A Quantum Destinies side story
by D.B. Sommer
All comments and criticisms appreciated. You can contact me at email@example.com
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the folks from Ranma ½, they belong to Rumiko Takahashi, and the US rights belong to Viz Communications.
Quantum Destinies is a universe that belongs to Jurai-Knight, and he has been kind enough to let me play in it a few times.
Jurai-Knight's homepage with the most up to date Quantum Destinies chapters is http://home.earthlink.net/~sthesken/fanfics/qd.html
[Writer's note: Just to clear up any confusion: when 'Arena' is capitalized, it is most probably referring to the Imperial Arena in Japan (unless it's at the start of a sentence or it's specifically stated otherwise. Any spellings where it is not capitalized are referring to another one, usually Hong Kong's in this chapter.]
Legs aching, muscles crying out in pain, lungs gasping for air: an inventory of suffering that held no hint of relief, growing longer by the second. Fighting through the barrier of pain, Shampoo continued to run yet another lap around the outside of the huge fitness center where Jaddo was having her work out. Each circuit around the building was nearly a kilometer, and she had already completed nineteen laps around the structure. On the surface, that did not sound so bad; her great-grandmother had made her run twice that at times. But there was more to it than that. Shampoo had gone through an extensive workout that involved lifting weights and hitting the various types of workout bags with a wide array of punches and kicks, sharpening her techniques to a razor fine edge. That had gone on for two hours before he had ordered her run. Again, as much as it had drained her energy, the run would still have not been a problem save for one other detail: the tension suit.
It was a particularly nasty device. Shampoo was convinced it had been developed by some medieval torturer that had enjoyed his work. It was not really a suit, but more like a harness that was strapped across the chest and wrapped around her back. A number of tight coils led out from the harness to collars that were wrapped around her ankles and wrists, the last around her neck. The coils had a great deal of tension to them, and it made any movement sluggish, requiring at least three times the normal effort to make a move. It made every single step a struggle, especially after having run nearly nineteen kilometers already. This was easily the worst workout she had suffered at Jaddo's hands yet.
However, she was almost finished. All she needed was to complete one last turn and her required twenty laps would be done. Then it would be time for a long, relaxing rest in the center's whirlpool and then a nap. She always wanted one of each after Jaddo's intense workout sessions, which were only increasing in intensity with each passing day. Two weeks worth she had undergone, with only Sundays off, as he allowed her to gradually become used to being in Hong Kong.
Chasing such distracting thoughts from her mind, she pushed her body further and harder. The last segment of the lap was on the uphill portion of the run, making it the most difficult part of the endurance test. Her breath came out in dry, raspy heaves until she reached the crest and spotted Jaddo at the finish line, which had also served as the starting line. He was looking at the stopwatch in his hand rather than her, but she knew from her previous runs that the instant she broke the plane of the imaginary line, Jaddo's finger would stab down on the watch, and her session would be over at last.
Gasping even harder than before, Shampoo rushed over the line and stumbled past, slowing down with each step, allowing her body to come down from its strenuous test of endurance before stopping altogether ten yards past. Slowly, she walked back to her mentor, who watched her with arms crossed. She was eager to hear the praises he would give for her completion of the difficult run.
"Congratulations. Your time didn't suck," he stated blandly as he continued looking at the stopwatch.
A disgusted grunt escaped her lips. Some praise. She mentally debated giving him an acidic comment when he clapped his hands gleefully. That put her on edge. For a moment, she considered running before realizing she was too tired to do so. No doubt that had been his plan from the beginning. Under Jaddo's tutelage, she was just starting to learn what true shiftiness was. She also learned a whole lot of new swear words too, which she tended to use with much vigor as the training sessions wore on.
The aborigine rubbed his hands together, and Shampoo almost threw caution to the wind and ran off anyway. "Time to do push-ups. I'll go easy on you. Only six reps of fifty. Then you get to do sit-ups. Only five sets of fifty there."
Shampoo let out a low moan. "Come on, Jaddo. My arms are sore from all of the punching and weight lifting, my legs are tired from the running, and this damn suit was specifically engineered to wear me down every step of the way. I also have an incredible headache."
"Wah, I bet your pussy hurts too. Now quit whining and start doing those push-ups."
Realizing she wasn't going to win, Shampoo started to take the harness off.
"Leave it on."
Shampoo sighed. She dropped to the ground and started to do her push-ups. At least the harness didn't seem to hinder her to the degree it had during the run, though she figured that might not be the case with the sit-ups when she had to shift her spine so much.
After only eight push-ups, Jaddo gave a sympathetic, "Wait, you do look tired." After a moment's consideration, he said, "Aw, what the hell."
Shampoo allowed her stomach to fall to the concrete below her. So he wasn't a total slave driver. It was nice to know he understood that as young and strong as she was, she still had limits tha-
"Oof!" A good portion of Shampoo's air was knocked out of her lungs as she felt a heavy weight dropped onto her back.
"There we go! An additional twenty pounds riding your back ought to really beef you up. Now get back to those push-ups, starting at one again."
Shampoo did as she was ordered, huffing out. "When… I'm done with this… I'm going to give you… a matching limp… on your other leg."
"Ah, a threat. My regimen must be working."
The worst part of it to Shampoo was that he did sound pleased with her threats. She had only gotten as far as her second set of fifty when Jaddo said, "After you're done with today's workout, you'll get to see the arena you'll be fighting in by the end of the week."
That made Shampoo pause. Since they had arrived he had been intentionally keeping her away from the Hong Kong arena so she could adapt to the big city life, as well as improving her conditioning and to fully recover from the beating the Northman had inflicted upon her. In her opinion, it had all been a waste of time. She had been fully healed within the first two days, and she had adjusted to big cities long before that. To someone that came from as small a village as she had, all metropolises with over a million residents looked the same. However, Jaddo had been determined that she wait and had made certain she was too busy or too tired to protest. Now at last the ordeal was over. Her time had come.
With a burst of energy she finished her push-ups and sit-ups in record time. She used the facility's showers to clean up quickly (lamenting the lack of time for a proper session in the whirlpool) before heading outside to where Jaddo waited for her.
Jaddo stared at her suspiciously. "That didn't take long. You did remember to use soap, didn't you? I don't like stinky women anymore than I do bitchy ones, so that means you already have one mark against you."
"Of course I did," she retorted as she stuck her tongue out at him, but found she couldn't maintain her anger. Not with their upcoming trip to the local arena upon her.
Jaddo flagged down a cab. Shampoo was doubly impressed since he was usually too cheap to use them. Even when they had arrived in the city by ship, he had made Shampoo carry the bags all the way from the docks to the small hotel they were staying at, which was over fifteen kilometers away. He told her they could have stayed closer to the docks, but a friend of his had offered them the room free of charge. The only upside to the whole thing was that for the first time in over six months she had a proper room to call her own. It was not very big, but she had not cared. It had been far too long since she had possessed any measure of privacy. And the bed felt divine compared to the lumpy straw things she had to put up with in the majority of the fighter's dorms she had stayed in, especially early on in the dog pit circuit.
The only negative thing that had happened during her hotel stay was when she had experimented with the 'room service' the hotel offered. She was astounded to discover that all she had to do was dial a number on the phone and people would deliver food to her room. She had ordered two full meals, and was about to start on the first one when Jaddo came in and accused her of abusing his friend's hospitality by running up a room charge. As punishment, he had made her do thirty laps in the hotel's swimming pool. When she had returned, she discovered Jaddo laying on her bed and the remnants of two meals on the serving trays. He had explained to her that there was no sense in letting the food go to waste. She had politely agreed by breaking a nightstand over his head. However, she had made certain to use the one from Jaddo's room since she did not want to destroy her own and 'abuse his friend's hospitality'.
After that incident they had settled into a comfortable habit of training a large portion of each day to improve herself physically or sharpen her techniques. The local fitness center was as much a home as her hotel room was. By the end of the first week, Shampoo was firmly convinced she had improved every part of herself. At her current power and skill level, she was firmly convinced she could even defeat the Northman in a rematch, taking only half the time and fewer injuries.
And now the time had come to prepare for her debut. The trip by cab through the city proved to be uneventful. The peace was appreciated, as it gave Shampoo a chance to reflect on her new, if temporary, home. The city was incredible, being a bastion of all the technological wonders the Empire had to offer. Machines Shampoo had never imagined existed were present, from a wide array of vehicles to small super-computers that served as information networks as well as forms of communication and entertainment. Services of every kind, from being schooled in the higher arts, to restaurants that served food from everywhere in the world, to brothels, were offered in colorful and often flamboyant fashion. And nearly all of it was within easy walking distance no matter where one lived in the city. The visions of the city were matched only by its population, which proved equally as interesting and diverse as the machines that inhabited it.
Despite the close proximity to China, only about half the population of Hong Kong was Chinese. The city served as something of a gateway for nearly everyone that wanted to travel in this area of the world. Those from the East that wanted to head west almost inevitably went through Hong Kong. Those from the West that wanted to head east did the same. Likewise, north and south was the same way. And as with any other gateway city, some of the travelers ended up staying instead, whether it be from an enchantment with the city, to running out of funds, or that the opportunities they sought in far-off lands were closer at hand than they realized. But for whatever reason, they stayed, and added to the already huge and diverse population.
The various shades of skin and types of faces astounded Shampoo. She had no idea there were so many different kinds of people in the world, other than in some abstract concept, and that they could gather together in such a small area. Japanese, Europeans, Koreans, Africans, Australians, and a variety of mixes of those races were evident in significant numbers. Jaddo termed the city "the most homogenized place on the planet." The claim was easy for Shampoo to believe.
Hong Kong itself was by far the most important Imperial city outside of Japan. It was a megalopolis of prestige, influence, and opportunity. Every major zaibatsu had a presence in the city, though those whose holdings were primarily in the West tended to wield the most power. Nowhere was that more evident than in the corporate sector. Shampoo had only seen it once, but that was enough for the sight to be etched in her memory for the rest of her life. Towering buildings, which served as both headquarters and residences for the elite, stretched impossibly high towards the sky, the tallest and largest belonging to the most powerful of the megacorporations. It was sort of a contest among them to show off who the richest and most powerful were. It was like a game children would play with building blocks, save that these children used real buildings to display their skills at accumulating riches.
That was not to say that everyone lived like kings. Very few could be counted among the elite of the corporate sector. As with any other large city in the world, every class of people was represented. In a metropolis of such limited area, like Hong Kong, space often determined one's standing in life, from owning a house to having three generations living in the same apartment, the more space you had, the richer you were. In the poorer sections, things were so crowded that Shampoo figured the entire population of her village could fit in a city block, given the cramped conditions the residents tended to live in. Shampoo supposed she could do it if she had to, she had already been forced to adapt to much, but it would have felt more like living in a box than an actual home.
The city felt as crowded as it looked, with the streets ebbed and flowed with an ocean of people a majority of the time. Even the alleys seemed to be perpetually full of traffic, whether by motor vehicle, bicycle, or those that could only afford to travel on foot. However, despite the feeling of confinement, there was an unmistakable feeling of optimism in the air. It even existed in the seedier sections of the city, where the squalor did not feel as oppressive as it tended to in similar areas in the smaller cities that Shampoo had traveled through. Jaddo claimed it was because everyone knew that no matter how bad they had it, Hong Kong was still the best place in the Empire where one would have a chance to get ahead. All a person had to do was bide their time and wait for the opportunity to present itself, then make a play for it.
That air of confidence, as well as the prosperity of the city itself, was why Hong Kong had been dubbed 'the Jewel of the West' by so many. It was a comparison Shampoo thought appropriate, given her first view of the city when she traveled to it by boat. The sun had fallen long before they arrived, but when they approached and the island came into view, it shone like a shimmering beacon in the darkness, entrancing Shampoo with the promises of adventure it held. Yes, she understood why so many could sacrifice so much to stay in this place, even after she had drawn closer and saw that it was still only a city that lay beneath the shiny veneer that shone on the surface at a distance.
Her ruminations lasted the entire cab ride, which took less than an hour, despite the heavy traffic. But to Shampoo the journey seemed to take an eternity. It was not until the building came into view that time faded all at once. She gave a sharp intake of air at the sight now that she was up close. Earlier in the week she had seen the arena in the distance, but it was only now, at close range, that she could truly appreciate the size of the massive structure. It was a gigantic, circular, dome-covered building that was many stories high. It was brown, and appeared to be made of stone, enough that it probably could have taken an entire open pit mine from Hellmount to account for the amount of rock needed to construct it.
There was a series of slender, four-meter long projections that stuck straight out right where the arena's dome began its slope inward. They circled around the entirety of the structure like a crown of thorns, reminding Shampoo of an inverted version of the spikes lining the walls of the pit she had confronted the Northman in. The only other oddity that caught Shampoo's eye was a series of one-story tall columns that surrounded the base of the Arena just like the projections did. The columns were obviously decorative, giving the illusion of supporting the arena itself, and Shampoo did find them pleasing to the eye. The architecture looked exotic, and she wondered if it came from some other land.
"Welcome to the Arena: Hong Kong version," Jaddo said with a flourish as they exited the cab. "It's the second-largest indoor coliseum in the Empire, eclipsed only by the Imperial Arena in Japan. Technically, it can hold more than the main Arena, but that's only because there's a huge standing-room-only area near the floor, where they can be packed in like sardines, though every space is coveted even there. Higher seats don't have the sophisticated equipment the Imperial Arena does in magnifying the fight so it seems closer than it really is, but no one here seems to mind."
"I'm going to be fighting here?" Shampoo asked with awe in her voice.
"Fighting and winning," Jaddo said confidently. "Let's head inside. I want you to get a good look at the place."
The pair entered the structure, Jaddo showing the people at the gates a pass of some kind that allowed them entry without paying. Once inside, Shampoo could hear the roar of a massive crowd. "I thought they only had fights at night."
"Those are the big televised fights," Jaddo explained as he led them to a small set of doors that led further into the arena instead of the seats where the public was watching the fights. "These are day games. They throw them once a week. It's aimed mostly for the locals. They charge a cut rate for tickets, which is one of the reasons it's so popular here. Matches are mostly made up of saps, with one or two impact players in the main event. Poorer folks don't much mind. They get to see some of the rising stars, and the fights are usually competitive." Again Jaddo flashed his pass at someone guarding a door. The sleepy-eyed guard waved them through.
"Where are we going?" Shampoo asked.
"To see a very important man in this here arena. He said he was going to be here today when I called him. He prefers watching the matches from the fighter's ramp, despite having access to just about any seat he wants. But I guess he doesn't like the box seats most of the fatcats use. It probably reminds him too much of what his life could have been like."
Shampoo was about to ask for further elaboration when the noise level rose significantly. She saw that they were now going upwards and the corridor they were in was widening. Within moments, she saw that the ramp led to an open area that was right next to the arena floor. Shampoo recognized it as being similar in design to the dog pits she had fought in, and that this was probably the fighter's ramp where they were issued forth to bleed for the audience's approval.
There was a man standing alone in the area, looking at the fight that was currently occurring out on the floor. He was an older man, though younger than Jaddo by about a decade. He was Japanese, from what Shampoo could tell, and his finely tailored suit fitted him tight enough that it was obvious that he was in very good physical shape despite his age. A bit on the handsome side as well, though he was not a man to go wild over. He bore one small but noticeable scar that traveled across his right cheek. Despite holding himself casually, there was a hint of caution in the air, as though he was primed for a fight at a moment's notice. This close there was a noticeable aura of power to him. A man to be reckoned with, if she was any judge. And after the number of fights she had been in, she considered herself a damn fine judge.
Jaddo gave one of his toothy grins. "And here he is now. A genuine riches-to-rags story. Allow me to introduce to you the only man in the history of arena fighting whose victory total was the same as his estimated worth in tens of millions. He was also the winner of the big tournament seventeen years ago: Tetsuo Arisukoji."
Tetsuo gave Jaddo a tired glare, not an easy look to give. "I would appreciate it if you didn't remind me of my past before the Arena, you old fool. It sort of defeats the purpose of me disowning everything, even my citizenship, in order to remake myself."
"Ha! If you didn't want people to know who you were, you would never have become the overlord of this here arena. You'd have gone out in the boonies in one of the territories where people think 'Sanzenin,' is some exotic form of venereal disease."
The name caught Shampoo's attention. "Sanzenin? The same ones that owned the mines in Hellmount?"
"Yes, indeed," Jaddo answered. "Tetsuo here was going to be the primary heir of the Sanzenin fortune."
Tetsuo noted the look of confusion Shampoo directed toward him and realized there was no getting out of telling the tale. "Unlike the majority of my family, I had problems with how the Sanzenins did business. I have some grasp of morals, which is disapproved of in general by my family. Apparently it gets in the way of what they consider to be 'good business.' Unfortunately, I couldn't do anything about it. If I had tried cleaning up our act or liquidating our holdings once I took control, it would have been a contest to see which member of my family could have had me killed first. So instead, I abandoned everything, even my name and citizenship, to disown myself from them. Then I fought my way through the ranks of warriors until I won the tournament and re-earned my citizenship, as well as gaining the right to give myself a name once again."
"Even to this day it's one of the Empire's greatest tales of what a driven man can do, and made the Sanzenins look bad, which they've never forgiven Tetsuo for," Jaddo told Shampoo, obviously amused. He turned his attention to the 'self-made' man. "Tell me, are there ever days you wake up and kick yourself over giving up all of that money?"
Tetsuo shrugged. "I don't know. Are there ever days you wake up and feel bad about being able to look yourself in the mirror?"
"Nice counter," Jaddo admitted.
Shampoo found herself agreeing with her mentor. She liked this Tetsuo. That he would give up so much over principles spoke volumes of his character, especially in a business where there were so many were unscrupulous purveyors of violence and pain. There was no question she was better off with such a person in charge of making her matches.
"What brings you here?" Tetsuo asked, his eyes falling on Shampoo. "Finally letting your girl strut her stuff before the crowd?"
"Hoping for a match Saturday," Jaddo said.
"Done. She's a hot commodity, and a lot of people want to see if she's as good as her rep claims. And that whole marriage thing is going to shoot her to the top of the ranks of popularity, as long as she doesn't lose."
"I've been beefing her up good. If she doesn't get too cocky, she won't be losing here."
The information seemed to please Tetsuo. "I have just the fighter in mind. He's Chinese and just got moved up to here. He's only got a handful of losses to some impact players on the inner circuit. We'll hype it as an opening match for new players. Should get a good bit of push for that in her debut match."
Shampoo listened on in silence. It wasn't the first time she had been present when Jaddo arranged a match for her, and she learned long ago not to interrupt the discussion. He could represent her interests with a skilled hand, and most promoters held his opinions in high regard, while few wanted to hear a sixteen-year old give voice to her opinions. It had taken a few shouting sessions for the facts to sink in, but at least they had, and she had to admit she was better off for it.
Jaddo switched topics. "So what has she got to look forward to in this batch?"
"You haven't been asking around?" Tetsuo asked.
"Of course I did. Got a lot of good opinions, too. Just wanted to hear your thoughts on it."
Tetsuo nodded his head in agreement. "Not the best crop this time around. Very few standouts. Although I suppose you should be grateful you weren't here a few months ago. Hot commodity then was a young punk named Tarou. He was bad news. Really good fighter, but the boy had the meanness in him. Your girl makes it through, she's probably going to have to deal with him in the big show. Hate to admit it, but he's one of the best I've seen in a while."
"That's looking too far ahead," Jaddo warned. "What's she got to look forward to here?"
"Not much, truth be told, unless someone comes out of nowhere and starts lighting things up," Tetsuo reluctantly admitted. "There's the usual mix of impact players, but only a handful of hot commodities. Currently there's a trio you might have to watch out for. Two are Chinese girls. Identical twins called Pink and Link. The whole identical look thing is a pretty good catch for them. Pink's the slightly better of the two, but either one can give you a good run for the money, and they're still improving. Not sure how they'll do in Japan, though. Had better girls coming through here a while back. A Korean first, then one of them natives from the North American Territories in the next batch. They were big time draws, and knew how to strut their stuff.
"As to the twins, no obvious weaknesses, other than Link having a tendency to get ill every now and then. It's cost her a match here and there, when she wasn't at the top of her game. Pink's the more headstrong of the duo, and sometimes Link needs to calm her down. Whatever you do, don't get in a doubles match against them. They did a few special challenge doubles matches and walked right over the opposition. They've got double-teaming down to a science. Classic case of the sum of the whole being greater than the individual parts."
"Oh, one other thing I should warn you about. They're overprotective of one another to a fault. If one thinks you've wronged the other, she'll go through hell itself to avenge her sister. I supposed it's some sort of twins thing, but they're almost pathological about it. They've gotten into trouble on more than one occasion over it."
"Like what?" Shampoo asked.
Tetsuo thought about it. "Early on, one of the better girls beat Pink in a close fight. That probably would have been the end of it, but the winner decided to do some stuff to publicly humiliate Pink after she had won. Next time out, the girl had a match against Link. Had her spine broken by the end of it, and it was pretty obvious Link was sending a message. So watch your step around them."
Shampoo nodded her head, paying close attention and memorizing everything he was saying. "You said there was a third?"
Tetsuo looked over his shoulder. "Look out there, and you can see him in action now."
Shampoo did as he bade, and looked out at the vastness of the arena for the first time. It was huge, at least half again the size of Hellmount. She had never envisioned such a huge place existing. The stands were overflowing with tens of thousands of people whose attention was riveted solely on the occupants in the center of the combat floor. It was a simple thing, just a flat area of concrete where people could be left to beat one another senseless. It seemed plain, and almost a disappointment that it was really no different than the combat rings from the inner-circuit she had just been on.
In the middle of the floor were the objects of the crowd's, and now Shampoo's, attention. Two men were in the middle of a fight that had begun before she and Jaddo had approached Tetsuo. One was taller, a Chinese man with his head completely shaved save for a long braid that stretched from a patch of hair at the very top of his head to nearly his bottom. He wore a standard Chinese outfit that was white with gold stripes along the side.
Of greater interest was his opponent. He was a handsome Caucasian with short, ruffled blond hair. He was only slightly taller and heavier than Shampoo, giving his opponent the advantage of both size and reach. His garments were simple, consisting of a loose red gi tied off with a black sash and no footwear. He had a cockeyed grin on his face as he ducked under a backfist from the Chinese man, and then moved in under the taller man's guard. Shampoo was barely able to follow the fists as a right and left snapped in, striking the taller man in the stomach and jaw. Though neither were critical strikes, they would serve much the same function that Shampoo's attacks did in her fight with the Northman. Just as quickly, the blond warrior stepped back and out of reach of the counterattack, taunting his opponent to make an effort to strike him again. His actions made the crowd cheer harder, and clearly backing up the blond in his efforts to defeat his opponent.
Shampoo continued watching the fight with a critical eye, well trained after observing countless fights to evaluate what an opponent might have to offer. It was painfully obvious the blond was the better of the two. He had a confident flow to his actions, and his hand speed was unbelievable, though his quicksilver blows delivered little in the way of heavy damage taken individually. The problem was when they added up, as they were upon his dark-haired opponent.
But then the crowd, fickle as ever, cheered when the Chinese man slipped a blow under the blond's guard, scoring a powerful strike to the side of his face. The blond recoiled slightly, but recovered just as fast in deflecting the next attack. Once more he went back to taunting his larger opponent. Either the man was very good or very stupid. Shampoo watched closely to determine which it was.
The answer was delivered as the Caucasian changed his fighting style in between moves. One moment he was focusing on some style of fist boxing to one Shampoo recognized as being a form of Muay-Thai kickboxing. The Chinese man seemed unprepared for the shift in attacks as several kicks connected with his legs, chest, then jaw, each blow delivered quickly and effortlessly. The fight was over now. It was only a matter of time, and not much at that.
Seeing Shampoo was satisfied in her evaluation, Tetsuo said to her, "That's the third one. He's an American. His name is Thomas Cantrell, but he goes by the handle of 'Snakebite'. It's because of how fast his hands are, and how quickly he can switch styles."
"I see," Shampoo said.
Tetsuo nodded in approval of the next series of blows Snakebite landed. "He's good and can play the crowd like a master. Knows how to take a blow, as well as dish them out. Only has four losses. Three from early on, and one to Pink. He let his balls do his thinking in that fight. He should have had her."
Shampoo stored that piece of information. That could prove valuable, assuming Snakebite had not learned his lesson. "Will I fight him?"
"Not right away. Probably later on, though. Odds are, you'll fight all three at some time or other to see who the hottest commodity is," Tetsuo explained.
"Don't see too many Americans here," Jaddo mentioned casually as he continued watching the fight.
Tetsuo smiled at that. "Thankfully, or at least not many like him. He can be trying at times, though he's not a bad sort. He's just one of those guys that has the ability to get under your skin real fast without trying. Rumor has it he wore out his welcome back home. Or perhaps I should say he was wanted there quite badly by some. Wanted bad enough that he thought coming here and taking up pit fighting was preferable to sticking around."
The crowd's roar forced the conversation to die as Snakebite landed a final blow that dropped his opponent to the ground. After waiting a moment to make sure the dark-haired man was not trying to trick him, Snakebite turned to the crowd and waved a single fist in the air. The roar paused for a moment, and in the space he shouted, "Y'all know you love it!"
The crowd seemed to agree with his brash statement as they shouted even louder in approval of the man with the cockeyed grin. Shampoo noted that he certainly knew how to play the crowd, certainly far better than she had seen any other fighter do. It was in the way he moved his body and paid attention to the masses. Given the ease with which he had vanquished his opponent, he was easily the best warrior she had seen yet, his speed unquestionably a better equalizer than the Northman's strength and durability had been. It appeared Jaddo had been correct in his constant string of reminders that the fighting in Hong Kong was far better than anything she had seen so far. If it was not for the fact Tetsuo was telling her Snakebite was one of the best he had to offer, she might have grown worried, but she felt she could take the brash American. It would be close, but instinctively she knew she had the edge. Still, perhaps Jaddo could step up her workouts a bit. There was no sense in taking chances.
While Shampoo had been lost in thought, Snakebite had made his way towards the small group, which was standing in the middle of the exit ramp for the fighters. He stopped before the trio, only giving Tetsuo and Jaddo cursory glances before settling his gaze fully upon the lavender-haired girl before him.
He gave a deep bow, and then looked her over a second time. "Well there, you surely do look like the sort of girl my momma used to warn me about. Of course, I never was one to take her advice. I've found it makes life far more interesting that way."
Now this was amusing. The man couldn't be more blatant in coming on to her if he had grabbed her bottom. Examining him on the basis of his appearance rather than his fighting ability, she found that his features were not displeasing to her eye. Still, it would take more than a nice, if somewhat lascivious, smile to win her over. It was best to let him know that immediately. She crossed her arms under her breasts and sniffed disdainfully at him.
Snakebite quickly changed his posture from seductive to apologetic, proving that his fighting style was not the only thing he could change quickly. "Now where are my manners? Forgive me for not properly introducing myself. I'm Thomas Cantrell, but I go by the handle of 'Snakebite' on account of how fast I am. But let me assure you, I got a slow hand when the situation calls for it." He bowed before unleashing that roguish grin again.
Shampoo was amused, and flattered, at his inability to keep from hitting on her. She gave him a smile that she hoped showed only tolerated politeness rather than any amusement that he might misinterpret as encouragement.
Snakebite's eyes widened slightly as an errant thought came to him. "Hey, you're that Amazon girl everyone's talking about, aren't you?"
His recognition brought a smile to Shampoo's face. So she had a reputation in Hong Kong before she had fought in a single match. That was an encouraging sign. "I am."
Snakebite chuckled. "Well now, I surely hope you do forgive me, but I'm not a marrying sort of guy. So when I beat ya', I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass on the whole marriage thing, though we might be able to work out some sort of alternative if it comes to that."
His brashness suddenly seemed more irritating than amusing to her. "You'd have to defeat me first."
"Yes, I would." The smirk never left his face. "Ole' Liang there managed to tap me once or twice. Worked me up to a right lather by the end, and I'm afraid I'm not at my freshest. So if you'll excuse me, I'll be going to clean myself up." He made a more formal bow to everyone before heading off towards where the showers lay.
Shampoo stared at his departing form. "Well, he certainly is cocky," she huffed. She turned to mention her other observations to Jaddo, who had his hand clamped over his mouth in barely restrained laughter. "What? What is it?"
Jaddo was barely able to get out, "It's times like this I wish I walked around with a black pot."
"I was never that bad," Shampoo insisted.
"You were that bad when you started to improve. In the beginning you were even worse."
"I was not!"
"You were cockier than a stud trapped in a sultan's harem." Jaddo deftly avoided the fist hurled at his face. He hurried off before he pushed his pupil too far. Much to his relief, and a bit of surprise, Shampoo elected to remain behind and seethe in anger rather than pursue. He figured it was all right. She had a hard workout, and it would do her well to become acquainted with the building in which she would be fighting and eventually living. He would wait for her by the main entrance until she felt like showing up. Then it would be back to the room to prepare for their other appointment for the evening. A rendezvous that might not have held a great deal of importance for Shampoo, but meant the world to Jaddo. With the years beginning to take their toll upon him, he understood now more than ever the importance of true friends. And oddly enough, he was beginning to wonder if maybe he would have said the same thing about children, if he had any.
No, that was ridiculous. He hated children. Obviously, Shampoo was somehow warping his core beliefs, the dirty little girl. He'd have words with her over it later, or go out drinking and just forget about everything. Whichever seemed more viable when the time came would be the course he chose.
Minutes earlier, high up above in an area that other fighters could observe the matches that went on in the arena, two pairs of eyes watched closely as Snakebite introduced himself to Shampoo. Neither could hear what was being said from their lofty perch, but the postures of the speakers' bodies told them all they needed to know.
"Why, of all the nerve! That little tramp is coming on to Thomas."
Or at least it was enough to tell them what they wanted to know. In the case of some, that was all that mattered.
Link rolled her eyes at her sister's statement, a remark of obvious denial given the facts before them. "She is not coming on to him."
"Yes, she is," Pink insisted. "Just look at the way she's thrusting her chest at him. She's all but grabbing his crotch to get him interested in her."
"She is not. She just has big breasts. Look at her shoulders. They're slouched a little, not rigid as if she was throwing her chest out."
"Are you looking at the same girl I am? I'm telling you, it's blatantly obvious she's tempting him. Or trying to, since I know my Thomas would never cheat on me with another woman, no matter how large her chest is."
Link ground her teeth together. They had this stupid conversation, or ones like it, more times than she could count. It was time to lay down the law again. "I've got news for you, your boyfriend considers anything with no balls that breathes as 'tempting' him. He doesn't know how to spell commitment, let alone live by it. He's coming on to her because she's pretty, he's horny, and he thinks you can't see him. And that last part doesn't really matter, since you wouldn't believe the truth, even if you caught them humping in his bed!"
Pink narrowed her eyes at her twin sister, leaving them little more than tiny slits. "You're just jealous because he loves me and doesn't like you. That's because he loves me for my personality, not my looks, which you can't stand since that means I'm nicer than you. And that galls you because you lust after him, too. I know how you stare at him when you think I'm not looking. You're just lucky you're my sister, and I know he wouldn't cheat on me, or else there would be… trouble."
The accusations, ones Link had heard many times before, wore her patience away as she snapped, "I do not like him! He's a disgusting Casanova that's playing with your heart, and you're too deluded to see the truth that's right in front of your eyes! The only thing I like about him is that he's literally such a snake that he'll never marry you and become my brother-in-law, in which case I'd have to kill him!"
Pink sneered at her sister. "Ha! You're a terrible liar. I know you're just saying that because you're jealous since you don't have anyone willing to warm your bed with you. The only companion you ever have is that vibrator you've got stuck in the back of your sock drawer."
A host of veins sprung forth from Link's forehead. "How dare you go through my things, you nosy bitch! I ought to tell Tetsuo to set a match for us so I can kick your ass in front of the entire world."
"You seem to be forgetting, little sister, that I'm the better fighter. Always have been, always will be, even if it isn't by much."
That made Link bristle. Pink knew how much she hated it when she brought up the fact she was younger, even if it was only by five minutes. "Maybe it's time things change, you stinking-"
"Oh! Thomas is leaving."
Link suddenly found herself staring at her sister's back. "What are you doing?"
Pink waved her hand dismissively towards her sister as she continued running towards a nearby flight of stairs at top speed. "I've got more important things to do than argue with you. I forgive you for your impure thoughts about my boyfriend and all the mean things you said about me. We are sisters, after all."
Link's jaw nearly hit the floor at the abrupt ending to the vicious argument. "Where are you going?"
Turning, Pink gave her sister an intense stare. "I'm going to warn that hussy to stay away from my man if she knows what's good for her."
All Link could do was sigh at her sister as she ran out of sight. Perhaps Pink was the better fighter and had much better luck with men (which angered Link to no end, since they were identical twins, and that meant there must have been some factor other than looks involved), but at least Link could take consolation in one important characteristic she had over her sibling.
She was a hell of a lot smarter.
The self-guided tour Shampoo gave herself of the facilities in the arena was very informative. The building was completely self-contained for the fighters, offering them a wide variety of services, from recreation rooms that had numerous state-of-the-art forms of entertainment, to their own cafeteria, which offered a wide selection of food that was free to the fighters. They had their own workout center, swimming pool, and a huge bathing area to clean themselves after an intense workout. Shampoo quickly learned that the majority of the fighters lived in a large dorm built specifically for them, and that the rooms were far better than any she had seen in the dog pits or the rest of the inner circuit. She hoped Jaddo would let her move into the dorms soon. It would be nice to have some sense of permanency, and perhaps she would have a chance to make friends with some of the other fighters near her age. The solitary existence she was leading with her mentor was really starting to wear her down, even if they had a better understanding and respect for one another. As lonely as she currently felt, she would probably try to strike up a conversation with the first fellow fighter she ran into.
There was a light tap on her shoulder.
Turning, Shampoo saw the person trying to gain her attention was a Chinese girl that appeared to be about the Amazon's age. Her features were fairly unremarkable, save perhaps the girl was a bit on the cute side. Her black hair was short, and she wore a white and pink outfit that was just flashy enough to identify her as a fellow fighter.
Seeing her half-lidded stare, Shampoo assumed the girl was suspicious of what a stranger was doing in the fighter's facilities. Deciding this was a golden opportunity to make a friend, Shampoo smiled and said. "Hello, my name is Sha-"
A punch to Shampoo's jaw silenced the rest of her greeting. Caught unprepared for the powerful blow, the Amazon fell to the ground, barely aware of anything other than it wasn't right for a jaw to hurt so much and still be attached.
Through the pain, she heard the girl say, "That's the only warning you'll get to stay away from Thomas, you bitch!"
Something warm and wet hit Shampoo's cheek. She still lay dazed on the floor, expecting a second attack to come, but it never did. Instead she eventually recovered enough of her senses to rise to her feet. As she regained her footing, she saw that her mysterious opponent had already departed. Bringing her hand up to the moist spot on her cheek, her fingers came away with the familiar wetness of spit.
Had anyone been in the room, they would have heard the subtle sound of muscles tensing as Shampoo made a fist of the hand that had come away with the spit. The clenching was hard enough that her fingernails threatened to break the skin of her palm. Silently Shampoo swore that cheap-shot bitch was a dead woman, if only figuratively. It was times like this she wished her people had not done away with the 'Kiss of Death,' otherwise Shampoo would have been delivering the first of her life. But during their surrender, the elders had quickly determined that the Empire would have little tolerance for a Joketsuzoku that tried doing away with an outsider, particularly if it was one of their Imperial citizens. With that in mind, the law was quickly disposed of, with orders that no warrior give it to anyone no matter how tempting the situation might have been. Still, Shampoo could slake her anger by beating the hell out of the girl the next time they met, even if it wasn't in the arena proper. No one would fault her for that after the way she had been caught off-guard. That form of vengeance would have to suffice, at least for the moment.
But if they met in the arena, well, for perhaps only the second time in her career, Shampoo would not be holding anything back.
"I can't believe you're wearing that thing."
"It is formal wear, as you always seem to bring up whenever I wear it. And we are dining in a formal place, yes?"
"Well, yah," Jaddo reluctantly agreed as he looked Shampoo over. It was the unbelievably expensive dress she had spent all of her money on. The outfit was a forest green that accentuated Shampoo's eyes perfectly. It was high-necked, and ruffles lined the front from neck to navel. A long train ran down the back, forcing the young girl to be mindful of where she walked. It was loose enough not to be too snug, while still being tight enough to show off her impressive female attributes. "It doesn't look crappy on you, but you sure don't look like a fighter. More like some snooty noblelady."
"You're just jealous because it makes you suffer by comparison," Shampoo giggled as the vehicle they were in continued navigating the streets, the cab driver not reacting in the slightest to the exchange.
"Let's just drop it," Jaddo shot back. For a change, there was no quick retort on his lips, though he swore it was not because she was correct.
Their cab ride ended and the duo exited the vehicle. They had been delivered to the front of a restaurant. On the outside it did not appear that impressive, no different from a dozen other dining places Shampoo had seen. There was a window in front where some of the patrons of the restaurant could be seen dining within. From what Shampoo could see, they were dressed almost as nicely as her, and seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. Looking over the rest of the establishment, she saw that on the red and white awning that hung above the entryway were the words 'Mama Lucia's' etched in black.
"You said your friend owns this place?" Shampoo asked, mindful of the train of her gown.
"He does. Even bought it honestly. If you knew the man, you'd understand why that's a surprise."
Shampoo held up her hand. "Wait a minute. He? But it says Mama Lucia."
"It's just the name of the place to draw people in. 'Papa Wellington's'' doesn't convey the right atmosphere for an Italian restaurant."
"Is his mother's name is Lucia?"
"Sounds like false advertising to me."
"Either quit complaining or speak Japanese so I can tune you out easier," Jaddo hissed.
Shampoo scowled. He was still implying her Japanese was below a normal standard. What a jerk, she could speak it perfectly fine. When would he ever cease making false cutting remarks about her?
Still, she ended up doing as he bade by remaining silent as Jaddo informed the maitre d' that they had a reservation. The sharply dressed man reacted instantly to their names and personally escorted them to a table in the back where their companion waited for them, the maitre de informing them that the proprietor could not wait for their arrival, even if they were on time, and had started dinner without them. It only took a moment for them to be led to a table in back where they met their appointment.
When Shampoo was about six, she had once heard her mother use the term 'corpulent.' Upon inquiring and being informed of what the word met, Shampoo asked her why she did not simply use the term 'fat.' At the time, her mother's explanation of 'there are some words that, while having similar meanings, are more appropriate than others,' was met with confusion.
Now Shampoo understood exactly what her mother had meant about proper word usage. The man was one of the largest she had ever seen. Even his eyelids looked corpulent. He had to weigh four hundred pounds, and by Shampoo's reckoning he was not a tall man to begin with, at least from the way he appeared sitting in a huge oversized chair that had to have been made specifically for him. And the suit he was wearing, while not smeared in a collage of food stains as one might expect with three half-eaten meals already in front of him, was large enough to fit Shampoo at least three times over if she was any judge of size.
The instant the huge man's eyes fell upon them, they gained a twinkle of clear mirth. They only settled on Shampoo for a moment before focusing completely on Jaddo. He waved them over with a chubby hand that bore a fork with some sort of long noodles covered in a red sauce at them.
As they arrived at the table, the man spoke to them in a surprising melodious voice that carried a hint of an English accent. "You'll forgive me for not rising, but once people of my size get comfortable, it takes Heaven and Earth to get us to move."
He held his hand out to Shampoo. Her months of travel and made her familiar enough with foreign customs to recognize the gesture for a handshake, which she accepted. The man had a surprisingly strong grip for someone of his girth.
The man turned to Jaddo. "Well, well, well, if it isn't Wombat come to visit his old friend's roost."
"Wombat?" Shampoo asked her mentor.
"It doesn't mean anything. Just ignore it."
There was an edge to Jaddo's voice Shampoo had never heard before. Sensing an opportunity to get back at her mentor for his earlier comments about her looking 'snooty,' she asked the large man, "Why do you call him Wombat?"
The large man's eyes glinted even more brightly. "Didn't he ever tell you his old nickname way back in the days before he got soft and had to resort to sifting through meat to find someone that could earn him a decent meal?"
"Which is something you've never had trouble finding, Beef. Looks like there's twice as much to you as before," Jaddo shot back, though Shampoo could tell it was only half-hearted. There was a genuine warmth in her mentor's voice that he could not hide. It was one he had used referring to her on only a handful of occasions, usually when talking to someone else rather than her.
'Beef' was unperturbed by the insult. He gave Shampoo a mischievous look and said, "Would you like to know?"
Jaddo looked annoyed. "You got a chicken bone wedged in one of those cauliflower ears of yours? We don't need to go over ancient history."
"Tell me," Shampoo insisted.
"I could never resist a request by a pretty girl," Beef said in mock reluctance, and began his tale. "In the early days in Hong Kong, ole' Wombat there thought he needed some sort of an angle to get the crowd to back him since he didn't have one-tenth my charisma."
"Dream on," Jaddo said.
"If you'll allow me to tell the tale my way? You can lie about it later." Beef continued without waiting for an answer. "Anyway, he came up with this idea he needed a flashy costume. So the inept bumbler tried his hand at sewing. He had this god-awful purple and gray bodysuit with a ridiculous headpiece that flared up at the sides. They looked like a set of ears on a deformed elephant. Well, upon seeing it, one of the other guys said, 'He looks like a bloody wombat.' Jaddo got rid of the costume immediately, but the name stuck."
"Actually no one's called me that in over five years, you beached whale." Jaddo retorted.
"No, no. I'm from England proper. And it's Welsh, not Whale. You damn Aussies always seemed to get that confused. Comes from living on an island that thinks it's a continent."
Shampoo could not have helped laughing even if she wanted to, which she did not. It was terribly fun watching someone disturb the nearly unflappable Jaddo, and this oddly named man was doing an expert job of it.
Beef motioned with his finger for Shampoo to come closer. Intrigued, Shampoo leaned close, while making sure to not quite touch him, a difficult feat to accomplish given his massive girth.
In a mock conspiratorial whisper, Beef said, "Want to see a picture of Jaddo when he wasn't an out of shape gimp?"
"Not even an order from an elder could stop me."
It took Beef a moment to find the pocket on his pants and locate the wallet the picture was in. He removed the photo from its plastic case and held it out for Shampoo to see.
It was in color and still in pristine condition, save for a slight wear at the upper corners; a clear indication of it being handled many times. The scene in the photo was a simple one, showing six people that stood in a line, obviously posing for the cameraman. The background consisted of a set of seats, making Shampoo wonder if it had been taken at the arena in Hong Kong, or possibly the one in Japan itself. All of the people seemed to be about the same age, around their early twenties, or possibly teens in some cases, and each one every inch a hardened fighter. Anyone would have been able to tell they possessed that same, unique ruggedness with the merest glance.
The first figure on the right was a woman. Shampoo felt a pang of envy at how attractive the Caucasian girl was, with her blonde tresses that stopped at her shoulders, and deep blue eyes that could capture a man's heart with a glance. She wore a set of cowboy boots similar to Jaddo's, though these went slightly higher on her shapely, powerful legs, which were bare until they met a pair of blue denim shorts that were frayed along the edges, appearing as though the legs had been cut off. Most likely it was intentional, as they ended right at the bottom of the woman's posterior. Her only upper garment was a matching denim vest that barely reached past the bottom of her bosom. The vest was only held together by the bottom two buttons, showing off an almost scandalous amount of cleavage, which, though not as large as Shampoo's, was more than ample enough to catch all but the most stolid of men's interest. The only 'unnecessary' item of clothing the woman wore was a red handkerchief tied around her neck. She was leaning forward in the picture blowing a kiss in the direction of the cameraman. Shampoo would have wagered the tramp knew how to play a crowd, judging by her clothing and her pose.
The second figure was another Caucasian woman that was as ugly as the first was beautiful. She was very tall and built for power. Her blood-red gi, that had a stylized brown bear etched on the front, could do little to hide her muscular build. Her hair was black, and cropped short to her scalp. She posed with her hands on her hips, expressing her strength with her stance. There was a fierce, proud look to her eyes, but despite that, Shampoo did not get the impression the woman was either cruel or arrogant. There was something like the hint of a soft, hidden smile that dissuaded the young warrior from that idea.
The third man was Chinese, somewhat handsome, with a fairly short cut of black hair. He appeared somewhat slender for his height, but from what Shampoo could see of the arms that poked out from his black shirt with a golden dragon on it, there was nothing but pure muscle there. His hands were held in front of him and crossed at his waist. He seemed at ease, though Shampoo would have wagered he could have countered any threat to him despite the seemingly relaxed posture. There was an intense burning in his eyes as well, one that conveyed a sense of confidence that could be felt even through a decades old picture.
The next figure Shampoo was more than familiar with, though he was obviously much younger and had a little more weight that was all muscle. Much to her disappointment, Jaddo was not wearing the costume described by Beef, but rather a plain navy-blue shirt that molded rather well to his muscled chest. His white pants were loose and somewhat baggy, but matched well with his shirt. His hairstyle and face appeared much the same, save there was no white in that hair, and the expression he wore was one of seriousness. There was one noticeable feature that remained unchanged between then and now.
"So your nose was always as flat as that?" Shampoo asked.
"Shut up!" Jaddo snapped.
Rather than return fire, Shampoo went back to looking over the rest of the people in the photo.
The next one was a huge Thai man that was a handful of centimeters shorter than the Northman. He was topless, with huge pectorals and a chiseled chest that looked like one could break rocks across it with a sledgehammer and only manage to gain the man's attention. His arms were large, and there was a white wrap around his forearms and knuckles. His feet were likewise wrapped up, though Shampoo wagered it was for protection rather than from an injury. The only garments he wore were a loose set of blue and red trunks, and a patch over his left eye. Unlike the others, he had a look in that single blazing orb that marked him as somewhat cruel, though perhaps it was merely an effect of the lighting the picture had been taken in.
Finally, Shampoo went to the last figure in the picture…
…And saw her future husband and father of her children.
He was easily the most gorgeous man she had ever laid eyes upon. He was another Caucasian, and incredibly handsome, with boyish good looks and a winning smile, perched below a short mustache, that Snakebite could never hope to imitate. He was the smallest man of the lot, but his height did not matter. He was topless as well, with well-muscled arms and a perfect abdomen that Shampoo longed to run her hands over. It was either that or the tangled mess of black hair that lay on his scalp. She could spend all day running her hands through that too. And as to the rest of him, he wore tights similar to how an acrobat or wrestler might, with blue covering the upper part while the legs were covered in white. He wore boots that were blue on one side and red on the other. His hands were balled up into fists on his hips, and he seemed to be thrusting his pelvis forward slightly. And what was there, well, the tights were very tight. Tight enough to do little to hide the packaging that lay beneath, and from all indications, whatever woman managed to bag him would be very lucky indeed.
"Who is he?" Shampoo asked, her hand almost shaking. Of course he would be Jaddo's age by now, but it wouldn't matter. It just meant he was experienced and knew how to pleasure a woman. The only problem now was how to challenge him and throw the fight.
Beef smirked. "Heh. What'd I always tell ya, Jaddo? The girls can always tell who the prime cut of meat in the picture is."
Jaddo gave a weak laugh at his friend's attempt at humor as he sat down and poured himself a glass of wine.
Beef smiled at Shampoo. "Can't you guess, you sweet little thing?"
It was in the smile, one of pride and arrogance, which Shampoo understood. She didn't want to. Her mind tried to reject the very thought, like the concept of her parents engaging in sex, but this time the facts would not be denied, no matter how much she wanted them to. And once the horrible truth was accepted, she felt her heart shatter into a million pieces at that same exact moment. The weight of it was too much for the young Amazon to bear as she erupted into tears and began hitting her head into the table.
"Why did you have to destroy my dreams like that?" Shampoo wailed.
"Serves you right," Jaddo told her flatly, making no attempt to stop Shampoo from trying to smash the table in half with her forehead.
Beef was lost in the past, unaware of what was transpiring around him. "Those were the days, all right. The women all loved the 'Beef' Biff Wellington could serve them. I tell you, I was getting paid nearly every night to service those highborn Imperial women. Had to put a moratorium on it the night before a fight so I had enough energy to win. Sometimes they'd get into bidding wars for my services, and when a couple of ladies from the powerful families got into an auction, you better believe I made a yen or two. And the best part was, since I was a freelancer, I kept everything. Damn well paid for this whole restaurant, shipping interests, and other businesses I got with that stuff."
"You were such a whore," Jaddo said idly.
A hard chortle from Beef made him wobble in his seat. "Hell, man, I'd have done some of them for nothing with how good-looking they were. And as you were wont to say, even ugly women need loving too. I was great for all the women's morale. It was my civic duty to help them gain some confidence and a bit of afterglow. And is it somehow my fault they were willing to pay top dollar for the time of their lives? Heck. I still get a call every now and then from some of the ladies from way back when to see if I might be up for another roll."
"And do they recoil in disgust when they see that their fantasy has grown even greater in size on them?" Jaddo asked.
Beef smirked. "Not all of them. Some like style over appearance."
Shampoo made a gagging noise and turned green.
"What's wrong?" Beef wondered if she was choking on a piece of food.
Jaddo said, "She probably visualized you having sex in your current shape. And now that I have, too, I think I'll start gagging as well."
"Sorry. My apologies. Why don't we change the subject?" Beef said sincerely. "That picture in your hand there, my dear Shampoo, bears the images of the infamous Six Pack from the Year of the Dragon." He raised a wine glass in a toast towards Jaddo, who responded in kind by clanging their glasses together. Once the light ringing stopped, each then drained their drink in a single gulp.
"Year of the Dragon?" Shampoo asked.
Beef looked at her curiously. "You've never heard people talk about it? I'm surprised. I would have assumed at least Wombat would have told you."
"Didn't see any reason for it before," Jaddo said. "Go ahead and tell her. It's not like it's a secret.
Beef nodded and began the tale. "That was the best year ever in Arena history. No other field of fighters has ever come close to the talent level we had in that year. Any of the top six fighters, the six of us in that picture, would easily have won in almost any other year. But that was the year of the greatest champion ever in the Arena history: the Year of the Dragon, Jun Fan Li." Beef indicated the Chinese man in the picture. "His handle was 'The Dragon.' Best fighter the Arena ever produced beyond any doubt. Now he's a legendary action film star and probably worth even more than me. Heck, me and Wombat even got to be in one of his movies real early on. He could make a mean won ton noodle dish, too, let me tell you. If he hadn't become a movie star, he could have been a halfway decent chef."
"You're digressing," Jaddo informed him.
"Oops. Always do that when I'm thinking of food," Beef sheepishly admitted. "We were dubbed the 'Six Pack' by the press, and the name stuck. Real international cast, too. You had me from England. Wombat from Australia. The blonde you see in the photo was Colt Remington. An American, and she looked even more beautiful in person than in that picture. Woman next to her was a Russian named Nikita 'Icebreaker' Kolodenko. Her name came from account of her being ugly enough to break ice with just her looks. Strong as an ox, too. Only person I ever saw lay out Sagat with one shot, though it was a lucky one." Beef looked at the picture affectionately. "Should have married that girl."
"She is beautiful," Shampoo said.
Beef looked at her incredulously. "What are you, blind? She looks like she hit every branch of the ugly tree on the way down, then climbed back up for seconds."
"Oh," Shampoo said, surprised. "I assumed you meant Colt."
"Lord, no! Remmy was a total bitch," Beef said. He got a nod of agreement from Jaddo. "Now, Nikki was one of the nicest women I ever met. But she didn't feel the same way about me. Always thought I was a cheap slut."
"Which shows she was perceptive," Jaddo mentioned.
"Not true. I was a very expensive slut," Beef said philosophically. "But that's all in the past. I heard she got married to a citizen and had a gaggle of kids. Good for her, I say. She deserved to be happy. Couldn't have happened to a nicer girl."
Finished with his trip to the past, Beef said, "And continuing on to the last guy you don't know. I mentioned him before, but will point out that tall, bald, and gruesome's name was Sagat. He didn't have a handle on account there wasn't one that could have possibly done him justice. Man had the meanness in him big time, and he looked as miserable as could be. He either disliked or was ambivalent towards most people, though he seemed to like me well enough. Never could figure out why."
"It was odd," Jaddo agreed. "You two had nothing in common."
Beef nodded his head enthusiastically. "Tell me about it. When it became obvious he wouldn't reflexively try to bite my head off for venturing too close, I tried telling him jokes all the time, but I couldn't even make him crack a smile. I tell you, I would have given up women for a week just to see him smile once." Beef shook his head once before returning his attention to his audience. "Anyway, as I was saying, any other year almost any one of us would have been an easy bet to win the tournament, but not that year. It was the best series from quarters on. All the historians agree.
"I remember it like it was yesterday. Me and Remmy got eliminated in the quarters. I lost to Jun, which I didn't mind so much since he was the best. Ole' Wombat got Remmy good."
"Wasn't easy," Jaddo admitted. "Colt fought hard that day."
Beef snickered. "She always hated to be called by her first name, and you wouldn't use anything but it. I think it's one of the reasons she hated you more than anyone else, the bitch. I tell you, after that fight, she really wanted your blood. You remember how vile her temper was. You're probably lucky she didn't try to whack you after the fight, instead of disappearing without a word to anyone the way she did."
"I could have taken her again," Jaddo bragged.
"Not with your leg all messed up, you wouldn't have. You weren't that much better than her," Beef told him. "Anyway, so Sagat and Nikki got it easy, and meet in the semis and have the battle of the hard punchers: sambo against kickboxing. Sagat came out on top in a real ringbuster. Nikki put up a heck of a fight, but Sagat was a monster. He was able to take the damage better, and won it. But the real gem of the tournament was the other semi-final battle. It's still ranked in the top five fights ever."
"One of the top three through five," Jaddo corrected. "Run and Gun fight in '88 was better. And no one will ever top Lamagh and Kuroyama's fight."
Beef turned to Shampoo. "I'm not sure how familiar you are with Arena history, but that's agreed by everyone as the best fight ever. They fought each other so hard that they literally beat each other to death. Kuroyama was the last one standing, so technically he won, but since he dropped dead three seconds after Lamagh did, they were both awarded citizenship posthumously."
There was an unmistakable touch of reverence in Beef's voice, a testament to the connection he felt with two fellow fighters, even though they had been dead long before he had entered his first dog pit. Jaddo reflected upon it as well with a somber look on his face. Shampoo wondered if she should feel a certain kinship as well, now that she was a fighter for the Empire like they were. A part of her wondered if she would end up the same, fighting to the death in a battle before the world and spoken in such respectful tones by strangers. As much honor as that could be, Shampoo found she preferred triumphing rather than suffering a much talked about, but ultimately tragic, fate.
With the tribute to the fallen over, Beef continued with his tale, "But after those two fights, the battle between Wombat and the Dragon was definitely it. It went fifty-seven minutes, one of the longest fights ever. And we aren't talking each man taking a breather here and there or wrapping the other in a hold while trying to choke his opponent out. It was hard knocks all the way to the last minute. Now Wombat is good, but I don't think there's a man alive that will say he's better than the Dragon, even him. But he just wouldn't give up. I never saw anyone fight so far beyond their ability like he did that day. He refused to allow himself to lose, and Jun knew it. It took him nearly ten minutes of pure offense to shatter Wombat's hip and drop him at last."
"Is that how you got your limp?" Shampoo asked, a hint of awe in her voice.
Jaddo nodded his head. There wasn't a hint of bragging in his voice as he recalled the events. "Yah. Whole lot of bloodletting went on that day. Hurt for a month afterwards. Was fighting hard for… what I wanted. Sometimes a man just won't admit he lost, even long after he has. Not when the stakes are high. Li had me beat by the forty-five minute mark. I just wouldn't admit it to myself. Still, I'm not sorry for the effort I put into it, even if I can admit I lost to the better man. I did my best; there isn't the slightest doubt in my mind. I understood a long time ago that there's always a bigger dog out there, no matter how good you get. Remember that."
The new information, especially coming from an outside source, made Shampoo look at her mentor in a new light. Suddenly, he did not seem so much like an old, hard-nosed slave driver that enjoyed inflicting torture, cleverly disguised as training, on innocent young girls. Rather, he seemed more like a determined man that had been driven to greatness in his youth and had come to terms with coming close to his goal but ultimately falling short. Though there was still something else about him that was nagging at her. Some odd part in his demeanor during his reflections of the past that didn't have so much to do with the fighting. It was something else, and it seemed to be when he referred to his goals in the fight. However, she could have been wrong and was completely misinterpreting the gestures. Jaddo was a man, and a nearly impossible one to decipher.
"Enough talk of the past," Beef announced to his companions. "Since this is my place, I shall take the liberty of ordering for you. Nothing but the best, I shall see to it myself or heads shall roll." He waved one of the waiters to the table and placed the order for his companions, as well as another plate for himself. He also made certain to have one of his best wines delivered to the table while they waited for their food.
When the bottle arrived, he informed his companions "I have the largest wine cellar in all of Hong Kong. Personally, I'm no connoisseur, but you'd be amazed at how much money other people will pay to claim they are." He laughed at the all too common human foible.
Jaddo examined the bottle, which looked like any other bottle of wine to him. "How much does it cost?" He couldn't see a price tag on it.
"How much do you make in a year?"
Jaddo's eyebrows shot up at that. He was about to protest when Beef gave a dismissive wave with his plump hand, intent on heading off the protestation. "Good business dealings have made me three times as wealthy as I was the last time we met, and the future looks better than ever. I'm big enough now I could probably merge with one of the conglomerates, if it wasn't for the fact I enjoy my freedom so much. Besides, what use is wealth if I don't share it with one of the few I count as a true friend?" He turned to Shampoo. "My dear, I assume your mentor, hard ass that he is, allows you to drink?"
"He does not have the authority to tell me what I can and cannot have. I can drink whatever I want and however much I want," Shampoo sniffed.
Jaddo gave her a sly look. "Yah. I hope you do. It'll be fun watching you lurch around drunk and hit on ugly guys. And then when your hangover sets in, I'll be banging some pans around to help you greet the day."
"You'd do it too, wouldn't you?" Shampoo said through a half-lidded stare.
The look of what would have been pure innocence on anyone else was the only confirmation Shampoo needed. She would have to watch her drinking, lest she imbibe too much and Jaddo make good on his threat. But one of these days she would have to get really and truly drunk, just to know what the experience was like. Her mother had allowed her to drink small amounts of wine and such, but not in any great amounts. However, her limited experience with alcohol allowed her to handle the wine Beef had provided with practiced ease. The taste of the red liquor was sweet with just a hint of bitterness lying underneath. Shampoo had little doubt this was indeed one of the best wines Beef had to offer.
She had finished one glass and was starting on the second when her eyes caught sight of a figure entering the ladies room. In a heartbeat, Shampoo rose to her feet and excused herself.
"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" Jaddo asked.
"I saw an acquaintance of mine." Shampoo hurried off without a glance back.
Jaddo shrugged at Beef. "You know women. Can't just go to the restroom alone and get business done. Got to do it in groups."
"Too true, my old friend." Beef agreed as he dug into his meal with gusto once again.
"Stay relaxed, girl," Link reminded herself as she stared at her image in the mirror of the empty restroom. Her make-up was flawless: every touch of lipstick and eye shadow was perfect, neither too much nor too little. There wasn't a stitch out of place on the dress of red and orange that she had purchased for this specific occasion. It had taken her over an hour to get her hair just right, but again, it was a masterpiece, making her look older than her sixteen years, without trying to look older. Everything was just as it needed to be.
This could be it. The big one. After weeks of going out of her way to woo him, Komimasa had finally asked her out. It was a like a dream come true. He was a serious hunk, and made some serious money. Being an up-and-coming reporter with Hong Kong's biggest news agency, he had prestige attached to his name as well. And she knew for a fact he was unattached to any women. This could be her chance to land a nice boyfriend and shut her damned sister up. Even better, she could rub Pink's nose in the fact that her boyfriend (if things went well) was everything Snakebite was not. Given Pink's deluded state when it came to Thomas Cantrell, she would not see things that way, but at least Link would have the satisfaction of knowing the truth.
All that was left was deciding how far to let Komimasa go if he pressed the issue. There was one thing Pink had been correct about in their pointless argument earlier in the day; it had been a long time since Link had shared her bed with anyone. Komimasa was a major turn-on, but she wanted him for a long-term commitment, and if she gave too much, too fast, all she would have to show for her trouble would be a good roll in the sack. She would still come out ahead, but she wanted to go for the brass ring this time, on the merry-go-round of life.
Since she had arrived at the restaurant early, not taking any chances on missing this once in a lifetime opportunity, she still had time to wait for Komimasa to arrive. And now that she had assured herself she still appeared perfect, she relaxed somewhat. Link lowered her face to the faucet and held her hand under it, dabbing just a touch of water on her forehead so as to refresh herself without marring her make-up. As she rose back up to her full height, she saw that there was a girl about her age, with long locks of purple hair and a beautiful green dress, standing right behind her. The stranger was easily violating her personal space. The girl had a smile on, but it was not the sort that made you want to smile back, it reminded Link of the way a cat would smile at a bird with a wounded wing.
Link began to turn around, confident she could handle anything. After all, she was a high-ranking arena fighter. "Can I help-"
The rest went unanswered as Shampoo nailed Link in the jaw before she had managed to turn completely around. Dazed by the unexpected force behind the blow, Link was left barely able to stand. That simply helped Shampoo, as she grabbed Link by the back of her dress and drove her towards one of the stalls in the restroom. Link only gave a muted sound of protest as she felt her head forced in against the doorframe of the stall. She tried to move, but was far too stunned and weak to overcome Shampoo's advantage. A moment later, the resounding thud of metal meeting skull filled the restroom, and Link's limp body slumped in Shampoo's grip.
Shampoo smirked in satisfaction at the unconscious girl. "That's what you get for sucker-punching me. I'd have gone easier on you if you left it at that, but you just had to spit on me. And, for your information, I don't give a damn about that sleazy Snakebite."
Once calmed down, Shampoo considered the situation. Someone discovering an unconscious girl in the restroom would cause problems during the meal and might break it up if Beef had to deal with the matter. So Shampoo grabbed Link's limp form, sat it on top of one of the toilets, making sure it would not fall over, then locked the door from the inside and carefully slid underneath the space at the bottom of the stall. She examined herself closely in the mirror, straightened her dress up, and exited much happier than when she entered.
It was over an hour later that Shampoo let out a breath of air as she departed the restaurant. She was stuffed from all of the excellent food she had eaten, and a bit tipsy from all of the wine she had consumed. Had she owned 'Mama Lucia's she might have become as obese as Beef had. It was as the Englishman had said; the Italians had undoubtedly perfected the art of pasta. Shampoo was going to have to get some of the recipes from him so that she could make some of the dishes she had sampled, though there was no telling when she would get a chance to do any actual cooking. Of all the events transpiring in her life and the things she still had to do, honing her culinary skills was towards the bottom of the list.
She was alone on the street now. Jaddo had excused himself earlier after finishing only one course, citing he was tired and needed some sleep. He had been unusually introspective during the course of the meal. Shampoo was uncertain whether to attribute it to meeting his old friend or if there was something else bothering him. Knowing better than to pry, she did not mention the matter and assured her mentor she would have no difficulty in returning to the hotel on her own.
For a change, Jaddo had been exceptionally considerate (for him) in leaving her money for a cab without having to be reminded of it. But now that Shampoo was outside, and feeling guilty about having consumed so much food, even if it would be completely burned away in their next training session, she decided walking at least part of the way and burning off some of the calories was a good idea. Besides, despite the waning hour, it was still daylight, and it would give Shampoo a golden opportunity to examine the city she would be living in for the next several months up close instead of at a distance.
Within the first couple of blocks she realized that her plan had a significant flaw; her very formal dress was not appropriate for walking about. Aside from the fact it drew the stares of nearly half the people on the street, it was confining with how tight the bodice was and how long the material extended behind her. She was about to start searching for a cab and cut her tour of the city short when she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. It was the unmistakable feeling that someone was watching her. A small voice in her head told her that had Jaddo been present, he would have been quick with some caustic remark about paranoia, but another voice told her that one of the lessons Jaddo had hammered into her skull was that there were times to follow instincts instead of reason. Heeding the latter voice, Shampoo quickly spun around and scanned the area for any watchers.
Her instincts proved true as she caught a glimpse of a figure that was walking in the opposite direction from her at a hurried pace. Judging by the direction the figure was taking, and the speed at which it was moving, it left little doubt the odd person had begun walking away before Shampoo had actually turned around. Yet the young warrior was plagued by the unmistakably feeling that this was the person who had been watching her. Following her instincts again, Shampoo began following the strange figure at a distance, and see if it behaved suspiciously, or if it really was nothing more than paranoia that had been affecting her.
The chase was on as the mysterious entity increased its speed once Shampoo began to follow. Again the young girl was certain it was in reaction to being followed. Senses more alert than ever, Shampoo focused on the target, trying to determine just who had been following her. The figure was small and fairly light, probably a woman, wearing a wide-brimmed hat that hid her hair from sight from anyone following behind. She wore a plain brown Chinese outfit that allowed her to blend in perfectly with the crowded streets she was making her way through. There was nothing distinctive about the woman at all. About the only thing Shampoo was confident about was that it was not the mysterious girl that had attacked her earlier in the day. This one was taller and the way she held herself was different from that violent stranger. Besides, to Shampoo's knowledge, the girl had not recovered by the time the Amazon had left the restaurant. And even if she had, she would have been wearing the same dress as before, not the dreary garb of the watcher.
Curiously, the figure never looked back as she made her way through the crowds, yet Shampoo was convinced the stranger knew that she was being followed. Moreover, by not looking back she had yet to show her face to Shampoo, which was frustrating her to no end. If the figure somehow eluded pursuit, the young Amazon would never know if the same person was watching her a second time. They could pass within a foot of one another and Shampoo would have been none the wiser.
The mysterious girl turned a corner down an alleyway, giving Shampoo only the briefest glance of locks of blonde hair before the figure was out of sight again. Determined not to allow the mysterious figure to elude her, Shampoo gave up any pretense of subtly following and ran all out before the girl was lost from sight.
As Shampoo made it around the corner, she saw the alleyway was narrow and all of the ground level doors of the buildings lining it remained shut. Certain that she would have heard the sound of a door closing given her relative closeness to the area, Shampoo hurried to where the alley turned and hoped her prey was still ahead and merely out of sight.
It turned out that was exactly the case. The situation had turned completely around in Shampoo's favor. The alley was a dead end, and the mysterious figure was looking at the solid three-story wall in front of her, as though trying to figure a way out. Shampoo shook her head. Even on her best day she could never manage a leap of that height. The chase was over. The prey had been run to ground at last. Now there would be answers.
Remaining some distance from the figure, which would allow Shampoo to react if the girl tried to make a break for freedom, the Amazon called out, "Why were you following me?"
The figure remained silent, with its shoulders squared to the wall. Shampoo waited a full thirty seconds for a response. When none was forthcoming, she inched closer to the woman. If she did not receive an answer to a second query, she would take her chances and move in to make the woman turn around. With her dress as confining as it was, Shampoo's movement would be limited, but she was certain that within the narrow confines of the alley it would make no difference if the girl tried to escape or fight.
Just as Shampoo opened her mouth the figure slowly began to turn around, keeping its face low and hat pointed downward so as to continue hiding its face. Frustrated, Shampoo repeated, "Why were you following me? Who are you?"
At last the figure brought its face up. A soft gasp escaped Shampoo's lips. It was impossible. Not the identity of the woman, (and there could be no mistaking who it was despite Shampoo never having met her in person) but rather it was the way the face belonging to her appeared. It was the same. Not a lot alike. Not very close to, but exactly the same.
"Howdy, pardner." Colt Remington tipped her hat towards Shampoo.
The sight before Shampoo made her remain silent, despite the hundreds of questions that were on her lips. The girl standing before her was in her early twenties, if not late teens. Everything about that face was the same, right down to the green eyes, which held a hint of venom in them. It was as though someone had lifted the girl out of the picture of thirty years past and plopped her down in the present to follow, and then run away from, Shampoo. And now all that was left were questions the young Amazon found herself unable to give voice to.
Shampoo was about to mutter something about the impossibility of the situation when Colt spoke again. "Since you're finally here, aren't you going to do something?"
At first, Shampoo did not understand what the impossible girl before her was talking about. Then, upon looking closer at Colt, she realized she was not the one being addressed, but rather someone behind her. Combat instincts coming to the fore, Shampoo spun around, not considering for one moment that that reaction had been Colt's plan from the start, to make her look away in order to take her eyes off her for a split second. There was too much conviction in that voice for it to be a trick.
Again Shampoo's instincts were on the mark as she turned to confront two figures that had entered the alleyway while she had been busy cornering her prey. They both wore black cloaks with the hoods drawn up and close to the face, hiding the identity of both individuals. One was a woman and about Shampoo's height. The other was a giant of a man, nearly the Northman's height, and almost as massive. Both held themselves easily, and Shampoo was left with the impression they knew what they were doing.
The pair moved forward in the blink of an eye, closing the distance between them. Shampoo, caught by surprise both at their silent arrival and the situation she had found herself in, barely had time to react. She leaped high over a low kick the woman launched at her legs, but the dress prevented Shampoo from attaining the height she had desired. Though with how quickly the large man's attack came, she was uncertain if she could have evaded it anyway.
All Shampoo managed was a glance of a darker-skinned, clean-shaven jaw one moment before a huge fist slammed into her face, nearly sending her into unconsciousness with the blow. As her body hit a wall and rebounded off, a kick from the cloaked woman came up into the lavender-haired girl's stomach, forcing the air from her lungs and sending white-hot shards of pain through her body. A vicious chop to the back of the neck finished the job, as Shampoo fell to the ground with an audible thump, unmoving.
The taller man examined the fallen girl. Satisfied she was not acting, he turned to the blonde that had remained right where she had started before the brief fight. "Why did you let her spot you, Remmy?"
The blonde shrugged. "To be honest, I was so distracted by seeing that stinking abo's little bitch, I wasn't paying attention to the fact she was going to sense my presence. And don't call me Remmy. My name is Colt. You of all people should know that."
"Point taken," the man's voice boomed. "Now, what should we do with the girl?"
"Nothing," Colt said, "We don't have any orders concerning her, yet. I know she didn't see either of your faces with how fast you took her out. We leave her be and have her try to figure out what just happened, not that she has a chance in the world of that."
"She saw your face," the big man pointed out.
"It doesn't matter," Colt assured him. "No one will believe her. After everyone looks at her funny for a couple of days, she won't believe her memory either and assume she was confused."
"The mistress might like this one," the cloaked woman said with a hint of admiration in her voice.
"No." The manner in which Colt said it made the finality clear. "She's little more than meat for me now. I want her toughed up so she can give me a good fight. It won't be worthwhile, otherwise."
"You should not make this so personal," the big man warned.
Colt laughed at that. "And do you mean to tell me the hell you've undergone isn't for vengeance? You hypocrite."
"Point taken," the man conceded. "Still, you might want to listen to someone who's gone to the lengths I have to attain vengeance; sometimes the cost is too high."
"Not for me," Colt said confidently. "Let's get going before she comes around. She's a tough little bitch. I've seen her fight. She can take a beating. It'll make the one I give her later on all the more enjoyable if she's a little tougher still."
The trio departed the alleyway, leaving a lone form lying silently on the unforgiving concrete.
"I'm telling you, I was attacked by Remington!"
"Yah, yah. And I was doing twin supermodels, Yuki and Suki Yasuroka in my bed while you were gone. You just missed them when you dragged your ass in here."
Shampoo growled, but quickly stopped as the maneuver made a pain shoot through her skull.
Jaddo softened upon seeing her in such pain. He grabbed a fresh icepack from their room's refrigerator and handed it to her to replace the partially melted one that she had been using. "Look, I called Beef. He told me that you had a lot to drink-"
"I was not drunk!" Again Shampoo winced from the pain.
"I didn't say that," Jaddo said with unusual softness. "What I'm saying is, it probably affected your perception of things. That's how a pair of street toughs took you out in a couple of shots, and why you think you saw Colt."
"I did see her," Shampoo insisted quietly. That didn't hurt as much.
"I'm not doubting she had a strong resemblance to Colt, and that, after you took that very hard shot to the head, it scrambled your senses enough to make you think it was her. I can't say the same thing wouldn't have happened to me if I had got jumped in a trap like that."
"I'm not so sure it was a trap," Shampoo said, though this time there was a hint of hesitation in her voice.
"Actually it's a pretty standard bait trap lots of thieves in cities use. You're from the country, and wouldn't expect those kind of things. Highwaymen and ambushes are what you're used to."
"Then why didn't they take my money?" Shampoo asked.
"They probably got scared off by the group of kids that found you," Jaddo said.
"They weren't kids! They were little monsters."
"Not one of them was over eight years old."
"Ha!" Shampoo ignored the pain this time. "When I was just starting to come around, I heard them talking about selling me to a slaver, at least until one of them said they thought I looked like a whore with the way I was dressed. Then they thought I had escaped from my brothel and they could return me for a reward. I came to just in time to keep the little scumbags from grabbing me."
Jaddo shrugged. "Kids are like that. S'why I never had any."
Shampoo rolled her eyes at his statement. Perhaps she had inadvertently wandered into a rough neighborhood in her pursuit of Colt (and it had been Colt, no matter what Jaddo contended), but that was still no excuse for children to behave in such a manner. At least they had been too young to get any other more lascivious ideas about her. Had she heard something along those lines, she probably would have put them all over her knee and spanked them, pounding skull or not.
Shampoo decided to let the matter drop. On the surface, what Jaddo said made sense, and she knew damn well there was no way she could change his mind without evidence. Reluctantly, she admitted that had their positions been reversed, she would have probably been as skeptical as he was. But she had been there and did know the truth. She didn't understand what it meant, and could not afford to devote too much time to the mystery, given her upcoming match and moving into the fighters' dorm, but a part of her would be on guard from now until she left Hong Kong for the big Arena in Japan. Someone was out there, watching and waiting for her. And she would be ready the next time they met.
To be continued.
Author's notes: Well, finally some other Ranma ½ characters (and various others from anime) appear. And history repeats itself with Shampoo and the nature of her relationship with Pink and Link, proving that no matter how much some things change, some things remain the same. More on Hong Kong in the next chapter, which is coming along slowly. Will be a while before it sees the light of day.
Special thanks to: LB Drifter Wade Tritschler Jurai Knight Ryan Anderson and many others.
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