outside?”

“Sure… but you’ll owe me one, okay?” Chris half joked as she pushed herself up, waving a ‘see ya’ to the people she knew from around the club as she followed her friend out.

Saturday, October 22, 2016 - 12:08 pm
Makeshift locker room at the fringe of La Pedreada

As informed, the backroom and backstage consisted of a couple of mobile units, presumably a part of the business when it was required to move around to avoid the authorities. The trailers seemingly unfolded themselves to make up the walls and fringes of the area encompassing the locker room area, the gym part and the refreshments and rest spot, with a gap of sand and dirt in the center bearing the markings of the ring for particular training and sparring.

A beige tarp spread itself from each of the corners and walls, leaving a wide enough gap to let the wind run through. Yet despite the austere look, there was luxury there as the modular walls were as clean as any gym and the weights and stations were of a decent brand. A large TV hung upon the wall at the rest area and seemingly comfortable couches were spread about, some of which were occupied when they arrived. There was also a small section of wide tables on the side destined for mages and gadgeteers who were busy refining their tools and weapons.

“Ahem,” Marco said, calling for everyone’s attention. “Listen everyone. These are Lifeward and Cole. They’re here to evaluate our installations and personnel. Be on your best behavior and answer any questions. Can our regular fighters stand up in a line?”

With some grumbles, the fighters stopped what they were doing, be it resting, sparring, or doing some workout and lined themselves up within the field whilst the rest quietly departed. It was certainly a colorful cast, at least when compared to the buffed lineup of MMA fighters. These were varying degrees of buff but far quirkier than the usual.

There was a lanky guy who appeared to have based his entire persona around Ironman, encasing himself in a bit of a hulking suit. There were two animen, human animal hybrids, in this case, a lion and a rhino, fitting species to put up a show. Then there was a middle-aged spell caster; a pyrokinetic who was eagerly demonstrating his abilities; a young man who dressed in a duster and, strangest of all, someone who, without meaning any disrespect, was way over the weight average, and not in terms of muscle. Without a doubt, there must’ve been some secret to how he operated.

Most of them appeared to be varying ages, with the oldest one, in appearances being the mage who was middle aged, and all of them appeared quite excited about the prospect of being taken under the syndicate’s supervision. There didn’t seem to be any doubt that the organization was also scouting.

“Is this everyone?” Cole asked.

“You also have Johnson and Anti-Insolacion duking it out in the arena. They should be done with it any moment soon,” Marco said before checking down on his phone.

“Alright, listen up,” Cole spoke up. “First of all, I have to ask, anyone here doesn’t speak English?” To that, only a couple of the men raised their hands. Cole let out an exasperated sigh before he switched towards a serviceable but still awkward Spanish. <Everyone understands me now?>

Most of them gave out a varied mumble in agreement.

<Okay, I’ll be in charge of testing your mettle. Mr. Moreno here tells me you’ve been working part time as security and bouncers for the business, is that right?> For the most part they nodded.

<Good,> With that Cole unslung the hefty backpack he carried and searched it to produce a stack of papers and passed it over to the lion Animan as the man in the iron suit appeared to be having a problem with the gauntlet of his suit. <First of all, I need you to fill up this form: Names, IDs, residence, contact number, e-mail and so on. After it, we move to the physical tests>

Also from the bag, he produced a large card that with a flick of his wrist, unfolded into an eye chart along with a measuring tape and balance. To many of those present, there as a sense of disappointment about the offer. Not that it was much of a surprise to Caroline, after all, this was supposed to be a sort of preliminary evaluation. No need for pinpoint accuracy.

Cole continued with his explanation while Caroline was approached by Marco, the man’s four hands were chaotically typing into the phones. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

“Yeah… I’m sorry, but my assistant just lost the cheat sheet I left him,” he said with a small frown. “The next event is at one, so I need to go down fast.”

Caroline nodded. “Sure, go ahead. We’ll stick around till you return.”

“Shouldn’t be any more than an hour.” Marco said, mostly to himself. “It just had to accept that offer on the day I was receiving syndicate. Wait till I find who set up my agenda…” He grumbled as he made hasty steps towards the elevator, almost running all the way.

<… And, once you get a decent enough score, we’ll proceed with a sparring, whereupon I’ll determine your quality and improvements you can work on, is that clear?> Cole said, finishing listing out the steps. It was at that last point that many of those present perked up and already to work in filling up the applications.

As they worked, Cole approached Caroline on the side of the entertainment and relaxation part of the gym.

The TV screens displaying the highlights of the fight that had just finished down below. Scenes like the one they witnessed of Anti-Insolacion leaping up into the air and coming down for a crashing strike against Curtis. Only for the bigger man to, upon impact release a hard charged shockwave that almost bent the air around, sending the Mexican man flying back.

“Come on! Is that all you have?” Curtis called out.

“Pinche pendejo.” Anti-Insolacion answered, pushing himself up.

“Aw, you mad?”

Tsk… Caroline scowled watching the next highlight played out, with Curtis moving forth to deliver a strike onto the weakened man, only to get the healer to wince. “I should check out the medical facilities after this…” She reminded herself as she checked her bag. “Glad I have healing ingredients.”

“We’re not with the red cross, we don’t really need to do this.”

“I know, but I want to, and that man is going to need it.”

“Yeah, he is,” Cole echoed as he looked up as the highlight reel ended, displaying the logo of the arena. “Gallera” a reference to the cock fighting rings. “What do you think?”

“Feels like it could bloom into a legit business… though it is apparent they don’t have the insight we can offer,” Caroline said, stealing a glance from behind at how each of the fighters tended to their part of the questionnaire. “What do you think of them? First impressions, I mean.”

“Hm… the man in the iron suit appears afraid to get his hands dirty. Only a limber frame could fit within that armor, but when we arrived, he barely had half the upper armor off. He doesn’t fight to better himself, but mostly to stick it to his opponents. I’d say, bullied as a child?”

“Aren’t we all?” Caroline said with a small sigh. “What of the Animen? Are we going to have an issue with their presence?”

“Whether that’s the case or not, the two appear amicable between themselves. Even when I’ve given them a task, they’re taking it at their own pace.” Effectively, the two were talking rather than filling in the form. “I’d guess they’re just friends trying to become legends. Seems like a good pair, though I have the feeling their fighting style revolves around the looks and threats they can appear as.” He said with a bit of nostalgic longing.

“Continuing… I can’t get a good reading of the man in the robe,” he said referring to the spellcaster who’d brought the papers back onto the table and was already at work with them, though not without distracting himself multitasking with what he was doing.

“Hm… I don’t know what sort of magic he uses or what he’s working on, yet.”

“I guess we’ll just see how he does.” Cole noted. “I’d guess he either flings out elemental spells or empowers himself. Either way, seeing a mage come into a close quarter fight, it must be some dedication.”

“What of that… rotund fellow?” Caroline said pointing at the local man who admitted being part of the spectacle. One of the few who appeared unable to understand English, now sitting on the ground, filling the paperwork with a confused look about him. Cole had to reassure himself that the pages were printed bilingual.

“That one looks like a mystery to me-”

“Um… Excuse me,” one of the fighters said approaching them, his English giving away he was American. He appeared barely out of his late teens, bearing still a bit of a baby face despite the seemingly recent bruise on the side of his face. His attire was a duster coat that appeared to have seen better days, torn, and stitched back together in some places. There was something about him that made Caroline think that this was another case of a young runaway who’d made it into adulthood.

“Yes? Are you done with the form?” Cole asked, only to be immediately presented with the piece of paper.

“I’m ready, can I move over to the eye exam?” he asked.

“One moment,” Cole said as he began to read through the answer. “Travis Perse, is that right?”

“Yeah.”

“And your codename is… Root.”

“Ah, you picked your codename before Groot became a household name.”

“Unfortunately.” Travis shook his head. “Are you really on the lookout for people to hire for a Syndicate?”

“We’re more like looking for people to put on our speed dial in case we need someone for a certain job.”

“So, it’s not really a job offer?” Travis said sounding disappointed.

“Why? Are you looking for a job?”

“I am… in need for a change. A new job might be what I’m looking for.” Travis admitted somewhat coyly. “I was hoping that this was to find a place within the Syndicate. You guys are untouchable.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know about untouchable,” Caroline said coyly. “But it’s not a bad place.”

“We’re always on the lookout for talent.” Cole said.

“I can do anything and what I want is to get a job within the syndicate,” Travis reassured, though his voice quivered, there was determination. “I can prove it. If you want, I can face you in a fight here and now.”

“Take it from a recruiter.” Caroline sighed. “Usually, walking up to the person you want to hire you and claiming you can beat them up is not the best of-”

“Now, now, Caroline. You said it yourself, I have to check on how this kid works.” Cole said, bearing a confident grin.”

“Oh boy,” Caroline kept herself from vocalizing. “Fine. I’ll be performing the physicals then while you have fun, just don’t let the kid beat you up much.”

“Come on, where’s the fun if I can’t let him land one or two hits?” Cole said, sounding all the more invested in the prospect of a simple sparring match.

Caroline rolled her eyes and smiled, though was almost taken aback when she heard someone call from the elevator.

Heavy steps heralded the entrance of the star of the past three encounters. Curtis Johnson entered the place, casting aside the pieces of his gear and protection onto the side as if the place were his home, only to realize that there were guests abound. Still, he didn’t try to amend his behavior, instead his eyes went over for Caroline. “Hey miss. What are you doing here?”

“Hacron?” Travis chimed in at the silence of the two examiners. “These are Lifeward and Cole. They’re with the Syndicate evaluations.” His tone was apparent as he tried to prop up the importance of the visit, but the guy didn’t seem to reciprocate with the same level of interest.

“Syndicate, huh?” He said leaning in closer. “I have a co-worker that works with the syndicate. He’s a piece of work. What are you doing in the arena?” His ‘the arena’ was just a couple of sounds off from becoming ‘my arena.’

“We’re here to conduct an evaluation.” Caroline said politely. “The managers of this business, your bosses, have reached out for the services we offer to alike organizations.” Caroline said as she reached into Cole’s backpack and produced one of the forms he’d been handing out. “Since you’re here, you can fill in the paperwork. Then you can line up for the physical examinations and then evaluate your combat skill. From which we’ll rank you along with your peers.”

The man, Curtis, or Hacron, as Travis referred to him appeared to be on board with the explanation until the idea of his evaluation. His already sweaty expression from the fight became suddenly ticked off. “What’s that about ranking me? I’m the top fighter within the arena. Just ask Mario… Where is he?” He grumbled.

“It’s standard procedure.” Caroline explained.

“I just lasted three high-octane fights. You’re going to test superboy as well while he is at the clinic?” He asked mockingly. “Just note my ranking, watch the recordings and you’ll get all the information you need.

“You can still stand and berate others, you can still put up a fight,” Cole said. “Also, this isn’t a test, there is no pass or fail condition. No need to have a meltdown over.”

“What did you say?” Curtis said, suddenly becoming aware of Cole’s presence. He stepped forth before Caroline’s partner, standing just about a head or two taller than him. And he made sure to emphasize it, looming before his line of sight as if challenging him to a fight.

“I said, no need to have a meltdown,” Cole said markedly. Caroline was already starting to worry of how this would turn out, especially when she heard the leather on Cole’s fingerless gloves squeak as a fist was tensed. “Now, you will apologize to my partner for your tone, fill up the document and present it, or you won’t be working here when your boss accepts the syndicate’s help.”

After some consideration, Caroline weighed in. “We don’t need him to perform now, we can postpone it, right?”

“Right…” Cole muttered.

There was a long moment of staring as the two men stood in line, Cole might’ve stood quite lanky when compared to Anti-Insolacion’s build, but he had complete confidence about him. Of course, Curtis didn’t seem to notice, instead his face reflected a feeling of annoyance. “Fine, I’ll have that mosquito fill it up and sent to you,” Curtis said as he snatched the form of Caroline’s hand. She let out a startled gasp but quickly contained herself and reacted.

By the time he turned around and began to wander away, Cole stood forward with his hand reaching out, only to have been caught by Caroline halfway.

“You spared yourself a beating there…” Curtis lectured as he walked away, shaking the form off, visibly crumpling it.

“We have better things to do than trash the already shoddy backstage,” Caroline whispered once Curtis disappeared around the corner.

“He is… special,” it was Travis’ way of excusing Curtis. “It’s really hard to get him to do stuff.”

“Do you know him?” Cole asked as he adjusted his gloves. “He doesn’t strike me as the kind that has many friends, doesn’t he?”

“We’re not friends,” Travis said begrudgingly. “We just happen to share a common employer.”

“Can you give me some insight about the man?” Cole inquired.

“I’m not allowed to disclose.”

“I get it, trade secrets,” Cole said. By now, a line of fighters had already formed themselves before Caroline to be tested. Some of them invested more in her as a person than as a syndicate representative, with the young pyrokinetic openly flirting with her whilst the lion animan tried to step up his charm game.

Not long after the screens that hung by the set up lit themselves up as the fighting arena’s logo was pulled back, revealing a spinning version of the screen.

“Welcome welcome welcome!” Marco’s voice greeted them from the other end of the screen. “Welcome back to the Saturday extravaganza. I hope you’ve enjoyed the morning’s triple event featuring our in-house hulk, the ‘matador’!” Once again, highlights of the fight began to pass around, much to Cole and Caroline’s displeasure.

Fortunately, it was a short reel and then the screen turned to show Marco. He was still in the simple washed off shirt he greeted them in. Were it because he didn’t have the time to change or because having extra clothes to fit his four arms proved much of a cost, there needed to be something to be done about the presentation… It also didn’t help that the effects for the rendered background, while decent, were still noticeable.

“That’s another aspect that could use some renovation,” Caroline noted. “Need to tack the PR team to the offer.”

“Now, for the next entertainment, we’ll be sharing with you what happens when a member of the Mafia, the Yakuza and the triads find themselves in need to solve a turf war. Warning, this goes without saying but this won’t be for the faint of heart.” He laughed nervously. It wasn’t that much of an understatement when there were a couple of notorious cases, though it mostly depended on how many rules the match was supposed to have.

“Hey, Cole, think we’ll see some of our old clients?” Caroline mused.

“But first!” Marco noted as he tapped onto the keyboard. “While we wait for the participants to arrive, how about we entertain ourselves with a little surprise? We got contacted by a fan. A mutant, just like yours truly. Claims he comes from a school where there’s many like him.”

“He isn’t talking about…” Caroline muttered. If Marco was, there was no doubt there would be a talk about it, as urgent as possible.

“Anyway, he claims he has organized a tournament inspired on us, sanctioned and supposedly overseen by the school so no need to worry. Here we don’t advocate for child violence. For those curious as to what we can expect of the future generations of cockfighters, drop into the third channel to follow, where I’ll be providing commentary.”

And with that and an input from the remote, the scene shifted, showcasing what appeared to be the fringe of a coliseum, one that felt unsettlingly familiar for Caroline. The camera appeared to be located on top of a table next to a control panel. Some kid could be spied at the corner of the view, tweaking out the drones around the camera, muttering something about hovering engines or systems.

Caroline would’ve voiced an objection the moment she saw the faces. Fortunately, Marco appeared aware of the rules and regulations for this sort of streams and immediately activated something that pixelated all the heads.

“Ah yes.” Marco said offscreen. A tinge of nervousness in his voice. “Moments like this make me feel all the more professional when I turn up and there happens to be taco meat on my face. We appear to have logged in early.”

Students could be seen moving around back and forth, seemingly preparing things. Someone or something accidentally bumped the camera, making the view instead show a bit more of the environment, the rather sparse crowd seated along the edge, tending to their phones. Some looking like normal looking teenagers but more than a couple bearing a couple of added features. Different colors, horns and added features were impossible to miss through the pixelation.

“Oh…” Caroline sighed.

There was also a glimpse of the field below. A large terrain of softened dirt, designed to cushion the impact from any fall while students stretched and prepared for their bout, dressed in the somewhat basic forms of their costumes. That about confirmed it. They were watching a feed from Whateley. “I’ll have a talk with Marco about it later,” she said, although inwardly wondering if she’d see Vic or Dereck around.

“One moment please,” Marco excused himself as he suddenly went silent.

 

To Be Continued
Read 1062 times Last modified on Monday, 04 April 2022 03:46

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