FRIENDS IN NEED ------------------- With a friendly ping, the elevator doors opened. Valerie stepped out, her long brown hair hanging over her shoulders. She was headed to another private elevator elsewhere in the hotel, a bag under her arm. As she headed through an unmarked door, she was surprised to see a blonde fellow waiting in front of the elevator she had been seeking. He turned, raising an eyebrow. "Valerie, long time no see!" "Roger?" Valerie walked over to wait beside him. "You're in the Rosetta Championship tonight, too?" "Looks like we're opponents," he replied. "I guess every friendly face is one less crazy one to worry about." "Yeah," Valerie nodded. "To be honest, I'm not surprised. This is the third time I've ended up in a tournament with someone from our grad class." "Really? Who else?" "Arachne's really into fighting," said Valerie. "I've seen her a couple times. She choked me out once." "Bummer." Roger shrugged. "And 2 months ago I saw Kimberly Quacken, of all people!" Valerie shook her head. "I saw her being dragged off the mat, anyway." "Damn," sighed Roger. "I heard she's in a wheelchair now, after a bad loss in the Ward." The elevator doors opened silently, and the pair stepped inside. "I'm glad I didn't see that," added Valerie. ------ The locker room was quiet as Valerie changed into a black and blue leotard. She tied back her hair in a ponytail, before heading over to the sink to splash some hot water on her bared limbs and face. Another girl approached the sink next to her, and began to do the same. Valerie turned, brushing her bangs back. "Hey...hey! Aura!" The brown-haired girl turned with a start. Her brown tank-top and tights clung to a slightly stocky body. "Valerie...no way!" "Aura Dean, I always knew you were a scrapper." Valerie smirked. "Ready to fight?" "I just want to make it through the first round." Aura's posture had her looking towards the floor. "I have bad luck in these bracketed tournaments, every time." "Oh, don't be such a crybaby, Aura." "And I bet YOU'RE undefeated or something, right?" Aura put her hands on her hips. "Honestly?" Valerie glanced around. "Okay, I got pinned for a 5-count at the Wrestlehouse last week." Aura slowly grinned. "It's nice to see a friendly face for once. If I gotta beat you up, it's nothing personal." Laughing, Valerie gave Aura a hug. "Come on, let's head to the benches before we're late." ------ "Roger's here too? Roger Cunningham?" asked Aura as she and Valerie approached the fighter seating area at ringside. The Rosetta Championship's ring was a rough mat elevated a few feet off the ground. Cheap lighting fixtures hung low from the ceiling, leaving the room dimly-lit and fairly hot. "Aura Dean, it's been too long." Roger stood and gave her a hug. He wore red shorts and had tape on his knuckles. The trio were the first to the benches, and sat in a row near the end. "Looks like we might all beat up old friends tonight." "Oh!" Aura sat upright suddenly. "Holly might be here too!" "Holly Brockler?" Valerie tilted her head. "But I was just talking to her on the phone last night..." Several other fighters began to emerge from the locker room. A tall hawaiian girl in an orange t-shirt and red briefs was among them, and she quickly recognized the trio already seated. Her long dark hair was curly and loose, hanging over her eyes and down the back of her neck. "Surprise," said Holly, winking at Valerie. "Oh wow, Aura and Roger too?" "I knew I recognized that bag!" Aura laughed nervously. "You've been using the same duffel for years." "When you say 'surprise', you don't mean this is your first tournament, do you?" asked Roger. "More like...second," replied Holly. Valerie punched Holly square on the shoulder. "What the f...why didn't you tell me?" "When you told me where you were fighting tonight, I thought I'd not tell you about my own plans for the evening until I got here," said Holly. "If you're mad, win as many matches as me and we'll square things up." "Whatever," said Valerie, turning to Aura and Roger. "Whatever happens, everyone. No hard feelings?" "No hard feelings," said Aura. "Nothing personal towards any of you," replied Roger. "Christ, we should just go for coffee and talk shop later on." "If we can stay friends after punching each other out, you're the kind of friends I'd like to keep," said Holly, beaming. ------ The first match saw teenage fighter Kelly square off against the french savate fighter, Franco. "She looks like my sister," said Roger. "Your little sister's a pit fighter?" asked Holly. Kelly went to the ground as a kick slammed into the side of her head. "Looks, not acts," replied Roger. "Wow, look at that!" said Aura, nudging Valerie as she watched Kelly execute a nearly superhuman catch-and-reversal of one of Franco's roundhouses. "You're supposed to study it in case you fight her next round," said Valerie. "Not become her fan." "As if that kid would give me trouble," said Aura, trying to sound confident. Then, Kelly locked in a combination chokehold. "Oh..." Roger winced. "I think that'd give anyone trouble." After a few moments of thrashing, Franco fell still within the teenage fighter's grasp. Kelly released him, standing up to catch her breath before meekly raising her hands as the crowd cheered. The girl wiped her brown as she headed to her empty corner of the bench, while Franco was dragged over to an empty floorspace by the ring and left there. ------ "Don't cheer too loud," remarked Roger as he got up to head to the ring. A bearded chinese fighter named Jackie faced him. "C'mon Roger!" shouted Holly. "Oh, like he needs the support," said Valerie as Roger landed his 5th consecutive blow. "I'm glad you're all here instead of...scary people," said Aura, "but Roger is hitting damn hard." Jackie spat blood on the mat, then suddenly soared through the air with a flying jump kick. Roger flipped head over heels as he was struck square in the face. "C'mon Roger!!" Holly stood up, yelling at the match. "Who are you going to cheer for if any of us fight each other?" asked Aura. Covering up, Roger turned and twisted under Jackie's mounted punches, trying to defend himself and get free. "We'll figure it out," said valerie, leaning forward and cupping her hands together. "I'm not finding it fun to think about watching you guys get mauled." Aura sighed, then looked up and cheered as Roger punched Jackie off of his chest. He got to his feet and quickly advanced on the chinese fighter, throwing a right cross followed by an elbow and a rising backhand. Roger delivered a hard kick to Jackie's midsection, stunning his opponent as he reared back his fist. A right hook, a left cross, and a finishing uppercut sent Jackie through the air. The chinese fighter crashed to the mat, unconscious long before gravity pulled his body to the floor. Roger's friends cheered with the crowd as the blonde fighter took a quick step towards his fallen opponent, watching for movement. Then, he raised a fist and gave a victory yell before heading back to the bench. "Nice work, Rog!" Holly nodded heartily. "Can't blame me for not liking the look of the recouperation spot," replied Roger, gesturing at the ringside area where Jackie's body was dropped off. "I'll get you a pillow if I put you there myself," said Holly, with a smirk. "Did you guys look down the rest of the bench?" asked Aura. "I think there are a lot of grapplers." "Hard strikers and strong grapplers usually have a good run as fighters," said Valerie. "It's no fun getting punched out or bodyslammed, but you've got to be ready for it." "Easier said than done..." Aura's eyes widened. "Oh god, that's my name, I'm up." ------ "Kick some ass, Aura," called out Roger as the brown-clad girl got up from the bench and stepped onto the mat. Aura faced McGregor, a wide scottish man in a kilt. He slapped his biceps as he warmed up, his arms and chest oiled up. Aura raised her fists in a boxing stance as she circled her opponent. "She really ought to learn some grapples," said Holly, "she's built for it." Grunting as two punches struck home, McGregor slowly closed ground on the attacking girl. Aura's left leg raised as she kicked the scotsman in the abdomen, then the chest. He dove forward, grabbing her around the waist. Aura yelped, dropping elbows onto the back of McGregor's neck as he tried to hold on. "I hope she has more defenses up her sleeve." Valerie looked concerned as McGregor was driven back by the strikes. "Aura will be fine, she just has to attack," began Roger. As Aura's high kick was caught and her opponent grabbed hold of her leg, he shouted at the ring. "No, no, get out of there!" Aura struggled, trying to pull her leg free. Catching her off-balance, McGregor reached forward and pulled her body closer with his free hand. Aura cried out as the scotsman heaved her up and over his head. The brown-clad girl was hurled into the air, crashing to the mat behind McGregor. "Get up!!" Holly was on her feet. Getting to her knees, Aura was unable to stand before McGregor took hold of her head and forced her to walk, bent over, into the center of the ring. Then, he dropped a forearm onto the back of her skull. Aura stumbled with the impact, grunting loudly. Another forearm to her back dropped her to her hands and knees. McGregor reached down, grabbing his opponent around her waist, before once again heaving her into the air. "Oh man," Roger wiped some sweat off his cheek as he watched Aura crash to the mat. "I think..." "She can't tap out, can she?" asked Valerie. "The Rosetta Championship is a big fan of full knock-outs," said Roger, gesturing at the recouperation spot. Aura climbed to her feet, her brown outfit slightly stained with sweat and the oil from McGregor's arms. Her mouth hung open as she gasped for breath, raising her fists and retreating groggily. She glanced to the side, giving her friends a desperate look before trying to counter an incoming grapple. "Don't worry!" shouted Holly. "Don't worry, we'll still go for coffee afterwards!" Roger gave her a look, to which Holly replied, "I've got to say SOMEthing!" McGregor's arms wrapped around Aura's abdomen, pulling her tightly against his oiled chest. The brown-clad girl struggled desperately. As she reached for her opponent's face, he harshly headbutted her. Aura spasmed, stunned as the scotsman fully locked in a bearhug. She wailed loudly as he lifted her off her feet, thick arms crushing her. Aura's face was a mask of anguish as she violently shook her head, slapping pitifully as her legs kicked and flailed. "Oh, Aura..." Valerie was unable to look away as her friend's body curled and writhed in the grip of a finishing bearhug. "Come on, let her go!" shouted Holly. Making some breathless choked squeaks, Aura's arms and legs grew loose, her body still shuddering as the fight and her consciousness were squeezed out of her. Brown hair was plastered to her sweat-soaked face as foamy spittle began to run over her lips. Finally, McGregor opened his arms, letting his opponent fall to the mat like a sack of meat. Aura's body slapped onto the mat, her brown tank-top soaked and stained with sweat and oil. She lay still and spreadeagled, her heaving breaths her only movement as McGregor left the ring. "Shit..." muttered Roger, watching as Aura was quickly dragged off the mat and dumped on the floor of the recouperation area, still spreadeagled on her back. "Do you think she's okay?" "I didn't hear anything break," said Valerie, eyeing McGregor as he sat back down on the bench. "She's still breathing, that's what's important." "I've been knocked out, but," Holly had sat back down after Aura finally hit the mat. "Going out like that, I don't know. There's losing a match, and there's being mauled like a ragdoll." "You want me to tell her you said that?" asked Roger. "Shut up, I'm serious." Holly stretched slightly in her seat. "That's the only thing I'm really nervous about. I want a crowd to watch me put up a good fight, not get used like a training dummy." Valerie stood up as she heard her name get called. "Great pep talk, Holly. Great." ------ Brushing back her brown ponytail, Valerie eyed her opponent, a fair-skinned french girl named Babette. Babette's short blonde hair was styled and her face was carefully made up, but she was dressed in some kind of tribal-themed ensemble of a purple top and briefs. The french fighter briefly warmed up, then crouched low in a monkey stance. "So, you're her friend." Roger glanced at Holly. "Is she any good?" Hopping and rolling, Babette tried to disorient her opponent. Valerie stayed on her toes, bouncing lightly as she kept an eye on the french girl. "I only know what she tells me, and she only told me she's a fighter a few weeks ago," replied Holly. Babette flipped left, then straight towards Valerie, heel-first. The ponytailed fighter crossed her arms, blocking Babette's foot with her wrists. The french fighter quickly vaulted herself off of Valerie's arms, backflipping away from her opponent. But, as soon as her feet touched the mat, Babette's eyes widened before a thundering side kick cracked into her jaw. "Uhh..." Holly glanced back at Roger. "I think she's got some skills, though." Jumping onto her stunned opponent, Valerie rained forearm blows and elbow strikes. Babette cried out and squirmed, managing to wriggle out from under Valerie's mount. She tried to resume her acrobatic monkey stance, but found it difficult to hold her balance. Babette grunted as she took three kicks straight into her chest and belly, falling to her knees as she gasped for breath. "Whoa." Roger stared as Valerie smoothly did a handstand and wrapped her legs around Babette's head, before pulling her to the ground. The french girl bucked and thrashed as Valerie sat down, her legs scissored around her opponent's head and neck. Babette's hands and feet slapped against the mat as her face grew redder and her breathing grew irregular. Holly rubbed her hands together. "I think I'm a little relieved I didn't fight her first." Valerie chopped Babette twice across the chest, the french girl spasming and laying still after each hit. Babette began drooling, her eyes half-open and staring unconsciously at the lights. After holding the limp girl in the hold a few seconds longer, Valerie stood up and raised her arms to the crowd as she looked down at her opponent. Babette's chest rose and fell rapidly, completely knocked out. "She was inexperienced," said Valerie, returning to her seat while Babette was carried out of the ring and dumped on the floor. "How's Aura?" "Still out cold," answered Roger, looking over to where their friend lay unmoving. "Should I go check on her?" asked Holly, starting to get up. "You still have a fight," said Valerie. "I've got until the next round, I'll...oh, shit. Is his name CRUSHER?" A bald block of muscle in green briefs stood up, heading into the ring. Holly's eyes filled with worry, as she turned to look at Valerie and Roger. "I-I think...that's Crusher Calloway. Oh, fuck, I might be Crusher Calloway's opening match." After a few moments, the next fighter was announced. ------ Holly breathed deeply, lowering her head. "Thank god." An often-smiling fighter called Daisy Flower froze as her name was called, the mirth fading from her face. Wearing rugged jeans briefs and a pink top, the red-haired fighter slowly stood up and made no haste in stepping into the ring as she tied a yellow bandana around her brow. "Maybe she'll take him down," offered Roger. "Maybe she'll make him tired," muttered Valerie. "I'll go check on Aura, back in a bit." She got up to walk over to the recouperation area as the match began. Daisy was stiff with nerves as Crusher advanced, making a brave attempt to meet the wrestler head-on as he locked up with her. Quickly, Daisy found her head front-facelocked under one of her opponent's arms. She struggled with futility as Crusher pushed one of her arms over his head, then lifted her to begin a vertical suplex. Crusher held her aloft for over half a minute, Daisy's bare feet kicking weakly as they brushed the low-hanging lights of the arena. She whimpered loudly, the blood rushing to her head as she awaited the inevitable painful conclusion. Valerie winced as she heard Daisy's body finally hit the mat heavily. "Hey...Aura, girl, come on." She carefully tapped her hand against Aura's cheeks, the beaten fighter still out cold from her crushing defeat in a vice-like bearhug. "She got shaken hard before the fight even started," said Roger, watching Daisy Flower crawl to her feet as Crusher waited for her to stand. "Who wouldn't? Christ." Holly ran her hands through her hair, watching the match with wide eyes. Reaching forward and once again taking complete control of his opponent, Crusher easily scooped up and bodyslammed the redhead. Daisy's body arched as she howled, clutching at her back. She tried to resist as Crusher began to pull her off the mat once again, her bandanna coming off in his hands. The wrestler looked at it, then tore the fabric in half before pointing at Daisy. "He knows how to play headgames, that's for sure," said Roger. Daisy raised her hands, rapidly shaking her head and crawling back. Her long red hair messily hung all over her face. "Simple but effective ones, god." Holly held her temples. "Just finish the match." Gripping Daisy by her head, Crusher forced her to bend over, then viced her skull between his thighs. She pulled and squirmed, stamping her feet as she tried to get free. The wrestler wrapped his arms around her waist, then whipped her up into the air. Crusher held his opponent overhead, delaying the delivery of the powerbomb. Daisy's arms waved around, reaching for anything that would prevent her from being slammed. Her face was full of fear, eyes wide as she whined in terror. "Sounds like the crowd knows who he is," remarked Roger, looking around at the cheering audience. Daisy's fear, bolstered by a crowd calling for her opponent's victory, climaxed as she was whipped down onto the mat. She landed on the back of her neck, folding and flipping over. The redhead lay facedown, writhing on the mat as the world span around her. "Oh come on," said Holly, watching Crusher pull his beaten opponent off the mat once again. "What I heard must be true, he's got Wrestlehouse fever." "So he isn't just going to win, he needs a pinfall?" Roger shook his head. "I don't get it." Once again bent over with her head between the wrestler's legs, Daisy Flower did not resist as Crusher paused to play to the crowd. Her resolve was gone, only hoping that the match would not take much longer. Crusher lifted her for another powerbomb, holding her aloft as he walked around the ring. Daisy's face was sad and pained, tears running down her cheeks as her arms hung limply at her sides. Valerie watched as Daisy's body folded and flipped, laying facedown and spreadeagled on the mat after the second powerbomb. "Be glad you only got hugged out," she muttered, still trying to rouse Aura. Crusher stood over his opponent's unmoving body, waiting a few seconds. Then, he rolled her onto her back and pressed his chest down onto hers, needlessly hooking one of the girl's legs. Daisy lay pinned, limbs splayed on the mat, one bare foot limply pointed at the ceiling as the crowd counted to 10 in unison. Crusher got to his feet, letting her leg bounce lifelessly back to the ground as he played to the crowd and walked a slow victory lap around the ring. Daisy's body was ignored, left in the center of the ring until Crusher finally took his leave. Aura sputtered, weakly moaning, "h-hurts...hurts..." as her face winced. She was still not fully conscious, but Valerie felt relieved to hear her speak. She headed back to the bench as Daisy Flower was dragged off the mat. "Aura's hurting, but she's okay," said Valerie, sitting back down. "Holly, you okay?" "Yeah," Holly nodded quickly. "I just haven't seen a...well, a SHOWY mauling like that, before. I've seen guys and girls get dominated, but that was...I'm so glad that wasn't me." "Unless you get him next round," said Roger. "Shut up!" Holly managed to smirk. A black girl in a white bikini-like two-piece leaned over from beside the three friends on the bench. "You could beat him. Anyone can win any fight," she said. "Who are you?" asked Valerie. "We have not met." The girl smiled. "I am Tania. It is good to see combatants getting along outside of the ring." "Well, we knew each other already," began Roger. "Ah, it is my turn." Tania stood as her name was called. "Perhaps we will continue our introduction later." ------ Just as quickly as the fight began, Tania had taken total control of the action. Her opponent was a kickboxer called Malone, a crewcut young man in blue shorts. "She is GOOD," said Holly. "Damn good." Tania methodically turned each of Malone's attacks against himself, using his momentum to toss him around the ring. "Think she wants to join us for coffee?" asked Roger. As Malone stumbled, clearly fatigued from the one-sided fight, Tania leapt onto him. Her arms and legs wrapped around his body as the two fighters fell to the mat. "Do you WANT her to join us for coffee?" replied Valerie, watching as Tania locked in a triangle chokehold. Malone struggled, trying desperately to get free from the crippling submission hold. Tania freed one of her hands and began throwing punches into her opponent's face as the triangle hold cut off the oxygen to his brain. Malone's body quickly succumbed, the kickboxer twitching and shuddering as blood and spit began to run from his mouth. Tania paused, then rolled back along the mat as she let her opponent go to crumple on the floor. She stood, bowing slightly to her beaten foe before returning to the bench. "Hello, my new friends," said Tania as she sat down. "A quick match, but invigorating." "You're good," said Holly. "If we end up in a match I can't guarantee you won't get hurt, since I'll have to give it my all." "Thank you," said Tania, closing her eyes and bowing her head slightly. Holly smirked. "Sense of humor. Nice to meet you." ------ Another french girl stepped into the ring. Celeste's hair hung low over one eye, and she wore a designer long-sleeved shirt with similarly high-priced pants. She faced Pello, an italian mixed-martial artist. "Yeah, I've fought before," said Holly. "But I've only been choked out, punched out a couple times." "And you feel some ways to be defeated are worse than others?" asked Tania. Celeste and Pello traded blows, until Pello tacked the french girl to the mat. "You've been in a lot of tournaments, right?" said Holly. "Yes," Tania closed her eyes and nodded. "I have gone to the limit and back. Victories and defeats have both been my fate, though I have not yet lost my life." The italian fighter smiled, preparing to lock in a crippling armbar. But, he was shocked when his arms could barely even twist his opponent's wrist. Celeste's free hand had stabbed two fingers into a specific point under Pello's shoulder. The italian fighter backed off, trying to figure out why his arms felt so heavy. Holly glanced over to Roger and Valerie, who had both gone to check on Aura. "What's it like to lose as bad as you can lose? Like that Daisy Flower girl earlier tonight?" Tania nodded again. "Terrifying. When an opponent can render you completely beaten and at their mercy, only the foolish and thte mad would not find it terrifying." Celeste's feet slid along the mat as she skidded forward, fingers jabbing into pressure points on Pello's body. The italian fighter cried out as his knees buckled, a firey pain creeping up his spine. "How do you handle it?" asked Holly. "All I can say in words is," replied Tania, "every victory brings pride, and every defeat brings experience. The greater the win, the greater the pride. The worse the loss, the greater the experience." Rapid jabs rained across Pello's body, striking nerve clusters and sending him into shock. Celeste slowly turned away, then whirled back around. Her hands slashed across Pello's face, sending him spiralling to the mat, where he lay still. "I've got to be up next," said Holly, as Valerie and Roger returned. "How's Aura?" "Still on the floor," said Roger. "There's my name!" Holly got to her feet, hopping in place a few times. "I'll see you guys in a bit." As she ran to the ring, Valerie double-taked at the indian woman who also began to stand from the bench. "Oh no." ------ Warming up on one edge of the mat, Holly shook out her nervousness and turned around. Her heart skipped as she saw her opponent, Devika. The east-indian woman wore green silk pants and a matching cloth top. She was also at least 8 feet tall, thin but muscular. Holly's expression fell as she began bouncing in place, trying to remember Tania's words. She was not short herself, but Devika was nothing she ever expected to face. "Jesus, how tall is that girl?" exclaimed Roger. Devika moved slowly, taking large steps around the ring. Holly circled her, trying to keep her distance. However, her opponent's sheer height was disorienting to her ring sense. Devika lifted a foot, stamping it square into Holly's chest. The hawaiian girl was pushed onto her posterior, sitting still for a few seconds before scrambling to her feet. A sweat stain already appearing on her red t-shirt, Holly darted in and out, cracking low kicks into Devika's shins. "That's it Holly!" Valerie called out in support. "You can take her!" A large hand grabbed hold of Holly's head, before another one chopped down onto her head. Holly stumbled, shaking out the cobwebs, but was too late. Devika's enormous leg slammed into her body, sending her down onto the mat. As Holly tried to get up, Devika grabbed her by the throat. The hawaiian girl coughed, throwing kicks at Devika's body but falling short as the indian girl held her at arm's length. Then, Holly was lifted straight off the mat by her throat. "Holy shit." Valerie gaped, eyes filling with worry. Kicking her feet wildly, Holly was held in the air for several seconds before Devika threw her across the mat. Holly ended up sprawled on the other side of the ring, painfully managing to sit upright as she clutched her neck. "Don't let her take the pace!" shouted Roger. Seeing Devika take long strides towards her, Holly rolled forward and between her opponent's legs. Ending up behind the indian girl, Holly again began trying to take out her opponent's base by delivering hard kicks to her legs. Devika span around with a backfist, missing her mark as Holly ducked. However, she was immediately able to grab hold of Holly's head with both hands, holding the squirming girl in place. Devika slowly planted her feet, then hurled Holly into the air. The hawaiian girl landed outside of the ring, falling several feet farther before hitting concrete. "Can she do that?!" Valerie turned to Roger. "She can't do that, can she?!" Holly screamed in pain, clutching her back. Devika stepped down onto the concrete, pulling Holly off the floor and throwing her back onto the mat. "I think she can," sighed Roger. The hawaiian girl could only roll over before her opponent was upon her again. Devika heaved her off the ground, scooping her up and carrying her across her chest. Holly kicked and bucked, trying to get free as she was carried to the middle of the ring. Then, Devika heaved her up, holding her pressed over 8 feet in the air. Holly screamed, kicking and flailing as she felt the hot ceiling lights on her back. Devika looked up at the lights, and smiled. "No, no, no!" cried Valerie. Violently raising and lowering her opponent, Devika slammed Holly's back up into the light fixtures of the arena over and over. The hawaiian girl shrieked in pain, the lights scalding her back before shattering over her. After utterly ruining the lights overhead, Devika pressed Holly up one more time and released her. The hawaiian girl slammed belly-first onto the mat, almost immediately rolling left and right as she howled in anguish. "Stay down, Holly!" shouted Valerie. "Just give in and stay down!" Devika did not wait, once again scooping up Holly and pressing her overhead. Holly was still able to kick and cry out, overwhelmed with pain. The indian girl walked a lap around the ring, parading Holly's struggling body to the crowd. The back of the hawaiian girl's t-shirt and briefs were dusted white from being manhandled into the light fixtures, her body soaked in sweat. Her eyes stared desperately down at the long drop beneath her as she felt the heat of the arena lights on her back again. She began shaking her head, pleading to simply be dropped. "She's going to do it again," Roger turned to Valerie and shouted. "She's going to do it again!" Holly wailed in pain as she was once again pressed up and down, smashing through more light fixtures. Once they were thoroughly demolished, Devika pushed Holly's body up and behind her, letting the hawaiian girl slap down onto the mat without watching it happen. Holly lay facedown and convulsing, the back of her t-shirt shredded and reddened, as Devika slowly turned around and began to pick her up again. "That's enough!" yelled Valerie. "She's through, that's enough!" Her limbs hanging limp, Holly was pressed up one more time. Devika noticed the lack of a struggle, and simply dropped her opponent on an 8-foot fall to the mat. Holly was splayed on the mat after bouncing to a rest. Before Devika reached down and picked her up one more time, she slapped her thigh and raised a fist to the crowd. "What does that mean?" valerie looked around for an answer, and received none. Holding her opponent overhead, Devika dropped Holly as she knelt down. The hawaiian girl's eyes snapped open and she screamed a bloodcurdling cry of pain as she was finished with a backbreaker. Her hands and feet dangled over the mat, her eyes screwed shut and mouth wide open as her chest convulsed. Devika raised her hands once again before shoving Holly off of her knee, letting the girl slump facedown onto the mat. The indian girl took a moment to stomp on Holly's bloodied back, causing her limbs to spasm, then left the ring. ------ Valerie and Roger ran over to the recouperation area as Holly's body was dragged onto the cold concrete floor. She was still breathing, but lay on her belly to prevent further damage to her back. "I never thought I'd see...Holly, of all people..." Valerie sighed heavily. "Not like that." Holly and Aura lay next to each other on the floor, now a pair of beaten fighters. Aura writhed gently, still not fully conscious, while Holly's only movement was her laboured breathing. "That was just...nobody should have to go through that." Roger shook his head. "Getting finished off by a backbreaker is one of the closest things you can go through to being in the ring with a deathmatcher." The second round had quickly begun. Kelly and McGregor faced each other in the ring, the teenage fighter making a doomed attempt to try and grapple with the scotsman. The young girl was taking her third flight through the air as Roger and Valerie got back to their seats, staggering to get back to her feet. None of the fighters had been given any rest between rounds, and the exhaustion was a factor as the Rosetta Championship tournament went on. "And with each round, we're supposed to make the fights finish harsher, too," said Roger. "Devika did it early, but it looks like they're letting it slide." "God damn crowd," muttered Valerie. A chillingly prolonged croak escaped Kelly's throat as McGregor crushed her in a bearhug. The teenage fighter's twitching legs curled up, arms shuddering at her sides. Her mouth was wide open, eyes shut in pain as foam began to run over her lip. Holding his opponent tightly, McGregor slammed Kelly onto the mat, putting his entire weight on top of her. Still maintaining the bearhug, he stood up and repeated the flattening slam twice more. Releasing the girl and standing up, McGregor heard the crowd continue to chant, "FINISH HER! FINISH HER!" "Still remind you of your sister?" asked Valerie. "I'm trying not to imagine it," groaned Roger. Kelly lay sprawled on her back, completely beaten. Driven by the audience's pressure, McGregor leapt into the air and delivered a full bodysplash, driving a shockwave through Kelly's body. As the crowd cheered, McGregor raised his fists and left the ring. Kelly was practically peeled off the mat, dragged away and dumped in the recouperation area. "There's my name," said Roger, standing up. He paused, then looked at his opponent. "And there is mine," said Tania. "Let us have an excellent match." ------ Valerie could only look on as an old friend and a new one squared off in the ring. Roger's rapidfire striking began right off the bat, driving Tania into a defensive position. He had the advantage of several matches' worth of rest, while Tania had more recently fought her first round fight. After taking a shot to the chin, Tania caught Roger's second punch. She twisted, lifting a leg to lock his arm. Roger ducked, then threw a side kick into Tania's chest. The brazilian girl went to the mat, rolling and quickly getting to her feet. Stepping forward, Roger launched a knee at his opponent. Tania shifted, letting the knee slide past her as she grabbed hold of Roger and brought him onto the ground. Quickly raining a few elbows down onto his head, Tania kept Roger on the defense as she shifted her body on top of his. The kickboxer shot a hard punch up into Tania's face, but she immediately slammed a forearm down onto his own. Dark-skinned legs wrapped around Roger's head as Tania locked in a leg-scissor choke. She raised her arms, blocking a few wild knees thrown by her opponent before she rapidly tightened the hold. Roger gagged, thrashed, and began to fall still. The crowd began chanting, "FINISH HIM! FINISH HIM!" Without missing a beat, Tania repositioned one of her legs, locking Roger's arm in an armbar while maintaining the choke. She snapped her body back, popping Roger's shoulder and sending a shock through his body. She quickly got to her feet, popping his shoulder back in place as she did so, before slowly bowing to her fallen opponent. "I'd be lying if I wasn't hoping he'd win," said Valerie. Tania nodded, eyes closed. "I hold no grudges, my new friend." Sighing, Valerie watched another one of her friends get dropped off in the recouperation area. "I still have a match...who am I going to be up against?" "I will check on your friends in the mean time," said Tania. "Fight well." As the brazilian girl walked away, Valerie saw the next two fighters get called to the ring. Looking down the bench, she realized who she would be fighting. Her heart raced as she tried to prepare herself. ------ "I'm fighting Crusher Calloway," thought Valerie. "I'm the only one left and I've got Crusher." She put her head in her hands, wiping sweat from her face. Celeste began to circle Devika, having a better idea of the indian girl's incredible reach after watching her dominate Holly in the previous round. Looking over to the recoup area, Valerie saw Daisy Flower still completely unconscious after her match with Crusher. "I haven't got the striking power to hit him in the joints. Can I choke him out?" Devika's hands parried one of Celeste's stabbing strikes, then grasped the french girl around her throat. "I've got to do it fast, or I'm through," thought Valerie. "There's a chance...a good chance I'll end up like Daisy. At least I have one match before mine." Celeste was pressed over Devika's head. "Shit! It's already almost over?!" Valerie had another wave of panic. Devika roared, preparing to finish off Celeste. But, the squirming french girl delivered two-fingered strikes to the insides of Devika's elbows, causing the indian girl to release her as nerve shock traveled up her arms. Celeste fell to the ground, stabbing her fingers into Devika's flanks as she passed by. Rolling to her feet, Celeste stood just as Devika fell to her knees, frozen with needle-like pains running up and down her spine. The tall indian girl's mouth shuddered, gasping and stammering as Celeste slowly stepped in front of her. The french girl reared back, hissing, then thrust her fingers into Devika's throat. The indian girl made a choked croak, eyes bulging. She took a slow, gurgling breath of air, and then keeled over onto the mat. "It's time." Valerie took a deep breath, and stood up. ------ Adjusting her ponytail, Valerie stepped onto the mat and faced down Crusher Calloway. She made the first move, feinting a few grapples to see how the wrestler would react. He held his ground, not making any careless moves. Biting her lip, Valerie dove forward, throwing a knee towards one of Crusher's legs. He stepped out of the way incredibly fast for his size, dodging and reaching to grapple his opponent. Valerie rolled away, circling around the mat. Rushing forward, Crusher locked up with Valerie. She immediately squirmed, moving around her opponent before leaping onto his back. With no walls around the ring, he would have to risk injury to get her off through impact. She ducked her head, avoiding his hands as they tried to take hold of her scalp. Valerie locked in a bodyscissors sleeper hold, pulling it tight as hard as she could and praying it would put the wrestler out cold. Crusher swayed, taking hold of the arm around his neck. With supreme effort, falling to one knee, he began to pry the sleeperhold loose. Valerie shifted her legs, releasing the bodyscissor to try throwing knees into Crusher's flanks. Suddenly, the ponytailed girl realized her leg had been caught while Crusher kept one hand on the sleeper hold. Gripping her two limbs, the wrestler bucked Valerie off his back and hurled her to the mat. As she got to her feet, Crusher cracked his neck and tried to regain his breath. Valerie tried to get behind her opponent again, but was cut short as he quickly turned to stay face-to-face, locking up in a grapple. The ponytailed fighter knew she had to try and apply the submission hold again, but Crusher was actively preventing her from moving behind him. As she struggled, her opponent suddenly scooped her off the mat and delivered a heavy bodyslam. Valerie was winded, trying to get up as quickly as she could, but Crusher's hands were already gripping her head. The ponytailed girl tried frantically to pull herself free, but her opponent quickly pulled her into a front facelock. She immediately hooked her foot around his leg, trying to block a vertical suplex attempt, but Crusher responded by cranking the facelock tighter until her reversal attempt came loose. Quickly throwing her arm over his head, Crusher lifted Valerie in a vertical suplex. The ponytailed girl tried to swing her legs, but was held solidly upside-down. As the blood rushed to her head, she realized Crusher had taken complete control of the match's pace. She felt the hot lights' proximity to the soles of her feet, growing dizzier by the second. Finally, the suplex was completed, and Valerie had to cry out in pain as her back arched involuntarily. Before she could come to her senses, she felt hands around her head pulling her off the mat. Once again, she was put into a front facelock. Valerie threw off-balance knees towards her opponent's stomach, but after three shots, Crusher hooked her leg with his free arm. The ponytailed fighter realized she was completely trapped, and ceased resisting. Her hopes of victory were crumbling with every slam she suffered, and she knew she could only conserve her remaining strength rather than squirm in futility. Again, Crusher lifted Valerie, this time in a fisherman buster. And once again, he held her upside-down for well over half a minute. As panic set in, Valerie began to wildly kick her free leg hopelessly, her bare foot flopping back and forth as she began to whimper in anticipation of the impact. Driving his opponent's head into the mat, Crusher's fisherman buster sent Valerie sprawling onto her back. She lay dazed, shaking her head irregularly as the lights overhead hurt her eyes. She grunted, winded as Crusher lay his weight on top of her and hooked her leg. She heard the crowd begin Crusher's 10-count, and began to lay her head back. Then, she saw an opening. Her opponent was certain she was finished, and thanks to hooking her leg up so closely to his neck, she had a chance to win. Valerie was ready to give in and throw the match, but she also came to the tournament wanting to win. The crowd ceased the 10-count as Crusher's eyes bulged. Valerie's hooked leg wrapped around his neck, quickly scissoring with her other leg. She screamed, arching her back and tightening her legs as hard as she could. Crusher struggled, pulling left and right, but unable to free himself. Valerie maintained the hold, giving it all she could. Slowly, she felt her body folding. Crusher was standing up, but her hold would not loosen. She felt his hands grip her waist, and felt air rush past her ragged battle-worn ponytail. Valerie knew what was coming, but would hold the legscissors nontheless. It was her final chance. There was a thunderous impact as Crusher powerbombed Valerie. Her legs came loose as her entire body folded up and flipped over. It took the wrestler nearly a minute to get back to his feet, while Valerie only made it to her hands and knees. Crusher grabbed hold of her, shoving her head between his legs and vicing it in his thighs. Valerie did not fight back, knowing the match was over. Hands wrapped around her waist and pulled her up. Crusher walked a lap around the ring, holding her aloft mid-powerbomb. Valerie's face was crestfallen and pained, fear gripping her as whimpered and shook her head. Her arms were limp, hanging down in front of her chest. The second powerbomb once again folded and flipped Valerie, leaving her splattered on the mat. The rubberband in her ponytail snapped, leaving her brown hair loose and unkempt. She felt Crusher roll her over, pin her, and hook her leg. The silhouette of her foot in front of the lights filled her vision as the crowd counted to 10. Then, they began to chant, "FINISH HER! FINISH HER!" The ponytailed girl made a some unintelligible noises of protest as she was rolled back onto her stomach. Crusher leaned down, applying a double-chickenwing hold and locking Valerie's arms behind her. Then, she felt a new wave of pain run down her back as he lifted her into the air, maintaining the hold. Valerie's feet kicked weakly as her chest protruded, her shoulderblades grinding inside her back. She wailed unendingly, her mouth wide open and eyes screwed shut as tears rolled down her cheeks. She wildly shook her head, realizing she was not only going to be beaten, but decisively dominated. Her face slammed onto the floor as Crusher sat down, her feet pointing straight up as her legs bent up and under Crusher's armpits. He folded her knees, holding Valerie's ankles and thighs under his arms before reaching forward and pulling her head back by her chin. She convulsed, twitching as she went into shock from the pain. After a full minute, Crusher released the hold and played to the crowd. Valerie lay facedown in the middle of the ring, forgotten by the crowd. ------ "Turn it off," muttered Holly, drinking her coffee and wincing. On the small DVD player, the display had just reminded her of the backbreaker than finished her off in the Rosetta Championship tournament the other night. "I want to know how the rest of the matches went," said Valerie, icing the back of her neck. She fastforwarded a bit, resuming play just in time to see a shot of her receiving the second powerbomb from Crusher Calloway. "Okay...just past here," she said. ------ The third round of the tournament opened with Crusher facing Celeste. The french girl had tried to dismantle the wrestler's defenses with nerve strikes, but Crusher was prepared. Within the opening minute, he had flipped his opponent head-over-heels with lariats until she could barely stand. Celeste tried to attack Crusher while he held her aloft, but her vision was so blurred she completely missed him before the first powerbomb was delivered. After the second powerbomb and the 10-count, the crowd called for a finisher. Celeste was lifted off the mat, held in a reverse bearhug. Her limp body went completely stiff as her head was tombstone piledriven into the mat, before she flopped down completely beaten. After that, Tania and McGregor's match seemed to be going the scotsman's way until he locked in the bearhug. Tania had kept one leg raised before his arms viced around her. As her breath was squeezed out of her, she wrapped her free leg around McGregor's neck. A battle of attrition ensued, and Tania came out on top. ------ Aura winced during the matches. "I would have had a heart attack if I had to fight Crusher Calloway." "Most sane people would," said Roger, icing his shoulder. ------ In the finals of the tournament, Tania and Crusher engaged in a grappling war for nearly 4 straight minutes. Both fighters, glistening with sweat and exhausted, wrestled to a standstill until Crusher delivered a sudden headbutt. Tania was stunned, shaking her head as another headbutt connected. Two more left her spreadeagled on the mat, bleeding from her forehead and unable to stand. Slowly, Crusher clinched and raised her overhead, powerbombing the fight out of her with two ring-shaking slams. Then, instead of going for his usual pin, he once again wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her upside down for several seconds. Tania's legs spasmed as the piledriver cracked her head into the floor, collapsing facedown onto the ground. Again, Crusher did not try to pin her, instead sitting on her back and locking in a terrifying camel clutch. Tania's legs kicked wildly as her back bent frighteningly far. Once she passed out from the pain, Crusher maintained the hold until he heard his name called as the winner. Tania was left sprawled on her belly at the wrestler's feet as he celebrated. ------ "It is not the first time I have almost died in the ring," said Tania, eyes closed as she smiled. "That tall girl could have broken my spine!" said Holly. "I can't believe all those people watched me get thrown around like a sack of potatos." "Did you see what I looked like?" said Aura defiantly. "Bearhugged and foaming at the mouth, I had it the worst." "She popped my shoulder!" Roger pointed at Tania. "I think the important thing is, we all came out stronger and smarter," said Valerie. "We all got paid for participating, and we've got a DVD to study. I'm ready to do it again as soon as my neck's healed up. What about the rest of you?" Tania nodded slowly. Roger did as well, followed by Holly and Aura. "We might not be the best," said Valerie, "but if we all stick together? This'll be the best time of our lives."