She lurked in the shadows of the darkened 'arena,' surveying the playing field. The room was no larger than a high school gymnasium, and smelled just as dank. It didn't matter. She wasn't there for the atmosphere. The building wasn't much to behold; very flimsy-looking, actually. But then, this wasn't America and her employer wasn't the type to worry about legalities.

She circled the ring, visualizing how it would look when she performed in less than 12 hours. Her ninja boots made no sound. She had been trained well. Too well, she mused. She no longer needed to think about her next moves. They came naturally; like breathing.

It had been just over six months since she'd joined the sport. It was considered underground in most "civilized" countries, though she'd performed in the US and Canada before. Her employer never felt the need to limit his income. He believed that if he kept his operation just below the authorities' radar, he need not concern himself with the local laws. Another aspect that no longer mattered to her.

As was her custom, she traveled in her fighting gear. Silver smudge-proof body paint, matching face mask, mirrored sunglasses that wrapped around her head and fastened under her golden wig (gold . . . never blonde), golden tooth covers, black ninja boots, black Lycra tights with "Warrior Series" written in electric blue down one leg and with her character name painted in blood red down the other: Rio Angele. She tried to forget her former name and her former life. Dwelling upon it was a distraction she could ill- afford right now.

She might have made an imposing figure were she not merely five foot three, but then that was one of her assets. Every opponent always underestimated her. She valued the advantage.

She preferred her . coworkers didn't see her without her mask. In truth, many in the group followed the same rule. It made it easier to work together . . . less personal. It's more difficult to break a man's leg if you knew too much about him; his family, for instance. Mercy was a weakness in this game. Really, the lifestyle should have made her sick and would have, had she anything left to live for.

She shook her head as she mentally reviewed her routine. Tonight would be rougher than the others. Her opponent was big and known to be remarkably brutal. She'd seen what he did to his last quarry, who would undoubtedly never walk again. Perhaps she would return that favor tonight. It wasn't that she was particularly fond of the injured man, but she didn't condone unnecessary punishment. The match was won long before the behemoth shattered nearly every bone in the man's legs with repeated chair shots.

She'd always thought that was done mainly in the wrestling world. She'd rarely seen a group fighter resort to using chairs before. The crowds they performed for were not there to see choreographed matches. They wanted real fighting. Real wounds. Real blood. Real pain.

She was a wrestling fan herself, but it would have taken years of training and patience to earn half the money she now made if she'd gone into wrestling. Women rarely achieved the success she had. In a choreographed world, her opponents could win. But not here, she grinned humorlessly to herself.

Yes, she would break her opponent's legs tonight, she decided. Someone needed to dispense a little justice around here once in a while. And it just might earn her the title match she'd been after. No woman had ever held the Supreme Championship yet. And that would earn her the last of the money she needed to make the final payment on her debt. Then maybe she could finally just disappear into the night.

She looked around the ring one last time and silently padded out the back door.