“Okay, so I’ve found some stuff that you might be interested in.”
Belle Silva sits at her laptop, drinking her morning coffee in the fluffiest pair of socks she owns wearing an oversized hoodie and a pair of fleece leggings. She looks back at Zephyr who has just entered the room, her eyes staring at Belle, but the reporter could tell no one was home.
“Zephyr? Earth to Zephyr…”
Belle smiles and gets up from where she sits, waving her arms in front of Zephyr before wrapping her arms around her neck and giving her a passionate kiss. It was an almost daily routine after Belle moved in and while Zephyr never felt that she’d get used to having Belle with her every day, it was an experience she was all too pleased to go through. She smiles and laughs as she dips Belle, taking her by surprise before bringing her up to her feet, this time Zephyr kissing Belle before breaking away and getting herself a cup of coffee. Laughing to herself, Belle plops back down on the couch and curls up under a nearby faux fur blanket. Sighing contently she closes her eyes as she enjoys the aroma of her coffee before taking a sip, waiting to be joined by Zephyr. She didn’t have long to wait as “The Sanguine Siren” plops down next to Belle, accepting a coveted spot under the blanket, and taking her first sip of coffee, looking curiously at Belle’s screen.
“Oh yeah? What did you find on her?”
As soon as King announced Zephyr’s opponent for the next Chaos, Zephyr got curious. Of course, she knew that Annie had signed a contract right before the holiday break, but to have the Lab Rat call her out as someone to go toe to toe with Zephyr? She had to be something special. Taking another drink of her coffee Zephyr leans in close as Belle scrunches her nose as she reads the screen.
“Basic stuff from her bio page. Most notably is that she fancies herself as a purveyor of ultraviolence. Her home might be in the ring but her domain is where you and LRK currently reside in.”
Belle falls silent briefly as she takes a drink, looking thoughtfully at Zephyr, “Says she trains alone, doesn’t make it a ‘public affair’ so to speak but if you’d like, I might be able to score you some time alone.” Belle wasn’t always keen on Zephyr’s plans but that was something she was learning to deal with. As days went by, Belle couldn’t help but realize how much she has fallen for Zephyr and continues to do so daily. Quickly, a plan forms in her head.
“Okay, so what if I call and set up an interview with her? But instead of me, she gets you?”
Zephyr takes a drink and smiles over at Belle. Once upon a time, Zephyr never imagined “love” would be such a large part of her vocabulary and life. Zephyr had her doubts at first believing that she was too much of a “monster” to ever find “love.” Then Belle came and did the falling for Zephyr and Zephyr couldn’t help but be pulled in. She smiles and rubs Belle’s thigh, “I think that’s a wonderful idea. Just tell me when and where.”
Belle smiles coyly as she types rapidly at her computer, sending a quick email to Annie’s booking email address to ask for an interview, “Emailed, now we wait.”
Zephyr leans forward and puts her cup down on the coffee table, returning Belle’s coy look, “Well, what do you suggest we do while we wait?”
Belle bites her lower lip as Zephyr crawls up on top of her, only barely getting her cup on a nearby table before she has Zephyr’s body on top of her.
The bombastically cold temperatures aren’t enough to keep Annie Lennox inside. Her track record in Carnage now stands at one and two, which was far from acceptable. As frustrating as it is, Annie knows she has no one to blame but herself. The competition here - as opposed to the dive bar deathmatch circuit in the UK - is a lot stiffer, which presents a whole new variety of challenges that she’s not exactly ready for. Something about watching Sebastian Hawke raise that Chaos Championship above his head both didn’t sit right with Annie and acted like a big kick in the ass. She needs to get in better shape and spend time actually training; no longer would bar fights and endurance drinking be the preferred method of blade sharpening, especially if she wants to make it past Zephyr Quinn.
As a result, Annie finds herself at the park every morning running longer and longer loops while the runner’s mask that was recommended to her at Sports Authority did its job of restricting her breathing for the sake of better cardio. It was both a surprise and a relief when she peels the mask off after her playlist is interrupted by the “Ding! Ding!” of a notification on her phone. A glance left and right reveals that she’s practically alone on the path, which gives her plenty of time to migrate to the nearest bench at her own pace. Annie plops down, pulls the phone out of one pocket, and a pack of smokes out of the other. “Counterproductive” for $1,000, Alex.
Her voice is tinged with a bit of skepticism as she reads over the email that brought her to a stop. As the verbal representation of her curiosity escapes her, so does the smoke from her newly-lit cigarette through her nostrils. Truth be told, she doesn’t even remember lighting it. It’s a matter of habit at this point. Belle Silva, requesting an interview with her. It’s the perfect breeding ground for the aforementioned skepticism, given that the extent of her participation in interviews was typically nothing more than a fixture, a piece of the scenery while Chase rattled on. She’s content with staring at the email for a few minutes while she finishes her smoke. A once-over never hurt anyone. It’s with a hearty sigh that she first flicks her smoke to the ground, snuffs it with the heel of her shoe, then sends a positive - but brief - reply to Belle. Annie watches the screen intently, not budging until it confirms that the message is sent. She shoves the device back into her pocket, knowing she’d sit there waiting to see if a reply would instantaneously come back just to satisfy her curiosity. There’s a path still left to run which she hopes will occupy her mind until that fateful “Ding! Ding!” made its presence known yet again. Until then, it’s heel-toe-heel-toe to her designated finish line which happened to serve the strongest coffee in the city.
Zephyr Quinn’s House
After getting up for what felt like the second time that day, Zephyr headed straight to freshen up her coffee pot. Pouring two cups, she fixes them to her and Belle’s liking before heading back to the couch and setting the cups carefully on the table in front of them while taking Belle’s laptop from the stand next to the couch. Belle was still half asleep but Zephyr figured the smell of coffee would wake her up soon enough.
Opening the laptop, Zephyr smiles as her eyes fall onto Annie’s reply to Belle’s request for an interview. Deciding that there wasn’t a point to the cloak and dagger games Zephyr starts typing furiously,
Zeph here. What do you say we meet instead? Thinking a sparring session is in order, to get us both ready for our match and what better way to prep than to practice, no holds barred, against your upcoming opponent? You in or not? Address is…
Zephyr quickly checks Google Maps for the address she’s looking for before typing it at the end of the message and signing off with only two letters.
Even after considering the pit in her stomach the invitation created, Annie decides to take Zephyr up on it if for no other reason than sheer curiosity. She’d heard of and seen Zephyr’s handiwork firsthand and - if nothing else - she’d have a better idea of what she’d be dealing with. Now, Annie finds herself parked outside of the derelict plot as indicated by the pin in that very spot on her GPS. The longer she stares at it, the less worrisome it becomes; hell, she had fond memories of concerts at places just like it back in the UK. Eventually, she climbs out of her car, snatches a duffel bag from the trunk, and heads towards the property. It’s surrounded by a chain-link fence, which features a gate that’d been opened by way of a pair of bolt cutters. She pushes the gate open, slips inside, and closes it behind her. As she closes the distance between herself and the abandoned warehouse that sat in the center of the plot, she takes note of the rusted junk strewn about. It’s hard to discern what the space was used for before it was left to rot. Evidence points to a mechanic’s shop, though it’s hard to tell.
Annie now stands in front of a sliding door that’s just as beaten and rusted as any other piece of metal around it, that’s open just enough for her to slide inside after adjusting her bag. The interior is surprisingly well-lit, with the duties being split between the windows placed along the top of the walls and the holes in the ceiling that put spotlights on various dried out puddles on the cracked and crumbling concrete floor. The rusted hunks that littered the outside are more organized and stashed into corners, some covered with drop cloths in a flaccid attempt to protect what was under them from the damage they ultimately received. There is one thing Annie’s once-over failed to reveal, and that was Zephyr.
Annie’s voice reverberates off of the sheet metal walls and receives no answer. She gives her hostess a moment longer to respond and when she doesn’t, she slips the strap of her bag off of her shoulder. She sets it down along the wall next to the door and takes a seat next to it. She came this far, so she might as well wait it out.
It doesn’t take long for Zephyr to appear from around the corner, workout gear on and hands already taped up, seeing Annie and then eyeing the duffle bag she smiles, a multitude of ideas going through her head, “Annie? Thanks for coming! Figured this would be a good place, fewer people watching, literally no collateral damage, and there’s a certain… Extreme quality about having a sparring session in the middle of an abandoned factory.”
Frankly, Annie is shocked at how… upbeat… Zephyr is about coming face-to-face with her next opponent in an abandoned warehouse which may be so far out of the way that it’d be hard to hear what’s going on within its walls - anyone else might be perturbed by the juxtaposition of Zeph’s tone and demeanor in such a rusted, jagged, and broken place. Annie, instead, lifts herself from her seat and snatches the gear bag.
"Anyone else would think you were going to kill ‘em.”
She can’t help the wry smirk that overcomes her face.
"Gotta say though, Zephyr, it’s a little bit strange. The whole 'we have a match against each other coming up soon but we should train together' bit, I mean.”
Zephyr shrugs, “King chose you to face me for a reason. King and I understand each other to a certain extent and if he has eyes on you, there’s a reason he wants me to see what you have. Research is one thing but the experience is another. You’re the first self-proclaimed ‘Deathmatch Queen’ to come through in a long time. The way I figure it, you’re eager to swing a weapon just like I’m eager to draw first blood. Swinging against a bag is an option, but the bag doesn’t swing back. Sparring partner in your inner circle? They’d be afraid of getting hurt. So why not spar, with those weapons, against someone who swings back and doesn’t mind the adrenaline rush of going back and forth?” She holds up her hands, a pair of brass knuckles already on each hand, the custom pair that Belle had gifted her, “Half speed, we see what each other has. At Chaos, we go all out with no holding back. Put on an ultraviolent spectacle that will be talked about for the next year. When the smoke clears we’ll know where we stand with the other. Violence is its language and I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
The smirk on Annie’s face dissolves back into a stern, empty gaze. She looks from Zephyr to the bag clutched by a hand bearing white knuckles, and back again. She’d heard King’s words at Chaos 105, and they struck a chord of resolve inside her that may as well have been an orchestra playing her off as she climbs out of her rut. The only hitch is that she wasn’t expecting to have to confront that hurdle until 106. She was here, now, with someone willing to help her get better by iron sharpening iron, or at least she hopes - perhaps Zephyr drew her there to gain an edge. The only way to find out what her true intentions are is to push through.
"Yeah, you’re right.”
Annie pulls the bag towards her, undoes the zipper, and dumps the contents onto the floor. The loud clang of metal-on-concrete when the gusset plates cascade downward rings throughout the building and are shortly followed by - and mixed with - the tuning fork-esque ping of the kenzans. One last item falls from the bag, an orange, bubble wrap-lined envelope with the big Amazon logo on the outside. Annie tosses the empty bag aside, reaches down for the envelope, and pulls a roll of athletic tape and a smaller roll of double-sided tape out before letting it lazily fall to the ground. Annie wraps her hands in the athletic tape, then in a layer of double-sided with the kind of speed that indicates that she’s done this many times before. Then, she stomps on the envelope which elicits a loud series of crunches before she picks it up, sticks a hand in one at a time, and moves both her mitts and the envelope around for a few seconds to ultimately reveal that broken glass has adhered itself to the tape. She turns the envelope upside down, letting the smashed remains of a few light bulbs fall out.
"Whenever you’re ready.”
Annie barely has a chance to finish what she’s saying before Zephyr launches at her with a quick jab. Annie can dodge to the side barely in time as they square off against each other, “There was a war before you came, a disagreement of principles when it came to the UV division as a whole. An age-old argument over whether or not someone could still be violent without the use of a weapon. Of course, this led to a few different battles, one featuring the tools of the trade and one featuring regular, standard rules. Where do you stand?” With that Zephyr throws another punch toward Annie.
The second throw lands flush. Perhaps it’s due to the adrenaline that near immediately fired through Annie’s veins as soon as that first fist came, but it’s met with a stumble and a jaw check that draws forth a grin. Her eyes bounced from Zephyr to the collection of goodies she dropped out of her bag, and back to Zephyr.
"I think it’s kinda obvious, yeah?”
Annie launches a wild swing that goes high, proving easy to duck on Zephyr’s end.
Ultraviolence isn’t supposed to be some soft Queensbury rules brawl. It’s a deathmatch. It’s supposed to be a war. Win by any means necessary, make sure you’re the last standing.”
Annie squares up again while she and Zephyr circle each other to size the other up. Eventually, Annie breaks the dance and throws a back fist with her offhand. She’s hoping to catch Zephyr in the side of the head with the broken bits of bulb stuck to the tape. Her fist collides with the side of Zephyr’s face, the glass doing its job and leaving streaks of red across Zephyr’s cheek.
Annie smiles at Zephyr, who returns the gesture, however, Zephyr now the more macabre of the two as she dons the proverbial crimson mask. She raises her hand to the blood and sees red come back. She licks her lips, almost smelling the coppery scent, before licking her lips again and smiling at Annie, “There is something more to you isn’t there? The first one is free…” With that Zephyr runs at Annie who quickly gets out of the way. Learning quick, Zephyr pivots on her foot and uses the momentum change to deliver an uppercut, landing it right beneath Annie’s chin! Annie lands hard but Zephyr hasn’t stopped there as she grabs a few of the gusset plates, throwing them down over the torso of Annie Lennox. With no hesitation, Zephyr brings her foot down, driving the pointed sides of the plates into Annie’s stomach! Satisfied, Zephyr backs off and offers a hand to Annie to help her up, “Don’t care who you ask, there’s nothing that can beat a sparring partner that knows what they’re doing. This little monster smells kindred blood though Annie. There’s something about you that just, sets you apart from the rest of the mainstream roster and that’s the ‘you’ I want to get to know.”
If Annie’s, to be honest, there were only a small handful of combatants back across the pond who’d take broken glass to the face and gusset plates to the stomach as “sparring”. That’s not to say that she didn’t - in fact, it’s a nice change of pace. She takes the hand offered by Zephyr and pulls herself up. The plates her sparring partner attempted to lodge in her flesh fell to the floor after Annie shakes her shirt, which she temporarily lifts to check the damage. Nothing terrible, a few holes and some blood.
"Think it’s safe to say we both lean towards the unorthodox.”
Reflecting on what they were doing and where “unorthodox” is certainly the appropriate term.
"Don’t know if King had this in mind when he picked me to face you on Chaos, either.”
King’s choice of poison for Zephyr feels like it’s slowly turning to something less abrasive. Zephyr shrugs as she brushes glass dust from her face, “Told ya, King saw something in you he wanted me to see as well. If anyone understands the language of violence, it’s going to be him.”
"He’s one hell of a measuring stick.”
One that Annie knows she couldn’t hold herself up to. Hell, she’s only remotely sure that she can keep on pace with Zephyr. At least she’d have someone to commiserate with after their battle, though. Seeming to recognize the inner struggle, Zephyr takes on another fighting stance, “If you ever WANT to fight King, all you gotta do is ask him. The dude loves this type of stuff. But you HAVE to have the confidence to do it. Otherwise, he’ll eat you alive. Both literally and figuratively.”
The way those words strike Annie’s ears gives a hint of hyperbole used to hide the underlying truth to Zephyr’s statement. Maybe King would actually eat people. A snicker escapes.
"Well, if I ever have to set the table to an invite for ‘em, I’ll be sure that I’m not on the menu.”
Zephyr smiles, “Make sure that you do. Now…” Zephyr doesn’t have a chance to finish as Annie grabs a nearby piece of lumber and swings it at Zephyr! Zephyr ducks and laughs, “Alright, round two… FIGHT!”
She launches herself at Annie and predictably Annie swings the piece of lumber just in time to catch Zephyr flush in the ribs! Zephyr holds on though and absorbs the hit, using the momentum to spin Annie and send her through the air! Annie hits the ground and rolls back up to her feet as Zephyr runs by, delivering a hard knee to the side of Annie’s head! Annie goes down and Zephyr looks to follow up with a curb stomp, only for Annie to roll onto her back and grab Zephyr’s foot, throwing her off balance! Annie sits up and delivers as many quick jabs as she can right into the spot where the lumber had hit her. Getting her feet under her, Annie springs up, propelling her head into Zephyr’s jaw!
The two continue to trade blows back and forth, all night long. There was something poetic in the way the two moved and responded to the other, but it was lost in the chaotic storm that enveloped them. Minutes ticked into hours, hours into the nighttime and beyond. The two didn’t stop until the sun had just started coming up over the distant horizon and clouds had yet to begin to form in the sky. With a look at the broken glass, discarded weaponry, and red stains, Zephyr and Annie grab what they need to and head out, doing their best to clean up their various injuries while laughing about it; on their way to get their first cup of coffee of the day.