Volume 12, Interlude A: Underground Battle

Lionel stepped into the elevator, descending to an underground area. There was a ding but the doors didn’t open. The man glanced up at the camera, waiting ten seconds. A shrill beep occurred and he stepped out into a bright lobby. Before the hero could move any further, two men in bellhop uniforms patted him down. He raised his arms into the air and allowed them to take off his sleeveless vest. Two minutes later, the two men inspectors completed their search and allowed Lionel to continue on ahead.

“Lionel, what brings you to such a dirty and corrupt place?” the male receptionist questioned with a huge smile.

“Yeah, I deserve that. I need info on something. Of course, I’m willing to pay for it,” Lionel responded, placing down a stack of cash onto the counter.

“Money only gets you so far here. Actions are what ultimately matter in the end. But, you already know that if you’re enrolling for the upcoming fights,” the receptionist said, handing him a ticket.

“Thanks,” Lionel said and then headed toward another set of elevators further down the lobby.

He placed his ticket into a reader on the elevator panel. Lionel waited ten seconds and the doors opened. The man descended deeper, arriving at a locker room. A metal grate dropped down, preventing access to the the elevator doors. Blood splatter adorned the floor, walls, and unhinged locker doors. The hero unrolled a towel, spreading it out onto the splintered bench in the middle of the room. He took off his shirt, tossing it onto the floor, and then grabbed a roll of tape. Lionel wrapped each of his fingers and then slapped his cheeks, psyching himself up.

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“It’s your turn!” a voice boomed from the loudspeaker installed on the ceiling.

Lionel stood up and entered the battle arena. Bright lights illuminated the fighting stage and a loud roar ensued. The spectators were wealthy and paid for the operation costs of an underground fighting tournament held every weekend. This wasn’t the first time Lionel participated. He learned about it from the Gatekeeper. He was wary at first, finding it distasteful. However, it was a prime place for training.

“Approaching from the left is a seasoned veteran, Lionel! He’s a familiar face around these parts and holds a stunning win-loss record of 101-27!” the announcer introduced the hero.

Lionel stepped into the center, awaiting his opponent. A metal cage lowered from the top at a slow rate. When the man’s opponent arrived, the cage snapped into place, trapping both participants inside. The tournament consisted of four rounds, a total of 16 fighters. The hero beat his first three opponents without any issues, making it to the final round. Lionel brushed off the sweat from his forehead, waiting for the final challenger.

“Folks, this Is the final round and it’s no surprise Lionel finds himself here once again! But he may have finally met his match. Introducing Felix!” the announcer shouted as the crowd roared in anticipation.

 Smoke shot out from Felix’s entrance tunnel and then a large man burst out. He paused midway and stared at the audience in silence. The loud roars ceased and everyone turned quiet. This man was Ace’s accomplice. He was investigating a lead for the former hero and decided to spend his available free time here. Felix sized Lionel up and a faint smile appeared on his face.

“We finally meet, King!” Felix clutched Lionel’s hand, shaking it.

“Ace’s partner-in-crime. I never expected to run into you here,” Lionel said, recalling the photos Lilith showed him.

“Let’s have a fair fight,” Felix responded, stepping away from the man.

Lionel watched the metal cage drop down. He sensed immense strength from Felix, one that could potentially kill him. The bell rang, signaling the start of the final round. Lionel blinked and then Felix grappled him immediately. He wriggled around, unable to break free of his opponent’s hold. Felix slammed Lionel’s face into the unforgiving metal and then raked it across with no mercy. The hero screamed out in pain as blood dripped from his face.

“Come, King! Show me you are worthy of the title,” Felix antagonized, tossing him onto the floor.

Lionel coughed and adjusted his mouth guard. Felix attempted another grapple but he evaded this time. He bounded off the cage and drop kicked the large man. Felix blocked with his broad arms and reached for his foe’s legs. Lionel twirled in the air and performed a huracanrana, planting the big man onto the ground. He followed it with a diving double foot stomp onto his opponent’s chest.

“Oh, what a hit! Still, Lionel will have to keep chipping away at Felix like this if he has any chance of winning,” the commentator said.

Felix popped up and trapped Lionel in a bear hug. He rammed Lionel’s back into the cage wall multiple times, before lifting him up over his head, and powerbombing him into the ground. Lionel spat out his mouth guard, clutching his back in pain. His opponent gave him no time to recover, scooping up the man over his shoulder. The hero somehow wriggled out and kicked Felix’s calves. He continued striking the same area until his foe dropped to his knees. Lionel circled around him and then dashed forward, kneeing Felix’s face. Blood spilled out from the man’s nose and he dropped to the floor.

“What a huge opportunity for Lionel! He’s going to risk it all, ladies and gentleman! All the way up top!” the commentator shouted in excitement.

Lionel climbed all the way up to the top, peering downward. He took a deep breath and then leaped off, aiming for Felix’s chest. At the last second, Felix moved and the hero crashed into the floor. His risky maneuver damaged Felix but also caused major harm to himself as well.

“Both men are down! I repeat, both men are down!” the commentator screamed as both contestants remained motionless inside the cage.

Felix moved first, crawling to the cage wall, and hauled himself up. Lionel rolled around, biting down on his lips. Ace’s accomplice stomped the ground with his left foot, waiting for Lionel to get back up. When Lionel finally regained his footing, Felix lunged at him. However, the hero anticipated Felix’s move and side-stepped to his right side. Felix, unable to stop himself, crashed into the metal cage wall. Lionel, utilizing the cage again, stomped on his head.

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Each step hurt Lionel. He was reaching his limit. Lionel grabbed his back, feeling it tighten. Felix bounded up with a huge grin. This was exhilarating for the man. The last time he enjoyed a fight so much was against Ace. Still, he wasn’t about to let Lionel win just like that.

Felix displayed his quickness, avoiding Lionel’s flip, and arrived at his backside. He subjected the man to consecutive suplexes, the final one drove the hero into the cage wall. Lionel spat out blood, slumping to the ground. Felix propped up the man against the cage and then chopped him in the chest repeatedly. Lionel’s vision blurred and every part of his body ached.

“Is this the end for Lionel? Felix has battered him and doesn’t look affected by any of Lionel’s attacks at all!” the commentator wondered .

Lionel crawled across over to the center, hoping to discover a weakness. He thought back to all the body parts he struck. An epiphany then struck him. Felix loomed over him and then scaled the cage. The hero remained still, exhausted. The large man reached the midpoint of the steel cage and then jumped off, aiming his elbow at Lionel’s neck. Lionel mustered his remaining strength and then performed a risky maneuver. He jammed his head into Felix’s stomach before being struck by the man’s elbow. Felix crumpled to the floor, eyes closed. Lionel clutched his face, unable to see from his left eye.

“Winner by technical knockout, Lionel!” the announcer stated and the entire audience responded with a loud cheer.

An hour later, Lionel sat in the lobby, massaging his jaw and back. He was lucky Felix wasn’t at full strength, injured in a previous fight with a tough adversary. Ace’s accomplice sustained heavy damage in the stomach area before and that allowed Lionel to capitalize for the victory.

“We’ll meet again, King. Next time, we can go all out.” Those were Felix’s departing words for him. He escaped with a broken jaw, fractured eye socket, back sprain, and a bruised rib. Lionel expected worse the next time they fought.

“Was it worth the information?” a woman sat next to Lionel, a camera dangling from her neck.

“Yeah. I saw you in the audience,” Lionel replied.

“Only because you said there was a scoop. So, what’s the info you have for me?” the woman’s cat ears twitched in anticipation.

“This. The Gatekeeper said she’ll pay you good money for finding a lead on this,” Lionel revealed, handing her a map.

She glanced at the piece of paper and furrowed her brows. This was a rural area, not many people headed out there. Still, if Zha Tess was involved, this would be worth her time.

“I’ll let you know when I find something. Actually, should I just contact Tess directly?” she questioned, slipping the map into her bag.

“Yeah, same way like last time. Oh, you might run into a couple of rookies. Just a heads up in case you do. Well, she’s not really a rookie anymore, I guess. Anyways, thanks for the help,” Lionel said.

The woman departed, leaving Lionel alone. He stared down at his scarred hands, recalling the blows he received from Felix. To even compete at the same level as him, the man would need to step up his training.

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