He never once told us where we were going that night. Gyro simply led the way and we followed, hoping that he had some kind of 'possible' solution to all of this trouble we had gotten ourselves into. We owed Jeremy a lot of money for the blood that he had given me, and he was looking to collect. No more excuses, no more extensions. Tomorrow night before 3 AM, or I am going to have one hell of a problem on my hands. >From what I understand from some of Gyro and Dion's gossip that night, Jeremy was well connected in the downtown area. There was no WAY that I'd be able to hide from or fight them all. Not even if I tried. This was serious, and we were pretty much on our own in terms of making it right.
"Gyro, we've been walking for almost forty five minutes now. Can you at LEAST tell me where the hell we're going?" I said, letting the nervousness of what the outcome of all this might be finally settle into my waking reality.
"No...I told you I can't do that. Not out here. Not anywhere where someone might overhear us talking. It's a 'hush-hush' kinda place. You'll just have to trust me until we get there. Ok?" He said, walking even faster.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Dion asked, evidently just as annoyed with Gyro's secrecy as I was.
"Yes! Will you guys just come on and quit being so fussy about it? I told you that I had a plan, and I do. Leave it at that for now." That was the reply, and although Dion and I looked at one another with a high level of doubt and frustration, we decided to take him at his word. A slight chance is better than no chance at all.
Further and further we traveled, getting further and further away from the city. The streets were getting darker as the bright lights faded out into the skyline behind us, and soon we found ourselves entering a slightly more 'suburban' setting. It was at that point that Gyro informed us that we were 'almost there'. However...I can't imagine anything helpful being this far out into nowhere. Anxious to know what he was up to, I thought about taking a peek into his thoughts. Just enough to know what was on his mind and whether we should be talking him out of it so we can find a GOOD way to get out of our predicament. But the truth is, I was flustered, worried...and he kept moving around a lot. I didn't have a chance to concentrate long enough to break in. Everytime I tried to focus, I'd begin to slow down my pace a little bit, and he'd be constantly telling me to keep up. Without being able to focus, my reading ability wasn't much good. Sighhhh...I really do have to get better at this stuff. Then, in the distance, we saw a bright light at the top of what looked like a small suburban mountain of an inclining road. All of the houses and buildings around us were dark and empty except for this one 'oasis' in the night, and Gyro's pace picked up to almost a trot as he headed towards it. He began marching up a steep grassy hill and we followed him, a small 24 hour convenience store was sitting on top of it. The only source of light for the whole area. The only 'lit' building around. By the time we had gotten to the top of the hill, I was beginning to wonder if Gyro was just as lost as we were and needed to ask for a map or something.
"This is it...come on." Gyro smiled.
"Considering that the only thing up here is a convenience store and an empty parking lot, I'm going to have to claim complete confusion on this one, dude." I answered, wondering what we could possibly find in here to help us.
"You needed money, right? I'm bringing you to where the money is. So...let's get paid."
I stopped for a secnd. "I am NOT robbing a convenience store!" I scowled.
"Who said anything about robbing ANYBODY? Just come ON! Trust me!" Gyro grabbed me by the hand and pulled me through the door, Dion close behind us.
The inside of the store was extremely bright, the white lights illuminating everything so much that it almost caused you to squint just being there. Even the dingy tile of the floor was hard to look at. "Stay here..." Gyro went up to the counter, and had a few hushed spoken words with the guy behind the counter while Dion and I stood there and tapped our feet nervously at wasting time even being in this place.
"Do you have any idea what this about?" I asked him, but Dion simply shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes.
"I have no idea what he's on. I'm thinking we'll just have to let him work whatever magic he's planning to work in this place."
"I dunno....this doesn't feel right." I said.
"It doesn't feel right to me either, Justin. But if it's one thing I know about our friend, Gyro...it's that he's got a million surprises."
Gyro finished his conversation with the man at the counter, and I saw the guy glance over at us as he gave Gyro a single red token. When Gyro came back to happily greet us and walked over to an arcade game in a dark corner behind the ice machine....Dion and I were not impressed. We walked over in disbelief as we watched him slip the token into the game and start it up as though nothing was wrong with this picture. I had had enough. "Dude...what the hell are you DOING?"
"Don't sweat it..." He said.
"'Don't sweat it'??? We're in some really deep SHIT here Gyro! And you drag us all the way across town to play a fucking VIDEO GAME???" How could he NOT take this seriously?
Gyro didn't even answer me at first, he just fixed his concentration on the game, and then, as he hit a certain icon that flew by on the screen...something strange happened. There was a swirl of graphics and numbers that flooded the screen, as though it was malfunctioning and getting ready to shut down. Suddenly, the screen went black, with the exception of a few blanks to type in a 'high score' of sorts. I watched closely as Gyro used the joystick to type in a seven digit code into the 'high scores' section, in dark red letters and numbers, and hit enter. "Voila!" He grinned happily, and Dion and I stared in amazement as the game began to physically move itself forward and away from the wall...
...Revealing a darkened doorway with a flight of descending stairs heading towards what looked like a basement. "You guys ready?" Gyro said, and happily marched inside.
Dion and I looked at each other, and he said, "Make that....a million and ONE surprises." That said, we followed him in to the darkness and the game moved back to close the 'door' behind us. I could hear it start up again with it's bells and whistles, going back to the disguise of a regular arcade game, and was almost impressed by the beauty of its deception. Not bad, not bad at all.
As we walked down the long flight of stairs, apparently further down into the center of the giant hill we walked up to get here, I began hearing noises coming from the distance. It sounded like....'music'...and people. Lots of people. Cheering people. And when we came to the end of a long hallway, we were met by a guy who looked to be almost 500 pounds if not more. He had a full beard, almost 8 feet tall, and was as wide as the door he was guarding. "Gyro...long time no see. I was starting to think that you were losing your balls or something." He said, his voice deep enough to rumble in your chest. And raspy, sounding as though it took a lot for him just to breathe. But he wasn't just fat, mind you....he was solid. The kind of girth that looked like it could knock over a truck with hardly any effort at all. I can see why they chose him to guard the door.
"Losing my balls? No way. You know me, I never had much of a talent for this stuff myself. That's my boy, Chip, who was good at it." Gyro handed the man a slip of paper from his wallet, and the man scanned it through some small machine that he had strapped to his waist. It covered the scrap of paper with a bright red light for a second, and then he gave it back to him. "Are we all good?" Gyro asked.
"You check out as usual, my friend. Enjoy yourselves. Tell Chip to drop by sometime too. The game ain't the same without him, you know?" The man answered.
"You got it." Gyro waited until the ogre of a man opened up a huge door, almost like the door to a giant safe, and the room was instantly flooded with the roar of a cheering crowd, and the pulsating vibrations of heavy rock/rave music. I mean HEAVY! How they could contain the sound behind even the thickest of doors was beyond me. The air was thick with heat, musty, almost liquid with a heavy invisible fog. The other people inside were screaming loudly, frenzied by their own uncontrollable adrenaline rush, and every now and then, I would hear the crowd shout in unison. Almost concert like in their response to whatever it was that they were watching. We moved closer, weeding our way through the masses of others....95% of them being vampires like us. But there were humans in the room as well. I could sense them.
The floor was littered with garbage, and sticking to the soles of our shoes as we walked. More garbage rained down on top of us from the balcony overhead and the bleachers set up on either side of us. The noise was almost deafening. "Gyro! Where are we?" I shouted.
"You'll see! Just follow me! Come on, we've gotta get through this madness first!" He said, and without even turning around, he kept wading through the people.
"Hey cutie..." Said some older vampire boy as I squeezed past him. And he licked my cheek! I wiped it off as quickly as possible! Yuck! What the hell? I felt someone else pinch my ass, another girl grabbed my crotch and squeezed hard enough for me to yelp in pain. By the time we had gotten Gyro to slow down and actually talk to us again, I had been molested in more ways than I care to count.
"What IS this place???" I shouted above the music, and Dion put a hand on my shoulder to remind me that I didn't have to yell and that they could hear me just fine.
"Listen...all that money that I've been throwing around at the clubs and all? Well...this is where it comes from."
Dion was a bit puzzled, "Wait...what do you mean, 'it comes from here'?" Gyro motioned for us to climb up on one of the bleachers where the screaming fans were howling away, and then pointed back out to the center of this huge arena that we had stumbled upon. When I turned to look at what all the excitement was about...I couldn't believe my eyes.
It was a humongous glass cage in the center of the room with a dark painted canvas beneath it, and inside were two people. One guy was about 20 years old, the other boy was maybe 15 tops...and they were going at it like there was no tomorrow! Punches, Kicks, backflips, elbows, knees in the groin...every brutal dirty trick in the handbook of fighting was being exploited as viciously as possible. My mouth dropped open as I saw this 15 year old kid smash his fist into the chest and face of this other boy with enough power to almost shake the floor. Blood was exploding out of this guy's face, and he was too stunned to do anything more than take it and hope to recover before this young teen killed him. I cringed as the boy used his forearm to break the guys nose, and then he grabbed a hold of his arm, twisting it behind him....and after a brief moment of waiting for the crowd to 'beg for it'....he lifted it up, mercilessly snapping the bones until the back of the man's right hand was resting on the back of his LEFT shoulder! The people went wild, and the music seemed to pump out even harder beats as the boy let the guy's defeated body fall to the ground. I don't care what ANYBODY says...vampire or not, that HAD to hurt!
"There's a lot of money in competing here. A LOT! My friend, Chip, lives with me and my girlfriend, he makes a good living just getting in the ring and duking it out with whoever is on the roster. Easy cash! No questions asked. We can make Jeremy's money back, and have enough leftover to party with for the next month if we wanted to! No problem!" Gyro said. "No problem? Um....are you even watching this? Did you just see what that kid DID to that guy?" I looked back over at him, and said, "Dude...I KNOW you're not planning to get in the ring and FIGHT with these people, right?"
"HELL NO!!! Of COURSE not! I can't fight! I'd get blasted in the first round!" He said. Then, there was a slight pause, "Um....actually..." Gyro said, as he cleared his throat, "...I was...I was kinda thinking that....YOU would fight."
My eyes popped wide open in horror! "You were thinking *WHAT*?!?!?!"
"LOOK...it's just a matter of beating the odds in the pool! The gamblers here ALWAYS go for what they know, whoever the big winners from the last fight were! New people come here all the time looking to make some quick money and end up getting their ASSES handed to them right off the bat! A fresh faced blond rookie like you, so early in his crossover...they'll figure you for a wimp and wager HEAVY against you in the first few rounds! It's fool proof!"
"Dude...are you fucking out of your mind? There is no way in HELL..."
Dion jumped in, "They could break every bone in his body, Gyro! This is FULL contact, no holds barred, cut throat pit fighting. Justin's in no position to compete in something like this."
"I'm not doing it, Gyro..." I shouted.
But Gyro interrupted us before we could make a case against him. "Listen, I TOLD you, you're a newcomer. They're EXPECTING you to get your ass pounded in the first few rounds!"
"I'M expecting to get my ass pounded in the first few rounds!!!"
"LISTEN! They don't know about you like I do!" He said, looking over at Dion briefly, knowing he was exposing a secret that he PROMISED he'd keep. "They want you to lose...but you and I both know that you won't! You get in, three or four matches, and you get back out lickety split! By the time they catch on, we will have walked out of here with all the money we need! You can stop when you WANT to, save your winnings, and make more money in ONE night than Kid can make picking pockets for an entire MONTH!" Gyro was anxious, and then he looked over at Dion again...wondering if he should expose any more of my little secret to him. He leaned forward to lower his voice, "I know that this is supposed to be between you and me, Justin...and I'm sorry. Ok? But...if you just...'do what you do'...we can put this whole situation behind us and come out on top."
A shiver of fear ran through me, and I looked over to Dion myself, hoping that his level of reasoning would tell me not to do it. The funny thing is, he looked more worried than I did...but he already knew that, even though it was unexpected...I seemed to have quite a talent for defending myself. Unfortunately, it was about this time that I think his reasoning was beginning to flip to Gyro's side of logic. "Justin...I hate to say it, but he's got a point. And from what I've seen, you can handle yourself pretty well against almost anything. It just might work." He said.
"This is no time to be secretive about what you can do, 'ninja man'. You can TAKE these assholes! I know you can! I've been coming here for a long time, and none of them can do what you do. NONE of 'em! Show 'em what ya got!" He was silently pushing me to do it, and I could feel myself wondering if it was even possible. Then I looked back at the arena, and saw a guy put a foot up on someone's shoulder blades while holding on to both of his arms from behind....and then pull until both arms broke with a sickening snap that I could hear even over the music! Sighhhhh....shit! I did NOT want that to be me! Seeing the distress on my face, Gyro recaptured my attention. "You're a VAMPIRE, Justin! If they break something, you'll heal in a week and it's good as new! Just look at Jun, he's ALWAYS hurting with something. HE gets better..."
"So you're saying it doesn't hurt as much....right?" I asked.
Gyro and Dion exchanged another look and he smiled weakly as he avoided the subject, "Why don't we get you signed up over here, huh? We'll worry about repairs later."
On shakey legs, I followed my suddenly self appointed 'promoters' over to the sign up booth and registered with some old vampire woman that looked and sounded as though she smoked 23 hours out of the day. I could still hear the crowd raging, the sound of bones breaking and backs being slammed hard to the ground below. It wasn't the most inspiring thing to hear when you're getting ready to jump in the middle of it for the first time. And then I did it. I can't believe it....I actually signed my name on the dotted line. Me. Just seeing my name there on the page, scribbled out in ink, the letters written with a trembling hand, was enough to almost make me faint. I didn't know what I was DOING! This wasn't some random event here! This was competition! Everything that I had done before had just kinda....happened. Sparring with Dion, chasing Chad, fighting Comicality, the police officers...all accidental. I didn't CAUSE it to work out for me, my arms, my legs, my whole body was possessed by some other form of energy that I didn't know how to control yet. I happened to get lucky those times. But this was going to be much MUCH different! This was a group of deadly, pain inflicting, well trained, fighting athletes that have probably been doing this since I was four years old! Why the fuck did I let Gyro talk me into this???
The lady gave us a house pager, that would sound off and send a text message when it was time for me to fight. Gyro grabbed it all and came over to join us. "Ok, you've got three guys in front of you, then you're up!" Gyro sat next to me, and noticed the look on my face. "Dude...are you ok?"
I was trembling to the point where I was almost SICK! "Gyro..I don't know about this, man."
"What are you TALKING about? You'll be awesome! Just do what you did with the cops the other night! The kung fu shit had 'em so confused, they didn't know which way to FALL!"
Dion shot me a look, "Cops? WHAT cops?"
"Aw dude! You should have SEEN him! Our boy, Justin, here was TOTALLY going NUTTY on these guys! WHAM! BAM! POW! He was moving soooo fast! I couldn't believe my eyes! He's like one of the best fighters I've ever SEEN!" Gyro bounced excitedly while telling the tale.
"You were fighting cops?" Dion scowled at me and I fixed my eyes back on the arena to avoid his gaze.
"He saved me, Dion. We happened to be too near some vampire's leftover slag, and once they found the bodies they came out in full force to take us down. I was gonna get locked up, and he helped me get away. He did it for me..." Gyro was trying to keep me out of trouble, I suppose. "Don't be mad, Dion. I was trying to take care of him, just like Bryson said. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Still too afraid to turn around, I listened to hear what Dion's reaction would be. He's been keeping secrets for me exactly like I asked him to, and he's probably been one of the most supportive friends that I've had at the lot since I've been there. But I was obviously pushing it WAY over the line, and all I heard was silence from him. Curious of what was going through his mind, I turned my eyes back to him. When I looked at Dion, I didn't see a face of anger...instead it was this intense look of concern. Almost sad, to be honest. As though he was coming to the conclusion that this thing was growing faster than anything he could help me prepare for. That 'anyone' could help me prepare for.
It was at that moment that I could feel his emotions creep into me, Jenna's extra amplifying them by a great deal, and I began to quake inside. Worse than butterflies, he must have been REALLY worried for me. His heart was reaching out for me, and he was confused as to how he was going to be able to control whatever it was that was going on with me. I was already scared about what was happening inside me, but I was now starting to wonder if I should be even more terrified than normal. "Dion..." I said, trying to give him SOME comfort. Even if I was losing my own. "...I'll be ok. I'm learning a little more everyday. I'll figure this out, you'll see. I've got help." Dion wasn't convinced, and neither was I, to be honest. But he put a hand on my shoulder and nodded anyway.
Just then, the crowd jumped up and roared all at once. I saw one of the fighters laid out on the canvas, his face smeared with blood...and if I'm not mistaken...I think he spit out a TOOTH! I shuddered, and Dion gripped my shoulder even tighter. "You DON'T have to do this, Justin. We can walk out of here right now."
"Dude...TRUST me, from what I've heard, fuck around with Jeremy's money...and he will do a LOT worse damage than losing a tooth!" Gyro said, worried more about the consequences we might all have to face if I didn't.
"Gyro...shut up! Justin, listen to me, ok? I'm looking out for you. I am trying to keep you safe. There are other ways for us to make money."
"If we go out robbing stores and snatching purses, the cops will be all over us! One mistake, and they could put out a warrant, come find us at the lot, and shut the whole place down!" Gyro exclaimed.
"I swear, if I hear ONE more word out of you...." Dion was getting pissed now, and the grip on my shoulder left me just long enough to grab Gyro by the collar.
"I'll do it." I said it without even thinking, but it felt right.
Both Gyro and Dion turned around to look at me, "What?"
"I'll do it. Gyro's right. The police are probably already looking for me after what I did a few nights back. If they match that up with missing persons and find me out...I could end up bringing trouble down on EVERYBODY. You guys, Bryson, Taryn...everybody."
"Justin, we could...we can find some kind of better way..." Dion pleaded. But now, it was my turn to put a firm grip on his shoulder.
"Not by tomorrow night, we can't." I told him, "Don't worry so much, ok? I can do this." I gave him the most believable grin that I could manage in order to make him feel better. But that's when our house pager went off.
The text read, "Fighter - 'Renegade' is to report to the arena."
"Renegade?" I looked over at Gyro and he shrugged his shoulders.
"What? I thought it sounded kinda cool!"
I could feel my heart pounding hard as I slowly stood up from my seat. My breathing was labored and ragged, like trying to breathe in a hot steam room. This is it. Here I go. Let's hope I'm a better fighter tonight than I was against those kids that used to kick my ass in high school. Dion and Gyro walked as far down with me as they could before the guards stopped them at the ringside gate. They gave me a big hug before I turned to face the arena. "Take 'em, Justin! Your invinceable!" Gyro shouted behind me. Let's hope he's right.
I stepped into the ring and took a few deep breaths, trembling so bad that I was lightheaded with the shock of it all. The whole square that I was standing on was about 30 feet across, still smudged and stained from the blood they tried to clean up after the last match. And the crowd was surrounding it in a huge circle, chanting, rowdy, out for blood....it seemed as if the whole room was spinning around me as I waited to test my newly found skills, yet again. I had to wait a few moments for the wagers and all to be recorded in their database. Looking up above me at the electronic board...it didn't look like much of ANYBODY had faith in 'Renegade' to win this one. I heard the crowd start up again, and it looked as if my opponent was getting ready to enter the circle with me. The scoreboard lit up, and it was obvious that things were in his favor by far. Looks like Gyro had THAT part of the plan down to a science. However, the match was getting ready to commence, and I laid eyes on the guy I was going to be fighting for the first time. My confusion must have been pretty obvious, because the ref smiled briefly at me in response to my reaction. This was a KID! And I'm not talking a TEENAGER here, I mean he was maybe eleven years old at the MOST! I thought maybe I'd be fighting it out with someone my age or a bit older. Instead, I got this cute little tow headed blond heartbreaker who looked so out of place in this arena that it was almost funny. He fixed a pair of baby blue eyes on me for a second or two, and then began stretching his legs and all, bouncing around like a little professional. Hahaha! I couldn't help but smile.
The announcer's voice came over the loud speaker, "Next match...'Renegade' versus 'Sparrow'!"
They set us up in the center of the ring, and I looked over to Dion and Gyro out in the audience. Was this a joke? I'm not gonna go all out and hit this kid, he's a LITTLE BOY for crying outloud! I'm not THAT much of a jerk!
The bell rang, and I looked forward, catching a split second glance of the kids blue eyes again.....right before everything became a blur and I felt my shoulder blades slam down hard on the ground beneath me! I didn't even feel the PAIN until I was already rolling over on my side! What the hell happened??? The crowd's cheers came flooding into the center of the ring as I stumbled to get up on my feet. In that one single moment of time, this kid had delivered kicks to my head, my chest, and then swept me right off of my feet! JESUS he was fast! I stood up to face him again, and once my eyes focused again I saw the little shit with a fucking SMIRK on his face! He paused for a second, and then came at me again. His feet were SO damn quick! He hardly used his hands at all, just the power and strength of his legs alone were enough to hit me from all angles! There was no use in even TRYING to block, because the frenzied kicks came with such an incredible flurry of strikes that by the time I had blocked one, three more had landed elsewhere! It was as if he had an extra dozen legs hiding behind him somewhere. Again, I was swept off of my feet, falling back hard enough to lose my breath. I started coughing, my chest and legs were sore from the attacks, and the second I tried to stand up, the little brat kicked me back down to the ground again!
He walked over to me, gently lifting my chin as he looked at me with those baby blue eyes of his again. "I'm gonna knock you out now, and take the winnings home wih me, ok? Just letting you know." He said. He was TAUNTING me! This fucking Cabbage Patch Kid, who's voice hadn't even changed, was gonna tease ME? His BALLS haven't even dropped yet!
Then....like every other time before it, I felt my body 'refill' itself. My frustration turned into strength, my pain turned into a shield, and as I stood on my own two feet again...I could feel the energy of the whole world surge up from the ground, through my feet, and run through me like a bolt of electricity. Ok 'baby cuddles'...let's see what ya got!