THE HARDEST LESSON ------ Packing her duffel bag, Lalita bit her lower lip and looked back at her computer monitor. An open invite had gone out on the pitfighting message board she had been lurking on for well over 2 years, and the east-indian girl had decided to answer the call. Lalita was a longtime spectator who always dreamed of becoming a fighter, longing for the freedom and equality of the ring. As she secretly studied the science of combat, she often wished she could stand in the ring, facing her hardships with only her bare hands and feet. Dressing modestly to not draw attention to herself, Lalita headed to the subway to head to the venue. As she looked out the window, she chewed one of her fingers and imagined how she could either win or lose. She was an accounting student, drilled by her parents to keep her head low and voice quiet. Stepping into the ring would be the last thing anyone, herself included, would expect from her. "Lalita?" said a voice. "I never saw you as a late-night person. Got errands to run for your folks?" Lalita looked up, startled, to see a lithe and familiar-looking half-chinese girl seeming surprised to see her. "Fan? W-What are you doing here?" "I'm riding the train, Lali." Fan grinned, sitting down next to Lalita. "Same as you." Her thick vest rustled as she turned in her seat. "Yes...I..." Lalita chewed her lip as she glanced around. "I'm just on my way to pick up a prescription." "Oh. Bummer," said Fan. "What about you?" Lalita tried to quickly take her destination out of the conversation. "Me? I've got a...class," answered Fan, quickly looking up at the ceiling. "An evening class." "Oh." Lalita turned her head away to look back out the window. After a very long silence, Fan spoke up. "I had fun at the club last week. We should do that again sometime! Maybe get you a boyfriend." "Come on, Fan..." Lalita blushed as Fan gave her a nudge. "I don't like that atmosphere very much." "Want to know a secret?" Fan leaned close to whisper loudly. "I don't either. But it's the only way to get to know people, and if there's two of us we've got each other's back." As the train slowed down, Fan began to stand up. "Looks like..." "...my stop." Lalita turned and stopped, standing face to face with Fan. After a few moments, the two girls quickly exited the train and began walking in the same direction. They were silent for quite some time, until Fan finally spoke up. "...Warehouse 17?" she said. "...uh huh." Lalita quickly nodded. "Quiet girl like you?" Fan pushed her hands into the pockets of her vest. "That's a bit of a surprise." "You are, too," replied Lalita. "Social butterfly that you are." "Little Sunny," said Fan. "That's my name on the board." "...Silk Slammer," muttered Lalita. "I don't...post very much." ------ Finding herself an empty corner in the locker room, Lalita changed her clothes as Fan pulled off her vest. "That was a cool idea, entering the tourney under our board names," said the chinese girl. "Being as anonymous as possible would probably be better for both of us," called back Lalita. "...On our first attempts. Besides, some of the others are doing it." "There must be other boardies here," answered Fan. She stopped, looking over at Lalita as she emerged from her corner. "You look pretty natural!" The east-indian girl's hair formed a long, dark ponytail. She wore a two-piece turqoise sports-top and briefs, with a short silken sari wrapped around her waist like a sash. "...I have this for when I am waiting for my match, too." She pulled another silk sari cloth over her shoulders, letting it hang over her upper body. Fan nodded, her hair done up in spunky pigtails. A yellow sleeveless belly t-shirt clung over her chest, and pink shorts finished her outfit. "All I got is some junky stuff I don't mind sweating in." The two girls headed out into Warehouse 17's waiting area: a fenced pen next to the ring. A canvas square surrounded by wooden barriers was the combat area. Above the ring, large namecards were hanging from hooks. One read "HOLLY BROCKLER", while the other read "SPIKERDRIVER". "Hey, that's one of the boardies!" said Fan. "Looks like he's got some local for warm-up." The exhibition match was nearing its end. Holly, a hawaiian girl in a red top and matching boyshorts, flopped to a rest on her back after a heavy blow to her chin. "Are you from the boards too? That's amazing!" A small, perky irish girl began speaking to Fan at a rapid pace. "I'm from the boards too, I got by Clover Maeve there." Spikerdriver, much in the spirit of his silver tights and luchadore mask, executed a textbook vertical suplex on Holly's unresisting body. "Spikerdriver's a real natural, this is his first time too," continued Maeve. "I've done this before, myself, so did that Holly girl, shame she took that nasty slam early on, I think it hurt her back and put her out of the fight before she could get started." "And...how...did you do...?" asked Fan, a little bewildered by the fast-talking irish girl. "Oh I think I lost, I don't really remember, I took quite a blow to the noggin!" Maeve giggled a little. Lifting Holly's limp form off the ground, Spikerdriver heaved with audible effort as he bodyslammed her unconscious body. The rookie wrestler stepped back, catching his breath and then whooping loudly in celebration. An announcer's voice came over the ring. "Holly Brockler has been defeated in the ring of combat. Spikerdriver, you may deliver your finishing blow. Vanquish her!" Glancing around, a little unsure of what to do, Spikerdriver stood over Holly's unconscious form. After pacing around her body, he leapt into the air and delivered a heavy elbow drop straight into her chest. The hawaiian girl shuddered once, spit spraying from her mouth with the impact. Holly was quickly removed from the ring. Spikerdriver went back into the waiting pen as the crowd cheered. ------ "This is a special message board invitational?" asked Lalita. "Yeah," answered Spikerdriver. "The organizers said we were just waiting for the extra fighters to clear out. I got lucky and had a warm-up match with the last one." "I was told it's a sort of...league try-out event," said a younger guy in a blue judo gi. "When I told them I'm Chokehead on the boards, they gave me some spiel about getting to learn from local talent." "The local talent wasn't much trouble for me," said Spikerdriver, chuckling. "You're new at this?" Fan gave him a discerning look. "Because I am too." "Heh, then get ready for some fun," replied Spikerdriver. "That wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it'd be. Guess I'm a natural. Or I got lucky." "I've fought before, it's really a blast, even if it hurts a lot," said Maeve, rapidly. "There must be at least 9 or 10 of us here, that's so lovely! I wonder if everybody but me is a rookie? That means the advantage is mine! Hee hee!" Fan tried to ignore the increasingly annoying little irish girl. "Looks like they're getting ready to start. There's a big stack of namecards over there." She glanced over to Lalita. "Feeling ready?" "S-sort of," replied Lalita. "Are you nervous?" "Completely," said Fan. "Some of these boardies look as tough as nails." "First names are going up," said Spikerdriver, jumping in place to stay warm. ------ Two namecards were hung on the hooks. "LITTLE SUNNY" and "NICASIO". A toned greek guy in blue briefs stepped into the ring, raising his hands to the audience as the match was announced. "Next match! Nicasio, versus Little Sunny!" Looking on in disbelief, Fan slowly turned to Lalita. "Looks like I'm first in line...wish me luck, Lali?" She gave her friend a bit of a longing look. Lalita nodded to her, taking one of her hands and squeezing it tight before Fan turned and headed into the ring. She looked up with a weak smile as the audience cheered her entrance, clasping her hands together and bowing at two sections of onlookers before turning to face her opponent. Nicasion offered a hand, smiling. Cautiously, Fan shook it, relieved when the decision did not end with the match beginning prematurely. She backed away as the bell sounded. Her hands raised in a loose posture, Fan approached Nicasio too quickly and found herself grappling with the greek fighter. She looked outmatched rather fast, but as Nicasio leaned in to get a better grip on her, she fell backwards and pulled on his body. Using her opponent's momentum, Fan took him to the ground. She sat on his back and delivered two chops to his neck, stunning the greek fighter and giving her time to try to apply a choke hold. Nicasio struggled, and soon forced his opponent's arms off of his throat. Not giving up her advantage, Fan scuttled forward and wrapped her legs around his neck. However, Nicasio continued to stand, lifting the chinese girl that attached herself to his body. "Let go, Fan!" shouted Lalita. "You're not in control!" Hearing her friend, Fan did not see any reason to release her leglock chokehold. At least, she did not see one until Nicasio grabbed hold of her body and pulled it closer to his. She squeezed her legs as tightly as she could, but the greek fighter did not falter as he held his opponent firmly upside-down with her legs desperately wrapped around his head. Suddenly, he drove her down into the mat. Fan's head exploded with pain as her leglock flew open. She clutched her skull, rolling over several times to try and buy time to recover. Fan was surprised to see Nicasio waving to her, motioning for her to stand before he continued the match. After trying to keep a distance from her opponent, Fan lost her patience and threw a deep middle kick. Nicasio took the kick in order to grapple with the chinese girl, immediately causing her to worry. Fan could tell that he was more experienced that up-close, so she could only try to react to his actions. The greek fighter bent down, grabbing Fan around her waist tightly. She rapidly lifted knee strikes and dropped elbows, bruising her opponent but not shaking him loose. Nicasio planted his feet and lifted her onto his shoulders, holding her body tightly in a fireman's carry. Fan could barely struggle, only able to kick her feet and pull at his hands. Nicasio turned several times, disorienting his opponent long enough for him to execute his next maneuver. He pushed his arms up, lifting Fan much higher overhead before yanking her down. Fan was able to squeak in surprise before she was slammed belly-first onto her opponent's knee. The chinese girl made a low-pitched noise as she rolled to the mat, curled up in the fetal position. She gasped for air, unable to move. After waiting a few moments, Nicasio forced Fan back onto her feet. She could only clutch her belly, unable to fight back as the greek fighter applied a front facelock. He kicked his legs up, driving her head into the floor as he fell. Wrapping his legs around her body, Nicasio squeezed the wind from her body with his thighs as he bent her neck harshly. Fan tried her best to get free, soon slapping her bare feet against the mat as she thrashed. Nicasio released his bodyscissors, still holding her head as he slowly got to his feet. Pulling one of Fan's arms over his head, Nicasio then lifted and held her prone, upside-down and about to receive a vertical suplex. The greek fighter held her tightly upright, taking careful steps towards the edge of the ring. Fan's legs wavered in the air, her face scrunched up in fearful anticipation. "She's had enough," lamented Lalita. "She's had enough." "That reminds me of my first match, it was a rough debut but I think I'm better for it," rambled Maeve. "She'll be better for it too!" Nicasio slammed Fan down in front of him. She bent in half as she landed on top of one of the wooden barriers, stomach-first. The chinese girl gagged hard enough to dry-heave, spasming as she lay draped over the ring wall. Her opponent let her lay there for a few seconds as he played to the crowd, who cheered him on. Nicasio grabbed hold of Fan by her waist, lifting her off the barrier only to throw her headfirst onto the mat. She lay sprawled on her face, breathing rapidly and glowing with sweat under the arena lights. Fan protested loudly as Nicasio pulled her up onto her feet. "No...NO!...leave me on the floor...leave me on-DAWWWWWWWW!!" A hard kick to the gut left her doubled over, eyes and mouth wide until a short uppercut lifted into her chin. "UHN!" Fan lay on her back, head lolling left and right weakly. Her opponent picked up one of her bare feet, dragging her towards the hanging namecards. Halfway there, he paused to step over her leg and apply a harsh twist to her ankle, causing her body to spasm once in pain. Once he reached the namecards, Nicasio pulled the chinese girl up onto her feet, holding her upright by the back of her throat. She could barely stand, arms hanging limp as her lower lip pouted forward loosely. Her half-open glossy gaze stared out at the waiting pen, unable to focus. Nicasio pointed at "LITTLE SUNNY" namecard, looking up at the crowd. "Little Sunny has been defeated in the ring of combat," said the announcer. "Nicasio, you may deliver your finishing blow. Vanquish her!" Lalita looked on in fear as Nicasio pressed Fan overhead and dropped her onto the mat. The chinese girl coughed wetly, barely able to writhe. Nicasio hooked one of her legs with one arm and cradled her neck with the other, lifting her off the mat and holding her horizontally in front of his chest. Fan reached out desperately for help, grasping at thin air. Nicasio began squeezing his arms together, bending his opponent sideways at the waist and pushing her head and left leg closer together. Fan's body shuddered as the pressure increased, her cries of pain growing louder and more frightening. A prolonged shriek ended in an inhuman squeak as she suddenly folded unnaturally sideways with an audible crack, her left knee resting against her cheek. Fan's face was frozen in a cry of silent pain, her eyes squeezed shut and her mouth wide open. Her limbs hung limp for several seconds until Nicasio released her. Fan lay facedown on the mat, completely motionless. Nicasio took her name card and tore it in half, letting it flutter over her body as he left the ring. "FAN!!" cried Lalita, watching her friend get dragged unceremoniously off the mat. "GET UP, FAN!! Get up..." "That was rough, but I've seen people get it worse," muttered Maeve to herself out loud. "Just means it's a tough tournament, that's okay, I've been in one before, I'm just as tough!" ------ "Next match! Clover Maeve, versus Lady Kraken!" Maeve skipped into the ring, the little irish girl's long brunette hair hanging in her eyes. She removed her long green skirt, dropping it on the edge of the mat. Maeve wore a clover-motif leotard that left her limbs and back bare. Her opponent was a large and wide girl, whose one-piece tights left little to the imagination. Her black hair hung in long curls, matching the tendril-patterned facepaint over her eyes. Maeve ran towards Lady Kraken at the bell, trying to take the sizable girl to the mat and failing quickly. Lady Kraken shoved Maeve away, causing the irish fighter to tumble head over heels. She ran into Lady Kraken again, grabbing hold of one of her legs and trying to pull it off-balance. Lady Kraken clapped her hand over the back of Maeve's neck, forcing the little irish girl to look up at her before shoving her face-first onto the floor. Maeve began to get up, but her opponent grabbed hold of her and yanked her off the canvas. The irish girl flailed in mid-air before she was pancaked down onto the mat, laying on her stomach and gasping for breath. Grabbing handfuls of hair, Lady Kraken pulled her opponent onto her feet and forced her to follow her a few steps to the right. Maeve struggled valiantly as she was slowly bent over. A hard headbutt to her spine sent the irish girl back to the ground, at least until she was pulled upright once again by her hair. Lady Kraken applied a harsh bearhug, lifting Maeve off her feet before crushing her back until she screamed and then hurling her across the ring. Maeve painfully tried to crawl away as she heard her opponent coming closer. A hand clasped around her ankle and dragged her frantically-struggling body back to the center of the ring. Lady Kraken scooped her off the canvas, lifting her high overhead. She let the little irish girl cry out in fear, kicking and beating at the arms that held her captive. Then, she slammed Maeve stomach-first onto the mat. The irish girl clutched at her belly, a little bit of blood on her lips as she gagged. Lady Kraken took her time setting up Maeve for a harsh belly-to-belly suplex, spiralling the girl down onto the mat with her weight and momentum. Maeve bounced and flopped, clearly unable to continue the match. Her opponent forced her off the ground once again to apply another bearhug. Maeve shook her head, howling until she coughed up a little bit more blood while her opponent squeezed the life out of her. Throwing the irish fighter towards the namecard hooks, Lady Kraken approached the prone girl and then lifted her off the mat. She held Maeve high overhead like a broken doll, the irish girl's limbs dangling as she gasped for breath and stared up at the lights. "Clover Maeve has been defeated in the ring of combat." Maeve began whimpering rapidly as she heard the announcer declare her loss. "Lady Kraken, you may deliver your finishing blow. Vanquish her!" "NOOOOO!!" screamed Maeve, shaking her head and trying to rock herself free from Lady Kraken's grasp. Her opponent held her tightly, then slammed her onto the mat. Maeve lay spreadeaged on her back, only able to writhe as she tried to move. Lady Kraken stepped over her body, standing over her head. Then, she sat down. Maeve's body spasmed hard, flopping to a rest and no longer resisting. Lady Kraken stood, and flipped her opponent over onto her stomach. She sat down harshly once again, crushing Maeve's back and forcing a hoarse cry from the irish girl as she flopped like a fish once again. Leaning down, Lady Kraken pulled back one of Maeve's arms and applied a chickenwing chokehold. Then, she leaned back. Maeve's bare feet kicked rapidly against the mat as her back arched painfully. She pulled at the arm around her throat, tongue protruding as she screamed, "NO NO NO NOHHHWGH UUUUUUGHH, UUUAAAAAAGH!!...AGH...AGH...WAUGH!!!" Maeve's final screech came as her back snapped loudly, bending unnaturally as Lady Kraken leaned far back. The irish girl's feet twitched, and part of her spine clearly protruded against the inside of her chest. Her free hand tightened into a claw, shivering in mid-air as her wide eyes bugged out. Lady Kraken released her other arm, reaching up to take hold of her head. With a wet crack, she twisted Maeve's head hard to the side and snapped her neck. Lady Kraken slowly stood, leaving Maeve facedown on the mat as she walked to the edge of the ring. She returned carrying Maeve's long green skirt, and kicked the irish girl over onto her back. Maeve stared up at the ceiling, eyes and mouth frozen wide as her tongue hung over her lip. Lady Kraken tossed the skirt over Maeve's face, leaving the irish girl spreadeagled under a makeshift veil as she left the ring. ------ Those still remaining in the waiting pen found themselves locked inside after one tried to leave, and were only able to exit via the ring. Chokehead tried to leave before another match was called, but warning gunshots ricocheting off the fence drove him and the others back. "We're trapped?" Lalita chewed her finger. "But I can't...I can't..." "Next match! Chokehead, versus Steel!" "I live for this..." Spikerdriver hopped in place, staying psyched up. "They never said," Lalita ran her hand through her hair. "They never said it'd be like this!" "Fight to survive, Silk Slammer." Spikerdriver tapped his luchadore mask. "You might want to walk in there as a piece of meat, but I'm gonna be a warrior." "Is that what it means to be a fighter?" Lalita stared on as Chokehead's face was beaten to a pulp in the ring. "That's what I always wanted?" "It looks like a lesson we all would have to learn sometime," replied Spikerdriver, watching Chokehead being dragged off the canvas. "Fighting can be glorious or humiliating. Sometimes the stakes are low, but sometimes they're as high as it gets." "Next match! Spikerdriver, versus Samson!" "See you on the other side, Silk Slammer." Spikerdriver headed into the ring, as Lalita looked down at herself for a few moments. ------ Spikerdriver had won his match decisively, and was led out of the ring to an unknown location. Lalita played with her silken sash, panic giving way to a strange resignation. "Next match! Iron Maki, versus Silk Slammer!" Lalita shivered, taking her time before finally stepping onto the mat. She let her larger sari fall from her shoulders and onto the floor, before heading to the center of the ring. Iron Maki was a japanese girl in a metal-studded swimsuit, pads strapped over her limbs. She raised her hands forward, inviting Lalita to approach. The two fighters collided, wrestling for control. Lalita slid her arms down to Maki's waist, trying to pull her to the mat. Maki stood her ground, hugging Lalita tightly before snapping a sudden headbutt into her forehead. The east indian girl's eyes stared into space as her head jerked back. Maki gripped Lalita by her shoulders, pulling her down as she repeatedly lifted her knee into her gut. Lalita attempted to defend herself, but the continued belly blows left her jiggling on her feet until her opponent let her fall to the mat. She curled up tightly, gasping as she clutched her stomach. Maki took hold of Lalita by her hair, forcing her to stand up. The east-indian girl threw Maki's arms off of her with a shout, grabbing her and pushing her into one of the wooden barriers. She held the japanese girl against the fence, trying to catch her breath while holding her opponent prone. Then, she turned and threw Maki over her hip with a judo-style takedown. Maki slammed against the mat, groaning as she turned over onto her stomach and began to get up. Lalita dove forward to capitalize, putting Maki into a front facelock. The japanese girl planted her feet, then heaved and ran forward. Lalita cried out as her back was smashed into the wooden barrier, bending over the top of the fence. Two more hard shoulderbutts to her stomach left the east indian girl doubled over. Maki took hold of her head, yanking it up and then slamming it down into the top of the fence. Lalita's skull shuddered as it bounced off the hard edge. She staggered back, spinning around as she stumbled in circles. Turning to face Maki, Lalita's face collided with the japanese girl's thrusting sole. A hard yakuza kick flipped the east indian girl head over heels. Spitting out some blood, Lalita shivered as she stared down at the splatter on the mat. "Mmuh...toofth...AHHHHHNNNN!!" Her mouth hung wide open as Maki's elbow drop sank into one of her kidneys. She began to reach for her aching flank, but flopped like a fish as the japanese girl executed a full body splash. Her studded swimsuit added an extra level of pain, and Lalita could barely focus as she felt her opponent trap both of her arms and lay on top of her back. Maki pinned Lalita down, and then began rhythmically headbutting the back of her skull. The east indian girl kicked her bare feet against the mat with each impact, growing more limp with every thud. Once she felt her opponent no longer resisting as hard as she had at the beginning of the beating, Maki relented and pulled the girl to her feet. "G-guh...uhn!...nn-nuh...nuh!" Lalita was almost comically punchdrunk as she tried to outwrestle her opponent, only able to get herself facelocked with one leg held tightly off the floor. Maki lifted her into the air, holding her prone and about to receive a fisherman buster. Lalita's free leg kicked forward and backward, trying in vain to get free. "Can't...can't take another..." thought Lalita. "Can't fight any more..." Her body folded and flopped as she was dropped headfirst into the floor. Lalita was a dead weight as Maki hauled her off the mat, springing to life for a moment to gag when Maki chopped her across the throat. She fell to her knees, staring forward glassily. "Silk Slammer has been defeated in the ring of combat. Iron Maki, you may deliver your finishing blow. Vanquish her!" Though she felt resigned to her fate as she heard her name declared as the loser of the match, Lalita's eyes welled slightly with moisture as Iron Maki held her upright. She looked up into the japanese girl's face, barely conscious and filled with woe. Maki held her prone for a few moments, then stepped behind her. Arms wrapped around Lalita's head and neck, one hand firmly placed against the side of her skull. "Nn...no...no..." she stammered, pulling weakly at her opponent's arms as they tightened. "Nnuuh! Nuh!! UHHHN!!" Lalita writhed and thrashed as Maki began throttling her, also cutting off the blood flow to her brain. "NNUHHH!!! NUH!! UH!! Uh!!...uh..." Lalita's face went slack as she began to foam at the mouth, the world going dark around her. As she lost consciousness, she only thought one thing. "I'm coming...Fan..." ------ New Reply: User: Spikerdriver Message Body: tourney was the bomb!! kicked some ass and had some laughs. better see more of you at the next one!! New Reply: User: FloralFight17 Message Body: sounds like fun lol I'll be there!1 ------ Lalita was startled to awaken, looking up at harsh lights. She winced as she turned her head, seeing Holly Brockler as the hawaiian girl groaned and shuffled out of the recovery room. It took a few moments for Lalita to realize that she had a sheet draped over her body. Sliding out from under it, her feet felt a little numb against the cold tiled floor. She looked around, seeing one or two unconscious fighters, and several more covered by sheets. A lump raised in her throat as she pulled one aside and saw Fan. The chinese girl's face was still locked in its silent cry of pain, her body deathly still. Lip quivering, Lalita ran a hand over Fan's cheek before replacing the sheet. She found Chokehead and Clover Maeve in similar states. "They must have thought I was...that Iron Maki had..." Lalita turned quickly as she heard someone approaching. Panicked, she spotted a fire exit and fled the recovery room. She had stumbled through the dark for over an hour, barefoot and wearing only her fighting attire, before finding a familiar streetlight. Lalita had no idea what to do, staring up at the light until she felt a hand on her shoulder. Another hand clasped over her mouth before she could scream. She turned her head, seeing a masked girl in a hoodie craning her head to look Lalita in the eyes. The urban ninja spoke quietly. "I'm here to help."