The crowd explodes into a roar as the bell sounds. Two fighters square off against each other. One is a shirtless man, with shaggy greying hair and a scruffy goatee. The other is a smaller fighter, lithe in figure beneath the dark hoodie that she wears. Her painted lips crease into a grin, the only thing visible under the drawn hood of the outer garment. The shirtless fighter rounds on her left, rushing forward to tackle her down. The hooded fighter slips downward, her hands down at her sides lazily as she dances out from under the groping lunge, turning to face her attacker’s left-hand side. Suddenly, her right hand lashes out, wheeling up in an overhand arc to smash down across his grey-grizzled left cheek. Almost as soon as it connects, she pulls back, dancing out of reach of counter-attack. The crowd murmurs, seeming to expect the bare-chested fighter to have the immediate advantage. He rubs his jaw thoughtfully, squaring up again and circling inwards more slowly, looking to pick a more careful spot this time.

Chelsey, meanwhile, may well have been in a whole other world. For all of her tough talk, she failed to secure the victory over her opponents at First Class. Sure, she may not have been the one pinned, but the fact still remained – her record at the IIW is starting with a fresh, shiny L. But this wasn’t the time to dwell on the past-

This time, the hooded fighter strikes first, once again dropping low. This time her leg sweeps out, her hips torquing her entire body into the swing. The man stops, lowering his center of gravity and taking the sweep across the shins instead of at the weaker ankles. The hooded fighter turns her whole body as her sweep glances off, exposing her back to the shirtless fighter. The man does not fail to notice this, reaching forward to grab around her hooded head to apply a chokehold. What he does not expect is the hooded fighter to drop down again, both hands planting into the ground before pushing off, driving both legs backward into the male warrior’s stomach. The hooded figure twirls her feet into the sky from her prone position, using the momentum to bring herself back up to her feet in a tilt-a-whirl fashion. She land in a crouch, fist on the ground. Her head cocks up, still shrouded by the hoodie covering it. The only thing visible is a shaded pair of lips, set in a smirking grin.

Chelsey didn’t come here to lose. She came here to show dominance, she came here to win, and, most importantly, she came here because the UK does not extradite criminals to Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. But also, she came here to find her...

Suddenly, a new visual is super-imposed over the hooded fighter. Over the hood, a hooded mask instead, standing almost opposite to the fighter’s garb. This mask covers the lower half of the fighter’s face, displaying instead a pair of deep brown eyes, intensely focused. The hoodie becomes a tight but comfortable blood red sneaking suit, a dark gold fringe displayed in locations for maximum distraction. She rushes at the other fighter, letting out a sharp kiai as she ducks in, releasing a series of rapid jabs and strikes, precisely targeting ribs. Before he can react, she pulls back, drawing her fists together before stepping in again, lunching with a two-armed shoulder and arm strike across the entire chest. The sudden snapping impact sends the older fighter bouncing backwards, struggling to keep his balance.

The mysterious figure on that compound rooftop. The cold precision, threatening to still even the raging flame of the revolutionary. The argument. The battle. That moment...

The shirtless man stumbles back, centering himself for the oncoming attack. He steps around the followup, a charging front kick, clobbering a heavy fist into her back as the hooded fighter, still appearing as the masked ninja-like figure, stumbles forward, dropping to a knee. There’s a shout, and a heavy club is thrown into the ring, landing at the old battler’s feet. The crowd begins to rumble in anticipation, feeling the blood that is soon to be shed.

She was like lightning, striking soundlessly and letting the thunder make her noise for her.

The man grips the club, feeling its heft in his hand as he slaps it into the other. Now it’s his turn to grin. He takes a step forward, lifting his club into the air to make the finishing blow, but stops suddenly.

She was like lightning, one split-second, she was there, and the next...

The hooded figure did not spend her own time idly. As the man was grabbing the club, she was surging forward, a hand reaching into the hoodie pocket, from it brandishing a knife of moderate length. As she does, the masked figure superimposed over here similarly draws a katana with an exquisitely carved and designed handle. As one, both figures drive their blades upwards and into the midsection of the fighter. The crowd explodes in vigor, not getting the blood they expected but appreciating the blood they receive. The fighter blinks, once, and then twice, and then drops the club to his side, shaking his head and flailing to whoever will listen that he’ll forfeit the fight. The bell rings again, and the crowd continues to bustle with excitement.

In the meantime, Chelsey continues to watch from the sidelines, looking over at Declan and pointing excitedly, tugging at his own sweater sleeve.

CC: Did you SEE that? She’s amazing!

Declan: Right she is, lass. I wouldn’t want to get into a row with her.

As people begin to shuffle away, the drabness of the arena is quickly laid bare. The ring, barely delineated from the ‘seating’ by a thin waist-high chain-link fence, is dusty and tinged scarlet from poorly-cleaned blood spilled over months of extended use. Beyond the ring, there are a few scattered chairs, but mostly standing room. The bookie remains in the arena, beaming proudly to himself. Most people, it seems, bet on the bigger guy.

CC: I know I did.

Declan: Did... did what?

CC: Bet on the big guy!

Chelsey spares a glance at Declan, her face implying that he’s the idiot in this scenario. The Irish wayfarer just rolls his eyes, and Chelsey instead returns her gaze to the scene in the ring. The older fighter is among the first to leave the arena, as some others rush to his aid and begin seeing to his medical needs.

But Chelsey only has eyes for the hooded one.

The woman remains crouched, for a short time. Once she seems sure no one else is going to attack, she wipes the blood from her knife on the sandy arena floor before returning it to her hoodie pocket. The superimposed image instead produces a fine cloth, running it along the blooded edge of her blade before sheathing it dramatically. Both sets of hands then move to their respective hoods, but as they do, the ghostly image of the ninja wisps away, twirling into a reverse funnel of smokey light and fading from view. The remaining hands pull back the head, and the fighter regards the crowd for the first time since the battle began.

Chelsey’s eyes are locked onto the woman, almost glittering in response. She blinks, slowly, eventually seeming to return to reality. With a sudden, panicked look, she tugs on Declan’s sleeve again.

CC: We gotta get outta here!

Declan: What? Why?

CC: Just trust me!

Declan: You know I know that’s a terrible idea, but-

If the man has any further complaints, they’re snatched from his lips by Chelsey leaping to her feet, her grip on Declan’s hoodie remaining firm as he is dragged along with her.

Chelsey had tried, and she had failed. It wasn’t something that she had much experience dealing with, so each one always dug deeply into her perception of herself.  First, it was her mother, all those years ago. Then again, when she caught too much heat in Siberian country, forcing her to relocate to China. There, Chelsey perhaps met with one of her greatest failures of all.

CC: But not here.

Declan again furrows his brow and eyes her warily.

Declan: Not where?

CC: Here. Like right here-

Chelsey gestures to the dimly lit front room of the arena, where potential spectators are first screened.

CC: The lighting is TERRIBLE!

Instead, she drags Declan out of the alley, into the morning sun of Manchester. She gives him her phone and sets it up, before positioning him so that he’ll record her standing in front of the alley. She grins and gives him two thumbs up, before motioning to push the button. He glances for a second and does as asked.

CC: But not here. I won’t let something as simple as a ruling against me be the failure that Sukeban must want it to be. Let it be known, Ichiko, that you didn’t beat me, you beat Dracona. If it had just been us, we both know what would have happened. But you’ll have to get in line for that, Bad Girl, because first, I have another Russian to crush.

Chelsey smirks into the diode.

CC: Anya Sharapova. The Russian Beauty. Yet another who would cling to a simplistic sense of nationality to find your identity. I’ve seen so many fight for the Motherland, and a great many more die for that very cause. Honorable, I’m sure, but ask their friends and families where that honor’s gotten them. But maybe that isn’t the case, is it? Maybe you just wear the name for the way it tastes in your mouth. Well, at First Class, the only taste your mouth will need to get used to is the taste of your own blood. I’m not above messing up your pretty face to prove a point. Do you think you would have anything in this business without that face?

Chelsey’s grin turns dark as she begins to walk threateningly towards the camera.

CC: Just something to consider.

Using her nearness, she reaches around out of frame and hit the end-recording button. As she is stalking forward, the woman from inside the ring is exiting the alleyway herself, glancing around first at Chelsey and Declan, then both ways before turning a brisk right and beginning to walk. Chelsey glances into the reflection on the phone before her eyes widen in shock. She barrels around, rushing over to the woman and matching her stride as they head down the sidewalk.

CC: I am SO sorry, I didn’t see you there. I was just too busy recording a promo for my professional wrestling job, you see...


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