Post by Mitch 'The Broken' Heart on Feb 21, 2021 19:23:02 GMT -5
OOC: Boxed quotations taken from LRK's 'Betrayal of the Beast' video package for the purposes of response. This is probably the longest piece I've done- CD I was planning to do had to be cut and will likely be put in the CD section at some point. Good luck, Lab Rat King !
KILL THE KING.
What the fuck am I doing. Everybody hates me now. They can’t stop judging, can’t stop talking shit. Especially with whatever weird crap went down at the end of Chaos, everybody's gonna be on his side.
Was this worth it, really? To have everybody villanizing me like I’m the new fucking Alex Winter?
Depends. Do you want to take control of your own life? Do you want to get your due, or do you want to continue being a footnote? Do you want to continue being unwittingly trampled by the ‘special’ people, the ones who heal like nothing, the ones who can afford a nice, cozy life, the ones flaunting their gold like they’re better than you?
Do you want to resign yourself to being the tough buddy, the supporter, the sidekick?
Or do you want to Defy?
There’s no going back. You say all this, they might not get it. Scream it at the top of your lungs, they’ll probably say you’re just being bitter. Jealous. A bad friend. An insect. You could just apologize, beg forgiveness, show your throat, lay down, and everything could go back to exactly the way it was.
Fuck it. Let’s do this.
It’s hard to tell where in the hell Mitch Heart was. It’s dark, and the only light source seemed to illuminate him just in half shadow, his left side, bad eye included, draped in blackness. A bright red ember glowed as he pulled a drag in from his cigarette and exhaled.
“For weeks, everybody’s been hounding me for answers. Judging the fuck out of me because I wasn’t ready to give them yet. Well, be glad, friends, because it’s time. Pull up a chair, boys, girls, and others, because I have got a lot of goddamn tea to spill.”
There was a grinding sound- a metal chair being pulled along a hard floor- and Mitch sat down, taking another drag of his Lucky Strike and humming thoughtfully.
“Where to start. I guess the best fucking place to begin would be the beginning, right? So let’s rewind to like a million fucking years ago. October 16th, 2020. The morning that I, in the words of one Baker Mayfield, woke up feeling pretty dangerous and made my public challenge to Kyra Johnson, the then Ultraviolent Champion. I had more confidence and self respect that I’d had in a minute, and I felt it was time to make my mark on the business in a big way. But you, King. I didn’t forget about you and I promised you that if I won? You would get the first shot. I would have kept my word, you know. I had every intention of letting you take the first bite at the apple, because you were my brother.”
He gave a brief laugh, a bitter sound. He felt something heaving in his chest like a caustic ocean, and cleared his throat.
“Fast forward ten days later. Chaos. You run in and butt in to a perfectly good tag match I was having with my future opponent, chokeslam the fuck out of me, and barge in on my title shot. I told you, man. I was gonna overlook the line and give that shot to you if I won, like I said, but you had to fucking piss in my cornflakes.”
Mitch’s teeth bared, his eye flashing.
“And then I made the stupidest fucking mistake of my life- I stepped aside and accommodated you. Supported you. I let you barge in on my moment and like a fucking simp, I did it with a smile. I never should have done that. I should have told you in no uncertain terms to fuck off and not invade a challenge I had the guts to make. You could’ve stepped up at any time, but you had to wait till I made my move first. But you were my brother. I believed in that kind of shit, then. I believed that I had friends that had my best interests in mind, that I could care about without getting hurt. Which was an assumption that turned out to be the second stupidest mistake of my life.”
He tilted his head to the side, the dark oval of his eyepatch coming to light as he raised his hand up, his lips pursing, nostrils flaring slightly.
“Every time I look at the back of my hand I want to fucking throw up. Reminds me of how stupid I really fucking was. Anyway. This brings us to the night of Ultimate Carnage. Me, Kyra, and you. Who I stupidly never objected to being in this match. Neither did Kyra, but you know her- badass like that probably relished the challenge. But the game was rigged from the start.”
Dropping his hand back to the side, Mitch looked the camera head on again, his jaw set, eye blazing.
“You beat the shit out of us. You were a fucking monster. Granted, we all did our fair share of damage on each other, but you, King. You were particularly murderous that night. I bled like a faucet but still, still… I managed to pin Kyra. I had her dead to rights and if only, if only I had spoke up and told you to get your nose out of my title shot, I would have won. I would have had more glory and ecstasy than I ever had in my life. I would have been able to give my sister the best Christmas she ever had in her life. I had all that in my head as I held on, waited for the three count…”
He leaned forward, his expression vicious.
“...but that three count never came. It never came because you pulled me off of Kyra. You battered me. And you. You stole my moment. You stole my money. You stole my glory. You stole my title. And you got your fairytale ending. You got your wife back. You got your title. The end of the show, all eyes were on you. Nobody noticed that I had to drag myself to the back. I left trails of blood. I dragged myself by my fingers. And you know what? It occurs to me that even if I had won? Even if Kyra had? The spotlight would have wound up on you just the same. The King has his Queen and all is right with the world. You didn’t need my title. You would’ve gotten something even more important and valuable just the same. We, fuck forbid, could have shared a moment. But you couldn’t have that, you had to have everything even if you had to climb up my spine to get it- your words, not mine- and by god, you got it, didn’t you?”
Mitch was shaking with anger, his hands gripped tightly onto his arms, jaw trembling. His eye seemed oddly wet. Taking a few deep breaths, the Broken slowly began to regain his composure.
“But let’s jump back to a month or so ago. I took back a title from you, a title that but for my misplaced support of you would have been mine. You were still champ on paper. You heal fast, that tap on the head didn’t do you any real harm. And yet, you put out a video that makes me out to be the worst villain this side of Benedict Arnold. I imagine you thought I would reply to that right away. But for once in my life, I was too smart for that. Every word you said was ammunition, and I wasn’t going to give you anything you could use against me in turn, no matter how unpopular it made me, both with the Legion and the boys in the back. I imagine people think I did it out of being a petty tool. Maybe people still think so after explaining myself. But you laid out some questions in that nasty little video, and now, it’s time for me to answer them.”
Reaching down to the floor, Mitch picked up a black, rectangular object, clicking it. A large screen behind him comes to life in a harsh static fuzz before keying up a familiar image- Kane King, hunched on a sofa behind a table full of lit candles. The video starts already partway in, as if keyed up to the relevant statements in advance.
“You looked at me like I was a stranger… like you couldn’t wait to get away from me. You spoke to me as though I had… wronged you, somehow. That trust I thought was forged from steel turned out to be as fragile as glass. And after you left, after you went back to Detroit, I realized what the truth was.”
“You never cared about me. You never saw me as a whole person. You only cared about him.”
Pause. Mitch shook his head, chuckling darkly.
“Let’s start here. I spoke to you as if you wronged me because you fucking did. I already went into that. You were the one who broke my trust first. I couldn’t wait to get away because, since I didn’t have the champion’s purse to fall back on, I had to get home and go back to work, because not all of us have a published author wife’s salary plus a newly won payday to cover all our expenses, and not all of us can miraculously heal up and avoid hospital bills. And if I didn’t seem to care about you? It’s because I didn’t know ‘you’. I knew the guy I’d spoken to for months. I knew the guy who I could talk to when nobody else could. I didn’t know there was some other person in there until a couple weeks before Ultimate Carnage, and I certainly didn’t know that that other person was an entitled, judgemental little bitch.”
He smirked coldly, hitting ‘Play’ on the remote again.
“You kept me around because I was a mindless machine; a beast you could trade blows with, that you could pummel and hurt without feeling guilty. I was wrong--the smile on your face wasn’t joy, it wasn’t kinship. It was sadism. I was your favourite punching bag; whenever things were going wrong for you, you could bruise me and beat me and get the same damage back and feel better. The second you realized that I wasn’t just an animal--that the monster carried a man inside--then you faltered. Everything changed. The illusion broke.
“You couldn’t bear the fact that, just like you, I had hopes and aspirations, pain and struggle, resolve and willpower. Like you, I had a family I was trying to take care of. Like you, I had reasons for wanting that belt beyond power and glory. You couldn’t feel that singular rage over losing the match because you hadn’t lost to a monster; you lost to a human being.”
Pause again. His frigid smirk fell, expression looking genuinely hurt.
“If that’s all I thought of you, I wouldn’t have wasted my time learning to talk to you. I would’ve just kept egging you on and getting you to fight me. I wouldn't have stayed with you when you were coughing your literal bloody guts out. I wouldn’t have felt like shit for causing it, even if I didn’t know better. If all you were to me was an object, I wouldn’t have saved your fucking life. How fucking dare you. And what’s more? You’re lying your rat ass off here. I did not either lose to a human being- you told me as much yourself. You stuffed that part of yourself away to win that match, didn’t you? You let the monster have 100% free reign. You could have killed Kyra for that belt. You could have killed me. You almost did. That fucking belt meant so much more to you than me, despite you knowing that power and glory weren’t all that belt meant to me despite what you say here, you weren’t content to just take my shot. You could’ve taken my goddamn life.”
Scoffing, Mitch shook his head.
“But I’m the bad guy. Anyway, moving on.”
“And here’s one of your biggest fucking problems, Mitch. It’s something I told you in front of your kid sister, because I respected her maturity. You’re so absorbed in your own misery--in your own suffering--that you assume everyone around you is better off. Not only that, when you’re told directly the reality of someone’s situation--that maybe they’re not fine, actually--it offends you. You’re offended that anyone could be struggling as much as you are. You take it as a challenge; as though that person is trying to belittle your pain. Trying to one-up you.
“But here’s the thing--life is fucking hard, and it hurts, and we all take losses and falls. No one’s pain is more important than anyone else’s--it’s just different. But you’ve built your entire identity, your entire life around your suffering. You refuse help and push people away because it literally threatens who you are--if you weren’t in pain, who would you even be? In fact, you’ll deliberately sabotage yourself so you can keep up this ‘loner’ bullshit, even with a circle of friends and colleagues offering their hands and their hearts. You’ll reject your brother when he opens his door to you; tries to welcome you into his family.”
“And then you’ll steal his fucking belt.”
Clicking pause again, Mitch looked about ready to throw the remote to the floor in disgust.
“Oh fucking please. I complimented you. I told you nobody was likely to beat you for a long damn time. I was praising you, you assclown. But then you had the fucking gall to say, in these exact words- ‘you’re full of shit’. What the actual fuck. Excuse me, but I think I have a right to be pissed at that. I wouldn’t disrespect you in front of your baby rat, because that’s a shitty thing to do. But no. You dressed me down in front of the person that’s most precious to me in the whole goddamn world. The only person that still thinks the world of me and I am trying, trying, not to disappoint her. Which left me in the awkward position of eating shit in front of her or telling you off with your wife watching. I should’ve done that, but even with my sister telling me not to, I bent the knee to the King yet again. I accepted that your life was so much more horrible than mine so of course you deserved the belt more than I did, despite me needing it more. That’s not me being addicted to my misery. That’s not me needing to be in pain. That was me literally being in the shit and having hope yanked away from me by you, twice. You knew I was down. You knew I’d gone from being on top of the world to in the gutter in the time it takes to send a couple tweets, but you insisted on kicking me when I was down and spitting in my face.”
Another cigarette was lit up, the ember shaking in Mitch’s hands. It was smoked down in record time, the remote furiously clicked again.
“I told you what condition my body was in… I told you about the challenges ahead of me, that night, before you got on your fucking bike and drove back to Detroit. After I introduced you to my wife and my baby, because I trusted you… and then I heard nothing. Nothing, for weeks--not a text, not a message, not a call. And when you finally came back… you hit me over the back of the head with a steel chair, in the dark, and stole my personal property. You miserable little clicking insect.”
Mitch rubbed his hands together.
“Oh, I’ve been waiting to get to this. Why oh why didn’t I call you. I’ll gladly explain why- because I spent most of my time back working. Double shifts. Extra jobs. I spent my whole time working and asleep, except for a few precious hours a day I could actually spend time with my sister. I did this because the bills wouldn’t pay themselves. I had some unexpected help- things could’ve been worse if SIlvio hadn’t helped me out with Pen’s medicine, regardless of his motive for doing so. But thanks to our benevolent boss and his darling beliefs on not insuring people who fight like us, I had a huge hospital bill on top of everything. Just in time for Christmas.”
“Yeah, I loved that. Had a goddamned ball, being in pain and weak because I should’ve stayed in the hospital longer but couldn’t. I live for that shit. But that was my holiday break, up until the point I got fucking mugged in the middle of the night. Couldn’t defend myself properly because I was still in shit shape from all the blood you made sure I left on the canvas and in the back hallways while all eyes were on you. Spent nearly a week in bed. That’s what happened to my fucking eye, by the way, thank you for asking. Scared Pen half to death but I couldn’t afford another hospital stay, so I made do. I apologize for not thinking to call you for the holidays, though. Sorry I couldn’t keep in touch. But if that’s all it takes for your opinion of me to fall in the toilet? A tap on the head and taking back something that should never have been yours in the first place? Shit, I feel bad for anyone else around you who does you negligible damage. Anyway, let’s hear how you closed up your charming little assessment of my actions.”
“You’re a boy, throwing a temper tantrum because you didn’t win the prize you wanted. You’re a boy, seeking validation from daddy at the age of thirty-five. You’re a boy, stealing what he hasn’t earned because he’s too impatient to fight honourably for it when the time comes. You’re no Heart-Pounder. You’re so small, Mitch Heart. You’re so small and pathetic… and I love crushing the bones of small, pathetic things. But even a wolf needs to worry about fleas.”
“I trusted you… and you betrayed me. You took what was mine; what else would you take, if I let you stay close? Would you tell the hunting dogs where I am? Offer them my scent and set them after me? If it meant that my place would vacate and improve your chances, maybe you would… who knows. So I’m warning you now, you biting little flea. You liar. You thief. You stay the hell away from my wife. You stay the hell away from my daughter. Because you know full well what happens to me when I feel threatened. And the Big Guy?”
“He’s not your friend anymore.”
“You can eat shit. If I wanted to turn you in? The fucks would have been here weeks ago. I wouldn’t lay hand on your wife and kid, and you’re a disgusting prick for thinking I would. I took what I needed for what I needed and you have it back now. I’d say you owe me a goddamn apology but I know better to think I’m going to get it from you. You’re the good guy. The rightful King. A man so above reproach that he has to take shit I told him in confidence, my own fucking insecurity, and mock me for it to the whole goddamn world. And furthermore, you’re all up in here acting like I’m the one who’s going to go out of his way to hurt innocents, when you...when you…”
He breathed in. Out. Tried to keep some form of composure.
“Do you know how many concussions Ade had that made her quit? Six. Six fucking concussions, and considering how fucking bad you manhandled her? I’d say at least a few are your fault. You didn’t have to do what you did to her. She’s not like us, she never deserved to take that kind of fucking beating. But again, I’m the bad guy.”
The video was clicked off, the screen silent static behind him.
“You amazing asshole. You have some fucking nerve, chiding me for impatience after what you did. Because it wasn’t just stealing my shot. It wasn’t just taking the title that should have been mine. When you showed your own brand of impatience, when you barged into a challenge you had no right to claim for your own, you did something. Something I thought was clever but really annoyed Kyra. You took that belt and sunk your teeth into it. Claimed it for your own, without any thought to how I would feel. And then, that night at Ultimate Carnage, you fucking did this.”
In a sudden, furious motion, Mitch unzipped his hoodie and whipped it aside, tilting his now bared shoulder toward the camera. There was an ugly mark on it, a perforated oval that was still a bruised purplish in color months after the fact, as if it had never healed properly.
“What were you fucking trying to tell me? Am I your property? Do I belong to you, so everything I wrong I do is an affront to you? Oh wait. Nothing I did wrong, none of my flaws, were an issue until I took the belt from you. Like I was a bad dog who bit his master. This fucking bite you gave me? It won’t heal. It won’t go away, like I’m being reminded that I’m below you. That this is all your story, I’m a second in it, and if I try to grab hold of my own destiny and rise above, you’ll be there to stop me.”
He spat to the side.
Reaching down, he pulled up a folded black t-shirt and tugged it over his head, the sleeves covering the bite. The same image as on his hoodie- a blood red broken crown- is emblazoned on the front.
“I am grabbing the reins. I am telling my story. And for once, I’ll be the one with the happy ending. And if not? In a twisted sort of way, I still win. Because that thing I said, that you called me full of shit for? That nobody will beat you until you’re sick of being champion? You beating me will prove me absolutely right. That you’ve got some fucked up guardian angel, some divine intervention refusing to let you lose. That’s the only thing that could possibly save your ass, King, because everything I’ve kept inside of me for months? I’m going to unload it on you.”
Slowly, Mitch rose to his feet, teeth gritted.
“I am the bastard son of a junkie. I am the abandoned, the pissed on, the beaten and the bruised. I am the uncrowned castoff Ace of Hearts. I am the Broken. I am Mitchell Aaron Heart, and at the end of Act of Defiance?”
He grinned. Not the grin of a cockroach, but of an apex predator.
“I will be the Carnage Wrestling Ultraviolent Champion.”
Turning his back to the camera, Mitch stood silhouetted against the static. The Megadeth lyrics on the back of his t-shirt stood out boldly, almost glowing as the camera faded to black.
I WILL DRAG MYSELF
BACK FROM THE EDGE TO
KILL THE KING THE KING IS DEAD LONG LIVE THE KING I AM THE KING GOD SAVE THE KING
Post by Lab Rat King on Feb 23, 2021 0:29:30 GMT -5
The pressure was unbearable.
Every muscle in his body strained to keep the weight up, preserving his limited space. It was all he could think about--the distance he occupied between the steel plate and the equally cold platform he was laid out on, and keeping that space wide enough that he wasn’t crushed between the two. His arms ached, his core burned, his head throbbed--but the terror in him, the fight-for-your-life fear was more powerful than the pain. He was oblivious to the observers behind the glass nearby, watching him, and watching numbers tick up and down on monitors and screens.
Doctor Rose, with a pensive expression, took a slow sip of his latte and gestured vaguely at one of the labhands with his free hand.
“Mm… crank it up by ten Newtons or so. He hasn’t hit his limit yet.”
The plate pushing down on his hands creaked, and the mutant roared in pain and anger, bracing his hands on the edges of the steel to push up harder. The heavy muscle in his arms and chest was as taut as it could be, his violet-stained circulation stark beneath his bruised skin. He could barely see, his furnace-like body coated in sweat and his vision flashing white from the exertion. He could feel the plate against his knees, it was getting hard to breathe, he couldn’t keep this up, too much, too much, too much--his forehead was touching the steel--
The observers behind the glass all took half a step back at the sound of their lab-monster’s furious roar; all but Rose, who took another languid sip of coffee and watched for a second or two longer. Finally, after what felt like teasing the reaper for far too long, he gestured to the nearest labhand.
“Alright, shut it off.”
Hastily, the labhand shut off the plate. Inside the observation room, the mutant immediately dropped his arms to his sides, eyes rolled back and panting, his rasping breath the only noise on that side of the glass.
“4950 Newtons sustained over ten seconds… that’s above expectations for our biggest rat. Nice work, boys. Let’s move on to the next test.”
“Doctor Rose?” One of the labhands spoke up, her expression uncertain. “Patient Z has been in testing for a couple of hours now. Shouldn’t we send him back to rest and eat before…?”
Rose smirked and waved dismissively. “Angie, Angie, Angie. Don’t get all soft on me now. We need to make sure he can keep moving after a physical trauma like this--you don’t get to nap and have a little snack time on the field. Let’s move him into the Pit and see how long he can keep going after something like this. Put Medical on standby in case his heart stops.”
He wasn’t aware of how he got up; he had no recollection of being moved from the table, of being escorted from the room by people in latex gloves. It was only when his knees hit the ground and he felt cold water seep into the fabric of the jumpsuit hanging around his waist that he woke up. His upper body was on fire, his lungs straining, forehead throbbing like he’d taken a hammer to the skull. Nausea crept up on him like something out of the dark and he retched, bringing up bile and stomach acid with nothing in his belly to replace it.
He was so hungry. He was so hungry, all the time.
The Pit was as dark and cold as ever; he stood up slowly, one bare foot taking a trudging step through the few inches of water and mud. Somewhere, he could hear something else breathing--something besides himself.
He tried to call out, but once again found that the monster in his head was keeping his voice from him. How long had it been since he’d spoken a word instead of howling like a wounded beast?
He felt as though he were buried so many layers down. A prison, inside a prison, inside…
Something struck him in the back of the head. Still reeling from the last test, he staggered forward, stumbling and planting his palms in the mud as his knees gave out. A reflexive snarl leapt from his throat and he dug one foot firmly down, pushing himself up to fight back.
Not this time. Not this time. Never this time!
It was too dark to make out his assailant, but the monster didn’t care. The monster never cared. There was nothing beyond survival--nothing but holding onto the next breath, the next heartbeat. He bellowed with fury, throwing heavy blows into the darkness, feeling a few satisfying connections accompanied by pained grunts for his trouble. Whoever it was, whatever it was, he didn’t care. If it was kill or be killed, he would fight for the next day, the next minute--
--he suddenly felt a heavy blow. It was a kick, delivered straight to his chest, instantly knocking the wind out of him. The monster hit the mud with a wet splash, gasping. A fit of coughing surged up from his ailing lungs. He couldn’t breathe. He tried to gasp in more air, but it just burned, it just clogged up his lungs even more, it reeked of… of…
… cigarette smoke?
The water lapping at his burning skin began to blush red. The smell of iron followed, the air growing thick with the stench of ichor. He could hear the rats--skittering, squealing. He could feel their wet, broken bodies against his own, drowned in mud and bile. The pressure came back, but this time it wasn’t from any plate pressing down overhead. It was a boot, pushing down on his ribcage and compressing the last of the air from his lungs. The chorus of the rats was struck with the undertones of clicking insects; a cockroach crawled across his shaking hand as he grasped at the boot, desperately trying to pry it from his empty chest. His own pulse was loud in his ears, but slowing. His vision was a swamp of red with speckles of white that threatened to rob him of sight completely.
And through that crackling haze, as he struggled for a single, desperate breath--he saw the face of the creature looking down at him, eyes like cold, blue fire even in the pressing darkness of the pit. A rough countenance so frighteningly familiar… the smell of smoke thickened, burning inside his nose and his chest. The leather-clad figure watched as the bloody swamp began to swallow the mutant beneath his boot, lapping at his nose and mouth. The creature--his chest an open, ichorous cavity of bone and sinew, a heart cleaved in two still pumping out of rhythm with itself--he said nothing… he only smiled.
Now there was nothing left in his way.
Grace King awoke to the distressing sound of her husband muffling wet coughs into a towel, sitting hunched over on the bedside.
“Kane-!” Her initial grogginess instantly evaporated as she caught sight of her husband. Sitting up, she came to his side, holding his shoulder gently. “Can I get you anything? Do you need the meds from Ernest?”
It took Kane a moment to be able to respond; he managed to catch his breath, licking the taste of copper from his lips and wiping his mouth on the towel. He drew in a raspy, but uninterrupted breath, gently touching Grace’s hand with his own in reassurance.
“I’m alright,” he replied, his voice low and gritty. He turned his upper body toward her, moving his hand up so he could brush his fingers through her hair. “Just some pressure in my chest… I’m gonna go get some water, I’ll be back.”
She turned her head and kissed the palm of his hand. “Alright, Sugar Kane. I’ll be here waiting.”
Lifting himself up from the bed, King dragged his feet down the hall to the bathroom. The darkness in the house was unwelcoming; he could swear he felt eyes on him, flitting just around the corners of the walls. Icy blue, and heartless grey… and the skittering of roaches in the walls. His eternal companion stirred, a low growl rumbling from his throat, but the sensation dissipated the moment he touched the bathroom light switch and washed the small room in a warm glow.
Kane looked at himself in the mirror.
His eyes were bloodshot… that didn’t surprise him. He was pale, though. Moreso than usual. He could still feel the chill of cold water, the weakness in his hands and arms. It was as though the trials of his dreams had followed him here. He felt as if he was still running, sometimes. Although he had found a home, and a safe enough place to be, the echoes of what had happened to him still followed, and some days felt like nothing more than an effort to stay just far enough ahead of them.
Washing his face with warm water, rinsing out his mouth, Kane made his way to the kitchen by the glow from the open bathroom door. With a glass of water in hand, he started back to bed--but paused outside of Luna’s bedroom, his eyes lingering on the wooden nameplate he’d hung by a yellow ribbon on the door.
Without giving it much thought, the mutant gently turned the doorknob and stepped inside, being as quiet on his feet as he possibly could.
Luna’s room was awash with the soothing blue glow of her nightlight--a crescent moon plugged into the wall--and she was settled down in her crib, sleeping soundly on her back on top of a fleece blanket spotted with stars and flying saucers. Nearby, a stuffed white rabbit holding a plush yellow star kept watch over her sleep. Kane set the water down on her dresser, coming to her bedside, setting his calloused hands down on the railing and looking down.
His gaze softened, and the eyes in the dark behind him faded away. In the moment, it was just the two of them. Somehow, despite all odds against him, he had achieved something miraculous. Despite everything, he’d found his way back here. He had Grace… and he had Luna.
She was so… tiny.
Kane’s shoulders sank. His heart ached in a way so much more profound than the now-familiar ache in his lungs. He knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he would do anything for her. He would be there for her. He would fight to be there, to stay there… he had to. No matter what. He would be her fortress; nothing would ever hurt her the way he’d been hurt. No one would ever harm her the way he’d been harmed.
There was a reason he so often compared himself to a wolf… or rather, a reason that the Big Guy did. His monstrous side was a violent beast inside and outside of the ring, a sadist, to be sure--but he was born of a purpose, and that purpose had been to protect the smaller parts of himself. Now that Kane was rebuilding himself, that instinct to protect had extended to his family and his close friends. His pack. Anyone outside of that? They were fair game… especially if they threatened his still-fragile sense of security.
Some threats came with hunting dogs and thorns. Others came with blue eyes in wolf skins, getting close enough to learn his weaknesses. His insecurities. His fears.
He couldn’t afford to be afraid of those eyes anymore. He couldn’t afford to succumb to fear--not when she needed him the most.
He lowered a hand into her crib, brushing pale curls away from her forehead, tenderly touching her soft cheek. For a while, he just watched her breath in her tiny chest, the gentlest motion under her soft flannel onesie peppered with smiling stars.
She would always, always have her daddy.
When Kane finally returned to bed, wrapping his arms around his wife with a deep, rusty sigh, the lingering smell of cigarette smoke tricking his senses was gone.
“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.” Yann Martel
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The sound of the leaking tap moves in one ear and out the other. It’s difficult to pinpoint where the pulse of it is coming from; the basement is dim, cold, and unfinished, pipes running overhead every which-way much like the tunnels of a lab rat’s maze. In the center of the room, their King is seated… well, crouched, to be more accurate. His vulture-like hunch conceals his true size. He’s dressed in boots, fatigues, and a charcoal tank that barely contains the mass of his chest, his muzzled face half-cast in black shadow. The only source of light in the room--a low-watt, naked light bulb hanging from a wire--swings subtly in a draft no doubt creeping its way down the stairs to keep the beast subtle company.
Other things keep him company, as well… a closer look reveals that the Ultraviolent Champion is joined by a pair of rats. One of them, with grey spots and black eyes, sits close to his ear with a rapidly twitching nose; the other, pure white with bright red sight, crawls between his hands like a perpetual ladder to nowhere.
His amber stare lifts to the Legion, glittering in the dim, yellow haze of the light.
He growls low in his throat, and then begins to speak.
“What... is this itch, beneath my sssskin? It burrows and claws down to my bones; An inssssect made of smoke, within That hammers my ears with grating tones.
Where once in this I found such bliss-- Harmony, such a VIOLENT DUET!-- Now his treason, a sharpened hissssss, A knife in the dark, in my sssspine set.
The King had sought to feud FOREVER! Two monsters bound for Elysian joy, Then the insect CUT the tether, Without a warning... their bond destroyed.
And now, The King has blood to take... The Broken Heart... must face his mistake.”
The final consonant’s click resonates through the empty space, joining the distant drip of the pipes.
“Hnnhh… Broken Boy. So sweet of you to lend your listening ear, at last, to the one you used to synchronize with so well. When did our symphony falter? When did your harmonies become so discordant? For so long I believed that you spoke my language--but you never truly heard me, did you. You only heard half, and the half you had the hunger to hear… all else left to rot the moment you could run.”
King is… strangely subdued, in comparison to his typical tone. There’s something more methodical and deliberate to the way he speaks; an extra layer that wasn’t present before now. The light of madness still burns bright, but there’s a ferocious intelligence, a self-awareness mingling with that light.
It’s a name; he rumbles it as he looks down at the rat in his hands, and then further down still to the set-up on the basement floor. Arranged on the cold concrete are a pair of small wire cages with front-opening doors. With surprising care despite the bulk of his hands, the mutant monster lowers the white rat, setting her under a wire cage with the door shut. The spotted rat soon follows, placed underneath the second cage. “Fourteen years before tonight’s moon… in the windy city.”
The mutant raises his sight.
“All beasts are servants of instinct… it breeds into us how to survive. Rats… are much like us. Henh… hungry. Opposed to isolation. Lives rooted in constant socialization. Keep one alone in a cage for long enough and he might… make his own carnivorous companions.”
The grin behind the muzzle reaches King’s eyes as he taps his fingertip against his own temple.
“There’s a reason… a purpose to multiplicity. It’s in a rat’s nature to reach out for reciprocity. See…”
Looking down, King spreads one broad hand overtop of the spotted rat’s cage and lifts it from the floor, freeing her. Almost immediately, she seems to notice the distressed squeaking coming from the other cage, and approaches to investigate. She begins sticking her nose and claws between the bars, moving along the side of the cage.
The mutant watches the rodents with sharp eyes, almost hawk-like, as though perceiving every little motion of their ears, whiskers and paws.
“No need to stay. The longer she stays, the greater her risks… but fear does not fray the foundations of familiarity.”
The spotted rat reaches the cage door--which can only be opened from the outside--and headbutts it, causing it to swing open. The white rat joins her companion, her beady red eyes alert and wary.
King chuckles, a low and raspy sound, picking up the spotted rat. He places her into the other cage again, leaving the white rat free.
“And if something saccharine seeds itself into this scenario…? Surely her choice should be simple.”
Reaching into the pocket of his fatigues, he retrieves several shelled peanuts. Beneath the other cage, he places them in a pile and closes the door, leaving the white rat between her dinner and her devoted rescuer.
“Take your trophy and run, slender snow.”
The rat’s nose twitches… but she moves toward her friend, opening the door for her with a headbutt in a mimic of the earlier display. Once assured that the spotted rat is out, she crosses over to the other cage, opens the door… and heads inside, leaving enough room for her friend to follow. The two rats begin working on the pile of peanuts together, sharing their awarded meal.
“Even among the rats,” King rumbles, watching the creatures nibble away, “instinct coerces cooperation. Against the cruelty of the world, even gutter beasts like us know to gather… to embrace empathy… in perpetual reciprocation.”
He lifts the cage, setting it aside, and returns the rats to his shoulder. They make themselves comfortable around his neck, climbing along the broad lines of his crooked shape. The Lab Rat King looks up, meeting the eyes of his opponent. “That’s why you will die, Broken Boy.”
His smile is slow and vicious, readable even with the muzzle on.
“Offered the hand again and again… offered the trust of a violent, gutter friend. In the end? The Broken Boy chooses to be alone. He chooses isolation. And much like the rat who chooses not to cry out, or open the cage for his ally--he chooses death.”
Slowly, the Lab Rat King rises to his feet. As he does so, the red paint on the concrete beneath where he was crouching becomes much more visible--the jagged outline of a crown.
When he speaks again, the quality of his voice is… rougher. Less restrained. There’s an edge of inherent violence in it so terribly familiar.
“You chose DEATH, Broken Heart. Such a SHAME. I had so been looking forward to the organic orchestrations we would have brought to the hallowed halls of Carnage! You and I, locked in a waltz of blitzed bone, back and forth forever and ever and EVER! I saw an equal in you; a beast to match me breath for breath, break for break. Fighting you was such a THRILL. Your icy eyes gave me CHILLS! I trembled with excitement for the next chance to lock up against you, to test ourselves against each others’ chew. I was born in a mist of blood, a companion crafted for nothing more but to claw a way out, an escape from the end--and you were my firssssst… friend.”
King’s exhale is ragged… almost weary. His chest swells with uneven breaths, restless.
“The very moment I climbed to the top of fury’s mountain, the Queen of Carnage’s throat in my hand… I looked back with anticipation, slavering for our war to begin. But you… you were gone. Then you betrayed me…!”
He snarls, stepping forward with an animalistic sway. “You turned your BACK on me! I opened the door for you--we invited you into our pack! We welcomed you, offered our empathy and our efforts, and you SCORNED ME, CURSED ME, LEFT A DEAFENING SILENCE! WE SHARED IT ALL WITH YOU, WE TOLD YOU EVERYTHING, BARED OUR BROKEN LUNGS, AND YOU GAVE NOTHING, YOU OFFERED NOTHING BUT A BLOW TO THE BACK IN THE DARK! YOU SKITTERED OFF WITH OUR PRIZE LIKE A COCKROACH, CLICKING AND SCREECHING ALL THE WAY HOME!”
Gasping for breath, King coughs, taking a moment to gather himself. His fury boils, burning his skin, flushing him red under the dim but fiery glow.
“You SNATCHED away what you didn’t earn… when all you had to do to claim your bounty was to call on me to come to war. But you were never the monster I believed you were, Broken Boy. You were always a coward. You stole my Pretty Red in the dark, driven by the blood of a coward, and you returned it in silence out of my sight, DRIVEN BY THE BLOOD. OF. A. COWARD.”
King rips his muzzle off, letting it fly to the floor. The rats clinging to his shirt retreat to his pockets, squealing. The mutant bares his stained teeth, seething, the trickle of spit tinted with the red of blood running down from the corner of his mouth.
“The Goddess was WORTHY. Her fury had a purpose within these walls--her glory is painted red all across the legacy of our corded cage! Taking her belt was my pleasure--but I won’t deny what she has done to soak it in the songs of a hundred battles past. The Huntress--the Saccharine Siren who was bred in the same hell as me--she has stood against me without fear since the beginning, and you DARE TO DENY HER? YOU DARE TO DICTATE WHO I DEFINE AS DEADLY ENOUGH TO COME FOR MY CROWN?” He spits, roiling with vitriol. “THE HUNTRESS SPOKE TRUE--YOU PREACHED OF THE DIGNITY OF OUR VIOLENT DANCE, OF HONOUR, UP UNTIL YOU FAILED TO MAKE YOUR CORONATION AND STOLE YOUR JEWELS INSTEAD. COWARD! LIAR! YOU DON’T DESERVE A GILDED SKULL!! I AM THE CHAMPION OF ULTRAVIOLENCE--THE LAB RAT KING--BECAUSE MY REVELRY FOR WAR IS THE SPECTACLE THE LEGION LONGS FOR. IT REPRESENTS THE GLORY OF CARNAGE, AN HOMAGE TO IT’S VERY NAME, AND ONLY THE MOST BLOODTHIRSTY BASTARDS CAN COME FOR ME NOW!
"NO EXPLANATION YOU OFFER MATTERS. DO YOU UNDERSTAND, BROKEN BOY? YOUR WORDS ARE EMPTY. NOTHING. DEVOID OF MEANING, TRUE OR FALSE OR BOTH. YOUR SILENCE AND YOUR TRANSGRESSIONS HAVE SHOWN ME YOUR REAL FACE. SO YOU’D BETTER PRAY. YOU’D BETTER PRAY, BECAUSE YOU TAMED A MONSTER MADE FOR MURDER AND THEN DROVE A KNIFE INTO HIS SPINE. WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GONNA HAPPEN NEXT? YOU BETTER PRAY, BECAUSE IF THERE IS A GOD WILLING TO SAVE A COWARD YOU HAD BEST HOPE HE IS LISTENING. YOU BETTER PRAY, BECAUSE I’M STARVING, STARVING, STARVING!! AND YOU’RE NO EQUAL OF MINE--NOT ANYMORE. I THOUGHT YOU WERE MINE, AS I WAS YOURS. BUT YOU’RE NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO STAND NEXT TO ME ANYMORE. NNNNO… ”
His jaw dripping with bloodied saliva, his eyes wild and frantic, King picks up the Ultraviolent Championship belt from the concrete at his feet. Lifting it toward his maw, he presses an even deeper, even clearer bite mark into the crimson leather. With the belt hanging from his shaking fist, he grins, shoulders heaving like a ravenous, starving dog.
“You’re… better… prey.”
There’s a sharp crack as the hanging lightbulb bursts, bathing the basement in black.