No one could reach me. They tried—Persephone, Phobos, Deimos, and even Eris, tried. They just couldn’t reach me. I didn’t even know if it was because I wouldn’t let them or if it was because of something outside of my control. Hell, I couldn’t think. Period. I felt like I was going to explode at any moment from everything that was going on inside me. Anger. No. Rage. Frustration. Betrayal. Sadness. Confusion. Fear. I felt like I had either lost my mind or everyone else had. Both prospects were frightening.
I couldn’t stay there. I needed to get away. I needed to go somewhere safe where I could find an outlet. I teleported away without a word. None of them seemed to attempt to pursue me. I really didn’t matter to any of them, did I?
Fighting had always been my outlet, but I couldn’t fight anyone I knew. The release couldn’t be in a controlled, self-defense environment where I was strictly limited to light sparing. I needed grit and blood with no rules. I needed someone to hit me. I needed to hit someone back without there being any consequences.
Fortunately, as wonderful as it was, Boston was still a big city with a lot of illegal activity. Underground, drugged-up, cage-fighting was just one of those illegal ventures. It was just what I needed.
For a while now, I’d kept a list of such cage-matches. I updated it every year for this very purpose. The most well-known one was probably the one most out of place. It was owned by some trust fund baby in the rich part of Boston, the Back Bay-Beacon Hill neighborhood. The area held attached houses that were at least four floors each. Five, if the owner had a basement and, based on the rumors, this guy did.
When I knocked on the door of the brick house, I was immediately greeted by the old, stereotypical British butler type who gave me a disgusted look of you don’t belong in this neighborhood. “May I help you, Miss?”
I didn’t bother with a greeting or pleasantries. I just said, “I’m here for Mr. Hide’s game day celebration.” That was the code phrase that had been passed around the streets. Rumor had it, no matter who you were, that phrase would get you in the door in two seconds flat.
My time was a little slower, but I chalked it up to the shock the butler experienced. I guessed there weren’t many—if any—women who came to these matches. I could tell that the butler wanted to ask more questions. He didn’t, though. “R-right this way, Miss,” he stammered, allowing me to enter the home.
I didn’t pay much attention to the house. I was led through the foyer, into the kitchen, and to the door to the basement. Well, it was technically a wine cellar, but I guess Mr. Hide preferred whiskey to wine. No wine meant no need for a cellar, so he had turned it into a ring for his little side-business. Based on how everything looked, that’s how I assumed it went, anyway.
Sure enough, I was the only woman in the room. No one paid me much attention. That was partly because, for viewing purposes, I made myself blend into the back. Until I found the right opponent, I just wanted to spectate. Pretty much every man there was wearing a polo-shirt, Bermuda shorts, woven leather belts, and boat shoes. Some even wore expensive sunglasses or had them pushed to the top of their heads. So this is what money smelled like.
The fighters were the only people who didn’t fit the rich look. You couldn’t tell where they landed on the social ladder. It was difficult to tell a person’s income when all they wore were athletic shorts. The only clue I had about them was the fact they were there, fighting for the pleasure of the elite. That and their tattoos, all the fighters had at least one. Some suggested military history. Others indicated time served in prison. Some were even signs that America wasn’t their native country. I had a good pool to choose from.
I knew my opponent the moment I laid eyes on him. He was Mr. Hide’s golden boy and champion. He sat with the trust fund baby, laughing in amusement the entire night until it was time for him to get in the ring. He had to be six and a half feet tall—at least. His biceps were as big as his head, a sure sign of heavy use of performance-enhancing drugs. The tan was either too heavily sprayed on, or he had sat in the tanning bed for way too long. It was probably the spray. I couldn’t imagine there was a tanning bed on the planet that could fit him.
I stood by and watched the roided-up monster of a man take on the two guest champions of the night. He made quick work of both of them, practically breaking them in half. Yet, he barely had a scratch on him. For the grand finale event, I could agree with every spectator. It was boring.
So Mr. Hides took the ring to say, “Gentlemen, I have a rare opportunity for you all. I can tell you’re all still hungry for a good fight. As such, I have the perfect thing in mind. I will double the winning pool for anyone who is feeling lucky enough to challenge Sergai. Winner takes all! Any takers?”
The bloodthirsty rich boys had all gone very quiet. Yeah, they wanted a fight, but no one wanted to leave the place in a full-body cast. Honestly, in my opinion, that was very wise of them.
But I wasn’t feeling wise that night. I was feeling crazy.
After a long pause, I shouted across the cellar, “You’re on.” The group was pleasantly surprised a volunteer had stepped up, but they all looked curiously at my now-hooded form. Some of them were already starting to underestimate me because of my height and how Sergai dwarfed me.
“Now that’s the spirit!’ Mr. Hides called out. “Let the challenger approach.” I rolled my eyes under my hood. This was a cage fight in a basement, not a fight between Gladiators in the Colosseum. Who did this guy think he was? Nero? Caesar?
I stepped through the crowd and into the ring, which was just an open space the spectators had vacated for the fight. It would change shape and size throughout the night, depending on who was fighting, how many people were afraid of the fighters, and how wild the fight got. Obviously, when Sergai came in, the ring got as big as it could. The laughter spread more when the spectators saw me standing next to Sergai, displaying the full height difference between us. It became hysterical when I pushed my hood back, revealing myself. Unlike the butler, none of these assholes were curious or worried about how a woman had entered a fight amongst men. They just found it hilarious I thought I could compete.
“Are you lost, little girl?” Mr. Hides jested, nudging Sergai’s bulging bicep.
“Well, are you Mr. Hides?” I asked.
“The one and only.”
“And is this your champion?” I pointed to Sergai.
“Of course!” Sergai flexed his muscles, smirking down at me.
“And is this an underground cage-fight with no rules or regulations?”
“Well, yes, but—”
I cut Mr. Hides off before he could finish. “Then, no. I’m not lost.”
Lowering the children’s karaoke mic from his mouth, Mr. Hides leaned in and whispered, “How did you even find this place?”
“Does it matter?” I asked at a normal volume.
“Are you a narc?”
“Mr. Hides, let’s not pretend the only reason you haven’t been arrested isn’t that you’re clever at hiding this place.” No, the reason why Hides’ Cage Fighting Ring hadn’t been shut down was that his father had managed to pay off local law enforcement. They avoided the neighborhood and went elsewhere even though everyone, even the chief of police, knew what was actually going on. It wasn’t hard to figure out. “If I was a narc, I wouldn’t be here.”
“I just don’t want any trouble,” Hides hissed at me.
Trouble? The guy was running illegal fights and gambling in his basement. In any other state, he would already be doing time. “And what kind of trouble could I possibly make for you?”
“Well, I don’t want you to sue me or accuse us of anything when you get your ass handed to you, little girl.”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “Your word against mine, isn’t it? If you and Daddy can buy the cops off, what chance in hell would I have?”
Mr. Hides seemed surprised I had called him out without a filter. He had to cough to clear his throat and compose himself. “Well, boys, it seems the little lady wants to give it her best shot. What do we think?”
Most of the men in the crowd still laughed. A few made comments like, “No! She’s too cute to hit!” and “Don’t mess her up!”
Enough of the audience offered positive statements that they convinced Mr. Hides to turn to Sergai and ask, “What do you think, Sergai?”
Sergai had been stoic and quiet the entire time. He hadn’t even laughed with the rest of the men. He simply regarded me with the most neutral, appraising look. I knew that look well.
It was the look others with military history would give me. Though they could never put their finger on it, something about my aura let them know I had also seen combat. It was the look of recognizing common ground and respecting it.
“Let’s see what kind of punch she packs,” Sergai said in a thick Russian accent, just as I had expected. That could only mean one thing. He was a Spetsnaz, Russia’s answer to the American Green Berets. Perfect.
Once Sergai had given his consent, the crowd cheered. “Alright, little lady.” If Mr. Hide kept calling me little girl or little lady, Sergai wasn’t the one I was going to be punching. “Sergai wants to give you a chance, so you get a free hit. If he’s impressed, then you’ll have yourself a fight.” Judging by the smirk on the rich boy’s face, he wasn’t expecting there to be any more fights for the rest of the night.
“Deal,” I said flatly. Mr. Hides vacated the ring, leaving me and Sergai surrounded by betting trust fund babies. There was still the look of respect being exchanged between us. Sergai took the respect further, uncrossing his arms to offer a hand. “May the best fighter win.”
I returned the handshake. Even though Sergai’s meaty hand almost entirely engulfed mine, it was my grip that kept him looking between my face and my hand. “May the best fighter win,” I repeated.
“Enough of the pleasantries, you two,” Mr. Hide interrupted. “Little girl, this is your one and only shot. So take it whenever you’re ready.”
Taking a deep breath, I started cracking my knuckles, lacing my fingers together to pull my hands back. I stretched my neck from side to side. I gave Sergai one last respectful look before allowing my entire body weight to fall into a defensive stance.
Sergai’s eyebrows furrowed together as he scanned my body. It wasn’t a pointless scan, though. He was checking my form. The more he looked, the more his brows drew together in confusion and a touch of admiration.
I confirmed everything he was thinking with my last two words to him. “Dasvidaniya, motherfucker.” Before he could react, I shoved my open hand into Sergai’s torso, slapping his belly.
To everyone else in the crowd, it looked like Sergai was throwing the match in my favor and over-acting while he did it. That was the tricky thing about the systema fighting style. It looked deceptively simple and harmless. Unfortunately, for Sergai it wasn’t over-acting. I really had dropped him to a knee with a mere slap in just the right spot. His tiny face scrunched up in pain, and his cheeks turned red. An instant was all it took for sweat to start beading his forehead. No one else could tell, but I could hear him struggling to breathe, and it took him a second to recover.
When Sergai did manage to catch his breath, he looked up at me in surprise. I just crouched back into my fighting stance. “Hold nothing back,” I told him.